Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Soprano Christine Goerke has been like a kid sister to me since we met in San Francisco in 1997.  Then just out of the Metropolitan Opera's Young Artists' Program, this Long Island-born singer had won praise in Gluck's masterful IPHIGENIE EN TAURIDE.  She was singing the first soprano soloist in Mahler's epic Eighth Symphony with the San Francisco Symphony, and her big and warm soprano soared above the combined forces of a huge orchestra, a beefed up chorus, seven other vocal soloists and a huge organ. Afterwards, we cemented our friendship over a glass of champagne.  Christine is a very funny lady with a big warm heart.  I've since seen her in concert, and in opera houses in London, Turin, Florence, Seattle, Santa Fe, Houston, Philadelphia, New York and at Tanglewood (summer home of the Boston Symphony).

Christine's big sound was always there and it's size is much prized by opera lovers and casting directors.  When I first met her, Christine's rep was mostly in the Mozart/Handel operas.  One of the biggest successes of her early career was at the New York City Opera where her dazzling comic skills, and flexible voice captivated audience and critics alike.  That was also the year she won the Richard Tucker Award with a big cash prize, and gained admittance to a group of American singers of stature such was Renee Fleming, Joyce diDonato, Aprile Millo, Matthew Polenzani, Stephanie Blythe, Patricia Racette, and others.  But it was clear from the beginning that her voice was meant for the big Wagner and Strauss roles--Isolde in TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, Brunnhilde in Wagner's RING cycle, Otrud in LOHENGRIN and Kundry in PARSIFAL.  She has already sung the last two roles in Houston and Turin, with great success. I saw both performances and she was thrilling.

This Friday, Christine takes on the toughest challenge for the dramatic soprano--the role of ELEKTRA in Richard Strauss' searing drama at the Teatro Real in Madrid this week.  Many dramatic sopranos have sung the part--well actually, yelled it, would be a better description.  For more than an hour, Elektra is almost always on stage, and has memorable confrontations with her sister Chrysothemis (soprano and a role that Goerke has sung in Japan, Italy and Washington, D.C.), her mother, Klytemnestra and her brother, Orestes. The role is a terrifying exploitation of the soprano voice. Elektra's emotional state is almost always extreme.  It requires a massive amount of sound, a wide range (all the way up to a few athletic high Cs), and a soft and emotionally wrenching Recognition scene with her brother, whom she has not seen since they were teenagers. Suddenly after hitting the decibels, Elektra must switch vocal gears and sing softly with with great beauty. There is much angry declamation and the demands on the voice are simply inhuman.  Oh did I also mention, she has to dance herself to death at the end of the opera? ELEKTRA is my favorite opera. I've seen the work many, many times and only two were truly satisfying--Birgit Nilsson and the underrated Olivia Stapp.  I found her to be a thrilling Chrysothemis and have the CDs to prove it. I'm certain she will be the Elektra of her generation.

Christine tells me she's ready to sing this killer part and can't wait to get out there.  She's singing a dress rehearsal today as I write this, and posted several photos of her in costume on Facebook a few days ago. Christine shows her comic side in these photos, looking more like the witch in HANSEL UND GRETEL than ELEKTRA. Keep in mind that Elektra has been banished outside the walls of the palace where her mother rules after she's conspired to have Agamemnon (her husband and Elektra's father) killed. She's living in filth and deprivation, which explains the mud in her hair and the unkempt dress.  But Christine a great tragic actress as well, and Madrid is in for a vocal and acting tour de force.

Another Strauss heroine is in Christine's future--the Dyer's Wife in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN at the Metropolitan Opera, and she is the Houston Grand Opera's Brunnhilde in the company's first staging of Wagner's Ring cycle.

