Weekend for the Arts & Mexico City Dining

Bloged in food: recipes + dining out,General Home Life by mark Monday January 29, 2007

A snippet here………I just do NOT have time to really post. However, we saw two live performances thanks to friends invitations, and we owe ‘em a huge thanks.

1. At the Portland MCC, Peterson Toscano performance his own creation, “Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House”.
toscano
This was a 90 minute one-man play with Peterson doing all the parts himself. Each had its own disti
nct personality and accent. This was a Great fun thing, you should check out the link above…….click on the “see Video” link and here his “Chad” character describe the Homo No Mo Place.

2. At the Portland Artist Rep Theater, The Smiths hosted us to see BIG time Hollywood William Hurt and local actors perform Chekhovs Uncle Vanya. This was superb. This version was written for Western Alberta in the year 1928. We were in Row A and if you’ve been to this small place there are NO bad seats, but Row A means you are likely just a few feet from the actors. This was SO WELL done we had to sit at the Mallory Hotel’s “Driftwood Inn” afterwards for snacks and discussion. Not a bad idea! The Driftwood has a happy hour so everything on the bar menu was half price…. Rather than finding this Chekhov tragic, I found it truly honest about life ….. you ONLY learn and grow by actively “LIVING” your life……….a passive visit through life would be the depressing side.
GET TICKETS and GO SEE THIS……….(it’s probably sold out now).

3) We joined up with Rodger’s ex-OHSU workmate and friend, Tony (TONI…sorry about the SP) & her partner John to dine at a restaurant out on Belmont that features the food of OLD Mexico, and I mean Southern Old Mexico. not a burrito on the property! EVERYTHING is housemade including the tortillas, and the whole experience was grand. IF you like the real deal, run on out to La Calaca Comelona and have some fun. NOTE: Afterwards, Tony & John invited us over to see their beautiful home in Ladd’s Addition. John’s and electrical engineer …. with that talent he has completely rebuilt and rewired the 1917 home, so it’s almost spectacular! We had a great time with them, and MUST go back to see the huge rose garden park that IS the view from their front windows. Great people they were!

Squirrel avoids being Owl Dinner

Bloged in Nature,Pacific Northwest by mark Thursday January 25, 2007

We’ve had that damn tray bird feeder hanging from that Cedar Tree just off the back deck for 9 years now. It is rotten and held together by ropes. We’ve had to rake piles of seed remnants from under it many times. It has fed thousands of meals to little birds, and for years now, hundreds of meals to the night’s flying squirrels.

In truth, Our little back yard has become its own micro ecosystem. Starting with the invisible bacteria breaking down all the remnant pieces, and we move up the scale. Insects and grains feed birds, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons (when they’re here unnoticed). We HAVE seen little birds become the meal for hawks upon occasion. The biggest catch by a hawk (that we actually saw) was one stellar jay.
stellarj
We HAVE had the thrilling luck to see owls in the yard about 3-4 times at night when we got lucky. You must be out at the right moment. We know they have been nesting in a big hole in a giant maple next door for some years now. We were truly fortunate one night a couple summers ago to watch the fledging of the baby Western Screech Owls.
nestling
*yep, a web pic, but ain’t the baby cute?
There was SO much hooting going on we went to see what was causing the commotion. The sounds led us under that big old tree, and there they were. 3-4 little screech owls out on the branch wondering just what they ought to be doing……… We were glad Mom was out looking for a meal or four.

We have KNOWN from reading that one of the owls favorite meals (since they’re both nocturnal) are flying squirrels. We have thought at times that perhaps our little flyers “might” be at risk to be out in that old tray feeder at 11:00 PM in the glare of a nightlight all exposed. In fact, many of the flyers do not like being exposed and do not just sit still in that feeder. When they come, they jump onto the tray, get a mouthful of seed and jump back onto the back dark side of the trunk…..eat, then repeat that little step until they’re full. They often come in family groups….2-4 at times. Then, there are the “calm” ones that DO just simply sit in the feeder and munch. We’ve never seen anything happen.
rocky3
Well, two weeks ago after becoming all annoyed at two raccoon pups that were trashing the feeder every night, Mark rounded up a couple pieces of old rusty fencing to try to block entry to the feeder from the tree side for something as big as a raccoon….that worked for the most part until a couple nights ago and the ‘coon learned he had to climb up the front side in the light to get to the feeder. We learned last night we have to take the fencing down.

