Thursday, December 31, 2009

HAPPY NEW YEAR!













New Year's Eve, 2009

As I write this, I realized that I've just finished one of the most tumultuous years of my life. Last New Year's Eve I was at my friend, Laurele's with her sister Karole and our good friend Carl. My apartment had bee on the market since September with lots of people walking through and only one offer that was so insulting I refused even to consider negotiating with them. 2008 had been a good year and I had successfully completed work one of the most gratifying projects of my career, JACQUES PEPIN FAST FOOD MY WAY. But 2009 brought a rafter of bad news. The economy had settled in for a long stretch of bad news. My funds were beginning to run on empty, and the only good news was the election of Barak Obama to the Presidency.

For the first time in years, I didn't take a vacation. I had to be home in case an offer came through. The layoffs were beginning to hit the publishing industry in a really tough way, and every day my phone rang or my e-mails were filled with dreadful news that a dear friend or a long-time industry colleague had been fired. I imagined myself losing my home. If I couldn't sell my apartment in one of the most sought-after neighborhoods of New York City, we were all doomed, I thought. I stopped looking at my 401k statements from the bank. It was becoming increasingly difficult to stay positive. I was cranky about everything. I sat and sulked through plays and opera (when I went because most of the time I was looking for any excuse not to go to the Met--a first for me in nearly 40 years of opera-going). I obsessively looked at houses in Portland on the Internet, and kept in close contact with my real estate agent there. She probably felt she would never sell a house to me, and she'd be stuck taking my calls for the next few years. I had put a third of my apartment in storage to stage it for sale and the bills were mounting. There was very little new business on the horizon. For the first time in my life, I was losing my sense of confidence. So was the rest of the world.

Spring was very late arriving in New York this year and I staged a number of temper tantrums about the number of open houses (every Sunday) and requests for private viewings for those who could not or would not come to the open houses with my broker. I really lost it when one rude young man insisted on a weekday visit at 8:30 AM. This spoiled Wall Street brat had to have it his way. I saw him in my apartment lobby the following Sunday attending another open house and hit the roof with my severely tested real estate agent. Then on Easter Sunday, I had an offer. It was nearly $90K under asking, and we'd already dropped the price four times by $120K. Before I could say no, another offer came in the next day for roughly the same amount. My broker and I decided to see if we could play the offers off one another. And then the next day a third offer arrived. It was at least respectful of my listing price and I decided enough. We accepted and for another twelve days I pushed through getting a signed contract. Now that the apartment was sold, I had to find a house to buy, and in early May I flew back to Portland to buy something.

It's ironic that for the better part of a year I had concentrated on a Craftsman-style bungalow home, which are available in Portland in abundance. But just before I left for Portland, I happened to notice an intriguingly updated Cape Cod in a neighborhood I wanted to live in, and at the last minute put it on my list. As many of you have followed this blog, this was the house I eventually purchased. I had to rush back to New York to make arrangements to pack up the rest of the apartment, and get it and the stored items shipped out to Portland.

No sooner had I returned than I got the news from my biggest client that they had to cancel all the agreed-upon projects for the fall season. Now I was totally unemployed, in contract to sell my home in New York and with a signed contract to purchase another home 3,000 miles away. Strangely enough it didn't rattle me. It was time to leave. I had lived in New York for nearly 40 years, and I was long overdue for a second act. It was time to say goodbye and figure out "what next." I would concentrate on moving into a new home, and take my time making it livable before deciding on my next move.

It was truly wrenching to leave my friends. I have bonded deeply with so many friends, and it would be particularly difficult to say goodbye to Maryann, Karole, Laurele, Carl, Joe, Tricia, , Sara, Pat, Dyanne, Christine, Jim, Bruce, Murray, Wilma, Alison, Jeannie, Susan, Susan and Susan. Alison had generously offered her apartment for a farewell blast, and I eagerly accepted. I also scheduled a lot of final dinners with these same dear friends. There was a publishing community of colleagues also dear to me to say goodbye to. And there was the added stress of kicking the bank's asses on both coasts. I became particularly incensed when my own bank demanded an additional fifteen days to close once I left New York. I wasn't having it. I wouldn't tolerate pitching my tent at a friend's in Portland, nor was I going to rent an apartment or stay at a hotel. My lawyer in New York was having his own problems trying to get everyone to stick to my scheduled departure date. I drove everyone nuts in trying to make all my original dates work. And then Murray announced he had lung cancer. Terrible news. Maryann organized a group of professional friends to say goodbye and we met at a favorite Irish watering hole on West 57th Street for an evening of eating, drinking and an exchange of war stories.

The party was wonderful with Alison and Jeannie master-minding everything. Afterwards, Kurt, a long-time colleague who often stayed at my apartment on business trips, with wife Sookey, invited me for a final dinner at the bar of Union Square cafe, a place where Kurt and I had shared manner a bar dinner over the years. As it was my birthday coming up, Maryann and I made a dinner date to mark both occasions. We had a wonderful evening, first at dinner at one of Jean-George's restaurant's in the Village and then we tied one on with Carl in the Village at Cafe Loup, laughing the night away with a few moments of tears to acknowledge that this was really happening. I had a particularly wonderful dinner with Jon and Linda Sawyer. I had worked with Jon at Jericho for nearly fifteen years. When Arthur was dying this kind, wonderful and very crazy man often kept me company, keeping an eye out for me. His generosity solidified a great friendship between us and he continued to make sure that I was a a part of his family. I had watched Linda rise to CEO of one of the most creative ad agencies in the city, and beamed as their sons were born and flourished. We shared a terrific evening.

I asked Sara Keene if I could stay with her in her apartment at 91st and West End Avenue between the closing and my departure on June 26th--my 59th birthday. She stayed one night and we have a lovely time before she left for her country home. Beau and I explored Riverside Park a block away. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the neighborhood, the spectacular river views, and the lush gardens just reaching their peak of summer beauty. A few more memorable dinners with Carl, and Carl and Tricia, and the day arrived for departure. I had to see Murray before I left and called to see if he would see me. He sounded frail but said he was up for a visit. When I arrived, I was shocked by his appearance. It had been less than three months since I had last seen him, and it was clear he was dying. He was not up for a long visit, and asked me to go about 15 minutes into our visit. I knew it was the last time I would see him (indeed Murray passed away a few weeks later). I went off to meet Joe for our last lunch. Through thick and thin and through most of my time in New York, Joe had been my rock--my longest friendship in New York. Now seventy and going through his own problems, it was a sad lunch.

Back at Sara's I got to spend a few minutes with her daughter, Gigi and her husband Tom and their children, Caitlin and Jackson. I had cooked the food for the reception at Gigi's wedding to Tom, and then again, when they got back together again after a separation. It seemed almost like a full circle.

And then we were bound for the airport--Beau and me. I was able to bring him on the plane with me, in a carrier. We were headed for a new adventure.

