Departure: Summer’s End Vegan Dinner

 

Departure: Home to sushi, steak cooked on a rock, and hot girls rocking purple dresses.

While having a beautiful view of Portland, I’ve never been drawn there for dining reasons, other than a short-lived Exquisite Dinner attempt with Jess, a year before Vida Vegan Con. (Long story short: the then-chef wasn’t interested in featuring vegan menu items, and the idea was nixed almost from the get-go.)

That all changed when Gregory (follow him, he’s amazing!) took over the reigns as Chef and recently decided to throw a fancy-schmancy vegan dinner with Wes Hannah of Blossoming Lotus  (and Vegan Iron Chef contestant, year one)and Lisa Clark of Petunia’s.

At $50 a head, this dinner wasn’t cheap. But I can say, having just come from there, it was better than any vegan dining experience I’ve ever had out. It was amazing. The food was superb, the service was on point, and the view was beautiful.

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The company wasn’t bad, either.

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(me and Grant Butler)

The menu looked exquisite.

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And at my table was the super duper awesome Alison Jones from Portland Monthly Magazine and Twitter, Alison’s gorgeous fiancé; my good friend Shelley who works at Departure; Grant Butler; and another couple who seemed to know everybody and were beautiful and well-spoken and the epitome of perfect dinner company. I only wished I got to talk with them more.

 

We started with a salted chickpea bread and peanut sauce.

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The chickpea bread was crunchy and salty. When dipped in the creamy and sweet peanut sauce, it was an amazing way to start a meal.

 

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Mmmm Peanut Sauce.

 

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Shelley and I enjoyed a bottle (okay, two) of white wine throughout the coursed meal.

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The wine, imported by Kermit Lynch (who coincidentally make one my favorite sparkling non-sparkling white wines) was dry and a bit smoky and absolutely a perfect accompaniment to our dinner.

First course:

Vegan Charcuterie Board

A selection of Asian Inspired Vegetable Terrines, Nut Cheeses, Savory Pate and Live Seed Crackers with Early Autumn Pickles

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From left: raw seed crackers, cauliflower pickles, broccoli terrine, hazelnut cheese, tempeh spread, and carrot pate.

 

Holy Heck. Do you see this? The broccoli (or ‘blockoli’; get it? It is a block of broccoli) was amazing. It was like a condensed cube of broccoli, with the flavors jamming out into perfect cruciferous flavor. Loved it. The hazelnut cheese was amazing, and when combined on a cracker with the other samplings, delicious. There was a lot there for a course, and I could only eat about half. The tempeh spread; same. Rich and savory with a hint of depth, it was great on a cracker and I could eat this all day long as a spread. The carrot portion was beautiful. It reminded me of a couch from the ‘70’s, and while phenomenal with presentation, was more beautiful than delicious. It was tasty, for sure, and would score major points at a restaurant not doing other amazing things, but tonight it was more aesthetically pleasing than palette pleasing. This says more about the overall quality of all the food than it does about this dish though; seriously,this meal knocked my wool-free vegan socks off.

Second Course:

Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup with Sunflower Seed Cream, Sunchokes, Asian Pear, Crispy Ginger and Spicy Oil.

 

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Wow.

This soup was amazing. It was sweet and savory and with the crunchy sunchokes and sweet asian pear, this course blew me away. The full-flavored sunflower seed cream and the spiciness of the oil, mixed with the cilantro (a flavor I LOVE), was the perfect balance of flavors. I could have eaten twice this amount and declared this the best autumn soup I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

Third/Main Course:

End of Summer, Fall Begins, 3 Ways:

Tempura Figs, Roasted Grapes, Candied Walnuts, Spicy Greens, Ginger Vinaigrette

Sweet Corn Custard, Grilled Romano Beans, Local Sea Greens, Pickled Shallot-Sesame Dressing

Maple-Soy Glaze Grilled Tempeh, Smoked Heirloom Tomato-Peach Marmalade, Tomato Crisps

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(From left: tempeh, corn custard and tempura figs)

Did you just read that? Didn’t you want to eat it all right away?

