and then we said "open", and everyone went bananas

Whew! We have officially survived the week of All The Things and are now on Day 2 of our Winterfest Vacation, aka Two Glorious Weeks (And A Few Days) Of Not Working Dammit.

The week of crazydom was not without its fun, however. Friday was the long-awaited holiday party at my office, and you will perhaps be a little surprised that a company party could be described as "long-awaited", and in some years past, I would agree with you, but this year...oh this year, I have a story to tell.

Way back in August, the Executive Team decided to "go big" for the end of the year party in recognition of everyone's hard work. We upped the party planning committee's budget for food, drinks, and decorations. We also decided to do swag bags, since our company has never really had products with our name and logo on them before. The swag bags would include a reusable shopping bag, a really nice insulated steel coffee tumbler, an insulated steel 1 liter thermos, chocolate bars with our logo imprinted, and polo-style shirts with our logo embroidered.

But that was only the start.

We usually have a raffle drawing every year for prizes (usually gift cards), but we wanted the prizes to be really big this year and for everyone to go home with something great. We couldn't send everyone home with a big screen tv or anything, but we could make the raffle prizes pretty spectacular and then surprise everyone who didn't win with something awesome, too. And when I say "spectacular", I mean it: 2 iPod Touches, an XBox Kinect (w/an NCAA Football game and the Michael Jackson Experience game), 2 Kindle Fires, 2 16x zoom cameras, an HP laptop, an iPad, 2 Kitchenaid Professional stand mixers, and a 50" plasma screen TV. For the remainder, the committee was given a list for shopping for the surprise gifts so they would know what we meant when we said "awesome": cameras, iPod nanos, Garmins, Kindle Touches, Wiis, Keurig coffee makers, cookware sets, and a food processor. (The Executive Team was in charge of the big gifts, so that even the committee didn't know what they were.)

So the committee has been on a series of shopping sprees for everything on their list for the last two months, increasingly running out of room as our storage unit. Space became even more of a problem for the raffle items, since we couldn't even let the committee members see those. At the end of the Executive Retreat on Tuesday, we assembled all the swag bags, then had to cram them all amongst our cars' trunks. But it was coming together and we were downright gleeful about what was about to come at the end of the week.

The committee worked their tails off all week getting the conference room decorated for the party (last year was the first time we did it at the office, and they made it look really terrific; this year, they outdid themselves). Wednesday, the committee and the Executive Team wrapped the surprise gifts, hiding things inside other boxes so nothing could be guessed. We stacked them all up along the far wall of the conference room, and I'm pretty sure that when everyone filed in at the start of the party, they assumed the prettily-wrapped stack of boxes were just for decoration to hide the IT station that runs the projector and sound system in the conference room. Little did they know....

The raffle gifts were set up on tables at the front but covered with cloths when everyone came in, with the swag bags all lined up underneath the tables. Once everyone was seated, we welcomed them to the party, took care of housekeeping (party schedule, turn off cell phones, etc.), then showed them the contents of the swag bag that they would be getting at the end of the party. We then announced how the raffle would work -- everyone got a ticket, which they would place in a bag in front of whatever item they wanted to try to win, and we would draw from that bag for that item.

And then the fun began. We slowly revealed each item. The iPod Touches were first and got a surprised gasp, and it just kept escalating. By the time we got to the iPad, the room was a constant buzz, and when we showed the TV, everyone flipped out.

After everyone had a chance to mingle and put in their tickets, it was time to eat, followed by a fun Mad Libs style game at each table. And then it was time for the main event.

The raffle items were a huge, huge hit. As terrific as the raffle was, however, the best was yet to come. "But wait! There's more!" we said. Pointing to the pile of boxes in the back that most everyone assumed were just for show, we told them that the they were in fact not for show, and that we would draw all the tickets of those who hadn't won, and when their name was called, to go pick one out of the pile. There were only two rules: don't shake any of the boxes, and don't open them until we tell you to.

Getting through the remainder of the names took awhile, and I think everyone assumed that whatever was in the boxes would be something okay, but nothing nearly as great as the raffle items. Maybe another swag item, or a set of knives, something like that. Nonetheless, everyone was still having fun.

Once everyone had their items, we gave them the go to open their boxes, and the next two minutes were the best two minutes of chaos pretty much ever. You know what it's like when kids are allowed to just go berzerk on Christmas morning and open packages all at once, and it's just a flurry of patterned paper and exclamations and noise and excitement? Now imagine that in a room full of adults who weren't expecting it at all, and who had enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine and beer, and you will have an inkling of what it was like for that two minutes.

It didn't matter that they weren't all iPads or stand mixers. They were nice gifts that no one was expecting and in many cases, wouldn't necessarily buy for themselves but really wanted. We encouraged people to trade if they got something that wasn't as useful, and by the time everyone left, I think they all ended up with something they were glad for. I tried to talk to as many as I could to find out if they had fun and to hear their individual story about whatever gift they got. For several, it was going to make a difference for an otherwise tough holiday -- a Wii for kids who wanted one but wouldn't have gotten one otherwise, or an avid reader who was struggling with sight issues but couldn't justify a Kindle, or a new set of cookpans to replace the mismatched set that were older than I am. A laptop that would make it possible to work from home, an iPod nano for someone who wanted but didn't own an iAnything (exact quote), a camera for someone who could now take nice pictures of the new grandbaby.

There's nothing I love more than giving gifts, except perhaps giving them to someone who really needed that little boost of magic and hope and joy. I've been blessed with some really wonderful gifts in my life, but nothing is ever quite as fulfilling as being able to do that for someone else. And Friday afternoon was some of the most fun I've had in quite some time.

