Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Cheer 2015

Wishing my family and friends both near and far the happiest of holidays! XOXO Elizabeth

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Even In This City

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was watching the news as I got ready to go to work in downtown Portland. All that day, and for weeks thereafter, I got very nervous when I saw an airplane flying overhead, especially if it was (from my perspective anyway) approaching a building. I'm not nervous about that any more - haven't been for years, as it quickly became obvious that the chances of my dying in a terrorist attack were about the same as being attacked by a shark in the Willamette River: not out of the realm of possibility, but extremely unlikely. That's why I don't understand America's obsession with that date, or those events (unless they have a direct personal connection), or our continuing willingness to put up with security theatre that has proven to do more harm than good. Not to mention bombing the hell out of innocent civilians in other countries, but that's not the topic of this post.

The topic of this post is security, and fear, and the need for protection, perceived or real. Specifically, how that plays out in our daily lives. And when I say "our" I'm not talking about people who are required to put themselves in dangerous situations, like police officers or soldiers. I'm talking about Jane and Joe A. Merican, living their lives in any of the fifty states, going to work, coming home tired, taking the kids out to the movies, walking the dog, going to the local shopping mall as I did this morning to pick up things like coat hangers and push pins. Why do they feel the need to carry guns around with them, openly or not, while doing those boringly safe things every day? Will a gun do anything against a suicide bomber? Well-armed US soldiers serving in the Middle East have been killed by such methods by the dozens (if not more) and all their guns did, I imagine, was add to the explosion. "But what about the deranged person who comes in with guns and starts shooting the place up?" I hear you asking. And here's my answer:

If the gun laws in this country were not so ludicrously lax, that deranged person would not have been allowed to buy those guns in the first place.

Before we get into the "responsible people don't" and "hunting puts food on my table" and "my family grew up with guns and we've never shot each other" arguments that get rolled out in these conversations - though strangely enough statistics such as the 10,000 children who are killed or injured by guns every year in the USA rarely come up - let me tell you what happened this morning on the way to the shopping mall. I was walking down 82nd Avenue, enjoying the breezy sunshine, when I happened to notice a car stopped on its way out of a store's parking lot, and a man standing at the driver's side, engaged in what, from my position across the street, looked like a heated argument with the person(s) inside the car. I slowed down, then stopped, then turned around and went back to the previous cross street and went west to 80th Avenue, so that I didn't have to walk past them, even separated by five lanes of pavement. And do you know why?

Not because I was afraid of getting into the middle of a fistfight. I could have run fast enough to avoid that, if a physical fight had broken out and somehow carried on across the street.

Not because I was afraid of being hurt by knives or broken bottles or baseball bats or dead cats, had those been used, for the same reason - I was across the street, after all.

Not because I was worried that I'd be run over in the unlikely event of a car chase, as I could have done exactly what I did do, only more quickly.

I crossed the street because there was absolutely no way I could have avoided stray bullets, if someone had pulled a gun and started shooting. Perhaps I could have made myself thin behind the telephone pole at the end of the block, if there was one (I don't even remember), and even protected a small child if there had been one next to me, but there was no other place to duck for shelter, especially not in the milliseconds it takes for a bullet to travel a few dozen feet.

Now please explain to me why easy access to guns is not the one factor in this morning's scenario that made me so nervous. And please explain this, as well, if you are in the pro-gun and especially the pro-carry camp: why are you voting, organizing, protesting against stricter gun control? As far as I can tell, the only thing that most people are advocating for right now is better oversight and making it harder for people who could pose a danger to others get access to guns and ammunition. Reinstating the Federal Assault Weapons Ban would be nice, as I can't imagine why anyone other than soldiers on active duty would need automatic rifles, but hey, if you can't shoot an elk without arming yourself like Rambo first, that's not my problem. At least not as long as I stay out of the woods during elk season. But taking that weapon to the local shopping mall? What purpose would that serve?

And if you aren't confident that you'd be able to keep your guns under any new legislation because you can't prove that you're responsible, not deranged, will keep your guns locked up away from children, and will use them appropriately, then maybe you shouldn't own those guns.

