8.25.2014

zucchini bread


Though I no longer have a garden, others do. And, thankfully, gardeners tend to give extra produce away, summer squash being prolific to the point where people might leave zucchini unasked on your doorstep. But I happen to love zucchini, as long as it's not raw. So I made zucchini bread this weekend from a family recipe friends and acquaintances often ask for whenever I gift a baby loaf of this quick bread.

This particular zucchini might first have been involved in a little risqué activity. You just never know with petite vegetable marrows. But that's a secret between the zucchini and me—and the zucchini can't talk.


shredded zucchini in bowl

Zucchini Bread

—adapted from a family recipe originally from Sue Bybee

Mix two cups unrefined sugar (e.g., turbinado), three-quarters of a cup of olive or other vegetable oil, and three well beaten eggs in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: two cups whole wheat pastry flour, one teaspoon salt, two teaspoons baking soda, one-half teaspoon baking powder, and a tablespoon of cinnamon; then add them to the wet ingredients. Mix in two cups grated zucchini, a tablespoon of vanilla, and one-half cup chopped nuts and/or chocolate chips (as desired). Fill two greased loaf pans two-thirds full.* Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until a poked-in knife or toothpick comes clean.


zucchini bread in small vintage Pyrex casserole

*Note: Smaller pans or casseroles can also be used with the baking time lessened, and lining baking dishes with parchment paper eases cleanup. If the pans are instead greased, try dusting them with sugar instead of flour for a more refined appearance.

8.17.2014

after a year, curtains

thrifted cotton twill curtains

The other morning I leaned out the window and startled a construction worker next door on the air-shaft roof (or whatever it's called), asking if he could tell me when the building would be coming down, so I could close my windows for the day. I had been imagining some giant implosion, a slow-motion collapse amid large clouds of gray dust as seen in so many movies, my coming home after a long day to a view of a pile of brick rubble, my shell-shocked cat hiding in the closet. But the man in the orange hard hat who'd been climbing into and out of windows, taking flash photos aimed at my building, gently explained that they'd be starting demolition on the far southwest corner and working their way over, and that by the time they got to the section across from me, they'd have put up a large screen to protect us from debris and would also post informational flyers. He said the removal process would take about a month and a half. I thanked him and wished him a good day. It's not his fault they're tearing the old building down.


geranium shadows

So of course they're not going to explode the Jefferson West with dynamite. That happens only for stand-alone sites, as my movie memory now recalls. A high-density city-street-corner explosion would be too dangerous. Silly me. But at least that's peace of mind, knowing for sure the building will be coming down section-by-section, that there will be a screen and other protections in place, all that. I can only guess what my views will be. At least I like the color orange. But I still don't know whether to stay or move.


main room with thrifted curtains

For now, at least I've got curtains up. Since ubiquitous white aluminum blinds (like tan wall-to-wall carpet) are the scourge of American rental units—forever dusty, hard to clean, and simply ugly—I'd left them hoisted up at the top of the windows for the last year, except for the bedroom which needed glare protection at night. But now, thanks to my handy friend Jeff, who came over a couple of evenings last week with his drill and a borrowed stud finder (to avoid the old lath and plaster), the blinds have all been taken down and stored out of my apartment, down by the laundry room, and curtain rods have gone up in their place.


bedroom curtain panel: IKEA linen, thrifted
 
On a budget, I chose simple thin black IKEA rods, minus finials, to contrast with the white walls, and hung them almost to the ceiling to visually expand the height of the window, a useful decorator trick. The exception was the kitchen, whose exterior wall felt a bit spongy, so for that window I found a never-used thin, barely visible white tension rod in its original packaging at Goodwill for three dollars, meaning the rods and hardware for three windows only cost $22.92 in total. (I skipped the bathroom since the wrap-around shower curtains on the clawfoot tub basically function as window curtains.) The curtain rods would have been thrifted, too, only it's difficult to find thin black rods in the right lengths with hardware at the thrift store, and I'd looked for years. So in that sense, IKEA has its uses.


thrifted Pottery Barn linen curtain panel, knotted

The curtain panels themselves, both linen and cotton, I already had, found here and there at thrift stores and stored away after my last move or else picked up at garage sales for cheap last summer. All my curtains are secondhand. The bedroom panel is a 100% linen floor-length panel from IKEA found a few years ago at Goodwill, never used. The kitchen panel, knotted at the bottom, is a mid-length 100% linen panel with floppy ties from Pottery Barn, also found several years ago at Goodwill; it was used in my previous apartment and shows a couple of tiny moth holes, but I still love it. The main room panels are a thick white cotton twill, selected for privacy; I'd rather have floor-length curtains like these from Rough Linen, but until I thrift some longer linen ones, the cotton ones will do. By the time autumn comes and the Jefferson West is all torn down, people will be able to see in at night from the street, which motivated putting up all these curtains after a year of living without any.

