July 30, 2010

Have a gorgeous weekend darlings.

{photo by Nathanial Goldberg, first published in Italian Vogue}

July 29, 2010

Taking Photos of Your Kids

Sometimes I take for granted the fact that my adorable kiddos have grown up mugging for the camera.
I’m biased of course. Being the typical proud mom and part time professional photographer, I think my children are adorable and photogenic. All kids are photogenic, and really, all parents can take professional looking photos of their rugrats. You don’t even need a fancy or expensive camera.  

But there are some tricks.

Trick #1:

Take your camera everywhere – One reason why my kids always look relaxed in photos without the awkward squinty-eyed overly dramatized smile is because they are used to me shooting photos of them. ALL THE TIME. I wear a camera like jewelry, and consider it a part of my outfit.

When you are just getting started, tell yourself you don’t even care about any of the photos you take during maybe, the first three days you are clicking away… just get comfortable with your camera and learn about what it can do while your children get comfortable in front of it.

Trick #2:

Camera angle – I am always surprised at how many people stand too far away from their subject, making it a small focal point in the middle of a lot of distracting scenery. Get down to your child’s level. Kneel, or sit at the table with them. If you start taking a lot of photos, they’ll get used to you sooner or later and go about their business while you get the perfect portrait.

Trick #3:

The right lighting – whenever possible, I try to use natural light. Soft, pastel light indoors is flattering and realistic, and the grey and overcast Portland weather is actually ideal for taking photos inside near a window. Soft grey light streaming in through the windows in the early part of the day is perfect and acts like a natural soft box. If the light is too dim and your lens is not quite fast enough, try to steady yourself as much as possible to avoid camera shake. Sit down, or even lie down on the floor near your child as they play in the window light and click away. If you happen to have an on camera flash, turn it off and test out a few shots without it. If they are too blurry, turn it back on for sharper images. Another trick with on camera flash that I love is to use it in its full glory when you are outside in the sunshine. It freezes the actions, sharpens the picture, fills in shadows and makes bright colors pop!

Trick #4:

Interesting props—don’t try to ‘pose’ your child… let them rifle through the dress up pile and create their own outfit. Buy a photogenic oversized red ball or fill a clear clean plastic cup with bubble solution in the summer and let them simply play. One of my favorite portraits of a brother and sister was a photo I took of them sitting together on a patchwork blanket with their teddy bears and tea-cups, having a party. In the fall, think about buying bright yellow rain slickers and boots, and let them do a little puddle stomping while you shoot photos(turn the flash on to capture the splash suspended in mid air!).

The key here is, make it fun.

Trick #6:

Have a relaxed attitude – with the practice of taking photos every day, you’ll become more acquainted with your camera and you won’t feel the pressure of getting ‘just the right shot’ on Holidays and during those milestones we want to freeze forever in the family album. Kids seem to sense the pressure of posed photos and seem to either melt down or misbehave more than usual, making it almost impossible to get a good picture. As the photographer, make them comfortable by smiling yourself, resisting the urge to pose them or bark orders at them, like photos are a chore. Let them be themselves. My favorite photos of kids are when they are simply being themselves and don't feel the pressure to perform.  I catch the best expressions when my kids are not even smiling.

My last piece of advice is to stretch the boundaries of your creativity. Think about new angles to shoot from, like lying on your back on the ground looking up at your child, swing next to them as you video tape on the swing set while playing in the park. Take photos of the bits and pieces of your child’s world… their pudgy toes, focus on their hand holding a crayon, or have them hold out a favorite toy for you to shoot with them looking like a bit of a blur in the background.

Sometimes, let them make a face...

These kinds of photos can be immensely emotionally satisfying and convey much more than the sum of their parts.   These are the photos of real life.

July 28, 2010

Brophy's Tea

Chef Brophy is an enigma.

