Sinking to a new low

Saturday, Shabbat, Shabbos is taken seriously around here.  Orthodox Jews won’t turn on a light, write a note, plug in a heater, drive a car or even ride in one.  The stores are closed and there is nothing for the non-observant to do.

So we got out of Dodge.  Loaded up the tiny car and drove down to the Dead Sea.  Oddly enough, it was the most alive place around.

Wikipedia says the sea is 1416 ft below sea level, but that’s probably an understatement.  The level of the water is decreasing by 1 meter a year, because the only feeder is the River Jordan, and so much water is taken from the river for agriculture that there is little to none available to replace the evaporation from the sea.

There have been many proposals for how to save the Dead Sea, with the most probable being to dig a canal 125 miles through the Negev desert to the Red Sea and use that water to replenish the loss.


What used to be a dock, now 80 or 100 feet above the level of the water.

We went to  a private beach, Kalia. Besides the beach, there was a restaurant, bar, spa and shops.  The clientele was a mix of Jews and Arabs, with both Israeli and Palestinian license plates in the parking lot.

The Arab women stay covered up, even when they go swimming.  Once you get out of the extraordinarily saline water, you need to shower off, and there was a shower next to where we were sitting.


Showering off the brine while a friend takes photos.

You can see how far down we had to go to get to the water.

Swimming is everything you have heard of.  The water is so salty that tasting even a single drop is unpleasant.  You float so high in the water it’s hard to get your feet in, or you roll over and float on your stomach with you head in the air.  Nobody puts their head in the water, for good reason.  Your eyes would burn, your nose would hurt, it would taste awful.  About all you want to do is splash around a bit, try some floating and head for the showers.  Except for the mud.

There is a huge industry involved in beauty products from the Dead Sea, much of which is centered on mud.  Supposedly, the mud improves your skin and brings out some mythical “toxins”.  You can buy a half pound of mud nicely packaged for $12, but the people in the water just dig down and cover themselves in the black, sticky goo.  Toby had to give it a try.


He says his skin feels softer

People need pictures of themselves to show off with:


At least one of the had the good sense to avoid the mud.

We lasted a couple of hours in the sun, then left for less salty adventures.  We had considered going for lunch to the town of Jericho, which is quite close to the Dead Sea, but then we ran into this sign:


As American citizens, we could have continued on, but Toby is now an Israeli citizen as well, so we moved on to plan B–anywhere but Jericho.

We had lunch somewhere, I just forget the name.  I’d like to forget the fettuccine I had.  Toby ordered the gray mullet, which sounds like the haircut on an aging redneck.  He seemed to like his dish when it arrived:


The it was time to goback to the hotel and take a nap.  There are parts of this tourism thing I could get very good at. Tanned, ready and rested, we went to dinner at the Happy Fish restaurant, right in the hotel.  It didn’t open until 9 pm because it was Shabbat, and the staff could not turn on the stoves and start their prep work until sundown.  That was fine with us, grownups eat dinner later.

The facility was beautiful, with dramatic lighting that made the meal an event.

Having dinner at the Happy Fish restaurant, Mamilla Hotel, Jerusalem

We had an appetizer of hummus and falafel.  Food wise, the best thing about Israel may well be the hummus.  This was also the best falafel I’ve ever had.  Two for two is a good average.


Garbanzo beans for the hummus, chickpeas for the falafel. Being a vegetarian just became attractive.

I had the grilled salmon as an entree.  I suppose I shouldn’t ask where the salmon came from; it sure as heck wasn’t local.  But it was delicious.


That was the end of a long and pleasant day.  More tomorrow.

Not all museums have art

Generations of American tourist set off on their grand tour of Europe in Paris, heading to the Louvre for their cultue fix only to find the place is closed on Tuesday.

Last Tuesday, Gail and I, along with Jan and Keith Gunn, found out that the Cantor museum  on the Stanford Campus follows classical French tradition.  So there we were, in Palo Alto, all dressed up with no place to go.

Being creative, we began with an overpriced lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel.  The place was full of techy hipsters earnestly pitching ideas to junior VC’s, both hoping to be the next billionaire in town. It wasn’t really the right place for us.

Our fall back plan became the Hiller Aviation Museum, at the San Carlos Airport.  I’ve seen it from the freeway, and it’s the perfect place to take an engineer like Keith.

