Throwback Fiction: Dashiell

This will be my first piece of fiction published here, and I will admit to cheating a bit. I wrote this for a college creative writing class, the place when I first thought I wanted to make this writing thing my future. Of course, I was halfway through my senior year at the time, too late to change majors. Oh well.

The only changes I made from when it was distributed to the class for review are grammar related. Anyways, here you go.



My life has become delightfully fulfilling and easy since I came to live with Dashiell. Before him, I had been nothing, one without a home.

I remember that day vividly. It was a beautiful day, but again I had nothing to eat. I had been hanging around a rest stop along the freeway and, the time of year being summer, had been trying to polish off the scraps left after people’s picnics. The sun was high in the sky, and the rays of light reflected brightly off the high, sparse clouds. It was the time of year when the grass baked itself into a dull, brownish color, the time of year when people are told to stop watering lawns to conserve water.

I saw this young man step out of his car with a large basket, and I knew that it must be full of food. He was alone, his only companion being a brand new novel he was reading. I followed him from a distance, trying to be sly. I was hoping to steal a bite of sandwich or some cheese without him noticing, but he saw me anyway. He turned, looked straight at me, and knew what I wanted. He put a piece of a sandwich on the table and asked me to come and sit down. Starving, I obliged. I sat down on the bench when I was finished, saying nothing, only looking at him expectantly. He gave me more food, and began to talk.

“My name is Dashiell, what is yours?” I looked at him blankly. I could not remember my name, since it had been so long since anybody had called me anything.

“Not much of a talker, eh? No problem, I will give you a name. If you don’t like it, tell me. Now, let’s see…how about...hmmm…Jasmine? Yeah, Jasmine, do you like that name?” I did not know how to respond, I was ecstatic!

“Cat got your tongue, huh? Okay, Jasmine it shall be. You don’t talk much do you, mind if I talk a little?” I waited patiently, wondering what it could possibly be that he would want me to know.

Dashiell talked all afternoon, about this and that, and then back to this again. He told me about his work in the city, about the girl who had just recently decided to be his ex-girlfriend, about his family who lived in the next state, and about his dreams and aspirations. Dashiell wanted to write, but so far no one had wanted to read. He told me some ideas and I voiced some opinions, finally.

He listened politely, and then after a little bit he decided he had to leave. The sun was turning the sky purple, the high clouds changing into a rainbow array of color.

“Maybe I will see you here again.” Dashiell smiled and walked to the parking lot, to his car. He turned, waved to me once, and was gone.

I thought I would never see him again, and for some reason that bothered me. There was nothing special about me, just another homeless statistic, why would I see him again? What could I possibly do for him?

Three days later, while I was searching for scraps after a family picnic, I saw his car pull into the parking lot again, and my heart jumped into my throat. I waited, watching from the underbrush in the shade. Dashiell left his car and walked to a nearby table, spread out his lunch and opened his laptop computer. As he popped the top to a can of Pepsi, I quietly walked out from the shade and sat down next to him at the table.

He turned to me, and almost jumped.

“You’re still here? I thought by now someone would have helped you out.”

Crestfallen, I got up to leave.

“Wait, don’t get me wrong, I am glad you are still here. I could use your company, not having anyone else to talk to.”

I turned back, looking at him expectantly. Dashiell cut me half of his ham sandwich, which I wolfed down, then proceeded to talk. He told me about his graduation from college three years ago. He told me about the party afterwards, about the drinking, and how things got out of hand. He told me about the fight, about his arrest, and his subsequent thirty days in jail.

“Do you think bad of me for that, Jasmine?”

I did not know what to say. This man I had not known for very long, wanted my opinion, and actually seemed to care what I think. I could not think of the right thing to say, so I moved closer to him on the bench.

Dashiell smiled warmly at me. “I don’t suppose you have any big plans do you? How would you like to come home with me? I could give you a bath, give you some food, put some meat on those bones of yours, whatta ya say?”

I looked at myself, and almost recoiled in horror. I had not done that in awhile, and I was shocked to see how skinny I had become. My ribs were visible beneath the surface, and my legs had lost all muscle tone. I looked back up into Dashiell’s face and nodded, I think.

“Well let’s go then. My car is that old blue Honda over there. You’ll just love my home, I’m sure!” Dashiell was almost giddy with excitement. I followed him to the car and he unlocked the door and held it open for me. I hesitated for a minute, looking back at the rest stop, saying goodbye. Times here had been hard, but I did not know what the future would hold. I turned my back, threw caution to the wind, and got into the car.

That was the best decision I have ever made. Dashiell brought me to his home and he was right, I immediately fell in love with it. It was a large house with high ceilings and many rooms to explore. Trees surrounded it, hundreds of feet high, the branches swinging in the light breeze of a summer night. There was a field in front of the house. Dashiell led me into the house and fixed me a warm meal. I had not eaten a warm meal in a very long time; so long I had forgotten warm meals could be eaten. He gave me milk, something I had not tasted in a long time as well. I ate until my sides hurt, until I could eat not more. Dashiell led me into the bathroom and gave me a bath. I hate water and fought every step of the way, but Dashiell insisted and, I must admit, I was pleased with the results.

I still am. Looking out the window I could see the sun falling towards the horizon, Dashiell should be home soon.

My days have become lazy. The summer days I spend outside while Dashiell is at work. I go exploring in the woods, looking for wild animals, seeing plants I have never seen before. I explore the field in front of the house, lying in the sun for hours and hours amidst the sweet smells of grass and flowers.

