Champion Sleeper

As most of you are already well aware, I can never seem to get my act together in sufficient time to pen or distribute that most notorious of missives – the Christmas card/Holiday letter. This year is no different; yet I do feel compelled to offer this simple retrospective of events from 2009 because, while there was plenty in the world to gripe about, it wasn’t all bad – some of it was downright wonderful.

 Out with a Crash not a Whimper
Topping my list for 2009 is the wellspring of mirth and madness that is Crash, our seven month old chocolate Labrador puppy. We brought him home in August and since then he has grown from an eight pound cuddle of fudge into a forty-plus pound marauder intent on mastication. Constantly curious and ever the adventurer, he has recently thwarted our ramshackle defenses by leaping a series of regrettably low-slung baby gates and ransacking the house on several occasions.  I suppose when you name your eight week old puppy “Crash” you are setting in motion a self-fulfilling prophesy for which you have only yourself to blame, but still I insist I did not see it coming.

 

In fairness to Crash, we have had a very easy time of it as puppies go and most of the collateral damage results from our stubborn determination that he should not be able to sprout wings and fly over obstacles in the way that he evidently does (repeatedly).  And, frankly, if we’re being honest, I’m not sure it’s a fair fight to begin with. In addition to being a handsome devil, he is coldly calculating, unsettlingly observant and stealthy as a thief in the night. I imagine he has Stewie Griffin’s sardonic wit and the studied diction of Frasier’s brother, Niles.  Of course, earlier this week I watched him urinate on his own paw with evident enthusiasm, so despite my own imaginings there’s no forgetting he’s a dog.

 

Whether for good or for ill (or somewhere in between), I look forward to another year of watching Crash come into his own.  I only hope he continues to carve out a hollow in his bold new world for me.

 

A Blessed Bounty

2009 was the first full year that Michael and I spent back in the Bay Area following our sojourn to Australia and in the past 12 months we have harnessed the boundless natural wonders of our adopted home and wrestled out every morsel of enjoyment we could get. We ate well. We drank well. We relaxed. We hiked in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We hosted backyard barbeques. We reveled in those quiet interstitial moments that buttress the peaks and valleys of life’s more notable events.

 

Many of my fondest memories are set in the kitchen where I found I suddenly had the time and the tools to cook on a reliably regular basis. I love nothing more than an afternoon spent in the kitchen with sauces a-boiling and meats a-braise.  It was this year I made myself a nuisance at K&L Wines, a stone’s throw from our house, where they always seem to have the right bottle at the right price (whether I’m feeling defeathered or flush). It was this year I discovered the farmers’ markets in Menlo Park and Redwood City offering wild mushrooms for Michael’s favorite “Late Night Chitarra with Wild Mushrooms and Cognac Cream” (recipe to follow), broccoli di ciccio (a treat sautéed with sliced garlic and peperoncino), fiery orange thistle blossoms, tender spring shoots, a beautiful bevy of summer fruit and countless other treasures. We are spoiled rotten for produce in this neck of the woods and I will continue to do my best in 2010 to take advantage.

Recent recipes include papardelle with duck ragu, boeuf bourguignon and red beans and rice. Hearty fare for cold rainy days

 

Tantalizing Tastes and Culinary Adventures

We had many great meals in 2009 – I even like to think I cooked some of them myself – but a few stand out from the crowd and are worth mentioning (again) here:

 

Cyrus (Healdsburg)

This restaurant is a revelation. See my previous review in an earlier blog post for the full scoop. If you’re looking for a serious meal but are not quite ready for the grandeur and gravitas of The French Laundry, this is a perfect warm-up.

 

Perbacco (San Francisco)

Offering great modern Italian food and a laundry list of house-made pastas.  We were overwrought trying to decide which pastas to try when our server recommended the two or three item “pasta tastes” allowing us to sample as many pasta treatments as we liked.  Seems simple, but it made me very happy nonetheless.  I kick myself for not posting a review at the time – the finer details of the meal now escape me – but I suppose that means I’ll have to return for further reconnaissance. Twist my arm! The feather-light gnocchi with ricotta and fines herbs were the standout for me – simple but refined and flawlessly executed.  We will be going back, so stay tuned for a full review.

