Sunday, August 30, 2009

Farmers Markets

I am addicted to farmer's markets. One of the things I love about Portland is that I can go to a farmer's market almost any day that I want to, at least when it isn't winter. Each has its own personality: the one on Saturday mornings at PSU is a gigantic mall spanning an entire college quad, the Lents International Farmers Market is a feisty little market in a questionable neighborhood near my own, the one off Hawthorne on Thursday afternoons is a great place to stop for lunch and unwise shopping while hungry, the one at People's Co-Op on Wednesday afternoons is a year-round hippie haven.

It's not just that the produce tastes better from farmer's markets, though it does. It's not just that it's free of poisons (whether it signs onto the government's "organic certification" scam or not), though it is. The main thing I love about farmer's markets is the shared experience, a whole community of people who care about what we put into our mouths, the farmers who grow it with passion and the volunteers who promote it and the buyers who prepare it for flavor and health and good old fashioned love of food.

Today I found a new farmer's market I hadn't heard about until this week. The Hawthorne Urban Farmer's Market is a new reason I love Portland. We stopped by this afternoon and found a tiny market selling goat-milk soaps, homemade makeup, and of course, local produce. But this produce is as local as it gets - these farmers all ply their trade from right here in southeast Portland. It was in this article from the Portland Mercury where I first heard of this market, and also of the Sellwood Garden Club, who farms urban lawns and sells the produce to our finest restaurants (including Lauro, where Keith and I celebrate nearly every deserving occasion). At the HUFM, booths are free, so the prices are cheap (as in, GM corn cheap) and barter is a completely acceptable form of payment. People buy veggies with cash, beer, other veggies, whatever they have. We tend to go to the Lents Market on Sunday mornings since it's near our home and we like to support a small local urban market, but I think our routine is going to expand Sunday into a full-on Market Day, with Lents in the morning and HUFM in the afternoon.

Dinner tonight is worthy of farmer's market day - salad of some unusual speckled lettuce, lemon cucumber, blood carrot, my own mini-tomatoes, and piave cheese in a homemade cherry-balsamic vinaigrette, and a mix of roasted tomatillos, kohlrabi, sweet onion, garlic, and rosemary, all from my garden, and tiny eggplants from the Sellwood Garden Club. We're washing it down at the moment with beer from Hopworks Urban Brewery, a lovely stout made with Stumptown Roasters' locally-roasted espresso, and feeling very Portland. G-d, but life is good here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches!

It's been overcast and yesterday it rained a bit. It definitely looks as though autumn is coming, which means the advent of grilled cheese season! I'm something of a grilled cheese conoisseur, especially on rainy days; I love them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with soup or salad or just on their own. They make portable rushing-out-the-door meals and they're also great to savor slowly by the window.

The trick to a perfect grilled cheese, by the way, is to slow-grill the sandwich in real butter over low heat. Once one side is cooked, move the sandwich to a plate, drop in another little pat of butter (about 1/4 to 1/2 Tbsp per side) and let it melt, then put the sandwich back in with the uncooked side down. The second side will cook a bit more quickly than the first, so keep an eye on it. But don't slice your cheese too thick and don't let the pan get too hot, or the butter will burn and the bread will turn black before the cheese melts. It goes without saying, of course, that you should always use real cheese! If you can get Tillamook Cheese where you are, that's the one to use. There is never any excuse for Velveeta or anything else that says "Cheese Product" on the label.

At the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Oregon, you can get the most basic grilled cheese in the world, just cheddar on white bread. But dip it in a bit of neon yellow mustard and it will take you back to that little happy place in your brain, that place you first discovered when you were about five and you knew all was right in your little world.

For more adult occasions, I love to dress up grilled cheese. I've spent several years playing around with it, and yesterday I discovered my new ultimate favorite. You simply have not had a grilled cheese sandwich until you've done it this way:

Homemade whole wheat polenta bread,
White Irish cheddar, and
Homemade tomato-chile jam,
Grilled in just a little bit of real butter.

Other past favorites:

Cinnamon-raisin bread
Very sharp cheddar
THIN (very thin) slice of red apple

Garlic bread
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
Mozzarella and/or asiago
Good quality pesto

Sourdough bread (or walnut bread if you can get it)
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
Creamy gouda
Sprinkling of bleu cheese or feta
THIN-THIN-THIN sliced pear
(eat the rest of the pear on the side)

What's your favorite grilled cheese? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cleaning Out the Fridge (Sorta)

I was going to do some canning last night, but I was lazy and fruit flies got into the peaches I was going to turn into ginger-peach jam. So I did put food up, but in the freezer and fridge instead.

