Friday, October 23, 2009

Rains Have Come Early to Portland

So where is drizzle that I keep hearing about? The rains here have been heavy since very early this morning. Beau and I were supposed to take a leisurely hike today with Mike and his dog, Duncan, today. So that's cancelled. We'll do shopping errands instead. And my buddy Ivy is at home nursing a nasty cold which has caused the cancellation of our drink date tonight. So far the rain isn't bothering me, but it's only the beginning of the rainy season. Keep an eye on my mood as the season progresses.

I recently bought a large bunch of carrots at the farmer's market in Beaverton. The color of these carrots (a gorgeous beet red and orange in a tortoise shell-like pattern) was so arresting I had to have them. When I peeled them later they still had that amazing pattern to them which remained even after they were cooked. And they tasted sensational.

The rest of the weekend has been spent resting because an impingement in my shoulder that has caused me low-level pain for the past five or six years, suddenly flared up, becoming very painful and not permitting me much movement without severe discomfort. My friend Kent came to pick me up to go to the farmer's market, and to Costco for supplies. I got home and put everything away and made myself some lunch. Beau hadn't had a walk earlier in the day, so I decided to give him a good long stroll in the beautiful fall-like weather.

We headed over towards the small commercial center of the neighborhood where my furniture restorer, the upholsterer, a small market, a gas station, a barber shop, a tavern and my buddy, John's coffee and pizza shop are located. There's also a chocolatier, who makes excellent chocolate truffles and a crappy junk shop that has the word "treasures" in its name (it truly is filled with crap that nobody would want) are at the end of the block.

I bumped into John who asked me if I might be interested in helping him with some promotion for his pizza business. I sorta know how to do restaurant PR, but it's not something that I do, and so I told him I might try something for no money, just to check it out, and free pizza. We'll talk further, but it did give me an opening to talk about his business. Like everyone else, John has been hit bad by the poor economy (Oregon has the second highest unemployment in the country). By day his business is coffee, breakfast, light snacks and sandwiches. He serves outstanding Stumptown coffee. But the place is gloomy inside, and not conducive to bringing in new business. He told me about the shop next to his that he also leases, but right now it's used mostly for storage. He would like to open a lounge, which I told him was a fantastic idea. The neighborhood is getting younger as more and more young people move in. Houses are for sale and have changed hands. They need a place to come locally to socialize. He's got a designer/contractor who has some good ideas that don't require a huge wholesale renovation of his space. I hope he does it. I'd like to be involved, and so we'll talk further.

A few doors down is the local tavern which more college-like. I doubt they would know how to make a decent martini, or pour a drinkable glass of wine. Beau and I began to pass by when a couple sitting outside at a table stopped to inquire about Beau and pet him. Beau is often an opening for conversation. I met a lovely couple. Gary, is a handsome man in his 60s. His wife, whose name escapes me at the moment, is a Brit and sports an arresting pair of yellow glasses with brown spots on them--very cutting edge. Gary is an artist who specializes in big public art projects and is a specialist in forming steel into art. He's part of a studio of a prominent artist artist who has done created a lot of public works in the Portland area. I sat down and had a glass of wine with them and spent a pleasant hour talking with them about art, renovation, moving to Portland, and the ever-present rainy season coming. I'm told that people consider you a weeny if you run around in the rain with an umbrella. Well the hell with that. If it is coming down hard enough, I'm gong to be under an umbrella! While we talked, Beau sprawled out in his best imitation of a wild lion's rug, attracting more admirers.

Today I have been reading SLOW: Life In a Tuscan Town by filmmaker, photographer Douglas Gayeton. It's a gorgeous photography book that focuses on the lives of the people in a small town in Tuscany where he lived for a number of years. Initially he was asked to do a documentary on the Slow Food movement in Italy for PBS. For those who don't know what Slow Food is an international movement, begun in Italy, dedicated to preserving local food, traditions and honoring local farmers and producers. It's best known advocate in the United States is Alice Waters, co-owner of Chez Panisse, the famous restaurant in Berkeley, California. Gayeton never did the documentary and instead, took photos of the locals in a small town called Pistoia. He ended up merging several shots of each photo session into a sort-of collage, which he then wrote on, giving each a kind of narrative that makes the images seem alive. As you go through the book Gayeton's photographs and text show this slower pace of life as he discovers local customs and behavior, learns of the food purveyors who forage for wild greens for salads, truffle and mushrooms, raise and slaughter pigs for eating, make wine, local cheeses, raise chickens for eggs, and produce chocolate, and other edibles. Each person in this town knows exactly where the food he or she eats comes from. It's a way of life most of us don't know at all. The book is selling very well, the publisher tells me. I can see why. It's very special with its sepia prints, and visually stunning design.

