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Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Celebrating My Birthday

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Celebrating My Birthday

It’s been quite the birthday week. Day trips to Yountville, lunches at my favorite restaurants in Danville with friends, relaxing pedicures, a wine tasting experience in Livermore with a niece and sister, and a fun birthday celebration for a girlfriend which included an overnight stay at the Harkey House in Yuba City with my husband. I’m a lucky girl and I am grateful every day for the friends and family who are in my life. I can’t forget mentioning having my sons over for a home cooked meal. They brought me my favorite See’s Candy and pastries from an Asian bakery in Concord. Just wow.

My sister Sue and her daughter Marie in Livermore at Murietta’s Well

I’m not always running out for special dinners and wine tasting. Just yesterday, I unloaded a truckful of good soil from Macalveys Nursery in Martinez. I carefully dug up old annuals first and replaced them with the new soil. It’s too hot to plant anything new and we are on water rationing here in California because of the drought. Instead, I will toss some wildflower seeds into the beds and see what comes up in the fall after the rain. 

My garden has been an extra handful this year. I selected special seeds in March and began growing them under lights and on heat mats in the garage. I grew several varieties of tomatoes, watermelon, pumpkin, peppers, zinnias and more. After planting them in raised beds or in broadcloth cages (to protect them from gophers), many of them were eaten by the ground squirrels. We’ve never had a problem with these critters before even though we live next to open space. It’s been WAR. 

My husband Ken bought an airsoft gun after no success with the traps. I learned how to use it today, but still haven’t managed to shoot one. I know. It sounds horrible and I usually love squirrels, but when they eat all the leaves from my new Meyer lemon tree, the leaves from the new almond tree and many of my perennials, they’ve got to go. Many of the vegetables I’ve had to cover up with crates to keep them from being eaten. I don’t mind sharing, but this has been devastating seeing all of my crops and plants taken from me.If you have any ideas for me, I’m all ears. Thank goodness I don’t have to live off my land, or I would starve.

I was invited to go to lunch at Bistro don Giovani’s in Yountville with my friends and neighbors Luann and Sandra. I was blown away by Luann’s offer to take me out for my birthday, as we have gone wine tasting before, but never to celebrate our birthdays. They have expanded their outdoor patio and have added fans and heat lamps for the evenings. The meal was delightful and the service outstanding. We had the calamari with shrimp, fennel and green beans for an appetizer and I couldn’t have been happier. Luann ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc which the three of us shared. Raviolis, focaccia, a peach, marcona almond, goat cheese salad and chocolate cake with vanilla gelato dessert were also shared by all of us.

Bistro Don Giovani in Yountville with Sandra and Luann

Just down the lane from the restaurant is Ashes and Diamonds Winery. The ladies weren’t ready to head back to the Bay Area yet, so we ordered another bottle of wine and sat under the umbrellas to chat. I should mention that they don’t sell just a glass of wine. Either you order the tasting menu, or a bottle of wine. The least expensive bottle was the 2019 Blanc which was $45.00. I paid for the wine and tip since my friends picked up the tab at the restaurant. How often do you get to hang out with girlfriends for hours? This was a treat. We got caught up, drank tons of water and had olives and crackers before Sandra drove us home. 

Me and my girlfriend Marie before our lunch date

Another very special day was spent with my friend Marie. She and I met 43 years ago while working at Mr. Steak. She took me for a pedicure at Bollinger Nails Salon in Danville. She was surprised to see how fidgety I get when someone touches my feet. I guess you either love it or tolerate it. I love the final look and being able to look presentable while wearing sandals.

Next we ate at my favorite restaurant Esin. The owner is a pastry chef and always has exquisite desserts to choose from. Their food is always excellent. We started with their marinated citrus olives and French bread with olive oil. I ordered their salmon tartare with avocado appetizer and chips and Marie had the Caesar salad with grilled chicken. We ended the meal sharing the lemon meringue pie with a toasted marshmallow whipped topping and raspberry sauce. This meal was perfect in every way and mostly because I had one on one time with my best friend. Priceless.

My husband Ken sitting on porch at Harkey House Bed and Breakfast

Staying at the Harkey House was delightful. We checked in at 4:30PM after spending the day with my friend Kathi at her 60th surprise birthday party in Lincoln California. I brought two cakes that I decorated the night before. There was a chocolate with candied orange, chocolate frosting and whipped cream with raspberries and a yellow cake with whipped cream, fresh strawberries and strawberry jam. My poor husband had to balance the white cake on his lap the entire way to the party. Kathi was surprised and even cried from all the excitement. It was a nice day, but we were happy to sneak in a quick nap at the B&B before going to dinner.

My friend Kathi’s 60th surprise birthday blowing out candles on the cakes I made

There weren’t many choices of places to eat by the time we woke up from our naps. We landed at Sutter Buttes Brewing in Yuba City just 10 minutes from the B&B. Yuba City was once a thriving bustling town. It’s not fancy by any means, but we were pleased with the Harkey House and the pub food and porter beer for dinner.

The weather there was very hot, almost 100 degrees, but we found the restaurant cool and inviting inside. The waitress was friendly and happy to help us and we didn’t feel rushed even though they stopped serving at 9PM.

We slept great at the Harkey House and were welcomed downstairs for an elaborate breakfast at 8:30AM. The owners Lee and Bob have been running the place for forty years. We sat out on the back patio with another younger couple from Santa Cruz who were lovely. It was a relaxing atmosphere and we sat around for at least two hours enjoying each other and eating until we were stuffed. They made us each mini individual herb quiches,tomato salsa, a jalapeno and egg omelet, Canadian bacon, corn souffle, Oregon grape jam with lavender scones, orange juice, watermelon, fresh strawberries and coffee. Lee would come out to check to see if we needed anything and share a story or two. She also gave me a few new suggestions of books to read for my book club. They were Visionary Women by Andrea Barnet, Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher, The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia and What Happened to You, by Bruce Perry,M.D. She let us take a huge Sutter Valley grown white peach home with us and we ate it in the car. What hospitality!

