Cooper, creating mischief in a hanging fuchsia
Out on the patio with friends who had come over to help me clean out the basement, my friend Jay noticed a squirrel who seemed to be very still next to the water fountain. I looked over and there was Cooper, eyes opened, breathing heavily and very still. I walked over to him and noticed blood on the leaves where he had just moved. Not knowing what to do, I went and Googled local rescues and found the Autobahn Society, who referred me to a local rescue agency. I got a voicemail announcement, so no medical help was available for Cooper. They recommended that you not attempt to move a wounded wild animal. We left him alone and an hour later I was back out and Cooper was dead. The flies were already hovering. It was so sad. I had the feeling that he had been injured not far from the house and managed to haul himself back home (he lived in the branches of my back yard Cedar tree) where he died. I didn't want to move him just yet and decided to leave him there overnight. Saturday morning, I came out and with shovel lifted his stiff body into a paper shopping bag. I'll bury him in the side yard (dog run) tomorrow.
Cooper has a very pretty squirrel, with an overlay of reddish brown fur over gray. He had very lively eyes, and with me he had become very trusting. I'd often find him standing up begging for a peanut at the back door. He came very close to me to grab a peanut and then dashed off, but only a few feet, to crack open the shell and enjoy the nuts inside. He finish it off, or haul it off to stash away for a time when he needed it. He'd often come back two or three times for his supply. He would often be accompanied by a bunch of crows who also enjoyed peanuts. None of them were as trusting as Cooper. I'd managed to hand him two or three peanuts, but mostly we kept a respectful if curious distance from each other.
Cooper in the midst of peanut butter 'madness'
Cooper often created a mess in my garden. Up on my bedroom balcony, he would rummage in the empty rail planters discharging the dirt in every direction, looking for food. It go so bad that I would have to take a leaf blower up there to blow the debris off of the balcony. He also loved my strawberries, brazenly enjoying a ripe one as he stood outside my kitchen door daring me to scold him. He enjoyed my French radishes this summer, leaving gnawed evidence of his visits on the rooted radishes. But Cooper's favorite treat was an empty peanut butter jar, which I would leave for him. He would manage to squish his body inside of the jar, licking every trace of the peanut butter jar before abandoning it on the patio where he found it. I've posted these photos of him before. He was a lively and endlessly entertaining little chap, and I'll miss him.
The saga of Beau's chronic diarrhea continues. The blood test for pancreatitis came back low to normal, so I took him off the medicine prescribed and was happy to do so. The powdered substance didn't agree with Beau--he didn't like it in his food, though he continued to eat and worse, it produced a bad odor (apparently a common side-effect). But the blood test also revealed that Beau was vitamin B-12 deficient, and as of yesterday, we started him on B-12 shots, which I have to administer every week for the next six, and then maintain them once a month for the rest of his life. He's on a strict hypo-allergenic diet of venison and sweet potatoes in the form of dry food and treats. This should clear up the problem, and if not, he will have to undergo endoscopy. Fingers crossed.
John Baker, who often helps me get Beau to the Vet and chauffeurs me on various car errands around town, was over to the house last night for a glass of wine in the back yard. We often have dinner on Friday nights, and most often we go to Starkey's a casual bar and restaurant serving a gay clientele here in Portland. Gay restaurants have gone the way of the Dodo bird and for good reason. In their heydays of the 60s and 70s, gay restaurants were known for their bad food, tacky, overly-familiar waiters (who were often nasty if you complained about anything), and prima donna chefs, who made your life miserable if you had the nerve to send something back. I'd given up on the genre years ago. Why allow myself to be bullied and snarked at by my own kind? John is a creature of habit--a lovely and loyal friend who would do anything for you. I know he enjoys Starkey's and endures my endless complaints about the place. I'd cheerfully like to march into the kitchen and bitch-slap the chef--an inept monster who needs to be fired. I once sent back a raw portion of prime rib. Two minutes later, out it came, looking slightly gray from a quick rotation through the microwave. I refused it. The waiter had the balls to be incensed. I wasn't stepping down. I refused it again. They also do stupid things like serve a martini in a stainless steel stem glass. Yuck. I stopped going after that for a bit, but John loves the place. So back I went. The waiters are dumb as stones. If you ask for well-done French fries, invariably they emerge from the kitchen undercooked. They simply cannot be trusted to get the order right. But I've now made my peace with the place, which is always packed on Friday nights. I make sure I don't order anything complicated from the woefully dated menu--the simpler the better, which means a burger, or a Cobb salad. I once relented and even tried the pork chops, often an iffy choice, invariably served tough. Not bad. But they throw cheese sauces on everything. I noticed on one visit someone near our table ordered Chicken Cordon Bleu (so 60s!), or at least I thought it was Chicken Cordon Bleu--that gooey mess looked completely unpalatable. The average age of the clientele is about 58. The look of the place and the customers is as embalmed as the menu.
