Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The crazy rhythm of Take Five

Last night Dave Brubeck was recognized at the Kennedy Center Awards. As I watched, and listened, it all came back to me.

I played piano, competitively, as a child. I took to the piano like, oh, I don’t know. Peanut butter to jelly? I loved it. I was a classically trained pianist and could play baroque to classical to romantic to modern. I was in my element when I played. But I was never a play-by-ear musician. Meaning, if I heard a tune, I couldn't just sit down and play it. I needed music. But I could play just about anything you put in front of me. Musicians who entertain at parties? I envy them and their ability to tickle the ivories and take on requests. I played parties too, but always with my stack of music, and requests only if I had the sheet music. (Even Culture Club had sheet music for piano and yes, I played "I'll Tumble For You" on the piano. Wrong in so many ways but that's another story.)

Playing by ear was a bit out of my comfort zone. So sometimes I studied with a jazz musician. This was a whole new kind of playing. Feeling and offbeat and putting pieces together. It was like being right handed and trying to write with your left hand. It made me uncomfortable because it was so different and outside of my knowledge. So I studied jazz sheet music, and the first one I could remember was Take Five. Every time I attempted to play it, my dad cooed “ooooh I love that one.” So I worked a little harder at it. It had a rhythm like nothing else I had played. It wasn’t wild and outside of the musical parameters I knew: I could see there was a logic to it. A complex logic with an upbeat in the opposite place I would expect and a constant chattering of my left hand to keep the beat driving right on schedule.

Take Five was a huge hit in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. Performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet it featured a saxophone melody, thus explaining my dad’s particular fondness for it. But it was that quirky 5/4 or quintuple time meter that had intrigued and challenged me so much.

As a child, I hadn’t realized how influential the song was. I just knew it was tough and fun to play, and finally, it was a jazz song I could not only pull off, thanks to practicing it and some special coaching, but one my dad loved to hear too. Playing piano wasn’t a solitary effort: it was one in which I received praise and recognition for, and from my dad that was a golden moment.

I’m pretty sure I still have the sheet music for Take Five. I wonder if I can still play it. I practiced it so many times, over and over and over, that crazy rhythm is drilled into my brain.

In honor of Mr. Brubeck’s award last night, I just may play a little Take Five today. On the same piano I played it on as a girl. Dad might even get a phone call. There’s no guarantee I can get my right hand to turn out that melody, but I know I can get that crazy quintuple time going with my left.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A happy NoPo holidays to you and you and you

As an homage to the fantastic work in our neighborhood by those dedicated to decorating for the holidays, we visited a few of our favorites here for you. Included is the wonderful, over-the-top house on N. Geneva, complete with Christmas windows and a yard full of more things than you can count. Happy holidays to you all, my fabulous blog readers!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The cookie produced by rocket fuel: a habanero harvest gone wild

I’d been hearing bits and pieces for a while. The habañero plants my parents grew in their Texas garden this year were on a bender. Pounds of produce were being harvested every few days, and I’d hear about salsa making, freezing, and even baking. But then I began to hear words like super thrive and rocket fuel. I laughed at my dad’s rocket science reference—he had worked in astronautics his entire life and a joke like rocket fuel was expected. When he came back with a clarification of “No, it really is called rocket fuel” I knew they had a harvest on their hands like no other.

I’m not a rogue mutant gardener. I come from gardeners. I am the daughter of gardeners, the granddaughter of farmers, and don’t let my Southern California suburbs upbringing fool you. It’s in my genes. My crazy gardening dad had been feeding his habañero pepper plants an experimental mixture of seaweed extract, fish emulsion, horticultural molasses, superthrive and rocketfuel. And sure enough, he was using Rocket Fuel. My mom and dad been attending the founder’s talks at their Native Plant Society and were intrigued with his organic gardening techniques. So dad started applying his own crazy mixture of organic food to their habañero plants and in November I received this e mail from my dad:
“We have a habañero plant that has gone way crazy. You see, I was experimenting using seaweed extract, fish emulsion, horticultural molasses, superthrive and rocketfuel back in August and it started producing about mid September. Mom has a freezer full and has been making habañero cookies and salsa like crazy. While we were gone our neighbors picked bags of them to freeze and give away. There are still a bunch on the plant. In fact there are still a few blossoms!!! Here is the latest picking, 5lbs. worth. Mom is in the kitchen, as we speak, rubber gloves on and fans whirring like crazy making another batch of salsa...”
And sure enough, here was a photo to prove it:
Habanero harvest from Texas

But did you see what I saw in that e mail above? Habañero cookies? Yes. And this week, guess what Santa delivered to our front door all the way from Texas?

