Thistle (McMinnville, Oregon): The Best of Oregon

There have been many questions since the return to New York following a short book tour and road trip, idyllic and beautiful, along the lush green coast of the Pacific Northwest.

The burning question hasn’t been, “How did your readings go?” Mind you. Rather, the first question that slips out as soon as politely possible is: “OK, where did you eat?”

This being a somewhat book-centric trip — thank you Seattle and Portland for organizing such lovely A Tiger in the Kitchen soirees! — the time for restaurant-hopping wasn’t plenty. Among the several restaurants I did sample, though, one firmly sunk its chompers in me and hasn’t let go: Thistle, a deliciously charming little spot in McMinnville, Oregon, that manages to out-Brooklyn the wave of recent trendy Brooklyn restaurants branding themselves as farm-to-table havens.

After raving like a lunatic about this Oregon restaurant that that serves up amazing hyper-locavore Americana — all made with ingredients from neighboring farms (and a co-owner’s mom’s garden sometimes) — that could put many of its big-city counterparts to shame, I felt a little vindicated yesterday when I learned that The Oregonian had named Thistle its 2011 Restaurant of the Year (in the entire state of Oregon) this week. As soon as the smug joy subsided, however, I needed a Thistle fix.

So, out came the photos and the reverie began…

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Japanese Curry Pot Pie: Asian Comfort Food

June always has me thinking of the summer a few years ago that I devoted myself to conquering pies.

With a perpetually hungry Iowan in the house, pies are often in huge demand around here, no matter the season. But this craving fully rears its head when it’s warm and farmers markets start filling up with sturdy red sticks of rhubarb and berries, plump and bright. Having made enough pies to feel confident enough to try any filling combination, however, I recently set my sights on savory pies.

Having grown up in a former British colony, pies filled with steak and minced lamb have long been a favorite of mine. So when my Let’s Lunch group of bloggers suggested baking pies for our June virtual lunchdate, I immediately started plotting my version of a curried pot pie…

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Snack Dragon: Toothsome Taco Truck Fare

One of the great things about this recent book busyness has been the nudge it’s given me to venture into unfamiliar territory.

While it’s true that I have managed to eat my way through impressive swaths of New York City in my eight years as a New Yorker, there are some rather untouched spots in in my eating landscape. Based purely on subway inconveniences (and my great sloth) the gastronomically rich far East Village, sadly, is one of them.

So when I recently found myself in that neighborhood, still coming down from the high of having just met and read with the lovely Gabrielle Hamilton, chef of Prune and author of “Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef,” at KGB Bar and completely ravenous from our joint reading from our food memoirs, the stomach, naturally, started calling.

“Mmm … Snack Dragon,” my friend Noa said, her eyes getting so large I instantly could envision them popping out of their sockets. When she started smacking her lips at the thought of the place, I knew we had to go.

Despite the raves that this little taco stand has gotten in the five years it’s been around, I’d never been there. From Noa’s look of utter shock, clearly, this was something that needed to be remedied. Pronto.

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Taqueria Las Comadres (Oakland, Calif.): Our Little Secret

There are several things that set my stomach aflutter whenever I step off a plane in San Francisco: a simmering hot bowl of pho topped with bright pink thin slices of steak still gradually turning brown at Pho Tan Hoa in Union Square, the roast chicken at the always lovely Zuni Cafe.

Once these items have been checked off the eating list, however, a new craving inevitably sets in: Mexican. While New York does have any number of decent Mexican places, the tacos and enchiladas at California’s ubiquitous taquerias always seem — to me — far superior.

So, when a break in book events and book store visits recently led me to Oakland, where my friend Ann casually mentioned an excellent little Mexican joint nearby, I immediately said, Let’s Go …

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Winter Melon Soup: Comfort, Simple & Clear


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Among the many Cantonese-style soups of my Singaporean girlhood, the one I find myself craving once temperatures start heading south in fall is a simple one: Winter melon soup.

This broth, dotted with cubes of soft winter melon and bits of mushroom and pork, isn't an elaborate or fussy soup — it's what the Chinese call "cheng," or clear. The flavor is subtle; the experience is all about warmth and comfort.

So, when my Let's Lunch friends suggested doing a fall soup for November, I immediately started badgering my mother for her recipe

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