I had some beef ribs I thawed out several days ago, thinking that Keith and I would grill them. We never got around to it. So last night I braised them in some honey and stout; they sat in the oven for about three hours until they were fork-tender like fish. I ate two of them and stuck the rest in the fridge for lunch.

Meanwhile, I dug out some peaches we'd planned to grill on Friday but forgot about. They were halved, seeds removed, little sliver of butter in each cavity, cinnamon sprinkled over the top. They still tasted delicious, but what to do with them? I thought about cobbler, but I'm here by myself all week and I didn't really feel like cobbler. Then it hit me: frozen pie filling! I sliced up the peaches (butter, cinnamon, and all) and mixed them up with some honey, and arrowroot and potato starch (for thickener). Then I spread them out on a foil-lined pie plate, just like I was making a pie, and put the whole thing in the freezer. Once it was solid I put the pie plate away and moved the filling into a bag; later on, when I want to make a peach pie, I can just place the frozen filling directly into the crust and bake it up. Viva la convenience!

At this point it was time to use up some ancho chiles I'd harvested from the garden, so I made this tomato-chile jam. I didn't change a thing except to use anchos instead of jalapenos, and I also added a bit of black smoked sea salt. Words cannot express how delicious this is! I ate a few spoonfuls straight with a spoon, standing in the kitchen at midnight, still hot from the pan. This morning I made whole wheat polenta bread and slathered the cold jam onto the hot fresh bread... augh. Amazing.

A friend dropped by this morning to pick up some paint supplies she'd loaned us, and we had some accumulated eggs, so I made omelettes. Sauteed some turkey ham, purple shallot, and garlic and set aside, then beat up our little green eggs with some milk and pepper and smoked sea salt (I really like that stuff) and did the omelette thing with the onion-garlic-ham and a bit of grated Leicester. I cut a bunch of grapes from my own grapevine (happy sigh) and carved up a small, incredibly delicious melon with a name I cannot remember, which I got from the farmer's market on Sunday. Spooned a bit of my salsa verde from Sunday night's canning session over the omelettes and enjoyed a really pleasant breakfast while she and I put off our chores for awhile.

All work has to continue though. Today I'm painting the last ceiling - finally! - since we left the spare bedroom unpainted while we stored all our boxes in it as we moved. But it stinks in there and looks terrible, so this week it gets the paint roller just like every other room in the house. Ceiling today, walls on Friday. And I'm going to try and finish the unpacking today as well. Settling in, bit by bit by bit...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chickens: A Saga

So you may remember that a couple of weeks ago, Keith and I adopted three chickens: Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, and Doris Day. These hens had just begun to lay that same week (in fact, Doris gave us her very first egg the day after we adopted them). These girls are sweet, docile, accustomed to free-ranging but happy to sleep in their lovely coop at night. About 24 hours after they moved into our yard, Bette went missing, never to be seen again. Most likely a hawk got her. So no more free-ranging except under supervision. Lucy and Doris adjusted quickly; they enjoy free-ranging, but are happy to spend the days in their mobile run, and they've been contented, productive layers. They're also social and friendly, and if we want to pick them up, they'll squat down and put out their wings as if to help.

Well, of course we're not going to have a happy situation like that without throwing some mayhem into it.

We wanted a third chicken to replace Bette, but realized that a third hen would likely get bullied severely. It would be better for the balance, we reasoned, to get two. Plus Doris and Lucy, while terrific layers in the summer, are likely to fall off a bit on the egg production over the winter, so we decided to get a winter-hardy breed. Enter a lady on Craigslist selling pullets about the same age as our own, supposedly friendly and tame, and willing to deliver them to our house.

She showed up right on time, at 7:30 Monday morning, with a Rhode Island Red and a Silver-Laced Wyandotte. We turned them loose in the back yard to free-range with Doris and Lucy. The Rhode Island Red, while beautiful, has a bit of a mean bossy streak; we named her Jane Russell. The Wyandotte (who is actually black and white patterned, not silver as the breed name implies) reminded Keith of Lana Turner somehow. It turned out to be an excellent name as the original Lana Turner was known for skipping out of school when she was younger.

