January Pleasures

I love this town! Here’s a few of the recent reasons why:

Radius Studio
I’ve worked with clay, on and off, for years, pretty much all of it hand building. I’ve worked in university settings and various studio settings. The best studio I ever worked at was in Seattle, Pottery Northwest. This is an astonishing facility, with intensive, long, well-taught courses, equal facilities for hand and wheel work, and tons of kilns, some of which would take really large pieces. The worst was at a local community arts center in Oakland. Well intentioned, but really for the chatty-housewife set. Everyone wants to be able to show up with no experience, create a work of art of sufficient quality to give as a gift, all the while talking non-stop. Not my scene.

When we got here, I started my search for a place to clay, finding lots of studios, but most either required enrollment in an arts degree program (I do not need any more degrees, thank you very much) or located in the ‘burbs. Just as prospects seemed to be dimming, I came across a little studio practically right down the block. Radius Studio is run by a couple, Mark Brandau and Kim McKenna, who started it three years ago. This is a dream studio to me. They offer a selection of classes in ceramics, painting, bookbinding, and various printing and image-transfer methods, but also offer various methods to access the facilities as an independent artist. You can use a pay-as-you go scheme, paying for the hours you use; you can become a studio partner with access during open hours (which are somewhat limited due to Mark and Kim’s need for day jobs), or a full partnership with 24/7 use of the facilities. Their rates are really reasonable, if you are serious about your work. As is most often the case, though the expense is difficult, the facilities and experience are better for charging a reasonable fee. I hope it’s high enough, frankly, to stay open.

I had my first class last week—I’m dipping my toe into the world of throwing—and left feeling that amazing glow that only comes from a good creative experience. It was last Tuesday, that strange day of all types of rain, alternating with cold and warm temperatures, that ended in a glorious star-filled balmy evening. I know I rode home, but it felt more like floating!

The Bicycle Repair Collective
Another amazing resource open to anyone with the ability to pay a small fee. Patrick can better gush about this place, but even from the sidelines, I was really impressed. This place will do repairs for you, but most amazingly, offers a full repair set-up—clean and well-maintained—for $10 an hour, with access to pretty much any tool you’d need, along with copious wisdom at a very small charge. They have all the little bits needed for repairs, parts that are difficult or impossible to get at most local bike stores, oriented as they are to doing your repairs, not selling you stuff to do them yourself. You also get to hang out with other folks who are repairing their steeds, and swap tales of woe and triumph. The bottom bracket on my bike has been giving me grief for a while, though I didn’t know that’s what it was. Patrick took a look last weekend when it started making overt crunching noises, and diagnosed it, but wasn’t able to get it loose. He went to the repair collective and got helpful tips, tools, and the use of a repair stand that was bolted to the floor, unlike our good, but floppy, portable stand, and changed the bottom bracket. That is so cool! PDX is going to force me to change my views on collectives.

A few really good food-cooked-by-other-people experiences here:

Genie’s (1101 SE Division St. PDX 503/445-9777)
We had already fallen in love with Genie’s for breakfast. Their “benedicts”—they have a raft of them on weekends—are the best I have ever had, and I say that even though I make a mean hollandaise myself. My personal favorite is the one with locally cured tasso ham from Viande (we are pretty sure it’s Viande). Astonishing. Their roasted potatoes are deservedly lauded by local foodies (though the O’Briens are not worthwhile). But this last week we stopped by on the way home from picking up a giant dehumidifier (more on this below), and decided to try a lunch selection. Patrick got their Rueben which is made with house-cured corned beef, and house-made sauerkraut. Oh, if I could describe it I’d be a well-paid food critic. It is one of those combinations that stimulates every taste bud in your mouth—in a good way. I am drooling just thinking about. Hmmm, it’s lunchtime now . . .

Pastaworks (3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd PDX 503/232-1010)
Really, the best cheese around, most recent discovery is the Delice, a creamy brie that melts in a flood of flavor and fat all over your tongue. Also, a great place to get a cheap, delicious, fast lunch. We recently had a panini with grilled zucchini, corona1 bean paste, arugula, provolone, and asiago. Perfectly grilled. They had a lentil soup last time we were in, with bits of ham, the lentils still firm, rich and flavorful. The best lentil soup I’ve had. Soup and the sandwich for under $9.