Gayeton's book reminds me of how my life has slowed down. I seem to have a heightened awareness of so many things I ignored in the hustle and bustle of New York City living. I am totally absorbed with the squirrels in my back yard, the aggressive Blue Jays that steal the peanuts I put out for the squirrels. I like looking at people's houses and gardens, marveling at their imaginative house pride. I talk to my neighbors on my walks with Beau, mostly because he seems to attract admirers everywhere we go. I have some neighbors who have about seven dogs. The mother has a grown daughter who also lives there with her boyfriend, and baby daughter. There are others living in the house, but I don't know them yet. The mother and daughter are very involved in rescuing dogs and are constantly finding dogs that have managed to escape from back yards or are abandoned. Within hours, most of the missing dogs are reunited with their frantic owners, but a lot of them are picked up just wandering around in traffic and they help get them safely caught, tend to any medical needs, and work their network to get the dogs fostered or adopted. They also love Halloween, and their front yard reflects their love of decorating in a ghoulish way. Makes me impatient for all the craziness that goes on for Halloween. And speaking of Halloween, I'm going to a party for the first time in years.
I'm not saying that I prefer one life to another. I lived in New York for nearly four decades. And right now, I'm very much caught up in my new life here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yeah! My House Is My Own Again

It rained this morning in sheets, but by the time I got up, it was a mere drizzle--that famous drizzle I've been hearing about Portland rain. But the leaves are falling from the trees very fast now, and I fear that by Halloween, all the trees will be bare. I keep talking about the colors, but they are really beautiful. I was walking inside the park with Beau when I ran across this lovely large bush that had turned a stunning color of pink! I've photographed it from both sides.

My middle brother, Doug, left after a long nearly month-long visit. I was glad to retake my home again, and Beau and I are blessedly alone. No house guests are expected until Tricia comes for Thanksgiving. So far, we're five for dinner on Thanksgiving, but I'll be on the lookout for an orphan to make it six.

Cookbooks are pouring in for the cookbook review blog. I'm having a ball dipping into the new Lidia Bastianich Italian cookbook which is a companion to her new PBS series, which I'm having trouble finding locally here in Portland. I love Lidia, and I may call the station to figure out when she's airing. I miss it the dependability of watching all my cooking shows on PBS on Sunday afternoons in New York. There's a new Clay Pot Cookbook from the admirable Paula Wolfert. All these slowly braised dishes are perfect for the long fall and winter nights to come. Rose Levy Beranbaum has a new collection of cakes to thrill ambitious bakers with. I've been reading and re-reading GOURMET TODAY, which has many things I admire in it. But yesterday, Marcus Samuelsson's NEW AMERICAN TABLE arrived. It's a biggish book, with lots of photographs, but that's just mere window dressing. Mr. Samuelsson's newest work is a revelation. As I began to read these recipes, I got very excited. Ethnic, fusion, exciting, colorful, great combinations, wonderfully easy instructions, a charming intimate tone--all these impressions were hitting me in the eyeballs. I'll go back to reading it this evening. But thus far, this wonderful new cookbook is a bases-loaded home run of a book that should have very broad appeal.

My great Aunt Caroline's art deco buffet finally came home from the restorer yesterday, and I was anxious to have it take its place in my dining room. Things were looking a bit crowded in there, until I finally changed the position of my rug and took all the leaves out of my dining table. I like the smaller, more intimate round table and will use the leaves for company. The dining room is now finished for the foreseeable future. Now I have to finish the work I started in the guest room, including painting.