We met about 9 years ago, when I started working for another culinary school in town, and right away, I knew he was a likable character.  We are both happily working at Oregon Culinary Institute now, a smaller, locally owned school that was started up by some of the most experienced and passionate chef's from a much larger chain brand school.  Chef Brophy is not only an accomplished Chef and instructor, he's also a Master Gardner, a Marine Biologist (most specifically, an 'edible inner tidal specialist') and he's cooked and taught professionally for over 34 years.  Brophy's stoic demeanor, his bristly moustache, and bushy eyebrows subtly disguise the very dry sense of humor bubbling just beneath the surface.  (the sparkle in his eyes give him away most of the time) He is one of the most well educated and interesting chef instructors I know.  He has encyclopedic knowledge of sea food, gardening, heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms, how to raise chickens in the city, and of course... tea. 

This morning, Brophy brought me a lovely gift.  My own can of his favorite morning beverage, the weird and wonderful tea he recently turned me onto:  

It's an acquired taste to say the least.  You either love it or you hate it.  The strong scent of campfire wafts through the air in my office when I brew a cup of it.  Chef Brophy suggests bringing water the the peak boiling point so that the dried leaves unfurl and give you the strongest and most aromatic and strong flavor. 

The taste and smell of reminds me of pulling my sweatshirt around me while sitting close to a summer campfire.  It reminds me of the smell of fall in the forest, keeping warm on the beach at the Oregon Coast and roasting marshmallow's over an open flame.

Brophy said this particular sort of tea used to be popular with sailors and was served to men in battle in Europe years ago.  One story tells of a warehouse in China where many soldiers camped nearby, and when they left, the tea makers had to quickly finish drying the tea by roasting the leaves over fires made of damp pine.  When I looked online, I found another story about a similar smoky tea, Russian Caravan:

"The name refers to the long, overland journey that tea would travel on from China to the markets in Moscow. Wooden chests of rather bland tasting tea would travel on camel back, often taking a year to complete the journey. This Russian-bound tea was famous for the smell of the many campfires it would absorb along the way. And thus, the smoky tea varieties became associated with Russia, and often have Slavic or Russian monarchy names, like Czar Nikolai or Ekaterina"

I love a good story behind the things I eat and drink. 
It elevates the experience.

July 26, 2010

Wedding Fever

I'm a sucker for weddings.

This upcoming Sunday I'll be shooting Joe and Sue's big day, and I can't wait.  The ceremony will be at the Ecotrust building in the Pearl, on the roof at sunset and Lincoln restaurant will be catering.  It'll be gorgeous.  Not only are they a beautiful looking couple, (Joe is a dead ringer for Keanu Reeves and Sue could be Gweneth Paltrow's prettier and younger sister)they are also wonderful people and beloved friends.   
The whole weekend is booked with fun filled activities: Rehearsal Dinner at Oregon Culinary Institute Restaurant,  our friends and their band, Maggie's Choice will be playing at Mississippi Studios, and our buddy Henning from Switzerland is even coming!  I am of course their photographer, and the hubs is going to MC at the reception. 

So stay tuned my lovelies. 
In the meantime, here are a few favorites from the past couple of years...

{more wedding photography on my website, uncommonMuse}

July 23, 2010

Koi Fusion

Lunch in Portland can be a gorgeous thing.

If you've been paying any kind of attention at all this week, you may have heard that our fair, green and unique little city was pronounced by CNN to have World's Best Street Food.

I completely agree.  And the chef's at my school whole-heartedly agree. The food savvy students training in Culinary Arts, and almost everyone who spends anytime downtown at lunchtime with at least $5 in their pocket would also agree.  The food at the little carts that line the streets of Portland is incredibly yummy,  usually quite cheap (for the large servings they dole out), and some of them serve healthy fare to boot. 

I'll have to spend a little time later on, blog-swooning about the many food carts to choose from and what exactly a food cart 'Pod' is... but for now, as I munch on sublime Korean tacos from my current favorite cart, Koi Fusion at my desk, I am lost in the wonderful combination of flavors.   Fresh tortilla, crispy cilantro, tangy lime, savory shredded Korean beef, crunchy sprouts, a bit of cucumber...

and the Best part is, it only cost me $3.

