Saturday, December 31, 2011


I love eating alone.  Eating with company often distracts you from what you're eating.  If the food is okay or bad, that can be a good thing.  I'm a critical eater, and try to pay attention to what's on my plate. But when I'm alone, I often make wonderful discoveries. Some of the best meals I've ever eaten have been during solo trips to Europe and South America. I still have vivid memories of dining at Cibreo in Florence. The restaurant was packed, but I had a good table where I could view all the action while still paying attention to the wonderful food being served to me. At Christophe in Buenos Aires, where I've had at least four meals, the quiet atmosphere made me hyper-aware of the good food this excellent restaurant. It's not only in great restaurants that one finds great discoveries. I've recently discovered a great Vietnamese bakery that serves up superb bahn mi sandwiches for a pittance.  The rolls, which were baked on the premises, were fabulous--so good that I took home six.  Having a yen for corned beef hash one day, I stumbled across Bertie Lou's, a dive in Sellwood, where you'll find just about the best corned beef hash to be served in Portland.  I've already raved about the pizza at Gladstone Pizza, a happy discovery alone.

Yesterday was a good example of discovery while eating solo.  My lower back has been aching for a week and finally I could stand it no longer. A friend recommended I made an appointment with a chiropractor in SW Portland. It's fairly close to where I live.  I purposely left my house early so that I could get in a late lunch before my appointment.  Even with a GPS system, traversing the insanely inept streets of Portland is an exercise in frustration.  Often you'll encounter street signs turned in the wrong direction, and for what seemed like 20 minutes, I found myself circling through the same maize of streets over and over again.  After a torturous detour, I finally found myself looking for some place to eat, only now I had less than 35 minutes to eat and get to my appointment.  By happy coincidence, The Buffalo Gap was within a few blocks and I stopped in at this tavern that serves food.  I explained my time pressure, and was given a menu with my soda.  Within a minute, my order a beef sandwich with a blue cheese spread on toasted sourdough was in the kitchen.  My waitress asked me what side I would prefer with my sandwich.  Sides are big here and often vary from soup or salad, to french fries, potato salad, tater tots (!) chips, etc. She ticked off the list to me and among the offerings were sweet potato fries, which sounded just perfect to me.

When the waitress arrived with my order, I laughed.  It was an absurdly large portion.  The sandwich halves were stuffed to over-flowing (I had noticed the same thing at a neighbor's table where they were tucking into huge Reuben sandwiches).  But what really caught my eye was a mountain of hot, thin-cut sweet potato fries. Barely had the plate touched the surface of the table before I dove in.  The fries were cut in elegantly long and thin pieces.  The outside was crisp; the insides were somewhat soft, but it was the salty crunch of these addictive potatoes that kept me snatching them in between bites of my sandwich.  I don't mean to imply my sandwich was good--it was.  Between two slices of well-toasted sourdough bread, were pink slices of warm roast beef.  It was nicely balanced with the soft blue-cheese spread (butter was the other ingredient), and cool crunch was supplied by a mound of shredded lettuce. Good as the sandwich was, it had to take a back seat to the excellence of the sweet potato fries. I couldn't concentrate on the magazine I had been reading. Giving up, I concentrated on those lovely fries, and not one was left on my plate. A really good dill pickle made my lunch complete.  I was now ready to face my chiropractor.  

I later called a friend to rave about my fries.  He knew the restaurant well, because it's been open forever, but he had never tried their sweet potato fries. He hadn't been there in years, but remembered going with his parents.  The place has been around forever.  So the next time you're in Portland, check out the Buffalo Gap. It's not much to look at, and the decor could use an update.  But the food better than your typical tavern fare. Even at 3:00 PM, the place was lively. 

The Buffalo Gap
6835 SW Macadam Ave.
Portland, OR 97219

Monday, December 26, 2011


Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake (includes a layer of white chocolate) for Christmas dinner.  Quite easy to make, and only a little time-consuming to assemble, but it's impressive and not too sweet.  

I don't make resolutions.  Too many good intentions followed by disciplinary lack. Diets don't seem to work for me on schedules such as January 1.  I always admired Princess Grace who would go on an austerity kick right after New Year's and stay off booze, and watch her diet like a hawk until Easter.  It would kill me trying to emulate her good efforts. Right. I never bought that crap about a tooth fairy either.

It's been a tumultuous year nonetheless, rendering any resolutions hopeless.  I started a business that failed within four months. It was an expensive mistake, but it's over and now that I've settled with that thief of a landlord on my lease, I'm left with a gag order that says I can't specifically name him or her publicly and especially not with an expletive attached.  Fine. I'll suck it up.  I don't like it and I've already been fantasizing about the worst calamities that should befall this sub-human species, which will have to do. Suffice to say, if I ever make noise about launching a business that isn't attached to food, please shoot me.  But be warned if you ever want to start a small business. Everyone has their hand out and reaching for your pocket--nobody more so than a landlord. Sign the shortest lease possible--it will be less likely to bite you in the ass in the event your business doesn't survive. 