 

Chez Panisse (Berkley)

Alice Waters’ flagship operation is finally crossed off the list! A special meal with great wine. See my previous review in an earlier blog post for the menu and details.

 

Front Porch (San Francisco)

Recommended for not-your-ordinary-fare in a setting that MK tells me is straight out of Louisiana.  They feature Abita on tap (appreciated by at least one Louisiana native), shrimp grits (with more butter than shrimp or grits) and fantastic fried chicken.  Also they have a cool logo emblazoned on T-shirts for sale.

 

Limon Peruvian Rotisserie (San Francisco)

I don’t know what they put on their rotisserie chicken, but I cannot get enough. The prices are even better!  MK routinely picks up a whole chicken with sides (I recommend the tacu-tacu and vegetales salteados) and zesty dipping sauces for under $20.  Incredible!  You have got to check this place out.  The restaurant proper – also called Limon – recently re-opened following post-inferno renovations to rave reviews, so it’s officially on my list!

 

The Village Pub (Woodside)

This place continues to be our go-to destination when we want a reliably good meal in the neighborhood. On a slow night in winter I love the restive low lighting and crackling fireplace (the experience is a bit different on a busy night when things can get a bit loud for my taste). The service is always good.  We have eaten here on numerous occasions – whether at the bar or in the restaurant – and have never been disappointed.  On our most recent visit there was a crab flan on the menu that was an unqualified success.  It was completely fantastic.  I could have eaten that flan all day.

 

I happened to come across a list fashioned by Michael Bauer, SF Chronicle food critic, of 2009’s top new restaurants and discovered – to my shock and disbelief that I have not been to any of them. How does a thing like this happen? This simply will not do, so stay tuned for more reviews as I wend my way through a new list of restaurants for a new year.

 

Onward and Upward

As great as 2009 was in our little microcosm, I am already looking forward to the coming months.  MK gave me the BEST present for Christmas that I think I have ever received – a butchery class at the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in St. Helena.  It is a one day class at the end of February and I just cannot wait!  Next week you will be able to read all about it here.  Stay tuned.

As if that were not enough excitement, we will be spending the night of February 27th in St. Helena to celebrate MK’s birthday and dining at The Restaurant at Meadowood, recipient of two Michelin stars, four stars from The Chronicle, and wine country’s latest culinary darling.  You have my promises to conjure and share that dining experience with all the evocative detail I can manage.

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Chocolate City

July 14, 2009

Choco Pups

 

The puppies have arrived!  For those of you who haven’t yet heard the news, Michael and I have resolved to add another dog to the family.  While we dote on James Brown more than is probably healthy, we are forced to acknowledge that he will not always be with us and, in preparation for that dark day, we have decided that increasing our canine brood now may lessen the heartache – and flat-out despondency – that will seize us when the inevitable finally occurs.

To that end, we have arranged with a breeder up in Red Bluff to pick one of the three males of the sprawling litter of eleven (3 males, 8 females) featured above.  Have you ever seen so much adorable in one place?  I am dubious that you have.

More updates to come as things progress.  For the time being mother (“Foxy”) and puppies are doing fine and thriving.  James Brown won’t know what hit him.

This Food Is Haunted

March 16, 2009

shining_twins_1

I have just come this evening from the Twilight Zone, from the Land That Time Forgot.  There is a time capsule of a restaurant – a shrine to the color mauve – within a mile of our house that remained, until tonight, undiscovered.

We dined this evening in a place beyond description – a chapel bathed in silk damask, with a thirty-foot ceiling and a four-piece band.  This is the dining room scene they edited out of “The Shining.”  This is the last vestige of the mediocre country club meals of which I never had the mostly qualified privilege to partake and never had the stomach to imagine.  This is where the 1960s Milwaukee mob goes to celebrate after a big heist.

I am at once horrified and delighted to report that such a place exists.  That it exists within a mile of my house prompts similar ambivalence.  This place sets out real silver and gilded plates for two seatings a night in a dining room of delectable irony of which the management is stubbornly unaware.

They stop short of doilies, but only just.