PS~the cart moves around quite a bit... one night on Mississippi Street, one night on Hawthorne, lunchtime near Portland State in the Park Blocks... you must follow them on Twitter to find out where they are.  It's fun.  Like hunting down your food, there's a thrill in it.

Have a lovely weekend darlings.

July 22, 2010

Chocolate Dream Fridge

Check out the drawer full of chocolate...
I would have no willpower.

July 21, 2010

Good vs Evil at Kelly's Olympian

Yesterday I divulged the secret that I have a thing for Portland low-brow haunts.  You know, dive bars, hole-in-the-wall eateries, food carts... little known out of the way places with lot's of personality. 

 Anyway, the confession made me feel nostalgic. 

I think one of the reasons I'm so drawn to these places, is that they were the settings where a love story unfolded.  My love story.  When I first met my husband, I was rather newly divorced.  We worked together at another culinary school in town, became friends, and spent evenings after work, talking, eating, listening to music and eventually, falling in love around Portland. 

Next month is our 5th wedding anniversary.  This little story, tells about a night that may well have been the very beginning of our romance.

Good vs Evil at Kelly’s Olympian

We sat across from each other at Kelly’s Olympian bar downtown after work. I had never been to this sort of a bar before. It was dark, except for the numerous neon signs electrifying the walls. Classic motorcycles hung suspended over our heads and the tables were lined up closely against the wall. A thin strip of pathway separated us from the bar. There was so much to look at and so much to see, and I drank it all in. Sitting by himself at the end of the bar was a man in a cowboy hat. He had a handlebar moustache, plaid shirt, and long hair escaping out the back of his hat, trailing into a thin ponytail. He gripped a mug of beer in one hand, the droplets of condensation collecting around the base of it and onto the wet coaster, now clinging to the bar. He stared at the door and watched everyone who came and went.

Other patrons included the obligatory group of indie hipsters, who sat to our left and smoked. Most of them had dyed, long black hair with bangs draped across their faces and were cloaked in predictable uniform of black t-shirts and ripped denim jackets. They wore thick, black leather belts with studded silver edges, which didn’t seem necessary to hold skinny-leg, black and grey jeans to their undernourished frames. One wore cut-off black Carhart pants that were too big. He really did need the belt. He also wore black socks with faded black-and-white checkered Vans. I focused in on the Vans. I recognized those. I had some just like them in high school. Crap. Was he wearing them ironically, or were they actually cool again?

Kevin ordered us a sandwich. He said that he had been here a few times before, and since he wanted to show me a few other places, we thought it best to pace ourselves and split the sandwich. We ordered a couple of IPA’s that he recommended to go with our light dinner. I was happy to follow his lead. Visiting places like this was not a part of the life I was accustomed to, and I was fascinated. The music pulsed, and I tried to imagine myself,as I was back in my old life, sitting in this bar. It was very hard to picture.

Our turkey sandwich and a side of fries arrived, and we sipped our beer. I caught a glimpse of Kevin out of the corner of my eye. I secretly thought he was handsome, and I tried to act cool and nonchalant every time I was around him. I tried to be unimpressed and uninterested. I worked hard at not looking at him at all, directly or indirectly. I didn’t want to think of him in any way other than as a friend. After all, he had a girlfriend. A rock star girlfriend in fact. She was beautiful, had recorded her own CD, and had six pack abs according to the photos on her MySpace and Indie music website--I had a minivan, kids and a C section scar. In the back of my mind I kept thinking about how he was younger and so much cooler than me.  I reminded myself that I was just along for the ride. I felt like Kevin was doing some sort of public service by escorting me around the city to show me the hip side of Portland nightlife. Why was he so polite in showing me around? I couldn’t help but wonder if he was a volunteer in a community outreach program to reintegrate ex-suburban soccer moms into the intricacies of city life.

