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106 Degree Heat Wave, Filoli Gardens, French Dip and Ice Cream kind of Day

106 Degree Heat Wave, Filoli Gardens, French Dip and Ice Cream kind of Day

It’s been a hot few days here in Northern California. It is currently 111 degrees and it’s only the beginning of September. A month ago, my friend Marie and I decided to celebrate her birthday today. We were hoping to go towards the coast to avoid the hot weather. I chose to spend the day with her at Filoli Historic House and Garden in Woodside which is located 30 miles south of San Francisco, nestled on a slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains and have lunch after. Here’s a tip:It’s best to purchase tickets ahead of time online. I brought my Aunt Teri here a year ago when there was a  last minute change of plans because of a fire along the Highway and I had to buy the tickets in the parking lot on my phone.

Me and my friend Marie at Filoli in front of the Sunflower and Vegetable Garden

She left her house at 7:40 AM and didn’t arrive at my place until 9:00 AM. Since school has started, we’ve had to factor in more time to get places and Marie lives further inland. We were excited to spend the day together and didn’t mind getting an early start.

Marie and I at Filoli Gardens. This pool was built after the owner had a stroke to help him recover

We arrived at Filoli by 10:20 AM and practically had the whole place to ourselves. It wasn’t much cooler than the East Bay, but we were happy to see the statues, wrought iron gates and beautiful gardens. The property has a Georgian revival-style mansion and is considered to be one of the best remaining country estates of the 20th century. The gardens are from an English Renaissance era with stunning hydrangeas, rose of sharon (a hibiscus shrub), purple and red salvia, tiny cyclamen, pink amaryllis, roses, English lavender and a deep blue ‘Hidcote’ lavender in the summer, and camelias, orchids, magnolias and citrus blossoms in the winter just to name a few. The spring display features thousands of daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and blue violas.

I was excited to see the prolific newly renovated vegetable garden on display. They had everything you could think of. We walked down rows and rows of green beans, amaranth, squash, tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, herbs, Swiss chard and much much more. We barely got a glimpse of the cut flower garden that included massive sunflowers, bachelor buttons, zinnias, bright and tall yellow marigolds, echinacea “purple cone flower” in every color and waist high dahlias that were popping up everywhere. 

Eventually we needed a rest on a bench in the shade under a massive Oak tree where flying insects began swarming into our eyes and mouths. I swallowed a bug, basically inhaled it and Marie had to put her sunglasses back on to keep them out of her eyes. Obviously, we didn’t sit there long. There were massive Elm trees, Oak-Madrone Forests, Redwood Groves, Chaparral and Irish Yews (evergreen conifers) from Muckross, olive trees, heirloom apple orchards and hundreds of acres of natural lands situated on the 654 acres of ancestral lands of the Ramaytush Ohlone people. There are 5 distinct ecosystems there and a 1 mile Estate Trail that we had to miss because of the heat.

We stumbled upon the gift shop where we could find shade and cool air. There I purchased sunflower seeds for Marie and I to plant in the Spring, wildflower honey, and a cute white and pink ‘marshmallow’ fuchsia plant for a new planter box that Marie’s husband made for her. Marie loves sunflowers, so these were the perfect gifts.

Marie in front of the squash and sunflower patch

We didn’t walk around the gardens as long as we wanted to because it was very warm and we had lunch reservations a few blocks away. The Village Bakery Restaurant was a glorious next stop during our birthday celebration for Marie. We had developed an appetite and decided to sit inside even though both of us prefer to stay safe and eat outdoors if possible because of Covid. I had been there many years ago when my sister lived in Belmont. It is 10 times better now than it was years ago.

The waiter was quick to bring us cold water and offer us fancy libations like aperol spritz and various cocktails, but I was driving and Marie was happy with an iced tea with lemon.

Chilled Cucumber Gaspacho at The Village Bakery in Woodside California

We started with a chilled cucumber gazpacho served with a cherry tomato panzanella, extra virgin olive oil and mint. The waiter was kind enough to split it for us and give us individual servings. It was cool and refreshing with just the right amount of acid from the tomato and crunch from the crouton and the cucumber. Delicious! And since we were at a bakery, we had to order the Parker House Rolls with flaky Maldon sea salt and sweet butter. My favorite!

