Experiential Dining at Mynt Leaf Asian Cuisine Proves to Be a Feast for the Senses

“The foods of Southeast Asia are some of the most distinctive and flavorful dishes in the world…” —Landess Kearns, HuffPost

I received an email today from a woman named June, who I see at various yoga classes now and again at our health club. She, her husband George and a group of friends are going to a concert this coming weekend at the Mountain Winery Amphitheater and she wanted to dine at a restaurant I had told her about—before the show—but couldn’t recall the name. 
“It’s Mynt Leaf Cuisine in Saratoga,”I wrote back, “that specializes in an exotic blend of Asian Fusion dishes.” 
Cecile and I have become regular patrons over the last few years and had dinner there last Saturday with Cecile’s Mahjong friends Lori and Marleen and their husbands Rob and Mark who have also become fans.

When you enter Mynt Leaf there is a golden bronze-like Buddha image in a meditative state superimposed on a red and white painted lattice design at the top of the wall near the ceiling. Many people associate a meditating Buddha with peace and tranquility and incorporate images and statues in their homes, gardens and place of business in an effort to create that state of being for themselves and for their customers. Even for those who know little about Buddhism the Buddha image has become a universal symbol that reminds people to be mindful, and aspire to go with the flow in times of stress.

From the artistic point of view, the walls and surfaces are laden with Thai artwork and statues, canopies of colorful fabric hanging from the ceiling, ornate vases of flowers, yellow and beige accent curtains, crimson and burnt sienna pillows that adorn dark wooden benches and chairs, black napkins with red and gold decorative jewel-like napkin rings and silverware that glistens in low ambient lighting making for a pleasing and comfortable dining experience. It is an experiential feast of the senses to be sure.

The 3D Golden elephant menus are filled with a huge selection of imaginative tantalizing dishes for the most descriminating palates, with a wide variety of vegetarian options suited to the spice level of your choosing. We began our meal by sharing Thai style Chicken Satay with peanut sauce and cucumber salad, Garlic Noodles with New York Steak, green beans, my favorite Yellow Curry with grilled salmon, carrots, potatoes and onion, and Crispy Trout as you can see is standing erect in our friends plate.
"Hmmm, rather phallic looking," someone said to break the silence as we were all gawking at it trying to figure out what it was. I guess the chef took some bizarre artistic culinary license.

Other reasons to dine at the Mynt Leaf, are the attentive service, reasonable prices, low noise level—quiet enough to carry on conversation, fabulous “people watching,” and last but not least their “Bring Your Own Beer or Wine Policy” with a twist—no pesky, wasteful corkage fees. 

P.S. Kudos to our friend Lori for taking a week out of her summer to volunteer to help the people of Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria.

Managing to Get By with a Little Help From our Friends & a Broader View of Life's Challenges

“Man plans, and God Laughs.”

—Old Yiddish proverb

It has been a challenging two weeks. Despite our best-laid plans, Cecile and I had to cancel our much anticipated three week tour of Bolivia, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands with our friends, the Byes. But, as they say, life goes on.

We are blessed to live in a rich supportive, multi-cultural community, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. I bumped into an Iranian American friend at Courtside Bay Club. I shared with him the personal issues that forced us to cancel our trip. We then went on to talk about the twin-engine Cessna airplane that recently took a sudden nose-dive and crashed into a parking lot in Santa Ana, CA. Five people died, including an Iranian woman in her early 60s who was a beloved mentor to our friends son. Suddenly, the personal challenges and setbacks Cecile and I were experiencing paled in comparison.

I went to get a haircut at “Happy Cuts” and was assigned to a gentle soul and good-humored Vietnamese American hair stylist named Kim. She asked if I travel much? I spared her the details about having to cancel our trip and spoke about our travels to South East Asia including Vietnam earlier in the year during the Vietnamese New Year (TET). Like the much beloved late Anthony Bourdain, we love Vietnam and the Vietnamese people.

Later in the afternoon, I bumped into our next door neighbor, Vladimir, a retired engineer with a passion for furniture restoration. I asked him for some advice on repairing a picture frame that had fallen off our wall. Vladimir is a native of Moscow who has lived at Rinconada Hills with his wife Lucy for 20 years. He meticulously fixed the frame in his garage with the skill of a surgeon. 

After a delicious nap, Cecile and I were among the honored guests of our friend's Ruth and Stan for the Friday Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) meal at their Almaden Valley home. Many of those present were transplants from the East Coast like myself. Though the Bay Area will always be our home there is nothing like exchanging the colorful New York and New Jersey tales of my childhood with those who can more readily appreciate it.

It has been said that hospitality is simply an opportunity to show love and care. Stan and his gracious, vivacious and charming wife Ruth express that in spades. Forever generous with her praises, I have never heard Ruth have a bad word to say about anyone among her large network of friends and our mutual acquaintances. She is always the light and life of the party and derives a great deal of joy in sharing the attibutes of her friends at any given gathering.

Shabbat begins as sunset approaches with the lighting of the candles and a blessing over a special braided bread called Challah that is broken into pieces and passed around for everyone to share. Though it is not a tradition I grew up with, I gratefully embrace it as my own. Our good friend and neighbor Mark Brodsky originally from Long Island, chanted the Hebrew prayer with a deep voice and rhythmic cadence, something he always enjoys doing when the opportunity presents itself. 

This ancient ritual, is symbolic of giving thanks to the creator for the food we are fortunate to eat and the mechanism by which the raw grain from the blessed earth is used to make the bread that finds its way to the table of most Jewish households around the world. 