Finally, I had a wonderful weekend with Pat, my New York buddy. She arrived on Thursday. She's had her hands full with work and her ex-husband's health issues. We had plans to do a lot of things, but she arrived exhausted, and instead we just kept it low key with visits to my favorite local Gladstone Pizza for dinner on Thursday, and kept it kinda local all weekend. I was on fire food wise. Friday night I made a paella of shrimp with sauteed red and jalapeno peppers, onions, smoked paprika, garlic, oregano, cumin, and some roasted grape tomatoes that I had in the refrigerator. I made a stock from the shrimp shells, with bay leaf, carrot, celery, onion, salt and pepper. With a salad, and some crusty bread, we had quite a feast. Wish I had some photos of these gorgeous beet red and orange marbled carrots I found at the farmer's market and I roasted them on Saturday. They were almost too gorgeous to eat.

Doug took us to dinner at Lauro Mediterranean kitchen on Sunday night. This is a local favorite of mine. We decided to belly up to the bar where we could enjoy the show of cooks working their stoves, and the dessert and salad guys create their magic. This restaurant makes superb salads. They ate the house version of a Caesar salad--romaine lettuce with their own lemon, olive oil, and anchovy dressing with croutons. Doug always insists they omit the croutons, but for some reason he forgot and managed to plow through them and enjoy his salad. I had a beet, goat cheese and arugula salad with toasted hazelnuts and a light dressing of olive oil and vinegar. Pat and Doug ordered the big meaty lamb shanks over soft polenta, while I decided on a scrumptious chicken tagine with butternut squash, pistachios, and couscous. It was a enjoyable way to cap off a lazy, long weekend. Pat felt rested when she returned to New York on Monday.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Feels Like Fall

When you buy a house, there are lots of things you need for the new homestead. And lord knows I've plunked down a hefty amount of cash for new rugs, window treatments, furniture, appliances, and other finishing touches. But besides the nausea that comes with paying the bills, there's a recent retailer issue that I find obnoxious. Nearly every establishment you purchase something from wants to know what your shopping experience was like with them! What's up with that??? If I was unhappy don't they think I would let them know about it? Why am I sent endless surveys to share with them if I liked the product, the service, the convenience, the attention to detail. Were my needs met? Was the delivery prompt? Was there a chocolate left on my pillow? Over the past twenty years, the retail business has gone insane. And they have preyed on people with credit cards. Now they are asking for therapy? Did you love us? I'd love it a lot more if they stopped clogging up my email inbox with a lot of "offers," and made sure the quality of their product was top notch and stop driving me nuts with their needy surveys! Just a few days ago a woman called me to inquire if I was satisfied with my new garage door and asked me if I had received their survey in the mail. "Yes," I replied to both questions. "Well would you be kind enough to fill in the survey and mail it back to them?" I kinda snapped at her in a very tight voice saying I didn't have the time to fill in all the surveys companies are sending me. She then worked on my guilt, telling me it was for the benefit of the guy who had done the installation. In other words she wasn't taking no for an answer! I'll bet you the survey doesn't ask me what I thought of the price of that new garage door!

Even the magazines are at it. Martha Stewart is sending me emails about her magazine covers. Which holiday cover shot do I prefer? Isn't that what they pay her the big bucks to figure out?

Fall has arrived and at first, it took me by surprise. The temperatures dropped, the sky turned gray and then it finally began to rain--in earnest on Saturday. By about 1:00 PM, it stopped and the skies got very sunny and I decided to give Beau a good walk. As I headed out my driveway, I was struck by the sudden appearance of fall colors in the bushes in the park across the street. As I walked up my block, I turned into one particularly pretty row of houses and there I found fall colors--gold, yellow, red--as gorgeous as anything I've seen in New England or Upstate New York! Don't know why I was surprised. But the effect of this change is delightful.

Gave a talk about book publicity to the publishing students at Portland State University for my PubWest buddy, Kent Watson last Thursday. He's got a good sized class of attentive students who really seemed to like my war stories. Then he sent me appraisals from the students. I was delightedly surprised to find how much they enjoyed my comic tales of survival in the book business.

Attended a fund raiser for a professional friend to raise money for autistic children last Saturday as a guest of new Portland friends, Ruth and Alan Cenofante. Impulsively, I bought a quilt. It's a beautiful thing and it was for a good cause. Later a bunch of us landed at a terrific wine bar called Pour, not too far from Irvington in the NE section of the city. Portland has lots of fun bars and taverns in every neighborhood where people socialize. I'm met other people from previous evenings with Alan and Ruth, and I'm finding it very easy to make friends here.

