Thursday, January 28, 2010


Supreme Court's New Robes

Prior to President Obama's State of the Union Speech and then his utterly brilliant appearance before the Republicans at their annual retreat in Baltimore, I was in a high state if anxiety. The president wasn't standing up to the bankers and Wall Street. He was letting the national health care bill be whittled away by a Congress intent on getting as much pork or political kickback at the expense of the American people. Where was the guy I thought I had voted for? Why all this political navel-gazing and no action. To the relief of all my friends, who run for the hills whenever I go on one of my hair-on-fire political rants, I'm happy to say I'm calm. President Obama has been kicking well-deserved political butt. He admonished the Supreme Court's 5/4 ruling permitting corporations to advertise their political beliefs. He acknowledged that he's hearing what's going in people's minds, and even threw a bone to gay voters by promising to begin to reverse "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" which keeps gay military personnel firmly in the closet.

But it was President Obama's superbly assured presence in front of his very vocal Republican opponents that made me think there might be hope for us after all. While many of those asking Obama questions used the opportunity to grandstand, he rightly chastised them without resorting to Reagan's old "there you go again," or Bush 43's smirk. He told the assembled throng that he has adopted their best ideas into the health plan which isn't that much different than the previously suggested Baker/Dashle (there's a third senator here, but I'm forgetting his name at the moment) plan and said that he was shocked over the current plan's reception where it is being met on the Republican side as "some sort of Bolshevik plot." He made it clear that he wasn't going to adopt any plan that said 'our way or the highway.' And he cautioned all the demonizing on both sides, which made it very difficult to negotiate credibly. Obama was never more presidential, gracious, humorous or reassuring.

Then last night I caught the first of a two-part meeting between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly on his "The O'Reilly Report," and as I wrote to a friend this morning: "I think Stewart's observation that Fox "cyclotronic" delivery of the day's news, elevating some of that news to panic mode," is right on. O'Reilly's lack of a real sense of humor plus his tendency to bully, was undone by Stewart's humor and his refusal to be bullied without resorting to yelling. It makes O'Reilly look scary, sanctimonious (in his desperate attempts to paint Fox as fair and balanced while characterizing Obama's supporters as slackers), and petty." More importantly it showed that Stewart is not in lockstep with the president and has some real concerns that don't toe the party line. In other words, he is as thoughtful as he is funny, and they don't come funnier than Jon Stewart does these days. Even Dennis Miller (oy what a creepy, snarkey, uncomic guy this man is!) concedes that there's more than a touch of Dave Garroway in Stewart, in a segment afterwards.

Looking forward to Part II. Not that I'm betting on good manners, and logical thinking to prevail in Washington and someone will do something stupid soon to get my blood boiling all over again.

I was thinking of all the Grammy Awards fuss in relation to a very brief appearance by Norah Jones toward the end of the evening. I found I enjoyed Lady Gaga a great deal and her performance with Elton John was as delightful as it was respectful. But I truly felt sorry for Stevie Nicks having to sing one of her hits with Taylor Swift who couldn't hit a note on pitch if her life depended upon it and got a real kick in the ass about it the next day. Suddenly I see her record label defending her and blaming the media and public for elevating her and then delighting in tearing her down. I think Taylor Swift has the good will of the press and her fans. She got criticized for singing poorly and deservedly so. Her voice, to my way of thinking is beside of the point. It's a slender, fragile non-voice in the classic Suzanne Vega mold. It doesn't undermine her skills as a songwriter, but as a performer, it does expose her to people who are sensitive to the niceties of timbre, pitch, power, the ability to color her voice to the emotional needs of the song. And I'm afraid she fails in those basic elements of a singer's art. Now back to Norah Jones. I thought her first album, which was a massive success, was a snore. But last fall she released her third studio recording "The Fall," and it's a winner. The songs are wonderful, memorable, and she's reaching for a new maturity. Her voice has acquired a new depth and I've played it a lot. There isn't a monotonous moment in it.

I'm often at a loss with rock music, but Dave Matthews appearance singing the anthem, "You and Me," was also a highlight. I downloaded his latest album and I must say, it's terrific! Now if only someone would make a good R&B album. It's too long between John Legend CDs.

For any of you cabaret lovers, Rebecca Luker's new CD "Greenwich Time," is a great, great, great experience. Ms. Luker unleashes her very pure soprano and sure dramatic grasp on a clutch of contemporary songs that defies description. There is a great deal of warmth and depth to her singing and I'll play this one over and over again. She also includes "In a very unusual way," from NINE. Luker joined the cast of the last Broadway revival of NINE near the end of Antonio Banderas' run and her singing of this gorgeous and rather under-performed ballad, was the highlight of the evening.

