Saturday, August 28, 2010


Patio table all dressed up for an alfresco dinner party!

The patio looking at the fountain. -
My friends, Carol and Sarah, have included me in a regular meeting of old friends of theirs--musicians who formerly sang with the Portland Opera chorus. They gather on Friday nights for wine and good food. It was my turn to host. We would be eight--though ten were originally planned for. Two last minute additions included a freelance fiddle player touring the country in Harry Connick, Jr.'s band. I hope to hear him in Portland in the fall.

Leftover long-roasted pork shoulder

I had wanted to use my rotisserie attachment to the grill, but with two extras added at the last minute, my plan for glazed Rock Cornish Game Hens had to be abandoned. I bought a large boneless pork shoulder thinking it would be great to make it Cuban or Puerto Rican-style. Mark Bittman of The New York Times provided an ideal method for a long roasting period by covering the roast in a thick paste of onions, garlic, oregano, smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, sherry vinegar and olive oil. I set the roast on a rack in a large roasting pan with a bit of water underneath and slow roasted the shoulder for six hours. The result was astonishingly tender, moist and so good that one of my guests, who rarely eats pork, had a second helping. Jim, who often hosts these events, brought oyster shooters, which I'd never tried before. I think I knocked back four which was a combination of a raw oyster, some chili sauce, a bit of the oyster liquor, and a dash of garlic-ginger sauce. They were wonderful, good sized and not as soft as oysters can often be, with a silky texture. Carol brought an arugula and baby spinach salad with yellow peppers and tomatoes. Justin brought along his wonderful roasted coffee (besides being an accomplished cellist, he has an artisanal coffee-roasting business), several outstanding cheeses and some bread from Grand Central Baking for the cheese. We sat outside, and feasted and gossiped, and talk about music and politics. I put out a freshly baked blueberry buckle with some ice cream and Justin's superb coffee. We drank the rest of our wine while a wonderful performance of MADAMA BUTTERLY (auf Deutsch with Lorengar and Wunderlich) played in the background. It was fun to see all the guests ask who was the wonderful soprano, and to be fair, Lorengar caps Butterfly's entrance with a superbly sustain high D flat, that nobody could fail to notice!

Blueberry Buckle using local Oregon blueberries (I've used Kathleen King's recipe from Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook for years). This is the famous South Hampton bakeshop, celebrated for its chocolate chip cookies and other homespun desserts.

The weather was comfortable and sunny, but as the sun began to disappear, several of us went in search of sweaters to keep us warm through dessert. I usually get too busy grab my camera and take pictures of the food, which I always regret the next day. So all I have are photos the leftovers.

I've loathed the Whirlpool dishwasher I inherited with this house on sight. It's not very efficient, has an annoying fan that is always getting in the way of my dishes in the bottom rack, doesn't always get the dishes clean (my old Hot Point in New York served me beautifully for thirteen years), and has now begun to leak. I've been longing to replace it, but couldn't justify the expense when it was somewhat functional. But the leaking has given me just the excuse I need to replace it. I found this lovely Samsung model which got very good reviews on the Best Buy site. The final decision was the interior design of the shelves (I could care less that it is stainless steel inside--it's white outside). The deeper top basket means I can finally put my wine glasses safely in the dishwasher. And the higher side down below, means platters don't have to list to one side to fit inside. Believe me, as a cook, you think about these conveniences in a home kitchen. Best of all, I will once again, have an interior basket for utensils, no more door baskets which are awkward to get in and out of. This one is intelligent in that the basket is on the side, where it doesn't take up space like front-loading baskets. I know, it's dishwasher. It doesn't take much these days!

New dishwasher interior.

Monday, August 23, 2010


The strawberry patch.

EAT, PRAY, LOVE is the female equivalent of THE HANGOVER. When you see these movies, you have no problems understanding why men and women don't understand each other. Both of them are deeply dumb--the movies I mean. THE HANGOVER piles one absurdity on top of the other as a bunch of guys go to Vegas to celebrate a buddie's weddding. They get so drunk/stoned they can't remember the next morning what happened to them and worse, they have lost the groom. The rest of the movie is an endlessly unfunny search for the groom as they stitch together the pieces of what transpired. In the wake of their search, you see trashed hotel suites, car wrecks, bimbos in bikinis and high heels, Elvis impersonators, thugs, geeks, and various psychopaths. I'm told lots of guys thought this movie was a laugh riot. Huh? Have I lost my sense of humor? This pathetically unfunny movie made $millions. What's wrong with me?