If you ever wondered what happened to Sole Meunière and Steak Diane, wonder no more, for these throw-backs survive in geriatric splendor at a restaurant called “Chantilly.”  If you’re willing to bump elbows with patrons 50 years your senior eating cuisine of a similar era, you too can stare agape at the six-foot flower arrangement – bristling with gladiolas – that dominates the room.  I didn’t fully grasp the meaning of the word “milquetoast” until tonight.  It is a triumphant and unsettling spectacle of mediocrity.

The entire experience is devoid of imagination – everything about it had been done, and done better.  The food is as musty as the 70-year-old four-tops around you, and, but for a three-generation-family celebrating the birthday of a 13-year-old the spitting image of the Beave, we would have been the youngest people in there by leagues.

The food is, frankly, abysmal, but if you, like I, celebrate the strange and unusual – relics that defy the odds – you will make it a point to see it for yourself.

Go there (but do not eat anything).  They have a full bar, which is the strategy I would recommend.  I am sure – with a certainty approaching fact – that the kitchen is whittling down overstock from the 80s, but these past few hours spent in a freakish David Lynch snow globe has inspired in me a gratitude and appreciation for our current reality that I would not have imagined possible.

You’ll NeverWalk Alone

January 3, 2009

It turns out that, despite previous assurances to the contrary, I was unable to orchestrate a holiday-themed photo op for James Brown this year.  Having scoured the local pet store and drug store offerings, the best I could find was a striped elf hat (replete with ears!) which, sadly, involved a complicated and unsubtle seating apparatus VERY unpopular with the canine participant.  After several failed attempts and much whining, cajoling and petulance (by all involved), the enterprise was abandoned in its entirety.  We will clearly need a better plan for next year.

I offer instead photo-documentation of an important New Year’s revelation in the Reynolds-Knighten household.

Traitors Among US

Traitors Among Us

It seems that all occupants have now declared their 2009 EPL allegiances.  The final tally is Liverpool -2, Tottenham – 1.  To which my response is 1) it’s (cheap and) easy to root for the league front runners, and 2) I’m not naming names, but somebody’s a bad dog.

Happy New Year and go the Spur!

Go the Spur!

Go the Spur!

Supermarket Trolley Dash

December 15, 2008

I promise to get something holiday-appropriate up soon.  We are canvassing local pet stores.  James Brown will not make it through the Christmas season without being festooned with something jolly for your viewing pleasure.  Stay tuned.

The unsung art of understatement
The unsung art of understatement

 

 Until then, chew on this next post – another issue in a series I like to call “Why It’s Hard Being Me.”

 

 I concede from the get-go that I have more than my fair share of idiosyncrasies and a (hopefully endearing) brand of quirky “charm.”  In general, I like to think I keep most of the crazy under wraps from day-to-day.  I do acknowledge there are flare-ups that, while few and far between, are always entertaining.  I live to serve, so here you go.

 

I’ve noticed of late that my usual compulsions and preoccupations have become exaggerated as I age.  More frightening still is the revelation that I seem to have overcome my long-standing aversion to talking to strangers.  It has turned out to be an unfortunate confluence of events.

 

I was at the grocery store a couple weeks back stocking up on those boring but essential household items that seem to demand an ever-increasing supply of my attention.  Piling boxes of Kleenex into my cart, I encountered a bit of a hiccup.  My local Safeway-turned-Lucky “super”market had only seen fit to provide three suitably non-descript grey boxes of Kleenex.  I mined the depths of the options on offer but to no avail.  There were green boxes, blue boxes, boxes with kittens, boxes with dolphins, boxes intended to suggest you were walking through a forest at dawn and, finally, a hideous mauve misfire encased in a bizarre ivy overlay that I will have nightmares about forever.  Aside from the three acceptable instances already in my cart, there was not a single alternative sitting on the shelf that I would consider bringing into my home for reasons that I maintain are obvious.

