Saturday, February 27, 2010


Yesterday a friend and I stopped at Best Baguette for one of their Bahn mi sandwiches. This bright and airy sandwich shop sells these newly famous Vietnamese sandwiches and I had read about Best Baguette in last Friday's Oregonian . I only got around to tasting my first Bahn mi in New York last spring and I was hooked. A combination of meat, raw and pickled vegetables, sandwiched in a French-style baguette with a crunchy exterior and a soft interior, you can add shot of sriricha sauce, a delicious and fiery chili garlic condiment, and you've got the makings of a fabulous sandwich. Best Baguette offers fifteen different varieties of Bahn mi filled with grilled chicken or pork or beef, or pate or all vegetables or shredded pork with pork skin. This is a hefty sandwich, so you can imagine my shock at paying $2.95 for a grilled pork version marinated in a lemongrass-soy dressing. It also had shredded fresh carrot, cilantro and jalapena slices, and it tasted amazing. The least expensive is the pate at $2.55 and the most expensive is something called Nem Noung--grilled pork flavored with traditional seasonings. Two of us had a sandwich each, a coke and a diet coke, and they threw in free cups of soft ice cream--all for under $10! I also bought their delicious half-baguettes and threw them in the freezer when I got home. I'm thinking I may try to make my own version of a Bahn mi sandwich, though at these prices it seems ridiculous to even bother!

It's ridiculous to even contemplate the Republican mind these days. Thursday's summit at Blair House was typical. Each of those fools lined up to tell the President Obama that the plan should be scrapped and we should start all over again. One by one, each of them parroted this statement. President Obama was right to treat them with condescension and a weary dismissal. Nancy Pelosi got angry at their feeble attempt to raise the specter of abortion, and Harry Reid got into the act about reconciliation. It is a no brainer to understand that Republicans see a national health care program as an entitlement--one that has sustained the populations of most of Europe, China, and South America. To come this far now and not have a national health care plan would mean that everyone in Washington, D.C. has been wasting the country's time and resources on yet one more failure. And if that happens they all need to go home.

Ever since I found out the bush in the front of my house which nearly obscures the window of my guest room is a camellia, I've been anxious to know what color it is. I thought it might be red or pink. About a week ago, I found out it is white. And today the finally have begun to open and so I grabbed my camera. It was a gorgeous sunshine day in Portland--clear and crisp at about 60 degrees, which I suspect my eastern pals will not be amused by since they have been inundated with snow and bad weather. My sincere sympathy. Now on to the camellias.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I know you must think I'm nuts with all this flora, and I'm sorry it's been such a terrible winter in the East, but truly, we're experiencing an entire week's respite from the infernal rains here. Everyone is walking around town beaming. Worse, nature doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with poking it head out early this year. So we're being treated to a brilliant display. I keep grabbing my camera when Beau and I go out for a walk. He tugs just as I'm about to get my shot. This spring display remind me of taking Beau to the Union Square Park dog run in New York, where in about a month, you'll see an amazing display of spring and you shouldn't miss it. Before Beau came into my life, I had no idea it was there. Get a dog and walk around your neighborhood. It will amaze you.

This is the camellia bush in my front yard. It's just ready to bloom and the flowers are going to be white. Hoping they don't open when it's raining because it will ruin the blooms.

I bought a whole filet of beef at Cosco a few weeks ago and cut it into filet mignons and froze them. At the larger end of the filet, there was a wider piece, and so I decided to make it into a small roast. Once trimmed, the cut has virtually no fat. So it needs to be carefully cooked. I decided to make a mirepoix of cremini mushrooms, shallots and pancetta, which I sauteed. I then cooked some spinach, drained and wrung it out and finely chopped it, and added it to the mirepoix along with fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. I cut the roast so that it lay out in a thin wide layer and carefully added the stuffing. I rolled it and tied securely. I browned it in butter and olive oil on top of the stove and then finished it in the oven. While the roast rested, I deglazed the pan with some red wine, and added frozen beef cubes I had made last month, creating a delicious pan sauce. Once the rested roast drippings were in the pan, a final addition of a pat of butter with some parsley, and we were ready to tuck in. The roast was so tender it was difficult to slice. I ate the leftovers on Sunday and it tasted like it was just made. We had Brussels sprouts and oven-roasted potatoes and a salad of romaine, cucumber, tomatoes, blue cheese and a vinaigrette to finish the meal. I bought chocolate mint girl scout cookies the night before--froze them and served 'em with espresso. That dinner rocked.

