Ken's Artisan Bakery


Ken's Artisan Bakery in Portland, Oregon is largely responsible for my obsession with high quality breads. This was the first good U.S. bakery I encountered that branched out from whole grain loaves to stunning European-style breads and pastries.  Ken's brioche and cafe au lait became common study partners for me over those years, and I was truly sad to leave this wonderful bakery behind when I moved back to Chicago.


When Nick and I arrived at the Portland train station, we made our way directly to Ken's for lunch.  Though we had decided on sandwiches, I couldn't resist purchasing one of their mouthwatering croissants.  While explaining to Nick the reasons behind this addition to our lunch menu, the woman in front of us turned around to agree saying, "I lived in France for five years and I keep a vegan diet, but when I am back in Portland I always come here for one. They are the best."


Nick ordered the Pulled Pork Barbecue on a ciabatta roll with fennel coleslaw (pictured first).  I ordered the Croque Portabello with bechamel, fresh thyme, and Gruyere on country bread.  While the train food was better than we had expected, devouring these divine sandwiches helped remind us that good food should taste fresh and satisfying. 

Anyone who may fancy themselves a bread nerd should look at the "Essays" section on the Ken's Artisan Bakery website. With titles like, "What is Good Bread" and " Preferments for Better Living," Ken's essays are not only endearing, but full of first-hand advice from a baker that very clearly loves good bread.

Ken's Artisan Bakery
338 NW 21st Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97209

Tonight we are going to see Heart (You stay away from "Barracuda", Sarah Palin!) and on Sunday, after months of fundraising and training, I run the Chicago Half Marathon.  Wish me luck!


Mirabelle Bakery

(Mirabelle Bakery's Seeded Boule)
Many of my weekends over the past few months have started aboard a southbound train that deposits me 150 miles away from home in Champaign, IL.  Nick returned to finish his last year at the University of Illinois and we have been traveling back and forth to see each other since September.  We weren't particularly thrilled about the prospect of spending time in a central-Illinois college town, but the discovery of Mirabelle Bakery made it all a bit easier.
(Mirabelle Bakery's Onion and Rosemary Foccacia)
The bakery is closed on Sundays, so nearly every Saturday morning we make the half mile walk from Nick's apartment to downtown Urbana.  We stop at Strawberry Fields, the local natural foods store, for coffee and head up the street to wait in the perpetually-crowded storefront of Mirabelle.

(Mirabelle Bakery's Coffee Cake)
We always select something to eat immediately on the park bench outside, and often purchase a loaf of fresh baked bread to accompany our dinner.  I am a glutton for traditional breads, and Mirabelle may have the finest baguettes that I have ever encountered in the United States.

(Mirabelle Bakery's German Chocolate Pastry)
The only complaints I could possibly muster about Mirabelle would be their coffee which is a weak and pedestrian variety tucked away in a self-service corner.  But, I do visit for the breads and pastries and I would not suggest that they turn their attention away from these incredible offerings.

(Mirabelle Bakery's Onion Roll)
My favorite pastry of all is the Mirabelle Bakery Onion Roll.  The roll is soft and buttery, stuffed with poppy seeds, sour cream, red onions and an indescribable, delectable savoriness that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  If you have occasion to visit Mirabelle Bakery, this would be my first suggestion to sample.

(Mirabelle Bakery's Pesto, Tomato and Goat Cheese Foccacia)
If you have a heartier appetite, their foccacia servings are huge and easily make a meal.  The crumb is chewy and tender and the toppings are always very fresh.

(Mirabelle Bakery's Seeded Boule)
The other two highlights of Champaign-Urbana have been the Blind Pig, a beautiful bar with over 21 taps and Prairie Fruits Farm goat cheese.

(Prairie Fruits Farm Herbes de Provence Goat Cheese)
This locally produced goat cheese can be purchased at Strawberry Fields, and while a bit pricey (about $7 for 6 oz.), it is worth every penny.  We do not have a car available to us, but I am hoping to find a way to make a trip out to the creamery in the spring, if the owners will have me, to see the farm's operation first hand. I often fantasize about making my own goat cheese and it would be fun to see a local example.

While we would both rather be living a normal life back in Chicago, it has been fortifying to find these high-quality, local and affordable establishments in a town with too many trashy sports bars and fast-food chains.  I have to admit that I didn't expect to miss things about Champaign-Urbana, but I will.

For an inside look at Mirabelle Bakery and to learn more about the food in Champaign-Urbana from a well-versed resident, visit the lovely blog Champaign Taste.

127 W. Main
Urbana, IL 61801

Zagreb, Croatia

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

November 4th- 7th, 2005


John and I visited Zagreb, Croatia after spending some time in Rome, Italy.  While in Zagreb we visited a huge indoor/outdoor market in the center to have yet another inexpensive and satisfying picnic.  We bought bread from Pan-Pek, a nice and hearty semolina loaf that had a lovely golden brown color. 

