Saturday, November 03, 2012

A quiet place to relax

On Saturday, Jane and I payed a visit to the Float Shoppe on 23rd Avenue in Northwest Portland - our second visit and hopefully not our last. I'm taking this opportunity to post a short article on Sensory Deprivation Tanks that I wrote for a writing course back in 2008.

                             Enjoying a quite interlude with Flotation Tanking.

          I’m suspended in the dark with a slight feeling of vertigo.
Eyes open, eyes shut, no difference. I picture myself slowly tumbling end over end through the void. There’s no sound. No feeling of gravity.
In reality I’m floating in a few inches of water, buoyed by a strong concentration of Epsom salts. The water is blood temperature. I can’t feel where my extremities end unless I wiggle something. I’m in a flotation tank; they’ve also been called “isolation tanks” and, originally, “sensory deprivation tanks”. Since the experience is a pleasant one, and the term “sensory deprivation” sounds a little scary to some people, it’s currently advertised as a “flotation tank”.
            I’d been curious about sensory deprivation since I saw the Science Fiction film “Altered States” when it came out in 1980. The film, set in the wacky world of those mad scientists at U. C. Berkeley, shows huge, cumbersome tanks, complete with breathing apparatus head gear, based on the ones first used by Psychologist John C. Lilly in 1954 at the National Institute for Mental Health in order to test the effects of physical isolation. Lilly found that the brain acts quite differently when there is no sensory input.
One result of Lilly’s experimentation was the development of floating as a leisure activity. Glenn Perry started Samadhi Tank Company in 1972, building tanks to Dr. Lilly’s improved design. With 800 pounds of Epsom salts dissolved in 10 inches of water, the human body floats easily, with the face above the water’s surface. These tanks are still being built, and are the ones I’ve had the chance to use, at a couple of different locations.
My first experience with these tanks was while living in England. My wife and I went to the London Float Center just a few blocks from the bustling open market by Brixton Tube, in the early 1990’s.  They were housed in the basement of an office building, which seemed to act as a layer of concrete insulation from the noisy street life of nearby Electric Avenue.
A Samadhi tank looks like a chest high bin with a light, fiberglass hatch at one truncated end. This was set in a room with a shower, tiled in soft blue and white – swimming pool colors. The attendant explains that the hatch lid can be opened with a light push of my hand; some people are anxious at the thought of confinement in the dark, and the tanks and surrounding spaces have been designed and laid out to minimize claustrophobia. Five minutes before the end of the “float”, soft music fades in to let you prepare for your return to the glaring and noisy world waiting outside the tank. It’s always been the kind of New Age music I can’t really stand to listen to for very long, so it’s a good indication that it’s time to get out and shower off the salt.
After my session, I feel great – squinty eyed, giddy, and light.
No tension anywhere – my hour in the isolation tank left me thoroughly tenderized.  My wife Jane felt “fine until she tried to talk”, then realized how disoriented she was. We managed to navigate to a local pub, where we retoxified enough to find our way home. We went back to that office block south of the River several times, and once Jane had a double session – after a long and stressful bout of business travel – effectively erasing the effects of jet lag. She reports that she felt like she’d had 8 hours of quality sleep – after 2 hours of weightless silence.
Every time I’ve come out of a tank, I’ve felt wonderful – fascinated by the simplest sights, relaxed, euphoric. A little dazzled by the outside world.
Last year, we paid a visit to Common Ground Flotation Center in Northeast Portland, Oregon. This is a healing center in a residential neighborhood. Once again, they use the same Samadhi tanks I’ve used in London. Located on a quiet street, with lush greenery outside and surprising, creative tile work in the Spa areas, this is a great place to go to really get away from “it all”. The experience itself was similar to those I’d had in London, right down to the artless New Age music signaling the end of the float.
A lot of what has been written about the benefits of flotation gets into the metaphysics and physiology involved. It’s so quick for this kind of talk to turn into hype and nonsense; and I can see that my initial interest in Flotation was sparked by a youthful interest in just such hype and nonsense. But the experience is of a simple and solid value; by removing yourself from sensory input, and by removing the weight of the world from your shoulders, you achieve a relaxed, open state.
As much as I’d like to avoid talking about the mind and the spirit (- and any other disembodied bits anyone might want to throw into the mix -) there’s no question that most of us have minds that rush around and get out of control once in a while. Even in sleep, we support our bodies against gravity. Our thoughts still rush along, in our dreams. It’s great to have a brief respite from everything – from absolutely everything - and reenter the world fresh, damp, eyes startled by the light, ears catching sounds that were lost on the wind.