You'll need an umbrella, a raincoat, a large box of Kleenex to survive the tearfest that is EAT, PRAY, LOVE. A whiny, upper-middle-class woman is in a loveless marriage. Why did she marry a man she didn't love? And why do I have to give a fuck? She ends up on her living room floor, asking God--whom she's never spoken to before--to give her guidance. She goes back to bed and wakes up the next morning and dumps her husband. Understandably he's upset. And very sorry he didn't do the dance they practiced at their wedding. So off she goes to Rome in search of pasta and sensuality (and if she'd asked me in the first place, I would have told her to go to Rome and NOT get married). She learns to order from a menu in Italian and liberates herself to buy a larger-sized pair of jeans. Then it's off to dirty old India (even the locations are stereotyped), where she joins an ashram and tries to find her "balance" (whatever that means). She meets a gruff American with a dark past who helps her understand this strange and unsettling emotional state she's in, before she ends up in Bali for a further dose of insight with an ancient medicine man. For a girl who has been running away from men, our Julia ends up in the arms of Javier Bardem, not a bad state of affairs. But by now you have watched Julia either smiling radiantly at a plate of spaghetti, or the wedding of a girl she meets at the Ashram, or in the arms of Javier. In between, she 's a whiny mess, sobbing about everything and nothing. And Javier cries too. This movie reminded me of THE JOY LUCK CLUB a "girlie" movie in three acts four four boxes of Kleenex. The only thing that saves it is Julia, and her expert cast. She's the only modern movie star with the screen cred to pull off this much senseless drama, and still make you love her (unless you're part of the I-hate-Julia camp, in which case, I truly feel badly for your experience watching this movie). Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem, James Franco, the wonderful Viola Davis, Billy Cruddup, and the other supporting players in this classy cast get big snaps for at least being convincing with the tripe they were given to act.

Neither THE HANGOVER or EAT, PRAY, LOVE will give you any insights into what make heterosexuals tick, Frankly the comic antics of Karen and Jack in WILL AND GRACE make more sense than the characters in these two movies.

But isn't it amazing that Julia can still pull this shit off!

Water fountain relocated

The garden continues to occupy my time. The water fountain got moved to a better location and Kyle put planted a strawberry patch for me just outside the kitchen. There are five plants with shoots and new potted growths. I think next summer's crop will be very big. All the hostas are now in the ground, and I found some ornamental grass that I put in a large pot and placed it in the front entryway where the cherry tree was before it was moved to the back yard. I never heard of ornamental oregano. You could live the rest of your life in a nursery and find a million plants you never heard of. It's apparently hearty and will come back next summer.

ornamental oregano

red ornamental grass

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Jars of fig jam.

A handsome display of overgrown basil from my vegetable garden.

Pesto, frozen for the long winter.

A regular cucumber shaped like a crescent, a kirby and a lemon cucumber.

A handsome pot of sedum.

My still somewhat leggy petunias, back in bloom.

Portland isn't exactly landlocked, but a good fish town, thus far, it isn't. I've been missing skate since I left New York. Well you can't find it here--not in supermarkets or seafood purveyors of any sort. I've been working on Dorie Greenspan's fabulous new cookbook, AROUND MY FRENCH TABLE, and there's her recipe for a classic bistro preparation of skate with brown butter, capers and cornichons. I called my local fish store and found I could order it and they would call me if it was on one of their offer sheets from their suppliers. Yesterday I got a call. My two pounds had just arrived. I went to the shop and discovered the supplier had sent them four pounds of the stuff. I hated the idea of their getting stuck with it, so I bought the whole lot and asked them to cut the skate wing in half so I could freeze it.

