USJLP 2018

Jim and I attended the Fellows (alumni) weekend for the US-Japan Leadership Program (www.usjlp.org) this past week. The event was held in Seattle. It’s always a wonderful time to get to know the new delegates and catch up with what the Fellows are doing with their lives.
I will say, however, that I was put in my proper place by a couple of Fellows, both of whose first words to me (after not seeing me for a year) were, “Is Marcus here?” Yes, I’m calling you out, Dan Tani and Marc Walwyn! (To be honest, it was a lovely compliment to our 16 year old, who has managed to endear himself to all of the younger children who attend.) 🙂
Seattle was beautiful and sunny (I know, Seattle friends, you would like to think it is that way year-round). It was also the week of Seafair, with the Blue Angels performing. We did get to see them practice on Saturday, and they are a marvel of flying beauty, as always. We were told that the Blue Angel pilots trim their controls all the way back so that they are pressing the equivalent of a forty pound force when they fly in order to fly with control and precision. The pilots certainly have little margin for error. They are always impressive! (And a great recruiting tool for the Navy.)  Here is a brief video of it:

We also received confirmation that we are old. We have been involved in the program for almost 20 years, and when the Fellows look like mere children, you know you are old.
But, in the end, the most important aspect of the USJLP weekend was creating and renewing the bonds of friendship. We were, as we always are, thrilled to be part of such a fantastic program!

USJLP 2018

A Weekend in New York City

For his birthday, I gave Jim tickets to see “Springsteen on Broadway.” Since the 19 year old daughter is with us for the summer and she did not want to see a show about “old people music,” we bought her a ticket to see “Hamilton.”
New York for us is a city where we eat/shop/see shows. This particular weekend was no exception. We took the train up on Friday. It was a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky.

view from our hotel room in The Palace Hotel

We opted to eat dinner at the bar in The Modern (located in MoMA). The dining room in The Modern is rather formal and requires reservations, but the bar is much less so and is a great place to eat a casual but delicious dinner (think nouvelle American cuisine small plates). A slight digression: we love small plates because the format allows us to try numerous dishes—we realize this dining philosophy is not for everyone and that some people are more possessive about their food than others. 🙂
Saturday consisted of window shopping (and some non-window shopping) down Madison Avenue and lunch at Union Square Cafe. The advantage of Madison Avenue is that you can duck into various air conditioned stores to escape from the heat. Since the 1% that would normally be shopping on Madison Avenue are all in the Hamptons for the weekend, we had the stores pretty much all to ourselves. It was delightful.
Lunch at Union Square Cafe is like having lunch at a neighborhood bodega that has really good food. The staff is friendly and competent, and the dishes are accessible and delicious. After lunch, we continued our drunken sailor spending before heading back to the hotel to get ready for our shows.
Times Square in the summer consists of more teeming masses of humanity than I like, but it is great people watching as long as you don’t get run over (by either pedestrians or cars). “Springsteen on Broadway” is a surprisingly intimate show by the man who regularly sells out baseball stadiums to this day. The monologue is personal, and the songs fit the mood and setting quite well. It was an amazing show! (Question: why does a man who can regularly sell out on tour and is worth a gazillion dollars feel the need to do a Broadway show 5 nights a week? Inquiring minds want to know.)

getting ready to see Bruce!

