Plus here are some tasty homemade meals from July –
Plus here are some tasty homemade meals from July –
We have been married now for 44 years. Wow, what a long time. But it doesn’t really seem that long. It seems the older I get the more compressed time seems. We have a very happy marriage although not without its little woes. Sometimes I complain too much and sometimes John is a little goofy. On the whole, though, we have a wonderful life with two great kids and two adorable grandsons. John is retired and we can visit all the places we want to see. We are together almost all the time and that is what we looked forward to all of our pre-retirement life. So no complaints here!
This year to celebrate we go up to Sonoma for the Stone Edge Farm Winery’s winemaker’s dinner with a vertical tasting of all their cabernet sauvignons. Our friend, Philippe, is there to greet us. We start out with passed hors d’oeuvres and champagne. The four course dinner includes a delicious bouillabaise Provencal with garlic toast and rouille,
and a sformatino of gorgonzola, walnut-saba relish, charred leeks and arugula salad. The small gorgonzola cake is especially delicious. (no picture, too busy eating). Next are slices of Painted Hills oak-grilled porterhouse with potato gnocchi, zucchini tian, and swiss chard. The meat is cooked perfectly and is so tender!
And lastly a dessert that even I like – a selection of artisanal cheeses with stone fruit compote. Plus the whole time we are tasting and critiquing a lot of wine! We start off with a 2014 Stone Edge Farm Sauvignon Blanc and then move on to the vertical tasting of the Stone Edge 2006-2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and also taste a 2009 Chateau Pontet-Canet, Pauillac. The table is a sea of glasses.
It is a wonderful dinner with knowledgeable folks from the winery and interested and eager tasters. We all give our opinions and it seems as though we tasters like all of the wines!
Luckily we are staying within walking distance of the dinner venue and we stumble back to our room after dinner is over.
Sunday, our actual anniversary, is spent walking around Sonoma square and napping. For dinner we go to a tapas place, Tasca Tasca. This is a lot of fun and we choose an array of tapas to try.
It is my first time eating goat and it is really good. I wonder why we don’t it in the U.S. The duck is also especially yummy. The dinner concludes with small servings of piri piri chocolate ice cream and salted olive oil ice cream.
I think we have eaten enough to last until our 45th anniversary next year! It is a lovely weekend and now I can start planning what to do for our next anniversary. Since it ends on a “5” it will be something really special.
Jon has joined another group to sing with. It is a mixed group of 7 men and women called PrimeTime and they sing in a jazz and pop style. He will still be singing with Hookslide but he wanted to try something else as well.
Since Ryan and Leigh are out of town we take Nathan and Sam to the show at the Monkey House in Berkeley. They are super good and seem to enjoy the music. PrimeTime does a great job and we look forward to hearing them sing again. Yay, Jon!
Today Sarah and I go to the Alameda County Fair. In the 23 years I have lived here I have only gone once before. Obviously I am not a big fan. But the fairgrounds are right here in town, John is at work today, and if you bring 4 canned goods you can get in for free (except for $10 parking!)
We had a great time and three hours of fair seems like just the right amount of time!
Here are some of the things we saw –
Yesterday Sarah and I went to the Farmer’s Market to get vegetables for our whole family cookout on Father’s Day to honor John and Jonathan. One thing we got was this beautiful Malabar spinach (which is not really spinach.) I plan to use it as a base under a beet, orange, and blue cheese salad.
But this morning I get a call that Nathan is sick and running a fever so Jonathan and family are not coming. Boo. I am sad that Nathan is sick and we cannot be all together.
What to do with all the food? Raise a toast to John and eat burgers, salads, and dessert for the rest of the week!
Happy Father’s Day, John!!
We wake up early at Bryce Canyon NP to get on the road so that we can visit Zion NP before it gets too crowded and hot. The plan is to find some breakfast along the way. We stop at the Galaxy diner in Hatch, UT. By this time Nathan and Sam have given up on waffles and are totally into French toast. This diner does not disappoint from a breakfast food standpoint. It does, however, have a very touch-y owner. The first time he comes by and touches me I think, “don’t touch me again!” That hope is to no avail. This guy must have touched me at least twenty-five times. Every time he walked by I got a shoulder graze or squeeze whether he was waiting on us or not. I am used to strangers talking to me since I have seem some sort of tractor beam drawing them in but it doesn’t usually get physical. This is pretty creepy. We finish up quickly and I try to get away with just a handshake which doesn’t work but I at least manage to avoid a full body hug.
