Friday, May 29, 2009

Mother's Day

Yeah, it was a while ago. We met up with extended family in Dundee for an afternoon of food and fun. Willem was coming down with something and was having no part of the fun until well into the afternoon.

Shaun's Uncle Mark planned the whole deal and grilled up a storm, including chicken satay with peanut sauce. Nice! When Shaun asked me what I wanted for Mother's Day, it took me about 2 seconds to ask for a box of these caramels (sold at our Whole Foods.) They are my new favorite treat in all the land.

We had some built-in entertainment on hand...outgoing toddler learning to walk is always a family crowd-pleaser.

I love these two in these tiny chairs. As you can see from Willem's expression, even unprecedented permission to drink an entire can of root beer wasn't improving his mood.

May birthdays were celebrated with strawberry pie.

It was especially fun to be on hand to celebrate a first Mother's Day for cousins Amy and Jared with their daughter Sunita. If this face doesn't say "Happy Mother's Day," nothing does.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Just Can't Help Myself

Sure, they can be lewd, inappropriate, and downright profane. Ideologically speaking, we're probably miles apart.  But when they publish an article like this...sometimes I think I might have a little crush on The Onion.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mighty Fine Dining

OK, I've scoured the bathrooms, vacuumed the carpet, and gotten caught up on dishes and laundry. Now, where were we?

Ah, yes. A few weeks and a million snotty tissues ago, Shaun and I celebrated our anniversary by going to dinner here:

The best thing about eating at Beast is that THERE ARE NO DECISIONS TO BE MADE. For me, not having to decide is the ultimate luxury. Normally when I go out to a fancy dinner, I feel a LOT of pressure to choose something good to eat, because we don't have the opportunity to do it often. And that sinking feeling when your dining companion has ordered something sublime and your food is merely so-so? Ugh. Such a tragic waste.

At Beast, everyone eats the same five or six courses. If you're really going all out, you order the wine pairing as well. It's like being at a fabulous dinner party, one with a staff of people to quietly whisk away your empty plates and wine glasses and immediately replace them with fresh ones.

There are two long communal tables  in the single room, and the prep station is right there as well. It's good fun to watch your next course being plated in front of you.

It would have been even more fun had the room been filled to capacity (maybe Portlanders don't like to eat dinner at 8:45?), but we still lucked out with our dinner companions, a couple celebrating their 6th anniversary who came and sat next to us. It was immediately obvious that they are not natives of the Pacific Northwest. She was wearing a lovely summery dress with a wrap around her shoulders, and he was decked out in full sartorial splendor with a dark navy sports coat, an oversize-scaled blue and white gingham shirt (with actual cuff links), and a stripey-textured tangerine-colored tie. In contrast, the crowd at the far end of the table was wearing faded jeans and fleece vests. Our new friends turned out to be from Manhattan. Not New York, mind you, Manhattan. They were an interesting couple to spend the evening with.

Adding to the "this is the best dinner party ever" feel was the soundtrack of the evening. I think we own albums from everyone they played: Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, even Johnny Horton. Fantastic.

Here's our menu, with a few comments:


When I first saw the menu, I thought it seemed a little pretentious to mention the olive oil. Wrong. It was SO GOOD, and it made one of the best five soups I've ever eaten even better. It was served in a vessel shaped like a sake cup, so it was hard to get to it all. Some of the brighter people at the table tipped the cups over and poured the last few drops onto their spoons. It was that good.


The first two items on the list were the star of the show. I really loved the steak tartare--Shaun wasn't as impressed. But the foie gras bon-bon...holy cow. It was a pefectly formed dome of foie gras on top of a peanut shortbread the size of a quarter. There seemed to be some sort of salty glaze covering the whole thing. And then, perched on top, was the cube of sauternes gelee (gelled sweet white wine.) Now, I understand that the production of foie gras is a morally dubious enterprise at best, but sweet fancy Moses, I have tasted the Dark Side and it is DELICIOUS.

Next came a palate-cleansing sorbet of campari and orange (? I can't remember for sure because they didn't even write it on the menu) that was one of our favorite things.


LOVED the duck. The potato mash had nice big chunks of morels and was perfectly seasoned, plate-licking good. The duck demi-glace was a little too sweet and syrupy on the pea tendrils for my taste, so I didn't finish that. But, with three more plates of food to come, I was kind of grateful.


