The Funeral Crashers. 12/15/18

Today we are visiting the Church of St. Andrew and the Church of St. Juvenal in the morning. We have saved St. Juvenal for our last church visit. It is the oldest church in Orvieto and covered in early frescoes.

It is really cold out this morning, in the low 30’s with a stiff wind. It has been years since we have experienced this much cold. Tears are actually streaming down my face. We are relieved as we step inside the Church of St. Andrew. St. Andrew was an apostle and the brother of St. Peter.

The Church was built in the 12th century and has an unusual 10-sided bell tower.

John and Sarah in front of the Church of St. Andrew, Orvieto

Inside you can see the stunning rose window featuring St. Andrew carrying his X-shaped cross or saltire. Traditionally it is said that St. Andrew requested an alternate cross to be martyred on since he was unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus.

Rose window featuring St. Andrew

The church has a statue of St. Andrew and fragments of old frescoes.

St. Andrew with saltire
Damaged fresco of St. Julian explaining to his wife that he had accidentally killed his mother and father.   St. Julian, “See, somebody told me that my dad was sleeping with a harlot. So I rushed in and stabbed them both. My bad, it turns out it was my mom. But, no worries, I will become a Saint anyway!” Wife, “Okay then.”

Before I leave the subject of St. Andrew’s Church, here is one of the best ever pictures of Sarah in a church taken at St. Andrew’s,  April, 2016.  It is very Annunciation-ish.

 

Our final church visit is at Chiesa di San Giovenale or St. Juvenal. He was the first bishop of Narni in Umbria during the 4th century. There are conflicting reports of whether he was a martyr or merely a confessor. His legend suggests that he saved Narni from  invaders by calling down a divine thunderstorm. He was removed from the Catholic Calendar in 1969.

Even though St. Juvenal is no longer a major saint he has a pretty wonderful church in Orivieto.   It is said to have been built in 1004 on an Etruscan temple dedicated to Jupiter and we are eager to see it again.

We barge in through a side door and an entire congregation turns and looks at us. Uh oh we think, there must be a mass going on. We quickly move to some seats. The service continues.  This is when we notice a casket. Oh no! We have crashed a funeral!

We cannot leave or look around at the art or take pictures. So we respectfully sit and stand with the rest of the group. We offer the sign of peace to our neighboring parishioners. Luckily there have been some other late arrivals to take the glares off of us. But we know they are thinking, who are those people? Where did our departed meet them? Boy, is he tall for an Italian!

When people start rustling around for communion we make a break for the back door under the icy stares of the undertakers whose open hearse is waiting right in front of the church.  I wish we had walked around and not used the side entrance.

Hearse at St. Juvenal’s

I can only tell you that the church looked lovely inside. We had not seen it with all the lights on. The 12th and 13th century frescoes were glowing. And to the mourners, we are truly sorry to have crashed your funeral and hope you forgive us.

We hurry away before anyone can accost us, retrieve our car, and make the drive to have lunch in the countryside near Todi at the Roccafiore resort and restaurant. So much of this trip so far has been a walk down memory lane.  In 2016 Sarah discovered this wine that she liked on a trip we took and she wanted to go to the winery.  We discovered that they had a restaurant and we had a great lunch there and now we are going again.  Lunch at the very un-rustic Roccafiore Restaurant –

Bread service and amuse bouche
First courses – Mary, scallop with pumpkin cream and black ink tulles, Sarah- Salumi plate with lardo, John – Cacio e pepe scrambled pasta
Seconds, Mary – Octopus with mashed potatoes and pickled ginger (?), Sarah – underdone paccheri with shrimp, John – beef cheeks

So lunch was good but not as good as we remember the first time. We did get to buy two bottles of their Fiorfiore grecchetto which is pretty yummy. I wonder if there will be any left by the time Ryan and Jon get here next weekend.

We drive the hour back to the Hotel Duomo and it is definitely time for our coma-like siesta. We will meet again for dinner.