We enter Zion NP from the East Entrance. The park looks very different from this side. In the western section it is all towering red cliffs and in the east there are more conical white sandstone formation. We stop at Checkerboard Mesa and discuss the geology of the area with Nathan and Sam.
Our hope is to get to the Visitor Center and on the buses before the crowds and heat. We have arrived before 11 AM but have failed in both regards. We have to park outside the park entrance and walk in. Then we have to stand in a very long line to get on a bus. Many buses fill up before it is our turn.
We get off at the farthest point in the canyon. We are going to walk along the Riverwalk Trail until it ends at the Virgin River. In one of our shopping outings I have bought water shoes for Jon, Nathan, and Sam. While we wait on the shore they can take a hike in the water.
By the time we get to the end of the trail Nathan has gotten a blister and decides not to go in the water. Sam and Jonathan do go in and have a great time while Nathan plays in the sand at the river’s edge.
On Friday we spend the morning in the Entrada pool where Sam swims through the waterfall and sits on the bench behind it with me. He is so happy to have accomplished this.
Tonight we are cooking our fancy dinner. Jonathan has seen some marrow bones at the new Harmon’s and he and I have a shopping expedition while John, Nathan, and Sam have some quiet tech time. Here is a picture of the marrow bones in the meat case.
We go into a long explanation of how we want the bones cut longitudinally so the marrow will be easier to get at. The butcher seems a little perplexed. Finally he says, “What kind of dog do you have?” Jonathan and I crack up and say that the bones are for us. He admits that he has never sold the bones for people before. He gets us some fresh ones and cuts them to our specifications. When we check out, here is how they ring up –
We roast the bones, make a garlic and parsley sauce, and serve them with crusty bread. It is very good and we are barking with pleasure at the end.
The week has flown by. We have done more than I have pictures for – movies, shopping, breakfast and lunches out, books, iPads, cards and games. On Saturday we must head down to Las Vegas so that Jon, Nathan and Sam can catch their plane home. We leave in enough time for a stop at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in the Caesar’s Palace Casino. At last we have found the much desired waffles! Nathan eats every bit on his plate plus a roll or two. Sam does a really good job as well. It is the perfect ending to a really fine trip.
I am really looking forward to this mini-trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. It ranks near the top of my favorite places to visit. We leave St. George early and plan to stop for breakfast in Cedar City. I figure a couple of stops along the way will make the trip easier for everyone.
Our breakfast is at the All-American Diner. Although Nathan and Sam are looking forward to a waffle somewhere, they are won over by the French toast fingers. All the breakfasts are pretty filling and I am confident that we will make it to Bryce and be able to take a hike without starving! ( I do have jelly sandwiches along for just in case.)
The rest of our ride is a scenic drive with views of Cedar Breaks National Monument and a climb up to over 9700 feet. Nathan is handling the GPS and reports our exact elevation. At the summit with patches of snow still visible we get out to take in the view back towards Zion NP.
We reach Bryce NP shortly before noon and park at the Best Western Ruby’s Inn. We have decided to take the bus into the park as we know from experience that there is very limited parking. Our bus drops us off at Sunset Point.
We walk out to the canyon edge and are overwhelmed by the beautiful scenery. The hoodoos look like sand castles and everywhere the colors are pink, orange, and ivory.
We begin our hike down into the canyon. It is pretty hard for me with my gimpy knee but I am game. Nathan and Sam are like mountain goats having no trouble with the terrain at all. Occasionally everyone needs to stop to let Beeba catch up.
It is pretty hot and the air is thin so we make sure everyone stays well-hydrated. Finally we get to the bottom of the canyon – and turn right to start the trek back up. For some reason I thought this would be easier. It is easier on my knee but the steepness and the thin air are taking its toll. Jonathan, Nathan, and Sam scamper back up to the top but it takes Zayde and Beeba a long time and lots of rests to make it to the canyon rim. There were times when I wasn’t sure whether I would make it!
We check into Ruby’s Inn and Jonathan and the boys go in search of lunch. I need a little sit down for a while. Later they go swimming and we take a nap.
Big goings-on tonight, a rodeo! We head across the street to the Ruby’s Inn Rodeo and get ready to watch some roping, barrel slalom, bull riding and bronco riding. We discover pretty quickly that rodeos are 8 seconds of terrifying action and then 10 minutes of nothing happening. One bull rider gets kicked in the head. We decide we’ve had enough.
Nathan and Sam go to the gift shop to pick out a souvenir. Sam immediately picks out the most expensive thing in the shop. They are 5 foot matching geodes which are $15,000! Luckily he is just as happy with a much smaller geode. Nathan selects polished rocks.