When I got the fish at home, I was astounded at how big a two pound piece of skate wing is! I had bought much smaller wings with cartilage or fillets. This thing was huge. My normal preparation would be a variation of Dorie's recipe, but I decided to check my cookbooks and found a recipe that required the wing to be poached and then served on a warm plate with browned butter and a final slosh of red wine vinegar with capers and some parsley. The poaching liquid was to be a court bouillon with a dry hard cider, white wine vinegar, water, bay leaf, pepper corns, and salt. I poached the fish longer than the recipe required. Once cooked, I gently removed the fish from the cartilage and put it on the hot platter. Then finished it with the browned butter, vinegar and capers and dusted it with parsley. I put it on the table with some steamed red potatoes and sauteed zucchini, scallions and red pepper.

Kyle eyed the fish with some sense of curiosity and dread. He never tasted it before. Skate has a ridged surface where it adheres to the cartilage, it's curves looking like rounded pleats. Normally the fish is very pale in color, but this larger wing was more pink than white. I loved the flavor, but the texture bothered Kyle and he pushed it around his plate, before I let him off the hook.

I had lunch with Jean-Francois today and told him I have a big piece of skate wing in the freezer. Being the good Frenchman that he is, he readily agreed to a skate dinner soon. I'll take the fillets from the cartilage. It shouldn't look so scary. This time I'll do it Dorie's way.

My friend Sarah brought me a large plate of green figs from her garden yesterday. They were pretty ripe, so I decided to make some fig jam today. I need to get half-pint jars. I only got two pint jars and a half-pint jar today. If I give away a jar, hen I only have one for me for later. But I will save a jar of this for Sarah. Making jam is surprisingly time-consuming. The actual jam itself goes fast. It's the boiling the of jars, lids and sealers, and then the boiling of the finished jam in jars later that takes up the time. The jam only took 30 minutes of gentle boiling.

At lunch, I got to work planting a large, shallow planter of sedum, a group of fascinating succulent plants which will be on the edge of the patio until the rain starts, at which point I'll put it under the cedar tree to protect them from excessive winter rain. It's a pretty arrangement of these highly unusual looking plants.

I'm rather proud of my petunias. Dyanne warned me they would get very "leggy" and might stop blooming and sure enough, about 10 days ago, I think there were less than ten petunias left. I had faithfully deadheaded the dead blooms, so I took the hanging basket down, grabbed my garden shears and did some drastic pruning. After getting back from San Francisco, I came out to the garden the next morning and was greeted by the sight of a full basket of many petunia flowers.

My garden is going crazy giving up mature cucumbers, and so much basil, I had to put up some pesto, which I'll save for the winter months. I haven't made pesto in years, and pulled down Marcella Hazan's recipe from her Classic Italian Cookbook. The four containers of bright green sauce of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and salt looked beautiful. I only have to add some soft butter and Parmesan when I'm ready to serve it. It should taste fabulous with some homemade gnocchi. There are regular cucumbers here, lemon cucumbers and Kirby's.

My twin brother, Scott, and his girlfriend, Bernadette, brought me this Angel's Trumpet plant over July 4th weekend, and once I found a good spot, it rewarded me with all these flowers.

I planted a bunch of small fuchias in this hanging basket. At first it didn't do much, but it's thriving. It's got a strategic spot right outside my kitchen window.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Mt. Shasta

Lake Shasta: One View

Lakes Shasta: Another View

Snuck into San Francisco at the very last moment over the weekend (don't holler if I didn't call you--most of the trip was spent driving). We arrived in the middle of rush-hour traffic so that from Richmond in the East Bay to the Richmond district in San Francisco, meant roughly one and a half hours of slogging through Bay Area traffic. It's worse than I remembered, extending the trip to a numbing thirteen hours. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking that it takes only nine to make the journey between Portland and San Francisco, as everyone has told me. I'm sure you have speeding tickets to prove it.

Kyle, Beau and me, in Kyle's Ford pick-up hitting the road. I love travel by highways as long as you don't get snarled up in traffic. The good news is that the trip home took only eleven hours, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

From Portland to the Sacramento Valley, the trip along Interstate 5 is gorgeous, especially as you get closer to the California border. Past Medford, Oregon, I wish we had three or four more days. It would have been fun to explore Ashland, and maybe take in one of the famous Shakespeare plays that are staged there every summer. Mt. Shasta is an awesome sight--a big, snow-covered mountain impressive in its sheer size. And Lake Shasta is unspeakably beautiful. I could only get these photos from the window of my seat as we sped by at 75 miles per hour. It seemed disrespectful not to stop and admire these gifts of nature. Lassen National Park is on the way, and so many nice side trips need to be planned in the future. These western Cascades mountains are a sight to see.

