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O Sacrum Convivium

To get to serenity_valley and str8ontilmornin's perfect Craftsman bungalow for dinner last night, I drove from my admittedly very-cool inner-city neighborhood, up onto the bluff looking out over the river and the shipyards and the vastness of Forest Park on the other side, to their very-cool neighborhood near the St Johns Bridge.

It was a perfect Portland day: sunny and warm with a light breeze, and it was Saturday. The river was glassy, the hills were that almost-black forest green, and traffic in the bike lane that runs all the way along Rosa Parks and Willamette Boulevards was pretty lively.



There's a tour of the house first. Meticulous and loving refinishing of all the old 1920's woodwork, and a general-but-not-slavish adherence to what is best in the Craftsman style. A library room lined with glass-doored bookcases and filled with two armchairs where, seriously, I could set the most wonderful romantic scene in a novel. I got a look at their new computers (so, so envious!).

Then we went outside. They have this backyard, serenity_valley and str8ontilmornin. It's kind of a bowl, which they excavated themselves by hand, surrounded on one side by a curvy retaining wall, which they built themselves, and on the other by the house, and sheltered over with the most elegantly pruned maple and apple trees. In the arms of this enclosure they have a table for four. From the screen porch wafts music from their stellar iTunes collection. There's a scent of woodsmoke in the air from the grill.

The sun is heading into the West Hills as we sit over glasses of ale and little plates of cheeses and dried cherries and almonds, and str8ontilmornin's handmade bread. str8ontilmornin is a chef. He teaches baking and pastry at the culinary college. So when I say handmade bread, I mean this perfectly textured, crusty, richly yeasty loaf that he slices wafer-thin not just as a prop to cheese, but a complement.

We nibble. We chat. I ate at least half the loaf of bread and most of the brie. After a while, the sun is down and dusk is upon us, and the rows of little citronella candles along the retaining walls are flickering, and the string of white fairy lights among the apples overhead is casting a pleasant glow over the table. They bring out the dinner.

Let me tell you about the perfection of the dinner. Salad of bitter arugula, purple cabbage, fennel and Rainier cherries in a light vinaigrette. Pork chops, approximately an inch and a half thick, marinated for a very long time in something white-winey, I think, lightly coated in herbs and sea-salt and cooked in the smoky wood-fired grill until one second after the pink is gone, sliced into thin rectangles of perfection arranged just-so on the plate. An artistically-twisted mound of angel-hair pasta, cooked not a moment longer than it should be, in a tomato-based sauce that had clearly been simmering for at least a day, and that did not run anywhere on the plate, but only permeated the pasta. A glass of Bordeaux (my humble contribution). More conversation.

The night grew dark, the temperature slowly declined from the mid 80s to the mid 60s. We got our jackets. We took a little stroll around the garden. We talked and talked.

Then came dessert. I mentioned that str8ontilmornin is a pastry chef, right? Fresh Oregon blueberry sorbet and opera cake. A triangle of opera cake, that he made, coated with ganache, layered with coffee and chocolate buttercream and more ganache. My piece had the treble clef on it in white chocolate.

More conversation--about sustainable housing and politics and what it's like to teach baking and pastry, and where to go on the Oregon coast for a great getaway-not-that-you-need-one-when-you-live-like-this, and Twitter, and the internet, and how the world is changing and our corporate overlords possibly don't understand this. Glowy lights, flickering candle-torches, black coffee. Slow, easy winding down to the end of the evening. Departure with hopes and plans to do it again.



That's is how to do Saturday night in Portland. I wish everyone could experience it because seriously, life just doesn't get much better than this.

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
str8ontilmornin
Jun. 28th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the kind words, but it wouldn't have been the same without you sharing your conversation and time. I shudder to think of the crowds that will show up at our door every Saturday evening henceforth after this glowing review.
Well, back to menu planning. :-)
emeraldsedai
Jun. 28th, 2009 05:22 pm (UTC)
Hee! See, I didn't actually give your address.

It was marvelous, and I hope I can be part of of your wonderful tradition again soon.
makena_smiles
Jun. 29th, 2009 09:25 pm (UTC)
I know your address... And we're coming.
serenity_valley
Jun. 28th, 2009 06:07 pm (UTC)
Wow. You are exceedingly generous -- I feel like we've just been given a write-up in Conde Nast, or better yet, been plugged by Lynne Rossetto Kasper on "The Splendid Table"!

What a marvelous evening we had! And I agree with str8ontilmornin that the most critical ingredient was your presence at our table. Thank you, thank you for such a lovely evening, so worth the anticipation (and then some!), and I absolutely agree we must make such get-togethers a frequent event on our respective calendars.
emeraldsedai
Jun. 28th, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
These convivia should not be so rare. Each and every instance of good dining in good company infuses life for days afterwards with goodness, and is enormously powerful.

Though the food at your house is exceptionally fine, and the setting exceptionally lovely, as you said yourself last night, it's not about complexity, or days of kitchen slavery. It's about simplicity, ease, and quality. Graciousness and conviviality arise more from a habit of mind than from a cooking repertoire or a penthouse view or the expenditure of a lot of money.

Thanks for having me over and for just being so damn cool. It truly was a stellar evening.
(Deleted comment)
emeraldsedai
Jun. 28th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)
Seriously, it was like being in an article from "Gracious Living" magazine. Only with cooler people.
vchrusch
Jun. 28th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a perfectly lovely evening especially in regards to the food component.
emeraldsedai
Jun. 28th, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC)
It was! I suspect you would have truly appreciated those pork chops.
pennywhistle
Jun. 28th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
YUM! That all sounds so terribly perfect ^_^
emeraldsedai
Jun. 28th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)
It really, really was!
vampirefan
Jun. 29th, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
sounds like an awesome time!! the food, and the company, sound delicious!
emeraldsedai
Jun. 29th, 2009 04:09 am (UTC)
It was great! And they're fannish, too--on Joss and Firefly and LoTR and HP and all the good stuff (except, not SPN, oh well), so their bookcases looked like home. Only way, way nicer and better!
makena_smiles
Jun. 29th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
What a lovely evening!! Thanks for the description.
emeraldsedai
Jun. 29th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
As I know you know, they are the BEST people!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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