The cookie that bites back. Habañero is a slow, creep-up-on-you-burn. One that tricks you with immediate sweet recognition then eventually sets the back of your tongue about 50 degrees hotter. My mom had a hit on her hands, that’s for sure, and my dad with his love for hot spice, and for cookies, must have been in hog heaven with these around. I know you dad.

habanero cookies from texas

If you’ve frozen an abundant amount of peppers from your garden, may I recommend you take this cookie to this season’s cookie exchange? I promise it’s delicious and unique, and anytime you can reference a cookie that bites back, it’s got to be a good one.

Habeñero Cookies (from
10 habañero peppers, seeded and minced
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

Remove and discard the stems, seeds, and pulp from the peppers. Mince peppers, and place in a bowl with enough milk to cover. Place bowl in a microwave, and heat until milk is lukewarm. Let sit about 10 minutes. Discard milk, and rinse peppers thoroughly in warm water. Repeat as desired.

In a large bowl, mix the peppers, sugar, butter, vanilla, and eggs. Beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir into the pepper mixture just until combined. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Homemade gifts are the best

"Homemade gifts are the best"—it's a phrase I'm typing a lot lately, sending out all of the custom labels for the busy food preservers out there ordering my canning labels on Etsy.

the finished product

It's fun to typeset all of the products people are making. Wild grape juice, rose bath salts, peach chutney, zucchini relish, pickled garden, crabapple habañero jelly, pesto: you food preservers have been busy!

Jars of Pear Chutney

It's not too late to order yours if you want to spiff up your holiday gifts with these custom labels.

Oh it's a busy time, isn't it? Busy with the bustle of friends and lists and family and weather and work and gifts and parties. Make sure to enjoy a special moment and cherish it this season. Just like Clark and Cousin Eddy as seen in my holiday blog header. Cheers!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A little something left for us

The nicest note left taped to our front door
I found this taped to our front door last week. I opened the envelope and looked at the Thank You card and smiled to myself. I love handwritten notes. But the inside? Way better than I ever thought.
A note from a neighbor I've never met
From a neighbor I've never met, and the nicest note ever. Made. My. Day.

I'm leaving notes for others this week. Won't you join me? I have a lot of thanks to give and I'm taking my cue from Kenneth here. 'Tis the season.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fresh from the garden: carrots

Fresh from the garden: carrot
We've been harvesting carrots for a while now. I'm so glad I seeded these in August. They've provided ongoing harvests for months now. Do you know what Wink's favorite snacks are?
Yep. Carrots. She loves them. And going out to the garden and pulling her favorite snacks right out of the ground? She gets so excited she spins.
Wink dances for her snacks
Probably not so much to harvest now that we've had such cold weather here. 15 degrees is what my car registered the other morning. That's cold. And that's cold news for overwintering tender plants, or winter crops.
My fav snacks from the garden
Gotta get 'em while you can. And fresh snacks from the garden outside the front door has been good to Wink. My dog the locavore.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

We're doing it again; a house project

I've come to the conclusion that when you live in a 100-year-old house (which our house will be in 2010) there is no down time for house projects. There is always something going on. And though we've lived here for almost 12 years, we always have something in the works.

From plum to Robin's Egg Blue

But this weekend was a first. For the first time, we were painting a room, over paint we ourselves had put down. Wha' wha'? We weren't cursing the color choices of the previous owner or marveling in how much straighter our lines along the molding would be. We were painting a lovely robin's egg blue over the deep plum painted by our very hands ten years ago. Lovely.

And so it goes with the latest house project. My office is getting a facelift with the same help from the folks who did our kitchen and master bath addition several years ago. In case you're curious, see the renovation label for all of that excitement. Not so big of a job this time, but it was time to grow up to a real office since my business has really come into its own, and have some custom built-ins made to better handle storage, books, client samples, and electronics. Everything is out of the office and temporarily boxed up in our living room, with my working space now temporarily upstairs in a light-filled bedroom, also known as my closet.

