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

 

 

Disneyworld Redux (thanks to Hurricane Irma)

Disneyworld!! We have not been since last September. We were planning to go again this September, as a combination birthday/going off to college trip, but Hurricane Irma vetoed that idea. :(. So we rescheduled the trip to last weekend, when Marcus had a 3 day weekend. He brought a friend, Matthew, along for the trip. It was Matthew’s first trip, and it reminded us that there are certain rides we love because of the memories that don’t necessarily appeal as much to a teenage boy going for the very first time (can anyone say “It’s a Small World?”)


Because we had to reschedule the trip, the only place available for us to stay was the Four Seasons (it’s a hardship, but someone had to do it!). The rooms at the Four Seasons are much nicer and roomier than at even the high end Disney resorts, but there is, obviously, much less Disney theming and the system is not as tied in as at the Disney resorts. For example, while you can get Magic Bands at the Disney desk at the hotel, you cannot put park charges on it, and they don’t serve as keys to the room either. All of which makes perfect sense. And it’s a great add for Disney because there are certainly folks who would come and stay at the Four Seasons who would not stay at a Disney hotel. (We are not one of them, as you might have guessed.)
The new Pandora ride—“Flight of Passage”—the more popular of the two Pandora rides—is amazing. It’s a cross between Soarin’ and Star Tours and is an order of magnitude better than either. The premise is that you are flying on a banshee through the world of Pandora, so there’s a big screen like Soarin’, but you are on a contraption that mimics being on a banshee (a kind of giant flying bird). The banshee even breathes as it sits between your legs. It’s pretty mind-boggling and definitely a fantastic addition to the park. (Time to update the Disney tome!)

in the world of Pandora

We also visited Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney), which we have not been to for years. It, too, has grown and improved and is a nice place to visit in the evenings or whenever you want a little down time from the parks (as difficult a concept as that is to imagine).

Disney Springs

With the older one off to college, it gives the younger one an opportunity to catch up on the number of trips to Disneyworld count. This is Marcus’s 55th trip, so he has only a few more before he ties his sister. (Not that this is a competition or anything!)

Asia 2017

Beijing was the first stop on our tour. We went with family friends and since it was their first trip to Beijing, we played tourist. This process was helped disproportionately because our former exchange student was in Beijing at the time. She helped come up with the itinerary and arranged for tickets for many of our stops.

pretending to like each other at the Peninsula Hotel, Beijing

Highlights included the Summer Palace (my favorite stop in Beijing),

the 17 arch bridge at the Summer Palace

the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest,

entertainment at the Water Cube

Bird’s Nest

inside the Bird’s Nest

the Great Wall (on a misty and rainy day) where we discovered that the locals had conveniently blocked off traffic to the closest parking lot to the wall and paid off the local police so that they could offer a local “guide” who thoughtfully would enable us to drive up to the closest parking lot for a small fee and lunch at their farmstead. It was an instructive lesson in the demonstration of corruption-fueled capitalism. I have never seen the Great Wall in weather conditions like this—it has usually been clear and hot when we’ve been there. While conditions were a bit wet, the fog drifting across the wall and the mountains made for stunning views.

the Great Wall

We had a private tour of the National Museum, thanks to Jim’s connection with the Freer-Sackler. I am not certain the rhinoceros was the most impressive thing that we saw during the tour, but it clearly captured the boy’s fancy.

the most amazing item at the National Museum?

The Forbidden City was also a mandatory stop.

Forbidden City

inside or outside the urn?

They have now opened up the balcony where Mao made his famous speech declaring the formation of the People’s Republic of China while overlooking Tiananmen Square. (No further comment.) The views of the square are stunning.

view of Tienanmen Square

After Beijing, we went to Tokyo, for the US-Japan Leadership Program alumni weekend. While we did interesting conference-like activities, the kids went off to Tokyo Disney Sea. My only requirement for their visit is that they have a minimum of two photos together, looking like they liked each other. (I got 3 photos—way to go above and beyond the bare minimum, children!) :p

Tokyo Disney Sea

We had a fabulous trip, and it was way fun to play tourist after several years of not getting back to China.

Summer 2017: Honolulu

I know it seems as if we go to Honolulu all the time, but all I can say is that we aren’t ever there often enough.

We were the winning bid at a charity auction for a week at a house in Honolulu belonging to Kathy Ireland (note: our kids had no idea who she was) and decided to try out the staying-at-a-house concept over staying at the Halekulani. We cajoled some friends of ours to join us on our trip.

sunrise at Villa Elizabeth

view from Villa Elizabeth

view from Villa Elizabeth

The kids took surfing lessons and hung out at the beach, but we also managed to fit in some semi-educational moments. The Punchbowl (officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific) contains not only a detailed description of the battles in the Pacific but also some of the most stunning views of the city.