Talking to Kevin was so easy to do. He never made me feel out of place or uncool. I wasn’t compelled to talk to him about things I used to always talk about, like the Fred Meyer ad from Sunday’s paper or which of the neighborhood kids was having a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese or the McDonald’s Play land that weekend, or which detergent did the best job of getting out dried gum and grass stains. Things like this never entered into our conversations, and it was refreshing. Instead, we talked about passages from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and how, on nights when the moon was full, we both felt inspired to drive someplace open and high so we could bask in the moonlight. We talked about Spain, morning cartoons of our childhood, and which three things we would want with us if we were stranded on a deserted island.

We also talked about dreams.

“When I was a kid, I often dreamed about good versus evil… superheroes and villains, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader… that sort of thing. I was always “the good guy”, or “good-girl”… or, well, you know. It was weird though, and tough, actually,” I said to him as he dragged a French fry across a pool of ketchup and popped it in his mouth. “I mean, if you meet a truly evil person and you know you should kill them, in your dream, because you are good-- you still don’t really want to kill them. It’s a tough one…to have to destroy the evil thing, but you have something in your heart and your conscience that prevents you from doing it. I always want to try and give the evil being a second chance. Maybe if you give it a chance, it will learn from it and become suddenly good.”

I recounted one particular dream in which I was a hero, a superhero, but with no actual super powers. Instead, I dreamed I wrestled a witch with my bare hands, squeezing her nose and pushing her into the ground, but then feeling sorry for her when I knew it was the moment that I needed to finish her off.

“I just sat back and let go. I couldn’t do it. But when she rose up again to grab me, I had no choice but to kill her. I felt bad, though. I felt sadness and a loss. Even though I didn’t think I should, because she was evil. But I still regretted hurting her. I know it sounds ridiculous… silly.”

I’d never confessed the odd dream to anyone. As silly as it seemed, it had haunted me most of my life -- a childhood dream I’d never let go of.

“I know. I had one like that too,” he said. “In mine, I was in some kind of post-apocalyptic desert landscape. I had come across a village that was plagued by an evil presence. The head of the village was some kind of demon -- I remember thinking ‘It’s Beelzebub.’”

We both laughed out loud.

“It had a big bulky body but a tiny face on its head. It was pretty creepy looking. This demon had been wreaking havoc on the village, but it always blamed it on his sidekick, who was essentially the village idiot. And incredibly, everyone believed it, and each time something bad happened, they shrugged, as if to say ‘it’s the village idiot – we can’t do anything about it.’ I couldn’t believe it, but I knew that it was up to me to kill the demon.”

Kevin grabbed his pint glass and took a drink, and seemed to be collecting his thoughts. He looked around before re-establishing eye contact with me again.

“So I fought the demon. I don’t remember much about the actual fight, but I do remember having it on the ground and kneeling on its neck, suffocating it. I realized I was killing it, and I just slightly let my knee up. The moment I did, it filled with life and I immediately sensed the venom and evil resurge in it. In that split second, I dropped my knee, crushing its windpipe and killing it. It gave me no choice. There was too much at stake. I woke up and wrote that dream down because it was so wild.”

He paused, perhaps for dramatic effect.

“It’s been years now, but I still feel that offing Beelzebub was the right decision.”

He smiled wryly.

I sat there in this bar, looking at Kevin and considering that our dreams were eerily similar. I wondered if he’d told his girlfriend this story. I wondered if she had dreams about fighting evil and shared them with him. I secretly hoped not.

Kevin paid the bill, and I left the tip. We stepped out of the bar into the cool evening air. As the door swung shut, the loud, pounding music instantly became muffled, and I could hear the sounds of the city. For a minute we stood there just outside the front door. I realized I had a comfortable little buzz going, certainly from the IPA but partly from being out so uncharacteristically late. It was after 10 PM.