Here’s how the feeder would look…..and imagine it’s night and a gorgeous little flying squirrel is calmly eating its meal on this tray feeder:
screen
screen

For some reason we looked out about 10:30 and a huge splash of tan/beige feathers had splashed into the fence…..the owl’s face was back a few inches but plainly visible……… This Western Screech Owl……
flyscreech
had honed in on the squirrel and was coming from the dark yard side into the light with intent to grab the little guy and silently fly off into the night for his meal. It was ASTOUNDING…………..an OWL caught completely by surprise by this fence. What did THAT tell me? This could NOT have been the owl’s FIRST time flying through that small clearance to “grab’ a squirrel………….. WOW! How many times has a meal been made because WE have a light on while our beloved little guys eat!!! What a SIGHT to see the owl in complete frustration sitting against the fence…… he slowly gathered himself and flew off into the night.
screech2
Needless to say we didn’t see any more squirrels last night. Whew! Ah, but this would exactly be why we love our tiny speck of woods here in the great Northwest. Perhaps, dear reader, you understand why others may consider our lives boring…….. I guess it’s a quiet life it is.
forestroad

Prune the Tree

Bloged in garden,Nature by mark Wednesday January 24, 2007

A “first” happened for me (rather the dog) today on my first trip out to the fruit trees with the pruning stuff (ladders & tools). I had just set the ladder down, and the DOG growled…stared toward THIS view and began to alternate between a kind of wimpy bark and running behind me or behind a tree….then staring at that one spot again:
macfear

I just stopped and watched as the dog stared at ONE place…..then would truly run away quietly. I’d have given SOMETHING to see what caused THIS dog to be afraid. SO far in his life, he’s been afraid of nothing….he’ll chase deer, racoons, squirrels, chipmunks….SO what was it? A coyote? That darn Lynx again? Wow………I wish I knew just WHAT had been out there seconds before I rounded that corner…………coulda been fun.

And about the pruning………………….

I decided to leave more branches on the Granny Smith tree than normal and cut more back on the Gravenstein tree….since they compete for space in the middle, I’ve opened up a little room for the Granny tree to grow. Pruning comes about mostly because of all the vertical runners that start up every year:
beforeprune.jpg

Yesterday went smoothly because I HAD pruned a bit severely last year, so I was able to complete all three fruit trees IN the yard in one long day. I believe I’ve opened up some growing space here:
afterprune.jpg

The plum revealed that part of it is not well…..I leaned on one 2-3 inch wide branch and fell with it to the ground as it simply snapped. I could see then this tree probably has about 2-3 years left. But we’ve been discussing its removal anyway…..I believe a little greenhouse will eventually be going in where that tree is now.

That leaves pruning along the front of the lot…………and that can wait a bit. It also leaves the spraying duties that I should begin tomorrow. I feel a little stiffness from getting myself all stretched out, and that’s a good thing. Ahhhh. I ALSO see as I look out the window……FOUR large Eastern Fox Squirrels chasing each other EVERYWHERE as fast as they can go. This chasing pattern doesn’t seem hostile or territorial. They truly seem to be having fun (partly because there’s no real fighting going on either). What does this mean? Lovemaking’s on the way? That’s saying it’s another 50 degree day….whoopee! There’s even MORE PROOF that Winter’s losing its grip….the hyacinths are up:
hyacinth

