This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Friday, June 20, 2008

On Our Way Home!

Headed home this morning. But on our way Leslie talked me into an overnight in Portland. We had lunch reservations at Higgins in Portland anyway and by the time we arrived we were feeling weary so she got on the phone and got us reservations at the Clarion Hotel near the airport. But first, Higgins!

I now understand why this restaurant has received such distinction. Rated by Gourmet magazine as one of the top 10 restaurants in the country, it exceeded all my expectations. The flavors and combinations were masterfully created, took their cues from the seasonally available, locally-made charcuteries, fromages, fruits and vegetables. That is Greg Higgins way. It is his trademark. He is a master. The French bistro influence is apparent both in the decor and Greg's philosophy of cooking. Buying local and cooking seasonally is not something new. The French never lost track of it. It was the way of things have been for thousands of years for most people. But in a 20th century where we got further away from the source, turned fresh foods into canned or cryogenically sealed or prepackaged in layers and layers of plastic, we have succeded in nearly losing touch with what our food and where it comes from. We can now buy most foods we like on a whim. Want cherries in January? No problem. Chile is growing them. It doesn't matter that they must travel thousands of miles to get to us or what carbon footprint it leaves.

How wonderful it is that we are beginning to see more and more people understand the beauty and importance of eating and living in the seasons, in sustaining local farmers and merchants. The positive impact this lifestyle can have on every part of your local economy is nothing short of amazing.

Greg Higgins restaurant is a microcosm of this philosphy. He doesn't sacrifice quality. In fact the quality is all the better because the ingredients were harvested only minutes or hours before appearing on your plate. Higgins is a place I will return every chance I get when in Portland.

Tomorrow we head home. I will look forward to checking on my garden and to harvesting greens for a fresh salad made with a fresh herb vinaigrette. Ah, home sweet home.

Final Day the Best!

Our last day at the OSF and two wonderful shows. First up was August Wilson's Fences one of a series of ten plays Wilson wrote about the African Americn experience in the 20th century. We have thoroughly enjoyed 5 of his plays having seen them in various locals and mediums over the years. We saw one of them in Seattle, another in NYC, another on TV. Regardless, the productions have all been fabulously staged and acted and this production was no different. Starring Charles Robinson, famous for his roles in Night Court and Home Improvement, he was stunning in his portrayal of Troy Maxson, a man embittered by the disappointments of life--the lost opportunity to play professional baseball and making poor decisions that send him to prison for a time and of course those opportunities not available due to his race. He, nevertheless, loves his family and does the best he can to take care of them, flawed as he is. The cast was superb and the story so moving. We can't wait until the next time an August Wilson play crosses our path.

We had dinner at the New Sammy Cowboy Bistro in Talent, a restaurant we had read about in Gourmet Magazine. Located along the old highway 99 between Ashland and Medford, New Sammy's owners grow much of their own produce and herbs in an adjacent garden fun to wander through before your reservation time. A funky, eclectic decor, the bistro has a knowledgable, friendly staff lead by co-owner Vernon Rollins--his wife Charlene is the chef and runs the kitchen end.

Several mini-courses surprised us along our culinary journey including an egg cup filled with a wonderful concoction of flying fish roe marinated in wasabi and a cheese bruschetta. My main was freshly flown in sashimi-grade Ahi Tuna perfectly seared. Leslie had ravioli stuffed with 3 different cheeses. Our dessert was a homemade strawberry ice cream in a warm puff pastry floating in strawberry-rhubarb coulis. Sweet and sour, hot and cold, it was delicious!

Sammy's is a place you want to make reservations for well in advance, but it is the best restaurant anywhere in the area for a special night out. Our bill with apperif, 2 glasses of wine, salad, main, a shared dessert and coffee came to $150 with tip.

Our final evening at the OSF was a performance of Our Town by Thornton Wilder. It was wonderful to see this old chestnut of a play brought to life again. I performed as a part of the cast in a college production in 1972, but I never realized the power of Wilder's words. Many in this cast do a wonderful job. Most noteable the part of the stage manager and Emily's father. What bothers me most about this show was the way it was cast. In the Playbill notes from the director, she mentions the racial overtones within the play as an issue (a point I whole-heartedly disagree with. Yet she has gone ahead and cast the show with mixed race married couples and set them down in an early 1900's small New England town where just such a thing could never have happened. Key members of the cast are weak and unimpressive, especially the actresses playing Emily, a critical role and the actress playing George Gibb's mother. Yet despite the shortcomings of this production, we found ourselves moved by the sheer power of Wilder's message and by some of the staging decisions made by the director. In the final scene, the entire cast is seated in the cemetary. The stage manager walks over, takes his seat among the dead and you hear a collective sigh from them all as the stage goes to black. Oh, my! Brilliant! Despite its faults and there were many, the brilliance of Wilder's message shines through and we were moved to tears. A great end to our time here at the OSF. We look forward to returning next year.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day 3 At The OSF!

