Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Christmas dinner included this gorgeous potato, onion, and tomato gratin made fragrant with 
garlic, thyme, white wine and olive oil.  A leg of lamb was roasted above the gratin, its 
juices dripping into the potatoes.  Recipe courtesy of Patricia Wells. 

Gougere's puffed up and hot from the oven.  Recipe from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. 

Dave indulging in his third gougere of the afternoon!

An inspired combination of endives, apple quarters and grapes with fresh rosemary, all braised is from Dorie Greenspan's fine cookbook, Around My French Table

The happy chefs:  Trish and Greg

Michel Rostang's Double Chocolate Mousse Cake, courtesy Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Kyle making nice with Porter, Trish and David's beloved Frenchie, who terrorizes my Frenchie, Beau, with his on-stop energy and insistence that Beau play with him. 

Well I've tried to write this holiday entry four times, and each time it comes out sounding like hollow, sentimental tripe, which I loathe.  My first full year in Portland has been a gift and more than ever I'm convinced I left New York for very good reasons and that my future is here.

 I bought this Chritsmas cactus last fall and the blooms promptly dropped off the plant. It's been on the window sill all year long and two weeks ago, I got three new blooms!

 A box of Dorie Greenspan's magically easy Mustard Baton's ready to go to a party.  From Around My French Table.

My Neopolitan Christmas Angel which used to be my tree topper, but now adorns a floor lamp, where she's far more prominently on display. 

Jean-Francois & Jay's glamorous and festive Christmas Eve Table

I've always been pretty good at making friends, but the roots I've set down in Portland, have surprised even me.  All my New York friends are shocked that I've made the transition here so easily.  But it's not so surprising given the generosity of people here.

So whether it was picking up the threads of old friendships, such as Jean-Francois (35 years), or Carol and Sara (at least 30 years), or John Baker (at least a decade), there were so many more to add to those who made my life pretty terrific in Portland.  My brother, Doug sent me Kyle, who has been helping me transform my home, with a beautiful brick patio, a raised vegetable bed, and now is renovating my basement with the installation of a fourth bedroom and third bath.  I met Rod and then his three housemates--Joel, Jason and Travis--and have been going to their summer, Halloween and Christmas parties. They are generous hosts, funny and do lots of fun things, like run their small boat up and down the Columbia and Willamette Rivers with the friends in the summer.  It was at their summer soiree last year that I met Trish and Dave.  We bonded.  Trish and I made vast amounts of apple and pear butters. A master gardener, Trish has donated plants and given me lots of good advice.  Dave loves my cooking, and so Trish, no mean cook herself, and I teamed up for Christmas dinner.  Here's a photo of Dave with his third gougere in his mouth.

Lucy and Mark Yerby are the sister-in-law and brother of Lynne, another of the most enduring friends of my adult life.  Mark is a doctor.  Lucy is a nurse and Mark moved from the east coast many years ago to Portland.  They have been wonderful friends here and Beau and I spent a memorable visit at their horse farm in Bend, Oregon last summer.

Here are some photos of John Baker's annual Christmas party, featuring three fully loaded trees.

The Den Christmas tree.

The breakfast room Christmas tree. 

The living room Christmas tree. 

The swagged fireplace does look festive.  

More of John's skill with a holiday needlepoint pillow.

This is a fanciful and minutely detailed needlepoint gingerbread house that John worked on for about five years. 

Host John Baker, in his den. 

My friendship with Kent, who runs the PubWest a local publishing association I joined here last year is very special.  He has generously introduced me to the local publishing community, asked me to help judge the Pub West Book Design Awards, and guest lecture his publishing marketing course every semester at Portland State University.  We enjoy going to restaurants, or enjoying meals at our homes, or with mutual friends, such as Alan and Ruth.  With them, we will launch Ruth's compelling memoir in 2011.

I've added food friends, such as John Mitchell, who owns a local pizzeria in my neighborhood that serves just about the best pizza I've ever eaten--the crust is just amazing.  Stefania and Lawrence, are also fairly new residents to Portland, and Taste Unique, their remarkable and tiny restaurants/take-out place has captured the the attention of local food press where they are often written about.  Stefania, an Umbrian, is world-class chef, who makes the most wonderful pasta sauces, and a swooningly great tiramisu.

Nancy and Paul Frisch are old friends of friends.  They are long-time Portland residents, and have been wonderfully supportive, making sure I've got holiday invitations and always ready with a helping hand. I'm also blessed with real neighbors surrounding my home.  I can always count on a friendly hello and a good chat with Pat, Karen, and so many others.  Shari and Justin, my next door neighbors have rescued me twice when I've locked myself out of my house.

dianemorgancooks.com is a great place to find good food ideas and techniques to realize her recipes with great success.  She's a fine hostess and warm and supportive colleague.  The whole food department at the Oregonian is staffed with charming, funny, and supportive colleagues and reading that section of the paper is a highlight of my week.

