Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Discount Temple of Tile

Everyone knows about Portland's two temples of tile, Ann Sacks and Pratt & Larson. But those really in the know head straight for Pratt & Larson's seconds room in the back of their Portland showroom. Now, if you need to tile the entire bathroom of your McMansion, this may not be the place to go since they have varying numbers of a variety of tile colors and shapes available. But if you need, say, a backsplash to go with your new cast concrete countertops and are willing to try a more artistic approach, this is perfect.

Very few of the tiles are blemished, and most are there because they didn't match the color of some picky southwest Portland diva's cat. And you can benefit from her distress to the tune of around $1 a pound. Does it get better than that? We say no!

Details: Pratt & Larson Tile, 1201 SE 3rd Ave. Phone 503-231-9464.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Vino's Beast Feast

We are so lucky. My brother owns a wine shop, Vino in Sellwood, and has friends like local restaurateurs Monique and Kevin of Castagna fame, and they come up with great ideas like making paella for 25 people that they cooked on a fire in the back yard, which they did two years ago. Then they decide that this year they wanted to roast a whole beast on a spit for another big dinner. And we get to help and, subsequently, partake of the incredible feast!

It started with building the fire out of all wood charcoal in a rotisserie borrowed from Dino, a Portland wine distributor, and building up a deep bed of glowing coals. Then, the pig already having been spitted by the industrious staff at Castagna, the 40-lb. porker was raised into position and Kevin and Bruce sat down for an afternoon of the New York Times and plenty of beer, a necessity for any successful grill effort.

But contrary to the calculations of 4 1/2 to 5 hours for the cooking, our little piggy was up to temp in only 2 1/2. So he was turned off and left to "rest" on his spit while tables were set and more food was brought in. Guests started trickling in, bottles of rosé were uncorked and poured and an array of cheeses were brought out by Randy from Provvista as people lined up to pay their respects to the guest of honor.

While Kevin carved the beast with the able assistance of the handy-with-sharp-implements Jeff, Monique and volunteers loaded up bowls with sides of cannellini beans, a fabulous heirloom tomato salad with red onion and cucumber and a cold green and yellow bean salad. And as the food disappeared and the lights came up over the yard, Monique brought out a huge bowl of fresh mixed berries which she served blanketed with cool whipped cream, and Bruce brought out magnums of moscato to cap off a perfect warm summer evening.

Like I said, are we lucky or what?

Heronswood May Live Again

When we were at the Far West Show we ran into Lucy Hardiman, a nationally recognized garden designer and author who lives here in Portland. We ran up to talk to her because of an article that appeared in the Oregonian's Homes and Gardens section. It was about a group of Northwest gardeners and horticulturists who have banded together as the Pacific Northwest Horticultural Conservancy to try to buy the former Heronswood Nursery, a world-class botanical garden on Bainbridge Island that was bought by Burpee and Co. six years ago and closed without warning on May 30.

Lucy told us that they are in negotiations with Burpee and are planning to reopen Heronswood as a research and educational facility and are currently developing a list of interested people who would want to contribute ideas and financing to a package of support that might interest Burpee. They will be launching a website next month, and I'll keep you informed about developments and how you can help.

For those of you who have been to Heronswood, you know what I mean when I say it's a treasure that mustn't be lost. If you haven't been there, I can only say that it will be worth your signature on a petition, a donation or volunteering your time so that one day you can visit it.

Far Out Far West!

A little-known secret is that here in Portland we have one of the best horticultural trade shows on the west coast, and nursery and plant people from all over the west travel here to do their ordering for next spring. My friend Sylvia and I were able to get guest passes to this incredible display of plant intensity through the kindness of Bainbridge Gardens on Bainbridge Island in Washington, a wonderful place with an amazing breadth of some of the healthiest plants I've ever seen at a single nursery.

A three-day event that combines seminars, nursery tours and speakers with an extensive trade show of everything from ground cloth to golden sumacs to garden fashions to tropical trees, this is so large it overflowed most of the lower level convention halls at the Oregon Convention Center. There is so much to see, in fact, that we had to break our odyssey into two days, and even then we couldn't really spend the kind of time it would take to talk to all the people about all the plants that we were interested in.

