Saturday, January 29, 2011


Tailored Laurel Hedges

My heather has been obscured by Kyle's truck and my driveway is a wind-tunnel that gets clogged with leaves from everyone else's yard surrounding my house.  Here it looks relatively clean. 

This rosemary was a small pot last summer. It weathers our wet winters very well here.  

On the landing at the top of my stairs, the smells from my kitchen are at their most intense.  If I were to sell my house, I'd bake a loaf of bread and a batch of cookies just before an open house.  I would have multiple offers on the first day.  That is how intense the aroma can be and it is at its most intense when I'm cooking something Spanish or Indian.  On Thursday night, I made Susan Loomis' Curried Chicken Wings.  I found this wonderful recipe in her memoir, Cooking at Home on the Rue Tatin (Wm. Morrow), and a simpler recipe cannot be imagined.  For four servings, you place four pounds of chicken wings on a single layer on a baking sheet (lined with foil and then misted with cooking spray).  Season the wings with salt on both sides. In another bowl, you'll need one cup of full-fat plan yogurt, 2 tablespoons curry powder (she recommends Madras, which is my preferred mixture), and a good pinch of hot paprika.  You pour the mixture over the wings and with your hands make sure they wings are entirely coated.  Then bake them in a 375 degree oven for 50-60 minutes.  Loomis recipe calls for a hotter oven (475 degrees F), but it always burns the wings and I've turned the heat way down.  Maybe it is because I use Greek Yogurt.  In any event, the wings turn a heavenly shade of yellow/brown, and are intoxicatingly aromatic with the curry spice.  I serve them with tater tots from Trader Joe's and a big green salad. I never have leftovers, but the smell of the curry is in my house for at least a day afterwards, and as reported, most intense at the top of the stairs.

Lots of chores were on my list of things to get accomplished this weekend in preparation for my trip to Turin this coming Tuesday.  It's been three years since my last visit to Italy, and I'm very excited to hear my buddy Christine Goerke, who is in the midst of a five-performance run singing the leading soprano role of Kundry in Wagner's PARSIFAL.  It will also be my first trip to Turin and I'm going to spend a day in Genoa too.  So my plate was full:  a haircut, to the bank for Euros, shopping for groceries, drugstore for travel needs, and back in time for the gardening service to trim my enormous laurel hedges, which have grown more than two feet in the fourteen months since their last trim.  I've been putting out things to take with me for a week.  I'm determined to bring one small rolling bag and a backpack and that's it.

I really liked the President's State of the Union speech, which may not have pleased the pundits (head's up ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere--it wasn't written for you), but it think it went a long way towards telling Americans that we need to get back to innovating, educating, and investing in our future. Not that Republicans would have it that way.  They are too busy being disrespectful as they attempt to repeal every Obama initiative coming out of the White House.  I didn't realize afterwards that CNN was the only network that ran Michelle Bachmann's insane response to the State of the Union.  With her graphs and her mashed truths, she looked more zombie-like than she did the night she won her election. If that's the future of America, INCLUDE ME OUT. I've had a belly-full of mouthy know-it-alls like the Tea Party and their Republican counterparts.  I'm just happy that the insanity at the heart of the Tea Party message will give the Republicans major headaches.  They deserve it.  

Saw Secretariat, the Disney biopic about this amazing Triple Crown winning thoroughbred--the last horse to win it nearly forty years ago.  It's a thrilling movie with a sensational cast, headed by the emotionally compelling Diane Lane, one of the most underrated actresses in films today.  James Cromwell, John Malkovich, Scott Glenn and others all contribute to this emotionally satisfying movie.  Old fashioned--yes, but this was a horse to root for and a story worth telling. It's a far better movie than Seabiscuit.