You can have the Sacramento Valley--at least as viewed miserably from I-5. A vast flat area of corporate farms and orchards, dull to the eye. There are mountains way off, but for three hours, you are driving, driving, driving with one drab and dusty vista after another. The views are worse in Southern California along the same Interstate road, but not by much. And it is hot--in the low 90s for much of the drive. It didn't cool down until we reached the East Bay approach to San Francisco. In these time-pressed days, it's easy to opt for speed over a leisurely drive down the coast on the far more scenic Route One.

Kyle dropped me off at my old friend, Lonnie's flat in Richmond. He was off to find a hotel in the Fisherman's Wharf area where he was determined to enjoy a total tourist experience, while I did my social thing on the other side of town. Kyle finally found an affordable hotel along the strip of hotels and motels lining Lombard Street the route you take to get to the Golden Gate Bridge. The next morning he left his car parked and set off on foot for Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. He packed a lot of sights along the way including Union Square, the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building.

Meanwhile, Lonnie dragged me to one of his interminable estate sales. I had to shame him into leaving after an hour and a half. Beau and I were cooling our jets outside while he combed through the detritus of a recently deceased person's possessions. There's a group of collectors who all know each other, and spend weekends visiting houses around the area in search of other people's treasures. It's always seemed a little weird to me. People are made to wait while a few get into view a house at one time. They emerge with everything from appliances and kitchen utensils to household bric-a-brac and furniture, much of it appallingly out of date. Lonnie's modest haul included a new bottle of shower cleaner and those things you use to charge water into seltzer. We finally got home and decided on lunching at Mel's--a diner nearby.

Mel's is a San Francisco institution. It is remembered as the drive-in restaurant in George Lucas' film, American Graffiti. The original Mission Street location was familiar to me from my childhood. It was a diner in the round. You could sit inside, but many customers opted to park outside where curvy and nice waitresses roller-skated to your car and took your order. The food would arrive on a tray which was attached to the window of your car. Mel's made a great burger, or a hot dog or a Patty Melt sandwich (a flat beef patty, grilled, with onions, and served on buttered grilled rye bread) and a mess of fries. People drank cokes then (Tab was just being introduced and Diet-Coke wasn't even around), or milkshakes, oblivious to cholesterol and other food related health issues. It was a scene where party revelers would often gather after a long night of drinking to eat a late-night burger or drink a cup of coffee. Oddly enough, I didn't think of it as a place for teenagers. It definitely always had an adult vibe. I recall you could get a drink there as well.

We ate at the Mel's on Geary Street, not farm from Lonnie's house. It too was an original location that closed for time in the 70s, becoming a discount outlet for stereo equipment. It re-opened in the early 90s drawing a large contingent of baby boomers with families, locals, as well as the hip who loved the nostalgia factor of its 50s and 60s decor and the vintage 45 recordings of that era. When we arrived, the place was packed solid and we opted to sit at the counter rather than wait for a booth or table.

I had a grilled cheese sandwich containing a combination of Swiss, cheddar and Monterrey Jack cheese. Lonnie had their famous corned beef hash and poached eggs. We walked leisurely back to Lonnie's flat and just relaxed. Beau needed a walk, and I wanted to visit with an old friend who lived in the neighborhood.

