December 23, 2008

Christmas Miracles are Real!

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Guess what. My whole family made it home for Christmas. Long drives in the snow and one abandoned vehicle, but they all made it! Now if I can just make it over to my folks house tomorrow, we'll all be together! I'm not sure what the food plan is for the holidays, but as you can see in the picture below, it's long been traditional that we cook, bake and get our hands dirty. I'm the one in the back in the blue shirt. My sister Chelsea is the little one in front and my sister Rebekah is chowing down on a gingerbread man next to me. Don't you love our 70s house?

P.S. No, I did not climb into the dryer for this Christmas miracle!
Now, if I meet a nice guy and fall in love by Christmas, you might have reason to suspect that some major household appliance was a conduit for the Christmas Spirit.

December 22, 2008

Beautiful Life

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After being cooped up in the house for days and days, I'm beginning to feel a little depressed. Christmas is shaping up to be minus children and far-away siblings and my awesome gift that I had made for my Grandmother is not going to get here on time.

Sigh. But I keep hearing this song on TLC while watching endless episodes of What Not to Wear. And it makes me happy to hear it. I just found the video on YouTube and it's happy, too. It's by Fisher. Beautiful Life. Hope it brightens your day!

December 21, 2008

I want to wash my hands, my face, my hair with snow

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This weather is crazy! It has been one week since my post about being snowed in, and it has been one hell of a week. I actually made it to work every day, though going in late and coming home early most days to avoid dangerous roads. By the time Friday came along, I was exhausted from treading cautiously across parking lots and driving slowly down snowy/icy roads, and the thought of spending one more night at home seemed unbearable. Since the roads were mostly clear on Friday, with an impending snow storm coming Saturday, it seemed necessary to find some new scenery and new people to look at.

I knew that I wanted to see a movie, so I parked in the SmartPark at 10th and Yamhill by the Fox Tower and started looking for a place to eat. All I knew was that I wanted to try something new. As I walked down Taylor, I was overwhelmed by the scent of garlic. I half slid/half walked down the street until I saw Porto Terra Tuscan Grill. Italian. Perfect!

I warmed up in the lobby and was seated almost immediately. I sat at a little table, facing a wine cabinet. It wasn't crowded at all - not surprising since it was snowing outside. Lucky me, they had a special Symphony Inspired Dining menu from 5-6:30. An appetizer, entree and dessert for $25. Excellent! I chose the Pappa al Pomodoro Soup to start off. I asked the waitress if she could make me an interesting non-alcoholic drink and she said, "Sure, how about a Virgin Mary?" Well that sounded seasonally appropriate and I had never had one, so I said I would try it.

The Virgin Mary arrived with a toothpick full of olives and a wedge of lime on the salted rim. Mmm. Spice is what I needed to keep me warm in the snow, so I sipped it slowly while I waited for my soup. They brought me some soft, chewy, warm bread with olive oil, salt and olive tapenade. Tangy, salty and delicious.

The soup was almost as thick as a marinara sauce, with crispy grilled croutons and fresh basil on top. It warmed me through from my eyelashes to my toenails. It was rich and I was grateful that it was a small bowl. Between the soup and the Virgin Mary, I was glad I had not ordered something with tomatoes for dinner.

So my chicken arrived next. Crispy chicken, filled with asparagus, kale and boursin cheese with a creamy toasted fennel sauce over caramelized onion whipped potatoes. The chicken was surprisingly crispy and incredibly juicy on the inside. The kale, aparagus and cheese was all melted together in a cheesy, green mixture and added a nice fresh bite to the dish. And the sauce, though slightly lacking in salt, was so creamy and fennel-y. The potatoes, well, they were average, I'm afraid. The red onions were not quite cooked enough for my taste (still crunchy) and the potatoes needed a little loosening with cream, I think. But all in all, it was a good dinner, and quite filling!

I was so so so full. But being the Syphony Inspired Dinner menu, I already had dessert coming. Chocolate bread pudding with caramelized bananas and vanilla gelato. I loved the bananas, crispy with sugar and sitting on the sidelines of the bread pudding, lathered in caramel sauce. The vanilla gelato was a good pallette cleanser to finish the meal.

So so so so full now, I headed out the door to the movies. I saw Slumdog Millionaire, which was equally as soulfully rich and filling as the meal I had just had. It's been a long time since I've seen a movie with so much color, vibrant music, a multi-layered storyline that ripped at my heart. It was so beautiful - and unexpectedly so. I am still thinking about it. As soon as the weather clears up, I will be up for seeing it again. It fed my soul, so deeply. And it's good to feel soulfully full.