All that I can really add to this earlier writing is that the Float Shoppe has tanks different from the Samadi tanks I'd floated in previously - I've used their Floataway Tranquility tank, with an electrically operated hatch,  and Jane has a preference for their Open Float Spa. They provide a 90 minute float, which passes quite quickly.  I'll also mention that the gentle selection of music they use to signal the end of the float is a big improvement over the above mentioned "Artless New Age Music". The Float Shoppe is located in a lovely old wooden house, the staff is cheerful and helpful, and provide a wonderful space for your float experience. 

You can learn more  at their site -
or contact them through Facebook -

Monday, October 29, 2012

Not so badly made as all that...

Back during the summer we made some Ravioli Malfatta - Ricotta and spinach dumplings without the pasta covering of a "true" ravioli but a great selection of the Italian flavors I grew up with. We made plenty and froze some - a batch came out last night, served it with sweet Italian sausage and my red sauce. A comforting meal on a stormy night.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Hottest!

The rain is pouring down this morning, and there's a fragrance drifting around the house - bone and vegetable broth simmering  on the stovetop, a comforting smell.
But not all good food is comfort food - sometimes you have to walk the high wire, take the risk, taste the Andoillette - or better, in this case, the Diablo Burrito from Allan's Authentic Mexican, a favorite since we moved to this side of the hill. My fondness for Mexican food goes back to a trip to Colorado with Dad when I was 13,  and anywhere I've lived, I've sought out a local favorite - just like finding the best pizza, the best bagels (so long Kettleman's, you were great while you lasted), best curry - you get it, I'm sure you have your own list of indispensable restaurants. 

Allan's may have "locked" the all time top spot for Mexican food with the Diablo Burrito - stunt food for some, the folks at Allan's had me sign a release before they'd put in the order. I was just curious - it's made with the legendary Ghost Chili Pepper, and I like a spicy meal now and then. My enjoyment of chili peppers was there at the beginning - there were hot Italian peppers in Pop Pop's garden as well as sweet Italian frying peppers and those wonderful tomatoes. 

You can see the radioactive heat rising from the Diablo Burrito!
 In addition to the Ghost Chili's there were plenty of serrano peppers, which pack plenty of heat themselves,  within the soft tortilla wrapping. Strips of steak smothered in the hot flavors were absolutely delicious. The "competitive eating" angle would have had me eat the burrito in ten minutes or less - but I wanted to taste this one. I took my time and enjoyed each bite,  with sweat dripping from my face. A cold bottle of Dos Equis was - really - the only serious choice for a beverage.

Will I get the Diablo again? Ask me on a hot day in summer, when spicy food is most delicious. The menu at Allan's has a lot of excellent choices, so we will certainly be back well before summer though.

A little stunned and euphoric, but none the worse for wear.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Rabbit's Nap

Really great weekend - had a meal at Fish Sauce in NW Portland, a little more upscale than your everyday Pho place. I'm not usually a mixed drink fan, but the exotic cocktails here were worth tasting. I especially liked the spring rolls. I guess I like my Pho a little gristlier.

We also visited our local Farmers Market. Pine Mountain Ranch had a bag of bones waiting for us - Bison bones for making stock through the winter - 22 pounds, that's a lot of stock! We also got a rabbit for the pot Sunday night, and I really have to say, I'm pleased with the way Rabbit turned out.

I made a mustard and white wine sauce in hot Bluey. I used Coleman's mustard flour and mustard seeds which I crushed in a mortar, mixing that in with softened onions. While waiting for this, along with half a bottle of white Two Buck  Chuck ($2.50 now) to come back to a boil , I broke down the rabbit - just putting the legs and the saddle (the best bit) in a 3.5 quart pot to braise with the sauce, along a handful of pancetta,  carrots and tiny turnips. The rest went into a stock pot - rabbit and bean soup this week! (Yes, it smells good here as I type this.)
 Bunny turned out nice and tender. (I use a meat thermometer.) The mild zip of the mustard sauce went well with the savory flavor of the meat for about as "old school" a dinner as you could cook or eat. A fleet but welcome guest on many tables, Rabbit and mustard and wine have been friends for a long time.
Tonight I'll be serving the bunny and bean soup, along with butternut squash and roasted cherry peppers. There's a nice bit of meat and stew left for today's lunch. None of Rabbit is going to waste.