Will write more from the road.  Planning on taking lots of pictures to download this trip.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Bay scallops, rice, and romaine and avocado salad

Bay scallops with grape tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic, leeks and scallions, thyme, 
red pepper flakes, salt and pepper

Week three of 2011 and my tree is still up.  So are the outdoor lights and all the decorations except the wreath on my door which was trashed yesterday.  I'm kinda drowning in this exciting new year.  I've got a second cookbook bestseller in less than two months that's taking up a lot of time, as well as working on several other cookbook promotions, new business proposals and planning a quick week's getaway on February 1st.  I'm off to Italy for a week. My buddy Christine is singing her first Kundry in Richard Wagner's epic opera, PARSIFAL. She'll be performing the role in Turin, an Italian city I've longed to see. I'll also get a day's trip to Genoa, another city on my must-see list.

Work on the basement has begun again.  Kyle has been filling cracks, framing out a closet, while a young laborer is helping with digging holes on the side of the house whenever it's not raining, and insulating the basement ceiling.  While the snow has been burying much of the country, we've had nothing but rain. There's hardly a day in the past three weeks that we haven't been rained on.  Beau has been missing his daily walks, and while he's always hated rain, he's learned that a quick visit to the back yard is often the only outing he'll get.  We got a walk in yesterday, and already you can see shoots coming out in the neighborhood gardens.  Crocus and daffodils will be out in a few weeks.  It's not cold.

A Pam Anderson recipe:  Italian sausages, cherry tomatoes, onions garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and cannellini beans

But it does feel gray and still wintry, and I've been cooking food that makes us feel good.  On Saturday, I made a recipe from Pam Anderson's fine new cookbook, PERFECT ONE-DISH DINNERS.  Cassoulet-Style Italian Sausages and White Beans is a recipe guaranteed to keep winter at bay.  Cherry tomatoes, garlic, onions, thyme, salt and pepper are combined in one large roasting pan with the sausages and beans.  All it needed was a nice green salad.  The leftovers made a spectacular lunch. After all the beef and lamb of the holidays, it was a pleasure to tuck into a steaming dish of shrimp risotto.  I had some tomato sauce in the fridge and stirred a few tablespoons-full into the risotto which also had scallions, a few anchovies and lemon zest to brighten it's flavors.  Tonight I made my friend Sherri's fresh scallops with grape tomatoes, garlic, onions, white wine, vermouth and parsley.  I had some frozen artichoke hearts and a big leek, so they went in with some red pepper flakes.  You put it in a roasting pan and put it all in a very hot oven for about 12 minutes.  The recipe makes a wonderful sauce, perfect for dipping bread into. Another night of grilled salmon with a brush of Hoison sauce to glaze its surface, baked sweet potatoes, and a saute of zucchini, scallions and smoked hot paprika, made a trifecta of seafood dinners in one week.  

The news today that John Boehner had led the charge to repeal President Obama's healthcare bill which the Senate and the president supported was very dispiriting.  I don't subscribe to Washington's spineless retreat from in-yer-face politics to pious civility.  It's phony.  The whole republican congressional contingent is a disgrace.  Tea Party sympathizers, right wing nut jobs, so-called fiscal conservatives who waste money on wasteful expensive foreign wars, and legitimize their district's entitlements over healthcare for all Americans are liars and criminals. The can all shake their heads when one of their own takes a bullet from some nut job and try like hell to avoid the fact that they haven't done a think about our country porous borders. Why should they do anything?  I just don't understand why conservative republicans refuse to do anything for working Americans and worse, I don't understand why working Americans cannot see through their manipulative behavior.  Shame on Congress.  They grant themselves excellent health benefits and the hell with anyone else!  Time to hit the veto button, Mr. President.  an I hope he will continue to exercise his veto power as long as Republicans continue their insane policies while corporate America abandons pensions, and fires anyone over the age of 40 because they can, Wall Street wipes out American's 401K plans.  

I saw Condoleeza Rice say that our politicians are grappling with serious issues on TV tonight.  No they are not.  They are wasting our taxes and giving us virtually nothing in return.  Shame, shame, shame.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


We were all well into our plates before I remembered to get this photo.  I never got one of of the gnocchi. 

