Since Friday December 10th, I have been cooking up "inside-out" cheeseburgers at the Kruger's Farm produce stand, located at 7316 N Lombard St, 97203. Humongous thanks to all those who have already visited, and to those who had no idea we were out there cooking, my deepest apologies.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 8:54 AM
Posted by Ali and Evan at 6:05 PM
I am sure that by now many of you must be wondering, "what the heck is going on with Ali and Evan? Why such a long hiatus on the LRBC blog?"
I stand before you willing to claim full responsibility for the recent, now more than one month long, lack of disclosure. We're still here, but the task of creating a new mobile food business has kept us both very busy, and resulted in a complete lack of blogging on this site. On a very positive note, I am happy to share with you that our lack of new news regarding our forthcoming food (ad)venture has forced Ali to create an alternative platform to channel her creative energy. Those of you eager to regain touch with the writer who bestowed so much of her magic into this website must check out her current project, Footbridge to the Feast. Go there now, and bask in the warm beauty that is my beloved wife. Those of you curious to learn more about what has transpired "behind the scenes" during these past few weeks, please read on...
One week ago today, I made a half gallon of yellow mustard. The mustard is currently being stored in large glass jars, high on a shelf in the dark corner of a commercial kitchen space I have been using. In another week I will get to taste the mustard in an effort to judge whether the white vinegar has mellowed enough over time. If the mustard is ready, it will be transferred to a refrigerator for use in my food truck. If however, the mustard is still too strong it must remain at room temperature for another week, or until it reaches its desired taste.
For me, waiting has always been difficult. At first, I was reluctant to make the mustard in-house, fearing it wouldn't be ready to use by the time I opened my food truck. At this point, I'm just hopeful that my truck will be fixed so I have a working fridge to put that mustard in.
In late September we dumped all of our savings and more into a 1986 Chevrolet Step Van that had recently been converted into a mobile food unit. I first went to see the truck in effort to learn more about what kind of units were on the market. Like a little boy who falls in love with a puppy, I returned from my "fact finding mission" eager to share the news with Ali that I had found my new kitchen. Lets just say that she wasn't exactly as thrilled as I was upon learning about the object of my desire. While taking the truck to a mechanic for an inspection, Ali got her first look at the truck. She has since admitted that upon first seeing the truck, she liked it more than she thought she would. Had the inspection proven a bit more thorough, we might not have ended up buying the truck in the first place. But it wasn't, and we did.
Perhaps the problems I have encountered, are in fact, products of my own intention. I believe in intention; and in hindsight I'm confused as to why I told so many people that I was sure there would be some "unexpected setbacks" which would delay the opening date for the truck. If deep down I have some sort of untapped masochistic side, it must be buried very deep, because most of my recent "setbacks" have been met with frustration (and plenty of expletives). Bad starters, loose fan belts, rusted soft plugs, dead batteries, and broken windows aside, there has also been a great deal of progress in the midst of the madness.
Since buying the truck we have been doing a great deal of research, working to create a concept and menu that we are excited to be able to share with you. Our days have been spent scouring menus for inspiration, conceiving new recipe ideas, tweaking favorite classics, and eating more red meat than our bodies desire. Thank goodness that the past couple weeks have shifted to vegan recipes, a necessary change as we scratch and claw our way towards our opening day. More than ever, I look forward to a time when I will get to show up to work and cook. Currently we are playing the waiting game, this time relying on some outside assistance to help us get our truck (which we have named "Lucy") running smoothly. I'm no auto-mechanic. As well as I can remember, I'm a decent cook, and I'm dying to be able to give it another go.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 1:25 PM
I have consumed more ground beef in the past eight weeks than in the past eight years. The patty melt sandwich is to blame. Are you familiar with the patty melt? No need to be embarrassed if you aren't. Prior to my own recent investigations, if someone were to ask me what comprised this American classic I would only be able to get as far as hamburger, bread and cheese.
True, those are the nuts and bolts of a patty melt but only now can I understand and appreciate the details. Let's break it down: A traditional patty melt consists of a well-seasoned ground beef patty, Swiss cheese and grilled onions, grilled (not toasted) on rye. We've been making a lot of these sandwiches recently all in the name of recipe testing. Around our house, homemade Thousand Island dressing is the go-to spread that really "ties the room together." After several attempts at tweaking the traditional recipe and trying to think of a way to make this classic even better, we kept returning to the original. It is times like these when we are forced to give in to simplicity and recognize the inherent greatness of a timeless combination. Stick to these key components and you'll be able to recreate your own personal griddled bliss.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 7:22 PM
While many things have changed since we closed the doors to the cafe, some things remain exactly the same. For example, in spite of our own personal identity crisis, people in the neighborhood still refer to us as "the Little Red Bike People." As such, we have become very accustomed to being asked:
Q: "When are you going to open up again?"
An obvious question I admit, but one we had a difficult time answering.
This is the question that used to cause a knot to form in my stomach, because every time we made an attempt to answer it, the answer never felt honest. The answer was never honest because it was constantly in flux. If you asked me this question three months ago, around the time when we just closed our doors, my response would have been: "Never. We will never open back up again." That would have been my response because that's what you say when you're down on the ground; it's the only natural reflex you can muster when you feel like your heart has been ripped out of your chest.
After a month of acting like hermits and nursing our egos, we decided our only option was to dust ourselves off, get out of the house, and seek inspiration. If the first month sans cafe was about detox, then the second month was all about recovery. I am grateful for the family and friends we got to spend this time with, guiding us in the opportunity to see and experience more of the world. I truly believe it was all of the hysterical camping trips, late-night motivational speeches, incredible meals, and globe trekking that nourished us during this time. It was the donuts from New York, the sunshine from Spain, and the stylish biking culture from Amsterdam that put fire in our bellies. It was my grandfather's peanut butter waffles, and the late night dance-offs, and Saturday morning juice parties that made us hungry for the next adventure. These experiences, and the times in-between, are what made me feel comfortable in my own skin again.
