April 5, 2016 – Pitigliano (Little Jerusalem) & Decugnano dei Barbi Winery

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.

This is what Pitigliano looks like as you approach. Photo credit CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80684

This is what Pitigliano looks like as you approach. Photo credit CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80684

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.”

A map of "Little Jerusalem" in Pitigliano

A map of “Little Jerusalem” in Pitigliano

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 –

John stands in the mikveh or ritual bath

John stands in the mikveh or ritual bath

Sarah reads the information about the Kosher winery

Sarah reads the information about the Kosher winery

A display piece on the wall shows the Jewish calendar

A display piece on the wall shows the Jewish calendar

The oven for making matzoh

The oven for making matzoh

A picture of women making matzoh

A picture of women making matzoh

Picture of a woman putting matzoh in the oven beside the actual oven

Picture of a woman putting matzoh in the oven beside the actual oven

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.

Synagogue interior

Synagogue interior

Women's screened gallery

Women’s screened gallery

Sarah peeking through the screen

Sarah peeking through the screen

John signing the guest book

John signing the guest book

After the visit to the synagogue we spent a little while looking around Pitigliano.

It looks like much of Pitigliano is in danger of sliding off the cliffs

It looks like much of Pitigliano is in danger of sliding off the cliffs

Sarah and John pose with a statue of a man and his donkey. We were not able to find out the significance of this statue.

Sarah and John pose with a statue of a man and his donkey. We were not able to find out the significance of this statue.

Mid-sixteenth century aqueduct

Mid-sixteenth century aqueduct

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.

The vineyard of Decugnano dei Barbi

The vineyard of Decugnano dei Barbi

The vines are not too far along in early April

The vines are not too far along in early April

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.

Marta, our guide, explains how wine is made

Marta, our guide, explains how wine is made

Bottled and ready to be shipped (unfortunately not to the U.S.)

Bottled and ready to be shipped (unfortunately not to the U.S.)

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.

Local treats with the wine tasting

Local treats with the wine tasting

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.

 

 

 

 

March 24, 2016 – Pistoia

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.)

Basilica of the Madonna dell'Umilita has an odd looking facade. We wonder if its black and white marble striping has been taken off at some point and used for something else. Churches here are often built with bits and pieces of other older churches.

Basilica of the Madonna dell’Umilita has an odd looking facade. We wonder if its black and white marble striping has been taken off at some point and used for something else. Churches here are often built with bits and pieces of other older churches.

Madonna and Christ child sitting on the floor

Madonna and Christ child sitting on the floor

Unusual more modern ceiling with a shell motif usually an attribute of St. James

Unusual more modern ceiling with a shell motif usually an attribute of St. James

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.

Cathedral of Saint Zeno (we could not find much evidence of St. Zeno)

Cathedral of Saint Zeno (we could not find much evidence of St. Zeno)

Interior of St.Zeno

Interior of St. Zeno (no doubt all the blank masonry used to be covered with frescoes)

13th century crucifix

13th century crucifix

13th century side chapel

13th century side chapel

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.

13th century lunette

13th century lunette

Close-up of the grief-stricken Mary with Jesus

Close-up of the grief-stricken Mary with Jesus

I love it when the artists sign their work. This one is says "This work made by Gerinus of Pistoia, 1408"

I love it when the artists sign their work. This one is says “This work made by Gerinus of Pistoia, 1509”

A picture of St. Julian who killed his mother and father after he thought his mother was sleeping with another man (who turned out to be his father) and STILL became a saint.

A picture of St. Julian who killed his mother and father after he thought his mother was sleeping with another man (who turned out to be his father) and STILL became a saint.

Strange looking little angel with hands and feet sticking out of its wings

Strange looking little angel with hands and feet sticking out of its wings

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.

Foreground - pizza margherita verace, thin crust white pizza with proscuitto behind

Foreground – pizza margherita verace, thin crust white pizza with proscuitto behind

 

 

February 26, 2016 – Jonathan sings with the Stanford Symphonic Chorus

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!