I do still have a set of short white sheer linen-cotton Pottery Barn panels and a set of Pottery Barn tab-top cotton panels stored away that didn't happen to work in this apartment. Basically, it's good to have ready options for different living situations, based on privacy needs and window sizes. That way, after a move, you won't have to scramble to buy curtains and end up paying full retail price or settle for something you don't really like. Instead, it makes sense to plan and buy ahead at secondhand prices, seeking quality natural materials and avoiding flashy trends.


thrifted Pottery Barn linen panel, kitchen window

These days, most curtains at retail stores, and therefore at thrift stores, are either cotton or polyester—linen being rare as people don't use it anymore, disliking how easily it wrinkles—but most are in good condition without stains, holes, or sun damage. Sometimes I'll come across vintage or even custom drapes at Goodwill, but the majority will be cheap panels from Target. Goodwill Superstores are the best places to find a variety of secondhand curtains, but to find something you like can take months or even years of regular searching, which the average person doesn't care to spend time doing. The choice is yours. I like the thrill of the hunt—and the luxurious texture of linen.


IKEA linen curtain panel, thrifted


main room dining table vase

Jeff says I'm probably the only tenant in this four-story apartment building who even has curtains, it being an old building stocked mostly with PSU students. But it's amazing how much more cozy and put together the apartment feels now, just from this simple, inexpensive change: adding a few fabric panels and metal rods and subtracting the hated blinds with their tangled cords. It feels like someone actually lives here.

8.10.2014

saving up for linen sheets

unmade bed with white cotton sheets

My whole life, I've been horrible at making decisions. Decisions are stressful and take me forever. If I did X, then probably Y, but possibly Z, and what about A, B, C, and F? Boyfriends would roll their eyes and tap their feet or check their phones or whatever it is people do while waiting for others: Can't you just make up your mind?

It's not usually that I don't know what I want because I pretty much always know what I want when it comes to material things; it's that what I want is usually the most expensive or difficult or risky thing—champagne tastes on a beer budget and all that. (And I'm not good with risk, either, though I'm working on it because trying and failing is far better for the human spirit than never trying. Just ask Emily Dickenson.) So the decisions are typically among lesser compromises, and who really ever likes compromising? My indecisions are in large part because, being relatively poor, I must live with the consequences longer than people with more money who can just re-swipe the debit card after a regretted decision, and also that because I'm picky (read: perfectionistic), I want to make "the right choice," as if there were only one. The hardest decision, though, is often stepping back and choosing patience.

Here's an example. A houseguest (meaning my sister) will be staying at my small apartment for one or two nights at the end of this month for an extended-family event. Even more stubborn than me, she is refusing to "take [my] bed" and says she'll either sleep on the sofa or floor. I said by text, "No, take my bed." She replied, "Then I'll just sleep in my car." (And in case you're wondering why we don't just share my queen-sized bed, she emphatically won't and hasn't for years for reasons unknown.) This silly situation is causing me more stress than it should. I'd rather she just slept in my bed, on freshly washed sheets, while I pulled out my sleeping bag. She has back problems from a long-ago car accident, and I don't, so why shouldn't she take the damn bed? It's not like I have a spare guest room to offer. Good hosts give up their beds, right? I have a thick vintage military sleeping bag, and I can sleep on the floor fine, no problem. But no. She insists on the sofa or floor.

But then I remembered that I donated my spare set of sheets a while back, after they'd gotten dingy. (Why own dingy sheets?) I do own a spare silk comforter with matching pillow shams (thrifted inexpensively) but no spare sheets. Okay, so my first thought was to do what I've always done when I needed new sheets: head to T.J. Maxx or Marshall's for a discounted department-store sheet set. (Sheets, socks, and underwear are things I won't buy secondhand, for bodily-fluid reasons.) So I did the usual thing. On the way home from work the other night, I bought a set of imported Ralph Lauren 100% cotton white sheets from T.J. Maxx for $50, which, for someone who thrifts almost everything she owns, is a good chunk of money, even when the sheets last for years. But then I had second thoughts, my conscience nagging.