While many of you are still coping with blustery, cold days back East, it's overcast and often rainy in Portland with steady mid-40s temperatures. I must bring my camera with me on one of Beau and my walks to show how early spring seems to come to Portland. I'm envious of other gardeners who will have the first daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, and then tulips as early as the end of this month. I'm anxious to have rose bushes for which the city of Portland is famous as the rose capital of the country.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Robins; Spring is Here!

Yesterday it poured all day long. Beau wouldn't go out at all. I had to pick him up and put him down in the back yard for his morning business, but by 4:30, he wasn't having it at all. I was at work on my computer in the dining room when I heard a commotion in the the back yard. I've been reporting that the Robins wait until they think holly berries have fermented and then attack the berries, popping many in their beaks and swallowing them. The berries make them drunk and they misbehave. In four days they stripped my holly bush clean. I went into the park and found all the holly bushes there stripped. It was fascinating. I went out to take photos, but the bird fly around so fast I couldn't get a really good picture. But here's the holly bush laden with berries and after four days, totally green holly bush and the birds are hovering in a neighbor's house. It's like a Hitchcock movie here!

El Nino means we have a very mild winter, and so while walking in the park or checking out my neighbor's shrubs and bushes, I see that everything is budding in the neighborhood. I was in the park this afternoon and saw a shrub beginning to bloom. At this rate, we're poised to have the longest summer on record! Bring it on!

For those who didn't see it, my cookbook blog got a nice plug in the Los Angeles Times (,0,4970366.story) on Sunday. An interview I did about my list of the best cookbooks published in 2009, for a Kentucky paper has been widely syndicated and made it into the Los Angeles Times. That really impressed me. Hope to continue to get more PR for my blog and expand my readership.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Cabin fever got a hold of me yesterday something fierce. I'd been cooped up all week long. My phone rang round noontime. It was my friend, Mike, calling in a celebratory mood (I can't say why yet) and wanting to see a movie and maybe have some dinner. "Sign me up," I said. I haven't been to a movie in ages. I'm like some old fart who finds it easier to Netflix hit the On Demand red button on my TV remote. We had no trouble agreeing on seeing George Clooney in UP IN THE AIR. We also decided to check out Foster Burger, the fairly recent culinary brainchild of Portland's popular Pok Pok owner and the chef of the high end Sel Gris.

I hated JUNO. I thought Jason Reitman had delivered a movie that screamed INDIE. Overly cute, this is dark comedy with its head up its ass. When Juno comes home and announces to her parents that she's pregnant, their response was insane. Can you really believe your parents would have reacted to the new by saying, "Oh thank god, we thought it was drugs!" And would you really give away a child to a woman as clueless as Jennifer Garner's character was in this movie? All she is thinking of is having a baby. She never notices her husband isn't on board with this at all--she's just in la-la land about motherhood. Totally unbelievable movie, despite the charm of Ellen Page's Juno.

The ending of UP IN THE AIR leaves a slight sense of dissatisfaction. But then again, I have a need for tidy endings, so maybe I'm not being entirely fair. No matter. UP IN THE AIR is about as wonderful a movie as I've seen in ages. George Clooney delivers a performance to set beside THREE KINGS and OUT OF SIGHT. He's just perfect as Ryan Bingham, the guy hired to fire people in America's rapidly crumbling corporate world. I wonder why so many of us think of Clooney as our contemporary Cary Grant. Yes he is impossibly handsome, with his salt and pepper gray hair, soulful eyes and easy, likable screen presence. And there's that seductive bass voice of his. But Grant's reputation rests mostly on a gallery of effortless comedies, some good and some terrible. Grant rarely showed how good his acting chops were and he endured for decades and decades. Early in his film career, it looked like Clooney would have gone the way of Grant--and sometimes I have wondered why he hasn't taken on more romantic comedies, which could certainly use his effortless charm. Oddly enough, he's tanked in romantic comedies genre in duds opposite Michele Pfeiffer and Catherine Zeta-Jones. He has, however, scored very big in the dumb Oceans franchise playing suave to a T. But Clooney has increasingly asked us to take him seriously in a clutch of astutely picked films, and it has paid off some handsome dividends with SYRIANA and GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK. I've never seen him more in command of the material he's given here and it makes him even more likable, more handsome more watchable. Does that mean it's George Clooney the actor or the movie star? I'm not sure. On more than one occasion Clooney has reminded me of James Garner, woefully underused in the movies, but a guy who artfully uses his handsome presence on screen in romantic, or tough, or comedic roles who can fly from silly to grave as the situation warrants. You're always aware it's Clooney (or Garner), but they are always a pleasure to watch and that's not easy.

