Wednesday, June 30, 2010


My twin brother Scott and his girlfriend, Bernadette, visited over the July 4th weekend. It was decent weather--still chilly (see complaints below). It is often said that Portland's summer weather doesn't arrive until after July 4th, and I have friends who have an annual summer party that they refuse to scheduled until the beginning of August because the weather can be so unpredictable.

Within the first few weeks of my coming to Portland, Jean-Francois showed me Washington Park's magnificent Rose Garden. With more than 700 varieties of roses, July is the month the garden is at its peak. I've always loved roses, and now that I'm growing my own (four rose bushes and one climbing rose and counting), I've become even more fascinated by roses. The colors are infinite. The garden was crowded with rose lovers. We went up and down the rows of bushes, snapping photos right and left, the shapes and colors keeping us in thrall.

While all my friends complain about scorching temperatures on the east coast, we continue to have rather chilly ones here. Beau woke me up at 5:30 this morning, wanting to go out. I checked the thermometer and it was only 58 degrees! We haven't had any rain for more than a week now, which is great, but it is colder than I expected, and certainly colder than it was a year ago when I first arrived in Portland. It is not expected to get warmer than 70 on Saturday and Sunday and in peeking at the 10-day forecast, I see the hot weather (80s) gets underway by Monday--typical, I'm told. Today I read a Yahoo news feature that says Portland is the best city in the country to visit in the summer because of our many nice parks, farmer's markets, and other outdoor activities, and with an average summer temperature of 66 degrees, it's certainly the most comfortable. Conversely Portland is least alluring in December when its combination of cold and damp is at its most unappealing.

Rant Sidetrack: Larry King, the dumbest, least interesting talk show host in the history of the genre, is retiring at the end of his contract next year. It's the end of a long and strange news era. I've watched stupefied, as he has presided over the 9:00 o'clock spot on the cable network for a quarter of a century. He's hardly been a probing interviewer, and he often asks awkward questions. We've been treated to the spectacle of his rather weird and tabloid-ready multiple marriages and divorces (though to be fair, lots of talk show hosts have been through multiple marriages and divorces). CNN is hemorrhaging viewers, and I suspect at 76, King is not attracting young viewers. So far I'm not wild about any of the early suspects to replace him. I think Katie Couric should stay put at CBS. She got her news mojo back at the expense of Sarah Pallin (admittedly an easy mark), and is apparently showing some strength. Joy Behar does a good job on the CNN affiliate, but she's too liberal (and I would equally protest someone who was too conservative). But someone has to take over the spot, and it hopefully will be a blast of fresh air.

We finally got a heat spell and it was nasty. Had the central AC on for three days. That still beats New York where my air conditioner went on in mid-May and never got turned off until the end of September! It was bone dry, but hot is hot. An when the temperatures went over 100, I appreciated the central AC.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


With the belated arrival of summer weather--it's 70 degrees and brilliantly sun-shiney at 10:30 on a glorious late June Sunday morning), Kyle finished the patio yesterday before heading out for a family reunion. After my birthday blow-out from the night before, I was more interested in keeping it low profile for the actual birthday (Saturday), and invited John and Darren over for a grilled steak. I filled a platter with lettuces from my garden, added a pile of grape tomatoes, some English cucumber, slices of boiled red potatoes, some cooked green beans, and added some pickled boiled eggs with beets and onions. I topped it with a marinated flank steak with I grilled on the patio. I made Sara Moulton's wonderful Creamy Garlic Dressing for the salad and we at it out on the patio, staying out there talking, eating and drink until well after 10 when the sky finally went totally dark. John brought me a chocolate cake with a raspberry glaze (a huge chunk of which I sent back home with them). This was a perfect harbinger of a long, warm summer of dinners, which will probably begin on Friday night when my twin brother, Scott arrives with his girlfriend, Bernadette for the Fourth of July weekend.