Update - been serving and eating bunny soup with butternut squash and onions, along with crispy kale and a few roasted peppers. Brown rice alongside, and I've been favoring mache, or lambs lettuce, with salads ever since we got back from France.
Back home in Oregon there's our friend Pinot Noir. She likes Rabbit too!

Monday, October 08, 2012

On the banks of the Armancon

The house is quietly hidden in a miniscule village, a grey huddle of stone buildings at a little jog in the Armancon river, surrounded by wide open fields. A low line of wooded hills darkened the western horizon; a more pronounced ridge climbs to the east, following the course of the river.

Nearby sheep sometimes have bouts of bleating. On occasion, from anywhere around the house, I hear people singing to Max. His Father, Paul, has a particularly fine bass and really throws himself into his interpretations of nursery songs,  spirituals, and reading out from the board book "Rabbit's Nap".  Otherwise quiet prevails. A cook comes in and prepares marvelous French meals - Bouf  Borgognion one evening, naturally. Pintade, a bird a bit bigger than a chicken with dark, serious meat, served with tender lambs lettuce. Quiche and blowtorchy desserts too.
With the dinners a cheese course was served, and favorites emerged - particularly a Delice De Borgogne, rich with a variety of textures packed into a delicate rind, mild but with a wild, distant tang. A very soft Eppousse spread out of the board, seeming to grow over time.

One evening early in the holiday, there was a tasting, red and white local wines presented with a bit of background about the soil and geography essential to giving each wine it's particular character. The poor little shop boy behaved with some restraint, spitting into the provided bucket with gusto. I did drink every drop in the glass of a St. Aubin 2009, with flinty and nutmeg flavors. This and a Savigny les Beaune AC 2010 are remarkable, the Beaune one that showed up in my glass at dinner all through the holiday.

The scariest meal was at the local bar - John got the Andouillette, so I had to get it too. Not as nasty as some other preparations of chitterlings I've tasted. However, the beer...Leffe, kind of lager with Ribena. Nasty.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Travel notes

The time spent in Cambridge was as pleasant as it could be. A remarkable meal at the Three Horse Shoes, a lovely example of an English country pub with an excellent  menu with classic and contemporary fare (Scallop carpaccio, vennison stew) was crowned - for me, at least - by an excellent bitter ale, Mauldon's "Mole Trap". Lovely floral hops, and only 3.8 percent alcohol - as wonderful as the Portland brews have become, it's often difficult to find spectacular beer that's not unnecessarily strong.

I got to spend time with the unique Art collection at Kettles Yard as well - far too short a time, the place is as much an installation in it's own right as it is the individual pieces displayed there. Lots of reasons to look forward to future visits to Cambridge.

Ultimately, time came that we headed out by train to our destination - a house in the French countryside, where we planned to relax, enjoy walking and dining and simply doing nothing at all in good company.

We had a little time to kill at the station in Lille. We sat outside one of the station's restaurants - a place called McDonalds, perhaps you've heard of them? Scattered outside on benches were some of the current crop of "Jeune Filles", that is to say, teen age French girls. Fat, surly teenage girls stuffing fries and burgers into their faces. On occasion, I'd thought that the language of the Slow Food movement, as stated by Carlo Petrini and in statements like Folco Portinari's  Slow Food Manifesto, overly politicized current trends in food production and marketing. Watching these young people eat, I had a feeling of horror as I realized the mean spirit and greed that threatens not only our environment, but also every traditional culture, as well as everyone's health, well being, and even beauty.

Ultimately our train arrived and we made our way onward - to the small village of Cry Sur Armancon, where we dined the way the French used to.

Read the Slow Food manifesto here.

Monday, October 01, 2012

So much for the poor little shop boy...