Best. Company Party. Ever.


As you can imagine, the week was so busy that I'm behind on posting bentos, so there's some catching up to be done here:

Tuesday's lunch, Paris slimline:

  • shrimp sauteed with garlic, toasted sesame seeds for garnish
  • kale sauteed with garlic and caramelized onions (wow, lots of garlic today)
  • brown rice
  • sunflower seeds
  • carrot sticks and steamed broccoli
  • satsuma sections

Wednesday's lunch, Lunchbot Duo:

  • boiled egg,
  • shrimp sauteed with garlic, toasted sesame seeds for garnish
  • garlic butter dipping sauce in the little cup
  • kale sauteed with garlic and caramelized onions
  • brown rice underneath everything
  • apple slices
  • carrots and celery
  • sunflower seeds

Thursday's lunch, Fit 'n Fresh:

  • romaine lettuce
  • boiled egg
  • carrots, celery, radishes
  • apple slices, mandarin
  • sesame seeds

seen on a local store sign: mace-free holiday shopping

It's a whirlwind here at Hall House while we power through these last days before our (GLORIOUS) winter vacation begins. The culprits: work, as always, and our usual hectic schedule, piled on with extra-curricular activities. Last weekend, for example, Sal was at the school shooting their new commercial, yet more evidence that I am right and he will be a celebrity chef someday. Right? He would totally blow all those other posers out of the water. Not that he would ever seek the limelight, of course, but with that laugh and that face and that gift for both baking and teaching, the limelight seems to find him regardless.

I've been recovering from an unfortunate tumble down some stairs, which has been a bit of a setback in getting done what needs to get done, but I haven't let it slow me down much. Which is a good thing, because there wasn't much room in our jam-packed schedule for any slowing down. In addition to powering through to vacation, and some important activities, there is also readying ourselves for the Smiley-Hall Family Christmas, an epic annual event that is not for amateurs.

Although we don't technically participate in holiday gift-giving, we do have a gift-giving responsibility as part of the Smiley-Hall Family Christmas. To wit: handmade gifts and stocking stuffers all around. And of course presents for the Fabulous Miss M, because obviously. And as a family, we are seriously badass at the homemade gift thing.

Which meant venturing forth this weekend into the bustling masses at the exact time of year we generally try to avoid them. Thankfully, the local shops -- while bustling -- weren't so teeming with humanity that we were tempted to contemplate homicide. Like the shopping ninjas that we are, we managed to get all of Miss M's gifts*, supplies that we didn't already have on hand for the various planned homemade gifts, stocking stuffers, AND groceries for a kick-ass spaghetti and meatballs dinner Saturday night.

*(Sadly, the WAY AWESOME Grammy and Nonna's Toys, where we have gotten every birthday and Christmas gift for Miss M since she was born, will be closing after the first of the year so that Grammy and Nonna can move nearer to their grandkids. If anyone's interested in taking over a really successful and beloved neighborhood toy store, I'm sure they'd love to hear from you...)

Yesterday was spent in the kitchen, each of us working on some of our homemade gifts. There seriously must be some kind of productivity drug in our water recently, because we are crossing things off our to do lists at a ridiculous pace. NOT COMPLAINING BY THE WAY. This week is going to be insanely challenging due to everything ever landing on this one week on the calendar (NO SERIOUSLY I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING), but if we can actually survive to the end of the week, then it's easy peasy for the rest of 2011.

lunch, pink Natural Lunch:

  • hard boiled eggs
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • satsuma
  • sunflower seeds

lunch (from last Tuesday), Fit 'n Fresh:

  • red and green leaf lettuce
  • beets, carrots, celery, radishes
  • egg, cashews, apple slices
  • simple vinaigrette of oil and apple balsamic on the side

taking this circus on the road

It looks like we'll be taking the cats to the coast with us next month. ProcrastiGirl, our usual go-to superwoman in all things petsitting, is unavailable this go-round, and we haven't yet found a suitable replacement. And since cancelling our winter coast getaway is out of the question, it's becoming increasingly likely that the cats are about to get a vacation out of the deal.

On the one hand, we know from experience that they can travel with us successfully. Or at least, travel to the coast successfully. On the other hand, "can" and "will" are two entirely different things. It could be that they were so well-behaved because the windows of the cabin stayed open the entire time and they got a good dose of that temperate sea air, or because the cabin we were in was particularly to their liking, or because Mercury was in retrograde.

And even though they did great when we were actually there, carting them to and from the coast was an exercise in insanity. Smaug's ceaseless mow-mow-mow-ing on the hour and a half drive had us both twitching like prisoners of war in the first twenty minutes, and when she switched to the blood-curdling "aroo, aroo, AROOOO" halfway through, I was fairly sure Sal was going to yank the steering wheel to the right and just plunge us all over the side of the nearest bridge. I'm not sure I would've stopped him.

But barring some miraculous solution that presents itself in the next few weeks, we're just going to have to take our chances.

lunch, Ms. Bento:

  • beef stir fry (tip steak, peppers, onions, carrots, green beans, kale, secret sauce)
  • brown rice and peas with a carrot flower for garnish
  • carrot sticks and Bosc pear slices
  • FIRST SATSUMA OF THE SEASON OMG (although I love that they get increasingly wee as the season progresses...)

our usual holiday tradition

Thanksgiving at our house was the usual, which is to say: fun, quiet, and comfortable. And delicious, of course!

It's nice having a "usual" when it comes to holidays, a personal tradition that's familiar and easy, and family (Sister, Guy, and the Fabulous Miss M) to share it with. We've got the menu and preparation down to a science, share around the tasks of cooking and baking and cleaning, and no one has to get up at the ass crack of dawn to put a turkey in the oven. There's mostly playing and relaxing and sleeping, and whole lot of mouthwatering deliciousness.

