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The Other Intelligent Design, or Rocks that Rock

I feel entitled, once in a while, to veer of the subject of the business of design and branding to cover one of my two loves—nature and food. Who knows how a rock or a shell or the pattern of seeds inside a cut piece of fruit will wend their way into that magazine layout or logo design? You just trust that what inspires you will work its magic at some point in the future.

Many designers I know are obsessed with rocks. The closest I’ve come to making sense of it is that rocks, with their smoothness, a wild streak of mineral deposit, surface pocked with teeny holes or perfectly oval shape, resemble the best intentionally designed objects, only they are accidents of the magic forces of nature.


Once such place where the forces of nature collide is Ona Beach on the central Oregon coast. Basalt rocks, both teeny and gigantic, have been sculpting this patch of coast for eons, creating an other-worldly landscape. You have to be here at low tide to be rewarded.







Good Finds: Local Business Captured

Even though anyone with Photoshop has long been able to “instagram” a photo, it’s still easier to add a filter or change the focus with Instagram. That ease makes me go for my iPhone as I make the rounds to local businesses.

And before you ask, why are you putting images on a blog post when they’re on Instagram and now, Facebook+Instagram, I’ll just say that no one venue does it all. Here, I can curate. And believe it or not, not everyone is on Facebook or Instagram.

Crate (above) and red truck (below) both at Porch Light in Portland’s Pearl District, an airy store that places great music.

(Below) Blackboard and reclaimed lumber at The Rebuilding Center of Our United Villages, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable practices by accepting donations of and selling used building materials.

(Below) Donald inspecting free-roaming chickens at the adorable Pistils Nursery on N. Mississippi—
country living in the city.

(Below) The Meadow specializes in gourmet items like this impressive array of bitters as well as chocolates, salts, flowers and vermouth.

(Below) The dry rock garden at the Portland Japanese Garden, one of the many wondrous spots to linger in.

(Below) A recent find at the Portland Farmers Market booth of Sweetwater Farm. Chef Kathryn of The Farmers Feast cooks up mushrooms alongside Sweetwater Farm. In this case, sauteed porcini and Douglas Fir tips.

(Below) Need a newsprint Chinese umbrella, a wooden head or a 10-foot-long paper dragon?
in the Pearl District might just have it.

(Below) I could roam the aisles of Beaumont Hardware store forever. My favorite find was this wall diagram of available springs. If they had let me, I would have bought the display.

And to top it off with something sweet, below is a portion of 21 pounds of Hood strawberries from Sauvie Island Farms, my favorite spot for picking berries through the summer.

Stay tuned for more…

Dear John Letter to my Laser Printer

I stare at the fresh space left — along with a bit of dust — after removing my old laser printer from the office floor. As I approach the 15-year anniversary of Allegro Design on April 1, I feel both sad and spacious. Myself and two colleagues on the east coast make up a small club — those who cling to laser printers long after most equipment has died. Our motto is “Use it till it dies!” or “Keep it out of the landfill!” or “Long live black and white!”

Actually, we have no such motto. Read more

Bright New Day

Insomnia. Like a hopscotch board, each square filled with failures, flaws, doubts, insecurities, hopelessness, that your mind hops back and forth upon. A cruel game you’re forced to play over the endlessly strung-together minutes. Insomnia doesn’t care what the coming day has in store, like the need to create a masterpiece, or at least an annual report. It doesn’t care if you planned a morning business call. Or if you’ve cut out caffeine and so cannot turn to that curative, even if its effect is only temporary. Insomnia doesn’t care about that stabbing back pain you hoped might have gone away by now. It also doesn’t know you live in the northwest where waking up on endless gray mornings is enough of a challenge.

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Just Put It

This story appeared in the Smithsonian magazine’s Food & Think blog.

It was with a mix of excitement, curiosity and also a little dread that we’d visit my father’s Italian family in NY. We went most often at Thanksgiving or Easter. Brooklyn had what the Maryland suburbs lacked—subways rumbling overhead, the Chinese five and dime, colorful accents, and grandma Pell’s cooking. But it also meant a nail-biting journey in the car with my father, for whom driving was sport. He’d jockey for position among the black Cadillacs and Lincolns that sailed and bobbed on the narrow avenues. I’d slide down the vinyl seat of our blue Oldsmobile to avoid seeing the too-close cars. Instead, I’d try to think about the pizza awaiting us.

Grandma Pell, whose name was Lena, was born in Manhattan in 1908 a year after her parents emigrated from Italy. She’d never been to Italy herself but maintained her family’s ways around food. There were rules, sometimes concrete but mostly mysterious. Put oregano in the pizza sauce, never in the marinara. Fry sausages in olive oil, but the meatballs in vegetable. Soak the eggplant in salt water first; fry the slices not once, but twice. Rules were not universal, however. Once, an argument broke out between my uncle’s sister and her husband about whether to stuff peppers with raw or cooked pork. Heads turned when a hand came down hard on the table, “You put it in raaawwww!” People shrugged and went back to eating.

The kitchen was grandma’s domain and from these small spaces came humble, but glorious food—unadorned pizzas, stuffed squid, spaghetti pie, green beans stewed in tomatoes, and eggplant parmesan that melted in your mouth like butter. We saw these visits as an excuse to eat with abandon—salami and proscuitto and capacollo, slabs of salty wet mozzarella, extra helpings of rigatoni and meatballs. But most of all, for me, it was the stuffed artichokes. One by one, I’d savor the slippery metallic leaves and the slow journey to the heart.

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