The whole cast of UP IN THE AIR is spectacular. I loved Vera Farmiga's Alex and Anna Kendrick's smugly young Natalie grabs you the minute she enters and doesn't let go. This diminutive dynamo should be given every opportunity. A big young talent.

Jason Reitman gave a terrible suck-up speech at the Golden Globes this year, and it may be a key to some lapses in his movies. UP IN THE AIR is miles better than JUNOT, but for me the end is a bit of a letdown. I'm not going to spoil it here. And I don't at all mean to suggest you shouldn't see it. Obviously Reitman can handle actors (both Jason Bateman and J.K. Simmons from JUNOT have roles here), and his screenplay is sharp and dazzling. The sexy zingers going back and forth between Clooney and Farmiga left the audience laughing and panting at the same time--who writes clever dialogue like this anymore?

Afterwards, we went to Foster Burger, a fairly new joint out in the no-man's land of SE Foster and 52nd Avenue. I say no man's land because across the street is an adult movie store and a seedy massage parlor--a strange place for a burger with the kind of pedigree that shouts the Pearl District. Foster Burger is co-owned by Chef Daniel Mondok (Sel Gris) and restaurateur Andy Ricker (Pok Pok), two of the biggest culinary stars in Portland. It's got a divey vibe. We got there around 9:15 last night and the place was just winding down (they close at 10, and apparently are packed at 8:00).

There is a fair selection of beer to choose from but only a syrah and a chardonnay for wine. The menu is short and mostly smart. What you want here is the burger (there is a lamb, fish and mushroom burgers for the finicky) and fries. You can order it for extra $ with chick cu bacon or sharp cheddar cheese (our choices), bleu cheese, a fried egg or caramelized onions. And there is a daily soup choice and salads (does a dive really need a chopped salad that includes such pretentious additions as chicken confit, radicchio and pork belly lardons?).

The burger is spectacular. Beefy and augmented with back fat, this char grilled patty is perfect. The bacon and sharp cheddar are in ideal balance. For once a so-called fancy burger isn't an overstuffed mess that falls apart in your hands (though you do need more than one napkin to contain all the good juices running down your fingers and arms) The sesame seed roll is delicious--soft but with body enough to hold hold everything including lettuce, house-made pickles, onion and Foster's secret sauce. The accompanying fries were also first rate--crunchy, slightly salty, with soft potatoey interiors. I don't eat burgers very often, but this is an exceptional burger.

Our waitress didn't tell us there were specials, which I noticed on a board over the kitchen near the bar. There was a hot dog that included a chorizo sausage, and fried pig's ears, a bit strange to me. They also have truffled fries, which seems like gilding the lily to me.

Foster Burger's makes one helluva great burger. It perfectly capped of a perfect Friday movie night which even Portland's famed rain couldn't put a dent in.

I called a friend this morning who travels all over the world in search of birds. The reason I called is that the last four days, hundreds of robins have been invading my backyard holly bush, eating all the red berries, and acting strangely. I had never seen this before. Tom, my birding friend said it is very common. The robins wait, somehow knowing that the berries have reached a kind of fermentation stage and attack the holly bushes, gobbling up the berries, which make them drunk. It's a riot to see them besotted on fermented berries, attempting to fly. Lots of loop-de-loops, near mid-air crashes, ruffled, unsmoothed feathers, and bird brawls ensue. Every time I reach for my camera, they scatter.

My friend Michael Smith, who is a talented photograph took this shot of me at my laptop in my dining room during a visit to visit his step-son and family in Eugene. I like Michael's compositional eye and his fidelity to black and white photos with crisp white borders. It's so retro it looks entirely new!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010



Scott Brown, senator-elect from Massachusetts in a 1982 Cosmopolitan Magazine Centerfold

I've spent the better part of the week out of my mind for the first time since George Bush's sorry presidency despondent over the fact Martha Coakley's astounding loss of Senator Edward Kennedy's senate seat. Ms. Coakley's loss is due, we are told to her to her sheer incompetence. But I just heard from a politically astute friend of mine from Boston who said one of the reasons she faltered so badly in the election was that her campaign had run out of money. When she went to the Democratic party for money, she was turned down. Her numbers were too good

