John Hetzler, Benjamin Pither and Sam Leeper star in 1776

I may have learned more American history last Saturday night than I did in my entire junior year of high school.  We saw 1776 at the Lesher, put on by the Contra Costa Musical Theater.

The play is about the Continental Congress deciding to declare independence from England in June and July 1776.  The decision was more difficult than you might believe, and even when agreement was reached the Congress spent days hashing out the wording of the Declaration so brilliantly written by Thomas Jefferson.

This is a strange musical in one respect–it has less music than any other I’ve ever seen.  There is a section in act one that is so long without music that the musicians are permitted to leave the pit.

The cast are dedicated and talented amateurs aided by 2 Equity members, Benjamin Pither as John Adams and Douglas Giorgis as Edward Rutledge, the representative from South Carolina.  In truth, I was surprised when looking at the program that there were only 2 Equity members, the cast was so talented.

1776 run almost 3 hours, with one intermission.  And to make the evening perfect they now sell ice cream during the break, just like in London.

The play runs for 2 more weeks, and is an excellent way to spend an evening at the theater and learn all that history you slept through in your teens.

You can’t rain out a great party

Gail and I took a drive all the way to Big Sur Saturday, to attend the annual bash at the Hawthorn Gallery, right across the highway from Nepenthe.  Yes it was raining, but that doesn’t matter to the dedicated art lovers and hard core partiers.  Many of the attendees fit both categories.


Sheltering under the tent in front of the bar.

Cars jammed both sides of Highway 101 and all up the driveway to Nepenthe, but I tend to think that red cones mean “Reserved for Mr. Pisarra” and managed to stuff the little car into an imaginary parking place right up front.

After we checked in and found our names on the list, we joined the revelry.  There is a full bar in front, as well as a bandstand with live music.  People were dancing in the rain, including our friends Ted and Mary.

A little downpour doesn’t stop the seriously fun loving–this was Mary after that dance:


Plenty of other people were having their fun in the non-sun as well.

I saw some footwear that I will have to have, if I can find it on the internet.  Nordstrom doesn’t carry these:


Light up tennies for grown ups.  Or at least in adult sizes….

There was so much rowdiness in the air that I even had the bartender put 1/8 of a shot of bourbon in my Diet Coke, just for the flavor.  I’m rowdy enough without the help of Mr. Jack Daniels.

Then we went in to the gallery, which was just jammed with wet people.

Even the balcony had some people, enjoying some very un-California weather.


The crowd at this party is a strange mix of aging hippies and art world hip.  People were dressed to go hiking for a week, people were dressed for a Manhattan gallery opening.  You could get dizzy checking them all out.

This couple sitting on the bench with Gail were typical–the man looks like the LL Bean catalog exploded all over him, the woman is in a dress with heels and hosiery.  Do they even talk before they go somewhere together?


Gail demonstrating her folding chair to the odd couple.

These women were most decidedly dressed for the scene, not the weather.



The Hawthorn Gallery features mainly the work of the family Hawthorn.  Founder Greg Hawthorn is a painter.  Brother Chris is a glass worker.  Sister in Law Julie is a ceramacist.  There are other sculptors, painters and woodworkers, almost all of whom are family members.  We did find one artist who is not a family member, just excellent.


Michael Gustavson, ceramic artist

I’m a big fan of glass.  Gail, not so much.  Even so, we both appreciated these plate that Ted and Mary purchased.  The got the ones on top: the lower ones are a different set.


I’m not sure what food you would want to serve on blue plates, but they look good in any case.

Eventually we stumbled on the art work we were looking for–this year’s production from Julie Hawthorn.  We have 3 of her pieces already, and are always interested in the new work she creates.


All new work. The one in the middle is coming to live at our house.

It isn’t hard to find Julie–just look for the six foot tall, drop dead gorgeous, woman in white.

She’s ready for her closeup, too.


Julie and her husband Chris live in Port Orford, OR, about 60 miles north of the California border.  They have a northern branch of the family gallery there, too, along with a restaurant and a few luxury suites to rent out.

Having negotiated the purchase, talked with friends, observed the new and the outré, danced a bit in the rain and even tasted some bourbon, it was time for us to hit the trail back to Monterey for an abalone dinner on the wharf and the drive home.  That’s about all the fun you can have in one day, at least until this time next year when the party rolls around again.