For many years now, when fine food and wine are the topic, I've hidden behind the fading personna of an Italian-American shop boy, who grew up with an appreciation for simple food and maybe a glass of nice Chianti now and then. Pop pop's tomatoes, a little pasta fazool.
That's all in there - but underneath layers and layers of time spent at a lot of farmers markets, in fact visits to open air markets all over the world - that's my idea of sightseeing, perhaps a leftover from years spent minding the second hand book stall at the Reading Terminal Market in Philly - and more opportunities for fine dining than I like to admit to. That poor little shop boy, who wanted nothing more out of life than a bowl of snapper soup with sherry at McGillins on a Friday before heading to McGlincheys for endless glasses of Youengling  - has been around a few blocks, a few times.
 Recently, my perambulations included an opportunity to wander the streets of Cambridge, past the Red Poll  cattle grazing on Midsummer Common (pointing and saying " Yes, YOU'RE looking especially tasty today - I shall eat you ALL up!") and even into a few of the local dining and drinking establishments.

As a Yank, I must admit to a skeptical attitude towards Jamie Oliver. His appearances on TV make him look like a snivelling, whining baby - dressed as a carrot. I'm absolutely prepared to rethink his attitudes towards kids school meals after visiting Jamie's Italian, his Cambridge venue, with a group of fellow "grown ups".
   One of my dining companions that night pointed at the line hams and cheeses  hanging as the only curtain between us and the kitchen and said "Look! We're safe!.

It was an easy menu to find  favorites on - charcutery and fried seafood. The poor little shop boy nodded at Jane's dad when he suggested a Valpolicella.

I'm not touching pasta these days, but if I had - the spaghetti vongole - with a local variation, winkles from Cornwall - would have been the only way to go. As it was, I didn't even hit the bread bowl. It looked nice, though.

So, SO deprived. The poor little shop boy.

Next - our party moves on towards it's destination, a little house in a tiny village in a quiet part of France.

Read the "Slow Food Manifesto" here

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bags are packed - we're booked and we're bound to go.

No big trip to the Farmers Market this week - Jane is out of town and we're heading out to visit family overseas this weekend.
      In the meantime I just made a run for chick pea flour from our local Indian grocer. They call it besan, I still haven't decided whether I call it farinata or socca. Chi chi beans certainly do have plenty of names!
With that and a bit of sopressata and cheese, along with a few pieces of fruit, I'll make some nice simple meals.

I'll also head in town at some point, to share a drink or so with friends. As much as my relationship with food has been changing, my relationship with alcohol has changed  - once upon a time I stopped in a bar more days than not. Over the years, I've slowed down - and as I've slowed down, my capacity has gone down. These days I have a few drinks, now and again - and the line where the booze makes me behave like an ass seems to grow ever closer. Scary! It may even be the line where I REALIZE that the booze is making me behave like an ass that is coming closer.


Sunday, September 02, 2012

Hot Bluey

Here's those stewed peppers, in Hot Bluey. (A new La Creuzet pot I expect great things to come out of) The great deal at our local Farmers Market for these past few weeks has been the mixed bag of hot peppers for five bucks. Nothing too hot. There are long, pale Anaheims that look very much like the Italian frying peppers from my Pop Pop's backyard. Or like a pepper they sold outside Turkish shops in London, for that matter. But each of these long, pale green peppers has a different flavor and a different hotness.
Little red cherry peppers that roast up with so much sweetness and have such a nice texture to their roasted flesh. Ancient looking daubs of red with a dark smudge from the oven, really the most beautiful peppers of them all.

There are a few smaller, hotter peppers in the bag as well - last week, I was making a curry goat, so the chillis went into the curry. This week it's chicken soup and on Sunday we had the drumsticks, along with these smaller peppers, gently stewed until the hotness was subdued and the real flavor of the peppers was out front. A few potatoes and some kale - I love rough greens.

For lunch - Farinata, also called Socca, a pancake made with chick pea flour, water,  olive oil, rosemary and salt. Gluten free and delicious.
Looking at my notes on the kitchen from the past year, I notice that Jane sure likes chicken. We've been getting birds from Pine Mountain Ranch, a grass farm near Bend, Oregon that has a table at the Beaverton Farmers Market.'ve also had their Elk and their eggs - Jane is extremely particular about eggs.