We ate our main meal under the night’s sky. Ruth made her signature brisket (delish…), along with asparagus, salad, miniature potato pancakes, followed by an assortment of cookies, and apple pie for dessert. The conversations flowed as easily as the assortment of wines being offered. No one gets through life without scars, without “tsuris” which in Yiddish means aggravating trouble, and that includes everyone we broke bread with at our table.

Ruth’s favorite quote in this regard is that “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Though attributed to John Lennon, it has descended from an old Indian proverb. Its first contemporary use was by Portuguese writer, Fernando Sabino. It means one should be happy because everything is never going to be completely the way we want it to be unless it is the end, so accept the fact that life is always filled with flaws and enjoy the moment. We all have personal setbacks, losses of loved ones, illnesses or accidents, broken hearts and at times tortured minds by events beyond our control. On the other hand, life can provide us with unanticipated good fortune.


Biking on the Los Gatos Trails to San Jose Airport & Watching the Planes Come In

“Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
—Albert Einstein

I was invited to take our Sondor's E-Bikes on the road for an extended ride by my good friend Jimi Hunter.
Our 27 mile round trip journey began meeting in front of Courtside Bay Club where we are members. We crossed the street and entered the grounds of Netflix Headquarters and Campus, making our way to a little unknown pathway in the back that exits onto the Los Gatos Creek Trail heading toward Campbell. There are nicely paved trails on each side of the creek that loop around the ponds which were still abundantly full due to the winter rains. We continued on the main trail on the west bank until the overcrossing at Campbell Park. We then took the southern segment of the LG Trail that ends in San Jose where we had to navigate some city traffic for a short time until we picked up the trail again further downstream. The City of San Jose is working to connect the trail to the Guadalupe River Trail in Downtown San Jose.

Jimi pointed to a number of homeless encampments under the overpasses. I felt a bit of sadness, wondering what led to their misfortune. Before I knew it we were at our planned destination: the outer grounds of San Jose Airport where the planes appearing bigger than life were preparing to land. It was such a rush to witness the Southwest Airline jet seen in the photo come so close overhead. 

We bumped into a couple of dudes who admired our bikes. After giving them a tutorial on the features of the bike Jimi offered them to take his for a spin. Jimi’s a generous spirit that way. I am still gun shy after letting a friend ride my new shiny red Vespa motor scooter when I was 15. He crashed it—damaging the front end in the process. One guy accepted Jimi's offer and he returned elated, thanking him for the opportunity.

We then made a pit stop at a convenience store for water and an energy bar and headed home. Along the way we saw reservoirs, a community of geese munching on the bright green grass with the LG foothills in the back drop.

I took a delicious nap that left me refreshed. I was concerned that my body would be aching the next day and was pleasantly surprised that I worried for naught. I felt great!

Ecstatic Flower Blossoms & Stalking the Elegant Great Egret for a Winning Photo Shot

“Flowers are sweet. They have short beautific lives. They offer much pleasure. There is nothing in the world that can be said against them. Sad, isn’t it, that all they can kiss is the air. Yes, yes! We are the lucky ones.” —Mary Oliver

Cecile and I passed this Royal Blue Hydarangeas on the walking trails with the blue green pond in the backdrop near our townhome. These classic flowers—first discovered in Japan—coalesce together to form a signature globe-shaped head resembling pompoms. They symbolizes heartfelt emotions, used to express gratitude to others for our being understood. 

The Great Egret visits us from time to time. They boast a showy brilliant white plummage and are found around the world. I have sighted them in Asia, Canada, Africa and Australia. Locally, we have seen them at Shoreline and Vasona Lake. They have long black legs and feet, long graceful necks and straight, pointed, yellow bills.

I discovered this one wading patiently in the shallow water of the pond stalking fish. I watched it stab and grab a tiny fish into its mouth. Egrets also prey on reptiles, amphibians and small mammals. I was doing a bit of stalking myself—for that perfect photograph. I managed some nice closeups but was hoping to capture it in front of the waterfall.

Well, I got my wish. Feeling I got just a little too close, the egret took off in flight. I not only managed to get a photo of it landing, but when it reached the opposite shore it began moving toward and then in front of the waterfall. Bingo! I had my “money shot.” Now that is what I call a happy accident or was it the power of my intention in operation? When they fly, their neck draws back in to an S-shaped curve. 

Their feathers are stunning. Sadly, these elegant birds were hunted to near extinction towards the 19th century.
Their feathers were used to make hats. Following conservation efforts, their numbers grew well into the 20 century. The Great Egret was chosen as the symbol of the Audubon Society, the environmental organization that was formed to protect birds.

The glorious Tropical Canna Lily has bright large yellow-orange blooms and exotic multi-colored striated foliage. They symbolize magnificent beauty, brilliance of truth and sacredness. It is native to southern Africa. Canna Lilies are also known as the tantalizing water dragon and trumpet lily, though in fact it is not even a lily. It was misnamed by a famous Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaaeus, and was later corrected by German Koch, a German botanist.

Last but not least is the red Epiphyllum Cactus Flowers (Jungle Cactus). Epiphyllums can be found in Mexico, the Carribbean and through Central America and South America. Hybrids like this one, are commonly referred to as “Orchid Cacti” due to their luminous blossoms resembling tropical orchids. They are hardy and easy to grow. I was first introduced to the Empiphyllum by my next door neighbor, Howard who hybridizes them. He has one growing in a pot and in a long planter on our neighboring patio wall. We get to enjoy them during their short blooming period. They take your breath away.


Friends, Family, Fireworks and the "Fountain of Youth" on the 4th of July

Cecile and I began our day with a 7:30 AM walk up and around the top of hillside and down and around the picturesque lake where we live. 
Shortly later, I went to Courtside Bay Club, where I was cheerfully greeted front desk staff members, Haley and Greg in their 4th of July flag decorated hair.
I swam and spent several hours relaxing by the pool, doing some contemplative reading, cross-word puzzles and watching an Aqua-Fit class get underway on this mild, sunny, breezy California day.

