Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Christmas dinner included this gorgeous potato, onion, and tomato gratin made fragrant with 
garlic, thyme, white wine and olive oil.  A leg of lamb was roasted above the gratin, its 
juices dripping into the potatoes.  Recipe courtesy of Patricia Wells. 

Gougere's puffed up and hot from the oven.  Recipe from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. 

Dave indulging in his third gougere of the afternoon!

An inspired combination of endives, apple quarters and grapes with fresh rosemary, all braised is from Dorie Greenspan's fine cookbook, Around My French Table

The happy chefs:  Trish and Greg

Michel Rostang's Double Chocolate Mousse Cake, courtesy Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Kyle making nice with Porter, Trish and David's beloved Frenchie, who terrorizes my Frenchie, Beau, with his on-stop energy and insistence that Beau play with him. 

Well I've tried to write this holiday entry four times, and each time it comes out sounding like hollow, sentimental tripe, which I loathe.  My first full year in Portland has been a gift and more than ever I'm convinced I left New York for very good reasons and that my future is here.

 I bought this Chritsmas cactus last fall and the blooms promptly dropped off the plant. It's been on the window sill all year long and two weeks ago, I got three new blooms!

 A box of Dorie Greenspan's magically easy Mustard Baton's ready to go to a party.  From Around My French Table.

My Neopolitan Christmas Angel which used to be my tree topper, but now adorns a floor lamp, where she's far more prominently on display. 

Jean-Francois & Jay's glamorous and festive Christmas Eve Table

I've always been pretty good at making friends, but the roots I've set down in Portland, have surprised even me.  All my New York friends are shocked that I've made the transition here so easily.  But it's not so surprising given the generosity of people here.

So whether it was picking up the threads of old friendships, such as Jean-Francois (35 years), or Carol and Sara (at least 30 years), or John Baker (at least a decade), there were so many more to add to those who made my life pretty terrific in Portland.  My brother, Doug sent me Kyle, who has been helping me transform my home, with a beautiful brick patio, a raised vegetable bed, and now is renovating my basement with the installation of a fourth bedroom and third bath.  I met Rod and then his three housemates--Joel, Jason and Travis--and have been going to their summer, Halloween and Christmas parties. They are generous hosts, funny and do lots of fun things, like run their small boat up and down the Columbia and Willamette Rivers with the friends in the summer.  It was at their summer soiree last year that I met Trish and Dave.  We bonded.  Trish and I made vast amounts of apple and pear butters. A master gardener, Trish has donated plants and given me lots of good advice.  Dave loves my cooking, and so Trish, no mean cook herself, and I teamed up for Christmas dinner.  Here's a photo of Dave with his third gougere in his mouth.

Lucy and Mark Yerby are the sister-in-law and brother of Lynne, another of the most enduring friends of my adult life.  Mark is a doctor.  Lucy is a nurse and Mark moved from the east coast many years ago to Portland.  They have been wonderful friends here and Beau and I spent a memorable visit at their horse farm in Bend, Oregon last summer.

Here are some photos of John Baker's annual Christmas party, featuring three fully loaded trees.

The Den Christmas tree.

The breakfast room Christmas tree. 

The living room Christmas tree. 

The swagged fireplace does look festive.  

More of John's skill with a holiday needlepoint pillow.

This is a fanciful and minutely detailed needlepoint gingerbread house that John worked on for about five years. 

Host John Baker, in his den. 

My friendship with Kent, who runs the PubWest a local publishing association I joined here last year is very special.  He has generously introduced me to the local publishing community, asked me to help judge the Pub West Book Design Awards, and guest lecture his publishing marketing course every semester at Portland State University.  We enjoy going to restaurants, or enjoying meals at our homes, or with mutual friends, such as Alan and Ruth.  With them, we will launch Ruth's compelling memoir in 2011.

I've added food friends, such as John Mitchell, who owns a local pizzeria in my neighborhood that serves just about the best pizza I've ever eaten--the crust is just amazing.  Stefania and Lawrence, are also fairly new residents to Portland, and Taste Unique, their remarkable and tiny restaurants/take-out place has captured the the attention of local food press where they are often written about.  Stefania, an Umbrian, is world-class chef, who makes the most wonderful pasta sauces, and a swooningly great tiramisu.

