Sunday, March 21, 2010


Walden, age 2 months, one week

Well I've done it this time. Beau and I were out walking through the small, unpaved street around the corner from my house when we encountered our neighbor, digging a grave for a squirrel she had found on the road, still alive near her office. She wrapped the unfortunate creature in a towel, but by the time she was at her office, it had died. She and her daughter are well-known for their rescuing of dogs. At any given time, there are at least seven dogs and six cats in their home. Whenever they spot a dog on the street they scoop it up and run home to put the word out on Craigslist and other rescue sites. Getting caught up, she told me about recently rescuing a small Pomeranian/Yorkie mix and two days later she gave birth to seven puppies. Daddy is a poodle/dachshund mix. I said to her when she told me about the puppies that Beau and I would be by in a few days to see them.

Well we went, and tiny Walden was put into my hands. He's calmer then Beau and really cute. Next thing you know, I'm saying, I'll take him. If Beau is miserable, they insist that he can come back. But for now, he's mine and I get him in three and a half weeks when he's 12 weeks old

By the way, the little Gerber baby is my neighbor's two year old. She's been over-run with seven puppies in the last couple of months, but is clearly pack leader of this bunch.

Walden, being crushed by little Summer

I've been sampling new restaurants in Portland, and judging the design of many attractive books for PubWest's annual Best Books Design of 2009, as well as a visit from a New York friend.

Willamette Weekly has just published their list of top Cheap Eats in 2010, and there are a lot of interesting places. While there are many Asian and Mexican places, loads of coffee shops, my favorite pizza joint (Gladstone Coffee and Pizza) made the cut (as well it should), and a number of fine barbecue, pizza and bakeries are listed too.

You can spend a lot of money, a la New York, in Portland. But you can also eat at a remarkably wide variety of restaurants in this town without a reservation and the food will be mostly of excellent quality, served in a friendly manner, the whole experience leaving you feeling like you've spent your money wisely and well. So here's what $20 got me last Saturday night:

Smoky Mountain BBQ is in the Clinton district, a very attractive enclave of old Portland Homes with a restaurant/shopping area at its center. Only about a half mile from my house, it's a terrific place to find inexpensive places that serve good food including Dot's, a popular sports bar/cafe; Sub Rose, an Italian that specializes in pizza and pasta, and it's newest neighbor, Smoky Mountain BBQ. Richard Day-Reynolds is a transplanted Tennessee barbecue master who has lived in the Portland area for more than 30 years. He's found a popular and likely permanent home on the corner of SE Clinton and 26th Avenue. The dining area is small with only about 12 tables and a full bar. There are three flat-screen TVs that air sports programs. They have a wide selection of locally brewed beers, some wine (including a modestly good local Pinot Noir, also modestly priced by the glass or bottle), plus other libation. Day-Reynolds is an experienced smoker with his "carbon-black Traeger" grill that greets you as you enter. On Saturday, I decided not to order the highly praised brisket, which was sort-of a mistake. I got the pulled pork instead, and it's tender but a little anonymous and a tad too cool. It was served with an excellent side of coleslaw in a vinegar sauce. My side was a combination mash of sweet and regular potato with lots of garlic. It was flavorful and surprisingly subtle. My two companions wasted no time with one ordering the brisket by itself and the other requesting the brisket sandwich. All three entrees were $6. Darren wanted to sample the Cajun sausage, which he thought was spicy, but the two bites I took seemed tame. It was $5. They also ordered the sweet potato fries, which arrived hot, crunchy and dusted with a little chili powder. They were special indeed. John and Darren had two beers while I threw back two glasses of that local Pinot Noir. The total tab was $20 each. The menu also lists Andouille sausage, smoked meatloaf, barbecued chicken and pork ribs with sides that inlcude dirty rice, red beans, collard greens, BBQ black beans, cornbread and smoked mac and cheese.

Wednesday night Jean-Francois, Jay and I were out to dinner at Tabla Mediterranean Bistro, a restaurant that is widely admired. Located near Laurelhurst, this is a casual, modern restaurant and very serious cooking. Jean-Francois had chosen it because he had been impressed with their three-course dinner menu priced at a shockingly low $24!

Tabla Mediterranean Bistro turned out to be a first-rate dining experience with one important, but not deal-breaking complaint (see below). The dining room is very contemporary with warm colors, and a simple pared-down, nearly industrialized look. The wait-staff is excellent--knowledgeable about their menu. They enjoy helping you make your selections, and there are about five selections for each category--appetizers, pasta and main courses. The appetizer was Seared Ricotta and Nettle Gnudi was my choice with wild mushrooms, an almond enriched mayonnaise for sauce (more of a smear on the plate) and tiny arugula leaves. The little dumplings had a fresh green taste from the finely ground nettles; the cheese providing a salty, rich under note. The wild mushrooms grounded the dish with a pleasing earthiness and the arugula added a touch of pepper. The pasta course was sooooo simple: tender, house-made trenette noodles with truffle butter and Grana Padana cheese. The portion was just enough to wish you had a bite more, but grateful you still have from for the main course. I don't know why I chose Crispy Sweetbreads with Romesco sauce enhanced with red peppers, but I'm so glad I did. Crunchy, golden on the outside, the sweetbreads were soft and creamy inside. The Romesco pepper sauce with its ground almonds added a complimentary layer to the dish with braised Brussels sprouts finely dusted with smoked paprika giving it that extra feeling of Spain. Jean-Francois had the grilled steak, which he was pleased with, but Jay chose a warm vegetarian terrine with leeks. I liked my bite of the leek terrine, but Jay seemed unimpressed. We were wine whores, which kicked the bill higher.

