Cooking for a sense of place

Our cousin Eric recently graced us with a visit on his way to Okinawa for his first deployment as a Marine attorney. When someone visits you, it’s both an honor and a gift, and it leaves the host with a certain measure of responsibility. As this was Eric’s first visit to the Pacific Northwest, and his last stop on the way to overseas duty, that responsibility was, if anything, more acute.

Sisters mountains in Oregon

Preparing a meal is perhaps the quickest and most effective way to give someone a sense of place. Eric showed up at the Greyhound station on a redeye bus, so I sent him to the Coast for the day. He’d already offered to buy steaks, but I upped the ante by sending him to a favorite seafood shop on the bayfront in Newport. He returned with fresh halibut, scallops and crab meat in a bag of crushed ice, plus a bottle of pinot noir from a local vineyard. We added asparagus, scallions and fish sticks for Bailey and the result was quite nice.

Seafood meal

We then headed to the Cascades for a couple days of hiking and fishing the Deschutes. We didn’t land any trout large enough to grill on the fire, but we were fortunate enough to pass a stand in Sisters selling salmon jerky and fresh blue chanterelle mushrooms, which I’d never tried before. We cooked them in oil on a camp stove and ate them with of Painted Hills beef tenderloin filets next to the cerulean blue of the Metolius River burbling and hidden in the darkness just beyond the propane lantern light. The chanterelles were, if anything, cleaner and more earthy in taste than their pale cousins, and they glistened black in the camp light. We drank Black Butte Porter in the shadow of the actual Black Butte, reminding me of why Oregon is perhaps the best place in the world for beer.

Eric and Bailey fishing on the Deschutes

Eric is an avid traveller, eater and Anthony Bourdain fan, the sort of fellow to snap photos of what he eats, wherever he happens to be in the world. When someone visit’s it fine (and easy) to take him to your favorite restaurant, but I think that cooking something local is even more effective. And when your guest snaps a photo of what you prepared together, then you know you’ve had at least some measure of success.

And if Eric decides to return to sample some more of Oregon’s offerings, we’ll know we’ve made a lasting impression.

Published by David

Writer (Vintage), filmmaker (Three Days of Glory and Saving Atlantis), bookreader.

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