This was last week's spring display. More this week. See above.

Beau and Penny take control of my couch.

Lots of little things on my mind this week:

Penny's visit ended on Wednesday, and while we hosting her, she's just too much dog for either Beau or me. I never cleaned a dog's paws as much as I did Penny's. She never met a puddle she didn't love. She has a dirt radar second to none. And she's a bed whore. Beau finally snapped at her when she tried to get us up early. She's a gorgeous, and a tender-hearted girl, and she's always welcome back. After she left, Beau and I spread out and relaxed--that is after I did a load of dirty dog-pawed towels!

Did you watch the Westminster Dog Show this week on TV? A Frenchie won best of breed in the non-sporting category. Wasn't as cute as Beau, but it did make us smile. And I'm very happy the Scottie won best of show. But can't we all agree that it is time to stop trimming French Poodles as though they were works of high fashion than dogs??? That poor little white Poodle, with his genitals and naked ass sticking out look awful. He's a dog, not a hood ornament!

I'm sorry to read about The National Enquirer's acceptability to be considered for a Pulitzer Prize for breaking the John Edwards' infidelity story and baby story. The problem I have is that if they win, the tabloid will make a big case for their credibility. And they virtually have none. This is a publication that trucks in the underbelly of people's private lives. The nation should be grateful that the tabloid did the job the legitimate press ignored (to their collective shame--what is it about the media these days that doesn't make them curious? Could it be because they have corporate owners with other agendas?). True there is often a grain of truth in the stories they print. But all too often the tabloids stir up rumors and innuendo, printing out and out fabrications, and they get away with it. Not enough celebrities who are victims of their gossip strike back as Carol Burnett and a few others have done. But a Pulitzer will confer in the minds of the willfully ignorant that what they do is truthful. And this country already has organizations that lie to the public, spreading rumors and untruths. If you don't believe me, you just have to look at the disgraceful and totally unwarranted success of Sarah Palin and the spooks who would have you believe that she's a true American--as though the rest of us are not. So a big please to the Pulitizer Prize committee--don't give the National Enquirer the credibility it truly does not deserve.

It would be nice if Tiger Woods and his handlers would stop manipulating public opinion in order to rehabilitate his ability to sell product. Keeping his dick in his pants, and playing golf will go a long way towards restoring his public image. I don't want to hear a mea culpa. I don't want the spectacle of the press shouting out to his wife demanding to know if she will stick by his side every time she gets out of her car. She didn't create this mess. The press should leave her alone. She's not the celebrity here, Tiger is.

I'm a bit perplexed why Evan Bayh's being criticized for throwing in the towel over Washington, D.C.'s endless bipartisan gridlock. He's determined that nobody has any desire to negotiate and prefers to go into their corner of ideology and stay there. Meanwhile, the country is mired in two wars, a devastating depressed economy, and a future in which the U.S. appears to be heading towards decline. It's enough to make everyone flee to their own sandbox. Clearly the lunatics have taken over the asylum, and I don't blame Bayh one bit for calling it quits.