Although the idea of bundling up and facing the frigid evening temperatures to go somewhere for a light dinner is challenging we decide to brave the elements and go in search of munchies.  Not too far away is Pippo’s run by the jolly Signor Pippo.  We cannot tell whether we are too early or too late because we are the only patrons. John cavalierly tells Signor Pippo to give us whatever he thinks is best on the antipasto menu.  Here is what a light dinner looked like.

Salumi, porchetta, and cheese platter with bread, tapenade, artichoke, and chopped liver bruschetti, and a jug of Sangiovese

Needless to say, even with our best efforts we had a lot leftover. We pass up dessert.

Tomorrow we are off for five nights in Lucca. I am looking forward to unpacking, doing some laundry, and not budging for almost a week. Along with sightseeing in Lucca we will be visiting Prato, Pistoia, Pisa, and whatever else I come across while planning things to do.

Exploring Orvieto and its Cathedral. 12/14/18

Orvieto is an excellent example of an Italian hill town being built on the flat top of a volcanic plug with almost vertical sides which are topped by defensive walls. People have lived here since Etruscan times and the name Orivieto comes from the Latin meaning “ancient city.” At the highest point is Orvieto Cathedral whose first stone was laid in 1290.

When you are in the town the cathedral is almost hidden to you as you walk along narrow, cobbled streets which makes its reveal even more spectacular. It is a gem set in a large piazza. Having taken a look from the outside last night, today we explore the interior.

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Looking towards the altar

Although most of the walls are stripped of their original frescoes there are some still at least partially saved. Here is a beautiful Madonna by Gentile da Fabriano who was active in the early 1400’s.

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Madonna and Child

You have to use your imagination to see this huge space covered with all these brightly colored frescoes. On the other side of the church another fresco erupts from the wall almost completely intact.

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St. Anthony the Abbot (with his little devil-pig at his feet) and St. James, the traveler

In fact at one time there were so many frescoes that the artists started laying one on top of the other!

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Mixed up media

Up at the altar the frescoes are basically intact and have a cohesive theme, the Life of the Virgin by Ugolino.

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Altar area
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Side frescoes depicting the life of Mary

The last chapel we visit is the New Chapel. It was frescoed by Fra Angelico and later by Luca Signorelli. There is a stark contrast between the two styles. Signorelli’s figures are full of movement and vigor plus they are mostly naked which is kind of strange in a church.

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Signorelli’s Hell on left and Redempton of the Bodies on the right
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The Prediction of the Anti-Christ (l.) and The Glorification of the Chosen (r.)
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The Deposition by L. Signorelli – This painting is made to fit in under the existing three brackets of the sarcophagus of Saint Pietro Parenzo

There is another chapel, the Corporal, dedicated to the Miracle of Bolsena and the reason this cathedral was built. It seems that a priest was carrying a consecrated host wrapped in a white cloth. As he was doing this he was having an inner struggle about the existence of God within the host. This doubting caused the host to weep blood and stain the cloth. The cloth is now displayed in a beautiful chapel in the cathedral. Last time we were here you could go in but now it is restricted to praying people and no pictures are allowed. Luckily I have saved a few from our first visit in 2016.

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Fresco of Pope St. Gregory holding venerated host
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The actual cloth with stains

Our combination ticket allows us access to the Museum of the Cathedral where older or less loved pieces of art are displayed for the few who want to see them. Today we are apparently the only people so inclined since they have forgotten to man the desk or turn on the lights. Sarah runs back to the main entrance to get someone to help us. The admissions lady comes up the long staircase and claps her hands sharply to make the lights come on. It is a surreal scene of infomercial meets ancient art!

We are left entirely alone in this museum. I am very good and manage to squelch my impulse to touch something really old. John manages to set off an alarm by leaning in too close but no one comes running. It is raining and cold and there is a giant outdoor staircase to climb to come and admonish us so they give us a pass. Here are some art pieces we enjoy.