It has been an excellent day and everyone sleeps well.
Part 3 – Zion NP and brunch at Mesa Grill
John and I arrive in St. George a few days early to prepare for Jonathan, Nathan, and Sam’s visit. We need to get the house ready by moving the furniture around and setting up the beds for the kids. We must stock the refrigerator and pantry with grandchildren-friendly foods. And of course, there is the general clean-up that needs to be done since we have not been in St. George since January.
Finally it is time it is time to go to the airport and pick them up. We are very excited. Spotting them coming down the escalator, I get in position to take a picture.
Our plans for the ride home was to stop at Cedar Pocket and have a picnic under one of the shaded tables. The Virgin River runs right through the park. It’s narrow and shallow at this point and I figured the kids would have fun throwing rocks in the river and hiking around. But as they say, the best laid plans… The temperatures are soaring and there is no way anyone wants to sit outside when it is over 110F out. So we stop at McDonalds in Mesquite instead. The weather forecast this week is to be really hot. We are going to have to adjust.
On Sunday we get up early to play tennis. At 7 AM the temperature is only around 70F and the sun has not gotten above the cliffs.
We take Nathan and Sam over to the pool at Entrada. Nathan is totally water-safe now while Sam still has a ways to go. Over the course of the week he will come along way. After swimming the boys enjoy Beeba’s mac ‘n cheese.
On Monday we spend quite a while at the Sand Hollow Aquatic Center. The pool is huge and has a big slide and currents. Sam is really taking to the water now and is no longer afraid to put his head in the water. He is floating well and can propel himself forward on his stomach and backwards on his back.
Monday night we have tickets to Peter Pan at the Tuacahn Amphitheater. Even though the play starts late, Nathan and Sam stay awake through the whole thing. They enjoy Peter Pan flying around, clap to keep Tinkerbell alive, and enjoy the short fireworks display. (As an aside, I never realized how creepy the story of Peter Pan is.)
In Part 2, we go to Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.
Tonight is another concert with the Stanford Symphonic Chorus and Orchestra. This one is being held at the Stanford Memorial Church. I don’t think I have ever been in this building before. It is pretty fancy.
Tonight’s program include two orchestral works in the first half of the program. The first is a work by Mozart, Ein musikalischer Spass or A Musical Joke. The piece is full of the musical conceits of his contemporaries. It kind of leaves me unimpressed. Then there is a piece by Benjamin Britten, Simple Symphony. It is full of the delight children have in music with folk dances and fairy tales.
In the second half the chorus shares the stage for Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor. They are really crammed into the smallish stage. It is hard to find Jon among the great mass of people.
The chorus and soloists do a fine job although it seems long to me. Afterwards Jon takes us across the quad to his new office. What a nice location and we are so proud of him for all he has accomplished!
I am just the luckiest of mothers and grandmothers! All my children and grandchildren are nearby and I can see them whenever I want. Today for Mother’s Day I got a beautiful surprise from John, yellow roses, my favorites! He is the sweetest husband ever!
For breakfast Sarah made pretzel rolls. This has become a tradition for Mother’s Day and they are sooooooo good! She served this with a cup of one of her fancy teas.
Later we went over to Jon’s for a bagel and lox lunch. It was a bread intensive day! Since I was queen for the day as evidenced by both kids sending me cards that said I was the queen, I didn’t take any pictures. So no further pictures were taken.
Nathan and Sam made me cards and a wooden planter with a succulent in it and I also got a bouquet of flowers from Ryan and Jon.
It was a really nice day!
Passover Seder is great this year. Nathan and Sam really take part and we get through the whole Seder and also sing a bunch of songs. John grills a wonderful boneless leg of lamb and Sarah makes her delicious macaroons. The kids do a great job hiding the afikoman under the mat in the laundry room which Jonathan accidentally steps on! Nathan tries to negotiate for more than $20 but sees the error of his ways when we start lowering our bid. We all have a wonderful time.
As soon as we get home from Italy, we get to work on our new front landscaping. This will include driveway shoulder extensions, a new sidewalk and steps, new lighting and all new plants. Our landscaper, Fritz Schummer, has a great team of Carlos and Carlos. Big Carlos knows how to do it all!
Here they are hard at work in April.
We work closely with Fritz on the design and plant selection. About the middle of May it is done! It looks so much better and makes me happy every time I see it!
Leaving Orivieto we decide to make a side trip to Montefiascone on our way to the airport. It turns out to be pretty much a dud with the exception of the church of San Flaviano which was built in the 11th century and has frescoes from the 12th to the 14th centuries. The building is in the Romanesque style.