But here is the other half that I froze for a future use.

A mixed berry Clfaoutis with raspberries, blueberries, cherries and strawberries

John's New Year's Git--a Red Anthirium

New Year's Eve is an evening I prefer to spend at home.  And home is where I stayed.  I invited John Baker and his friend Darren over for dinner.  John, who is a generous friend brought me a gorgeous anthirium plant.  I had gone to Gartner's, the famous Portland butcher (where I also purchased a whole, boneless smoked ham which was originally priced at $60 for nearly 10 pounds to $20.  I cut the ham in thirds, and froze two segments for entertaining later this winter. The other third had provided us with fillings for omelets, sandwiches and tonight's mac and cheese--see below),  and found a large thickly cut boneless chuck blade roast.  I decided to braise it from a recipe by Michele Scicolone, an Italian cookbook writer that I really admire.  The recipe, Beef in Barolo, is a simple, but deeply satisfying braise of wine, pancetta, carrots, celery, and onions. and long simmered on top of the stove.  The sauce is surprisingly fat-free, and makes a fine delicious on homemade gnocchi, which I served as a first course.  The meat was served with frozen peas that I sauteed in butter and added finely chopped scallions,  a mixed salad and a mixed berry clafoutis for dessert.  We washed it down with a bottle of sparkling rose brut from France.  A delicious way to usher in the new year, we enjoyed more wine and slept in the next day.

Marion Cunningham's fabulous Nutmeg Muffins

The next day I decided to bake nutmeg muffins--a wonderfully fragrant muffin from Marion Cunningham from her fabulous The Breakfast Book.  These muffins are the best I've ever eaten--they require one and a half whole nutmegs that you hand grate.  Kyle is not much for sweets for baked goods, and I had twelve of them.  Kent who came over to go to lunch later that week, was happy to take some of them from me.

The New Year started off slowly, but as of Monday, I was at my desk with requests pouring in for various things related to work projects, and a nagging problem begging for a solution was tugging at the back of my brain.  After the third hole was dug in the side of my house to be patched, I thought, well, that's three big patches, and no guarantee that the problems of leaks into the basement was solved.  What definitively was the state of my foundation?  What if it required a major repair?  And if so, why was I responsible?  Hadn't the previous owners lied about the water problems in the disclosure waiver they signed when I bought the house?  And why was the new basement foundation stripped all the way to the bare concrete if there were no water problems.  This I discovered when the woman who had built the addition to the house told me there had been a finished bedroom and bathroom in the basement.  No more.  I've been involved in the hell of getting that basement renovated since last summer and progress was at a standstill until the issue of the leaks became resolved.  I called the contractor who had installed the egress window and took the weight of the back of the house off the two wide windows that were illegally holding up the weight, installing king studs on either sides of the window as well as steel bars that would now bear the weight of the floor joists above them.  He recommended I speak to a specialist in foundations. I had already consulted with a foundation guy who specialized in vintage homes such as mine.  But this guy was an engineer, and his consultation would be a paid one.

Friday afternoon, Jay from Seismic Technologies arrived, and Kyle and I took him through the process that had taken us to this place. He startled me at once saying that my house was built in the late 20s, not in 1938, as the house was originally listed on the real estate statisics.  This will no mean that I'm going to to do a search through city records to confirm this. He based this on the quality of the cement.  He was full of praise for Kyle's solutions by digging deeply into the foundation, and repairing the cracks with cement and then hand-trowelling tar over the cement to give it a flexible and water-proof skin.  He prodded and poked the cement of the walls, checked for further leaks, found another weakness in the wall of the bathroom indicating a sink (gone before I moved in) may have contributed to the wall's weakness (moisture from continued splashing) and made recommendations for its repair.  He sourced the large crack in the walls of a closet from my side garden, and told me to find a device that could measure any changes over a year's period.  Kyle could decide the best way of dealing with any sealing of the interior walls.  He checked along the rose garden, prodding it's depths to make sure there wasn't a pipe underneath that might be causing any water problems.  In all he spent about and hour and a half evaluating the state of my foundation and I'm thrilled that he deemed it sound.  With a few more patch repairs to waterproof the side the house alongside the dog run, and some minor interior patching downstairs, and some fill-in work on the floor, my leaks would probably cease. This is fantastic news as I as becoming more and more frantic about the state of my house.  The renovation would have to be stopped.  I'd have to consider suing the previous owners, and where would that leave me in the future should I ever want to sell the house.  I couldn't pass on to future owners a mess that had been passed on to me through negligence.  Whoever buys this house from me, will certainly receive it in much better shape that I did.