National Memorial of the Pacific

view from the Punchbowl

view from the Punchbowl

And you can see why Hanauma Bay was reserved for the Hawaiian royal family. My personal highlight was seeing a sea turtle for the first time. (My inability to see a sea turtle before this trip might have been related to my reluctance to go into the ocean, which is generally cold by my standards, but I doubt it.) 🙂

Hanauma Bay

But Honolulu isn’t Honolulu if we didn’t spend at least a couple of days at our favorite hotel, the Halekulani. The views from the hotel are just as stunning as ever.

view from the Halekulani

All in all, one of our favorite trips to Hawaii. (But don’t we say that every time we go?)

Kusama Exhibit

I interrupt my regularly scheduled program (of mostly trips, food, and books) to talk about the Kusama exhibit we saw at the Hirshhorn Museum earlier this week as part of the US-Japan Leadership Program.  Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist and writer whose exhibit, Infinity Mirrors, is currently at the Hirshhorn.  It is impossible to describe the Infinity Mirrors exhibit, other than to say that it is the artist’s attempt to convey her feelings about death, life, and eternity.

So, rather than to attempt to put into words what her art is like (and poorly at that), I opt for photos of some of her exhibits.  There are six infinity rooms that you go into in groups of two or three, and you stay for 20-30 seconds.  (The curators all have stopwatches.)  While this sounds like too brief a time for each room, I suspect (and the curators confirm) that staying for much longer becomes extremely disorienting.  There are smaller scale exhibits with similar themes that you can gaze into for as long as you want.

I am generally not a contemporary art fan, but this is so different that if you ever have the opportunity to go see it, you certainly should.  (It is part of a national tour.). I am still trying to decide what I think about the artist and her art and have not arrived at any conclusion yet.  Look at the photos and decide for yourself.  (Most of the photos are courtesy of our son, Marcus.)

infinity mirror room

looking into infinity

infinity mirror room

the color room!

For those of you in the DC area, the exhibit runs through May 14.  See more at https://hirshhorn.si.edu/kusama/

Spring Break 2017 (aka Being Stalked by Adam Sandler)

The high school senior got to choose where we went for spring break this year, and after some discussion, she decided on Honolulu, so off we went.  (Twist our arms!)
There was the lovely view from our hotel room:

view from the Halekulani

There were the usual fabulously beautiful sunsets,

sunset on Waikiki

and delicious meals (at The Pig and the Lady, Town, and Chef Mavro, among others).

pho french dip from the Pig & the Lady (I’m the Lady)

We even caught part of the Prince Kuhio parade, complete with two men blowing on conch shells (Prince Kuhio was a strong advocate of Hawaiian independence and supporter of native Hawaiians):

Prince Kuhio parade

But this visit is best defined in the family chronicles as the time when Adam Sandler stalked us.

He and his family were staying at our hotel, and we could not spend a day without seeing him at least twice and often several more times.  When the kids were out surfing, there he’d be, on the beach playing with his kids,

we’re being stalked!

he and his family would be at breakfast when we came down or at the pool when we went in or hanging in the lobby as went by or in the streets of Waikiki as we were walking around.  As Jim said, we’ve stayed at the Halekulani with people we know, and we didn’t see them as often as we saw Adam Sandler on this trip.
We opted not to ask him for a photo, because Marcus felt very strongly that he should be off limits since he was with his family.  Our son is a really easygoing person, so when he feels that strongly about something, we generally accommodate him (and, in this case, we were in full agreement).
I will also say this:  I am not, in general, a fan of Adam Sandler’s movies—they have a rather puerile sense of humor, which is not my thing.  But I think much more highly of him after this trip (I am sure he is breathing an immense sigh of relief about this).  He was an absolutely terrific dad—when he was with his kids, he was *present*.  Not on the phone, not hanging with his buddies, but all in with his kids, devoting his full attention to them.  He was also really gracious and accommodating to his fans, always willing to take photos with them, even if his family was around.  All in all, he was a charming, down-to-earth, regular guy.

Besides being stalked by Adam Sandler, we had an enjoyable and relaxing week taking long walks around Diamondhead (Jim & May), taking surfing lessons (the kids),

after surfing lessons

shopping (all of us), spending time in the water (also all of us),

in the pool at the Halekulani

Waikiki beach

and eating (most definitely all of us).

at the farmer’s market at KCC

None of us wanted to come home, although my attempts to persuade Marcus to transfer to Punahou in order to stay in Hawaii were in vain.  All in all, it was a lovely and mellow spring break!

