Friday, October 22, 2010


Leslie Cole, Dorie Greenspan and Martha Holmberg

I've been handling the publicity chores for the launch of Dorie Greenspan's fabulous new cookbook, AROUND MY FRENCH TABLE.  The attention this book has received in print, on the Internet and on radio has been wonderful, and one of the most fulfilling cookbook projects I've ever worked on.  I've been cooking out of the book, and I can see why Dorie is so well liked by cookbook lovers. The recipes really work and she's made French home cooking entirely accessible, concentrating on flavors and ease of preparation rather than taking the "chef" approach and underlining technique.  I had never worked with Dorie nor met her before.  She was in Portland on Tuesday where we kept her busy with a big round of interviews and I got a chance to spend some time with her that evening, but not before she did a fantastic event at the Heathman restaurant which co-sponsored (along with Powell's Books) the event where Dorie talked about her life in Paris (she lives there part of the year) and her association with Julia Child (Dorie wrote a bestselling baking book based on Julia Child baking series on PBS-TV), Pierre Herme (acknowledged as France's premier pastry chef, and with whom she has written two cookbooks), and Daniel Boulud, the most famous French chef in New York (Dorie co-authored a book with Boulud as well).  I was lucky to introduce Dorie and Martha Holmberg, the former food editor of The Oregonian.  The two of the kept a packed audience of more than 260 people highly entertained as they discussed how French food has evolved over the years. Other friends arrived including Nancy and Paul Frisch, Trish Hamilton (my preserving buddy), and Ivy Manning, who had written a big cover-story on Dorie and the book for the FoodDay pages of the Oregonian the week before.  Ivy, a talented cookbook writer, has been a wonderful pal since I arrived in Portland, and she's helped introduce me to a large swath of the food community.  She's also been my source for finding new restaurants.  

Aftewards Dorie, her husband Michael, and Martha had dinner together in the Heathman restauarant where they were featuring five recipes from the book to diners in the restaurant that evening. I ordered the trio of rillettes (one of sardines, one of fresh and smoked salmon and one of tuna with curry) has inspired me to make these wonderful spreads for crackers, and a superb grilled swordfish.  It was a memorable evening and I was happy to spend some time with my very tired author (she's been working non-stop on the promotion of the book since mid-September).  Here's a photo of Dorie after the event with Martha Holmberg and Leslie Cole, who is also a food writer for the Oregonian.  

On Thursday I got to guest lecture again for my friend, Kent's publishing course class.  This is about the fourth time I've spoken to Kent's students.  Each class is different and gives you a different kind of energy.  Last night's class was my very favorite.  They were attentive, inquisitive, and asked a lot of questions about book publicity and I was able to share with them plenty of naughty war stories (my way of getting even with some unpleasant authors I've worked with in the past, as well as affectionate stories of authors I've enjoyed meeting).  We covered social media, which I'm rather new at and gaining some feelings of support for.  I find most people waste a lot of time on the Internet (myself included), but it is the wave of the future, and books are going to find more hospitable audience there as we gain more confidence about what is possible in cyberspace.

I've found a terrific shop not to far from my house where I've actually bought a number of things such as my bookshelves in the dining room that house my cookbook collection (or most of it), my dining room chairs, a red leather ottoman in the living room, a desk lamp and Chinese cabinet in my office (see above), a wooden chair table for the patio, an antique wrought iron plant stand, and a wonderfully campy black urn adorned with Greek classical images that I use as a doorstop for my bedroom balcony door. I even had the store sell a china cabinet for me that I no longer needed.  So when I started to look for a bookshelf for my bedroom, I found what I was looking for at Portico.  Originally I thought of a smallish bookshelf--not too tall, for a corner wall.  The wainscoting rises about 2/3 of the way up the walls, and it is painted white. I didn't want a dark, heavy shelf.  It would look too gloomy.  The rest of the furniture in the room is a light colored pine, which also dictated a lighter touch.  I found this sturdy and open bamboo and rattan shelf unit.  It was the perfect height, and it's open shelving made it idea to hold books without looking heavy. I even found it an ideal place to house my small stereo unit. Best of all these wonderful and gracefully aged pieces were so inexpensive.  The cabinet was $63 and the bookshelf unit was $68.  

The weather reports have promised rain all week and it's been gorgeous with warm sunshine every day this week.  We had a touch of rain last night.  I'm learning never to believe the reports I read when I check on the weather in Portland.  If the report says rain, I know the sun will be out.  If they predict sunshine, I reach for a hat and an umbrella.