The bottom line is that so far I have heard no good reason why nearly-unrestricted access to more firearms than currently exist in most countries with active war zones is making me, or my fellow citizens, safer and less nervous. As far as I can tell, it's not making me any safer, and it's definitely making me more nervous. Even in this city.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Of Course There Was Pie

This is the dessert that turned out well, a cranberry-currant pie with cognac, based on David Lebovitz's Cranberry Raisin Pie recipe. I used currants instead of cranberries, and soaked them in the juice of two oranges instead of water, and didn't squeeze out the extra liquid because there wasn't a lot of it, and I wanted the orange flavor. I used cognac instead of the orange liqueur, from a small bottle shaped like the Eiffel Tower that I got in the duty-free shop at Charles de Gaulle, la dernière goutte de ma vie française, hélas. And instead of the cup of sugar, I drizzled in a tablespoon of raw honey that I'd gotten at the farmer's market on Wednesday. Oh, and I only had gluten-free pie crust for the bottom, so had to put a sheet of foil over the top of the pie during the last half of the baking so it didn't dry out. I liked it. I also had some of Mom's green tomato mincemeat pie, but couldn't taste Ben's pumpkin pie or his double-crusted apple pie, both of which got buried under avalanches of whipped cream when Morgan and Leah served themselves. And there was ice cream and coconut-based whipped topping as well, plus eggnog and maple syrup for the French toast this morning, and all in all I had more sugar this weekend than I think I ate in the entire month of October, when I started my elimination diet. Which I am going back to, for the most part, and so no more desserts (or at least not in that quantity), any time soon. I'll make that cranberry-currant pie again, though. Just as soon as I go back to France for more cognac.

The Other Side Of The Mountains

It was a frosty morning in Portland when we left on Thursday morning to head east over the Cascades, but once we got to Sunriver it was a new level of frosty, down below zero most nights and not much higher the rest of the time. Beautiful, though - clear and blue, with the ice crystals that formed overnight on the treetops dusting down in a rain of glittering sparks throughout the day. Mom and I went on a walk with Daisy the dog on Friday afternoon while everyone else was out watching football. We walked on the road that loops past and over the canal off the Deschutes River, which itself loops back and forth across the flat high desert. Daisy bounded off through the drifts, body-surfing in the powder. The skiing was probably amazing on Mt Bachelor this weekend.

Sunriver itself is not a place I'm familiar with, although I did get over there once the spring before I left for France. And Mom reminded me that we went there once when we lived in Ashland, where we learned to cross-country ski. Other than that I never really went farther east than Breitenbush, mostly, although Bend is only about 3 hours away from Portland. It was nice crunching around in the snow, though, and I wouldn't mind visiting more often in the winter.

Yesterday we visited a great thrift store where I finally found a dress black Ralph Lauren skirt that I can wear for work and a pair of Eddie Bauer fleece-lined boots, plus a nice scarf and two bowls for the kitchen, all for under 40 dollars. John scored with a merino wool sweater and another in cashmere for half that. If it weren't 3 hours away I would shop at that thrift store every week. Then we went to the craft fair at the Sunriver Resort, and took a short walk along the path by the golf course, where Daisy tore around madly some more, enjoying the snow.

Mom had prepared Thanksgiving dinner, with ham that John had smoked himself, and a grilled ling cod that they caught off the coast at Gold Beach, plus green beans and rice salad and carrots and homemade cranberry mustard. Friday I put in about 6 hours of freelance work in the morning, and then baked two desserts after Mom and I got back from our walk. One turned out very oddly - that was the experimental recipe I'd had in mind, and reminded me of why I don't bake more often. Too much measuring. The other turned out well, though. More freelance work that evening while Kate and Ben and Morgan taught Mom how to play Texas Hold'em, and Leah chatted to her boyfriend on Skype. After a late lunch at a local restaurant on Saturday, we were content to graze on leftovers last night, and had just enough to make sack lunches for our respective drives home to Carpenterville (Mom and John), Corvallis (Morgan), and Portland.

The roads were much less icy on the drive back, and it was a quicker drive. It got warmer as we went west, and by the time we came over the crest of the mountains it was up above freezing again, though I was glad enough to turn the heat on in the house before I unpacked, and I don't have my bedroom window cracked open as I generally do, to get the fresh air. It's a little too fresh out there right now. Though perhaps I should go out and enjoy the clear cold skies while they're here - the weather will change tomorrow, and instead of sun we'll be back to rain for the foreseeable future. But I'm grateful for the good weather over Thanksgiving, and the chance to share it with my family again. Now if only Ian and Corey and Vanessa could have been there ...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Canard Rôti

I'd already planned on roasting a chicken for this week's meals ($2.99/lb for the organic fryers at New Seasons) but when we walked by the Cerigioli Gardens stand at the Montavilla Farmers Market this morning and saw the sign reading "fresh duck," Quyen and I both swerved over and asked to see what they had. The vendor opened the cooler lid and we stepped back in shock at the monster poultry lurking inside. But then he said those were the turkeys, and pulled out a smaller bird from underneath.