The orchestra tuning up with the chorus behind

The orchestra tuning up with the chorus behind

Jonathan seated between the white haired and bearded fellow and a tiny lady

Jonathan seated between the white haired and bearded fellow and a tiny lady

February 13-21, 2016 – Florida, Andy and Brittany’s wedding

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.

Peg and Phyllis at our Victorian tea spot

Peg and Phyllis at our Victorian tea spot

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 buffet table is set (I arranged the flowers!)

The buffet table is set (I arranged the flowers!)

The older folk will sit in the family room and the wine room while the kids are out on the back deck.

Phyllis and Gary's wine room

Phyllis and Gary’s wine room

There is so much to eat! We end up munching on it for three days.

Phyllis and Gary

Phyllis and Gary

Peg and Ted with the desserts

Peg and Ted with the desserts

John and I admire the desserts but save ourselves for the savory foods

John and I admire the desserts but save ourselves for the savory foods

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.

Bouquets are all made out of paper, some from pages in books

Bouquets are all made out of paper, some from pages in books

Find your table in the card catalogue!

Find your table in the card catalogue!

This is our table!

This is our table!

Even the wedding cake is book themed

Even the wedding cake is book themed

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…

The mother and father of the groom

The mother and father of the groom

Ted, Peg, Phyllis, Gary, Mary, John

Ted, Peg, Phyllis, Gary, Mary, John

Thethree weird sisters

The three weird sisters

Brittany and Andy exchange vows

Brittany and Andy exchange vows

The groomsmen show off their superhero socks

The groomsmen show off their superhero socks

Andy and Brittany with Mike and Becca

Andy and Brittany with Mike and Becca

First dance

First dance

Time for the honeymoon!

Time for the honeymoon!

December 24, 2015 – Pilat Eve

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 –

Nathan opening a present

Sam opening a present

Nathan showing Mom his new interactive Lego set

Nathan showing Mom his new interactive Lego set

Sam approves!

Sam approves!

Sarah looks happy opening her gift!

Sarah looks happy opening her gift!

Jon working at the sewing on his gift beanbag

Jon working at the sewing on his gift beanbag

John is a tidy opener

John is a tidy opener

Gram and Gramps are enjoying the evening too!

Gram and Gramps are enjoying the evening too!

John and Mary pose in front of the fireplace

John and Mary pose in front of the fireplace

Jonathan and Nathan enjoy a game of Connect4

Jonathan and Nathan enjoy a game of Connect4

December 7, 2015 – Thanksgiving, 2015 (a little late!)

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!

My hollowed out squashes filled with flowers

My hollowed out squashes filled with flowers

The table all set

The table all set

John's turkey preparation ready to go into the oven

John’s turkey preparation ready to go into the oven

My roasted creamed onions

My roasted creamed onions

Everyone chooses their own plateful

Everyone chooses their own plateful

The family around the table

The family around the table

December 3, 2015 – The Daily Claus

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.

THE DAILY CLAUS "Dr. Santa, do you think we can save him?" "Hand me my glue gun, stat!"

THE DAILY CLAUS
“Dr. Santa, do you think we can save him?”
“Hand me my glue gun, stat!”

December 2, 2015 – Borax Visitor Center, Boron, CA

(We visited the Borax Visitor Center on November 10, 2015.)

One of the games we play in the car is “How many towns can you name that are (fill in the blank.) In this case our game is, how many towns can you name that are elements. Boron is one. Situated in the Mojave desert between the towns of Mojave and Barstow, it is kind of a bleak place. We’ve stopped in Boron before to see their museum but we’ve never been to the Borax Visitor Center which is situated just north of CA 58. After twelve years of plying this route back and forth between Pleasanton and St.George, it is high time that we pay a visit.

The Borax works include a giant pit, refinery, and visitor’s center. The visitor’s center is open daily. Down a long road you approach the refinery, then turn right past the pit, and finally ascend a hill of tailings to the visitor’s center which is buried at the top like a bunker.  There are plenty of things to see outside and at the overlook first.

The Visitor's Center is two quonset huts mashed together.

The Visitor’s Center is two quonset huts mashed together.

Here's the 20-mule team logo.

Here’s the 20-mule team logo.

Better yet, there's also a life-sized 20-mule team!

