Month: March 2006

A look back. The first few days away I revisit what got me here

It was weird this week. Seeing a new issue of Boise Weekly in the newsstands and racks and not necessarily knowing what was inside. I had an inkling, but by and large a lot of the stuff I had not read prior to it getting published. It is strange not to be a part of something that I’ve been working on for five years.

Sometimes an editor leaving a paper will take the opportunity to have a last word, a last statement. Rather than subject readers to a diatribe of thanks, we let the new guy establish his rule over his new dominion. I felt it was better to leave quietly. But, with this blog, I can say what I want, how I want it.

While to many, it may seem that I held just about every position at the paper, and in actuality I just about did, it was a consequence of a growing paper, not my flighty tendency. When Sally and I bought the paper in August, 2001, circulation was down, revenues were more than half of what they were today, the staff was demoralized over the unknown factor of who we were and what was going to happen to their jobs.

There were many difficulties those first six months. Expenses were too large to support the 20 staff. The ad to edit ratio was out of control. And, with the impact of 9/11 one month later, Sally losing her consulting position with National Airlines due to the airplane crisis, and taking over a newspaper with unknown problems until we discovered them hiding in the corner, needless to say, it was a difficult time.

To ensure the future of Boise Weekly we had to take drastic measures. We reduced the staff to a skeleton crew of seven people. Sally and I were both working nearly 80 hours per week or more. I took on art direction, ad design, editing, writing and was delivering newspapers. I even tried doing some sales during that time. Even still, by January, 2002, we almost closed the paper down. I remember sitting with Sally at the kitchen table at our apartment on 8th Street and making the go-no go decision. Closing it down would have meant losing everything we had saved and scraped together to invest in Boise Weekly. It would have meant starting over our careers, beginning to save again for retirement, our kid’s education, any equity we may have built up during the previous 10 years of professional life. But we stuck it out, rolling debt around, taking out additional credit and we limped along until ads started selling again in the spring.

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Sabbatical 

Taking some time off

I am taking a break from the Boise Weekly. Call it a sabbatical, or a temporary leave of absence, but I have reached a saturation point and no longer have the mojo for the week to week running of the paper. I am still an employee, but a title change to Associate Publisher or perhaps Editor-at-large (on sabbatical) will appear this next week in the masthead.
In the meantime, I will continue living in Boise, it still is my favorite place to be, but I will be pursuing other interests. As part owner of Boise Weekly I will continue to be involved on some level behind the scenes, but in what capacity we’ll determine later, after I take a break. In the meantime, we will be putting Nicholas Collias, the news editor for BW, into the position of Managing Editor. Our entire staff is excited for new opportunites to run the show and I have full confidence that Boise Weekly will continue to break important stories in the community, cover the arts like never before, enhance and support the local music community, and continue to push and support the arts through various means.
I will be helping to coordinate the Open Studios Weekend in June and will be actively involed in that. I, too, will be opening my studio then as well. Hopefully, with all of my extra time I will have lots of work to show.
What will the future bring for Bingo? I am not sure. I plan on continuing to write this blog on a periodic basis, pursue some writing projects that I have been trying to find the time to do, work on my own personal artwork, go to some art workshops, travel, garden a little, pursue my letterpress and bookmaking interests, go flyfishing, occasionally write an article for BW and seek out other interesting opportunities. I won’t rule out seeking other jobs or positions in the community so if you have an idea or an offer please contact me. I will maintain my e-mail address… bingo@boiseweekly.com and my phone number has always been unlisted in the book.
Here’s to a new era at Boise Weekly.

Trendwatch 2006 

A look at the food trends currently in Boise and those that have yet to come

Over-publicized restaurants

In bigger cities, often more money is spent on decor and marketing than on the food. Luckily we haven’t had to deal with many over-hyped restaurants in Boise. In fact, word of mouth (and a few FÜD News items in BW) is usually enough to get people going to a restaurant here.

Raw cuisine

This one is starting to take hold here. Name a nice local restaurant that hasn’t had seared ahi on its menu. We’re seeing rarer and rarer bits of meat on plates but the closest thing to raw that seems to be taking off in Boise is sushi. With Superb Sushi in the basement of the Idaho Building and this week’s opening of Koi in the Mode Building, there are two new sushi restaurants on 8th Street alone–not to mention the conversion of Taste in Hyde Park. We have seen more and more Boiseans embrace the raw fish my own pappy simply called “bait.”

