Sunday, September 26, 2010


My friend Tom Masic died a few weeks ago just six months shy of his 82nd birthday.  Today his long-time partner, Joe, hosted a celebration of his life in their spectacular garden, minutes from my home.  Tom, who retired from the Oregon Military Department some thirty years ago, has been very active in community service. He only recently retired after sixteen years as a cook and server at the Albertina Kerr Center's luncheon cafe.  The Center specializes in children's services.  

In retirement Tom loved his domestic life. Despite all the years he donated his time to others, he still managed time for many other pursuits.  He was a superb cook and entertained often in his home. As one of his friends aid, most of the many gathered in Tom's backyard had a recipe given them by Tom.  Tom loved to knit sweaters and completed many needlepoint projects including rugs, and chair covers, which beautifully displayed his skill.  Tom and Joe traveled all over the world with friends to search for the rarest of birds.  

But the thing I most admired about Tom was his masterful garden.  What he and Joe achieved over the course of collaborating on the garden for twenty five years was breathtaking.  So many different flowers, shrubs and trees beautifully co-existed in their spacious backyard.  I often took visiting friends to see their garden. Tom and Joe were always welcoming, offering a drink and giving us the tour.  My brother Doug was, for once, speechless with admiration.  Kyle wandered up and down the paths closely examining the many superb plants, taking in the quality of the many copper trellises supporting clematis, and other flowering vines.  Just a week before he died, Tom was too weak to come and meet my house guest, Pat, here on a visit, but he said, "Go to the backyard. Joe is working." Joe took us through every path, pointing out many different plant varieties, proud of the profusion of beauty. I knew Pat would love it and she did. He gave me a bouquet of dahlias, and a cutting from a hydrangea that has just begun to bud in my own garden.  I was sorry Pat didn't get to meet Tom and a few days later, he was gone.  

I have always regretted that I never brought my camera to Tom and Joe's garden, but today I did.  The weather was overcast--it had rained heavily all morning--and the sky was gray.  But I took a lot of photos. They don't begin to capture the stately beauty of this place, but they are a good start. What a special talent it took to bring the garden to its current state--thirty-five years in all.  It is a beautiful legacy that should be preserved.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What A Difference A Week Makes

WITH MUSTARD CROUTONS (from Melissa Clark's new cookbook/see below)

Trauma, trauma, trauma.  After a week of bad news, things are looking up.  I'm in the midst of the busiest fall work season in three years, and a basement renovation that threatened to derail me last week. Adding to my woes, was a computer that died on me.  Getting a new Mac desktop has been a royal pain.  By Thursday, most of these headaches had been vanquished.

The big crack in my foundation is easily fixable, thanks to the foundation expert recommended to me.  A specialist in old houses such as mine (built in 1938), he quickly confirmed all the issues and repairs Kyle had told me would solve the problem.  The second opinion was worth it for my peace of mind, and this guy knew he wouldn't be asked to do the repairs himself.  That's a generous thing to do, and I called the house inspector who recommended him and told him so.  I've also posted a nice notice about him on Angie's List.

The foundation crack that sent me into a nervous breakdown! This is the seam that bound the old foundation (built 72 years ago) to the new foundation of the addition to the house (built 14 years ago).

When I called on Tuesday to find out if my new computer was ready, I was informed they couldn't get it for another week.  I called the owner of the business and got all "New York" with him.  Short story: the computer arrived yesterday and they've installed all the back-up from my old computer, and I'll pick it up in a few hours.

Thursday arrived announcing the departure of the drizzles that have plagued the end of ours summer for the past two weeks.  We've been enjoying abundant sunshine.  For the past three days.  At lunchtime, I sped over to 7 Dees, a fine nursery to purchase a rose bush to bring to a life celebration in honor of the passing of my old friend, Tom Masic. His partner asked that in lieu of flowers a rosebush for their superb garden would be fitting.  I liked that idea.  Rosebushes there were on sale--50% off!  I purchased three---two shrubs and a gorgeous red hybrid tea rose tree. It's called Olympiad and is a magnificent, deep red color.  Now I've got to figure out where to put it.  We're now in a rush to get the trees planted, and a number of plants in pots into the ground before the rainy season starts near Halloween.  I'll be done with the garden for the season by then except to plant a slew of hyacinth, daffodil, tulip and iris bulbs and rhizomes in November for the spring blooming season.  We put a lot of work into the back yard this year and once my brother's car is out of the front side driveway, I can begin to convert that useless plot of land back to its original garden state in the spring. The laurel hedges also get their yearly haircut in November. I'm going to enjoy the rest of daily watering.