But I did get back to food, and now I'm officially a publisher. I've got a big book project with a large and well-known business that should make a big splash in Portland next fall.  But for the time being, I'm waiting to make any specific announcement for later in the year.

Lily waiting expectantly for a piece of cheese.

Over Christmas I played host to Lily, a beige rat, who is the pet of a friend's daughter.  I had to keep Bit and Lily separated, so Lily took over the guest room while my roommate is away.  In her cage, Lily is curious, loves cheese, celery, and snooping around when I let her out for a few minutes of exercise every day. She is very pretty and it's a kick watching her groom herself (she's very clean).  

The business was a huge distraction and now its over, leaving me time to get back to more important things, like finishing the renovation of my basement, which got started and then abandoned when the business came along. Bev, my new roommate wants more privacy, so I've asked for a contractor to estimate the cost of finishing the project.  Besides, I cannot sell my house in the future with an unfinished basement.  I hope to have it completed by the first week of February.

2012 ought to be a big year with another presidential election. I hope President Obama is re-elected. The spectacle of one Republican presidential wannabe after another falling on his sword before the official campaign season begins has been, well, spectacular. But I really hope voters will signal their disgust at the Republican party by sending a bunch of Senators and Representatives back home to get regular jobs. We need leaders in Washington to restore the economy, create jobs, push the bankers towards real reform, fairly tax the rich who are doing nothing for the economy, and make us competitive again. Wasting our time and resources on the few in power is not where our future should be headed. A party that thinks there are no consequences for not voting for a two month extension on unemployment benefits, is playing with fire and there's an angry American public that is fed up and ready to send these boobs home for good.  

I'm looking forward to my forthcoming week-long visit to New York in January.  It will give me an opportunity to bring a winter's coat with me, enjoy the cold weather, do a little business and mostly catch up with old friends.  So I'm starting my New Year with a full-plate.  

Beau's official holiday portrait and then to sleep. 

I'm wishing all my friends and loved ones, a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Master Bedroom Tree

Most of us are happy to have one Christmas tree, but not my friend, John. He had four this year, up one from last year.  That's four eight foot trees. Lights, ornaments, labor. I previously posted photos of the crystal tree, the wooden ornaments tree, and in the kitchen, a large tree with all kinds of ornaments.  The den's tree had two different types of lights and hundreds of wooden shapes from snow flakes to carved soldiers and characters from the Nutcracker.  John's been collecting these ornaments for years and he certainly gets teased for this hobby.  

On Saturday, I got a chance to catch a photo of the fourth tree which he installed in his beautiful bedroom on the second floor is his house.  This tree is full of brass ornaments, including candles with holders. Though the candles are not lit (talk about a fire hazard), the electric lights bounce off the polished brass, giving the tree brilliant illumination.  

I spent Friday and Saturday afternoons skewering twelve pounds of large shrimp, roasting a fillet of beef and then making open-faced crostini from it, stuffing two kinds of cheese in celery, piping scallion cream cheese in endive spears and then draping them with smoked salmon.  I scooped out cherry tomatoes to be stuffed, and helped John get the food on the table before the bartender and server arrived.  I was dead on my feet when I went upstairs to take a shower before the first guests arrived.  It was then that I got the photo of the fourth tree. 

It was a lovely party with nearly 60 guests arriving.  John has been hosting this party for the better part of thirty years, and he thinks a lot about it every year, looking for new recipes, and refining his plans.  I was too pooped to photograph the table.  

So here is fourth tree and the other three to follow this. 

 Kitchen/breakfast Room Tree

Living room Tree

Den Tree

Monday, December 12, 2011


Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love music inside and out.  I think about music often during my day and dream about music all the time.  An old song from my youth or a section of a symphony, a piece of jazz by Ella Fitzgerald, or a snippet of something really treacle like "Whispering Hope" in a duet with Jo Stafford and Gordon MacRae (trust me there's a story here and if you listen to the aural pleasures to be gleaned by the teaming of the angelic Stafford and the golden baritone of MacRae, it's not that tacky).

But I got my first car in September. And Mona (the name I gave my car) came equipped with a six-changer CD player. Nirvana for the thousands of CDs that I own.  I remember listening to music in cars during my teenage years in California and during those top 40 days, I memorized so many of those songs because, and I didn't understand it until I finally had my own car, you're a captive audience.  So I'm like a kid in a candy store.  My 20+ CD carrier is constantly being replenished.  And it's been a blast.