Later Kyle picked me up. We were due to have dinner with Joan and Fritz Hottenstein, and their two children at their home in Mill Valley, just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. From where I sit, Joan and Fritz are a wonderful couple. Joan is a former publishing colleague and a very close friend. Fritz is in the ad sales business on the Internet. I attended their wedding and Joan often stayed with me in New York when visited her father or business took her there. They have a modestly beautiful home in a county famous for its showy and pricey homes. I love going to their house, which you reach off the main road through a series of twisting smaller roads and then through a grove of imposing red woods till you wind your way up a hill, where their house is perched near the top with beautiful views from the balcony decks. Their daughters are Lily, 5, a quiet, and luminously beautiful child, with big soulful brown eyes and a calm demeanor. Quinn, at about two and a half, is her polar opposite--a delightfully boisterous ball of energy. Quinn starts out a little shy, but her instinct for mischief quickly takes over. She's noisy, fearless, and totally capable of creative mayhem. Joan and Fritz are easy going, but attentive parents. They set limits to Quinn's schemes, knowing if they don't, their nerves might not survive. That kid will scale anything if you let her. I find Quinn irresistible. On the other hand, Lily is someone you can have a quite adult conversation with. She doesn't interrupt, and her attention span is held to whatever direction your conversation with her is going. Lily will often circle around later to make additional points about a chat you've had with her an hour or so ago. She could be a novelist or a reporter some day. Quinn will fly planes, climb mountains, or seek danger--if you tell me she's become an accomplished mercenary soldier for our side, I'll believe it. The family is completed with Ruby, a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, now 11 years old. Ruby is a dog every family should have--calm, easy going with the kids (never one to mind when a child is climbing all over her), affectionate, and so good natured. She came running down the front steps with a stuffed toy in her mouth, whining her welcome, tail wagging madly. She's a little stouter than when I last saw her four years ago, and she moves with a stiff dignity, her joints aching. Beau was respectful, but really, it would be impossible not to get along with Ruby.

Fritz charcoal-grilled a boneless lamb roast on the spit of his grill, while Joan made a salad of farro, red onion, grape tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar. She made a second salad, which she described as a kind of Greek salad. Indeed it was. Dinner was delicious, its pleasure increased not only by the conversation, but two fine Pinot Noirs from Fritz's carefully considered wine collection.

Flea Market Finds

On Sunday, Lonnie took me to the weekly flea market along Alemany. Saturdays it is a farmer's market and on Sundays, the collectors, antique dealers and general junk hoarders, gather to sell their wares, trade gossip and stories, and complain about the customers. I found a lovely Fiesta Ware pitcher, which would be good for serving crisp white wine in the summer, and a beautiful green glass butter dish. In a flurry of excitement, I think I got stung. I picked up a rather attractive vase which was marked Deruta, the ceramic pottery of Umbria, Italy. The dealer asked $30 for the vase which featured the famous 'Rafaellesco' dragon hand-painted on its side. I suggested she sell it for $25 and we made a deal. Later as I looked at it, I noticed the 'U' in Deruta was "artfully" smudged out and it made wonder if the vase was authentic. No matter. It's a handsome thing. So the trek (including the 30-minute slog to find a parking space) was worthwhile.

I had enough time to pack up and have some lunch before Kyle picked me up for the drive back to Portland. We enjoyed ourselves, but it was much too short a journey. It's always a challenge to find something decent to eat on the road, but it is much worse with a dog. I wouldn't leave Beau in a warm car while we took off to eat. We found a promising diner with a patio that would allow Beau, but it turned out to be a less than stellar choice. The waitress told us her cook didn't show up that night. We were the only people there which made us wonder how good the food was. I ordered the least complicated sandwich on the menu--a club but with only two slices of toast. Kyle's Philly sandwich, made me fear for his arteries, and some hash browns with gravy, didn't help matters. He loves all that greasy spoon stuff. But even he stopped when he found a long blond hair in his potatoes. I chose to think of it as a blessing. That gravy looked ominous.

Kyle inspected his garden at home, where he has been especially vigilant about his strawberries. He was delighted to find a handful of stunningly red, jewel-like strawberries ready for picking.

Kyle Proudly Displays his Strawberries

Peaches and Tomatoes from a Small Sacramento Valley Farm Stand

The only other stops we made were for gas and a road farm stand where I bought these gorgeous peaches and tomatoes--always the highlight of summer. It was pretty much pedal to the metal all the way home. I tried to stay awake, but sometime around 11:30 I just nodded off. Kyle was the stealth driver, pushing on in the dark. I awoke around 2:00 AM as he was driving us into a gas station, before the final 30 minutes our our journey. I had left lights on when we left, so we felt welcomed as we entered the driveway. I managed to refresh a few wilted plants in the back garden before grabbing Beau and heading upstairs to bed. It was good to be home.

One final photo: The first of three varieties of cucumbers I've planted was begging to be picked this morning. It will be part of dinner tonight.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


La Fontana de Gregorio!

