Monday, August 31, 2009

A Gardener I'm Not!

  A Gardener I'm Not! 

Just came in from mowing my back yard lawn for the first time.  My friend Darren did it four weeks ago, but today it was my turn.  It wasn't fun. I think I may have mowed lawns for extra money after school when I was eleven.  It was either too long ago or I have repressed the memory.  

It only got up to about 84 but I did start at 4:00 PM, so it was pretty hot out there despite the shade of the giant Cedar tree in my back yard.  I had to learn how to set the choke, pull the cord that sets the motor into action, release the brake and begin the job.  I made nice neat rows and it was going well until the motor stalled, or actually turned off.  The basket collecting the mowed grass was sufficiently blocked to kill the motor.  So I disengaged the basket and emptied it out. Still the mower, which once belonged to a friend's father, tended to spew some mowed grass onto the freshly mowed lawn.  This start-stop process went on for about an hour.  Then I grabbed a rake to pick up the expelled grass.  By now I was sweating as profusely as Niagra Falls.  This is hard work.  If I had a day job I detested, I'd think twice about quitting.  
I looked back over my handiwork.  Well...I missed a narrow spot here and there, and I've decided that next year that sod is going.  I'm putting down garden-edge to garden-edge concrete pavers in some decorator color and placing container pots for various flowers and shrubs.  I may have a small plot of earth for herbs and tomatoes. That's it.
Earlier this morning I went around to various spots in the front and back yards and pulled offensive looking weeds. The dandelions are the worst.  They set their roots in deep and everyone says, "make sure you get the root."  And of course, I never do.  This garden nonsense is for the birds.  Even watering is boring.
I bought a spiffy patio table and four chairs from a Craig's List ad.  Paid $100 for this very nice table and chairs so I can now serve dinner or lunch outside.  My buddy Sarah has a small truck, so she's been helping me with trips to pick up this table and chairs, dragging the last of the packing boxes to the dump and to a local furniture store where my dining room chairs were finally ready to be picked up.  You can't get a bag of groceries delivered here for under $50 and none of my local stores deliver or pick up a thing.
So here are a few new photos, including Friday's spectacular pre-sunset sky just outside my back door.  

Italian Restaurant and They're Dropping Like Flies

Had lunch this week at a new (five weeks old) Italian restaurant run by cousins of my friend, Riccardo Fabi from New York.  Riccardo suggested that I visit their new enterprise, Taste Unique.  Stefania and Lawrence are Italian.  She’s from Umbria.  He’s got an American father and an Italian mother.  When his parents divorced, he had the great good fortune to go to Rome with his mother.  There are far worse fates than growing up in Rome, my absolute favorite city in the world, as most of you know.  Some of the greatest food I’ve eaten comes from that glorious city, and Stefania and Lawrence have created an enterprise that celebrates la cucina.  It’s a lunch-only place, but they also sell many Italian specialties, both frozen and fresh to take home. 

Stefania is the cook in the family.  I brought two friends in for lunch on Tuesday and from the second we walked in, we were caught up in the full embrace of these two delightful people.  Then they served us lunch! Wow. This is delicious, robust and filling Roman fare.  Because of my friendship with Riccardo, and his lovely wife, Rita, we were spoiled rotten by this lovely couple.  Where to begin?

How about the foccacia?  This is heavenly stuff, served hot and drizzled with a delicious, slightly peppery extra virgin olive oil and a light dusting of sea salt.  The plate was piled high--way too much for the three of us.  It came with a platter of salumeria that included traditional sliced salami, a rich mortadella, two other types of locally made salami, including one memorable one studded with fennel, and a spicy coppa.  Halfway through the plate, Lawrence brought us a fresh pile of foccaccia—not because we had consumed the first pile, but because he was concerned that it had become cold!  We could have stopped there, but no, we had entrees coming.  As the food was being prepared, we enjoyed a great get- acquainted conversation with Lawrence first, and then Stefania as they alternated between us, the kitchen and the other patrons at this tiny little 10-seat restaurant.  Lawrence said, "we're not really a restaurant."  I guess that's true because they have a freezer and refrigeration case full of the items they sell for take-out such as Amatriciana sauce, and other pasta sauces, a traditional lasagna bolognese, cannelloni three ways, two different ravioli, fettuccine, and desserts such as a ridiculously sinful tiramisu, and fruit preserve crostata.   My companions are serious about food, and we talked about local tomatoes (canned out of season lack that deep tomato smell and flavor of Italian tomatoes from near Naples), and how they are using local suppliers for vegetables and other staples.  

Tom ate a delicious potato pie with cheese and prosciutto. It was rich and dense and it is on my list for my next visit.  Joe tried the lasagna, with its béchamel sauce, and pronounced himself very satisfied.  I couldn't decide between a casserole of orrichiete (sp?) with ricotta and pancetta or the beef filet with a balsamic sauce, which Lawrence said had just come out of the oven.  "Then try a half portion of each," suggested Stefania. How could I say no? The pasta dish was new to me, and I must ask her about its origins. But it was a big, heavenly mouthful (the pasta was tender, but not mushy). The meat arrived tender and rare inside, with the dark, slightly sweet/acidic sauce to cut its richness.  It came with sliced zucchini with tomatoes and onions--sweet, the zucchini cooked properly but still slightly crunchy.  