My half-priced new red rose tree

And speaking of gardening, the charm of lemon cucumbers has completely worn off.  Easily the biggest success in my vegetable garden this summer were my cucumbers, but the lemon variety took over. I only got about five kirbys and maybe six regular cucumbers. But the yield of lemon cukes was prodigious.  There must have been at least 50 picked already and another 30 are on the way! They are good looking, but have too many seeds.  I made another seven jars of bread and butter pickles this week.  Lucky friends are going to find themselves the recipients of my canning efforts.  I didn't have time to make much jam--only fig this summer.  And if my good friend, Trish Hamilton, hadn't suggested we make apple and pear butter last Sunday, there wouldn't be anything to put on toast this winter.  We put up 36 jars in all, a task that began at 9:00 AM and lasted until 3:00 PM.  Canning and preserving is hard work.

The lemon cucumbers produce in numbers that make zucchini seem like a rare and precious vegetable!

Lemon cucumber bread and butter pickles

Thursday night I made the most delicious roast chicken dish from Melissa Clark's new book, IN THE KITCHEN WITH A GOOD APPETITE.  I've sent the recipe to a bunch of friends, and I'm posting it in the review of the book I'm planning for next week.  But this simple dish has so much flavor that I'm putting it in here along with a photo of the finished dish.


Country bread, ciabatta, or other study bread, preferably stale and sliced 1/2 inch thick.  

Dijon Mustard, as needed
Extra-Virgin olive oil, as needed
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher slat, more as needed
1 4 to 5 pound chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces, rinsed and patted dry
1 head garlic, separated into cloves (but not peeled)
1 bay leaf, torn into pieces
1/2 bunch thyme sprigs

1. Preheat oven to 424 degrees.  Lay the bread slices in the bottom of a heavy-duty roasting pan in one layer. Brush with mustard, drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper and place the pieces on the bread, arranging the white meat in the center and the dark meat and wings around the sides. Scatter the garlic cloves, bay leaf, and thyme over the chicken and drizzle everything with more oil (take care to drizzle the garlic cloves).

3. Roast the chicken until it's lightly browned and the thigh juices run clear when pricked with a knife, about 50 minutes. If you like, you can crisp the skin by running the pan under the broiler for a minute, though you might want to rescue the garlic cloves before you do so they don't burn (if you don't plan to eat them, it doesn't matter so much).  Serve the chicken with pieces of bread from the pan.  

NOTE:  I started checking the chicken at 40 minutes.  But it did cook the full 50 minutes. 

NOTE:  You must use a heavy-bottomed roasting pan. No aluminum--you'll just end up burning the bread.  

Finally last night I had dinner with my cookbook and food writer friend, Ivy Manning and her husband, Gregor.  We went to a new place called June.  The food was very good without being quite a wow, though I really enjoyed a delicious bowl of corn soup which was enhanced by a mild pepper that had been stuffed with crab meat, covered in panko crumbs and fried.  The restaurant is manned by two highly regarded chefs in Portland.  Greg Perrault was recently at the popular NE restaurant DOC.  Daniel Mondock, is the sous chef--an odd arrangement as he is one of the city's most highly regarded cooks, most notably of the late Sel Gris, a spectacular restaurant I visited in 2008 (a fire caused it to close).  There is already tons of buzz about this restaurant (which opened last month), and I wonder how two very fine chefs will get along.  If I had anything to complain about it was the utter casualness of the place.  When you're paying $20+ for entrees and upwards to $13 for a starter course, you have to be snappier looking than glass garage doors, plain wood booths and tables, and lots of air conditioning duct work overhead. I know Portland loves it's casual vibe, but this looks like a hamburger joint, not a fine dining restaurant. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Twenty-one Lemon Cucumbers from my garden.  And there are more to come. I thought zucchini multiplied like rabbits.  I'll be pickling my brains out.  