moonlight over Manhattan

Meanwhile, the daughter was equally thrilled with her evening’s entertainment. While the current version of “Hamilton” does not perhaps have the same personality without the original Broadway cast, the show stands just fine on its own with the current performers.
We spent Sunday at the Met (also an air conditioned space), spending most of our time in the temporary exhibits. The “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” exhibit is perhaps the most controversial, ranging from artifacts lent by the Vatican to couture designers’ take on Catholicism for their costumes. Most of the costumes were relatively inoffensive, but there were certainly several that were arguably blasphemous. It was a very interesting and visually stunning exhibit.
The Chinese landscape paintings exhibit was excellent in its breadth and quality of the paintings. It did entertain me to read between the lines of some of the descriptions as forgeries have been gradually uncovered (my favorite phrase demonstrating this is the phrase: “done in the style of…”). As Jim says, any museum with a comprehensive collection of antique Chinese paintings has a forgery problem.
There were also some excellent works in the “History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift” exhibit. And the daughter, especially, enjoyed the contemporary art exhibit. (There’s a beautiful Jackson Pollock painting in the Met collection that is worthy of a visit even if you don’t like anything else in contemporary art.)
It was a tremendously fun weekend. The only cloud was that the boy wasn’t there to enjoy the weekend with us. (This was not seen as a cloud but a silver lining in his sister’s eyes, however.) We do have proof of life from him as of Monday, and he is having a really fun time in China, so all is good.

A “Picnic” by Kinship (DC)

Kinship is one of our favorite restaurants in Washington, DC, so when an invitation arrived stating that there was going to be a dinner at the farm of one of its suppliers, we didn’t hesitate! Neither did our 19 year old daughter (who is home for the summer—yay!) and two of her friends.
Eric Ziebold and Célia Laurent are the couple who own and run Kinship to perfection. Eric is an extraordinarily gifted chef, and Célia is the operational brains behind the business.
The dinner was held at Martin’s Farm in The Plains, Virginia, about an hour and a half west of DC. The dinner arrangements hit a slight snag when a thunderstorm passed through The Plains that afternoon, making it impossible to start cooking or setting up on time. The storm also soaked the ground, and there’s nothing quite like the experience of that lovely red Virginia clay soil turning into lovely red Virginia mud. (The choice of appropriate footwear was directly proportional to the enjoyment of the evening.)
It was also a good experience for the 3 young women, who had probably never been on a working farm before. (Certainly, the one belonging to us had not.)

note appropriate footwear

All of these delays were easily solved by wine and sangria, of course. And once the cooking stations were operational, the dinner was as lovely as one might expect.
There were two appetizer stations set up, serving a Path Valley Farm Hen Egg with Grits and L’Abeille Garden Anise Hyssop and a Small Mouth Bass with Summer Solstice Succotash and Rouille. The grits were delicious, and the bass melted in your mouth. (I suspect the bass were still swimming happily in the pond earlier that day.)
Dinner consisted of Avocado Toast with Chorizo and Lamb Leg Terrine as appetizers with Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Warm Green Tomato Salad and Tahini and Red Wine Marinated Tri-tip and Grilled Ribeye with Kinship Steak Butter as entrées. Side dishes consisted of L’Abeille Garden La Ratte Potato Salad with Beef Bacon and Rosemary, Savoy Cabbage Coleslaw, and L’Abeille Garden Chicken Spice Grilled Asparagus. Even this potato salad-hater liked the potato salad (but, then, with enough bacon, all things are possible). And the asparagus was delicious. The coleslaw lovers in the family declared the coleslaw excellent, but I decided that I needed to save my hard-earned optional calories for dessert.
The two dessert stations served Brown Sugar Shortcake with Vanilla Cream with either L’Abeille Garden Verbena Strawberries or Orange-Scented Blueberries and S’mores Cake with Chocolate Crémeux, Toasted Meringue, and Soft Cinnamon Cake. The chocolate lovers in the group declared the s’mores cake to be excellent. The shortcake was all shortcake should be—more cake than biscuit—rich and with no bitterness. It was fabulous.

a selfie by old people…

The dinner could not have been set in a more scenic location. The surroundings were beautiful—a timely reminder of how gorgeous the Virginia countryside can be. All in all, a tranquil and delicious way to wind up a summer weekend.

gorgeous day!

The Inn at Little Washington’s 40th birthday at Mount Vernon

The Inn at Little Washington is celebrating its 40th birthday in grand style this year. Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home for those of you who never learned/have forgotten your U.S. history) was the site of its most recent celebration. And what better place to celebrate one’s birthday than at the home of the man who laid out Washington, Virginia as a surveyor? (Before he went on to some other career highlights.)