We passed on dessert, but Lawrence wouldn’t take no for an answer. He brought out three spoons on a plate with heaping two-bite portions of the tiramisu.  Lawrence was worried the coffee soaking liquor might be too strong.  Not for me by a long shot--one of the best versions I've eaten.  We had coffee from the Bialetti, sweetened--a perfect end to a gorgeous lunch.  

The small space is very handsome with tables and some paneling repurposed from the Douglas fir floors repurposed from their renovated house.  The handsome beams that drop down from the ceiling are from a deck demolished from the same renovation--so they are perfectly in tune with the "green" aspects of living here.

Prices are very gentle, and they don’t have a liquor license yet.  No matter, I don’t drink at lunch anyway.  Between this spot and Nicholas for Greek and Lebanese specialties, I’m thinking Portland offers lots of possibilities for exploring a wealth of ethnic foods.  Thai and Vietnamese restaurants abound, and someone suggested a Senegalese restaurant for a future visit. 

I'm having lunch with a publisher friend here again on Friday, and with a cookbook author pal on September 1.  

While Ted Kennedy’s death yesterday didn’t surprise, it did underline that so far in 2009, a shockingly large number of celebrity deaths has occurred.  Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, Farrah Fawcett, Robert Novak, John Hughes, Eunice Shriver, Robert McNamara, Karl Malden, Beatrice Arthur, David Carradine, Dom DeLuise, Andrew Wyeth, John Updike, Riccardo Montalban, and Ron Silver are just a few of the big names who are no longer with us.  I’m not as familiar with sports figures, but we also lost James Whitmore, Betsy Blair, Pat Hingle, Edmund Purdom, Sidney Chaplin, Maurice Jarre, Patrick McGoohan, Claude Berri, and Tharon Musser from films and the theater; Fleming Findt, Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, Ekaterina Maximova, Pearl Lang, and Eva Evdokimova from the world of dance, Hildegard Behrens, Sandra Warfield, Ezio Flagello, Betty Allen, Sir Edward Downes, Schyler Chapin, Dame Heather Begg, Vivian della Chiesa, Lukas Foss, Deboprah Riedel, Anne Brown, Les Paul, John McGlinn, Molly Bee (“I Saw Mommie Kissing Santa Claus”), Dame Margreta Elkins from classical vocal, instrumental and pop music; the writers Marilyn French, Hortense Calisher and Fleur Cowles, TV pitchman Billy Mays; PR man, Lee Solters; politicians Corazon Aquino, senators Jack Kemp and Clairborne Pell; fashion muse Maxine del la Falaise; porn star, Marilyn Chambers and master French pastry genius, Gaston Lenotre, and it’s only August.

I really admired John Broder’s fair and balanced obituary in today’s New York Times.  Despite the disaster of his private life, Edward Kennedy’s ability as a lawmaker has made him a legend in Washington politics.  Will we ever have as committed a liberal in the Senate again?  I rather doubt it. 

Since writing this, I have read the distressing news that Dominick Dunne and Sheila Lukins of The Silver Palate have died.  Lordy!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Guest Room/August 21, 2009

This room has certainly been abused.  When in doubt, I told the movers to stick it in here!  It took weeks to weed out the debris to the point where I can now have a guest stay over, and when it's been really hot such as the second week I was in the house and the temperatures climbed to 106 degrees, I could sleep in here since the air conditioning is coolest on the main floor of the house.  The bookshelves need a new coat of paint, and the two-toned blue/beige color doesn't work for me at all.  But adding another paint job right now is not a priority.  It's a nice room, very comfortable to sleep in, with a pretty Laurel bush outside the main window for privacy.  

Dining Room/August 21, 2009

This is shaping up to be one of my favorite rooms in the house.  Lots of light from the windows, and a cozy area to entertain.  Best of all, I can cook and be with my guests at the same time.  The cookbook shelves and new chairs for the table should be here soon.  The color of the walls will go from this dark beige to a brighter apricot yellow beginning on Saturday. 

Living Room Photos/August 21, 2009

I'm only lacking shades for the windows which are coming soon.  Books and CDs need to be rearranged as soon as new bookshelves arrive as well.  But after fighting me, the arrangement of the furniture here finally looks right.

Yet Even More Photos/August 21, 2009

I'm still trying to get the hang of this blog site's features.  The first time I posted photos, no problem.  It keeps getting progressively more complicated to figure it out.  I posted two photos of the grill, but I attached four photos to the last posting and only one showed up, so please indulge me while I get up to speed.  

Oh good--that worked.  More to come.