Nancy and Paul Frisch are old friends of friends.  They are long-time Portland residents, and have been wonderfully supportive, making sure I've got holiday invitations and always ready with a helping hand. I'm also blessed with real neighbors surrounding my home.  I can always count on a friendly hello and a good chat with Pat, Karen, and so many others.  Shari and Justin, my next door neighbors have rescued me twice when I've locked myself out of my house.

dianemorgancooks.com is a great place to find good food ideas and techniques to realize her recipes with great success.  She's a fine hostess and warm and supportive colleague.  The whole food department at the Oregonian is staffed with charming, funny, and supportive colleagues and reading that section of the paper is a highlight of my week.

I'm sure there are others that I've missed here and I hope they forgive me if I have.  Portland is a welcoming city--you just have to be open to it.

The business that evaporated with the collapse of the economy has for the most part, returned, and business as well as the quality of projects that came my way, far exceeded my most optimistic expectations.

These are food pictures from a Christmas dinner party I threw early in December for my friends, Kent, Ruth and Alan.

Roasted potatoes. The stuff in the white bowl is a horseradish sauce flavored with a little blue cheese.  I neglected 
to get a good shot of the individual Yorkshire puddings but you can see one vaguely in the top right 
hand corner of this photo.

Standing Rib Roast, carved and ready for serving.

Roasted Brussels sprouts, making this a meal that was virtually cooked in the oven.

This year, my old friend, Tom Masic passed away last fall.  This man with his partner, Joe, created one of Portland's great gardens and maintained its splendor for more than 30 years. He was always generous when I dragged visiting friends over to see the garden, showing us all the hundreds of plants, shrubs, and  trees.  He loved to knit and cook for his friends. This gentle giant of a man created this astonishing living work of art which gave so many so much pleasure.

Just about every candlestick in the house is on display.

Beau sends his best wishes of the season and a very Happy New Year! 

I can remember far worse years, so 2010 for me was a year of pure bliss.  There will be so much more to discover in 2011.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


We finished the first platter before I realized I wanted a picture of these tasty Laktes.

Mimi Sheraton's Potato Latkes (recipe from The Essential New York Times Cookbook)

The food pages of the Oregonian and The New York Times the last two days have been full of features about latkes, in anticipation of Hanukkah, which begins today, December 1st.  I haven't made latkes in years, and because I had a bag of russet potatoes on hand, and some delicious apple butter I had made with my buddy Trish earlier in the fall, a plate of these delicious potato pancakes was long overdue.

The last time I made them must have been in New York in the early 80s. Everyone was using their food processors to make them, but since I had just finished reading THE ESSENTIAL NEW YORK TIMES COOKBOOK, I turned to it and found my inspiration.  Amanda Hesser's headnotes said the recipe came from a former Times restaurant critic, the fearsome Mimi Sheraton.  The potatoes and onion for the recipe required hand-grating, and while applesauce was acceptable, sour cream was dismissed as an unacceptable accompaniment.  The interesting technique in Sheraton's recipe is the draining of the potatoes.  You grate the vegetables into a strainer set over a bowl to catch the considerable moisture from the potatoes. Then you drain out the water while leaving the potato starch that sinks to the bottom of the bowl.  When you scrape this white substance into the potatoes and onions (which also include chopped fresh parsley, salt and white pepper, matzoh meal, and an egg yolk), it has the consistency of Elmer's glue!  Into this mixture you add egg whites, which are beaten until stiff and incorporated into the latke batter by hand.  The latkes are dropped by tablespoons into hot canola oil and fried until crisp and brown, then turned over and fried the same way.  They are drained on paper towel and then placed on a rack over a baking sheet in a warm oven while you finish the rest of the latkes.  Hesser says the resemble fried soft-shell crabs, which indeed they do.  They are fabulous and I even used sour cream (what does Mimi know?).  Kyle had never had them before, and we inhaled the half portion I made which was about 10 pancakes between us.  Happy Hanukkah indeed!

This eye-catching poinsettia would cost me at least $40 in New York.  

As for the Christmas side of the equation, I'm forcing narcissus, amaryllis and at Fred Meyer found two gorgeous and very inexpensive poinsettia plants for my holiday decorations and a lovely evergreen wreath for the door.  It's time to look for a new Christmas tree.  My little four-foot fake tree no longer wants to sit up straight in its base, and after decorating the tree last night, it slumped over to one side and bulbs went flying.

I love to force narcissus, but the smell drives me nuts after a few days.

The amaryllis is on the small side, but the poinsettia is huge and really a gorgeous shade of tomato red.