While Scott Brown, her rival and winner of the seat reached out to independent voters and Tea Baggers and other lunatic fringe to snatch the prize, thereby squandering a hard-fought Democratic lead in the Senate. In all likelihood, we've just handed ourselves the defeat of yet another national health care bill. Massachusetts voters with their short memories, are either too ignorant or too stupid to realize that our current economic woes, double-digit unemployment, staggering debt, record home foreclosures, and an endless war in the Middle East can be laid directly at the door of George Bush. Yet Republicans have managed to successfully place the blame squarely on shoulders of Barak Obama. There is fault on every side. Obama should stop being bi-partisan. The Republicans are obscene obstructionists who don't care about the greater good of the country. Instead of a handshake, our president should bitch slap the entire country into reality, placing the blame for this squarely where it belongs--with Republicans and rouse the population with his brilliant oratory skills to demand change. Where is the plan to put Americans back to work repairing our infrastructure, or rebuilding our energy futures, which would also put people back to work? Where is our health care bill which would also help fix our broken economy? All three plans have been killed by Republicans. Even if Congress had the balls to shove the plan they have put in place now, what would we be getting. There's no transparency and Congress has been busy with backroom deals that will probably render the plan useless to most. President Obama has wasted too much time allowing Congress to create this bill rather than writing his own and just as he's wasted time reigning in the banks and Wall Street from the excesses that put us in this mess.

Americans have the shortest memories. They don't bother to find out the real truth even when it is staring in their faces. They are susceptible to lies which they are fed by the media. They are far more interested in celebrity culture than they are in reality. It's a lot more interesting to them to focus purely on celebrity foibles such as Tiger Woods. They simply cannot rouse themselves to demand health care, jobs and an end to gridlock in Washington. Meanwhile Congress simply puts ideology in front of every consideration and ignoring the fact that they are being paid to do the bidding of the voters, and not the special interests. The system is hopelessly broken.

The media, owned by powerful corporations, has been effectively muzzled. They are having their own survival problems which has cut back on coverage and the same players are chasing down the same limited number of stories, ignoring others that are considered hopelessly complicated or not sexy enough to cover.

Hillary Clinton made the mistake of assuming she was a shoo-in to be the Democratic candidate for presidency. Martha Coakley has now made the same mistake. Candidates would do well not to take anything for granted.

I hope my long-suffering friends who groan about my political rants will continue to indulge me. I care deeply about these things. Some of my friends tell me I'm over-reacting. Some think I shouldn't give up on America. But I've seen little to be optimistic about in our modern age. And it's not a function of my aging. It's a sense that we've lost touch with what's important for everyone and not just a privileged few. We've been encouraged to indulge in our own personal tribalism--us vs. them, ethnic, religious or sexual differences. And we've added a layer of politicalization, liberal vs. conservative. It's a recipe for disaster because nothing gets done. Worse, I'm afraid most people are too political stupid (forget ignorant) and can be persuaded to change their opinions on issues depending on who is talking to them at any given moment. When Obama was running for President, a national health care bill was one of the reasons he's got elected. So what happened in a year? The Republicans had a field day demonizing health care while Democrats dithered over abortion, coverage for undocumented immigrants and the public option (which the media declared to be dead one day and a priority the next).

In the meantime, here's an old photo of Scott Brown. Now you tell me why this guy got elected?One friend described his win as the same as Obama's. People are sick of old and they will take a chance on something completely different. Obama showed on the stump what he was made of.

Meanwhile it's about 50 degrees here and the sun has decided to make an appearance. Out of nowhere has come a tribe of Robins who attacked the red berries on my holly tree in the back yard. I watched fascinated as they plucked the berries one-after-the-other. They're having field day out there right now. Thanks god nature has the ability to calm me down. No matter what is going on "out there," I can look into my back yard and forget about how strange and dumb the world truly is.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Redemption Through Haiti; Fuming in the Rain

The Daily Beast, Tiny Brown's news blog had two fascinating stories, both involving Haiti and both the redemption of two men seeking forgiveness at the expense of this country's terrible woes. First "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the military strong arm who is credited with thousands of deaths during his reign of terror and excess in Haiti, which he fled from twenty-five years ago along with the country's treasury, now wants to give an $8 million trust established in his mother's name (and which he has no control over) to Haitian relief efforts. The story says that the Swiss bank which controls this trust, is unlikely to do his bidding. So an empty gesture.

Then in another item buried at the bottom of The Daily Beast home page is the news that Tiger Woods has pledged $3 million in support of Haitian relief. This was leaked by Russell Simmons, presumably a friend? This has a whiff of a PR campaign aimed at restoring Tiger's shattered public image. Rather than feeling good about his generous offer, it seems that Haiti is once again being used to improve the lot of someone else. Otherwise why leak the news of this offer to the public via Russell Simmons?