More House Photos, July 21 2009

Still a work in progress, but these photos essentially show how the house is taking shape.  I'll post more as each room gets settled. 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

House Photos! August 20, 2009

Just thought it was time to show you my little work in progress.  

So first off, THE GRILL

JULIE & JULIA/Tom Delay (Ugh)/August 20, 2009

OH…MY…GOD…Tom DeLay is on DANCING WITH THE STARS!!!! That’s obscene.  He’s about to be a convicted Republican felon, or he better be.  Has the show truly jumped the shark??? I’m going to boycott the program until he’s voted off, which should be the first week, unless he’s some undiscovered twinkle-toes.  Just what we need--Fred Astaire with a rap sheet.  Yes folks, only in America.


If you’re looking to create a second chapter in your life, and I most certainly am, JULIE & JULIA is not a bad place at all to look for inspiration.  Nora Ephron’s adapation of Julia Child’s memoir and Julie Powell’s book about her cooking her way through every recipe in Child’s iconic MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, is delightful from start to finish.  The decision to combine both stories is a smart move.  I’m not sure either could sustain itself through a solo movie.  And while Child’s life is the more interesting, Julie Powell’s gimmick is not without its charms on the screen.  I didn’t like the book.  It was a clever idea to spend a year cooking all those wonderful French recipes, but I was appalled at ] her sloppiness, and I never felt that she was respectful enough of the task at hand.  Child herself wondered if she could really cook, and some of the recipes turned out as if she couldn’t. I’m still not convinced that cooking is her calling.  What has she done since the book was published? I realize that Julie Powell is of a younger generation but it seemed to me that she glommed onto this idea as a way of getting some attention, rather than to seriously explore the culinary terrain that Child and her co-writers so meticulously set down. 


But the movie never got bogged down by this.  There are moments when Julie’s husband isn’t the only one who wants to strangle his wife.  Julie can be whiney and pathetic.  But the character is saved by Amy Adams’s lovely, understated performance and Ephron’s sympathy with Powell’s stated mission—to find something in her life that gives her meaning.  Of course the moment the story switches over to Julia, Streep and Tucci just slay you with the depth of their characterizations and show a long and happy marriage full of great food, Paris, their utter delight in each other’s company, their sensuality (oh my god, Julia Child loves sex!!!!) and support of one another.  But also those scenes when Child is faced with the fact that for whatever reason they cannot have children are very poignant.  Streep at first sounds strange and sing-songy, but her affection for this character pushes away any doubts and the performance, which is superb, is another remarkable addition to her imposing body of work.  I love the way Ephron and Streep portray the deep affection between Child and her sister.  Here are two big, rawboned misfits who find happiness they so richly deserve.


Chris Messina’s as Julie’s long-suffering husband, is fine too.  Both Powell and Paul Child’s characters run the risk of seeming spineless against the bigger personalities of their spouses, and it’s to both actor’s credit that they do not.


Some nice period detail, with wonderful interiors (the linens in Nora Ephron movies are always way more expensive than us mere mortals can afford), and for a girl who lives above a pizza parlor in Queens, Julie’s bed sports an awful lot of rich looking quilts and comforters.  Ephron has always loved to cook, and there’s a recipe in HEARTBURN for a peach pie that I still love to bake.  I hope it continues to do good business.  It encourages filmmakers to make more like it.


Attended a triple A baseball game in PGE Park on Friday between the Portland Beavers and the Omaha Royals.  The Beavers sucked, though did manage to hold off the visiting team’s ability to score until the seventh inning when their outfield fell apart.  There were a couple of bad calls that didn’t go their way (and in truth, the umpire was probably right).  Still it was a great way to enjoy a cool, cloudless Friday night in the company of colleagues from PubWest.  A local beer cost $8.25 and with a “braut” the snack climbs to $14.  At those prices, they could have grilled the damn thing rather than boil it.  We’re promised another game later in the season.


Beau and I encountered an adorable black and white cat on our way into the park the other day.  At first he was shy and then came nose-to-nose with Beau, who didn’t flinch.  They eyed each other, and then separated slowly.  I think Beau likes cats—at least he doesn’t get all snarly when he encounters one.  His owner, a neighbor across the street came out to claim him. Turns out his name is Apolli and he’s a year and a half years old.  Bold as brass.  I tell you all this because on Saturday, friends brought me home from an afternoon and evening out.  I was showing them the new house, and the kitchen back door was open to the garden.  Suddenly in strolls Apolli as though he lived there.  He and Beau “investigated” each other and Apolli began to make himself at home.  I worried that he had crossed a very busy street to get to my house.  But when Beau and I went to tell Apolli’s owner that he was at my house, the house lights were all off.  As it was 10:30 PM, I decided to hold the cat at my house and get him home in the morning.