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A primitive 14th century Madonna and a Chikd with Saints fresco done in the style of Orvieto
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15th century Annunciation
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Madonna and Child from the 1200’s
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A whimsical monkey in glasses drawn into a window alcove, 15th century

We have covered a lot of ground this morning. Time for lunch! We have lunch at La Pergola, a restaurant that was recommended to us the last time we were here. No other diners are here when we come in at 12:45. By 1:15 every table is full. This happened at lunch in Viterbo as well. I guess only tourist rubes do not realize that the proper time for lunch is at 1 PM. Duly noted.

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Clockwise from left ombrichelli in Amatriciana sauce, gnocchi with bacon, spinach and truffle sauce, and papardelle with wild boar sauce

By the end of lunch we can barely keep our eyes open.  Hello, jet lag! We decide to take a siesta and venture out again later in the afternoon. We all sleep deeply not even moving until alarms jangle us awake.

We visit the Church of St. Dominic which is a weird church older than the 13th century cathedral. In the mid 20th century the government wanted to build a girls’ school so they cut off the whole nave and left only the transept. Then they reoriented the direction of the church. The whole thing seems out of whack. We go outside and do a little exploring. You can see where the whole back of the church has been cut off and bricked over. The girls’ school has morphed into a museum of finance. It seems like a desecration.

The streets are pretty lively with shoppers and workmen putting up Christmas decorations. Don’t they know that Christmas officially starts the day after a Halloween!! It’s December 14th! All that hyped up retail activity missed! Sights along the streets –

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Fresh truffles for sale (no touching!)
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All things pork!
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A main shopping street in Orvieto, the bucket truck at the end is putting up Christmas decorations

We decide to try out a nearby wine bar for dinner and we end up having a wonderful meal.

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Bruschetti of newly pressed olive oil, tomatoes, and truffles
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Sarah and I have strezzopreti made from chestnut flour in a porcini and sausage sauce, John has beans and wine soaked sausages, and we add a chickpea side

This dinner of humble ingredients is so good that it is hard to not let out little “yums” as we eat. Amazing! Away from the big tourist centers there is so much fabulous food!

Well, here it is 4:30 AM and I have been up since 3AM. John has been up even longer. The third night is usually the worst from our experience and now sleep should start to improve. Damn you, jet lag!!!

 

How to beat jet lag… 12/13/18

The best remedy for jet lag is simply time.  I have tried taking melatonin, eating meals at the right time of day, taking walks in the sunshine, and all the other old wives’ tales’ remedies to cure the hazy brain and the wakefulness in the middle of the night. Time works the best. An hour adjustment a day is about all your body can handle. Living on the West Coast means we have to adjust nine hours worth. If you can do it in a week my hat is off to you. We took a nap today around 5 PM because it was impossible to stay vertical any longer. I am not ashamed to admit it.

Leaving Ostia this morning for Viterbo around 9AM put us in a lot of heavy traffic going towards Rome. On top of that our Google maps’ GPS took us over a mountain instead of some straight-forward way. Conversation in the car, Sarah,“Did you see that white stuff? Do you think it’s snow? Me, “Can’t be. Must be some powder that spilled.” John, “Could be. The temperature is only 3 Celsius.” All Californians in the car gasp. It was snow.

When we get to Viterbo we find the cathedral by driving through a pedestrian zone, a tried and true Pilat method for avoiding traffic and collecting tickets in Italy. John is very gallant and offers to drop Sarah and me off and go find a parking space. We wonder if we will ever see him again.

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(Picture taken of Viterbo Cathedral on a sunny day on a previous trip)

We have unfinished business at the cathedral. The last time we were here we could not go in due to an armed forces celebration. While we wait for John to join us Sarah and I peruse the art in the cathedral. The two most notable pieces of art are a painting by Gerolamo of Cremona and a 12th century Madonna and Child. Any existing work of art from before the 14th century is pretty exciting since many are devoid of the stylized Byzantine look that is prevalent in 14th and early 15th century paintings.

Christ blessing Saints John the Evangelist, Leonard, Peter Martyr, John the Baptist by Gerolamo da Cremona (15th century)
12th century Madonna and Child (reproduction, original in museum next to the church) flanked by frescoes of Saints Paul (l.) and Peter (r.)