A terrible week.  My desktop computer died and I gave it to a repair man who makes house calls but doesn't bother to respond to phone messages and e-mails. Kyle and I went to his office/home when he didn't respond to any communication sent to him for four days.  We got into a "police incident" with this jerk and they had to broker a deal for the return of my computer. The SOB wanted more money than I had already given him.  I had completely lost confidence in him and wanted my computer back.  He was supposed to give to me on Sunday and I was unable to reach him before I had to leave for an engagement. I was looking forward to going out on Sunday to attend a fund raiser at the Blue Hour, a popular restaurant here celebrating its 10th anniversary.  Kyle called me just after I left the house to say the SOB had called and I wouldn't be getting the computer back until the morning.  It's by now a joke.  I waited all day on Monday and finally he showed up just after 5:00 PM with my computer. Worse, he wouldn't accept my money. As he was walking to his car, I said to him, "I just don't get you.  What was all that about?" He said he would send me an e-mail.  He hasn't sent it yet and I hope I never hear from him.

My friend, Tom Masic died at age 82 a week ago Wednesday.  Tom and I go back to my days as a publicist with New American Library.  Tom was a close friend of Richard Nelson, a cookbook writer, Oregonian columnist, and who in the early 80s was riding high as president of the International Association of Cooking Professionals.  Tom and Richard were the best of friends. Two weeks into Richard's publicity tour, which I coordinated, Richard was discovered to have plagiarized at least one third of the book.  It ruined his career.  I still liked Richard very much and we stayed in close touch until he died in the late 90s.  When I moved to Portland, Tom Masic was on my list of people to contact.  We picked up right off where we left off.  This kind, gentle giant of a man and his partner had one of the most magical gardens in their back yard.  I will write about it after a celebration of his life ceremony in the garden next Sunday.  But Tom's unexpected death was the beginning of a whole slew of weirdly bad news this week.

A delivery man from Lowe's delivered 23 sheets of drywall for my basement last Sunday. He was told to set it down in the inside gate of my inner driveway. Instead he rammed it through the inner driveway towards the door of my garage, and in the process ripped holes in a a 14-foot privacy hedge on the border of my property.  I spent a good chunk of the week trying to reach a settlement with Lowe's. We did and it will benefit my garden.

One of several chunks cut out of my laurel hedge by a renegade Lowe's delivery man. The 14-foot high hedge provides me and my neighbors with privacy from one another. 

Then on Wednesday, I got the news that Dyanne, one of my closest New York friends, was devastated to hear the news that her mother had suffered a stroke and fallen down a flight of stairs (she was on the cusp of 90 years old). She went into an irreversible coma and died one hour after life support was turned off the next day.  It's been a particularly rough period for my friend whose partner is suffering from cancer and dementia.

So all in all--a terrible week of bad news.

Fireproofing, vapor barrier, insulation.  Construction on the fourth bedroom continues apace. 

On a more positive note, Kyle is making great progress in the basement.  Once the framers left, he was able to install the fire protection, vapor barrier, and other necessary steps before finishing the installation of insulation. He full expects to have the drywall up this week.  So we're making headway on the new guest room/guest bath.  And is now on Facebook, as I move closer towards an understanding of social media.  Already readership is up.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Chiminea--my new firepit for the patio.

Spectacular ribeye steaks to celebrate the arrival of the new chiminea.

I finally have a fireplace only it's in the backyard. Patty was visiting from New York this week and determined that I should have some sort of firepit on the patio. So on Labor Day off we went to find one. We did at Home Depot. It's cast iron and very heavy. With Kyle's help, we assembled all the various pieces, and in no time we had it up and running. We got steaks and ate on the patio with a roaring fire to keep us warm. It's been unseasonably cold here with several days of rain--a bit too early for my comfort. There will be plenty of rain coming up in about a month or so and it will last until the spring. In the meantime, I'm going to get in as much fireplace time as I can get before the rain dampens my nights.

Not the actual food we ate at Castagna, but I wanted to give you an idea of the beautiful plating of this innovative food.