What we do not do is venture into the Black Friday melee. I mean, the stress of all those people and all those cars and all that stuff is enough to make me break out in hives, but ye gods and little fishes, it's a freaking battlefield out there these days! Pepper spray? Shootings? Trampling and riots? What could possibly be so enticing that you'd literally take your life in your hands to buy it? And don't even get me started on the poor folks who have to work on what should be their holiday, too, just so Shelly Shopper can get a good deal on a cheap waffle maker. Screw them as long as you save $20 on that XBox, eh? I obviously don't get the attraction of the annual free-for-all, and to each their own, I guess, but surely there's a better way?

lunch, French bistro:

  • beef stir fry (tip steak, peppers, onions, carrots, green beans, kale, secret sauce)
  • brown rice
  • kiwi
  • almonds
  • walnuts
  • dark chocolate-covered raisins

This lunch is the result of having cleaned out the fridge and eaten up leftovers in preparation for the feast (and the need for space), and then eaten up (most of) the leftovers from said feast, as well as being at the tail end of our last produce delivery. Which is to say, a tad short on veggies and color, but that should be remedied shortly once I get home tonight and unpack the organics bin that will be waiting on the porch.


st. johns appreciation post

our little market square hosts the St. Johns Farmers' Market until mid-OctoberSeriously, our neighborhood is the greatest. Sometimes I wonder how we got to be so lucky to live here.

We looked at 42 houses before we found The One, and we were looking long and hard at the neighborhood for each, not just the house. Which is to say, we did our legwork, no question. But there was a sizeable amount of luck and faith and hope, involved, too. Driving through the little downtown area of St. Johns then was deceptive -- many storefronts were empty and what was there wasn't promising. The houses ranged from well-kept to rundown. It was the Charlie Brown Christmas tree of Portland.

But there was promise there. The downtown had a community feel despite the vacancies, and it was clear that many people had lived here a long time, and were proud of it. There was a police station and a fire house right there by the bridge, and a post office just a block past that, and a terrific library with original woodwork and stately old fixtures. There were wonderful parks and some great little shops and places to eat (granted, just a few). And then there was the house, and the bridge, and that view.

Saturday, after a trek out to Forest Grove for a vintage crafts fair (that turned out to be less "crafts" and more "stuff"), we stopped in our little downtown to check out a few of the newest shops we hadn't made it to yet. Barrel, a new wine and beer shop, was opening, so of course we had to be there for that. Right next door was Etcetera, a wonderful little home decor shop that will give me another place for gift shopping along with the already fabulous Salty Teacup. And right around the corner (past Grammy and Nonna's Toys, where we're always able to find something just right for the Fabulous Miss M), we had a chance to stop in at Olive and Vine for the first time since they opened. Salts and tea and olive oil and vinegars and spices, oh my.

Both of us now laden with shopping bags in each hand, we didn't dare cross the street to St. John's Booksellers, since we can never get out of that place without at least one book apiece (and our tottering to-read pile is already borderline hazardous). We had our options of Thai Cottage for dinner, or Anna Banana's, or James John Cafe, or Girasole, or John Street Cafe, or Signal Station Pizza, or could have bought ingredients to make it ourselves at Proper Eats Market. Afterward, we could've caught the latest release at the St. Johns Cinema (for less than one of of those big movie houses, and the option for pizza and beer to boot!), or a summer release for half the price at St. Johns Pub. Cakes and cookies from Tulip Pastry, cat food and litter from Tres Bone, bikes and supplies from Weir Cyclery, photography-anything from Blue Moon Camera, clothes for Sal at The Man's Shop...all of these and more are just blocks from our house in our neighborhood's little downtown.

From haircuts to freshly roasted coffee beans, our neighborhood has it all, and as we headed home, I had to pinch myself yet again at how lucky we are to live here.

lunch, Ms. Bento:

  • roasted butternut squash soup
  • broccoli and hard boiled egg
  • carrots and celery (with the leaves left on)
  • Starkcrimson pear with cashews as gap fillers

breakfast/snack, cute animals sidecar:

  • Starkcrimson pear
  • kiwi
  • walnuts

the chef speaks, and i swoon

Chef Salvatore, as represented in chocolate by one of his studentsOCI recently posted a video of an interview with Sal about the Advanced Baking & Pastry class he teaches. Watching him in action is such a thrill -- he's so knowledgeable and authoritative and assured, but also congenial and fun. He really is a natural. No wonder he's so popular. (And chocolate or no, he's pretty easy on the eyes, eh?)


just lunch today

And not even a particularly exciting or pretty one, at that. (Oh, and breakfast, too.)

lunch, bento colors purple

  • egg, spinach, and onion scramble
  • smoked sausages, with a few fresh leaves of spinach for baran/garnish
  • broccoli, carrot sticks, and almonds
  • Mutsu apple slices and more broccoli

breakfast, bento colors mini green

  • plain Greek yogurt
  • marionberries (some of the batches we froze after summertime berry picking adventures on Sauvie Island)
  • Mutsu apple slices

who knew evil could be so cuddly

I've said many times that Hobbes is a furry little terrorist, albeit a very adorable one, but he has recently upped his game and become downright tyrannical.

His newest tactic is to start tearing paper -- loudly -- when I go to the bathroom just after getting home from work at night. I think his expectation is that I will drop everything the moment I come in the door and sit with him (and Smaug, if he must make a concession) giving him non-stop attention until it's time to feed them. He's already disappointed that I'm not available 24/7 for uninterruped adoration, but if I must leave him for extended periods, then this routine is the minimum expectation if I don't want him to burn the place down. (He may not have opposable thumbs, but he could totally do it.)

