May 2009

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A couple of weeks ago, the G-Man and I went out with our good friends Bridget and Eric, something we’d been wanting to do for ages, but every time we tried, it didn’t work out.  Wouldn’t you know that this was one of those last minute arrangements that comes together perfectly?  I love when life places all the little ducks in a row and I benefit from it.

Our first stop was Bridget’s mighty fine choice, the Gilt Club, where we enjoyed stellar service from an uber cute and funny waitress and a super fine happy hour menu (I love adjectives!):  A Moscow Mule (kapow!) served in the copper cup and an Appletini (made with real apple, no frightening neon green concoctions) were the beverage highlights.  We also got some delicious salads, cute mini burgers with drippy gruyere cheese and yummy fries, and  manchego cheese fritters that I insisted on calling cheese balls.  “Come on Eric, taste the balls, they’re delicious.”  I know, sometimes I’m beyond silly and bordering on impossible.  It’s my way.

After that, we walked two short blocks to the Augen Gallery where we enjoyed Morgan Walker’s exhibition Rodeo Combinations.  Here’s where I struggle a little bit to describe it:  Not quite whimsical, but there is certainly great humor in it (I laughed!).  I like how many of the paintings are a story for which the viewer chooses the length.  Gaze for a moment at the title and the composition and receive the Cliff’s Notes version.  Stand a bit longer and the the tale grows longer, more textured, and complex.  Speaking of texture, that’s something else I like about the paintings, I think he must load his brush with a lot of paint and then make very small brush strokes because the canvasses are not at all flat, but very much the topographical versions of the stories he’s telling.  Yet it’s not too much either.  There’s a subtlety to it.

One of the highlights, I might add, wasn’t even a painting, but a blueprint of thought.  Morgan, over a period of a year and a half,  wrote down connections between philosophy and surfing that included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, Wittgenstein, and, of course, Gidget.  To say I was inspired is putting it mildly.  I love getting glimpses into people’s minds.

Finally, speaking of inspired, these are salads I made after the one that I had at the Gilt Club.  Their version didn’t have steak on it, but I needed some protein.  It is a mouth watering combination of baby greens, watercress, peas, shaved fennel, grapefruit, and pine nuts, tossed in a simple balsamic vinaigrette.  The post card is from Morgan’s show, and since it is called Rodeo Combinations, I’ve got to say, “Giddy-up!”

This is what I see when I sit out in the garden, feet up (of course), on a warm day – lovely.  At the uppermost left hand corner of the photo below is our bird feeder.  I could sit for hours and hours watching my little bird friends eat and sing.

Straight ahead is the cutting garden with our remaining apple tree beyond that (Red Delicious, I think).  I’ve got poppies, delphiniums, foxgloves, alyssum, day lilies, dahlias, carnations, and peonies here.  The red roof to the left is the shed Greg built last summer, or was it the summer before that?  Goodness, how one can lose a sense of time.  We hope to train some sort of pretty vine up this to hide the woodpile and the mondo Portland yard debris and recycling rolling carts.  I am all about aesthetics.

Here is pretty Paris doing some essential grooming in front of the garden we call the key (as in basketball, because of the shape).  If only she could find a way to remove all of the bits of debris from her fur.  Holy smokes!  She brings in all manner of grass, bark mulch, leaves, and other things, once growing, and sometimes alive (bugs and ants) into the house.  The key has a steppable ground cover whose name escapes me, crocosmia, lavender, and rosemary – though the rosemary will be moving to the herb garden (see below) some time soon to make room for more lavender.  Sven the terra cotta garden gnome is supervising the watering of our newly planted cherry tree – grafted with three varieties – Sam (I’m not familiar with this), Bing, and Montmorency – both favorites.  I am super excited about this tree.  We thought we might plant one in the front yard, where the apple tree resided, but changed our minds.  We wanted the back yard to be a little less open, and this is the perfect solution.  As for the front yard, that’s going to be turned into a very Portland naturescaped area – all native plants and shrubs and maybe a bioswale, too!  I’ll take pictures when it happens.

As you can see, I am always lucky to be surrounded by friends.  Little Milo is talking to a squirrel perched in the sequoia above.  From left to right: ceanothus, raspberries (hoping for a bumper crop!), purple sage, oregano, Delavay osmanthus, lemon thyme, tarragon, and English thyme.  The osmanthus will be moving near the cutting garden and the rosemary will reside in it’s place – our little herbal family.  Not in the photo, but nice all the same are mint, catnip, cat mint, lemon balm, and our Belle de Nancy lilac.