Stanley Hiller invented the co-rotor helicopter (two rotors running in opposite directions on one shaft) when he was 15.  He got the Defense Department to fund him to devolop a model for the Army when he was 17.  (This was during WWII)  At 18 he tested the prototype at Memorial Stadium at UC Berkeley (where he had been admitted at 15, but he dropped out after 6 months  to invent)  He founded a company, then partnered with Henry Kaiser, then 20 years later sold out to Fairchild.  The remainder of his career Hiller worked as a turnaround specialist, making failing companies profitable.

The museum is a large building just full of aircraft, from the oldest Wright flyer to a mock up of the Virgin spacecraft that will take passengers to space.  There are plenty of Hiller Helicopters, natch, but this place is much more than a shrine to its founder.


Greeted at the entrance by a 1903 Wright Flyer


Hiller had hopes that this would be the commuter vehicle of the future.


A small trainer copter

The museum has mostly aircraft, but there is one automobile, a 1958 Messerschmitt Kabinenroller, a Cabin Scooter.  It has one cylinder, 10 horsepower, and you make it go in reverse by starting the engine backwards.  Keith says he saw them on the street in Boston when he was in college.



If the word “Albatross” makes you think of Monty Python, you’ve got my kind of humor.  If it makes you think of a large amphibious airplane, you belong at this musuem.


All the displays you see are school science projects.  Many of them went right over my head–these kids have educated parents and get into some pretty advanced science.  I liked the one where a fifth grader tested whether penne or fettucini cooked faster–her hypothesis was that the fettucini would.  Finally, some science I can appreciate.

There was a flight simulator set up so yu could fly a Wright biplane, with only two large controls, up/down and left/right.  Gail gave it a try:


In the rear of the building, the museum has obtained the entire front section of a 747=100, retired after millions of miles of flight.


Entering through the rear, you can climb the tiny, steep circular staircase to the upper level where first class sat, and then enter the cramped cokpit, with seats for 3 crew and 2 observers wedged in among the hundreds of dials, fuses and switches.

Attached to the museum is a repair/restoration shop where som serious craftsmen are preparing new machines for display.You can watch them throud large windows, and I thought we might lose Keith forever-the workshop is an engineer’s paradise.

The museum is easy to get to, friendly tovisit, full of fascinating exhibits and open on Tuesday.  That make it even better than the Louvre.


Peas, peas, peas, peas, eatin’ goober peas

Actually, I don’t much know what a goober pea is. Just seemed like a good title.

The first Monday of the month, on a chef’s traditional night off, The Commissary in the Presidio has an open kitchen night, where they invite well known chefs from around the area to come and contribute a dish to a special prix fixe dinner.  There is always a theme, and this month the theme was fresh spring peas.

The wine pairing this month featured the wines of the Del Dotto vineyard.  They also provided the chefs for two of the dishes.  I’m pretty sure their founder, Dave Del Dotto, was a bridge player at one time–I remember sitting with him and his beautiful blonde wife after sessions at the Anaheim Nationals in 1987.

On to the dinner.  We began with an amuse bouche,  pea sprout soup served in a tiny shooter, topped with a chip and a pea.  They were brought to the table in terraria, each containing 3 servings.


Magnificent presentation of the amuse bouche

Here is the shooter itself:


Just a tiny work of art.

The first course was prepared by Chef Rogelio Garcia, executive chef at The Commissary.


Sturgeon turned into beauty.

Local sturgeon, poached and topped with its own caviar, house cured.  Sitting on a bed of fresh English peas.  A simply magnificent preparation and presentation.  The dark circle around the plate is trumpet mushrooms, which fortunately don’t taste like mushrooms and add an umami richness to the dish.

Each of the visiting chefs comes with an assistant, and they are assigned a small area of the kitchen.  This leads to a very crowded work area, but these guys are all pros who know how to work hard in a crowded conditions.

The next item was from Chef Joshua Schwartz, of Del Dotto Winery.  A totally new envisioning of lasagna, like mama most certainly did not make.


I can hardly begin to describe this marvelous dish.  No tomato sauce, housemade ricotta, housemade prosciutto, a tiny loaf of bread; the whole thing was breathtaking.  This is the sort of thing these chef’s nights are for–this dish is way too complicated and labor intensive to be on a regular menu, but here the chef can be as creative as he likes.

The  next dish was from Chef Ryan McIlwraith, of Bellota, a Spanish restaurant in San Francisco.


Blood sausage, poached egg, pea and potato puree.

I liked this dish, and think I want to try the restaurant where the chef works.  It was a novel combination of flavors and textures.  Maybe I’m just not a fan of blood sausage.

Now the big finale, and one of the worst photos I’ve ever posted.