 

And before you bother suggesting that I buy some other color (or heaven forfend another brand), allow me to explain how buying Kleenex works in my world.  It is a complex and many-tiered decision tree that I’ve developed over years of dedicated tissue consumption – really another post for another time – the quintessence of which is 1) I only buy boxes of Kleenex with acceptably subtle décor (usually grey), 2) I only buy boxes of Kleenex in even numbers, and 3) I always buy boxes of Kleenex myself because, well, if you want something done right…

 

So I’m standing in the household aisle looking from my three boxes of “good” Kleenex back to the 3’x5’x3’ shelf of nothing but “bad” Kleenex and wondering what my next play will be, when I notice a gentleman idly pushing his cart past the paper towels and BAM! Orange-off spray as he steadily approaches my location.  More importantly, I notice the grey box of Kleenex nestled in the bottom of his cart.  I wonder whether this man might be willing to entertain the notion of a Kleenex exchange and I select a relatively non-objectionable (but decidedly unacceptable) box from the shelf in front of me.  I want to say it had stripes and mini Christmas lights on it, but I can’t be sure since things started happening pretty fast after that.

 

By this point the man with the cart sees me watching him and gives me the kind of acknowledgement that leads me to conclude that this may become a more lengthy exchange than I’m willing to endure, but I’m stymied by the prospect of having to return one perfectly reasonable box of Kleenex to the shelf so that I can leave the store with an even number of boxes and my sanity (irony intentional).  As I’m running the cost-benefit analysis of engaging this man in conversation in the hopes of commandeering his Kleenex, he reaches speaking range and gives me a barely imperceptible nod, as if to say “You’ve been staring at me for a while now.”  At this juncture I still have it in my power to redeem myself and get out of there with Kleenex in hand by responding with any of the following:

 

“How do you feel about blue boxes of Kleenex?”

“You look like a sailboat kind of guy.”

(A nautical-themed box being crucial for this purpose)

“I’m hoping for a Christmas miracle and you can be the architect.”

 

What I actually said was:

 

“This is not weird for the reason you think it is.”

 

To his credit, the guy did not even slow down.  He looked at me appraisingly as he passed, but by now just to satisfy himself that I was unarmed.

 

I went home that day chuckling to myself with two grey boxes of Kleenex and a fresh reminder of why it can sometimes be so hard to be me.

Notions

April 22, 2008

As some of you may have noted, it has been a while since my last post.  What can I say?  It turns out I am not as interesting as I’d hoped (but you’ve probably figured that out).

Here’s a stream of consciousness survey of what I’ve been up to lately.

iPhone – Michael bought me an iPhone, which is great.  I wouldn’t have predicted that I’d be so “geeked out” over it, but it really is super cool.  I am still exploring its surprisingly handy features and investigating potential web apps.  Good stuff.

Movies – None to speak of really.  Hollywood needs to get on the ball.  I can’t remember the last time I was excited to see a movie in the theater.  Incidentally, Word is telling me that “theater” is misspelled and that I actually meant to type “theatre,” which, in fact, I did not.  Sometimes Word is a little too big for its britches.  No one uses the copyright symbol as often as Word thinks you want to.  Okay, that wasn’t so much about movies…my bad.  Now you see why it can sometimes be so long between posts.  I’m really doing you all a giant favor (without a “u” despite what Australian Word thinks).

Books – Currently reading “Watership Down,” which I never expected to be about rabbits, much less a “Lord of the Rings” type quest by rabbits.  Certainly interesting, but according to the headlining review on the cover it should be undertaken by “anyone who can read English.”  Seems like a bit of an overstatement to me.  Moving on to “Harrington on Hold’em” next, which, hopefully, will provide lessons with more practical application.  One of the guys Michael works with is in Vegas and he and his girlfriend stumbled upon a bunch of world-class poker players in the wild – Brunson, Ivey, Negreanu, Jennifer Harman Traniello.  Pretty cool.

Weather – Rain with a chance of more rain.

Restaurants – North Bondi Italian is officially on my shortlist of favorite Sydney restaurants.  We’ve been twice now and their fried calamari with fried herbs (mint/sage) and zucchini is a crowd-pleaser.  The restaurant itself is in a great location overlooking Bondi beach, though the acoustics are awful and you have to shout to be heard as a rule.  Not the place to go for a quiet or intimate meal, but if you don’t mind a little noise, a bit of a crowd and a potentially long wait (they don’t take reservations), the food is well worth it.  I have a special place in my heart for a restaurant that regularly features an “offal” section on the menu.  Not just a single offal offering, but a selection.  I can recommend the stuffed trotters – veddy nice.

