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Emma Turns 17

April 24, 2013 Leave a comment

emma17

Our sweet geriatricat Emma celebrated her 17th birthday today. Here she is, a couple of hours ago.

Emma wasn’t always so sweet, I have to admit. But her days of fierce independence have largely passed. No racing up the cherry tree to a branch twenty feet above the ground in the blink of an eye. No jumping onto the kitchen counter, or the desk. Just getting up onto the bed is chore enough. And ever since January, when we adopted Brooke’s suggestion of putting an electrically heated pad on the floor, there seems to be less reason to make the effort.

But Emma remains determined to get around. Last night, when we returned from the airport with our friends Tom and Carol, just in from Edinburgh, Emma came to the top of the upstairs staircase to greet us on the main floor below. A few minutes later, as we lingered in the basement guest bedroom after bringing the luggage down, Emma appeared—a rare trip to the basement—to make her presence known and be acknowledged. She’s a tough old gal.

Happy birthday.

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Categories: Cats, Family

La Grenouille

April 14, 2013 Leave a comment

lagrenouille

I’ve developed a backlog of over a dozen posts, partially listed here last night. With this post, I begin the process of digging myself out.

Two Thursdays ago, Gail and I flew to New York on the occasion of my mother’s 93rd birthday. I wrote a week ago about our dinner that evening with my sister, my cousin, and their spouses at a place on 84th called Italianissimo, and about Joel’s arrival from LaGuardia (and North Carolina) late in the meal. The next day was the birthday, which we celebrated with a meal at New York’s great French restaurant La Grenouille.

La Grenouille celebrated its 50th anniversary this past December. From the website, we are told that it “serves classic French cuisine and spontaneous creations in a glowing setting that many consider home.” Among those people would be my parents, who have eaten there many times over the last five decades. I believe I ate there twice—back in the 1970s—but not since.

grenouille2

The dining room is beautiful, as the photo above from their website may suggest. And the service is impeccable. While waiting for the rest of the family to arrive, we were offered bread that was a treat on its own.

grenoillebread

To start, I chose Le Potage Saint Germain, or the “Saint Germain” Split Green Pea Soup. Perhaps I should have been more adventurous. Joel had the Pâté de Campagne et Céleri Remoulade, or Country Pâté with Celery Root “Remoulade”. Gail might have had Le Confit de Canard au Pistou, or Duck Confit With “Pistou”. (These descriptions are all as on the online lunch menu.) But I was extremely happy with my soup.

For a main dish, one simply can’t go wrong with their classic sole: La Sole Grillée, Sauce Moutarde, or Grilled Dover Sole, Mustard Sauce. Four of us had it. Before filleting it, they brought a platter with the four servings to show us, then carried it to a side table where it was placed on a warming tray and prepared. I miss sole here in Seattle. Gail keeps telling me that it’s readily available, but mostly what I see on menus is salmon and halibut. The sole was perfect.

Once again, I’m having difficulty remembering what Gail chose. Joel had Les Quenelles de Brochet “Lyonnaise”, or “Quenelles” of Pike “Lyonnaise”. Maybe Gail did too.

The online dessert menu doesn’t seem to match up well with what we had. We were asked as we ordered the main meal if we wanted some of the options that take extra preparation, like soufflés. (According to the menu, there are three options: Grand Marnier, Chocolat ou Citron “Meyer”. Other options offered were an apple tart and a tarte tatin. I chose the apple tart, Gail one of the soufflés. Once again, I couldn’t be happier. The meal was delicious, the service both warm and unobtrusive.

I ought to have more to say, but I don’t remember much more of interest. There was a salmon special that both my parents had. I believe my sister had the tarte tatin. Maybe my brother too. Well, suffice to say that I’ll be happy not to wait another 35 years before returning.