I don’t like figs, and despite Allison and Shelley’s enthusiasm for the little weird things, I wasn’t excited.

I should have been though.

Apparently when you deep fry something, even figs, they turn out delicious.

The grapes, candied walnuts, and ginger-dressed greens complimented the tempura figs perfectly. I ate the whole thing. It was tangy, sweet, chewy and all-over a fantastic fall dish.

If you cook tempeh in maple-soy glaze and use tomato crisps as a garnish, you absolutely cannot go wrong. I’ll leave it at that.

The corn custard—oh, the corn custard. Though I assume it was supposed to come out a touch warmer than it did, this was still my favorite dish of the meal. The saltiness and tanginess of the sea greens and romano beans offset the sweetness of the custard in the most supreme way I could ever even begin to imagine. Beautifully done, exquisitely prepared, I’m in love with this dish.

Fourth Course: Roasted Early Autumn Mushrooms with Wild Ginger, Spruce, Sake-White Soy Glaze, Crispy Hempseed Cake, Pumpkin Seed Condiment

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Okay, who says vegans don’t eat amazing food?! Oh my gosh. The meatiness and earthiness of the mushrooms mixed with the nuttiness and creaminess of the hempseed cake and the spicy savory taste of the ginger and pumpkin seed condiment blew me away, for the fifth time tonight. I ate almost all of this dish (couldn’t finish the hempseed cake), then dipped into Shelley’s for another bite. As Grant said, the hempseed cake would be spectacular as a crouton, with the crispiness of the cube taking center stage. Yum.

By this time in the evening, I was full and a little tipsy, but super-duper excited about the dessert. I could live off desserts if my dentist and doctor didn’t know what they were talking about.

Fifth Course: Coconut Crusted Pistachio Tart and Coconut Cardamom Ice Cream with Candied Plums and Crystalized Ginger (Bonus: Pomegranate Soda)

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I think I was the only one at the table to finish this one. I can always finish dessert. The ice cream, while too cardamom-y for some folks at my table, was just right for me. I love foods where the herbs and flavorings come out swinging, and this ice cream was perfect. The coconut cake with pistachio on top was sweet and caramelized and ooey-gooey and when enjoyed with a bite of spicy and creamy ice cream—absolutely perfect. The soda was just perfect and a nice little cap to the dinner.

 

We were all so full by the end. Gregory, Wes and Lisa came out at the end to say hello, and we each received this cute little take-home pumpkin chocolate cupcake as a surprise ending to the dinner.

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I haven’t eaten mine yet, but look how sparkly and cute this little thing is. Adorable.

Dinner at Departure cost 50 bucks, not including beverages or gratuity. Expensive? You betcha.  Would I go again? In a heartbeat.

The food was immaculate—simple, colorful, gorgeous and innovative. The view is spectacular, the service impeccable, and the atmosphere lovely. I heard a rumor that Departure will start featuring a vegan menu in the next few weeks, and you can bet your booty that I will be back to partake. If you didn’t get a chance to come, you should come check it out. It’s worth the price and the journey up to the 15th floor.

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Kickin’ it in CJ

 

Cave Junction is a three-stoplight town nestled in a valley of the northern Siskiyou Mountains in Southern Oregon. It takes five hours to drive down from Portland and is only 20 minutes from the California border. With one grocery store, two thrift stores, a pizza parlour, 89 churches and countless rivers, swimming holes and hiking trails, coming back to Cave Junction feels like stepping back in time. Not much has changed in this town since I left for college in 1998.

And I like it that way. This town, while plagued with typical small-town problems, always feels a little like Shrangi-la to me. I moved to Cave Junction in 1985, just in time to start first grade. The people I met that first day were part of my 76-strong graduating class in 1998. My mom, older brother Ahimsa and little brother (born in 1989) and I spent summers swimming and camping and picnicking and our winters sledding, baking and making snow cream.

Whenever I get the chance to come home and visit, it just feels good. I am sitting on my mom’s couch right now, drinking coffee she brewed and eating a piece of zucchini bread from the loaf I made last night. I’m heading home later today, but since I arrived Sunday, we packed in a lot of fun.

