Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Keeping It Simple



This is why I love summer. We had a long and cool spring and summer has not been as warm as usual but now, at long last, our tomatoes are coming in and they are glorious. What more do you need: ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzerella, fresh basil, and some delectable olive oil and balsamic vinegar (a birthday gift to J from one of my dear SILs). Mangia!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Portland Food: Meriwether's


There’s been enough blog fodder over the last week that I have not had a chance to write about the meal I had last Saturday night. J took me to Meriwether’s for my birthday. It’s a restaurant with its own farm so each day the menu changes based on what they’ve harvested. It’s an interesting concept and one that plays right into the whole locavore movement in Portland.

Right off the bat, they got 5 stars for carrying half bottles of champagne—the perfect size for one person. I guess it’s the bubbles but I always love champagne for special occasions. Cheers! 
 
 

Surprisingly, for a Saturday night, the restaurant was not that full. It made me apprehensive that I’d chosen poorly (despite the champagne) but the arrival of our appetizers allayed my fears. J had sardines and avocadoes on crostini and said it was delicious. I had gravlax on toast and it was also delicious—the salmon tender and lightly coated with olive oil.  

For entrees J had the pork ragout and I had crab risotto. Again, I was a bit nervous because a lot of restaurants don’t do a good job with risotto—they either undercook or overcook it. Disastrous both ways. Happily, the birthday gods were with me because this was one of the best risottos I’ve ever had. Cooked perfectly, with fresh baby spinach, tiny bits of fresh crab, lemon zest and parmesan. SUBLIME. My only regret was that I ordered the smaller portion as I could easily have eaten more, but probably best that I didn’t. I can still taste it; it was that good. Creamy with the sweetness of the crab against the hint of bite from the lemon zest—divine. I was a very happy girl. 
 
 

Oh, and J’s meal was also great. He got the pork ragout with hand-cut pappardelle. Again, they got the balance of protein to vegetable and starch right so rather than overwhelm the dish with slabs of pork there were smaller pieces throughout. This is always a good sign to us. Not to lecture, but your protein shouldn’t be the largest item in your meal. Rather, your veg should be, then grain, then protein. My risotto was the same way with the crab shredded into smaller bits. It’s so much healthier that way and you still get all the flavor you need. Lecture over.
 
 
 
 
It was a quiet night of wonderful food, which makes for a lovely birthday.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Scents-Less


 
Recently I read a marvelous book called Coming to My Senses by Alyssa Harad (my review). It traces her inadvertent journey into the world of perfume and later, that of being a bride. This was one of those reading experiences I especially enjoy—when it flows over into my real life and lasts after the final page of the book. 

It had been a long time since I’d thought about perfume. When I was younger I wore it regularly mostly because I was not allowed to wear much make-up but it has been at least a decade since I bought a bottle. Now, when and if I wear perfume it is for a special occasion and I’m still getting the last sprays out of a bottle of Elizabeth Arden Green Tea which I bought because it has a light fresh scent that I enjoy. Somehow, I find this a bit sad. What happened to the days when perfume was an extension of personality? When shopping at the perfume counter was as much fun as shopping for clothes? For me, the end came about when I moved out of a career in sales to working with software—an environment so casual people came into work in scrubs (and they were not doctors). My wardrobe was already more dressy than my colleagues so perfume seemed likely to lead to endless teasing and so I stopped. Nowadays, I have friends who are not allowed to wear perfume at work because their office is “scent-free” due to someone’s allergies. Really? How did we go hundreds of years without people having health issues caused by perfume but now things are bad enough they warrant an HR policy? 

The sense of smell is one of the strongest we have simply because it is the only one that goes straight to the memory cortex without going through other areas first. That’s why a scent can bring up a memory almost instantly. Here’s a bit of what I remember from the many many years I loved perfume.  

At the drugstore when I was a kid: Jean Nate, Love’s Baby Soft, Charlie, Jontue, Wind Song, Ciara, Jovan White Musk, and Heaven Sent. 