My friend Dyanne sent me a water fountain for my garden. It arrived today. I think it's called Sienna. It's beautiful. A very simple but large fountain that can stand on its own or be hung on a wall (which I don't really have). Kyle and I were going to hang it on one of the posts in the fence behind my patio table, but it didn't seem right. It's a big fountain with a spigot that really works. It's occupying a corner space right now, and I have to get a shorter extension cord which Kyle can bury so that it's ready to plug in any time.

I can't believe that this garden was as blank a canvas as can be imagined in March. I wouldn't call the whole process transformed. More like a work in progress. I seem to have a green thumb with plants and flowering plants, and an iffy record with vegetables. My carrots and beets were a disappointment. So was my Hubbard squash, mainly because the leaves were so large, they bullied everything. I finally dug it out and tossed it. That said, I had great success with radishes, and my cucumbers are just brilliant. They will be harvested in another two weeks. I have regular cukes, lemon cukes and Kirby's. The are a vine vegetable and I tamed them with three bamboo trellises and they are really beautiful. I had great success with red leaf lettuce and my jalapeno peppers have done very well too. Next week I'm cleaning out the basil and putting up frozen pesto sauce for the winter. The herbs: dill, basil, sage, coriander, thyme, spearmint, chives, tarragon, Italian parsley, are growing wild.

My first tomato. Tough skin.

I harvested my first tomato this week. They have been growing in upside-down pots from my balcony all summer long. The plants are heavy with fruit now and should be producing through September. I was inordinately proud of my first tomato, but let me tell you it had a skin like cement.

New trellis for my climbing roses. Found it on sale from $52 to $22!

The new limestone pavers along side of the outer driveway. Planting creeping thyme to give the walkway some visual interest next week.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Corrugated wells protect the windows and foundations from excessive moisture.

Newly replaced basement window with older cement well.

New egress window allows basement bedroom to be legal and easy access for escape for firefighters in the event of a fire.

Another benefit of the egress window (shot from inside the basement) is allowing for additional light. It's no longer dark and gloomy down there.

The egress window in the basement was installed this week. This is the first step in the addition of a new bedroom downstairs--an actual restoration of the once-finished space below the kitchen and dining room.

It's always fascinating to learn about the history of a house. I think I have written about receiving a note in my mailbox from a previous owner of the house who occupied it and presided over its modernization and expansion from 1976 to 2001. She was curious to see what the house looked like inside today. I called her back and invited her over. Roughly my age, and very curious about old houses, I took her through the rooms. Memory plays tricks and some things looked very familiar and other things were harder to recall. She told me they had purchased the house in 1976 for $25,o00! It had two bedrooms. The master was downstairs and is now the guest room. There was a larger room upstairs which has now been divided into a much smaller bedroom--now my office, the landing sitting room (where I read and watch TV), and the laundry room.

She was much taken with the finishes in the living room, guest room and guest bathroom downstairs which have this beautiful crown molding, installed by the previous owners. She remembered the guest bathroom, but didn't recall it having a claw foot tub. She told me the living room had black walls (they are now a toasty light brown). She surprised me by saying she and her husband had added the addition to the back of the house, including an expanded foundation, the kitchen and dining area and the master bedroom, closet and bath with the wide balcony off the master bedroom. The master closet had changed with the addition of some California Closet-style storage additions, and the master bath was completely reconfigured. It had a shower stall now rather than a tub. The double sinks with matching medicine cabinets were new and in new positions (there was a single sink on the other side). The previous owners had added a roof covering to the balcony.

It turns out they had also added a mudroom to the entry. The Dutch door was the original front door. The kitchen had also received some renovation with new appliances (so that awful dishwasher isn't her fault!), new granite counter tops, slate backsplash, and alder wood cabinets (some of the old cabinets have been recycled into storage space in my garage).