I've been playing lots of opera.  Leontyne Price in her glorious early prime singing MADAMA BUTTERFLY live at the San Francisco Opera in the early 60s, before her Met debut. Has there ever been a more shimmering sound from a classical singer than Leontyne Price?  My speakers have been reverberating with the thrillingly intense singing of my buddy Christine Goerke, who sang one of the great test pieces for a dramatic soprano--ELEKTRA--in Madrid for the first time in her relatively young career in October.  I've watched the DVD endlessly, but the sheer thrill of hearing her in full throttle on my car speakers as I speed down the highway, is indescribable.  She's going to sing this role often in the next few years and it's going to be one of her calling cards.

For pop music I've been awed anew by Barbra Streisand's latest CD--"What Matters Most".  I've been listening to Streisand since 1964.  "People" is still a test record to compare against other pop singers.  Streisand's gorgeous timbre has often thrilled me, appalled me, or left me indifferent--that the risk you run throughout a 50-year career.  To be fair, only Sinatra comes close. When you listen to this new CD you are struck by how much youth she's retained in her sound and how relaxed she's become as an interpreter.  Streisand is no longer overwrought.  Everything is pared down to essentials, and with very little loss or concession to age.  Yes, the voice can sometimes sound shredded in exposed loud singing, but her soft singing is diaphanous and agile and there's intent behind every phrase

All my pop friends have been telling me about Adele, so I downloaded her sophomore effort--"21".  This is an unquestionably great pop record with one memorable tune after the other from this sensational British talent. The voice is set low in contralto range, with a touch of yodel and smokey jazz and she sings of youthful and painful love.  Adele's vulnerability and her brassiness makes you pay attention. "Turning Tables" is my favorite of her songs, but truly this CD is superb.  There's a reason it has sold 10 million copies.  Lovely artist and long may she continue to grown and give us more memorable music.

And so every day I'm feeding my car CD changer lots of new stuff:  Tony Bennet's two albums with the jazz pianist Bill Evans.  Jesus those are amazing recordings. Jamie Cullum's "20-Something" CD is such a gas and one of my favorite pop/jazz CDs.  He can take a show tune like "I Could Have Danced All Night," or a Cole Porter standard, such as "I Get A Kick Out of You," and newly mint them for today's young audiences.  Madeleine Peyroux is another young artist I love.  I'm no longer a rock 'n roller, if I ever was one.  I do like listening to Dave Matthews, and Blood Swear and Tears (old school).

A Mozart Symphony, a Schubert song, Janet Baker singing anything, Harry Connick, Jr., Ella live in Paris in the early 60s, Bobby Darrin (so cool), John Legend, Etta James, Aretha before she became the Queen of Soul, Harry Nilsson, Kristin Chenoweth, Jo Stafford, Jack Jones, Linda Ronstadt, Pink Martini, Christine Goerke singing Turandot, Ariadne, and Kundry, Keely Smith (the Sinatra CD rocks), Kenny Rankin, Jane Monheit, Joseph Calleja (a Maltese tenor with a fantastic sound), Lucia Popp and Margaret Price (beloved sopranos from the 70s and 80s), Jesse Cook (a fantastic classical and World Music guitarist), Eileen Farrel singing the Blues and Barbara Cook rockin' Broadway's song books, and so many others have been taking pins on my car CD player.

And now I've bought Adele's Albert Hall concert (a.k.a. recital) DVD and CD combo.  The CD will be on my change as of tomorrow. And wait...I have a ton of movie soundtracks that need to be getting fresh hearings.  It's a good time to be listening to music.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


The living room Christmas tree full of crystals

Last night I attended the first to two Christmas parties, my friend, John Baker, hosts every year.  Part of the fun of going to John's house is to be awed at the perfection and the time he puts into decorating his trees.  Yes, I said trees.  This year there were four.  I'm posting three of them and will finish the job next week at his next party.  

One tree is in the living room, and it is a shimmering wonder.  My camera won't do it justice.  There are hundreds of crystal ornaments from Tiffany's, Steuben, Swarovski, and many others in various shapes from snowflakes to round gumdrops with beveled edges.  Some of the crystals are opaque glass and some are colored, but most of them are clear crystal and the effect is dazzling.  

John buys all his trees at a farm, prunes them so they can hold lots of lights and ornaments, and it's a week-long effort.  The branches are carefully wrapped in lights.  He's got their watering down to a science. Some guys have elaborate toy trains with whole towns which they set up every Christmas.  John does trees.  

John's TV room tree laden with wooden ornaments

The TV room shows off John's huge collection of wooden ornaments, many of them hand-carved. He has even travelled to Germany to buy for his collection.  

