su di me
ricetta | fotografie | storie
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Benvenuti nel mio blog!
Mi chiamo Kathleen Phipps. I’m a Portland native and self taught cook, baker, food writer, photographer, recipe developer and tour guide. I’m fluent in Japanese and I’m currently learning Italian. I’ve traveled extensively through out Japan, Thailand and Southern Italy.
In this blog I want to take you on a culinary journey with me, to inspire and connect with you through my recipes, photos and stories.
In this blog you’ll find a collection of the recipes and dishes I’ve created on my culinary journey. I focus on creating recipes with seasonal, local ingredients, influenced by my travels abroad and my favorite chefs near and far. Whether I’m making pies with apples and pears grown in the Hood River Valley or cooking the “Cucina Povera” of Southern Italy, I believe that each dish is unique and has a story to tell. It’s my goal in this blog to tell each dish’s story through my photos, recipes and stories.
I also want to show you how to discover the best places to eat and drink in Portland without breaking the bank. Portland is a city known all over the world for its excellent food and drink. In addition to the well known establishments, I want to highlight the hidden gems in each neighborhood that provide a unique and special dining experience. I interview the chefs and find the best dishes and drinks on the menu. I look forward to sharing all of these discoveries with you!
Whether you live here or are just visiting, I want you to be inspired by the photos, recipes and stories on these pages to cook, eat and travel and discover Portland!
La mia storia:
I grew up in Aloha, a small suburb outside of Portland. My mom, a former Catholic nun, cleaned houses and raised four children. My dad was an electrician who moved to Oregon from Louisiana, bringing all of his great childhood stories and southern recipes with him. He loved teaching me how to make the Cajun dishes he grew up eating, especially shrimp gumbo. He was quite the story teller too. He made everyone around him laugh, especially me. His mother was an excellent cook in Louisiana who taught cooking classes at the local high school. I knew from a young age that I was meant to follow in her footsteps and become a chef and cooking teacher.
As a child I was so fascinated by the process of cooking. In grade school I used to come home after school and sit beside the stove so I could watch my mom cook. It wasn’t ever fancy, usually just off-brand mac and cheese with cut up hot dogs in it. I remember looking through my mom’s cookbooks before I could even read. There was one book in particular that really captured my imagination, a 1964 Betty Crocker baking book with a pink chiffon cake on the cover. Thinking about that cake made me so happy. I knew that one day I would make cakes as pretty as that one.
Cooking quickly became my escape. As a little girl, my family faced a number of hardships when my father became disabled. I put all of my energy into cooking beautiful, creative dishes that would ease my anxiety and make those around me happy.
I started experimenting in the kitchen when I was ten years old, creating more messes than anything. When I turned fourteen, I had the opportunity to attend Arts and Communication High School, an art-based magnet school in Beaverton, Oregon. Attending this school turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was a life saver when I needed it most. It was a unique public school full of talented students and caring teachers who fostered a love of art and creativity. I poured myself into my studies, focusing on Japanese and creative writing. I also did cooking demonstrations at school for class projects, focusing on the traditional cuisine of Japan. I also hosted elaborate dinner parties for my friends with themes like “sushi night” or “the cooking of ancient Rome.” My love and passion for food and art fostered by this school drove me forward and motivated me to succeed.
During my freshman year I started cooking meals for my friend’s family to earn money. I’d plan out the meals using recipes I saved from the Oregonian newspaper and other cooking magazines. This was before the internet age when you could look up a recipe on your phone. I called this collection of recipes my “Gourmet Project.” I spent hours looking through the recipes, imagining that my own recipes and photos were in the pages of a magazine. After planning out the meals I’d ride my bike to the store to buy the groceries, then ride over to my friend’s house, the groceries precariously dangling from the handlebars of my bike. I remember the first meal I ever cooked. I made pork chops, roasted potatoes with rosemary, Irish soda bread and chocolate mousse. It brought me great joy to make delicious food for people and gave me a break from the troubles I was experiencing at home.
After graduating from high school I went to Portland State University where I majored in Japanese and studied to become an ESL teacher. I spent my last two years of college working as a tour guide for Japanese exchange students, taking them on tours all over Portland and the Pacific Northwest. It was the best job I’d ever had. I loved speaking Japanese and sharing my passion for Portland with all the people I met. I also loved learning about Japanese culture as well. I visited Japan several times during college, after which I decided to learn Japanese fluently and go live there after college. My job working with the Japanese students became a lifeline for me during my junior year of college when my brother was in a terrible car accident resulting in a brain injury. He was in a comma for several months. Shortly after he came home from the hospital my mother had a stroke. At 21 years old I found myself taking care of the three members of my immediate family, who were all rolling around the house in wheelchairs at the same time. I felt like I was the circus master of a three ring circus. All I could think about was getting out of my situation. Suddenly my dream of going to Japan became a necessity more than a dream.
I moved to Japan just after graduating from PSU in 2002, to teach English with the JET Program, a prestigious teaching program sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Education. For the first year I taught at Hokuryo High School in Kanazawa, a mid-sized city located on the West coast of Japan. I soon discovered that living in a foreign country was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be. Though I was happy to finally be living in Japan, I felt very alone and isolated. I had never been away from home before and was struggling with adjusting to my new job and life in Japan. Two months after arriving, my father passed away of a heart attack. It was a very traumatic loss. I questioned whether I should remain in Japan or go home, but eventually decided to stay. I had spent so many years working towards this goal to give up. Cooking became the only thing that brought me out of the sadness I fell into. I spent every minute outside of school cooking traditional Japanese cuisine and studying Japanese tea ceremony. Food and the wonderful friends I made became my saving grace.