Categories: Family, Restaurants

Ronald Reagan Departs

March 14, 2013 Leave a comment

ussreagan

[Patrick Robinson]

Just after Christmas, I wrote about our Christmas dinner aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, which has spent the last year being refurbished at Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton (across Puget Sound from Seattle). Recall, as I explained then, that the Ronald Reagan is the ninth of ten Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, the largest US Navy ships.

Refurbishing complete, it was out for a spin Saturday. Patrick Robinson of the West Seattle Herald captured the outing in a series of photos, including the one above. In the accompanying caption, he writes that “it passed by thousands of surprised onlookers who crowded the beach along Alki on a sunny day.” That would have been fun to see.

My understanding is that the Reagan heads out for good tomorrow, making its way to its usual home port, San Diego. And with it goes Jessica’s boyfriend, Bryan. I’m glad we had the opportunity to explore it while it was here, and wish it an uneventful journey.

Categories: Big Ships, Family

Christmas on the Ronald Reagan

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

110210-N-IC111-106

[USS Ronald Reagan, U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin B. Gray]

The USS Ronald Reagan is the ninth of ten Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, the largest US Navy ships. Commissioned in 2003, it saw its first deployment in 2006, in the Persian Gulf. It is normally based in San Diego, but has spent the last year up this way at Naval Base Kitsap* being refurbished. In another month, it is due to return to San Diego.

*Naval Base Kitsap is the union of the Puget Sound naval shipyard in Bremerton and the submarine base in Bangor. Both are on Kitsap Peninsula, which lies west of Seattle across Puget Sound, with the Bangor base ten miles due north of Bremerton. But they are on entirely distinct bodies of water: an inlet of Puget Sound for Bremerton, Hood Canal for Bangor. And they serve entirely different purposes, Bremerton home to large ships and Bangor the Pacific home of the Trident nuclear-missile-equipped submarines. Nonetheless, they are now a single entity.

What does this have to do with us? Well, Jessica’s boyfriend serves on the Reagan, and we were invited aboard to join him for Christmas dinner. On a visit three months ago, we got a quick overview of the base, including a look from a short distance away at the Reagan in dry dock. It is now in the water, moored near the dry dock. This time we got a full tour.

We took the 12:35 PM ferry from Seattle to Bremerton, drove off around 1:30, and followed Bryan onto the base. Once parked, we had a five-minute walk to an area of higher security, where we passed through a gate and were given visitor badges. Signs forbade cameras, with a helpful explanation that anything that can take photos is a camera. Yes, that includes cell phones, which Bryan had instructed us to leave in the car. And that’s why I can’t illustrate this post with all the cool photos I had anticipated taking.

We approached the carrier from the bow, starboard side (which is to say, heading to the left of the front as pictured above). As you may know, below the flight deck is a deck that is one large hangar bay for storage of the planes. The Reagan has four elevators to lift the planes to the flight deck, three on starboard and one in the rear on the port side. The fore and aft starboard elevators were lowered, but the central elevator was raised. We entered by a ramp leading to the hangar deck below this elevator.

It’s difficult to get a proper sense of scale. The Reagan is just short of 1100 feet long, bow to stern. 3 2/3 football fields, or a modest par 4. The hangar deck ceiling is so far above that the deck length is not immediately apparent. Not to mention that with various items piled up (not planes—no planes are based on the carrier while it is being worked on), you can’t really see from one end to the other.

Dinner was served from 2:30 to 4:30. Or rather 14:30 to 16:30. We were in no hurry to eat, instead following Bryan around for an hour. Up and down stairs, fore and aft and fore again, in and out of dozens of nooks and crannies. His office. His colleagues’ offices. Fire safety equipment. Messes. Lounges. And everywhere, Ronald Reagan watching over us. Photos. Sculpture. Hollywood memorabilia.

About that fire safety equipment. The carrier is so fascinating a piece of design and engineering, one can momentarily forget that it is an instrument of war. Especially when it is not in active service, without its full complement of 3200 people running the ship and another 2400 for the airplanes. Fire can break out anywhere, for any number of reasons, including flight accidents (as occurred in the initial deployment). Safety is paramount. Everyone has fire training, oxygen, etc.