Better yet, there’s also a life-sized 20-mule team!

We wander around the yard in front of the museum and look at a big tire and also walk up to the platform with a great view of the works and giant pit.

So you think I look tire-d?

So you think I look tire-d?

Giant pit! (2 miles long, 1 3/4 miles wide and 755 feet deep)

Giant pit! (2 miles long, 1 3/4 miles wide and 755 feet deep)

Trucks entering and leaving the pit with ore

Trucks entering and leaving the pit with ore

 

A really large truck filled with ore

A really large truck filled with ore

The mine produces about three million tons of ore per year which is refined down to around one million tons of products in the on-site refinery

The mine produces about three million tons of ore per year which is refined down to around one million tons of products in the on-site refinery

Now it is time to go into the museum. We are met by an earnest young employee who shows us a movie and answers our questions to the best of his ability. (This guy who is probably in his mid-20’s has lived in Boron his whole life. It is a town of 4000 people in the middle of the desert. When we told him we were from the Bay Area he opined that he’d like to visit San Francisco some day. It’s hard for us to imagine why he would stay in Boron.)

As we walk around the museum we see displays of ore, a giant crystalline piece of boron ore and information about Ronald Reagan and the supporting cast from Death Valley Days. There are displays of all the things that boron is used for including,

  1. Agricultural products (boron is a micronutrient essential to the proper growth of vegetables and fruits such as corn, alfalfa, coffee, fruite trees, peanuts, grapes and strawberries.
  2. Ceramics
  3. Detergent (Borax)
  4. Fiberglass
  5. Glass
  6. Flame retardants
  7. Wood treatments (Borates are effective against fungus, termites, and ants.)
  8. Flat screen TVs and computers (Borates are a key ingredient in Liquid Crystal Displays.)
Unrefined ore from large rocks to fine granules

Unrefined ore from large rocks to fine granules

John doing a thorough job of totally understanding boron

John doing a thorough job of totally understanding boron

Some television and movie notables who started out on Death Valley Days

Some television and movie notables who started out on Death Valley Days

Rio Tinto Minerals operates this mine. They have a long history dating back to 1872 when the company founders began mining borates in Nevada. The operation is now global.

Another interesting Rio Tinto open pit mine that we have visited is the Bingham Canyon Mine located 28 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Originally a copper mine, it now extracts a variety of minerals in a pit that is 3/4 of a mile deep. It is immense and definitely worth of visit.

December 1, 2015 – Blogtacular

Over the last two months Sarah has been writing an entry every day on her blog. The idea was to get her back into the mindset of recording what is going on in her life.  There was a time when I made a post every day with a thought that was circulating through my brain, a word that had captured my fancy, and an encouragement to live a healthy lifestyle. Then I had a small siege of hurtful comments and I stopped putting personal thoughts in my blog and only wrote about family events and travel.

This month I am going to try to write a post each day. Some of it will be about events already passed like Thanksgiving. Some will be about what is happening next like the celebration of The Birthdays next week. Several will no doubt be about food, a subject near and dear to my being. And maybe I will be brave enough to say Happy Holidays again and express a personal opinion without worrying about the haters coming after me.

When I write an intention down, I am much more likely to follow through.

October 31, 2015 Halloween!!

It’s Halloween and in addition to going to Nathan’s play there is Halloween to consider. I buy some candy for Nathan and Sam and also decide to make Snickerdoodle cookies. Now I am notorious for making bad Halloween cookies. My first attempt many years ago when Jon and Sarah were kids ended up with orange pumpkin cookies that lasted for an entire year in the cookie jar without being eaten. Armed with Sarah’s recipe, though, I know I will do better.

My Snickerdoodle cookies

My Snickerdoodle cookies

After the play we go back to Ryan and Jon’s where the cookies and candies are a big hit. Nathan and Sam put on their Halloween costumes for us and are eager to start their trick or treating. Auntie Leigh has made the costumes and as usual has done a superb job.

Nathan's costume is Pacman. The entire outline lights up and the open mouth is a receptacle for Halloween candy

Nathan’s costume is Pacman. The entire outline lights up and the open mouth is a receptacle for Halloween candy

Sam is Skylanders Wash Buckler. His insignia lights up.

