Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Shops and Spaetzle

Cooking stores typically run a pretty narrow gamut.  On one end you have the sometimes-corporate, always-premium luxury stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, and this one place in the Pearl District I went to when I was still a student and broke and got "the look" in.  You know, that "don't touch my Ruffoni pans, you unwashed chreton" squint.  They often offer cooking classes for $100 a head in a gorgeous back kitchen that, though aesthetically breathtaking, is better suited for wine tasting and watching than true functionality.  Then there's the, uhh, "other" side, the places I don't go to.  I'm thinking of those outlet mall places with generic neon-hued signs perma-fixed to the windows screaming SALE!  and 75% MARKDOWNS!!, raping your mind's ear whenever you pass.  They're crowded and messy, but you can get a pretty good colander for cheap.  Middle ground is rare, as most specialty and independent shops are evaporating.  When was the last time you saw a little bookstore?  (Mine was Seaside, a month ago, and they had the most wonderful bookstore kitty, but it was a heartbreaking stretch of nothingness right before that).  Good, small cooking stores are comparably atypical.  Mrs. Cook's at Seattle's U-Village is a nice one.  The Green Eyeshade in Port Townsend is unforgettable (met the owner of Mt. Townsend Creamery there once, good times).  Even the housewares section of the West Seattle Metropolitan Market could be used as an example as such, albeit an arguable one.  But until this weekend, I hadn't experienced that in Portland. 

I'd known about Mirador in Southeast Portland since taking my canning class in 2008.  They're known around the more-authentically PORTLAND areas as the go-to canning supply place.  Based on this reputation, I contacted the co-owner Lynn to see if she'd be willing to do an interview for my in-progress essay on the Great Recession renaissance of food preservation.  Sweetly and graciously, as I learned was her nature, she obliged.  The store is down on Division near Clinton Street, a district I find myself in probably more often than any other neighborhood that I wish I went and visited more (Hawthorne, Belmont, 23rd, et. al.).  The exterior, with its airy mural and wind chime collection, beckons you right inside.  It looks like a house, for god's sake!  How could you be more welcoming? 

I'm pretty jaded when I go into kitchen stores.  Microplanes?  Nice.  I've got, like, five.  Gourmet apple pie filling?  I'll make my own, thanks.  Lodge Logic display.  YAWN.  Can we go to Jamba Juice now?  I want a Mango Mantra.  But as soon as I got into Mirador's sprawling cooking section (the store also boasts earth-friendly home goods, cleaning products and other fun stuff), I receded into pure giddy mode.  They had an entire section devoted to pasta-making, with a wonderful ravioli press and the kind hearty ravioli cutters I've seen Mario Batali tossing around.  And... A Spaetzle Maker!  I've only heard of these, and in lieu of having one, I've been making my spaetzle ghett-style by putting an old colander over boiling water and running the batter through with a spatula.  It doesn't really work, and it makes a huge mess.  Yes, I did hear Alton Brown's voice in the back of my head... "Unitasker!"  To which I say, psh.  You are just not very creative, sir.  It's also a conversation piece.  Duh.  For all your stimulating conversations starting with:  "What's that?"
"A spaetzle maker."
"Oh.  Cool."
There was also a place for home cheese and yogurt starts, and that most frightening of on-the-rise do-it-yourselfers:  komboucha.  Not sold on that stuff, but I've always wanted my own fresh mozz. 

Despite the pre-Super Bowl flush of customers (which is great to see in a small business), Lynn spent a good chunk of time talking about canning trends and such for my piece.  I'm not exactly Michael Pollan, so it was very nice to be taken kind-of seriously as a sort-of writer by someone who really does know this topic and community.  She personally lived through the organic food and food preservation resurge in the 1970's, when food inflation prices drove people back into their kitchens and gardens for the first time in years, and the store has seen the Great Recession home-canning renaissance that started booming in 2008.  Definitely an interesting perspective that broadens my mini-window of experience.

Although I left to return to the country with my spaetzle equipment and my very own canning instructor's freshman book, I'm going to need a return trip.  There was an adorable apron I was eyeing, and I keep thinking about that ravioli press.  And I'm a Portland food blogger and I've never been to a freaking food cart... I need to get back into Southeast, dammit!  It's a moral imperative!

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