About 10 minutes after the new girls moved in, we decided to move them to the run, and then the fun started. Jane and Lana are NOT tame - and boy, could they fly. We spent almost a half-hour chasing them all around the yard, and it must have looked like something out of a Marx Bros. film. At one point Keith went to the garage for a length of strawberry netting, which we stretched across the path once we got the girls cornered. Jane ran for it first - straight into the netting. Aha! And then she ducked under it and ran off on her own. We let her go and focused on Lana, who watched us carefully as we moved in with the net. Just when we thought we had her, she simply flew over the net and took off. Eventually it ended in Keith catching Jane behind our shed, while Lana hopped over the fence into the neighbors' yard.

It was too early to go next door to retrieve her. So we waited a little while, and then I sheepishly went next door and explained the situation. Our neighbors have their own three chickens (and a baby), so the neighbor lady was kind enough to let me in. Unfortunately, by then Lana was gone. Most of the neighbors have dogs, so we all wrote her off as gone and grumbled about the expense all day. (Not that she was expensive, but still.)

Well, the day went on, dusk came, and it was time to put the girls up for the night. Jane was settling in pretty well, but she gave Keith the slip and embarked upon another Great Escape around the yard. We chased her around for awhile, again breaking out the strawberry netting to no use, and eventually Keith nabbed her behind the shed again. Cursing her name and vowing to clip her wings in the morning, we came back inside for the evening.

A little while later, I happened to be petting Davey, our boykitten, in a windowsill when I saw our neighbor hurrying up the driveway. "Hi," I called through the window.

"Your chicken's in our backyard!" he said excitedly. "The silver one! She's here! Come get her!"

I yelled for Keith to come help and went barrel-assing out the door. Sure enough, there was our truant Lana, roosting in a tree. The neighbors watched with interest (and, I'm sure, giggles) as we chased this wayward chicken all over the tree, and finally brought a ladder. The neighbor-lady and I held the ladder for Keith and finally, at long last, he was able to grab Lana's feet. She shrieked and shrieked like a chicken possessed, which set the neighbors' chickens into their own chaotic squealing, and with many thanks and apologies and promises of a big chicken dinner, we took our leave from the neighbors' yard and tossed Lana in our own coop. Our other chickens gave her a surprised look as if to say, "Where the hell have YOU been?"

High-five. But oh, it's not over yet. These ninnies can still fly, and Keith's spending the week in Los Angeles. I'm not chasing them all over the yard alone.

We had breakfast about 4:30 this morning, since Keith planned to hit the road early. About 5, we realized that the dark pre-dawn might have a pacifying effect on our girls, so he sharpened the scissors and we slipped out into the dewy quiet. He caught Lana first. She yelped for a moment, but the dark did seem to calm her down, and by the light of the porch bulb I cut the flight feathers of one wing down. Way down. No way that bird can fly now. In the process I snipped into my own finger, necessitating a wash-and-bandaid break and much marveling over the copious amounts of blood I was flinging all over the porch and the sink. Once I was bandaged, Keith managed to catch Jane (who was by then hiding at the back of the coop), covering himself with pine shavings and shed feathers. Jane's wing-clipping went without incident and she's now bereft of flight as well.

He changed his shirt and left for L.A., and once the sun was up I transferred all four girls into the run myself without major incident. Doris and Lucy, as if to remind us what superior hens they are, even greeted me with an egg apiece - a pleasant surprise, as they usually don't lay until late afternoon. So I suppose I can say we met the challenge and emerged as Conquerors of the Chickens, and though blood was shed no real harm was done. Here's to a swift taming of Jane Russell and Lana Turner, who always could stand to learn a few things from Doris Day.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blueberry SCORE!

You have to love Craigslist. We've been trolling the Farm & Garden section for useful deals, and did we ever score this weekend. We've been in the market for a new chicken, but have been considering the likelihood that a single one would get bullied by our existing two, so we've thought about getting another two instead for a total of four. This morning we found a listing for several pullets about the age of our own, different breeds, with home delivery. And at the going rate for a chicken we'd have to drive out and get! Needless to say, we called. Tomorrow our two Ameraucanas will be joined by a Wyandotte and a Rhode Island Red about their same age. Both those breeds lay brown eggs, so we'll have half brown and half green in the egg basket. Sounds fun!

