Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pears from Neighbor Tom's Tree

I had to go to the upholsterer today and since it's close by, I decided to take Beau with me. It's tough for him to walk too many blocks on a hot day and by the time we got to the upholsterer's shop, Beau was worn out and breathing heavily from the exertion of his walk. Frenchie's have a difficult time breathing in hot weather and you have to be careful about not overheating them. Beau collapsed near a bowl of cool water provided to him by the owner. We did our business and then as it was 5:00 PM, I thought it would be nice to go to the tavern next to the local pizza place I've written so admiringly about.

Within two seconds of my ordering a glass of Pinot Grigio, I'm talking food with two macho types sitting next to me and admiring Beau. Once these two manly married men found out I was a cookbook publicist, we were off to discuss Portland's favorite topic: Food. The minute people find out I'm from New York, it's like "what's your favorite place to eat in Portland?" or How does food compare to what you're used to in New York." In this case, these guys were two contractors who work on houses that have been foreclosed on. One of them had just come from New York where he "wasn't too impressed by Babbo." Every great restaurant has its good nights and bad. I used to love Babbo, but I hadn't been there in years.

On my way home, Beau and I took a detour near my house which I always enjoy because I pass a house with a spectacular rose garden. This time the owner and his dog were outside in the garden and I got a chance to tell him how much I admire and enjoy his roses. He was very appreciative of my compliments. His name is Tom and he's Vietnamese. The front of his corner lot house is all flowers, but the back yard is all vegetables and fruit trees. In a wide plot adjacent to his garage was a Bosc pear tree heavy with fruit. As we talked, he told me Bosc pears are rather a rare sight out in Portland. Didn't notice. They are plentiful in supermarkets and green grocers in New York. He asked me if I wanted some. "Oh yes please," I replied. This nice batch will become a Gingered Pear Pandowdy, the first book I'm reviewing in my new cookbook review blog, StoveTopReadings, which should be up and running in the next two weeks.

My point here is that food is a topic as dear to the hearts of Portlander as sports are to say, New Yorkers. I knew there was a reason I moved here.

I'll have more details about StoveTopReadings in the next few days.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Celebrity and a New Venture

The bookshelves for the dining room finally arrived yesterday. Now for the first time, I have a space for all my cookbooks. Looks great. I'm just about done with this first phase of the house which leaves me free for a number of other things on my mind, including:

Serena Williams at the U.S. Open. I'm a huge tennis fan and I winced at the foot fault she got just two points from the end of of her semi-final match. That's gotta rattle anybody, and Serena rattled spectacularly. The press sensing blood moved in and gave her hell with the Internet buzzing their brains off about the incident as well. I can't help it, I just feel that whenever the Williams sisters spark off a scintilla of controversy, it becomes so blown out that you wonder why. Still that kind of flame out is as they say in today's "anti-angry" movement, "intolerable."

Now Kanye West on the other hand didn't lose his temper, but he is a hog of the limelight and did himself no favors jumping into make a statement that Beyonce had been robbed of her VHI video awards and he looked especially stupid when Beyonce won in the best video of the year category. And how classy of Beyonce to generously allow Taylor Swift her moment while graciously letting West know his behavior was totally unnecessary.

I just had to watch the first of a two-part OPRAH interview of Whitney Houston today. Along with Michael Jackson's funeral, has there been a sorrier fall from grace by an American celebrity. And here we have the comeback in all its classic glory. Houston in the 90s was as big a musical star as America has ever produced. Her world-wide celebrity quotient has been as blinding as Sinatra, Streisand, the Beatles, the Rolling Stone, Elvis, Marilyn, Princess Diana. But I understood when she said that at the time she met her husband to be, Bobby Brown, she was exhausted, and in serious doubt about her future. I mean how much bigger could she be and how log can you sustain that kind of celebrity. It's easy to see how such a snake as Bobby Brown could get into her head. When things get that huge at such an early age, where is your perspective? So she talks about how much they were in love, and how much boom-boom they did and then as she kept climbing and his career began to take a huge back seat (since he wasn't in her league at all) to hers, you begin to see why she was so attracted to him. Brown was her way of thumbing her nose at the huge demands her career made on her. At the same time, it's difficult to relate to her unease and growing discontent at the scope of her career. Despite all her show biz background being Aretha Franklin's goddaughter, and Dionne Warwick's niece, and the daughter of a professional singer, it looks like Houston didn't have the ability to deal with the hugeness of her career. This may be the curse of many huge female stars. When I think of women who have juggled such vast stardom, I can't think of many who have consistently driven their careers without falling apart at least once. Streisand is one. Oprah is certainly another, and then maybe Madonna. Still, drama queen that she is, Oprah gets Whitney to open up about the drugs, the craziness, the bad decisions, and the dissolution of her marriage. Fascinating. And I kept thinking, and now come the resurrection. I bought her new CD and I'm happy to hear that that it is selling well. How could it not? Redemption of a fallen celebrity is a great American pastime.