I’ve done my part 

Ballot filled out and signed. It goes in the mail tonight. I don’t expect my individual vote means anything, but if you don’t vote you have no right to complain about the government you get. And whether we elect the crazy man or the sneaky conniving woman, I expect there will be plenty to complain about. 

I wish this meant I wouldn’t have to hear any more about this election but that won’t happen. Now I’m hearing that Trump is planning to start his own news channel in the likelihood he loses, so we can hear his bombastic views in perpetuity. Oh joy. 

Back to the Delta


Beautiful Saturday, cute blonde girl, fancy convertible.  What else to do but go out to lunch on the Delta?

This time we headed to Heidi’s Outrigger, easy to get to by turning off Hwy 160 just before the first bridge and travelling a mile or so along the levee.

You used to tell the good roadside places by where the truck drivers ate.  You can tell a good marina if that’s where the Coast Guard eats.  Sure enough, there was a Coast Guard boat anchored and two seamen enjoying their lunch.  This must be the place.

There’s nothing fancy about Heidi’s.  It’s a waterside dump, but that’s pretty much what you expect in this area.  The interior is covered in $1 bills that people decorate and attach to the walls and ceiling.  I have never understood this, but it seems to make people happy.

All the action happens on the deck–where else would you want to be?  I noticed that Heidi’s is the most dog-friendly place I’ve ever seen.  When we go there the waitress was putting down a water bowl for a dog and offering the doggie treats, if it was OK with the owners.  There are even two large cages so more obstreperous dogs can still be on the deck with their owners.

Food on the delta isn’t very chi-chi.  It’s strong and manly.  Each table had a Corona six-pack holder full of condiments.  I pulled out the hot sauces so you could see them–I’ve never seen this many at one time on the table before:

A full gamut of choices to make your food hot and spicy.

A full gamut of choices to make your food hot and spicy.

I ordered a chicken sandwich and onion rings.  You will notice that I am being robbed even before I can finish taking a photo:

Onion ring-napping in progress.

Onion ring-napping in progress.

The rings were the best part of the meal.  The sandwich was on a gummy roll, had plenty of cheese and might explain all those hot sauces–it needed spice.

Gail had the fish and chips:

Notice the half onion ring on top. We have found the culprit.

Notice the half onion ring on top. We have found the culprit.

The cole slaw was particularly interesting.  Shredded very fine, it had only a small amount of dressing, which contained no mayo at all.  I liked it.

The menu is pretty standard, except for the glaring exception of fish tacos, which should be required by law at every dockside food emporium.  I cannot explain the lack thereof.

One last thing.  The restrooms at these places tend to have cutesy names on the door, frequently “buoys” and “gulls”.  Heidi’s was more inventive than most:


We enjoyed our ride, we enjoyed our lunch.  These little marinas in the delta are just fun, whether the food is good or mediocre.  The crowd is friendly, the view is relaxing and I even enjoyed the pooches lolling on the deck.  Check it out.
Heidi's Outrigger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

It’s only a buck


The life of a famous blogger is never dull.  There I was in the grocery store, shopping for dinner, when a member of the Unit 499 Board came over to upbraid me for being so hard on the Unit about not giving any money to charity.

She (and that’s all the description you’re going to get) wasn’t happy about my saying we should be giving more/any money to people who need it.  She thinks it is important to keep all that cash (over $32,000) because some clubs might need help buying cards and dealing machines, but she says it is the treasurer who refuses to spend any money.

Now I think the treasurer is a penny pinching, risk averse, small minded bean counter.  I also think he works for us, not the other way around.  It isn’t his job to decide where the unit spends money, it’s his job to keep track of everything.

We kept talking.  I kept insisting that as a group we are well off and incredibly fortunate, and should be sharing with others.  You can’t much argue with that.

Finally, some consensus was achieved.  I suggested that we could most certainly afford to donate $1 a year per member to charity.  Who doesn’t drop more than that in pennies every year?  There are about 800 members of our unit, so $800 to $1000 per year is eminently reasonable.

She asked how we were going to decide to whom to give this abundance.  I explained the concept of delegation–point at somebody on the board and say “Find a decent local charity which keeps less than 10% for overhead and gives the rest to people who need it.  Give us an answer next month.”   That business school education finally paid off for me.

Now I’m going to do some delegation. Find yourself a board member and say you’re in favor of a buck a year for charity.  Let them all know.  This stuff isn’t rocket science–we can be good people if we just want to be.