Porto Terra Tuscan Grill on Urbanspoon

December 18, 2008

Feliz Navidad

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Since my sister Rebekah, the former annual host of Christmas Eve, moved away this past year, I volunteered to host Christmas Eve at my house. We are having a Mexican Christmas celebration. I'm so excited. I am going to make Posole and corn pudding. My mom is making a couple of types of Mexican bread and my sister Rebekah (who is driving down from Bainbridge Island) is going to make some kind of appetizer. My brother Michael is making a variation on rice and beans. Chelsea is bringing churros and chocolate.

My little nephews are making a pinata, though one of them recently said "Aunt Lizzy, can't we just buy one?" I think it will be so much fun, even if we buy one.

One of our family traditions is reading a new children's book on Christmas Eve and I bought two this year, both by Tomie dePaola: The Legend of the Poinsettia and The Night of Las Posadas. I even downloaded a new version of Feliz Navidad yesterday from my sister Chelsea's blog.

I will post pictures of our festivities. I can't wait. Three days of work before a five day weekend, with quite possibly the best Christmas present I have ever given. I'll report on the amount of joyful tears spilled on Christmas morning. More tears = awesome present.

What are your holiday plans? Are you starting any new traditions this year?

December 15, 2008

Snowed In: The Elizabeth Fuss Story

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It was unusual to wake up to a Sunday morning with three missed calls by 8am. Elizabeth, who seemed to have lost the Christmas spirit, grumbled at the attempts by dedicated church people leaving well-meaning messages that church had been canceled. No one bothered to say why.

As she rolled out of bed, her feet touching the 48 degree hardwood floors, she cursed the old house that sheltered her. Snow! Snow! Snow! Nooooo! The steep hill in front of her house was covered in a thick, freezerburned layer of snow. She wasn't going anywhere today. Someone might as well have padlocked the front door.

Fleece slippers. Electric heater on. Fleece blanket. Soft couch. Television for women. The freedom of singledom. No children to care for. No husband to make breakfast for. No commitments. She rejoiced just a little.

"This is a day for some serious trash tv," she said to herself. But what she hadn't counted on. What she hadn't planned on, was Fa-la-la-la-Lifetime. This was no regular Lifetime trash. It was Christmas spirit holiday trash tv. Tear-inducing holiday trash. Trash that made Elizabeth believe, for just a split second, that if Nancy McKeon can crash her car and wake up with a perfect husband and kids, then she could, too. After all, with the Christmas spirit, anything is possible.

Also, if a Christian guy can marry a Jewish girl and their families can celebrate Chrismukkah together, anything is possible. Also. If an editorial assistant at a big magazine can be named head food critic and promptly fall in love with a new hot chef, and also get the Christmas spirit, anything is possible. Also. If a handsome workaholic can start a choir at a homeless shelter, fall in love with a transit worker and get the Christmas spirit, anything is possible.

Little by little, Elizabeth realized that anything COULD happen. But how? How could all of these good things happen for real? Then, like a sign from heaven, another movie started. The woman was frustrated with her life. She couldn't escape. Then, suddenly a voice spoke to her. Spoke to her from the dryer. The clothes dryer in the basement. "Pardon me?" she said, as she leaned in, then climbed in, head-first into a new life. On the other side of the dryer was a handsome, rich husband and all the money and clothes she ever wanted. It was possible. A new life. A new life in which she was rich AND had the Christmas spirit.

Then, at that moment, Elizabeth knew what she needed to do to get the Christmas spirit. She needed to climb in the dryer and find all her dreams come true on the other side. Really.

No, really. She realized that if she watched one more damn Lifetime Christmas movie, her reality would be warped forever. Damn cable.

Merry Christmas.

December 14, 2008

A Cinematic Christmas

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I love movies. More specifically, I love Christmas movies. As is documented on my DVR at the moment. Here are a few of my favorite scenes:

Bridget Jones's Diary

Meet Me in St. Louis (Did I tell you how I met Margaret O'Brien a couple of years ago? That was one of the best Christmas presents ever!

Love Actually

The original Miracle on 34th Street

An Affair to Remember

The best Christmas movie ever: It's a Wonderful Life

December 13, 2008


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Last month I finished facilitating a 10-week workshop for Write Around Portland at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. This week is the real payoff. On Wednesday night, at the First United Methodist Church in Goose Hollow, the writers from all of the Fall workshops will gather to read their writing published in the Fall Anthology Now/Past/Future. And on Thursday, I'll go to Coffee Creek to hear all of my workshop participants read. It's what makes all the weeks of work worth it.