I looked down at my black boots, the leather of the toe reflecting in the street light. I thought high-heeled black boots might make me look like a superhero, maybe Batgirl or Cat Woman. Or even Lara Croft. I wondered if choosing your fashion statement based on a superhero instead of a model was okay. I didn’t care. I had always preferred superheroes to supermodels. Maybe all of my good-versus-evil-themed dreams had something to do with my lifelong fascination with them.

Finding out that Kevin had dreams like mine made me wonder even more about him -- what was he like? Why did he seem to have such a strong moral compass and sense of right and wrong? Did he get it from his parents? I wondered if it is something you come by naturally or by default because of how you are raised or what books you read or what movies you watch. Do church and religion really have much to do with understanding right from wrong and making decisions accordingly?

I wondered what it would be like to see me in my old church now, in my high-heeled black boots, black pencil skirt, hair smelling like cigarette smoke, and beer on my breath. What would Pastor Gill think? My mind wandered. I pictured a scene of superheroes sitting in church pews. Would they be in the front row? Who would preach to them? A regular, everyday pastor? More likely, someone famous, like the Pope. Or better yet, Professor Xavier from X-Men. I wondered if Xavier believed in God. I wondered what the sermon would be about. And would the superheroes swoosh their capes over the back of the pew or sit with it under them? Wouldn’t it get more wrinkled that way? No, the fabric was probably super enough that it didn’t wrinkle. I wanted some of that fabric. The effects of the beer must have begun to wear off.  My true identity was beginning to surface.

“I want to show you something”.

Kevin started walking across the Old Town Street and I matched his brisk pace. We ducked under a brick archway and found ourselves in a small, open space, almost like a ceiling-less urban garden arena. There was ivy growing on the walls, and exposed brick from the adjoining buildings was crumbling and looked phosphorescent in the moonlight. There was a quiet grace about this place, beautiful in its decomposition. I wasn’t sure what it had been or what it was now. When I lowered my eyes I thought that maybe it was a parking lot during the day, but in the dark cover of night, I was beginning to sense its former self. I could almost hear echoes of the debauchery of frontier nightlife. It was a city ruin, alive with moonlit ghosts.

“Portland has a lot of places like this.”

I could tell that Kevin sensed the sublimity and history of this peculiar, mystical space. I wanted him to show me more. We stood there for a moment, looking around and at the moon overhead. We stepped back out onto the street.

We silently walked on, probably headed to the next bar for another drink and to listen to some music. We were side-by-side, moving with effortless purpose, my stride matching his.

Like Batman and Batgirl.

July 20, 2010

Por Que No?

My subtly amazing husband and I spent a weekend at the Oregon Coast to celebrate his birthday. We hiked through old growth forests and took in the views at Ecola State Park, walked on the beach, hung out at Bella’s Coffee Shop, and we relaxed. We didn’t really go out to eat at all, other than for a couple of bowls of chowder at Bill’s Tavern and a burger at the Warren House. Instead, we survived on Mike’s Hard Lemonade, crackers, cheese, and Red Vines. It was the ultimate weird and spare, sort of vacation-junk-food-diet.

But on our way home Sunday, craving some quality bites, we hit Por Que No? on Mississippi Street for the most fabulous early Sunday supper.

I’ve been talking to a young man who is moving from Northern California to Portland with his family in the next few months so he can attend my school. His long term goal is to become a chef, and one of the reasons he wants to move to Portland Oregon is not just because of Oregon Culinary Institute, but because of the fantastic local food scene. I’ve been emailing him and chatting with him, doling out advice and words of wisdom about the places to eat in Portland, and it’s made me realize my tastes are actually rather fine-tuned. I especially love simple food with unique and bright flavor. I prefer relaxed, less expensive restaurants, and even food carts and dive bars to the swanky shi shi sit down establishments in town. And if the place is decorated with second hand treasures and recycled materials, all the better. I respect high quality, local, fresh, seasonal, sustainable ingredients. I suppose this makes me, quite thoroughly, a true Portlander.