This is a must-see for all you garden maniacs planning your plantings for next year and it would be well worth bribing your favorite nurseryman with whatever it takes to get a free pass into this event. We came away with lists of plants we fell in love with, and information about local growers and when they open their stock to the public. Also, many of the booths liquidate their display stock at the end of the show on Saturday evening, so you can get some incredible deals on those plants that stole your heart at the show. So make plans now to get to next year's show, Aug. 23-27 at the Convention Center.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mo' Toe

Just to take it over the top, and to accompany Tom Miller's lovely poem, my friend Bob sent this beautiful portrait and said, "This reminds me of an old Bible verse my mother used to like to read to me and my sister when we were growing up: 'Hard to find is that which the Lord hath made on which a beret, mustache and goatee cannot confer much humour.' "

Then he adds, "…I think it was the Bible."

Thanks, Bobby.

Thunder Road: Back in Oregon

Whether it's the fact that the weather cleared up and was at least 10 degrees warmer, or that our next campsite at Harris Beach State Park had newer, clean bathrooms with free showers and all the hot water you could want, we were so happy to be back in Oregon and so very proud of our state park system. We did stop on the way up just before crossing the border and the guys slaked their disappointed-by-Costco liquor lust at Safeway, grabbing a few extra bargain-priced bottles.

Once we got the tents set up, we headed down to the beach to do some rambling among the rocks and sitting on the sand as the waves crashed in. The view from the top of the hill is stunning. Large rocky headlands jut out from the shore with many craggy outcroppings littering the tidal zone.

Rosey was particularly pleased to be out of the car, and when she wasn't curled up in some little nest she'd dug for herself or rolling in the dirt like a real dog, she was dipping her belly in the surf and doing her best seal imitation.

When friends Dawn and David arrived with their dog Reuben, a big gentle giant, and had set up their tent, we were well on the way to serving my brother's much-vaunted spaghetti carbonara ala Marcella Hazan accompanied by a green salad with balsamic vinegar, shallot and mustard dressing. In keeping with the menu, David brought a 2001 Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso to the party, which was followed by a 2001 Fattoria di Poggio Capponi Petriccio Chianti. I'm sure Marcella herself would have rolled up the sleeves of her fleece sweatshirt and dug right in with the rest of us. Dessert was that campfire classic, S'mores, supplied by the lovely Dawn and abetted by the campfire which had burned down to perfect glowing coals.

The next day was spent writing, reading, spelunking on the beach and playing more Train, a set of 91 colored double-twelve dominoes where the object of the game is to discard all your dominoes onto the "trains," your own or those of the other players. It's very easy and a longtime family favorite where you get to yell, accuse others of cheating and try to gang up on whomever is winning. Big fun.

So a quick dinner of grilled-on-the-fire-pit salmon, a delicious fresh corn risotto and some more S'mores and we were ready to call it a night. The next morning we packed quickly and headed home to Portland, feeling like this trip was the perfect way to (almost) end the summer.

Read the rest of the posts in the series: Thunder Road Redux, Stop1: Jack's Grill, Stop 2: The Sundial Bridge, and California Campin'

Thunder Road: California Campin'

After a disappointing stop at Costco on Sunday morning...they've reduced their liquor supply to one short aisle of standard-but-still-half-what-you'd-pay-here selections...we packed up and headed to the coast for four nights of tent camping. Finding the Humboldt Brews in Arcata closed until late afternoon, we decided to head for our first campsite at Patrick's Point State Park, about five miles north of the lovely little town of Trinidad, right on the southern edge of the Redwoods.

Situated at the top of a bluff, the campground is fairly large with several different sections and has amenities like potable water, showers and flush toilets. South of the point the coastline is jagged and rocky, but to the north there is a winding trail down to a long, curving beach that stretches several miles and is perfect for long walks and nice wave-watching. There are several trails for hiking, but they (technically) don't allow dogs on the trails or the beaches, but that was so ludicrous we ignored it since we always keep Rosey on a leash and pick up after her.

For dinner we headed to the nearby Larrupin' Café, a quirky art-filled space where every surface, including your table, is covered by wonderful Oriental rugs. By the way, the word "larrupin" or "larruping" is a regional slang term that means "delicious." The food is fresh and regional, with a definitely Asian-fusion twist to most dishes, though there are also some odd Swedish touches like the "appetizer board" accompanying the entrees that must come from some previous incarnation of the restaurant.