A Serious Biscuit Writeup

Bloged in food: recipes + dining out by mark Tuesday January 23, 2007

Cousin Kevin grew up in the south. He takes his “biscuit making” very seriously. I read it all, laughed some, but DID print the thing out and made them yesterday. They were so good, I learned how/why all my previous biscuit attempts have failed. For you serious biscuit folk, check out Kevin’s serious approach to this breakfast favorite at his Food Blog page, BACON PRESS.
biscuit1.jpg
Now back to a business. Portland has moved into a DRY and SUNNY spell. It’s unbelievable! It’s beautiful! It’s going to be 45 today! Isn’t that inspirational? It’s a big motivator to begin a task I always hate….. It’s a job that takes 2-3 days. But I’m looking out at sunshine! I can’t help myself! I MUST go out to begin: the annual pruning of apple trees.

Okay. Here we go: Loppers, cutters, saws, ladders, rakes………….. Then in 2 – 3 days when you finish, remember to begin the annual spraying of the fruit trees with the dormant anti-fungal, blight stuff…… Here we go.

Mouse Food

Bloged in General Home Life,Nature by mark Saturday January 20, 2007

WE KNEW some mice had squeaked inside some tiny hole outside (we haven’t found it yet) as we heard them nuzzling in the roof insulation of the TV room three weeks ago…..then the freeze hit, and we knew we’d BEST get to work.

Three weeks later, using that old classic mouse food, we’re at a plateau:
jifWe have placed 21 little mousies to rest and the noise in the ceiling seems to have stopped (for now). Ah! The sounds of winter.

The Surprise Snow.

Bloged in Nature,Pacific Northwest by mark Saturday January 20, 2007

One week ago all forecasters were saying snow was likely. School “Managers” all buzzed about, stewed, gathered in all the bureacracy, i.e., meetings, and decided they’d best close Portland Schools………. NO SNOW came.

However, we sank into our cold snap with nights in the high teens and daytime highs 28-32. Everything froze. We wondered how it would end……..
gardenrest.jpg
**Note: It ended cold and frozen until the NEXT week………………..

THIS week, all forecasters were saying a “trace to an inch” of snow is “Possible”………….. We went to bed. By 0500, it WAS snowing and it kept snowing until we had about 4-5 inches up here. ALL schools in the entire area ended up closed for at least 2 days as that snow settled onto roads that had already sort of congealed into a messy ice layer. The town came to a halt. Oh well. I suppose this one DID come at the last minute (during morning rush hour) and no forecasts seemed to be able to predict this slick outcome. It was pretty though.
streetlight.jpg
Rodger was stuck at home. The first morning, The Smiths and us with daughter Liz, visiting from Boston, put on all snow clothes and trooped down into Forest Park for a beautiful trail walk:
smiths2The “dusting” on the trees really was beautifully serene:
newtonwalk
aahhh………
newtonwalk2
What a time the dogs had and they were tired that night:
wackomacko
At night, the yard’s always a bit eerie looking toward the streetlights
eerie
AND that night Baird, Karen, Liz and we played some rousing games of Hearts, Rummi Cub, and Wits & Wagers to mark our night of being snowed in.

It DID take another day or two to get under that ice layer to get off the hill…………….. Just in time to make it to the opening party for Encanto, a high end Tex-Mex Restaurant opening just down in St Johns. That was a fun evening not only for the entire meal of free sampler plates brought to our table, but to see the growing gang of young couples, families moving into St Johns. This old part of town is TRULY being re-born and re-claimed by activist folk we think are the best thing happening!

SO. We survived the storm of 2007 ! !! Hopefully that’s the last one………we put a dent in our firewood supply for the last 6 days!!