Today is not that kind of day though. The weather had turned bad, and it had not stopped raining for three days. Dashiell talked at meals about how the rivers were getting higher, and if that kept up he might have to find a different way home, a route which may take a much longer time. I hoped that would not happen, I looked forward to our dinner conversations. They were actually pretty one-sided, but I liked to hear the resonate sounds of his deep voice, it could captivate me for hours. Luckily we did not live near any water, Dashiell would say.

It was a little strange, Dashiell had completely accepted me into his home and his life. He gave me a bed, gave me food, and asked for little in return. It seemed to me that all he wanted was someone to listen to him, and I am too happy to provide that for him. Some nights he will put a warm, roaring fire in the fireplace and we curl up on the couch, me with my head in his lap, and we would watch videos. I watched anything he wanted, so it was a lot of action and comedy. The videos did not really interest me; I just loved the feeling of being needed.

The conversation at yesterday’s meal had been different though. Dashiell went on and on about the weather again, about how the rain was causing landslides all over the city and roads were being closed. I listened, letting my mind trail off and remember the days of sunshine and laziness of the past summer. Then Dashiell said something that caught me completely off guard, and I gave him my full attention.

“I met somebody, Jasmine.”

I looked at him, not knowing what he could mean by such a statement.

“Her name is Andrea. She is a beautiful woman, I think you would like her. She makes me feel special, reminds me what it is like to be wanted.”

What the hell did he mean by that?! Is that not what I was for?! For the first time since I had come to live with Dashiell, I looked upon him with an angry eye. How dare he talk of someone else in front of me? I hated him at that moment, and I left the room without saying a word, leaving to stew in my anger.

I have not spoken to him since dinner yesterday, and I hoped that when he returned he would have put all that Andrea stuff aside and remembered why I am here.

The opening of the door snapped me out of my flashbacks. I jumped off the couch that faced the south windows downstairs, and ran up to the entryway, excited to see Dashiell again, putting my past thoughts aside.

“Hi Jasmine!” he called with the usual loving voice. I started to respond but stopped when I saw another figure behind him in the doorway. It was not any of Dashiell’s friends that I recognized, but my heart skipped a beat: It was a woman. Not just any woman, but a very beautiful woman. She had long, dark hair and sapphire-blue eyes. She was tall and thin, almost like a runway model. I shrank back; not quite sure why I did so, whether it was fear or something else. Anger maybe?

“This is Andrea, Jasmine. She is the new friend of mine I told you about yesterday.” I did not like the way he said that.

Dashiell turned to Andrea. “Andrea, Jasmine.”

With those introductions Andrea turned to me. “Hi Jasmine!” Her voice was sweet, like honey dripping off of a sugarcube, almost sickeningly sweet. I started back down the stairs, then turned and ran. I ran down to my couch, back to my window. I could still hear them talking.

Dashiell was telling her about how we met, and that sometimes I was a little scared of people I did not know. I was hoping they would talk about me more, that he would tell Andrea she had to leave because I did not want her there, but nothing of the sort happened. Their conversation quickly turned to other subjects.

I could hear them up in the kitchen, preparing dinner. Confusion reigned inside my brain. How could he do this to me? Was it not true we had something special? How could he even think of bringing someone else home? I saw the sappy way Dashiell looked at her. My Dashiell! She must have done something to him, put some sort of spell on him, that was the only explanation. I made up my mind to get rid of her. I did not know how I am going to do this, but I will!

Dashiell called my name for dinner. “Jasmine! Your dinner is ready! Are you coming?”

I sat still.

He waited for a few minutes, then, “Fine, be that way. Do what you want.”

I heard him walk to the dinner table and sit down. Andrea started talking again, drawing Dashiell into conversation with no mention of me. I wanted to cry, but I knew that would solve nothing. Deciding to do something about this, I marched upstairs, as loudly as I could.

I walked into the kitchen, yelling at Dashiell. I asked how he could do this to me, I thought we had something special, all the stuff The Jilted One always throws in the face of The Jilter. I could not stop yelling, and my voice began to get hoarse. Dashiell got up from the table, very slowly. His face was red and it wore something I had never seen in him before: Anger. Dashiell was livid.

“Dammit Jasmine, would you just calm the hell down!? I am trying to have a nice dinner here and all you want to do is yell! You know what? I think you need to go outside and get a hold of yourself!”

With that, he grabbed me, pushed me out the front door, and closed the door behind me. I did not dare try to go back into the house, not after how Dashiell had reacted to me.

The weather had not let up, the rain still pouring down from the heavens. It was dark now, and the wind from the east made it very chilly. I walked over and sat down underneath a huge redwood, an ancient tree over two hundred years old. I cried and cried and cried. I cried for how ungrateful I could be to Dashiell. He had let me stay with him for so long, and I had given nothing back to him. I cried for my selfishness in the way I responded to him tonight. I had not even given him a chance to explain himself, just had broken in yelling and screaming. But mostly I cried for the hurt of his words, the hurt of his anger. I had never seen it before, and I was sure I did not want to see it again.

I do not know how long after that Andrea left, for I was lost in my own thoughts. I snapped out when I heard her car leave. Dashiell came out on the porch and called my name.

“Jasmine! Jasmine! Where are you?! Come back! Jasmine!”