Por Que No? is in my neighborhood and takes us only about 5 minutes by car or 20 minutes by bike. It‘s about the only place where you can buy a cup of fresh organic blueberry juice, melon sangria, or Jasmine Iced tea that’s made with all local ingredients.

The whole restaurant is quite small, making it technically a “hole in the wall,” but the food and flavors defy the diminutive size of the kitchen. You almost always have to stand in line to order, but the people are relaxed and happy and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone because it’s SO worth the wait. The food is absolutely incredible... fresh, inexpensive, and healthy dishes that are perfectly prepared every time make it a favorite to Portland Foodies and Chef’s. The flavors are tangy and bright, crisp and authentic. Even the tortillas are homemade and the chips made from them are thick and crisp and lovely, deep fried in rice bran oil.

While we enjoyed our Carnitas tacos , the line-caught-fish taco crema, cabbage and mango,

and our seasonal Sangria and Tecante,

a charming woman from the Urban Farm Collective stopped at our table to offer us free fresh veggies from her city-based farm...

For as much as I love a weekend get-away and travelling around Oregon, I still love coming home to the best food around... and  Por Que No? Is Oh So Portland.

Cheers Darlings

July 19, 2010


I've been on a fruit and cheese combo kick lately, and craving nontraditional flavors like mad.

My oldest daughter invited her friend over for dinner last week, and I had a wild hair to create a pizza using a cornbread crust (found in the freezer section at New Seasons), fresh figs, toasted hazelnuts and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese.  (Luckily, Lizzie's friend is unusually brave for a teenager and has a rather sophisticated palate, so I was not too worried about scaring her off)  At the grocery store, I couldn't find a single fig, so I substituted them with apricots.  I grabbed a sweet onion to caramelize in the cast iron skillet, thinking to add an additional note of sweetness, with a savory finish, along with some spicy Arugula greens to sprinkle on top or eat as a side, drizzled with olive oil. 

It turned out to be quite lovely, and super fast and easy to make.  The girls ate the entire thing by themselves, so it's a good thing the cornbread crusts come in a double package.

Fruit and Nut Pizza with Gorgonzola

1 frozen cornbread pizza crust
3 sliced apricots (or figs, which is my favorite)
1/2 of a sweet Walla Walla onion, sliced thinly and caramelized with a bit of olive oil and brown sugar
a small handful of crumbled Gorgonzola
a small handful of toasted chopped  hazelnuts (although whole is nice too... a little extra crunch)


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Assemble all of the main ingredients loosely and artistically on the crust while it is still frozen.  Drizzle on a bit of honey and bake for about 18 minutes or until cheese is a little gooey and the crust is slightly browned.  Top with spicy greens if you like or serve them as a salad on the side.

July 16, 2010

How to be Glamourous at the Oregon Coast

It is actually possible.   Just stick to the list.

1. Pack a cooler with a bottle of Pinot Noir, 2 plastic tumblers, some olives, crackers and brie

2. Bring a classic, wool Pendleton blanket to spread out on the beach

3. Hit Powell’s on the way out of town, grab a copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, and a book about Oregon Coast Tide Pool Ecosystems and NW Coastal Wineries

4. Wear classic Ray Ban sunglasses, even if it’s overcast

5. Wear red lipstick

6. Find a swimsuit in polar fleece if at all possible

7. Bring an oversize sweater as a cover up in case your swimsuit is not thermally insulated

8. When you shiver, try to look sexy and adorable.  Marilyn did it. 

Ta Ta for now Kittens, and have a lovely weekend, wherever you are!

July 15, 2010

Backyard Raspberries

Happy Summer Kittens!

July 14, 2010

Gi Gi's Zucchini Muffins

My mother was a stay at home mom, and for many years, when my kids were very little, so was I.