When we went down to the basement, she said, "Oh, this room was finished." They had turned it into a family room. Now it was taken down to the cement foundation. Kyle had told me there had been some water damage because there was evidence of it being fixed. All the electrical outlets, framing, insulation, etc., had been removed. All that remained was air and heating ducts and some framing near the stairs and in the bathroom. All that was left of the old bathroom was a non-working toilet and a shower stall. Before I heard about this, I was confused about Kyle's claim of water damage. The man who inspected my house didn't tell me there had been evidence of damage. It made me wonder when it had happened. The very harsh winter of 2008 may have been the culprit. At Christmas time the city was hit by a rare series of big snow storms, which closed the airport and kept people trapped at home for several weeks. There were three old windows in the basement where you could see outside in-between the window and the side frames. I wondered if there had been leaks. There were also two wide, but short vinyl windows downstairs that meshed with the vinyl windows in the rest of the house (installed by the previous owners), yet all the basement windows besides the two new ones, were old and in bad shape. Last July, I had three of those windows replaced. I had the final two, which were probably new to the addition, replaced when I installed the new egress window. The other evidence of a bad leak was the illegal addition of a drainpipe, which captures all the rain water hitting the roof of the house (considerable as this is Portland), and carries it out to the sewer. I'll bet the previous owner did that to make sure there would be no future leaking, and I now have to set that right because it is against city code. It also makes sense as to why they were selling the house. They had plenty of room even with the arrival of their first baby (they said they wanted a one-level house).

There was also something of a sinkhole in the backyard near the back fence. I thought maybe it once held an oil tank of some sort--perhaps when the house was heated by oil. But no--there had been a large maple tree there. Kyle has already filled it once, adding gravel as foundation before adding more dirt and sod and it has sunk a bit again. So I'll have to reinforce it again so that it is level with the rest of the small lawn that is left after the addition of the new brick patio.

I'm now reasonably assured that I've slowly brought the house back with the reinstatement of this once finished basement room, which will provide a private haven for a possible roommate or an additional guest room. I'm adding value with the restoration of a fourth bedroom and a third bath.

I was told at one point the house had been in foreclosure. The owner said she had bought it form a developer who had purchased the foreclosure. All this had given me a clearer picture. I wondered how such an extensive renovation of the house could have been accomplished by the previous owners at a profit. It turns out that their improvements had been mostly cosmetic with the exception of rewiring of the house and the extensively updated electricity (the former owner was a highly skilled electrician who did a superb job, acknowledged without my prodding by the house inspector, and every handyman and repairman who has come through the house since I bought it).

At one point, a tax assessor arrived at my home last September. I had been advised not to admit any tax assessor into my home. She did however look at the house from outside, and said at one point, "that addition looks new." I assured her it was not. Now I know it was done in 1997, and if I get a big increase in my taxes this year, I'm hollering my head off to the city tax collector.

I've already made extensive changes, not so much in structure, but in cosmetic upgrades to the house. The floors look better. There's a gorgeous new patio out in the back yard. The front, side and back gardens are getting made over, and there is new paint, some new fixtures, window treatments, a new garage door, and other upgrades that make the house even more livable. I'll stop after the basement renovation is done. Hopefully it will be all maintenance after that.

But I'm thrilled to know more about the history of this house, built in 1938, and I'll be able to pass along this history to the next owner.

Those large leaves you see are cucumbers, which are now just coming in.

Baby cukes!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Acanthus, another shade-loving plant. I'll put it on the side garden behind the patio dining table with other low-light plants

Wish I could remember this name of this perennial, which should grow well in a shady spot in my garden behind the patio dining table

Look at this gorgeous Coleus plant. It's now gracing the step up to the front door
of my house

I put these rock in-between the hostas, which I like, but I also think it looks
like a plant cemetary under my cedar tree

With less than two months to go for the summer's end and I'm as usual very busy with work with visitors, and my social life.

Carl, my buddy from New York arrived Monday night for a whirlwind of activity. Well maybe for me. Carl got to read four books, and the only work required was roasting a chicken for company on Tuesday. He didn't want to do a lot of socializing or sight-seeing. This is his second trip to Portland. He loved the house and the back yard with the patio where he could read and relax, which was his primary goal. After enduring a summer of steaming Eastern humidity, it was a revelation for him to sleep under blankets.