Our current girls, Doris Day and Lucille Ball, have been giving us lovely perfect eggs with thick shells and delicious flavor. I hope all four hens get along well and the new girls turn out to be as healthy, friendly, and productive as Lucy and Doris. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, the bigger deal of the weekend was a massive blueberry score. Someone out in the wine country was unloading a surplus of bushes from his blueberry farm, selling productive two-year-old blueberry plants for $5 each! They typically retail for about fifty bucks so even with a three-hour drive round-trip it was an absolute steal. We got two different varieties, five plants total, and plan to put them on the north end of our front yard as a hedgerow. When mature they'll grow four to six feet tall and each one will give us 10-12 pounds of blueberries per year. One variety we got is an early producer and the other a late one, so we'll have a nice long blueberry season in the summers ahead.

Got a canning agenda for tonight and tomorrow, putting away salsa verde from my garden as well as ginger-peach jam and the tomato chile jam from FabFrugalFood. And, of course, back to writing. Keith's nipping down to L.A. for a short job this week, so I'm going to try to get us a bit more settled in while he's gone and also get moving on my own work.

It's hard though, this feeling like summer is ending right when we're in a position to really enjoy it. This morning we saw the first bluejay, which around here is an indicator of early spring or late summer, and then at the farmer's market there were (gasp!) apples and acorn squashes. Yep, autumn is definitely just around the corner! But we're holding it off for a bit longer...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Homemade Pickles

This week I opened up a jar of some pickles I put away last month, and they've been getting rave reviews so I thought I'd share some pickle tips. I'm not an expert - I only got into canning last year and this is my first time with pickles - but this is what I've learned.

1. Apple cider vinegar is your friend. Most of the recipes out there call for white vinegar because it makes a nice clear pretty brine. It's true that ACV will give your pickle brine that L.A. air effect, but most of us are canning to eat food and not just to decorate our pantry shelves. Using equal parts white vinegar and cider vinegar will make pickles that are sweeter and more flavorful.

2. Use pickling cucumbers, not regular cucumbers, and cut the tips off. There is an enzyme in the tip of the pickle that will somehow make them soggy in the jar. I did this and my pickles are nice and crisp even though I processed them in a boiling water bath, supposedly another soggy factor, so there must be something to it. And anyway, I'm Jewish; cutting the tip off the pickle just seems like the right thing to do.

3. Garlic, garlic, garlic. 'Nuff said.

4. The longer they sit, the better they get. Put the pickles away and then try to forget about them for at least a few weeks. This jar I opened this week is good, but it still has a bit of a bite. In another few weeks they'll have mellowed out some more. I'm looking forward to enjoying them with a grilled cheese sandwich and some mustard once it gets cold outside.

5. Don't limit yourself to cucumbers. Cauliflower, green beans, peppers, even peaches and eggs - you can pickle anything. One of my favorites is pickled garlic. I've been making that for awhile now and last year it was a gift-giving hit! Pickled garlic cloves are excellent in salads, pizzas, sandwiches, and martinis. AND it looks pretty in the jar.

Here's how you make pickled garlic:

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup white vinegar (or you can use 2 c ACV)
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp pickling spice
5 heads of garlic, peeled into individual cloves
1 chopped hot pepper, optional

Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in the pickling spice and boil vigorously for five minutes before adding the garlic and pepper; bring it back to the boil and leave it another five minutes. Take it off the heat. Fill sterile jars with the garlic cloves and then top off with the liquid, leaving about 1/4" of space at the top. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes if you want to store it in the pantry or mail it, or just stick it in the refrigerator. Give it a minimum of three weeks before you open the jar and enjoy!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Firing Up the Grill

Last year we got a small tabletop charcoal grill for use on the balcony of our apartment. Unfortunately, whenever we used it, smoke would collect on the balcony and eventually smoke out the entire apartment, so we didn't get much chance to grill out. Now that we're in the house we've taken every opportunity to fire up that little grill (or BBQ, out here) and we've now had company over twice to amazing success.

Wednesday we had friends drop in from out of town. Most of our things are still in boxes and piled all over the floor, and we still need furniture, but it was fine. We threw together lunch on the fly and it went a little something like this:

Corn, brushed with butter and grilled
Baby eggplants, sliced and brushed with olive oil and grilled
Walla Walla onions, halved, buttered, and grilled
Salad of lemon cucumbers, Walla Walla onions, tiny tomatoes, basil, parsley, in a lemon-cider vinaigrette
Homemade bread with homemade lavender jelly and ginger-pear jam
Homemade pickles

The corn was fresh from the farm - I bought it right at the farm, freshly picked, on Sunday. Even a few days later it was sweet, crisp, just summer in a mouthful. Keith has become quite the grill master these days and he's especially taken to the Walla Walla onions from our garden. Not sharp like most onions, these have a sweet flavor like Vidalias, and on the grill they caramelize beautifully. The eggplants also grilled nicely - they turned out so creamy, almost like soft cheese.