More than three months have passed since we shut the doors to the cafe, and despite all that we have done in-between, it's hard for me to believe so much time has gone by. To be brutally honest about the subject, it took a concerted effort on our part to see each other as husband and wife again, and not as business partners, to convince ourselves, and each other, that we might be ready to try branch back out into the food industry again.
Apologies if I am moving way too fast. I know that it is difficult to accept the fact that your beloved cafe will remain (for the time being) in some sort of frozen-Han-Solo state; alive, but in perfect hibernation. The LRBC still exists in our hearts, so we know that the dream of a future home for the cafe need not die. In the meantime, we've been busy planning some fun alternatives that will help tide you over until the day when that other dream comes true. We are elated to share the news that we will soon have an opportunity to cook for the very same North Portland customers who helped legitimize our business in the first place. Perhaps the best part of all, this newest kitchen of ours is on wheels, meaning that this time around we can bring our food to you.
In other words, we are finally able to answer that question that's apparently been plaguing many of us:
A: We are planning on feeding you again soon.
We are still in the beginning stages of working out the details, but rest assured that sometime in the near future we will be introducing a new mobile dining experience to a street near you. Around the same time we are also planning on launching a new retail business, specializing in small batch cakes, jams and granola (yes, these are many of the same recipes you fell in love with at the cafe).
I recently came to the realization that I have spent that last ten years in the food industry, trying to make a living out of creating positive and memorable food experiences for the people around me. Experience proves that this is not an easy task. We didn't get into this business seeking money or notoriety. We wanted to create a neighborhood coffee shop and cafe because of a passion for food, and because we wished to share that passion with others. We are people who tend to follow our nose, react to our gut, and work tirelessly at everything we do. Suffice to say, if we are going to go after something, we are going to do so the only way we know how: at full speed (which according to some is the only speed worth going). This time we acknowledge that we are dreaming big. Please stay tuned as this latest chapter of the story unfolds.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 1:34 PM
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Evan and I recently attended a beautiful outdoor wedding—where it proceeded to dump buckets of rain the entire time. Guests were clad in rubber rain boots and ponchos, toting umbrellas as their +1. Undeterred, the bride and groom sought refuge from the storm in their devotion. They declared their love as the rest of us stood in admiration, huddled beneath whatever shelter we could find. When I discovered from the officiant that the ceremony was based on a traditional Hindu ceremony, I couldn't help but feel that the rain was a perfect omen. Historically, rain on a wedding day represents a symbol of fertility and health among agricultural societies. Just as rain promotes growth in the farmers' crops, it supposedly foretells the coming of children. While many cultures still perpetuate this belief, I remember reading somewhere that according to Hindus, it's good luck to tie the knot when it's raining because "a wet knot is harder to undo than a dry one."
Even after being completely blown away with the intimate details of the ceremony, what I was really excited about was the reception, and more specifically, the food. Early on I became smitten with the bride and groom's registry. As you know, oftentimes tucked alongside the bride and groom's request for your attendance on their big day is the additional request for a gift. Intended as a means to help the bride and groom get settled in their new life together, sometimes these "suggestions" can be downright demanding (I should know: Evan and I were registered at Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, and Garnet Hill. Family and friends, will you ever forgive us?). However, when we opened up Jess and Devon's wedding invitation we found no such demands. Instead, guests were asked to contribute something to the potluck which was to immediately follow the ceremony.
In turn, the buffet at the reception was vast and never-ending. The dishes catered to a wide variety of tastes, and perfectly reflected the diverse network of community and friends this couple has surrounded themselves with. As soon as I grabbed a plate and began surveying the possibilities, it became apparent that no caterer on Earth could manage to pull off such a feast. Later, we were asked to transcribe the recipes from our dishes into the guest-book, which eventually became the coolest cookbook imaginable for the bride and groom. We ate pulled pork and wheatberry salad. Chocolate cupcakes, tortilla chips and corn salsa. Black bean enchiladas with quinoa, gluten-free lasagna with pork bolognese, and drunken peanut noodle salad with Asian slaw. Oh, and who could forget the super delicious dinner rolls from Dovetail Bakery? For our contribution Evan and I hauled out the camping stove, and passed around homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Guests ate at long rows of picnic tables, commenting on each others' cooking prowess, and in full agreement we were in good company. These interactions provided an amazing opportunity for guests to mingle, participate, and contribute to the overall success of the event. I thought it was an ingenious move by the bride and groom, and upon reflection, I feel that we got much more out of their registry than they did. Just another example of the kind of people they are.
As a thank you to our friends for including us on this magical day, Evan and I put together a special breakfast-care package. Part of that care package is what you see slathered on the toast in the photo above. Jess and Devon's wedding gave me a perfect excuse to make jam with the peaches that arrived so late this summer. In an attempt to honor their bright personalities, I wanted to make something unique. The end result was a marvelous Peach Ginger Rose jam (that just so happens to pair very well with salty butter and whole wheat toast).
To Jess, Devon, and Djuna: We were honored to be your witnesses. Celebrating your family comes easy—to say the least.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 10:51 AM
Posted by Ali and Evan at 3:48 PM
This salad was made in the morning, in a tiny yellow kitchen in North Portland, and was later biked to a romantic picnic for two on the Skidmore Bluffs. The salad contained: toasted multi-grain pan de tomate*, fresh tomatoes, green olives, wax beans, fresh mozzarella, shallots, Kalamata olives, and basil, and was tossed with a red wine vinaigrette. It was paired with a bottle of rosé and Blitzen Trapper, on a warm sunny day around 4:30 in the afternoon.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Doughnut (featured top right and lower corner)
Doughnut Plant, NYC
Quite possibly the best doughnuts we've ever come across, the peanut butter and jelly was the stand-out in the bunch. The outside of the raised doughnut has a peanut butter glaze studded with crushed peanuts. The doughnut itself is rich while remaining airy, and inside awaits a homemade blackberry jam. So good we ordered two.