Sam is Skylander’s Wash Buckler. His insignia of what look like ladders light up. Ryan says that having lighted features on their costumes makes it easier to find them in the dark.

Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2015 Nathan appears in Pumpkin Fiesta!

Nathan has been working hard with his fellow actors at the Palo Alto Children’s Theater. Today we see the product of that hard work, the play Pumpkin Fiesta. The gist of the play is that there is a woman, Old Juana, in this Mexican town who grows great pumpkins and always wins the pumpkin crown at the fair. Fernando wants the crown and he tries various ways to make his pumpkins as large and beautiful. In the end he steals her pumpkins but is caught and promises to use the real best way to grow award winning pumpkins. The children take the parts of the people, vegetables, insects, and animals. Nathan is Fernando’s scarecrow and is on stage the entire time. He says his lines with artistic flair and sings beautifully. In fact he is the best singer among the cast. Who knew? He must get his vocal genes from Ryan and Jon who are both very good singers.

Nathan as Foolish Fernando's Scarecrow

Nathan as Foolish Fernando’s Scarecrow

Fernando's Scarecrow and Old Juana's Scarecrow have many interactions

Fernando’s Scarecrow and Old Juana’s Scarecrow have many interactions

Nathan on stage with Old Juana, vegetables and bees

Nathan on stage with Old Juana, vegetables and bees

Nathan knew all the songs and his lines well

Nathan knew all the songs and his lines well

Here he is singing with Toro the bull

Here he is singing with Toro the bull

He looks so handsome in his costume!

He looks so handsome in his costume!

He has a solo singing a song with his scarecrow counterpart. He does really great!!

He has a solo singing a song with his scarecrow counterpart. He does really great!!

The cast on stage to take a final bow

The cast on stage to take a final bow

Needless to say I am pretty teary through the whole thing. John and I are really proud of Nathan’s skill and determination.

 

 

October 28, 2015 Tapas night

While John is at work Sarah and I decide to have some fun in the kitchen. We plan a tapas dinner, shop and cook the ingredients and then enjoy the results when John gets home from work. I can’t say that I will do this again soon.  It is a lot of work!

Here are the dishes in order of their being served –

Huevos rellenos de atun (Eggs stuffed with tuna and marinated vegetables)

Huevos rellenos de atun
(Eggs stuffed with tuna and marinated vegetables)

Pan con tomate, ajo y perejil (Bread with tomato, garlic and parsley) Needs work

Pan con tomate, ajo y perejil
(Bread with tomato, garlic and parsley)
Needs work. All the recipes come from the book shown which we bought in Ronda, Spain

Anchoas marinadas (Marinated anchovies) Love the white anchovies!

Anchoas marinadas
(Marinated anchovies)
Love the white anchovies!

Gambas al ajillo (Prawns in garlic) Exceptional!

Gambas al ajillo
(Prawns in garlic)
Exceptional!

Tapa de cebollitas y foiegras de pollo (Shallots and chicken liver pate) OMG so good! These were my favorites!

Tapa de cebollitas y foiegras de pollo
(Shallots and chicken liver pate)
OMG so good! These were my favorites!

 

Lomo adobado y manzanas caramelizadas (Marinated pork (we used bacon) with caramelized apples) Surprisingly the least successful. Originally it was supposed to also have an apple sauce with it. It could have used the moisture.

Lomo adobado y manzanas caramelizadas
(Marinated pork (we used bacon) with caramelized apples)
Surprisingly the least successful. Originally it was supposed to also have an apple sauce with it. It could have used the moisture.

Queso de cabra sobre cebolla (Goat cheese and shallot jam) We considered this our dessert. Sweetness from the shallots and tanginess from the goat cheese.

Queso de cabra sobre cebolla
(Goat cheese and shallot jam)
We considered this our dessert. Sweetness from the shallots and tanginess from the goat cheese.

 

 

 

October 18, 2015 A visit to the Pumpkin Patch

On Sunday Ryan, Jon, Nathan and Sam come over for lunch and we also visit the Pumpkin Patch so they can pick out some pumpkins and the kids can play in the amusement area.

