Thursday, July 22, 2010

True Story: The Break-in

This is a true story. It's written in narrative because I was trying to explain the difference between narrative and laundry list story telling to one of my former students.

I woke up this morning from disturbing dreams of bears lumbering through the forest outside my window. I felt badly rested, troubled, and then I remembered.

Last night, at midnight, I woke from a deep sleep to the sound of a door banging loudly. I felt my heart race. I reached out for my husband in the dark to see if he was still next to me.
"What was that?" I said, feeling like I should maybe be whispering.

"I don't know." he replied, getting out of bed and turing on the light.

I could imagine the doors, deadbolts unlocked, in our tiny new house. Because we live in the woods, we aren't very vigilant about locking up at night. I started to become frightened.

"Are you going to get up and see?" I asked, feeling a little guilty for making the man of the house do the scary stuff.

He shot me a look and went to get a flashlight. Meanwhile, I went to the living room and checked to see if everything was still there. It seemed to be. Trembling slightly, I looked in the shower, in the other room, in the kitchen, and turned on the back porch light. All I could see was our little patio table and the trees just beyond.

"Hon, get the phone." My husband said this tentatively, like he wasn't quite sure why. He had gone back to the basement entrance, just past our front door. Going around in my head was the image of our bikes in the basement, the date of our rental insurance expiration (last week), and the financial trouble we were potentially going to be in if our bikes were gone.

"Do you want me to call 911?" I called out.


"I don't know. The door to the basement is wide open."

I called 911.

The dispatcher was calm, told me to stay inside and not put myself in any danger. I said that our basement had been broken into, either by a burglar or a bear, and we weren't sure if he was still inside. I could see Andy's tiny flashlight lighting up the trees, first here, than there, as he looked around.

"Andy, come inside. The dispatcher says that we should wait inside for the sheriff."

"Our bikes are just open, hon; I'm going down there."

Just as he said that, the sheriff pulled up. At night, they drive huge SUVs with flood lights, and carry powerful flashlights. The light pierced the darkness and the reassuring greeting of the law officer was a relief. He examined the door, showing us scratch marks, and said that bears will break in for an old energy bar in a backpack.

"I just came from the West Shore, where a bear had smelled a lollipop and broke in to a little girl's room. He got the sucker. Not the girl. If you have any food at all in there, that's what he wanted. These bears are looking for warm places to sleep, not in the trees." With that, he took his powerful flood light into the woods behind the house.

"I can hear him rustling around there. I'm heading up." After a few minutes, he called out "Looks like he broke into your neighbor's shed. Ripped off the door of that too."

Eventually, he came back to our house, advised us to nail the ripped off door shut, and said he heard the bear go up the hill behind us, and was going to go check it out. His huge vehicle and bright lights pulled away, leaving me scared and shaken.

Andy started pulling nails from the basement walls and I grabbed a cable lock to put around the bikes. We found some plywood under the patio and started nailing it up. This was maybe the scariest part, because without the comforting lights of the sheriff, it was very dark. Our small flashlight completely failed to penetrate the dark trees surrounding our house, and although I could see the sheriff one street over, slowly heading up the hill, I felt vulnerable and scared. The scratch marks on the door seemed to grow in my head as I held up the plywood, and every hit of the hammer rang out piercingly loud in the night silence.
When we came back inside, we were both pale and wide eyed. Somehow, after a cup of mint tea, I finally fell asleep to troubling dreams.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lemon Curd, Arugula, Black Forest Ham, with Fried Egg on Grilled Brioche

Imagine it- homemade lemon curd, thin sliced Blake forest ham, arugula...on grilled brioche. With some kind of cheese, salty and unassuming. Oh yeah, and an egg. A Big Egg, in fact.

Best eaten in the hot sun in the early mornings on moving days. Twice.

See, when we moved, we had no food, and my ever-so-helpful mother packed the dishes I deliberately planned on leaving out. So eating out was the way it was, and the Mississippi food carts were a revelation in amazing food.

The carts were just a few blocks away, and had I known about them before, I probably would've put half my non-existent earnings towards their wares. As it was, I got to barely scrape the surface. There was hippie cart that served some sort of grilled spicy tempeh over an insane pile of turmeric-African curry glazed cashews on top of amazing bread...that was one memorable meal. And then there was the Big Egg sandwiches, eaten at 8am, with the terrifying prospect of packing, cleaning, two days on the road, unpacking, and immediate work. Other carts called out, but they were inconveniently closed for the July holiday.

I became incredibly conscious of food during those last few days in Portland. I couldn't bring myself to go to the garden one last time, because I was in a state such that everything was making me cry. Just as we left town, we stopped at a New Seasons to get road food, and I lost it completely. There I was, in the produce section, trying to hold in sobs that had no desire to be held in.

I guess that's when it hit me the most: for all the many, many times I've left Portland, I've

always planned on coming home. I've always had a storage space, a mail box, a job lined up. This time it's different. I'm married. I packed the house plants. We rented two trailers (one for the bikes) and sold or gave away all the stuff we didn't want anymore. We said goodbye.

The highlight of our last day was probably when our amazing neighbor offered us her outdoor shower after we finished with the final cleaning and painting of our house. She had just fixed it up. She is an artist of enviable talent, and amongst other amazing edifices in her back yard she possesses a sauna shaped like the head of a Northwest Native American totem pole, of the crow or eagle variety. The outdoor shower is just in front of the beak, in total privacy. It rates as one of the best showers of my life.

Yeah, I'll miss Portland, and Cha Cha Cha, and Bar, and the garden, and all the amazing people and food, but I'm really, really going to miss having a neighbor like Vanessa.




Friday, July 2, 2010

Goodbye Portland, Love Elicia


Photo courtesy of the photography folks at Powells

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It's fun to cook!

This recipe was sent by my mom about a month ago, and I finally got around to making it. Since I've been cooking more in the last two weeks than in the previous fifty, this is very timely. It should be noted that my kitchen is about 1/2 packed, leaving me with two spatulas, no serving spoons, and a good knife.



Ground Chicken Stir-Fried with Basil


Kai Pad Bai Kaprow


2 lightly packed qts (1/4 lb) basil or 1/2 bunch italian parsely + handful of mint

5 garlic cloves

7 medium shallots or 1 med onion or 1 shallot + 4 spring onions, green included, finely sliced

1 or 2 hot green chiles (jalapenos)

2 hot red chiles (optional- you could also used sambal olek)

1 inch ginger, ground

1 lb ground chicken

5 tsp fish sauce or salt

1/12 tsp brown sugar

splash of tamari (optional)


Chop basil or herbs without stems. Peel and chop garlic, peel and finely slice shallots. Cut chiles into fine rounds (leave out seeds if very hot). Peel and grate ginger.


Fry garlic and shallots in 4 Tbsp oil for about 2 minutes on med heat. Add chiles and ginger and stir a couple of times.


Turn heat higher and add basil/herbs. Stir once and add chicken. Stir and fry for about 3 minutes breaking up chicken lumps. Chicken should turn white all the way thru. Add fish sauce and sugar, mix in and serve.


The fish sauce is a key component- don't skimp on it, even if everything in your nostrils is saying "ick" and "gross". Fish sauce is vital.