And here we are five months later in my new adopted city. Beau is gently snoring in his day bed next to me in the dining room. Through sheer will power, I've re-invented my life. At Rux Martin's suggestion, I launched a cookbook review blog which seems to be getting some acceptance. I've settled into this wonderful house of mine. I'm sure it is no surprise to anyone that I've managed to build a full social life, creating new friends and forging new alliances here in a very short time. I've gone to the opera, eaten exciting meals in a range of the city's restaurants, shopped the farmer's markets, unpacked, and furnished my home, hung my pictures, selected window treatments, hosted visits from friends from San Francisco (Joan and Fritz Hottenstein and their gorgeous daughters), Lynne Yerby came with her mother to visit Mark and Lucy, her brother and sister-in-law, and proclaimed that my home suited me to a tee! My friend, Pat Reshen from New York, came at the same time my brother Douglas, who has remarried and is now the father of a gorgeous little girl and looking for a house in the area to buy. It was a hectic time, but fun. I explored the area's wine country, and hosted my first Thanksgiving, during which Tricia came out for a wonderful visit. Susan's boyfriend, Michael came for an overnight visit in route to his step-son for a 4oth birthday celebration. Beau and I enjoyed a long and productive summer getting to know our neighbors, dining at outdoor cafes for the first time together (couldn't do that in New York). I've been warmly welcomed everywhere. But there's been plenty of time for reflecting on the changes and their effect on us and I'm convinced that I made the right decision at this time in my life. I got the opportunity to cheer my hugely talented friend, Christine, as she triumphed in her first Wagner role in Houston in November. What a thrill to watch this gifted singer electrify an audience with her magnificent voice and superb acting skills. I can count new friends here--most important Jean-Francois and his partner, Jay, John and Darren, Sarah and Carol, Kent, Mike and Duncan, Alan and Ruth, Lucy and Mark, Tom and Joe, Rafael and Connie, Lawrence and Stefania, Grace and John, and so many others.

It's another four and a half hours until the onset of 2010. I'll be 60 at the end of June. I've got a new project to begin work on in January. I'm feeling very optimistic about 2010. I'll be back in New York in May for a visit, and to attend the BookExpo America exhibit, where I will once again, be presiding over the press room. The International Association of Culinary Professionals will be holding their annual meeting in Portland this year, and I hope to have friends stay with me during this event. And the cookbook blog will continue to evolve. I have so much to be thankful for and even more to look forward to in the New Year.

Happy New Year, and all my love to everyone who made this such a special year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More Christmas Photos!




My friend John Baker decorates three Christmas trees every year. There is one in the living room, one in the tv room and a third in the dining area off the kitchen. His formal dining room is as decorated as any of the rooms in his home. John has been collecting Christmas ornaments for ages and his beautiful home is especially festive during the holidays when nearly every thing you can put a hook on gets hooked. The tree in his TV room is especially beautiful because it is composed of very old fashioned ornaments and vintage bubble lights, etc. The ornaments are often wooden and hand carved. I forgot to bring my camera on Christmas day and used John's iPhone to capture these photos. There's also a shot of Penny, the chocolate lab who is also Beau's main squeeze. I think she's very pretty and way too much woman for Beau. She follows him around and makes him play with her. No other dog has been able to elicit that kind of behavior from Beau who is usually indifferent to other dogs, once a cursory sniff is over.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

LET IT SNOW!



We got quite a snow storm today. Didn't expect it at all. I was up toiling in my office, trying desperately to make some order out of the mounds of paper that just shoved in while I concentrated on the house. I've got a lot to do in order to get my taxes filed by the end of January, which is my stated goal this year. No more extensions for me. When the phone rang, I was pacing back and forth and looked out the window, astonished at the size of the flakes. Big, huge, heavy snow was falling. At 5:00 PM, I took Beau out for a walk, but he didn't like it at all, which confused me. Beau loved the snow in New York but I guess I never took him out when it was actually snowing. I never saw him get through his business so quickly, and he dragged me home. I put him in the house, and grabbed my camera. The photos are dark, but I did catch the neighbor's kids building their own snowman. I'll try to get out in this tomorrow and see if I can get better photos. I'll bet the park across the street is gorgeous tomorrow morning as long as it doesn't rain. Oops! I just checked, and they expect the temperature to move up into the mid-40s with rain most of the day, so this lovely stuff will be gone in a thrice. Oh well...So glad it didn't ruin the retailer's Christmas shopping, and it was nice while we had it.







Sunday, December 27, 2009

YEAH, BEAU AND I SURVIVED CHRISTMAS



I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas or whatever holiday you were celebrating. I was rather busy on the domestic front. I had been invited for Christmas eve dinner at my good friend, Jean-Francois' home. Since we were going to be spending a lot of time eating and drinking, the decision was made that I would stay overnight so as to avoid a late-night drive back home. So I packed Beau and a Tart Tatin (J-F's request) and a bottle of red wine, plus my toothbrush and we were off. J-F and Jay and I grazed on shrimp, smoked salmon, crab, and cheese with crackers while we sipped an excellent Adelsheim Oregon chardonnay. J-F had bought lamb chops, which he informed me I would be preparing. When I got into the kitchen, I found racks of lamb in the fridge, not lamb chops. Okay, I still knew what to do. I made a paste of garlic, salt, lemon zest, finely chopped rosemary, pepper and olive oil, and rubbed it all over the racks and let them rest until they were near room temperature. I seared them in olive oil on top of the stove and finished them in the oven for 20 minutes before cutting them into chops. They were delicious the salad and sweet potato mash J-F made. More wine, the Tart Tatin and a slice of Buche de Noel, and Christmas Eve was declared a success.

At noon the next day, J-F dropped Beau and me at my friend John Baker's in SW Portland. I was there to be moral support for John, his housemate Darren, and John's 102 (soon to be 103) father, who lives in an apartment in the house. John was expecting 11 for dinner. He had ordered a turkey dinner with most of the fixings from Zupan's a rather luxe supermarket chain here in Portland. The table was set, the three trees (yes, John had three fully loaded Christmas trees in his house) were lit, but we still had a lot of work to do. John was making a large onion gratin and I was assigned to the fruit salad, which had grapes, bananas, papaya, pear, apple, tangerine sections, and kiwi. Guests were expected at 4:00, but with all that peeling, I was ready for my first glass of red at 2:30. We set up a service buffet so that it would be easier for people go get what they wanted rather than going through the tedious exercise of passing individual dishes. The turkey roaster was plugged in to warm the cooked turkey through before I did the carving. Mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, rolls, all needed warming before being set out. We whipped cream, set up for the coffee and dessert service, and felt we had conquered everything that needed to be done before the first guest arrived.

Dinner was lively and fun with old friends of John's, his sister, her daughter and her boyfriend, as well as the family of John's late childhood friends, who were visiting from Seattle. Beau and Darren's gorgeous chocolate Lab, Penny, were put in charge of charming guests while we saw to their drink needs. We were at the table for hours doing what millions of other families everywhere were doing. Pumpkin pie and mincemeat pies capped our Christmas feast. the triptifan (sp) was working I went in search of comfortable chair where with Beau in my lap, I fell asleep.

John and Darren drove Beau and me home but we decided to take a detour along Peacock Lane near my home. This is a fanciful two block street full of Tudor-style homes which has become famous for its lights on every house on both sides of the streets. This Christmas tradition has been luring visitors down its quiet street since 1928. If you buy a home on Peacock Lane, you must decorate the outside of the house every year. And so it was. Every house was brilliantly lit with holiday lights and other decorations. The best part was there weren't many cars out or pedestrians for that matter. So my first visit to Peacock Lane was really nice.

John and Darren dropped us off at my house. I took a weary Beau up to bed. I felt like that old song..."sing for your supper." A very nice Christmas indeed.

The only fly in the ointment was an increasingly intense head cold, so I decided to forgo my plans to see a movie on Saturday and just stayed at home. Not doing much of anything. I did watch UP, the latest Pixar film which I really loved.