Unfortunately, I frequently get home fairly late -- certainly much later than he would prefer -- and dropping everything (which would include my attache case, purse, lunch, and usually some other item(s)) really isn't possible. To say nothing of wanting to change out of work clothes, wash my face, put on slippers, etc. Or, heaven forbid, go to the bathroom after the 30 minute drive home.

He knows that as soon as I hear paper tearing, I'll come back to stop him. But since he chooses to do this while I'm in the bathroom...well, you see the problem, I'm sure. Meanwhile, he's out there like a paper shredder with a tail all, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU SHOULD BE OUT HERE GIVING ME YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION I AM GOING TO TURN THESE IMPORTANT PAPERS FROM THE INSURANCE COMPANY INTO CONFETTI UNTIL YOU COME OUT HERE AND ALSO YOUR PREMIUM PAYMENT IS OVERDUE PAY YOUR BILLS YOU DEADBEAT".

lunch, Ms. Bento:

  • broccoli cheese soup (still so yum omg)
  • broccoli and carrots
  • celery sticks and smoked sausages
  • bosch pear with walnuts as gap fillers

the fires of autumn are beacons homeward

our front Japanese maple is called "Firestorm", which has burgundy leaves that turn bright red in fall, then dark purple before falling off; it was a housewarming gift for Sal from my momWe planted this tree almost 10 years ago and every year, I forget just how gorgeous it turns in fall, and have to take seventy gazillion pictures of it, vainly trying to capture the degree of the red, a bright fire on an otherwise very gray day.

I always underestimate how long fall lasts here, and that the leaves stay on well into November, and how positively gargantuan some of the leaves are. I sent a collection of leaves to my grandmother one year, to share my Pacific Northwest autumn with her, and I collected two dozen different leaves without walking more than a block. The largest, from an old maple in the neighbor's yard, wouldn't even fit in a manila envelope without trimming the ends.

We had a day of errands Saturday, amidst wind and downpour, ending with a stop at New Seasons and bags of groceries to be hauled out of the car and up the stairs. (Douchebag developer, miraculously, finished up early and we've been able to park in front of the house again.*) In the midst of helping with the bags and being pelted with rain, I had to stop to take this picture of a rose petal amongst the yellow and brown. I know Sal must've wondered what the hell, and probably cursed me under his breath, but sometimes you've just got to stop and observe those little moments when they present themselves.

breakfast/snack, cute animals sidecar:

lunch, Ms. Bento:

  • Another delicious soup that makes autumn kind of the best season ever. Broccoli cheese soup, to be exact, and holy deliciousness, Batman, it is simply divine.
  • more broccoli
  • not-at-all-hard boiled egg
  • carrot sticks
  • kiwi

*After all my pissing and moaning, you'd think I'd feel bad for complaining so much when they finished up a week early. Not really, but I do feel bad about complaining when I found out that the cross street that borders the property on the other side, which also has to undergo street improvements for the development, is going to be out of commission until February.


i don't mean to brag, but

We are sometimes the recipients of genuinely ridiculously awesome bounty. Part of that is a function of living where we live, and part is just plain good fortune.

Case in point: one of Sal's (former?) students recently went clamming with her family, which yielded an impressive haul of razor clams. The irony is that she doesn't like clams, just digging for them. So Sal was the recipient of an entire bag of freshly dug razor clams, all cleaned and shelled.

Thanks to her generosity, I enjoyed the most damn fine clam chowder for dinner last night that I have ever eaten in my entire life. Said chowder also included some of the smoked bacon that I mentioned last week that one of the other instructors at OCI smoked and cured with a class. He cut it up small and sauteed it with onion and celery, and combined with the magic of potatoes and cream and fresh thyme from the garden and, oh yes, and veritable mountain of fresh razor clams, and you have heaven in a pot, my friends.

lunch, Ms. Bento:

  • the aforementioned clam chowder, which is somehow even better the second day
  • carrot sticks and peas
  • herb and cheese bagel
  • Honeycrisp apple with cashews as gap fillers

the poor object to being governed badly...

...the rich object to being governed at all. -- G.K. Chesterton

For anyone in the Portland area considering participating in Bank Transfer Day and/or the Move Your Money project, I can highly recommend Unitus Community Credit Union as a terrific local option for banking.

We made the switch several years ago when we were fed up with US Bank (NEVER AGAIN) and big corporate banks generally, and have regretted only that we didn't do it sooner. They offered an eco-friendly discount on our loan when we bought the Prius and have a loan program for purchasing a bike (including accessories) for people trying to switch over to bike commuting, which we also took advantage of. They even have their own smartphone app!

And if you're looking beyond just making your banking local, check out Localvesting (hat tip to our neighbor, Grant). I haven't read the book yet but the Resources page has a handy list of links to help you get started.

Lastly, because I'm feeling even more populist than usual lately: before Occupy Wall Street, before the French Revolution, there was the Peasant's Revolt.

lunch, blue bunny & moons

  • rice casserole (brown rice, broccoli, Italian sweet pepper, mushroom broth, herbs)
  • steamed broccoli
  • chicken breast and carrot slices
  • carrot sticks and kiwi berries
  • dark chocolate-covered raisins
  • apple slices with cashews as gap fillers

taking reservations now for halloween 2012

greatest carved pumpkin ever or GREATEST carved pumpkin ever?I was thinking late last night, as I was packing my lunch yet again at half past midnight (SERIOUSLY I KEEP THE HOURS OF A COLLEGE FRESHMAN), that if I were a kid, the night before Halloween would be second only to the night before Christmas. The anticipation of showing off my unquestionably awesome costume that was sure to blow the minds of every kid in school (Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun had nothing on me), the chaos of kids hyped up on excitement and way too much sugar that turned the classroom into Mardi Gras and ensured not a damn thing was going to get done that day, the thrill of traisping around the neighborhood in the dark as if on a clandestine mission. And the candy, oh, the glorious candy!