Teen Years: Lauren, Polo, Halston, Giorgio, L’Air du Temps 

Perfumes I wore through the years: Pavlova (loved the packaging almost as much as the scent, Farouche (by Nina Ricci who stopped making it in the U.S. My father brought me a bottle from Paris and I felt beyond chic and exclusive), Fendi, Romeo di Gigli, Calyx (by Prescriptives, no longer made), and Forever by Alfred Sung (J and I picked this one out—wore it through our engagement and for our wedding). 

Perfumes I associate with the women in my life: Oscar de la Renta (Mom); White Shoulders, Blue Grass, Chantilly (Grandmothers) 

What perfumes have been in your life? Any attached to special occasions or that you wore for years? Good memories? Bad?
 

Finally, I’d like to suggest that if you belong to a book club you read Coming to my Senses and have a perfume themed meeting. Everyone brings in perfumes. The book will engender reminiscences and laughter, while sharing perfume will provide a beautifully scented evening. 
 

But my new way of paying attention was a far calmer, simpler, more solid kind of pleasure. I wasn’t stretching out toward some idealized person or idea. It wasn’t about losing my heart or my head—it was about coming to my senses. And every sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture was a link to my place in the splendid world at hand.
--From Coming to My Senses

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

India Festival


I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Indians throw the best parties ever. Here in Portland we’re in the two months out of the year when the weather is magical. So, everyone who is anyone has a festival and there are often more than one a weekend. On Saturday I went to Multnomah Days and on Sunday both J and I went to the India Festival, a celebration of India’s independence from Great Britain. It was an amazing feast of light, color, aroma, and sound. The vendors were a crazy mix of clothes, art, and services such as mortgage brokers, insurance salesmen and doctors (huh?). You could have a “life-altering” meditation session for 10 minutes or get your astrological birth chart made (still important for finding the perfect mate). There was a booth doing gorgeous henna painting which resulted in all kinds of women walking around afterwards fanning their arms and hands in the air to dry the henna- and forcing the men to carry their food and packages. 

But the best part of the festivities was the dance competition that was ongoing the entire day. The music was pure Bollywood as were the dance moves but the exuberance of the performers kept everyone clapping throughout. Backstage, proud mamas fixed hair, tucked in shirts, and clucked and tutted over their children while proud fathers sat in the audience with their digital recorders. It still makes me smile. Hell, it made J smile and he is not a music/dancing kind of guy. It was just the joy of everyone there, talking, laughing, catching up with old friends, teen girls preening, boys dancing and then acting embarrassed, grandparents being waited on…a beautiful community gathering.


Pretty sparkly bangles 


Bright shawls and tops


 Delicious fried dough called puri. They were also making dhosas, which are like crepes. Plus, samosas, curries, and mango lassies. Such good food.


One of many little girls decked out in bright dresses and lots of bling!


 I love the enthusiasm of the little boys!


 Final touches on hair and make-up


Gorgeous hair, ready to go

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Multnomah Days


Yesterday was Multnomah Days in the quirky fun town of Multnomah Village. It’s a lot of little local shops which I’ve written about before and one of my favorite places to go for a stroll and some window shopping. The festival was a blast, very reminiscent of my childhood (and probably yours) in that there was a parade, a marching band and lots of families with everyone walking around and chatting. A very laid back old-fashioned vibe. 

The marching band was by far my favorite thing. They’re called The Beat Goes On and it’s all senior citizens. They sounded amazing and the energy level was unbelievable. Plus, there is nothing like hearing someone who looks like your grandmother dance to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. They played non-stop while I was there and covered everyone from Neil Diamond to Guns ‘n Roses.







There was something for everyone with all kinds of great food booths, crafts, clothing, and jewelry. I contemplated getting a henna tattoo on my hand but the line was so long I gave up. For the kids there was face painting, balloon animals, and sparkle tattoos.



Here are a few of the many booths I saw that caught my eye.

 I just love this cozy garden setting in the middle of the street.






Les Couleurs de Provence has beautiful bright cheerful linens and clothes imported from France. I loved the white and blue skirt and the bright yellow dress!