We wandered from compartment to compartment, pausing at 14:30 when the chaplain’s voice came over the ship PA system to pray for Christmas dinner. Then came the moment I was looking forward to, as we climbed up four flights and came out on the flight deck. Pretty spectacular view. No planes of course. Just maintenance equipment. Looking down at the elevators was exciting. And off the stern.

As we walked, Bryan bent down to pick up a small piece of garbage, then explained that it is daily protocol to line up the crew in lines on the deck, walking its length looking for stray debris to pick up. Even the tiniest item can damage a landing airplane.

We headed back down, and soon arrived at the aft mess deck to get on line for dinner. Here’s the menu.

reaganmenu

The person just ahead of me on line got a few last turkey scraps, after which the server (whose face was hidden from view by the barrier that keeps diners from leaning over the food) spent a lot of time scraping and pulling more bits off the turkey carcass. It soon became clear that he was done serving until another turkey was brought over, so I moved on to the prime rib station and was served a couple of slices. A mashed potato tray arrived, just in time. I took that, sweet potatoes, glazed carrots, and a cheese biscuit. We reached the dessert display and moments later a tray filled with cheesecake servings was brought in. I took one of them.

What I didn’t yet understand was that once we got to the dining area, we could choose from additional eating options that surrounded the dining tables. A salad and fruit bar on one side. A station where egg nog and punch were being served, with the assorted nuts and candy spread out on the table. In the far corner, the ice cream bar. On the way there, another table with a giant rectangular cake, some pieces having been cut and put on plates, like at a wedding.

Our trays were full in any case. We grabbed silverware, water, looked for seats. The basic dining room furniture is a table with four attached chairs in opposing pairs. If free standing, it would allow each diner to take a seat from the outside edge. But the table-chair units were lined up side-to-side in long rows, making access from the outside edge of a given unit impossible if someone was sitting at the adjoining unit table. We found one empty table and an empty seat to one side. To the other side, was a family of four, a Navy person, his wife, their two daughters. I tried to take my seat next to him, soon discovering that entering into an empty seat from the middle, with the metalworks getting in the way of my feet, required a level of flexibility that I apparently lacked. On my third effort, I squeezed in, but I had to lean right so as not to be right up against my neighbor. Joel sat next to me, Gail opposite me, Jessica opposite Joel, and Bryan on her far side. Next to Joel (across from Bryan) was a young woman, another Navy person.

Once I ate everything, quite happily I should add, I contemplated what would be involved in getting back on line for turkey. Or getting a salad. Or some fruit. I was prepared to skip the ice cream. But I wouldn’t have minded just a little taste of the turkey supplemented by fruit and salad. Plus, where was that cornbread everyone seemed to have on their trays? That looked good.

The dilemma: was it worth trying to unfold myself from the table to get food, only to have to figure out once again how to squeeze back in? And none of the rest of the family was making any moves for more.

Curiosity got the best of me. And I discovered that I could climb right over the back of my seat. Getting out was easy. I toured the mess, bringing back samples from my forays. Carrots, cucumbers, chow mein noodles, and jalapeños from the salad bar; melon, pineapple, and grapes from the fruit bar; a piece of that wedding cake; a roll. I never did see the potato salad or cornbread.

I squeezed back in, with greater confidence this time, and resumed eating. Joel had struck up a conversation with the young woman next to him. During a lull, I leaned over and asked the basics. Where is she from, how long has she been in the Navy? Tennessee, near Nashville, second year. I don’t really know the etiquette, whether Navy people want to be pestered by random civilians who happen to be sharing Christmas dinner with them.

Once done, we headed out along with the Tennessean. Scraped the plates clean in garbage bins under the eye of two Naval personnel, turned plates in at one window, silverware and trays at another.