In the meantime, EMI has released new remastered versions of the recordings of The Beatles. This long overdue project was #1 on Amazon.com with individual famous Beatles CDs taking up the next eight spots. Whitney Houston's new CD was # 10, the first week it was on sale.

You will soon hear about a new blog I'm launching. It's a fabulous idea that was handed to me on a silver platter by a good culinary friend and sometime mentor to me, and I'm anxious for your response.

Two other big deaths simply add to the growing list of prominent Americans dying this year: former White House press secretrary Jody Powell and Patrick Swayze.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sandwiches, A Cookbook, and Window Treatments

Portland loves to eat and there are any number of places to indulge your love of food in this city.

I was out to lunch twice last week and let me tell you, sandwiches are elevated in this town. One can order a tuna salad or roast beef, or turkey sandwich here, but just because one can order these rather mundane classics, doesn’t mean you should Consider some of these alternatives: a tavern on Woodstock sells a sandwich constructed of freshly roasted turkey, bacon, quacamole, and Jalapena pepperjack cheese. It’s served on toasted slices of sour dough bread with sliced tomatoes and shredded iceberg lettuce. It’s a delicious, hearty lunch. Down the street at Otto’s Sausage Shop you can have a pork sausage or hodog which the grill right outside of the store. You can smother it in mustard, chopped onion, relish or saurkraut and wash it down with a beer on a picnic bench nearby as you enjoy the midday sun. West is a popular yet serene downtown contemporary restaurant with a stylish menu of sandwiches, salads, and omelets. I’ve eaten fish tacos at a local taqueria for $3.95 and they were fresh and tasty.

The city is currently in the throes of passion for small, trailer-type outdoor food businesses that offer an enormous variety of ethnic and popular foods from hamburgers to chili to Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, Malaysian, Russian and Chinese. These businesses are sprouting up all over the city and provide delicious, inexpensive and adventurous alternatives to fast food and sandwich shops. And anything that can be stuffed into something resembling bread, is an immediate hit.

For Labor Day I had lunch with a young chef, food columnist, restaurant reviewer and cookbook writer named Ivy Manning and her husband, Gregor. I met Ivy through an agent. She gave me her newest cookbook, THE ADAPTABLE FEAST--a delightful collection or recipes that shows you how to cook for the omnivores, vegetarians and vegans in your family by adding or subtracting ingredients, which will be published in November. There are some superb looking recipes here, and I’m mighty tempted by Chili with Cornbread Biscuit Topping, Fried Green Tomatoes (and Sometimes Bacon) with Smokey Bue Cheese, Piccadillo Empenadas, Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Portobello Mushrooms, Spinach Roulade with Red Peppers and Ricotta, Caramelized Onion, Olive and Ricotta Tart We went to the Sellwood neighborhood for excellent Cobb salads at a billiard hall/bar that’s popular with the locals in the neighborhood. She and her husband (who took the very attractive photos for the book) took a tour of the house and fell in love with Beau. They have brindled grey hound--rather unusual and she's very pretty. One of the things that I love about Ivy's book is that as a writer, she has a real voice. This is not just some collection of recipes with no point of view and pretty food porn to delight the eye and then end up on the bookshelf without so much as a spin in the kitchen. This is food anyone can make and feel great about serving. Keep an eye on Ivy.

Friday I went with friends to dinner at a mock-Tudor house in the NW section of the city. On a third of an acre, the owner, has conceived a magnificent garden with a bounty of flowers, trees and shrubs, with grass and conversation areas. There are plenty of potted plants such as lemon trees, and rose bushes, and tomatoes. He makes his own fountains--these great tall things with shimmering water dripping down them with lights. He's a very talented builder and takes classes at a local community college on construction, electricity, plumbing, cooking, canning and conserving--whatever he's into at the moment. He can cook superbly, make his own dinner liqueurs (a fabulous blackberry vodka accompanied a dessert of blackerrry sorbet, with lemon pound cake and a touch of whipped cream), construct a display case with floating glass shelves to show off his Asian art objects, move walls to make a roomier den, construct new doors on his kitchen cabinets, tile the back splashes in the kitchen and guest bathrooms, and other projects. We drank a surprising number of little glasses of blackberry vodka because it wasn’t sweet at all and had big blackberry flavor.

Saturday night John Baker, Darren and I went to Eleni, a first-rate Greek restaurant, also in the Sellwood area of the South East area of Portland. I loved the food here. We began with big summer tomatoes stuffed and baked with large shrimp, partially shelled, garlic, more tomatoes, Greek oregano onions, and feta. That’s a lot of big flavors going on at one time. John and Darren wanted Moussaka, but a braised rabbit dish grabbed my attention. This is a gorgeous braised dish of tender rabbit, fennel, onions, tomato, and garlic. I found their wine list rather pricey, and our Barbera choice was not available. But the waiter brought us a worthy if more expensive alternative. The good news is that it was Greek and very good.