The chicken was roasted as planned, but early enough in the day that I could let it cool and take it apart into legs in one container and the breast meat in another, covered with the juices from the pan to keep it moist. The carrots that roasted underneath the chicken and the two heads of garlic I put in the pan are ready to add in at lunch or dinner. Quyen and I ate the hot salty roasted chicken skin from the breast; I put the carcass into the freezer for stock.

The duck roasted at 425F for 50 minutes on top of celery stalks, then I flipped it over and roasted it for another 50 minutes. We were supposed to wait 15 minutes before carving it but only made it to 10 before tearing into the meat, which looked overcooked to the eye but ended up being amazingly tender, even the legs. Quyen's making soup out of the bones, which is pretty much all that was left. It was a very good dinner.

fresh watercress in mustard vinaigrette | wild rice blend cooked and mixed with sauteed chard, shallots, and fish sauce

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Escaping The Office

Although I'm still waking up before sunrise, at least it's lighter when I leave the house. But the sun doesn't really come up from behind the Cascades until I'm caught in the canyon of the downtown buildings, and sometimes the only sunlight I see all day comes reflected in off the tall glass towers on the other side of the street. Because I leave early to avoid the worst of the morning commute (no escaping the crowd in the afternoon, I'm afraid), I'm generally done eating lunch before noon, which means my hour-long break can be devoted to getting outside, especially in search of the sun.

Two blocks north by five blocks east equals ten minutes to the greenway along the Willamette, and the loop from the west side up to the Burnside Bridge, over to the Eastbank Esplanade, and back via the Hawthorne Bridge takes just under sixty minutes if I'm not constantly stopping to take pictures. Which I generally am, but sometimes a relaxing stroll with artistic intentions is just as refreshing as a brisk aerobic circuit at the water's edge, and while I didn't get my heart rate up that day, I've got pictures to put up on this blog, in what is turning out to be my bimonthly "coucou, je suis toujours là" post.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Old Traditions In New Places

I live within easy walking distance of two decent dim sum locations. Not too long ago, that would have been three locations, but the venerable Legin was finally shut down for good shortly after I left Portland in 2012, and is now a parking lot for the expanded Portland Community College SE campus. Ocean City, which was in the spotlight back then, is still about a mile to the south on SE 82nd. Wong's King, which started serving dim sum 5 years earlier about a mile to the southeast, at SE 87th and Division, has better food, at least in my opinion. I went to Ocean City back in July and didn't think it was great dim sum, but it was okay. At the corner of 82nd and Division, the sign for the Canton Grill points the way to the restaurant's parking lot, hidden behind the convenience store where I tried to buy a Sunday paper this morning. The Canton Grill has been there since 1944 and is apparently still run by the same family. I haven't been there, but they've updated their menu to show the gluten-free options while still sticking to their old traditional dishes: egg foo young, chop suey, moo goo gai pan, and things that are sweet-and-sour and/or deep fried. There's even an "American Menu" offering diners dishes like a hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy, or a beef burger steak served with fries and "a roll upon request." While that doesn't tempt me, I might try their rice noodle dishes (mai fun and chow fun) some night when I've had to work late and just want to pick up a dinner to go.

Dim sum was once an occasional Sunday treat, usually when family were in town, but it may become a regular thing. Sorry, Jam on Hawthorne, I think I have a new Sunday morning tradition. I do need to figure out the Sunday paper situation, though; brunch is better with the New York Times crossword to puzzle over. The closest place to get the Sunday Oregonian is on Stark, which is a mile in the wrong direction entirely. I've never had the paper delivered, but am considering it. It's $2.99 per week for delivery, which includes the Wednesday paper (which would probably go right into recycling), but since the single Sunday copy is $2.50 it seems worth the extra 50 cents a week to not have to walk two miles in the rain to pick one up.

This morning, sans paper and puzzle, I focused on the food instead, which is possibly why it tasted so damn good. I had the deep-fried pork-stuffed pounded rice balls, a crackling web of golden crust over the chewy bland interior with its heart of savory pork bits mixed with green onion. The vegetable dumplings were packed with Chinese chives and were quite good; I ate just the filling out of one, leaving the thin rice paper wrapper on the plate, in what is probably a faux pas in dim sum etiquette. When the waiter came by to pick up the empty dishes and saw all of the rice paper wrappings from the shrimp and scallop dumplings, he gave me a disapproving sideways glance.