How amazing it is that these participants, many of whom have never written before, get up in front of more than 200 people and read their work. That's a really hard thing to do. And it's such a satisfying, exhilarating feeling to be a part of it, even just by being part of the applause.

I invite each of you to come and be a part of it. It's free, and it's a great way to celebrate community this holiday season.

Wednesday, December 17th, 6:30 - 8:30pm

First United Methodist Church, Collins Hall

1838 SW Jefferson at the Goose Hollow Max stop

December 10, 2008

The Smallest Restaurant Group Ever Goes To An Oyster Bar and Eats Burgers

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The menu at Alberta St. Oyster Bar and Grill looks amazing. Besides oysters, they have things like smoked duck, braised pork cheeks, grilled halibut, wild mushroom risotto - I mean does that not sound scrumptious?

But - alas - the restaurant group, or lack thereof, was afraid of the word oyster, I think and either failed to repond or declined to attend. So. It was me, my friend Ansley and my sister Chelsea. We were not afraid. Mostly, we were not afraid of happy hour.

When we got there, we decided not only were we not afraid of happy hour, we were not afraid of the waiter who insisted on carding us at the bar, only to declare that he was shocked at our ages - he never would have guessed that we were almost the same age as he was! He thought we were much younger.

The truffled fries were a must and so was the burger - I was famished and not in the mood for any culinary adventure that did not involve breading and frying, so I ordered the fried oysters. The bartender made me a tangy pomegranate lime drink to sip on while we waited for our food.

Chelsea ordered a burger too. Ansley ordered the grilled rare tuna with quinoa, greens, and saffron lobster cream. Sounded delicious, but not as much as the grilled burger with blue cheese and caramelized onions on a toasted ciabatta roll.

The fries were more truffle-y than any other truffle fries I have had - and I liked it. Very different, but still fried. The oysters. The oysters were good. For the first ever oysters that I have had - I had nothing to compare them to. They were still slimy. But breaded and fried and slimy, with a spicy sauce to dip them in. I could totally handle it. But I kept going back to the fries.

The burger was close to what I had at Yakuza a while back, but not as big, which was totally fine with me. The place filled up fast and was abuzz with oyster eaters. Our friend Laura showed up and ordered... what else. A burger.

We sat, very cozy at the bar, watching one of the waiters erase and re-write the chalkboard with the oyster selections on it.
I started talking about my day, which happened to include a lot of inappropriate conversations and well, I think more people heard me than I intended. Oops. The waitstaff was very gracious though and didn't balk if they overheard us, or when I broke my own cardinal rule of restaurant-group dining and handed them my card, along with everyone else's cards.

We continued our inappropriate converstions, left the Oyster Bar and went to buy a Christmas tree. We put the tree on the front porch and watched Lars and the Real Girl. It made me say to myself: "Good for you for not being as freaky as that guy." So pat me on the back the next time you see me, k? But not too much. I might try to run away.

Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

December 9, 2008

Portland on a Shirt

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My sis told me about these shirts. I dig them. So I'm dishing on them.

Brian has all kinds of fun items with Portland neighborhoods on them. He also has a fun blog here.

December 8, 2008

Bacon + Apples = You are Jealous

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I went to Lincoln on Friday night and had their Bacon Apple Pie on the first night they were serving it. It was quite nice. A bit steeply priced ($15!), but it is sized for two, so okay.

It's kind of like a crisp, with bacon on top, and served with the most homemade tasting vanilla ice cream, fresh and palette cleansing.

You know you are jealous. But there's really no need to succumb to those feelings. You just need to go have your own individual experience with Bacon Apple Pie - they are serving it through the end of the year. And then, you can make other people jealous instead of being jealous yourself. Isn't that dandy?

Lincoln Restaurant on Urbanspoon

December 7, 2008

The Adventures of Cart Girl

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Welcome to the first installment of The Adventures of Cart Girl! My sister Chelsea will be guest blogging every so often and giving us a heads up on the good carts to check out in Portland.

I am trying to take advantage of the fall sunshine phenomenon in Portland. Today, running errands downtown and determined to lunch in the crisp autumn air, I happened upon a row of carts. I'd wanted to try them for a while but haven't. Perfect opportunity. Every other cart had a long line, so I chose Ziba's Pitas.