Then the three of us ordered one dessert, and here's my one complaint. It was lousy. The devils food cake was a hard little loaf that lay on the plate like a brick, and wasn't all that flavorful. It came with a bland and far too gelatinous panna cotta, clearly the pastry chef had a heavy hand with the gelatin, or worse the panna cotta had stayed too long in the fridge. I'll save money on dessert the next time I dine there. It certainly didn't affect my feeling about the delicious courses I had before, or the seriousness of the chef responsible for 90% of my dinner.

The next day I met my old friend, Tina Jordan, who was in town for a librarian convention. Too bad the great weather of the day before didn't hold up. We started to go downtown so she could experience Powell's Books. After about ten minutes in the rain, we decided the hell with that and I started to search for a place to have a glass of wine. We ended up at Jakes's a famous old restaurant that specializes in fresh seafood. It's been on my list for a long time, but we were not there to eat. We drink a superb local Pinot Noir and got caught up before jumping in a cab for a tour of my house.

In deciding on a place for dinner, I again chose one of my local restaurants, Lauro's Mediterranean Kitchen over on SE Division. I've been here at five times since I moved to Portland and I always enjoy the experience. It's owned by David Machado, whose portfolio of Portland restaurants includes the newly revived Nel Centro and Vinadaloo, an Indian-style restaurant on my list. I like the dining room, but I prefer to sit at the counter overlooking the open kitchen. On one side is the guy in charge of salads, desserts and pizzas. He also assembles and bakes the tagines in his brick pizza oven. To the right are two blazing hot stoves and a grill where burgers, pastas and meat dishes are cooked. You can watch the show while you peruse the menu, sip some wine, and make your selections. Being a girl who likes to watch her figure, but also has a sweet tooth, Tina opted for a salad of butter lettuces, blue cheese and candied pecans. I think they make superb salads here, so that same salad got me started. This salad was excellent, the lettuce had crunch and softness. The blue cheese is local and addictive, with a pecans adding a sweet crunchy touch of their own. I think they use grapeseed oil and maybe sherry wine vinegar. It's a great combination. I also had as steaming bowl of penne with broccolini, garlic, an prosciutto and a warm broth. Dusted with some parmesan, it was perfect. Tina had her chocolate and ice cream fix while I chose another glass of a fine temperanillo from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain. This is the kind of ideal neighborhood restaurant every neighborhood needs. It's utter simplicity and thoughtful service coupled with it's good food and sensible prices, keep it busy day in and day out.

My friend Kent Watson hosted a dinner party of Portland publishing types on the eve of his PubWest Design Awards. I brought along my famous rice salad, which is loaded with Arborio rice, roasted cubed beets, radishes, celery, cucumber, red pepper, red onion, scallions, parsley and chives. Sometimes I add edamame, or chopped artichoke hearts. It feeds a lot of people and they always want the recipe. Let me credit the amazing Lidia Bastianich as the inspirational source for this wonderful salad. Best of all, it can lay out on a table in your backyard in the middle of summer without worry of making your guests sick as a salad with mayonnaise can.

At 8:00 AM the next day, Kent was at my door to take me to Portland State University where the judging of the books submitted was to take place. From 9:00 to 4:00 PM, we pawed over many books judging the quality of their spines, paper, quality of their covers, or binding or the type face chosen. It was a fascinating day. I've often admired the books publishers produce and can name books that I've found especially beautiful over the years. The exercise could make me critical of publishers who cut corners on beautiful books. How could a publisher charge $75 for a book a most of the hardcover was made of paper, while another chose the most exquisite and subtle of endpapers for their book. We could admire he layout of recipes in a cookbook even as we dismayed at the washed out quality of the photos. I had a partner in the the three categories we judged. Her name is Jen, and she's a young publisher that I bonded with instantly. We laughed and giggled, but I also saw a very serious young woman who had a superb eye and recognized quality as instantly as she recognized dross. A very enjoyable afternoon spent admiring the craft of books.

The weather has turned to crap just when I'm hoping to get to the second level of gardening. I have lots of things that are placed where they need to go in the garden, but need to actually go into the ground and the rains are not cooperating. Beau has to be carried out of the house because he hates the rain and downpours really freak him out. I captured some more photos of spring and I'm waiting for a break in the rain because tulips are out in full force, and I saw some iris blooming the other day (I can't imagine the short hail storm we had on Wednesday did them any good. Then late yesterday afternoon, I noticed the first lilacs and dogwood of the season are beginning to bloom. So weird, this early in the year. Can't wait to share those photos.

These were supposed to be hamburger buns which I recently made from scratch. They weren't not that big so I'm thinking, maybe I need to make hamburger sliders. In any event, the rain cramped my grilling style, and I made a meatloaf instead. The next day for lunch, these came in handy as meatloaf sliders, a recipe that I think is somewhat original.

I wish I had a garden like this one. There's always lots of things blooming here.

Is there a more elegant flower than a tulip? I don't think so.

And finally, I got the tax bill for the sale of my co-op in New York. OW...OW...OW!

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