A Winter Chill 2007

Bloged in birding,Nature,Pacific Northwest by mark Friday January 12, 2007

SO…………..the snow fell on the east side of town because the winds were whipping down from the NorthEast rather than the NorthWest Ocean………………we had little. We’re NOW settling into the resultant cold snap forecast and as the sun sets, temperatures are lower than they were this morning….the high was about 32, and we’re about 28 now. BUT. The SUN WAS OUT, and we realized for a Portlander, temperatures don’t matter as much as having a bright sunny day.
The trees this morning had a combination of the light snow and heavy frost shining in bright sun, and it was beautiful:
winterfrost
or another view off the back deck
winterfrost2

Rodger left for work. But maybe seeing THIS beautiful turn on the way:
fairviewrde.jpg
penetrated a brain trigger, and in ten minutes was back with the decision to take a vacation day. SO. We loaded up a dog, scopes, camera, and motored to Sauvie Island to see, hopefully, thousands of birds. What we did NOT know, that there is now a special BIRD HUNT going on (they say to “raise money to help wildlife” in most spots we observe the myriads of water fowl.

What we DID see was duck blind after duck blind with supposedly “manly” man hiding behind them. They had dozens of decoy fake ducks sitting in front of their blinds to draw in a poor living animal now and then, but for the most part all LIVING birds stayed far away. We really didn’t realize the truth of this until the first blasts went off (you know a single shotgun pellet puts out hundreds of pellets….the bird doesn’t have a chance)….and NONE of the “fake” ducks moved and the one live one fell. Then other blasts began going off. We loaded back up moved on….same thing…..moved on….same thing. We finally gave up realizing it was a lost cause, and felt there was a Bush-Like sour taste in the words on a sign advising we could NOT go beyond this point unless we had the valid daily hunter’s license It said other dogma so ridiculous, it was offensive. It read something about “these closures implemented to minimize disturbance to wintering waterfowl and limit damage by waterfowl to private property.” WHAT? Quiet Bird Watchers who simply want to quietly observe are not allowed but The hundred or two hunters with gun licenses can go beyond this texted sign and blast away since they aren’t “disturbing” wildlife? WHAT?

SO. At any rate, we motored on just for a little viewing, and here was one of the many Sauvie beauty points with a lovely merganswer cruising the waterway:
sauvieview.jpg
Just another look at a chilly winter view there:
sauvieview2
And, of course, here it is January, and not be forgotten, we parked, walked to the river, and for 30 minutes (until WE were chilled through), this dog retrieved things thrown INTO the cold water and was mad when we left:
macfrosty

At home we enjoyed watching how the little birds are enjoying our new Bird Feeder, a gift from Art & Lesley. It’s turned into more than just a fun little bird feeder. The Stellar Jays can’t seem to manage to land on it to steal all the food, so we LOVE it:
lesfeed1.jpg

So, we did see ONE eagle, a few hawks, but not the best of bird days. We returned via the DVD store with plans to nest in this cool evening and see “Little Miss Sunshine”……….hope it’s not a bust.

All in all, not a bad winter day in the Northwest.

Waiting for the Cold

Bloged in Nature,Pacific Northwest by mark Wednesday January 10, 2007

Once more, forecasters and almost everyone IN town have been chattering about a cold front that will come out of Canada …..It will begin with some rain tonight, a dry hour or two, and then begin with some snow showers during the day tomorrow. . . . perhaps an inch or 3 up here. Isn’t that exciting all you Minnesota natives? But I HAVE done everything I CAN do to prepare for 3-4 days that won’t get above freezing and night temps below that. I’ve moved wood into the garage, pruned roses down, got out the snow shovel (yeah!), walked the dogs (with Karen) so they’ve had a good run, gone to the grocery store for extras…..and I DID take Mac with me so we DID stop at Chimney Park so he could exhaust himself saying hello to every dog pal he’s got, and today was a good one……he seemed to be partial to a Neufie that looked a lot like his gal pal Ellie.

This was the last stop before coming back home, and just about 3:40 pm, a strong breeze immediately started and I looked to the NW to see darker skys moving our way. Hm. . . .a fun night we hope! NOTHING in this forecast promises more excitement than some C-o-l-d air and a whiff of snow.