First we have lunch at Main St. Brewery. This is usually our go-to place but today the food disappoints so we may have to find a new lunch venue.

Nathan and Jonathan at Main St. Brewery

Nathan and Jonathan at Main St. Brewery

Ryan and Sam at Main St. Brewery

Ryan and Sam at Main St. Brewery

Sam peruses the menu

Sam peruses the menu

Then it is on to the Pumpkin Patch at the Fairgrounds. Ryan and Jon came up with the idea to go there for pumpkins and fun and it was a good one. The kids really enjoy the blow-up slides and games. The adults enjoy watching them have fun.

Going down the slide is so much fun for Sam

Going down the slide is so much fun for Sam

He enjoys it in various positions

He enjoys it in various positions

Nathan is not too old yet to have a good time on the slide

Nathan is not too old yet to have a good time on the slide

Nathan demonstrates how to look cool while going down the slide

Nathan demonstrates how to look cool while going down the slide

Many of Jon's shots hit the rim but when Beeba stepped up to the line, the ball went through the first time with just a swish! (I enjoyed that a lot! No way could I ever repeat it again.)

Many of Jon’s shots hit the rim but when Beeba steps up to the line, the ball goes through the first time with just a swish! (I enjoyed that a lot! No way could I ever repeat it again.)

October 5-12, 2015 Jonathan visits St. George

Jonathan arrives by plane at the St. George airport for a week of fun. During the week we go hiking, play tennis, cook some excellent meals and he plays golf. We have an great time. Here are some pictures from the week.

Red Mountain Trail to Snow Canyon Overlook

Just south of Veyo is the trailhead for a long trail which ends up in Ivins. About two miles into the hike there is a half-mile spur to an overlook of spectacular Snow Canyon. The four and a half plus mile hike is the longest we’ve done in a long time and the trail is very rocky but the wondeful view into Snow Canyon is definitely worth it.

Jon and John at the Red Mountain Trailhead

Jon and John at the Red Mountain Trailhead

Hiking along the slickrock

Hiking along the slickrock

View of Snow Canyon

View of Snow Canyon

Jon at the end of the trail

Jon at the end of the trail

Happy hikers

Happy hikers

Playing tennis at Entrada

We play tennis with Jonathan almost every weekend when we are home. In St. George we play at least every other day. It is so much fun! Sometimes John is the lone man and I play with Jonathan and most of the time it is the old folks versus Jonathan. Over the years we’ve all improved and now can keep the rallies going for more than two or three shots. It is my favorite way to exercise.

Jonathan is at the net for a volley

Jonathan is at the net for a volley

Jonathan uses an extreme Western grip to give his forehand a ton of topspin

Jonathan uses an extreme Western grip to give his forehand a ton of topspin

Here's John about to hit a forehand

Here’s John about to hit a forehand…

and the follow-through!

and the follow-through!

We are looking forward to the next time that Jonathan visits St. George!

 

September 27, 2015 – Mojave Air and Space Port

 

On our way to St. George, Utah we do a fly-by (so to speak) of the Mojave Air and Space Port. It is Sunday so everything is pretty quiet. In fact there is only one other car around and they are taking pictures just like we are.

According to Wikipedia the Mojave Airport was built in 1935 to serve the gold and silver mining industry. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, it was taken over by the Marines. Until 1961 it passed among several different branches of the military and then Kern County obtained the title. Today, besides being a general-use airport, Mojave Air and Space Port has flight testing, space related industry and development, and aircraft maintenance and storage.

The entrance to the airport is flanked by a sign and a retired DC-8.

Welcome to Mojave Air and Space Port

Welcome to Mojave Air and Space Port

DC-8

DC-8

One of the companies operating at the airport is Orbital ATK which is in the space launch, propulsion, satellites and armaments business. They have an L-1011 based there.

Orbital ATK L-1011

Orbital ATK L-1011

Rotary Rocket Company, a former rocketry company, also has a building in Mojave. They developed a novel engine design and made test flights in 1999 but ran out of money in 2001.

