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.