Nov 8, 2017

The Tea Czar and the Patron Saint of Knives

Cities are made of webs of relationships between people. Sometimes there are people who are more central to the web, and others who make odd, erratic webs in the dark corners.

Monday, Saori changed her name on her social security card to reflect her married name. We were both delighted to discover that it was a relatively painless and quick process at the Social Security Administration center downtown, so she came up to my office to join me for lunch. I work in a strange part of town, where industrial-styled, overpriced condo towers are rocketing up next to empty lots, freeway flyovers and cloverleaves, and trendy boutiques and cafes are filling in formerly industrial buildings in a still heavily industrial neighborhood. We walked to Olympia Provisions, whose mainstay is actually sausages and smoked meats, although they put together obscenely brunchy menus and fantastic gourmet sandwiches. Next door, there is a small, black tea tasting shop called Steven Smith Teamaker.

Steven Smith is a common enough name- the personage behind it was a long time Portland entrepreneur in tea. This was actually his third venture. You may have heard of the first two: Stash Tea and Tazo Tea. Both of which he sold off (the latter to Starbucks) and started his business again. Apparently, he was known to sell teas himself in the shop in his later years before his relatively untimely death a few years ago at the age of 66.
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Tonight, we joined our neighbor across the street for one of his regular cooking workshops. Tonight's students were light- just Saori and I, and Z, Z being a bright and precocious middle schooler with an anachronistic interest in cooking. Hector showed us how to make pan de muerto, the traditional bread from the day of the dead, from scratch, and we did it right there, served up with hot Champurrado and Mexican hot chocolate. Amazing stuff. It's striking to see a cook in action- for me a vivid reminder that recipes really only take you part way in the preparation of food when there is really so much in the technique. Hector didn't so much knead that bread dough as beat the crap out of it. Hector builds cabinets, paints interiors, and cooks professionally. Even with all that strength, he was still working up a serious sweat tearing into that dough. He joked semi-seriously, "when you are tired, you are half-way done." It was worth it- by far the best pan de muerto I've ever had (not that I've had much, mind.) but still light, fluffy, chewy, orangey, sweet.

Over the sliced bread and cups of rich Mexican chocolate, Hector and Z's father got into a discussion about knives. Z's father wanted to take his knives in to get professionally sharpened, and Hector was dead against it- he warned that professional sharpeners take machines to them and scratch the hell out of them. Some cheap knives you don't care about much, okay, maybe, but not the good ones. To that, Z's dad told us about the Patron Saint of Knives.

The first thing you should know about the Patron Saint of Knives is that you do not see the Patron Saint of Knives. If you wish to solicit his services, you contact him via his website and tell him what you have and what needs to be sharpend. PSoK then sends you instructions for payment and a locker number. You go to his house and on the front porch you find a bank of lockers with keys in the keyholes. You leave the knives in your assigned locker, take the key with you, and three days later, you return with the key and pick up your sharpened knives. The man apparently takes his service as an art form, grinding blades against whetstones by hand. And for all that, it's apparently fairly cheap.
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