Thursday, December 28, 2017

Peace In the New Year

Lawai International Center, Kauai

In the hope of encouraging peace in 2018,  I'm presenting images of some of the unique Japanese shrines populating the hillside paths of the Lawai International Center on the island of Kauai

The Lawai International Center, a non-profit community project, is an archaeological and cultural treasure in a valley that has long been recognized as a healing sanctuary. In 1904 the first generation of Japanese immigrants built 88 shrines replicating an ancient pilgrimage of 88 temples in Shikoku, Japan. Today, it is the only such site existing outside of Japan and is one of the oldest Buddhist temple sites in the country. When the shrines fell into disrepair in the 1960s, the nonprofit Center was formed to restore the site. The maintenance and restoration work continues to be done today by a network of devoted volunteers.

It was fascinating to glimpse into each miniature shrine and marvel at the objects within

     We called the Center when we arrived in Kauai and made arrangements to visit the site. They are open to the public two Sundays a month, but if those days don't work, a volunteer will open the Center when it's convenient. When we arrived we were offered tea and were told the history of the valley. Then we were given walking sticks to help us clamber up and down the uneven paths and peer into each shrine to discover the unique offerings placed inside. Many are still tended by family members and offerings are replaced or repaired when necessary.

Treasures inside a shrine

Here's Dean peeking in
another interior

      I conclude with this peaceful shrine from the Lawai Center,  hoping that peace will bloom out of every nook on the planet, like the orchids of Kauai.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas 2017

                                               Merry Christmas to All

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thyme for the Holidays

    Here's a clever idea--- stems and leaves of fresh thyme tied into an herbaceous crown, created and modeled by a young woman at the Riverdog Farm stand in the Berkeley Farmer's market.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Ghosts are Compostable

                                                             So are skeletons (real ones)

                                                                        And Witches

                                                   And Pumpkins can go in the Green Bin too

                                                      HAPPY HALLOWEEN

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Amador County Big Crush 2017

           Saturday October 7th we headed to Amador County for this year's Big Crush celebration

We had no real plans, so when we reached Plymouth we took Shenandoah Road and after passing a few familiar wineries, we stopped at Vino Noceto for the first time.

Amador county is known for its zinfandels, but the staff was also pouring a delicious moscato blend from a jug. Both wines complemented the pizzas they were serving.

Dean relaxed after the long drive while I took took photos of the signpost which gave directions and distances to Noceto, Italy (5,921 miles), Walnut Creek (110 miles) and Vino Noceto (49 feet.)

Next we drove up the road to Andis where I bought a rosé, tasted the curried squash soup and enjoyed the view from the ultra modern hilltop winery.

On to one of our favorites, Amador Cellars, which has excellent reds and a small scale crush every year-check it out

We always visit Helwig with its beautiful amphitheatre overlooking a hive of activity: people drinking and eating, playing cornhole, listening to live music and enjoying the beautiful weekend.

the happy couple leaving the winery with wineglasses in hand

Our last winery was one I had never heard of, but the Hungarian name and the chicken paprikash were appealing, so we headed up the long and winding one lane drive to Dobra Zemlja.

The setting was idyllic. We sat at tables on a huge green lawn with our wine, and gazed at the pond full of splashing ducks and a beautiful snowy egret hunting for his dinner.

By now it was late afternoon and the event was over for the day. We collected our souvenir big crush glasses and headed home.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Foraging for Nasturtiums

A bouquet of nasturtiums on my table

I love nasturtiums, probably because they were my mother's favorite flower, and I am so lucky to be living in Berkeley where the colorful blooms pop up everywhere throughout June. They thrive in our Northern California climate. When I want flowers on my table, I head to the streets and forage. No one seems to mind that I pluck their cheerful nasturtiums into beautiful bouquets and head straight home to put them in water. In fact, strangers start conversations while I'm snipping, commenting on the beauty of my bounty, probably assuming I'm picking from my own garden.

I've picked in the flat lands

I've picked in the hills
And most often I pluck from a side yard in the Gourmet Ghetto

During nasturtium season I enjoy the freshly foraged flowers on my dining room table and on a recent Sunday afternoon my guests raved about the vivid centerpieces at an alfresco lunch on our deck.

The red wine BBQ chicken is still on the grill

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Visit to Menton and Musée Jean Cocteau

 Jean Cocteau (July 5, 1889 — October 11, 1963) was a French artist,  poet, novelist, playwright, designer, and film director. He wrote the the novel Les Enfants Terribles in 1929  and produced  thousands of drawings, paintings, films and ceramic works. Above is the spectacular museum in Menton, France which was built by the city to house their collection of his paintings, drawings, and films. The idea for the museum came about when the art collector Severin Wunderman donated 1500 Cocteau works to Menton in 2005 with the condition that the town build a dedicated Cocteau museum. And what a museum Menton built. My Lonely Planet guide book says: "This futuristic, low-rise building is a wonderful space to make sense of Cocteau's eclectic work." When I read this glowing report, I reserved a day at the end of our 2016 Provence trip to visit Menton and the museum. It's only an hour's drive from Nice on an auto route high above the spectacular Mediterranean coast.