 Shape Shifters is owned by Carole Bassett, a multi-talented local artist. For years she was focused on her jewelry, all with carefully researched stones and designs. Then she began to move into mask making and Native American dolls. Her work is meticulous and the amount of detail incredible. Now she’s creating unique clay animal sculptures rising out of unusual pieces of semi-precious stone, like obsidian, jasper, quartz crystal, selenite, soapstone. She can be reached at cobblewood3@msn.com if you see anything you like or what more details.







Friday, August 17, 2012

Powell's Event: Jenny Lawson


Earlier this week I went to Powell’s to hear Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) read from her memoir Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I reviewed the book back in April but as I don’t read her blog (gasp!) I had lost track of how it did. Silly me not to know that Lawson has captured the cultural zeitgeist of our times or to put it more succinctly: bring me your OCD, freaked out, depressed, overweight, anxiety ridden masses because I’m just like them only I’m so damn funny that my book has been on the NY Times Best Seller list for over 15 weeks. Rude, you say? Hell, Lawson says this kind of stuff about herself in her blog every week.

The reading started at 7pm so I thought arriving at 6:45 was reasonable. The only event I camp out for is Bruce Springsteen concerts but, as I mentioned above, I badly misjudged. Here’s what I walked into:



I never even made it into the store but had to stand behind the last row of chairs next to a couple where the wife was vibrating with excitement. Or so I thought. I asked when they had arrived and the man said 5:30. Really?! I mean, I’m glad people are buying books and reading, I am, but this is not literature or even well researched non-fiction. This is a woman opening her head and spewing the contents. It also means that the people in the front row arrived the day before.

The buzz continued to build as did the crowd behind us. I noticed the woman next to me getting more and more agitated, rolling her eyes and shaking like a cow being led into the branding shed. Finally, she turned to her husband and whispered, “I have to go. I can’t be here. It’s too much. There’s too many…I have to go.” And off she dashed. Did I mention that Lawson lovers are a highly strung, delicate bunch? Well, they are. Hubby hung out for 5 more minutes and then bowed out as well.

I don’t wear a watch and had turned my phone off so I had no idea what time it was but was quite interested as to how the crowd would respond when Lawson appeared. And that’s just what she did…appear. Empty space and then Jenny Lawson just standing next to the podium. And rather than shrieks, cheers or applause the crowd sighed. There was a real religious vibe to it—like a sighting of the Virgin Mary. They had hoped and prayed and she had appeared.

Here’s all you need to know: for such a brash, ballsy, vulgar, no-holds-barred chick, she has the soft clear voice of a little girl and seems genuinely befuddled at and appreciate of her success. And not to profile, but she doesn’t often put pictures of herself on her blog so with all her OCD and anxiety issues I had her pegged as a whippet but she’s not.



Enough of my insights, I know you’re just here to read what Lawson had to say.  Before starting her reading she announced that her anti-anxiety meds had not kicked in yet so she was going to be a bit jittery until they did. Then she read the Ex-Lax chapter of her book which is hilarious so even though I’d read it before I laughed out loud throughout the reading. Namely, because it is so incongruous to hear a woman with a Cindy Lou Who voice use the ‘f’ word as a comma. Then it was time for Q&A.



 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Work and Reward


While I am immersed in and loving my new venture (The Gilmore Guide to Books) it is work. Reading for pleasure is a simpler action—I  don’t have to pay close attention to as many details nor do I have to mark pages to remind myself of dialogue or plot points I found to be especially interesting (and I don’t ‘mark’ the books because that would be wrong; I use a lot of Post-it flags).

Then there is the need to find a way to express what it is about the book that meant the most (or the least) to me. Either a lot of words come or none at all and neither is good. It’s like The Three Bears, I need the amount that is just right.