I really love Halloween, but it's been years since I partiipated. As an adult, the potential for Halloween fun is vastly expanded, from costume ideas to decorating budgets to party epicness. But as an adult, the excitement of being nine years old has long since vanished (along with the energy that went with it) and the prospect of planning the kind of party you envision looks suspiciously like work, work, and more work.

Still. I do so love a good Halloween party. It is, after all, the themed party to beat all themed parties, and we all know how I love throwing a themed party. It might be too late for this year, but it's not too early to start planning for next year....

lunch, Ms. Bento:

  • chicken pot pie made by Sal (chicken breast, peas, carrots, kale, onion, bacon*, with a lovely flakey crust he just whipped out like it was nothing)
  • peas
  • apple slices with cashews as gap fillers
  • yogurt-covered pretzels with dark chocolate-covered raisins as gap fillers

the continuing douchebaggery of douchebag developer

So Douchebag Developer is back and making me hate him.

Two weeks ago (while my dad was here, actually), we returned from an afternoon outing to find "No Parking" signs blocking both sides of the street on our block. The signs were placed there on behalf of Douchebag Developer's project, which requires sewer improvements before work can begin. In 12 pt. font that's oh-so-easy to read when you're IN A CAR AND AT LEAST FIVE FEET AWAY FROM THE SIGN, the signs further informed us that the street would be blocked from October 12th to October 27th, Monday through Saturday, 7 AM to 6 PM to allow work on the pipes under the street.

You'll remember that we have no off-street parking at Hall House.

The first night, we parked the cars just past the end of the block. Someone broke into the Camry and stole the ashtray (which we use for change). We don't leave anything in the car so there wasn't much to steal -- they sifted through the few CDs in the console but didn't take any and rifled through the papers in the glovebox, but that was about it. They didn't even take the car kit we keep in the trunk. I could swear that I locked the car -- I'm obsessive about such things -- but since none of the windows were broken and there was no sign of tampering, I can only surmise that I left it unlocked.

Now, I realize that I'm partly to blame, and that Douchebag Developer isn't responsible for the criminal acts of other people. Our neighborhood is actually very safe and close knit, but transients sometimes migrate through on their way from the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill up to St. Johns. They're harmless, and you know, whatever few dollars of change was in that ashtray is worth far more to them than it is to me, whether it was used for a fix or for food. In the scheme of things, it's hardly worth mentioning.

But I know that it happened because our cars were parked out of sight of our house and the streetlight that they normally sit under. And for that, I do blame Douchebag Developer. (We've been parking our cars down the corner since then, since that street gets more frequent traffic and is more exposed, as well as being right in line with the neighbor's security light.) And I wonder what we're in for when this cursed development is finally finished and suddenly there are a bunch of cars parking on the street -- cars that will each have their own garages, but thanks to Douchebag Developer's douchebaggily planned development, are almost impossible to actually park in.

And there's the usual inconvenience you'd expect with such work: jackhammering and big chunks of asphalt dropping into gigantic metal tractor buckets at SEVEN O'FUCKING CLOCK IN THE A.M.; dust everywhere, and the smell of diesel, and pipes stacked on our nicely landscaped sidewalk strips; loud equipment and pounding that makes the whole house vibrate all damn day. Hauling groceries is a challenge already when you have to haul them up the seventy gajillion stairs from the street to the front door, but add having to park down the block to the whole expedition and suddenly the prospect of saltines and some grapes for dinner seems much more appetizing than having to get groceries.

But, you know, this stuff happens, and streets and sewers need work, and a couple of weeks of inconvenience aren't that big of a deal, my self-indulgent pissing and moaning aside.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday -- the day before all of this was supposed to end -- there was a flyer on our doorstep that new sewer work (sanitary sewer work, as opposed to to the storm sewer work that was apparently being done this last two weeks) commences today with the same restrictions, but will continue until "approximately" November 18th.

And that was the moment when my loathing for Douchebag Developer sharpened to a surgical precision.

lunch, Paris slimline:

  • smoked sausages
  • peas and carrots, corn
  • molded egg
  • dark chocolate-covered raisins
  • Starkcrimson pear slices
  • yogurt-covered raisins

apples, pears, and a recipe from chef salvatore

Part 2 about our weekend, continuing from yesterday... And yes, there is a recipe from Sal at the bottom of this post.

We waved goodbye to Sister and Guy Sunday morning, then Sal headed off to the school to prepare for a cooking demonstration at the Portland Nursery Apple (and Pear) Tasting. You may remember from last year's post that this event is like a birthday party for autumn, and I really have no better way to describe it.

I arrived at the festival just in time to watch Sal set up for his demonstration. It's held in a busy area of the festival where there are vendors selling gourmet homemade caramels and other delectables that make your mouth water, and where you will be amazed at how many people will line up for a free taste of freshly brewed hard cider. The demonstrations are an informal setup with hay bales for seating, which means there may or may not be anyone sitting there to watch when you start. I'll admit I was a little worried that he wouldn't have anyone sitting down to watch and was tempted to go round people up to ensure he had an audience. He'd stayed late Friday night making 80 samples of the pear coffee cake with streusel he was demonstrating, and I didn't want him to be up there all alone. "People, there's a real live chef over there making a fantastic dessert and handing out free samples! Come, come see the magic happen! He's even sharing the recipe he invented! This will be the best thing you eat all day, I promise!"