An hour later, I was awoken to a huge crash downstairs.  When I got to the dining room, Apolli was on the window sill trying to get out of the open window, but a screen was preventing him.  I picked up a small stereo speaker and two votive candles.  Nothing was broken and I went back to bed.  Beau and were asleep when I was jolted away by Apolli leaping up in my bed.  With Beau less than a foot away, I was anticipating a riot between them.  Instead Beau turned his head and went back to sleep.  Apolli demanded affection.  He woke me again having left the bed and returned, moving stealthily under the covers.  This time Beau pounced letting Apolli know he wasn’t amused.  Apolli emerged on the far side of the covers and batted Beau across the face with his paw. I had to laugh at his audacity.  By now it was 5:00 AM and I had to get up.  Later Beau and I went out for our morning walk but nobody answered the door when I went to inform them about their cat. 


Back at home, Apolli had vanished.  I couldn’t find him anywhere—under the beds, in closets, down in the basement, behind the china cabinet.  I finally gave up as I was planning an excursion with friends to the Farmer’s Market.  When I returned, still no Apolli.  I went to talk with his owner.  She suggested she come over and try to find him.  Back I the house, she began to all for him.  At first we heard nothing, then some mewing.  Apollis strolled down the stairs and went over to sniff Beau all over again.  This cat his a big personality and both Beau and I will certainly welcome him back anytime he cares to visit. 


Baked some bread this week, and had dinner guests over last night for the season premiere of MAD MEN, which is certainly as enigmatic and full of fascinating period details as it has been in the past two seasons.  One of my guests brought over pork tenderloin brochettes with red peppers and sweet onions, which we grilled.  I made another rice salad, and skillet corn with red peppers and basil and caramelized apples with chopped toasted cashews and a touch of whipping cream for dessert (one of my guests is allergic to gluten, so no pie crusts).  The apples, which were Gravensteins, came from her back yard.  The tomatoes have been fabulous here, very sweet.  The markets are up their eyeballs in summer fruit with marionberries, blue berries, really excellent peaches. Now is the corn season with lots of bi-color corn, many varieties of peppers, and zucchini.  You gotta cook this stuff the minute you see such gorgeous produce. 


I saw Pasilla peppers at the organic market, which I don’t’ recall ever encountering before.  These are mildly spicy (really no heat at all) and are dark green beauties.  I bought two and decided to stuff them with rice, ground turkey, tomato sauce, onion, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  I never cook ground turkey, but this was good, and I felt a bit virtuous avoiding ground pork and/or beef.  The leftover turkey mixture made up into a good small meatloaf for sandwiches.  


A furniture store I was browsing through sent me to this little hole-in-the wall Lebanese restaurant for lunch today.  It’s called Nicholas, and it was fabulous.  Everything on the menu from stuffed grape leaves to sausage   is made from scratch.  The waiter suggested a mezza platter, which included a small aromatic lamb pie, a skewer of grilled lamb, and a plate with humus, kafta (ground beef mixed with parsley, tomatoes and spices, deep fried) on tashziki sauce and tabouli salad, with freshly baked pita to sop up the hummis.  It could easily have been shared between two people, and I brought home leftovers for lunch tomorrow. 


Studying for my driver’s permit so I can go to driver’s ed classes.  And I’ve found bookcases for my cookbooks in the dining room.  Before they are delivered next month, it’s now time to paint the kitchen and dining room. 


Supposed to get up to 96 by Wednesday—another short heat spell that will require me to fire up the air conditioner tomorrow.  Cool weather is promised in time for the weekend.  

My First Party in Portland 8/13

Food became a huge part of my week—not restaurant food, mind you, but good old-fashioned home cooking. Gorgeous local produce, tomatoes, corn, stone fruit, berries, radishes, green lettuces, put me in the mood to get in the kitchen.  


Let me begin with last Saturday’s party at my new friend, Rod’s home in North Portland.  Rod’s invitation said outdoor barbecue, and I wanted to bring a salad, but nothing with mayonnaise to lay out in the hot sun and bake.  So with Lidia Bastianich as inspiration, I made a rice salad with Arborio rice tossed with small cubes of roasted red beets, diced celery, shopped scallions, radishes, edamame, minced parsley, salt, pepper and olive oil and red wine vinegar. 


I took one bus, but went from the south east part of the city to way up north and got there in seventy minutes.  Rod, Travis, Joel and Jason share their lives in a beautifully restored Craftsman-style house on a nostalgic-looking tree-lined street.  Originally two couples when they met, they became a romantic foursome and five years ago bought a big house in need of a major updating.  Gay people are transformers, and this quartet transformed this house.  Travis is a merchandise wizard, so the living room is a mixture of high style contemporary with some antique touches.  Rod, who is a fund-raiser for one of the major colleges in Portland, likes to look and he’s in charge of the kitchen.  Joel is the gardener in the family and the front and back yards reflect his eclectic taste—a banana tree shares space with dahlias; huge blue glazed ceramic pots filled with bamboo, line the side deck walls, giving the space style and height.  There are a lot of rooms with beds, presumably for guests, and a huge family room, but the “master” bedroom area blew my mind.  The bedroom has two giant king-sized beds put together with four pillows!  Beyond that is a huge room that has been turned into a giant walk-in closet with two rows of suits, jackets, pants, slacks, shirts, dressers and a four-tiered shoe rack—afterall, these guys are gay, which means lots and lots of shoes! 