Next week a water-proofing specialist is coming over to weigh in with his opinion.  I think I can finally put this behind me.  Which brings me to one of the biggest points about house renovation  Get an expert's opinion.  Everyone has an opinion and not necessarily a solution. One person who says use French drains, but they also require flushing out, not an easy task when they are buried below ground.  I've heard of drains being dug along the edge of all the basement walls to prevent water from moving in. Sump pumps, a new foundation and any number of other ideas, none of which make sense until you get the word from an expert. Be patient, and don't freak out (like I do) whenever something goes wrong.  Find the right expert to fix it.  I love Angie's List.  The guy with the most reviews, almost always gets my call. He or she has done the work the most.  Don't be afraid to ask an expert to explain something to you.  I've learned a ton about how water travels and seeks an outlet from experts.  Who knew?  Previously when the heating/air conditioning units in my apartment leaked, I called the super and yelled at him.  With a house I can only yell at myself.  My mother, who will be 80 next year, is furious with her condo management, who do nothing.  So she's decided the best thing for her is to sell her condo and buy a house.  I told her not to call me when something goes wrong.  I plan to sell this place in about eight or nine years and move back into an apartment--or assisted living, which ever comes first. I love my house, but it has caused me more than my fair share of stress and it is a money pit.

Saturday, Carol and Sara were guests for dinner.  I made marinated loin lamb chops in olive oil, lemon zest, freshly chopped rosemary, garlic squeezed through a press, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. I grilled on them on each side on top of the stove in a heavy grill pan and put them in a hot oven to finish cooking. I also made roasted potatoes, Brussells sprouts, salad and raspberry sorbet for dessert.  Sara had brought chocolate covered almonds, which went wonderfully well with the sorbet.

This may be the funniest photo of Beau ever.  He had just polished off a lamb chop bone and was in nirvana, 
licking the dregs of raspberry sorbet!

Sara has developed a special bond with Beau.  She gathered up the empty sorbet dishes, and Beau liked them clean and then fell asleep in her arms.

 Beau relaxing after his dinner treats in the arms of his buddy, Sara.

My very adult mac 'n cheese. The recipe is adapted from a recipe by Sara Moulton

I had intended on taking down the Christmas tree and all the ornaments, but got side-tracked by other things, so I suspect I'll be doing that tomorrow evening. I made a rich, adult macaroni and cheese tonight with all the odds and ends of the cheese I had in the house from the holidays.  So I made a bechamel sauce adding pieces of ham, some dry mustard, and Worcestershire sauce and and a few shots of Tiger hot sauce.  I had a mixture of Pepperjack cheese, feta, Rogue blue cheese, and some mozzarella.  When this was melted into the bechamel,  mixed it with cooked penne, scattered Panko crumbs on top with some Pecorino-Romano cheese and baked it.  The combination was exceedingly rich--the ultimate Mac'n Cheese.

The big news this week is my last-minute decision to go to Turin, Italy on February 1st to see my buddy, Chrisitine Goerke, sing her first Kundry in Wagner's PARSIFAL at the opera house there on February 6th. I had all these frequent flyer miles and had been frustrated in planning two previous trips.  I've always wanted to go to Turin and to Genoa as well, and now I'll be able to do both.  Delta found the right flights and I found an affordable hotel, and I'm off.  I can now tick off two more Italian cities that I'll explore on food, by train and bus.