With all the political rancor, division and negative news from the Cable News outlets bombarding us daily, the 4th of July
was a perfect day to relax, taking time to be with friends and family, being thankful to those who fought for our freedom while remembering those—known and unknown beings—whose freedoms haven’t come so easy.

I walked over from the adult lap and exercise pool to the family pool on the other side of the club, chatted with a friend and sat and watched the overflowing fountain
with the blue umbrella top as seen in the photo. Metaphorically speaking, it reminded me of the mythical “Fountain of Youth,” a spring that restores the youth of anyone who drinks and bathes in its waters. Explorers of old were looking for a physical location written about in fantasy and fables. The metaphor has been lost in translation. It is not a physical place of course, but rather a metaphysical place that when awakened regenerates the physical being while elevating our consciousness. In this case it is a different kind of freedom, one not dependent on circumstances or events happening outside of ourselves. 

After taking a late afternoon nap we went to a 4th of July dinner party on the tiled patio of our friend’s Mark and Marleen’s hill-top home that overlooks the Valley. Strategically, it was the perfect place to socialize with friends and witness the colorful fireworks display with friends and our son Jason and Alex. The energetic and patriotic marching music of John Philip Sousa was playing in the backdrop reminding me when Jason and I played the clarinet and saxophone respectively for the Saratoga Community Band back in the day.

On the week of this 4th of July and going forward:

May all Beings be Peaceful
May all Beings be Happy.
May all Beings be Healthy
May all Beings be Safe
May all Beings be Free

Celebrating at our Friend’s Sophie & Bernie Weinzimmer’s 70th Birthdays at Castillo’s Hillside Shire Winery

The guest invitation set the theme for the evening: Blast from the Past: "Dear Dudes and Dudettes, Turn the big 70. Bell bottoms and tie dyes would be fun threads to wear.” Over 50 friends and family members were in attendance for the funky evening that included the birthday couple’s beloved children and precious grandchildren. 

Sophie and Bernie join celebrities like Billy Crystal, James Taylor Stevie Nicks, Ozzie Osborn, Alice Cooper and Steve Tyler to name a few who have or are celebrating the BIG 70 this year. Can you dig it?

Dear Sophie and Bernie, in the words of Richard Gere, …”We are always the same age inside. Know that you are the perfect age. Each year is special and precious, you can only live it once. Do not regret growing older, it’s a privilege denied to many.” 

Thanks for inviting us to share your special milestone. The setting was enchanting, tranquil and serene. I had a moment to reflect and meditate at the whimsical pond and we were graced with a beautiful sunset.

May you live everyday like it’s your birthday!

Peace Out!

Ode to the K9s & the Power of Art Creativity to Promote a Good Cause

During our recent visit to Chicago, Cecile and I spent the last two days at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in the Magnificent Mile’s vibrant downtown commercial district. Everytime we went out for a walk around the neighborhood I found myself mesmerized by a colorful sculpture depicting a police dog in front of the Hotel EMC2, a few doors down.

Later I discovered that The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and the PAWS organization (a national model for animal sheltering) partnered up to create a public art installation of fiberglass sculptures depicting police dogs 54 inches in height. Artists were commissioned to decorate and embellish the dogs in imaginative ways.

The one shown here with me at its side was one of three dog sculptures created by artist, Ken Klopack that was sponsored by Hotel EMC2. According to his website, "his art was inspired by the thematic designs of the hotel interior, which promotes the creative spirit of the arts and sciences."

Ken Klopack earned a Master’s Degree in art education at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU). 
He was an art teacher in the Chicago Public School system from 1971-2005. He earned a Master’s Degree in art education at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).
Over the last 45 years this award winning teacher has been active in the Chicago art scene such as the Gold Coast Art Fair and the Hyde Park Art Fair, and is the author of “Show Off Your Art.” I was very impressed with his body of work. Shortly after we returned from the Windy City, I came across this untitled poem which I decided to call:

Ode to the K9s 

"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog.
You are his life, his love, his leader.
He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. 
You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”
—Author unknown


Celebrating Our Son Jason's Birthday at The Palms Restaurant with Family & Friends

As your loving parents, we wish you a life full of joy, light and meaning.

Cecile and I hosted Jason’s 37th Birthday party at "The Palms" restaurant, housed in the historic Mary Coggeshall Victorian Mansion (circa 1891) in downtown Los Gatos.

Jason, Cecile and I arrived 15 minutes early, and our Indian born waitress, Kremo (means thankful and grateful) escorted us to an intimate dining area with a partial see through cheese cloth drape on each side. We had a drink while waiting for Alex, Kim and Al Chien and our daughter Michelle and Kyle to arrive. 

Ron Garald envisioned a “Roy’s Light” type of restaurant modeled after Roy Yamaguchi, an award winning chef on the island of Maui whose restaurants we frequent each year during our family vacation. The Palms location, with palm trees, selected pieces of island decor and spacious outdoor seating areas, couldn’t have been a better spot for Garald to realize his new Pacific Rim restaurant dreams.

For starters, we had the Kalbri grilled beef with a vegetable stir fry, Red bell pepper Hummus, and California Calamari. Many of our guests opted for the popular Palm Burger with bacon, fried egg, butter lettuce, caramelized onions, pepper jack, chipotle mayo on a brioche bun with a side of fries. The rest enjoyed Tiger Prawns with Vegetable Stir Fry, Alaskan Sea Scallops, Halibut with Asian noodle and Halibut with garlic mashed potatoes and Filet of Steak.

