Monday, June 1, 2015

R2D2 In The Loo

Okay, you've all seen those Toto toilets - you know, the ones that look like a flat topped pod from a spaceship?  And that automatically put the seat down?  And have so many wash options they remind you of doing laundry?  

You ain't seen nothin' yet.  

At the Grand Hyatt in Tokyo you don't need a night light - when you walk into the potty closet, the toilet makes funny little R2D2 noises, a blue light comes on that suffuses the room with a warm blue glow, and the lid goes up.  Seriously, it looks happy to see you.  Ready for anything.

At home we have one chrome lever - these things have a keypad that looks like it needs launch codes.
You can set the temperature.  You can choose a wash location.  You can adjust the water temperature.  Oh, and it launches all by itself, if you get my drift.   As you walk away.  Just in case you forgot.  Or are on your phone...you know you don't want to share that noise.  

I am not sharing photos of the actual loo - I have standards - but you can see them on the Toto link above.  They use less water than ours, they are way more sano and way more fun - and in Japan even the tiny inns (Ryokans) that don't have beds, or chairs (yes you heard me right - more on that later) have these high tech....well, you know what they are.  But not with the blue light.  And the happy noises.

I have a friend whose son has these in his house, and she said "The only problem is when the power goes out."  I didn't think of that.  Maybe I'll get a generator too.  


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Alphabet Soup

CT Scan
MRI
X-ray
EKG
IV
All in less than two hours, all for less than $500.  All at the local regional hospital.  Why can't we have this kind of health care?

On Wednesday Wally took some spills.  Skinned up, but we finished the ride.  The next day he was having some balance issues, so on the advice of the hotel manager, Jiro Takeuchi (who stayed with us every step of the way)
we went to the hospital to get him checked out.  
In style.


The good news: no abnormalities.  The bad news: concussion.  confusion.  balance is off.  dehydrated.

Being Wally, he is bloodied but unbowed. 
Thank goodness we were staying at the fabulous Kayotei Ryokan in Yamanaka.  Thank goodness we had our own On-sen (mineral spa) on our beautiful deck.
Home soon - updates after we see some of Wally's doctors.  But for now we are stumbling around Kyoto, and it's beautiful. 

One really cool thing:  the paramedics and the ER staff write your answers to their medical questions on their gloves.  So cool.  So smart.  So practical.






Friday, May 22, 2015

May 2015 To-Do In The Garden

Once again, courtesy of those wonderful folks at Sloat Nursery in Danville, here is your to-do- list for the month.  Sign up for their e-newsletter and all this - and more - will come to your email.  Check out their Garden Guru column for answers to questions you didn't know you had.  And Happy Gardening!

May

  • Plant annuals like petunias, marigolds, begonias, lobelia, salvia and zinnia.
  • Re-seed radishes, carrots and beets.
  • Plant late summer edibles like pumpkins, squash, sunflowers, peppers, basil and melons.
  • Select garden-ready dahlias, perennials, hydrangeas, and hanging baskets.
  • Fertilize rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias with E.B. Stone Organics Azalea, Camellia & Gardenia Food.
  • Give vegetables a boost with E.B. Stone Organics Tomato and Vegetable Food.
  • Feed containers and hanging baskets with Maxsea All Purpose fertilizer.
  • Plant new containers with E.B. Stone Formula 420 to provide the best moisture holding capacity.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs after bloom is past. Prune spring flowering Clematis to control size and shape.
  • Mulch vegetable and flower beds with Sloat Forest Mulch Plus to control weeds and conserve moisture.
  • Freshen up containers and replace spent annuals with colorful 4-inch perennials such as verbena, calibrachoa, coleus, bacopa and ipomoea.
  • Don’t forget mom on Mother’s Day! We have blooming flowers, gift cards, and hanging baskets.
  • Check out our selection of specialty hand tools, gloves and sun protective hats.
  • Release ladybugs and other beneficial insects to help control aphids, mites, whiteflies, and other garden pests.
  • The spittle bugs have returned!  Learn more. >
  • Stake tall perennials such as Dahlias.
  • Use beneficial nematodes to manage grubs in your lawn
  • Deadhead spring bulbs but leave the foliage until it turns yellow.
  • Pinch back late summer and fall perennials to promote better flowering, especially mums and asters.
  • Check your hose fittings for spent washers and leaks. Ensure your hose has a shut off valve or other water conserving feature. Consider a soaker hose to conserve water in your vegetable garden.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Doing It All

The NY Times has a travel series called 36 Hours In (fill in the city).  We did all the 36 Hours In Tokyo things - in 8 hours.  With Miyuki, our intrepid guide (why are guides always intrepid?  I suppose if they're not intrepid they are insipid - or lost.  Out of business.)  And we did it by Train. Taxi.  Monorail.  Jinrickshaw.  Canal boat.  And a lot of walking.  

