Archive for December, 2008

Christmas in CA, Part Two: Xmas Eve at the Casa de Turner

December 30, 2008

Christmas tradition for me means spending Christmas Eve Southwest-style in San Anselmo at Stephanie and David’s house, feasting on Helene’s guacamole, Steph’s turkey and black bean chili, cornbread, and lots and lots of wine.

This year I was on cornbread duty. I considered making Absolute Mexican Cornbread, an old favorite from Boston days (I distinctly remember a BBQ at the Diva‘s place in Central Square where a pan disappeared in about 10 seconds flat – there’s nothing like it when you are drinking copious amounts of margaritas) that is consistently amazing, but in the interest of “health” and time I went with a slightly doctored mix version that still turned out pretty darn good.

Although I really missed my annual visit with Stephanie’s mom Betty, who always told me how thin and lovely I looked, it was fun to catch up with Brad and Linda, who were down from Oregon, and to see RJ, Coley, Robbie, Bobby, and Helene as well. Arj and I had a particularly good time goofing off during dinner which as usual was muy delicioso. All in all, a very merry night indeed.


Drinking bubbly pre-dinner.


The guys.


Mom and Steph


Us kids.


RJ enjoying lava cake, in extreme closeup.


Cornbread In A Hurry, For the Masses


2 boxes Trader Joe’s Cornbread Mix

1 can diced green chiles

1 cup shredded pepper jack or cheddar cheese

1/2 cup creamed corn (optional)


1. Prepare the cornbread mix as directed with oil, eggs, and water.

2. Add in chiles, cheese, and creamed corn if using. Stir to mix.

3. Bake as directed, either in pan or muffin tins (if making muffins, cook for slightly less time and make sure to grease the pan well, trust me.)

4. Eat hot with butter or dipped in chili.


Christmas in CA, Part One: Travels and Friends

December 29, 2008

Although I was just home for Thanksgiving and planned on having a relatively low-key week in CA for Christmas, as usual fun things kept coming up so it ended up being a jam-packed “vacation.”

After taking James to the Academy of Sciences, went with mom and Steph to see Taj Mahal at Yoshi’s in Oakland. The last time I saw Mr. Mahal was circa 1996 at the New Orleans By The Bay show at the Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View. As I recall, he was rockin and rollin, playing the piano and shakin it every which way. Today’s Taj is a bit older (he is touring to celebrate his 40th year as a recording artist), but still knows how to groove the blues and had the crowd on its feet nearly the whole show. As a bonus, I ran into Rebecca B., who I haven’t seen since high school!

Next, mom and I journied down the coast to Carmel for a night, stopping in Capitola and Monterey along the way. We spent some Christmases in Carmel when I was a kid and Aunt Rosella had a house right on the beach. I hadn’t been down there in years and even though it was raining when we arrived we had a great time wandering around town, stopping at the Hog’s Breath Inn for Irish coffees, and eating dinner at the Forge in the Forest, a truly magical little cottage serving great local cuisine with a nice wine list.

The next morning the skies had cleared and we got to walk on the beach in the December sun, another tradition from when we used to Christmas here back in the day. Even though Uncle Bill wasn’t around to stomp seaweed with me, it was still great.


The beach at Carmel.

After we returned north (following a delicious lunch in Half Moon Bay at the pub at the San Benito House – great crab melt!) I drove up to Sonoma for dinner with Darcy and Jake at Maya on the Square. I miss my friends now that they are down in the Golden State, and it’s always a fun time. Jake is now officially 1/2 way through law school, so we had a lot to celebrate, which we did with margaritas, tacos, gossip, and silly stories.



The next night was dinner – more Mexican food, which I can’t get enough of when I’m in CA – and drinks with Russell, Lia, John, and Lauren in San Francisco. We dined at Mexico DF down near the Bay Bridge, where I enjoyed a margarita xochimilco (tequila, hibiscus, and peach) and we shared copious amounts of guacamole, carnitas, hamachi ceviche, and butternut squash quesadillas. After that we headed to the bar at Epic Roasthouse where I continued my quest to sample all the Irish coffees in San Francisco. Rating: Better than the Hog’s Breath but I have yet to find an Irish that tops those at the good old BV.