I'm sure there are others that I've missed here and I hope they forgive me if I have.  Portland is a welcoming city--you just have to be open to it.

The business that evaporated with the collapse of the economy has for the most part, returned, and business as well as the quality of projects that came my way, far exceeded my most optimistic expectations.

These are food pictures from a Christmas dinner party I threw early in December for my friends, Kent, Ruth and Alan.

Roasted potatoes. The stuff in the white bowl is a horseradish sauce flavored with a little blue cheese.  I neglected 
to get a good shot of the individual Yorkshire puddings but you can see one vaguely in the top right 
hand corner of this photo.

Standing Rib Roast, carved and ready for serving.

Roasted Brussels sprouts, making this a meal that was virtually cooked in the oven.

This year, my old friend, Tom Masic passed away last fall.  This man with his partner, Joe, created one of Portland's great gardens and maintained its splendor for more than 30 years. He was always generous when I dragged visiting friends over to see the garden, showing us all the hundreds of plants, shrubs, and  trees.  He loved to knit and cook for his friends. This gentle giant of a man created this astonishing living work of art which gave so many so much pleasure.

Just about every candlestick in the house is on display.

Beau sends his best wishes of the season and a very Happy New Year! 

I can remember far worse years, so 2010 for me was a year of pure bliss.  There will be so much more to discover in 2011.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


We finished the first platter before I realized I wanted a picture of these tasty Laktes.

Mimi Sheraton's Potato Latkes (recipe from The Essential New York Times Cookbook)

The food pages of the Oregonian and The New York Times the last two days have been full of features about latkes, in anticipation of Hanukkah, which begins today, December 1st.  I haven't made latkes in years, and because I had a bag of russet potatoes on hand, and some delicious apple butter I had made with my buddy Trish earlier in the fall, a plate of these delicious potato pancakes was long overdue.

The last time I made them must have been in New York in the early 80s. Everyone was using their food processors to make them, but since I had just finished reading THE ESSENTIAL NEW YORK TIMES COOKBOOK, I turned to it and found my inspiration.  Amanda Hesser's headnotes said the recipe came from a former Times restaurant critic, the fearsome Mimi Sheraton.  The potatoes and onion for the recipe required hand-grating, and while applesauce was acceptable, sour cream was dismissed as an unacceptable accompaniment.  The interesting technique in Sheraton's recipe is the draining of the potatoes.  You grate the vegetables into a strainer set over a bowl to catch the considerable moisture from the potatoes. Then you drain out the water while leaving the potato starch that sinks to the bottom of the bowl.  When you scrape this white substance into the potatoes and onions (which also include chopped fresh parsley, salt and white pepper, matzoh meal, and an egg yolk), it has the consistency of Elmer's glue!  Into this mixture you add egg whites, which are beaten until stiff and incorporated into the latke batter by hand.  The latkes are dropped by tablespoons into hot canola oil and fried until crisp and brown, then turned over and fried the same way.  They are drained on paper towel and then placed on a rack over a baking sheet in a warm oven while you finish the rest of the latkes.  Hesser says the resemble fried soft-shell crabs, which indeed they do.  They are fabulous and I even used sour cream (what does Mimi know?).  Kyle had never had them before, and we inhaled the half portion I made which was about 10 pancakes between us.  Happy Hanukkah indeed!

This eye-catching poinsettia would cost me at least $40 in New York.  

As for the Christmas side of the equation, I'm forcing narcissus, amaryllis and at Fred Meyer found two gorgeous and very inexpensive poinsettia plants for my holiday decorations and a lovely evergreen wreath for the door.  It's time to look for a new Christmas tree.  My little four-foot fake tree no longer wants to sit up straight in its base, and after decorating the tree last night, it slumped over to one side and bulbs went flying.

I love to force narcissus, but the smell drives me nuts after a few days.

The amaryllis is on the small side, but the poinsettia is huge and really a gorgeous shade of tomato red.

I brought out my old fake Christmas tree from New York and put it up last year, but it's very wobbly in its stand and I was tired of the optic fibers which were never really a good substitute for lights, so off I went in search of a new tree.  As much as I love freshly cut trees, I just can't seem to justify the fact that trees lose their lives for us and after four weeks are discarded.  They are a mess to handle and are potentially hazardous, so I like the idea of a fake tree.  I found one at Wal-Mart of all places. I swore I'd never shop there, but find myself occasionally searching for things there.  Six and a half feet tall, the tree comes already pre-lit.  Talk about lazy.  In the end it takes as much work to deal with a fake tree as it does a real one.  The results were very festive.

The new fake Christmas tree all trimmed.

The wreath comes from Trader Joe's.  I put the ribbon on it. 

Chili pepper ornament purchased in Santa Fe last month.

I can't believe I still am like a kid about the Christmas holiday season!