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It was perhaps not the freshest, as the crumb and crust were a bit dry, but we did visit late in the day.  Overall, the quality of the bread was nothing to write home about. We also bought two white farmer's cheeses from a stand.  The first was of a hard texture with a very salty taste and a strong, pungent smell.  It was very good, but perhaps a bit too salty for us. 


The second was a gorgeous soft cheese with a subtle tangy flavor and a smooth, cool texture.  It went well with the bread.


We stayed with two lovely girls, Mia and Danicza.  I will forever be indebted to them for introducing me to ajvar, a spread of sweet red pepper, eggplant, garlic, and spices (with origins in Serbia according to Wikipedia).  I am completely addicted to the stuff now but have yet to find any as good as the one they had me taste.  They kept us out late and showed us a great time.  I wish we had had more time to spend in their city.  Thanks!

After a brief stay in Varaždin, Croatia we made our way to Liszó, Hungary.

Rome, Italy

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

October 27th- November 1st, 2005


When John was young he spent a few summers living in Rome with his family.  As a result he has many fond food memories from the city and we were excited to seek them out together after visiting Venice.  The two favorites concern two very important food groups: Gelato and Pizza.


We sampled the Gelato at Giolitti, which is often heralded as the best gelato in Rome, and found it pleasing.  The best thing about our visit was watching a well-to-do middle-aged man in a suit slink up to the gelato counter looking like a heart-broken small child with an empty cone in one hand and a palm full of fallen gelato in the other.  The help behind the counter quickly repaired the situation with a fresh serving and the man went back to his table with a huge smile.  I think a country where ice cream is not just reserved for small children must be doing something right.


However, the best gelato by far can be found at Fonte Della Salute on Trastevere.  As well as having tastier gelato and a better flavor selection, this establishment feels more welcoming and than Giolitti. John used to live nearby Fonte Della Salute and became quite a regular here as a child.


Though I sampled countless flavors of gelato in Rome, I always come back to the pistachio.  The sweet, slightly salty, nutty flavor combined with the impossibly creamy texture is irresistible.


Just down the street is Pizzeria Ai Marmi (Trastevere, 53-55-57-59) where, conveniently, the best pizza in my opinion can be found.  Sit outside, enjoy some wine, and people watch for the best experience.  Our favorites are the four cheese and the unmissable zucchini blossom pizzas.  The flavor on the later is so simple, yet so thick and unctuous, that it pairs perfectly with the thin, fire-baked crust.


In keeping suit with our picnic theme, which is both enjoyable and inexpensive, we put together a lovely lunch and sat in the enormous. Villa Borghese park. We purchased breads at Forno Campo dei  Fiori bakery and produce in the Campo dei Fiori market.


We enjoyed a flat bread (pizza rustica) which was seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper.  It wasn't too oily and had a good, simple, straight forward flavor and a perfect chewiness.  We stuffed panini, which I learned are crusty rolls that you can pull the top button off of and you find a hollow bowl of bread that is perfect for stuffing with meats, cheeses, and vegetables. 


The olive bread had lots of green olives, a crisp crust, and a dense white interior.  Though the crust was a bit too dry.  It was a decent bread, certainly far more palatable than our olive bread experience in Venice.

We ate extremely well in Rome.  The gelato and pizza are the best I have had (unless you are talking about Chicago style pizza of course) and I eagerly anticipate returning to Rome one day to enjoy them again.  We had a great time seeing the sights and, of all things, our hostel was evicted on our second night in town.  We had a humorous and memorable (though of course only in hindsight) experience when we returned from the Trevi Fountain late one night to find the contents of our hostel spread out on the street with tired and worn looking travelers and employees curled up beside our belongings.  After several hours of being thoroughly confused, we were finally taken to another hostel around 4am, handed a beer by the lovely staff, and showed to our rooms.  I bet that hasn't happened to many people.


Lastly, I would like to leave my readers with these fantastic photos of a street-food-joint near the St. Sebastian Catacombs.


Does that make you hungry?

Next up, Zagreb, Croatia.

Venice, Italy

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

October 25th- 27th, 2005


After leaving the chestnut farm in France John and I spent a few days in Venice with my uncles from Chicago who were also visiting at that time.  All over Venice are businesses where for a few euro you can fill up empty bottles with very decent wines right from the barrels.  This inexpensive option combined with lovely weather made for some excellent picnics.


We enjoyed prosciutto and various delicious cheeses.  A few months ago Alberto from Il Forno mentioned a cheese, Caciocavalli, in a top ten list of Italian foods to try.  With such a recommendation I could hardly pass up the opportunity to try some. 