If I hadn't eaten the fried rice balls, I would have eaten the whole of the shrimp and scallop dumplings, which were topped with orange roe and were really very good as well. There were many other options on the carts, but the carts didn't come around very often. In fact, when I got there it seemed as if there were only one or two people working. Over the next hour, though, more women arrived for their shifts, and by the time I left they had started bringing out the more interesting and complicated dishes and the carts were rolling by regularly.

Since I didn't have a paper, I didn't have anything to scribble on, so I was taking notes on my phone. I kept having to add words like "chive" and "scallop" while texting away to myself; obviously no one programming T-Mobile's dictionary is an avid cook. One of the notes I made towards the end was to remind myself to learn how to say "almond jelly dessert, please" in case I find, as I did today, that I want something sweet but not deep-fried to finish off. Sesame balls are lovely, stuffed with sweetened mung bean or lotus root paste, but not after consuming three large savory pork versions. And most of the other desserts involve dairy and/or gluten. But almond jelly (which, now that I look it up, is called "xingren doufu" or "annin tofu" - must remember this for next time) is made from apricot kernels and agar agar and sugar, entirely edible and nice to spoon up while drinking the last of your jasmine tea. I am not sure if Wong's King does have almond jelly, but since it took asking two people and a lot of repetition before I got the answer "no almond jello, just jello" it is possible that I wasn't asking the right question.

Dim sum consumed, it was time for the second of my former weekly traditions, the visit to the farmer's market.

The Montavilla market at 78th and SE Stark is much smaller and a lot less crowded than the Park Blocks venue, but there's still a good selection of vendors, including Baird Family Orchards, where I bought some absolutely amazing ripe peaches. Olympia Provisions is there as well, and a handful of produce vendors. I bought a pound of sweet red yellow orange peppers, and if I weren't moving over to another house Tuesday for a week of cat-sitting, I would have bought other vegetables for lunches. Instead, I picked up two tamales from a vendor new to me, Mixteca: a vegan vegetable version, and one with pork and mole, their signature Tamal Oaxaqueño. I'm looking forward to making lunch (and maybe breakfast) of the tamales at the office this week, and snacking on the crisp peppers and juicy peaches.

It's going to be a slow week at the office, with the principle lawyer out on vacation, so I'll have plenty of time for lunch, and shouldn't have to put in any overtime, which means I'll be up for cooking dinner, especially since the bus commute to the place where I'm going to be cat-sitting is half that of the trip out here to SE 82nd and Division.

It's not close to either this dim sum hub or Jam on Hawthorne, however, so I will have to find another place to brunch, next week. Traditions are made to be broken.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Plus ça change . . .

La boucle est bouclée, as they say in France; I've come full circle now. With only minor differences, I'm in the same place I was before I left - I'm still living in SE Portland, though now it's more east, and though I am again working for a law office that does mostly family law, it's not the same firm. I have far fewer possessions, but have gained more than three years worth of memories and adventures and photographs, which is a pretty major difference, come to think of it. But other than that? I feel as if I'm picking up right where I left off, and in a good way. Which means that in, oh, five years or so, I'll be heading overseas again on another open-ended journey (at least that's the currently nebulous thing I won't even call a plan yet). Until then I'll work, and enjoy spending time with my family and friends (call me! let's do lunch), and maybe even get back into blogging more than once a month. Watch this space.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Providence 9 3 Bridge Pedal

Rather than battling to get through the horde of 18,000 other participating cyclists and meet Ben and Leah and Jake at the start of the Providence Bridge Pedal course across the Hawthorne Bridge, I met them at the east end of the new Tilikum Crossing, which you can see in the background behind me. According to TriMet, the local transit system, it's the only bridge of its kind in the United States, being solely dedicated to non-car methods of transportation: pedestrians and cyclists will use the outer lanes, and the bus and rail and streetcar network will span the two sides of the Willamette River down the middle of the bridge. Over to the west bank we went, then turned around and headed back across to the east side. After that, we went south to the Ross Island bridge and up and over again, then curved up to the PSU campus area at the edge of downtown and did what bicyclists normally cannot do, which is to take the on ramp to I-405/I-5 - normally three lanes of wall-to-wall commuters - and go across the Marquam Bridge. There's a great view of Portland from up on top.

