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The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

          --Dorothy Nevill

Posted on November 30, 2007 at 01:45 PM in quotes | Permalink | Comments (0)

When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?

-Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat and writer
(1884-1962)

Posted on November 25, 2007 at 02:26 PM in quotes | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stupidity 2007

How exactly is it that some people think running up debt like a fool is better for America than even the most well-thought-out taxes? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost the average American family of four over $20,000! That's just nuts - and what the hell has it gained us?

"Charge it" is not a fiscal policy, it's a recipe for disaster.

Posted on November 24, 2007 at 12:25 PM in politics & philosophy | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Bar, Bartender and Cocktail Guide 2007 2007

Given all the cocktail discussion within my London travel posts and our intense cocktail geekery over the last year, it seems time to start pulling it all together in one place.

Bars:

San Francisco:

Absinthe, Hayes Valley
[Not to be missed; recommended bartender: Jonny Raglin; recommended drink: consider whatever's up on the chalkboard tonight]

The Alembic, Upper Haight
[I need to give this one another try; had a suboptimal first experience, but am assured that's not typical]

Bix, Financial District
[recommended bartender: Bradley]

Bourbon & Branch, Tenderloin
[Gorgeous space, fantastic drinks]

Citizen Cake, Hayes Valley
[recommended drink: The Bravo]

Nopa, Divisidero & Hayes
[recommended bartenders: Neyah White, Matt; recommended appetizer: the flatbread]

Range, Valencia Street/Inner Mission
[recommended for dinner as well; recommended drink: 1794; recommended bartender]

Rye, Nob Hill
[Need to visit again - only tried once at a very quiet time and think it may not have been a lead bartender on duty]

New York City:

Campbell Apartments
[lovely atmosphere]

Pegu Club
[not to be missed and a serious contender for my Best Bar in the World vote - certainly by far the best cocktail/food pairings in the world, try the Little Italy; recommended drink: 19th Century]

WD-50
[recommended drink: Rye & Quince]

London:

Artesian at the Langham Hotel, Regent Street
[recommended drink: Jerry's Medicine]

Baltic, Southwark
[nice enough, but not top of the list]

The Bar at the Dorchester Hotel, Mayfair
[not to be missed; recommended bartender: Paulo; recommended drink: Martinez with Old Tom]

Lobby Bar at 1 Aldwych, Strand
[recommended drinks: Caraway Maker, The Gentleman; appetizers merely adequate as of Nov 2007]

Montgomery Place, Notting Hill
[not to be missed - my current vote for best bar in the world; recommended bartender: Marian Beke]

 

Favorite drinks of the year:

The Bravo [invented by Matt of Citizen Cake & Nopa in San Francisco]

The Gentleman [invented by Giovanni, formerly of Lobby Bar at 1 Aldwych in London]

Old Potrero Hotalings & Carpano Antica Formula Manhattan

Cynar-washed Negroni [specialty of Kevin of O'Reilly's Holy Grail in San Francisco]

Martin Millers & Carpano Antica Formula Negroni [called by Joe Gratz and now my favorite version]


Bars on the to-be-tried list still:

London: The Blue Bar at the Berkeley (NYT recommended), Claridge's Bar (NYT recommended), Cocoon (bartender recommended, but just for drinks), Connaught Hotel (NYT recommended), Dukes Hotel (Negroni recommend by Jonny Raglin), Fat Duck (mentioned in NYT article), Green & Red (bartender recommended), Hakkasan (bartender & NYT recommended), Library Bar at the Lanesborough (bartender recommended),The Lonsdale (NYT recommended), MatchBar (NYT recommended), Nobu (bartender recommended), Roka (NYT recommended), Shochu Lounge at Zuma (NYT recommended), Trailer Happiness (NYT recommended), Whisky Bar at the Atheneum (bartender recommended).