Sunday I was up early. Busy day, ripping CDs for friends, and attacking the marmalade. Mark and Lucy brought me 15 huge pink grapefruits on Tuesday. I took a few to J-F's and still had 13. I ate one for breakfast and it was delicious--ripe, sweet, tart. I squeezed the juice of another to make my self a cold-fighting cocktail of vodka, grapefruit juice and soda. Well it was a good shot of Vitamin C. I found a recipe for pink grapefruit marmalade, which required only two grapefruits. It was adapted from a Nigella Lawson, which meant I had to convert 500 grams of sugar and 500 grams of brown sugar to ounces. I had never made marmalade or preserves of any kind. You boil up the two grapefruits, whole, as they bobble on the water for two hours. After they have cooled, you chop them fairly finely, add both sugars and grapefruit pulp to the pot along with the juice of two lemons. I had it nearly done before I realized I had to call my mother to find out about sterilizing the jars and lids. I had bought new jars at the Ace Hardware in my neighborhood. Boil the jars and the lids and tops in separate pots, my mother advised, and once you've got a clear, skimmed preserves ("you better add a pinch of salt," she suggested), spoon the marmalade in your glass jars. Wipe the lip of the jars clean. Cover and tightly seal. Then you have to boil the closed jars for an additional 15 minutes or so. The result was lots of pots and pans and six half-pint jars of marmalade, four of which are stored now in the basement. The other two will be given to my guests coming for dinner tomorrow night. I think there will be more preserves in my future.

Off to give Beau his late afternoon walk.

Only one more social event for the New Year. I cant' wait for it to begin!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Week Countdown




I finally finished my Christmas cards last night and went directly to the mailbox in the dark to post them. I hate the tyranny of Christmas cards. I might just give Jacquie Lawson cards for the rest of my life. So much work. So many stamps. So many return address thingies. And I can't just say "luv, Greg." I have to update and comment. Bah! Okay that's over.

I've finally figured out how to include Beau in my grocery shopping excursions. You can't bring a dog with you to the supermarket and I refuse to tie him up outside the store while I shop. Someone would definitely steal this guy. Beau hates it when I leave for the store and leave him at home. The solution: I bought a small cart on wheels with a net covering that I thought would be a good way to bringing him with me on the plane. Well the cart is too big. I almost sold it on Craigslist before I left New York and at the last minute I packed it. Then when Beau had his oral surgery in August, I used it to bring him home afterwards. A few weeks ago, I occurred to me that I could walk Beau to the market with me, put him in the cart while I shopped and then walk him home and use the cart to carry my groceries. It was a perfect solution He gets to to be with me, and I don't get a broken back schlepping groceries home.

A package arrived yesterday. It was a very fancy feeding bowl for Beau from his friends Lucy and Mark. He had his breakfast from this vessel this morning. The tabletop for this dog is getting as bad as mine!

Then my friends Carol and Sarah sent this French Bulldog desk calendar for the year. Beau is now accessorized beyond what is deemed controllable. He's got enough stuffed toys to make me feel embarrassed. So I have been giving some of them to the neighbor's dogs. He's got a sweater and a coat--both of which he refuses to wear when it's cold outside, and a raincoat which is unusable since he refuses to walk in the rain. He's got three day beds strategically placed throughout the house. Truly a dog's life.

There's brilliant sunshine outside--a rarity at this time of year--which means we have to get out of here before the rains start all over again.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why I Hate the Food Network!


I've gotten out of the habit of watching TV downstairs during the day. When I lived in New York and worked from my home, I had the TV on a lot mostly on news, which I can no longer stand watching. We're either being yelled at, thanks to Fox, or fed news that isn't news or celebrity nonsense that isn't news, or being scared to death. Weather reporting is a good example. Yesterday, I spoke to three friends in New York who dutifully reported that a huge nor'easter was bearing down on the city. You would have thought from the reports that the Empire State building was to be blanketed UNDER a monstrous mound of snow. As New York buddy Laurele reported to me this morning--"Oh please. It was six inches and will probably be gone tomorrow!"

Anyway, I bought a small flat-screen TV with a DVD player from Costco this week, and yesterday the cable guy came over to hook it up. So here I am at my laptop in the dining room with the Food Network on. I don't mind Giada di Laurentiis (those teeth can be annoying), and I certainly like Ina Garten--who really does have a no-nonsense approach. Nigella Lawson's holiday cooking shows reveal the fact that she wears superbly constructed bras--how else to explain how she keeps those babies floating out there in those deep V-neck sweaters she wears. You can't take your eyes off of her bosom. I've long since stopped being annoyed by Rachael Rae. And Bobby Flay has actually begun to grow on me--at least his recipes look great, lack gimmicks, and he's relatively low-key. But Guy Fieri's fake hair, fake masculinity, fake biker image on "Diner's Dives and Drive-Ins" has managed to supplant Sandra Lee and Paula Deen as the dumbest personality-driven cooking show on TV (the worst are the no-host shows such as those cake decorating specials where there's always the threat of an insanely over-decorated cake toppling over at a competition, which I not-so-secretly pray for!). Fieri seems to think any inanimate ingredient should be addressed as "these bad boys." I mean grow up! I suppose you have to appeal to real guys with this biker approach. God forbid you should learn anything good about cooking from a girl or worse yet, some gay guy cook. But his hyper-masculinity, tattoos, the hardware on his arms (I know drag queens who would wear less jewelry than he does), seriously distract from any abilities he might have as a chef. Why does the Food Network always insist on dumbing down food? Say what you will about Rachael Ray's down-market perkiness, but she offers an information-packed program for time-stressed families. At at least, the food is real. Whatever information Fieri is imparting is lost on all the surface noise the show projects. What's wrong or any less entertaining than watching Jacques Pepin, Lidia Bastianich, Sara Moulton, Ming Sai, Michael Chiarella prepare food on TV? Short attention spans? Too up-market? Not enough noise? Excuse me while I switch over to HG TV.

Last night's parties were loads of fun. We stopped first at Alan Centofante's 50th birthday party. Alan is a magazine wholesale sales consultant to city magazines around the country where he advises them on increasing newsstand sales. We became friendly through PubWest, a publishing association I joined when I moved to Portland. Ruth, his wife, was hosting the party to celebrate this big year in his life, at a club house in Lake Oswego, a tony suburb near Portland. The club house is located near the Willamette River where earlier we could view a host of small boats, fancifully decked out in lights for the holidays. This beautiful flotilla was entertaining to watch. The party was potluck, so I brought a rice salad that I like to do because it feeds a lot of people and can stand out for a long time without needing refrigeration. To the cooked arborio rice, I added finely cubed roasted red beets (which turned the rice a gorgeous claret color), red radishes, cucumber, cooked edamame and corn, red pepper, celery, chive and parsley, oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. The table was an exuberant mix of homemade lasagna, pizzas (delivered), chicken wings, cheese, stuffed salami canapes, Waldorf Salad, and other fanciful holiday-themed dishes (boy are we all going on serious diets after New Year's eve is over). We stayed about a little over an hour before progressing to our next party less than 15 minutes away.

John Baker's house was truly decked out for a Christmas party. A small tree outside the house was brilliantly lit with hundreds of white lights. In the house you could roam from room-to-room admiring three tall and heavily decorated trees. John has been a serious collector of Christmas ornaments for more than three decades, and each tree was groaning. The food was excellent with a ham and small rolls to make sandwiches, little roasted beets stuffed with gorgonzola, snow peas piped with a savory cream cheese filling, nuts, little sweet muffins with sliced smoked turkey, and other goodies. Good thing I brought these orange-nutmeg shortbread cookies that I found in THE GRAND CENTRAL BAKING BOOK, from the popular Pacific Northwest bakery chain. They were gone in minutes. The house was packed with guests and it was a very festive party. The best part of it was that I went with buddy Mike Campbell who doesn't drink, which meant I could drink all I liked without worrying about driving!