While in CA I was also able to catch up with the Dufts who were also down visiting for the holiday, and had a great Christmas day cocktail hour (a semi-tradition) with the Staffords in Larkspur – thanks to Natalie for breaking out the delicious Mt. Tam cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery!

As the end of the year approaches, I’ve been reflecting on my life, the things that are important, and what makes me happy. I am incredibly lucky to have my wonderful circle of family and friends, people I’ve known for decades or just months. I am looking forward to spending more time with these important people in 2009.

CA Academy of Sciences

December 29, 2008

While I was down in the Bay Area for Christmas, I finally got a chance to check out the newly redone California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

I have so many memories of visiting the Academy, which combines SF’s aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museums,  as a kid on school field trips and family outings: watching the crocodile feedings in the grotto, going to laser shows at the Planetarium as a teenager, touching starfish in the aquarium’s tidepool, etc. I hadn’t been there in years and both my brother and I were really excited to take my nephew, who is slightly obsessed with fish right now.

The aquarium didn’t disappoint, and neither did the new Rainforest exhibit, which is encased in its own dome within the main building and recreates rainforest climates and scenes from three different zones: Costa Rica, Borneo, and Madagascar.


One of the highlights for me was watching James in the aquarium, totally fascinated by all the tropical fish both big and small. He reminds me so much of myself when I was young and dreamed of being a deep sea diver with Jacques Cousteau. It was so fun to check out the jellyfish, sharks, starfish, clown fish, and all the others through his eyes.


Another really cool aspect of the new Academy – which was completely rebuilt except for the now-classic African Hall from the original museum and is the first LEED-certified (green built) museum in the world –  is the Living Roof. At this point I’ve seen a variety of residential green roofs in Seattle and elsewhere, but never have I seen one of this size and variety, up close and personal. It was very impressive and made me remember again why San Francisco is so great.


Crowds on the Living Roof. The dome is the top of the Rainforest exhibit with portholes for light and ventilation. Green cover insulates and cools, and collects rainwater.


Brendan and I on the roof.

After a quick jaunt through the Africa Hall (sadly the Hall of Man, home of a vivid Eskimo hunting scene recreation back in the 1980s, seems to have been a victim of the remodel, as has the Mineral and Gem room), we retired to the Buena Vista on Fisherman’s Wharf for some well-deserved Irish coffees. Another great day trip!


James with lions.


Gina enjoying an Irish.

Pies N Pints

December 19, 2008

One of my favorite local places for good comfort food on a cold wintry night is Pies & Pints in Ravenna. True to its name, this a cozy spot for beers and meat pies of all sorts. It’s also a decent place for pool, bluegrass, and german pretzel bites if you’re into the sort of things. Adrian, Mia and I braved the impending Seattle Blizzard to indulge. I enjoyed a steak and mushroom pie with mashed potatoes and gravy, while Adrian had a chicken marsala pie and Mia dug into some black bean macaroni and cheese. As usual, it was all delicious and good fortification for the trek home through the cold.


Mia enjoying meat pie.


Pie n spuds. mmmm.

Adventures in Networking, Part 1

December 18, 2008

Scene: Marcella Hazan book release dinner

Me, to gentleman on my left: Hi! I’m Gracie!

Him, rejecting my hand: Hi! Sorry, I don’t shake hands when I’m eating.

(thanks to Amy P. for the reminder)


December 17, 2008

Braved the snow with Russell and Lia to check out Barrio, the new Mexican fusiony place on Capitol Hill. Owned by the same folks who run the Purple restaurant and wine bar chain here in Seattle, the place has a similar feel, with heavy wooden and metal furniture, lots of ornate candelabras and dim lighting fixtures, cement floors, etc. Very “industrial gothic chic” if you know what I mean.

The place was hopping on a Saturday night with the mixed crowd that tends to hang in the new 12th Ave. corridor, where with Cafe Presse, Lark and Licorous, Osteria La Spiga, Crave, and Spinasse there’s a tidy little group of places to see and be seen. We sat in front of the large front windows so had a great view of both the goings on in the bar and the confused Seattleites ducking the snowflakes out on the street.