Kyle counted the bricks in the new patio--more than 2,100. It's set in a beautiful pattern. John brought me a wonderful planter tub full of summer blooms including red geranium. I couldn't more thrilled with it. I think it truly enhances the property and I'll be able to count the backyard now as an extra summer room. Beau like sunning out there, lazily turning over to give himself a good back rub.

Roses are amazing.

These are a real pale pink rose, which the sun and my camera don't quite do justice to.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Humiliating myself with a 60th Birthday tiara from my evil friend, Lucy!

John, Mike and Kyle

Kyle, Ivy and Gregor

Mark, Lucy, Sarah

David, Trish and Mark

Vanessa, Ruth and Alan

Vanessa, Kent, and Judy

Kyle, Ivy and Gregor

Sarah, Carol and Kent

Most of the Gang

Today I not only celebrated by 60th birthday, but also my first year anniversary in Portland. Last night I hosted a pizza party at Gladstone Coffee and Pizza--the same pizza I've been raving about for a year now. John Mitchell, the owner, set up a series of tables together on the patio to accommodate my party. Kent, Vanessa and Judy, Trish and David, Ivy and Gregor, John, Kyle, Michael, Mark and Lucy, Alan and Ruth, Carol and Sarah AND Beau gathered for pizza, Caesar salad, John's house-made giardinera, wine, beer, and coffee.

Lucy having just celebrated her own similar milestone brought along a plastic tiara she had been given for hers. Deciding misery loves company, she presented it to me. Not above behaving like an idiot, I put the damn thing on. Weather was perfect. Beau enjoyed the evening, especially when his good friend Trish put him in her lap where he very quickly settled in for a long nap.

If you have to be 60, this is not a bad way to do so.

My thanks got Gladstone's pizza master, John Mitchell, for executing such a perfect evening. I'm told there are a few other great pizza joints in town, but when the pizza tastes this good and you don't have wait a pathetically long time to get your fix (a 30-minute + wait at A Pizza Scholls is not my idea of a fun time), then why are so many Portlander's putting themselves through that!

Beau, looking for food opportunities to drop out of the sky.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Arrives In Portland--FINALLY!

Saturday marks my first anniversary in Portland, and my 60th birthday. What a year this has been! And it's been a full week! The patio is supposed to be finished tomorrow. The rain has held the whole project up by more than three weeks. But it's so beautiful. More than 2,000 bricks, it should provide me with a lots of entertaining and relaxing time in the Adirondack chairs. The next thing will be to start looking around for large pots to plant along the border of the patio.

On Wednesday night, Kent and I had dinner at one of the food carts Portland is famous for. The Garden State cart is a sleek, silver cart that specializes in sandwiches. In this case, it was an Grilled Alaskan Cod sandwich with slices of orange, red potato and arugula on ciabatta. It was delicious, though it needed some tarter sauce. We ate our sandwiches under a tented area with tables and chairs to keep the sun off of us. At the same location, is The Sugar Cube where Kent indulged in the cart's much admired panna cotta with strawberry salad. The panna cotta was just perfect without too much gelatin to make it tough. It was infused with vanilla bean and topped with the salad of sliced strawberries in a simple syrup with minced basil. I had a bite and was impressed. This was my first experience with the food cart culture here. There are many areas around town that have food carts. Some are very popular for lunch, as the ones near Portland State University. Others, near clubs, are popular after hours when the partying hordes come in search of something to soak up the alcohol they've been consuming.

While Kyle was making noise cutting brick to fit in the border of the patio, Beau took to his upstairs day bed. But whenever it's too warm outside, he doesn't exactly lay inside his bed as he does when its colder. I came into my bedroom this afternoon and found him mostly out of his bed. On hot days he often has his body in his day bed but his head is hanging well outside and trailing on the floor. Today I would describe Beau's position as praying--very Zen-like.

Tomorrow, we celebrate my birthday at Gladstone Coffee and Pizza. The owner John Mitchell has turned the patio over to eighteen of us who will dine on their fabulous pizza, eat Caesar salad, drink wine and beer, while I try to ignore this big milestone. Beau will also be coming.