New York City: Employees Only (friend & bartender recommended), Flatiron Lounge, Milk & Honey (bartender recommended), PDT (consultant Jim Meehan tends at Pegu Club).

San Francisco: Cantina (recommended on eGullet forum), Elixer (keep running into barkeep H at various cocktail geek events)

***
[Edited Dec 24th, 2007, after finding that Matt is back behind the bars at Citizen Cake & Nopa and that the Bravo is indeed his creation]

Posted on November 23, 2007 at 06:52 PM in Food and Drink | Permalink | Comments (1)

2007 big vacation: Day 9 - London 2007

Having learned our lesson on Saturday, we were very careful to spend our last day in London in a way optimized to leave us as relaxed as possible.

Sleeping in? Check.
Brunch two doors up from our hotel at the perfectly-adequate-for-our-morning-needs Garfunkel's? Check.
Back to the room to relax a bit, read, nap (Joe), get most things packed up early so the morning will be a piece of cake (Dinah)? Check.
Wait until late afternoon to actually set out anywhere to do anything? Check.

And the really wise choice was that when we did leave, we had but one definite part of the plan: take the tube to Notting Hill and go to Montgomery Place, the bar most recommended to us by other bartenders.

We arrived just before opening, 5pm, and sat under the awning at an outdoor table watching the light rain on Kensington Park Road. This was an excellent apertif in itself: fresh autumn air, wet London sidewalks, the knowledge that our only duty for the rest of the evening was to have some great drinks and tasty appetizers in a pleasant setting.

Montgomery Place lived up to and exceeded our high expectations. Really all one could want in a bar: incredibly skilled and attentive staff, great ingredients, attention to detail, and all this in an easy, unpressured environment.

Our bartender Marian Beke is an artist, a real master of the classic cocktail. Great conversation, deep knowledge, and just a fantastic host. Anyone wanting to improve their skills on the service side of the bar would do well to observe his approach.

The first pleasant surprise was just how good the food at Montgomery Place is. We knew the drinks would be tasty, but I'd recommend them to a non-drinker too for their delicious appetizers. Our favorite was the Lamb Schlick, but it was all very good.

The full drink menu is not available on the website and it's now Friday as I write this, so I'm regretting not having taken notes. It probably doesn't matter so much which drinks we ordered as that they were flawlessly executed. We also got to sample some of their extensive selection of vermouths (even more than the Dorchester's much vaunted list, I have to report!) and bitters.

The hard part about getting to some of the other recommended bars in London on a future trip is that we will really have to go to Montgomery Place every time now.

I just can't recommend them highly enough and early evening Sunday is a great time for true cocktail fans to go - quiet, plenty of room, and ample opportunity to talk with the bar staff. It would also be a good time to take a group - at least on a rainy Sunday in November - as there was plenty of room in the back to accommodate a good crowd.

With big smiles we walked back through the wet streets to the Ladbrooke Grove tube stop and on from Leicester Square back down to Club Quarters for the final night in the hotel.

In the morning there was little left to do to get ready so we had a fairly unhurried time getting ourselves to Heathrow for our 1pm flight home. Thanks to the large movie selection on British Airways and the easier direction of travel, it didn't seem as long a journey as the outbound trip. We got home by about 6:30pm San Francisco time (what with having to wait for our checked bag with the bottles from Gerry's inside), kept ourselves up until 8:30pm and then fell gratefully into our own bed.

Posted on November 23, 2007 at 03:33 PM in travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

2007 big vacation: Day 8 - London 2007

This vacation day started slow with laundry doing and dozing.

***

Oops! Forgot to mention this whole outing:
We had one errand we definitely also wanted to fit in on this trip: shopping for spirits that are hard to find in San Francisco. All bartenders seem to agree that the place to go in London is Gerry's in Soho. They were so very very right. We came in the door, stared agog at the selection and under the brisk but courteous interrogation of the storekeeper we found ourselves out on the sidewalk again gasping like landed fish about 5 minutes later with four precious bottles. It went something like this:

"What can I do for you?"