Last night my friend Anne (half of the genius behind Fab Frugal Food) joined us for dinner. I regret that we couldn't share the kitchen much, as her adorable toddler was having way too much fun chasing the cats; she even tossed scratch to the chickens. But the food was good and the company was great. This time we stopped at the butcher for fresh meat before dinner and wound up with this:

Marinated grilled flank steak
Bone-in chicken breasts, grilled with a baste of olive oil, lemon juice, hot sauce, garlic, and s&p
Grilled Walla Walla onions (of course)
New potatoes, sliced and grilled on foil with pepper butter
Fried green tomatoes (gluten-free and egg-free, natch!)
Cucumber-tomato salad
Homemade pickles

Needless to say, we stuffed ourselves silly. The chicken, in particular, was out of this world. The baste really held the moisture in and the meat was so juicy and tender! I'm especially proud of the fried green tomatoes, as I don't fry very often but I feel like my Southern credentials are compromised whenever I mess up a basic component of our cuisine. This time I was working with no recipe and food sensitivities - fried green tomatoes with no wheat flour or eggs! - so I was really anxious, but I think it went quite well. The breading, a mixture of chickpea flour and cornmeal with chili powder, smoked salt, garlic, and pepper, held on nicely with a dip of milk and flaxmeal. It turned out very crisp on the outside, against the soft sweet of the tomatoes. I'm feeling proud of it.

Today we're all going out to the Columbia River Gorge and firing up the charcoal in a forest clearing, near one of our favorite waterfalls. I'm doing potato salad and coleslaw this morning before we go, I know Anne is doing some very interesting Mexican corn dish, I have another eggplant to grill, and we might grill some green tomatoes to see how that goes. I'm putting together some turkey burgers, with white cheddar for the non-Jews. We're also grilling peaches for dessert. Might do a bit of hiking. Supposedly a bunch of friends were supposed to be coming, don't know who, so we'll see what they bring to toss on the coals.

Hard to believe that autumn will come soon and then winter, and we won't be grilling every day. It sure is pleasant while it lasts though!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Life in the House, Day One.

Yesterday (ten days after we closed) was the big moving day. Three big dudes came first thing in the morning to schlep all our furniture and heavy boxes of books down all the stairs at the apartment complex. We ran carloads back and forth, re-using boxes over and over, and finally brought over the cats. Around 8 pm we popped some Prosecco, hung the mezuzah, and kicked back in our jammies in our house.

As is typical for me in a new place, I woke up well before dawn this morning. Brewed some fresh-ground coffee and watched the sun come up through the big bay window. Once it was light I let the chickens out into their run - they were already awake and eager to graze - and then whipped up mote pillo for breakfast with some of their eggs. This is a Central American breakfast dish I've gotten addicted to; I saute some garlic and whatever allium I have on hand (today it was a purple shallot) in a little butter and olive oil, then stir in some hominy, then some milk, smoked salt, nutritional yeast, and chili powder, and finally the beaten eggs and scramble it all up. Grate a little cheese over it and chow down. Usually the eggs are more of a binder than a contributing flavor, but our little backyard eggs really held their own against the other flavors!

Today we have to finish moving, and I think it's only two carloads more, maybe three. Then we have to clean the apartment so we can sublet it, and visit our poor neglected garden, which is probably in a really shameful state by now. After that, I imagine we'll be unpacking for a couple of days and settling in. Keith's off to L.A. next week for a quick job... so basically we're getting back to life. It's good to be back.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Home Ownership, Week One (still in the apartment)

Well, we've had a busy week. Since we closed on the house on Friday, we've been working furiously to make it livable. Here's a word of advice for anyone who's considering buying a home: Don't purchase your home from a kleptomaniac Romanian janitor. This time last week, the house reeked of body odor, pork sausage, and onions; the walls were mostly harvest gold, while the other rooms AND THE CEILINGS THROUGHOUT THE HOUSE were all done in that drab minty green they used to paint hospital bathrooms with. Ten-gallon buckets of drab green paint filled the garage, and the house was stocked with stolen industrial cleansers, gray industrial toilet paper, industrial paper towels, etc.