Every summer when I was growing up, mom would take us out berry picking, we helped her make freezer jam and homemade popsicles and she'd give us own little plot of earth to garden and we could choose whatever kinds of seeds to plant. We drank iced tea with sugar cubes, ran in the sprinkler, camped out in the back yard and would lie on our backs for hours on towels on the lawn, just looking at the sky, daydreaming.

My mother planted her own vegetable garden every summer, and one of her favorite things to grow was zucchini. She’d harvest huge batches of it, and used it in soups; she’d slice it up, dot it with butter and bake it in a Pyrex dish the oven. My father would grill it, brushed with olive oil and fresh rosemary, and my sister and I would shred piles of it to be used in casseroles, loaves of bread, cookies and muffins. My favorite was my mother’s zucchini bread. Her mother, my grandmother Gi Gi, passed the recipe down to her, and a summer didn’t go by that we didn’t bake and enjoy many loaves of the dark, moist, sweet cake-like bread.

When my kiddos were babies, toddlers and preschoolers, I tried to create similar experiences for them. One of my favorite things to do with them in the summer was to buy a new plastic play pool at the grocery store, and fill it with buckets of warm water from the kitchen sink. I’d make sure it was strategically positioned underneath the shade of the little apple tree in our back yard, and I’d let them gather pink rose petals from the hedge roses that grew alongside the side of our house in our suburban neighborhood.
I bought them red white and blue rocket pops from the Schwann’s man that stopped by once a week, and we spent hours and hours, outside together, digging in the homemade sandbox, blowing bubbles and drawing with sidewalk chalk on the small patio near the sliding door.

And they loved zucchini bread as much as I did. On hot Saturday mornings, I’d take them to the Farmer’s Market in Beaverton and we’d buy a wagon full of zucchini. I salvaged small cheese graters at the Goodwill, just the right size for a child’s hands, and the kids would help me make the exact bread I’d grown up making in my mother’s kitchen.

Our lives have changed and summers are much different than when the kids were little. Now, they have seemingly endless days of games and a practice, playing little league baseball and softball, and my oldest spends most of her time with her friends and is scheduled to start Volleyball Camp very soon. My weekday job keeps me from leisurely days of sipping iced tea in the back yard and hanging out with my kids when they are out of school. But there are certain things that take us all back in time... some tastes, the comforting smells of baking, and recipes that have been handed down from grandmother to mother, help ease the pain of change. Certain recipes and foods remind me of quiet, simpler summers.

This is the recipe that belongs to my family. I’ve changed it up a bit this year, and rather than pouring the silky cake-like batter in loaf pans, I make it into muffins, which are much more convenient, popped into a Ziploc bag and taken to work or to a baseball game.

If you have a little extra time, the best way to perk them up to add a dollop of cool, tangy, sweet lemon cream cheese frosting on top.

Gi Gi's Zucchini Muffins

3 eggs, beaten until frothy
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (I use melted unsalted butter now)
1 tablespoon vanilla pure vanilla extract
2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini

Blend all of the above ingredients together in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Sift together in a large bowl:

3 cups flour (I use a blend of pastry flour and whole wheat, but use whatever you like)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Pour the wet mixture into the dry and gently stir together until silky smooth.  Bake in 2 loaf pans for 1 hour, or, if you opt to make muffins, just bake them for about 21 minutes, or until firm and golden around the edges.

Grandmother Gi Gi in her snappy green suit, 1967

July 13, 2010

Grilled Peaches with Gorgonzola and Cherry Sauce

A couple of years ago, my friend Carmen, who now resides in England, joined me for a weekend “Farmer’s Market” Cooking class at Oregon Culinary Institute. She’d seen a cover photo on Gourmet magazine, of grilled peaches with Gorgonzola cheese, and we decided to make it our signature dish that afternoon.