Bragging about buying local

While many restaurants in the area help the local economy by buying as much locally grown produce and meat products as possible, we’re not being inundated with the message. In fact, you should know that this is a trend some local restaurateurs want to see happen more. Dave Krick, owner of Bittercreek Ale House, Red Feather Lounge, Reef and the newly opened Front Door, says he’d like to see a lot more of it.

“Did you know the average carrot travels 2,000 miles before being eaten?” he asks. “We should be offended by tomatoes picked green and sprayed with growth hormone.” And, while he says that the local food economy is getting better, local chefs need to go beyond just using fresh produce. They need to know where it is coming from. He hopes to see a trend toward paying more attention to building a network of local food growers and protecting open space for smaller farms instead of mega-planned communities.

Reservations

In big cities if you call ahead for reservations you’ll be told the only times available are 5:30 p.m. or 10:30 p.m., but if you show up at 8 p.m. and you’ll be seated right away. First of all, in Boise you shouldn’t have to call ahead two weeks for a reservation unless it’s for a holiday. And you don’t, thank goodness. Second, a lot of restaurants don’t serve past 10 p.m. However, one disturbing trend we noticed this year was lunchtime reservations being almost required during the first few months of P.F. Chang’s opening. Luckily, other local restaurants have not adopted the lunchtime reservation policy.

Unisex bathrooms

While most Boiseans usually have no problem using either the men’s or women’s bathroom if the other one is occupied, we haven’t seen a plethora of unisex powder rooms appear.

Foam

We guess this is a meringue or some kind of edible lump of bubbles that is appearing as a side dish or decoration in trendy restaurants. We haven’t seen it here, nor do we particularly want to.

Pizza joints

If you haven’t noticed, pizza is taking over. Boise already had some great pizza houses but in the last year we’ve seen almost a half-dozen new ones open up. New-school pizza places like Pie Hole, Lulu’s, Front Door and recently opened Tony’s next to the Egyptian Theatre are now on the scene to compete with old favorites like Guido’s, Lucky 13 and Chicago Connection.

Fusion Restaurants

Carlos Tijerina, who will manage the newly opened Koi until the Eagle Mai Thai opens later this year, says the biggest trend he sees happening in Los Angeles when he visits is fusion cuisine. While you may be hard pressed to find fusion cooking in Boise, Koi might be one of the first.

“Because of the large Latin influences in the kitchens of L.A.,” says Tijerina, “you are seeing Cuban/Asian and Chinese/Latin cooking from a lot of innovative chefs.” Carlos says Koi will have a Peruvian influence so Boise may get its first fusion-themed sushi restaurant.

Other Trends

Boise has still not seen any shabu-shabu restaurants or noodle houses come to town. We haven’t seen gimmicky restaurants with hydraulic tables that turn into lounges late at night with tables that are lowered for drinks and raised for dinner. Regional Latin cuisine such as Oaxacan or Guatemalan styles haven’t shown up either. New spins on Eastern ingredients haven’t made as much of an impact on local chefs other than new sushi bars.

While new trends (new to Boise at least) are inevitable, we like that the Treasure Valley restaurant scene continues to grow with more and more diversity, an increased awareness of locally grown organic vegetables and meats being used by chefs, and an attention to developing a regional cuisine including salmon, venison, elk and other wild game. And while pizza is one of our favorite foods on earth, we think we might have enough now.

The Ram 

Up high, in empty spaces between screens, are large chalk signs detailing which brews are currently being served and brewed. There are many to choose from. We ask for samples of several and are granted our wish. Big Red IPA is too hoppy for me and Total Disorder Porter is a little too heavy for my taste this evening. I settle on an Idaho Blonde while my drinking companion chooses a Buttface Amber. We go for one big one and another even bigger one.

On a Monday night after eight, the place isn’t crowded and we are served food quickly, but I acknowledge that it isn’t football season either. Sipping beers and observing the more than half-empty space, I have a hard time deciding if this is a bar or a restaurant made to look like a bar. There is a defined restaurant space beyond the bar area but that doesn’t discourage anyone from enjoying a full meal on the high tables surrounding us. To me, a bar (or bar area) should be a much more social place than a restaurant. At a restaurant you are confined to your own table with your own guests. A bar should offer much more opportunity to mingle with strangers on the fast track to becoming friends. But you need people—of which there are not many on this night–to fill the empty space. I imagine that prior to or just after a Boise State game, this place is packed. The space is definitely able to support a large crowd, but on a slow Monday night it’s lonely and the bodies are few and far between. We’ll return on a busier night for a more accurate assessment. The beers were good, though. That will bring us back for sure.