My buddy, Pat Reshen arrived on Thursday afternoon and immediately started sneezing. She couldn't stop. I thought perhaps it might have been the histamines in the wine, but clearly she was having some sort of allergic reaction. I dispatched my brother Doug, who has been staying with me for three weeks now, to get her some Sudafed. It worked. But she's been feeling punk since she got here. Instead of doing a lot of touristy things, we managed to stay close to home. Not a bad idea because Saturday turned into a mini-monsoon here with heavy rains alternating with some sun and more rain. I baked a pear crostada (with orange, vanilla and nutmeg) on Saturday afternoon while we watched THE PAINTED VEIL--a lovely movie with Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, which I had somehow missed. Since it's fall, I'm in the mood for heartier fare. I love red cabbage braised with vinegar and bacon, a recipe I found years ago in THE NEW BASICS COOKBOOK by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins. It has tart apples, red wine vinegar and red wine, caraway seeds, thyme, and golden raisins to the cabbage, onions and bacon mixture. Its' so good, I can eat it out of the refrigerator cold. I make it every fall and it never disappoints. Because we stayed home, I grilled some excellent sweet Italian sausages on the new Weber, and we had roasted carrots from the farmer's market which were orange and cranberry red and tasted sensational with a handful of chopped chives. Pencil asparagus, which had been parboiled and then warmed with a little butter, salt and pepper completed our Autumn feast.

My brother has been house-hunting here in Portland, and by now has thoroughly overstayed his welcome. Well three and a half weeks is a bit much. I'm glad Pat was here to keep the mood light. But it does prove the old adage about house guests and stinking fish! On Wednesday, Beau and I will be alone at last, and while I think we're going hiking in a relatively easy trail in the Columbia gorge, and I've promised to help a friend do some furniture shopping next Saturday, the balance of my week looks promisingly empty of social obligations. Oh goody!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Doug and I Tour a Friend's Gardens/New Work

Sunday I dragged Doug, my middle brother who is visiting me and looking for a house, over to my friend's Joe and Tom's house to view their stunning garden. Tom, who lives about five minutes from my house in the next neighborhood of Eastmoreland, has lived in his colonial house for the better part of forty years. Tom is a master gardener and touring his beautifully cultivated backyard is a jaw-dropping experience. Joe, his partner of the past twenty five years worked for a local nursery, so gardening is in their blood. There are so many trees, shrubs, and flowers your brain loses track. I counted at least ten different varieties of Hostas, so many different fuschias, opulent roses, hydrangeas, hibiscus, dahlias, holly, Japanese Maple, chrysanthemums, non-fruit bearing banana trees, ornamental plum, a magnolia, a camellia, and plenty of really exotic stuff I can't recall at the moment, and on and on and on. I'm sure they couldn't tell you how many growing things are living there. But it's beautiful, awe-inspiring--a gardener's paradise. Joe cut me a magnificent bouquet of their Dahlias and three long-stemmed red roses, and one unbelievable pink rose that was streaked with pale red streaks. Here's the arrangement I made when I got home.

It's been a busy week so far with potential work calls coming in. I had a meeting this morning with a potential new client here in Portland, and I'm talking to contacts back East about new projects, so I'm feeling a little more optimistic about business these days.

As many of you know, I posted a review of the new GOURMET TODAY cookbook on my new cookbook review blog the same day that Conde Nast pulled the plug and ceased publication of Gourmet magazine. At first I was part of the crowd that felt particularly stung about the loss of this iconic magazine. As the week has progressed, I'm feeling less sad about it's passing. These things hit us hard because we never thought of life without such a big "brand" as Gourmet. Life goes on.

I had two dining room chairs recovered this week and I'm thrilled with the way they turned out. So more photos.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Best Restaurant Sign Ever

My middle brother Doug and I went to lunch yesterday to celebrate his putting an offer in on a house in Portland in anticipation and moving here with his family. I wanted to show him some really cool antique shops in the Sellwood area of SE Portland. We had our meal at this really cool dive called Bertie's Lou's. As Doug and I were waiting for our meal, I noticed a truly fabulous notice on the wall over his shoulder, which may be the best I've ever encountered in a restaurant:


Couldn't have said it better myself.