The breakfast room tree, which is a repository of many different Christmas ornaments John has collected or been given by friends over the years.  More details below. 

I wish my camera could do justice to the details of these brilliant holiday creations. In the upper center of this picture is the tail end of a large, shiny fish with red and orange. 

Here's a large balloon hanging near the bottom of the tree. 

Here's a martini glass with an olive, a reminder of boozier days of Christmases past.

Reading a book in a comfy chair, this little guy appeals to the publishing side of me.

Isn't she lovely?--a rhino in a pink tutu.

This very old ornament goes back to John parents.  The detail is remarkable and it's holding up very well for its age. 

John's buffet table is always beautiful.  He trims his chandelier with beautiful hanging ornaments that look like colored icicles.  And the colored glass ornaments that show off his food enhance the display. 

John knows his way around party food.  There are lots of shrimp, a baked spiral ham with rolls, tiny stuffed potatoes, endive spears with smoked salmon and cream cheese, deviled eggs (anchovy this year), various cheeses, tiny stuffed beets, chicken salad finger sandwiches--all of which soak up alcohol beautifully.

While John knows how to prepare really great party food, he doesn't cook for himself during the week, which is a good thing. Because he clears his kitchen counters off and decorates with his various creches and small houses, all festooned with sprays of pine branches recycled from his tree trimmings.  

I'll take more pictures next week at his second gathering, including his bedroom tree--a first this year.  After that next bash, I expect John will take to his bed and start planning next year's effort.  

In closing, I have the nerve to offer you a photo of my tree. It's fake (as if you couldn't guess), comes already adorned with its own lights. I just keep hanging stuff on it till there's no more room.  Takes about and hour and a half.  

Pathetic, huh?  Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


John Baker presiding over my less-is-more-Thanksgiving table setting. 

My smallest Thanksgiving ever--just four of us this year.  I normally don't invite large crowds for dinner--six at most, and I always de-bone a turkey, roast it spatchcock-style, that is split up the backbone, pulled off the bone with the breast, wing, drumstick and thighs skin-side-up.  It's a good technique I once saw Julia Child do on TV and amazingly, I was able to copy it, and have been doing it ever since.  But this year, I wasn't in the mood, so I bought a turkey breast, and took it off the bone and decided to cook it "porchetta-style".  The inspiration for it came from the Food52 Cookbook and website, run by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubs. The recipe they prepared uses a traditional pork shoulder, but I thought the method might work for a turkey breast and it did.  Two days before Thanksgiving, I mashed up in a mortar and pestle, peppercorns, fennel and coriander seeds, rosemary, red pepper flakes, garlic, orange zest and coarse salt and turned it into a paste with some olive oil.  I then rubbed it all over the the turkey breast and under the skin, placed it in a bag and let it marinate for two days. I tied the roast into a tidy bundle, inserted fresh bay leaves under the strings (the photo you see above), and then covered the meat with slices of pancetta. It roasted low and slow at 325 degrees, for about two hours.  It was delicious, sliced so cleanly, and I was left with no bones, and happy eaters. 

Turkey breast, "porchetta style" before it's robe of pancetta slices

The rest of the menu was somewhat conventional:

corn chowder
mashed potatoes
turkey gravy
mushroom, leek and sausage stuffing
jellied cranberry-orange relish
Brussels sprouts braised with shallots, white wine and bacon
homemade rolls
lemon tart

I never make soup, but John Baker, one of my guests, suggested it was his favorite soup from a mutual friend of ours, and I made it.  The soup was excellent, a rich, if cholesterally nightmarish combination of bacon, corn, potatoes, heavy cream, and whole milk, with a few dashes of hot sauce and a sprinkling of chopped chives.  Everything else, dessert excepted, was from my hide-bound list of Thanksgiving favorites. We dispensed with the sweet potatoes and creamed onions (in my case, another rich gratin of leeks, baby white onions, scallions, shallots, and sweet onions).  Too heavy.

Pumpkin pie got aced out of it's traditional dessert spot in favor of an easy-peasy lemon tart.  Into a cooled, pre-baked tart shell, you add a blender-mixture of Meyer lemons (with their skins but sans seeds), a stick of butter, 1 1/2 cups fine sugar, and four eggs.  Into a 350-degree oven this simple dessert goes for a 30-minute baking.  The texture of the lemon curd for this tart is gossamer. The taste was out of this world.  I didn't miss pumpkin pie at all.  This recipe also comes from Food52 and variations of it have been used all over the Napa Valley (where it originated) for years. This one's secret was in using Meyer lemons. Good idea. It also made for a very pretty tart.  