Inn at Little Washington weekend (aka I want to come back in my next life as one of my kids)

As you may have noticed from my blog posts, the Inn at Little Washington is a favorite restaurant of ours, with a combination of stunning food and warm hospitality.  (We always feel treated like family when we go.). This past weekend will be remembered in the family chronicles as the Inn at Little Washington weekend.
Jade wanted to hold a “thank you” party for her friends.  This all started in 7th grade during bar/bat mitzvah year.  She asked for a bat mitzvah party, and we pointed out that since we aren’t Jewish, that would be a tad difficult.  Jim eventually told her that we would throw her the equivalent of a bat mitzvah if she was accepted into Stanford (she didn’t have to go, but she had to be accepted).  Dinner at the Inn at Little Washington with her friends was what she wanted.
We booked both kitchen tables on Saturday night for the late seating and had a limo bus ready to go.  Everyone arrived early (our biggest fear, since punctuality is not her friends’ strong point, as fond as I am of them) and off they went.


All eleven friends elected to spend the night at our house, given the lateness of their return.  (Note:  12 teenagers in one house is not for the OCD amongst you.). Most importantly, everyone (especially Jade) had a fabulous time.  For some reason, no one was particularly hungry at breakfast the next morning.  Can’t imagine why.
Sunday was Marcus’s turn.  For his birthday, we gave him a dinner for 6 at the Inn.  So, Sunday afternoon, he and 5 of his friends piled into a different limo bus (one that was much more limo than bus) and went off to the Inn for dinner.


The three of us decided that we needed a dinner at the Inn as well but made sure we would be seated out of sight lines from the table of 9th graders.  In addition to the always skillful and imaginative food, we were pleasantly surprised to have new dishes to sample—all of which were delectable.
The new dishes included:
Carmelized Catalan Foie Gras Custard, which quite possibly is the best foie gras we’ve ever had:

carmelized catalan foie gras custard

Chilled Maine Lobster with Vichyssoise Puree and American Osetra Caviar

chilled lobster with caviar

Japanese Wagyu Beef Two Ways:  Seventy-Two Hour Braised Short Rib and Ribeye Sashimi with Potato “Noodles” in Fragrant Broth (possibly the best dish of the night, which is saying something!)

wagyu beef two ways

Raviolis of Ginger Scented Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Brown Butter, Sage, and Toasted Pecans

sweet potato and apple ravioli

Chocolate Mint Bomb

mint ice cream in a chocolate bomb

There isn’t a lot more to be said, other than the fact that the Inn could not have been nicer about having 12 high school seniors descend upon them one night and then 6 high school freshmen descend upon them the following night.  Their hospitality and graciousness created two evenings that will not be soon forgotten!

Hawaii (without the kids)

For our annual “ditch the kids” vacation, Jim and I went back to one of our usual haunts—Honolulu.  (My parents were kind enough to come and stay with the kids.)  It was a beautifully relaxing and restful vacation where we took long walks around Diamondhead and ate our way through the city.  Some highlights include:

Seeing a junior high/high school friend that I haven’t seen in over 30 years (he did the math of exactly how many years it has been, but I am officially not acknowledging the actual number);

Visiting the Punchbowl, officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which is a terrific place to appreciate the sacrifice that members of our military have made throughout the years and which also has an amazing view of Honolulu.

view from the Punchbowl

Paying a visit to the Bishop Museum, where Jim decided that stuffed tiger sharks were perfectly acceptable.

Bishop Museum

And eating some amazing meals from old favorites (Chef Mavro, the Pig and the Lady, and Town) and new discoveries (Yauatcha).  (More on Chef Mavro and Yauatcha later.)

pho french dip from The Pig and the Lady

There are few places that can rival Hawaii for beauty.  I can never decide which is more beautiful—the days


or the early mornings


or the dawns.