Rotary Rocket Company building

Rotary Rocket Company building

The Rotary Rocket Roton ATV on display at Mojave Air and Space Port

The Rotary Rocket Roton ATV on display at Mojave Air and Space Port

The best known aerospace company operating at the airport is Scaled Composites, winner of the Ansari X Prize in 2004 for its experimental spacecraft, SpaceShipOne. The company was acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2007.

This way to space!

This way to space!

Mojave Air and Space Port also houses the International Flight Test Institute and the National Test Pilot School.

International Flight Test Institute

International Flight Test Institute

National Test Pilot School

National Test Pilot School

In addition to all this neat stuff, it also operates as a jet storage facility and graveyard. When we came through here shortly after 9-11, the desert area was packed with jets in storage. Now there are many fewer as the aeronautic industry has recovered.

Stored aircraft

Stored aircraft

There is also aircraft junk lying around like these old shells of fighter cockpits.

Fighter cockpits

Fighter cockpits

Finally after twelve years of driving through Mojave we take the time to stop and see what is going on here at the Mojave Air and Space Port. I am glad we did.

September 25, 2015 – Gardening

Sarah’s baskets of plants continuing to produce more vegetables…

Cherry tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes

Two ichiban eggplants and blossom

Two ichiban eggplants and blossom

Super chiles ripening. So spicy!!

Super chiles ripening. So spicy!!

Basil

Basil

Indigo rose tomatoes

Indigo rose tomatoes

We've got thyme on our hands

We’ve got thyme on our hands

Casper the Third (white eggplant)

Casper the Third (white eggplant)

Will this orange ever ripen?

Will this orange ever ripen?

Sarah has planted four kabucha squashes out beyond our fence (not allowed!)

Sarah has planted four kabucha squashes out beyond our fence (not allowed!)

Yesterday's harvest or perhaps, slim pickins'

Yesterday’s harvest or perhaps, slim pickins’

September 14, 2015 – Dinner at La Toque, Napa

In celebration of John’s 66th birthday, we go up to Napa for dinner at La Toque. It is nice that the restaurant is connected to the Westin Verasa so that we can just ride the elevator down to the restaurant and back up to our room afterwards. We decide to have the chef’s tasting menu which is nine small plates. We also get the wine pairing. Most of the dinner is very good. There are a couple of dishes that we like less but we are on the whole quite pleased. The service is outstanding. Here is what the tasting menu consists of –

Since they know it is John's birthday, they pour a celebratory glass of Roederer champagne

Since they know it is John’s birthday, they pour a celebratory glass of Roederer champagne

Along with the champagne we have an amuse bouche consisting of (l. to r.) lobster with avocado, fig with ricotta and balsamic, potato with lardo, and crouton with chicken liver mousse. The chicken liver mousse bite is best and the potato with lardo is the least successful.

Along with the champagne we have an amuse bouche consisting of (l. to r.) lobster with avocado, fig with ricotta and balsamic, potato with lardo, and crouton with chicken liver mousse. The chicken liver mousse bite is best and the potato with lardo is the least successful.

First course - chilled veloute of lunga di Napoli (a type of winter squash) served with creme fraiche and Chinese kaluga caviar. This is really tasty. John says it tastes like salted butterscotch caramel. If I made it I might substitute Trapani sea salt for the caviar. The soup is paired with a Taittinger 2007 Le Reve, Domaine Carneros champagne.

First course – chilled veloute of lunga di Napoli (a type of winter squash) served with creme fraiche and Chinese kaluga caviar. This is really tasty. John says it tastes like salted butterscotch caramel. If I made it I might substitute Trapani sea salt for the caviar. The soup is paired with a Taittinger 2007 Le Reve, Domaine Carneros champagne.

Second course - Japanese shima-aji with melon, cucumber and Thai vinaigrette served with a La Toque sake bomb. The dish also has a tasty green powder made of mint, basil, and cilantro. The sake bomb is a mixture of Japanese white beer and Midnight moon sake. (I am not a sake fan.) The dish is very enjoyable.

Second course – Japanese shima-aji with melon, cucumber and Thai vinaigrette served with a La Toque sake bomb. The dish also has a tasty green powder made of mint, basil, and cilantro. The sake bomb is a mixture of Japanese white beer and Midnight moon sake. (I am not a sake fan.) The dish is very enjoyable.

