Sunday, September 20, 2015

Old Traditions In New Places

I live within easy walking distance of two decent dim sum locations. Not too long ago, that would have been three locations, but the venerable Legin was finally shut down for good shortly after I left Portland in 2012, and is now a parking lot for the expanded Portland Community College SE campus. Ocean City, which was in the spotlight back then, is still about a mile to the south on SE 82nd. Wong's King, which started serving dim sum 5 years earlier about a mile to the southeast, at SE 87th and Division, has better food, at least in my opinion. I went to Ocean City back in July and didn't think it was great dim sum, but it was okay. At the corner of 82nd and Division, the sign for the Canton Grill points the way to the restaurant's parking lot, hidden behind the convenience store where I tried to buy a Sunday paper this morning. The Canton Grill has been there since 1944 and is apparently still run by the same family. I haven't been there, but they've updated their menu to show the gluten-free options while still sticking to their old traditional dishes: egg foo young, chop suey, moo goo gai pan, and things that are sweet-and-sour and/or deep fried. There's even an "American Menu" offering diners dishes like a hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy, or a beef burger steak served with fries and "a roll upon request." While that doesn't tempt me, I might try their rice noodle dishes (mai fun and chow fun) some night when I've had to work late and just want to pick up a dinner to go.

Dim sum was once an occasional Sunday treat, usually when family were in town, but it may become a regular thing. Sorry, Jam on Hawthorne, I think I have a new Sunday morning tradition. I do need to figure out the Sunday paper situation, though; brunch is better with the New York Times crossword to puzzle over. The closest place to get the Sunday Oregonian is on Stark, which is a mile in the wrong direction entirely. I've never had the paper delivered, but am considering it. It's $2.99 per week for delivery, which includes the Wednesday paper (which would probably go right into recycling), but since the single Sunday copy is $2.50 it seems worth the extra 50 cents a week to not have to walk two miles in the rain to pick one up.

This morning, sans paper and puzzle, I focused on the food instead, which is possibly why it tasted so damn good. I had the deep-fried pork-stuffed pounded rice balls, a crackling web of golden crust over the chewy bland interior with its heart of savory pork bits mixed with green onion. The vegetable dumplings were packed with Chinese chives and were quite good; I ate just the filling out of one, leaving the thin rice paper wrapper on the plate, in what is probably a faux pas in dim sum etiquette. When the waiter came by to pick up the empty dishes and saw all of the rice paper wrappings from the shrimp and scallop dumplings, he gave me a disapproving sideways glance.

If I hadn't eaten the fried rice balls, I would have eaten the whole of the shrimp and scallop dumplings, which were topped with orange roe and were really very good as well. There were many other options on the carts, but the carts didn't come around very often. In fact, when I got there it seemed as if there were only one or two people working. Over the next hour, though, more women arrived for their shifts, and by the time I left they had started bringing out the more interesting and complicated dishes and the carts were rolling by regularly.

Since I didn't have a paper, I didn't have anything to scribble on, so I was taking notes on my phone. I kept having to add words like "chive" and "scallop" while texting away to myself; obviously no one programming T-Mobile's dictionary is an avid cook. One of the notes I made towards the end was to remind myself to learn how to say "almond jelly dessert, please" in case I find, as I did today, that I want something sweet but not deep-fried to finish off. Sesame balls are lovely, stuffed with sweetened mung bean or lotus root paste, but not after consuming three large savory pork versions. And most of the other desserts involve dairy and/or gluten. But almond jelly (which, now that I look it up, is called "xingren doufu" or "annin tofu" - must remember this for next time) is made from apricot kernels and agar agar and sugar, entirely edible and nice to spoon up while drinking the last of your jasmine tea. I am not sure if Wong's King does have almond jelly, but since it took asking two people and a lot of repetition before I got the answer "no almond jello, just jello" it is possible that I wasn't asking the right question.

Dim sum consumed, it was time for the second of my former weekly traditions, the visit to the farmer's market.

The Montavilla market at 78th and SE Stark is much smaller and a lot less crowded than the Park Blocks venue, but there's still a good selection of vendors, including Baird Family Orchards, where I bought some absolutely amazing ripe peaches. Olympia Provisions is there as well, and a handful of produce vendors. I bought a pound of sweet red yellow orange peppers, and if I weren't moving over to another house Tuesday for a week of cat-sitting, I would have bought other vegetables for lunches. Instead, I picked up two tamales from a vendor new to me, Mixteca: a vegan vegetable version, and one with pork and mole, their signature Tamal Oaxaqueño. I'm looking forward to making lunch (and maybe breakfast) of the tamales at the office this week, and snacking on the crisp peppers and juicy peaches.

It's going to be a slow week at the office, with the principle lawyer out on vacation, so I'll have plenty of time for lunch, and shouldn't have to put in any overtime, which means I'll be up for cooking dinner, especially since the bus commute to the place where I'm going to be cat-sitting is half that of the trip out here to SE 82nd and Division.

It's not close to either this dim sum hub or Jam on Hawthorne, however, so I will have to find another place to brunch, next week. Traditions are made to be broken.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Plus ça change . . .

La boucle est bouclée, as they say in France; I've come full circle now. With only minor differences, I'm in the same place I was before I left - I'm still living in SE Portland, though now it's more east, and though I am again working for a law office that does mostly family law, it's not the same firm. I have far fewer possessions, but have gained more than three years worth of memories and adventures and photographs, which is a pretty major difference, come to think of it. But other than that? I feel as if I'm picking up right where I left off, and in a good way. Which means that in, oh, five years or so, I'll be heading overseas again on another open-ended journey (at least that's the currently nebulous thing I won't even call a plan yet). Until then I'll work, and enjoy spending time with my family and friends (call me! let's do lunch), and maybe even get back into blogging more than once a month. Watch this space.