I've still got some gardening chores to get done before the rains and the cold weather do finally arrive.  The weekend looks pretty open so I know what I'll be doing. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Amidst all the madness of a busy fall season comes the sad news that the Season Four finale of MAD MEN is on tonight.  We'll have to wait until next July for a new season.  Not fair.  The smartest, brightest TV series on the air keeps you guessing about the characters while you follow the show as you would a good novel.  The only other series show I'm watching on network TV this season is the excellent THE GOOD WIFE.  Crackerjack cast, smart writing, slick pacing and complex characters, make this show the one bright reason to continue to endure commercials.  A friend has been nagging me to tune into Martin Scorcese's new BOARDWALK EMPIRE, which I did this week.  I think Scorcese's mined this territory one too many times.  Good acting, smart writing and direction are engaging.  But I walked away from that first episode thinking, been there, done that.

Made these killer brownies from a recent book, READY FOR DESSERT by David Lebovitz.  Chocolate, butter, sugar, hazelnuts, and a tiny bit of flour.  All else is just window dressing.

The only other TV I'm watching this season is TOP CHEF:  Just Desserts, which is full of snotty back-stabbing cheflets with mean agendas.  This crew will throw each other under a bus in a heartbeat.  Hard to root for a winner when they are all this ruthless.  Of course I have to have my daily fix of HG-TV, the Law and Order of my generation. There's something so pure about young couples having orgasms about stainless steel and granite counter tops.

Work has been really fun and challenging. I'm working on three cookbooks at once--one a real racehorse for bestsellerdom--AROUND MY FRENCH TABLE.  Dorie Greenspan, the writer, is on tour all over the country and I'm feeling like I'm killing her.  She's had to get up in the middle of the night to travel to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and five big cities in Texas.  But she's been well received everywhere she's been, and what a hard worker she is.

When I was in New York this fall, I read a cover story on Joan Rivers in New York Magazine that was tied to a documentary about her life called, JOAN RIVERS:  A Piece of Work.  I saw it it on Wednesday night and loved it.  She's a piece of work, an authentic American character, who at 75 is relentless in her pursuit of stardom, maintaining her place on the pantheon of comic stars, which is hard to do when you're an old lady who has become the butt of jokes about cosmetic surgery.  It is alternately fascinating and touching.  I've always loved Joan Rivers.  She's funny.  She dares to say the vulgar, outrageous and over-the-top things we're all thinking and wishing we could say.  She is a dynamic combination of vulgarity, glitz, glamor, naked ambition, intelligence, bitterness and utter honesty. Long may she continue to wave and make me laugh.

Finally planted my cherry tree and rose tree in the back yard.  Still  have much to do before the rainy season hits (another week or so).  Then next month a million bulbs for spring have to go into the ground.  The joints are screaming for Ben-Gay and a massage.  Domestic life is exhausting.

Here is a picture of my lovely young niece, Cristina-Marie and her mother, Rossie next to my newly planted cherry tree.

I'm finishing this as I'm watching the season four finale of MAD MEN.  Don's getting married!  Never saw that coming. Joan has decided to keep the baby.  Peggy's stunned at Don's announcement and Betty's feeling vulnerable and misunderstood.  Wait...Don's getting married???!!!

Finally, here's a better photo of Kyle's frame for a friend's garden.  It now hides the air conditioning unit.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Fanciful Garden Frame to Hide and Unsightly Air Conditioner Unit

I didn't think Kyle could top the shape and beauty of the brick patio he constructed in my back yard but he has.  My friend Trish has a gorgeous garden.  Her big house is on a corner lot in the Irvington section of NE Portland.  Trish has lavished her considerable energies on this garden. Her husband, Dave, built her a greenhouse from salvaged wood, glass and other materials.  Her side terrace has a gate in which she has installed a handsome metal sculpture of dragonflies.  But Trish didn't like the sight of a large, outdoor central air conditioning unit. Its ungainly sight broke up the tranquil beauty of everything surrounding it. So after replacing a side stairway entrance to the house, Trish asked Kyle if he might create some sort of frame to hide the air conditioning unit.  She had the same metal artist create a new metal dragonfly cutout. All that was left was for Kyle to find the right sort of frame to set it off.  And did he ever.  