Thanksgiving Lemon Tart

Spent most of Friday lying around the house like a lox.  Thanksgiving dinner is a marathon no matter if you have four guests or forty.  Over the past twenty years, I think I've cooked sixteen of them.  Obviously the key to success is to get all the food onto the table hot.  I'm rather tired of it, and so I'm announcing next year that I'm available as a guest for Thanksgiving.  

John always goes to Zupan's for flowers for my Thanksgiving table. Here's his beautiful 
arrangement for this year's dinner. 

Saturday I spent most of the day working on my top ten cookbooks of the year for my cookbook blog. Seven of the ten books have been written about, with three more to go.  Should have it up and running at by Monday or Tuesday of next week.  

At four, I quit my computer.  After enduring two rain-soaked days on Wednesday and Thursday, the sun shone brightly on Friday and Saturday  It was time to put up the Christmas lights.  Last year, Kyle put the lights up. This year, I had to do it myself. I dragged out the lights from the basement, pulled the ladder out of the garage and went to work adding more hooks to the gutter to fasten the lights running along-side of my driveway.  It never occurred to me to actually plug the light fixtures to make sure they all worked. I simply added the rain-gutter hooks, and attached the lights, adding another strand for a fuller light effect.  I plugged the lights in and only the center strand was working!!!  "The hell with it."  I just put away the ladder with a sense of self-disgust, and now I have three long strands of lights with only the middle section working.  I just went outside to take a photo, and noticed that half of one of the unlit strands was working.  Do I know why?  Hell no.  Next year, I'll invest in those newer LED lights and get rid of these silly icicle lights.  

The partially working Christmas lights hanging on the side of the house.  

Bit blissing out on his weekly catnip high at his scratching post. 
Really trying to keep him fixated on his post and not my couch arms.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


The last roses of the season were these Peace roses, which were growing out of one stem.  

For some strange reason, my grape hyacinths got a signal that it was time to come up.  Wrong.  
Try again next March. 

Another late bloomer in my Halloween-October garden, this yellow day lily.

On the phone with my pal Pat the other night, she complained, "you need to do another new blog entry."  Sighing, I told her not much is happening at the moment.  "Whaddayamean nothing's happening," she replied.  "You've got a new roommate and you just redid your landing on the second floor."  Well, I guess there are a few new things going on.

Yes, I have a roommate.  At 61, I am again, sharing my living space, this time with a 69-year-old grandmother.  Her name is Bev and she's very cool.  She drives a red Miata convertible (that's how I know she's cool). Bev, a life-long Oregonian, has been living in Hawaii.  But her youngest son and his wife, welcomed twin baby boys recently.  Both parents have big careers and Bev decided she wanted to be more involved her her grandson's lives.  Until the beginning of this month, she's been living with her son and daughter-in-law, but wanted some space of her own.  She answered my ad on Craigslist and we struck a deal.  The other candidates (including a newcomer to Portland, who was also new to the drag queen scene--I didn't want to discourage her, but I also didn't want a nocturnal creature as a roommate, and trust me, drag queens are nocturnal creatures). Bev has raised three children--two sons and a daughter, sold real estate and taught acting at the college level. She's a liberal Democrat, thank god, and we get along very well. It's cool sharing my house with her.  It's an ideal situation--Bev is busy with her grand kids and I'm home working in my upstairs office.  So far so good.

Upper landing TV room.

Bev's arrival has caused me to rethink the way the house was set up.  I had to move out a lot of things from the guest bedroom, where she's now ensconced until I finish the basement.  Once you begin to reorganize, other things suddenly demanded reorganizing as well.  My great grandmother's china was in the bedroom, and needed to move.  I suddenly saw the need to re-arrange all the china cabinets, which resulted in a far better result.  Now I don't need to pull everything out of the way to find something I use only once a year. The next thing you know, there's wholesale changes going on and a few weeks ago, I'm in my flop chair upstairs watching TV when I look around and notice the whole room looks drab.  So that got re-arranged, and with different rug and a new pillow in my chair, the place looks completely new.  It's now an even cozier space where I can relax, watch TV, read and chill.

There's usually a week in November without rain--and from Wednesday afternoon on, we've had sunny, pleasant weather and I could finally get out into the garden and pull all the annuals and put the vegetable garden to sleep for the winter. Those tomato plants were a twisted maize and needed to go.  The umbrella is now in the garage, and I should put the patio table and chairs there too--maybe sometime during this week. I've salvaged two large coleus plants from the front door and an unusally pretty pale green and copper-leafed geranium, which I couldn't allow to freeze. Repotted, it should last the winter and go back into the garden next sprint.