I recently roasted a chicken when I had only one guest for dinner. Since I was to be out for much of the week I opted to turn the considerable leftovers into a chicken potpie that would serve six. The pie was generously filled with potatoes, carrots, celery, red pepper, onion, peas, edamame, chicken, chicken stock, thyme from my garden, a touch of pepper flakes, and a final ¼ cup of heavy cream that I pulled from the refrigerator at the last minute. I turned to BUBBY’S HOMEMADE PIES by Ron Silver for inspiration for a crust and found exactly what I was looking for--a Jalapena pepper jack cheese crust that gave this flavorful if conventional pie just a touch of zing. After it cooled off, I froze it for later use. It bcame the entrée on Wednesday night, when were four for dinner. I kept the rest of the meal simple—some salami and cheese to nosh on with wine before dinner and the potpie was served with a simple green salad with homemade coffee-pecan ice cream for dessert and lots of Rose to wash it down with. The natives were starving, but I did manage to salvage a portion for lunch on Saturday.

Like I said, this is one humming, hungry, food-crazy town!

Window shades arrived to day and are now in place. At last, privacy in the rooms in the front of the house and in my bedroom (assuming I ever get lucky again, I can spare the neighbors that sight!). So is a chandelier that I put over the dining room table. I was going to stick to candles in the dining room, but this chandelier is great looking and once the dimmer is installed I'll have plenty of mood lighting for company and go bright when I'm working at my laptop in the dining room. Bookshelves for my cookbooks arrive by Friday and then I'm officially done with the initial move-in and decoration of the house. Time to pursue other projects and get off my butt and get my driving lessons done with before the rains come in late October.

Next weekend--my first house guests!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Coming to Portland was a way to start my life all over again. The massive economic crisis that gripped the country forced me to reassess my own future. I always knew that I would leave New York, and the timing seemed right to me. Moving into a house with elbow room after nearly forty years of cramped apartment living is very liberating. While I cast about for a way to continue earning a living as a freelancer, my house constantly occupies my attention.

The plan was to have my kitchen and dining room repainted, but the person I selected to do the job, never showed up. I found another painter—who is actually my yard man. He told me he actually enjoys painting—one of my least favorite chores. And even if he was saying that to get work, his enthusiasm for the job was enough for me. This week I’m actually hanging pictures around the house. There’s not much wall space to hang art in the living room, so much of the bigger pieces will have to be disbursed around the house. Worse, there is little room to actually “view” art from any perspective except straight-on-and-close-to the works, which is not very conducive to enjoying them. But like everything else, it’s trial and error and the pictures will probably be moved around several times before I’m pleased with their final arrangement.

The refrigerator arrived and I’m over the moon about it. My closest friends are beginning to worry about me. Such a fuss over a refrigerator. My last one in New York was functional—hardly handsome—and certainly not worth talking about except to say it did yeoman service for about fifteen years. The new fridge is a shiny, sleek and commodious cold container with French doors allowing for roomy storage, and a drawer freezer space below. This one makes ice cubes—an improvement over the last one which did not. I like the white shiny, as opposed to a rough, surface. I actually like the white. I’m violently opposed to the current mania for stainless steel. Besides, the stove and dishwasher are already white, so the decision was made for me. I moved the old side-by-side which came with the house, out to the garage (it was too fat for the basement), where it will do honorable back-up duty with additional freezer and cooling space for entertaining outdoors.

Had dinner last night with friends, Jean-Francois and Jay at the Davis Street Tavern in downtown Portland. A simple pared-down and modern restaurant in warm green tones, the Davis Street Tavern serves up straight-foward, flavorful American fare in a pleasant atmosphere that isn’t frantically noisy. The food is delicious. I had a tender grilled double pork chop, painted with a slightly sweet, slightly salty mahogany colored Asian sauce. It was served with a puree of potato and zucchini and surrounded with a ring of quickly sautéed Napa cabbage. I started with a green salad of butter lettuce, baby spinach, radishes, grape tomatoes and Rogue blue cheese (the State’s award-winning Blue chesee is outstanding). This excellent-value $25 prix fixe menu ended with a large scoop of coconut sorbetto with a shower of chopped, toasted, sugared hazelnuts. We all loved it.

Had a funny looking chandelier at the bottom of my stairs and didn't much care for the look of it. Then I decided to try these black shades in a square shape. Made all the difference in the world.

And now the painting is done in the dining room and kitchen. The color is gorgeous. Gordon, my painter, is a meticulous craftsman, who patiently applied three coats to the walls. It's got incredible depth and at night it is really romantic looking. I put my old hanging pendulum clock on the walls and all that is missing are the bookshelves for the cookbooks. They are due from the manufacturer soon.

I couldn't live with the bugs any longer and found these handsome bronze-colored screen doors to keep them outside. I hate the idea of killing bugs and have rescued any number of butterflies, spiders and other "critters". But the straw the broke the camel's back was a huge moth that alighted on the wall behind my big TV chair. I had visions of my sweaters with big holes and he had to go--down the toilet, that is. I felt awful afterwards. So I now have three new screen doors, which make the house a bug-free zone.

I'm really ready to entertain now.