This is the only plate that was a total miss for me. The mint was overpowering, and a giant cold scallop is not my favorite thing to eat. The vinaigrette tasted a little too thin and lemony, but this might have only been because of all the rich food that preceded it. It was a very springtime-y dish, and other folks seemed to enjoy it. Ah, food. So subjective.


The biggest surprise of the evening was that I didn't really care for any of the three cheeses on the cheese plate. The accompaniments were another story. The nickel-sized shortbreads were beautiful and tasted so good. So did the candied hazelnuts, and I don't even like hazelnuts all that much.


This is another one I liked more than Shaun did. It could have used less rosemary...somehow the flavors didn't quite come together all the way. But I still thought it was really good. The perfect ice cream melting on the warm, ultra-flaky pastry and rhubarb...mmmmm...

It was a properly celebratory meal, and I just found out they serve brunch on Sundays. I can't wait until next Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I Have Not Fallen Into A Ditch

But it feels like I have. Sorry for the long quiet here. Nels was sick, Willem got sick, and then Shaun and I both got sick, sick, sick at the same time, and we've had a pretty miserable week of it. 

I will tell you all about our fabulous dinner at Beast and our other recent adventures very, very soon. But first I have to catch up on the housework. Things are getting pretty squalid around here.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Celebrations III

Shaun and I got married nine years ago yesterday. That is a good and amazing thing. You'd think a Wednesday night wouldn't lend itself to festivities, but that's not the case. Sure, we're going out for fancy food this weekend, but that did not stop Shaun from making the actual day special.

He came home from work early enough to fix dinner (french toast, because that's all we had the makings for; and breakfast IS the sixth love language) in time for us to eat together BEFORE I WENT TO MY CLASS. Yes, I still got to go to class. And when I came home the kids were in bed and the dishes were done and the house was clean and he fixed me a martini. Yes, I would certainly marry him all over again.

You may have noticed that I mentioned fancy food. I am giddy with excitement over having dinner at Beast on Saturday night. Click here, read our menu for the night, and then come back so we can discuss.

I'm so worked up that I'm bound to be disappointed. For starters, the words "seared" in reference to the duck breast and the scallop have me a little worried. In the past, "seared" has been code for "raw in the middle." I've heard, though, that this has fallen out of fashion, and I'm going to trust that the best chef in Portland (according to Portland Monthly) is not going to do me wrong.

White asparagus soup can't be bad, pate with pork, pork liver, pistachios, and sour cherries sounds delicious, and the thought of rhubarb tarte tatin with aged balsamic ice cream and rosemary caramel makes me want to cry. Happy tears. 

And Shaun is putting up with all this fancyness because he loves me. Next year it's his pick.

UPDATE- Beast has changed their website since I first posted this. The link above now sends you to the restaurant but not to our particular menu.

Celebrations II

Nels managed to get a head cold and a dandy case of pink-eye on Sunday night. We got him into the doctor first thing on Monday so we could get him started on eye drops. Because darned if we were going to miss the Mother's Day Tea at his school. He'd been telling me for two weeks that they would be serving lemonade. I was personally hoping for tea, but I guess the title of the event was not to be taken literally. Preschoolers and boiling hot beverages may not be the best combination, anyhow.

Here is my fancy tea tray. Nels dropped my log-shaped cookie on the ground and ate my giant strawberry before he realized he was going to get his own food. I didn't make him give me his cookie, though I did reclaim a strawberry.

See those teeny tiny chairs? We all sat in them. The kid next to Nels was in "show-off mode" according to his mother.  "Show-off mode" meant things like grabbing my shoulder in a five year-old death grip and repeatedly taking my purse. It was a relief not to have the weirdest kid for a change.

Look how thrilled Nels is to present me with my gift! He actually was excited, it was just hard for him to muster an enthusiastic expression, what with the pink-eye and all.

The teachers worked very hard to make it a special event, and I'll look forward to Willem's turn. I'll be hoping for tea.

Celebrations I

Shaun went and turned 35 on Monday. I appreciated this, as I've been 36 since November and it seemed cruel that he should only have been 34.