Thanksgiving is coming, and since we're only going to be four for dinner this year, I have a turkey breast, which I'll do a porchetta-style rub on the inside (capers, fennel and coriander seeds, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes), and let marinate for two days in the spare refrigerator in the garage.  Then I'll roll it and tie it up and cover it with pancetta and roast it.  I'm banishing sweet potatoes and creamed onions.  I found a terrific recipe for rolls that don't have to be fussed with--they're even ready to be heated for 10 minutes, so that became a no-brainer. I'll make a simple stuffing of sausage and mushrooms, some mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts with shallots and bacon, a new cranberry sauce--jelled from scratch, and for dessert--so long pumpkin pie--a refreshing lemon tart. I hope not to be staring at a sea of leftovers in my fridge for a week.

It's always difficult to be out and about with Beau and find myself hungry and in the mood to eat.  Food carts can be a great way to have a bite to eat and have Beau with me begging at my side, as was the case today.  I had gone to buy a new coffee/espresso machine and because it was a beautiful day, brought Beau with me.  On my way home, I saw this pod of food carts with a tent and pulled in.  Only two of the carts were open on this Sunday afternoon--a cart selling burritos/gyros, which didn't look to promising, and an Italian cart where I eventually indulged in a meatball hero.  Yowza, was this a great sandwich.  The bread was soft and crusty and came from a local Vietnamese bakery I often shop at for banh mi sandwich rolls.  Split, the roll was lined in provolone, and stuffed with three giant meatballs.  It was then given a generous splash of red sauce ("my Nanna's special recipe," said the kid behind the counter who comes from Lawrence, Massachusetts, which has a large Italian population in addition to being the hometown of Leonard Bernstein). He then topped this heart-attack-on-a-plate beauty with grated mozzarella.  OH-MY-GOD! The meatballs were very tender, the perfect combination of Parmesan, breadcrumbs, garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, salt and pepper. This $5 feast was eaten in a heated tent with Beau at my side looking more than curiously at my every bite.  I happily burped my way home.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


HEAD'S UP:  Don't know why these last two posts didn't show up.  I know I posted them, but in any event, if they seem dated, they are by a few weeks. 

One of my oldest friends (more than thirty five years now) also lives in Portland.  Jean-Francois and I have been through quite a lot together and one of the reasons I love the city so much is that I got to reconnect on a regular basis with my old friend.  Summer means travel and he and his partner, Jay, just got back from a long and extended stay in France, Italy and Belgium.  Jean-Francois retired as head of Portland's French-American school a few years ago, but he keeps busy as a consultant to a number of schools from Italy to Houston and Virginia Beach.  I snagged him for a free night at home and we had dinner on Saturday night--I did the cooking.  Dinner included a pork loin braised in milk--a recipe I've been doing from Marcella Hazan's THE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKBOOK for some thirty years now.  It's always a a hit.  You gently braise a lean loin of pork in whole milk for a few years until its tender. Meanwhile, the milk has reduced to these glorious nut-brown curds in the pan.  You skim off the fat, add a tablespoon or so of hot water, reducing the curds and creating a sauce. You then pour it over the sliced meat and serve.  It's an amazing dish.  I forgot to take to prepare my roasted potatoes, and instead, ran for the freezer and Trader Joe's excellent Tater Tots.  I added a big mixed salad, and sauteed zucchini with scallions, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and showered it with a chiffonade of basil leaves.  For dessert we had a gallette of pears with orange zest and vanilla.  

My hydrangeas have turned colors.  The big, showy round ones are green with a blush of pink and the spear-shaped flowers have taken on a reddish color (they were pure white in July).  I wanted to capture their fall beauty and created this nice arrangement for the table.  

John Baker brought a selection of cut flowers with gorgeous jewel colors and felt like fall from Zupans, his local high end grocer, which has a fine florist on the premises.  The result was to spectacular arrangements that feel like fall. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Rita and me on the balcony of her apartment in San Francisco with a drop-dead view of the city.

I went to San Francisco last week to attend the reception of my good friend, Terri Stuart, who married her long-time partner, Martin, in August.  The reception was held in Napa last Sunday, and it was a great excuse to take a long overdue break, see my hometown and get caught up with friends and family.  This was not a trip for restaurant hopping--the four days were stuffed with family and friends.

Lonnie and me on Rita & Riccardo's balcony overlooking San Francisco.  Lonnie is my longest friendship.  
We bicker and insult each other, as old friends do.  Can't imagine life without him. 