"Could we get some Amer Picon?"

Bottle is grabbed from two steps away and set on the counter.

"There's a tangerine liqueur..."
"Van der Hum from South Africa." Bottle placed on the counter almost as he finishes speaking.

"Um...Amaro Montenegro?"
Reaches up beside the counter, adds the bottle to our group, looks at us expectantly.

"And could we see the bitters selection?"
"Step around the counter..." and there we see every variety of Fee's including the Whiskey Barrel Bitters, Angostura, Peychauds, plus four kinds of Bitter Truth of which I selected the Orange (rather than the Orange Flower which they also make).

Stunning.

We'll be stopping in for a few bottles at Gerry's on every future London trip I suspect.

Laden with boozy loot we headed back to drop it off at the hotel, stopping along the way for lunch at the Cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin's In The Fields on Trafalgar Square. Very tasty food and a fun setting.

***

Eventually we got ourselves out and on the way walking to the pretty square at Lincoln's Inn to take in Sir John Soane's Museum with our friend Michael. The weather threatened rain at us but only dripped a bit.

Inside, as expected, we had a delighted time exploring this eccentric old gentleman's beautiful and creative home stuffed to the gills with every possible collectible you could get your hands on in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. My favorite bits remain the breakfast parlour, the library, and Hogarth's Rake's Progress in the art collection.

After our museum itch was scratched we rambled along toward Michael's favorite pub by way of Seven Dials and cheese shopping at Neal's Yard Dairy. Along with the obligatory excellent loaf of crusty bread and a good apple, this time the cheeses chosen were Innes Bosworth Ash ("A log-shaped, unpasteurised goats cheese rolled in salted ash beneath a layer of white rind that creates a jagged, grey circumference when sliced.") and Sleightlet ("Little discs mottled with black ash and white, blue and green moulds. The interior is bright white as with most goats cheeses. Soft, creamy and slightly fluffy texture that seems to dissolve on your tongue. The flavours are lemony, a little bit goaty and slightly nutty.") Extremely tasty!

We had a good time whiling away the early part of the evening with Michael at The Angel talking about technology, Douglas Adams, and other generally pleasing geek topics. A very pretty old pub with a lovely tiled, covered side yard.

A few pints later and it was time to scurry off through the West End crowds to get to the Royal Haymarket Theatre for The Country Wife. It was a great show - bawdy, witty, biting and frivolous fun! I think I need to see more Restoration comedy, or at least things staged at least half as well as this show.

Good thing it was such a good show too, because our escape from  the West End afterwards turned out to be quite irksome. We had left a message in the morning at Milk & Honey asking for a 10:15pm reservation. When we got there we were told that they didn't have one for us since we hadn't answered when they tried calling back to confirm. (When we got back to our room there were no messages, so we're dubious about their having even tried).

Bottom line: given the other choices of places to go for exceptional bartending skill, courteous hosts and friendly treatment in London, I really can't see how Milk & Honey is worth the attitude or the bother. I'm willing to listen if someone wants to try to convince me otherwise, but I'm left with the distinct impression that Milk & Honey [in London] is for posers looking to brag about their money, not true cocktail fans. [Either that or Saturday night is a complete experience drag at any good place in central London.]

After the disappointing experience, we decided to call it a night unless a decent looking bar fell into our path on the way back to Club Quarters. Instead the drunken oafs (of both genders) of Saturday night partying hooted & screeched their way around us and we had to avoid stepping in vomit on more than one occasion. I think that perhaps an 11pm bar closing doesn't actually help reduce drunkenness as people jam too many drinks in too fast.