I met Rod’s mother and father.  His mother is a hoot.  Rod introduced us—“Ma, this is Greg—the guy I met on the plane from New York.”  “Do the other guys know about him,” she deadpanned.  We quickly disabused her of the notion but she gets “confused”—I’m not surprised why.  It’s one of the most unusual domestic arrangements I’ve ever encountered 


I was dying to ask Rod how four guys who are romantically linked get along, and of course, I did.  Organization is key.  They have weekly meetings that cover living issues, such as who does the grocery shopping, who is paying the bills (they have a joint checking account to cover all expenses, which are budgeted for), status of current projects, assignment of chores (such as garbage disposal, watering of the gardens, housecleaning, etc. Every month they meet to discuss capital projects such as renovations, major purchases, vacation planning.  This is one of the most harmonious households I’ve ever seen.  These are real normal guys, and that is reflected in the guests who attended this backyard gathering—parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, in-laws—about 60 in all—and it was a lovely afternoon.

The rice salad went over well, and I had a very long conversation with Trish, Rod’s boss who is as enthusiastic a foodie as I am.  Rod, who puts up tomatoes, and makes his own jams, sent Trish and me home with jars of his homemade pickles, which are delicious, packed in red chilies, bay leaf, garlic and pickling spices. I left feeling as though I found four new friends.  I look forward to seeing them again. 


Wednesday night I invited Jean-Francois, one of my oldest friends, and his partner Jay for dinner.  I found boneless, skinless chicken thighs at Trader Joe’s, bi-colored fresh corn, red pepper, and a Serrano chili (5 cents) at Limbo, the organic vegetable shop next door.  I’d make rice, and marinate the chicken thighs in soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, a little brown sugar, red chilli flakes, pepper and lemon zest.  I stripped the corn off the cobs, and sautéed it in butter with the peppers.  The rice would be cooked in chicken broth with shallots.  There were fresh blueberries at Trader Joe’s—perfect for my favorite summer pie—fresh and cooked blueberries in a baked pie shell with crème fraiche (courtesy of Ron Silver, owner of BUBBY’S in New York).


Cooking in my new kitchen is terrific—I’ve got everything close at hand, and the space is vast in comparison to my New York apartment.  I’m really going to feel spoiled cooking here.  My handyman installed this pot rack which makes me realize I have way too many pots and pans!


Thursday night I attended my first social event—a cocktail party organized by a publishing trade association I just joined.  We met in Portland’s trendy Pearl district at Oba, nuevo Latino restaurant, with a nice happy hour menu and I got my first look at the local publishing community.  If New York’s publishing scene is moribund, it’s positively reeling out here.  Business is simply terrible, and these people are working hard to keep their operations going.  I did meet one thoroughly unpleasant guy who seems to think anyone from New York is a parvenue intent on wrecking the Portland real estate market for locals by overpaying for homes.   I pointed out to him that the market was already much cheaper because of the economy, but he seemed to be tone deaf to his own rudeness, and I got away from him as quickly as possible.  Everybody else was friendly and worth sharing a glass of wine or beer with.  I also met an independent magazine sales rep who has done a few successful book ventures, and he has a promising sounding project that he wants to talk to me about. Aferwards Kent and Mike, my hosts and new friends, showed us Portland’s First Thursday, an art crawl event held every month.  A lively combination of visual art, street entertainment, vogueing, and dining and drinking, First Thursday is a great way to get people to experience art, good and bad.  Some of the art was intriguing, some appalling.  But it’s a great way to get familiar with the Pearl neighborhood. 


Friday, John Baker and Darren were my next culinary victims.  Sara Watts, an old friend from New York, is a violinist who has lived in Portland for more than fifteen years.  She called me on Friday morning, offering me a huge quantity of green figs which came from her back yard tree.  I was thinking of a fig tart with cream, but I couldn’t find a recipe.  I was about to decide on roasting them with a little honey and butter when I decided instead to make a clafouti.  I’d never tried it with figs before, and it emerged from  looking spectacular, the combination of the ripe fruit and custard made for a great pairing.  The leftovers tasted great for breakfast the next morning.  


Dinner was again, a simple meal—brined boneless pork chops with a pan  sauce, green beans and pan-roasted tiny little white potatoes, plus a salad. I found this terrific Cotes du Rhone rose at Trader Joe’s that I’ve been drinking during the summer. 


In between all this social whirl, I’ve been working non-stop on the house. 

Steve, the handyman arrived on Tuesday, and we had a full slate of projects to plow through.  He replaced the side-door to my garage and that now locks.  He also installed my platter rack in the dining room in addition to the pot rack in the kitchen, which freed up a ton of storage space.