Rib eye steak, pea and carrot pompidou, crispy sweet breads

That’s a slice of perfectly cooked rib eye–what I think is the tastiest cut of beef, albeit not the most tender.  The triangle thingy is a pea custard glazed with carrot.  There is also a smoked pea puree, fresh peas, a bit of carrot and some sauces for color.  It was all done perfectly, by Chef Michael Dengelegi from Del Dotto.

Finally, dessert.  I was full already but manned up and powered through to give the meal the attention it deserved.


Fresh pea and sunflower seed cake.

Chef Andrew Marcus, pâtissier at The Commissary, created this dish to complement the theme.  His pea and sunflower seed cake was unique–I sadly expect that I will never have another.  You don’t often think of food as a once in a lifetime experience, but there you have it.  Finally, the perfect reason to eat your vegetables.


Chef Andrew


The Commissary Open Kitchen nights are a delightful adventure.  They had to go looking for guest chefs at the start, now the hot local chefs are lining up for a chance to show off their talent and creativity.  First Monday of the month, don’t miss it.

The Commissary Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A True Experience

Dinner last night at True Food Kitchen, adjacent to Macy’s in the newly renovated Broadway Plaza.  I’ve lived here since Macy’s was Capwells and the paseo between stores was a street.  Progress never stops–who knows what the place will be like in another 50 years.  Right now it looks pretty darned good, all fresh and well lit.

The experience begins with parking–and the new garage is simply the nicest garage I’ve ever been in.  Each stall has a light hanging above it, red for an occupied space and green for a vacant one.  Arrows on each aisle tell the number of available spaces.The whole place is well lit, clean, airy and free for the first 3 hours.

True Food Kitchen is a large establishment, with a very loud interior and a much quieter, more pleasant, very well heated outdoor dining area. We ate outdoors and completely enjoyed it, with the overhead heaters making a chilly evening delightful.

The restaurant is part of a burgeoning national chain, co-founded by Dr. Andrew Weil, one of those guys you see on PBS talking about eating healthy and living the good life.  True Food Kitchen goes right along with the program–the food they serve is all organic, fresh and healthy.  Except for the booze, but that’s how you pay the bills.


Sierra Nevada IPA, the real money maker.

We started with the edamame dumplings–like ravioli stuffed with smooshed up soy beans, in a flavorful broth.true-1We were there to have dinner with our friend Daphne, and the two grown-up people who carry her around everywhere, Becky and John.


Miss Daphne with her trusty attendant, Becky.

Daphne decided to have a pizza from the kids menu. It’s not quite what you get at Fat Slice, but it was definitely a good dinner for the little one.


Lucky for me, Daphne shares.

I had the fish tacos.  These are some darn good tacos, although a bit on the bland side–and when a sissy like me says they’re bland, you know they need some zip.  Fortunately, the tacos come with a side of beans, which are muy picante, so a tiny dab of beans in the taco brought about the perfect spiciness.


There are some big pieces of nameless white fish here.

Gail and Becky both had the lasagna.  This is not a dish that lends itself to lovely presentations, although they both spoke highly about the quality of their meal.


I wish lasagna looked better.

The dessert menu left me cold.  There is such a thing as too hip, too cool, too California touchy-feely woo woo.  I don’t want squash pie.  I can’t even imagine what chia seed pudding is like.  Can anyone tell me what an Apple Goji crisp is? I eat out very often, am open to lots of different things, have a pretty good knowledge of food and menus.  If these offerings baffle me, what do they do to ordinary mortals?

Prices are moderate/high. Service was first rate, with servers well trained to explain the quirky and exotic menu items.  The high volume of the interior dining area would preclude me from eating there, but the outdoor area was quite pleasant.  Give True Food Kitchen a try, maybe you’ll end up healthier.  Let me know if you find out what chia pudding tastes like.

True Food Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Charles Schultz was right. 

They   Happiness is a warm puppy.

Saturday, I got up and went to the Pro-Am at our bridge club.  They assigned me a nice guy named Sam, to whom I gave a dreadfully poor performance. While this may just be because I’m not very good, there is also the reality that I was sick and when I get sick I get slow and stupid.  Sorry, Sam.  I owe you a game.

Coming home, I promptly took a nap for three hours.  We had a big event planned for the evening, and I prevailed on Toby to be his mother’s date and take over hosting for me, then went right back to a semi-comatose position in my recliner.

That’s when I figured out that a warm dog on my chest seemed to help the congestion, so that’s where she stayed for the next couple of hours.  Turns out that dog on chest is good for your mood, too.  I was very calm and relaxed, even while wracked with coughing.