The Ram, 709 E. Park Blvd., 345-2929

Cooking with Cristina 

Test-driving a new Sun Valley cookbook

How do you review a cookbook? Do you judge the usefulness of the information within? Do you “ooh” and “ahh” over the pictures? Do you marvel at the variety of ingredients? Is it organized in a clear, concise way? Can you actually cook anything out of the book?

I figured the only way to do the book justice was to cook an entire meal for guests from the recipes. So last Saturday night, using Cristina’s of Sun Valley(Gibbs Smith, December 2005), I planned and executed what turned out to be one of the most exquisite meals I had prepared in a long time.

Cristina’s Restaurant is a very popular restaurant with many tourists and residents, both famous and infamous, of the Blaine County resort town. Unapologetically Italian, the recently published cookbook by Cristina’s chef Cristina Ceccatelli Cook is filled with photographs from Cook’s Sun Valley kitchen, as well as views of the surrounding landscape and of the hills around Florence, Italy, where Cook is from. Rich colorful images in the front of the book show Cook’s relatives in the old country and establish the credibility of the later photos of the dishes described within the cookbook’s pages. Flipping the pages of the book gives the overall impression of perusing privileged secret family recipes from generations of one family’s cooks.

I must admit I have never had the pleasure to dine at Cristina’s, but I figured the next best thing was to cook some dishes from her cookbook.

I began with the recipe for artichoke dip and made two batches–one straight up and one with the crab variation. Baked in the oven and using every fresh ingredient I could find, the dishes came from the oven bubbling hot and delicious. Not for the weak of heart, this dish with parmigiano cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese and artichokes sits heavily and tastes heavenly.

Like any good Italian meal, mine that night spanned many hours and multiple courses. The Hungarian mushroom soup had been simmering on the stove for hours. Made with wine, paprika, sour cream, whole milk, tamari sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Italian parsley, dill and four pounds of button mushrooms, the meal would have been complete with this second course. (This second recipe is a keeper.) But I didnt’ stop there.

After cleansing our palates with a fresh orange, I served up the bucatini alla carbonara, a pasta dish with onion, pancetta, garlic, white wine, parmigiano and pecorino cheeses and heavy cream. I couldn’t find either bucatini or perciatelli pasta, but at the Boise Co-op I found a uniquely shaped and seemingly similar pasta as a substitute. This dish was easy to prepare and turned out delicious. While some pasta dishes are better as second-day leftovers, this dish most definitely needs to be consumed fresh (although the leftovers weren’t anything to shake a stick at). For the main entree, I prepared the rack of lamb, simply marinated in olive oil, sage and rosemary with a pinch of mint, and then broiled in my oven.

Accompanied by some great Italian wines, my guests crashed at my house–which was fortuitous for them, because the next morning I went back to the cookbook and prepared the frittata with Swiss chard and onions for breakfast. Just to do it up a little more, I also prepared the breakfast gnocchi from book’s breakfast chapter. Both the frittata and the gnocchi were hits.

The recipes from Cristina’s of Sun Valley are easy to make using locally found ingredients. Except for the pasta, I easily found everything else I needed. There are many more recipes I’m dying to try, and if any of them come close to matching the quality of those I already tried, my future guests will be sure to come back.

Newspaper circulation 

The newspaper industry has been losing readers for many years, hence the plethora of niche publications that attempt to reach “younger” readers. Despite these lame efforts–and a smaller readership base–some aspects of the news industry grow. Last week it was revealed that President Bush hailed the growing importance of the alternative press in a new book Strategery (containing interviews with him and his brain). While the aging demographic of daily newspaper readers continues to cause circulation declines across the country for the behemoth publishing groups, the alternative newsweeklies as an industry continue to grow readership. A few weeks ago, our circulation grew past 35,000 copies per week. This is more than double our circulation in August 2001.

Despite our growing circulation, we continue to have a predictable number of distribution locations decide they don’t want the paper. Usually it is because the owner or manager of a particular location doesn’t like something he or she reads, so they censor the publication for their customers, like self-appointed morality police. Or, they cave in to one or two customers with a negative opinion about the paper. Recently, a chain of tire stores in the local market asked us to take our papers out because the cover image had “big boobs” and we printed the F-word. Ironically, other publications in the area have published the F-word and they remain in these locations, but one person complains and–poof–we’re gone. I find it also ironic that this same tire store’s name is a euphemism for an orgasm. But, hey, who are we to judge? I say eff ’em.