Grilled Chicken Caesar, French Dip, Cucumber Gaspacho at Village Bakery

Next Marie ordered the Caesar salad with grilled chicken which practically melted in your mouth and I had to have their French Dip (Prime Rib thinly sliced, caramelized onions, gruyere on a toasted baguette) with au jus. These were simply divine. The restaurant began to get busier and busier and both of us became a little uneasy, so we decided to skip the dessert. The waiter again thought of everything, and brought Marie a large chocolate chip cookie “to go”. It should be mentioned that there is a 20 percent service surcharge already added onto the bill to help pay the staff in support of the San Mateo County employer mandate. Many restaurants are establishing these rules and I’m happy people in the food industry are beginning to be paid what they deserve.

Lastly, we stopped in San Ramon at The Lot City Center Bishop Ranch for ice cream at Salt & Straw. This is a fairly new shopping center with many restaurants, shops and a theater. I ordered the Marionberry Coconut Sherbet in a waffle cone and Marie picked the Chocolate Gooey Brownie in a waffle cup. The $5.95 each scoops are enormous and the waffle cones are $1.50 extra, but who’s counting? Not me, certainly. Locations are popping up all over California including San Francisco, Palo Alto and Burlingame and many in Los Angeles if you want to give them a try. They have seasonal flavors no one else has like Spiced Goat Cheese Pumpkin Pie, Plum & Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread, Wild-Foraged Berry Slab Pie, Pinot Poached Pear Sherbet and Honey Lavender. These are so interesting that you want to taste all of them!

Me and Marie at Salt & Straw at THE LOT City Center Bishop Ranch in San Ramon California

I can’t imagine a more perfect day. Marie and I have been friends for over 43 years. (Tammie Berg -my bestie pal from high school. You have her beat with 44!)(Donna- It’s been 36 years!)(Denise -It’s been 20 plus years) (Kathi- It’s been 34 years) (Sherri- It’s been 27 years) But who is keeping track? Marie and I met in 1979 at Mr. Steak Restaurant while working as hostesses. We’ve been through a lot of years raising 5 boys and two husbands between us and keeping in touch regularly. I’m so happy we could take time away from our busy schedules to make it a special day. Here is our day together last year in Napa.

Thanks for following my blog and reading my stories. I will be sure to share a recipe here when the heat subsides. Until then, stay cool and enjoy life.

 

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The French Laundry Part 2 and a Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe You Will Come Back To Every Time

The French Laundry Part 2 and a Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe You Will Come Back To Every Time

The famous blue door to The French Laundry. We dined right next to it

I’m stuck sitting in my house all day because the smoke and ash from the West Coast wildfires are making the air unhealthy to breathe.The fires have charred over 2.5 million acres and it’s only mid September. I can’t imagine anything else that could go wrong in 2020. America and the world have been dealing with the Covid pandemic. We have missed weddings, funerals, concerts, and everything about our previous lifestyle and all this began a little more than six months ago. But August 23, 2020 will go down in history as being one of my favorite experiences ever, dining at The French Laundry in Yountville, California.

I’ve been following Thomas Keller (ChefThomasKeller)  and the Three Star Michelin Restaurant The French Laundry (tfl) on Instagram for years. I’ve walked through the gardens across the street from the restaurant every time I visit my dad at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville. I’m inspired by the organic produce they grow and look to see what flowers I can identify by name. Not only have I worked as a pastry chef, I’ve also been an avid gardener for over 30 years. So getting the chance to dine at one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, was a dream come true.

In January, my sister Sue booked a reservation in May for four to celebrate her daughter Marie’s 30th birthday. Marie takes after her auntie and is one of the biggest foodies there is. She knows her wine too, especially after working for Wente Winery for a few years.There is a great story of our day together in a previous blog if you want to check that out. When Covid hit in March, the restaurant had to close and pivot to outdoor dining reopening on July 8th. Our reservation was rescheduled for August 23rd, which happened to be my sister’s birthday. Perfect right? I was excited to be included in this fancy affair and couldn’t wait for August to come fast enough. 