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This cheese (on the right) had a more subtle flavor than I was expecting, though it was bold and delicious hidden just beneath a truly buttery texture.  This was a great cheese and I would love to try more varieties of it in the future. 


With so much cheese we naturally sought out breads as well.  The best bakery we found in Venice was Mauro El Forner de Canton, where for under four euro we purchased 2 Grissini Naturalli, 1 Ciabette, and 1 Pane con olive.

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Everything was excellent.  Unfortunately we also tried another bakery nearby, Panificio F. Paronuzzi  where we bought Strudel con Olive e Formaggio.  We were lured in by what seemed to be appealing breads, but were rock hard, dry, crumbly, and made with limp and lifeless olives.   But it looked so beautiful!


We stayed in Marghera, just outside the city, in cheaper lodgings than we could find in the center.  While it was sort of a pain to take the bus in each day, we did have the opportunity to enjoy the Piccolo Lounge Cafe.  One of the best things we ate here were little morning donuts made of lightly sweetened bread and filled with a fine and smooth, sugary-sweet apple filling.  Delicious.


One other fun find was this salt bearing my first name.  I have never met another Gemma in the states, so it is always fun to see my name in print.


Next stop, Rome.

Copenhagen, Denmark

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

October 11th- 14th, 2005



A few days ago we arrived in Kraków, Poland where we will be settling in for a month and a half.  This a much welcome rest from our manic travel schedule.  We are teaching ourselves Polish and slowly exploring.  Sadly, the sweet little apartment we are renting has no oven.  I had been looking forward to baking bread again, though I will just have to wait a bit longer now.

In mid-October, after a brief stop in Marseille, France, John and I stayed a few nights in Copenhagen, Denmark with the esteemed and wonderfully hospitable Zarah from Food & Thoughts.


We visited a lovely nearby bakery named Emmerys where John and I picked out half a round of Emmerys bread, a tebirkes, a foccacia, and hummus.

The foccacia was super oily, but other than that it was quite good.  Flavored with sage, light and chewy, this was a tasty bread.  The tebirkes was a new experience for me.  A creamy, golden, flaky dough held sweet and mild flavors of honey, butter, and toffee.  The top was dusted with poppy seeds, cutting the sweet tastes with nutty notes.  Very delicious!

The Emmorys bread had a thin and chewy crust dusted with flour which was quite good, though something with a little more texture would have been even better.  The crumb was soft and moist with white and whole wheat flours, a fantastic taste, and a pleasant sour aroma.  A very nice bread. 

The hummus was quite good, but fairly expensive.  It had a smooth texture without being overly oily and a light citrus flavor.  Very good, but nothing that couldn't be created at home.


On our last night in Copenhagen I made a nice little dish by sauteing pumpkin seeds and chanterelles in butter and seasoning with salt and pepper.  A bit of arugula and toasted slices of Emmerys bread finished off a simple meal. 


Thanks Zarah!

Next stop, Garmisch, Germany.


Paris, France

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

October 4th- 7th, 2005


In October John and I spent a few days in Paris after visiting Munich. While there we met up with Michele from Oswego Tea and visited a Poilâne bakery. This warm and rustic shop held a mouth-watering array of breads and other baked goods.


We purchased a lusciously flaky and buttery croissant, butter cookies, and a portion of a Poilâne sourdough loaf.

Of all the croissants I have tasted, I would venture to say that this one was most worthy of the phrase "melts in your mouth." The flaky exterior enveloped a light, smooth, and milky interior. A pleasure to eat.


Michele took us to La Grande Epicerie nearby where we wandered through the store gushing at the fancy (not to mention expensive) goods. John and I bought simple sandwiches at their deli and a fantastic chèvre to go with our bread.

The bread had a thick and chewy crust dusted with flour and beautifully crafted. The crumb was moist, golden, and resilient and had a nutty, sour taste. The simple elegance of this bread is stunning. I politely envy Michele for living so near to this bakery.

Next stop, Marseille, France.

York, England

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

September 20th- 22nd, 2005


After a fantastic time on the Isle of Bute we traveled to Yorkshire, England. While there we visited a great bakery, thanks to a tip from our host Emily. This bakery is named Via Vecchia and is marked with nothing but a blank red sign and nestled among the other businesses on the Shambles.

A sweet older woman sold us a cheese and marmite loaf, a cheese bagel, and an olive and thyme loaf whilst congratulating us after each selection with, “Good choice.” This tiny store front boasts a constant stream of patrons as well as a large number of posters of topless women. Fear not, their prices are far more modest.


We next walked a few yards to the market and bought some cheeses, Derby sage and Highland mustard and herbs, also at a very good price.