As soon as I showed up on my mom’s doorstep Sunday afternoon, the two of us took off to Little Greyback, a campground and swimming spot 10 miles up Cave Hwy. (Aside: Cave Junction is so named because it is the gateway to the Oregon Caves, a national monument made of marble caves 20 miles up Caves Hwy. Second aside: my mom sold homemade jewelry in the gift shop there when I was a kid.).

bridge

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As soon as we arrived, we kicked off our shoes and waded into the cold cold river water.

 

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We kicked back and relaxed in our chairs. I read an old Vanity Fair magazine and my mom and I sipped on a bottle of Hornsby’s cider.

Hornsby Vanity Fair

Uncharacteristic, because we usually drink wine or bubble together, but I think they were left in her fridge and she wanted to get rid of them. River Sippers it was.

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That area is so nice. The caretakers, friends of my mom, have really made that place something beautiful.

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(This is my mom. This is her twitter picture. Yep, she’s now on twitter. Follow her here and say hello—it’d make her day!)

After spending a glorious few hours at the river, she made us a simple dinner of sweet chili tofu, brown rice and stir-fried veggies. I used my picnic blanket dress as a backdrop for this picture:

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In case you think I’m ignoring my little brother, he was at a friend’s house and wouldn’t be back til Monday.

After dinner, my mom and I took Storm, her rescue dog, for a walk around the Elementary School’s track.

 

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STOOOOORM

(Isn’t she GORGEOUS?!)

Storm

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Then it was time to come home and drink mom’s homemade rose cordial with a glass of bubbles.

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On Monday, we went thrifting. I bought three retro glasses for the bar at my house, five books, a belt, and a mirror for $4.75.

We stopped by Carlos’ for lunch and after two servers and a conversation with the owner, found out the the corn chips are cooked in vegetable and animal fat but they have a ‘Vegetarian Menu’ that is actually vegan. I ordered a taco with black beans, corn, lettuce, mushrooms and salsa. My mom ordered a chili relleno. (She’s been a vegetarian since 1973.) The whole bill came to $7.45. I couldn’t believe it was so cheap, so tipped $5 to make it seem more like a lunch tab I am used to. Sure, my financial brain could use a little fine-tuning.

After lunch, we headed to The Forks, a swimming hole just a mile from town. Another few hours spent just relaxing by the water.

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Once we got back, I made salsa with my mom’s garden tomatoes.

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My little brother Jesse arrived back shortly after we did. I took us up to the Pizza Deli for dinner. It’s been called Wild River Pizza and Brewing for probably ten years, but it will always be the Pizza Deli to me.

I love the pizza here because it’s cut into tiny little pieces and because they have SPROUTS. And they recently added vegan cheese to the menu.

Check it:

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After dinner, Jesse and I took Storm for another walk.

Storm Wolf Dog

Cave Junction

Isn’t it lovely down here?

Yesterday, Tuesday, we just took it easy.(Well, that’s all I’ve been doing.) I hung out in my mom’s garden for a bit, though haven’t got any hammock time in yet.

flowers

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Then the three of us packed up for the river—back to The Forks!

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And I actually got in the river this time:

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Being home in Cave Junction with my family feels so warm and welcoming, every single time. I’m rejuvenated, and though I’m happy to be heading back to Portland this evening, it will be bittersweet. I’m never here for quite long enough.

My mom’s headed to China tomorrow for a week, just for a visit. NBD. I’m thankful I made it down to spend time with her before she’s off on a big Beijing adventure with one of her girlfriends. And I can’t wait to see pictures.

Aaaaaand, I’m off to go enjoy the hammock before heading to the Greyhound station this afternoon.

 

Cashew Cream Tarts with Sugared Berries

 

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Remember my trip to Sauvie Island last weekend?

So. Many. Berries.