It's been a long week. Though I'm delighted that I'll have my brother close for the first time since we were kids, he is high maintenance and never shuts up. I know--amazing come from me. But it's true. He's here another two weeks, which is way too long for extremely close friends, let alone family. But he did find a really nice new home about 20 minutes from me in a rural part of the city. I'm no fan of modern houses, but this one is exceptional--not your typical cookie-cutter development house. He put the offer in on it yesterday and he'll find out if he's got it later on today.

Have been working on the new cookbook review blog--StoveTopReadings ( and I must say I'm thrilled at the response so far. Publishers are being generous with review copies, and the feedback from friends and colleagues has been fantastic. I'm just working on getting the kinks out such as typos, links to Amazon, etc. that take readers directly to the book page I'm reviewing, etc. I'm a hopeless technophobe--or old school--as some of my friends like to tease me.

Had dinner at an outstanding Mexican restaurant called Nuestra Cocina on Friday. I have an on-again/off-again thing about Mexican food. Tex-Mex is one of the least interesting regional cuisines I've experienced. But his popular restaurant has very creative cooking and keeps the palate dancing without bogging you down. There are several margaritas on their bar menu but I opted for a "traditional," and instead of over-sweet, I got a tart cocktail with coarse salt and enough tequila to let me know it was there. Auspicious start. A small basket of small warm tortillas arrived with an aromatic and smokey mole sauce to spread on the tortillas and roll up. We enjoyed these while we scanned the menus. My hosts are known there, so they, along with the nice waiter could steer me in the right direction. The short ribs special sounded like a must. Ruth ordered the steak while her husband, Alan, decided on the shrimp. But first we shared an appetizer called tacos de puerco: handmade tortillas with spiced pork, diced onion and Arbol chilie. This long simmering stew was lightened with tomato and spiced with jalapeño peppers. There was just enough heat to add another note. We inhaled them. Next the waiter sat before us the three plates. We decided to sample each and let everyone decide his or her preference. The camarones al mojo de ajo translated to white prawns in garlic and chilies with plantains and refried black beans. Again, the chef used restraint with the chilies, and the dish had long julienne strips of fresh tomato lightened the dish considerably. The short ribs were placed before me. Here was one very long strip of slowly braised beef over a bed of fresh steamed corn and yellow flat beans (I'd never seen yellow flat beans before). The utter simplicity of the dish was immediately appealing. Cutting through the tender meat released its aroma. The chef had placed a half of a grilled jalapeño pepper on the side so you could add heat if you liked. The meat fell apart but was not dry as I speared a chunk for my first bite and the vegetables cut the richness of the dish. Ruth leaned towards the carne asada con frijoles borrachos , a Cascade Natural Chuckeye steak with drunken beans. This tender steak was grilled over wood and could satisfy any beef lover. I was glad I stuck to the shortribs. I stuck with another margarita through the meal. It was enough for me, but Alan and Ruth wanted dessert and settled on a quite spectacular and popular choice--a corn tortilla filled with lemon curt and deep fried, served on a puddle of soft caramel with whipped cream. I allowed myself one bite. The pronounced flavor of corn in the crisp fried tortilla went surprisingly well with the lemon curd. Ruth, who grew up in Mexico, said this was a popular and common dessert made by a neighbor of hers who sold them door to door and never came home with unsold pies. Delicious. Friends tell me Neustro Cocina is the best Mexican restaurant in town. I believe them.

A month ago, I was at the same antique barn where I took my brother yesterday. I had found a round end table, which I thought, might go well in my living room. As I was just beginning to scout the shops in the neighborhood, I thought I 'd come back for a second look later on. When I returned the table was gone. Yesterday I found the same table, somewhat hidden near the area where I first discovered it. Elated, I brought it to the cashier, who was able to give me an additional 10% discount. Here's how it looks in the living room.

Beau often likes to hang out in the stairwell, which gives him an excellent view of the door and the entire living room. I happened to catch him in this wonderful photo. This perfectly captures my little guy.