I'm finally getting into an Olympics mode. Credit Shaun White's stupendous gold medal performance. He let his snowboarding do the work. No drama, no family tragedy, no battles with alcohol, drugs, or family dysfunction. His was a joyous and decisive win. Bode Miller on Sunday was just wonderful to watch. Didn't he have massive ego problems in Turino? He was gracious and modest on the medal stand. Apollo Ohno and his seventh record-breaking medal win shows you a true champion--modest, but confident. I also loved the Canadian Ice Dancing Pair. Sexy, artistic, emotional, and skated large! The American team that skated the Indian-themed program was lovely. But the Canadians were awesome. How could the Russians bring back that offensive Aborigine routine which had already landed them in hot water. It was stupid, silly, and really awkward. It is time for the Russians to realize their dominating days are over. I am ready for the ladies skating.

Last week my brother's friend, Kyle, painted my guest room. The colors of blue and copper were inspired by a lamp shade of those colors. Kyle did a great job and will do more projects for me. I'm painting bookshelves, and moved a lot of furniture out of the guest room. I'm quite pleased with the way it looks now. The room is now ready for Joan's visit in a few weeks.

We have a day or so more of sunshine and a few days of rain again, but by the weekend, we are promised more sunshine. God bless El Nino!

Monday, February 15, 2010


One week after writing about the spring buds, and now I'm astonished about the riot of blooms in my neighborhood. We got a gorgeous, sunny day in Portland for President's birthday weekend and I looked out at my backyard and noticed the outside thermometer reaching towards 60 degrees today. After exercising Penny with Beau at my side looking at her chase umpteen tennis balls into the park like she was nuts, we went for a stroll in the neighborhood with my camera to capture things already in bloom. I just looked at the 10-day forecast and as of Wednesday, we have nearly a week of projected sunny skies to look forward to.

This rhododendron cascades down this backyard wall. A week ago, there were no blooms there at all.

Heather begins blooming in December and seems to be at its peak now. I have about six or seven heather plants on my driveway side garden.

This is one of two bald eagles that I managed to capture soaring over Kenilworth Park as we were beginning to cross the street. I knew there was a hawk living there. Is it possible that a bald eagles are in residence too!

I photographed this pink tree a week ago. It's much pinker today

The same with this delicate tree right behind the pink one. The yellow was barely discernible last week.
This huge shrub soaring over the roof is a white camellia. I've never seen so many camellia bushes in one area.

Here is a red camellia in full bloom. This is about four blocks from my house.

I've never seen this yellow ground cover flower but it's gorgeous.

Here's a row of crocus plants on the side of a Victorian house near me.

On the side-yard of that same Victorian is this hedge carved into the shape of a large bird.

A small rhododendron in the front yard of a house a few doors down from me.

More crocus at the edge of a rock garden.

There's this really cool ranch house that is in need of restoration. On the corner of this house's lot is this cluster of daffodils--the most blooming I've seen thus far.

This tree is surrounded by groupings of daffodils, which probably began to bloom today.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Every seven years Valentine’s Day arrives on a weekend providing restaurants with the schizophrenic opportunity for profit and pain. Like Mother’s Day and New Year's Eve, this ridiculous marketing scheme of a holiday is an excuse for everyone to go out for dinner. Normally good restaurants lose their minds, adding tables, seatings, and failing miserably at sorting out problems. I usually avoid restaurants on these holidays like the plague, but my friends, Jean-Francois and Jay took me to dinner last night, the second night of this three-day marathon. We had a reservation at Saucebox, a popular restaurant that seems tired to me. But when we got there, tables in the dining room were full and the only available space was in the dark and noisy bar. Worse, Saucebox seemed to be saying, "sorry, suck it up." Jean-Francois who hates this kind of situation decided to settle, but Jay wasn't having it (thank god) and with cell phone in hand, attempted to rescue our evening. He called Nel Centro, a fairly new Mediterranean-style restaurant that has been much in the news of late. The hostess said she would have a table in one-hour (it was now 7:15). That sounded just fine to us. We got in the car and drove over with more than 30 minutes to spare, but the gracious hostess said she thought a good table would be ours in 10 minutes. Great. We decided to have a cocktail at their attractive bar.