Without Miyuki we would still be wandering the subway.  
It's not just the trains, with thirteen main lines, or the ticket machines with instructions in Japanese.  It's the stairs up and down to change platforms (or to find your platform in the first place), the sinuous tile-lined tunnels that look like MC Escher drawings, the banks of escalators rising into the air in all different directions, the rivers of bobbing heads scurrying along...and just as you are congratulating yourself on getting on the right train and off at the proper stop, you see the dozens of exits, with arrows pointing in all directions, all with different numbers and letters and strange-sounding names that at this point mean nothing.  And you realize getting off at the right stop is only the beginning. 

Even Miyuki occasionally had to ask which exit from the station to take, and she lives here.  She led us down some narrow walkways precariously close to oncoming trains to get to our exits.  If you take the wrong exit, God help you; exits can be blocks from each other.  You may need a taxi.

In the morning the train was not crowded:
 But by afternoon things were a little different.  All calm and orderly.  It got a lot more crowded as we went along, but I couldn't get my arm up to take a photo.

Highlights: The Meiji Shrine:

Where the spirit of the dead Emperor and Empress are enshrined.  Popular place for baptisms (saw lots of babies but took no photos - it would have been too weird) and weddings (didn't see any brides, just school kids).  No qualms about photographing them; they are i-photoing constantly.

Take a boat along the Sumida river and down into Tokyo harbor- it's a completely different perspective on the city.  Check out the tsunami gates - Good luck with that.

Go to Tokyo Sky View - Tokyo makes New York look like a village.  Sorry New Yorkers.  Sad but true.  Dense as far as the eye can see.  Best guess: 38 million people in the greater metropolitan area (for you nitpickers who will come up with a smaller number and neglect to mention that it's for the city proper only).  Who can tell where the city proper ends?  There are high rises to the horizon in every direction.  And don't get me started on the traffic.  
As long as we were there - 52 floors up atop the Mori tower - we went to the Mori Museum.  And the Star Wars exhibit.  Weird to hear Han Solo speaking Japanese - I expected it from Yoda.

My favorite piece was thin fabric and fans, the fabric billowing and twisting, rising and falling.  Cannot remember the name of the artist, but the exhibit was about forms and was soothing, thought provoking, cool and elegant.
A few more memories from our madcap tour:
No, silly, that's not our jinrickshaw driver - that's Miyuki. 

At the Asakusa shrine, girls rent kimonos for their visit.  Have lunch at a noodle shop on a side street.  Get your fortune told at the temple (this involves shaking sticks and paper slips).  If your fortune is bad, tie it to the temple and leave it behind.  The smoke from all the incense in supposed to cure what ails you, and if nothing ails you, it's good for that too.  Holy Smoke, Miuki says.  
And some restaurant recommendations for your next trip to Roppongi:

Gonpachi for sushi - make a reservation for the third floor; you can't get sushi on the first two floors.  Altho they are very picturesque...but the third floor has a lovely garden.  And did I mention the sushi? This is where Dubya and Shinzo Abe dined.  Sushi here is smaller, fresher, and sweeter, not soft and mushy and too big for one bite - like ours at home.  A revelation.

Seryna Restaurant for sukiyaki or shabu-shabu.   Great people watching - the designer clothes, the handbags, the manners and family dynamics.

And Atelier Joel Robuchon in a weird underground warren attached to the Roppongi train station.  
Green beans with caviar and gold leaf, wasabi cream and grated hard-boiled egg...
Foie Gras on risotto with the most delicious vinegar-butter-cabernet reduction to balance the richness...
 And the unbelievably tender Wagyu beef.  
 Wally said it was as rich and tender as my foie gras.  Since he tasted both, he would know.

Off to rest up for our next meal.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pasta With Prosciutto and Peas

Pasta with Prosciutto and Peas.  Yum.  With home-made pasta it is transcendent. 

I found this recipe in the NY Times,  and since my mom gave me a pasta bike for my birthday years ago (with a stern warning about never never never washing it!) I whipped up a batch.  Of pasta.