Poker – Played in the weekly free hold’em tournament at the Paddington RSL last week, which taught me that pocket 4s are fraught with peril.  Sadly, that is the best hand I saw all night.  Early on it cost me dearly, but turned up again late in the game to save me when my stack had dwindled down to embarrassing proportions.

And that’s about the sum of it.  I bet now you’re sorry you asked.

Bjork (aka “Byerk”)

January 25, 2008

Michael and I went to see Bjork perform at an outdoor concert at the Sydney Opera House this week.  Possibly the best show I’ve seen (of course, I haven’t been to many, so make of that what you will).  There were bats and fireworks!  To be fair, the bats are just part of the usual scenery, but the fireworks were ordered up especially for Bjork.  Pretty neat.

Bjork was her usual weird self.  She stomped onto stage with a cortege of all female horn players dressed in rainbow costumes with flags mounted on their shoulders.  Bjork herself wore an exaggerated version of the worst 80s prom dress you ever saw fashioned out of a bouncier version of aluminium foil.  Somehow I think that is what passes for “normal” in her wardrobe.  Sadly, I have no photos to offer as we were instructed “per the artist’s request” to refrain from photography of any kind during the show (more importantly, I am too old to be engaged in any sort of altercation with burly security guards).

She did a good job of playing the popular songs from her back-catalogue, with a few new numbers thrown in.  While her voice is beginning to show the strain of her years, she strutted about in a herky-jerky interpretive dance with no obvious effort.  What I really love about Bjork, and what I particularly enjoyed while watching her live, is that you get the distinct impression that she behaves the same way in front of a thousand people as she would singing to herself at full volume while brushing her teeth at home in front of the bathroom mirror.  I have to respect that kind of abandon.

A great show from a singular performer.

Along Came a Spider

September 20, 2007

The long anticipated day has arrived. I have had my first close encounter with a potentially lethal instance of Australian wildlife. A spider. A spider on the ceiling of our bedroom. A very large and furry spider. In all fairness, the spider was not behaving in a menacing fashion and didn’t seem to notice as I beat a hasty retreat, stumbling and squealing. Naturally, being in Australia, I assumed that the spider was stunningly toxic and the first thing to do was google “Large Furry Australian Spider” in order to determine just how deadly it was and how efficiently it would kill me (minutes, hours, days?). Sadly, those criteria didn’t narrow the field of possibilities sufficiently to be instructive, and I spent the next 20 minutes alternating between further online research and peeking back into the bedroom from a safe distance to confirm that the spider was not on the move. Ultimately, I satisfied myself that I was most likely dealing with the ominously titled “Huntsman Spider” (http://www.amonline.net.au/factSheets/huntsman_spiders.htm), which is, mercifully, non-lethal, but decidedly large and furry.

huntsman.jpg

Not entirely confident in my identification skills – it’s hard to be accurate when you cannot bear to get within 20 feet of the specimen – I elected to consult a local, our landlady, Madeleine. She was kind enough to come up and have a look, agreed that it was a Huntsman Spider, and set about capturing the creature in a cardboard box and releasing it into the wild. I observed these machinations from a safe distance and dignified myself by squirming, hopping from one foot to the other, and gasping at regular intervals.

All’s well that ends well, but for those of you keeping score at home, that’s Nature -1, Nicole -0.

Your Coffee Is Mocking Me

September 17, 2007

I recognize that it’s been a while since my last post.  I’m slowly coming to grips with the realization that not everything I do is blogworthy.  Shocking, I know.

Now that Michael and I are back in Sydney, and I no longer have a move to execute or a wedding to plan, it’s time to find a job.  I met with a legal recruiter on Monday who assures me that I’ll be able to find a position without much trouble, so that is encouraging; of course, I don’t have a job yet, so we’ll see how much trouble it actually is.

The real newsworthy gem of the day was the flat white I ordered in a cafe before the meeting. 

flat-white.jpg

I don’t know how you do that with coffee and milk, but color me impressed.