Tuesday, December 31, 2013

St. Petersburg, Russia – August, 2013
After a delicious breakfast at the Maxima Panorama Hotel in Moscow, I took the metro to the train station and boarded the express train for St. Petersburg.  While watching the countryside go by, I ate the croissants and cheese I had taken along from breakfast.  What a pleasant journey.  Arriving at the train station at about 6 p.m., I asked a young lady with a smart phone if she could help me find my hotel.  She was more than helpful!!!  She and two of her friends (all barely speaking English) took me on the bus along Nevsky Prospect where we got off and then walked towards the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, across the river and along the canal to my hotel where the receptionist waited for me!!!  Mosta3 was a delightful boutique hotel so close to everything!!!

I wandered around the canals to get my bearings, stopping at Stolle where I wanted to have breakfast in the morning, by a fruit stand to get some peaches and finally at a Georgian Restaurant where I had a delicious Greek salad with walnuts and some hot Georgian cheese bread for dinner.  Afterwards, walking along the canal back to the hotel I was already enjoying being in St. Petersburg.

In the morning after a lovely walk along the canals I had a small piece of fresh plum pie and coffee at Stolle (www.stolle.ru).  There are only large pies for sale, i.e. cheese, spinach, plum, hackberry which they cut into large or small pieces and if you arrive at 9 a.m. when they just open the pies are still warm!!!  I walked through the little craft market on my way to the Russian Museum and decided I would buy a set of Russian stacked dolls sometime during my stay in St. Petersburg.  The museum was excellent.  Set in the Mikhailovsky Palace erected
from 1819 – 25.   The rooms are still filled with old furniture and wonderful fine art.  There is also a separate folk art collection with gingerbread molds, toys, etc. 

I went inside the famous Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood with its dazzling multi domes, topped with glistening gold crosses and partly modeled on St. Basil’s in Moscow. It was built on the site where Czar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.  Inside are 7000 sq. meters of incredible mosaics worked on by over 30 artists. 

I returned to Stolle for a spinach pie and coffee for lunch before walking down Nevsky Pprospect (the main thoroughfare) to Dostoyesvky’s “house”.  He lived there from 1878 until his death in 1881 and composed some of his most notable works in that apartment.  He lived with his second wife Anna who wrote down and corrected his stories and the flat is filled with memorabilia relating to his life and work.  Later I returned to this same area for dinner where I had baked trout with vegetables and Georgian bread at a charming little restaurant called Cat Café.

Huckleberry pie and coffee at Stolle and then to the State Memorial Museum of Leningrad, also called the blockade museum.  It was a very interesting museum about the famous 900-day blockade of Leningrad by Hitler.  Many civilians wasted away from hunger, cold and disease from September 1941 until January 1944.  The only source of supplies to the city was the Road of Life, a rough and remote ice road cut across lake ladoga during the first winter siege.  There are many artifacts and pictures inside to explain the history.  Afterwards I walked across the river to the Peter & Paul Fortress which occupies Hare’s Island.  It contains the Peter & Paul Cathedral erected in 1723 and was St. Petersburg’s first church.  It’s interesting to wander around as there is so much history there.

Lunch nearby at a wonderful outdoor called Café Botanika where I sat on the patio and had a carrot salad with sunflower seeds and cashews and pancakes filled with cheese for lunch.  Afterwards I walked over to St. Issac’s Cathedral called the inkwell because of its boxy shape topped by a single gray dome.  Its massive hall can accommodate 14,000 people and during the 900 day siege its grounds were planted with cabbage.  The interior is breathtaking with columns made of single pieces of granite, floors of different colored marble and never ending frescoes.  Dinner across the river at Zoom, a funky café which doesn’t take reservations.  It is like an old house where you dine in different rooms.  There are children’s books, games and crayons on the shelves, a plate of grapefruit and orange slices on the bar for you to help yourself to when you arrive and delicious food.  I had a beet salad with goat cheese and pistachios and a warm fried potato, chanterelle and onion dish which I had to wait 40 minutes for but which was really good.  I finished off with a homemade oatmeal cookie and then walked back to the hotel.