A solid evening of lying inert, with so little energy that I could eat, or watch TV, but not both at one time, led to a long nights sleep.

Today I felt better.  Not good, but better.  Had the energy to go to the movies with Gail and see La La Land before the Oscars. I’ll write about that in another post, this one is dedicated to the my living hot pad, Claudia.


Sometimes you just have to write things because something cute happened.  No significance, nothing of eternal importance, but cute.

We were at Sigrid’s house, and I took Claudia into the back yard because I spend half my life now outside, frequently in the rain, waiting for the puppy to piddle.

I was looking at the sky, or a bird, or something and heard a splash.  Turning quickly, I see a little red head swimming for safety, and then a thoroughly bedraggled scrawny dog emerged.

She started shaking herself off as I grabbed for the camera.


Another shake, and I saw this


Just a tiny bit better.


I yelled at Gail to grab a couple of towels, then brought the poor wet dog into the house and proceeded to dry her off.



Doing better, safe with mom.

I guess it’s good to know that the dog can swim.

Dog stories.  Now I’m writing dog stories.  How could this happen to me?

Culinary Resurection in Napa


Sixteen years ago Copia opeed in Napa to great fanfare. A new temple to fine cuisine, with a museum, restaurant, classrooms and amphitheater.  It was a glorious idea, that led to glorious failure.  The place closed in 2008.

A facility that beautiful is too good to stay empty.  The Culinary Institute of America, CIA, has taken over the building and is now operating their school, a fine dining restaurant, a store, an event facility and anything else they can think of to pay the mortgage.

They had a big open house this weekend, so we piled into the car, drove to Sigrid’s house, picked her up, left the our dog with hers and went to see the show.

The building is beautiful, as it always was.  On First street, right next to the Ox Bow Market.  Parking is a huge pain.

Right by the front door is the store. Think of it as FAO Schwarz for grown ups.

Inside the central gallery, various wine makers had been invited to show off their wares.

copia-3Industrial design extends to the small items, like stand-up tables for the guests:


Some people attended a class/demonstration on fancy cocktails, afterward staff was passing out tiny samples.  I decided to try a margarita:


The cutest 1/4 ounce drink glass ever.

Overall, the building is pretty and the store could cause serious damage to my credit cards.  The CIA will be offering classes ranging from a couple of hours to an entire multi-year professional chefs school.  We are seriously interested in trying the restaurant ASAP.  I was unimpressed by their marketing efforts–there was no attempt made to collect email addresses, a simple standard action to keep in touch with potential customers.

After visiting Copia, we went back to Sigrid’s house for dinner.  I’ve shown plenty of third-rate meals here; it’s a pleasure to feature the first rate chicken we enjoyed Chez Sigrid. Good luck getting a reservation, you have to know the owner.


Chicken with cherry sauce, ala sigrid

All gags, no plot


Lynda DiVito, Elisabeth Nunziato and Jamie Jones in Women in Jeopardy at Center Rep


Center Rep again, with Mike and Linda as usual.  We saw Women in Jeopardy, billed as “Thelma and Louise meets The First Wives Club”, a line written by someone who saw neither of those films.


The show is funny.  Lots of laughing happening.  If you think you’re going to get drama, or trenchant commentary on the status of modern woman, think again.  Go for the jokes, because that’s all there is.

Three forty-something divorced women, one of whom has a new boyfriend. The boyfriend is exceptionally weird, and by happenstance the employer of a young woman who has disappeared.  Is he the killer?  This plot was written in an 8th grade English class, and got a B-.

The directing, by Michael Butler, is first rate. The dialogue is crisp and fast, with three women cutting in an out with nary a skipped beat. Scene breaks involve cast members dancing downstage to hip-hop music while stagehands work their magic behind them.  The fast paced show moves along smartly, unhindered by deep meaning or difficult plot points.

The cast is excellent. Six actors, four of them Equity members.  Jason Kuykendall plays a dual role as Jackson, the boyfriend, and Sgt. Sponsüllar.  There doesn’t seem to be any possible reason to have these two characters who look exactly alike; there is no mistaken identity, no separated-at-birth twin gag, just something bizarre stuck in for no reason. Perhaps it’s just a cheap way to use one less actor.

The first act just sort of drifts along, lots of gags but nothing compelling happening. In line for ice cream at intermission, the two guys behind me declared the play “pretty pathetic.”  The ice cream was great, though. Haagen Dazs Dulce la Leche.  Why don’t all theaters sell ice cream at the interval?

The second act was better. More and better and faster gags. Plot up to 10th grade level.  The acting stayed superb. The scene breaks had even more dancing.  I really enjoyed it.