I arrived three hours later and immediately picked up a rental car and drove to my twin brother's home in Foster City.  Keep in mind that I've been driving less than two months, and the pace on California highways is much faster than in Portland.  I got there in one piece. Herz gave me a very nice pale blue Nissan Versa, a car I had seriously considered buying.  I had a nice visit with my brother Scott and his girlfriend, Bernadette, who cooked a wonderful dinner, before heading into the city for Lonnie's apartment.  Lonnie and I have been close friends for forty years.  We argue like cats and dogs--maybe that's what happens with old friends.  Still, I can't imagine visiting the city and not staying with him.  Lonnie lives in the inner-Richmond district right along side Golden Gate Park, which was hosting a huge bluegrass music festival with lots of known and lesser-known musical acts all performing over a three-day event for free.  It kept traffic near the park snarled up for the entire weekend.  Thank god I had a parking spot because San Francisco is one of the most miserable cities to drive in and parking is an even bigger nightmare.

On Saturday, Lonnie and I had brunch with Rita and Riccardo Fabi, friends from New York.  Rita works for Facebook, which is why they are now living in San Francisco.  Their very nice apartment is on top of a hill in Noe Valley a block and a half from where I lived during my junior high school days!  The one bedroom apartment boasts one of the most gorgeous panoramic views of the city I've ever seen. The photo above cannot capture the dimensional width of this view.  This is why people pay high rents, live with the ever-present threat of an earthquake, and abide the cramped space of a small city.  The only really tall buildings are downtown in the shopping, financial and South of Market districts.  Riccardo has just joined an on-line firm, so the Fabis are living large and happy in this beautiful city.

Saturday night we drove to San Rafael in the heart of Marin for dinner with my baby brother, Kevin and his wife Diane.  They are also in good shape, having recently climbed out of a tough economic period. Kevin has been selling industrial tools for over 30 years, and business has been terrible of late.  But it has improved, they got a tax windfall and Diane is working steadily, which has taken the pressure off.  So it was a relaxed evening we shared at the Seafood Peddler,  a large, family style restaurant with okay food.  It was the company that was important.  While I have had difficult times with my other two brothers, Kevin and I never seem to have any serious issues.  Our interests are poles apart--he is an avid fisherman, loves watching TV and never cracks a book.  But we've always gotten along just fine.

On Sunday morning on our way to Napa, we stopped in Mill Valley for a visit with Joan and Fritz Hottenstein and their gorgeous daughters, Lily and Quinn.  They have been doing a lot of renovating of their 20s-style home, with new a new deck, expansion of a small room downstairs as well as some improvements in their living room (a updated fireplace) and kitchen (a built-in bench and moving some window openings around for safety).  Joan and I were colleagues in my last corporate publishing job and she's like a kid sister to me.  She's married to a wonderful man and their daughters keep us endlessly amused--particularly Quinn, whom we all liken to a hurricane, so intense is her personality and non-stop energy.

In Napa, Terri, whose husband is German, created an Oktoberfest reception in her brother's back yard. Terri greeted us in a dirndl and we entered into the back yard where tents were set up with tables for guests. There was a small group of musicians playing music.  Opera is Terri and Martin's passion, and the Wagner Society was there to perform an amusing musical number in tribute to the couple, manned no less by Marie Plette--a wonderful American soprano, who is a friend of Terri's.  There was beer and house-made Pinot Noir and Syrah, from Terri's brother's vineyards. There were four types of beer, and a German style lunch of grilled sausages, braised red cabbages, spaetzel, potato salad, and pickles.  Terri and her sisters also baked large sheets of cakes with fruit and almonds. It was a lovely way to celebrate this happy event.

On Monday I enjoyed a leisurely morning, packing for the return trip, and stopping off to have a late lunch with Bernadette before heading to the airport.  As with our arrival, weather and air traffic delayed our departure. We reached Portland at about 9:15 PM, and it was raining here (had been since Saturday).

My friend, Sara, hosted Beau over the weekend and brought him up to her mother's country home.  
You can see Beau's working on buttering up Sara, who is not at all immune to his charms.
 He thinks he is a baby.  Below he is posing--the shameless little ham! 

I found myself enjoying myself in San Francisco for the first time in a long while.  I've visited there regularly over the years, but the city is so changed from my youth.  It's far more crowded, expensive, and seems much more like a big Eastern city rather than the West Coast jewel I once thought it to be.  Maybe it is because I find myself drawn to the more leisurely and less flashier pace of Portland, which often reminds me of the San Francisco of my youth.

I'll always enjoy spending time with Lonnie and it was fun to work his nerves as I tried to navigate the traffic there.

Pioneer Square on Thursday, October 6 late afternoon in downtown Portland

Portland police keeping order.  The march was non-violent and well-organized.  There were no arrests. 