The waitress brought out a chocolate bread pudding with a dollop of ice cream and candle on top for the birthday boy's dessert. After Jason blew out his candle, we showered him with gifts. Jason, no matter how many years have gone by since you came into our lives, your mom and I experience great joy celebrating your birthday. As you know, we love you to the moon and back and so do your friends who have come to know you.

An Unexpected California-Style Dining Experience at “Pacific Standard Time" Restaurant in Chicago

When I saw the white building with the name Pacific Standard Time in the River North areas of Chicago, I was a bit perplexed. Somehow, I didn’t get the memo that we were going to a restaurant whose menu was inspired by a convergence of West Coast cuisines. My wife Cecile, her sister Sherry and our niece Emily and I joined our nephew Jacob Schwimmer, his wife Amy and her well-traveled parents Mark and Sharon.

The eatery bills itself as, “A restaurant that brings the warmth and authenticity of California farms and artisans to the heart of downtown Chicago.” The large contiguous windows that wrapped around the exterior threw off plenty of light. The warm wood accents and spacious interior gave it a comfortable and casual feel just like restaurants in the South SF Bay Area. 

Jacob, who is the general manager of Nico Osteria—a critically acclaimed Gold Coast seafood restaurant—made the arrangements. It turns out one of the former chefs from Nico is the executive chef and one of the co-owners of Pacific Standard Time. Jacob, who has been in and around the food and hospitality business since the early 2000s has never steered us wrong. Our 3 hour plus feast of the senses did not disappoint. 

We shared a number of dishes including: Pizza, Roasted Beet Salad, Marinated Ahi Tuna, Swordfish, Roasted Black Cod, Roasted Skirt Steak, Palm Sugar, Lime, and Red-Curried Chicken Wings and fresh oven backed pita bread. We topped it off with Olive Oil Cake with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream to name a few.

Joining in Celebration of our Nephew Zachary Weiner’s Bar Mitzvah—a Jewish Rite of Passage

“Few of us go through life without taking part in some kind of rite of passage.”—Hank Nuwer

Zachary is the proud son of Cecile’s younger brother Mark and his wife Barbara Weiner. The weekend celebration began with a Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner hosted by Barbara's uncle Stuart & aunt Susie in a private room at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant in Skokie, IL on Friday evening. Many of our friends in California are familiar with this authentic family style restaurant at Santana Row in San Jose. However, the concept restaurant was founded in the Greater Chicago Area in 1991 by “Rich Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You." 

Zachary’s Bar Mitzvah took place yesterday morning at Congregation Bene Shalom which was founded in 1972. The synagogue welcomes Jews of all denominations, interfaith couples and the hearing impaired. The senior Rabbi officiating the service was Dr. Douglas Goldhamer. He is also President and Professor of Mysticism at Hebrew Seminary which he founded. For the past 45 years he has been the only full-time rabbi serving the deaf Jewish community in the United States. He is known for using healing prayer based on the great Kabbalistic thinkers.

The late mythologist, Joseph Campbell calls a Bar Mitzvah a “right of passage,” to help young boys move to the next phase of their lives with self-awareness and confidence. The words Bar Mitzvah means “son of the commandment.” According to Jewish law, a boy becomes an adult male around the age of 13. The history of the Bar Mitzvah dates back to the fifth-century in which the father recites a blessing thanking God for freeing him from responsibility for the deeds of his son who is now accountable for his own actions. 

Young boys like Zachary spend months of preparation studying the importance of observing the precepts to help deepen their understanding of what it means to be Jewish. Upon becoming a Bar Mitzvah, it is customary to read from the Torah (what Christianity calls the Old Testament) or other sacred Hebrew texts and describe what it means to them. Zachary chose a reading having to do with social justice and advocating for people in need or wrongly accused. 

One of the most impressive parts of the religious ceremony was when Zachary—who wore the prayer shawl that was handed down from his great grandfather—used “sign language" while reading Hebrew from the Torah. Zachary’s reading was virtually flawless. As Rabbi Goldhamer said rather "tongue in cheek," Zachary you didn’t do a good job, you did a great job.”

The religious ceremony was followed by a celebratory dinner, DJ led entertainment, activities for the kids and dancing in the alumni hall of Northeastern Illinois University where Zachary’s dad Mark serves as the Director of Dining.

Dear Zachary, your aunt Cecile and I want to congratulate you on a job well done. We are very proud of your achievements and the kind, bright young man you have become. You can be rest assured there will be other momentous milestones on your life’s path. We join your proud and loving parents, your beloved sister Ilana and extended family in wishing you a bright future. Enjoy the ride and take the time to experience and enjoy the fullness of life along the way! Mazel Tov!

Dinner at Uncle Julio’s & the Visual Delights at Westfield Old Orchard outside of Chicago

Dinner at Uncle Julio’s & the Visual Delights at Westfield Old Orchard outside of Chicago

We are staying at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel, across from Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie, a stone’s throw away from where we used to visit Cecile’s beloved late parents, Margie and Harry. During our first night here we had dinner with Cecile’s brother Mark, Barbara and their children Ilana and Zachary—the soon to be Bar Mitzvah boy at Jameson’s.

Last evening Cecile and I had a Tex Mex dinner at Uncle Julio’s at Old Orchard. It is no wonder it has grown so rapidly since its debut in Dallas, Texas in 1986. The restaurant’s decor is classic Hacienda Stye and the original recipes employed are based on using the freshest and highest quality ingredients. Everything is made from scratch.
We began with homemade tortilla chips, salsa and fresh guacamole along with their signature frozen Margarita Swirl that combines a margarita layered with home-made sangria. We shared their special Skirt steak Fajitas and seared Ahi salad.