The menu at Bario follows the popular “small plates” format which encourages variety and sharing and also ordering lots of $4 bite-sized tacos. We started with an order of guacamole, then shared octopus ceviche, roasted poblano quesadillas, black bean and wild mushroom “enfrijoladas,” shredded pork taquitos, roasted chicken breast with masa cake and pomegranante seeds, shredded chicken adobo tacos, and a chilaquiles special which featured herbed chorizo and salsa verde.

The food was delicious. The guac was fresh and had the perfect touch of lime and chile, even winning Lia’s approval and she’s from Tejas. The tortilla chips that accompanied it were crispy and homemade with the right amount of rock salt. The ceviche was al dente and not at all goopy; the meats all well seasoned and flavorful, and despite the amount of food and the relative heaviness of all those corn tortillas, everything felt relatively light.

It’s not traditional Mexican food, to be sure, but why be a snob if the stuff tastes good, right? I definitely recommend a visit to Barrio and I look forward to going back again soon to try more of the tacos and other offerings. Muy Bueno!

Ku’s Birthday Bash

December 16, 2008

Maybe it was the snow, maybe it was the early afternoon wine tasting and dim sum, or maybe I was just being absentminded. Whatever the case, I showed up for Kuo-yu’s big 40th birthday bash/year two of the annual Moroccan fiesta ready to impart holiday cheer with wine and a Kringle from Larsen’s but *without* either my camera or my djellaba, which I’d retrieved from storage especially for the big day. The horror!!

Fortunately, I have these photos from last year’s Bedouin Bash of Ku and I in our robes. Don’t we look Moroccan?


This year, although I was sans desert apparel, the party was still suitably festive. We feasted on lamb tagine, roasted beet salad, and Ku’s famed chicken pastilla. Adrian made a delicious apple molassas cake. Masa and I drank our way through some pretty decent aged Syrah. A. and I were almost convinced to show off our “Moroccan Campfire” bellydance moves. It was great to see Jim, Jenni, Nathan, Desiree, Masa, Kathy, John, Maya, and the rest of the crew.

Happy Birthday Ku! Here’s to at least another 40 good ones.

Winter Dinner

December 13, 2008

Had Ku, Adrian, Mia, Dave, and Shelly over for dinner. As usual, a good time was had by all, especially Mia.



In honor of the cold front that hit Seattle this week, I decided to go all out and make a wintry dinner of brasato al barolo, roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta, and Irish champ – also known as mashed potatoes with peas. For dessert, I made my old standby of creamy chocolate mousse from “Chocolate on the Brain,” one of the many fine cookbooks I collected during my time at Houghton Mifflin (thanks Rux!).

This was the second time I’ve made the brasato, which is essentially a pot roast slow braised in red wine for several hours. Because it was a weekday, I did the braising a day ahead of time, chilled overnight, then reheated it for 45 minutes or so before I served it. This worked great as it enhanced and concentrated the flavors and also allowed me to skim off some of the fat from the braise before re-heating.  The beef tasted especially delicious with Dave and Shelly’s offering of a coveted bottle of Crest 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which just received a well-deserved 95-point rating from the Wine Spectator.

For the brussels sprouts, I stole Ku’s recipe and sauteed them with some pancetta cubes and olive oil before putting them under the broiler for 15 minutes which carmelized the outer leaves and left the insides soft and creamy. The pancetta adds a nice saltiness to this dish and I ground some pepper on top before serving.

The chocolate mousse is one of my tried-and-true desserts for when I want to whip up something tasty in a hurry. It’s always a crowd pleaser and never fails!

Creamy Chocolate Mousse

Adapted from “Chocolate on the Brain” by Kevin Mills and Nancy Mills


8 ounces semisweet chocolate

1/2 cup milk

generous splash Kahlua, Cointreau, Cassis, or other flavored liqueur (I usually use Whidbey Loganberry Liqueur)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

berries, additional whipped cream, or cookies for garnishing.


1. Melt the chocolate in a heavy frying pan over low heat, stirring constantly. When the chocolate is almost melted, remove from heat (heat of pan will melt remaining) and set aside to cool.