John final returns from parking the car. He looks pretty frozen since it is really cold out especially with a stiff wind. After he looks around a bit we hurry to the Church of Santa Maria Nuova that John has found on his walk from the car.  Usually churches are closed between noon and three for the holy lunchtime and we just make it in before the doors lock. Due to the time crunch, I just hurry around snapping pictures willy-nilly so that now I have to work to figure out what is what.

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The Church of Santa Maria Nuova constructed prior to the mid-11th century has an unusual outside pulpit from which Thomas Aquinas preached in the mid-1200s. Picture from Wikipedia

The interior has many early frescoes.

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Crucifixion by Matteo Giovannetti, 1340’s. Saints John, James, the Madonna and Mary Magdelan
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Fresco by Il Pastura of St. Jerome flanked by John the Baptist and St. Lawrence

This last one is an amateur art sleuth’s delight. Everyone in the fresco is holding or near to their attributes which makes them easily identifiable. On the left John the Baptist is wearing his hair shirt and pointing to a scroll, St. Jerome in the center appears as a hermit with rocks to beat himself with, a lion, and a red cardinal’s hat, and St. Lawrence on the right holds a martyr’s palm frond with the grill that he was burnt on at his feet.

The Church is closing and we are hungry so it is time for us to head to Buongiorno Napoli, a pizzeria in Viterbo. It is our third visit. The lunch special, pizza and a small beer is up to 7 euros this year but it is still a great deal.

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My marinara pizza and John and Sarah’s pizzas with tomato, cheese, and spicy salami

After this we head to Orte where once again we navigate through twisty and narrow streets, find that the museum we want to see is closed, and get blocked in to our parking space by a truck while taking a quick look at the cathedral, all of whose artwork has been replaced by some neo-classical garbage. Alas, you can’t win them all.

We are soooooo tired and decide to give up on the sightseeing for today and check into our uninspired hotel, The Hotel Duomo, in Orvieto. We are met by a very brusque hotel manager and whisked into our rooms.

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Our pretty sparse room at Hotel Duomo
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Best thing about Hotel Duomo? It is right next door to the cathedral

We grant ourselves an hour or so worth of napping and meet again at 6PM in hopes of seeing the Duomo lit up at night.

It is a dark and stormy night and really cold and raining. We walk over to the church and take some pictures of it and ourselves, visit a grocery store to buy tissues and water, and then head back to the hotel where  Mr. Brusque serves us some cheese and chips with wine. We really do not need anything else for dinner.

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The beautiful Orvieto Cathedral lighted up at night
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Sarah and Mary cold and wet
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Grocery shopping in Orvieto
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Sarah checking out our dinner

Remember way back in the beginning of this post I mentioned that you can only manage but not beat jet lag? I went to sleep at 9:30PM, woke up at 12:30 AM, and have now spent 2 1/2 hours writing this post. I hope to take a nap around 3AM and sleep until 7 AM but I am not holding out any great hopes. Oh, and John just woke up too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buongiorno from Rome! 12/12 and13/18

On 12/11 we started our long anticipated trip to Italy for my 70th birthday. Sarah is with us and Jonathan and Ryan will join us on 12/22. I say long anticipated because if you want good seats using frequent flyer miles you have to start 330 days in advance. So I booked these tickets January 18, 2018.

Travel always involves hitches of one sort or another. While we congratulated each other for having a flight that left in the late afternoon and avoided the dreaded fog, we forgot that the plane taking us to Rome was supposed to arrive in the morning. So that plane gets diverted to Las Vegas and we are delayed enough to miss our connecting flight from London to Rome. British Airways handled the situation well and, Pilats, we handled it the best we could.

John managing the stress of waiting
Sarah productively wasting time

After securing our rental car we drive the 12 miles to a local airport hotel in Ostia and crash. Funny thing about booking a hotel in Europe is that you are never actually sure of what it will be like. For instance, I booked a single room for Sarah and a double room for us. This is what we got, two rooms!

We used the second room as an extension to our tiny closet!