One of the restaurants we went to this week was Castagna, which was recently named restaurant of the year by the Oregonian's Mix magazine. I long ago gave up eating in such high-end restaurants. Experimental chef food just no longer interests me. Having said that, Castagna, is completely deserving of all the accolades heaped on it since the arrival of Matt Lightner. Already established as one of Portland's top restaurants, the owner decided to head in a different direction and once she saw Lightner's resume, she knew she had found the right chef. The buzz has been large and appreciative. Castagna's decor is austerely elegant and keeps the focus on the plates where it belongs.

This was my first visit. Castagna's menu is simple. A summer menu is broken down into four courses with five choices for each course. You can order a la carte and priced individually, or opt for all four courses. Each course has it's own category. For instance, Patty chose "herbs" which was comprised of dungeness crab, seaweed, herb infusion, coriander, preserved lemon. The seaweed here was a soft geleed green mass. My bite seemed a bit bland, and it was Patty's only disappointment in a meal that had many interesting ideas and tastes. I began with "pickles," tiny slices of roasted beet, nearly paper-thin slices of carrot, cucumber, radish, etc. with raw bay scallops, sake ices, and brown butter dashi. It was cool, refreshing and very pretty.

Moving on to the second course, Patty loves uni, which was paired with black beet, black garlic, grapefruit, and something called salicornia (an edible succulent plant). We'd never seen a black beet, but it had a musky softness to it's black skin and a deep red interior. It was perfect with the melting softness of the uni. My second course was a seared albicore tuna with blossoms, toasted cereal broth and showed with small raw artichoke petals. I loved the inventiveness of the dish, and it would have been an absolute winner except for the raw artichoke leaves, which I don't care for at all. The raw artichoke has a slight bitterness that I don't find appealing. A quick minute in a steamer might have solved this. The fish was superbly cooked, however, and all the ingredients worked together harmoniously.

About my third course, I only have praise. "walla walla," combined an innovative grouping of flavors, in this case, grilled walla wallas onions, fresh halibut, toasted chicken jus and elderflower. The onion was halved lengthwise, its edges charred on the grill. The chef then pulled the onion apart into small boats the held the sauce. The fish was placed at the bottom of a wide bowl with the onion cups artfully placed on top which caught some of the sauce and with elderflowers scattered over the dish. Spare, beautiful to behold, the flavors were singular and minimal--nothing but the pure flavor of the fish, the sweet and slightly smokey onions, the soy-infused sauce and the leaves, each contributed to the wonderful balance. This course was a total knockout. Patty's "leeks" were roasted on hay, and gave the bbq lamb collar a distinctive flavor. The meat was fall-apart tender, accompanied by groats (a cooked cereal grain), with wheatgrass and buttermilk.

By now, I was thoroughly entranced by Lightner's inventive, slightly edgy but always clearly thought out plates. Everything looked gorgeous on the plate. There was art in everything. Dessert added some heart to the proceedings. Lightner had superb "blueberries," with frozen fresh cream, and hazelnuts with hay and flowers, which Patty loved. I thought this was another massive success. My "peach" was actually a de-constructed crisp. A crunchy base of oats, and other crisps lined the bowl with a perfectly ripe peach peeled and halved on top. Small "stonefruit pits" almond ice cream, some geranium flowers and a short splash of warming oil, completed an arrangement that was emblematic of summer, though my brain was craving some sort of whipped cream, or dollop of lemon cream. Nonetheless, it was superb.

Clearly this is restaurant food, not to be replicated at home. I can see what all the fuss is about. Lightner's touch is elegant, understated--even minimalist. It is deeply considered food that thrills restaurant reviewers, size-two models, looking for a quick thrill and restless foodies. Do I love this kind of cooking--not really, and at no time was my waist in any sort of peril. I doubt my caloric intake was much above 1,000 calories.

BUT...Matt Lightner is a visionary cook. His food is unlike any other chef's I've ever tried, and should be considered by anyone who loves innovative cuisine. I would love to try another season--perhaps winter

A mature jalapena pepper that has turned red.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Vintage Square Tablecloths Line Drying

Took my buddy Pat (who is here for a week-long visit) to Sellwood to check out the antique shops and found vintage square tablecloths to put on my patio table for company. When you compare the table linens of my grandmother and mother's generation, our contemporary looks are decidedly unimaginative. Even the two I chose are tame in comparison to others I might have chosen. Once home, I gave them a good soak, then ran them through the washing machine and line dried them outside off my balcony. They smell amazing. I do my sheets this way too.

