Sunday, October 31, 2010


We changed Ally's life by rescuing her, but she has changed our lives more. Besides the morning wiggles and kisses we now walk after breakfast, and the mornings are astonishingly beautiful. We walk through Diablo...

...down deserted streets. We see deer, squirrels, turkeys, owl pellets, and the most beautiful skies...
Happy Halloween from Ally - and her grateful new family.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


We harvested our grapes today. Steve, our vineyard manager, came at dawn. I joined him after I woke up enough not to stumble - a big cup of hot tea helped.  We picked before the sun was up...
The grapes are all along the bottom of the vine...
...and of course being grapes they're all twisted up in the vines and twizzled around the wires...

Eventually we got them all picked.
Steve picked about twice as fast as I did. I bet he can stand up today, too. Dorothy Parker was right - getting old is not for sissies. But we had a good crop...
...and eventually I will be able to walk upright again. Isn't wine an ancient painkiller? 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ron Morgan and Loot

I took two friends and went to a class at Loot in Lafayette. Ron Morgan, author, lecturer, storyteller, flower arranger, decorator, genius and one of the funniest guys around gives Monday classes. Sign up - they sell out in a heartbeat. From a pile of sticks and seeds...

He creates the most beautiful things. He will change the way you look at flowers, at your garden, at your neighbor's garden (his stories about cutting from other peoples' gardens will have you holding your sides). This was his contemporary class, and while I prefer big jumbled mixed up bouquets I came home inspired. A few of his creations...
he recommends placing these facing into a mirror. Who'd think of that?
The pile of sunflowers becomes this - 
This rather hideous vase is transformed...
...into this.
into this.

Apples and amaryllis (and red twig dogwood)
Two fig leaves and a few green calla lilies
Start with some cranberries
and add a few flowers - add candles if you like. Instant Holiday.
His shop is full of wondrous things
displayed in color-coordinated vignettes.
I have a thing for this color green
and when I got home I found a huge praying mantis (very pregnant) exactly this shade of green on the leg of my ladder. I moved her to the garden - I hope her babies will be happy in my garden and stay.
Ron tells the story of going to lecture somewhere in the south. He had agreed the ladies would bring their own containers and he would tell them how to arrange in their containers. One sweet little old lady in a Chanel suit and Ferragamo pumps came up with a container dripping with brightly colored ceramic fruit and cherubs. She said "Mistuh Morgan, this has been in my family foah generations.  What should I do with it?" 

Ron took one look and said "Just drop it and break it, honey. That is the ugliest thing I have ever seen!"

Go see Ron Morgan.  Take a friend. Prepare to laugh. Take your checkbook, for there will be something you will want to take home (besides the charming and adorable Mr Morgan). 

Where else can you get up close and personal with a world class talent?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tasting Things

Leslie brought me some Lucini olive oil that was too green and strong for her tastes. I gave her some McEvoy in exchange. We both have a new favorite olive oil, and they're not the same. I prefer the Lucini; she prefers the McEvoy. 

I started thinking about tasting notes. I cancelled my subscription to Cook's Magazine when they said they tasted no difference between real vanilla and the fake stuff made with vanillin. I taste a bitterness in the fake stuff, and it is a simpler composition. It lacks the deep notes, the grace notes, the unfolding fleeting flavors that are almost identifiable then gone. No difference? We differ. My friend Des makes vanilla and it is heavenly. Even the gossip girls notice the difference in the fragrance, and ask about it. They'd like to drink it. Maybe Des will teach us to make it. 

Wine tasters make judgements - wine drinkers slavishly follow them. If you know anything about wine you know who Robert Parker is - a good rating from Robert Parker can make a wine; a bad rating can be devastating. 

Years ago I belonged to the San Francisco Professional Food Society and we tasted things (before tasting was the rage) - tomatoes, coffee, caviar, vodka, champagne...and salt. Salt has changed a lot since then. The French Laundry and Per Se have served plates with 8 or 9 little piles of salt served with a history and geography lesson for each, and pairing recommendations. Eye opening.

 I have more than a dozen kinds of salt in my cupboard. Some of my favorites...
are from Williams Sonoma. Their red salt is great on pork, I love the black on grilled steak, and the chardonnay smoked salt means I can do ribs in the oven and they taste like they've been smoked. I plan to try it on pork chops next.
Some were gifts and I have no idea what's in them...besides salt. 
One of my favorites is the Herb Rub (with lots of salt)  from David Lebovitz. If you don't follow his blog you are in for a treat - he is funny, dry, wry, and doesn't take anything too seriously. I've never met him but he's on the list of people I'd like to have dinner with. Along with Winston Churchill and Eleanor of Acquitaine.

But my favorite - the one I reach for again and again - is this.
If you've been reading my blog for a while you know I went to the Ile de Re this summer and fell in love with the place. I get this salt at WIlliams Sonoma. I brought some back from the Ile de Re - if you come for dinner we can taste it. And you do know to sprinkle it over the finished dish, right? Don't waste it in the soup, you will lose the big flakes and the subtle flavor. Sprinkle a few grains on a finished dish and dig in.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Gardener

There is one on Fourth Street in Berkeley. There is one at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. But my favorite is the one on Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg because it is set in a garden.