I was too far away in the woods to respond fast enough, and he went back in the house before I could get there. I walked around the house, trying to find him. Finally, in his downstairs room with this computer, I found him writing. I tapped on the glass.

Dashiell looked up, and a smile broke out on his face. “Jasmine!”

I ran to the sliding glass door and he let me inside. I stepped in, not knowing what to do next.

“I was worried about you girl! Look at you, dripping and shivering! Come here, in the bathroom and I will dry you off.”

Dashiell pulled me into the bathroom, rubbing me with a thick towel. After I stopped dripping, he turned the hair dryer on me, until my hair was barely damp. I felt so bad; he still cared for me after all! I had been stupid to do what I did, and now I was going to be lucky to not catch a cold.

I tried to say I was sorry, but it came out as a squeak because my throat hurt so much.

“Don’t talk girl, there is nothing you have to say. Come upstairs, and I will explain a few things to you.”

I followed him up the stairs and watched as he put a few pieces of wood in the fireplace and started a fire. When the fire finally caught and began to warm the room, he motioned for me to come over and sit next to him.

“Jasmine, you know I want you to be happy. I brought you home here that day last summer because I knew I could give you a better life than anything else you could have had. You have really changed, and almost all of the changes have been for the better. You have put on weight and filled out nicely. You are beautiful. I have given you a chance at a new life, and you have responded well.”

Dashiell paused, and I looked at myself just as I had on that day at the rest stop. Indeed it was true. I could no longer see my ribs and I was very clean, no dirt or scraps stuck to my body where I could not reach them. I looked back into his eyes.

“But there is one thing you need to understand. I am a man and I need to find companionship. You are a companion, true, but there is more than that I need for a lifelong relationship. Andrea is a wonderful woman, and I think I love her. I need you to like her too, Jasmine. I need you to at least give her a chance. Will you do that for me? Please, Jasmine?”

I did not know what to say, but I knew he was right. I put my head in his lap.

“Thank you Jasmine, thank you. You have helped me through the last few months, as I have helped you. Now we need to work together.” He put his hand on my head, rubbing my ears. He scratched my back, rubbing my body all over, scritching on my lower back.

That night, in front of that fire, with Dashiell’s hands rubbing my body, with my head in his lap, I began to purr for the first time since I came into his life. For once in my life I was truly happy, and I purred for hours.
So, there you go. Now, dear reader, it's your turn. What did you hate about it? What did you like? Do you want to read more? Please leave comments below (and be helpful).

I do have some of my own thoughts I want to share - about where the story came from and some of my own critiques - but I'll wait a week or so before adding them to the comments below. I don't want to color anyone's own opinion with the author's thoughts, if that makes sense.

And if you like piece, share it with others - I love that.

Bring it on - I can take it!

Introducing.... Fiction!

It's time for me to do something writers will probably consider blasphemy: give some away for free. My plan is to periodically publish on the blog some pieces of original fiction, be that ficitionalized real life accounts of something, scenes that could be from a short story or a novel, or maybe entire short stories themselves.

So why, you may ask, would I give it away for free?

My long-term goal in life is to write fiction, to make a living off of people enjoying my fiction, and not to have to get up before 9am. I have found that given my busy schedule it's problematic to actually set aside some time to write fiction, so my writing is what I consider "raw." Basically, I need practice - my writing isn't refined enough for me to even submit it for publication, at least in my mind.

And that's part of the experiment here too - it won't work without you, dear readers (all three of you). When I publish a piece at the end of it I plan on explaining the thinking that went into the piece and what my future plans could be for it (a scene, short story, whatever). I will then invite critique - you don't get better unless you get that input. I encourage all kinds of input - what was good, what was bad, alternative suggestions - as long as its constructive. If you hate it, fine - just tell me what didn't work. If you love it, well, I want to hear that too - all writers love to have their egos stroked.

I'm going to offer a word of warning here too: there will be swearing. Sometimes a lot, if the story dictates it. Of course, I've done that in spots on this blog before, but one thing I will always remember from my UOregon Creative Writing class was this drop of knowledge from the teacher: "You take a risk when you swear in your writing, because you will immediately lose some readers. And you won't get them back."

That's a good piece of advice. I've tucked that nugget into the back of my mind, knowing full well the style of writing I both predominantly enjoy to read and write have plenty of cursing...and decided I don't fucking care. So, this is your warning. There will be swearing. Not always, not overdone...but it will be there when scenes or characters demand it.

So this is part experiment - will people participate, will they hate it or love it? - and part simple outlet for me. The only way I can get to the point where people will pay me to write is to write. And me, being me, I hate to see stuff go to waste - I don't see myself as one of those writers who writes a story or novel and just lets it sit in a drawer (or, probably more accurately, gather "dust" on my hard drive) - I'm going to share it.

Again, this is something a lot of writers, especially aspiring ones, are going to cringe about because of the what-if factor - what if they get huge and and some publisher wants everything they have ever written, even the stuff as crappy as 2Pac's posthumous albums?

Maybe I'll regret it someday, who knows. What I do know is I'll regret never starting in the first place.

And besides, now that I've put this out on the internet like this, I have no excuse but do it, right?

So join me in my journey, and please, weigh in with comments early and often. I've got a ton of ideas already...now to just find that time...

Writer's Manifesto

I'm adding this just to head off any potential problems. Plus, I always wanted to have a manifesto. I man, who wouldn't?