The frame is mahogany and it's very heavy.  Over a two-week period, I watched as Kyle drew and re-drew his design, bought the wood, and slowly began to assemble it, constantly refining his design.  Cutting the pieces, sanding the wood's rough edges, the frame began to take shape. Kyle is delivering it today, but not before I asked him to take a picture with his phone.  I meant to photograph it all weekend, but the rain kept interfering with my plans.  So here it is.  I tried to convince Kyle to leave it here for my garden.  Trust me, I'm going to be hounding him for something similar!

My friend Sarah brought me some Asian Pears from her garden.  I used half of them for a jar of Asian Pear apple butter with ginger, nutmeg, lemon juice, white and brown sugar, a bit of apple juice. It turned out well, but I only have one jar, so I may make a big batch of it next year.  It certainly has zipped up my toast this week. The other half was a substitute for apples in a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's fabulous new cookbook, AROUND MY FRENCH TABLE, which I'm doing the publicity for now.  Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake is an elegant, but simple one-layer cake that is mostly apples, held together, spider-web fashion with a small amount of batter composed of flour, butter, eggs, salt, baking powder, dark rum, vanilla and sugar. It's a snap to put together.  It can be served plain with a dusting of powdered sugar, or with a spoon of whipped cream or ice cream.  We ate it plain and it's not too sweet and a good way to end a meal.  It also makes a fine breakfast, as I discovered the next morning. Here's the recipe.

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake

Makes 8 servings

My friend Marie-Hélène Brunet-Lhoste is a woman who knows her way around food. She’s a top editor of the Louis Vuitton City Guides (and one of the restaurant critics for the Paris edition), so she eats at scores of restaurants every year, and she’s a terrific hostess, so she cooks at home often and with great generosity. There’s no question that she’s a great cook, but for me, she’s the most frustrating kind of cook: she never follows a recipe (in fact, I don’t think there’s a cookbook to be found on her packed bookshelves), never takes a note about what she does, and while she’s always happy to share her cooking tips, she can never give you a real recipe — she just doesn’t know it.

I’ve watched her in her kitchen, in the hopes of nabbing a recipe by observation, but it’s impossible. Like so many really good cooks, Marie-Hélène starts off with a set of ingredients that could be annotated and recipe-ized, but once she starts mixing, stirring, boiling, baking, or sautéing, she makes so many mid-cooking adjustments that you just have to throw up your hands and content yourself with being the lucky recipient.

And so it was with this apple cake, which is more apple than cake, rather plain but very appealing in its simplicity (the chunks of apple make a bumpy, golden top), and so satisfying that we all went back for seconds. Despite knowing that it was futile, I asked for the recipe, and of course, Marie-Hélène didn’t really know.

“It’s got two eggs, sugar, flour, and melted butter — oh, and rum,” she said. “I mix the eggs and sugar together, and then I add some flour, some butter, some flour, and some butter.” When I asked how much flour and butter, I got a genuinely apologetic shrug, and when I asked what kind of apples she used, the answer was, divers, or different kinds.

Since there were only a few major ingredients, I thought I could figure out the recipe — and I did! (Although not on the first — or second — shot.) I’ve added baking powder to the mix (and I have a feeling Marie-Hélène might have too) and a drizzle of vanilla, which you can skip if you want. What you don’t want to skip is the pleasure of having divers apples. It’s really nice to mix up the fruit, so that you have some apples that are crisp, some soft, some sweet, and some tart.

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the springform on it.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.

Peel the apples, cut them in half, and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and, when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s evenish.

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren’t any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

The cake can be served warm or at room temperature, with or without a little softly whipped barely sweetened heavy cream or a spoonful of ice cream. Marie-Hélène served her cake with cinnamon ice cream, and it was a terrific combination.

The cake will keep for about 2 days at room temperature and, according to my husband, gets more comforting with each passing day. However long you keep the cake, it’s best not to cover it — it’s too moist. Leave the cake on its plate and just press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper against the cut surfaces.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I can tell that fall is with us, not so much by the evidence of the turning leaves, that is taking its sweet old time this season.  The lemon cucumbers in my raised bed are exhausted from all that procreating they have been doing since July.  The leaves are spent and they looked ashen and woebegone. I decided to pull the last of them up while clearing out the old lettuce and dill.  There are still plenty of herbs--oregano, basil, sage, parsley and tarragon.  The chives, thyme and rosemary are in other parts of the garden and should thrive all winter long.  I'm still getting jalapeno peppers and some red leaf lettuce, but that too will be gone soon. It's time to start making room in the house for those plants that will be spending the winter indoors.  My coleus that sands guard outside the front door will occupy the window in the mudroom. Other coleus (have I mentioned how much I love this colorful plant?) now on my balcony will come inside where it can soak in the light pouring through the windows along with a jade plant that I bought early in the spring and is now bursting out its small pot.