Plum, Goat Cheese, and Basil Sesame Toast
Marlow & Sons, NYC
Beets and goat cheese. Goat cheese and beets. By now we are all too familiar with the pairing, which is featured on just about every other restaurant's salad menu. When we came across this variation in Brooklyn, our taste buds exploded into cartwheels upon recognition that we were in fact eating juicy plums drizzled in olive oil instead of your typical roasted beet. The combination was major in every way; sweet, tart, tangy, earthy, and nutty. An instant summer classic, and something that made our hard-on for the whole Firth and Tarlow empire, well, that much harder.
Momofuku Noodle Bar, NYC
Evan said he could eat this spicy pork stew every day for the rest of his life. It was served with a bowl of steamed white rice on the side. Lucky for us Chang's recipe for this one, along with several other favorites, is in Momofuku’s (a-mazing) cookbook.
Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, NYC
Vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt, chocolate dip. As a dipped cone connoisseur, I would definitely have to put this one at the top of my list.
Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel
Het Melkwoud, Haarlem, Netherlands
There is nothing like drinking European beer on tap, close to the source. Brasserie d'Achouffe or "Chouffe", is a small artisanal brewery in The Ardennes Mountains of Achouffe, Belgium. According to Chouffe the blend is "a unique marriage between the English tradition of IPAs, the American new revolution of Imperial IPAs and the classic Belgian way of brewing." Not as hoppy as a traditional IPA but a bit more bitter than a traditional tripel, the balance of flavors in Houblon Chouffe easily masks the 9% alcohol content. When we got to sample this amzing beer on draft at Het Melkwoud in Haarlem, Evan and I agreed that this is one deliciously dangerous beer. (As in you could probably drink four or five without blinking an eyelash-just before falling off your bar-stool.)
De Kas, Amsterdam, Netherlands
The best way to describe eating at De Kas is to say it is like eating in a museum. Everything is that beautiful. Aside from the greenhouse that encompasses the actual dining room, bar and kitchen, there are greenhouses and gardens throughout the property, where Mediterranean vegetables, herbs and edible flowers are grown on site. The restaurant also owns land 10 kilometers from Amsterdam in the Purmer Polder, where seasonable vegetables are grown outdoors throughout the year. The restaurant's ever-changing fixed menu is based on what was harvested that day, and is supplemented with fresh ingredients purchased from local farms around the vicinity of Amsterdam. Served as a vegetarian lunch entree, the sweet leaves of the artichoke provided the perfect bowl for this creamy risotto made with Israeli cous-cous, red peppers, and shitake mushrooms.
*Pan de Tomate
Any cafe, Barcelona, Spain
In little bars and cafes throughout Spain you can easily find pan con tomate on the menu- grilled bread brushed with olive oil and topped with grated fresh tomato. Might sound silly but we had no idea something so simple could taste so good- or be so addictive. We have been recreating this dish ever since we got back from Spain, testing out grilled bread vs. toasted, and baguettes vs. whole grain loaves. The real key to this dish is the grated tomato. As in, please use a box (cheese) grater to grate the tomatoes. First, brush the (toasted) bread in olive oil. Spoon the fresh tomato on top. Drizzle with more olive oil. Top with coarse sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Warning: May become habit forming.
I cannot think of a single thing we didn't like about Las Dos Lunas. We spent the night falling in love and going gaga; finding everything about the ambiance and food heart-clenching. "Smitten" would be an understatement. It didn't hurt that upon our arrival we were presented with a beautiful plate of mortadella and biscuits, thinly sliced and flecked with pistachios. So simple yet delicate and flavorful, this welcome plate of antipasti was life changing. I can only imagine what it would have happened if the bologna in the mayo and white bread sandwiches of my youth was swapped out for this mortadella. I may have grown up a different person. (Seriously.)
Warm Chocolate Chip Cookies
Waves of Grain Bakery, Cannon Beach, OR
We cannot stress this fact enough: if you are out on the Oregon Coast do yourself a favor and stop in at Waves of Grain Bakery in Tolovana Wayside. Housed in an adorable little cottage located one block from the beach, the bakery is notorious for pumping out pure, tangible goodness. We spent this summer trying to make day-trips to the beach (and WOG) a habit, and notoriously spent the hour and a half drive west pondering what goodies our friends had in store for us. Usually we're suckers for WOG's Praline Pecan and Ginger Molasses cookies, but during our most recent visit Jason and Hilary gifted us two chocolate chip cookies, still warm from the oven. While the outside had developed a nice crust, the inside was still gooey and doughy. This took the chocolate chip cookie to another level.
So, what about you? What dishes blew your mind this summer?
Posted by Ali and Evan at 10:06 AM
In case you're wondering, the above title is in reference to the Neil Diamond song. If I've failed to disclose this information before, I listened to a lot of Neil Diamond in college. Especially in the mornings, waiting for the coffee to brew. I feel like this particular Neil Diamond song is quite apt for this occasion (For those of you who don't know it, do yourself a favor).
A lot of time has lapsed since I last shared with you. In the meantime, we have received plenty of word from you. Thank you for that. During our silence Evan and I have been counting our blessings. The outcry of support in your comments and emails has been so humbling. I appreciate the insights you have on writing, and the stories you've shared. We are grateful that you considered our cafe a part of your family. We miss being there, and think of it (and you) every day. Just so you know, it made me incredibly joyful to tell my grandfather about this blog and about all of you.
Before arriving in Massachusetts, we had yet to speak to one another about the cafe's closure. While he had been informed of the news by mother, he was waiting to discuss the matter with me in person; because that's the kind of man Dr. Morton Rosenberg is. Evan and I did our best to explain the pickle we found ourselves in. We stayed up past midnight one evening glazing over the flood and damages, the validity of our sub-lease, and the threats of eviction coming from the opposing side. We were grateful once we got to the part about all of our supporters, readers, and customers. Lastly, we were relieved that by the time we got to the part about our farewell party, and the ambition to write and publish a food narrative, my grandparents ascertained, "Little Red Bike Cafe was a success." That despite the bumps, or perhaps because of them, Evan and I surfaced from the experience better people. Thankfully, my grandparents never once offered up the phrase "Life's not fair" during any of our discussions. That helped.