I'm following the increasing coverage of young protesters in cities all around the country, demonstrating against the greed of the banks, making their voices heard.  In Portland's Pioneer Square, an elbow-to-elbow packed crowd (that can hold up to 10,000 people) gathered on Thursday. It was peaceful and well-organized.  In New York on Wall Street, the establishment is becoming alarmed.  Mayor Bloomberg, who has ruined all the good will he built up during his first two terms in office, has squandered it first with his inept handling of the snow clean-up during last winter's storms. Now he continues his slide over remarks he has made, saying the protesters should be working with corporations to give them the confidence to hire.  Absurd.  Corporations no longer give a crap about their employees or creating jobs. They exist, according to Bill Clinton, to please their investors and their top management who earn the lion's share of profits, while the workers who keep things humming, are paid far less and given fewer benefits. Mr. Bloomberg, who has made an obscene fortune in business is merely trying to protect his big nest egg. Now Eric Cantor, Majority Leader of the House of Representatives and the #2 ranking Republican there, is calling the protesters "mobs" and in what Jonathan Capeheart of the Washington Post describes as "breathtaking hypocrisy," bemoans the fact that Americans are attacking Americans.  Calling legitimate protesters a "mob" is typical Repug-speak.  It turns around the original intention on itself, and ends up blaming the victims. Repugs are famous for this tactic.  They have effectively demonized unions (who have now thrown their support behind the protesters), teachers, civil servants, municipal workers, and so-called "greedy" retiring baby boomers with the help of the media.  But that is now changing.  People realize the oligarchic nature of the Republican party. They understand that Republicans want all the wealth.  They understand the Republican agenda of destroying America's middle class.  This young group of protesters feels they have nothing to lose.  They have been told there will be no Social Security for them.  They have been told there will be no Medicare.  They already know there are no jobs.  And they are fed up with the partisan warfare going on in do-nothing-Washington.  I'm thrilled they are demanding to be heard and urge everyone to support them.  It's time to clean house once and for all.

A particularly eloquent protester with her father. 

My fall garden.  My cherry tomatoes are ripening as we near the mid-October mark.  Rains this week delayed things, but every day I get a bowl-full like this--sweet and tart at the same time. 

For the past several weeks, this is my daily haul of cherry tomatoes from my vegetable garden.  

My New Guinea Impatience has suffered through a hot August.  I didn't realize they don't like a lot of sun, and to fix this, I put the grill right in front of them, blocking the sunlight. It worked like a charm.  They have been blooming their heads off for weeks now. 

A big shout-out to my favorite diva--Christine Goerke, who is having the triumph of her career in the title role of Richard Strauss' emotionally wrenching and vocally fierce music drama, ELEKTRA.  Nearing the peak of her vocal and acting skills, Christine has was it takes to become the greatest dramatic soprano of her generation.  In the future are Brunnhilde (especially in Houston where she will be the centerpiece of the company's first staged Ring Cycle), the Dyer's Wife in Strauss's DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN at the Met and other international opera houses, more Elektras, Leonores in FIDELIO, and many other opera house challenges.  In a widely circulated syndicated review from the Associated Press, music critic, Mike Silverman was full of effusive praise:

"The Teatro Real of Madrid is offering that opportunity right now with its production of Richard Strauss's one-act tragedy "Elektra," starring the American soprano Christine Goerke in one of the most daunting roles ever written.
Goerke, heard at her third performance of the run on Thursday night, is simply thrilling as the vengeance-obsessed daughter of the slain Agamemnon and his murderous wife, Klytemnestra.
Her supple voice combines a warm, velvety lower and middle register with a shining top that rises easily to high C. Her sound, while not huge, has no difficulty penetrating the 110-piece orchestra - an ensemble so big the theater had to remove the first two rows of seats for this production.
Above all, Goerke brings a vocal bloom to the role that few sopranos today could match. That quality paid off especially in the gorgeous music that follows her recognition of her long-lost brother Orest, a passage she sings with melting tenderness, complete with ravishing, soft high notes.
Her acting, which seemed slightly self-conscious at first, gained strength through the nearly two-hour-long performance until she became completely absorbed in the conflicting emotions of rage, despair and, finally, frenzied jubilation that ends in her death.
Goerke, who is alternating with veteran Elektra Deborah Polaski in the Madrid production that runs through Oct. 15, has been moving gradually into dramatic soprano territory. She has previously sung the lighter role of Elektra's sister, Chrysothemis, in this opera, and has also performed in operas by Mozart, Handel and Gluck.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether she will be able to preserve her freshness after repeated performances, or whether she will develop the worn, strident top one often hears in other Elektras. Much is riding on it, for Goerke has plans to add some other famously difficult roles in coming years, including the Dyer's Wife in Strauss's "Die Frau ohne Schatten" and Bruennhilde in Wagner's "Ring" cycle."

Christine Goerke