I brought out my old fake Christmas tree from New York and put it up last year, but it's very wobbly in its stand and I was tired of the optic fibers which were never really a good substitute for lights, so off I went in search of a new tree.  As much as I love freshly cut trees, I just can't seem to justify the fact that trees lose their lives for us and after four weeks are discarded.  They are a mess to handle and are potentially hazardous, so I like the idea of a fake tree.  I found one at Wal-Mart of all places. I swore I'd never shop there, but find myself occasionally searching for things there.  Six and a half feet tall, the tree comes already pre-lit.  Talk about lazy.  In the end it takes as much work to deal with a fake tree as it does a real one.  The results were very festive.

The new fake Christmas tree all trimmed.

The wreath comes from Trader Joe's.  I put the ribbon on it. 

Chili pepper ornament purchased in Santa Fe last month.

I can't believe I still am like a kid about the Christmas holiday season!

Friday, November 26, 2010


The table is set with my great grandmother, Hannah's china

It's Thanksgiving day and I've been working on the big feast for a better part of a week.  The turkey stock was the first step with five pounds of turkey wings, carrots, celery, leeks, onions stuck with whole cloves, peppercorns, and parsley.  Once done, it chilled outside overnight so I could easily lift the cold fat that rose to the surface.  Strained, and reduced, some of it was frozen for soup in January with two quarts for the big day.

My mis-matched sterling flatware, freshly polished

Cranberry sauce was next.  I've been doing Craig Claiborne's cranberry orange relish from his 1961 masterwork, The New York Times Cookbook.  Its got whole fresh cranberries (when I first started making this, Cranberries were available in pound bags, but have been 12-ounces for many years now, and I 've had to adapt Claiborne's original), orange zest, orange juice, sugar, and toasted almond slivers.  It's still my favorite and after Thanksgiving, I'm often in the fridge with a spoon, which I eat right out of the container.

I've been also making a braided loaf of bread with onion (sometimes scallions), sour cream, flour, dill weed and dill seed, salt, yeast, egg, etc.  I've made it by hand, in the bread machine, or adapted it so that the bread machine mixes and kneads the dough and I let it rise and bake it in the oven.  I've been made it into rolls.  This year I did the whole braided loaf.  It makes fantastic sandwiches for the leftovers.

I should have known there was something wrong with this pie.  It was far more pale looking than I ever remembered.

Pumpkin pie is the only dessert I'm bothering with this year--we're only five people.  I use pureed canned pumpkin, do my own spice mix and make my own pie crust.  I'll serve it with whipped cream.

Creamed onions were next.  A Mowery family tradition, my version has changed often.  At one point I was making a six-onion casserole (leeks, Spanish onions, shallots, scallions, pearl onions, and chives), but I wanted something simpler this year.  So going back to basics, I parboiled a pound of frozen pearl onions (so much easier than peeling all those little ones and no tears) and while they were draining, put two tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan and when melted, added to tablespoons of flour and mixed it into a roux for about two minutes before adding a about two cups of turkey stock and a pinch of cayenne. I finished the sauce with two tablespoons of homemade creme fraiche  before adding the onions back to the veloute.  Into a covered baking dish they went before being refrigerated overnight.  All they would need was a dusting of Asiago and Parmesan cheese before baking.  

John Baker, one of my guests, sent over a gorgeous arrangement of flowers for the table, and I decided to bring out the good china and silver and really set a proper table.

Last night I assembled the stuffing--a grand mix of Italian sausage, cornbread cubes from Trader Joe's (without the usual spices and preservatives), leeks, mushrooms, an orange pepper, celery, onions, fresh chopped parsley, egg and turkey stock.  I combined a special poultry mix of my own for the first time instead of using that classic stuffing spice mixture from the supermarket. The combination included fresh rosemary, thyme.  My sage in the garden had frozen, so the balance of herbs and spices came from the pantry:  marjoram, red pepper flakes, salt, onion and garlic powders, and freshly ground black pepper.  This was packed into a big baking dish and refrigerated overnight.

The whole Thanksgiving enchilada

I always get a small turkey--no more than 14 pounds because I've been making a turkey that I saw Julia Child demonstrate in the 80s and I never veer from this method.  It's virtually boneless (except for the drumsticks) with the wings removed entirely, and the whole thing turned skin side up in a large roasting pan.  I put a light film of canola oil over the skin, and dust it with dried thyme, salt and pepper.  I broil it for 45 minutes (tenting the bird if the skin gets too browned), and then finish the final 45 minutes in the oven.  Julia originally did it in a grill, but it's too cold to do that here.  What emerges from the oven is a gorgeously browned bird with uniformly well cooked (and not over-cooked) breast and thigh meat. It's a joy to carve and clean up is a breeze.  I have enough pan juices for an excellent gravy.