Although I didn't go to Martha's Vineyard with the intention of gaining their approval, the assessment and evaluation of my circumstances by two people who have witnessed and experienced nearly a century of history each, was exactly what I needed. As much as I wanted to believe our venture was a successful enterprise, there was still a part of me that came unglued when thinking about it. I felt plagued with the what-ifs, and the could-have-beens. I told my grandparents I was having a difficult time trying to figure out who I was without the cafe. I tried to explain that without it, my life felt rather empty. Waking, eating, sleeping, engaging. It was now all different.
They both seemed to agree that our future plans of travel would be good for us. "Seek inspiration in new experiences. Travel always helps to sort things out," my grandmother assured me. "When you get back, that's when you focus on getting a new routine."
Wise words, my friends, wise words.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 10:11 AM
Meet Grandpa Morton.
At 93 years young this amazing man has had more life experiences than HBO could capture in one of their award-winning original dramas. A life that began gathering chicken eggs on a rural farm later thrust him into the "Roaring Twenties," the Great Depression, WWII, the Cold War, Watergate, the Vietnam War, and numerous recessions; this isn't some sort of brief history of the 20th century. For Grandpa Morton, this is his life. One might think that after nearly one hundred years on planet earth, a person would develop some sort of "been there, done that, I've seen all there is to see" sort of attitude towards living. But spend just a few minutes with this man and you'll feel humbled to be in the presence of such knowledge. He resonates optimism similar to the way our sun continuously exudes that life giving force we call energy. A day's worth of contact, and one feels as though she could write a self-help book based on the pearls of wisdom he regularly peppers into a conversation. When he speaks, I can't help but feel like I am a resident squirrel in a public park, waiting for this kind man to offer up another nut that I can cherish and protect, and eventually devour in effort to help me survive a bitter cold that lay ahead.
During our recent visit, Grandpa Morton decided that he wanted to make us waffles for Sunday brunch. I marveled thinking about the countless waffles this man must have made throughout his lifetime. Surely he mastered his waffle technique many years ago, after a great deal of trial and error. I pictured him sitting at the breakfast table, a man growing older and the world around him rapidly changing, all the while the table setting and the waffle remaining constant. When Sunday morning arrived we all staggered from our respective beds, and grandpa made us waffles, one by one. As he hovered over the waffle iron for what seemed like an hour, a single waffle sat proudly on the counter next to him. This was the day's first waffle, and it was to be grandpa's waffle, but he politely refused to eat it until the rest of us had been served. As time rolled by, the waffle began to lose its crispness, but grandpa didn't seem to care.
It wasn't until it was his turn to eat that grandpa casually mentioned that this was the first waffle he had ever made by himself. Upon hearing this fact I went into a state of shock. Bewildered, I snapped the above photo in effort to try to capture the moment. Ninety-three years old and this man was still attaining new life experiences.
After we all finished breakfast and began to clear dished from the table, I asked grandpa what he had thought of his very first homemade waffle:
"So, what did you think?" I asked.
"It was alright," he replied.
"Just alright?" I exclaimed.
"Yes. It was okay. Perhaps I'll try making another one in ten years." The tone of his voice implied not the slightest bit of sarcasm or hesitation. On the contrary, the conviction of the comment assured me he will make that next waffle, even if it takes him another ten years to do so. Sharing in this moment made me feel as though I had stumbled upon a pot of gold. Perhaps it is his intention, his unwavering will to keep on going, that has guided grandpa and allowed him to live such a long and illustrious life.
It wasn't just breakfast that grandpa bestowed upon us all this past Sunday. Once again, he effortlessly turned a routine exercise into a valuable lesson. No matter what kind of curve ball life throws our way, we mustn't hesitate to continue to dust ourselves off, adjust our grip, and step back up to the plate. Who knows what kind of delicious challenges tomorrow will bring?
Posted by Ali and Evan at 6:55 AM
No, we haven't fallen off the face of the earth.
And though it may sadden many of you to read this, we are not yet waist deep in bringing you LRBC version 2.0.
The truth is we're on vacation.
Not your run-of-the-mill, weekend getaway, tent camping on the river kind of vacation. This is a full-scale, pack your bags, don't forget to put a hold on our mail kind of trip. We're referring to it as a research culinary tour; twenty days of exploring, eating and digesting the world around us. Rest assured that we're loving every minute of it, refusing to take a single nanosecond for granted.
We do apologize for our lack of contact. And given our forthcoming schedule, one should expect at least a couple more weeks of sporadic (at best) blog contact. Please know that we miss you, and we think of you often. As the saying goes, "we wish you were here," and we appreciate the kind sentiments you continue to share with us. We can't thank you enough for the many in depth emails, comments, and advice you all have offered ever since our disclosure that we've been bitten by the book-writing bug. We look forward to our return home, and the chance to share with you the inspiration we've accumulated during our most recent journey.
Until that time comes, be sure to get out and make the most of what mid-summer has to offer. From what we can tell, this season's donuts are just entering their peak ripeness. Happy picking.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 4:40 PM
photo by Pupil Photography
Admittedly the process didn't come naturally to me, especially in comparison to the ease of writing a blog post. When writing for the book I struggled getting anything down on the page. I felt like I fought for every one of those sentences. To help us write, said Agent encouraged us to have a clear audience in mind, as well as a focus. Would this book be conventional? Used in the kitchen? Or pretty? Put on a coffee table? While I had the audience part down (ahem- I was hoping that would be all of you), Evan and I still weren't sure what the book was about. It felt weird thinking about writing a "Little Red Bike Cafe Cookbook," especially because at 1.5 years old, our cafe's story had yet to unfold. We knew we wanted a book that was beautiful, contained recipes, pictures and diagrams, but had stories, too. We wanted some depth to it. Perhaps a little fluff. We basically wanted to tell the story of us, and about where our journey thus far in life, and specifically with food, has taken us. While it seemed awful narcissistic to think others would care to read (let alone purchase) a book containing such information, we did feel confident that we had something to say, and more telling, a desire to try. Through our interaction with our customers and our blog readers, we also thought it was worth taking a chance to see if we were right. We decided to shoot for a food memoir; in our hearts we were hoping for something between the beauty of the perfect coffee table book, the functionality of a beloved edged-stained cookbook, and the heart-warming nature of a good read you keep by your bedside. This memoir contained bits and pieces from Evan's and my history, this blog, and recipes and stories from home, travels abroad, and our cafe. I was four months into my writing project when the hard drive seized and I lost everything. Every single word I'd written.