Tonight Kyle drove Jim, the guy who is helping him finish the patio, home. Jim live in North Portland, and since I needed to buy groceries, I wrote shotgun. Everyone worked hard today with me chained to the office working on booking interviews for a client. My day had begun early with an 8:00 AM one hour interview with a food show I do regularly from Lincoln, Nebraska. I've been doing this show every six weeks, but now the host, Judy Gilliard, wants me to come on the show to talk about the cookbooks I review on my blog. Judy is wildly enthusiastic and we always have much to talk about.

Anyway...after dropping Jim off, I suggested we eat out and Kyle suggested going about a mile further into St. John's a neighborhood I had never been to. Like much of NE and North Portland, St. John's is an old, funky neighborhood. Near the University of Portland you'll find a lot of younger students. There are a lot of old timers here, some of them a bit burned out by drug--filled, misspent youth. Houses are nice with a lot of student housing. Like all parts of the city, the older "bad" neighborhoods of this area, are gentrifying and much had been done to St. John's before the real estate market collapsed. Kyle told me there is a main commercial area full of restaurants, and most of them are pubs that serve food. He took me to a place he had been in several times before. I don't know the name. Most of them are dark gathering places for drinking, playing pool and eating. It wasn't promising, but I've learned that Kyle wouldn't have bothered if the food was bad. I wanted a salad and he a burger. We both got what we wanted. In my case it was a grilled chicken breast in a bowl of very nice salad of mixed greens with blue cheese and hazelnuts with a vinaigrette dressing. Outstanding and amazing at $6.96 for this dinner-sized portion. I could only admire Kyle's huge burger served with a heap of crunchy, salty, perfect French fries--just what the doctor ordered for a hard working day.

Tomorrow my buddy Mike Campbell is driving down from Seattle for my birthday and will stay overnight. Kyle is finishing the patio and he leaves on Saturday night for Washington for a family gathering. It will be the first time Beau and I have had the place to ourselves in four months. Kyle has been an unobtrusive presence, but it will be nice to rattle around her solo for the next three days.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Summer absolutely refuses to arrive in Portland. It's in the 80s and 90s everywhere else, but in the Pacific Northwest, it just rains and rains. My good buddy Christine Goerke coaxed me up to Seattle for an overnight to hear her sing with the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. The train ride was gloomy and gray all the way up, but no rain, which held out until the next day. In the meantime, my host, Mike Campbell, picked up up at the train station and we headed over to Pike Place market--a big mistake as it is Saturday and the place was crawling with tourists. We escaped and found a place to have a quiet lunch before heading to Kirkland where he lives.

I haven't been to Seattle since the 2002 season when Christine sang her first performances of Bellini's NORMA with the Seattle Opera. It's such a handsome city with its many hills and beautiful homes. The city seems bigger every time I visit--much bigger than sleepier Portland. Kirkland is a good-looking small, leafy town and Mike, who recently moved up there from Portland to take up a demanding new job, has found a sleekly modern two-bedroom co-op with a large balcony and a nice view for him and his dog, Duncan. He's slowly furnishing it in a very 60s manner. I like it.