This morning, I boned the turkey and managed for the first time to stab myself with the boning knife twice, and then when I was breaking the carcass down to put in a bag for the freezer, a sharp bone cut a line in the palm of my hand.  I think the turkey was getting its revenge. It was a war zone in my kitchen!

The last item besides the gravy was an inspired combination.  I tossed large Brussels sprouts onto a baking sheet with a combination of cut purple, red bliss and Yukon gold potatoes and extra virgin olive oil and mixed in fresh rosemary leaves, and thyme sprigs and salt.  They would roast in the oven with the dressing and onions while the turkey rested and I made the gravy.  

The wonderful thing about this turkey preparation is that there's just a small amount of fat, so you don't really have to separate them fat from the juice--it's about two tablespoons.  So I heated up the pan juices and mixed a quarter cup of flour into about a cup of cold water.  I poured this mixed slurry into my roasting pan an stirred for about a minute or so to cook off the flour before adding about 1/2 cup of white wine and then turkey stock, whisking the combination vigorously as the flour dissolved and formed a silky sauce as I scraped up the fond at the bottom of the pan which helped to brown the gravy.  Salt, pepper, dried thyme were added next before the final addition of three tablespoons of creme fraiche.  

We sat down to eat at about 5:15 PM.  My Thanksgiving dinner was a triumph. I've never made a better stuffing in my life.  The decision to make my own sage-based seasoning, and then the last-minute idea of adding a big pinch of red pepper flakes to the stuffing added something very special.  Instead of heat, the pepper flakes added a peppery warmth that was even better at lunch this afternoon.  The other inspired decision was the combination of Brussels sprouts with the potatoes and herbs.  I'll never put myself through the inconvenience of mashed potatoes again.  The vegetables were golden and tender.  

John's Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir perfectly complimented our meal.  The table looked gorgeous and I sat watching my friends eating and drinking and laughing, thinking to myself we indeed had something to be thankful about on this day.  Even the perpetual Portland rain took a vacation.  It was sunny outside. 

So there I was smugly basking in the compliments of my guests, proud that I had not over-eaten.  We had espresso and then dessert.  Good thing Jean-Francois brought a very pretty, small white layer cake with raspberry filing and a white chocolate genache frosting.  Why? When I put a forkful of pumpkin pie in my mouth, I had a rude reaction.  "Blech," I said to myself as I put my fork down.  I forgot the sugar!  

left to right Kyle, John Baker, Jean-Francois and Jay

Hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Sunrise at 6:45 am in Santa Fe 

A view from the mountains surrounding Santa Fe

Spent last weekend attending a publishing conference in Santa Fe where I was invited to participate in a panel on old and new media (me representing old) by my good friend Kent Watson.  It was fun.  I arrived tired, and sore with plantar’s faciitis in my right heel and feeling I needed some renewal. Santa Fe was just what the doctor ordered.  I flew down with my good friends, Ruth and Alan Centofante.  Alan is in the magazine business and Ruth is a writer, currently finishing up a memoir about her harrowing childhood in Mexico and her subsequent move back to the U.S. to raise her siblings after the death of her parents.  They were wonderful companions, and we pretty much hung out throughout the weekend.  We skipped the boring bits of the conference, and shopped, dined, took in the sights, thoroughly enjoying ourselves. 

Dining in Santa Fe can be a frustrating experience because so many of the most popular restaurants indulge in the ridiculous habit of no reservations.  Therefore one is constantly finding oneself standing in line waiting to for a a free table. I have always deplored this policy, especially in a popular place such as Santa Fe.  There are plenty of restaurants of quality there.  What’s the problem? Well simply put, when they are lining up outside the door, who needs a reservation. We couldn’t get into The Shed, apparently a must-go-to and hoppingly busy destination near our hotel on Thursday night, and we couldn’t get into Café Pasqual’s for lunch the next day. I don't wait for anything. Right across the street was the St. Francis Hotel. So we ended up having lunch in this beautiful Hacienda-style hotel with a gorgeous dining room called Tabla de Los Santos. We liked the look of the menu offering a small, but very well priced lunch. As we watched people wait and wait and wait to get into a restaurant we had attempted to breach across the street, the waitress served us that wonderful guacamole. Then she placed before me a not-too-large oval plate.  In the middle was a not-too-large dark green roasted poblano pepper surrounded by the most silky nutmeg brown sauce. It wasn't a mole sauce and it definitely had a European technique--no chunks or lumps. Inside the perfectly roasted pepper was finely chopped mushrooms.  It had only a hint of smoke and heat in each bite, but each bite was perfect. I've never eaten such a refined chile relleno.  The sauce was vegetable-based and it was thickened with vegetables and then put through a sieve. And for dessert we shared a dish of goat's milk flan with vanilla bean. It was denser than your typical flan but I don't meant to imply it was heavier--not it wasn't.  It too was special.  I think the bill came to about $22 per person with a glass of Alberino (one of my favorite white wines). A lovely lunch.  