This long preamble is because yesterday was Friday and John and I were going out to dinner. I had seen a nice review for a new, casual dining spot in the neighborhood--The Sunshine Tavern. I called for a table and they have a no-reservations policy. I hate the whole idea of a no-reservations policy. It means the potential to wait for a table. We're both over 60 and we're not willing wait, cooling our jets at a noisy bar waiting for a table. The pleasant guy who answered the phone assured me they could take us in 45 minutes without a wait. So off we went.
My heart sank as we approached The Sunshine Tavern's front door. It's a soaring, modern space of glass and medium colored wood with rustic tables, a lively bar and a shuffleboard on one side and the open kitchen on the other with a few tables out front. It's noisy and it's young. We were easily the oldest diners there. The first words out of my mouth to the guy with whom I had spoke to earlier were, "this is the reason why I hate a no-reservations policy." But he managed to disarm me right away. He said there were a number of tables that had just paid and would be ready soon. He brought us over to the seating area right next to the shuffle board to have a drink and look over the menu while we waited. I appreciated his solution--how rare for a restaurant to have any solution these days to over-crowding. We had barely sat down when he came back to tell us he had our table ready. I liked that even better.
We ordered a familiar bottle of rose while we scanned the menu. There were intriguing things along with some things that seemed just weird. For instance, under appetizers, there is a chicken liver mousse with baguette or pecorino with walnuts and honey. But then there was this weird combination of gravy cheese fries with pork sausage gravy, which sounds like something you might find at a bad roadside diner. A romaine salad with fried capers, Parmesan and garlic vinaigrette or a wedge of iceberg with buttermilk blue cheese, roasted tesa and and seived egg, variations aside, are also standard fare. But the chopped salad with piri-piri peppers, rustica, french fries and salami sounded at first jarred---potatoes with lettuce? The waitress was very enthusiastic about the salad and said it also had a brightness from vinegar that worked with the crunchy/sift potatoes. It suddenly sounded so intriguing that we had to order it.
The salad was amazing--lots of crunch from the lettuces and radicchio and then the fried potatoes with their crunchy exteriors and soft centers were set off by the bright overtones of the vinegar. Further salt was supplied by the slivers of salami and cheese. This was very creative comfort food. John ordered a perfect medium-rare skirt steak, with shallot butter, Worcester sauce and French fries. I had classic fried oysters, with French fries (lots of fries tonight), with a delicious coleslaw with paper-thin slices of red onion, and a delicious house-made tarter sauce (impossible to find these days).
One of the menu items got my attention was fried chicken served with a waffle. I had recently seen the HBO mini-series of MILDRED PIERCE, starring Kate Winslet. Mildred opens a chicken and waffle restaurant. The combination seems odd to me, though it's roots go back to the 19th century America. It seems to me to be a rather heavy dish, but there are several chain restaurants that specialize in fried chicken and waffles, including the singer Gladys Knight
We noticed our neighbors mostly appealing plates--one was a strange-looking Monte Cristo sandwich (never my favorite) with a fried egg on top and she also had those strange gravy cheese fries (I noticed in the Oregonian yesterday that one in four Oregonians is obese). But her friend seemed very enthusiastic about her pizza with mozzarella fior di latte, black oil-cured olives and pepperoni. On the other side, two guys were tucking into a substantial cheese burger on a brioche roll, and a roasted pork belly sandwich with arugula, red onion, chili mayonnaise and fontina (think I'll try that on my next visit).
Dessert was a shared dish of soft-serve honey-vanilla ice cream with a hard crust of salted chocolate. It was outstanding, evoking memories of Mr. Softy ice cream cones from my youth with the adult addition of salt to the crunch of dark chocolate.
I walked into SUNSHINE TAVERN ready to pounce and bounce attitude off of every wall. I still don't like a no-reservation policy. It's too noisy. But the food is delicious and well-priced, the wait-staff is friendly and efficient, and the guy at the door knows how to quickly disarm demanding customers and make them feel welcome.
The owners of this new casual dining spot also own Lincoln, a highly regarded restaurant in North Portland. I haven't been there, but it's often included in round-ups of the city's best restaurants. Co-Owner/chef, Jenn Louis, has created an interesting concept of updated and thoroughly modern as well as familiar foods with big, bold flavors that are very appealing. I'll be back often and must now also check on Lincoln.