People enjoy entertaining in Portland, and I've been the recipient of my friend's generosity. I've got friends coming for dinner on Tuesday, which will give me an opportunity to photograph a dish I'm making for the second time from a book I'm going to review in January, and then I'm done entertaining for the year. I'm going to friends on Christmas Eve, Christmas day and then New Year's Eve, at which point, I'll turn into a pumpkin and get on with the depressing deprivation of the New Year when we all have to pay the price of over-indulgence.

I haven't read the the op-ed pieces in today's New York Times yet, but it seems to me that two major things happened this week that were close to the heart of President Obama: the number of votes necessary to pass a national health care reform bill, and an agreement forged by President Obama in Copenhagen this week that is a real start to curbing fuel emissions on our planet. While neither the health care bill nor the Copenhagen accord completely achieved their goals (and I'm still waiting to hear what IS in this health care bill), it has to be said that President Obama's tireless efforts on behalf of both should be praised and not ignored. He's managed to achieve in less than one year the kind of good-for-everyone work that George Bush failed to achieve in eight years and in the process has halted or reversed the excesses of Bush's insane ideas of what the executive branch of government was entitled to oversee. President Obama has much more to accomplish, but what he's done this first year in the midst of one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression is nothing short of a miracle.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Lights








Walking around with Beau in the neighborhood, I'm astonished at how many houses are sporting Christmas lights. It seems like every other house around here has Christmas lights ranging from quiet good taste to over-the-top exuberant. There are white icicle lights, colored icicle lights, illuminated reindeer, net lights covering hedges, large-lit candy canes, creches of every description, and then there are the houses with enough lights to qualify for a place on the Vegas strip. I love the fact that so many people celebrate the season with Christmas lights. In New York you could see lights in some apartment windows, but you had to go to Brooklyn and Queens to see street and after street of houses lit up for Christmas. These pictures won't do the houses justice as I don't have a fast-enough shutter to get the lighting right. But you get the idea.

My cookbook blog has been getting some media attention. A Lexington, KY paper asked me how I made my selections of the best cookbooks published in 2009. Then a radio show that focuses on food topics, asked me to appear on the show by phone where I spent an hour talking about every book on the list. It's airing again on Saturday. Then I got a call from the food section of the Oregonian asking me about my favorite and least favorite kitchen gadgets. They are going to give my cookbook blog a plug. All this means I'll have to work harder to make the changes at the blog I think it needs. I have a big stack of books to get through, cook from and comment on.

The Tiger Woods scandal continues without abating. Now the ladies are squabbling about which one has more priority in his life (#11 think she's got more equity in Tiger than #14 or 15), Tiger's been named Athlete of the Decade (and the top dick of the new millennium), his endorsement deals are shrinking, and Tiger's decided to put his golf clubs away for awhile to get back to the business of healing his family. Meanwhile, his wife is now in Sweden with the boys (who knows where Tiger will be). I've learned the Rachel--the first girl implicated has been "surgically enhanced," and everyone I know is sending me Tiger jokes--the real cultural barometer of just how big this scandal truly is. It's not that I'm worried that Tiger's philandering will push off news that all those world leaders haven't come up with a plan to combat the ever-diminishing resources of our planet or that those boneheads in the Senate are not going to give us a national healthplan, or that I'm pissed at President Obama for lengthening our stay in Afghanistan. Those unendingly dreary and unsolvable problems just make us aware that our leaders have totally failed us. But Tiger's story pulls us out of our despair. It's fun--a diversion--from the fact that banks still won't lend money, no matter how qualified you are and that there's nobody in Washington with the cojones to kick some banker butt back into reality. No wonder I'm gonna spend a lot of time at the movies this Christmas.

Made gnocchi for the first time last weekend. So cool. It's a bit time consuming, boiling potatoes and peeling them while their still hot; ricing them and then adding flour, egg, salt and pepper; forming the dough; quartering it and rolling the quarters into ropes, then cutting into smaller bite-size pieces. I even rolled them on the tines of a fork in the traditional way. I ended up with more than 100 pieces, half of which I froze. The rest were gently poached in water, drained and then finished in a saute pan with brown butter and sage. It was a great first course; which was followed by a well-roasted chicken, green beans finished in butter and lemon and my buddy Mike, brought over a buttermilk pie with raisins and a meringue top--a deliciously old-fashioned finish to a truly delicious dinner.

Off to a publishing holiday party this evening, and on Saturday, I'm going to a friend's 50th birthday celebration and then off to John Baker's annual Christmas extravaganza. John loves Christmas and has collected ornaments and other Christmas effluvia for many years now. There are thousands of lights on his trees in the front yard of his house and three Christmas trees groaning with lights and ornaments. I hope nobody gets drunk and falls into one of these babies, including yours truly.




Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Media Made Me a Tiger Scandal Junkie!




Well it's happened. Last week I was in my defiant "who cares?" mode over the revelations of the Tiger Woods scandal. He was just another married celebrity caught with his pants down, only his wife bashed him with his own golf clubs. Then the stories, and the mistresses, and the news of the prenup, and the financial settlement, all came spilling out. I was speechless at the sheer insanity of it all. And so holier than thou about the great unwashed masses out there clamoring for more dirt. Then this story about Elin Woods calling in her mother and mother-in-law, who just happened to be at the house the night she beat the shit out of the lying, cheating two-timer, appeared in today's Daily Beast (oh, please--let me give you the connection: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-12-05/what-tigers-mom-saw/). I confess that this story has now taken over my life. I've never witnessed such a compelling train wreck (well...maybe the OJ story, or wait...John Edwards fathering that kid was pretty juicy and poor Elizabeth fighting cancer...does it get any sleazier? Governor McGreevey was pretty appalling and vaguely squirm-inducing over its gay revelations. And I'm still yelling at everyone to grow up about Bill. In the great tradition of husbands getting caught, he only LIED about that blow job, thus setting into motion one of the all-time wasteful legal wranglings which cost all of us a lot of tax-payer money). But I digress.

The point is now I can't get enough of this story. Forget Afghanistan, the national health care bill, the sluggish economy, ten percent national unemployment. The media has forced me to care about this story. Will Nike take away Tiger's endorsement deals? Is this genuine contrition or slick damage control? Just how expensive were those ruined golf clubs? And please, send me a few more mistresses. I'm dying here. I need more. Someone call Oprah. She can stage the "I'm Sorry, Honey" ceremony live in Chicago (though facing your mother is probably easier than the stony disapproval of the Godlike talk show host--just ask James Frey).

And to think that I thought golf was boring. I can't wait for Tiger's next tournament. I want to see the close-ups of his repaired face. Plastic surgery? Now I'm part of the national blather on Tiger. Thanks you media bastards.

