Que Bella

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The California fires are a tragedy, but they sure give us interesting sunsets.  Looking towards the Carquinez bridge, and the smoke dimmed the sun enough that you could look directly at it.

We were in Benicia to have dinner at a new restaurant–Bella Siena.  At the end of First Street, an old building has been imaginatively refurbished, with phenomenal views of the Carquinez Straits, the bridge, and the setting sun.

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The interior matches the grandeur of the view.  Not too many tables, warm lighting, excellent sound-dampening make it an inviting place to enjoy a meal.

And then the meal is top-notch.

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Grilled Salmon

Reed had the gnocchi, with the shrimp sauce instead of pesto.

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Gail had capellini al pomodoro,  angel hair with fresh tomato sauce, that was so good we’ve had pasta the next two nights because she’s hooked.

Service wasn’t bad, and this is a new business still shaking out the flaws.  Prices are more than reasonable.

Bella Siena is busy.  There is a large outdoor patio area they aren’t yet using until they get running more smoothly, so there are more clients than tables sometimes.  You need to go to opentable.com and make a reservation, and that’s not a bad thing.  When they get the patio going, we’ll be there every night with Claudia.

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On the street

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Walking to Fat Slice this week, I noticed this truck belonging to the guys who are painting the building.  It was so unique I had to stop, ask questions and take pictures.

It’s a 1963 GMC Step-van, still in use every day.  Originally built as a delivery van, designed for frequent stops, it still has the original seat which is hinged so the driver can get it out of the way to carry packages in and out.

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I think it’s strange to see older vehicles that have so little instrumentation, just a speedometer, gas, battery and oil pressure and temperature gauges.  There is a 3 speed manual transmission on the column. Turn signals are on the left.  High beam switch is the button on the floor.  Just the basics with no ornamentation at all.

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The owner (who thinks he is just the 2nd person to have this truck) keeps it mighty clean and neat–but that’s what you’d expect of a painter.

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The shelving is a modern addition.  No passenger seat–this is a working vehicle.

There is a world of interesting things out there, you just have to stop, look and ask questions.  Good thing I’m inquisitive.

And now, something serious

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Barbara, a friend of ours, was playing bridge yesterday when the left side of her body went numb.  Although the incident swiftly passed, we were fortunate to have a physician playing and he strongly urged her to take an ambulance and go to the ER.  That’s, of course, the right thing to do.

Our friend was fortunate–she had a TIA (transient ischemic attack), sometimes the precursor to a stroke. She will be fine and can discover what caused the issue.  A night in the hospital and back on the golf course.

This seems like a time to review the stroke awareness poster. There is a natural tendency to deny the seriousness of strange new symptoms, but strokes need to be treated quickly–much of the damage they cause can be ameliorated with quick treatment.  Pay attention to what is happening to yourself and to your friends.  Don’t be in denial if you have the symptoms or you see another with them. Take action and save a life.

10 Perfect Champagne Cocktails

Delightful ways to enhance your brunch bubbly

You might drown your sorrows in a whiskey or martini, but when it’s time for good news, only sparkling wine will do. And when it’s time for a celebratory brunch, there’s nothing more delightful than a Champagne cocktail.

The most familiar sparkling cocktail for morning is likely the Mimosa, a simple mix of orange juice and sparkling wine. But if you’re looking to drink something a little different with your eggs benedict, there’s an endless array of possibilities to be made with a bottle of sparkling wine from your Oddbins Champagne Range and a bit of creative mixology. Here are ten of our favorite combinations:

1. Add a splash of pomegranate liqueur (like Pama); garnish with mint.

2. Add a bit of amaretto and a good amount of pear juice.

3. Soak a sugar cube in bitters then drop it in a full glass of bubbly.

4. Mix in a spoonful of coconut cream.

5. Add a dash of grenadine; garnish with freshly ground pepper.

6. Stir in a splash of elderflower liqueur; garnish with a large lemon twist.

7. Muddle a handful of blueberries and basil in a glass, add bubbly.

8. Top with a few fresh or frozen raspberries, and add a scoop of raspberry sorbet, if you like.

9. Add a dash of Campari or Aperol; garnish with an orange twist.

10. Mix with mango juice; garnish with a lime twist.

 

We ought to feel sorry for champagne. So often dismissed as a luxury or party accessory, it rarely gets the chance to be heralded in its own right as a serious drink for every day consumption.

The truth, however, is that champagne is in fact a medicine, just like Calpol or marijuana. And we can prove it.

First Date Fun

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Gail has wondered since we got Claudia if we should breed her.  There is a clear demand for puppies–Granddaughter Demi and bridge player Gish have already signed up, even though we are far from a decision

One of the big factors is finding the right mate–a dog of the same color and breed and marvelous disposition to create the ideal puppies.  That’s kind of hard to find.