She Bops




Friday night Gail and I went to the Mountain Winery in Saratoga to see the great Cyndi Lauper in concert.  It was a blast.

First, we fought traffic for 2 hours from Berkeley to get there.  I had purchased dinner tickets in advance, so we went to the Chateau Deck for a meal.

The deck is just that–an outdoor deck with an incredible view of the valley.  It was also colder than a stepmother’s kiss and they don’t have any outdoor heaters.  The do offer to sell you a thin little blanket for $35, thankyouverymuch.  No.

We had a three course prix fixe dinner. I started with the caprese salad:


Gail had the carpacio Caesar salad


This is an excellent Caesar edged with slices of carpaccio.  Gail was taking little bits of bread, adding the meat and topping it all with salad for a tiny sandwich.  The most important part of the salad is the Caesar dressing, and Gail pronounced this one excellent.  There was kale in the salad, and it turns out kale is edible if you drown it in good dressing.

Then Gail had the Petrale Sole.


Not only was it excellent, but the portion was considerable.  And it came on a hot plate, which Gail put to good use before she started eating:


Warming her hands on the plate.

I had the rack of lamb, which was good but I thought the portion was tiny–it was really a half rack, and they were the smallest chops I’ve ever seen.


The meal included desserts, and I ordered both the lemon tart and the chocolate mousse.  Loved the tart, thought the mousse was too stiff.

When the meal is significantly overpriced because of the location, do you tip on the whole bill or the value of the meal?  Our dinners were decent, but worth about 2/3 of what they charge, which is $74/person plus wine.  These were not $74 dinners.  The overpriced wine brought the tab to almost $200, which is absurd. For that money they could at least have outdoor heaters. Better to have a good meal in Saratoga and then go to the concert next time.

The music started.  But not Cyndi.  There was an opening act, not listed in any of the literature.  Another reason to enjoy dining in town–we didn’t need to be there that early.  The act was the famous, great bluesman Charlie Musselwhite.  Nothing wrong with his act, I just wasn’t prepared for it and wish the facility had the good grace to tell me in advance. Our evening would have gone differently.

I had time to do some people watching.  A very mixed crowd–some young, some old, some who can’t decide if they want to grow up or not.

Then, at last, Cyndi.  63 years old, can still carry all the notes, sings, dances, entertains.  The show was great.


It’s a beautiful outdoor theater

There is a new album, Detour,  the tour is centered on.  County music, with blues and rockabilly influences.  Most of the show is from the new album. Some of the old tunes, of course.  Couldn’t have a Lauper concert without She Bop.

Cyndi sings a bit, then talks for a while.  Maybe she needs to rest the voice, maybe that’s just the way she entertains.  I’d prefer more singing, but she didn’t ask me.  She’s warm and funny and doesn’t take herself very seriously.  Entertaining all the way through.

Meanwhile, it was a beautiful, if chilly, evening.  The Mountain Winery is a great place, much updated from the first time I was there 15 years ago.


A wonderful place to enjoy a concert

Cyndi’s act is about 90 minutes long.  We didn’t stay for the finish and the inevitable, programmed “encore”, where she most likely had to drag out Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, because we’d already had enough fun.

The ride home was much shorter than the trip down, singing Misty Blue since Cyndi had stuck it in our minds.  It was a fun evening, and I’d do it again.  Sometime warmer.

Good Eats, Cheap

Sometimes we eat at fancy upscale fine dining restaurants.  Sometimes we just go out for body fuel.  Grub.  Eats.  Last night was one of the latter.

Gail had a taste for the spaghetti with brown butter and mizithra cheese at the Old Spaghetti Factory, on Todos Santos Plaza in Concord.

They don’t take reservations, but you can call and get your name on the list.  I did that and we only had to wait 3 or 4 minutes before we got a table.

We got a waiter named Steve who was a clear professional, proving you don’t have to work in the fancy joints to be good at your job.  He was a relentless up-seller, but that’s what they pay him for.  The basic meals are so cheap the place makes its profit on selling you something extra, from appetizers to special dinners to better wines to high class desserts.

None of that worked with us–we were there for the mizithra and brown butter, $11.95 for the 3 course dinner with salad, fresh sourdough bread, entree and ice cream for dessert.

First, the salad.


Iceberg lettuce, cabbage, carrots, croutons and creamy pesto dressing. The fresh baked loaf of sourdough right behind.

