Lola lives in Northeast Portland in a splendid old Victorian house with her brother and housemate. The hearth of the home is very much the kitchen, where meals big and elaborate as well as small and purposeful occur on a daily basis. Lola is an amazing cook and is always up to a new culinary DIY such as her latest project, harvesting delicate enoki mushrooms from the back porch. Another gastronomic victory: perfecting English muffins! I love when curious cooks dissect the basics, such as bread, and manage to create a far superior version than anything you can buy in the store!
Lola's cooking style is inspired by the seasonal produce in she can find in and around Portland as well as her travels to far flung places such as Japan, Mexico, and Turkey. The way she synthesizes these flavors and cuisines is entirely her own, though, and everything I've had that Lola has made has been innovative, fresh and absolutely delicious. Lola's kitchen is used for her own recipe development and the testing she conducts seasonally in conjunction with Edible Portland's quarterly publication. It's pretty fun making photos for the magazine in the adjacent dining room as the plates of colorful, eclectic meals get prepared expertly by Lola. All the food sits upon hand thrown pottery (her boyfriend and brother are VERY good!), and makes the home cooked food that much more wonderful.
10 Questions for Lola (and Her Kitchen)
1. What inspires your kitchen and your cooking?
My mom and dad have been involved in the organic food movement for several decades. When I was young, my parents took me to visit Eastern Oregon cattle ranches; Trout Lake, Washington dairy farms; nearby herb and vegetables farms; and more. I love to cook with ingredients grown by people that I know and care about, when I can. My boyfriend Corey says that farm succession - when parents pass the farm to their children - is my catnip.
2. What is your favorite kitchen tool or element?
Maybe I'm thinking too big, but I'd go with our oven! I love roasting greens in it at really high temperatures. I love broiling things to make them crispy. I love baking sourdough bread and pizza on our pizza stone or letting a big pot of beans simmer on low until I remember to retrieve it. It also, kindly, provides a home for our local mice. My other favorite item is the tortilla press my mom brought back from Mexico in the 1960s.
3. What's the most memorable meal you've ever cooked in this kitchen?
What a hard question! Definitely my favorite meals are when my brother Zak, roommate Chris and I are all cooking together, whirring around each other. Probably one of the most memorable was also the most disgusting. One Thanksgiving, we decided to make exclusively Indian food. Chris made an insanely delicious sambar, but Zak and I tried to cook too many things from Lord Krishna's Indian vegetarian cookbook, which is not necessarily the easiest cookbook to follow, and then I accidentally took a huge whiff of acefetida. Crash and burn. A happier memory is regular weeknight dinners, when Chris makes Thai dishes that he grew up eating, pounding things in a heavy-duty marble mortar and pestle, or Zak makes fresh homemade tortillas with really bright salsa, or I make greasy vegetables...
4. The biggest challenge in your kitchen:
Keeping it clean! Sadly, the one portion of the kitchen that's not expansive is the space on either side of the sink for dishes. The hardest thing to clean is sourdough starter or bread dough once it's hardened. If you don't clean it the moment you pull the dough from the bowl, it will cut through skin like a knife. So I have to get in a rhythm of cooking and cleaning and cooking and cleaning, which can feel like a marathon.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
My mom, dad, and her friend Rhonda designed the kitchen when I was in high school, and my brother and I inherited it when my parents moved away. We are in the many-year process of making it our own. We still haven't replaced the cabinet knobs, which have little kokopellis dancing on them. I don't think we would have chosen those.
6. Biggest indulgence or splurge in the kitchen:
The money we are always spending on food! Does that count? We buy a quarter cow and half pig each year from Carman Ranch in the Wallowas, which we get a lot of help from our friends eating. I love having people over for dinner as often as I can manage, and so food costs sort of trump everything else.
7. Is there anything you hope to add or improve in your kitchen?
A whetstone so I can keep my knives sharper, a new convection oven that works, and a dehydrator to dry wild mushrooms. Someday I'd love to have a root cellar in the basement, but I'm not in a rush!
8. How would you describe your cooking style?
I am driven by my love of greasy vegetables and my curiosity about how everything is made. Across a month, I like to try making things I've never tried that I think I'll love. It can be really hit and miss. For example, my Jamaican oxtail stew was, well, palatable. The thing I always return to is Japanese food. I find it the most satisfying.
9. Best cooking advice or tip you ever received:
From my grandpa: Don't forget the best part - the sabao - Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, for the pan drippings or juice. And from my Japanese host mother Junko: diverse colors and textures with every meal!
10. What are you cooking this week?
Tempura and homemade soba noodles, eaten with vegetables from the hotpot. (Crossing my fingers to see how the soba turns out!) Sourdough bread and homemade yogurt. Hopefully mabo-dofu - ground pork cooked with Ota tofu and a lot garlic, ginger, and spice. And maybe I'll roast one of the spaghetti squash I have stashed away and... I don't know what I'll do with it yet.
Resources of Note:
• pottery: handmade by my boyfriend and brother
• cutting boards/knick knacks: traveling
We're always looking for real kitchens from real cooks.
Show us your kitchen here!
(Images: Leela Cyd)