Since there were four of us, we had a good sampling of the menu and it's definitely worth coming here, with local seafood and lamb featured prominently. We started with an appetizer of house-smoked albacore with a 2005 Sacred Hill Marlborough Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from their wine list, which was a reasonably-priced selection of mostly California wines. Then the Swedish appetizer board comprised of dark chocolate rye rounds alongside a small crock of chicken liver mousse and a small wedge of nearby Arcata-based Cypress Grove chevre. For main courses we had the lamb chops (both spicy and mild versions), which were perfectly grilled (i.e. medium rare) and smoky, and the justly famous house brisket, several cross-grain slices of melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. My brother had brought along a bottle of 2003 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-de-Pape that perfectly complemented the mild dishes but was sadly lost on the more spicy entrees. One warning if you go: Strangely, these guys operate on a cash-only basis, so don't go with cards or checks in hand. You might end up doing dishes.

We rode back to the campsite and our tents happy and full, ready to do some hiking and slacking the next couple of days. We did venture to Eureka's Lost Coast Brewing the second day for lunch, but were sorely disappointed by their lackluster beers and merely adequate pub food. Having been there a couple of years ago, either it's lost some ground in the brewing department or we're increasingly getting spoiled by the quality and selection of our local brewmeisters.

The second night, we played several rounds of Mexican Train, a domino game, and enjoyed a Susanna Balbo Malbec Rosé while the fire burned down so we could grill New York steaks. Dave made onion, garlic and smoked paprika-spiced fried potatoes to go with them, and it was all washed down with a 1998 Sportoletti Cabernet-Merlot. I hate roughing it, don't you?

Read the rest of the posts in the series: Thunder Road Redux, Stop1: Jack's Grill, Stop 2: The Sundial Bridge, Back in Oregon

Thunder Road, Stop 2: The Sundial Bridge

After our amazing dinner at Jack's Grill, and because it was too early to head to our cheap motel room at the Stardust, we decided to try to find world-class Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava's amazing Sundial Bridge, a gorgeous feat of artistic engineering that spans the Sacramento River and is a part of the impressive Turtle Bay Exploration Park, a combination arboretum, museum and exhibition park that serves as the entrance to Redding's extensive Sacramento River Trail system.

The bridge is suspended above the river by a single pylon that soars to a point at one end and has cables suspended from it, not unlike a harp. The deck of this walking bridge is lit from below, giving it a weightless appearance as it floats above the river. And it appears to be a huge public success. The night we were there, people ranging in age from toddlers to high school kids to elders with walkers were standing and walking and talking all along its span, holding the thick cables as they vibrated with the motion of the water and the breeze.

This is a place to visit if you're ever on the road down south, and would be a great place to stop for a walk on the bridge and lunch at the Turtle Bay cafe, which sits at one end. It's certainly nothing I would have expected to see in a place like Redding, and shows that someone with vision has ideas for this place that go beyond strip malls. Something that Portland should take note of, being the water-oriented mecca that we are.

Read the rest of the posts in the series: Thunder Road Redux, Stop1: Jack's Grill, California Campin', Back in Oregon

Thunder Road, Stop 1: Jack's Grill

Jack's Grill is the quintessential small-town steakhouse. One of those places that you hope still exists in this world of Ruth's Chris and El Gaucho high-end martini-of-the-moment driven showplaces. You walk into a small dim room and take a seat at the bar that takes up half the room, order a drink from the bartender who's worked there for going on 30 years and wait for a table to open up. And the drinks are masterful...strong and direct, not foo-fooed up with star anise or passion fruit.

The menu couldn't be more straightforward: seven steaks ranging from New York to filet mignon to a brochette. Each comes with a choice of baked potato (with sides of butter and sour cream) or fries and Jack's famous salad that's just like the one your mom used to make...iceberg lettuce soaked with creamy dressing and tossed tableside in a plastic bowl that looks like it came from Goodwill. Jack's does make a token effort at non-steak options by offering fried chicken (which I've heard is quite good), scallops and prawns, but really, if you're not into a lovely, tender piece of top-quality beef treated with the kind of respect (i.e. the searing heat of a grill and no more saucing that Lee & Perrins provides), then you'd best head elsewhere. If you want to move on from cocktails, the wine list is adequate but it might be best to bring a bottle from the cellar that will do justice to cuts of meat like this. And forget about dessert. You're going to be so full of steak and potato goodness that it just doesn't make sense. Best to just sigh deeply and head out into the shimmering summer night.