Along with the frescoes is a the grave of a traveler who died of excessive drinking of the local wine known as Est! Est! Est! Apparently his valet went to town ahead of him and wrote the word “est” on the doors of the inns where there was good wine. This wine is still made in the region.
After a frustrating search for some place for lunch, we decide since we are passing by Viterbo again that we will have lunch at the pizza place where we ate the first night. Happily it is open and has a lunch special of a whole pizza and a drink for 6 Euros.
Now it is back to Rome Airport with a just a short stop to refill the rental car. We manage to get ripped off at the gas station where you have to guess how much gas you will need and pay ahead and then there is no change if you over guess your fueling needs. We pay 12 Euros for 8 Euros worth of gasoline.
We are staying at the airport Hilton which has always been not the best accommodation but you can walk from the hotel to your plane which is a real plus. We book on the Executive floor and the experience is much better. They even let us use the wifi!
The trip home is long but uneventful, Rome to London to Dallas to San Francisco. At least this time I am not sick! We have had a wonderful trip full of many new sights, a lot of good meals, and wonderful art.
This morning we take a side trip from Orvieto to Pitigliano. Jack, our GPS makes a fairly straight-forward 35 miles into an hour and a half adventure. Since we have an appointment at a winery this afternoon, it is important to be time efficient but Jack has not gotten the message.
Much like Orvieto, Pitigliano is built on a tufa outcropping. Starting with the Etruscans in the 7th century B.C., walls were also built to fortify the town. In the picture below little caves can be seen in the tufa walls. Some of these have Etruscan inscriptions.
Giorgio from the hotel has suggested this town for a visit. Its main claim to fame is that it had a vibrant Jewish community who built a synagogue here in 1598. The town is nicknamed “Little Jerusalem.”
Jews fled from Rome to Pitigliano during the persecutions during the Counterreformation. In Pitigliano they lived harmoniously with their Christian neighbors and built a synagogue, Kosher butchery, Kosher bakery for matzoh, ritual baths, and a wool dying enterprise.
Much like the rest of Europe there are almost no Jews left in Pitigliano only guards armed with machine guns to protect the site. It is said that the Jews here escaped capture by the Nazis with the help of their neighbors but dispersed after the war.
The tour begins in the rooms below the synagogue –
Next we head upstairs to the synagogue. The synagogue was built in 1598. However, it collapsed in a landslide in 1960 and was rebuilt and reopened in 1995. There are too few Jews in Pitigliano to have it operating on a regular basis but it is still used occasionally for weddings and bar mitzvahs.
After the visit to the synagogue we spent a little while looking around Pitigliano.
Our visit in Pitigliano has lasted until lunchtime. We have no time to spare and hurry back to Orvieto by a much faster route unencumbered by listening to Jack. We stop at Simply Market and buy a few things for a quick lunch in the room.
Our afternoon’s engagement is at the Decugnano dei Barbi, a winery making primarily white wine. Sarah is staying behind as she has to man her computer to try to get a hotel room for ComicCon. (This turned out to be unsuccessful. Boo.)
We travel east of Orivieto into a rural area. The winery Decugnano dei Barbi was bought by the Barbi family in 1975 and added their name to the old name of the town that they are in, Decugnano, to come up with their label. It is on beautiful rolling hills. I am somewhat surprised that the grapes have barely broken buds yet since ours in California are much further along.
Marta from Milan is our guide and we do quite a trek around the vineyards along with a family from New Orleans. Of course, John and I have been on many winery tours and are hoping for a quick explanation and then on to the tasting. But we get a thorough explanation on how the winery works.
Finally it is time for tasting. It’s almost all whites which I really like but will leave me wheezy tomorrow. Also there’s quite the spread of meats, cheeses, and bruschetti! The family from New Orleans turns out to be quite nice and have just arrived in Italy for their first trip ever.
But the day is not over! We have booked dinner at a winery close to our hotel. The Altarocca looks like a pretty fancy place as we pull up. We are ready for some haute cuisine!
We have finally learned our lesson – order antipasti and first courses because the second courses tend to be disappointing.
We are visiting many smaller towns in Italy on this trip. It seems like you can pull off the road almost anywhere and walk into the cathedral or main church and find something amazing. Today we are going to Pistoia which is halfway between Florence and Lucca.
Pistoia was a centre of Gallic, Ligurian and Etruscan settlements before becoming a Roman colony in the 6th century BC. Pistoia’s golden age began in 1177 when it became a free commune. During these years it was an important political center, erecting city walls and several public and religious buildings.