After my father passed away, I decided to take a trip to Thailand. I backpacked around Thailand from north to south for five weeks, completely alone with nothing but a small backpack and my Lonely Planet Thailand guidebook. Traveling alone to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language or know anyone was an empowering and life changing experience. I went to a cooking school in Chang Mai, northern Thailand. It was run by a well known local Thai woman who taught us how to steam rice in bamboo baskets, grind chilies into curry paste and press the milk out of fresh coconuts. I hiked to the top of Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand and stayed with the Karen people in their village. I watched them plant rice in the terraced rice paddies, using water buffalo to pull the plows through the thick mud. The women wore metal rings around their necks to elongate them as a sign of beauty. I listened to them sing and dance and we laughed as we tried to communicate in English and Thai.
The entire experience made me realize that I wanted to spend my life traveling around the world learning about other cultures and cuisines.
Traveling to Thailand gave me the courage I needed to move to Tokyo the following year. Tokyo was a huge change from living in Kanazawa. It was an enormous city, a very exciting but totally overwhelming place. I moved four times in the first three months I lived there, dragging my suitcase from place to place before I finally found a job and a permanent place to live. I found a teaching position at a private English conversation school just outside of Shinjuku in the western part of Tokyo. I quickly made friends with another teacher there named Elisa, who was from Milan, Italy and taught English and Italian. She and her husband, Tony would often invite me to dinner at their tiny apartment where they would prepare delicious Italian meals. I was so lucky to have friends like them in Tokyo. When I wasn’t teaching or eating delicious Italian cuisine with Elisa and Tony, I spent every minute exploring the best places to eat in Tokyo, my favorite of which were the “depa-chika,” giant food stalls located in the basement level of the large department stores. Tokyo’s Depa-chika are a food lover’s
paradise, an endless sea of beautifully displayed foods from all over the world. The abundance of international cuisine was one of the best things about living in Tokyo.
In addition to my exploration of Tokyo, I traveled all through out Japan, discovering the diversity of Japanese cooking in each region. I learned that Japanese cooking is one of the world’s most beautiful art forms. There’s a certain ritual to preparing a traditional Japanese meal that feels like you are watching live performance art. I was fortunate to have experienced the traditional “kaiseki ryori” cooking style at a famous restaurant in Kyoto. Created as a multi-course meal to be served during the traditional tea ceremony, Kaiseki was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was fascinating to watch the Japanese women impeccably dressed in beautiful kimonos kneeling down to set a plate of food before me that was so artfully displayed it rivaled the most beautiful art I’d ever seen in any gallery. Each dish executed like a gorgeous piece of art work on a plate. These experiences with food in Japan really shaped my own food philosophy and taught me how to value food and those who make it.
When I returned home from Japan in 2004, I fell into a deep depression. In addition to dealing with the loss of my father, I was also coping with my mother’s subsequent stroke and my younger brother’s brain injury. I was also going through severe reverse culture shock, having lived in Japan for two years straight without coming home. Not having the emotional bandwidth to deal with all of that at once, I felt myself slip into a dark depression. I had big dreams of attending a cooking school in France and becoming a professional chef, but didn’t have the resources, support or emotional strength to make it happen.
Slowly over time I cooked my way out of that dark place. Instead of going away to a cooking school I spent the next year watching hours of cooking shows on tv, learning the fundamentals of cooking and baking. I experimented in the kitchen, testing existing recipes and creating new ones. I felt life return to me as I pursued my dreams of cooking. I landed my first job as a pastry chef by torching creme brûlée on the roof of my car just minutes before my interview with the restaurant owner. I became the head pastry chef of Vinetopia, a restaurant inside Cinetopia, a luxury cinema serving upscale food, wine and desserts. I created all new desserts for their menu and doubled their dessert sales in the first month. For the next several years I worked hard, gaining experience and building the confidence I needed to start my own catering business.
In 2009 I started a catering business called Kat’s kitchen. I catered elegant dinner parties and baked thousands of cupcakes for orders. I started teaching cooking classes, specializing in baking, Japanese, Thai and Italian cuisines. I loved working with people of all ages and backgrounds, teaching them how to cook and be confident in the kitchen. I knew I had found my purpose in life. A few years later I bought my first DSLR camera and began taking photos of my food and writing stories about my culinary experiences.
In 2016, I traveled to Italy to study Italian cuisine in Rome, Campania, Basilicata and Puglia. I instantly fell in love with Italy. I felt a great sense of appreciation to Elisa and Tony for the love of Italian food and culture they had given me in Tokyo all those years ago. I loved the rich, illustrious history of Italian cuisine, especially the “cucina povera,” or “peasant cooking” of Southern Italy. I was so impressed by how the Italians could take the humblest ingredients and transform them into something beautiful and delicious. It felt like a great parallel to my own life.
I spent the next two years recreating all of the dishes I had on my trip. From handmade pasta to freshly baked focaccia bread, I spent hours experimenting in the kitchen, meticulously cooking, styling and photographing each one. I also started writing down all of my stories and recipes. It soon became clear that the next step was to create a blog where I could share all of these discoveries from my culinary journey with others.
I want to invite you to embark on this culinary journey with me. I know you’ll be inspired by the recipes, photos and stories I’m going to share along the way. I can’t wait to share them all with you!