In case you think Cocteau's works are relegated to museums and dusty bookshelves, this Memorial day weekend's performance of Les Enfants Terrible in San Francisco will set you straight. Theatre Parallel performed a dance-opera spectacle of Cocteau's 1929 novel set to an operatic score by Phillip Glass, to honor his 80 birthday. It was quite a surreal experience

Cocteau's drawings and paintings are awe inspiring in their variety, and they unfold as you make your way around the museum.

In the collection was a striking painting by Cocteau's contemporary, Sonia Delauney.

Une Jolie Village, as our cab driver described Menton when I told him we had driven there the previous day. But it had been a Monday and the market across the street from the museum was closed, as was the three star restaurant in town, plus it's on the Italian border... So we'll have to return. I can't wait!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chocolate Chip Tahini Cookies à la David Lebovitz

This is the picture that got me. As a sucker for oozing chocolate chip cookies, I lighted up when I  made my occasional scan of David Lebovitz's blog and saw this outrageous photo. Then I noticed the tahini and I headed straight for the kitchen.

The dough came together quickly, but I adjusted the recipe to my personal taste and used half the chocolate chunks (Scharffen Berger bittersweet and semisweet pieces) and I added a cup of walnuts to the mixture. Next time I'll add even more. Also, because I'm not a fan of the salty-sweet trend, I omitted the salt sprinkles at the end. I like a classic sweet cookie, even though David's first word is "salted."

My cookies just out of the oven cooling on the tray
Boy, my cookies did not resemble the plump, oozing specimens in David's photo, but one bite told me that I had a winner. Like he says, these are some of the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever had. They were crisp when they were warm and they remained crisp to the end, three days later. Chocolate lovers like my husband will want more chocolate, but these are perfect for me.

Here is the recipe copied from the David Lebovitz blog:

Salted Chocolate Chip Tahini Cookies
18 to 25 cookies 
Adapted from Modern Israeli Cooking: 100 New Recipes for Traditional Classics by Danielle Oron. I used chopped chocolate, rather than chocolate chips, for these cookies since I wanted large chunks of oozing chocolate rather than little bits of chocolate here and there. (But feel free to use chips if you’d like.) Normally when I chop chocolate for cookies, I add any small bits and pieces on the cutting board along with the bigger chunks. But for these, I wanted distinct, more assertive pieces of chocolate, so I sorted through and just used large chunks, saving the smaller bits for another baking project. I baked these cookies in a larger size, then tried them in smaller portions, and give baking times for each. Whichever size you bake them in, since everyone’s oven is different, it’s important to use visual clues rather than rely on precise minutes and numbers to tell when they’re done. Keep an eye on them during the final minutes of baking; the cookies are done when quite pale in the center and browned around the edges.
8 tablespoons (115g, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (120ml) tahini, well stirred
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (90g) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
cup plus 2 tablespoons (150g) flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 cups (280g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks, or chocolate chips
flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, tahini, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy. (The dough can also be made in a large mixing bowl, stirred with a spatula.)
2. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Add the egg, the yolk, and vanilla, and continue to mix for another minute, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl during mixing, to make sure the eggs are getting incorporated.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and kosher or sea salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients until just combined, then add the chocolate chips. Do not overmix. Cover the dough and refrigerate overnight.
4. Preheat the oven to 325ºF (180ºC). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
5. Form the cookies into rounds using an ice cream scoop, or your hands. For small cookies make each 1 1/2-inch (3,5cm), for larger cookies, make them 2-inches (5cm) round. Place them evenly spaced on the baking sheets, 3-inches (8cm) apart). Bake one sheet at a time, so you can keep an eye on them, in the middle rack of the oven.
6. Bake the cookies, turning the baking sheet in the oven midway during baking, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges but still pale in the center. For small cookies, about 12 minutes, for larger cookies, about 14 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle cookies with a bit of flaky sea salt, and let the cookies cool on the baking sheet. Bake the remaining cookies the same way.Storage: These cookies will keep for two or three days at room temperature, but are definitely better the same day they’re baked. The unbaked dough can be refrigerated for up to one week, and frozen for up to two months.