Time for more touring, starting with a male berthing compartment. Crew members sleep in bunks three high, each with a light above and a locker. And we saw a head. Then we moved forward to a large compartment in the bow where the anchor chains are stored and let out. That’s quite a sight. Those are big chains. And the clamps that keep the chains from sliding are impressive too.

Off to starboard was one of the ropes that was in use holding the ship in place. It exited out a huge hole in the side and ran downward to the dock. As Jessica observed, one could fall right out that hole. To which I noted that there are many ways to accidentally kill oneself on the ship, Bryan pointing out that getting caught up in the rope would be bad. There’s good reason to drill, drill, drill. It’s a dangerous workplace.

We came back out to the hangar deck, saw the Ronald Reagan statue, peered in at the (closed) ship museum, wandered around the deck some more, then headed down the ramp to shore. As we walked toward the bow, sunset came. Taps was played through the ship, the flag on the bow of the flight deck was lowered, and the exterior lights came on.

Parallel to the ship’s bay is the dry dock. Bryan, Joel, and I wandered in that direction. As we peered down at the current dry dock occupant, a Navy police van came racing over, lights flashing. Out jumped two women, telling us we needed to leave, then a man explaining that we needed to stay by our ship. Oops. I’ll say no more about what I saw.

We turned in our guest badges, left the secure area, walked back in the light rain to the car, said our thanks and farewells to Bryan, drove off the base, and back to the ferry terminal nearby in downtown Bremerton. Forty minutes later, we drove on board a much smaller ship and sailed toward Seattle.

A memorable Christmas outing.

Categories: Big Ships, Family, Food

Pork and Pinot

December 26, 2012 Leave a comment

porkbeet

A week ago, with Joel home for the holidays, we had Burgundy at home night. Gail cooked beef bourguignon and we opened a bottle of 2000 Burgundy (Morey-Saint-Denis premier cru from the Monts-Luisants vineyard). Tonight Gail made another feast, pictured above. The dish is pork with beets, apples, kale, onion, and garlic—additional flavoring courtesy of chardonnay, fresh rosemary, and fresh thyme—served over pasta.

Accompanying the food was a bottle of Porter Creek Winery‘s 2009 reserve pinot noir. I had planned for weeks that once Joel got home, we would drink our bottle of Morey-Saint-Denis with one meal and one of our Porter Creek pinots with another. Tonight was the night for Porter Creek.

porterpinot

I have written about Porter Creek before, starting with our 2008 visit. I won’t repeat myself. See this link, for instance, describing our wine club shipment last April, or the link I included there to a 2009 NYT column by Eric Asimov on California pinots. Well, let me quote Asimov once again:

For me, wine’s place is with food, and that’s why I had begun to despair of so many California pinot noirs. Their power and sense of sweetness were overwhelming at the table. But it turns out that more than a few California producers share my feeling, like Ehren Jordan of Failla and Thomas Brown of Rivers-Marie, Joe Davis of Arcadian and Alex Davis of Porter Creek. Almost to a person, they make no secret of being inspired by the wines of Burgundy.

See also this short note in the San Francisco Chronicle two years ago on Alex Davis. Here is his description of tonight’s wine.

Our 2009 reserve is a special selection originating from the steepest parts of the Fiona Hill Vineyard. It was vinified with one third whole cluster fermention and 40% new French oak barrels. The result is bolder, broader-shouldered wine with serious aging potential.

The wine was both delicious and a perfect complement to tonight’s meal. We have another bottle of the reserve, so we do have the option of waiting to discover its aging potential. I don’t know if we have the patience though. My bet is that the next time Gail makes beef bourguignon, we’ll be opening it. If only we had ordered more while it was still available.

Categories: Family, Food, Wine

ART Restaurant

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

ART

Three days ago, my cousin John and wife Joan flew in from New York. He proposed an early dinner, preferably near the Pike Place Market, where they would be staying. I knew that as a lover of food, with the restaurants of New York at his fingertips, he would want something distinctive, representative in some way of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. That presented a bit of a challenge.

