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!!!!

 

 

Anniversary celebration, part two. 7/17/18

Today is the actual day of our anniversary. Yay, forty-six great years married and over fifty years since we met! Our final celebration will occur in August when we take a vacation to Oslo and then catch a ship to cruise the Baltic for a couple of weeks. Love all this celebrating!

John and I have modest plans for today. We are driving up to Sonoma Wine Country to visit Jacuzzi Winery, Imagery Winery, and have lunch at Tasca! Tasca! In downtown Sonoma.

We arrive at Jacuzzi Winery around 11 AM. First we are tasting some olive oil and getting our bottle refilled at The Olive Press. Tasting olive oil is as much fun as tasting wine. We choose Arbequina.

Jacuzzi Winery and The Olive Press (photo from internet)
Bulk delicious olive oils – bring back your bottle for a discount! (Photo from internet)

Next we visit Imagery Winery. We used to be Wine Club members here. After tasting some delicious varietals available only from the winery we decide to re-up.

Pretty pathway to tasting room of Imagery Winery (Internet photo)

Since it is heading past one o’clock we make our way to downtown Sonoma to Tasca! Tasca! for an enjoyable lunch of Portuguese tapas.

Some things we shared – ceviche, goat stew, crispy potatoes, and pulled pork sliders
We love their not sweet ice creams – salted olive oil and piri piri chocolate

Great anniversary celebration!

Quick trip to St. George – November 5-17, 2017

Since the weather looks pretty fabulous in St. George and we will not be able to sneak in a trip in December, John and I decide on the spur of the moment to make our way to St. George.

I think the biggest difference in this trip is that I am trying Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before Six, a new way of thinking about how you eat and the impact you can have on the environment. So most of this post will be about new dishes I am trying out. In addition to shopping and eating John and I manage to get in some tennis every other day until my back just says, Enough!

First, finding decent vegan food on the road is not an easy task. Using YELP! We stop at Hummus Express in Bakersfield. The food is pretty oily but tasty.

Looking out at the golden hills and aqueduct along I-5. We are eager for rain.
Stopping at Hummus Express in Bakersfield, I order hummus with pita and tabbouleh

Mostly my days in St. George are vegan for breakfast and lunch and whatever for dinner but occasionally I manage to construct an entire vegan day. Some dishes I made –

Lunch – Spaghetti with vegetgables
Lunch – Root vegetable soup with tofu cubes dusted with flaxseed
Dinner – chickpea stew with ditalini and greens
Time for an white egret break!
Cauliflower soup for lunch
The unattractive parsley soup that I tried to make more palatable with the addition of carrots

The days pass by quickly and we need to get home for Thanksgiving so face the challenge of finding better food on the road. Eureka! We find an excellent Mediterrean restaurant, Mr. Kabob, in Barstow. It is kind of a hole in the wall but has some excellent dishes.

At Mr. Kabob’s in Barstow I have excellent eggplant with peppers and onions, roasted tomato, and green rice.

Road trip, 2017 – Ptown to Tonopah

We leave around 8 AM for the start of our road trip and a leisurely journey half way to St. George, UT today. After a quick stop for breakfast in Manteca we run into a little traffic in Oakdale. Due to our long history of finding interesting things we notice this I.O.O.F. Art Deco building with its fabulous turret clock.

Odd Fellows building facade with turret clock

Our next stop is at Chinese Camp, CA to change drivers. We stop at California Historical Marker No. 423 which is about the founding of Chinese Camp, the still-standing post office built in 1854, and the Tong Wars. We wander around the town which is mostly comprised of derelict old buildings.

Historical marker about Chinese Camp

Then it’s on to Yosemite NP. The trouble with going through the park is all the slow drivers. We just want to cross through the park and others would prefer to gawk at every leaf and rock. Nonetheless we manage pretty good time. Here are some pictures from our transversing the park by way of Tioga Road.

A view of Lake Tenaya
Looking across the lake
There are still patches of snow on the mountains
A granite dome that looks like an ape to John and a Stormtrooper to me

We have lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli where we have a bowl of indifferent vegetarian chili which is greatly helped by the addition of cornbread.

Vegetarian chili with cornbread

Now we have just over two hours left to Tonopah so it’s past Mono Lake, over roller coaster road, a left turn at Benton where there are children in the playground for the first time in 14 years of passing this tiny town, then a right at the burntout shell of a bordello in Coaldale, and we are in the nowhere town of Tonopah.