Breakfast is always an adventure too. Since none of us slept past around 4 AM we were the early birds at breakfast. Maybe in Germany when they say breakfast at 7AM, it is there and ready to go. In Italy it is more of a process that starts at 7AM. But we find more than enough to eat. They even have scrambled eggs! Mostly though it is heavy on sweets and meat.

Protein breakfast

Today we are off to Viterbo and Orte before landing in Orvieto for the next three nights. We have an unfortunate rainy day. Here’s a picture from the wet balcony of the hotel in Ostia looking out over the Tyrrhenian Sea.  More later.

View from our hotel

 

The Birthdays! 12/8/18

It’s birthdays time again and this is a very special birthday for George and me. He is turning 75 and I am turning 70.  George, who is in charge of all things planning, decides on a return trip to Bernardus in Carmel Valley, CA. We are scheduled to dine at the Chef’s Table in the restaurant, Lucia, kitchen.

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Mary, John, Karen, George

First, though, there is lunch and a little wine tasting. We eat at Corkscrew Cafe not too far from the wineries and Bernardus. John has a small plate of ribs and I have a personal sized mushroom pizza. I am trying not to eat too much because I am assuming that tonight’s dinner will be substantial. I give away a few slices and leave a few. Over lunch we discuss what wineries we will go to. I am hoping for not an extensive wine tasting foray since I want to have enough time for a little lie-down and a shower before dinner.

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Mushroom pizza at Corkscrew
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John’s ribs

First we go to Boekenoogen where the wines are pretty meh. This is followed by a couple of sips at Jouillan, and then on to a newish winery, Idle Hour, where some ladies are playing guitars. We buy a couple of bottles and then head over to the hotel.

 

Ours room is great! It is spacious and has lots of little treats for us – wine, cheese, chips, and sweets. Mostly all I want to do is lie down on the too-soft bed with the too-big pillows and have a little nap.

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Room at Bernardus Lodge

We meet George and Karen at 6:30 and progress to an eating marathon which takes until 10PM. Unlike our meal we had last time this meal has 12 courses! With a different wine for each one!  We are seated in an alcove where there are lots of famous chefs signatures on the wall.

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Jacques Pepin, “Happy Cooking”
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Julia Child, “Bon Appetit”

We eat and eat and eat untitled finally we call “uncle” and skip two courses towards the end. No cheese plate or venison for us thank you. Here is what we are served.

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Bread course
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Latke with caviar
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Crab, avocado, citrus
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Mezzeluna in brodo
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Parmesan gnudi
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Snapper and mussels
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Freaky Squab
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Duck
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Waygu beef
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Pumpkin dessert
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Chocolate thing
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Tisane tea
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Wines paired with dinner (plus chamapagne)

So totally replete from too much wine and food plus reeling from the bill, we stumble off to bed. Of course we make plans for breakfast the next morning!

Happy Birthday to me!!!!

 

 

Sonoma Wine Country

Since my birthday is a week from tomorrow, we figure that it is a good time to start celebrating early. December will be a month of celebrating and travel so there will not be a whole lot of cooking. But I am happy to include in my posts some great experiences, interesting restaurant dishes and the occasional home cooked meal.

Our day started with a stop at Jacuzzi Winery, home of The Olive Press, where we always stop to sample the olive oils and get our bottles refilled. Today we get a new pressing of Arbequina olive oil. We use these better oils as finishing oils while we use a more generic EVOO for everyday cooking.

Here’s a picture of John next to Santa at the Jacuzzi Winery and The Olive Press.

Ho, ho, ho John at Jacuzzi winery
Wind-blown Mary in front of jacuzzi Winery

Next we stop at Imagery Winery to pick up our Wine Club allotment. For agreeing to a certain number of bottles per year you get a 20% discount. Also you get a free tasting of their recent offerings. So John and I try a few sips. It is fun as long as you do not enroll in too many wine clubs or have too many sips!

For a late lunch we try the recently opened Salt and Stone restaurant in Kenwood, CA. I think we make very reasonable choices.