When the day finally arrived, we started it off the right way by having brunch at my house first. Here’s the beginning of the story tfl Part 1. I didn’t want to go wine tasting at Robert Biale on an empty stomach, so I whipped up a few dishes to keep our tummies full.

The Bees home in the tfl gardens
Saying hello to my chicken friends

Before our reservation, we had to get coffee and hot chocolate and buy something at Bouchon, the famous French Bakery also owned by Thomas Keller. We then took a walk through the gardens, said hello to the chickens and the bees and took photos like we were having the best day of our lives. And we were. We even touched up our makeup and hair in the car so we would be ready for what was to come.

The time had come. It was 5:15PM, so my husband Ken dropped us off (a designated driver is always a good idea), took a few photographs and we walked up to the back entrance. We were greeted and welcomed with a smile. We gave our name and were escorted to our table. Just so you know, I don’t get to eat at places like this every day. I appreciate restaurants and bars and how they make us feel and that’s why I write about them. 

My niece Marie, Sister Sue and friend Sue Baker waiting for our experience https://letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

Our waiter was handsome and had an English accent. Very charming. We were smitten with him. My niece is single so of course I wanted to see if he was available since I am a matchmaker. I bet you didn’t know that about me. Well, he was taken, so that was that.

 Marie brought a Del Dotto Rose sparkling wine and I brought a Red wine to avoid extra costs. Our waiter was nice enough to decanter the Italian Amarone Della Valpolicella Terre Molin red wine and open the sparkling wine to start. It was delightful. Light and plenty of bubbles. The perfect way to start the evening.

Then the tastings started coming. There was an amuse bouche of a cheese ball served in a cone dipped in white and black sesame seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds I think. We were also given hand made, perfectly cut out, flower shaped crackers filled with special cheeses that  came from the cheese maker Soyoung Scanlan at Andante Farm in Petaluma California. 

And lucky me, Chef Keller graced our table. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Chef’s are like rock stars to me. I had to give him my business card with my blog on it and share that I almost applied to a job to be his assistant 8 months ago, before I chickened out. Maybe I will get the courage to apply there someday. He was warm and professional and everything I had hoped for. He is an author of three cookbooks: Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc At Home, and the latest one Under Pressure Cooking Sous Vide, none of which I have. Hint. Hint. He also launched a magazine called Finesse in Dec 2010 that featured different themes of importance to Chef Keller such Design, Community, Preservation and Evolution. I must check these out. For $15.00 a month you can register for his Online Masterclass and learn how to poach perfect eggs, make pasta by hand and confit vegetables. Pretty cool.

Birthday Menu

I should have taken better notes because I’m trying to decipher the menu and compare it to the photos I took of the dishes. I can recall a special pastry that we were served along with their extraordinary butter made by Diane St. Claire, found only in Vermont by a dairy called Animal Farm. Chef Keller even had a cow named after him. I bet the pastry was made from heirloom grains provided by Glenn Roberts owner of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina. The miller also grows Japanese buckwheat, French oats, Italian farro, legumes and antebellum corn. I’ve been experimenting with these grains and making bread by grinding grains with a Mocksmill that I purchased when there was a flour shortage. 

This dining experience is special because of the close relationship the chef has with the farmers like Sadie Kendall at Kendall Farms in Atascadero who makes creme fraiche, seafood purveyors like Island Creek Oysters in Massachusetts,or Ingrid Bengis Seafood for her lobster,  scallops and crab. Chef Keller buys only the best ingredients for culinary excellence and discriminating appetites such as special spices and olive oils from  Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco. You get the idea.

I won’t go into every bite with you here, but I will include the menu so you can look it over yourself. It’s totally worth every penny to have an experience like we had.

Dessert table at tfl

In my opinion, the best part of the meal was the dessert. We were presented with a birthday cake “Gateau Marjolaine” a hazelnut dacquoise, chocolate ganache and praline buttercream for the birthday girls that had fireworks coming out of it. No joke. Incredible. My niece was blown away and so were the rest of us. 