After being carefully watched by an elderly gentleman while we park the car, we are informed that it is not necessary to pay any parking fees (or at least that is what we hoped we understood.) We decide that he must be the unofficial car watcher for his block and wonder if upon our return we should pay him instead.
Our first stop is at the Basilica of the Madonna dell’Umilita so named because its most prized possession is a Madonna with the Christ child sitting on the floor. All artwork in this format are known as the Madonna of humility pictures because she has humbled herself by sitting on the floor (or a pillow on the floor.)
After stopping for some delicious coffees along the street (we drink coffee whenever we need to use a restroom somewhere), we head to the duomo dedicated to Saint Zeno with its Baptistry across the piazza. All the church workers are scurrying about getting the church cleaned up and decorated for Easter. There are not many tourists which is a blessing.
After wandering through the produce market we settle on a place for lunch called La Botte Gaia. It turns out to be an excellent find because although our three dishes look like brown glop they are all excellent.
After lunch we pay a visit to the Museo Civico where there are few “watchers” and we can really get up close to the various paintings and sculptures.
Dinner tonight is back to the Donchisciotte for full price pizza this time. John and I get the pizza “verace” style which is still thin crust but with puffy edges. Sarah opts for thin crust all the way. I don’t know if this style has a name or not. In any case it is delicious and reminds me of the pizza of my youth on the Jersey shore.
I have been sick for about 10 days with another horrible cold. I can’t quite decide whether I should go to this concert. I don’t want to sit there disturbing the people around me with my coughing. But when I meet Jon for lunch he is really hoping I will come. So I do.
With the exception of a bad encounter with the hotel front desk when I tried to check in and they made me call John to get permission to do so, I have a really nice day. I ride over with John and drop him at work. I do some shopping, meet Jonathan for lunch at Max’s, and finally check into the hotel. Later John and I go out to dinner at Mistral in Redwood Shores. It is a restaurant that we used to go to when we had the condo. The food is very good.
Then we head over to Stanford for the performance at Bing Concert Hall. In the first half the orchestra plays a piece by John Adams called The Chairman Dances. It’s about Madame Mao and Chairman Mao. It has some interesting parts. Then they play Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op.14. This piece is a little more mainstream. After the intermission the Chorus and the Orchestra join forces for Francis Poulenc’s Gloria. I believe I can hear Jonathan! All in all a lovely day with my best guys!
We travel to Florida to spend a few days with Peg and Ted and then head up to Phyllis and Gary’s for our nephew Andy’s wedding. He is marrying Brittany who seems like a very nice and pretty woman. And oh so organized.
Peg, Phyllis, and I take a little “us” time first with a lovely tea at a tea shop that Phyllis has recently found.
Now it is down to work! There are a lot of things that need doing for the rehearsal dinner. Phyllis and Gary have decided to have it at their home. There is so much delicious food! The evening is a comfortable success for the older crowd and the bridal party.
The older folk will sit in the family room and the wine room while the kids are out on the back deck.
There is so much to eat! We end up munching on it for three days.
Brittany has done a wonderful job organizing the wedding. Since she is a high school English teacher she has decided on a book theme. Here are some of her components.
The wedding is lovely. Brittany looks beautiful. Many pictures are taken. The food is a brunch buffet and we dance to the music of a DJ. Here are some memories from the wedding…
On Christmas Eve we have an orgy of hors d’oeuvres, singing, and opening presents. We call it Pilat Eve. Here are some pictures from the event –
We have ten for dinner – Mary, John, Sarah, Jonathan, Ryan, Nathan, Sam, Leigh, Rose, and John. Leigh is Ryan’s sister and Rose and John are Ryan and Leigh’s parents. It gets confusing around here sometimes with all the John/Jons.
There are lots of contributions to the dinner. John P. made the turkey and the gravy. I made roasted creamed onions, mashed potatoes, and brussels sprouts. Sarah made sweet potatoes. Jonathan made green beans and dressing. Ryan made cranberry sauce. Sam made crescent rolls. Rose and John made stimparata (a Sicilian olive dish), veggies and dip, and three pies – mince, apple cranberry, and pumpkin. All the food is delicious and there really are not too many leftovers.
It is a lot of work and I am pretty tired out and my back is really hurting by the time we sit down for dinner. I need to find a way to simplify the preparation, presentation, and clean-up. I will work on that for next year!
Back in 2011 I did a series of Santa scenarios using my endless supply of Santas. I don’t think I ever put them on my blog. I guess I could write about all the hideous things that are going on in the world but I think I will post these pictures over the next few weeks interspersed with some real time events.