Our first show today was a VERY bizarre, but fantastic performance of the OSF's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. From the opening scene with a Tony Soprano-like characterization of Theseus and his Hippolyta sitting in white leather chairs with 8 foot tall backs, this schizophrenic romp through the Athenian forest includes a gay chorus line of "fairies" who prance and dance and fight over the costume parts they steal from the mortals invading their realm and cause the mischief that creates all the fun of this show. Totally bizarre, yet the show won me over.

The Clay Cart, an ancient Sankrit folktale, was interesting mostly due to the staging. A Brahmin, once wealthy and now poor, faces execution when he is framed for a murder. A beautiful courtesan is wooed by the King’s dumb and evil brother-in-law. The good people of the kingdom triumph in the end but not before much intrigue and moments of humor.

We had lunch at Si Casa Flores again. Leslie loves it and so do I. Clay Cart was about an hour too long and so we didn't arrive back at the room until about midnight.
Tomorrow is our last day at the festival when we'll see Our Town and August Wilson's Fences.

Day 2--Ah, Shakespeare!

Day 2 dawned bright and beautiful--a sunny day, high about 80 degrees. Beautuful!

We had breakfast here at the hotel and then headed off the Ashland. Our first play was Coriolanus, a not so well known tragedy by the master. This production was in a contemporary setting, but its lessons ring as true today as they did then. A hero returns from battle and is encouraged to become a member of the Roman Senate, but, despite all those around him encouraging him to do so, he is unwilling to lower his standards and expectations just so "the people" will accept him. The end is indeed a tragedy for him and for Rome. It definately reflects our political times. The star of the show was amazing. Others of the cast were not quite up to his equal but it was still a wonderful production.

We ran home between shows for a quick nap and ate at the Black Bear Diner in Medford.

Back to Ashland for a production of A Comedy of Errors. This show was set in the wild west days and had been turned into a musical. I know, sounds odd, but it really worked. The themes were there, the lesson to be taken away even though all the characters were dressed in the garb of a an old west town, complete with sheriff and hanging tree. Absolutely hilarious! Mistaken identity, confusion, slapstick, corny humor all reign supreme throughout this show which ended about 11 and we drove on back to a good night's sleep.
Tomorrow we see Midsummer Night's Dream and Clay Pots.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Day 1--Drive to Medford, Oregon

Well, we arrived! The 10 hour drive broken up only by gas stops and a lunch stop in Portland that was AMAZING!

We left Bellingham seven minutes late this morning (intended time of departure was 8 AM) but had few traffic issues other than the occasional slow downs due to summer road work. Stopped in Mount Vernon to tank up at the cheaper Costco pumps and then straight through to Portland. Leslie started in reading all about out trip and found a list of restaurants in Portland--the list is endless and there are so many outstanding places, how do you choose? I asked for one not far off the freeway so we wouldn't have to spend a lot of time getting off and on I-5. Down the list she went, describing this place and that. Then she got to Pambiche, a Cuban place just off I-84 only a couple of miles from I-5. It sounded so fantastic we had to try it.

We called and got directions and in 5 minutes pulled up in front of the brightly colored facade. There were lots of tables out front and cuban-style music added to the festive atmosphere.

I decided to order some ice tea and a combination plate with a Cuban-style red bean soup, rice and a pile of mouth-watering shredded pork which had been chared and cooked with garlic and onions. Though the photo to the right doesn't look it, the meal was drop dead delicious. Leslie decided only to order some fried plantains since we agreed to share. She excused herself to wander inside and look over the dessert case and then returned to our table. When the food arrived she was handed a Cuban Sandwich. Hey, what happened to our agreement. Too tempting! The sandwich was fantastic--shredded pork, ham, swiss cheese on a french roll which had been pressed on the grill. Pambiche gets two very enthusiastic thumbs up. We'll be back for sure.

Back on I-5 and south to our goal for the day. The drive was just too long but we arrived in time for dinner at our favorite Mexican place in Medford--Si Casa Flores. Funny name but great food. It is a bit on the expensive side for a Mexican restaurant but the food is worth it. Leslie had an enchilada plate and I had a combination (we were supposed to share) with a chili relleno, an enchilada and a taco. Muy Bueno!

We drove just around the corner and arrived at the Comfort Inn South. This is a very comfortable place on the south side of Medford, just a little closer to Ashland only 10 miles away. We always call ahead and ask for an upgrade to a suite. We are seldom turned down when we just say we are Choice Priviledge Members and the points we accumulate staying in this chain during our trip will help get us free stays in hotels in England next Christmas. Pretty great deal.
We are safe in our suite and ready for a quiet evening before all the excitement for the next three days at the festival. Oops, Leslie just went down to swim a few laps in the pool, then we are planning a few hands of Cribbage before bed.