Because of the weather, we just hung out and relaxed until it was time to go to the concert. Benaroya Hall may be the finest concert hall I've ever been in. Certainly the acoustics of the handsome, wood-paneled hall are outstanding. The modern architecture is attractive, very functional--an excellent venue for making music with generous public places for walking and having a drink during intermissions. Gerard Schwartz, the orchestra's conductor celebrating his 25th anniversary with the symphony, conducted an excellent and ambitious program. Orchestral excerpts from Wagner's PARSIFAL opened the first half with Schwartz taking a leisurely approach (typical for this work), but his ensemble played beautifully and the horns deserve extra kudos for their clear and flawless playing. But I was here for the second work on the program--Mendelssohn's sprawling second symphony for orchestra, chorus and three vocal soloists. I had never encountered this symphony before and was very impressed with Mendelssohn's gorgeous melodies that were elegantly wrapped around a rather unwieldy structure. The first two movements were purely orchestral and the delightful second movement had a lovely, lilting Tchaikovsky-esque tune I couldn't get out of my head. The second portion of the work more than reminded me of Beethoven's mighty 9th symphony, but there were lots of opportunities for the lead soprano and tenor, and unlike Beethoven, Mendelsson is easier to sing. Christine was in sumptuous voice, and poured out huge arcs of lovely, unforced tone. Her clear diction was a bit wasted on the religious texts. Clearly her recent forays into Wagner and Strauss are well justified--indeed, she will sing her first Kundry in PARSIFAL in Turin this January. Vinson Cole, a veteran tenor, who has a close association with Seattle (having lived there for many years), is now approaching 60. He's retained most of his vocal marbles, and his soft-grained tenor was in excellent shape. Holli Harrison, winner of the 2006 Metropolitan Opera competition, made the most of her short opportunities, blending well with Christine in their duet. Gerard Schwartz's outstanding command of rhythm worked well in this massive composition, and he presided over a memorable performance. He has recorded this piece, and his expertise showed superbly.

Afterwards, the ladies invited us to join them for a late supper at the Purple Cafe and Wine Bar nearby. Cafe conjures up visions of intimacy, something this large and busy restaurant lacks. It's a dark and sleekly modern space with attentive waiters, and a terrific late-night menu of pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, and salads--to go with steaks and other crowd-pleasing fare. It's dressier, more formal--not stuffy at all. Holli ordered a delicious pizza (and we shared a fabulous Malbec), while Christine, sipping her Side Car, had pasta with prosciutto and fava beans. Wish I could remember Mike's main course, but he seemed thoroughly happy with his tomato soup. I was very happy to tuck into a finel choppped salad of greens, garbanzo beans, avocado, cucumber, and blue cheese. It's always good to get some face-time with Christine, who has a busy and thriving career singing everywhere, while trying to raise two young daughters with her husband, Jim. We had a quick lunch when I was recently in New York--I've seen her more since I moved to Portland, than I did the last two years of living in New York (and she lives in New Jersey--less than 30 minutes away).

Sunday it poured, and we didn't do much beyond driving around and having brunch before heading to the train station for the return trip home. I was there just about 24 hours. I did find a beautiful new cookbook in Seattle. THE BOOK OF TAPAS, which I'll review for my cookbook review blog, is a stunning package. The pages are yellow with the recipe titles in vivid red and the type of the recipes in black. It's got five generous photograph sections showing the wide variety of typical Spanish little plates and is an outstanding introduction to the subject. I read the book on the train back to Portland.

Woke up on Monday, hopeful of sun, and by 9:00 I wasn't disappointed. The sky was a brilliant shade of didn't last long, however. Now it's back to gray and threatening to pour on us again. My patio is never going to be completed.

Two more roses managed to bloom despite the gloom. But the rain in Seattle didn't make me ambitious enough to take any photos while I was there.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Here are the first French Breakfast Radishes from my garden. I like them because of their pleasing shape and two-tone colors. I'm told they are eaten with a bit of salt and with bread and butter. I got a small crop, but now that I know how they grow, I'll pack the next batch in tighter. They are delicious, softer than their round American cousins and not as peppery.

Last Tuesday, my old friend Jean-Francoise took me to lunch to celebrate my upcoming 60th birthday because he is in France for five weeks. He selected Wildwood in the Northwest section of the city. Wildwood has been open for something like sixteen years and its arrival signalled Portland's entry as a foodie town. Though the original chef, Cory Schreiber has been gone some five plus years, the restaurant still is highly esteemed for its outstanding Pacific Northwest cooking. The ingredients of its fine menu are local, and the menu is both familiar and eclectic. The day we dined there, the weather was balmy and we decided to sit outside. The only thing I didn't love about the meal was the waiter. He had that supercilious, know-it-all attitude as though he were serving rubes. He simply had to tell us how intelligent our wine choice was, and then tell me my entree was very, very special, when the description on the menu was detailed and clear. It was condescending--the kind of service that gives good restaurants a snobby reputation.