It’s amazing to see how shopping malls like Old Orchard have transformed the role they play in people’s lives by creating experiences that go well beyond traditional shopping. After dinner we walked around the colorful shopping center grounds. There is a real sense of community involvement here. We loved seeing the colorful art planters and the outdoor mannequins display that were created by New Trier’s High School students in Marketing and Merchandising in Fashion. They skillfully use recycled materials donated by Bloomingdales Lululemon and Nespresso as seen in the photos. There was also an unexpected Organic Garden filled with fruits and vegetables created by Old Orchard in partnership with The Organic gardener Ltd. The harvest is donated to the neighboring Niles Food Pantry.

There were many other visual delights including museum quality bronze sculptures by William Duffy, European-style fountains, sundials, Koi ponds, seasonal flowers, imaginative children play areas and lounge chairs to read, rest and take it all in. We finished the evening browsing the bookshelves and magazine racks at Barnes and Noble which has become a dying species these days before calling it an evening.

Daisy Gets Her 15 Minutes of Fame

“Every dog must have its day.”—Jonathan Swift

Daisy was featured in the Paw-Gress Report publshed by the June, 2018 edition of Rinconada Hills Register.
Walking Ms. Daisy helps keep Cecile and I fit. We clock up to three miles a day taking her on the winding trails where we live. The photo accompanying her bio was taken by our son Jason when he first adopted her six years ago. I added a few other photos to this post.
She loves to sunbathe on the patio or a cozy spot indoors where she can find a sun spot. 
Recently, Cecile bought her a hooded cave bed that replicates the feeling of being in a cave. Nestling in a tight enclosed space seems to provide her a sense of comfort and security. As a thin-furred dog who gets cold easily, the cave bed retains heat and keep her warm.
This is perfect for dogs like the Daze who love to crawl under blankets.
I hope you enjoy her story.

Brunch at True Food Kitchen with Loved Ones and a Memorial Tribute to Anthony Bourdain

“Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur
in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food inself.”—the late Anthony Bourdain (See my memorial tribute to him below!)

Since Cecile and I will be leaving for Chicago next week and won’t be around for Father’s Day, we gathered together this mild 79 degree sunny day for a scrumptious Father’s Day brunch at True Food Kitchen in Palo Alto with Michelle and Kyle, Jason and Alex. It was the perfect place to socialize, share a laugh, get caught up and strengthen relationships. 

We were escorted to our a table by a young woman with interesting looking green dreadlock extensions that seemed to complement the green movement. True Food Kitchen has received gushing kudos on social media from celebrities like Gweneth Paltrow, Drake and Chris Hemsworth. 

Our young male waiter who bore the legend Honest* on his T-shirt took our orders. I had my usual Ancient Greens with Miso glazed sweet potato, turmeric, charred onion, snow peas, grilled portobello, avocado, hemps seed topped with a filet of salmon and a Bright Eyes speciality cold-pressed juice drink that combines apple, ginger, beet, pineapple, turmeric and carrot juice. 

True Food Kitchen continues to build up its street creds as the place where “Eating Well is Always in Season.”
Even before it won the 2018 Daily News First Place Reader’s Choice Awards, it was and is, one our favorite eating digs
for healthy eating based on the anti-inflammatory diet of Dr. Andrew Weil, the self-described guru of holistic health. I love the spacious dining areas inside and out and the open kitchen that connects patrons with the culinary craftsmen and craftswomen that prepare the dishes that incorporate “great-tasting ingredients that are at the peak of freshness.” 

It appears True Food Kitchen has now taken their popular waiters and waitresses T-shirts that bear legends such as Honest, True, Shine On, and Green Goddess into an online apparel phenomenon for consumers.

After we said our goodbyes to everyone Cecile, Jason and I took some photos together and I couldn’t resist taking photos of the pom pom looking white hydrangeas and other flowers, fountains and bronze sculptures.

Memorial Tribute to Anthony Bourdain:
Cecile and I were heartbroken to hear the news of the suicide death of Anthony Bourdain who once said: “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride!” One could easily take this out of context. I revere my body as a temple, but what I believe the celebrity chef, author and great story teller meant to say was we should see the world, see how others live their lives, try new things, eat their food, have an open heart and live life to the fullness. It coincides perfectly with all the things I write about on Facebook and my blog: enjoyyourlifenow.net

We had the pleasure of seeing and hearing a talk by Bourdain at the Flint Center at D’Anza College in Cupertino several years ago. The place was packed. We were seated only a few rows back. He was a Jersey boy like me, five years my junior. He was adored by his fans. We recall one overzealous fan stepping on stage and rolling his pant leg up and showing a tattoo of Bourdain. “I’m not sure what to make of that,” he said with an amused and bewildered look on his face. You could tell the witty, provocative star was caught off guard. That being said, His unscripted talk was a delight.

I loved his sense of adventure, his humanity, making himself transparent to the world, sharing his past nearly deadly addiction to heroin as a young man and in the process helped people feel they were not alone in their struggles—whatever they might be. It was President Obama that reached out to CNN to arrange the meeting with Bourdain in Hanoi, Vietnam. He was the person everyone seemed to want to be, who Don Lemon said was more of a journalist that many like himself in the business. Who Cristiane Amounpor said his show went beyond food and travel. He wasn’t afraid to tackle the political hot button places and events of the day during his travels to places like Iran and Israel, Libya and Myanmar (Burma). He strove to understand and help us understand one another’s stories, culture and struggles, believing the best way to do that was over a meal. He willl be missed. Heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

Photo Credit CNN: Bourdain having a beer and slurping down some noodles with President Obama during a “Parts Unknown” episode in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2016.

Lunch, Shopping & Photographing the Magical Gardens, Sculptures & Fountains at Stanford Shopping Center

“Whatever the season, the outdoor flower gardens are always magically in bloom.”