Our friends BJ and Larry Ledgerwood saw a perfect candidate recently and gave us the phone number.  Yesterday, we went to visit Cooper and his parents and came away delighted.

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Cooper is a year-old red toy poodle, so incredibly cute and friendly she gives Claudia a run for her money.  He lives with his parents and another dog in Walnut Creek, and we fell in love immediately.

At 6 pounds, he is slightly smaller than Claudia. Full of puppy energy and impossibly friendly, Cooper took to Claudia immediately.  They played and roughhoused like old friends.   Cooper’s mom, Sandy, tried to lure him away to show off his tricks on the agility course they have built, but he was having none of it–he wanted to stay with his new friend and flirt.

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This was just a first date.  We still aren’t sure we want to go through the troubles of having puppies.  They don’t know us well enough yet to lend us their dog for romance.

We have more research to do, and there are more playdates to arrange to cement the relationship.

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But if ever there was a partner for Claudia, the impossibly cute and delightful Cooper is surely the one.  First dates are hard, only time will tell.

The Wedding

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Toby and a very emotional Mom wait for the bride.

It was a great day.  Monday, June 25, Toby, the kid I used to carry into bed every night, married the beautiful, sweet, smart Léa Meerson on the roof of a facility overlooking the sun setting on the Mediterranean while traditional klezmer music played.  Every last part of it was beautiful and perfect.

Family and friends flocked in from around the world.

 

Toby’s dad was there, of course.

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Toby’s best friend since they were 4, Matt Klein, held up his part of the chuppah.

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Toby walked down the aisle with his mom and they took their place, waiting for the bride.

 

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The big moment arrived.

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Léa, flanked by her father, Peter, and her mother, Esther

Following tradition, Toby met her along the way to verify that nobody had switched brides on him.

 

 

The bride continued the walk, as beautiful and happy as anyone could ever be.

 

Léa walked around Toby 7 times.

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Toby put the ring on her right index finger.  At that moment, they were married.

 

A girl has to show off her ring.

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Toby broke the glass, and it was time to party.

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Before we went downstairs for dinner and dancing, there were the formal photos to take.  The professionals set up their lights and posed everyone, I just snuck up behind them to grab a few frames for myself.

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Downstairs, the 180 guests were seated and the meal began.  Apparently, the motto of the Jews is “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat”.  We had enjoyed a some wonderful appetizers before the ceremony, and then we got salad, then fish, then steak, then chicken sliders, then dessert.  Nobody went home hungry.  With an open bar, nobody was thirsty, either.

Next up was the dancing.  A temporary wall was placed in the middle of the dance floor, and for the next 30 minutes the orthodox tradition of gender segregation was followed–the men danced on one side, the women on the other.

The groom danced the most.  With his new father in law:

 

With his best friend:

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With nephew Beaux:

 

With a cousin we don’t really know:

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With his crowd of friends:

 

Checking out the women’s side, there was just as much happening:

 

Léa was dancing with everyone, here with her sister:

With the  mothers and her new sister in law and nieces:

 

Léa is a grown and married woman, but she will always be Daddy’s girl

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Of course they danced the hora, where the bride and groom are put on chairs and raised above the crowd, and the wall, so they can see each other despite the separation.

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Our friend Reed was there:

And this guy, who goes everywhere I go for the last 35 years (and has watched Toby grow up with me):

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Micky

I found more family:

Brad looked great just watching all the action:

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And we were done.  At least all the old folks, like me.  We called taxis and hightailed it back to the Hilton, while the young people danced until they closed the place down at 1 am, then stayed and partied in front of the building, facing the beach, until 4.

This was a glorious wedding, in my unprofessional and thoroughly biased opinion. Reed was impressed, and she IS a professional, having thrown weddings for 25 years.  Everything was just perfect, beginning with the bride and groom.  They should have long life and many children.  Or some.  Maybe a couple.  I guess they get to decide.  I’ll just say mazel tov and shut up.

Toby and Léa will be in California in 3 weeks as we celebrate Demi marrying Matt in our yard. Looks like we can have fun all over again.

Back in Tel Aviv

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The view to the south from our 17th floor Hilton lounge

We’re back in Tel Aviv for a happy reason–Toby is getting married. A large contingent of us flew over Wednesday night, more have joined us, and there are still more to come.  Monday night there will be 180 people at a joyous celebration when Toby gets hitched to the beautiful, delightful, cosmopolitan Lea.

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And to the north

We’ve met Lea’s family for the first time.  Mom Esther speaks some English, dad Peter speak none, but that doesn’t stop him.  Peter just goes right ahead and speaks French, and somehow things roll along.

Babushka (grandmother in Russian) is a delightful smiling joy.

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Looking down at the hotel swimming pool.