Monday, September 26, 2011


DANCING WITH THE STARS has been my guilty pleasure for many of its twice-yearly 13 installments. I'm not a reality TV person, but this show has always grabbed me, for the cheesy costumes, the good and bad dancing, the whole ballroom circus atmosphere, and its sheer glitz.  Since Sarah Palin's daughter upset the format two series ago, the show has settled down and stopped pissing people off with bad stunt casting. Last season was my very favorite. Kirstie Alley injected a lot of heart into the show. You could argue that Chaz Bono is stunt casting, but then you watch him dance, and realize, he is serious. So it is always with anticipation that I look forward to its return.  The fall season got off to a fine start with twelve new dancers and me and water-cooler posse will have much to discuss.  So far I'm liking actor, David Arquette, Carson Kressley (of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fame), soccer champ, Hope Solo, actor J.R. Martinez, actress and Kristin Cavallari.  Chaz Bono, Chynna Philips, Rob Kardashian, Ricki Lake, and Elisabetta Canalis, all have charming personalties, and might go some way, but none of them displayed the kind of dancing skills one needs to go the distance on this show.  NBA champ, Ron Artest was rightfully voted off last week, and I expect Nancy Grace to get the boot this week.  She seems uncomfortable and never seems to smile. It is as though she's on guard all the time.  I've gone on enough about this.

And if there's a better drama on network TV than THE GOOD WIFE, I've yet to see it.  Compellingly plotted, strong scripts, and sharp performances, make this show a must-see of the new TV season.  

The tree on the left is a Pluot, and the other is a multi-grafted Pear with five different varieties. Both are dwarf trees, and they are not supposed to grow all that much.  

Finally got two fruit trees planted on Saturday--a pear and pluot that I bought early spring before last, have been getting root-bound in pots on my patio.  They are in the ground not a moment too soon.  The rains returned yesterday and it looks as though we've had the shortest summer in memory.  All my cherry tomatoes are ready to ripen and there are dozens and dozens on the cusp of being picked.  I'm told the rains will go away by the end of the book, which means, wet, wet, wet for five days in a row. 

I'm determined to get my garden prepared for winter, unlike last year, where it snuck up on me.  I still have plants to get into the ground, and it's time to get it done.  A poorly prepared winter garden means a bigger mess in the spring.  I've got more tulip bulbs that need to be planted. All the hostas and much of the green plants will have to be trimmed off, their leaves discarded for the winter. I loved the hot weather an it seems too soon to have it be cold and rainy again.  

I think I'm the last person to see BRIDESMAIDS, which is a funny, if tasteless girl buddy movie. It show the women are prepared to go toe-to-toe with men in gross-out situations, though I suspect men have a more natural ability to sink to that level than women do. Still, I thought this was a hilarious movie. 

Been cooking at home.  My friend John Baker doesn't like to cook, and he insisted on setting up this situation where I cook meals here (usually on Saturdays or Sundays.  We also go out a lot, and he insists on picking up the tabs for those nights out. Sunday I found some nice pork cutlets at New Seasons market, and as my herb garden has a large area of sage, I decided to adapt Veal Saltimbocca using the pork cutlets. The inspiration comes from Frank Crispo, owner/chef of his own fabulous Italian restaurant on 14th Street in New York.  Frank uses veal, of course in the classic Roman manner, but he cuts the veal from the leg in thicker slices, and I think the dish is better for it.  Pork has far more flavor than veal, which requires everything around it for flavor.  I didn't bother pounding them, simply affixed sage leaves and prosciutto to each cutlet, dredged them in flour, with salt and pepper, and sauteed them for a few minutes on each side.  I deglazed the pan with white wine, added a pat of butter and poured it over the meat.  Delicious.  

Greek-style lamb burger with tzadziki sauce, and a thick slice of summer tomato.  The corn saute has 
red pepper, scallions and basil in it.  

These days with the cost of lamb and beef through the roof, I indulge in more pork, chicken and fish. Salmon is very abundant here.  I bought some ground lamb recently for a Greek-style burger with feta cheese, but even ground lamb is one cent shy of $7 a pound! Ditto ground veal.  I don't see much veal in the markets these days. Flank steak is $13 a pound; skirt steak is $12! So I buy beef only on sale. In any event, a solo Saturday dinner included this handsome lamb burger with saute of summer-fresh corn with scallions and basil.  

An inspired salad, made at home. 

Another good use for pork is this salad of sliced grilled pork tenderloin, potatoes, avocado, cherry tomatoes (from my garden), cucumber and butter lettuce.  It's an adaptation of a recipe that had only the pork and potatoes in it with some arugula, and a really bad salad dressing that was too sweet.  I jettisoned the bad dressing and used my own mustard vinaigrette. Instead of boiling or steaming the potatoes, I roasted them. Much better. This is a salad for company.  

I'm reading Claudia Roden's brand-new THE FOOD OF SPAIN (Ecco), and I think hands down, it is the best cookbook of the year. I love her work, but this book may be the peak of her long and very distinguished career.  This is the big over-view of Spanish cooking that we've long been seeking. It doesn't displace THE FOODS & WINES OF SPAIN, Penelope Casas's fine 1982 work, or Anya von Bremzen's more recent THE NEW SPANISH TABLE.  This new book is a far bigger work.  It too branches all over the country by region. The photographs are beautiful. The history is fascinating and the recipes feature Roden's fine detail and eye.  

I don't suppose there will be much competition in the Democratic ranks for the next election. I guess President Obama thinks he can win it.  Meanwhile over on the right, I'm beginning to see that the extremism amongst the Repug candidates is telling me that maybe Mitt Romney has a chance--not that I'll vote for him.  If President Obama is the party's choice, I'll fall in line, but I'm pretty disappointed in his inability to connect with the middle class that put him in office.  And the Repug alternatives are unthinkable.  As the country slips further and further into a kind of Third World oligarchy mindset, I'm finding all politicians on both sides of the aisle as unappealing and anger-inducing as they ever were and there's no end to the political insanity that has overtaken us.  Obama's inability to execute the vision he promised in the last election just seems a more bitter pill to swallow. 

My mother at 80 is finally on the Internet.  She has an email account.  Never thought I'd see that!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Me getting ready to drive the red car, which is now named Mona, off of the Honda lot.

Mona parked in my driveway

Mona's hatchback attributes

August/September have consumed most of my time away from this blog. I bought a car--a red 2008 Subaru Impreza hatchback which has liberated me from depending on my friends for getting around. I passed my driver's test on August 5th and drove the Ford F-150 truck around for a month.  There's a reason my friend Laura referred to the truck as a pig. It was an effort to drive the damn thing. Every turn was physical. Getting it to rev up on the highway was like pushing a rock up a hill. Its responses were always slow. Backing out of my driveway into busy Holgate Blvd. was a nightmare. I wasn't using the truck for work, so I finally decided to trade it in and get a car.  It's fast, responsive, pretty to look at, holds lots of stuff, and did I forget to mention is RED! It became a nice diversion from the other reason why I've been so busy.  I closed my business on August 31st for lack of business.  It was simple as that. I lost my drawers and I'm still negotiating with my landlord who seems to think she's entitled to all five years of rent on the lease. We're still negotiating and hopefully that will be resolved soon. Unsold stock is being sold on consignment by a friendly competitor. I'm selling computers and office equipment and fixtures to pay down on a small loan.  I'm glad to get out from under it and get back to my day job full time. Lesson learned--retail is not for me!

With little or no effort I flank the front door with spectacular coleus plants, which show off their 
gorgeous flower leaves.  They grow like weeds.

My friend Pat Reshen spent the Labor Day weekend, her third annual visit and we had a lot of fun.  This was my first year driving, so I was able to pick her up at the airport (and drop her off for the next leg of her journey). We had dinner at one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants (Sunshine Tavern), and grilled steaks out on the patio.  Pat watered my garden four days in a row, for which she has my undying gratitude. John Baker took us to see an heirloom Rose garden outside of Portland, which was a prelude to the Swan Island Dahlia Festival in Canby, Oregon.  The rose garden was immaculately planted with lush green grass paths to view the many varieties of roses there. They feature a lot of old English style roses and there's a greenhouse to purchase small rosebushes.  I have plenty of roses now, so I passed on these plants, preferring to wait and see what might be available at the dahlia festival.