And while we're the subject of Haiti, I'd like to know how that big, fat blowhard, Rush Limbaugh, uses his money in support of charitable causes. He criticizes Obama's support of Haitian relief making incredibly insensitive and tone-deaf remarks that we already give to Haiti in the form of taxes. So what does Rush Limbaugh do to "give back to the little people"? I only ever see him chomping expensive cigars and living large in big houses and on a big boats (well something has to support that big, fat, bloated frame of his). This odious pile of blubber and bluster makes millions from his bully pulpit picking on people much smaller than he will ever be. Rush Limbaugh is indefensible on any level. He is about as Christian as the Black Plague, and ought to be declared by an act of Congress, a national disgrace. For my birthday, I'd love for someone in my name, or in the name of a grateful nation to build a glass silence chamber and entomb Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Pat Robertson together in perpetuity. They should have able to be seen by the public arguing, and screaming in silence as they are passed by, ignored by everyone. Perhaps for Rush's redemption, he could do his show live from Port-au-Prince, so we could witness what the suffering people of Haiti really think of him.

I think at this point, I'm really going to have to get serious about getting a car. Last night I had two social items on my calendar, both of which are not too far from my home. But it rained most of yesterday--a steady, unwavering medium-weight shower. But armed with my Trimet Planners, I could take buses to my destinations. Starting out at 4:30 for the first appointment, and following directions, My promised 36 minute trip turned into an hour and 10-minutes and took me through four different neighborhoods. As I boarded a connecting bus, I asked the driver, "do you do stop at SE 32nd Ave. and Rex."


"But your bus sign says via 32nd and Rex," I replied.

"I don't stop there," he mumbled.

"So how do I get to 32nd and Rex? The Trimet schedule tells me this is the bus I need to take," I countered, becoming testy.

"That another #19 bus," he grunted.

"How the hell am I supposed to know the difference?" I was now morphing back into my old belligerent New York persona.

The upshot here is that there are two #19 buses, neither one marked to differentiate their routes. And I was saddled with a bus driver who could have cared less (to be fair to Portland bus drivers, I've experienced mostly courtesy and a genuine desire to help). I got off his bus and waited for the next # 19. I arrived at my destination relatively dry and was fortified with two glasses of an excellent French chardonnay before proceeding to my next appointment. Armed with my schedule, I headed for the bus stop. I had timed it for a wait of no longer than 15 minutes. I waited and waited and waited and no bus. At 6:40, I called my friends to send a taxi. But my hostess insisted on coming to rescue me. Five minutes later the bus arrived. The driver, another mono-syllabic moron, couldn't explain the delay when I asked her why the bus schedules show a bus due every fifteen minutes. "Sir, I'm only the bus driver." Clearly this was an indication of the way our taxes are being spent.

Transportation-wise, it wasn't my night, though both social engagements were very pleasurable. I've been trying not to extend my "energy footprint" in Portland and yes the choices of subway, bus or taxi made me fleetingly nostalgic for New York. It seems to me that Portland's Trimet management could offer a more realistic schedule. If your schedule says 15 minutes, then mean 20. If it says 30 minutes between buses, than mean 35.

I took a pear pie with me for dessert (actually, my hostess picked it up that afternoon so I wouldn't have to schlep it in the rain). The Bosc pears were still hard when I peeled them, so I melted some butter and sugar and sliced the pears and sauteed them in this mixture until the pears became a golden color and the butter and sugar caramelized. I left them to cool with fair amount of freshly grated nutmeg and the zest of an orange before adding them to the crust. At the last minute I realized I need another pear. So I sliced up my last pear in thinner pieces and added it to the pie. My friends were raving before I had a chance to sink my fork into a slice (I had arrived late, so they had all eaten, and I was trying to catch up). I must say the combination of the cooked pears with the slices of raw which were less cooked in the pie, made for an interesting texture. Both were fully cooked but at different degrees of doneness. There was less "juice" and the pre-cooking of the pears had set the sugar and butter into a nice thickness. I have to say in all immodesty--it was a great pie!

It's always instructive to compare grocery shopping between the coasts. The various style of meat cuts and preparations are fascinating. For instance: I couldn't find turkey parts to make stock at Thanksgiving. The markets here sell sliced or ground turkey breast only. It drove me nuts. I finally found turkey wings at New Seasons market. Blade chuck roasts are cut thick and make for wonderful stews and braises. In the east, we get thin, unappetizing cuts of chuck blades sold as "steaks," which is the worst thing you would ever want to eat because this cut very tough. When I first arrived in New York, I saw boneless chicken breasts for the first time and was fascinated by them. They didn't exist in California at that time. In Portland, I have encountered freshly ground chicken thighs, which alone or with the addition of sausage, make for an excellent meatloaf. Italian sausage here has been disappointing in flavor. I don't know why. This week I discovered "pork cubed steaks," a variation on the classic beef cubed steak, for the first time. I bought two small ones, and decided to prepare them like the classic Italian breaded veal cutlet, fried and then showered with a cold salad of endive and tomato in a vinaigrette. The combination of hot breaded cutlet with the cool chopped salad made for a mighty tasty meal.