I was devastated. At the time I felt that "this is perhaps the most overwhelming thing that can happen to a writer." Eight days after I typed that sentence my mom suffered cardiac arrest, twice, and survived with her life after a 5% chance. Five percent. I'll never forget when the doctor made a number out of my mother's existence. Needless to say, I had a major shift in perspective. Losing my hard drive was nothing in comparison to the thought of losing my mom. As the months rolled by, the focus was on the health and well-being of our family and business. We threw everything we had into getting lost in the moment, and any thought of a future book was fleeting, and every memory faded. We bought a new hard drive and continued telling our story on the blog, despite how censored our writing had become due to formal courtesies and endless legal peacocking from an opposing team's side. Truth be told, I've always preferred writing on the blog, mostly because it feels...safe. I rarely feel harshly judged by my audience, and I have the pleasure of using the "delete comment" button if I completely disagree with your tone or point of view. Writing on a blog platform allows me so much more control than if I were to try and actually write an entire book. After the tanked economy, the cafe's flood, and my mom's cardiac arrest I just felt lucky that we had all survived. I didn't feel up to the task of trying to rewrite anything, and more so, I didn't want to take the risk of failing in a pursuit of getting known, of doing something more, or going after the success I desired. P.S. This is not a way to live.
Yet throughout this time I carried a nagging feeling that a story was developing, and had been doing so all along. Though I wasn't prepared and I was too anxious to tackle writing at the time, this didn't stop the story from continuing to grow and build, eventually creating the momentum that got us through those very last days of our business. It's the story that made our ambition of opening up a cafe successful, despite the loss along the way. I know I like writing this blog. But there is more to it: I enjoy being the storyteller, or how I see it, the voice of the story. Life changed when we closed the doors to the cafe. For one, we no longer had venue to outsource and exchange our creative energy. We do miss and crave that interaction but ultimately accept that leaving that building was in the best interest for everybody involved. We feel as though we were meant to start our business there, and were meant to end it there, too. But as with all things that we have experienced so far in life, we know that's not where our story ends.
It was this notion that motivated Evan to call the long-lost-agent in New York and spark her memory of a couple who owned a little cafe located on a peninsula on the other side of the coast. Despite the year long break in communication, she remembered who we were, and again encouraged us to explore the possibilities of writing a book. Furthermore, she suggested we look beyond the confines of just Little Red Bike Cafe's customers as our sole audience. We were all in agreement that while the cafe was surely an important chapter in the history of our lives, the book would still need to resonate as a page-turner after this fact. In other words, the show must go on even when the cafe's future remains uncertain.
I feel really blessed to have the insight of this agent, we'll call her Agent K., because she is extremely gifted at filtering our ideas. Much like a flour sifter, she's able to refine the thought process into what will eventually create the tastiest product. I'm keeping her anonymous because right now we're just in the beginning stages of courting one another, seeing where this leads. That said, her input during the process has been invaluable, and she's the very reason why I'm writing this blog post today. Agent K. reminded me that not everybody who reads the blog ate at the cafe. She went on to explain that there will have to be something else that draws our readers in besides the sheer existence of the food establishment. It's a voice; a picture; a story; a connection. Quite obviously, I feel it is my duty to tap into this connection so that you may enjoy reading and experiencing food from our perspective, as much as we enjoy relaying it. My goal over the next three months is to sit down and produce a writing sample for a book. As before, more food memoir than just cookbook. This would not be a recreation of what was lost, but instead will be a completely new attempt. I'm excited about the potential of this project because it no longer feel like a task or a risk to write. This time around it feels more like a redemption--quite simply, the time has come. There. I wrote it. We have officially put it out there: we're working on a book.
In writing the outline I'd like to enlist the help of the blog readers. Specifically I'm dying to know what your favorite cookbooks are. For starters think about the best cookbooks, coffee table books, and food memoirs--what makes them your favorite? What are some lacking? What do you consider essential about a cookbook? Are you a person that just wants to look at the pictures? Stretch your minds even further, try to imagine that you've never heard about us, seen our pictures, or read this blog (what a sad world that would be). What would make you pick up a book about us, if you didn't know us? Basically what I'm asking here is, if Evan and I are setting our sights on writing a cookbook: "What would you want to know? See? Taste? Feel?"
I know that seems like an awful lot to chew at but we'd greatly appreciate your participation in this excercise. I know there are many readers who don't often comment (or comment at all), don't like public comments, or don't understand how to correctly leave a comment (hi Mom!), so I encourage you to send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions, thoughts, and ideas regarding your thought on the substance of a great book. Please do not hesitate to voice your opinion. I ensure you we will read and discuss every one thoughtfully and together. Thank you for indulging us. We can't wait to read the responses.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 12:34 PM
Delane was the first to get in touch, leaving a message on my home machine asking if I wanted to help out in the re-launch of the Plate and Pitchfork season. But really Delane found out through an email from her sister Memry, that was originally a forward from Erika Polmar, the creator of the aforementioned and insanely popular farm-to-table dinner series, that some extra hands were needed for a private event. It truly was a fantastic game of communication tag, which produced fabulous results. After a few more conversations a plan was set forth. Come Monday Delane, Memry, and I would pack into the car and head to Dundee, Oregon to help the people behind Plate and Pitchfork put on a private party. And boy, do these guys know how to throw a party.