Read the rest of the posts in the series: Thunder Road Redux, Stop 2: The Sundial Bridge, California Campin', Back in Oregon

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Toes R Us

I was able to get before and after pictures of my po' toe from the hospital, and they're so fantastic I have to share them! You can see (left) the very cracked and crunchy-looking fracture in the lower bone at the left, and then the straightened bone on the right with the pins in position. The surgeon said that he was using live x-ray imaging during the surgery to check the position of the bones and adjusted the pins as needed. Cool!

By the way, to get these pictures, all I had to do was call the imaging library at Providence (see below) and for a modest fee they gave me a CD containing the x-rays from the surgery. I don't know how long hospitals keep these images, but if you're interested in getting a copy of a scan you've had, it might be worth a call.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Thunder Road Redux

Should have some good stuff for you next week, since we're heading down on a liquor run to Redding, California, and hitting their Costco hard before heading over to the coast for four nights of camping.

The plan is to go hell-bent-for-leather to Redding, drop off our stuff at a motel and then head over to Jack's Grill for well-deserved cocktails and their famous seared-to-perfection steaks. Before collapsing in bed I'm hoping to walk (or limp, as the case may be) across the Sundial Bridge, a stunning footbridge designed by Santiago Calatrava, a famous Spanish designer and architect.

The next morning we'll load up at Costco and drive to Arcata on the coast, ending up at Patrick's Point State Park just south of the redwoods. Between the tempting Lost Coast and several excellent brewpubs in the area, plus a spectacular beach just down the bluff, our two nights there should be full. Then it's two nights at Harris Beach on Oregon's southern coast and home. I'll keep you posted on developments!

Read the rest of the posts in the series: Stop1: Jack's Grill, Stop 2: The Sundial Bridge, California Campin', Back in Oregon.

Nice Lunch

You know how you sometimes want to go to a nice place for lunch but you're burned out on the funky Portland cafe scene and really don't want to head over to trendy-third and it's over-the-top SUV-powered up-scaleyness? Well, now we've got an option over on the cool left side.

The recently opened and terrifically good Nostrana and its wood-fired oven are open for lunch, and if you've had to wait for a table for dinner, try it at noon when the tables are available and the food's just as mouth-wateringly good. Plus, now that the weather's calmed down they can open those sliding windows and let the breeze blow through.

I had the Catalan bean and albacore salad with house-pickled vegetables and it was smashing. The beans were perfectly done, the tuna was sweet and smoky and both were a perfect foil for the vinegary pucker of the vegetables. And you can never go wrong with one of their crispy pizzas smoked and charred in just the right way.

It's the perfect spot to meet a friend or entertain a client, and its location in the unassuming Buckman neighborhood makes it feel like a hidden gem.

Details: Nostrana, 1401 SE Morrison; Phone 503-234-2427.

Vino Concerts: Craig Carothers

My brother's wine shop in Sellwood, Vino, just had its first of what promises to be a fun series of concerts in the coming year. The premier event featured former Portlander and now Nashvillian (not Nashvillain, mind you) singer-songwriter Craig Carothers. The packed house heard several songs from his new record, plus some classics and even some requests from the audience.

This guy (he's bigger than he looks on his website) cranks out some very nice music on his acoustic guitar that counterpoints his gravelly delivery. His lyrics are generally humor-tinged, with plenty of observed irony woven throughout, but he can also deliver a great pop hook as he did in "One Revolution" and "Little Hercules." We remember him from the gigs he used to do two decades ago at La Patisserie, and it's good to see him still cranking out the good stuff.

The Vino concert schedule continues on Saturday, Sept. 9, with Django's Cadillac and their combination of hot swing and Gypsy jazz-tinged music mixed with the incredible voice of singer Kat Cogswell. Music starts at 8 pm. This is going to be one hot night and will probably sell out quickly, so call and get your tickets now.