It is high style meets whimsey. Practical meets improbable.

On a recent bike ride we stopped by the Healdsburg store, and I found myself imagining their tall pots as a modern-ish fountain (with apologies to the architecture snobs and language police).

I would show you photos but they won't let me, so you'll just have to click the links and look for yourself. But the bike ride -
 was fantastic. Perfect weather, rolling hills, grapes almost ripe, whimsey along the road...
Coppola is a great place for lunch on a hill overlooking the valley - 
...even a flat tire couldn't ruin our day. 
Go. Stay at Hotel Healdsburg. Shop at Susan Graf. Eat at Scopa or Dry Creek Kitchen. Have lunch at Willi's Wine Bar and order the peel and eat shrimp. Have one of the weird and wonderful cocktails at Barn Diva. It's as beautiful as the cycling trips we take to Europe, the food is as good, and it's a lot closer. If only they had ancient hilltop towns built of stone...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ad Hoc

I hate Ad Hoc committees. My garden club is forming one for strategic planning. Seriously? it's a Garden Club, for Pete's sake, not a multi national corporation. I have started two successful companies. The biggest waste of time? Strategic planning. Makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it.

On a brighter note - it's my favorite cookbook. Ad Hoc at Home. After Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc restaurant,  in Yountville. Simpler, faster and less expensive than The French Laundry, the best restaurant in the world. With a really cool web site.
After the fried chicken I wanted something simpler. So I made the Cauliflower Soup. 
 His photo, not mine. I didn't make the crispy florets or the beet chips. I didn't use a vita-mix I used a stick blender. And it was fabulous. And not very complicated. 

I will make it again soon. I may even make the beet chips. Or maybe I'll just make the beet, that soup was too good. It's a cool rainy day; I'm going to the store for cauliflower and cream.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Shoe SHopping

Cathy warned me not to leave her alone with my shoes - she lost a very attractive pair of turquoise heels when Haley was teething. So we went out to dinner and Ally went shoe shopping.
No damage. A few insoles removed but that may be a fashion critique. 

I am looking for new slippers tomorrow. I expect Ally to be shoe shopping in the garage again. She thinks it's the toy store. Anyone have a recommendation for slippers with some arch support?

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Seven Sisters

It's a bike ride in Marin county. We started at Stinson beach and rode along the shoulder of Mt Tamalpias. It is beautiful...
but the problem is before you get to the seven sisters, those lovely rolling hills along the ridge above the ocean, you have to climb one big mother. It's a heck of a way to find out you have asthmatic bronchitis. Glad I did it; should be able to breathe again soon. I want to do it when I'm not sick. Bet it's still really hard!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ad Hoc Fried Chicken

I had been looking for the ultimate fried chicken recipe for ten years, and Ann, Pam and I agreed to make Thomas Keller's Buttermilk Fried Chicken from the Ad Hoc Cookbook for Wally's birthday.

If I'd been using my head I would have photos of the whole two day process - the herb filled brine, the big lumps of seasoned flour and buttermilk on our fingers as we dipped the chicken pieces.

First you make a brine - salt, sugar, lemons, garlic, herbs. Boil and cool. Then you brine the chicken for 12 hours - no more, no less. Then air dry for a hour and a half, then seasoned flour, buttermilk, seasoned flour again, then fry in peanut oil. It took about an hour to fry all the pieces including letting the oil return to temperature between batches. If you've been paying attention you realize to do this recipe properly you need to get up at 3 a.m.  Do it. 

We cheated, got up at 7, and it was still the best thing I've put in my mouth in years. Puts other fried chicken to shame.

This is what was left over...and it made the best picnic ever. You will have to buy (or borrow) the Ad Hoc cookbook by Thomas Keller. Do it - make this chicken. Invite your favorite people. This is too good to waste on people you don't adore. I will make it again - but not soon, for it is a lot of work, and you need good friends who are good cooks in the kitchen with you. But oh what a delicious delight! I had a great time cooking with Ann and Pam...

and Wally truly enjoyed his birthday - and that, after all, was the point.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rockridge Market Hall

So easy to get to I wonder why I don't go more often.

I go there when I need something special - really fabulous sherry vinegar, cheeses for a party, the freshest fish. 

Unusual flowers. No time to go to the SF Flower Market? No problem. 

It's a collection of stores and restaurants. No one I know can name them all - but the restaurant, Olivetto, everyone knows. It is beautiful, full of light, unusual, delicious.Try their handmade pastas. Try the ones with whole grains. It is one of owner Robert Klein's passions and he will change the world. He's that kind of guy. 

And if they have it try the Porchetta. Last weekend they were roasting them on the street. Crisp and succulent with a spicy sauce on a roll. I can still remember the delicious surprise of sweet, hot and salty melting in my mouth. I probably still have grease on my chin. I am definitely still smiling.

Football at the Beach

It's been foggy at the beach but Wally's grandson doesn't seem to care. Maybe because he lives in foggy SF, maybe because of the wide open spaces. 
We didn't get much football played because he kept stopping the game to tell us we weren't doing it right. I predict a career as an NFL practice coach...or a ref. But his joy in scoring a touchdown (while we were all doing just as he said - silly us) was contagious.