1 - All writing on this site, unless otherwise noted or quoted, is mine alone. I created it, I own. So don't take it - that's rude. Link to it, or even email me and ask if you can use it for something, but don't just take it. I'll know. I always know.

2 - Any resemblance to real life events in publications of fiction isn't necessarily intentional, so don't take it that way. We are all products of our own experiences, be it from personal or anecdotal experience. My point is, if you know me and you did something, and I write a character that does the same thing or something similar and you think it's you and don't like how it's portrayed, trust me when I say it's circumstantial. So please, don't come to me whining about something I have written - fiction is fiction, and I don't write to judge. Well, usually don't.

I will revise and add to this Manifesto as I see fit, because what is life without rules?


Why Do People Still Smoke?

I don't know why, but I just can't get my mind around the fact people still smoke cigarettes. I suppose for people who have been doing it their whole lives it's hard to stop, but how is it, with the information available today (and crammed down your throat from an early age), do people suffer through the pain of that first cigarette and keep smoking?

It's not an education issue. I've been out of college for over 10 years, so I think it's safe for me to say for the duration of my life is at least 30 years where people have been taught in school not to smoke because, well, it will kill you. And it's not like that's open to debate or interpretation - smoking will, eventually, kill you. Lung cancer, emphyzema, something else - you will die from smoking.

Ever since I can remember this was taught to us in school, from the youngest age. I can only figure my class in first or second grade or whenever wasn't the first to be given this knowledge, so there are likely people older me who likewise have gone their entire lives being told smoking will kill you. Granted, I know it's not everyone, but I'm willing to bet half or more of the population was taught that from a young age. The other half of the population? Well, unless they live under a rock they know it too. And, quite possibly, it might have been broadcast under rocks too - the smoking-is-bad groups are very thorough.

Portland State University isn't far from my day job, so on nice days I'll sometimes take a lunchtime stroll through the area of downtown Portland. At any given time hundreds of PSU students will be out on the street, going to and from classes or work or coffeeshops. And you know what kills me? How many of them have smokes in their hands. Are you kidding me? This is the next generation of workers?

As an employer I wouldn't hire someone who smoked, especially someone young (does that qualify as discrimination? not sure). Besides the fact smokers end up with more sick days, it says something about a person's intelligence. Again, I'm older than these adults and I have learned my entire life smoking is bad, so I think it's a safe assumption they have as well. And they do it anyway. Doesn't that say something about a person?

No, it's not anti-establishment or even remotely cool - it's plain stupidity. If a person is going to be that idiotic about their own health, how could I trust them to make the right decisions as an employee?

Do I hate smoking? Personally, yeah. I won't say I don't think cigarettes should be erased from the planet, but at the same time if people want to do it and be idiots, I'm not going to say they can't. Just don't smoke around me. I'll freely agree with any legislation that restricts smoking in public areas because it literally makes me nauseous (this makes international travel problematic - always tradeoffs).

I hate walking down the street behind someone with a smoke in their hand - I'll either speed up and get past as soon as I can or I'll cross the street, find another route. It drives me crazy when I'm driving on a nice spring day, with the windows down and fresh air rolling into the car, and the car in front of me is being driven by a smoker. Great. Thanks.

Smoke all you want on your own time in your own space, but don't impose it on me. I know and understand what smoking (and secondhand smoke) will do to a person - I want nothing to do with it. And don't even get me started on how a lot of smokers (I know not all) seem to think a cigarette butt tossed from a moving vehicle doesn't count as burning material.

Would I be out of line to yell at someone for tossing a butt? Is it really that hard to put it out and find a trash can? I mean, if my dog craps on the sidewalk, I don't leave that.

I just want to ask people, what are you thinking? Why did you start smoking despite the knowledge it will kill you? I mean, none of that is a surprise, right? So why begin in the first place? (I understand it can be difficult to quit, but the easiest way is to not start in the first place.)

Am I off base here? Am I alone in my puzzlement? Do other people think about these things?


Okonomiyaki: Making Japanese Street Food

When Wifey first made me okonomiyaki I had no idea what to think. I remember an exchange student my family hosted when I was in high school attempted to make this for us, and it wasn't very good at all. Maybe it's because she didn't get the right ingredients, or maybe she wasn't a good cook, but it didn't translate for us all that well. I mean, cabbage pancakes? Really?

So I wasn't sure what to expect when Wifey made it the first time, so many years ago (you know, cause I'm super old and all). However, hers were very different from what our exchange student made. For one thing they had pork, which is never bad. They also had the necessary sauce - okonomiyaki sauce if you are curious, and I have no idea what's in it, similar to tonkatsu sauce with elements of soy sauce and sweet, but in a very finite ratio. And it was outstanding! Mostly because Wifey is an awesome cook, but also because it was more styled like actual Japanese street food. Our poor exchange student was limited to the typical American pantry and grocery store when she made it, so doubtlessly she had to make some changes and it didn't turn out right. Not her fault.

Probably over half of my three readers are now wondering just what the hell I'm talking about. Cabbage pancakes? Sort of - okonomiyaki is a mixture of shredded cabbage, shredded meat, a specific flour, egg, and water. Very simple, and very yummy - and you can add whatever you want to it - more on that later.