The useless broom cabinet between the guestroom and bathroom downstairs now has shelves, which make it perfect for a linen closet and other storage.  I installed some new hardware in the bathroom, and a spice rack on the back of the basement door, which not only frees up more space in the kitchen, but keeps the herbs and spices in a dark, dry and cool space and are easily grabbed as I need them.  The basement door now closes properly, and my back door locks without my having to use the deadbolt for security.  We’ve got about another day’s work before all the stuff on my list is done (like replacing two basement windows that are broken and flimsy).  I’ve got a gardener coming on Monday to remove a tree limb that is pressing down on a power line into the house.  I want to drag away some of the mulch and dig some flower beds and get a few more things growing in the back yard.  I’ll deal with other gardening and patio issues next year.  


A nice highlight of my week was meeting Ivy Manning, a Portland-based former chef, restaurant reviewer, food, travel and now cookbook writer (THE FARM TO TABLE COOKBOOK and the upcoming THE ADAPTABLE FEAST: Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarians, Vegans and Omnivores at Your Table). We were introduced by my agent buddy Carole Bidnick.  We agreed to meet late on Friday afternoon at a local pub—the Baghdad, not too far from my house.  Ivy turned out to be a very cool lady.  Dark haired and pretty, Ivy exudes the tough and independent manner of a woman who has survived in professional kitchens with chauvinistic male chefs.  She’s got a great sense of humor and before long we were swapping war stories and food references over a few glasses of beer (beer is a religion in Portland).  Ivy is going to introduce me to some culinary pals in Portland, or at least to the food folk she likes.  Anyone who admires Deborah Madison (one of my favorite chefs and cookbook writers) is bound to become a good friend.  Google Ivy Manning.  Her blog is very entertaining food reading.


I’ve written about a sensational pizza in Portland—a Neapolitan-style pizza that comes from this small, non-descript and out of the way coffee shop on Gladstone Blvd., a few blocks from my house.  I wandered in looking for a cup of coffee, and stayed for the terrific pizza.  The owner started making it a year ago to shore up his flagging coffee business.  He and his wife have installed a very pretty little covered garden in the back yard with ripening tomatoes in pots, and a spectacular herb garden with basil that gets added to the warm pizza as it travels from the oven to your table.  This pizza has a superb and crunchy crust.  The pizza sauce is likely to be the best I’ve ever tried.  The only other adornment besides basil is the excellent mozzarella.  I’d put this pizza up against any New York has to offer.


No food next week.  DRIVING LESSONS!

Tough Week/Heat Wave/August 2, 2009

At the end of a long and tough week, I sit in my dining room with the windows and doors finally open to let him some cool, fresh air.  The weather turned brutally hot, and unusual for this area of the country, we had four days of 103-degree-plus intense sunshine.  My hydreangea in the front yard drooped and sagged in the wilting oven-like tempteratures.  My oregano didn t survive.


This was also the week that the downstairs floors were refinished.  There was no time to do this before I moved in as my closing and the previous owners occurred in one day.  And the movers arrived the morning after my closing.  With lots of things unpacked, I had to stuff furniture and things into the guest room (which didn’t get refinished), in the basement or in my garage.  The couch and a china cabinetwere too big to store anywhere but the inner driveway, where they baked for three days.  And while I’m thrilled to say the floors look stunning, there is a layer of dust over everything.  I started the clean-up yesterday, but it will go on through the weekend. 


Yesterday seemed endless. Beau had a terrible day.  His teeth are not good. My New York vet had told me he needed to have some of them extracted.  It was far worse than he had led me to believe. In fact he had ten teeth pulled!  Lots of baby teeth had not fallen out, and others were crowding each other.  This explained his terrible breath.  So they pulled the teeth, cleaned his teeth and gums, and sent him home with two different kinds of pain killers and antibiotics and instructions for soft food for the next two weeks.  Poor little guy was stoned from the anasthesia, and didn't have control of his kidneys.  He leaked all over my brand new floors and peed on a carpet that had just returned from being cleaned!  Grrrr...  I couldn't be mad at him.  I'm encouraged that his appetite is good, and he rolled over in bed for his morning belly rub, and headed out the back door to do his business this morning.  Later today I'll take him over to the park across the street for his daily exploration.  


I’m a bit weary from all the work on the house.  For something that is “move-in-ready,” I find there are still so many things that need attention.  My handyman arrived yesterday to take care of all the little things that the house inspection indicated needed to be addressed, such as fixing the backdoor lock, as well as adjusting the basement door so it closed properly; lashing the hot water heater to something solid in the event of an earthquake (mandatory); tightening the toilets to the floors (loose); repairing the fence on the side of the house which had fallen apart because of the growth of a tree that the fence was built around; installing a new door on the side of the garage and re-attaching a gutter to the roof of the garage; replacing broken windows and weather-stripping said windows in the basement; cementing up a hole where an old oil burner had been; and a a million other little chores for which I lack the necessary skills.  Good thing Steve, the handyman comes so highly recommended.  I’m impressed with his quiet competence and ability to get a lot of work done with no fuss.