Today I'll be stewing a 3 and a half pound chicken, which we'll eat part of tonight. The rest will be the basis for a chicken barley soup that we'll dine on through the coming week -along with roasted peppers, I have a big variety of peppers again this week. The hot little ones I'll stew for tonight.
Chicken barley soup is one I've been making for many years, a variation on my Mom's Thanksgiving turkey use-up dish. Jane enjoys it.

Yesterday we had pints at various and sundry locations around Portland - my first drinks since my birthday back in July -and shared a Pizza at the Mellow Mushroom. We had the perfect post-pub dinner waiting for us at home, a pair of  Sunday Roast Lamb Pies from Pacific Pies. Kind of a heavy day for the processed carbs.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Over the past few years the focus has shifted in my life and in my art
and my blogging should reflect that. This was started mainly to record my musical adventures, anecdotes and updates from that part of my life. Over those years, Farmers Markets have become my favorite gig. There were many shows at the  Noe Valley Farmers Market in San Francisco, where the neighborhood organised to create their own market when a beloved local grocer closed its doors; they insisted on a strictly acoustic music policy that fit my style and musical agenda to a T.
The El Cerrito Farmers Market, just a few blocks from our home when we lived in Albany, California. where I first met Captain Mike Hudson and his wife Yvette, who introduced us to the world of wild salmon by dropping gigantic red steaks in my guitar case and saying "You're going to have to invite some people over to help you finish them".
We did - our friends Mike and 'Steena Glendinning came over and we shared a meal together. Both of the "Mike's" in this little story play guitar more than a little, Glen'dizzle being the highly combustible father of Grunge Jazz while Captain Mike and his band Superboogie tear down the walls at the Boom Boom Room with house rocking blues.
Since our move to Oregon, I've been playing Farmers Markets from Forest Grove to Gresham. During this same time, I've been making a greater effort to eat better, to avoid overly processed food. To stop eating meat from the factory conditions of CAFO and battery.
A chronic hip condition lead me to consult with an Orthopedic Surgeon, who - among other things - recommended that I read Michael Pollan's book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". Possibly the best prescription ever - the pain relief I've experienced from the effects of changing what we eat are greater than the effects of  anti-inflammatory shots into the joint - and those worked like magic.
This year, I'd like to start including notes from my kitchen in this blog from my music studio. Visits to Farmers Markets while I'm not performing, where I'm weighing and squeezing and selecting from the beautiful Oregon seasonal vegetables. Some recipes, some notes on what I've learned. We're coming to the end of the magical spring and summer bounty of greens and fruits, unbelievably fragrant mild onions that carried me back to fresh broken earth smells from childhood, basket upon basket of uneven, bursting tomatoes with a smell to them, real, ripe tomatoes that had never been gassed, tomatoes too nice to do anything to except cut them up and eat them with a little drizzle of olive oil and vinegar, a little salt.
Pots of minestrone, a rich vegetable soup full of seasonal vegetables that has been reflecting those seasons, year after year, all the way back to ancient times. Pots of even more exotic things - this week I made  Curry Goat,  a recipe I was taught by a Jamaican friend in London during the days of "Mad Cow Disease". For the first time, I discarded the instruction to use Halal goat , using instead a cut from Fairview Farm, from their table at the Beaverton Farmers Market.
This was rich and flavorful meat, with a snowy layer of fat and marrowful bone. I went easier than usual on the curry spices. This goat was not particularly gamey and had savory flavor that I didn't want to cover up with powdery turmeric and cumin. I made a 5 quart pot full on Monday and we've been eating it with brown rice and roasted peppers (Big bag of assorted peppers! A Bargain! Same Farmers Market!). Don't know what next week will bring.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bringing my guitar to the Kenton neighborhood of North Portland at 5 pm this evening - a cool area, a great market.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Sunday July 1st broadcast French Quarter

Sunday July 1st broadcast French Quarter Here's a link to Soundcloud - a little over an hour of guitar and singing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

This Friday I'll be at the Kenton Farmers Market in North Portland from 5 PM - and on Sunday I'll be playing a live broadcast from the "French Quarter " in Second Life from 6 PM. So join us in this world or that for slide guitar specials served up hot and spicy!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Enjoyable but breezy first Farmers Market of the year at Buckman School.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012