Nel Centro is located at the The Modera, a very cool, very stylish retro-50s boutique hotel in downtown Portland. The restaurant's modern style is totally in sync with the hotel with its white marble floors and handsome walnut paneling. The well-spaced tables and booths are made of re-claimed Douglas Fir. In addition to the generous-sized interior bar, the there is also a fabulous looking outdoor patio bar area with fire pits offering warmth and drama. This would be a fantastic space for meeting friends for drinks in the late-spring-through-fall season. The brightly colored globe lights of various sizes are hand-blown. David Machado, who owns Lauro (a marvelous restaurant near my home where I have dine on several occasions) and the equally popular Vindalho, is much admired. In a recent story in the Oregonian, Machado had taken over the kitchen. The founding chef failed to add consistency to his culinary gifts and in this troublesome economy, Machado could not afford such an expensive failure. Machado will work the restaurant while he searches around for a replacement. Smart move. The food we ate last night was outstanding. Better yet, there is a wonderful sense of service here with really knowledgeable staff who want to make sure you’re having a great time.

We had a cocktail at the bar and I loved my vodka Gimlet with its fresh zing of limejuice. The large space with its hard surfaces is surprisingly un-noisy. We scored a large and comfortable booth that could easily sit six, and finished our cocktails while we studied the menu. Jean-Francois asked me to find a red wine. I settled on several choices, and our waitress helped me zero in on a Mocali Rosso di Montalcino. This 2007 vintage was a delicious medium-bodied red and would prove to be an excellent accompaniment to our entrees. It was surprising how fast we made our choices. I wanted the salad of winter chicories, Gorgonzola, applies and candied walnuts to start. Jean-Francois settled on the country pate/chicken liver mousse and duck rillettes plate with mustard and cornichons, while Jay opted for the excellent and tender fried calamari with red pepper rouille and sauce Gribiche. All three were solid, well-executed starters. I’ve learned to live with rubbery fried calamari as long as it is fresh. Even at restaurants famous for their calamari (Union Square CafĂ© in New York), it often arrives in a chewy state. Our waitress said they cut it on an angle and soak the calamari rings in buttermilk. I won’t argue with results as tender as this. These calamari just melt on the tongue and the fine red pepper rouille was enhanced by an aromatic dash of smoked paprika picante. I generally prefer to start a meal with a salad, and the chicories married well with the Gorgonzola and a creamy dressing. The apples and candied walnuts added more structure to the salad. I had a smear of the chicken liver mousse and the duck rillettes, and both were excellent.

I haven’t eaten much pasta since I arrived in Portland, so it was pleasure to eat this robust bowl of thick, al dente, bucatini with a mild red sauce, and gamey lamb meatballs with freshly grated aged ricotta. There is nothing refined about this wonderful dish, which would be a welcome sight on a Roman trattoria menu (if Italians ate lamb meatballs). I’ve eaten a similar dish in New York at Vice Versa, but the meatballs were tiny, and this dish had a more rustic feel to it. Jay ordered the house-made ravioli of beef, house-cured bacon and ricotta with a sauce of Nicoise olives, butter and Parmesan. I didn’t try it, but you could visually tell how tender the ravioli were and they certainly made him smile. Sticking to his French roots, Jean-Francois pronounced himself pleased with his big shallow bowl of daube of short ribs with red wine, olives and fried Panisse (good-sized chick pea flour batons fried in olive oil). I speared a thickly cut slice of carrot, impressed that it still had some bite to it while admiring the full-bodied sauce. Our good wine never fought this boldly flavored food.

Never intrusive, our waitress checked on us periodically, asking our opinions and what aspects we liked about our plates. I enjoyed her culinary knowledge, which was delivered with a light touch and without a trace of foodie superiority. This lady clearly enjoys her work.

These days I find I want a bite of something sweet and avoid ordering a full dessert. So we selected a lemon semifreddo with a hazelnut dacquoise, a spectacular and oddly unusual version. I’m used to chocolate and caramel semi-freddo. Our waitress placed in front of us a generous slice with a spoonful of Pernod-infused whipped cream and thin surrounding rings of caramel to soften the citrus tang.