I needn't have worried. The elderly lady who wandered up while he was getting his trays set up was soon joined by a few couples standing at the back of the seating area, arms crossed, and then familes, and then some older gentlemen, and within two or three minutes all the hay bales were packed and there was a genuine crowd watching him talk about pears and the wonders of cardamom and the amazing alchemy that transforms heavy cream when you whip it very patiently.

Sal @ last year's demonstrationHe's so, so good at what he does and I never fail to be impressed every time I watch him at work, sharing his passion in his charming, inviting style, easygoing and welcoming to people that might be intimidated by talking to a real live pastry chef. Somehow, he managed to field questions despite the background noise, cut d'Anjou pears into perfectly even slices with a knife sharp enough to amputate fingers, and talk about the differences between pastry flour and cake flour, all while turning cream, sugar, vanilla, and spices into a beautiful cinnamon creme chantilly (a flavored type of French whipped cream). And then proceed to pipe it out into a decorative dollop on 80 samples right there with everyone watching.

The samples disappeared in minutes. As did the 50 copies of the recipe he had out for people to take. Several people came back two, three, four times. A few brought back companions standing in other lines saying, "OMG YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS." Many people said they don't really care for coffee cake, but this was amazing and did it really count as coffee cake because it was delicious and how was that possible? Many more asked where he taught and did they have a restaurant and was dessert served there? Were his desserts served there? I even talked to one lady and told her all about the school and the restaurant and how she totally needed to go there, like, nowish.

(And so now your mouth is watering, and you're wondering if it's really that good, so we have supplied you with the recipe at the bottom of this post for that coffee cake that transformed a random group of strangers into fawning gourmands in five minutes flat.)

(see all the pictures from last year's festival here)

Culinary awesomeness now complete, we made our way to the "Buy the Bag" part of the festival, where you walk amongst ginormous bins of apples and pears of a million different varieties you didn't even know existed, filling a bag (or more likely, bags) with as many apples and pears as you think you can possibly eat and it's all the same price, $0.99/lb. There are pears that are good for poaching and for baking and for sauteing, and apples that are best for pies and others that hold up well paired with meat and still others that store for a really long time, and many varieties of both that are perfect just for eating no matter whether you prefer juicy, tart, sweet, firm, crisp, mellow, flavorful, or any combination of all of those qualities and more.

And you will buy half a dozen a dozen dozens many pounds of both apples and pears and decide to skip dinner altogether so you can just gorge on apples and pears, which will sound like a mighty fine idea until about 2 AM, when the stomache to end all stomaches has you sitting upright in bed and second guessing whether the apples and pears were really that good. They were, but you might possibly be a bit more judicious about how many you eat in a single sitting next time. Which totally didn't happen to us, I'm just saying, you know, it could possibly happen to some hypothetical people who were a bit caught up in all the apple and pear excitement of the moment and let their gluttony get the best of them.

lunch, Lunchbot Duo:

  • smoked sausages
  • corn on the cob
  • steamed broccoli
  • Yukon gold potato (so sweet and buttery it needs no butter or salt)
  • Starkcrimson pear
  • yogurt-covered pretzels
  • dark chocolate-covered raisins


Chef Salvatore's Spiced Pear Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel
Yield: 1 ea. filled coffeecake

6 oz.        Butter
7 1/2 oz.  Sugar
1/2 tsp.    Salt

3 ea.        Eggs
2 tsp.       Vanilla Extract

8 oz.        Pastry Flour    
3/4 tsp.    Baking Soda    
3/4 tsp.    Baking Powder
1/2 tsp.    Cardamom, ground
1 tsp.       Cinnamon, ground

1 1/2 C    Sour Cream

1 ea.        Ripe pear, cored and sliced into ½-inch sections

Cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla in small portions, scraping between additions. Sift dry ingredients together and add to mixture in three additions with the sour cream in two.

Spray and flour a bundt cake pan. Spread half of the batter into the pan, arrange sliced pears. Next, spread about 1/2 C of streusel (see below) on top of the fruit. Spread the remaining batter on top, then a final 1/2 C of streusel on top. Bake at 350 degrees. Check at 45 minutes with a skewer. When the skewer comes out clean, cool and depan.

Pecan Streusel
Yield: approx. 1 Cup

2 oz.        Pecans, chopped
1 1/2 oz.  AP Flour
2 oz.        Brown Sugar
1oz.         Butter, melted
1/4 tsp.   Cinnamon, ground

Mix ingredients together lightly, breaking it up with your fingers to make a coarse meal.


sometimes, you just need a good scare

Despite some questionable choices for entertainment, we had a lovely weekend.

Originally, Sister was supposed to come for a Girls' Weekend, during which we had planned to spend being all arty in the studio, then spend the evening watching scary movies and eating junk. Slumber party ftw!

Okay, about the scary movie part: I don't consider myself a scary movie person, but in reflecting on how many movies (and shows...Dexter, The Walking DeadAmerican Horror Story)  I enjoy that do have some scary element, it seems I'm into a good scare more than I thought.

I'm definitely not a horror movie fan (although I've seen my share), and want no part of the really gruesome torture-type horror movies that have been all the rage the last few years. But! I do love a good suspense flick, and grew up on Hitchcock films thanks to my mom, who is a fan.

the cat creature from that episode of Scooby Doo...even looking at it now give me a shiverHowever. I am also seriously afraid of the dark, and basements, and I live in an old house, which is the holy trifecta of terror, and I have an intensely active imagination. No, I mean a really active imagination. Like, so active that an old episode of Scooby-Doo gave me a recurring nightmare well into my adolescent years. Scooby-Doo, you guys! So if there's a movie that has a reputation for scaring people, people who are generally pretty jaded about scary movies and not easy to freak out, that is a movie I will add to my "Do not watch this movie on purpose or by accident for that way lies badness" list.