I found a demo on YouTube for making homemade red wine vinegar. I've got a jar brewing on my kitchen window sill. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Backyard photo taken from my kitchen back door around 7:00 AM during a two-day
dry spell from the rain. Beautiful. Makes me realize why I'm here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Message to Conan, Leno, Zucker and Mark: BOO!

Big whoops...Mark McGwire has admitted he took steroids. Gosh I'm shocked. But now he wants us to feel sorry for him. He's sorry he did it, but even more outrageous, he says they didn't enhance his performance, he took them for health reasons. Okay, I'll bite. What health reasons? Doctor's certificate, please. That's like Tiger trying to convince us he didn't have sex with those women. Let's be clear here. He's going into spring training. St. Louis wants him, but they also don't want the distraction of the press hounding the team over a more-than-decade old story. McGwire says he didn't reveal his steroid use to protect his family. Has this guy no shame?

I'm not sure what the deal was over the Tonight show, but it seems to be that Leno wanted to step down. So they gave his hosting duties over to Conan, who had to wait six long years (for which I'm sure he was given lots of extra cash to tie him up for that long). The deadline looms, and sure enough, Leno's not happy that he's stepping aside. As I recall, his wife wanted him home more, or something like that. Leon whines at the network, whose fortunes by now have plummeted from the high of Seinfeld, Friends and ER. The network is about to be placed on the market. General Electric isn't happy about the profits and other divisions are tanking. Ever the corporate hero, Jeff Zucker thinks he can save the network millions in the wake of ER's cancellation. He gives Leno an hour of prime time. It's a helluva lot cheaper than a hugely expensive scripted series like ER. So game in place, the everything is hunky dory until Leno and Conan tank in the ratings. Leno, who came out swinging when he took over for Carson, dominating Letterman at CBS and Aresenio Hall at Fox (anybody remember Arsenio?), lost his mojo at 10 pm. Tonight is not a prime time show, even with the name change. People still want a good show to send them to bed or to the news and then bed. People changed the channel in droves and NBC affiliates watched their lucrative ad revenues for their local news programs (once a major source of their income) plummet. And Conan had seven months to prove he was no Leno. Now he's whining he got screwed. Being a talk show host is lot harder than being funny. Just ask Joan Rivers, Regis Philbin, Joey Bishop, and others who have failed to find an audience after the news. Meanwhile as one friend says the Tonight show franchise, once a ratings and financial juggernaut for NBC has been tarnished.

I do love the fact that President Obama is even thinking of levying a tax on the banks which is supposed to help pay down the deficit and deter the banks from making risky mistakes in the future, but I fear that it won't pass and the banks and investment banks will live another day to screw us.

On a lighter note I had lunch with my food buddy, Ivy Manning today at a restaurant she's telling me will probably be in a run-off for a best restaurant of the year in Portland--Nedd Ludd. Located in the Northeast part of the city this rustic restaurant serves wonderful food in a very relaxed setting--a kind of hangar where you might service a small airplanes. Once the site of a pizza parlor that apparently served terrible pizza, the restaurant retained it's gorgeous brick oven where most of the cooking is done. We had an amazingly simple meal. I chose the charcuterie board of sliced cured meats such as a fennel sopprasata, speck, and prosciutto, along with a small pork of warmed pork rillettes, and a crispy rasher of bacon, some pickled pears, fresh slices of apple, and Marcona almonds, served with a sliced and toasted dark bread. This was a fascinating lunch where you could graze to your heart's content on meat! Ivy had a superb collection of roasted vegetables, including succulent wide slivers of herb-roasted yellow pepper, whole cippollini, cauliflower (my personal favorite), Brussels sprouts with rice, a Raita-like yogurt sauce. I took a bite of the Brussels sprouts which had just come from the brick oven. The smell of the roasted vegetables was intoxicating. Nursing a bad cold (which turned out to be bronchitis), Ivy sipped green tea, while I chose a Lapsang souchong black tea in sympathy (I don't drink alcohol at lunch). I met Jason French, the co-owner of the restaurant (that's the photo of the inked guy next to his brick oven). Apparently lunch is a lot less hectic than dinner, which suited me fine.

Ivy's a splendid cookbook writer, freelance food journalist and former chef, and she's taken me under her wing, showing me about the ins and outs of the Portland food world. We find we agree on most things culinary. She's married to Gregor, a wonderful guy who happens to be a superb photographer (he does all the color photography for her books). She affectionately calls him Mr. Tofu, because he is pretty much a vegetarian (he does eat fish), which is one of the reasons she wrote her last book, THE ADAPTABLE FEAST, in which she provides wonderful recipes and ideas for people in mixed-diet households (omnivores, vegetarians and vegans).