John’s roasted octopus with chickpeas
My octopus salad

After lunch we head for home trying not to get caught in rush hour traffic. Sonoma County wine country is beautiful even in late November and a nice break from the urban/suburban bustle.

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Leaves turning in the vineyards of Sonoma County

 

 

 

Thanksgiving. 11/22/18

A Thanksgiving post told through pictures…

Mary in the kitchen
Table
The moment when Sarah realizes she does not have enough onions
John’s stuffed turkey thighs and turkey breasts are ready for the table
My Brussels sprouts are almost ready
Sarah’ onions and Jon’s corn
Mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce
Jon and Rose at the buffet table
Alex and Sam

it was a very successful Thanksgiving and I thank everyone for helping with a dish. Nonetheless we are very tired!

Las Vegas night. 11/9/18

Jonathan comes to visit us in St. George and after a week of tennis and golf we finish off with an overnight and a fabulous dinner at Micheal Mina’s at the Bellagio.

Jon and John at the Bellagio
Chef’s Signature tasting Menu

Food pictures-

Amuse bouche – pavlova with beet inside
Caviar parfait
Phyllo crusted sole
Chocolate bar

i was flagging by the time we got to the sole so only had a few bites of the lobster pot pie, the beef, and dessert. John and Jon did a fine job eating most of everything. Jonathan was also a spectacular chauffeur!

John’s birthday celebrations. 9/14/18

Unlike me John does not usually get a five-star multiple event birthday celebration. But at the end of his sixth decade I think he deserves it.

We start out with a visit with Jim and Eileen Kendall, our old friends from Massachusetts days.  Eileen goes out of her way to provide us with a lovely lunch and we all toast John a happy 69th birthday.

Eileen and Jim on a recent Alaska cruise

After lunch we slog through some heavy traffic up to Healdsburg for dinner out and an overnight at the BW Dry Creek Inn. The rooms at the Dry Creek Inn where we have stayed many times before are in need of a total refreshing but it is only one night so it is not a big deal.

I have made reservations at The Brass Rabbit for dinner. I am thinking that this will be a nice fine dining place on the Healdsburg square. But no, it is really more like a bistro and although the food is good the atmosphere leaves something to be desired.

In the morning the birthday boy and I stop at Stonestreet Winery for a tasting.  They have great Chardonnays and although the tasting fee is steep ($40 pp) we go for it. At least they comp the fee if you buy wine. (Which of course we do.) Their wines are great!

John is front of Stonestreet Winery
Tasting
Sculpture out in front of Stonestreet with Geyser Peak in the background

It is a long tasting so we decide to stop for lunch before returning home.  We have lunch at Taylor’s Refresher for some mediocre hamburgers but great onion rings.

Our last birthday celebration is at the Smoked Pig in Fremont with the whole family. The adults enjoy the food while Alex and Sam do not. It is hard to find someplace where everyone will be happy. But it is good to see the family and now John has been thoroughly celebrated.

Happy Birthday to my sweetie!!

A Sephardic New Year’s Celebration. 9/10/18

Last year I discovered that for Rosh Hashanah there can be more than apples and honey. The Sephardic celebration has a whole array of symbolic foods. This year we try to combine them into a cohesive side to our main event which is Instant Pot braised boneless short ribs with vegetables and mashed potatoes. Sarah also takes the traditional challah and makes personal-sized onion and poppy seed rolls.

Plate with symbolic foods and rolls

On the plate are butternut squash with pomegranate seeds, dates stuffed with goat cheese, the ubiquitous apple, pickled green beans with cannellini beans, spinach, and our interpretation of a ram’s head – hard boiled eggs made to look like heads. The rolls came out a little on the pale side but were delicious nonetheless. Here’s a look at the inside.

Interior of roll

If all these foods are not enough, John makes delicious boneless short ribs in the Instant Pot and I mash up some potatoes.

Boneless short ribs, mashed potatoes, carrots, butternut squash cubes with pomegranates, spinach and a onion and poppyseed roll

We have such fun telling jokes and making puns about the food. (This is apparently part of the tradition) and wish each other a happy and sweet new year!