2. Stir milk and liqueur into chocolate and stir to mix.

3. Meanwhile, pour the cream into a chilled bowl and whip until very thick.

4. Pour the chocolate mixture into cream and then mix gently until fully incorporated. If the cream thins at this point, whip it a bit more.

5. Pour mixture into small dishes or large serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. Mousse will thicken as it cools. Serve alone or with berries, cookies, dessert wine, etc.



December 11, 2008

Spent the weekend in lovely, freezing Spokane enjoying some much-needed time with Nova, Ward, and of course my darling goddaughter Lucy.

I have been a neglectful godmother and hadn’t seen the little gal since we were all in Montana in July. Since then she’s grown a ton, and is walking and talking a little, which makes things exciting and exhausting! A girl after my own heart, Lucy enjoys reading, playing with her dogs, macaroni and cheese, and dropping it like it’s hot to the tunes of Puffy and Biggie. We spent a lot of quality time walking around, watching “The Girls Next Door,” shopping, drinking tea, and sitting around the fire chatting.


Miss Lucy.

One of the highlights of my trips to Spo-town is always a field trip to Cabela’s, the temple to camouflage, various types of jerky, and dead animals located off I-90 in Post Falls, Idaho. If you have never been to a Cabela’s, I highly suggest a visit.

From the mountain of taxidermied big game to the wall-sized aquarium of sting rays to the shoting gallery to the fudge shop, it’s truly a wonder, even if – or perhaps especially because! – 75% of the men in the place have what Ward charmingly calls “Promise Keeper’s hair”: the ubiquitous goatee, which provides facial warmth while not getting in the way of your shootin’ arm.


Lucy had a great time checking out the big game, Nova and Ward ogled the camping gear, and I had a fab time checking out camo waders, fishing poles, and all variety of cast iron cookware.


Christmastime at the Safari exhibit.


Lucy and Nova check out the wild bears.


Taxidermy Mountain.

Whooping it up in Wine Country

December 4, 2008

I almost entitled this post “Drinking: A Love Story,” but Caroline Knapp beat me to it. Oh well. Life’s been rather topsy turvy lately and it was great to have Armida (the Diva), Sean, and Kerry around in California to cheer me up and, of course, to help me drown my sorrows on a day trip to Napa and Sonoma.

It was a typically glorious late fall Sunday in Northern California and we started the day off right, with a breakfast picnic at the Oakville Grocery, overlooking the vineyards of Opus One and feasting on cheese, bread, oat scones, and panini.


After finishing breakfast we moseyed on over to Opus One so Armida could pick up a few bottles of Overture for her hubby Matthew, then headed over the Rutherford Cross Road to hit up Rutherford Ranch (nice Muscat) and Conn Creek, where we enjoyed an awesome tasting with Amy and emerged loaded down with bottles of the winery’s single AVA Cab Sauvs, the Anthology red blend, and Sauvignon Blanc.

After that it was nearly time for lunch (tough day, I know), so we zipped back over to Sonoma to meet Darcy at the El Dorado Kitchen right on the square in downtown. We lounged around on the back patio overlooking the pool, slurping mussels and truffle fries. Then time for a quick stop at the Cheese Factory before heading back out on the road for more vino.

After a quick stop at Angelo’s for an emergency beef jerky fix, we visited Gloria Ferrer for some sparkling wine for the Diva. GF is a great place to visit and enjoy, with a large outdoor patio overlooking the vineyards that feels right out of Tuscany.


After our bubbly we moseyed next door to Cline, one of my favorite wineries in Sonoma and one whose club it seems my entire CA circle of family and friends belongs to. Cline specializes in Zinfandel but they also make many other tasty varietals, including a Mourvedre Rose that is perfect for Thanksgiving and was on sale for a mere $4 a bottle. Needless to say, we scooped up several bottles.

From there it was on to our final stop before heading back to Napa for a delicious dinner at Darcy and Jake’s: Domaine Carneros. Yes, more bubbly! I’d actually never been to this winery before and was duly impressed by the French Chateau atmosphere, grand, Versailles-like tasting salon, and the cheese-and-sparkling wine pairing selections. It was a great way to end a great day with great friends.