I also put up eight more pints of pickles--this time using the recipe with more sugar and onions. They are ready to be stored for winter use. Canning is a lot of hard work! I may have retired for the season.

Last night Pat wanted to go out for dinner, so we went to Le Pigeon, a restaurant I've been to before and enjoyed thoroughly. It anything it was even better this time. It's located on busy SE Burnside and 7th Avenue, near a number of other hot restaurants on this strip, including Doug Fir and Noble Rot. We arrived wanting to sit at a counter overlooking the open kitchen. We got a prime spot on the side where we could watch the cooks put together an amazing number of entrees. We ordered a fabulous bottle of Pinot Noir (Ayres) and watched the show. Le Pigeon is a very good bistro with imaginative variations on classic dishes. We started with a dish of sweetbreads, which were sauteed in an obscene amount of butter. When the chef spooned off the portion and dumped it in the hot pan, Pat audibly expressed her shock! As the hot butter boiled away, the chef spooned it over the sweetbreads to color them. They were served on a kind of potato salad with wisps of frisee, some basil oil, capers and pieces of cooled cooked skate--an unusually wonderful combination. The sweetbreads were both creamy on the inside and crunchy out.

I wanted Black Cod, which was a thickly cut fillet sauteed with spears of yellow zucchini, mushrooms, smoked paprika, and a little sherry vinegar. The simple preparation let the quality of the fish shine through. Pat loves beef, and Beef Cheek Bourguignon is one of the most popular entrees, the rich and tender beef braised and served with carrots, shallots, and thick slices of of sauteed potato and napped with a thickened braising liquid. Throughout the meal we talked with a young couple from San Francisco who were sitting next to us, as well as to the sous chef in charge of cooking the fish and meat. At the same counter was a quiet Asian cook who assisted the chefs and presided over the preparations of desserts, which included adding sugar to creme brulee and hitting it with the blow torch to caramelize it. I'm not a fan of Le Pigeon's dessert offerings. Last May the table ordered among other things a kind of corn cake which they cover with butter and reheat in the a hot oven and then top with a scoop of maple ice cream, bacon bits and some sort of gooey sauce. That's not dessert to me, that's a brunch item and I'm no fan of brunch.

It was a wonderful dinner, however, and the level of cooking at this tiny restaurant with communal tables and lot of young diners, is extremely high. They are opening a new restaurant outpost in the SW part of the city this fall. I'm told it is a little more French.

Prune plums are showing up at the markets these days, an August ritual. I have an old recipe for an Italian plum cake that I decided to make on Friday night. It has almond flour and tasted not only perfect for dessert but leftovers make for a great breakfast.

Off to Costco to find a fire pit for the patio!

Italian Plum Cake

Classic Bread and Butter Pickles

Friday, September 3, 2010


Fully mature and in the house to cheer me up for the winter season.

About two weeks ago, when they have virtually turned from white to red.

The first blush of color as they go from white to red.

Early summer prime (July) and a gorgeous shade of white.

Buds appear in late May and all is green.

The now leafed branches which were only about three inches. Last year there were three. This years the hydrangea grew fifteen different branches.

It's the beginning of September, and time to cut my hydrangea blossoms if I want to preserve a bouquet for the winter indoors. This hydrangea is a Paniculata variety, which is pure white when it blossoms and stays that way from May through mid-August when it begins to turn a beautiful shade of maroon. These blooms have a conical shape. If you asked me what I like best about owning a house beside the extra room, I'd have to say raising roses and hydrangeas. They are without a doubt my favorite flowers. I love lilacs, tulips, peonies, poppies, dahlias, irises, daffodils, fuchsia and lilies, but roses and hydrangeas are the only reason I took up gardening. This particular hydrangea was a house-gift from my good friend, John Baker, who brought the plant and this gorgeous beautiful terra cotta pot to plant it in. Last year it gifted me with three blooms. This year it yielded fifteen. I just cut this year's bounty which has colored brilliantly. I want a hydrangea tree for the garden next year.