Usually no people near food is a red flag for me but I thought I'd take the chance because on the sign it said "Bosnian Food." I'd never had Bosnian food but I love the Baltics. At least I think I do. I read Zlata's Diary in high school and have had a soft spot for Bosnians ever since.

After staring at the menu a while, I chose the vegetarian. I'm easily overwhelmed with menus and I fancy myself a flexitarian so often I just pick the veggie item to make things simpler. Ziba ( I presume) asked me in her charming accent if I wanted the zucchini or the spinach. "Spinach," I said. Ala carte or on the plate? "A la carte," my wallet said. $4.75. She was precise and her kitchen looked clean. As she handed me my change I glanced over to the side of the window and saw an array of newspaper articles (including Willamette Week, my most trusted food review source aside from Lizzy) proclaiming their approval of this cart. Phew!

As I waited for my Pita, I turned towards the little tables to my right, hoping I'd find an empty one so I could bask in the December Sunshine. There was a cute couple eating lunch. I'd noticed the boy earlier when I approached the cart. I liked his beard and his Portland-y style. His girlfriend was not happy. She stood up, grabbed her bag left her food and walked across the street abandoning her lunchtime date. The boy stood there, his mouth gaping, and arms open. He seemed a little confused, actually. Finally he grabbed all the stuff and left. I felt sad for him. But he left just in time for me to take his table.

Though slightly salty, the pita was light and flaky and yummy. She serves them sliced into four sections I ate three and was full. I am not sure what all the ingredients were but they were simple. Not too much was added in addition to the spinach. A hearty, cheapity-cheap lunch. I'll be back soon.

Photo and text by Chelsea Fuss.

Ziba's Pitas on Urbanspoon

December 1, 2008

No one likes a frowny face, change it to a smile.

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I was the one frown in a sea of smiles in the family camping trip photos. Never liked being outside and climbing up big hills through the trees. Lately I've been wanting to see if I still hate hiking. I never know how my brain and soul are going to change over the years. Like a couple of years ago, how I decided that I was going to like fish, when I had hated it since I was little. Or how I decided I could join Toastmasters when I had a terrible fear of speaking in public.

My brother was up for Thanksgiving and when he asked if I wanted to go on a hike, I said okay, sure, I'll see if I like hiking now. As long as it's short and flat. Short and flat. Words that have little meaning to a guy who hiked the Appalachian Trail and lives in a house with no plumbing.

Anyhow. Yada yada yada, we ended up in the Gorge. On a steep steep hill that went on forever and ever and ever, with slippery mud both up and down. My hips hurt. My legs hurt. My feet were wet. Yes. I am a baby. And I do not like hiking. Does that mean that I am not a real Oregonian? I do wear sandals year round though. That has to count for something.

So after the hike, covered in mud and crazy hungry, we were driving around SE Portland trying to find a Russian grocery store for my brother. Both my sister and I were growling about food when we drove by Best Baguette. Chelsea thought she had heard good things about it, so we decided to try it. Also, it had a drive through, which was a plus, considering we were not fit for public viewing.

Between the three of us, we ordered the pork roll, the grilled beef sandwich and the shredded pork sandwich, along with a diet coke. We got done ordering and on the little drive-thru screen it said 3 grilled chicken sandwiches and a Vietnamese Iced Tea. The total was $5.95 on the screen, but she said the total was $10.80. So we weren't quite sure what we were going to get when we got up to the window.

We did in fact get our sandwiches as ordered. And I got diet coke, not a Vietnamese Iced Tea. Thank heavens. I was not in the mood to try anything other than delicious and thirst quenching. (The total was 10.80) Chelsea took one bite and hollered. My mouth is on fire! Of course, Michael and I started laughing. We handed her water, and continued to laugh while she went through her sandwich to find the offensive item. Oh. There it was. A big hunk of jalepeno pepper. Not a little round slice. A long slice, seeds and all, and quite thick, too. I found one in mine too, but I ate it because I like peppers.

The sandwich tasted crisp and fresh, the vegetables crunching and the bread smooshing under the pressure of my bite. Mine had a bit too much mayo on it, but over all was very good. And it was only 3.50. Way better than Subway. So much flavor packed into a fresh baguette. Mmmm. It was the perfect way to end the muddy hike.

My frown disappeared after eating. (Why does that always happen?) I went home and took a nice hot shower. Maybe in another few years I'll try hiking again. I think sometime before I die I might like it.

Best Baguette on Urbanspoon