Having missed the previous chef, I’d say David Machado has righted this ship rather quickly. Nel Centro looks like an excellent addition to Portland’s ever-growing reputation as a restaurant town. We avoided the fiasco of Valentine’s “date night” by a hair, due to Jay’s quick thinking, and Nel Centro proved to be right new restaurant. I’ll be back!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I'm Dog Sitting This Weekend

Penny, a nobly beautiful Chocolate Lab

Penny, a sleekly elegant Chocolate Labrador Retriever, is in residence with Beau and me this weekend. While her master is in San Francisco, Penny is wagging her rather strong and clueless tail (which makes me dive to move breakable things out of the way of this dangerously slashing appendage). She belongs to Darren, a housemate of my friend, John Baker. Beau and I spent a week with Penny when we first arrived in Portland and while I was waiting to close on my house. About two years old now, Penny is one of the most beautiful Chocolate Labs I've ever seen and she has a lovable personality. She is still slender and hasn't turned to fat the way so many Labs are allowed to. She's got a pink nose and soulful eyes and a Pantene-shiny coat. Full of high spirits and bags of energy, Penny is the one dog Beau and I have encountered who actually can get him moving. She loves to play with him, and Beau resists and resists until he has no choice but to join in. They wrestle and it's a lot of fun to see my slacker dog engaged in some sort of physical activity. The only thing Beau doesn't like is that slashing tail and if she catches him in the wrong position, its a comical thing to watch Beau being slapped senselessly by Penny's tail!

Penny arrived last night and settled down relatively quickly. I took the dogs out for a final spin at 10:00 PM and they walk together pretty compatibly. Penny can be let off her leash, which her owner allows, but makes me nervous. When I was staying at John's, I would walk both of them together and let Penny off the leash in her familiar territory. Penny is, however, a superbly trained dog, and comes back to you after she's retrieved her ball with no fuss or without having to resort to yelling and calling her.

Yesterday and this morning, I took Beau and Penny over to the park across the street from my house for some exercise. There's a big bowl where dogs are let off their leashes and allowed to run. Darren left me this plastic device, called a "Chuck-It" which allows me to fling a tennis ball a great distance. Penny chases after the ball and returns for an endless round of fetching. It allows me to drain off a lot of her energy, something I'm not at all used to with Beau, whose idea of exercise is to jump up and down while waiting for me to feed him. Yesterday was relatively dry, but an overnight rain soaked the park and within seconds, Penny was covered in mud. Worse, I sent her after one ball which landed in the center of a rather large and muddy puddle. Penny retrieved the ball easily, but then simply sat down in the puddle, wagger her fanny and then splashing joyously before returning to me with a mud-dripping ball and a determination to climb on me. Beau and I avoided her, sneering at her slopping tomboyish reveling.

Penny, cleaned up and resting, after a strenuous work out at the park across the sreet.

Beau sleeps with me, and Penny hopped into bed as well. A shameless beg hog (as is Beau), Penny stretched out to her full length which left no room for me. Beau staked out the top area of the mattress near the pillows. I made Penny come down off the bed, rearrangd the mussed bed linens, crawled into bed and motioned Penny back up. Within seconds, I had to forcibly re-establish my territory. Beau was not at all happy about having an interloper in his bed. But Penny settled down quickly. In no time at all, the three of us were snoring in unison. Around 4:00 am, Penny jumped off the bed and went downstairs. Not even 30 seconds later, she was back, but not in the mood to get back in bed. Nor was she interested in her own bed which was on the floor next to mine. She normally sleeps on a very large and comfortable chair and ottoman in the TV room of John's house. I brought her over to a large chair and ottoman in the landing room right next to my bedroom where she curled up until this morning when she bounded back into bed with us at 7:00 am.