I've only got a few short weeks to finish off the garden as it gets prepared for winter.  I'm so happy I didn't get started on the front yard, though it's much improved over last year.  I've got the whole winter to come up with a plan, which will probably include large pavers, and a regrouping of the grasses.  I have to plant a heck of a lot of bulbs in the front yard for the spring, but that's on the docket for November.
There are the trees which have been in their pots all summer long, and the new rose tree, and a few others that haven't quite made it into the grand so far.  I've got to check out what to do with the roses.  I'm not sure when I need to prune them and I wonder if I should put something around their base to keep them warm for the winter.

My tomatoes stubbornly remain green and I found a recipe for chicken thighs with green tomatoes in Melissa Clark's new cookbook.  I haven't made fried green tomatoes in years, but I do have a good recipe for them and there's enough green tomatoes for both recipes.  Two weeks ago, I discovered the Easter Lily that  I planted in the back yard was beginning to bloom.  One bloom of four opened up a few days ago and yesterday, another big white bloom appeared.  I never thought of an Easter Lily as a garden plant let alone a twice-yearly blooming garden plant.  It's lovely.

Harry Connick, Jr. came to town in the last concert of his current tour.  I got free tickets because his principal violinist came to my house for dinner. One of my guests is a buddy and he called at the last minute to say she was in town and would I make room for her.  "Of course," I said.  "Bring her with you."  She had a great time, and to my surprise sent me an e-mail thanking me for dinner with an invitation of two tickets to attend Connick's final concert.  I saw Harry Connick, Jr. in the first flush of his youthful success.  He played concerts on Broadway in New York City with his big band--a handsome, likable musician with a gorgeous voice that reminded everyone of a young Sinatra with a commanding musical presence.  Many years later, Connick has become a mature artist in command of his big talent. At 43, he's disarmingly funny, making a big, personal connection with his audience.  He had injured one of his calf muscles and was under the influence of pain killers, which he readily admitted with exaggerated humor.  He cut up with his fellow musicians, played the trumpet in addition to his piano work and sang his way through a big chunk of the classic American songbook (The Way You Look Tonight was a particularly fine highlight).  Harry Connick, Jr. is an honored son of New Orleans and he brought plenty of Big Easy music to this concert.  His players, many who have played with him for years turned the whole concert into a party.  In fact his principal sax player was celebrating his birthday. A cake was delivered on stage, and the next thing you knew, Harry was passing around slices to members of the audience.  It was a wonderful concert, and the packed hall gave him a monster standing ovation.

My middle brother and his wife and baby daughter arrived from Costa Rica on Saturday.  Doug is now trying to figure out if he'll live in Portland or move back to Tucson where he lived before his divorce.  My niece Cristina Marie, is adorable--I have to admit it.  At one, she's a handful, always on the move.  I hope he will decide to stay in Portland.  I mean Tucson is okay, but it's got nothing on Portland.  Doug is high-maintenance, and he's going to put a lot of demands on me and Kyle in the next few weeks, so I can expect to be out of sorts.

I had dinner on Friday at Maureen and Jim's house along with other former members of the Portland Opera Chorus when our friend, Carol Lucas, was chorus master.  It's a gathering of a regular group of musicians. Everyone brings something to contribute. Jim is a fine cook, and he's often in charge of the protein.  On Friday he grilled a large variety of sausages, including linguicia, chorizo, and a delicious curried bratwurst.  Justin and Marilyn brought a big pot of clams with pancetta in wine sauce. Lynne brought roasted vegetables.  Carol and Sarah bought Greek mezze with delicious pita.  We capped off a fine dinner with my famous lemon meringue pie. It's fun.  We talk about liberal Democratic politics and what scumbag has grabbed the nation's headlines, and the Oregon gubernatorial race, which is rather vital these days, especially with Oregon's finances in the toilet and unemployment in the state second from the bottom of all states.  Jim and Maureen's son works for the Democratic candidate, John Kitzhaber, who like Jerry Brown in California, is the former governor of Oregon.  He's running against a former basketball star, Chris Dudley, who is the Republican.  Kitzhaber has the experience.  Dudley doesn't, but Kitzhaber didn't help the state out of it's tax woes, or woo new industry to the state, in his term. And it's politics as usual in contemporary America. At least it's more polite a contest than other campaigns that are going on around the country right now.  I mean Christine O'Donnell--puhleeze!