There was also a local marimba band serenading the cyclists, many of whom pulled out of the river of bicycles to take photos off either side of the bridge. "Hi, we're Boka Marimba," announced one of the musicians at the end of the tune I'd stopped to listen to, "and we play here every Sunday." Most people were taking pictures with their phones, though I did see someone with a "real" camera and a tripod, and one man had hauled his paints and easel along to capture the moment.

Ben and Jake and Leah had stopped to wait for me, as they had done several times already. I was okay on the flat sections, but the slopes were starting to get to my legs, unused to such exercise. Since I didn't want to overdo it and suffer the aftereffects (as I did last year on that petite randonnée très facile dans les Pyrénées qu'un enfant de six ans avait accompli en quatre heures) I told them to head out without me for the rest of the trip, as I was going home.

I'm glad I did the shorter route, because I could tell that my thigh muscles were going to have some pointed things to say to me about the wisdom of trying to even attempt a 25-mile bike ride after not having gotten on a bike in over three years. The two hours it took me to ride down to the river, go back and forth over the three bridges, and ride back again were enough for now. I'll have to get a new bike though, once I start working full time again. There are some really lovely biking paths around here, and it's a nice way to get downtown when the weather is good - though I won't be getting there via the Marquam Bridge.
Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. It makes her feel as if she were independent. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can't get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.
         - Susan B. Anthony (1896)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hi, Portland. I'm home.

Back in Portland, the city of bicycle commuters and bridges. The expanding vibrant city, where the young man who got on the train in the tiny fading town of Malta, Montana with very few possessions hoped to find new opportunities. The city of green space and roses, of rich socialites and impecunious socialists, of clean water and fertile land and jumpy residents anticipating the end of all of that due to newly-popularized earthquake reports.

The city of a hundred farmer's markets, or at least it seems so, not that I'm complaining. One of the first things I did when I arrived was to go downtown to Pioneer Square to buy a bus pass (twice as expensive as it was in 2012) and the next was to buy lunch from the Verde Cocina stand, incredibly tender pulled pork with just-picked healthy vegetables on handmade corn tortillas with a dousing of tangy mole sauce, enough for my breakfast and lunch together. People from Amsterdam and Florida were sitting at the table with me, planning where they'd go next by tracing paths between landmarks on the free TriMet map. The bus fares may have doubled, but the transit system has gotten larger as well, and for the most part I have not missed a car yet.

Powell's City of Books is the highlight of many a tourist's time in Portland. On my way up to the Northwest 23rd area via streetcar the other day, the line just to get in the door wrapped around the block and was continuing to grow, as more and more people showed up holding their copy of "A Full Life" to be signed by the autobiography's author, President Jimmy Carter. It looks like an interesting book, and I'll have to reserve a copy from the Multnomah County Library - currently number 1 in annual circulation for cities of 1 million or fewer - whose e-library collection has provided me with reading material for the last three years. It'll be odd actually walking into a building to pick up a book.

There are lots of free things to do in the summer in Portland: movies in the park and in Pioneer Square, music in parks and public spaces in every corner of the city, and street fairs nearly every week. I met two sets of friends at Grant Park the other evening for music by Klezmocracy, and a very charming Czech children's film titled "Kuky se vraci" that I didn't see the end of, as it was nearing 11pm and I really had to pee. However, I did get to indulge in a little fangirl moment before the pre-movie music started, and snagged a photo op with Courtney Drehle, who also plays for the great band 3 Leg Torso - they played last Wednesday evening downtown for the Music On Main Street series, but I couldn't make it to that event.

And of course there's Shakespeare in the Parks, done by both the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival and the Portland Actor's Ensemble.

"And given to fornications, and to taverns and sack and wine and metheglins, and to drinkings and swearings and starings, pribbles and prabbles?"
- William Shakespeare, Merry Wives of Windsor

Portland, where people are carving out their lives in whimsical and unpredictable ways, though sometimes the materials they choose don't last long, and they drift away again on the next breeze, hoping to find another stable place to settle down and pile up possessions.

Portland, where poetry lurks in the underbrush along with the homeless people. Where young people go to retire, according to a 2014 article (the median age is about 35, or about 20 years younger than I am). Last year a British magazine mentioned Portland, but no other US city, when ranking good places to live around the world. Forbes currently ranks Portland as the third best place in the US for business and careers, which gives me hope, but also notes that the cost of living is nearly 7% above the US average. Most of that is probably from the soaring rental and housing market.

Portland, where I'm doing my best to fill the shoes I left empty three years ago, as I wake from my European dream to find myself standing on the curb with my suitcases, without a job or a savings account, but with the support of my friends and family.

Portland, where I'm home, again.