Satisfying breakfast plate served at Harkey House in Yuba City

On the way home we stopped at a fruit stand where I bought a berry jam, strawberry jam, green beans, jalapenos, tomatoes, and lemon cucumbers because I can’t go by one of those places without stopping. 

When I arrived home, I had exactly 30 minutes to bring treats to the chickens and get ready for a day with my niece Marie and sister Sue. The three of us ended up at Murrieta’s Well Winery. We enjoyed their exquisite tasting menu with a few olives, nuts and crackers. This place had live music, a shaded outdoor patio and great service. You are surrounded by rolling hills, oak trees and vineyards.

Reservations were needed at Range Life in Livermore just down a little ways from Murietta’s Well. Luckily my niece Marie knows all the fancy foodie places. It must run in the family. Again we sat on their small outdoor patio under a large oak tree. They had fans and plenty of shade to keep us cool since it was hot and possibly 90 degrees.

My Sister Sue, me and niece Marie at Range Life in Livermore

I’m trying to recall everything we ate. I think the tasting at the previous place might have skewed my memory. We started with the Monterey King Salmon Crudo with blackberries, nardello pepper and cipolla verde, the Melon and Shishito’s, and Caesar salad with gem lettuce and an amazing pangrattato, tiny bread crumbs with parmigiano. This place is Michelin Star rated and I totally see why. Of course we had to try the fritto of cucuzza squash blossoms stuffed with chanterelle aioli. It’s summer in California on a plate. Everything is served family style and it’s a good thing because the Klingeman Ham Chop with polenta, valley corn, cabbage and a nectarine relish was enormous. You just want to order everything. I brought a bottle of wine to help with the cost and it served its purpose. Drink and eat. Drink and eat. That’s my life. I can’t leave out the one serving of 72% Mababu Askinosie Chocolate Sorbet with cacao nibs which could possibly be the best bite of chocolate I’ve ever had. Immediately I’m looking up the bean to bar Missouri based chocolate company and following them on Instagram.Here’s another famous chocolate shop in Portland Oregon.

I’m pretty sure we didn’t need more dessert, but we still went to Lotties Creamery in Danville on the way home. If nothing else, it sobered us up a little before driving home. We each had the vanilla salted almond toffee ice cream on a waffle cone. So delish.

Ham Chop with polenta, cabbage and nectarines from Range Life in Livermore California

Can I just say that this has possibly been the best birthday month I’ve ever had. I believe Covid has made people take more time to be with the people we love. I haven’t stopped celebrating even though it’s already almost August. Next week my younger sister Julie is meeting me at San Damiano Retreat for our traditional “buddy lunch.” It’s our little secret spot up on a hill in Danville. We make eachother lunches and sit in the most peaceful and spiritual place where we chat and get caught up on sister talk. It’s the best.

And my hiking group friends are taking me to lunch at Round Hill in Alamo next week also. I tried to put off being the center of attention and wanted to wait until September when there will be two other birthdays. Why is it that I don’t like birthday attention? I guess I will take a closer look at that.

My best news is that a very close friend is finally home from the hospital after having a serious life saving surgery. I’m overjoyed she is okay and now home with her family to heal.

Thanks for stopping by. It means a lot. Off to the farmers market for fresh fruit and vegetables and to get greens for my chickens.

Thank you Luann and Sandra for the Birthday cake at Bistro Don Giovani
From the right. My niece Marie and her boyfriend Jeff’s sister Rachel sporting our new Smyth Family Farm logo t-shirts

I decided to add this delicious rice recipe that I love to make. I had a surprise visit from my niece and her almost sister-in-law Rachel last weekend. We made tamales, coconut rice, and a gluten free peach crumble. We never took any photos of the food unfortunately, but had tons of fun.

This rice recipe was shared from my neighbor Jen’s best friend. Jen and her husband have a Holiday party every year and their friend Vasuki Narayan

always brought this dish to go with the roasted turkey. I was blown away by the taste and spices that I had to ask for the recipe. You will love it too. You may have to take a quick trip to a specialty Indian store and have them help you find the ingredients. It’s the best rice I’ve ever had. We added it as a topping for the extra spicy chili that I made this week. It went well and cooled down the spices a lot. Why do I always add too much jalapeno grown in my garden to my recipes? Ugh.

  Coconut Rice

(Thengai Saadham)

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. Canola or Grapeseed Oil

1.2 tsp. Mustard seeds

1 tsp. Urad Dal

1 tsp. Channa Dal

1 Tbsp. Broken Cashews

4 green chilies (Thai or serrano)

5-6 Curry Leaves

1 C Shredded Fresh or frozen Coconut (Found at Indian stores)

½ tsp. Kosher Salt

1 tsp. Sugar

2 C. Cooked Rice (Jasmine is nice) Make ahead of time and cool

Directions:

In a heavy pan or wok, heat oil. Add mustard seeds.

When the seeds pop, add urad dal.channa dal, and cashews. Lightly fry until the cashews are golden brown.

Add green chilies and curry leaves. (I substituted red dried chilies and bay leaves). Fry lightly until the curry leaves are crisp, less than 1 minute.

Add grated coconut, salt, sugar and fry for 1 minute.

Fold in cooked rice slowly and mix thoroughly.

Remove from heat and serve immediately.

This is the chili dish with added cheese and blueberry corn muffins. The next time we ate the chili, I added the leftover coconut rice. It was divine.
 

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