Two such movies that I have therefore assiduously avoided: The Ring and Paranormal Activity. When the TV previews are enough to make you freak out, that's a good sign that the movie in question is not for you.

But I, in a sudden burst of inspiration for something fun to do, proposed to Sister that we should watch these two movies together. We are both very much alike in the scary movie department, which means we spend most of the movie with our eyes covered and ears plugged. Yet somehow, I thought to myself, "You know what would be really fun? To watch a scary movie with someone who gets just as freaked out as I do, and be cowards together and then not be able to turn off any of the lights. HEY I KNOW WE SHOULD TOTALLY WATCH THOSE TWO MOVIES THAT ARE GENERALLY AGREED TO BE PRETTY DAMN TERRIFYING."

Brain damage. It's seriously the only explanation I have.

In the few days leading up, I was having serious second thoughts. I even offered Sister an out -- under the guise of concern for her, not admitting my own trepidation, oh no -- but when she replied that she was really excited about it, I started to realize I may have made a big mistake.

A last minute change of plans may have saved me from myself, however. When a friend offered to take the Fabulous Miss M for the weekend, Guy joined us for a fearsome foursome of fun times. It meant that Sal would have someone to do fun stuff with while Sister and I were holed up in the studio (the fun stuff, as it turned out, being a pub crawl for most of Saturday afternoon) but more importantly, it meant that Sister and I would not be watching the aforementioned scary movies by ourselves, AND even more importantly, that neither of us would be relegated to sleeping alone in wide-eyed terror, paralyzed in fear at every stray noise and imagined monster.

So the movies weren't quite as terrifying as I'd long feared. The Ring was scary and disturbing, but won't scar me for life, thankfully. Paranormal Activity was scary, too, but there were long stretches of boredom and annoyance (and if you've seen it, you know why) that diluted it -- basically, all the same problems that The Blair Witch Project had minus the shaky handicam.

Which is to say, we survived! No nightmares, no sweat-soaked sheets, no shaking awake of our long-suffering husbands in the early morning dark with terrified whispers of "Did you hear that?" Maybe they'd been built up far more than they could live up to, or maybe we're not as easily affected. Are we getting braver? Less easily-scared? More mature?

Probably a combination of all of those things. I mean, my fear of the dark is far less acute than it used to be, and living in an old house means getting used to unidentified noises if you want to keep your sanity. Plus, all those movies and shows have probably built up my tolerance levels.

But I won't be going into the basement any time soon.

tomorrow: Part 2 of our lovely weekend, which will include a recipe from Chef Salvatore.


hollywood comes to p-town

Great setting for an urban fantasy based on Grimm's fairy tales or GREAT setting for an urban fantasy based on Grimm's fairy tales?I'm sure everyone's seen the previews for the new NBC show, Grimm, that's premiering in a couple of weeks. What you may or may not know is that it's filmed here in Portland*. And in fact is set in Portland (unlike Leverage, for which Portland serves as a stand-in for Boston).

They were filming just down the street earlier this week, which meant film equipment and vehicles everywhere and streets blocked off and people standing around on the sidewalk in costumes and makeup that make you nearly wreck the car when you do a double-take. Which totally didn't happen to me on my way to work Monday morning.

*Our particular corner of Portland seems to be very popular with film crews. A few years ago, we came home to a flyer on our door that a movie would be shooting in the neighborhood and the street would be blocked off for film equipment and actors' trailers. Leverage films up here pretty regularly, too. And it seemed like St. Johns featured at least once in every episode of Portlandia last season. CLEARLY HOLLYWOOD RECOGNIZES HOW AWESOME WE ARE.

I know it's monumentally uncool to be all, "HOLY GEEWILLIKERS THEY'RE FILMING ONE OF THOSE TELEVISION THINGMAJIGS RIGHT HERE IN OUR TOWN" about the whole affair, but, you know, we Portlanders are dorks like that. Sure, our little town has recently acquired an impressive film & TV resume, but we're not yet so used to it that we've developed a blase' attitude about it. Except for the hipsters, of course, since they are, by definition, too cool for school and never get enthused about anything, unless it's ironically and could be put on a t-shirt.

The show does sound pretty cool; we'll see if it actually is or not. NBC doesn't exactly have a good track record with fantasy/sci-fi type shows. But I suspect we'll be too occupied with spotting familiar landmarks to notice.

lunch, Bento Colors purple:

  • herb roasted turkey and cheese wraps
  • celery sticks and corn, with carrot cutouts for garnish
  • red d'anjou pear slices and dark chocolate raisins

father-daughter time

a peek of sunlight on a hidden watterfall and pool at the Japanese GardenMy dad was here for a few days last week for a short but very nice visit. He and Mo are staying at Heceta Head this month doing tours of the lighthouse there, so he came up to spend a few days.

We had such a nice time! He arrived with spectacular timing, just as I was driving up to the house on Tuesday (I went into the office for a few hours for an important meeting) and got a chance to see Sal for a bit before he had to head to work. We visited while running some errands -- which included a salt cellar refill at The Meadow, eliciting the comment, "Who knew there were so many kinds of salt?"...hee! -- and stopped for lunch at Little Big Burger, where he got to try the oh-so-delicious fries with truffle oil.