Took a break from my Tiger Woods obsession to attend a swell Christmas party at the Quad's last night to kick off the Christmas season. Good food, good cocktails and a beautifully decorated house for the holidays. The joint was packed, but I spent a lot of time with my good buddy Trish as we swapped stories and got caught up. Her husband David, has built her a greenhouse in their back yard. Now there is a happy marriage. How many husbands would build their wife a greenhouse? Trish has a green thumb and I'm predicting great things from her garden this season. Rod, one of the party's hosts, had cooked up a storm. There was sliced pork fillet on sliced French bread with a fresh mango sauce, spears of endive with smoked chicken salad, sliced salami, assorted cheeses, a cactus salad with jalapeno peppers (really good), wrapped shrimp, and lots of other goodies, which you could wash down with wine or a Cosmopolitan. Trish brought killer cookies which were delicious and no-bake. Now let me tell you what they were made of: melted bittersweet chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, salted peanuts and crispy chow mein noodles. I forced myself to stop at two.

Meanwhile we got our first frost last night. I had to yank in a small Rosemary topiary tree that had been outside. I was worried it might not last through the winter season. It was below freezing when I woke up this morning and is now up in the 40s and sunny. Speaking of sunny, where the heck is the rain? We've had twelve straight days of sunshine--unheard of in this part of the country at this time of the year! It's wonderful.

More Christmas photos.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tiger is a Cheating Bas...and Alex Keaton's Mom is a Dyke!





Well that the end of the world as we know it! And just when we thought we'd heard the last of Rihanna's private life, nude photos show up. I mean, can I get through breakfast anymore without this crap? I could care less about Tiger Woods' extra-marital exploits. It is absolutely not our business nor the media's business. But I do agree with my ex-boss that Tiger should have been managing this story rather than the media. So today we get the sorry spectacle of his apologies to his family. Is it any wonder that I'm a huge fan of THE GOOD WIFE (CBS-TV Tuesday nights)? Tiger's wife was right to use that golf club.

It's good that Meredith Baxter decided to beat a threatening tabloid to the punch and out herself as a lesbian on national TV. But shouldn't there be some legal repercussions against the tabloid who would threaten a basically retired actress about her private life? It took guts and courage for such a private person to do what Meredith Baxter did, thereby maintaining her dignity. But she's not in a hit movie/TV/video/radio program. She's living her life privately and while we do allow our media an awfully wide latitude, threatening someone in this way should warrant repercussions. And how nice she got Matt Lauer to help her come out on the Today show. It was a class interview in every way.

But these celebrity stories keep us away from real issues such as insisting that health care is a national right and exhorting our lazy politicians in Washington (who do receive superb medical benefits) to get this bill passed. Meanwhile, we get Obama ramping a war that should have been launched eight years ago before Bush got us all side-tracked. I guarantee you will that so-called $30 billion budget he is waving in front of us is just the tip of another endless war America is in. As someone pointed out on the Huffington Post today, does that budget include fixing the broken psyches of the soldiers who come back from Afghanistan and Iraq. We can spend this money without much debate or deliberation, but we can't get a national health care bill through. I ask you...huh???

I trimmed the mystery shrub in my back yard today. It took more than three hours to prune it and then dispose of the branches. It has been bullied and pushed by the large Cedar tree growing next to it, and as my winter garden is now readied, this was the last thing to be done. I emerged from this effort feeling good and then sent a photo of the pruned shrub to my good friend, the Green Thumb goddess, Dyanne. She took one look at it and told me I shouldn't be pruning in December--that job needs to be done in March, and that I had massacred the poor shrub. In other words, "put down the pruning shears and step away from that bush!" I hope it's covered with new leaves next spring so I can stick out my tongue and say "nah, nah, nah!"

Meanwhile, my house is all set for Christmas. The fake tree is trimmed, the Poinsettia is gorgeous (purchased at Fred Meyer for a mere $9.99--in New York this same plant would cost me $45!), I've filled my glass urns with lights and Christmas bulbs, and I'm ready for the holidays. Next year I'm going to hang lights on the outside of the house.

I'm going to my first Christmas season party on Friday.

Friday, November 27, 2009

First Thanksgiving in Portland, OR


I've had so much to be thankful for in the past year with this big move to Portland. So for Thanksgiving I wanted to be surrounded by my "new family." My old friend Tricia had called me right after I got to Portland in July to ask if she could come for a visit at Thanksgiving. Of course, I said yes. And then I wanted Jean-Francois, a friend of many years, who I first met in New York at least thirty-some years ago. John Baker, a Portlander I've known since the early 90s, was invited. And for my newest friend, I asked Kent Watson, who is executive director of a publishing trade association I joined out here. Kent was a good sport to be the brunt of teasing by a bunch of gay men. J-F brought his partner, Jay and John brought his partner, Darren. To keep Beau company, John and Darren brought along his favorite girlfriend--the lovely Penny (a two-year-old Chocolate Lab who makes Beau forget what a super slacker dude he really is).

Preparations began several weeks ago when I attempted to find turkey parts in my local markets for my turkey stock. No such luck--not at Safeway, Trader Joe's, or Fred Meyer. I called around the to the few butchers in the area and nothing. I finally found turkey wings at New Seasons Market, and this year's stock was incredibly flavorful with its onions, leeks, celery, carrot, parsley, clove, and pepper corns. I asked Tricia to bring out NPR's Susan Stamberg (by way of Craig Clairborne's NYTimes recipe from 1959) recipe for an unusual and really delicious frozen cranberry side dish (uncooked cranberries and a small onion are chopped together before you add sour cream and prepared horseradish. You then freeze it and let it thaw for an hour before you serve it. No sugar, and really delicious-it's an unusual cranberry preparation). I made Claiborne's classic cranberry-orange relish with almonds, because--it's the only cranberry recipe I've ever used.

Tricia is wheat intolerant, which set off a quest to find a cornbread mixture without flour that didn't require sugar. The Oregonian was helpful with a suggestion for something called Pamela's Cornbread mix. Only it was out-of-stock everywhere I went. We finally settled on Bob's Red Mill mix, which is delicious, but a bit on the heavy side. The rest of the stuffing recipe (a variation on stuffing I've made for years), had leeks, sausage, mushrooms, celery, parsley, fresh sage, thyme, salt, pepper, eggs and turkey stock. It was just a tad bland, but improved in flavor with an overnight sit in the refrigerator. The gravy had to be made with cornstarch instead of flour, but it was delicious. I also roasted Brussels sprouts, and of course, we had to have mashed potatoes. I once found a recipe on a woman's magazine for something called "Grand Champion Dill Loaf," a fragrant and impressive bread that you braid, which looks like a cross between a brioche and challah. I've baked it unbraided, added scallions instead of white onion, and changed many times over the years. Lately I've taken to turning the dough into individual rolls, which as a vehicle for a perfect turkey sandwich.

Jean-Francois called on Wednesday morning with an offer of a honey-roasted baked ham. "Okay," I said, wondering how I was going to get all this food on the table at once. I'm an Thanksgiving veteran, but I hadn't cooked for this many people in years. He also generously announced the addition of a cheesecake! I always make a pumpkin pie, and again because of Tricia's gluten-free needs, I decided to make pumpkin ice cream with toasted pecans (Tricia's helpfully suggested sauteing the pecans in butter and salt--a great call--and after the tally of calories in this meal, certainly not caloric overkill!).

Years ago, I watched Julia Child remove the carcass from a small turkey (no more than 14 pounds). She then broiled it for 45 minutes and roasted it an additional 45 minutes. The result is a perfectly cooked turkey that is a snap to carve and with breast meat that is incredibly moist and tender. Most people look at it with dismay, preferring the look of a traditional, picture-perfect bird that is uniformly dry, but does have it's photogenic qualities. My mother was appalled that I would abandon tradition no matter what the results. I've been preparing my Thanksgiving turkeys this way ever since. I now remove the thigh bone, which facilitates the carving of the thighs. There's very little waste, and I've got the carcass for turkey soup.