I know I am rambling a bit, but I have to share this – our cats, and actually, many cats from the neighborhood, are often found sitting or lying near the catnip and mint.  I love seeing them there and watching their personal idiosyncrasies.  Milo likes to rip leaves off and then lie nearby, happily sedated, while Paris is most content if she is actually lying on it, or to put it more accurately, rolling with wild abandon while making cute chirps that likely translate as, “I love catnip!  I love catnip!”

This area, when in full bloom, is a very, very happy place for pollinators.  The humming birds love the honeysuckle vine, looking the best it ever has, I might add.  I think the icky snow was very good for it, small mercies.  The bright green shrubs are lime mound spirea, and they will soon be covered in rather fuzzy pink blossoms that bees and butterflies adore.  The taller shrub, at the right, is a box honeysuckle.  It is a little wild, but makes teeny tiny cream colored blossoms, just now dropping, that bees can’t seem to get enough of.  I love the little humming symphony.  As well, I love to help my bee friends, as they are kind of in peril.  Visit the Xerces Society to find out more, or just plant something that blooms to give them some food.

Finally, here is Hans the garden gnome tending to his patch.  You already know the spirea and honeysuckle from above.  Next to that is the evergreen Thuja, Abelia (also a little wild looking but a favorite of hummingbirds and bees), a coral bell not quite in bloom, and the primrose.

It is hard to believe this was almost entirely weeds when we moved in.  Only the apple was here, all the more reason to put my feet up and enjoy!

When I was little, the first camera I had was a Kodak Pocket Instamatic.  I liked the feel of it in my hand and the power associated with it – this moment will be mine, not only in memory, but as something tangible, for as long as I have the photograph.  I remember being so excited to take pictures – there was a distinct thrill in finding a certain light or subject, winding the film, putting my eye to the view finder, and hearing the very sharp click of the shutter.  I took a picture!  Twelve photos later and I was ready to drop them off at Target, wait another week, and then see the results.

Sometimes they were disappointing – a finger or a blurred image marring what I thought was the perfect composition, but most of the time they were exactly how I remembered the scene to be: my cat Tasha licking her paw, the glorious Royal Gorge Bridge, or the beautiful and prolific sweet pea blooms in our neighbor Helen’s yard.  I guess not much has changed, actually.  I still get the same thrill when I snap photos now, only I get the instant gratification of seeing my work on the tiny digital screen of my camera.

It is this same thrill that echoes throughout the superb Swedish film from Jan Troell, Everlasting Moments. The story follows Maria, her husband, friends, and children with the same careful attention one pays in capturing the singular moments of life.  From her first photograph to her last, we watch this woman grow in maturity, wisdom, and age, all the while taking photos of the mundane to the sacred.   No matter what is on the other side of the lens, beyond her eye, she treats it with the delicacy and wonder of a rare object.

However, I would be remiss if I led you to believe this is a film about photography.  It certainly is that, but it is really so much more, too.  It is about the joys of living, the ways we love, fidelity, sacrifice, loss, and a changing world.  I think, oddly enough, what I found most striking was the way everyday sounds, like birdsong, the fluttering of leaves in the trees, even children’s laughter, were incorporated into the story, like a heart beating in time.

Two and One

In nature everything is distinct, yet nothing defined into absolute independent singleness.

William Wordsworth – Guide to the Lakes

I bought some buttermilk for a recipe that I made for our party the weekend before last and had a lot left over, so I did my best to make use of it – buttermilk salad dressing, buttermilk pancakes, and these rather tasty blueberry muffins.  This recipe makes a dozen, and more if you’re like me and don’t fill the cups all the way.  They are muffins at their simple best, not too sweet, no crumb toppings or spices necessary – good for sharing with your best friend, feet up, enjoying the morning sun.

Blueberry Muffins

adapted from Martha Stewart Holiday Baking 2002

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter (I know – zowie!)

2 1/4 cups flour

2/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 eggs

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease or line muffin tin.  Place butter in a small saucepan and melt over low heat.  Allow to cool.  Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Add the butter, vanilla, eggs, and buttermilk.  Stir just until combined.  The batter should be slightly lumpy.  Carefully fold in the berries.  Fill muffin cups completely.  Bake until golden, about 25-30 minutes.

Eat them while they are warm, if you can, and it will be a good morning indeed!

Also, a sugar update:  I had a bender about two weeks ago, eating two servings of rice pudding and some cake, along with samples of every cookie I baked for the party.  I also ate two of these muffins.  Oh golly to be perfectly steady in my saying no!  I suppose life is too sweet, in general, for that…

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