The living room is fighting me tooth and nail. No matter where I put the furniture, it looks odd.  It’s as if everything is out of balance.  I’m trying to figure out where to put things, and I’ve moved it all around innumerable times.  I’m coming to the sad conclusion that my china cabinet is sucking all the air out of the room.  It’s not a large space—13.6 x 18 feet. 


I’ve been looking for a new dining room table and have seen a lot of things online and in showrooms that lack distinction and cost a fortune.  I scored a beautiful mahogany table with carved legs on Craig’s List.  The oval table, with parson-like legs has two leaves.  It’s not big and only goes to 71 inches with the two leaves (it’s actually a 42-inch round with extensions that make it oval).  But it will seat six to eight and that’s big enough for me.  I went to see the table, which is in mint condition, and bought it immediately.  The finish is a medium brown and was manufactured forty years ago by Kindel, a respected maker of fine furniture. Now I gotta find chairs for it. 


Saw the new Harry Potter movie this week, which was better than Manhola Dargis’ snarkey review in the New York Times.  Mike Campbell, a publishing friend out here, suggested we see it at Cinetopia, a large movie complex that caters to movie fans with features stadium-like seating with leather seats, a “mosh pit” up front for those seeking to watch the movie on pillows and carpeting and very low seating.  There’s a restaurant that serves somewhat pricey and okay TGIF-style sandwiches, salads, meatloaf and mac ‘n cheese-style entrees with a full bar.  I wouldn’t want to make a habit, but it was interesting for a one-time experience.


I just read the story about the bank employee bonuses that made my blood boil.  With out-of-control unemployment, people losing their houses (and even giving up their pets because they can’t afford them), and these clowns are still trying to say this is the only way they can keep their top producers in their jobs.  With all the hungry and competent people out there begging for work, I’m sure the banks could hire people for less than what they are paying these pampered and immoral pigs! Other industries can down-size older employees in favor of cheaper, younger replacements, but with Wall Street it is business as usual.  Only in America could we have a situation where a bank could be the cause of financial woe and still be allowed to pay themselves this bonus money.  I’m disappointed that President Obama, Congress and the Senate can only criticize Wall Street for its greed and not hold them accountable.   


Portlanders are terrible drivers.  I’m developing a theory based on experience and conversations that I’ve had with locals here.  Portlanders apparently feel entitled to vast amounts of personal space that New Yorkers would never dream of demanding.  If you’re trying to pull into on-coming traffic, the tendency here is crowd you out (‘get out of my way’ seems to be the prevailing attitude).  Nobody signals in this town when they want to change lanes—they just pull over.  The other day I was in a car with a friend who was driving and apparently didn’t see another car which felt entitled to move ahead of us.  We were halfway across the intersection with this jerk pushing ahead and then giving us a filthy look as if to say, “how dare you.”  Clearly he wasn’t going to yield at all!  I was on my way to pick up Beau at the vet last night.  I was already crossing the street.  A car at the corner was fully stopped, and the driver was waiting to make the turn.  I was clearly in the crosswalk when he began to move.  At the last minute I realized he wasn’t paying a bit of attention.  My body was wrapped around the hood of his car and all the sudden he realized he was about to hit me.  How he managed to stop, I’ll never know. I was sputtering mad at his lack of attention, and pounded on his hood, and yelling at him to pay attention to pedestrians as well as other cars.  He was pissed that I said anything to him, and gave me a feeble, “sorry.”  I did my New York thing and flipped him the bird.  The receptionist told me she constantly avoided cars that nearly hit her on the street.  I lived in New York for 38 years and never worried about being hit, and New Yorkers, particularly taxis and busses are notoriously aggressive.  They have nothing on divers out here. 


Off to a barbecue tomorrow with some new friends in the NW section of the city.  Will get there and back by bus.  Should be interesting.  But I’m now convinced that I have to re-learn how to drive and get a license.  You need to run errands (such as doing a big shopping or taking Beau to the vet), and buses are for commuting, not chores.  While Portland has an excellent bus system, it has an aging fleet with 65% of the buses lacking air conditioning.  I was on a bus the other day in temperatures of 106 degrees without air conditioning. And I’ve noticed that buses in their better areas of town are air conditioned, and in places less desirable, or maybe less traveled… There was no relief despite the fact that every window was open.  Will try to face the driving hurdle beginning next week. 


Don’t let all this mild bitching fool you.  I’m still nuts about Portland.  Everyone has a less-than-great week from time to time!  Besides the week had an upside.  I went to a party at the home of the guy I met on the plane out here--the one with three partners, but I'm saving that story for week six!

Summer's Bounty/Food Shopping July 27, 2009

At the peak of summer, my thoughts have been much taken up with locally produced food, and Portland certainly provides some of the most bountiful markets I’ve ever encountered.  The variety, quality, and sheer beauty of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and other locally produced foods is hugely impressive, and as good anything I’ve purchased in New York.