What had once been our tv room became my office three years ago, and in general, has worked well. But not so well in the past year. I'm posting some "before" photos for you here so when it's done, I can share the "after" photos.
Outgrowing my office space: before
Outgrowing our bookshelves: before
My office space: before

We're using some of the original kitchen cabinet doors that were saved in demolition of the kitchen 3 years ago. I knew there would be a good reason to hold onto these glass-fronted cabinet doors. And this time? I'm much wiser. There's a "must be completed by" date in the contract. I hope to enter into the new year with a whole new workspace. In the meantime, I'll be in my closet.

Bonus: In saying goodbye to those bookshelves you see above, I sold them via Twitter. Actually, I traded them for chocolate. Bookshelves=chocolate. It's the truth. See? Twitter is magic. Chocolate magic.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Getting it wrong this holiday season and laughing all the way

It happened so fast I doubted what I saw. Fortunately, I wasn't alone, and I turned to see my partner's jaw open in shock as well. What the ? A television commercial from a hot dude extolling the virtues of giving the gift of a pap smear for Christmas? You don't believe me, right? Oh I have proof.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Is it real? Is it a joke? I still don't know, but according to the CBS Cares website, the concept for this campaign came up during a dinner at Il mulino in Manhattan. And the story over there combines the description of a cold metal speculum and the shaving of parmesan cheese on the writer's dinner. Don't believe me? Oh go read this good stuff for yourself.

You'll also find that it's not just about Christmas, or the generic holidays. Oh no. CBS Cares enough to include the Schmear.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Are these for real? Are they a joke? Is the whole story of coming up with this and tying together a fine meal at an Italian restaurant in their website over there really authentic? But the crem de la creme: do they know that their program, CBS Cares, actually reads as CB Scares? Because that's what I saw on screen when I saw it for the first time. SCARES.

I want to say FAIL but hey, I blogged about them, didn't I? DOH!

These hips don't lie, and neither do Shakira's

these hips don't lie
Any hanger-ons in the garden are most likely going to be nipped in the bud this week. The impatiens have 'sploded, and just a branch of very brave "Wedding Bouquet" roses are blooming. Their hot pink color is easily visible in the barren, grey garden.

But the roses are producing hips, and these hips don't lie. I looked up and the cold blue sky begged for a quick snap with the phone. Later the same day, I watched a squirrel race along the fence rail, grab up into the rose bush, and pull off a rose hip. Jumping to a post top, he perched and nibbled his rose hip daintily, and for a moment, I thought it was cute. (Remind me of this moment next spring when the spring bulbs are ripped up and nibbled on too. Cute will not be my word of choice.)

I don't think there's any irony in noting that I've been listening to a lot of Shakira lately, she-of-the-amazing hips.

I know. Mesmerizing. May I recommend her latest?

And if you're brave, you'll watch the video that goes with that most awesome of songs.

I know you thought this post was about rose hips and my garden but alas, I've been sidetracked by Shakira's hips. So I ask you this: how can you listen and not dance? Shake those hips.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Have a gardener on your list? Give them some unexpected gifts.

(This is a cross post to my column published today in Just Out)

I have to admit, writing this gift guide for gardeners is like writing my own wish list. I just need to make sure I cut out this column and give it to my partner with a wink and a smile: “Just in case you need some ideas, honey.”

Have a gardener on your list? Here are some hot leads.

Time-lapse Camera for the Garden
If you’re a fan of the time-lapse flower blooming movies you saw in elementary school science class, this is the gift to get. This little weather-resistant camera by Brinno comes ready to mount in the ground. The high-quality lens captures the scene based on the setting you choose: every minute, 5 minutes, 30 minutes, hour, etc. Photos are stored on a removable USB thumb drive that pops into the computer. Imagine planting this camera alongside your squash next summer and capturing the emergence and growth of the seedling—or finally finding out who’s stealing your favorite flowers. Ah ha! Caught red-handed. ($139.95; available on Amazon)

Wearable Hummingbird Feeder
Do you get giddy when a hummingbird buzzes by? Do you slowly creep up on one to see how close you can get? Creep no more with this wearable hummingbird feeder. Yes, you read that correctly. The feeder is embedded into the facemask, and the bird actually feeds in front of your eyes—right in front. Oh, what I’d give to see that notorious hummingbird tongue. You, too? This is your gift. ($79.95;