Or we can just keep going back to try and decide…

Deer Valley 2017 (aka Flight from DC)

Washington, DC area locals know that every four years in January, it is best to leave town, no matter who has been elected president.  Downtown DC is shut down for security reasons, traffic is even more horrible than usual, and the kids get a day off of school.  We fled town for Deer Valley at the invitation of some friends.
Locals in Deer Valley tend to flee to other destinations because this is the first weekend of Sundance.  But if you can find a place to stay (and thanks to our friends, we did), the slopes are empty.  In addition, Friday saw an additional 4-6 inches of snow, and the conditions were perfect for skiing.  (I say this as if I have knowledge and expertise, but I am merely parroting those who do.)  Our friends are expert skiers, but they were gracious enough to keep the kids company and ski at their more rudimentary level.
Neither Jim nor I ski so we spent the days grocery shopping and cooking meals and walking through Park City.  Marcus had spotted the actor who plays Turk on “Luke Cage” at the Salt Lake City airport baggage claim while Jim and I caught part of the Women’s March in Park City and spotted the actress, Olivia Wilde, on the streets right after the march ended.  Park City is a cute town with interesting art galleries, jewelry stores and bookstores.  Many of the art galleries had been converted into theaters for Sundance, but there were still enough to make for interesting window shopping.  And thanks to Sundance, the people-watching was especially fascinating.
And just to put things in perspective, when we mentioned to the Park City locals that we were fleeing DC because of the inauguration, the typical reaction we received was, “Oh, right, that’s this weekend.”  Proving yet again that the center of power is economic and not political.
Thanks to our wonderful friends, the weekend was perfect and filled with the 3 Fs—friendship, fun, and food.

Inn at Little Washington December 2016

Another one of our annual traditions is to go to the Inn at Little Washington after Christmas and spend the night.  While Jim and I usually do it with just the two of us, this year, we took the kids.  (I know—I want to come back in my next life as one of our kids, too.)
The Inn was kind enough to sit us at the kitchen table, which made the entire experience even more memorable.  Unlike many kitchens, especially in New York, the kitchen at the Inn is quiet and serene, at least on the surface.  The stress and tension are definitely there, as it is in every high-end restaurant kitchen, but yelling and profanities are not acceptable behavior.
We started off with a family favorite—truffle popcorn.  As much as I love every dish at the Inn, there are times when I think that the truffle popcorn is all I need to keep me happy.  It truly elevates popcorn so that you’ll never be happy with the movie theatre version again.

truffle popcorn

Next up, was the amuse-bouche.  We were treated to the chip-and-dip served on an (inedible) stone.

In addition, there was a bite of pork belly served with a hoisin sauce.

pork belly

And, finally, there was a brioche with a quail egg and quince jam.  Everything was quite delectable.

brioche

Next up was an oxtail consommé with a miniature grilled cheese sandwich studded with black truffles.  The oxtail consommé used to be part of a regular dish on the menu, and it was one of my favorite dishes on the menu.  This taste brought back a lot of lovely food memories.  Virtually any savory dish can be improved upon with the addition of black truffles, and the grilled cheese sandwich was no exception.  Heavenly.

oxtail consomme & grilled cheese

Another Inn favorite that is no longer on the menu is the fire and ice—seared tuna served on a bed of cabbage “noodles” topped with cucumber sorbet.  We took advantage of its availability that night.

fire and ice

Our son had the carpaccio of lamb loin with caesar salad ice cream.  It’s a favorite of his.

lamb carpaccio

The mousse of foie gras with sauternes gelee and red plum preserve is another family favorite and is often ordered when we are at the Inn.

foie gras mousse

Another past menu item that made a brief return was the roasted pheasant with cabbage

roasted pheasant

Jim took advantage of white truffle season and ordered the spaetzle “risotto” with a poached farm egg and white truffles.

white truffles galore!

Our daughter had the pan roasted lobster with tomato butter, spinach, and garlic custard (among other things):

lobster

The pan-seared diver scallop with artichoke puree, capers, and tomato tartare was excellent,

scallop

And the Inn always does a fabulous job with its version of roasted duck topped with foie gras and served with pickled cranberries (which were amazing!):

roast duck

Here is the delicious pork jowl with braised red cabbage and walnut ravioli:

pork jowl with walnut ravioli

The most amazing dish they served us in an evening of amazing dishes was a black truffle, which they had roasted in the ashes of the fireplace in the kitchen.  It had been wrapped in foil and was warm and sat in its own lovely truffle juice.  It was then sliced and served over a simply dressed salad with the juices poured over it.  Those truffles were one of the most wonderful things I have ever put in my mouth.

roasted black truffles!

Desserts included the painter’s palette of sorbets,

the chocolate mint fantasy,

a chocolate hazelnut mousse tart,

and a honeycrisp apple tart.

While the food is definitely delicious and artistic and memorable, the service is even more exceptional.  The staff always looks happy to see us (they are excellent actors all!), and we are treated like valued guests.  We already are looking forward to our next trip there!