While not technically a Plate and Pitchfork dinner, the event gave the P&P team a perfect opportunity to get creative with one of their favorite chefs before the official start of the Plate and Pitchfork dinner season. Eighty-one guests dined alfresco and family-style, nestled between rows of grapes on the hills of the Domaine Drouhin Vineyard, a property which contains arguably the most spectacular mountain and valley views of any vineyard in the Willamette Valley. The dinner was prepared by Chef Benjamin Bettinger from Beaker & Flask. He's the man you see pictured below, deboning a fillet of Chinook salmon. Please notice the adorable sprig of lavender behind the ear. I ask you to take note not because it's an undeniably cute touch to Ben's whole "hey look at me, I'm cooking outdoors" shtick, but more so because it speaks directly to Ben's friendly, approachable, and easy-going nature. He was completely at ease throughout the entire evening, and I couldn't help but notice that the more time I spent around him, the more inclined I felt to call him "Benny," just like the rest of his brigade.
In terms of ego, Ben is not a "big personality" chef; however Ben is a big personality when it comes to heart. His passion for food is evident, but he oozes a sense of cool and charm while directing the show, never one to keep himself from getting lost in the moment, or from laughing at a joke. It was a pleasure to watch him work, and I now understand why so many are not only smitten with "Benny's" food, but with the man himself.
As previously mentioned, the dinner was presented by Plate & Pitchfork. Everything I once suspected about this organization I can now confirm is true. P&P was created eight years ago by a woman who is as passionate about good food as she is about ecological sustainability. Aside from teaming up with local farms, chefs, and winemakers, a portion of the proceeds from the farm dinners have always been given back to supporting organizations doing good in the community, particularly those supporting small farms, environmental literacy and food security. Erika and her team, including the resilient Hannah Treuhaft, literally make magic happen in these fields every summer, and I feel damn lucky to have been able to peek behind the scenes to see how it all goes down.
Before we arrived, a long row of tables were set and dressed in crisp white linens, perfectly poised plates and silverware, and finished with mason-jar candle holders and plenty of stemware. For this particular party there were three pours of wine per course from some of the area's best and most interesting winemakers, specifically Brooks, Domaine Drouhin, and Montinore. The setting could not have been more perfect, and the weather was cooperating, providing us with clear views of the mountain and valley for miles. The end result was one fabulous evening. This evening, in this setting, paired with the food and staff, showcased what we're all about in the Pacific Northwest. I found it to be an incredible tribute to our local area, and I felt proud as I listened to the out-of-town guests express a loss of words over what they were experiencing. Needless to say, Oregon made a very fine impression on this particular group, who hailed from all across the country including Texas, South Carolina, and New Jersey.
The menu was impressive, especially when you consider everything is being finished, plated, and served outdoors. I have now eaten Ben Bettinger's food both indoors and outdoors and I'll be damned if one can tell a difference between the two as far as quality is concerned. Here's what was served, and what leftovers we staff later devoured:
2007 Brooks Ara Riesling
2007 Montinore Estate Gewürztraminer
2008 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Chardonnay Arthur
Chinook Salmon, Lentil Salad, Marinated Cucumbers, Roasted Tomato Aioli
2007 Brooks Janus Pinot Noir
2007 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot noir Willamette Valley
2008 Montinore Reserve Pinot Noir
Roasted Lamb Shoulder, Lamb "Marmalade," Summer Vegetables and Romesco
2006 Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir
2006 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Cuvée
2008 Montinore Estate Cataclysm Pinot Noir
Summer Berry Crostata with Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream
Portland Roasting Coffee
The service went very smooth and graceful, especially from the perspective of the diners, which is all that really ever matters. Our personal interaction with the diners was casual but genuine, with a focus on quality and attentiveness. Once the diners left it was up to the kitchen staff to clean-up their section, and then the P&P team really went in to action. Do not let me glamorize this job for you. The Plate and Pitchfork crew works hard for their money. Clearing tables, gathering linens, sorting rentals from private property, breaking down and loading tables and a mobile kitchen, including a bus station where the "dishwasher" consists of a couple of bus tubs and water jugs, is not easy work. Let alone doing it in the dark, using headlights, lanterns, stars, and the glow of the moon as your only sources of light. I'm letting you in on this part of the evening to let you know that there is an incredible amount of thought and effort that goes into producing such an elaborate event outdoors, and both as a professional in the food industry and someone who cares deeply about the world I'm living in, I deeply admire all that Erika and her team do. Whether you are able to attend a Plate and Pitchfork event as a guest (if you can manage to get a ticket before they sell out!) or as a volunteer, you can feel good about supporting this group of dedicated individuals. Their mission is to promote sustainability, create change, and fill your belly at the same time. What's not to love? Oh, and I should mention that they're also really funny, down-to-earth, and have really good taste in food and wine.
Fortunately for me the evening's good food didn't have to end after we left the vineyard. You see, there were so many leftovers from the night's festivities that I was "forced" to take food home with me. Truth be told I couldn't wait to share the deliciousness with Evan because I knew he'd love to utilize my haul for breakfast. In the morning, in true LRBC fashion, we made this meal our own by topping it with a fried egg.
with fried egg, seeded toast, and roasted tomato ailoi
(finish w/ Aardvark, if you're in our house)
Posted by Ali and Evan at 12:20 PM
We seem to run into a lot of familiar faces around the neighborhood, all inquiring where and when we're going to reopen our business. The people at the local branch of our bank were some of the most inquisitive, playfully demanding the return of fried egg sandwiches to take precedent over us enjoying any "free time."
As anxious as we often find ourselves, desperate for the answer to that and many other questions regarding the state of our future, we are also reminded of the fact that this is a rare and delightful time in our lives; an opportunity to sit back (save money) and enjoy life. While we have become painfully aware of our abrupt change in income, we also feel wealthy with the amount of activity and productivity we've accomplished since shutting the doors to the cafe. It has been awhile since we have had the luxury of having extra time on our hands. We are trying to spend this time very wisely as we are surely in the middle of embracing one of life's important lessons: time is worth more than money.