We went to Japan a few years back, visiting some family and seeing some sights, and one of the things we really wanted to do was get some Japanese street food, namely things like okonomiyaki and ramen. Want to know the trouble with that? Well, in Japan these items are not exactly considered the nation's shining beacons of culinary excellence, so your host is apt to steer you in another direction. Which isn't bad, because everything was outstanding, but it's still not what we wanted. And when you are at the mercy of others driving because your Japanese is passable at best and you have no idea where to go anyway, you go where the car goes. Again, it was awesome, but we wanted some of the basic stuff in addition to the crab overload meal (and yes, crab overload was one of the greatest meals ever).

We ended up getting ramen at a place outside of a shrine in Nara if I remember right. It was good to us Americans - better than anything here - but it was also outside a tourist spot, so was it really good? I'm not sure.

Okonomiyaki, now, we got the good stuff. Every city has their own take on it, but the style we had was on a trip to Hiroshima. Wifey's uncle found a third floor area in a mall (I think, maybe it was an office building?) that was literally nothing but places doing okonomiyaki. There were well over 20 vendors, all with big grills ready to cook up all sorts of different specialty okonomiyakis as your heart desired.

I have no idea why I have no pictures - I guess that means we have to go back (oh darn).

We went to a specific place - not sure how her uncle picked that particular  one out - but then proceeded to have one of our best meals in Japan. It was also the most entertaining, because making okonomiyaki in that setting is partly about the show and presentation as well - and that part's free.

Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki also includes egg and yakisoba noodles, which we thought was fantastic, so now that's how we make it at home. It's also really easy to make, though it will require a trip to your local Asian food market (Uwajimaya or something similar) - if you've never been that's an afternoon of free entertainment and exploration for you as well.

Want to learn how to make it? Here you go.

What you will need:

Head of cabbage
Thin sliced pork
Yakisoba noodles
Okonomi sauce
Okonomi mix

Notice none of these have amounts - that's because it depends on how much you want to make. The instructions on your mix (baking aisle, I think, in Uwajimaya - the sauce is by the tonkatsu/yakisoba sauces) will probably be in Japanese, but the basic mixture has these ratios:

100 grams of mix (and mix is made from a starch, Japanese potato or yam I believe, along with other necessary ingredients I have no idea what they are)
100 milliliters of water
1 egg
250 grams of shredded cabbage (food processor rocks here)
1/4 pound of thinly sliced pork (this is my rough estimate, adjust up or down as you see fit on this one), cooked

And that's it. Mix up the flour and water, mix in the cabbage and meat, and then mix in the beaten egg. This will make about five five-inch pancakes (or so, that's a rough estimate). We usually double it, because leftovers kick ass.

It should look something like this (camera work is not my forte - I'm a better cook than photographer, but I'm working on it):

The Mix

Then heat up your cooking surface. I use an electric skillet for the cooking area, but you could use a griddle or frying pan. Having sides is nice for me since I cook the pork in here first, and then follow the cakes with noodles and eggs. Cook them for about three minutes a side on 300 degrees, or until they have a light brownness to them.

In the Pan

After the Flip

Next comes the noodles. Again, the amount you cook really depends on how much you want to eat and/or save. I toss roughly half of a one-pound package into the skillet with a little sesame oil, which adds a nice flavor. Just fry them up until they are a little crisp, but not burned.

Pile of Noodles

Then crack in the eggs (after taking out the noodles, unless you want scrambled). There should be leftover oil from the noodles, so no need to add any more. Salt and pepper would be a personal preference, I don't use it. As far as done-ness, I like my eggs to be soft enough to leak yolk all over my noodles when my fork cuts in; it's basically the same as any other fried egg you cook.

Hey, It's A Fried Egg

Next you just layer it out onto a plate. First the noodles:

Then the egg:

And finally the actualy okonomiyaki, topped with a light layer of mayo (I know, it sounds weird, but it's yummy), and then a nice criss-crossing of the okonomi sauce. At this point I'm usually done, but you can add pretty much whatever topping sounds good. Dried shrimp, dried seaweed, pickled ginger - whatever your palette desires.

And voila, the final dish!

Top View

Money Shot

Tell me that doesn't make you hungry?! Every time I make it not only do I eat too much, but I'm instantly transplanted back to that simple yet amazing meal in Hiroshima.

Thank me later; now go run to Uwajimaya and make it for yourself, then come back and tell me how easy it was and how damn yummy it was. Impress your friends - chances are most of them will have no idea what you made them, but they will like it. And want the recipe. Email them this link.


Sushi CAN Be A Meal

I haven't always liked Japanese food. In fact, there was a time when I couldn't stand the thought of it. You know, all that crazy fishy stuff, raw and slimy, who wants to eat that? This is what I thought as I entered high school, before I underwent a gradual change in my tastes as people are wont to do as they mature. Well, that, and when you spend eight years studying the language and then marry into a Japanese family, you change. You learn about all the different kinds of things that make up another culture's meal, you try things you might not try otherwise, and you find out that when you open up your palette to this kind of discovery you actually like stuff.

Well, maybe not for everyone, but that's how it worked for me. A similar thing happened during the two months I lived in Italy and the week-long vacation we took to Huatulco in southern Mexico - you find out a culture's cuisine isn't defined by the likes of places named Panda Express, Olive Garden, and Taco Bell.

I suppose that bit of rambling is to say I know Japanese food and have a decent bit of experience in it (and ate a decent amount of different things during a trip to Japan as well). We're lucky enough here in Portland to have some very good Japanese restaurants like Syun in Hillsboro, Biwa in SE Portland, Yuzu in Beaverton, and a bunch of smaller mom and pop type places, almost all of which serve solid food.