Thursday arrived with a typical Portland rainy season monsoon. It rained all day long. But dinner was lovely--up there with the very best of previous Thanksgiving feasts (though I did miss my New York family--Karole, Laurele and Carl, whom I've been sharing Thanksgiving with since 2000). We were awash in Oregon Pinot Noirs. No drama, lots of laughing and eating and drinking, and enjoying the antics of the dogs, sharing stories, teasing and making fun of each other. My kind of Thanksgiving. A very special day.

We had unusually gorgeous weather all week (by Portland standards). Tricia rented a car, and she drove me to markets, we antique-shopped in the Sellwood area of town, and spent Wednesday vi sting Powell's main bookstore downtown, and then window-shopped our way through the Pearl district with it's beautiful boutiques in amazingly dry weather. Gordon, the gut who trims my huge laurel hedges, took advantage of the dry weather to get the job done, give my huge cedar tree in the back yard a trim and cut back the holly tree which was threatening to strangle the side of my house.

Tricia left at 5:15 am on Friday morning to return to New York. I got up with her, to pack some turkey and ham for the plane, and with a deep hug, sent her off in the dark for the airport. I put away all the dinner dishes from the night before, answered e-mail and took Beau out for a long walk because daylight brought the most amazingly beautiful day--a gorgeous winter-blue sky with cottony clouds lazily drifting by. Beau dragged me through puddles from the previous day's storms, stuck his nose in every bush and shrub we passed, thrilled to be out in the sunshine. Back at home, I decided to take a long nap (something I never do). I woke up ravenous and ate a big breakfast. To this indulgence, I added a long stay on my couch, watching movies--Paul Rudd's sweetly sly and funny performance in I LOVE YOU MAN, then Janet Leigh with Robert Mitchum in HOLIDAY AFFAIR.

Is anyone paying attention to THE GOOD WIFE, the TV series starring Juliana Margulies? I missed Tuesday's episode because of the final of DANCING WITH THE STARS (a cheap and guilty pleasure--I picked Donnie Osmond to win and it was the right choice). I went on the CBS website to get caught up. This is a very well-done show, a complex show that is at once a smartly written legal drama that has a fascinating and topical backstory. Margulies plays the wife of a disgraced big city DA (Chris Noth), who may or may not have been set up to be blamed for corruption. What taints his guilt or innocence is that he's also been caught in an affair. Margulies plays the shell-shocked political wife, who is now stared at and judged by the media and the public, who goes back to work in a law firm while her husband languishes in jail trying to establish his innocence. Some of the cases she's working on are impacted by her husband's knowledge of them. Margulies leads an excellent ensemble cast as the politico's wife, humiliated by her husband's fall from grace and his betrayal. Good to see Christine Baranski back on TV too as a smartly sharkey senior partner who likes to think and projects herself as a supportive mentor of the younger female colleagues in the office.

Tricia bought Norah Jones' new CD, The Fall. It's a strong collection--a little country. She's not someone I always like--but this new effort has been playing constantly all weekend.

My day of sloth is over. Time to go outdoors and prune a neglected shrub.

My first Portland Thanksgiving was pretty special. I hope you all had a spectacular holiday too!

Time to unpack Christmas!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

HOUSTON (after Sarah Palin and Lou Dobbs detours)



Top Photo: Christine Goerke as Otrud in Wagner's LOHENGRIN with Richard Paul Fink as Telramund in the Houston Grand Opera production premiered on October 30, 2009. Photo courtesy of Houston Grand Opera

Below: Christine Goerke backstage at the Houston Grand Opera with Ginny Gehab following the final performance of HGO's run of LOHENGRIN (11/15/09)

Sarah Palin, that odious soccer mom---the woman who revels in her very ordinariness as though that were a badge of honor, is back and I’m just as sick of her now as I was when John McCain lost his mind and invited her to be his Veep during the last Presidential Election. Why are we supposed to be impressed with her “aw shucks; you betcha” persona while she looks down her nose at those she considers snobbish and out-of-touch with the common folk. Well excuse me, Miss-I-can-field-dress-a moose! The media is falling all over themselves trying to get their moment of reflected glory as this opportunistic woman butchers the language with her malapropisms, while she tries to convince us she’s the girl-next-door. I’m not buying it. She’s as opportunistic as any oily politician that has come down the pike and is considerably dumber. Tiny Brown scolded the media who are lapping up Pallin’s every utterance after “three months of health care.” I’ve got a theory about all this attention. Everyone saw how effectively (or was it just dumb luck) Katie Couric was able to show Palin as the house of cards she is, and it did her career a world of good. So not to be outdone, Oprah, Barbara Walters, The New York Times (first Mitchiko Kakutani in her review, and today Alessandra Stanley in her evaluating Palin’s appearance on Oprah) and others are lining up to see if the Couric effect can add some luster to their own sense of importance. As usual, the shallow media wants razzle-dazzle over substance, and as usual, show how desperately they will show their celebrity preferences over real issues. Worse, Ms. Palin’s pack of homilies will probably sell like hotcakes to those dumb enough to swallow her BS. I say they are welcome to her.

The best news to me last week was the news that Lou Dobbs had finally left CNN, apparently forced out over his insane obsession with immigration and his embarrassing crusade in support of the birthers who believe that Obama is not truly an American citizen, and therefore unqualified to be President. Dobbs initially showed himself to be a thoughtful supporter of the mis-represented American voter, but he overreached, alienating viewers with his extreme views on immigration (which not even George Bush supported). But I do think the Obama citizenship legitimacy issue was truly reprehensible and he continued with it long after it was obvious to everyone else that this story was a non-starter. I think he offended a lot of CNN viewers, who prefer a moderate views over those expressed on either MSNBC or over at Fox. So we now see Bill O’Reilly courting him over at Fox. The last thing they need over there is another aging blowhard with bad hair.

These distractions keep us off the real issues like health care and jobs.

I had a perfectly wonderful weekend in Houston. I flew into the city on Thursday evening and no sooner got to the hotel when Val Suan, my opera pal rang me up. Val lives in Houston. We met when a San Francisco friend suggested a week-long stay in Santa Fe, where we rented a townhouse and went on a five-performance opera binge some five years ago, and have remained friends ever since. Val had made a reservation at one of Houston’s finest restaurants—a converted Lutheran church, now named Mark’s (after its talented chef). It’s a bit too high end for me these days, but we had a thoroughly wonderful time, eating a thoroughly stylish meal, which included grilled shrimp and with crabmeat and asparagus. Val is as dramatic as the opera personalities both onstage and off, that he loves. So you’re guaranteed to be noticed whenever you are in his presence. We had a fine time getting caught up. He then dragged me to the local watering holes before dropping me off at my hotel.

I was in Houston to take in a performance of Wagner’s LOHENGRIN, an opera in which Christine Goerke was starring in. Christine and I are friends for some twelve years now, and I’ve long had a deep admiration for her enormous talent. She was singing her first big Wagner part in her career, and getting Otrud, the sorceress in this opera under her belt had been a goal. Her reviews were stunning—about the best in the cast. I was coming for her last performances (last performances of a run tend to be the best. The singers are relaxed after long weeks of rehearsals, performances, etc. The last one tends to be loosey-goosey with the singers often giving their best but having a lot of fun on-stage without letting the audience in on the joke. Experienced opera goers tend to notice these things, such as the tenor singing in Pig Latin when he should be seriously intoning recitative in German or Italian. A favorite bit is to try to break each other up. But before the final performance, I had other social obligations.