Right in the market is Il Bistro, a Seattle institution that Gail and Joel independently thought might be worth a shot, all the more since we had never eaten there. But it’s Italian. John might do better in New York. Not to mention that he and Joan just got back last month from their latest exploration of the food of Italy. Superstorm Sandy may have delayed their departure, but it didn’t stop them.

Then I thought of ART, just a block down from the market. Yet another famed Seattle restaurant that we had never been to, though not as old as Il Bistro. It opened only in 2010, along with the new Four Seasons Hotel of which it is a part, just across from the Seattle Art Museum.

We decided to go to both. We met John and Joan in front of Il Bistro just before 5:00. It opens at 5:00, not a second earlier as we discovered, so we stood around for a few minutes before being let in. We also learned that our mutual cousin’s daughter-in-law Kim was in town on a consulting gig. John had reached her and she would join us for part one of the evening. Twenty minutes after we were seated, she arrived.

We spent an hour and a half at Il Bistro, sharing dishes off the happy hour menu: crostini, ravioli, prawns, pizza. I selected a glass of wine from Puglia from the wine menu only to be told that it was in fact the same wine listed on the happy hour menu as a primitivo without further identification, at about one-third the price. Good deal. I took it. Everything they served was good, convincing us that we need to return for dinner.

We got our coats and umbrellas, walked the block down to the Four Seasons (where Gail, Joel and I had begun the evening by leaving our car), said goodbye to Kim, and were seated in ART. Here’s the restaurant self-description:

ART provides exquisite views of Elliott Bay through floor to ceiling windows from: the main dining room, the perfect spot for a business lunch or dinner with friends; ART Lounge, the city’s hottest spot for happy hour and inventive cocktails; the Private Dining Room, an intimate dining experience and The Communal Table, a 13 foot Douglas Fir table set in front of the 12-foot wine wall.

The chefs at ART Restaurant are committed to a Market-to-Table philosophy. We have nurtured relationships with our region’s finest farmers, foragers and our neighbors, the vendors of Pike Place Market. Dishes are inspired by the highest quality, market-driven ingredients of the Pacific Northwest and served in a welcoming and lively atmosphere. Order from the 250 bottles of wine or try a TV Tray, four courses, served at once.

And more, about the chef.

Executive Chef Kerry Sear’s culinary experience includes 15 years with Four Seasons in Vancouver and Toronto, as well as with Four Seasons Olympic in Seattle. For the last 10 years, Kerry has owned and operated Cascadia, an award-winning downtown Seattle restaurant.

In his signature style, Sear will highlight fresh, seasonal ingredients from a wide variety of regional farmers, ranchers and markets, incorporating culinary influences gathered from around the world into his creations.

We ate at the Olympic’s Georgian Room years back when Sear was in charge—it’s an anniversary regular for us, since we were married in the hotel—but we never made it to Cascadia.

Along the north-south wall on the restaurant’s east side, across from the windowed west side that looks out over the waterfront, is a banquette with a series of two-tops that can be slid together as needed for long runs. Six or so were adjoined to accommodate a large group of women. Another three were adjoined for us, giving us lots of space but also stretching us out a bit. As soon as we sat down, small white paper bags were placed on the table with hot potato chips, lightly spiced with curry and salt.

We would spend the next 4 1/2 hours there. The room was unexpectedly relaxing. Despite the large group just down the banquette from us, we never had a sense of noise. The setting was peaceful, comfortable, even a little enchanting. Or maybe I’m confusing the atmosphere with the company.

I spent most of the time facing the banquette and west wall, but after dessert, I moved over to the banquette so I could look out into the room. Nearby was a counter gently lit in a continually changing set of colors. Out the window, steam rose from a plant just below. The giant waterfront ferris wheel on Elliott Bay that opened earlier this year showed off its white lights as it turned, with ferries coming and going on the water beyond.