Did I mention Sue Baker, my sister’s best friend paid for Marie to have a special glass of wine selected from the wine cellar to celebrate her and to make her experience even better? How sweet was that? I can’t forget to address that my sister Sue paid for all four of us to dine at The French Laundry. It’s seriously unbelievable and added to the excitement of the day. Thank you Sue. So generous.

Our waiter and the box of chocolates
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Back to the desserts, because of course these were my favorite treats and the most indulgent part of the evening. They kept coming and coming. There were caramels, and a strawberry flavored one too. We tried a peach French macaron (My recipe here) and chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I ate a white sesame cake with yuzu glazed strawberries, served with cream and cosmos flower petals.

Our service was undeniably the best I’ve ever had and our waiters had the precise attention to detail, skill and expertise that you would expect from a three star restaurant. They anticipated our every desire. Only better. I’m pretty sure someone stood near our table the whole evening just in case there was something we needed.

I wish I had taken better notes because I can’t begin to describe what was served in a tiny coffee cup. I also couldn’t stop eating the fluffy white dessert with chocolate crumbles. You realize we had been eating for four hours at least nine or ten decadent servings of everything a person could ever want and yet, I couldn’t stop myself from eating every single bite. Then they brought out the chocolates and we could try as many as we wanted. OMG. To die for. Don’t tell anyone. I took a few home in my purse so I could save them for later. Delicious. Works of art. 

To make the day even better, the staff guided us through the kitchen for a tour. The kitchen is spotless and shiny like no other. Copper pots lining the walls, bins of tiny white and red onions probably coming straight from their garden across the street. 

tfl kitchen
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We laughed and giggled all the way back to the East Bay telling Ken all about the upcharge option of wagyu beef, and the stunningly, impeccably cared for grounds and the gently lighted ambiance when the sun went down.

Dining at the French Laundry has been the most relaxing and memorable foodie experience ever. We were treated like royalty by the most courteous staff. It was truly remarkable.

I hope you enjoyed my blog on The French Laundry. Meeting Chef Thomas Keller made my evening, but dining with my family and loved ones will be something I will always cherish. Thanks for stopping by.

The four of us at the end of our tour at tfl
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Follow my blog for more stories and recipes. 

CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:

50g or ½ C. Cocoa Powder

40g or ⅓ C. Powdered Milk

150g or ¾ C. Granulated Sugar

10g or 2 T Instant Coffee powder Or Espresso

½ T Kosher Salt

100g or about 5 large Egg Yolks (Yolks ONLY)

360ml or 1½ C. Whole Milk

2 T Rum

480ml or 2 C. Heavy Cream

1 tsp Tahitian Vanilla Extract

Directions:

In a medium size heavy saucepan, place the cocoa powder, the powdered milk, granulated sugar, instant coffee, rum, salt and stir with a wire whisk. Stir in the egg yolks. Pour the cream, milk and vanilla extract into the pan. Whisk ingredients and cook over low to medium heat until the thermometer reaches 158 degrees F or 70 degrees C.

Mixing the egg yolks into dry ingredients
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For the next 25 minutes (set your timer), move the pan off and on over the heat keeping the temperature between 158-162 degrees F or 70-72 degrees C and constantly stirring. Stay with your ice cream base the entire 25 minutes.

Cooked chocolate custard
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Remove the pan off the heat, once the 25 minutes is up. Strain the custard through a wire mesh into a large bowl to remove any clumps.Cover with plastic wrap touching the custard directly onto the plastic to prevent a skin from forming on your custard.

Put the chocolate ice cream base into the refrigerator overnight or for at least four or 5 hours to chill. Pre chill the 2 quart bowl preferably overnight. (I leave mine in the freezer all year long, always returning to the freezer after my ice cream is made.) When ready to churn, take the frozen ice cream container out, add the chocolate ice cream base and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions approximately 15-20 minutes or until doubled in volume. Remove it from the ice cream machine and place in a container with a lid and freeze until firm. 

This is my latest favorite dessert. It is fairly easy to make and keeps well in the freezer. Never lasts long in my house… Here is a video of me making the chocolate custard that is uploaded from my Instagram page.


 

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