Still, it seems many Americans think only of sushi when it comes to Japanese food and people talk about going out for sushi like they do getting a burger, which is funny to me since never once in all my years with the in-laws or in Japan has sushi ever been considered a meal. That very well could be just my experience - I'm open to that - but what I'm getting at is I just have never really considered plates of just sushi a meal. That's more like a snack. Or, at least, that's how I've always thought of it. It's kind of silly, really, to think that way, but I did.

However, as I sample more and more different kinds of sushi I'm starting to change my mind. Part of this also has to do with I seem to be eating less quantity of food as well, partly for my waistline and partly because that's just what needs to happen as you get older and spend 75% of your waking hours in front of a computer.

So the other day, we went out for sushi for lunch. Well, we didn't necessarily expressly decide to get just sushi, but we went to a place in Lake Oswego called Kurata, and we've been reading on various messageboards for awhile how fantastic their sushi was. Just so you know in advance, they are only open for lunch on Thursday and Friday.

I expected Kurata to be busy on a Friday for lunch, but it sure was not. We showed up a little before noon and there were only two other customers. It's a small place so it only holds about 12-15 people total at any one time, but it didn't get more than half full the entire time we were there.

The menu has plenty of options, but after pouring over it we decided sushi sounded really good, and that's what they are known for, so why not?

We decided on a couple different things. We ordered a combination plate of tempura (shrimp, potato, onion, zucchini, and Japanese squash) that came with a California roll, salad, and miso soup, and then we also ordered an Alaskan roll with salmon and crab, a Philadelphia roll with cream cheese and smoked salmon, and a hamachi with a simple piece of tuna.

So yes, mostly sushi. And honestly, this was a boatload of food. The waitress kind of gave me an eye when I ordered the third sushi dish, like was I really going to eat all of that? Of course not - that's why there is a cooler in the car (we carry it everywhere, for leftovers). At the time I didn't realize how much I was ordering, but oh well.

The tempura was some of the lightest I've ever tasted, but it was still very flavorful with a good crunch. All of the vegetables were perfectly cooked, which I haven't always been able to say about other places we have been. The California roll was very well done and all of the ingredients were obviously very fresh - which, for me, is a key with sushi. Especially since I can get the same thing homemade on occasion.

Rice is also a key with sushi, and this was some of the best around town I've had.

The Alaskan and Philly rolls were eight, half-dollar-size pieces each. The salmon and crab (real crab, not that fake crap you get at a lot of places) in the Alaskan roll were a good combination, but I will say the crab was the dominant flavor (not that it's a bad thing at all). The Philly roll consisted of smoked salmon, cucumber, and, of course, cream cheese. Some places go crazy with the cream cheese, which is just weird to me. This one was delightlyfully restrained, allowing the freshness of the cucumber and the smokiness of the salmon to really shine in parallel instead of being snuffed by the Philly.

The tuna on the hamachi roll was excellent. The meat was tender, melt-in-your-mouth good. This dish had two rolls on it, with generous helpings of fish. My only complaint with this was a the wasabi - placed between the fish and the rice - was a bit too much for my tastebuds. Of course, I will also admit to not liking wasabi much at all, so it doesn't take a lot to be too much for me.

We loved our lunch, and we brought home plenty to nibble on the next day. Absolutely we will be going back for dinner sometime...and apparently I can make a meal out of just sushi - a very, very good meal.


Laurelhurst is Decent

Sometimes when you pick a new restaurant to try you take a risk. Maybe you want to check it out for the hype, a special dish, or because all the critics say it's good. Maybe they don't and you want to check it out anyway. Whatever the reason for choosing a place you always run the risk of being disappointed; that's part of the price you pay in the quest for perfection.

Last week Wifey and I decided to go to Laurelhurst Market on East Burnside for dinner. We had gone last summer and bought sandwiches out of the attached deli (open during the day), but wanted to check out the restaurant (only open for dinner). It's a meat-centric place - always a plus for us - and they have high quality meats, so the prices weren't exactly walking around money. We knew that going in. We also chose it despite continually being disappointed with steakhouses (I'm looking at you Ringside Steakhouse).

The menu looks very good with plenty of different kinds of meats to choose from. I will point out, though, that the main course dishes really are just the protein - if you want more you need to order a side or a salad. I'm not really sure I understand the steakhouse predilection for this not having side dishes included in the meal, but there you go - you've been warned.

Wifey ordered the grilled ribeye with blue cheese butter and fried Walla Walla onions, medium. Here's another thing about steakhouses - they never give you the doneness you request. Medium, to them, is apparently very red in the middle. I know cooks seem to like their meat less cooked than perhaps I do, but one would think if you ask for medium you should get some pink without any red. It's like the cook is saying no, that's not what you want. I'll do whatever I please. I get that on some level, but at the same time if you don't like raw beef you don't like raw beef.

Despite that, the steak was a nice piece of meat and it was very good. The onions had a very nice crust on them that didn't get soggy, even on re-heating in the microwave the next day. Overall this was a good dish - just not sure it was $32 good. She ordered smashed olive oil new potatoes to go with it that was also pretty decent.