What I really want, if money were no object, is a set of handmade pure linen sheets, white and flat and simple, from a small producer in Marin, California—Tricia Rose's Rough Linen. I love linen, from curtains to shirts to jackets to skirts to handkerchiefs to napkins to throws. And, though the logical part of me would choose undyed linen for its natural color shading, ecological superiority, and greater strength (and to better hide cat hair), my heart still wants white bedding, which visually is like sleeping on a cloud.

But linen is expensive, especially Belgian linen, meaning a single Queen flat sheet from Rough Linen is $160, pillow slips are $42 each, and the least expensive duvet cover is $350. Ouch! Cheaper mass-produced Asian-imported linen sets—the standard American flat sheet, fitted sheet, and two cases—can be found online for around $200, as at CB2 or currently on sale at Restoration Hardware, but reviewers claim the Rough Linen product is superior. And if you're already spending that much on sheets, why not go all out for the real thing?

So I returned the cotton discount sheets. I shouldn't be spending unnecessarily right now, anyway. Better to save up for what I really want, which quite honestly would last the rest of my life—patient, biding time. (And seriously, why didn't I think to just pull out the big quilted gray silk comforter for the weekend and skip the sheets?)


What are you willing to save for?

8.03.2014

Director Park

Director Park plantings, Portland

Living without a backyard means making full use of public spaces. In the last year since moving downtown to an apartment lacking even a balcony, I've spent time under a hat in the spring sun e-mailing friends on my phone or sitting listening to impromptu classical piano music in the courtyard at the Portland Art Museum; reading a book while lying on a stone bench in the raised courtyard at the Oregon History Museum, alternating between sun and shade; pausing during walks with friends to talk on wooden benches in the South Park Blocks; wandering through the paths among the tall dark trees up at Pier Park; hiking up Forest Park trails; reading on a picnic blanket in dappled shade during a friend's softball game at University Park in North Portland; attending a free Pink Martini concert down at Pioneer Courthouse Square; photographing a May Day protest in the South Park Blocks; strolling down Waterfront Park and picnicking with a friend on a wooden bench during the Rose Festival; and stopping on my way home from work to listen to a local musician or pulling out a book and reading for a stolen half hour before dinner on a bench at Director Park to the white-noise background of a gurgling fountain. There's no weeding, watering, or pruning required—just showing up. Who knows what surprises a park will hold on any given day? Clean, safe, pleasant public parks are one of a city's best, often unsung, resources.


feet up, Director Park, Portland


Director Park event sign

This summer, I've been most drawn to Director Park, two blocks east of the Central Library on Park Avenue between the old Guild Theatre and the Regal Cinemas Fox Tower 10. Its tall, wood-slatted perimeter benches offer for visitors the anonymity of being able almost to blend into the background, the foreground being all the children wading on hot days down in the Teachers Fountain on the north side, attended by their parents, and the families playing big chess up on the south side.


oversized chessboard, Director Park, Portland


old and new, Director Park, Portland

Since being watched outside is always a possibility, unless a person has a fully enclosed backyard or private patio or roof deck with no overlooking neighbors, what better way to take control of public visibility than to do some people watching in return?


two friends, Director Park, Portland


concert audience, Director Park, June 2014


strutting pigeon, Director Park

The park is tidy and sunny, tiled with herringbone granite and strewn with gray metal café chairs and tables, reminding me a little of Union Square in San Francisco and, to a lesser degree, the expansive old central squares of Europe. Some people eat and drink outside the Elephants in the Park café or else bring their own lunches or dinners during work breaks. Others come for weekend dance events or evening Soundscapes concerts, like the one local classical guitarist Jason Okamoto played on June 30th that I just happened onto, making me pause on my way through the park and instead sit quietly to listen to a lovely mix of Spanish and Brazilian acoustic jazz. Friends meet to talk and catch up. Eyes wander to follow a small dog on a leash or a wee squealing child running from a parent. Cars, bikes, the MAX train, and even the occasional Segway tour pass by. And if all this still isn't enough, the park director even offers up a bin of classic board games for borrowing.


Director Park parking entrance


bin of board games, Director Park


passing Segway tour, Director Park


Elephants in the Park café

All the Portland homeless camp elsewhere, this small park block being staffed and informally patrolled by a young crew dressed in khaki pants and bright blue shirts, although once, at night, my friend Carol and I were asked by an older man passing in a wheelchair if we needed any pot. We didn't, thanks. Director Park is relaxing enough, all on its own.


café chair with seated pigeon, Director Park


glass ceiling, Director Park, Portland


sunset shadows, Director Park, Portland


What's your favorite Portland park?

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