We didn't do much in the way of fancy eating. On Monday we headed out for burgers at Foster Burger, perhaps Portland's (and many other places) best burger. On Tuesday, we invited my friends Trish and David and their adorable and energetic French Bulldog puppy, Porter, to join us for Carl's amazing roast chicken. Beau and Porter doesn't always get along, but they seemed to bond finally on Tuesday night. I did the sides, which were gnocchi made from the pan juices of the chicken, a little stock and some fresh thyme. We had lemon green beans, a big salad with some of my garden greens, and for dessert, coffee jelly with vanilla cookies from Trader Joe's and bottles of summery rose. Wednesday we reserved for John Mitchell's fabulous pizza at Gladstone Pizza. Carl agreed that John makes an exceptional pie and between us (Kyle was there too), we knocked down two smaller pizzas, and a bowl of Caesar salad.

I took Carl over to Taste Unique, my friend's Stefania and Lawrence's superb Italian take-out restaurant on Division--about a mile from my house. Stefania is Italian. Larry's mom is Italian and he grew up in Rome when his parent's divorced when he was very young. So Larry is Italian with a disconcerting ability to speak English in a very American way. And then he switches to Italian, which Carl could brush up on his own command of the language. Lawrence grew up spending summers in Oregon with his father. Stefania and Lawrence moved to Portland from Rome about two years ago and opened this wonderful restaurant/take-out business. They serve lunch only. You can purchase frozen and refrigerated pasta sauces, desserts (I love her Tiramisu), lasagna (Italian, not Italo-American style), cannelloni, and other Italian dishes and serve them at home. Twice a month, Stefania cooks special themed dinners for about 12. I'm going to a diner she's is cooking at the restaurant at the end of the month with Garden Herbs as a theme. Stefania who is an amazing culinary talent, is from Umbria. She's gorgeous and her cooking is carefully considered and full of flavor. Carl had the lasagna, Bolognese-style with layers of lasagna noodles and bechamel sauce and Parmesan and tomato sauce. I had her very flavorful spaghetti carbonara, and we shared a salad of mixed greens and some of Stefania's addictive focaccia. A shared Tiramisu ended our memorable lunch.

It was Carl's last day (though he's booked a ticket for another visit in late October). I decided to grill lamb chops. I mashed fresh, chopped rosemary, garlic, kosher salt, lemon zest and olive oil together in my mortar and pestle and rubbed the chops with this paste and let them marinate for a few hours, while I went back to my office to get some work done. We had another big green salad along with roast potatoes with rosemary to celebrate.

After dropping Carl off at the airport before the crack of dawn on Friday, I could concentrate my day on professional matters. I worked all week, but this was the first time I could have seven uninterrupted hours of phone work, writing, and administrative duties and I felt good at the end of the day. My lunch hour was devoted to baking a mixed fruit cobbler (peaches, pluots, plums, and blueberries) for a dinner party at a friend's. The weather has begun all week with an ominous note of overcast skies, but by 11:00 AM, the skies clear, the sun emerges, and we're back to summer again. We enjoyed dinner on a friend's deck overlooking their beautiful backyard.

Saturday was equally busy. I had cookies to bake for my friend Rod's annual backyard barbecue. Eighty were expected at Rod's North Portland bungalow. But first, my buddy Sarah picked me up to go to City Liquidators to find some more chairs for the patio and a bigger table for larger numbers of guest that could be folded up and put away. We found both at very good prices. I gathered my cookies and headed north for a splendid party with good company and wonderful summer party fare. I got home by 7:00 PM and was grateful for the peace and quiet and slept the sleep of the dead. Big week.

Worked again all day on Sunday and puttered around a bit in my garden. So a quiet dinner and episode two of Mad Men should end what as one of the busiest weeks. But I can't slow down. The contractor is arriving tomorrow to begin work on installing an egress window in my basement. We're now ready to finish a large bedroom space with a bathroom in my basement.

I want to send a good vibe message to my friend Tom Masic, nearly 82 and in the hospital with pneumonia. He was at my house for dinner last Saturday, and in good humor. He's in robust health and I'm hoping he'll be home soon and working in his gorgeous garden (one of the most beautiful and creative private gardens I've ever seen) soon.

I bought a few more plants for my garden--an acanthus and this white flowering plant, which I can't remember the name of. Pretty. The spiders are out in gale force because of such a rainy spring season. Spider mites are determined to do in some of my plants. I'm equally determined to chase the little pests away!

My cucumbers have begun to show themselves, my atomic carrots are going to produce pretty specimens and one tomato plant has ten tomatoes thus far and the other one has four. I guess I have a green thumb after all!