Therefore we are trying to keep the present in mind, rather than focusing too hard on the future. Making the most of the present means asking yourself this question:"What do I want to do for fun?" Answering this question at first felt daunting--specifically because it came coupled with the fact that we were no longer "Ali and Evan, owners of Little Red Bike Cafe," simply "Ali and Evan."
Our abrupt shift in lifestyle has had some extraordinary results.
To start, as of last Friday I am three weeks cigarette free. Or as I'm looking at it, $18 richer, with healthier lungs, and noticeably dewier, glowing skin.
We've honed in on Farmers' markets for multitasking. We like biking there and making plans to meet friends. You can exercise, socialize, support a good cause, and grab goods for an affordable dinner at home all at the same time.
We made a pledge to not dine out during the month of July* in hopes of becoming more conscious of where and how we spend our money. In doing so we were forcefully reintroduced to our home kitchen. We spent a day cleaning out the fridge and pantry, organizing the Tupperware and shelves, and scrubbing down the stove, oven, and tile. A mess that took approximately three years to create vanished on a Saturday afternoon with the help of four hands, a little elbow grease, and plenty of bluegrass music. While I miss the days of dressing up and going out on the town, I am also finding pleasure in cooking at home, bumping hips with my husband as we canoodle over a hot stove. For lack of a better phrase, walking into our kitchen now feels like a breath of fresh air-- a combination of cooperation, inspiration, and success.
After tackling the kitchen, the rest of our home was next. We systematically went through the home room by room, creating boxes along the way: "TRASH," "GOODWILL," and "SELL." In all honesty, our home hasn't been this clean or organized since the day we moved in. Imagine this, if being in the kitchen now feels like a breath of fresh air, the rest of our home feels like a dead tree has just been removed from our path. We were also taught an incredibly valuable lesson from the buyers at Buffalo Exchange and Powell's Books when we went to sell some of our wares: Our taste in literature will always prove more valuable than our sense of fashion.
Speaking of literature, we're both reading again. This feels nice, and remarkably cheap in comparison to the video rentals that inevitably included a late-fee charge. Evan's currently picked up my ninth grade copy of Mandelbaum's translation of "The Odyssey of Homer" (complete with my personal notes, such as--"Athena wants to get the show on the road" and multi-color hi-lighted passages). I'm thumbing through Elizabeth Gilbert's "Committed," and Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project"(obviously someone is doing some soul searching--ahem).
We've also put a great deal of effort towards taking in physical activity every day. After spending over 1,000 days standing on our feet we were looking forward to returning to a more active lifestyle. For Evan this means early morning rides to make the rounds at coffee shops, or to meet friends at Portland's International Test Rose Garden for thermoses of French press coffee, and prosciutto and butter sandwiches. For me this means daily does of cardio (think: biking, hiking, and walking) paired with a combination of stretching and sculpting yoga postures. The ultimate goal of these practices is to wake up feeling as good as possible. While the added benefits of weight loss, fitness, and flexibility are a bonus, putting our bodies to use again, after what seemed like an eminent time of hibernation, is the greatest relief of all. To feel our muscles tighten and stretch, to notice the pulsing of blood from our hearts, through our veins, shooting oxygen through the rest of our body, to feel ourselves getting stronger, well...that feels indescribable. Simply put, it's what feeling alive feels like.
Lastly, we've officially learned that the beach really isn't that far away. The 1.5 hour car-ride will melt from your memory the minute you (get out of the car) smell the salt in the air. Promise.
So when people ask us, "What have you been doing?" Here is the gist of it:
Picture us: Packing bunches of basil in backpacks on our bikes, throwing rocks on the sand for the dogs, talking to tarot card readers and walking through the woods, sipping espresso, and reading Thich Nhat Hanh and James Joyce, barefoot on the bluffs of the Peninsula, catching up with a friend over a frosty beer, nestled at home hawking LRBC t-shirts via USPS and treasures via craigslist, eating homemade cinnamon rolls and edamame pesto out on the patio.
But if we're not accomplishing any of these things then we're probably busy working on the next project.
More on that when the time is right.
*with the exception of birthdays, anniversaries, and/or food from carts/shops that equates to <$6/person (not including tip).
Posted by Ali and Evan at 12:19 PM
Yes, it's true Folks. After listening to your demands we put in an order for additional t-shirts. Now you can be the proud owner of a limited edition LRBC t-shirt. The shirts are printed on American Apparel's tri-blend track shirt; you know, the soft and fuzzy cotton that feels like a vintage shirt?
Shirts are available in two colors: grey and athletic blue, and feature the popular bicycle design from our friend Keegan of One Foot In Front.
Shirts are available in Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large*
Ordering shirts is easy, just follow these two steps:
1. Send an email to: email@example.com with your name, address, a phone number where you can be reached, and a description of your order (quantity, size, and color). Please put "I WANT A T-SHIRT" in the subject line of your email.
2. Upon receiving your email we will verify your order and send you a confirmation email with payment instructions. We are selling the shirts for $25 each, and each order will include a free copy of the LRBC zine, which includes photos, stories, recipes, and more ($3 value).
What are you waiting for? Don't delay! Make the most of your summer by sporting a cool new t-shirt from North Portland's most beloved cafe.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 11:44 AM
This is the last picture taken of us at 4823 North Lombard St.
To put it lightly, it was difficult to say goodbye.
Our last three days there were spent removing the final details of what we had built, piece by piece, out of the space. We got a local food shelter to come and pick up the last of our pantry. Our parents helped us scrub, sweep, vacuum, dap, paint, pack, and eventually haul away the remains of our business to a storage facility located 0.8 miles from where our cafe was located. On the day we met the property manager to turn over the keys, I exhaled sobbing into Evan's arms in the bathroom, feeling shattered and defeated.
Later I would admit to myself that this was an odd and particularly cruel place to succumb to such an emotional impasse. I hated that bathroom. It was a seed that was planted on the very first day we signed the lease, and continued to grow through three years of graffiti, perpetually clogged toilets, drug addicts, and the stifling stale stench of a public restroom, a failing mix of fruity cleanser and bleach, made all the worse by old pipes, and an over-used facility.