We celebrated with his folks on Sunday. They fixed a deluxe sourdough waffle brunch with all the trimmings. (Trimmings in this case consisting mostly of pork products.) Then we all piled in our minivan and headed to the coast for a hike at Cape Lookout State Park. We thought we'd just bundle up against the predicted rain, but it never materialized.

No rain, but we hadn't counted on the mud. We wouldn't let Willem even attempt to walk in it. We slogged through it for about an hour and then turned back. Both the drive and the hike were a little longer than we'd reckoned, so it was fine to cut things short. 

We stopped at Pacific Seafood for--yes, you guessed it--seafood on the way home.

On Shaun's actual birthday we were less ambitious. I fixed some halibut (because you can never have too much seafood and it actually costs less than $20 a pound right now) and a popcorn cake.

See how fun we are? Does this kid's body language say "party" or what?

Yep, Still Crazy

In case you were wondering.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Our Turn!

After being jealous of our friends in California who get to spend time with the Oldenburgs while they're here in the States, I was happy when they very kindly paid a visit to our neck of the woods. Our kids get out of sorts when they have a two day change of schedule, so I really appreciate the sacrifice Eric and Josie are making when they travel all over to visit friends and supporters.

On this trip they stayed with Shaun's folks for a few days first. Imagine the disappointment for their son Dietrich when they came to our house next--we have no river, no real tractor, no toy trains. What we DO have are two rivals for toys and attention. With Dietrich at the "needs to learn to share" stage and Willem at the "needs to learn not to tattle" stage, our ears didn't get much of a break. But it was actually a pleasant change for me from the normal Nels/Willem conflict I usually get all day.

Shaun took half of Thursday and all of Friday off, which made it feel like real vacation. He almost never does that. On Friday morning we lazed about and Shaun cooked us a big, delicious breakfast. It was a really nice day. We played out in the yard, took a walk around our lake, and played at the park.

Happiness is three boys on a tire swing.

Taking after his dad, Dietrich enjoys some ice cream.

Eric and Josie fit into our household quite well.

On Saturday morning we had doughnuts and, despite the rain in the forecast, headed for the Oregon Zoo in Portland.

Dietrich is introduced to the cotton candy doughnut.

Polar bears RULE.

It rained. There's my cold and crabby face.

On Sunday we all went to Shaun's folks' church to hear Eric and Josie give a presentation on their work and life in Ukraine. It was fascinating. 

Later that evening we all had pizza together, and Eric and Josie snuck out even later to go have some dessert to celebrate their anniversary.

A three-boy horsey-back ride comes to an abrupt end.

The last thing we did before they shipped out on Monday afternoon was eat a piece of peanut butter tart.

We'll miss 'em.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Well, huh.

Somehow the actual living of real life has been interfering with my ability to keep my blog updated. This is a novelty; I usually try to live just enough to leave time to write about it.

Good friends Eric and Josie and their son Dietrich stayed with us for four nights last week. They usually live in Ukraine, so we had a lot of lost time to make up for. The last time we saw them for more than a few hours was when we met up in Budapest. Five years ago. I'll tell you more about their visit once I can put the pictures up.

The night before our visitors arrived, I went to the second session of my writing class. I cried. No, not from fear or embarrassment or anything like that, though it would be understandable if that's what you figured. Fellow student Bob read a powerfully moving piece he'd written about holding his baby granddaughter. It was not in the least bit sentimental, but so real and filled with love that I couldn't stop a few tears from rolling down my cheeks.

The class has been pretty draining for me. We read our impromptu writing aloud and have time at the end to share something else we're working on if we want to. I find the dynamic very similar to that of church small groups I've been to. It's all so very personal, and it's a lot to take in with a bunch of new people.  Half the group has taken the class before and have already gotten close to one another, so I'm sure that has accelerated the pace.

Ever the skeptic and not one for touchy-feelyness, I'm not sure how I feel about the overall approach to writing we're being presented with. But it really doesn't matter. It's certainly not hurting, and at least I am engaged again after a long spell of letting it lie. 

I've been reading the book Art & Fear, which has been a huge encouragement. I'll leave you with a quote that speaks to my tendency to compare myself (unfavorably) to writers I admire:

Whatever they have is something needed to do their work--it wouldn't help you in your work even if you had it. Their magic is theirs. You don't lack it. You don't need it. It has nothing to do with you. Period.
-David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear