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!