Last week I had dinner with Carol and Sarah, two old friends from my early New York days. Both outstanding musicians (Carol was the former chorus master of the Portland Opera; Sarah a fine violinist who teaches and play with local groups out here). They like a place in the NW area of the city near Carol's apartment, called Cafe Nell. The place has a bistro feel to it--cozy, neighborhoody and inviting. It was cold and Carol and I decided we wanted a warming glass of Merlot and ordered the house version, which was just fine. Service is attentive here (as it is in most restaurants in Portland). It's a relaxed and we were in no hurry. The food is up and down. I had nice lamb shank perfectly cooked and tender, but it was served on a gluey mash of potato and parsnips (a good combination) which only could have happened in a food processor--a no-no with mashed potatoes. Carol had a dish of thinly sliced beef and carrots that looked a bit wan, and it was an absurdly generous portion. Later Sarah told me she was disappointed in her seafood stew of whole shrimp, scallops in a saffron broth with rice. My bite said one thing--bland. Sarah likes to finish dinners out with a Sambucca which she ordered. The glass that arrived had a really unpleasant alcohol smell that overpowered the liqueur and is tasted that way. Real Sambucca was not in evidence--it was clearly a "house" brand. None of us were in the mood to call the restauarant out over these gaffes, but I won't return. Too bad. A front-of-house crew got done in by the kitchen and a management decision to deceive their customers about the alcohol they serve. Not a good idea of you're a neighborhood restaurant.

Got a bit nostalgic for New York as I have spoken with Maryann yesterday, and Karole and Laurele today. Poor things are locked in a city gripped by a cold snap. And it's January. Too bad. It's not bad at all here today. In fact Steve, my handyman came by to install a railing in my basement stairway and a smaller one for the steps from the dining room to the garden. Now I can get my insurance company off my back.

Monday, January 11, 2010


This morning I read in The Daily Beast a story about Goldman Sachs employees unhappiness over their bonuses because they are receiving less cash and more stock, which they cannot sell immediately. The result is the bonuses are wrecking havoc with their personal budgets. Well excuse me. How about a few very large and loud truths here:

1) You're lucky you have jobs that pay you so well.
2) We bailed your sorry asses out of the mess you put the rest of us in.
3) How about you start living within your means. The rest of us have to make do with unemployment, savings, and loss of equity that you haven't been forced into.
4) Clearly banks and investment house employees have no shame. They think it's okay to complain when others are suffering so badly. How would you like to lose your home, your job, your sense of self worth?
5) You think you are entitled to receive this money. The American public bailed you out and the stock market has recovered (for the moment). What guarantees do we have that you have truly earned these outrageous bonuses? Will you give that money back if the stock market begins to falter (as many economists predict) and we once again lose the few dollars we have gained back?

I think the US government needs to kick some major Wall Street butt. I don't buy the given story that if you don't give these greedy pigs their bonuses they will go elsewhere. Where the hell are they going to go? Unless I'm mistaken, there is no place to go. It's time to call their bluff. Show them the door.

It's time greedy bankers got a taste of their own medicine. My 401K assets have been frozen for the past 20 years. I couldn't touch them without paying a severe penalty. And while I could have put them into extremely conservative funds, etc., I still would have experienced some rough and tumble years such as the stock market beating in '88 (because of the savings and loan debacle), 9/11 and now last September's market meltdown (because of real estate derivatives and other bogus financial instruments). I figure over the last 20 years, I've made very little money in the stock market. My gains periodically get wiped out by these "vicissitudes" of the market, and while my savings does go through some restoration because I leave the money alone (I don't panic--because I've seen my friends lose even more by removing their money from the market), the time lost waiting for my funds to regain some of their old value is also money never realized.

Lately I've been hearing that the past decade has been a disaster for investors who have gained precious little for putting their money in the hands of Wall Street thieves. This is why I won't give them another penny. I'm nearly eligible to take out what little I have left and it will now be up to me to figure out where I have to put it, that is after the government has taken out its share. Perhaps the American tax payer should be given some sort of tax credit for the loses we have absorbed.

How much longer is the American public expected to put up with banks that say no to qualified people seeking loans, endure their usury practices on interest rates and late fees for credit cards (I agree late fees should be charged to late payers, but to jack up their interest rates is utter nonsense), and get precious little for savings? How many more times will we be robbed by one more Wall Street scheme to separates us from our money?

Instead of complaining, I think its time that the bankers just shut the hell up!