I opted for the double cut pork chop, which is not the one listed on the menu at the link above. It's the same cut of meat, but Carlton Farms instead of Tails and Trotters and had a sweet smokiness to it. Again, I ordered it medium and this was probably done closer to my request than Wifey's steak, but it was pink in the middle and almost dry on the outside. (Oddly enough, the next day it actually seemed moister when I ate leftovers - not quite sure how that happens.) I picked a side of Mom's Baked Beans - which promise to be what Mom would have served me if she loved me - thinking I couldn't go wrong there. The flavors were good, but not all of my beans were cooked through - some were hard.

We ordered a glass of red wine with the dinner to share, something we don't normally do. At a steakhouse it seemed like the right thing to do. We chose a $10 glass of Dollar Bill from Patricia Green Cellars which was excellent. I may have mentioned before I'm not a big fan of most of the pinot noirs around here, but apparently I just need to get the expensive stuff. Highly recommend this wine - it had a fruity nose, minimal tannins, and just a solid overall flavor and feel.

When the dessert menu came we saw their version of S'mores (I think they called it Night at Lost Lake or something like that) and had to get it. It comes on a plate with two house-made graham crackers, almost gingerbread, which have rosemary in them. That was an interesting tweak I liked while Wifey wasn't that thrilled about it. That came with a nice square of toasted marshmallow and some soft Callebaut chocolate - plus a smooth shot of Maker's Mark bourbon, which I downed cheerfully. Eaten together it was very good (to me anyway). Sadly, I think this and the wine were the highlights of my Laurelhurst experience.

The food was pretty decent, but the high prices weren't justified. I'll spend the money if it really, truly is that good - this just wasn't.

Would I go back? Surprisingly, yes I would. But if we did I'd nibble around the edges of the menu, perhaps trying the bacon cheese burger, one of the salads, or the fish and chips, instead of going for a large chunk of meat main course. And many of the appetizers our fellow diners ordered - it's an open dining room - did look good. The pommes frites looked fantastic.

Would I recommend it? Probably not. And that's kind of sad because I really wanted to like this place. I'll recommend the deli part for sandwiches and hard to find cuts of beef and pork, just not necessarily for a steak dinner.


A Lovely Meal

Wifey and I decided we needed a mid-week date night a couple weeks back and decided to check out a pizza place we hadn't been before. We narrowed it down to Dove Vivi and Lovely's Fifty-Fifty. Dove Vivi is off Glisan and Lovely's is on Mississippi Avenue, and since we could pair that with a visit to The Sugar Cube for a cupcake dessert we opted for the latter. Maybe next time Vivi.

Lovely's Fifty-Fifty is the new place opened next door to what was Lovely Hula Hands, a place we wanted to go to but never did before it closed. It's run by the same people, but the focus has shifted to high quality pizza and homemade ice cream from the meals done in the old space. This space is new, long and narrow, with plenty of seating. We were there a little early - 5:30 or so - on a Wednesday and there were plenty of tables. In fact, there were still plenty of tables when we left an hour later. Admittedly that's not exactly a high traffic night, or time, for a restaurant, but it's good to know you can get a table when you want one if you play your cards right.

Fifty-Fifty has their own unique take on pizza. I've seen it described as traditional, meaning like the ones made in Napoli, but I think I must disagree. It's closer to that style than any American style, but I personally think Nostrana and Ken's Artisan Pizza are closer to what is typically Napolitano - that could just be me. That's not to say it's not good - it most assuredly is.

We decided to get two. For us this is practically a must because the first one we will always get is the classic margherita. So what next? You can see the menu at the link above - they all looked good. What we decided on isn't on the menu at the moment; it had fennel sausage, kale, and mozzarella. I wasn't sold it would be a good combination, but fennel sausage intrigued me.

Lovely's crust is very good. It's not as chewy as some, not as thick as others, but it has very good flavor and a crunch to the edges that isn't too much, meaning it's not dry and overdone. The sauce is absolutely excellent - you can taste the freshness of the tomatoes. There is also plenty of it, which we both love (and yes, I realize this is decidedly un-Italian - don't care). The mozzarella on both pizzas was very good, very fresh, and there was a nice drizzle of olive oil at some point in the layering that added another element of flavor.

The margherita was fantastic. The freshness of all the ingredients and the boldness of the flavors working in harmony really stood out. I'd eat this every day if I could. The kale and sausage was also very good. I wasn't sure about the kale, but the nuttiness from the leaves when roasted really made a nice impact on the overall flavor and the fennel sausage added a touch of savory and salty that was very pleasing. I didn't think I would like this nearly as much as the margherita, but it was fantastic. Absolutely would get again...but then again, there are others to try!

We made a point of saving room for dessert because we had heard good things about their ice cream. (Just ignore the fact we had Sugar Cube cupcakes already in the car...) Unfortunately the chocolate chip cookie dough was sold out (sad!), so we got a scoop each of the malted milk ball and the salted caramel. And wow...just wow. This might be some of the best ice cream I've had, and I like myself some ice cream.

The malted milk ball ice cream tasted, literally, like a melted Whopper. I loved these things as a kid - not so much Whoppers specifically anymore, but I like the flavor combination - and this was a flashback to then. On top of the excellent flavor profile the vanilla ice cream itself was very smooth and creamy, almost luxurious. The salted caramel was heavenly... We both agreed we'd go back just for ice cream, even if the pizza was bad - which it wasn't at all. In fact while we were there at least one couple came in just for a cone to go. Right now they are open just for dinner, but I believe they will be open on weekend afternoons in the summer for ice cream at least, if not for meals. And it's completely worth it.