Billed as the Dahlia Capital of America, Swan Island Dahlias comprise forty acres of planted dahlias in full bloom throughout August and September. There are hundreds of varieties on display at the farms cavernous caves where each of the dahlias are displayed to show off each Dahlia. The colors, sizes, shapes, and beauty of these exotic blooms are amazing. Once you've gone through three large rooms of dahlia display arrangements, you can order tubers for planting next spring.  I ordered six and could have easily taken on 30 more. Then out into the fields, you're stunned at the sheer size and concentrated planting of row upon row of dahlia, each row marked.  Here are just a few of the spectacular blooms on  display.

We had a two-week heatwave with temperatures rising to 95 degrees F. While not as bad as New York, particularly this summer, it was steamy here and I resorted to using the central air conditioning--a rare occurrence. Last week we suddenly plunged into gloomy mornings on the cool side and have had virtually no sun all week long. Then yesterday (Saturday) is rained and again rained today.  This is rare out here as August and September are usually beautifully sunny and warm.  Because the spring came so late and was so wet, summer didn't truly get started until mid-August, and now everyone fears we will be plunged into fall with the rains arriving earlier than usual.  Warm weather is predicted next week, but the result is slow gardens. My cherry tomatoes are abundant and green in this third week of September. My pears and plums have been non-existent. The strawberries haven't produced as much of a bumper crop as usual.  My blueberries did well.  Roses have been blooming, but like last summer, they are not happy,

It's been a month of nice dinners at friend's homes and dining out.  Portland is such a big foodie town. I tried Noble Rot, a fine restaurant over on SE Burnside near a cluster of popular Portland restaurants. Located on the fourth floor, Noble Rot offers gorgeous views, a good selection of local wines and an eclectic, if not wholly inspired menu (really--macaroni and cheese?--it's a good version, but upscale dining shouldn't include this comfort food item on the menu).  I had fresh fettucine with summer vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, garlic and herbs.  Again, delicious, but is this the kind of dish an upscale restaurant wants to build a reputation on?  Castagna Cafe, is a cheaper, more casual dining experience from it's ultra sophisticated partner next door.  John an I had their well-known 20-minute roast chicken, which was good, but not as good as a proper hour-long roasted chicken.

Suddenly rose has disappeared of the shelves of the city's wine shops!  Perhaps it has proven so popular that roses that idled on shelves for months around the calendar year are suddenly out of stock. Rose is a very food-friendly wine.  Don't make the mistake of domestic rose. It's almost always too sweet. They lack the complexity or minerally simple qualities of an even modest French version.  I'm hoping the shelves won't be too long without my favorite daily quaff.

A lamb burger made for a solo dinner at home on a summer Saturday night with farmer's market tomatoes, feta cheese in the burger, and a saute of fresh white corn, dice red pepper, sliced scallions and basil

Finally took myself off to see THE HELP, and like the book, I enjoyed its emotionally naive story of a young southern woman who comes to help the local maids in her Mississippi town write anonymously about their real feelings toward the women they work for in the pre-civil rights movement south of 1964. Medgar Evers has just been shot dead on his front lawn.  The southern ladies who socially dominate the town of Jackson Mississippi are also mostly bullies towards their housekeepers who are also de facto mothers to their children and with whom they have forged a close relationship.  They girls grow up, get married and have kids, which they dump into the laps of their housekeepers. The story is simple and emotional. The cast is note perfect with Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek and Jessical Chastain anchoring this story superbly.  Bryce Dallas Howard as the villainous Hilly has the thankless task of being so vile a personality you virtually hiss each time she comes on screen, which I suppose is a compliment.  She is often made to look foolish and still bounces hatefully back after each humiliation.  The New York Times was very snotty about the movie, and I suspect were very snotty about the book as well.  No matter, readers reacted by sending the book to the top of the bestseller lists where it remains.  The movie has done stupendous business since it opened.  It's a perfect summer movie and Viola Davis' deeply expressive performance carries it off superbly.  Highly recommended.

blueberries harvested from my garden

An excellent summer salad of grilled pork tenderloin, roasted fingerling potatoes, arugula and a mustard vinaigrette

This nectarine/peach tart with its press-in crust, almond extract flavoring and sugar/butter/flour crumble topping takes great advantage of summer fruits.  Recipe from Amanda Hesser from her wonderful Food52 blog.