Howard L. Puckett
The beach is Mother Nature's most potent antidepressant," says Gideon Bosker, who deems the seashore "Prozac for the soul." He should know. He's an expert on clinical pharmacology and author of several weighty tomes on the subject. Yet this prescription comes straight from the heart, not the head.
Over the past 20 years, Gideon, Lena Lencek, and their 16-year-old daughter, Bianca, have escaped to beaches around the world for a dose of the best elixir on earth. Their favorite: the Oregon Coast.
Drawn to this wild landscape, the Portland residents purchased a cottage in the artist community of Neahkahnie 14 years ago. An unassuming structure measuring less than 1,000 square feet, it was built in 1941 as a U.S. Coast Guard station lookout for Japanese warships and submarines.
The cottage―slightly expanded but still retaining its quirky, knotty-pine charm―now has its occupants looking inward. In their retro-stylish retreat, books, watercolors, global music, and highly personal objects surround them. So do friends and laughter.
If ever there were a Renaissance couple for the 21st century, it would be Lena and Gideon―a bit of Michelangelo commingled with Martha Stewart. Lena is a professor of Russian and humanities at Reed College, and when Gideon isn't in the kitchen developing such spirited books as Patio Daddy-O, Dude Food, or Atomic Cocktails, he's lecturing across the country. In their spare time, they have written independently or together dozens of books on a variety of subjects―both serious and lighthearted.
Over the years Gideon and Lena say they have dreamed and grown up in their little Neahkahnie cottage. "It's where Bianca learned to walk, climb her first mountain, make her first clay sculpture, and ride her first horse," Lena recalls.
It's also where the couple learned to perfect the art of cooking and entertaining at the beach. "Who wants to fuss in the kitchen, even with the sound of surf playing basso continuo to Paolo Conte on the stereo and the view of Neahkahnie Mountain shaking off the morning mantle of fog," muses Lena, "when the whole idea of a weekend at the beach is relaxation and surrender to the senses?"
For just that reason, she and Gideon have streamlined shopping and cooking routines for minimal effort in the kitchen with maximum payoffs on the table. "Everyone knows the beach is the best place to work up a healthy appetite. I can't count the number of times I've admired the savory pinkish hue of an Oregon salmon grilled next to the surf," says Gideon. "Or we've become weak over a baby rack of lamb flavored with rosemary grown in our little beach herb garden."
Such divine meals have inspired cookbooks filled with, as Gideon says, "recipes concocted spontaneously by the life-affirming, life-expanding, hunger-making impulses that the sea delivers like a drug."
The couple's pilgrimages to the coast are almost a weekly occurrence, whether with family or an assortment of friends. And there's nothing predictable about the menu―or the gathering. This weekend the guests hail from Seattle, San Francisco, Florida, and New York. "It's got to be close to 20 years that Gideon has been hosting memorable weekends at the beach," says one of today's revelers, Bill LeBlond, a senior editor with one of Gideon's publishers, Chronicle Books. Yet Bill tends to disagree with Lena's concept of "streamlined"; he's washed way too many dishes over the decades.
The routine, he says, is a fabulous breakfast using almost every dish and pan in the house, followed by a walk on the beach; a fabulous lunch using every dish, followed by a walk. Finally, it's a fabulous dinner animated with the stories and antics and guffaws of both new and longtime friends.
This sunny Saturday afternoon is no exception. Today's menu, fittingly served in a retro style befitting the cottage's decor, takes its cues from the seaside garden. Rosemary and blackberries make the Glazed Long Island Duck feel right at home on the Oregon Coast.
After the feast, everyone enjoys a relaxing walk on the beach to the backdrop of a brilliant sunset. It's tempting to stay and savor the stars, but the regulars know that Dr. Bosker's Boogie-Woogie Brown-Sugared Barbecued Bananas awaits back at the cottage.
Yes, the ending is sweet for a day of camaraderie, and the repartee as lively and robust as the recipes. But Gideon and Lena refuse to take the credit. "Neahkahnie is one of those special places that nurture all the senses," says Gideon. "And it inspires people to feast like no other place we know."