What all this means is that even for me, reading and then writing for the majority of the day can be a grind. Even worse is the fact that I don’t shut it down at 6pm. I read at night and in the mornings and sometimes even find evenings to be more conducive for writing. Bottom line: my hours are very fluid. What this is leading up to is my rationalization for ways to reward myself. It used to be shopping was a treat but how many new clothes do you need when you seldom go out? And if you have a closet full of hardly-worn clothes anyway? Plus, there is the lack of income/money issue. I’ve largely adapted but am still of mind that a ‘reward’ involves cash spent. So, my treat these days is lunch twice a month at one of my favorite sushi restaurants, Sinju. It’s in one of those trendy outdoor malls but I park in the back to avoid the stores and head right to the restaurant. I am a huge sushi fan and while this may not be the best ever sushi restaurant I can always count on the fish being fresh—which is the main reason you eat sushi, right? I’m also a roll person. Elitists (my husband) may say only nigiri and sashimi are a real sushi experience but I like a mix of tastes and textures so rolls it is. My order is virtually the same every time: one roll, one nigiri (usually salmon or yellowtail), and one tekka (salmon and rice wrapped in seaweed).




While I wait, I settle in and read (don’t act surprised). When lunch arrives I may continue reading and eating but even if I multi-task I try to slow down, savoring every bite. Sushi is a real treat but it is not fast food (or cheap) and so needs to be enjoyed slowly. Ultimately, reading is as well and so these lunches are a marvelous reward.

How about you? When you've had a long day or accomplished a less-than-fun task do you reward yourself? If so, what's your favorite? Chocolate? Bad TV? Something healthy (go ahead, make the rest of us feel bad)?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

July Reading

As I’m now doing an entire site devoted exclusively to books this list may seem redundant to those of you who read both. For those of you who only visit me here, these are my favorite reads from last month. It’s heavy on the light side but this is the time of year for fun, minimal thought books. I’m a little late getting this out but it’s summer, right?



Summer reading at its best. Funny with a focus on Hollywood and all its superficiality but with some real humanity underneath (the book, not Hollywood). If interested, read more here.


Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House into Our Home Sweet Home (Amazon)

Funny look at first-time homeowners in the fixer-upper from hell. True story. If interested, read more here.


 
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (Amazon)

Non-fiction look at the mental illness ‘industry’ (read pharmaceuticals). Very interesting


The Age of Desire: A Novel (Amazon)

Beautifully written fictional account of Edith Wharton’s life while in Paris in the early 1900s. If interested, read more here.


The Jane Austen Marriage Manual (Amazon)


More summer fun reading- Jane Austen for the modern woman


Gossip: A Novel (Amazon)

Fiction about NYC society friends and how gossip flows through their lives. Chic and witty but with some real depth. If interested, read more here.


Chaperone the (Amazon)
A local woman chaperones the yet-unknown Louise Brooks for a summer in 1920s NYC. It goes as well as you would expect but makes for good reading.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Portland Food: Riffle NW

Before you start freaking out that this is turning into a food blog, calm down. Notice I used the term ‘food’ not cooking since the last time I was in the kitchen gasoline was under $3.00 a gallon. Sad but true. Or, as I know many of you are longing for a husband who cooks, I’m just one lucky gal. Still, it just happened that we’re on a food streak and I think it’s a nice break from my usual whining, yes? 

With our little heat wave last week and J’s birthday dining out was more appealing than anything that might involve braising, searing, or turning on the oven. When we awoke Saturday morning and it was already 84˚ J thought maybe our Saturday lunch date should turn into dinner. He had a new seafood restaurant he’d been tracking and thought it was time to check it out. 

We’ve only been in Portland four years but with the Great Recession that’s long enough for us to walk into a restaurant and ask ourselves, “Didn’t this used to be so-and-so restaurant?” and the answer will be yes. In this case what is now Riffle NW used to be 50 Plates—a fun place that had regional dishes from each of the states. They made a killer shrimp and grits that I still crave so I’m a little sad they’re gone. 

Given that by 7pm Portland had hit 100˚ (which I know is nothing to some of you) I felt a little crazy and decided an icy cocktail was in order. And because it is far too boring to just name a drink by its ingredients, I had a Freudian Slip (which happens about once a day, the slip not the drink). It’s watermelon, vodka, lime and Aperol—a Campari-like liquor with less sugar and alcohol. It was delicious, the sweet watermelon tamed by the lime and perfectly chilly. 