I'm grateful Penny and Beau get along. Feeding them is a bit of a chore. Usually Penny's dish is higher and with easier access, I have to pick up Beau when I put Penny's dish on the floor. But I'm also happy that I have a smaller dog. A big dog like Penny needs to be drained of energy every day. She has stamina and would happily walk for miles. Beau and I do not have any stamina, and prefer the creature comforts of a bed, a couch, or a chair.

After this morning's romp in the park Penny arrived home covered in mud. Worse, she is an insidious influence on the normally fastidious Beau. Beau avoids puddles and mud. Not today. I had to hand towel them down with large wet sheets of paper towel and brush the dirt out of their coats. Beau will definitely need a grooming when Penny leaves on Tuesday.

The latest orchid in my burgeoning collection.

Monday, February 8, 2010


The Araucaria araucana (Monkey puzzle) for you botany freaks is native to Chile and Argentina.

On my way to shop for groceries at Trader Joe's I often encounter this tree, which I had to first identify and then look up on Wikipedia to find out more about it. I'd never seen, let alone could identify this huge and oddly handsome tree. The long branches flip up at their ends so it looks like a giant hair-do! I've since seen quite a few of them here. Apparently they have an edible seeds from the pine cones growing on them like conventional pine trees. The leaves are odd looking, yet their organized uniformity is unlike any tree leaf I've ever seen. It looks almost woven. And the near blackness of the green is gorgeous. I have since discovered they grow all over the U.S. now.

The trees photographed here are enormously tall--a very handsome, showy tree.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


We've had two gloriously sunny days in a row--a rarity during Portland's long rainy winter season. Beau and I take long walks on rare days like these, or we're out early to take advantage of the fact that mornings are often more pleasant times to be out and about.

Last July this bare shrub was heavy with hydrangeas which is just now beginning to leaf. The chain link fence behind is the back border of Kenilworth Park across the street from me. Once all the leave are back, this fence completely disappears.

In the park across the street, I captured the beginning of this tree's yellow flowering. In a week or so, it will be a solid cloud of flowers.

This tree has a deep pink blossom, and in another week, you won't have to squint to discern its color.

I have a neighbor quite close by who has an adorable cat named Appoli. This is part of his front yard which is a riot of barely contained flora chaos. This rosebush with its bare limbs, already has plenty of red leaf first growth.

My next door neighbor has this wall of planters which are sprouting bulbs now. Can't wait to see what these flowers will be.

All over the neighborhood, you see these clusters of bulbs pushing up and readying themselves for what will surely be a gorgeous spring display of color.

Haven't got a clue what's coming up here either. But I love all this new green growth around this tree with its wrap of ivy.

Anyone know what this low-lying leaf is. In the summer it is lush with these big leaves. In the winter, the rains pound it down and it looks awful. But on a sunny day, it bounces back and it suddenly sprouted pale pink clusters of flowers.

This yellow crocus was blooming by itself on a side walk garden, still strewn with fall leaves.

This newly blooming bush has an amazing fragrance.

Appoli's owner has this fanciful offering on display in her garden.

It's spring-like here and I'm feeling sorry for all my Eastern friends, who are complaining about the storms and bitter cold on the right coast. Yesterday Beau and went out at around 1:00 for a big walk and we covered a lot of ground. I brought along my camera to capture nature annual burst of new growth, and while there's much more due in the next few weeks, the sight of bulbs pushing up shoots of green really signal the impending explosion of daffodils, tulips, forsythia, dogwood, camellias and other shrub and tree blooms. Beau loves to pee on any kind of green. I'll let him sniff new growth, but I absolutely refuse to allow him to lift a leg on any new green things coming up.

Kenilworth Park across the street is an amazing color of green right now.

I have had this chair since 1986. It was owned by my dear friend, Bern McDonald, and after his death, his sister insisted that I take it. I had it reupholstered but in the new house, it was starting to look threadbare. My upholsterer did a splendid job and the chair looks newly minted. I love paisley and this looks wonderful, the colors complimenting the rug.