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Full On Oregon, Part 2 and Basil-Infused Watermelon Lemonade

Well, this certainly took a bit longer than I had planned!  Besides a nasty bout of bronchitis that totally took me down, I’ve found myself in the throes of college applications, SAT’s and ACT’s, plus a few magazine deadlines just for good measure.   Unfortunately, poor little SGCC has had to sit in the back of the bus temporarily, while I play catch up.  But, I realized that I’ve left you hanging in the middle of my Oregon trip, and that just won’t do.  The second half of  my adventure was just as fabulous as the first, and I really do want to share it with you. I had actually put together a very nice slideshow with music and everything for you.   It was perfect and I had my heart set on using it in this post.  Unfortunately, the artist who recorded the music that I wanted to use never responded to my request for permission.  After two emails and five days, I gave up.  Sigh… 

On Friday night, my fellow bloggers and I were treated to a burgers and brew bash high on a rooftop deck in the artsy Pearl District digs of Weiden & Kennedy [1].  There, Chef Gregory Denton from Metrovino [2] and Chef Chris Carriker from The Gilt Club [3] served up mini-versions of some of the tastiest burgers you’ll find anywhere.  These weren’t just any old burgers, either.  They were elk burgers, lamb burgers and Metrovino’s award-winning double decker burgers as well.   To go along with the burgers, we also enjoyed some lovely salads, gnocchi, fresh Dungeness crab and scrumptious sweets.

High on a Rooftop in the Pearl District

Saturday morning took us over to the Portland Farmers Market to pick up ingredients for a canning workshop and to marvel over the amazing bounty of Oregon’s growers and artisan producers.  I literally was blown away by all of the magnificent produce I found.  Everything positively glistened!  I’ve never seen anything like it.

Once we had scored all of our ingredients, Jennifer from Sassafras Catering [7] had to pry the cameras out of our hands and drag us kicking and screaming over to Kitchen Cru [8] for our canning session.  Honestly, I could have stayed at that market all day long.  Between the sights, smells and glorious weather, I couldn’t think of a more pleasant place to be.

Kitchen Cru is a shared use community kitchen.  It offers the use of a fully equipped, licensed, commercial kitchen and private event space for small catering businesses, private chefs and cooking instructors.    The facility also provides support services and business development guidance for their clients, like Sassafras Catering.  It’s a terrific and much more affordable option for these small businesses.  Without the financial burden and upkeep of maintaining their own kitchens, they can focus on the food – and that’s what it’s all about.

At our workshop, Jennifer and her partner, Erin, taught us the basics of canning and preserving as we made a big batch of tomato jam. Before we knew it, we were slicing and dicing a huge basket filled with drop dead gorgeous heirloom tomatoes.  Look at those happy faces!

The tomatoes were cooked down for a good, long time with lots of sugar and some aromatic spices, like ginger, cumin and coriander.  Then, the jam was ladled into prepared jars and tucked into a boiling water bath.

Here are the fruits of our labor.

Next, was a fabulous lunch prepared by more of Portland’s rock star chefs, Jenn Lewis of Lincoln Restaurant [9], Chris Israel of Gruner [10] and Kask, and Scott Dolich of Park Kitchen [11] and The Bent Brick [12].  Of course, great food also needs some great wine, so we also had Hilda and Hannah Jones from Abacela Winery [13] and Rollin Soles from Argyle Winery [14] on hand with some of their best vintages.

Here’s a picture of Helene making a picture of the Kitchen Cru crew.  Hehe!  I don’t think she knows I got this one.

After lunch, one group left to learn how to make artisan ice cream.  Another, went to fine tune their prowess at making cocktails.  And for the rest of us, it was all about charcuterie, baby!    Eric and Paula from Chop Butchery [15] taught us how to make homemade pancetta and a divine little bourbon chicken liver pâté.   Mercy!

Here’s Sean taking a shot of the flambé.    You may recall that we were trapped in an elevator together on the 45th floor of our Atlanta hotel during BlogHer Food [16].  We’re soulmates now.  I love him!

The grand finale of our wonderful Portland adventure took us back to the beautiful Willamette Valley for a farewell banquet at the Penner-Ash Wine Cellars [17].  Ron and Lynn Penner-Ash were our most gracious hosts for a gala dinner and wine tasting at their lush and scenic winery.   It was a time to kick back and relax among the rolling hills and fields of wildflowers.

Chef Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place [18] cooked up a sumptuous feast for us.   During the cocktail hour, there was an amazing seafood bar overflowing with mounds of local Dungeness crab, spicy scallop ceviche and various kinds of Pacific oysters.  A few steps away, there was a charcuterie bar loaded with cured meats, cheeses and pâté.   It was a foodie’s dream!

By the time I sat down to dinner, I must confess that I was pretty much stuffed, and more than a little drunk.  (I should have gone a little easier on that crab.)  But, I took one for the team and forced myself to eat at least a few bites of each impeccably prepared course.   All of the food was sourced from local farms and producers, including Vindian Farms [19], River’s Edge Chevre [20], La Mariposa and Carman Ranch [21].

To complement all of the deliciousness, we sipped wines from King Estate Winery [22], Apolloni Vineyards [23], Troon Vineyard [24] and of course, Penner-Ash.

As all good things must come to an end, eventually it was time to say goodbye to our new friends and head back to Portland.  As I struggled to keep my eyes open on the bus ride back, the snippets of conversation that drifted by made me smile.  What a weekend it had been – for all of us!  Oregon is a magical place, and I am so grateful that I not only had the opportunity to experience it, but that I got to do so with such a talented and creative group of people.

My sincerest thanks goes out to Travel Oregon [25] for inviting me into their little slice of heaven, and for making me feel valued and special.    I’d also like to thank all of the participating chefs, growers,  winemakers and artisan producers.  Their dedication to their crafts, commitment to sustainability and respect for the land is an inspiration to me and an example that we can all follow.  And  last but not least, I thank my fellow travelers just for being the great group of bloggers that they are.  I couldn’t imagine sharing this experience with a more fun bunch!  I enjoyed spending time with each one of them and look forward to the next time our paths cross.

When we arrived at Kitchen Cru on Saturday morning, the ladies from Sassafras had tall, chilled glasses of watermelon lemonade waiting for us. It was wonderful! So wonderful, in fact, that I probably drank a whole gallon of the stuff all by myself. Tomato jam aside, I knew that when I got home I would be making that lemonade.   While I didn’t use their exact recipe, I think my version, inspired by the original, comes pretty darn close.

This lemonade is light, refreshing and utterly delicious. Plus, it’s one of the prettiest shades of red you’ll ever see. It is made by pureeing fresh watermelon and adding a lemon and basil infused simple syrup. Basil does wonderful things when paired with fresh fruits, and it’s a natural in this drink.

You can adjust the sweetness of the lemonade by adding more or less of the syrup to your taste. Plus, you can take it up a notch by adding a shot of vodka or gin for a grown up version.

I’m still able to find watermelon in the markets here, but I’m sure not for long.   So, if you’re looking to celebrate summer’s last hurrah, hurry and make some basil-infused watermelon lemonade – while you still can.