Third course - Our favorite of the night! Mendocino red abalone with daikon root and Konbu salad. The abalone and grilled daikon radish are delicious and the micro-salad has a touch of sesame seeds which really makes the dish. This is paired with an off-dry 2011 Mosel Riesling.

Third course – Our favorite of the night! Mendocino red abalone with daikon root and Konbu salad. The abalone and grilled daikon radish are delicious and the micro-salad has a touch of sesame seeds which really makes the dish. This is paired with an off-dry 2011 Mosel Riesling.

Fourth course - This is a blurry picture of skate wings with red grapes and a crispy piece of cartilage. Very good! The grapes give it a nice sweetness and we add a little salt. The pairing is a 2012 Michel Chablis, premier cru.

Fourth course – This is a blurry picture of skate wings with red grapes and a crispy piece of cartilage. Very good! The grapes give it a nice sweetness and we add a little salt. The pairing is a 2012 Michel Chablis, premier cru.

Fifth course - Twice cooked dry aged squab with roasted delicata squash and red onion tatin paired with a 2010 Pinot Noir, DuMOL, Russian River Valley (Dutton Ranch). The vegetables and leg of squab are really tasty but the breast is less so. The broth is heavily soy and it really overwhelms the flavor of the breast.

Fifth course – Twice cooked dry aged squab with roasted delicata squash and red onion tatin paired with a 2010 Pinot Noir, DuMOL, Russian River Valley (Dutton Ranch). The vegetables and leg of squab are really tasty but the breast is less so. The broth is heavily soy and it really overwhelms the flavor of the breast.

Sixth course - Grilled lamb heart, fresh chickpea falafel with Medjool date and cumin scented carrot puree paired with Swanson 2009 Merlot. Who knew that Swanson of pot pie fame has a winery! We were really looking forward to this dish because it's a little out there what with the heart but instead of the heart having a nice chew but tender from braising, it is disturbingly squishy. I've only ever had chicken heart so I don't have a lot to compare this to. We would have liked more of the carrot puree and less cumin.

Sixth course – Grilled lamb heart, fresh chickpea falafel with Medjool date and cumin scented carrot puree paired with Swanson 2009 Merlot. Who knew that Swanson of pot pie fame has a winery! We were really looking forward to this dish because it’s a little out there what with the heart but instead of the heart having a nice chew but tender from braising, it is disturbingly squishy. I’ve only ever had duck heart so I don’t have a lot to compare this to. We would have liked more of the carrot puree and less cumin.

Seventh course - Epoisses with black garlic and fermented plum paired with a Broadbent Madiera verdelho. Love the epoisses and the black garlic but wish the fermented plum had been a little sweet not just bitter.

Seventh course – Epoisses with black garlic and fermented plum paired with a Broadbent Madiera verdelho. Love the epoisses and the black garlic but wish the fermented plum had been a little sweet not just bitter.

Eighth course - the palate cleanser a cantaloupe cucumber ice cream with a crumble. I don't like desserts but this is so yummy especially the crumble. This and the following dessert are served with a 2014 Moscato d'Asti.

Eighth course – the palate cleanser a cantaloupe cucumber ice cream with a crumble. I don’t like desserts but this is so yummy especially the crumble. This and the following dessert are served with a 2014 Moscato d’Asti.

Ninth course - This is the less successful dessert and I don't understand why you need so many desserts. I would have been happy to call it quits after the cucumber melon ice cream. Anyway this is roasted peaches with toasted corn ice cream and popcorn brittle. The toasted corn ice cream has limp pieces of popcorn in it - not a great texture.

Ninth course – This is the less successful dessert and I don’t understand why you need so many desserts. I would have been happy to call it quits after the cucumber melon ice cream. Anyway this is roasted peaches with toasted corn ice cream and popcorn brittle. The toasted corn ice cream has limp pieces of popcorn in it – not a great texture.

And of course we are sent away with a little baggy of cookies in case we wake up in the middle of the night hungry.