After breakfast at Stolle I walked to the Hermitage State Museum and Winter Palace, one of the largest and oldest museums in the world, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great.  Its collections comprise over three million items, of which only a small part is on permanent display, including the largest collection of paintings in the world.  I had made a reservation so was able to walk right in without waiting in line which saved a lot of time. The “museum” has a patterned parquet floor, dazzling chandeliers and on the second floor several rooms are filled with furniture from the past when royalty lived there.  As the museum is overwhelming it is important to see the things you love first of all.  I started with the French impressionists, i.e. Cezanne, Picasso, etc. on the third floor, continued with some Rubens, Japanese netsuke, some porcelain from England and finally some primitive art.  After three hours I had to leave….

I looked for a restaurant I had read about near Botanika called the black cat but it had closed awhile ago so I sat outside again at Botanika and had a delicious warm lavash sandwich filled with cheese and tomatoes.  I walked to the Kazan Cathedral, inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which was begun in 1801 and completed in 1811.  The interior, with its numerous columns, echoes the exterior colonnade and is reminiscent of a palatial hall.  The interior features numerous sculptures and icons created by the best Russian artists of the day.  I walked along the canals, stopped at Stolle for a quick spinach pie for dinner and returned to my hotel to change for the ballet!!!  Since the famous Mariinsky Theatre known for its classical ballet company was closed for the summer I bought a ticket to the smaller Hermitage Theatre.  I allowed plenty of time to get to the Theatre even though it seemed only about a ten minute walk from the hotel.  Finding the entrance was rather confusing but once inside it was so beautiful.  The theatre is small and you can sit where you like so I found a seat close to the stage.  I had booked “Red Giselle” but it turned out to be Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.  The dancers were superb and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

In the morning it was raining so I decided to go to the Pushkin and save Peterhof for the following day in hopes the weather would improve (it didn’t!!!).  I bought an extra cheese pie for lunch and took the metro to Moscowkaya station and caught a bus to Catherine’s Palace located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin).  I met a very nice Russian lady travelling with her young son and we walked to the palace together.  There was a very long line to visit the palace but it was well worth the wait.  It is a Rococo palace which originated in 1717 when Catherine I of Russia engaged Johann-Friedrich Braunstein to construct a summer palace.  It is 325 meters long and more than 100 kilograms of gold were used to gild the sophisticated stucco façade and numerous statues erected on the roof.  The Amber room is one of the most famous rooms in the palace and has walls lined with amber panels.  The other highlight is the great hall, a grand ballroom, with walls lined with mirrors.  Afterwards I spent about an hour wandering the lovely grounds filled with fountains, statues, etc. before taking the bus and then the metro back to my hotel.  Dinner at Idiot, a fun cozy restaurant filled with antiques and memorabilia from the Soviet era set on the canal.  I had mushroom pancakes for dinner and then cheese pancakes for dessert – both delicious!!!

In the morning it began to rain and rained allll day.  I wanted to take the hydrofoil to Peterhof but the water was too rough and they were not running so I took the bus instead.  I waited in line to visit the great palace built in 1715 by Jean Baptiste Leblond for Peter the Great and sometimes called the Russian Versailles.  It was absolutely magnificent inside.  The wall coverings matched the chairs, the small Chinese room was elegant and wonderous, the study has 14 fantastic carved wood panels, etc.  The uncontested centerpiece is the Grand Cascade, a symphony of over 140 fountains in the lower park where I wandered for about any hour visiting small cottages, baths and even more fountains.  Finally I was soaking wet so took the bus back to the hotel to warm up.

In the evening I walked to Teplo for my last dinner in St. Petersburg and it was an excellent choice.  Set in an old house, the rooms are the dining rooms.  I sat at a comfortable table and had a marinated beet salad with roasted apples and hazelnuts, thin pork medaillons with mushroom cream sauce and cubes of fresh pumpkin, and finished with an apple almond tart for dessert. 

In the morning I took a nice walk along the canals, breakfasted at Stolle and then walked to the Grand Choral Synagogue consecrated in 1893.  It is quite a beautiful building and quite lavish inside.  I walked down to see the Mariinky theatre built in 1859 even though I knew it was closed.  A last delicious lunch at Botanika and then the metro and shuttle bus to the airport where I was able to carry on my bag as I would have a stopover in Vienna.