J started his meal with a half dozen oysters whose names I can’t remember as I find them to be largely slimy and unappealing. He said they were quite tasty. For entrees, I had the halibut cheeks and he had mackerel. The halibut was gorgeously tender, served with fresh corn and tomatoes but what was the most unique item on the plate were the green garnishes that look like small succulents. When you bite into them you get a very distinct burst of lemon flavor. Bizarre and pleasing! I was so enamored I was all set to storm the kitchen to find out what this was but our waiter was already informed. It’s something called ice lettuce and it is a leafy succulent. It’s not common in the U.S. but is now being grown in California and Oregon, which would explain how I got so lucky. A delightful counterpart to the richness of the fish. 


Love sushi but don't get this at all. Apparently, with a Sapphire martini they're fabulous


Halibut and my new favorite greens- ice lettuce 


 A little creepy, right? A de-boned mackerel with the skin and skeleton deep fried so they're nothing more than a satisfying mouthful of crunch. Or so says J and I'll take his word for it.


 I'm including this photo for the potential male readers out there and because it engendered such a wave of rhapsodic reminiscing between J and the server. Apparently, this is a new beer made a very old-school way. Not just the can, but pre-flip top, and most often opened using a churchkey (hence its name). I don't fully understand but the guys thought it was very cool and the beer tasted great, so not just a gimmick.



Don't love the sides costing extra but am I going to pass up crispy polenta? I think not!


This was another enjoyable meal and Riffles NW definitely knows their seafood. It is a bit spendy as they embrace the entrée only, side dishes extra mantra, meaning prices add up. And if you do want oysters, which aren’t on the menu be sure and ask how much they are. That was a bit of sticker shock, especially as we live within an hour of an oyster producing coast. 

Finally, if you’re anywhere near my age you’ll also want to ask your hostess for a table on the side of the restaurant. The bar is an open area and with an exposed industrial ceiling the noise level ratchets up quickly and makes hearing your dining partner difficult. Being the mature adults we are, J and I used this as an opportunity to make up horribly inappropriate topics and yell them at each other to be heard. It's quite surprising we don't get invited out more often...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Spousal Abuse

If you’re in a situation where you’re cohabiting with a member of the opposite sex then you know all the fun that can arise from the idiosyncrasies of their species. Yes, you love them and yes, you may have even tried to train them (how’d that go?) but there are some battles that have been waged and will continue to be waged for now until the end of time. 

When people say ‘opposites attract’ it most often pertains to personalities but informal research on my part (I asked two friends) indicates that there can be a larger issue involved. Apparently, the odds that you will find a partner who shares the exact same temperature-comfort-zone as you do are so slim as to be impossible to calculate. And so, the battle of the thermostat begins. Every couple handles it differently. In our house it is a stealth war. J turns it up in the winter and down in the summer and I quietly (meaning when he’s gone to the store) change it. Not even just for the day. I’ll go in and completely reset the daily schedule for every day of the week. Then I relax, my fear of astronomical utility bills assuaged. That is until, as I sit in my office tapping away (or goofing off), I hear either the furnace or a/c unit come on. Curses! And so it goes. We NEVER discuss this but simply accept that the other is completely, absolutely wrong.



Given this chasm between us when it comes to heating and cooling our house it was a momentous event last night when I turned to J and announced that he was in control of the thermostat for the night hours. We’re having a bit of a heat wave and between that, sky rocketing pollen counts and the crows that begin their noise from hell at 5:30am I realized that open windows were not a good idea. I left it up to J, went upstairs to read and he, high on the testosterone of owning the thermostat went outside to kill something and eat its heart. 

I survived the night without frostbite and was even able to fall asleep to what seemed like the unending noise of the air conditioner. I’m pretty sure it didn’t shut off once so cannot go that place of what-is-this-costing-us. Instead, let’s move on to another area of the home where the genders seem to be speaking different languages: the dishwasher. Things can go two ways here. Either your partner doesn’t understand how a dishwasher works and thinks that leaving his dishes in the sink will render them spotless and reshelved or he will put them in the dishwasher but will believe it should be run with only two plates, a glass and a fork.