Indeed my entree was very good, and seemed to me to be highly original. It was written out in some detail: Creamed Morels with Outback Farms Asparagus, Crispy Groundwork Organic Potatoes and Arugula. What arrived was a shallow bowl of morels in a cream sauce with sliced cooked asparagus and topped by these tiny slices of very small potatoes that weren't exactly crispy. Perhaps they had been roasted. Then the whole dish had a layer of baby arugula, which seemed to be very lightly dressed with oil and vinegar. There was a dollop or two of, what I later learned was, arugula pesto. The dish had a wonderful fragrance, and tasted rich. The morels had just a bit of resistance with slight crunch and faint bitterness of the asparagus to offset the richness of the sauce (a reduced cream with butter and vegetable stock?). The potatoes provided another layer of depth to this delightful dish with the peppery arugula adding some zing, along with the pleasing flavor of the pesto. I had a glass of what I thought was an Adelsheim Pinot Noir Rose. Excellent.

The last time I was at Wildwood was also for lunch and I remember I had the excellent beer batter fish and chips. This was an altogether different experience. I look forward to eating there again soon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


A hanging Geranium and if you look up to the left, my upside-down hanging tomatoes

The red you see just below the leaves here are my French Breakfast Radishes

A fuschia with hundreds of blooms

The new Japanese Maple and the Fig Tree

Mint contained in one pot instead of taking over my herb plot

Twenty + days of rain, for which Portland is famous, can test the patience of anyone. We were promised a sunny day on Friday, but when I woke up, the disappointment of a gray sky was amazing. We waited all day for the sun to break through and late before it turned dark, there was finally a glimpse of sun. My bedroom, with its south-facing windows covering one wall, were not ablaze in sunshine on Saturday morning--another disappointment. But my 10 AM, the sun emerged strong and blazing. Here was the sunshine we were promised. Time to get out into the garden.

My beautiful and large brick patio is now in the final stages of completion and I'll soon be able to show the finished results which are now taking up more than half of my back yard. We went to get the final bricks at Lowes and found ourselves drawn to two nurseries in search new things to plant. I finally found a Japanese maple. They cost a small fortune, but I found a small one at a really nice price. I've been looking for a small tree for the small planter next to the front of my garage. I found a columnar dwarf fig tree which which I'm reasonably assured should do well in that planter. I also found a large yellow climbing rose. I think I'm now done buying plants for my yards. It's a thrill to grow things.


Rod & Trish



Jason and David

My friends Rod, Travis, Jason and Joel invited Beau and me for a Sunday afternoon boat ride excursion with mutual friends, Trish and her husband David. I didn't know what to expect or where the ride would take place. I knew it had to be either the Willamette or the Columbia Rivers that bisect and flank Portland. Sunday arrived, the second brilliantly sun-shiney day after a long spell of more than 20 days of rain. Rod picked Beau and me up at the house, and we were off to collect Trish and David before meeting the other guys at the slip where they moor their adorable and sporty red and white speed boat.

We were on a gorgeous day with some wind and choppy water. I had not been on either river before. The Columbia, where we took off, is a huge, wide and almost ocean-like river--mighty indeed. And then we turned into the Willamette which cuts through Portland separating the east and west sides of the city, and proceeded to cruise under the ten bridges that connect the two sides. I got pictures of most of them. Though the boys were pouring cocktails and in my case, mojitos, to enhance the experience.

Some of Portland's Bridges


We had a perfect lunch of Rod's homemade hummus with red peppers, kalamata olives, cucumber, red pepper strips, red onion, feta cheese--all piled on whole wheat pitas. As usual, Beau proved to be an excellent water-worthy dog, having experience on another speed boat and a giant ferry.

In all this first weekend of pure sun in Portland was an ideal prelude to the magical summers that are part of the Pacific Northwest experience. The final picture is of the top of Mt. Hood as it floats on top of clouds. Gorgeous.

Portland's Convention Center Crystal Towers

Mt. Hood rising above the Columbia River