I bought red corn at Limbo’s, an organic vegetable and fruit market right next to my local Trader Joe’s.  It was gorgeous to look at, and tasted wonderful.  Each pale yellow kernel had a spot of red on its surface.  I sautéed it off the cob in butter with finely diced zucchini, and finished it with a chiffonade of basil from my garden.  The flavor was unbelievable.  I’ve roasted red peppers, and preserved them in oil with garlic and fresh oregano, roasted a small head of yellow cauliflower with just salt and extra virgin olive oil, and practically made a meal of it in one sitting.  I picked up a necatarine that was so fragrant I had to buy seven of these large beauties.  I brought them home, and made Lee Bailey’s peach cobbler with a pie crust gently lowered into a deep soufflé dish.  The sliced fruit was tossed with sugar, a touch of nutmeg and butter only.  I invited friends over for a bottle of Provencal rose and the cobbler with French vanilla ice cream.  I’m still thinking about the simplicity of that wonderful pie crust as a soft and yet textural contrast to the soft, deeply flavored fruit.  I can’t help it.  These smells and tastes and textures stay with me. 


I was in a hurry last week and made a pizza practically faster than anyone can reheat something in a microwave. I bought whole wheat dough  at Trader Joe’s.  I let it warm up, and rolled it out and put it on a peel with some cornmeal.  I slathered it with a red pepper, garlic and eggplant spread instead of traditional pizza sauce and topped it with finely sliced pieces of Monterrey Pepper Jack cheese, and popped it in a 450 degree hot oven for 13 minutes. With a green salad, it made a fine dinne, and was almost as good for lunch the next day. 


Lest you think I’ve gone totally loco, I’ve also eaten a lot of fish and chicken, and I’m avoiding as much bread and passing on the pasta.  Breakfast is usually oatmeal and fresh fruit, or shredded wheat and fresh fruit.  Lunch is generally a modest sandwich.  Been too busy with the house to stop to make much of a fuss about lunch. 


Locally on my rounds, I discovered Otto’s, a well-known sausage maker not too far from my house.  And I so love “tubed meats,“ to quote my good friend, Jon Sawyer,  They grill a smoked pork link hot dog and it tastes heavenly with a slather of locally made chipotle mustard, which I had to buy with a few of those dogs for some future lunch.


While exploring the local New Seasons—an upscale supermarket, like Whole Foods, I encountered ground chicken thigh meat at about $4.95 a pound.  I bought some and came home and made my standard meatloaf recipe from it (panko crumbs, parmesan, tomato sauce, sautéed onions and red pepper, a handful of chopped fresh parsley and oregano from my garden, an egg, some red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Was as good as my usual combination of beef, pork and veal, and made wonderful sandwiches for the next two days.


Been up since 6:30 this morning for my first excursion to the Beaverton (a local Portland suburb) Farmer’s Market, a huge outdoor market that sells everything from organic fruits and vegetables, jams and baked goods, relishes, pickles, organic meats, fresh fish, and outstanding fresh coffee and tea to locally made cheesecakes, artisanal candies, huge Tex-Mex breakfasts, and much else.  Kent Watson, the head of PubWest, a publishing trade association that I’ve joined out here, picked me up early to take in this popular local shopping area plus other favorite food haunts.  I couldn’t bring Beau because dogs have been banned from the farmer’s market.  I guess someone wasn’t in control of their animals, and the rules got changed.  No matter, he can’t go everywhere with me.


In short order, I bought fresh beets, an Italian artichoke for dinner tonight, some radishes, some Ranier cherries, a pint of aromatic raspberries, some small, deeply colored tomatoes and some hazelnuts (most hazelnuts in the U.S. come from Oregon).  I wanted corn again, but how many ears can you eat?  Variety is clearly needed, besides I had Purple Kale at home that needs to be cooked. 


Kent next to me to Uwajimaya, a superbly stocked Asian SUPERmarket, where I found some of my favorite chili-garlic sauce, a ginger chili sauce, plus a fabulous piece of skate wing for my dinner tonight, and then we were off to a kind of odd-job food market, where you could buy bottles of French and California rose for as little as $2.99 a bottle.  The market was huge, selling deeply discounted foods, and it was fascinating to tour the aisles.  I can’t wait to go back.


In addition to my pan sautéed skate wing with butter, lemon, capers and parsley for dinner tonight, I’ll have my steamed artichoke and the roasted beet, radish and cucumber salad with chopped chives, olive oil, sherry wine vinegar with some red wine vinegar for brightness.  And two glasses of rose.


The temperatures are rising to the low 100s for the next few days so it’s a good thing that I now have central air conditioning for the house.  Monday, however, I’ll move out for a few days while my living, dining and kitchen floors get refinished.


The new rugs and as well as the cleaned rugs from New York are ready to be laid, and the new refrigerator as well as a bed for the guest room have been ordered.  Painting is next. 


John Baker generously gave me his father’s lawn mower (Dad is 103 and living with his son).  So we mowed the jungle in the backyard on Friday.  It looks like an emerald carpet.