The olive and thyme loaf was soft, white, and moist with whole garlic-steeped green olives, flecks of thyme, and a dusting of flour.


The cheese bagel was good, though definitely not even close to a bagel. This light and airy roll was extremely soft and compressed with even a slight grip.

The marmite and cheese loaf was the real treat. I would venture to say that even those who dislike marmite could enjoy this bread. It was dense and hearty with a fantastic and substantial crust and a soft and creamy interior. The crumb was moist and had loads of cheese and gorgeous swirls of marmite.


The cheeses were also quite good. The Derby sage had a strong taste of sage and a creamy texture. The Highland mustard and herb had whole mustard seed which provided a strong and pleasant flavor. This cheese was much softer than I expected and could easily be spread if brought to room temperature.

Also along the Shambles we found Mr. Sandwich, a shop run by a very jolly older man that sells dozens upon dozens of sandwiches for only one pound. Amazing! These were good sandwiches, well worth their cost. We ordered a fig, goat cheese, and cucumber and a mozzarella, tomato, and basil. If you cannot find something to tickle your fancy on the 30+ list, he will gladly make you the sandwich you crave.


Next stop, Devon.

Isle of Bute, Scotland

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

September 17th- 20th, 2005


We recently stayed in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute after spending time in London. It was absolutely gorgeous and we had a fantastic host. After visiting a few pubs one night he took us to the only bakery on the island, The Electric Bakery. It was about 2 am, though after a few discreet knocks on the bakery window the baker came to the door to sell us hot rolls with butter and savory pies. There really was nothing that could have been better to fill our stomachs after a night of Scottish pubs.


The next morning I visited their store front and bought some scones (cheese, fruit, and cherry), a soda biscuit, and a crumpet (though this last item was from the shop next door, as The Electric Bakery had sold out).

Our host lived across the street from the 11th century castle that you see in the background of this photo.


The scones were very good, however they were quite different from the heavy and flaky variety that I am used to. These were very light and airy as if they had a fair amount of egg in them. The cheese were our favorite by far.

The crumpet was also very nice yet different from those I am used to. This was a very flat and thin crumpet, almost like a pancake yet still with the characteristic hole pattern. It took butter excellently.


We returned to the bakery the next night and had a chance to go inside and speak with the baker, Colin. We ate sandwichs of warm cheese and onion pies inside warm morning rolls with butter.



Colin was nice enough to let us look around the bakery and watch him work for a few minutes. The breads smelled amazing and the heat from the ovens took off the evening chill from outside.


After leaving the bakery we went to an old abandoned building which once held another bakery long ago. It provided gorgeous views of the Rothesay bay at night.

Next stop, Yorkshire.

London, England Post 3

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

September 12th- 16th, 2005


While in London John and I made a trek to Paul Boulangerie and Patisserie near Covent Garden. Paul boulangeries can be found in many other cities. I had never visited one before.

John tried this Quiche Lorraine and gave it a very favorable review. I nibbled on the crust and found it very tasty indeed. You can see some of the Paul cakes and pastries in the background of this picture.



We sampled their sugar-coated chouquettes, tiny crowns on choux pastry dusted with sugar. These sticky sweet little puffs melted in your mouth and were delicious, though left your hands needing a wash.


We also tried their mini-croissants. These were some of the best I have had. The flaky crust had sincere integrity and did not compress in your hand after the first bite.


The interior was soft and golden. I think these could have been a touch moister, but to be fair we did visit in the afternoon and they may have dried out a bit. Overall, these were superb croissants.


We also tried the brioche. These were good, but nothing to write home about. They also suffered from tasting a bit too dry.


Lastly, we bought a loaf of two-olive bread for our long bus ride to Glasgow the next morning. We packed some fruit and cheese to enjoy with it as well. This was a nice bread, it would have been lovely toasted but it was tasty right from the loaf as well. The baker did not skimp on the black and green olives and the crumb was soft and hearty, making this a lovely lunch. I could have gone for a bit more substance and character in the crust, but then again I could have also gone for six more inches of leg-room on the coach. We can't always get exactly what we want I suppose.

Next stop, the Isle of Bute, Scotland.

London, England Post 1

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

September 12th- 16th, 2005


John and I walked down the Thames today in London. We became quite hungry around the Tate Modern and decided to duck into this colorful and no-doubt touristy enclave which contained a small bakery. We ordered a delicious focaccia and two espressos from Maison Brillant.

The focaccia was quite nice and non-greasy. The goat cheese was melted on top of fresh tomatoes, green and red bell peppers, mushrooms, and some dried thyme. They warmed it for us to share and it hit the spot.

This was a pleasant place for a snack and reasonably priced.

To read more about our time in London, follow the link.