So on Sunday we spent 12 hours painting the ceilings, and then Monday we started the walls. We're mostly done but we still have two rooms and some touchups left to do, and we have to clean industrial-drab-green smudges off the doorjambs and light fixtures.

Meanwhile we adopted three beautiful chickens and a lovely coop, which still needs to be primed and painted; the original owners built it and painted it yellow (ugh) but didn't seal it, so the wood is warping and the rain gets in. We have a tarp over it currently. Last night we finished our daytime run (it isn't secure enough for night, but it has an open bottom so they can scratch in the dirt and enjoy the grass while they fertilize the soil), so they'll go into that today... pity they didn't yesterday.

Our beautiful chickens - Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, and Doris Day - were free-ranging as we painted, like they've been doing every day of their lives. We never heard a commotion or anything else. But about 4 pm, we were getting ready to go hear Joel Salatin speak, so Keith went to lock up the chickens... and there was no sign of Bette. Anywhere. No feathers, no blood, no signs of a struggle; Lucy and Doris were fine, it was like Bette just vanished into thin air. No one seems to know what might've happened to her. We scoured the neighborhood but she's just gone. It's possible a predator got her (but in the middle of the day? without leaving a trace?), or maybe she got into the front yard and someone took her in (a few of our neighbors have their own chickens). I don't know, it's a mystery.

So poor Bette, I hope she's all right. Meanwhile, as we were searching for her, Doris laid her very first egg! Lucy laid her first the day before, for the family who raised them. So they're officially layers now, and we have a beautiful, perfect, small beigey-green egg in our fridge! I'm hoping Lucy gives us one today so we can each have one to eat later as a celebration.

And if Bette doesn't come back (I doubt she will), we'll get another young pullet to replace her. I hope it shares her spunky, fearless personality. She was the leader of our flock, so now I'm curious to see whether Doris or Lucy will take over the dominant position.

Today it's all about finishing up the main part of the painting and then cleaning the house. Thoroughly. There are Romanian Janitor Hairs all over the bathroom cabinets, and filth and funk in the closets, and paint splatters all over our beautiful hardwood floors. I definitely want to scrub the place down and get it spic-and-span before we bring over the rest of our stuff over the weekend. The movers are bringing our furniture over on Monday, and then we'll clean the apartment, and we'll officially be moved! Ten days after closing. Whew.

And then I get to start on turning the yard into a garden. Sigh...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

We have a homestead.

We closed on Friday and planted our cherry tree in the yard to celebrate. The chicken coop is about half-built, and today we planned out our decor and bought over 17 gallons of paint. Tomorrow we start painting before we move everything in during the week. We're going to try to get settled by Friday.

I'm excited about the paint, though less than thrilled about the first part: painting the ceilings. This jerk painted all the ceilings institutional-mint-green (like hospital walls) so we had to get several gallons of "ceiling white" to paint them. And OF COURSE they are textured ceilings, just to make them more difficult to paint. (They're not popcorn, they're like stucco.)

But when we finish that, we have COLOR - loads and loads of it. I'm very excited. There are two rooms we're not painting yet, and we're leaving the trim for now (ugh), but we have plum and red and blue and almond and suede and white...

The chicken coop will be white with a rose stencil on it.

More information later. We're a bit busy for the time being.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Time marches on...

Still no house. The escrow people couldn't be bothered to do their jobs, so even though today was The Be-All End-All and we were finally done filing extensions (how many was it? Four? Five?), we were all set and ready to rock and roll at 5 pm, we got the champagne chilled and the tree ready to plant...

"Not today. Maybe tomorrow."

Desk, meet head. Head, desk.

We might not need a subletter through September after all. I guess we'll see if it goes through tomorrow, or next week, or next month. At least the utilities are all on and set up now.

This comes after the discovery that we apparently have no choice but to contract with this awful trash pickup company, who has a monopoly on our neighborhood even though the City of Portland's website says that trash pickup operates on a "free-market system" and they encourage us to "get multiple quotes." Of course the rates are about what you'd expect from a monopoly.

Just a lot of argh around our apartment this evening. I really thought I'd go to bed a homeowner tonight. I said so when I woke up, when I really should've known better (this delay is totally par for the course in this transaction; it's always something) - yeah, I jinxed it. Sorry.

Monday, August 3, 2009

On "Food Porn."