Details: Vino, 1226 SE Lexington in Sellwood; Phone 503-235-8545


No, not the sweater kind. We're talking Cardigan Welsh Corgis, dogs short in stature but long in intelligence, gentleness and genuine personality. We had suffered the loss of our 15 1/2-year-old Husky, Nikki, and after a few months we were missing having a dog around. After doing some research and meeting an incredibly lovely Cardigan, Tai, who lives with our neighbors Laura and Rick, we decided to give this short-but-with-a-big-dog-personality breed a try.

We knew that getting a puppy would be too much of a shock after having an elderly dog, and neither of us wanted to go through the house-training, chewing, manic craziness of a young dog. After contacting several Oregon breeders and asking if they had any two-year-old-plus dogs available, we met a breeder who was retiring a lovely girl of six from the life of a show and breeding dog.

And when we met Rosey, we knew she was right for us. These dogs are great house pets but have the stamina to walk miles, especially if it's on a beach or in the woods. They're speedy, too, though it looks as though they'd have trouble keeping up with a family as tall as ours. And they love to have fun, whether it's chasing a ball or other dogs or tugging on the other end of a rope. Best of all, they're portable and love accompanying their families on trips.

And you tell me...who could resist a face like this?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Paley's Place

When faced with a really special occasion, where do you go for a nice, romantic dinner? With our 25th anniversary coming, we tossed around the usual suspects: Ciao Vito, Lauro, Alberta St. Oyster Bar & Grill, Castagna, Paley's Place, Fife, Nostrana. And some new entries: Balvo, Roux and Carafe. It's an embarrassment of riches, really. But the day before the "big day" we finally settled on Paley's, which we hadn't been to for a couple of years.

With the weather warm enough to eat outside, we requested a table on the porch and were greeted by baskets brimming with ripe, luscious tomatoes fresh from the farmers' market. We were ushered to our little table for two, so glad not to be sitting in the perfectly nice but too stuffy dining room, especially on a summer night.

We ordered a Sapphire martini and a lemon drop and snacked on a little amuse bouche of fresh grilled eggplant crostini with aioli. Now for the only gripe of the evening, and a persistent pet peeve of mine: Why do bars do sugar rims on frozen glasses? As the ice on the outside melts, it causes the sugar to drip down the glass and I end up with a sticky mess all over the glass and my hands. Sheesh!

Anyway, we'd heard that the Kobe beef tartare was not to be missed, so as we sipped our very nicely made drinks (except for the...oh never mind...) we gobbled up the horseradish and salt-spiked beef that was topped with a duck egg yolk and featured little piles of minced onion, parsley and capers. It's served with light rye toast points, which I find overpowers the delicate flavor of the beef, so I substituted the plain bread that they bring to the table. Incredibly rich and succulent, this is tartare to die for. And we'll be borrowing this idea for our own appetizer plate in the future.

We opened the spectacular 2000 Ridge Geyserville Zin that my brother gave us from his personal stash. What a burst of glorious juice! This must be what is meant by "highest and best use"...kind of like nirvana for a grape. It was still so young and supple, we almost felt guilty drinking it. This baby had years left to mature and change but, man, was it fantastic! Thanks, Bruce!

Anyway, back to the meal. We ordered salads, one of greens with black cherries and carmelized onions with a balsamic vinaigrette, the other mixed greens with radicchio, pork belly and gorgonzola. And both very tasty. Then, right on time, our entrees arrived, a pasta cut in triangles tossed with sauteed green and yellow beans, wild mushrooms, potatoes and pesto, and then a potato gnocchi with crab and preserved lemons in a butter sauce. The crab was just shredded and tossed with the cooked gnocchi so it was warm and had that lovely light crabby flavor you long for but so often don't get. With the preserved lemon spiking up the flavor quotient, this was a nice, simple but elegant dish.

Then, to put us competely over the top, a couple of piping hot decaf Americanos with an amazing dessert of Dagoba chocolate empanadas served with cinnamon cherry iced cream and sherry-soaked bing cherries. Ay yie yie! And all this for much less than we'd thought it might be; enough that we'll definitely be back in the near future. Needless to say, a very lovely evening to celebrate a very singular occasion.

Details: Paley's Place, 1204 NW 21st Ave.; Phone 503-243-2403 for reservations.