We swung by the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, but it was closed to non-guests and had a cheesy piano player crooning "Dock of the Bay" in the whitest possible fashion, so we fled. At least we saw the interior briefly before it gets remodeled. Who knows, maybe we had the real experience in a nutshell too! ;)

We were glad to get back to our room and chill out a little. We came to several valuable conclusions about ways our day could have been better:
- Make sure you get some breakfast before you start the laundry;
- Always make sure you drink enough water throughout the day;
- Eat a real dinner (instead of just bread & cheese);
- Three timed commitments (2pm at the museum, 7:30pm at the theatre, 10:15pm at Milk & Honey) is too much structure for a vacation day;
- Spend as little time as possible on the streets of the West End on Saturday night.

Posted on November 23, 2007 at 01:25 PM in travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thanksgiving 2007 2007

Photos by Jinx
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Photos from Larry:
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Posted on November 22, 2007 at 12:00 PM in Food and Drink, friends & family, holidays | Permalink | Comments (0)

2007 big vacation: Day 7 - Penzance to London 2007

Despite a combination of our usual morning sleepy reluctance to wake up & do anything at all and our regret at leaving such a lovely spot, we somehow managed to gather our stuff, dump the trash, and hustle ourselves out the door toward our 10am train in time for quick purchases of pasties for breakfast and newspapers.

The journey was, as before, beautiful. Relaxing to just glide along past the scenery. On the whole, now that I've tried both sides, I'd say when traveling between London and Penzance, you'll want to sit on the south side of the train for the prettiest views (that's the left side heading to Penzance, and the right side coming back).

We got back into London mid-afternoon, checked in again at Club Quarters in order to drop our bags and do a little online research about currently running shows, and then ventured out in search of theater tickets. After determining the odds of our getting tickets to Patrick Stewart in Macbeth were slim, we went just down the road and had no problem getting good tickets for Glengarry Glen Ross with Jonathan Pryce.

On the recommendation of the ticket agent, we went across the street for dinner at Chez Gerard, which was a nice little French restaurant. In keeping with the theme of the evening's entertainment, the waiter - courteously and emphasizing his French accent - attempted to upsell us multiple times as we ordered. We resisted and had a perfectly nice steak dinner, not the best food of the trip, but certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Glengarry Glen Ross was excellent. Mamet's brilliant dialogue, the wild pace, the intensity of the story, all were marvelously well-realized by this cast. Very interesting to contrast Pryce's performance against Lemmon's in the film; I think the former better represents the main character's moments of willful assholeness better. Really a very good show and especially so for Joe who'd never seen it and so got the full impact of its twists and turns.

After dinner we had a nice walk over to Mayfair for drinks at the bar at the Dorchester Hotel. Now if I tell you that they have their own bespoke bitters, you'll probably understand right away that they take their drinks seriously, but when I add that they've also had "Old Tom" gin recreated for them in order to fully convey the original flavors of some classic cocktails, you'll be ready to raise a toast to the money of Mayfair and the rich rewards it can sponsor for the rest of us.

The Bar at the Dorchester had been recommended not only by the New York Times article on the best bartending in London, but also by a bartender at one of those other bars: Alex at Artesian called it out first on his list of places we shouldn't miss and he was definitely right. I'll be doing a post soon to bring together all our London bar notes and this is one of the finalists for top place.

Our bartender was Paulo and he was very knowledgeable, skilled and friendly; the balance of temperament reflecting the balance of a good cocktail. In excellent surroundings of the bar's modern design and the music provided by a very good DJ, Tom Mannix, we had a delightful time and were extremely pleased with our drinks. The Bar at the Dorchester is known for its collection of vermouths and gins, so we were happy to find some old favorites on the menu along with new tastes to discover. We started with a Martinez (using their Old Tom gin, Punt e Mes, Maraschino liqueur and orange bitters, and perhaps the finest rendition of that drink I've ever had) and a Brooklyn (rye, dry vermouth, Amer Picon (a liquor very difficult to obtain in the U.S.) and Maraschino liqueur). These drinks really were phenomenal; perfectly made, perfectly served. Any fan of classic cocktails is advised to sit at the bar and enjoy Paulo at work.