There is nothing fancy here, and I can’t remember the last salad I had with iceberg lettuce, but I like the creamy pesto dressing and the whole thing was fine, in an old fashioned kind of way.

Then an odd thing happened.  Nothing.  No food, no service.  This place thrives on getting the customers in and out and getting some new ones in the same seats.  They can’t afford to let you languish waiting, but that’s what happened for what seemed forever but was probably 15 minutes.  Gail was her usual picture of patience and bonhomie.


Eventually, of course, we were served. We did add a couple of items to dinner–I had a sausage with my pasta, and we had a “small” side of the broccoli, also served with brown butter and mizithra.  You have a wide choice of pastas, and I decided to try the ditalini, which is Italian for salad macaroni I guess.


I just added the broccoli right on top of the pasta.  It was great.

Soaking veggies in brown butter and cheese makes them death food, but it sure tasted good.

This is one of my favorite basic meals.  We make it at home, too, but Gail says the Old Spaghetti Factory is better.  Who am I to argue?

We both ate most of our dinners, but needed to leave room for dessert so we brought some home.

You have a choice of vanilla or spumoni ice cream, and should always take the spumoni.  It’s good, but not really authentic because it doesn’t have any dried fruit or pistachios in it.  Spumoni is pistachio, chocolate and cherry ice cream, and it’s just the luck of the draw what combination you get in your dish.  Gail grabbed the one with the chocolate.


The tab for this feast, with a glass of good (read “upsold”) chardonnay, was $42.85.   $53 with tip.  They charge that much for lamb chops in the class joints in SF or New York.

Even with the fermata between the salad and the entree, we were in and out in 58 minutes.  A happy dinner, a three course meal for 2 for $50, with leftovers for breakfast, what more could you ask?  I like this place.  Occasionally.
Old Spaghetti Factory Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

District 21 Does the Right Thing


District VP Tom Pajak presenting check to SHARE chairman Ken Carpoff

When the Contra Costa Bridge club found a location, it was in the First Christian Church in Concord.  Another tenant of the complex is the SHARE Food Pantry, a charitable organization originally founded among 16 churches to combine their efforts to feed the poor and homeless of the county.

Unit 499 Board Member Jackie Zayac is also a member of the District 21 board, and used her influence to persuade the district charity committee to donate $2,500 to SHARE, enough to purchase 6,000 pounds of food to distribute.

There was a small ceremony today at the bridge club to hand over the check, so I thought I’d drop in, take photos and see if there was cake.  Good news.  There was cake.


Jackie Zayac addressing the throng

Jackie spoke first, introducing Tom and telling how the district makes charitable donations but our unit doesn’t.


Tom looked especially snappy


Ken Carpoff represented SHARE

I’m very pleased to see the District make this contribution. It is good to be part of an organization that considers the greater community.

I’m not at all pleased to hear that our Unit NEVER makes donations to charity.  We have over $32,000 in the bank (having had a hugely successful program with Barbara Seagram which netted us over $6,400!!  Good work, Anne!)  Surely we could spend a bit of that to help those less fortunate.

By and large, bridge players are intelligent, educated, successful and well-off.  A few are just plain rich. The enormous amount of money we have in the bank should be doing at least some good for the greater polity, not just financing dealing machines and new decks of cards for the local clubs. I’m all in favor of helping the clubs, I just want to do more.  Don’t we who have been so lucky in life have a moral responsibility to help others?

Tom Pajak told me that the Oakland unit makes an annual donation to the Oakland Zoo, which is quite close to the East Bay Community Bridge Center.  Good for them.

The Contra Costa Bridge center, not the unit, is planning a charity event to help SHARE.  I heard some different possibilities today, but it is clear that they have a strong intention to make a significant contribution. Good for them: I’ll be there.

This is nothing new–I’ve been railing against the amount of money our unit and our district hoard for decades. You’d think it was their own money and their children were barefoot. And no, I don’t think we should give everything away and don sackcloth and ashes. There just has to be a reasonable, sane amount that we can give to make life better for people who need help.



A Trip to the SHED

Not the woodshed, SHED, a very modern restaurant in Healdsburg.

We’re all so lucky to live here, where there is such a flowering of the culinary arts.  I think Main Street in Napa has more great places to eat on one street than anywhere else in the world, and little Healdsburg, north of Santa Rosa, isn’t far behind.  Even after the closing of the great Cyrus, Healdsburg is a great destination: Chalkboard, Dry Creek, and now SHED.