I arrived in Vienna about 6 p.m. and took the train to the metro and as I alighted there was Hotel Kummer!!  It was a terrific place to stay, near a walking street and near the restaurant where I had chosen to have dinner.  I wandered the streets a bit, visiting a cathedral, walking into some narrow streets and finally ending up at Mini Restaurant for dinner.  I sat outside on the patio and had a delicious piece of salmon on top of arugula mashed potatoes, enjoying the evening.  Afterwards I stopped at Café Ritter for apple strudel and whipped cream as who can leave Vienna without eating a piece of apple strudel.

In the morning I savored the wonderful buffet breakfast of little pastries, hard cooked eggs, fruit, rich coffee, etc.  I picked up some whole grain bread, cheeses and some fruit for the flight home as airplane food is never very good.  And so ended another wonderful trip, thoroughly enjoyed.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Warm Crab and Artichoke Dip
1/4C cream cheese, room temperature
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
3/4C (about 4 oz.) crabmeat, well drained
6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp. chopped drained grilled marinated artichokes from a jar
2 Tbsp. sliced scallions
2 Tbsp. diced red or yellow bell pepper
2 Tbsp. diced celery
1/4C fresh corn kernels
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
2 tsp. Sherry wine vinegar
½ tsp. hot pepper sauce

Toasted baguette slices

Preheat oven to 400F.  Beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add the mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Fold in the crabmeat, ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese, artichokes, scallions, red pepper, celery, corn, basil vinegar and hot pepper sauce gently with a rubber spatula.

Transfer the mixture to a two cup soufflé dish and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese.  Bake until the mixture is warm and the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to a platter and surround with toasted baguette slices.

MAKES:  1-1/2C

Friday, December 13, 2013

San Francisco/Napa Valley – November, 2013
Near the end of November, I flew up to Oakland, took the bart into San Francisco and checked into the Golden Gate Hotel on Sutter, a cute little bed and breakfast inn with a very friendly cat who wanders in and out of your bedroom!!!  I took a longgg walk down Post, up Hyde and over on Sacramento to have lunch at Spruce which I usually really enjoy.  This time the menu was rather limited and I was a bit disappointed with what I chose… 

Bus to the Legion of Honor to see the watercolors by the famous Swedish master Anders Zorn. There were also a few paintings on display by Matisse which I also enjoyed.  Had a fabulous dinner at Frances, one of my all time favorite restaurants.  It is small but so comfortable and friendly.  I ordered some winter squash with a green sauce, roasted beets with sunflower and sesame seeds and a warm cauliflower panzanella salad with kale and date.  Dessert was a delicious chocolate walnut torte with caramel sauce!

In the morning I rented a car and drove towards the napa valley, stopping at the cornerstone gardens (www.cornerstonegardens.com) in Sonoma.  What an incredible place!!!  There are several unique gardens designed by local architects and landscrape designers and some wonderous galleries and shops selling “big” art!  Definitely worth an hour or two stop!  On to Napa where I wanted to have lunch at Tarla Mediterrean Grill for obvious reasons!!!  “Tarla” means “fields” and the restaurant specializes in Turkish/Mediterrean fare.  I had some hummus/pita bread, a small spinakopia and some baklava.  It was a nice little restaurant but the food was not particularly memorable.  I wandered over to the Oxbow Market nearby and when it started to rain I headed on to Calistoga where I would be staying at Fanny’s (www.FannysNapaValley.com), an adorable bed and breakfast inn, for two nights.  I checked in, found my very sweet room and wandered down the main street of Calistoga, checking out the little shops which were still open.

Dinner that night at Redd in Yountsville where I had only had lunch in the past so I decided to splurge and go for the tasting menu. I was NOT disappointed!!!  It started with creamy sunchoke soup with sunchoke chips, followed by tuna tartare with Asian pears and fried rice, scallops with cauliflower puree, almonds and capers, duck breast with farro, kale and chanterelle mushrooms, Sonoma lamb with couscous and arugula and chocolate mousse cake for dessert!!!