Obama Head Chia Pet
Cha cha cha chia! Cha cha cha chia! If you haven’t seen the commercial yet, you will soon and I’m sure a million more times this holiday season. The folks at Chiapet have introduced new products including the Presidents Washington, Lincoln and Obama. Also, I can’t forget the Statue of Liberty. There’s something so wrong about growing grass out of the head of our President, but I still want to do it. Cha cha cha chia! ($27, though, no doubt, prices will drop as the holidays near; your local drugstore)

Solar Lights
In the last year some really beautiful and fun solar lighting products have hit the market, thanks to a company called Allsop. Glow string lights are crafted from hand-blown glass and shine magically on summer nights as they hang from tree branches overhead. For a contemporary aesthetic, the Soji Modern lanterns are fabulous and surprisingly weather durable. Solar powered, these lights turn themselves on at dusk. Easy on the environment + easy to use + great design = WIN. (Prices vary; Garden Fever, 3433 NE 24th Ave., 503-287-3200)

Woolly Pocket
Billed as “a modular living wall system,” the Woolly Pocket products help create some really fantastic-looking vertical gardens, both inside and out. A different kind of container, these pockets can be freestanding or hang on a wall. There’s even a living handbag. Yes, please. ($29 and up;

And then there's always my post from yesterday: a gnome with your face on it. DOH!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Go Gnome Yourself: the ultimate gift for gardeners

My gift guide for gardeners comes out in tomorrow's Just Out, but I wanted to give you a bonus gift today. Yeah for bonus gifts!

Have yourself made into a garden gnome

This wonderful fellow at Portland's Saturday Market will create from a photo, your loved one, as a garden gnome. YES. It's true. Your head on a gnome. Squee! You can see a little more about it at his site, Getting to Gnome You (!) or head to Saturday Market and see him working live! in person!

Aaah yes, we gardeners receive all kinds of gifts at the holidays, don't we? Yes, yes we do.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Love lies bleeding: tragedy hits three times this week in the Portland area-UPDATE: it's now up to six times in the past month

Love lies bleeding
The first news arrived a week or so ago: three bodies were found dead in their house in Southeast Portland, victims of a double homicide/suicide. Let me translate that for you: a man killed his girlfriend and their child. It was troubling. Troubling to think things could be so bad that you’d have to take your own life, but to make it triply as bad, you had to kill the ones you loved, as well.

Just a few days later, a husband tracks down his estranged wife at work and using three guns, opens fire, killing her, injuring others, then retreating to the bathroom and turning one of his weapons on himself.

But last night’s news trickled in: three bodies were found in a Portland suburb home. Once again, victims of a suicide/double homicide. And once again, a man kills his wife, child and himself.

Three horrible situations, eerily similar, all within the same week. Is it stress? Is it economics? Is it inability to deal with emotional stress and break-up? I don’t know the answer and I’m sure each of the situations above are unique, specific, but obviously in the end they are tragically similar. I’m not blaming the guns, though they certainly didn’t help.

But in the end? Men please. Get some help. Talk it out. Use your brains not your weapons, and stop killing women and children. In the ultimate end? Men who kill the women in their lives are the ultimate cowards. And it’s pissing me off.

If you’re pissed too, join me in giving $7 a month to the Portland Women’s Crisis Line. I just signed up, and you can too. It's easy, it's on-line, and I'm determined this holiday season to put more beauty and love and money out into the world for every bad, ugly thing I see or encounter. Join me?

UPDATE: Today's news on December 2nd brings the count of these incidents to 6 in the past month. 6 TIMES IN THE LAST MONTH IN THE PORTLAND AREA. There's something wrong here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

So you've been thinking about getting one of those cool Flip cameras...

..well lucky you, you can get a two-fer. Get one of the most popular designs, and, through the Flip for Good program, $10 of your purchase goes directly to The National Crittenton Foundation.

Of course there's more to the story...the designs for The National Crittenton Foundation cameras were done by me, as they're one of my clients (they do good things in the world, like all of my clients, and you should go check them out).

Some of the photos you'll see on their cameras may even have first shown here on my blog. Yes, things in my life do overlap sometimes.
I have one of the Crittenton Flip cameras and I love it. You will too: super easy to use, tiny (smaller than my phone) and the high def quality is crazy cool. But how cool is it that when you buy this gift for someone, $10 goes to support women, girls and their families who need your support so much?

Yet another in my series of cool holiday gifts for the season: doing more with your money than just buying into the crap!