Just north of the square, across the street from the hotel that formerly housed Cyrus and is now home to Chalkboard, SHED is a modern new facility housing a market, a butcher shop, a café, a kitchenware store, a gardening store and an ice cream shop, all in one large, airy, open, high-ceilinged room.

The whole place is very upscale.  The market sell only the best organic produce and fancy, local gourmet items.  This also makes it beautiful.


Organic heirloom cherry tomatoes for sale in the market

The butcher shop has obscure, upscale choices like a prosciutto made from pigs fed only acorns.  $64/pound.  Pigs on a more varied diet produce $34/lb cured ham.

In the kitchenware area you can buy your new bread knife right or left handed.

The garden shop has books on organic beekeeping, obscure seeds, wooden knitting needles and hand dyed imported knitting yarns.

The café has tables both inside and out.  An inventive menu features lamb, duck, rabbit, squid and halibut paired with things you never heard of like sunflower seed molé, chilled fennel soup or dulse seaweed.  There are plates both large and small, but even the small plates are quite generous.

I started with the apple and sunchoke salad.  The sunchoke, also known as the Jerusalem Artichoke, is the root of a species of sunflower which tastes quite like artichoke.


Apple and sunchoke salad with hazelnuts, radicchio and sunchoke puree

Fair warning: sunchokes can cause immense amounts of gas.  You may not be particularly welcome company after enjoying this salad.

Gail found an appetizer that she is still raving about.  Spanish white anchovies on toast.


There are anchovies in there, honest.

I had the duck breast, served in a huge bowl with sunflower seed molé, summer peppers and papalo (also called summer cilantro or Bolivian coriander).


The duck was just duck. The molé was spicy and interesting.  The peppers were too hot for me.

We shared an order of the potatoes.


Roasted potatoes, shisito peppers, paprika aioli

Potatoes, peppers and aioli served in a heavy frying pan.  This is a great side dish for your party to share.

Gail had the rabbit, served with shelling beans, salsa verde and hominy.  All the side veggies were served cold, which doesn’t work.


Warm rabbit, cold beans. Not a good plan.

She sent her dish back to be heated, something I’ve never seen her do before.

The rabbit tastes like chicken.  Heck, it could be chicken and nobody would be the wiser if they didn’t serve the wings.  The beans were a little better once they were heated, but this dish got no prizes from us.


Halibut, mussels, fresh corn and smoked tomato broth


Brad and Kate both ordered the Halibut, and were glad they did.  The dish was complex and satisfying, the winner of the evening.

I had an interesting corn custard for dessert, but Gail claimed the prize for best choice when she had the creme fraiche ice cream.  Her dessert portion was so good she got another scoop for the road from the ice cream station in the front of the building.

SHED isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty darn good and an interesting and exciting facility to be in.  It’s one more reason Healdsburg is a destination for local foodies.  I think we would go back, but not order the rabbit.
SHED Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Not gonna play in Peoria

Off to Center Rep last night with Micky and Linda.  We saw a play called It Should Been You, billed as a musical comedy. We enjoyed it, even though Gail thinks it is 20 minutes too long.

It was musical. It was a comedy. It also covered some serious themes that will play well in this area, but this play surely isn’t going to work in the conservative religious heartland.  The serious themes were discussed without preachiness but rather smugness at how mature and modern we all are.  This is a West Coast play, to be sure.

The acting is superb.  This production boasts 5 players who are members of Actors Equity, and the non-Equity members all do a fine job. The singing is on key, the dancing is flawless (and beautifully choreographed), the acting is spot on.

Elizabeth Curtis, not an Equity member, holds the play together as Jenny, the less pretty older sister of the bride. Richard Frederick plays the father of the groom, and makes a small part big with his talents. Scottie Woodard gets most of the big laughs as Albert, the ultimate wedding planner.

It’s hard for me to properly describe It Should Been You without giving it away.  Suffice it to say that the play centers around a wedding.  People are not what they seem.  Secrets are revealed.  Uproar is uproared.  Cooler heads prevail.  Wisdom and kindness win the day and everyone lives happily ever after.

The Margaret Lesher theater was sold out last night, and again tonight.  There are seats available for the rest of the run, but you should act quickly.