In the morning I took a walk around town before having breakfast at Fanny’s.   Deanna fixed French toast with berries and syrup which was delicious and then I headed out to Napa to visit the Di Rosa Galleries (www.dirosaart.org) where I had booked a guided tour.  There are sculptures and very unique art inside the enormous house and buildings owned by Rene DiRosa as well as outside all over the grounds.  I was so fortunate to be the only one booked for the 10 a.m. tour so we spent almost 3 hours looking at some wonderous things!   Afterwards I drove to St. Helena and had lunch at Cooks on Main Street.  The portabello mushrooms and crescenza cheese on focaccia bread with arugula and theflourless chocolate cake with whipped cream for dessert were both excellent!!!

Driving back to Calistoga I stopped at the Bothe-Napa Valley Park and wandered through the redwoods until it started to get dark and then stopped by the Castel di Amorosa, an authentically styled 13th century Tuscan castle and winery just to have a look around.  You can take a tour of the castle and sample their wines but it was too late to do either one.  I returned to Calistoga to “regroup” and then set out for the Farm in Sonoma (almost next door to di rosa galleries!!!) for a delightful dinner.  The Farm is in the Carneros Inn with high ceilings, a fireplace and fabulous food.  Again I decided on the tasting menu and had:  Mendocino uni with sunflower sprouts, crudo of Hawaiian kampachi with edamame and radish sprouts, lobster nicoise with tomato jam, California squab with toasted farro and slow cooked garden greens, crispy shortrib with truffled salsify, redwood hill goat cheddar with hot pepper jelly and ricotta beignets with persimmon four ways!!!

In the morning Deanna fixed crisp little apple puffs for breakfast and I returned to San Francisco and turned in the car.  Lunch at Prospect, a restaurant owned by Nancy Oakes of Boulevard was wonderful.  I started with kabocha squash hummus with pomegranate seeds and homemade crackers and followed with a prosciutto/eggplant caponata/arugula and burrata cheese platter.  Dessert was a decadent salted chocolate caramel tart with caramel sauce and caramel ice cream!!!  I could barely make it to the De Young Museum after all that food!!!  There was a veery extensive Bulgari exhibition of their jewelry through the ages which also contained some pieces from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor.  Ongoing videos of famous people were shown wearing some of the jewelry on display which was quite interesting to see.  David Hockney’s “big” exhibition was also quite interesting with his large scale, multi-canvas oil paintings and digital movies shot with multiple cameras of the English countryside.

Dinner at Nopa, another of my favorite restaurants, was great fun.  I like to sit upstairs overlooking the kitchen where you can see all the “action”.  I had crisp flatbread topped with tapenade, squash, caramelized onions and crescenza cheese sprinkled with arugula.  Dessert was a chocolate pot of cream with cocoa nib cookies!!!

In the morning I stopped by the Xanadu Galleries on Maiden Lane designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and housing some very fine Asian art.  Lunch at Cologna near Jackson Square was a burrata cheese salad with beets, a crisp slab of freshly made focaccia brad and a “chocolate bar” for dessert.  Bart back to Oakland Airport and a quick flight home.  It was a really great trip.  I saw so many new and wonderful things, tried a few new restaurants, tasted some delicious food and thoroughly enjoyed myself!!!  Until the next time!!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Winter Fruit and Vegetable Salad
2 Tbsp. orange juice
1 tsp. honey
2 tsp. honey mustard
2 Tbsp. Sherry wine vinegar
6 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 Belgian endives, cut into thin strips
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
½ fennel bulb, stalks cut off and discarded, bulb cored and thinly sliced
½ celery root, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Comice pear, peeled, cored and cut into matchsticks
1C baby arugula
1/2C pea sprouts or micro greens
3 oz. manchego cheese, thinly sliced
1/2C whole almonds, toasted

Mix orange juice, honey, mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a jar and shake well.  Toss the endives, onion, fennel, celery root and pear with dressing to coat.  Add the arugula and pea sprouts and toss again.  Finally add the manchego cheese and almonds.

MAKES:  6 servings