I’ve never seen so many jewelry stores outside of Las Vegas, Apsen, the famous bridge over the Arno in Florence, and West 47th Street in New York City. The city boasts lots of art galleries, and boutiques selling gorgeous things.  I’m not immune and bought a wonderful widely horizontal photograph of a photoographer’s superbly scenic backyard of mountains, clouds and trees in colors of pinks, blues, grays and blacks. I’ll have it re-matted and framed for the guest room. 

My room at the Hotel La Fonda, Santa Fe

A fireplace in my hotel room

The hotel location for the conference was the vintage La Fonda—an old but well preserved Santa-Fe-style inn perfectly located on E. San Francisco—the main street one block from the town square and across the street from the huge Catholic church across the street. My room was the size of a football field. My only complaint was the stone-heavy down comforter which I couldn’t sleep under without feeling like I was being smothered. 

The hotel has an amazing concierge.  Because my feet hurt, I asked him to recommend a pedicurist and he sent me to Goro, a Japanese man of indeterminate age who had a studio a short cab ride away.  For and hour and a half, this genius (who did a lot of stars during his years in West Hollywood), worked on my feet, my shins and my calves, kneading and massaging and restoring my abused feet. It was amazing.  I think I’ve had one pedicure in my life, and realize I’m going to have to do it more often.

An amazing roast leg of lamb burrito form Atrisco Cafe in Santa Fe

The concierge also recommended a restaurant off the beaten path where I organized a group dinner after a bookstore reception on Friday night. Atrisco Café & Bar is located in a not-so-promising shopping mall outside of the Santa Fe’s town center.  And it’s as suburban looking as a restaurant can get, but at this family-run place, the food does all the talking.  I gave them very little notice that eight of us would be there for dinner at the height of dinner rush on Friday night.  The concierge told me that I must order one thing—the Roast Leg of Lamb Burrito.  As described in menu, this wondrous  creation is chocked full of the most amazingly tender locally grown leg of lamb, thinly sliced and wrapped in a large tortilla. I ordered it with the mild green chili sauce with a sprinkling of cheese which melted in the warm sauce by the time it reached the table. I was not alone in choosing this fabulous burrito.  It was thoroughly Tex-Mex in style but what a combination of simple ingredients—which always make for the best dishes. I ate every bite of this scrumptious dish and think everyone should make a pilgrimage to Santa Fe to sample it. 
On Saturday despite the gorgeous weather outside (you can understand why artists find the light in Santa Fe so special), my time was pretty much spoken for by the conference.  For dinner, Ruth, Alan and I chose El Farol, a popular and well-established Spanish restaurant specializing in tapas on Canyon Road, the popular street lined with art gallery after art gallery.  I had been to El Farol on a previous visit to Santa Fe for a week-long immersion of opera.  The menu of tapas is fantastic, and we decided that’s all we would eat. I got to select the wine and we shared a sensational bottle of tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero wine region of Spain to compliment all those lovely small plates.  There were potatoes bravas (roasted potatoes with a spicy sauce), beef skewers with a chimichura sauce, deep fried artichokes, Caesar salad, cured black olives with orange sections, spicy almonds, baked polenta, a mixture of wild mushrooms, fried calamari and other indulgent things. 

Ruth and me doing the tourist photo posing at El Farol

Tapas as El Farol

Me, Kent and Alan in a garden sculpture gallery in chairs made of stone

Wind Sculptures on Canyon Road, Santa Fe

Fall colors in Santa Fe

A crazy fountain of sculpture on Canyon Road

On Sunday morning, well fortified with a good breakfast, we hit Canyon Road, walking into one gallery after another.  But the thing I really love about Santa Fe is its architecture, and I got to add a few more “doors” to my collection (I photograph doors wherever I go--some of the best in the genre can be found in France and Italy). 

It was great little get-away. Back to rainy Portland where my garden and spirits are thoroughly drenched.