My second try

My first cookies evaporated so fast that I had to make another batch. I adjusted this recipe to look more like David's. I made the cookies larger and thicker, I used more chocolate chunks and I salted the tops with sea salt to finish. Even better this time! At least some oozing is evident.
I met David in 1998 while he was teaching a cooking class at Sur La Table in Berkeley, where I worked. He was living in San Francisco then, just before moving to Paris. He arrived early and made a batch of extraordinary brownies for the staff and cooking class volunteers. I was bowled over by the rich, intense fudginess of his creation and the next day I asked Sandy Sachs, the cooking class coordinator, for David's recipe. To my surprise, the copy she handed to me was a Scharffen Berger hand out. The treat he had made were the chocolate brownies developed by Robert Steinberg for Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker. The staff knew Robert because he poked around Sur La Table while he was developing the recipes for his fledgling chocolate company. David also became friendly with Robert and John Scharffenbeger when they were launching the company. In Robert's 2008 obituary, David wrote: "I was really fortunate to know Robert and  had the pleasure of watching him make chocolate, swooning over a luscious spoonful of the sticky, half-crushed cocoa beans...learning how to be a more perceptive and thoughtful taster..."

So what started out as "classic chocolate brownies" on a faded mail order leaflet, became "Robert's Fudgy Brownies." The recipe below was printed in a small booklet enclosed in Scharffen Berger's
bittersweet baking bar boxes. The company no longer includes these recipes, so I'm glad I kept the leaflets from the bittersweet and semisweet baking bar packages.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Forget Japan, Let's go to Calistoga

Having been forced by a back injury to cancel our trip to Japan last week, I decided to spend a day in Calistoga, our nearby go-to spot for fun and relaxation.  The weather was gorgeous and I could soak in the hot tub and read in a lounge chair, perfect for convalescence.

Calistoga, tucked into the base of Mount St. Helena at the top of the Napa Valley, is famous for it's hot springs, and offers all the rustic charm of a 19th century western resort town. It has never attained the sophistication of neighboring towns like St. Helena and Yountville down the road, so it retains its 1940s aura, in a breathtaking setting beneath the palasades pictured above. Being only an hour and a half from Berkeley, it is a perfect getaway for a day or two of fun. We always go on a weekday, stocking up on baguettes and cheese from the Cheeseboard before we leave, and picnicking on the tables provided by the spa.

Dean and I poolside at the Calistoga Spa and Hot Springs with his parents in the early 90's

Dean introduced me to Calistoga shortly after we met in 1989. He had been visiting there for many years with his parents. They always stayed at the Calistoga Spa and Hot Springs, but in warm weather the two of us would just buy a day pass and take advantage of the hot tub, huge pool, sauna and lounge area. These days we like to stop for dinner at one of Napa Valley's great restaurants and head home to our cat.

Dean, summer of 1992

Dean and his mother Ros
Ros and Myron had moved from Berkeley to Washington D.C. in 1991, and they would come back to the Bay Area both in summer and winter. During their stays  they would spend four or five days in Calistoga and we would visit them for a day or two; I have lovely memories of those times. Even in December we could soak in the hot tub and swim in the large "warm pool" or the heated swimming pool. It was fine as long as we had their room to run to and relax indoors.

Another photo of me around 1992
Sadly, Ros and Myron are no longer with us, but we continue to carry on the Calistoga tradition.

Mount View Hotel pool

After years of frequenting the same spa and finding it more crowded, more expensive and less convivial, we walked across the street to the Mount View Hotel and found that they too sold day passes. The pool area was serene, and though the hot tub and pool were smaller, the private and peaceful atmosphere more than made up for it.  It felt like we had arrived at our own private pool in Spain. We have been going there ever since.

Mount View Hotel swimming pool

We've gone to Calistoga together close to 100 times now. Many years we've gone for Thanksgiving. It's our tradition to go up Wednesday evening, stop at Mustard's Grill on Rte 29 for a great burger, and continue on to our hotel.

 A few years ago we stayed at the Mount View, awoke early on Thanksgiving day to cool mists hovering over the pool, had breakfast in our room, checked out, and spent the rest of the day basking in the warm sun (alone) until it was time for turkey at The Calistoga Inn, our favorite Calistoga eatery.

I'm enjoying my breakfast sandwich with coffee on Thanksgiving morning 

A brilliant mid-day display on Thanksgiving
Dean clowning around in the bright sun on Thanksgiving day 2014

Last week after a restful day, it was hot enough to dine on the splendid patio at the Calistoga Inn. We try to get there early enough to get a table overlooking the Napa River and we eat accompanied by birds singing in the  overhanging trees and the occasional family of ducks on the water. They have a great chef, and not enough people take advantage of this lovely spot. The Calistoga Brewery is on site, and we particularly like their refreshing Red Pale Ale.

Patio dining at the Calistoga Inn on Lincoln Ave in Calistoga

This time we ordered Chef Nicholas' inspired asparagus and prosciutto salad with arugula and pecorino

Our other favorite restaurants are Redd Wood in Yountville and Bistro Don Giovanni on Hwy 29 in Napa, both right on our way home. So even if we can't soak in a Japanese bath in Kyoto, a day in Calistoga comes pretty close. It will have to do for now...