Another item of interest is that our Web site traffic spiked dramatically last week. While the “Red State, Meet Police State” feature by Nicholas Collias continues to be spread around the Web and attract lots of visitors, last week another story attracted over 30,000 visitors in two days, a new record. The story? It was a Curious Times news item “Surprise! Big Breast and Hard Nipples Won’t Make You Happy.” So while big breast on our cover made one particular business unhappy, another story about breasts made our webmaster very happy. It makes me happy, too.

Fonny Davidson:  Portrait of a western landscape artist

Artists played a key role in the opening of the West to American expansion. The paintings they brought back to the east were filled with grand skies, open plains and majestic mountains. Before the age of photography, these were the only images that represented this new territory, the frontier. Today, art doesn’t play the same role as it once did, inspiring populations to go see a fresh land for themselves. Landscape painters have become a rare and endangered species. Those artists still around today continue to document the landscapes of western regions, but more often than not, they are chronicling the disappearance of those lands.

Boise artist Fonny Davidson is one such artist. His work, while rooted in an earlier time, documents changes to the surrounding land have occurred over during his life. Davidson’s is a body of work that took a lifetime to create, and only when compared to other works–taken out of their chronological time frame–can one appreciate the true value of returning to the same spot, year after year, to paint the same land that has been there for millennia.

Davidson’s ties to this region are deep. He was born in Wenatchee, Washington, where his mother’s family dates back to the mid-1800s, about the time that part of the country was first settled by westerners. His father, born in 1877, was a blacksmith on the western side of Lolo Pass in Idaho and repaired and prepped wagons making the difficult journey across the border. During the 1940s, Davidson grew up on a farm in Marsing, Idaho, but moved around the northwest for many years. After returning to Idaho in 1965, he attended Northwest Nazarene College, where he received degree in English, teaching and art. After teaching English in the public system for 10 years, he also worked as a commercial fisherman, where two months of hard labor allowed him to make enough money to paint at home the rest of the year. Davidson says that he has been focusing on art as his full-time career for the past 22 or 23 years.

Fonny Davidson sits in the studio he built in his backyard. - BINGO BARNES

  • Fonny Davidson sits in the studio he built in his backyard.

When he undertook his art career in the 1960s, Davidson says there wasn’t any art scene to speak of in the region, “But I was too young and naïve to know that.” He had been accepted in to several masters programs, but decided not to attend, preferring to strike out on his own. He is not one to go to a lot of workshops either, but he gives nods to many artists who have influenced his works. He credits his main influence, Del Gish, whom he considers a mentor. “He gave me my foundation and taught me to paint,” Davidson says.

Davidson wasn’t always a painter. While he began his career with painting, he also dabbled in ceramics and then sculpture before returning to painting in the early 1980s. Over the years, his sculptures have graced the grounds of Northwest Nazarene, and some of his works were in the running for the front of Boise City Hall. Today his garden in a West Boise neighborhood contains some of his metal works and inside his studio there are several wood models for larger works.

“I try to do something art-related every day,” he says. But that may not always involve painting. “There’s a certain amount of mental fermentation that needs to happen. There’s something to be said for taking a vacation, too.”

For many years, his preferred method of painting was en plein air, a French expression meaning “in the open air.” He still continues to do quite a bit of plein air paintings, often packing his paints, easel, brushes and materials–in plein air boxes he made himself–to a specific location, sometimes the same places he has painted many times. Davidson’s skill comes from a 40 years of experience, and at times he can finish one or two works in a day.

“To be a good traditional painter is not as well known as it used to be,” he says. “Most [artists] don’t go through that exercise, that training to do it. Most schools don’t teach it. Most people can’t recognize the subtleties. Today’s art has equated pushing the boundaries of art with being ‘good’ or ‘bad.'”

One of his favorite areas to paint is Barber Flats, just east of Boise, a spot that he has been documenting in his landscapes for years. While he hasn’t been out there in over a year, every time he returns, more development has occurred and more land has been eaten away by growth and urban sprawl. When looking at these works, one can see subtle changes in the land, the impact of humanity on a fragile world. Bonneville Point is another such favorite place. It is the location between Boise and Mountain Home where the Oregon Trail passed. His recent works of Bonneville Point have an airy quality, still capturing the essence but becoming more impressionistic in nature.