What I did with them:

* Blueberry Simple Syrup (inspired by this blueberry blackberry syrup recipe)

* Rose Petal & Violet Summer Berry Pie (<—Swoon. A happy experiment.)

and these:

 

* Cashew Coconut Cream Tarts with Sugared Berries (adapted from this recipe)

  makes 12

Cashew Coconut Cream

  • 1 cup cashews
  • 3/4 cup water (or enough to cover cashews)
  • 3 T Maple Syrup (can use Agave or Cane Sugar)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut

Sugared Berries

  • 1/2 cup mixed berries (I used raspberries and blueberries, because they are the best kinds of berry.)
  • 2 T organic Orange Juice
  • 2 T unrefined cane sugar, + 1 tsp sugar
  • toasted coconut, optional

Pastry Shells

  • Pre-made or pre-bought pastry shells (Herbivore Dinosaur  has a good looking recipe. I bought 2 6-pack packages on clearance at Grocery Outlet, cuz I’m a baller.)

Coat the berries in orange juice and sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons cane sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes while you’re creaming the cashews.

(Side note: I just deleted like 15 jokes I wrote about ‘creaming cashews’. It just sounds so dirttttty.)

Blend all ingredients in your fancy-pants VitaMix. (Don’t have one? Should be fine, just make sure to soak the cashews for a few hours or overnight before blending in a regular blender. And blend for longer.)

Blend until incredibly smooth—about 3 minutes.

Gently plop the cashew cream into the shells. Add 3-4 berries to the top. Stick in the fridge, wash your Lady MacBeth-ed hands very well in the kitchen sink, and contemplate how long you will wait before trying one.

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Wait approximately 9 seconds. Walk back to the fridge, open it, and take a bite.

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You don’t have to follow these instructions to a T, but I’m just telling you, it worked for me.

 

So how were they? Overall, great. They’re rich and sweet with creaminess from the cashews and a sweet tartness from the raspberries. In all honesty, I think the cashew cream could use a little more depth of flavor next time—maybe a squirt of lemon, or more vanilla extract—but they’re still perfectly lovely little treats. (Read: I will still eat all of these before succeeding in giving any away.)

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 ….And I still had 4-5 cups of berries left to freeze for summer smoothie shenanigans. Score.

 

The pie filling turned out so good I wanted to eat it with a spoon. Or my fingers. I don’t care about the vehicle used, as long as it gets in my mouth. I contained myself, barely. It’s like a cross between jam and pie. Holl-er.

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(The pie: not as photogenic as the cashew tarts, but I assure you—one bite of this filling and you’d wish you could go swimming in it. Or maybe that’s just me.)

 

The Blueberry Simple Syrup turned out sweet and refreshing—I used it to make a Blueberry Bellini while obsessively making Spotify playlists yesterday. (On Spotify? Friend me here)

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Berry overload!

 

Just kidding. That’s impossible.

 

I still have eight of these left. Who wants one?

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Sauvie Island Berry Tripping

I’ve been to Sauvie Island before. Lots. To the pumpkin patch for Fall Shenanigans, to the orchard for late summer peaches, to rogue off-road blackberry picking, even to the beach for sunning (never to the nude beach that’s out there though—not yet).

I’ve never been to Sauvie Island for raspberries and blueberries though. Beautiful beautiful berries. My favorite berries. That changed last week, when I head out with Michele from Vegtastic Voyage  (and of course one of my witty and pretty co Vida Vegan Con directors), Michele’s husband Tom and their out-of-country guest Kati, who was visiting from Spain.

There are several farms out there for u-pick; all the ones I’ve been to have equally helpful staff and are equally bountiful. There are charts explaining what fruits, vegetables and flowers are in season and handy signs at every row of produce.

I will let the pictures do the talking from here on out. Because I took one billion and you need to see all of them.

Rustic Signs:

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P1020182P1020171(<— If only…!)

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Beautiful flowers you can take home:

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I found a breeding ground for these guys:

 

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….Didn’t find any little kids with “Xavier Roberts” tattooed on their bum though.

 

And of course…. BERRIES!

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Now I just need to figure out what to do with them. I froze a small batch of raspberries the minute I got home from Sauvie’s for summer smoothie fruit gazpacho madness. I still have probably 3 pounds of blueberries and a pound of raspberries. Ahhhh the possibilities.

I’m definitely headed back once peaches come in—and I think it will be just in time for Vida Vegan Con if any of you out-of-towners happen to like picking your own fruit.