BUT………..I ALWAYS REMEMBER THESE COLD EVENTS here have to move on at some point….

And it often does happen that as warm air begins to come in over the cold air, we just might see and ice storm or something dramatic. We can only hope……….more ice skating in the yard like last January maybe?

Well. We’ll wait and see.

A No Knead Practice Bread Session

Bloged in food: recipes + dining out by mark Saturday January 6, 2007

RAIN was supposed to begin this morning about 9:00 and go fairly steadily for two days. I “believed” them (always resulting in disappointment for me) so said I’d practice a little bread making. Of course, rain didn’t materialize until tonight, and it only got up to 34 in a cold wind up here all day, so with the comfort of our outdated woodstove:
woodstove
I remained warm and comfortable for a practice run at NO-Knead Bread Play.

I started the dough yesterday afternoon, and made the standard: 2 Tblsp Rye Flour, 3 Cups White Flour, 1/4 tsp yeast, 3 & 5/8 cups water. This morning, it obviously was short of a little water so was rough and not even:
breadrough

Immediately I had my theme for “breadplay” today. I would cut this in half, let the rough starter half proceed to bake and see how THAT turns out despite it not being wet enough. I would take the second half and start over using it as a great “starter” biga that I would break back down into a soupy starter:
startertwo
When I bake bread now, I’ve learned to take the salt OUT of the cabinet and have it sitting in plain sight to make sure it is not forgotten. I teaspoon of salt makes or breaks a bread loaf as far as taste:
salt
Here’s how the first half looked after I carefully folded, rested 20 minutes, carefully stretched and folded under then put it out to rest for the final rise:
proofing
You can see we’re now using a lightly oiled Silpat to rest on instead of the floured towel. The floured towel always brought lots of loose flour into the baking and that meant some brushing of the loaf after you were done. The lightly oiled Silpat prevents any sticking, and your loaf gently rolls off into the hot baking pan.

Rather than trying to cover it with plastic that may stick, or flour a towel for the top, I’ve found that using my extra-large Tupperware bowl works out perfectly to cover this proofing dough:
proofingtwo
I also got the second half, the “soupy stuff” going again, added a bit more yeast to speed it up a bit believing that having used that half starter already 18 hours old, flavor would still be rich. So, after stirring, resting, folding, resting 20 minutes, folding…..I was ready to try my hand at baking my first foccaccia loaves:
proof3
By now, I was pre-heating the oven (and baking pan) to 440 (instead of 450 since these were much smaller loaves than usual)…….and finally had the original mix in for a bake:
bake1.jpg

It turned out beautiful, although admittedly, I didn’t get the sharpest picture:
finish1
With the end piece cut off, I was quite happy…….the crumb and texture were perfect:
zoombread
The taste? Fabulous.

The second loaves finished (a fuzzy picture) and are not formed as one would expect. *NOTE: I DID forget to puncture the dough with or slash it as required for Foccaccia. Remember these were my first ever free form loaves so weren’t shaped as they ought to be:
finish2
and in that little loaf in back, you can see you never throw something away………however……….. Rather than bake that last little bit next time, I will simply save that in the fridge or freezer to use as my “starter” bit next time. The TASTE on the second batch was very rich and complex….having the old starter and NEW ingredients as well. I loved it.

Oh well………..now it’s dark and raining. I got bread made, a little cleaning done, two letters written, ran the dog in a bracing cold wind, and DO know how lucky I am to be able to even have this choice of things to to today. It is not without major support of a partner who I know may occasionally and understandably wish it were HE enjoying the retirement instead of me. One of my finest Christmas Gifts was FROM Rodger specifically FOR baking bread. Cousin Nancy has been her La Creuset pan since starting this no-knead adventure and has had perfect results. It is the cookware set she has had since being given it as a wedding present. Rodger gave me that same casserole pan that performs that steam/oven substitute perfectly:
lacreuset
lecreuset.

Yes, it was a wonderful holiday time for 2006.

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