Here's the good news: I never have to be in that bathroom, or at that address ever again. If I don't want to.
That is to say, that after three years this finally became an option for me. You know, to actually choose not to enter a space that gives me the creeps in order to plunge some one's shit.
I find this fact liberating.
I asked Evan the other day, as we drove by 4823 N. Lombard St. and locked eyes with that all too familiar awning, brick-facade, and large windows,
"How long do you think it's going to take before we don't look over and consider it 'Ours'?"
"Forever." he replied.
"Forever? Really?" I blurted out, astonished he said this fact so calmly.
"Yes, I think that place will always have a piece of our hearts," was all he had left to add.
I find this fact slightly less liberating.
The truth is, we want what's best for 4823 N. Lombard St. because we loved that space. We brought life back to a kitchen and cafe that needed a pulse, and gave ourselves a tremendous sense of purpose along the way. Further, we live in the neighborhood and want what's best for our friends and community, and having another thriving business in that location would ultimately be the best case scenario.
I will miss that space. But there are also many things--the sad, hostile, and painful memories attached to the process of learning how to become a restaurateur in three years, that I won't miss, and that I decided to remove from my life the day we gave back the keys.
I'm not going to lie. The first few days after the fact came as an absolute shock. I think Evan and I were both bewildered and in doubt over our new unemployment. Which by the way, however odd this may seem, seemed to creep up on us.
Up until this point so many people were asking us, "So...
...What are you going to do?"
...Where are you going on vacation?"
...How long till you're dreaming up the next business?"
To which we replied, with full honesty intact:
"We're not there yet. We haven't really even given it much thought."
To us, the three years we spent operating that space felt like a lifetime. It was two years of non-stop effort and creative force that led us to pursue our dream of opening up a restaurant in our hometown, and another three years devoted to seeing our idea flourish. The act of having its potential cut short, particularly during the peak of its existence, left my partner and I feeling like we wanted to devote every last ounce of ourselves into giving that business a proper farewell. In other words, we were not quite ready to move on. Therefore the thought of planning the next business, or treating ourselves to a nice vacation were the last things on our mind.
Evan and I spent the last six months of that business scrambling, trying to find it a perfect new home. We spent week after week scheduling meetings, making appointments, doing viewings, all in search of the second (albeit original) "Little Red Bike Cafe." When our search for the ideal relocation failed to turn up anything we felt the urgency to jump on, we learned in the process that the cafe we created 0.4 miles from our very home was an incredibly unique enterprise. One that seemed to exist because it was in the right place, at the right time, with the right mix of food, music, good looks, fanaticism, and heart. I will go as far as to say that while we looked for a new place to reopen "LRBC 2.0" we began to wonder whether or not such a place exists. Evan and I began to doubt whether it would be possible to just pick up our existing business and plop it down someplace else like nothing happened. Rather than feel pigeon-toed by the confines of this particular business, we began to extend our property search and look at new opportunities for different kinds of businesses and projects. Opportunities that before appeared out of reach because the scope of our frame was initially far too limited.
We decided that in order for us to feel confident that our pursuit was both best for our business and our own happiness, we would need to broaden our perspective.
Doing so meant getting away. Which is what that "No Service" post was all about. By the time we finished our last obligation to LRBC, Evan and I were suffering from broken hearts and an identity crisis to boot. We struggled to understand who were were without our business and accolades, the support of staff and customers, and lastly this blog. To point out the obvious, Evan and I had multiple conversations about what to do with the blog. Continue writing? And if so, as what? As whom?
We set off for a small fishing cabin situated along the Metolius river in central Oregon, to try and discover the answer to some of these, and life's other complexly woven lessons. This fishing cabin is in our family, and is considered to be an incredibly sacred sanctuary by all whom are willing to make the trek. Having experienced its healing magic time and time again, we knew it was the prefect spot to rest our weary bones.
Our days revolved around splashing in the river with the dogs, reading, writing, and philosophizing on the deck, and biking around the loop that takes us through red-dirt roads, bubbling streams, and the unmistakable sweet, dry scent that makes you aware you're in the presence of a patch of majestic Ponderosa pines. We also spent a fair share of time nurturing our love affair with the kitchen. It felt good to be back behind a hot stove after what felt like ages. We were happy to have the company and attention of loved ones as we tried finding a way back to ourselves through black bean taco salad, Greek breakfast scrambles, poached egg and bacon sandwiches served on Evan's flaky buttermilk biscuits, toasted hazelnuts crushed over market lettuce with goat cheese and and roasted beets, served just before the pork kebabs with cream-braised cabbage and steamed cider-vinegar kale. Later we'd soul search over orzo layered with fresh ricotta, summer tomatoes, and walnuts, and roasted veggie and avocado meatloaf sandwiches slathered with apricot jelly. Nights were devoted to movies and games of Scrabble, with late night toasted s'more experiments and peanut butter hot chocolates. And then finally, whenever we could find the time, we slept. And slept. And slept some more.
The day before we shut the doors to our business one of our favorite customers (yes, we do and we are allowed to have favorites) approached me at the register with a parting gift, a framed copy of one of our dinner menus containing one of my favorite Virginia Woolf quotes,
We wholeheartedly adopted this belief during our stay at the cabin, and I know we certainly would have made Colin (said customer) extremely proud.
Our diligence in taking care of ourselves and examining our situation has paid off. We feel as though we are more informed and excited as ever about the plethora of possibilities out there. Rather than viewing our situation as something that has been taken away from us, we continue to implore each other every day to use our experience as a stepping stone, to move forward with an effort and creation that is better than that which was lost.
What other vital information has been discovered, processed, and implanted in our brains during this journey of re-self discovery? Well, we're still figuring that out. For the time being we are just trying to take 'er easy. We are finding joy and successes in other areas of our lives. Like birthdays, sunrise bike rides, day trips to the beach, and quitting smoking after 15+ years.
Because life is not about who you were, it is about who you are becoming.
Posted by Ali and Evan at 5:28 AM