Jim and Ginny Creed have been friends since I first met Christine. They traveled to London for Christine’s Covent Garden debut, which is where I met them, and we bonded on that trip. Jim is a psychiatric physician and Ginny is a nurse. She also teaches. They count a number of world-class singers as friends, and will travel to New York or Santa Fe or elsewhere to attend their performances. They are generous and warm friends. They also live about 90 minutes from Houston and attend opera in Houston often. They made arrangements for a car to drive me to their home in Beaumont, which is what I did on Friday. Their home is beautiful and comfortable and they share this large space with three dogs, two cats and a parrot named Boomer. We had a lovely visit which included dinner at Pappadeaux’s a popular local restaurant with branches in several Texas cities that specialize in very large portions of well-made seafood. They serve an excellent, subtly spicy shrimp gumbo. I then dug into a perfectly cooked planked salmon filet with asparagus. The portions are huge, and this enormous restaurant is very busy. To have such well-cooked seafood shows why the place is so popular. It’s rare for a kitchen to stay the course when it is so busy.

The next day I got a good tour of Beaumont and it’s beautiful historic neighborhoods, and the downtown district with its Art Deco buildings. Our visit was too short indeed as the car came by after lunch to whisk me back to Houston. I had a dinner party to attend for a friend’s birthday, but first I had to find a birthday present. Val picked me up and took me to a local Barnes & Noble so I could get the birthday girl a cookbook. I got her Rose Bernanbaum’s new cake book. I had enough time to get back to the hotel to change for dinner as Val drove me around the River Oaks section of Houston where all the rich swells live. I must say it was impressive.

Dinner was to be a celebration with Christine and her husband, Jim and her close friends and sponsors, Mike and Ginny Gehab. The Gebhabs have been a strong and loving influence in Christine’s life—really like second parents to her. They are big opera lovers (Ginny was a soprano). We’ve spent lots of time together in New York, Seattle, San Francisco and now Houston when we’ve come to cheer our girl on in performance. Tonight was a dinner to honor Ginny’s 60th, and it was a lot of fun. Christine had discovered Voice—a beautiful restaurant in the Hotel Icon (a converted bank building) in downtown Houston. It was a great choice for a party. Ginny’s sister Helen was they’re along with another family friend and we shared a champagne toast. Ginny loved her book, so it was a good choice.

It wasn’t a late night, as Christine had to get a good night’s sleep in order to be in good shape for the performance tomorrow. Val was going to the performance as well and suggested brunch at a local favorite restaurant.

Val arrived at 11:30 for our brunch at Backstreet CafĂ©. I’m not a brunch person. Everything is too fussy. I’d rather eat a ham sandwich than plow my way through Eggs Benedict or French toast. Backstreet does have those dishes, but they also serve lots of other interesting entrees in their beautiful backyard dining area and so I inhaled a delicious thing called crispy lobster, which meant chunks of lobster meat are dipped in a tempura-like batter along with onion rings and fried and served on a brioche bun with baby arugula and a spicy mayonnaise sauce. This was a heavenly sandwich. A bloody mary and a cup of coffee set me up for the long Wagner opera ahead.

The Houston Grand opera has a fine stage and an auditorium that seats about 2400 people. Reviews had been uniformly excellent praising the cast and the conductor, and not being harsh on the production or its director, as the production updates the opera to the 1930s. As I would discover, the house’s acoustics are excellent and flattering to the voices. Patrick Summers the music director of the Houston Grand Opera directed a superb performance of an outstanding cast—probably the best I’ve ever seen in this work, but Chistine's volcanic singing and strong acting provided her with the means with which to steal the show. Clearly she’s meant to sing Wagner—her large sound ricocheted throughout the large hall. She was thrilling. The audience gave the cast and conductor a standing ovation and for a change, this overdone tribute was well deserved.

We got backstage to offer lots of praise to our diva, but she had a plane to catch. Her father-in-law died on Saturday and she had to get home to sing at his funeral and support her husband.

This left time for Val and I to have a final supper (four and a half hours of Wagner can work up a very large appetite. He took me to Barnaby’s a colorful diner serving really good comfort food in the Montrose section of the city. I took on a really ginormous Cobb Salad, which I’m ashamed to admit I managed to eat most of.

Heading home today. This was my third or fourth visit to Houston over the years and I must say the city made more of a positive impression on me than in previous visits. Like most big American cities, the consistency and quality of the food served in its restaurants has improved significantly. Architecture is not this city’s strong suit. They like modern and flashy—I call it Texas-style LA. But the arts are alive and well here for that the city gets my gratitude.

I missed Beau, who was staying with friends. My first trip away from Portland since I moved there in June. Had a great time, but I’m glad to be coming home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Apoli Stops by for Another Visit




Apoli, the neighbor's adorable back and white cat showed up for a visit, stalking a squirrel in my back yard. I saw him underneath my giant Cedar tree and quietly opened the door, coaxing him in for a scratch. He came over immediately, and Beau roused himself from his afternoon nap (he'd been for a very long walk this morning with me to the doctor's and back and fell gratefully asleep the minute we were back home). Beau likes cats, and he an Apoli seem to have struck up a very nice relationship, which I finally managed to capture on film. Just as this lovefest was happening, enter Mr. Squirrel, brazenly coming closer to my door. Apoli, sprawled on his back on one of the steps pretended he didn't notice Mr. Squirrel (which of course the squirrel wasn't buying). I struggled to get the right picture of the squirrel as he inched his way closer to the door. But Apoli wasn't being patient, (and knew it instantly) as Mr. Squirrel bolted back to the safety of the tree when Apoli made a half-hearted attempt to chase after him. Here is Beau and Apoli checking each other out and another of Apoli pretending to lay supine in my step.

I'm off to Houston tomorrow to see Christine Goerke sing her first major Wagner role--Ortrud in LOHENGRIN at the Houston Grand Opera. Can't wait. She has received outstanding reviews, my favorite being from the Houston Chronicle which said: "Yet it is Goerke who sets the stage ablaze as the tirelessly scheming Ortrud — the most volatile role. The power of her voice, her fiery rage and intense determination make her a memorable embodiment of evil. In any medium, nothing boosts a show’s potency like a juicy villainess." Should be a lot of fun!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Philip Glass in Portland/Sheets of Rain



From Thursday on , we were warned that a big storm was heading to Portland from the coast and that we could expect two inches of rain. Well the rain came on Thursday night where it could little harm. Beau and I managed to walk to the doctor's office for more therapy on my shoulder on Friday morning. It was a beautiful day and stayed that way until we settled down to have a late supper in a restaurant in Portland's trendy Pearl district after the opera on Friday night. And then it poured. But first...

The big news was that Philip Glass, one of the most accessible of "classical" composers was here this week in advance of the opening of his 1993 opera, ORPHEE under the auspices of the Portland Opera. Based on the celebrated film of Jean Cocteau Glass's libretto is set almost verbatim to Cocteau's screenplay. This is Cocteau's version of the famous Orfeo legend which has been the subject of many operas before, most notably Gluck, Monteverdi, and Jacques Offenbach. I arrived at the Keller Auditorium where the Portland Opera performs and was dismayed to find myself in an all-purpose auditorium that seats nearly 4,000 people. Crap--it's a barn like the Met in New York, but the Met has superior acoustics. Worse, Glass has written a chamber opera, which means it had no business (other than the depressing mandate of finances and corporate sponsorship) being presented in such a huge space. So Glass's adaptation of Cocteau's film is swallowed up in the vast surroundings of the Keller barn. All sense of intimacy was robbed from the piece which is based on a staging for the much smaller Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York.