We are staying at the refurbished but still dingy historic Mizpah Hotel. Our room is very small and there is no place to put anything but we will survive. It is only one night.

some pictures from our evening in Tonopah –

The town has been trying to spruce up  itself with civic art but a lot of the storefronts are abandoned and it is all rather depressing looking.

Big Bill who saved many miners in a mining accident
Salute to the troops
Mural of the many planes tested at the nearby range
Tonopah takes pride in being the home of the stealth bombrt
The County Courthouse looks like there is a space ship bursting out of it.

Lastly we have dinner at the new-ish Tonopah Brewing Company. John has burnt ends and I have  BBQ chicken sandwich. It is merely okay. John likes the porter a lot.

Friendly interior of a Tonopah Brewing Co.
Actually even the nuclear test site was not very spicy
John and beer
John’s burnt ends – not enough bark and spongy in the center
My chicken sandwich. Pretty meh.

On to St. George tomorrow!

July 2, 2017 – Leknes, Norway (Lofoten Islands)

Today we put into the tiny port of Leknes in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. This area is pretty isolated and is home to fishermen and artist communities. It has a stunning landscape and white sand beaches. Here in the midst of summer the temperature is hovering around the 50F mark with rain spitting. It hardly seems like a beach day.

We head to the busses. Our stops for 10 minute photo ops will include two beaches and a fishing community. We head through a long tunnel to the other side of the mountain. The tunnel is only one lane. On the way back we will find out how vehicles going in opposite directions negotiate passage.

The beach that we stop at has beautiful white sand is mainly populated by sheep and tourists taking their 10 minute photo op. It is called Klipfisk or cliff fish beach. Our guide tells us not to go on the sand because it will be too big a mess on the bus due to its stickiness on our shoes. It is picturesque and beautiful and is really not what we would consider for typical beach activities.

White sand beach with rocks and mountains
Sheep enjoying the picnic tables
Heart-shaped rock art

We return back through the tunnel where we meet oncoming traffic. What to do. There are various pullouts and the cars respectfully move over for the bus. Our tour guide, Stephanie, remarks, “We are big. We win.” After the tunnel we stop at another beach. This one has been voted “the most beautiful beach in Norway.” It looks like a beach. It is raining. We stay on the bus.

Most beautiful beach through the bus window
Sometimes the camera wants to take pictures of the raindrops on the window instead

Finally we stop at Ballstad, a typical fishing community except a famous artist, Scott Thoe, has painted a mural on one of the buildings. Unfortunately we are not close enough to get a good picture of it. The little harbor is picturesque so I take a picture. Also a nice picture of John.

Ballstad fishing village. Part of the mural is visible on side of the large white building
Handsome husband shot

We return to the ship. They are running busses into Leknes center during the afternoon but we are told there is nothing open because it is Sunday plus it is raining. We have a leisurely lunch. We watch as the ship leaves Leknes, write the blog, and then get ready for dinner.

Tonight we are eating at the Chef’s Table and having the same menu as two nights ago. (See pictures there) It is still the best piece of cod I have ever eaten. It is so beautifully cooked that it is soft and gelatinous but still flakes apart. The women behind us are saying that it is undercooked which is totally not so. The only things that they have eaten are the salad on top of the carpaccio and dessert. I feel sorry for them.

We head back to the room where we watch an episode of Downtown Abbey, turn our clocks back an hour as we move into Greenwich time, and look at the midnight sun.

The midnight sun off the coast of Norway

October 25-26, 2011 Pleasanton, CA to Benevento, Italy

Mary: Much like last trip, John will be helping with the blogging. I feel like a juggler with three blog balls up in the air. I am so glad that John is keeping Today’s Worry from dropping. If you are interested, there are also posts up today on The Adventures of Clark and Lewis and Dining Lite.

John: Departure day.. We awake at 4 AM, shower, finish our last-minute packing and run through our checklist many times before our friend George picks us up just before 6 AM. We have left some extra time to allow for traffic. There is no traffic, only darkness. We check in, rather on the early side and head to the Admiral’s Club for a pre-breakfast breakfast bagel.

Lewis peruses the menu

Mary: Today we seem to have a lot of pictures of Clark and Lewis and not too many of us or sights. This is probably because we look like zombies after the long flights and we really haven’t seen much except the inside of airports, the car and the hotel.

John: The flight to JFK is uneventful and gets in ahead of schedule. Mary even has a sleep. We settle down in the JFK Admiral’s Club and have some wine and munchies. Clark and Lewis enjoy the whole experience.

