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.

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