Cocteau's interpretation of the famous story gets complicated and in the midst of Orphee's trials to bring his dead wife back from the Underworld--TWICE--he manages to fall in love with an enigmatic spirit from the Underworld named The Princess. In the end, not only is Eurydice restored to Orphee, but she's also pregnant. Cocteau it seems is not to interested in explaining how such a loving husband can love another as many of the adaptations have suggested. According to the program notes, Orphee, who is a wildly celebrated poet, has sold out for his conventional life, which stifles his creativity and originality. So we get Cocteau's fascination with immortality--"the relationship with between death, mortality and art."

This is the first of three operasthat Philip Glass set to a Cocteau film--the others being La Belle et la Bete and Les Enfants Terribles. Most of the important music here has been assigned to the orchestra and the first act takes some time to get going. Or course Glass is famous for his repetitive sound pictures, which can be hypnotic, and there are lots of spikey, jazz-oriented tunes assigned to the players while the singers are assigned short, enigmatic phrases that go nowhere. Only in the second act with the love duet for the Princess and Orphee does the music really take on a mesmerizing, soaring quality. There is also a nice aria for Heurtebise, the Princess' chauffeur, who has a crush on Eurydice. Overall the singing was expressive but not very memorable. Ryan MacPherson's musically contoured tenor has an individual timber and he was consistently interesting to hear. He's also a fine actor. Lisa Safer, a veteran soprano I've enjoyed hearing New York and Santa Fe, has a light but penetrating sound, and she looked good in her full length fur coat. She did well in the duet, but her singing is not memorable. Philip Cutlip made for a handsome Orphee, yet his baritone lacked color. Georgia Jarman's Eurydice's provided a smooth and attractive soprano who should have had something more to do than sulk. The reduced orchestra was under the lithe baton of Anne Manson. Still the size of the house mitigated against the orchestra's ability to make an impact and much of the effect of Glass's intricate and undulating music patterns.

I had dinner this week at Belly Timber, a Victorian slang expression for "food of all sorts," which is not too far from my home on SE Hawthorne and 32nd Avenue. This good looking restaurant is housed in a gorgeous yet understated Victorian house on the corner of Hawthorne and SE 37th Avenue. The restaurant has a spare interior with stripped down decor--no tablecloths and very simple china and flatware. The menu is spare and consists of foods from the Pacific Northwest, but the cocktail list on offer is substantial. The chef has previously cooked at Merriweathers (a beautiful restaurant with so-so food in the NW area of the city), Nostrano and others. For wine we chose a Cotes de Ventoux while we perused the menu. Belly Timber offers small plates but we were interested in a simple dinner. We selected a good salad of mixed greens with thin slices of pear and toasted pumpkin seeds. The lemon and oil dressing was perfectly balanced. My friend ordered the steak with smoky french fries. The fillet looked beautifully cooked but it was the fries "what done us in." These crunch, starchy golden fries were very lightly dusted with smoked paprika, giving them a smoky flavor. They were addictive.

I wanted to try the pan-roasted cod with bits of cooked octopus, on a bed of fennel puree with a sauce of blood orange--a solid dish. On a Wednesday night, we wondered why the restaurant didn't have more patrons--I guess it is a sign of just how bad the economy has hurt this area of the country.

My reaction to the outstanding food scene in Portland is the sheer consistency that is on offer here everywhere. Even in a lowly greasy spoon you'll find more quality of ingredients and a level of skill in food preparation that would be hard to match in most American cities. Does it reach the sublime highs that a great restaurant in New York can achieve night after night. Maybe not. But I haven't eaten a bad sandwich here and you can be served some terrible sandwiches in New York. The food cart scene is livelier here than in any other city I've been to, with carts offering a wide variety of exotic fare. I've only been to one restaurant serving high end dining and it was very good (Sel Gris) indeed. But Portland restaurants have a lot to be proud of.

Last night I had company over for dinner. I was testing a recipe from a forthcoming cookbook by one of my favorite cookbook writers--Michele Scicolone. Unfairly she is best known as the writer of THE SOPRANOS COOKBOOK, which was a bestseller. I've been collecting her books since the late 80s when her ANTIPASTO TABLE was published when I was at Morrow. Her recipe for roasted cauliflower made me rethink vegetables entirely. The new book is THE ITALIAN SLOW COOKER, where she applies her considerable skills as an outstanding creator and interpreter of Italian recipes to the popular slow cooker or "crock pot" machine. I had one of these devices in the 70s and adapted many of my own recipes to it with considerable success. But at heart if I'm looking for an easy way to enjoy these slow-cooked dishes, I prefer the faster method of the pressure cooker, which is equally effective. But if Michele Scicolone is aiming her energies at the slow cooker, I'm going to pay attention.

I made her Beef in Barolo on Saturday evening, which was a resounding success. Using a three-pound chuck roast, I browned it in olive oil, and then sauteed onions, garlic, before adding a cup of red wine (I had an open bottle of Shiraz--Barolo is just too expensive and it was okay with the author), and bringing it to a simmer. The recipe required a cup of beef broth, two cups of crushed tomatoes, a sliced stalk of celery, some sliced carrots, salt, pepper, a bay leaf and a pinch of clove and six hours of "slow cooking." Fall-off-the-bone tender, it was excellent with oven roasted potatoes, green beans with lemon zest, and a blueberry tart to finish the meal. This is an excellent start to a fine collection and if you have a slow cooker, this is a good cookbook to have.

Back to the rain...it pretty much poured for most of the weekend. Saturday it didn't get started until around 12:30--just as I was getting out to do some marketing for Saturday night dinner guests. I walked to the market, and as I left Trader Joe's the heavens opened up full blast and by the time I got home, I was thoroughly soaked. It continued to rain for most of today, stopping long enough for Beau and I to sneak out for a quick walk at 3:30. So we stayed inside where it is very warm and toasty. Tonight we're settling in for a final episode of Season three of Mad Men. It's been a dismal season of Dancing with the Stars (what stars--I think I'm rooting for Donnie Osmond!), and Top Chef was a snore. I snuck back to network TV and discovered Glee, which is a huge amount of fun and there's lots of performing to admire in between it's clever plot. The other surprise show for me has been The Good Wife, with the estimable Juliana Margulies as a lawyer who goes back to work for a big Chicago-like law firm after her DA husband is sent to jail. Was he set up? In the midst of this, the wife is forced to live the nightmare of watching her husband's sexual indiscretions revealed and has to go through the humiliating process of "standing by her man," as their married life falls apart. She at least had a high-powered career before she got married. Rejoining the workforce, she's a junior associate in a big corporate law firm where she's on cases that have a lot to do with an over-zealous ADA who may or may not have been a big competitor to her husband. Is her husband giving her insider information? The show has strong writing, and it far more involving than your standard legal drama these days. Chris Noth plays the disgraced husband cooling his heels in jail while his wife now brings home the bacon. The cast has additional depth from the wonderful Christine Baranski who plays one of the firm's senior partners, who may or may not feel threatened by the arrival of Marguelies. The show's first season is well worth your time.

This gorgeous orchid was found at Fred Meyer for $9.95! And this Buddah guards my backyard garden.