Yay, for snacks!

John: Next, on to Rome! The flight is good; we both get some sleep (a miracle). We land on time, breeze through immigration (no passport stamp, though), baggage claim, customs, and car rental. We’re on our way in record time.

We had landed in a light drizzle. As we drive south on the A1, the rain gets heavier. A few kilometers before we are to get off the autostrada, traffic stops. It appears that a truck has jackknifed across the road and cars can get by only on the right shoulder. This costs us about 20 minutes. Lots of emergency vehicles. We hope the truck driver is OK.

The big backup

John looks tired

John: We finally arrive at our hotel, the UNA Il Mulino, in Benevento. It’s in a converted mill complex, very new. Our room is large with plenty of closet space space and a fine enclosed shower. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful.

Mary: I am very impressed with the hotel. Our room is enormous. This is just a one night stop so I wasn’t trying for anything too exciting just clean and not too expensive.

Clark and Lewis are ready for bed

John: We have dinner at the hotel restaurant, Le Macine. We really do not want to have to drive anywhere else today. It’s a very good choice:

– tasty bread and exceptional fennel-flavored bread sticks.

Fennel bread sticks and bread

Mary: Just want to say that in the old pre-diet days we would have eaten all the bread and all the breadsticks and probably asked for more. We had a couple of breadsticks and a couple of slices of bread. The end.

John: – an antipasto compliments of the chef: sauteed calamari strips, fried artichoke slices, and garbanzo beans in a garbanzo puree.

Antipasto compliments of the chef

Mary: I cannot even tell you how good the fried artichoke chips were.

John: – a small rigatoni-like pasta with white beans and local cheese for Mary’s primo, and artisan tagliatelle with broccoli and mussels for John.

Plate of goo

John's primo

Mary: John made the better choice here. I had a plate of goo. It was okay. I tried to avoid as much goo as possible.

John: – grilled fish filet, (maybe bass), served with fried spinach, sauteed fennel and a wonderful cauliflower puree with black salt grains and local olive oil. Best fish I have ever had in Italy.

Our secondi

Mary: I think the fish was swordfish.

John: – for wine, we have a local 2008 Caudium Aglianico made by Masseria Frattasi. A nice light red that goes really well with all our courses.

And so to bed. Tomorrow, on to Puglia.

Connor Butler – Restaurant Review

John reviews Connor Butler –

On Thursday night, July 31, 2008, we chose to continue our anniversary celebration by booking a table at Restaurant Connor Butler, a small, relatively new (2 years old) restaurant just over the Granville St. Bridge south of downtown Vancouver.
 
Since we had booked on the early side, there was lots of opportunity to interact with both the sommelier, Ron Douglas, and with the chef, Connor Butler himself.  It was just the start of an extraordinary evening, rivalling our earlier experience at Cyrus in every respect.

We started with an amuse-bouche which included, among others, an anchovy-stuffed sour cherry, which was quite good.  The others I cannot recall.

Chef Connor was interesting, engaging and animated.  He said he had some items not listed on the menu: foie gras and duck.  Intrigued by the notion of duck and duck, we asked if he could prepare a foie gras appetizer and a duck main, and that we preferred items savory rather than sweet.  And, we would like Sommelier Ron to pair wines for us.

After another bit of amuse, a slice of nicely seared tuna, the appetizers arrived.  The foie was accompanied by sauteed purple potato dice, small bites of bacon and morel mushrooms in a simple pan reduction.  The result was astounding, and this time the morels were in perfect balance (see previous review of Fireside Grill).

Ron brought three wines to sample: an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, a German Riesling Spatlese, and the sweetest, a French desserty wine.  In the end, we went preferred the last one, since it most resembled the traditional Sauterne in terms of sweetness and viscous texture that we like with foie gras.

The main course was seared sliced breast of duck, served with potato puree, garnished with a few sour cherries, citrus supremes, and pickled golden beets.  This was incredibly tasty: the best-cooked duck we’ve ever had, with the potato puree retaining its identity rather than merely dissolving into the pan jus, as sometimes happens.

Ron paired this with a BC Pinot Noir that did justice to all the flavors on the plate, from the succulence of the duck to the vegetal acidity of the beets. 

We finished with a plate of three delicious cheeses from Vancouver Island (where, perversely, Victoria IS and Vancouver IS NOT).  We followed this with a stint at the bar drinking cognac and grappa and chatting with the chef and the sommelier.