 This is NOT a full dishwasher


Let’s cut straight to the chase: dishwasher loading is a science and unless you are naturally gifted with spatial organization skills OR have taken advanced level courses in the field, you should leave it to the experts. This would seem to contradict my previous assertion about men who leave dishes in the sink but not really. Some things, such as plates, only have one location in most dishwashers. They stand upright on the bottom rack. Period. A chimp could handle that, so load your own plate. Same thing with silverware, it has its own basket so there’s not much question where it should go. There are other minor issues like not nesting one spoon directly with another or all forks facing the same way but those can be dealt with.

Where things get sticky is the top rack and the multitude of objects that get washed up there; most notably the delicate plastics and wine glasses. Cram glasses too close to each other and you will get breakage or they won’t get clean. This is where the science comes in. In my 30 years of dishwasher loading I have yet to break an item through improper placement despite the fact that I consider a dishwasher ready to run when it contains all 8 dinner plates, all the forks, at least 6 glasses and 3 wine glasses, and 3 plastic storage containers with lids. Now it’s ready to go. Thankfully, this is an area where training has paid off. J will ultimately load his own dishes but will leave the organization of items and the timing of when we run the dishwasher to me. In return, I don’t question how safe the leftovers in the fridge are. Food safety and when we throw things out are his domain. 

These are just two areas in the home that are rife for misunder-standing and ongoing battles. Thankfully, for us we acknowledge our individual weirdness and are all right with pretending not to ntoice things but changing them when the other isn't looking. It's called love.



How about you? Any covert operations going on in your home? Habits that make you nuts?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Portland Food: Andina


Yesterday was J’s birthday so I took him out to dinner. The restaurant of choice was Andina in the Pearl district and based on the crowd and people waiting for a table it was the right place. A Wednesday night in Portland is not generally a hopping night in the restaurant business but Andina was packed; 7:30pm and every table full, the bar full, and people standing around. It felt like entering a New York club scene, vibrant, loud and alive. Yes, it’s tourist season but Portland is still smack dab in the middle of a recession so this was good to see.


Andina is a Peruvian tapas restaurant. They have several categories to choose from: fish, meat, gluten-free, and vegetarian and numerous options within each. You can order three sizes of plate: small, for one person; medium, for two people; and large, for three or more. If you want the greatest variety you can compose your entire meal of tapas plates but they also have regular entrees of Peruvian style foods.  

We’ve been to Andina for lunch and gone with the tapas but last night we decided to go more traditional with apps and an entrée. I started with bay scallops in a lime butter sauce crusted with Grana Padano cheese. The scallops were tender, the sauce citrus sharp and the cheese crunchy and salty; a wonderful combination. J had grilled octopus kebabs with chimichurri and said it was delicious.


This is an amazing trio of dipping sauces they bring with fresh bread. They move from mildest to hottest with the green sauce being a jalapeno mint. The middle is my favorite- passion fruit with some kind of heat that arrives with a kick at the end.


Luscious tender scallops just waiting to be scooped out and devoured.


For my entrée, I went with a slow-cooked lamb shank served in a black beer-cilantro sauce with garlic rice and pinto beans. The meat was so juicy and tender it fell off the bone. A forkful of meat, the cilantro sauce and garlic rice was heaven. J had duck two ways—confit and the breast seared to order with cilantro rice; another good choice. 


I know it looks daunting but it's a lot of bone not just meat. And it's so tender and delicious!


While I should have finished there the Australian couple next to us were so ecstatic about their dessert they leaned over to tell us it was a “must have”; like I need prodding about dessert. Who’s going to say no to crisp quinoa studded cannolis stuffed with passionfruit mousse, served with mango-lemongrass sorbet. I ordered, it came, I conquered. The sorbet was my favorite part—bright sunshine flavor, not too sweet.  


What can I say? I do not turn down dessert.

We left a bit after 9pm and the place was still packed. This is a not-to-be-missed restaurant if you’re in the Portland area. It’s a bit spendy but the food is unique with vibrant colors and flavors. The wait staff is friendly and helpful and the service seamless. Everyone knows what they’re doing and that, plus the exciting food, means you’ll have a great experience.
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