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Portland, OR, United States
I am finishing up my midwifery apprenticeship and plan to be a real midwife early in 2014!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Junior Ambassadors

Hey, we just went to that place last night! Paul and I finally tried a little cart that sells, among other things, homemade ice cream in quirky flavors (chocolate cayenne was one of the choices last night). I guess neither of us were feeling adventurous and both of us had root beer floats, with plain but good vanilla ice cream.

And then this morning I found this article in the Oregonian about the place. I loved the eccentricity of the little cart, and it's quirky owner and his bicycle-riding girlfriend. And I love what he has to say in this article. (Sorry, Oregonian, I am cutting and pasting because if I link to you people won't be able to read the article after 14 days without paying. And honestly, who pays for an online newspaper?)

North Portland food cart is a place of mind
A creative chef reveals the culinary arts of the society of Mostlandia
Saturday, July 05, 2008
The Oregonian Staff
Rudy Speerschneider poured the batter onto the skillet with a sizzle, and the small food cart filled with the scent of cornmeal pancakes.

The bright orange cart parked in a rented space on North Albina Street has become the blossoming spot for Speerschneider's culinary imagination and an accessible example of the creativity bubbling in many Portland neighborhoods.

The Fourth of July marked one year for Speerschneider's business, called Junior Ambassador's. Among his celebratory menu items Friday: "little smokies," or mini-hotdogs in barbecue sauce on a cornmeal pancake, and his from-scratch ice cream, including bluegrass (blueberry and lemon grass) and gingersnap cookie with basil.

"I'm trying things most people haven't had and making sure they feel comfortable doing it," says Speerschneider, 36, whose bushy brown hair fans out around a straw visor he wears with the bill pointing skyward.

Speerschneider and Junior Ambassador's are the merchant face of Mostlandia, a society that he and three friends "discovered" in 2004. Mostlandia is both a shared state of mind about recapturing optimism, possibility and childlike wonder, and an orderly bureaucracy including everything from rules for citizenship (so far there are 222 citizens) to official forms for "deep commitment" to a partner.

"It is a simple idea," Speerschneider says, "but it's hard to explain simply."

The society started with performance art, detailed on its Web site. Members mounted the Mostlandian Misplaced Items Authority in 2005 at Reed College, for example, an interactive lost and found that handled cases including lost socks to lost love.

But with the addition of the Junior Ambassador's cart, Mostlandia also has come to embody the notion of food as art, community and gift, all cornerstones of Portland's foodie culture.

Speerschneider, who grew up in Michigan, trained as a painter and illustrator at the Ringling School of Art and Design (now Ringling College of Art and Design) in Sarasota, Fla. But as an artist in New York City, he realized how rarely he experienced people's reaction to his work.

Cooking and serving in restaurants after moving to Portland in 2001, he came to see food as a creative yet communal outlet. When he made something good for people, their delight was tangible.

As Speerschneider preps on this Fourth of July morning, his girlfriend, Emily Lieb, hops off her bike with a canvas bag filled with cabbage and cilantro for the slaw he's making. Lieb works for the city and helps Speerschneider on weekends.

"I love it," says Lieb, 29. "It's a lot of work, though. It's not 9 to 5. It's all day long."

Speerschneider issued a food preference survey to Mostlandian citizens through the Department of Well Being to help shape his menu. Mostlandians responded that ice cream is good for breakfast, lunch or dinner. So, at various times, he offers vanilla ice cream blended with maple and bacon; tomato and mozzarella on a bed of basil with a balsamic reduction sauce, and coconut curry, to name a few.

At noon, Lieb opened the gate and put out the Junior Ambassador's sign. David Frank and his sons Liam Bendicksen, 8, and Jacob Bendicksen, 10, arrived soon after, enticed by a magazine write-up.

"It sounded interesting," Frank said. "A little offbeat, but the food sounded good."

Speerschneider talked them through the menu, and the boys chose grilled cheese on cornmeal pancakes. Frank ordered the little smokies.

They dug in at Speerschneider's picnic table.

"That's good!" Liam proclaimed.

Jacob added, "Who would've thought of grilled cheese on pancakes?"

From his perch in the cart, Speerschneider watched, listened and smiled.

Erin Hoover Barnett: 503-294-5011; ehbarnett@news.oregonian.co

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I walk by this place every couple of weeks en route to Mississippi... sounds like it would be worthwhile to stop by for some bluegrass (yum!) ice cream. Thank you for the recommendation!