Ken’s Place (1852 SE Hawthorne Blvd PDX 503/236-9520)
We are going to all 4 of Ken’s Sunday Dinners. My mom gave us a generous gift of cash for the holidays, and we decided that this was a perfect use for it, since my mom is such a foodie, and will enjoy her gift vicariously from our descriptions of the meals. These are a really cool deal, where once a month Ken gets to cook something off menu, served in a family-style, to a pre-subscribed crowd. We went to the first last night, which was a crab-feed. The scarcity of crabs hereabouts has been much in the news, and this meal had to be rescheduled because of the ongoing difficulties. Very fortunately for us, he got hold of some Dungeness from Puget Sound. The meal started with a clam chowder, with beautiful, fresh-from-the-shell clams, nice chunks of potato, and a perfect white broth. The crabs arrived on our newspaper-covered table accompanied by both an avocado and a lemon mayonaise, as well as melted clarified butter. There was also a crisp coleslaw liberally dotted with what I believe were celery seeds. We each got a who;e 2# crab, which was truly too much food for Patrick and me. We ate a half a crab each, and brought the rest home—it’s crab cakes chez nous tonight! Next up is a trip to SW France, and Ken hinted at a cassoulet with lamb.

Rainy days and dehumidifiers
Well, we really are loving the rain, even though it is flooding our basement with dreary regularity since that first inch-plus day a couple weeks ago. Fortunately, due to long-standing paranoia about basements, and possession of some great plastic shipping crates, we only lost some boring financial papers.

Soggy basement!

Our wonderful landlords (truly! another reason to love PDX) rented an industrial-strength dehumidifier to help dry things out, and we went to pick it up with the bikes-at-work trailer. Patrick recently got his univega up and running after a long time in dry dock, and was hankering for a good haul. We found our way down to the equipment rental place on Water Street and a guy came out with the huge dehumidifier, which amazingly seemed to have been designed to rest on the trailer. The guy sort of paused and then grunted and said, “you’re putting it on that?” Patrick confirmed that we were, and asked if it would be ok. The guy shrugged and said sure. We loaded it on, and tarped it down. While we were arranging, an older guy who was loading something into a truck gave us an eye and wandered over to ask if it was a dehumidifier. Upon learning that it was he said “Won’t work.” When we managed to get a few more words out of him, he said they are like refrigerators and won’t work if they’ve been on their sides. Patrick asked if they’d work after they were upright again for a while. He allowed that they would and departed. Then a nervous rental-desk guy came out to tell us that we couldn’t move the thing on its side, because it wouldn’t work. Now, as you can see, this thing is really tall—in the pic below it is on its side, and the trailer is about 4 feet long—frankly, I don’t see how most people without cargo vans or pickups would move this behemoth upright.

Univega and dehumidifier

I really had to wonder if we were shoving it on its side into the back of an SUV if we’d have elicited such dire warnings. We mentioned to the nervous young fellow that we had it rented for a week, so if it had to stand up for a few hours before it would run, that was just fine. This seemed to calm his anxiety, and he left us to our rainy load-up. Then we pulled out with our load, and headed off to Genie’s for lunch. It is so amazing to live in a town where pretty much everything we need is in biking distance.

Proud hauler


 1We were very interested to see these Corona beans because it may have solved a mystery we’ve been puzzling over for a while. A couple years back we got some “Cannelini” beans from Seeds of Change (which, we’ve found out, is owned by M&M Mars. No wonder they have such a flashy catalog. Buy from someone else!) which we had reallly good success with in our first season growing them. They grew pretty much like a Scarlet Runner, but resulted in very large white beans, the same size as a fresh Scarlet. But most cannelinis you find in stores, dried, are small, more like a red bean in size. Our “canellinis” had a superior flavor and texture, really buttery and smooth. However, after that year, we couldn’t find the seeds again, and we had eaten most of our crop. We had a few left over which we planted last summer, but we had vicious dusty mildew, and didn’t want to save any of the beans from that crop. Fortunately, we’d sent some to my mother, who sent us some back, and we’ll plant them this year. I am now thinking that these may actually be Corona beans, not Canellinis. The ones we saw at PastaWorks were pretty much the same size as the ones we grew, and also had a really wonderful flavor and texturre. Now to search the seed catalogs for Coronas . . .

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One Response to January Pleasures

  1. Pingback: Letter from Hen Waller

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