The chef’s taught us how to create a savory-sweet reduced red wine, butter, balsamic vinegar and cherry sauce which we drizzled over the grilled peaches that we’d found at the local market. The creamy melting Gorgonzola added a surprising tangy bite that really brought out the fresh peach flavor. To compliment the warm and juicy peaches, we whipped up a bit of very slightly sweetened heavy cream and topped it with a sprig of fresh mint. (Creme Fresh would be wonderful as well)

With peaches in season, I’m beginning to crave it again!

First, just buy the biggest, juiciest peaches you can find, about 6 of them.  Then, simply wash them with cold water, pat dry, slice in half and place flatly on the grill.  Keep an eye on them, it usually only takes about 4 or 5 minutes per peach to cook perfectly.  They should be a bit squishy to the touch.  Using tongs, remove from the grill onto a serving dish.  Sprinkle about a tablespoon of crumbled Gorgonzola onto the hot peach so that it begins to melt and drizzle with sauce.  (sauce should be started about 25 minutes before you grill the peaches) 

Ingredients for Sauce:

• 2 lbs Cherries; stems removed or 1lb dried cherries, soaked in 1 cup red wine
• 1 c Red Wine
• 1 tb Balsamic vinegar
• 3 tbs Unsalted butter; room temperature


In a medium saucepan, bring the cherries to a simmer in 1 cup red wine or water. Cook until cherries are soft. Using a metal strainer and rubber spatula, press the cooked cherries through the strainer to yield cherry puree. Discard skins and seeds. Return puree to saucepan and add balsamic vinegar. Bring sauce to a simmer slowly; whisk in small pieces of butter, being careful not to break the sauce.
Serve with a side of cool whipped cream, creme fresh or homemade vanilla ice cream.

July 12, 2010


An Italian Chef ,who looked like a movie star, taught me this super simple trick:  just dip a chunk of aged Parmesan, chipped right off the block, into warm honey and pop it in your mouth. Then take a sip of cold Pinot Gris to wash it down.

Here you have the most delicious and spare combination of flavors, textures and temperatures bursting in your mouth all at once.

Take some to a picnic or serve it as an opening at your next supper party. Because sometimes, the simplest ingredients are the most brilliant.

Summer Shadows

from my Flickr archives

July 9, 2010

Summer Steak Salad

I’ve mentioned before that I have a huge crush on Jamie Oliver.

My hubs is just like him. Only brunette instead of blonde. American rather than English, and… well, he doesn’t really cook very often. So maybe he’s not JUST like Jamie Oliver. But he is cute, smart, and funny and charming -- like Mr. Oliver.

And he really loves good, healthy food. He believes in it. He embraces Jamie’s philosophy about cooking healthy dinners at home as much as I do, and we both preach to my kids about having a creative attitude about food, and we try to involve them in cooking and meal preparation whenever possible. My subtly amazing husband is pretty good at inventing easy, simple dishes, by throwing together just a few key ingredients.

Last night, on the way home from work, he had a perfect idea for dinner; an absolutely divine and amazing summer steak salad. We stopped at the New Seasons in NE, and found deep red, juicy organic cherries; buttery fresh tasting avocado, crispy cool red lettuce leaves, and a bit of ready -to-go, marinated lean steak from the butcher’s case. The weather has been extremely hot, and for as lovely as our Portland bungalow is, it is not air conditioned. Just the thought of cooking inside on days like today is enough to make me break into a sweat.

To go along with our invented salad, we picked up a bottle of Italian red wine, a freshly baked mini baguette with whole roasted garlic, and a pint dark chocolate ice cream for dessert. (Beer Ice Cream is on the menu for this weekend, but I doubt the kids will go for it)

Kev grilled the steak when we got home, which only took about 5 minutes, while I threw the salad together. The cherries took a little bit of work, but they added the perfect sweet juiciness to compliment the spicy meat and fresh greens. We ate outside on the picnic table in the backyard in sunglasses, sipped our wine, and listened to the neighbor’s sprinkler. A simple, romantic and lovely summer evening dinner at home.

Now if I could just get my husband to say 'brilliant' and 'veg' with an English accent.