Davidson’s work also contains quite a bit of still life subjects. He used to focus on landscapes or still life paintings for a period of time, then return to the other. He would also limit himself to the same size canvases, a small palette of colors and one or two sizes of brushes. He paints an onion simply, with the same limited color palette he tends to use on his landscapes. These self-imposed limitations helped him master his tools and technique. He believes “it is essential for a person who has not developed technique to limit themselves. If you limit yourself to the same size format, then you don’t have to figure out how to fill the space every time.”

Today, while he may alternate between the content of his paintings more frequently, his palette, size of canvases and brush selections haven’t diversified much. Davidson says, “Content is more important than technique in some ways. I try to find content that resonates with who I am. Who in the hell are you as a person, or what can you do to express that?”

While he doesn’t go out in the field as much as he used to, Davidson says it was an important part of his artistic development. “When out painting, the sun demands you work fast, because the light changes,” he says. “Now I get out less, but I get more material.” He does some work from slides projected onto the wall in his studio, but years of plein air painting taught him what nature looks like and he relies on that.

“One thing I’m working on is to get a sense of the Western landscape–being part of the landscape, trying to assimilate what is there, being owned by it. The symbiotic relationship, that’s something I deal with all the time,” he says. “In a way, I’m dealing with the archetypal Western ideal, the dilemma I’m dealing with [is] that our modern life is so divorced from living in the landscape. That’s probably the main motivation.”

He holds up a Navajo blanket, made early last century. “This is their way of expressing who they were and who they are,” he says. “They did it intuitively. They didn’t go through the crap of intellectualizing their work. But once they started doing these for sale to the gringos, their work became polluted. Their motivation for doing them changed. The end product eventually changed as well but it was their basic tools to add spiritual content to their lives. That’s why being tied to these landscapes is so important.”

He recalls that the first gallery to show his work was the Fritchman Gallery but he has been with Stewart Gallery for the last 18 years, represented by Stephanie Wilde, whom Davidson labels the “Grand Dame” of art in Boise. But that isn’t the only place to see his paintings. Davidson’s work is all around town, in the lobby of Idaho Power, in professional offices and gracing the walls of many of Idaho’s private homes.

But for all his shows, sales and successes, Davidson’s thrill in his craft remains. His painting is a spiritual experience for him.

“When I’m out painting, I’m at my most primeval place. I get the most out of it,” he says.

Legislative Bigotry 

We’ve gone back and forth on one issue in the editorial department this week, but I believe that something needs to be said. Every legislator sitting in the Idaho statehouse who voted “yes” for the marriage amendment is a BIGOT. Yes, a BIGOT. And come election time this fall, if you vote for it, you’re also a bigot. I’d venture to say some of them are also homophobes, but BIGOT is a clearer way of putting it. A BIGOT is someone who discriminates because of race, gender or some other trait. By asserting that a group of people has rights that a different group of people will not be allowed, our legislators act discriminately, and I find it rephrehensible. When I look at their pictures (we have them in this issue for you), I see people who are just as disgusting as racists, Nazis and fascists. I see people without compassion, who don’t believe humans were created equal or that everyone should have the same rights as others. They’re BIGOTS, plain and simple. And if you agree with them, you’re a BIGOT, too.

Beer, Bowling, Booze and Balls 

Inside the bar, vocalists of the karaoke variety challenge themselves with notes they may have only hit once or twice in their lives. But it doesn’t matter much, the spirits soothe the ears and make it tolerable. Beer in a mason mug and cocktails in a plastic cup are served by a not-too-talkative ‘tender, but one who has a clear command of her domain. At this blue-collar bar, fancy drinks aren’t often asked for.

This particular evening, I arrive to find a friend searching the song list for tunes. She belts out a nice rendition of Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” and others try out their vocal chords before a karaoke competition kicks off at 10 p.m. I swivel on the stools, avoiding eye contact with the singers when they hit a sour note. Another friend arrives with a pack of boys and I decide to slip on a pair of thirteens and join them for a game. You know what they say about guys with big feet, right? Big shoes.

I periodically return to the bar when either, a) my glass gets dangerously low, or b) I check in on my friend awaiting her turn at the mic. My game does get slightly better, likely due to a looser throw or perhaps an attention to more finesse over power. Perhaps I just feel better about my game after a few beverages.

Dark—especially on disco nights—interesting and full of characters, the Gaslight Lounge is a resting stop not only for in-between game rests. It’s a non-bowler’s bar delight. And while you’re there, whether you’re a bowler or not, don’t forget to go out into the lanes and feel the balls.