Update: Discovering Cascadia From a Land Afar

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It is no secret that I have failed to update the Cascadian Kitchen in quite some time.  Two life events have transpired that have impacted my attention to this food blog, which have left me uncertain about how to adapt.  First, I started law school in 2014.  Second, I moved away from Seattle to Los Angeles.  I won’t dwell on how these two events have “taken away” my time; rather, I would like to briefly talk about how I’ve discovered that being a Cascadian “foodie” during law school in Southern California may not be impossible.

The cuisine of the Pacific Northwest, I have come to realize, is as much about what it is and how it is as it is about who it is.  By that, I mean we are interested in where our food comes from, how it came to be there, who brought it to us, and what sorts of changes it underwent through its cycle.  This is evident in grocery stores that indicate which products are “local” or name the farmer of particular seasonal produce; this is also evident in the menus of especially up-and-coming restaurants.

We love the various identities of our food–from the 800-degree wood-burning pizzeria oven to the Caribbean-spiced pulled-pork sandwiches to the steaming, fragrant broth of ramen or pho.  We love how our food regenerates, from the crudités of a fresh summer salad, to the roasted caramelization of an autumn Brussels sprout, to the fermented cabbage of some wintery kimchi.  We love the ugly and the tossed-out and the oft-ignored features of our food, embracing a dish with offal or all-out digging up the relics of the past, from heirlooms to old-fashioned curing techniques.

It is these features about who we are as eaters that makes–at least, for me–living and visiting the Pacific Northwest so fun.  It is what makes being a Cascadian feel so special.  Then, I went to law school, moved away and felt utterly disconnected from that.  Of course, I still cooked my salmon on cedar planks and made my own jams.  But it was with the somber habit of an exile.  It was as if the Cascadian food scene were an island and I was an ocean away from its fruits and bounty.

Then I started seeing Cascadia around me.  Suddenly, Costco (yes, Costco!) began selling wild Pacific Northwest chanterelle mushrooms; Portland-based ice cream innovators Salt & Straw popped up in Larchmont (then came Blue Star Donuts, and all along Pok Pok was here); and, then, Stumptown Coffee had trouble keeping their Hair Bender blend on the shelves at, like, the one store (albeit, it’s Whole Foods) that carries them.  Could it be true that Cascadia was exporting its own identity to Michelin-starry Los Angeles?

I don’t know.  But I like what I’m seeing.  I like what I’m tasting.  What this means for Cascadian Kitchen is still unknown.  I just wanted to tell you–and myself–that it is entering a new chapter.  I am rehabilitating my Cascadian foodieness, but with a fresh perspective, wiping away the rain and squinting with the sun in my eyes.  Isn’t this sort of transformation necessary?  Isn’t this also the nature of our food and how we relate to it?  I sure hope so.

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An Entirely New Menu

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About a month ago, I was getting ready to sign a contract with the South Korean government.  They offered me a year-long job teaching English to the country’s children.  I didn’t have much interest in teaching children and the more I learned about South Korea, the more interested I became in its food: kimchi, bibimbap, bulgogi, gochujang and…well, you get it.  During my interview, the question that excited me the most was, “What you do plan to eat here?”  I was ferocious in my response.  “Everything,” I said, rambling off a list of seafoods and pickled things.

It hit me that moving to South Korea, to live an isolated life, to begin afresh, was not what I wanted.  When a friend and I began seriously talking about investing our time and money into a food business, I decided to stay here.  I moved to a new apartment with a larger and brighter kitchen.  I now live in a converted house, segmented into four separate apartments, two on the top story and two on the bottom.  The other apartment on the top floor is being rented by my friend and a fellow cook.  In the little time I’ve been here, we have cooked some fun stuff.

Rockfish Green Mole, Fiddleheads with Roasted Potatoes, Stewed Cardoons and Eggplant

Channel Rockfish, troll-caught wild off the Pacific Northwest coast

And this is just the beginning.  I have deleted just about every post that was on here.  From now on, Saudade will be a document of my food adventures.  This will include my experiments in the kitchen and the garden.

I am taking a quick break to write this.  Now I have to return to the kitchen to finish painting the walls.  ¡Buen provecho!