Dress was “garden chic,” which caused no small amount of consternation for our group. Stilettos or no stilettos? Long or short dress? Hat or no hat? Tie or no tie? (General consensus: no, short, no, no.)

The reception was held in Martha Washington’s garden with a troupe of colonial dancers, a generous caviar station, and a gaggle(?) of U.S. marshals (Supreme Court Justice Alito was one of the attendees).

My favorite part of the event was, naturally, the mime.

The dinner was held in a giant tent on the grounds by the Potomac, just outside the house.

We started off with a Barboursville Brut Rosé Cuvée 1814.

The appetizer was Mousse of Duck Liver with Port Gelée and Rhubarb Jam in a Hen’s Egg accompanied by a 2013 Linden Vineyards Petit Manseng, Late Harvest from Virginia.

Mousse of Duck Liver

The second course was Maine Lobster in a Raft of Crisp Potatoes Afloat on a Minted Pea Purée served with a 2015 Matrot Meursault, Blagny, Premier Cru from Burgundy.

Maine Lobster

And the final (non-dessert) course was Poulet à la Crème à la Lafayette. The accompanying wine was a 2014 RdV Vineyards Rendezvous from Virginia.

chicken a la lafayette

We concluded with a dessert “groaning board” consisting of miniature desserts, including lemon possets, cherry pies, blueberry pies, pecan pies, and lemon meringue pies (with additional desserts that I’ve forgotten since recovering from my food coma).

the after-dessert goodies

Fireworks were also provided at the conclusion of dinner (because, of course).

For more beautiful photos than I can provide, you can go see The Washingtonian’s coverage of the event: Inn’s 40th celebration. (In full disclosure, you can see part of our group in the tent photo.)

Disneyworld (Take 56)

It was officially the 16 year old’s 56th visit to the happiest place on earth. (He’s catching up with his sister who has been there 57 times.) We also dragged along our former exchange student, Yinan, who is staying with us for a couple of months while she does an internship this summer. (Little did she know what price she had to pay.)
There were a couple of highlights on this trip (and one major lowlight, which is that the 19 year old daughter wasn’t with us). It’s times like these when we’re accustomed to going places together as a family that I miss her the most.

Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom

one of our favorite rides!

March of the First Order at Hollywood Studios

Nonetheless, it was a fun trip. The newest ride—Flight of Passage—based on the “Avatar” movie in Animal Kingdom remains a highlight. I thought the ride couldn’t possibly live up to my memory of it from October, but it does and then some. It’s a difficult ride to describe—it’s as if Soarin’ and Star Tours had a baby who emerged as a prodigy. Even if you haven’t seen the “Avatar” movie or aren’t a fan, the ride is still mind blowing in its visual impact and ride experience.
Another highlight of the trip was the “giraffic jam” we experienced. We were on the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom when two adolescent giraffes proceeded to bicker (the human term for their behavior) in the middle of the road by swinging their heads at each other, using them as battering rams. It held up the ride for about 20 minutes and was hilarious for each and every minute, especially if you’ve ever had teenage children in the house.
I’ve included a 4 minute video of it, courtesy of the 16 year old son. Bribes of lettuce and orders to move were tried to no avail. One of the park rangers finally convinced the giraffes to move off the road by nudging his truck slowly and carefully closer to them. (The safari ride trucks have to keep their distance.) Knowing the giraffes, I have no doubts that once we were safely by, they would be back at it. Teenagers!

the giraffic jam

We were also guinea pigs for test runs of the “Minnie van.” Get it? The vehicle is painted in Minnie Mouse polka dots and bows and supplied with Minnie Mouse water bottles. Playlists of all four parks and each Disney hotel are available for your listening pleasure. It was traveling in (Disney) style!

the Minnie van!

complete with Minnie water

It was a wonderful opportunity to relax and enjoy the wonders of Disney before the end of school pressure cooker begins. The Disney magic definitely worked itself on us!