My only complaint about the whole dinner is the booths are wooden benches and they are quite hard. If that's the only issue, you know there is no reason to not give it a visit. Good pizza, nice atmosphere, and fantastic ice cream - lovely indeed.


Pretty Damn Tasty

A couple weeks back a new breakfast and lunch place opened up on North Williams, just down the street from Ristretto Coffee and Pix Patisserie, called Tasty n Sons. It's the new place from the mind of John Gorham, the esteemed owner of the critically acclaimed (by this blog and the rest of the world) Toro Bravo and got his start in Portland with Viande Meats at City Market and then also at Simpatica (which longtime readers here know we love).

All that is to say Gorham is Portland restaurant royalty, he knows food, and I really like everything he's ever done. Really like it.

So when we read about his combining two of my favorite things - his cooking and vision with brunch - Wifey and I knew we'd be going to check this place out. So Saturday morning we did.

We meant to get there earlier than 12:15 to avoid a rush of any kind, but that's just about my only day of the week to sleep in, so it didn't happen. Lucky for us we found a parking spot right across Williams and we walked in just as another couple was leaving from two seats at the "bar" - the area right in front of where all the magic happens. (If you read my Toro Bravo review and have been there, it's basically the same type of area we sat there, and plenty of restaurants around town are adding this kind of seating - I like it.)

And, as it so happens, Mr. Gorham himself was there right in front of us, keeping an eye on the work and flow of his new business (still not officially open, just a "soft" open) while he did prep work, cutting up red peppers, stripping and washing chard, cutting tiny openings in dates, and all sorts of other things while giving the occasional direction and clarification to the staff the person who will presumably be in charge when he is not there.

No, we didn't actually talk to him, since he was busy working and all, but he did smile and say hello to us and the many other patrons in the area, plus any who walked by to thank him. Why were they thanking him? Well, because the food was simply wonderful.

Tasty n Sons doesn't have a menu on their website yet, but here is one sample from Portlandfood.org, about 3/4 of the way down the page. The menu we saw on Saturday was very similar.

We had to start off with the griddled bacon-wrapped dates with maple syrup, one each. We ordered it's cousin at Toro Bravo and these little nuggets are just fantastic. I don't know if the Tasty n Sons version is better, but it really is a little slice of heaven. The almond inserted in the middle has a lightly smoked flavor, adding a nice twist of smoky and salty to the sweetness of the date and the syrup. Highly recommend - $2 each.

Our next dish (I should point out here each item comes out as the kitchen finishes making it, so you will get one dish at a time instead of all at once - again, I'm a big fan of this service style) was the glazed yams with cumin maple syrup. I'll be honest here - we wouldn't have ordered this if we hadn't have already read people raving about it online. And you know what? Those people were absolutely right. The cumin adds a very contrasting flavor - without being overpowering - to the sweetness of the roasted yam and the syrup. I would absolutely order these again. I believe there were three good-sized slices of yam for $4.

This was followed by the chocolate potato doughnuts, which came with a vanilla creme anglaise sauce. Online reviews of this dish have been split, and I'm still not exactly sure where I fall on it. Wifey wasn't too excited by them. I liked the thickness of the dough, but they seemed a little hard and a tad on the crunchy side - trying to cut them with a fork seemed to make them crumble. The sauce was good, but I could have used a little more for three doughnut holes. Have seen people describe these as not chocolately enough, but that part was okay for me. May try again, if I hear they tweak it a bit. $5.

All three of those were in the Smaller Plates section, but the next two were in the Larger Plates portion of the menu. The first is Auntie Paula's French toast with rhubarb and whip cream. On the link to the menu above you will see it's $8, but that was for two slices, I think. They changed it by the time we went, so there are two options - a $5 one and a $10 one. We opted for the smaller one so we could try another dish. This station was actually right in front of us, so we could see some of the process. The slices of bread are very thick, and after being dipped in the batter they go onto a simple electric griddle that has been generously buttered. These are then left for what I thought was quite a long time - much longer than I do it at home, so maybe I need to turn down the temperature. And add butter. Mmm...butter... When they are finally finished the toast is topped with a rhubarb jam/sauce and then whip cream. Verdict? Super damn good. Super. Damn. Good. The whip cream tastes like fluffy ice cream, the sauce is amazing, and the French toast a dream. Highly, highly, highly recommend. A lot. You should order this.

Our final dish was the fried egg and cheddar biscuit. There is a choice of sausage or fried chicken on that, so we chose the chicken. Splitting this was difficult because it was quite large and a little problematic to cut, but we managed. The biscuit was good and everything was cooked very well, but it was a tad crunchy. Now, crunchy isn't a bad thing - it just means every time you whip out the knife to cut it or take a bite, it crumbles to bits. I ended up eating most of it in pieces with my fork rather than eating it as a sandwich. Wifey thought the flavors were perfect and I really like it, but would have liked a tad bit of something sweet on there just set the flavors off - maybe a dab of honey, a jam, or even maple syrup would have done the trick - but it was pretty good.

Overall, Tasty n Sons was fantastic. The service was very good, the food was excellent, and we are already planning what to get on our next trip (the burger, perhaps, or the cheesesteak, followed by the chocolate chip cookie and ice cream for dessert; and maybe some dates...and French toast...). Looks like Mr. Gorham has another hit on his hands.