Couldn’t have been better.  (John: A+, Mary: A+)

Fireside Grill – Saanich, BC – Dinner 7/28/08

 

Our hosts at the Gazebo Bed and Breakfast recommended a nearby restaurant in Saanich, BC, the Fireside Grill.  Housed in an attractive, Tudor-style structure, it seemed to offer Creative Northwest-influenced dishes, just what we were seeking.

A new menu had just been introduced that day.  This has not always yielded great results in our experience, but it looked good anyway.  The appetizer page looked especially appealing, so we decided to create our meal from starters alone.

Here’s what we had:

An order of flatbread with the spread of the day.  Nicely toasted and seasoned, the flatbread wedges were served with a blueberry cream cheese.  Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!  Anyone who follows our culinary adventures should know that we’re not fans of sweet things, and we especially avoid sweet spreads (and sweet bagels for that matter).  But we were WRONG.  The fresh cream cheese had some goat cheese mixed in, and the blueberries behaved more as a savory (or should we say savoury?) herb than as a sweet fruit.  A beautiful concoction; we were wowed.

Next, our salads: an organic green salad sprinkled with small roasted pumkinseeds for John, and a roasted red beet, lettuce and goat cheese salad for Mary.  The only quibble was that a mix of beet types would have been even better.

Finally, as our main course, we both had the Organic Foie Gras and Qualicum Beach Scallops, with morel mushrooms and sweet peas.  The foie gras and the scallops were delicious and perfectly cooked (we’re very picky about these).  The sweet peas were a nice addition, again perfectly cooked.  The morels were tasty, but perhaps they could have taken a less aggressive role in the dish.

All in all, an excellent meal.  (John: A-, Mary:A-)

Thursday, July 17, 2008 – Healdsburg, California

We started our trip with a stop at Imagery Winery to pick up a wine club shipment.  We like Imagery a lot, it has many interesting varietals.  Since it was lunchtime, we sat on their patio and had lunch.  Since it was our anniversary, we had a bottle of wine.

Picnicking at Imagery Winery 

Then we headed on up to Chateau St. Jean and tasted some wine on their back patio. 

On the porch at Chateau St. Jean

Later, we had a fabulous dinner at Cyrus in Healdsburg.  We’ve been there several times before and have never been disappointed.  John had Thai marinated lobster with avocado, melon and hearts of palm, sea bass with sweet corn and spring onions, mussel and saffron sauce, pompano with cannelini beans, trotters and crayfish glaze, and rabbit ballotine with agnolotti and chanterelles with an olive oil froth.  I had the lobster as well and also the sea bass but I also had a terrine of foie gras with lychee and tamarind and toasted crumpets and a crispy poussin with potato puree, haricots verts and morels.  We started with champagne and then had the sommelier pair wine with the rest of it.  It was great!  We also had amuse bouche, a cucumber gelee, some sort of popsicle palate cleanser and bunch of tidbit desserts (which we didn’t order.)  Even though the portions are not large at all, we were really, really full by the end.

It was a pretty perfect day.  Happy Anniversary John! Toasting our 36th

 

REWIND DINER, KANAB, UTAH

On a sunny February day we happened into Kanab around lunchtime.  Our plan was to go to the Rocking V Cafe but we found that it was closed for the season.  As we peered into the Rewind Diner, a local worker passing by commented that they had really, really good food.  I have to admit that taking a recommendation from someone unknown and from Utah was chancy (see Utah Rules!) but it turned out he was right. 

 The interior of the Rewind Diner tries VERY hard at looking like a 50’s soda shop. So we were figuring it would be heavy on the burgers and fries but, no!, we were offered a vegetarian menu as well as the regular menu.  (Apparently veg food can not be sullied by being on the same menu as meat.)  We had a faux gyros wrap which was so tasty that it didn’t need to be called faux anything.  Also we had a falafel plate.  The falafel was great!  (Yesterday I had a falafel plate at House of Falafel in Pleasanton, CA and it wasn’t nearly as good.)  The hummus it was served with had enough texture that it didn’t just ooze out of the pita.  This was a great lunch and totally unexpected in this remote corner of Utah.

This is a tricky rating.  I want to give it an A because it was so surprisingly good for Utah.  But, really, the service was a little ditzy, they ran out of falafel so we could only get one plate and the falafel was fried a bit dark.  So…

Table consensus – B/B+