You can see a sample dinner menu here. The details differed on Wednesday, but the layout was the same. Atop the front side is a message about eating local and relationships with “the region’s finest farmers, foragers and the vendors of the Pike Place Market.” Below are six sections, titled Farm, Share, Coast, Ocean, Ranch, and Land. At the bottom is a selection of side dishes. And on the rear is a list of ART’s vendors, each name followed by the items they provide.

To start, Joan took the arugula and artichoke salad, Gail the crazy salad mix (which the server explained is mixed greens, varying from day to day), John and Joel the caesar salad and anchovies, me the potato gnocchi. All a delight.

For entrees, Joan had a salmon and Gail a seared char that aren’t on the online menu. Listed on that menu is Lamb 3 ways: Uli’s sausage, rib, chop. John had the variant listed that evening: lamb shank and sausage. Joel took the shellfish and spaghetti dish, which came with clams, mussels, some scallops. I was torn between the fish and the lamb, but everyone having ordered ahead of me and chosen those, I changed to the New York strip, once the server commented that it’s really good, with Painted Hills beef (from Oregon). We added three side dishes: the Doolie’s hot sauce broccolini, brussels sprouts, and chickpea fries.

Accompanying all this was a bottle of the McCrea Cellars 2006 Sirocco. McCrea is a Washington State winery that specializes in southern Rhone style wines, the Sirocco being a blend of mourvèdre, grenache, syrah, and small amounts of counoise and cinsault.

ARTwine

Everything was superb. My steak came on a bed of carrots and, oh gosh, I don’t remember. Something else. The broccolini surprised us with its heat, despite the server’s warning. (See yesterday’s post for more on Doolie’s hot hot sauce.) The Brussels sprouts were mixed with small pancetta cubes. The chickpea fries were fantastic. Only five, unfortunately, one apiece, served with a small bottle of ketchup that, like the hot sauce, is produced by an unfamiliar company. I wish I wrote down the name so I could look it up. The rolls were great too.

We didn’t study the dessert menu, being plenty full after the meal and the first round at Il Bistro. When our server came to see if we wanted anything, I took note of one dish, named “There are Holes in my Bucket,” with additional words explaining that it’s “vanilla bean dusted donut holes.” I asked how many holes were in an order, she said 12, and that sounded like an easily shareable little treat, so we ordered it and gave back our menus. I realized as we did so that I would have enjoyed taking the time to read one in full. All the dessert items have clever or silly names.

Best of all, of course, was getting to hang out with John and Joan. The combination of family, food, and setting was unbeatable. I sure hope we don’t let too much time pass before getting back to ART. Or before seeing John and Joan again.

Categories: Family, Restaurants

Burgundy at Home

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

beefbourg

Here are the ingredients:

1. Attend the annual fundraising dinner for your favorite museum, buy anonymous (wrapped in paper) bottles of wine in the “wine grab,” discover that you are the owner of a 2000 Morey-Saint-Denis premier cru from the Monts-Luisants vineyard.

2. Have some beef in the refrigerator that needs cooking.

3. Pick up your son at the airport late the night before, thereby bringing one more appreciative eater and drinker into the house.

4. Have the wisdom 27 1/2 years ago to marry a good cook, wait 21 years for her to attend culinary school, wait another few years for conditions 1 through 3 to fall into place.

Combine and produce a Burgundy evening at home.

Last night, Gail made beef bourguignon: beef, carrots, onions, parsley, mashed potato, and lots of wine in the sauce. Accompanying it was our 2000 Burgundy. A green salad followed, and then poached pear (with a second helping of the beef in between). Too bad I didn’t take pictures of the salad and pear. Everything was delicious, and a feast for the eyes as well.

No need to go to France, or Rover’s*, when we can eat like this at home. Thank you, Gail.

*Rover’s, Seattle’s great French restaurant, just down the street from us, will close next April, as owner-chef Thierry Rautureau announced last week. Luc, his restaurant next door, will continue, and he has other ventures in mind.

monts-luisants

Categories: Family, Food