We celebrated his birthday belatedly with dinner at the school (Dad got to have ling cod for the first time), finally rolling out of there (almost literally) stuffed and pleasantly sleepy. I inflicted our new memory foam mattress topper on him that night, as well. I'd bought it with the intention to make the guest bed a bit more luxurious, but didn't get it ordered enough in advance to give it a chance to air out the vile chemically smell that the manufacturer assured me would dissipate in 24 to 72 hours. Thankfully, a combination of good food, poor olefactory function, and sheer exhaustion made the smell absolutely unnoticeable for Dad, and he reported a very good night's sleep the next morning. So, score!

We spent Wednesday at the Japanese Garden, something I'd wanted to share with him for some time, so I was glad to cross it off the list at last. You know, I've been there many times, at different times of the year, and there really isn't a bad time to visit. And the rain we'd had the day before held off all day, making for a pleasant meander through the different paths and hideaways.

Father-daughter bentos! Mine is in the Lunchbot Duo, his is in the French bistro two-tier. Leftovers, mostly, although we did do molded eggs. Unfortunately, I didn't boil them along enough so they were a bit mangled and too soft to hold the mold shapes.We ate a late lunch nearby at the Rose Garden. Lunch was the bentos we'd packed earlier, comprised of random leftovers -- though you know the magic of bento turns random leftovers into lunchtime largesse. Yes, Dad very gamely agreed to try his hand at packing a bento. No, I did not twist his arm, shut up. (His folly, you see, was expressing interest in my bento lunches after seeing pictures posted here. Everyone else knows not to do this, lest they be cornered with a a show-and-tell of all my bento gear, but he hasn't had an opportunity to learn that so he was like the crippled wildebeast on the veldt that all the other wildebeasts leave behind when the lions show up. He didn't stand a chance, really.)

He was a good sport about staying up way past his usual bed time to see Sal when he got home, and we talked each other's legs off about everything from politics to publishing, grandkids and grandcats, and everything in between. Always hard to say goodbye, but we were sure grateful to get to spend some time together.

lunch, black strawberry:

  • lemon-herb roasted chicken, risotto with mushrooms and bacon
  • green salad (romaine, mushrooms, tomato, olives, cheese, ham) with balsamic dressing on the side
  • yogurt-covered pretzels
  • dried mango
  • dark chocolate
  • dried cherries
  • orange juice in the drink bottle because I have been sick as a dog with a head cold since Thursday night, and I am mainlining Vitamin C liek whoa

every day of autumn is a horn of plenty

Sally and I had the bestest, bestest weekend together.

A few months ago, Sal had been asked to judge a wedding cake competition at the annual bridal show, which is a pretty big deal for him and for the school. And it helps with his professional credits. The competition was Saturday afternoon.

Unfortunately, that was also the day I was planning to attend Wordstock, which included some events I thought he'd enjoy, as well. But! In the kind of happy happenstance that hardly ever happens to us, both events were held at the Convention Center, which meant we could have our cake and eat it, too. *rimshot*

Yes, I've been waiting all weekend to make that joke.

Anyhoodle, we had a great, jam-packed day of books and authors and writing workshops alongside cakes and frosting and bridezillas-to-be wearing WAY too much fake tan. Good times! And it happened to be a glorious autumn day after a week of chill and gray, so we skipped out on the latter events I'd put on my Wordstock schedule to have a big and very late lunch at Widmer before heading home to enjoy the rest of the late afternoon/evening.

Gray and drizzly and foggy Sunday, which made it perfect for sleeping in. after a lazy start, we grabbed books and notebooks/sketchbooks and braved the traffic back up from the marathon to check out Arbor Lodge, the new coffee shop across from New Seasons. One hot chocolate and two coffees later, we walked over to New Seasons for some dinner groceries. Then spent the rest of the afternoon comfortably ensconced at home with the clouds hanging low in the hills across the river all day, Sal cooking and chopping away in the kitchen while I spent a bit of time writing until dinner was ready. Fabulous dinner while we finished off disks four and five of S3 Fringe (one more disk to go!), then a bit more writing for me while Sal concocted a mighty big batch of sauerkraut.

Seriously, who could ask for more?

lunch, Bento Colors purple:

  • lemon & herb roasted chicken
  • green beans and caramelized onions
  • mushroom and bacon risotto
  • fresh pineapple
  • dark chocolate-covered raisins

Whew! Can you tell that we feasted for Sunday night dinner?


the downside of time off

Days like this remind me why vacations are a double-edged sword. I was so on top of things before I left two weeks ago, feeling mighty chuffed and all-around confident about being gone for a week. Yet I returned on Monday and it's as if I was gone for a month instead of a week, and it's going to take at least another week or two before I actually have everything back under control. Urgh.

lunch, pink Natural Lunch:

  • smoked sausages
  • hard boiled egg
  • green beans, with corn underneath everything
  • Gala apple slices

drive-by posting

Back from a week off, which included a trip to the coast, a Day of Portland, a Hall-Smiley Family Weekend, and several days of nothing that I didn't want to do.

And apparently I got so out of my regular routine, I totally forgot to post yesterday's lunch (even though I took the picture). I guess that's the sign of a good vacation!

lunch, Ms. Bento:

  • chili w/cheese
  • half of a tortilla
  • celery sticks
  • garlic dill cheese curds
  • Honeycrisp apple with dried cherries as gap fillers
  • yogurt-covered pretzels

lunch, Ms. Bento:

  • chili w/cheese that was originally arranged more artfully into a nice lattice, but didn't survive closure of the lid
  • tortilla
  • green beans
  • dark chocolate covered raisins
  • Honeycrisp apple
  • kiwi berries