I know this sounds like a lot to eat. And it is but the portions are very small. There is about three full spoonsful of soup in the first course and tiny bites of fish etc. Although there is a lot of wine, these are also small pours and have been drunk over three hours. Nonetheless, I am really glad that all we have to do is find the elevator and go to bed.

John has now informed me that he is planning on eating healthy and getting more fit in his 67th year. Oh, joy.

August 23, 2015 – Hookslide sings in Mountain View

Jon and the guys perform at the San Antonio shopping center. It is unfortunately not well attended. I guess the shopping center did not do any advertising. So it is the family, some die-hard fans, and some shoppers who happen by the venue which is well out of the mainstream of the shopping center. But we have fun and as always enjoy it.

Hookslide singing at the San Antonio shopping center

Hookslide singing at the San Antonio shopping center

Sam

Sam

Nathan

Nathan

Jon doing his solo (as you can see the venue was not conducive to much foot traffic)

Jon doing his solo (as you can see the venue was not conducive to much foot traffic)

August 15, 2015 – Trinidad, California

In order to escape the heat and smoke in the air, John and I decide to take a short trip up the California coast to Trinidad. I find a vacation rental that is on the ocean where we can “chill” out for a few days.

The rental itself is kind of odd. The whole upper floor seems to be someone’s house. The lower floor where the rentals are seems to be a renovation done as cheaply as possible. There’s no stove in the kitchen just a toaster oven and a convection burner. The bathroom is situated as far away from the bedroom as possible so it is quite a trek in the middle of the night. But it’s okay and we will manage.

Our rental is by the string of lights

Our rental is by the string of lights

We go to downtown Trinidad, find the smallish grocery store and buy ourselves some steak, baking potatoes, and a bag of charcoal. John sets about cooking and, even though it is a bit nippy, we sit at the outdoor table overlooking the ocean and Whale Rock.

John with Whale Rock in the background

John with Whale Rock in the background

Tonight's cook

Tonight’s cook

Great view for dinner!

Great view for dinner!

While we are in Trinidad we take a walk through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park’s Fern Canyon Trail. Water draining into the sea from a retreating ocean carved canyons and left cliffs millions of years ago. The microclimate in these canyons is extremely damp and perfect for ferns, oxalis, frogs, and salamanders. We walk through this corridor of ferns dodging fallen trees and a small stream. It is quite a wondrous place.

Beginning of the Fern Canyon Trail

Beginning of the Fern Canyon Trail

A wall of ferns!

A wall of ferns!

Downed trees

Downed trees

We go as far as we are able without having to climb over too many of the fallen trees that block the path.

We also visit the Lady Bird Johnson Redwood Grove established by President Nixon in her honor for her tireless efforts to save the old growth redwoods on the Pacific coast. Once again we are in a special misty place with 600 to 800 year old redwoods towering above us.

Lady Bird Johnson dedication

Lady Bird Johnson dedication

Looking up towards the misty sky

Looking up towards the misty sky

Mary inside a tree

Mary inside a tree

Little John, big tree

Little John, big tree

I have only booked three nights and they go by swiftly. It is so nice to be in the cool of the coast. The temperature never got above 65F. Leaving Trinidad we take the long drive to St. George, Utah where we can experience the other end of the temperature spectrum. I think we need to spend more time at the coast in the summer.

July 29, 2015 – This week in gardening

Along with Sarah’s hanging gardens, we have quite a few other edibles in our tiny garden. The cooler weather plants are not enjoying the combination of hot weather and reduced watering due to the drought so they are showing some stress and the parsley is starting to bolt. So far we have eaten two tomatoes, one eggplant, thyme, basil, oregano, marjoram, and sage. Also, as you can see in the ground pictures our patio and garden are being inundated with tiny flowers from our pagoda tree. John blows the deck off daily but the flowers seem endless.

Sarah and I also went to the Farmer’s Market this past Saturday and found Italian eggplant! We made so much eggplant parmesan. We have enjoyed the eggplant for three dinners and one lunch so far. There is still a small portion left.

Produce from the Farmer's Market

Produce from the Farmer’s Market

So much eggplant parmesan!

So much eggplant parmesan!