I’m not much of a mall rat, but I do love the iconic Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto which is Northern California’s premier open-air shopping and dining destination. Over the years it has been fashioned into a European Street fair. People come from all over the world to enjoy the breathtaking, colorful gardens, serene fountains, imaginative sculptures and the grand mural of a famous Parisian alley named “Rue du Chat qui Peche.” It is a photographer’s dream. One can have breakfast at La Baguette lunch at Cafe’ Bistro or enjoy the healthy fare at "Tender Greens" like we did. And, for those with a sweet tooth, Teuscher Chocolates & Cafe is worth a stop.

We love Tender Greens and used to frequent the one in West Hollywood where our son Jason used to live and work before moving back to the Bay Area. It is a fine casual eatery that offers fresh, healthy, farmer’s market grade food in a relaxed casual atmosphere at a reasonable price. Cecile and I enjoyed a thinly cut, lean Backyard Steak Salad with a slice of garlic bread. I had a Green Monster, a refreshing and energetic drink that combines fresh blended spinach, ginger, green apple, kale, celery and cucumber.

With temperatures hitting 99°F, we looked forward to spending time shopping in the comfortable air-conditioned department stores. Though, I must say I did most of the shopping. I’m typically a binge shopper, adding to my casual wardrobe perhaps twice a year when things are on sale. But Cecile did find a stylish pant and top outfit by designer Eileen Fisher that fit her perfectly. At my urging, Cecile upgraded her IPAD at the Apple Store. The Tesla showroom had plenty of activity and people watching is a spectator sport, including the security patrol on their Segues.

I was drawn to an interesting exhibit that profiled the Estonian people called “Masters of Our Own Homes: Estonia at 100. It commemorates a century since the founding of the Republic of Estonia and introduces its history, culture, contributions to sports to the world at large. In 2009, Jason, Michelle and Michelle’s friend Cece joined us on a two week Baltic Capital Cruise out of Denmark. One of the ports of call was Tallinn in Estonia with its narrow, winding streets, market squares and churches.

A number of innovative Estonians have become leading entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, creating companies such as Skype. Learning about Estonia’s food, culture, history and its transformation in the last 25 years is worth a look.
Restless and peaceful, ambitious and cool-headed, rustic and tech-savvy, who enjoy congregating around bonfires and snapping photos with their smartphones, 
these insatiable people believe life is to be lived, and not a second of it is to be wasted.

Postcript: A free outdoor Summer Jazz series, sponsored by Nordstrom and See’s Candies will be held every Thursday from June 21 to August 23 at 6 PM to 7:30 PM in the courtyard between Nordstrom and Crate & Barrel.

Enjoying the Breathtaking Ambience of Nature and Wildlife Outside our Door

“I could not be a poet without the natural world…For me the door to the woods is the door to the Temple.”
–Mary Oliver

In the early morning, mid-day and after dinner, Cecile and I and Jason’s dog Daisy set out on the walking trails literally steps from our door.
We are immediately transported to a happy place in the midst of a 100 acre wooded area we call home at Rinconada Hills.
We pass the cactus gardens I can see from my home office window, a plethora of mature shade trees that line the self-guided nature trails that traverses a wide variety of terrain. 
The many tiny lizards flit about as they feel the vibration from out feet.
We could see and hear the mischievous squirrels shimmy straight up the tallest of trees in a way that defies gravity and then playfully jumping from branch to branch.
We see the many shy white cotton tail bunnies (we feared were wiped out by the coyotes) shift about trying to take cover as we draw near. The cherry trees and plum trees are bearing fruit, but too early to eat.
We climb the path to higher ground and then make our way down and around the pristine lake where the geese take their goslings for a swim when they are not grazing on
the grass. The aromatic smells from the pine and eucalyptus trees clears our sinuses.
Other than the few neighbors and their dogs we have come to know, we are alone to share the moment and majesty of this place. It reminds me of the poem by Mary Olliver called “When I Am Among the Trees,” that I have taken an exerpt from that goes like this:
"When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily…
I never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world
to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light and shine.”

Doing a Few Yoga Poses Off the Mat While on Vacation

“Great is the human who has not lost his childlike heart.” —Mencius

“Yoga takes you to the present moment, the only place where life exists.”
—author unknown 

Even when we travel I like to engage in doing a few spontaneous yoga poses out in nature or in a urban setting.
Anything can be used as a prop, like these large colorful concrete soccer balls and basketballs in front of the FedEx Forum stadium-home of the NBA team, the Grizzlies on Beale Street in downtown Memphis. It is also the home of the Memphis Tigers basketball team who share the facility with their NBA Partner.

According to the Yoga Journal we sit an average of 7.7 hours per day. Why should we give a squat?
When we sit in our cars, watching TV, surfing the web on our computer, or working at a desk job the flexibility and strength diminishes in our legs, calves, ankles and our outer hips. Strong core muscles make it easier to do many physical activities. Sitting on chairs with back rests cause our core muscles which include our abdominal muscles, lower back muscles and the muscles around the pelvis to weaken.

As you know life is a balancing act. A well balanced life is essential for peace of mind and overall well-being and allowing time for fun and creativity. The yoga poses seen in these photos taken during a recent trip to Memphis are all balancing and strengthening poses: Standing (Mountain Pose); The Thinker Yoga Pose (modeled after sculptor, Auguste Rodin) and Squat Pose with hands in prayer help the core muscles. If you haven’t tried yoga yet, don’t panic. These are not traditionally performed with hard of flexible balancing balls underneath your feet. That said, when you develop a yoga practice for some years, the possibilities of adding your own twist on things is limitless. 
Photo credit of balancing boulders: Getty Images

Enjoying Authentic Southern Italy Cuisine with Friends at Doppio Zero

“Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.”—Anna Quindlen, author and journalist

Thanks to an enthusiastic thumbs up from a friend, Cecile and I changed our dinner plans with Susan and Nelson Bye to give Doppio Zero (DZ) in Cupertino, CA a try. The words Doppio Zero means “double zero.” It dates back to a 200 year tradition of authentic Neapolitan pizza-making using the lightest and finest grade of flour.