We aren’t doing much here except for the wedding.  Some people are sitting by the pool, but I’m not one of them.  Granddaughter Chloe is here, and baby Silas took his first steps this week.  People who haven’t been here before took a tour to Jerusalem one day and the Dead Sea the next.  I napped and snacked and played bridge online, my idea of the perfect vacation.

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Looking southeast towards the city.

Our rooms give us access to the 17th floor lounge, which puts out enough food to provide 3 meals a day if you wanted.  And free booze.

Last night, 13 of us went out to dinner at a restaurant recommended by the hotel  concierge.  Getting a reservation for 13 at the last minute would be a challenge for most, but a big hotel concierge can work miracles.

The restaurant, Itzik Hagadol, is in the old quarter of Jaffa, and was a riot.  They crammed us in, then started bringing out the salads.  Bunches of tiny dishes with a wild variety of things from egg salad to mushrooms (ick) to hummus (always hummus around here) to beets to I have no idea what.  A plate of fries. Big circular slabs of bread right out of the oven, to be torn apart and shared.  It was scrumptious and hysterical.

 

Following the cornucopia of salads, there were huge platters of meat.  Beef, lamb, chicken.  All fresh off the charcoal grill.

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I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo when the platter hit the table–a number of lamb chops have already disappeared.

Getting there took a parade of taxis, and we had to summon another flotilla of them to get everyone back to the hotel. Kate left her phone in the cab on the way there, but Demi, the Apple Genius, was able to make it ring and the cab driver answered, then brought it back.  He held her up for $40, but that’s life and she has her iPhone X safe and sound.

Back at the hotel after dinner, we just sat in the lounge and visited.  We have no responsibilities about the wedding except to show up on time Monday evening and have a good time.  I’m getting rested up to do just that.

Sculpture in the garden, 2018

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Stargazer, by Eileen Fitz-Faulkner

It’s Fathers Day weekend, and that means the Ruth Bancroft Garden is again bursting with new growth and new art–the annual Sculpture Show opened last night.

The big opening party was a smash–there has been much change in the garden this year, the nursery has been completely remodeled and there is a new building being erected to house the offices and a rental space for weddings, parties and meetings.  If  you haven’t made a visit recently you need to see it.

The weather didn’t cooperate very well–last year Gail stayed home because it was so unbearably hot, this year the winds blew and the temperature was in the low 60’s.  I liked this photo of Stargazer and the artist’s husband, huddled against the chill.

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Gail thought the piece needed a hat:

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Now she’s warmer.

Here’s a selection of things that appealed to me:

 

One more

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Walls of Eden, by Joyce Steinfeld

And here’s Joyce:

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Most of the artists attend the opening night and you get to talk to them about the work. You also get to purchase the piece you like before someone else snaps it up.

The garden is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 to 4.  1552 Bancroft Avenue, Walnut Creek.  If you want to see a world class succulent garden chock full of great art, this is the place.  The sculpture will be there for a month.

Is this really my country?

 

There are people who defend trump’s position on separating children.  Not trump, of course.  He blames the Dems for his own policy, and says he will fix it if they just give him his wall.  That’s just terrorism.  From the US President.

I never meant for this to be a political blog.  I’d rather write about restaurants, plays and travel.  But the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  This must not continue.

This I will not accept

There are any number of things wrong in our country these days, from the venality and general incompetence of trump to the stench of corruption from Scott Pruitt to the racism of Jeff Sessions.  I am forced to accept that the election is over, and somehow the guy with fewer votes won.   I abhor all of these, but they are not the worst issue.  What is happening to children at our borders is beyond detestable, and must be the place to draw the line.  This I (and I hope we) will not accept.

To tear a child from its mother’s breast is heinous and unconscionable.  There is no possible excuse.  This is the action of a police state, and I don’t want to live in Nazi Germany.  Or North Korea.

Equally bad, in my view, are the people who accept and approve of our government treating anyone like this.  Ordinary people, people you might meet at your local bridge club.  People like the Big Kook, the player I showed this tweet to this afternoon.

He laughed.  Not a titter or chuckle or tee hee, he laughed right out loud. He thought it was funny.

Shocked, stunned, aghast, I asked him if he really thought it amusing.  He said “the guard probably just wanted to see her nipple”, as though that was an acceptable reason.  Then he laughed some more.

I don’t like this Bozo Klown anymore.  And when people want to tell me what a great job trump is doing, I think they will have to explain how it is right and good and moral to pull a baby off her mother’s breast and then handcuff the mother for “resisting”.

The Blackguard Knave has earned himself a lifetime of no respect, not that his smug sanctimony will even notice.  I wish he was alone in this, but millions of trumpistas are willing to suck up the Kool Aid while shouting MAGA and “lock her up”.