We woke up early to resume the waiting game this morning, but still no word from the escrow people. If we don't sign today or tomorrow, we have to put in Extension #5. I'm trying not to get stressed out like last week though; yesterday I suffered a debilitating migraine and I'd really rather not go through that again.

So today I got up after a good hard sleep, snuggled the kittens, had a nice long bubble bath while sipping iced ginger-lavender tea, and then decided to treat my man to a nice breakfast since he was so great yesterday at holding me up while the migraine tore me down. Fresh-from-scratch butter biscuits with vegetarian chicken gravy, his favorite, and a side of fresh berries from the farmer's market and tiny tomatoes from our garden. Fresh-ground Stumptown coffee with hazelnut milk for me too, of course. With a breakfast like that you get up from the table feeling that anything the day might throw at you is okay.

While I mopped up the last smears of gravy with those buttery biscuits, I read this excellent article by Michael Pollan: "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch." The author of The Omnivore's Dilemma (which I just began reading this morning) and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (which I just received today as a wonderful birthday gift), Pollan here examines the celebrity culture around the Food Network as compared to the more quaint and accessible charm of Julia Child's early 1960's broadcasts. It's an odd paradox we have here in our culture, obsessed with health and yet less healthy than we've ever been, fascinated with food and yet reluctant to let ourselves really enjoy it. Why indeed do so many Americans prefer to watch strangers cook food they'll never eat, rather than go into the kitchen and try cooking for themselves?

It got me to thinking about something Anthony Bourdain said awhile back, "Food is the new porn." He wasn't wrong. Our cultural fetishization of cooking is very similar to the way we've detached and fetishized sex. Both have become subjects of relentless fascination when it comes to watching or reading about other people doing it, but in everyday American life both have become a cheap quick fix. Spice Channel or Food Network, the message is the same: It sure looks good, but it's not for real people.

I wonder how we got that way, since those two drives are the basic forces behind every form of life on this planet. When did they go from pleasures to be freely enjoyed, relished, and even lived for, to guilty pleasures we can only freely enjoy from the spectators' stands? I've just finished reading Under the Tuscan Sun, an excellent book about the way of life in small-town Italy, and the most interesting part of it to me was the way Italians are free to live their lives for the things that make them happy. Food, family, relationships, life. I know I prefer to live that way myself, but I mourn for the wider American culture that has instead shunted those things to a short time slot in the exhausted evening, somewhere between "America's Next Top Chef" over a Stouffer's frozen dinner and a fitful sleep to prepare for another day of making another corporate CEO richer. No wonder so many marriages end in divorce and so many networks can make money selling an image of family life to those who are not living one.

Is there a way to reverse this trend and bring Americans back to life? Or is this just the extreme end of a culture we've been building towards for centuries, when the first Puritans declared European siestas to be an indulgent waste and pushed for a life "beyond" our bodily needs? Do you think things are changing for the better, or the worse?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Actually, *No* Word on the Hizzouse.

Sat around all day yesterday waiting to go sign but the bank is screwing around. Apparently our paperwork is all computer-generated and computers did what they do best yesterday and went down. I'm really glad we didn't put in notice at the beginning of the month in anticipation of moving on our first planned closing day, or we'd be homeless right now. As it is, we'll pay yet another month in exorbitant rent and hope for a closing on some day next week or next year.

I'm really annoyed with the place that computers have taken in our society (and yes, I'm typing this on a MacBook). Everything exists to serve the machines. Everyone knows we want the house, the seller wants to sell it to us, and we can afford to pay for it. But it takes six weeks of plugging everything into the machines just so before we can have it. Somehow the computers think it looks better for Keith to buy the house alone than with me, so we take me off the mortgage even though my income contributes to the payments - it makes no sense, but The Machine Says So and we all capitulate. And now that everything's in place, the machine throws a tantrum, so we can't even generate a piece of paper without it. People are completely incapable of doing business without a machine telling them how to do it. It's maddening, absolutely maddening. Common sense and ingenuity have been replaced by algorithms.

So we're going to try to have a nice weekend now that the heat has dropped back down into the double digits. We moved out of the living room and into the rest of the apartment again last night. I'm on my way to eat Chinese food and paint on pottery with a friend. Tomorrow we'll go to the farmer's market for our shopping and also attend a demonstration on how to build a chicken tractor. And on Monday, we'll start the waiting game all over again. Please cross your fingers that the God Of The Machine smiles upon us soon.