There is nothing like Italian hospitality. Once you walk through their doors, Doppio Zero’s goal is to have you “become part of the extended famiglia italiana,” where you are invited to relax, eat (manga) and enjoy.

Though Neapolitan style pizza put them on the map, DZ offers a diverse menu of Compania style cuisine based on inexpensive ingredients like pasta herbs, fish, vegetable and fish. Compania runs along the gulf of Naples and Sorrento and is home to picturesque towns with strong cultural traditions that always caught the attention of artists and poets. During the Roman period, the region was a hot spot for the rich whose breathtaking villas dotted the coastline.

Our Italian waitress Chiara (means light) who served us well, made every effort to speak with us in between attending to the bustling crowd of Italian food lovers. Most of the young and energetic male waiters are from Italy as well.

The mission statement of DZ is to make sure your leave with a full stomach and a full smile. In this regard they did not dissappoint.
For starters we shared a Pulcinella oven-baked pizza that contains San Marzano cherry tomatoes, eggplant, fresh mozzarella, basil and pesto; and Trecciolina Salad: Organic Arugula, hearts of palm, tomatoes, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, mozzarella in lemon avocado vinaigrette; Brussel Sprouts with pancetta, parmigiana region and red wine vinegar. Cecile and I shared a dish of Spaghetti Bottarga: Fresh Spaghetti, roasted garlic, olive oil, cured Fish Roe, fresh salmon, lemon zest and Italian chiles The Byes shared entrees of Eggplant Parmigiana and Spinach Ravioli with wild mushrooms, ricotta and fondue truffle sauce. 

While waiting for dessert I texted a photo of all of us to our daughter Michelle and son in law Kyle who are currently in Rome. By the time we got home, it was morning in Italy and Michelle sent us a text back greeting us with "Buon Giorno," and photos of the gastronomic delights they indulged themselves with during the first two days of their arrival. Aside from planning to visit their old stomping grounds in Florence where they went to a school abroad program while at Cal Poly, they are intending to revisit Naples, the heart of the very pizza-making techniques we had just experienced. 

We all shared a delectable Tiramisu and Panna Cotta. By this time we exchanged a few pleasantries with DZ's affable manager, Francesco who is originally from Reggio Calabria, a ferry boat ride to Sicily, home of my ancestors. (photo). I shared stories of my Sicilian roots and our visits to family in the Amalfi coast, Torino and Rome. He offered us a complimentary shot glass of Limoncello before we called it a night.

Postscript: Many of you that follow me on Facebook and subscribe to my blog: enjoyyourlifenow.net have shared that you have tried some of the same restaurants I write about. Don’t let this one pass you by! 
Buon Appetito!

Exploring the Magical City of Nashville & Attending the Grand Ole Opry with Friends

“The Grand Ole Opry, to a singer, is what Yankee Stadium is to a baseball player…Broadway is to an actor. It’s the top of the ladder, the top of the mountain. You don’t just play the Opry, you live it.” —Bill Anderson

As first time visitors to Nashville, we never expected to have such fun and diverse experiences. It has all the excitement one would expect of a big city coupled with a small town feel that exhibits southern charm and gracious hospitality. It is full of recording studios, historical sites, amazing restaurants and has the cool vibe of of country as well as rock’n’roll music. The residents and tourists that come to visit Broadway Street know how to party. There are horse and buggy rides, trolley, double decker buses, Segues, rickshaws as seen in the photos that clearly outnumber automobiles. If you like drinking beer, you have many creative outlets such as pedal taverns to celebrate birthdays, private parties, and bachelor and bacheloratte parties. The vendors of these services offer an experienced bartender, a premium sound system and electric assist motor that everyone can pedal without strain while drinking their favorite brew. 

Aside being the epicenter of the country music industry, we saw The Parthenon at Centennial Park where we witnessed a full scale replica of the Greek Parthenon built in 1897. Before it was known as “Music City,” Nashville was referred to as the "Athens of the South.” Why? By the 1850s it was the first American southern city to establish a public school system, and several higher education institutions like Vanderbilt University, St. Cecilia Academy, Belmont University to name a few. Nashville was filled with wealth and culture, had several theaters and plenty of elegant accommodations. Everything was going well until the onset of the Civil War beginning in 1861 when Nashville was devastated until 1865, when the city began to rebuild itself.

We had tickets for the Grand Ole Opry for 7PM. We heard about a dozen performers from the old country musicians to newcomers on the scene. To name a few we saw Brook Eden, “Act Like You Don’t (Feb 2017 release) which scored 18 million plays on Spotify; Jesse McReynolds, 88, a veteran bluegrass performing artist playing the mandolin; Carson Peters, age 14, a child prodigy who plays the fiddle with his Iron Mountain band; Linda Carter, who performs with her All Star Band and sometimes with her daughter Jessica. Carter is also an actor who played “Wonder Woman.” But, Cecile and I especially wanted to see our favorite Charles “Chip” Esten who played the role of “Deacon Claybourne” on the hit ABC TV drama series “Nashville.” Esten made his theatrical debut in London portraying Buddy Holly, singing, acting, and playing the guitar in the hit West End Musical, Buddy. He performed for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phiip and eventually for President and Mrs George H.W. Bush at the White House. During his first season on Nashville, Esten or “Deak” as he is called on the show was honored to make his debut on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

Before moving to the Opry House in 1974 and began to proudly boast that theirs was “The show that made country music famous,” it was housed at the Ryman Auditorium for 40 years. The Opry puts on three live shows a week in the same live radio format it has used for more than 90 years. 
The history of the Grand Ole Opry began on the evening of November 28, 1925, as a simple radio broadcast when an announcer on Nashville’s radio station WSM introduced fiddle player Uncle Jimmy Thompson as the first performer of the new show: “The WSM Barn Dance.” From these humble beginnings it became the live entertainment phenomenon it is today. The Opry has become an American icon and the city of Nashville’s number one tourist attraction for audiences of all ages.