My hands were too messy to photograph the mixing-the-eggs-with-the-flour stage.  But then it came together into a nice lump:
Which I have learned to let rest for a few hours, well wrapped in plastic.  Take a nap, go for a walk.  Then run it thru the pasta bike on the biggest setting, folding and re-cranking it thru until it is smooth and elastic. 
Set the pasta bike on smaller and smaller settings, until:
you decide it's thin enough.  Or too long to handle.  
Hint: you can cut the dough into shorter pieces to make it easier to handle...especially when you're running it thru the cutting rollers.  Short sheets will save you a great deal of grief.  
Once the pasta is cut I toss it with flour to keep it from sticking together...
I learned this from Ian when he was four.  Thank you Ian.  
A little boiled cream...
some chives and prosciutto...
and of course some parmigiano Reggiano.  Accept no substitutes.
Open some white wine.  Preferably outside.  In the garden.  With someone you love.  This is too good and delicate to waste on anyone else.
Now, what's for dessert?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

May To Do In The Garden

Once again, thanks to those lovely and oh-so-knowledgeable folks at Sloat, here is what needs doing in the garden in May.  If you live in Northern Ca.  Of course since we have a miserable drought and scorching hot weather (90 in April...really!) I recommend mixing yourself a gin and tonic.  It won't alleviate the drought, but it makes watching your garden wilt a little easier to take.  Just a little.  


May

  • Plant annuals like petunias, marigolds, begonias, lobelia, salvia and zinnia.
  • Re-seed radishes, carrots and beets.
  • Plant late summer edibles like pumpkins, squash, sunflowers, peppers, basil and melons.
  • Select garden-ready dahlias, perennials, hydrangeas, and hanging baskets.
  • Fertilize rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias with E.B. Stone Organics Azalea, Camellia & Gardenia Food.
  • Give vegetables a boost with E.B. Stone Organics Tomato and Vegetable Food.
  • Feed containers and hanging baskets with Maxsea All Purpose fertilizer.
  • Plant new containers with E.B. Stone Formula 420 to provide the best moisture holding capacity.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs after bloom is past. Prune spring flowering Clematis to control size and shape.
  • Mulch vegetable and flower beds with Sloat Forest Mulch Plus to control weeds and conserve moisture.
  • Freshen up containers and replace spent annuals with colorful 4-inch perennials such as verbena, calibrachoa, coleus, bacopa and ipomoea.
  • Don’t forget mom on Mother’s Day! We have blooming flowers, gift cards, and hanging baskets.
  • Check out our selection of specialty hand tools, gloves and sun protective hats.
  • Release ladybugs and other beneficial insects to help control aphids, mites, whiteflies, and other garden pests.
  • The spittle bugs have returned!  Learn more. >
  • Stake tall perennials such as Dahlias.
  • Use beneficial nematodes to manage grubs in your lawn
  • Deadhead spring bulbs but leave the foliage until it turns yellow.
  • Pinch back late summer and fall perennials to promote better flowering, especially mums and asters.
  • Check your hose fittings for spent washers and leaks. Ensure your hose has a shut off valve or other water conserving feature. Consider a soaker hose to conserve water in your vegetable garden.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

David Monn, Paula Pryke, and the Most Beautiful Flowers

We went to see David Monn speak at the De Young last week - he is the uber-talented event planner (and that does not even begin to cover what he can do) and flower arranger, and he brought some photos of his events.  Stunning.  And they will probably never be published; his clients are apparently rich, famous, and very private.  He did not name drop, but some of the parties he did are in someone's book... alas we were not allowed to photograph the power point.  

He made luscious arrangements, moving so fast he was a blur:

and then he set the table.  I think I need...well, everything.  Bolder linens, more dishes, whimsical stemware...and little gold chairs.  
 If he doesn't give you inspiration for your next party, there is no hope for you.
He did one huge all-foliage arrangement on a ladder...

I think I'm gonna need a bigger house...


...and maybe a minion or two.

An East Coast friend tells the story of the most over-the-top wedding ever: "He gave her an unlimited budget...and she exceeded it."  David says his clients tell him the same thing.  I wonder if he did that wedding?

Paula Pryke was there too, and what with her shop, her seventeen books, her international lectures, her collecting honors from the Queen via Prince William (and making him laugh) and her whirlwind arrangements, we all felt we should be doing just a bit more...
Love her style...
And yet right here at Chez Panisse I found flowers just as evocative, just as lovely...
And more my style.  Love the looseness.  We live in such a wonderful part of the world.