NoMad Hotel and NoMad Restaurant

We were fortunate enough to win a charity auction item for a bespoke dinner at the New York City restaurant, NoMad, and decided to stay at the NoMad hotel. This is not our usual haunt when we visit New York City—the Upper East Side is more the style to which we’d like to become accustomed, but we thought it would be fun to branch out a bit.
We loved the NoMad hotel! It’s a bit hipster for old fuddy-duddies like us (you can tell that it is a hipster hotel by the plethora of man-buns and because the hotel lighting is so dim that I felt like pulling out my phone and using the flashlight function to get around the lobby). That being said, we got upgraded to a lovely room that was bigger than most New York flats, complete with a small kitchenette, 1 1/2 baths, 2 super comfortable couches (the boy promptly designated one of them as his bed) AND a rooftop terrace. Since it was 70 degrees and sunny that day, it was a lovely afternoon to sit up there (and read books about the history of Hong Kong to help the aforementioned boy with his history paper, but I digress).
The dinner at NoMad was superb! Jim commented that the decor in the dining room was a cross between the Inn at Little Washington and the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyworld, which is a perfect description. Whatever one might think about the decor (and we liked it), the restaurant—opened by chefs who were previously at Eleven Madison Park—outdid themselves in preparing dinner for us.
The aperitif was what the restaurant called a “Walter Gibson,” made with London dry gin, chenin blanc, chamber blanc & dry vermouth, green apple eau de vie, bee’s wax, and pickled vegetables. The staff member poured out the drink from a big pitcher into the glasses, at which point the boy said, “I can’t drink this–I am only 16!” The staff then whisked away the drink and brought non-alcoholic drink pairings for each course for him.
The first actual course was the fruits de mer (aka “le grand plateau”). This was served with a Nomad selection of extra Brut champagne.

fruits de mer

Next up were two vegetable courses—a fennel variation with rhubarb and burrata and a snow pea chiffonade with pancetta, pecorino, and mint. The accompanying wine was a 2015 Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Clos de la Barre, Meursault from Burgundy.

fennel with rhubarb and burrata

snow pea chiffonade


The amazing entree (and what the restaurant is famous for) is the roast chicken with foie gras, black truffles, and brioche with a white and green asparagus.

pre-chicken chicken (aka eggs) with hollandaise sauce

pre-carved chicken

chicken breast with asparagus

dark meat chicken and chicken wings

Accompanying the chicken dishes were morels roasted with sunny side up egg, faro and spring greens. To die for. Even not including the wine pairing of a 2011 Domaine Harmand Geoffroy, Gevrey-Chambertin Vielles Vignes from Burgundy.

morels

Dessert was another restaurant favorite, milk and honey shortbread, brittle, and ice cream. The dessert wine was a 2013 Royal Tokaji Company Gold Label Tokaji 6 Puttonyos Aszu from Hungary.

milk & honey

We decided when discussing the dinner afterwards that it definitely makes it into our Top 10 meals, and we will most certainly be back!

Spring Break 2018: Honolulu, where else?

If it seems like we go to Honolulu quite a bit, it may be because we have. However, this was our first trip there as a family in 2018. (Note how I carefully defined the parameters just now.) We were fortunate that the kids shared a spring break this year, and they decided to opt for Hawaii as the spring break destination.
This trip was probably the most mellow family trip to Hawaii that we’ve ever had. The kids had surfing lessons every day, and we did visit Shangri-la, the residence of Doris Duke that she decorated throughout with Islamic art. (Jim and I must keep up our reputation as killjoy parents and do something educational on every trip.). But other than that, it was a pretty zen vacation. We shopped a little, we pampered ourselves at the spa some, and we ate a lot (temporarily adopting the Samoan saying “Eat til you’re dizzy.”). And, of course, we enjoyed the warmth and the sunshine and the ocean.
The best part, of course, are the memories of yet another fun family vacation, knowing that each year brings fewer opportunities for us to all be together. To paraphrase Rick from the movie Casablanca, “We’ll always have Hawaii.” (And Disneyworld.).