Chillin' Out at Pajaro Dunes Beach Resort on the Shores of Monterrey Bay

“Life is different at the beach. Time doesn’t move hour to hour, but moment to moment. We live by the currents and let the day unfold into relaxation and bliss in
the company of those we love.” —Dennis Augustine

After a walk on the trails and early morning yoga class, Cecile and I and Jason’s dog Daisy drove over the Santa Cruz Mountains for a day at the beach. We were invited to join Kim and Al Chien and their family for a pre-Mother’s Day celebration. Esconced in her designer travel carrier bag Daisy was as excited as we were to hit the road. Our son-in-law, Kyle and our daughter Michelle, Al’s mom Dana and dad Jack, Al’s brother RIch and wife Lisa and their precious children Olivia and Simone were awaiting our arrival. Having just attended a wedding in London and on his way back from a side trip to Paris, Jason wasn’t able to join us. What can I say, he inherited his travel bug genes from his parents.

With instant communication being what it is, we were told to look out for Kyle jogging at the side of the road a couple of miles from the beach house. We picked him up as well as Michelle moments later who got a later start on “her" morning jog.

We arrived near noon in time for lunch which included a hot bowl of Clam Chowder soup, followed by a walk on the beach. It was on the cool and windy side but we were able to relax in the comfort of a well appointed home with floor to ceiling windows that gave us a panoramic view of the ocean. Pajaro escapes the usual pollution that is common in modern day life. The only sound we heard were the hypnotic roar of the crashing surf, the chirping of shore birds and wailing and squawking of seagulls. Some of us played Mahjong, Gin Rummy, while Michelle and Kyle, Al and myself played Scrabble. Al was ahead of the pack until Michelle hailed victory in the final minutes of the game. 

Kyle, who knows how to take care of his father-in-law made me back-to-back Moscow Mules, a cocktail he introduced to me a couple of years ago. We all enjoyed a casual dinner that included: Cioppino, crab legs, shrimp, fresh Halibut, sautéed bell peppers from Phil’s Fish Market, a 4 1/2 star rated eatery in Moss Landing. After dinner we had an assortment of speciality cookies Cecile and I brought for dessert from our favorite bakery, “Icing on the Cake.”

Pajaro Dunes is a beautiful beach north of the Pajaro River dating back to the 1800s when it became a popular recreation area for picnics, camping, and fishing. Archaeologists discovered the remains of campfires that were made by a Native American tribe of the Costanoan people. After discovering a large grass-fed stuffed bird mounted on at the mouth of the river, they chose the name “Pajaro,” which means “bird” in Spanish. The Pajaro Dunes resort was established in 1973 and is located on a 1 1/2 miles of uncrowded, pristine, sandy beach on the shores of Monterey Bay, near the midpoint between Santa Cruz and Monterey. It is made up of very distinctive fully-furnished homes, condominiums and event facilities in a private gated resort that harmonize with a rich natural environment.

Thanks to our hosts, Kim and Al for a pleasurable, relaxing day!

Touring The Country Music Hall of Fame & the Historic RCA Studio Built for Elvis

Nashville…is a music hub that accepts and allows all genres to be present, and I think there’s been a kind of fusing of genres lately that for me makes me happy and excited.”
—Taylor Swift

Cecile and I and Susan and Nelson Bye toured the vast and impressive Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame. The truth is it took me kicking and screaming to admit I was a fan of country music. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the music of some of the greats like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, and Dolly Parton. But, it was the more modern country and country inspired singers and musicians and pop crossover artists like Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Kerry Underwood, Keith Urban and Blake Shelton that won me over. 

After the Hall of Fame tour, we boarded a tour bus to Nashville’s Only Historic Studio Tour. “RCA’s Studio B was built for Elvis,” said our guide and musician, George who performs in a country band with his brother David. “But, over the years 1000 hit records were recorded here."

George gave us a fascinating tour, recalling the history of the studio with all the passion only a lover
of music and musical greats could do. He shared a number of anecdotes with us. For example, he showed us a cabinet that a turntable used to sit on, that Elvis kicked causing a piece to break off. The reason: He was angry at RCA because of the poor quality of the turntable they provided him to audition songs he was about to record. 
RCA, displeased with Elvis’s temper tantrum refused to repair the cabinet and there it sits in disrepair to this day.

George showed us how the lighting system Elvis had installed to change the mood his songs evoked. As he played a dozen or so recordings, five by Elvis himself, he showed us how it worked. 
There was a vintage Steinway piano in front of the glass enclosed recording studio. What made it special was that it was Elvis’s favorite. I found this interesting since Elvis owned a gold grand piano that Pricilla bought for him which we saw on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame we had visited.

George offered to take a photo of us seated at the piano and since Cecile and I were the closest to it we stepped up take advantage of this opportunity. As George said, the piano keys contains the DNA of the some of the world’s greatest musicians.

After listening to Elvis’s songs and learning about some of the things that happened behind the scenes there was no denying that the spirit of Elvis was alive. George added that Elvis won’t be leaving this studio any time soon but unfortunately, after the next two songs, we must go.