Sunday, January 3, 2010


It's back-to-work time. Austerity is the coin of the realm after a two month stretch of wretched excess where we all ate and drank far beyond what we might normally think of as prudent. Let me tell you Trader Joe's is the most insidious place to be during the holidays. You find yourself buying things you'd never give serious consideration to in a supermarket such as Candy Cane Oreos. I ate two boxes of those wickedly tasty temptations (at lunch and after dinner). At the checkout counter they were tempting buyers with one-pound cans of chocolate-nut toffee for only $7.98 for the tin. I felt like Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove trying to control his urge not to do the Nazi salute, every time I passed through the check-out line. I actually picked up packages of Pumpkin Pancake Mix, Pannetone, Chocolate Peppermint Bark, and fortunately, put them back on their shelves. Now that I have a large and well-organized kitchen, it begs to be cooked in. I've baked cookies, pies, clafoutis, bread, roasted chickens, braised short ribs and slow-cooked chuck roasts, made pot-pies and shepherd's pies from the leftovers. The other night I was home alone with Beau snoring quietly in his dining room daybed, when it occurred to me that had leftover sauce from a slow-cooker recipe I was testing for my blog, and I had frozen gnocchi that I made from another book I was reviewing. Why not put them together, for a quiet little dinner by myself, I reasoned. In as much time as it took to boil water, I had a lovely plate of those pillowy miracles that are a cross between a dumpling and pasta. Sauced and dusted with Parmesan, I oohed and aahed in the silence of my dining room.

Earlier in the week, I had Kent and Alan over for dinner. We've been getting together to brainstorm ideas on goals for the new year, projects that have been percolating in our heads, and either share them over a drink and dinner out, or at each other's homes. I had a leftover leg of lamb, which I turned into shepherd's pie (thanks for the suggestion, Susan Wyler). I ground the lamb, made a sauce with a base of the saved lamb juices, sauteed the meat with onions and garlic, added a little red wine and reduced the pan juices, sprinkled it with flour, and added some chicken broth. I had some edamame and white corn and some peas in the freezer and added these. Some thyme, salt and pepper made for a nicely thickened stew to which I added some cooked carrots and leeks. I realized too late that I didn't have quite enough potatoes for the top and found some parsnips which I boiled with the potatoes. I then mashed them with a little milk and butter and a quarter teaspoon of smoked paprika, which I slathered on top of my casserole, but I still lacked enough potatoes. I cooled it down, and as I was saving it for company, I froze it. About a month later Kent and Alan were over for dinner and I mashed some more potatoes and put it on top of the defrosted pie, and added a final dusting of grated Comte cheese (akin to Gruyere) and Parmesan. We didn't get as much accomplished in our idea session as perhaps we planned because the boys were knee-deep in shepherd's pie. I polished it off for diner the next night and lunch two days later. Talk about stretching your food dollar!

Tuesday before New Year's I was startled to see huge snowflakes falling on the ground, and I got the idea to take pictures a little late in the day, and have already posted some of them. Just before going to bed, I looked outside my balcony at the Cedar tree and the huge Holly bush which were heavy with snow and took these photos--they obviously look black and white. It was 11:30 PM. Rain swept all the snow away the next day. But for a few hours, it looked magical outside. This didn't even have time to turn dark brown and slushy.

Cooper, my pet squirrel who lives in the Cedar tree in my backyard, dropped by for a visit two days ago. He's friendly little guy and handsome. He is now taking peanuts from my hand and races away to enjoy them. I had a nearly empty jar of Skippy chunky peanut butter and decided to see if Cooper would lick the jar clean. For the next hour, Cooper kept me mesmerized with his antics to get every last lick out of that jar. At one point, I thought I would have to rescue him for it appeared that he was stuck in the jar, but he managed to back out of it. And when two friends showed up to lay claim to the jar, Cooper fiercely chased them all around the backyard, successfully fending off any potential Skippy invaders. I wish my zoom lens could have captured him more closely than I did.
Last night I went to my last party of the holiday season. My buddy Mike Campbell threw a potluck party for his friends. I brought a meatloaf I made from some ground chicken thighs I saw at the New Season's market. I was intrigued by this some months ago and made a pretty terrific meatloaf from it. I decided it would make a good potluck item for it is easy to carry, doesn't require any reheating, and can feed a lot of people. I had some sausage meat on hand and added that to the chicken with sauteed red pepper and red onion, panko crumbs, egg, Parmesan, some leftover tomato sauce, thyme, oregano, parsley, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and one hour later, I had this gorgeously caramelized meatloaf (the secret is to use a shallow roasting pan for a beautiful crust). Now I should have taken a photo of it.

Back at work tomorrow as I have a new project to work on. Edible, a network of regional magazines that celebrate locavore culture, is my latest project from Wiley. This book combines the stories of local food heroes with gorgeous color photos and recipes. Two recipes grabbed me immediately: Kohlrabi with Bacon and Blueberry Cornbread. Should be a fun project.

Carpe diem, 2010!