And then it was over.  They essentially announced ” We found the killer–it was xxxxxx.” and the curtain came down.

Women in Jeopardy is in no jeopardy of moving to the big stage in New York.  It is, however, funny as hell and a decent way to spend a couple of hours in the theater.  Bring two extra bucks for the ice cream.

Upscaling in Orinda


A genuine candle and stubby little crayons to doodle on the paper table cover.  Nice touches in the remodeled Wild Magnolia

Theater Square in Orinda has been home to a casual restaurant named Table 24 for the last 6 years. Recently the owner, Michael Karp, gave it a minor face-lift and a major menu change, re-naming the joint Wild Magnolia.  It’s a considerably more upscale facility these days, tablecloths and all.

The physical changes are relatively minor–new lighting, some re-purposed windows hung in front of the wood fired pizza oven, a change of tables and chairs.  It’s more modern than before, but you still have to go outside and around the building to find the restrooms.

The food, from executive chef Ulises Santiago, is very modern.  Fresh, organic, healthy and with an emphasis on small plates that could be shared.  Exactly what the health conscious, upscale, tres modern clientele of Orinda would appreciate.

Gail and Toby were taking me out for my birthday.  We had a reservation, but 7:40  on a Monday night in the ‘burbs is pretty slow and we didn’t really need it.

Wild Magnolia has a full bar, if that’s your thing.  They got the lime in my iced tea right, but have no Splenda or Equal–only stevia, because that’s what’s trendy.  Automatic score deduction for preachiness.

Gail and Toby had a wild mushroom flatbread to start.  I cadged a small slice, removed the fungus and enjoyed the thin but chew crust.  The dish comes with a heap of arugula on top of the flatbread, but nobody seemed much interested in it.

I had the truffled fries, and they were excellent.  The rich aroma of truffle oil filled the table and the fries were perfectly done.

We also had an order of “zoodles”, this years fad.

Drown anything in enough butter and garlic and you’ll be a happy camper.  If you can label it “gluten and carb free”, so much the better.

I had the wild salmon.  Of course it’s wild: a place like this would die of shame if they had a piece of farmed fish on site.


Salmon with farro, carrots and kale.  Of course, kale.

The salmon was cooked perfectly.  The melangé of farro, carrots and kale was a well designed side, hearty and filling.  I’d cook the farro and carrots at home.  Kale, I can live without.

Wild Magnolia is a nice addition to the area.  The food is excellent, the service was friendly efficient and smooth.  Prices are reasonable for the quality received.  Give this place a try.

In His Name


Mike Katz, Gail and Micky

No, not Jesus.  I’m not a bible thumper, by any possible stretch of the imagination. Too many years of Catholic school cured me of that.

In the name of Mike Katz.  My friend.  My pal. My bridge partner, roommate, bookie and travel buddy. And the son of refugee Jews.

In the name of Mike Katz I condemn the shameful, cowardly, venal action of Donald Trump banning Muslims from immigration from 7 carefully selected countries. (Not the countries where actual terrorists who have attacked the US are from, like Saudi Arabia.  Other countries, where he has no private business dealings.  But I digress.)

In the name of Mike Katz I condemn the followers of Trump who think this is a good thing, who see all 1.2 billion Muslims as a danger, as “the other’, as inherently evil.

In the name of Mike Katz I condemn the churches that support this racism and religious bigotry.  They have forgotten the teachings of Jesus to love one another.

Why Mike?  Because in 1939 the MS St. Louis set out from Hamburg Germany with 937 Jewish refugees, headed to Havana.  Although they had purchased visas, the refugees were denied entry to Cuba.  Then, in an act of cowardice and bigotry that foreshadows today’s actions, they were denied entry to the US.  Then Canada.

The ship was eventually forced to return to Antwerp, where the captain, Gustav Schröeder, refused to dock until all the Jews were guaranteed entry somewhere that was not Germany.

Two hundred eight of them were accepted into the United Kingdom.  Among these were a young couple who met and married and made a life together: Mike’s parents.  Mike was born in London, emigrating to the US when he was a child.

Today, Trump shamed himself and our nation by signing an executive order  banning refugees from Syria.  Giving preference to Christian refugees from other nations. Suspension of the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. A cap of 50,000 refugees total in 2017–less than half the previous upper limit.  Calling for something called “extreme vetting”–more than the current 18 month to 2 year system that exists.

This is simply shameful.  It is un-American.  Un-Christian. Unacceptable.  Perhaps Trump should add a line to the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 (Unless they are Muslim.  Then fuck ’em)