returning from a visit to Leonard’s Malasadas

orchids from the farmer’s market

Shangri-la (Doris Duke’s residence)

the view from Shangri-la

at the Halekulani

Waikiki

Waikiki at sunset

Hawaii (without the kids)

Somehow, we always gravitate to Hawaii when deciding where to go on our annual without-the-kids vacation. As a reminder, the goal of this vacation is a yearly exercise as to remember who the other person across the breakfast table is as planning for the day that we become empty nesters. Our joint requirement is that it be somewhere warm. Jim’s requirement is that there be things to do and good restaurants to eat in.
This stay was our most mellow visit to date. Most of the week was completely unplanned (including dinners!). We went for long walks around Diamondhead, spent time at the pool, watched the sun set over Waikiki, and saw the fireworks that happen every Friday evening. We didn’t even do any house/condo-hunting!! (You, too, are free to join in the great family debate and choose to be either part of Team House or Team Condo.)
The only downside of the trip was that Marcus went down with the flu while we were there. We offered to come back early, but he was insistent that all he really needed was Advil and Sprite—both of which were in plentiful supply at our house.
This photo of us makes me look like an alien, which only confirms Jim’s theory…

In the meantime, enjoy the scenery of one of the most beautiful places on earth!

Christmas in Hawaii (oh, and a wedding too!)

Once again, both children’s school calendars cooperated, and we were able to get away the week before Christmas to Hawaii for just over a week. The daughter’s finals schedule ended the same day as the son’s school break started, and we all met up in San Francisco before flying out to Honolulu.
In addition, Jim’s brother and fiancee got married while we were there, and her children also flew out to join them for their happy day. It was a beautiful ceremony at a beautiful place, on the beach at Sherwood Forest, with waves crashing in the background. We wish them a long and happy life together!
In a case of miraculous timing, we also got to meet up and have lunch with close friends the day we were departing back home, and they were taking a cruise through the islands.
As has become typical for us, we ate our way through Honolulu. Highlights include Chef Mavro, The Pig & the Lady (for pho French dip), Yauatcha (for dim sum), and Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (for shave ice).

with “Uncle Clay”

It was cold there (for Hawaii), sometimes dipping down into the mid-60s(!). We did not complain.
There is something about Hawaii that rejuvenates our souls and makes us feel like we belong. It is also a place of transcendent beauty. Photos do not do it justice, but I still had to try.

Honolulu Christmas lights

at Orchids (in the Halekulani) for Christmas Eve brunch

Waikiki

Waikiki at sundown

Thanksgiving 2017

We sat 41 people for dinner for Thanksgiving this year. Well, technically, 37 adults (if you include one 16 year old velociraptor) and 4 kids under 10.

The menu was as follows:
Thai pumpkin soup with gougeres
Smoked turkey
Roasted turkey with confit legs
Stock-braised turkey legs
Deep fried turkey
Roasted pork shoulder
Roast duck
Roasted beets with chimichurri sauce
Skillet roasted Brussel sprouts with mustard and brown sugar
Chickpea, arugula, and picked carrot salad
Sweet potato and star fruit chaat
Mom’s stuffing (that’s Jim’s mom, obviously)
Mashed potatoes
Orange cranberry sauce
Kimchi
Rice
Gravy
Hawaiian dinner rolls
Chocolate pumpkin cheesecake
Blackberry pie
Apple pie
Pumpkin spice cake

If there is a term for exhausted and stuffed at the end of a meal (stuffausted? exuffed?), that’s what we were. Thankfully, Jim’s nephew, Robert, came to help cook, and Robert’s girlfriend, Victoria, made the pumpkin spice cakes. (We had two of each dessert.)
And since Thanksgiving is all about thankfulness, I would like to say that we are extraordinarily thankful for our family and friends, who celebrate with us in good times and sustain us in bad times.
We hope your Thanksgiving was equally festive!

Thai pumpkin soup

traditional day-after-Thanksgiving sticky buns