As at the Lobby Bar at 1 Aldwych, the host (probably also the bar manager, though we didn't catch his name) came by to talk with us for a bit about San Francisco, the bar, and our interest in the more obscure liquors. He and Paulo introduced us to some of the amber vermouths they have and so added St Raphaël Ambre and Noilly Prat Ambre to our long-term shopping list of delicious apertifs.

Our second round was an Affinity (Chivas Regal, Lillet Blanc, Punt e Mes, and Angostura bitters) and a Harry's Cocktail (normally Plymouth Gin, Martini Rosso, Absinthe, and a sprig of fresh mint, but Paulo substituted a more robust vermouth for the Martini Rosso). These were lovely and it was nice to be in a country where a drink which traditionally calls for absinthe can be properly made.

Wishing Paulo well we headed back to our hotel with the weather turning more chilly. Good to come back in with pink cheeks and noses - not entirely from the drink, thank you very much! - to our warm room and so off to sleep, after the requisite bedtime next chapter from The Twenty-One Balloons, of course.

===

Now it's time to pack up the last few things, check out and set out for the airport. It's been a fantastic trip and we're already talking about things we'll do on our next visit to the U.K.

A few more posts to come once we're back home - to our own ever so excellent bed which we've missed - and recovering from jetlag...

Posted on November 19, 2007 at 02:06 AM in travel | Permalink | Comments (1)

2007 big vacation: Day 6 - Penzance 2007

Our last full day in Cornwall, so we decided to have another big outing. However, the predicted windy weather and our slightly tired knees argued against another big jaunt along the coast walk, so we took the late morning bus to Porthcurno. To our delight it was a double-decker so we were able to get a different perspective on the route from Penzance to Lamorna. Cornwall is incredibly gorgeous and the weather turned out to beautiful albeit a bit cold & breezy. The views from the top of the bus were fantastic and we had a great time on the ride.

In Porthcurno we immediately headed up the hill to the Minack Theatre for lunch in their glass-fronted, cliffside cafe overlooking both the theatre carved into the cliff and the beautiful sandy-beached, turquoise-oceaned cove beside it. A pasty and a bowl of soup later we were fortified for clambering around the theatre, a quick spin through the exhibition on its creator Rowena Cade, and then down a rather nerve-rackingly steep set of steps to the cove. Such gorgeous views though!

Sadly, the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum was closed due to having just switched to their "Sunday/Monday only" winter hours. We wandered around a little outside it but there's nothing much to see on the exterior. As we were realizing that we saw one of the little local buses - about the size of the Emery-Go-Round shuttle I sometimes take to work from the BART station came past the stop below the museum and started trundling up the hill to stop by the Minack. We hurried down to the stop and hopped on it on its way back out of the village figuring that even though it was bound for Land's End and St. Just, those towns are well enough served by buses that we'd find our way home to Penzance somehow. That turned out to be a fantastic choice. From the bus we had great views of the area - fields with stone hedgerows and the rough Cornish coastline - and got to enjoy a quick tour with an expert local driver who made sure we connected up with the correct connection to Penzance.

Land's End itself is a terrible split personality: an incredibly beautiful scenic area and an unbelievable eyesore of a tourist destination facility complete with cheesy promotional signs smack dab in the middle of it. The sight of this grotesque commercial monstrosity made us queasy and we were glad to quickly leave it behind us. The rest of the ride was just delightful, enjoying both the scenery and the glimpse into local life as residents got on and off the bus.

We would definitely recommend Penzance as a base of operations for a Cornwall vacation, reaching it by train and using local transit and walking to get to nearby sights. We could have stayed twice as long and still had things we wanted to do that we didn't get to.

After our outing we enjoyed another quiet evening by the fire, broken only by a short stroll down the block to dine at the Turk's Head. We were quite astonished by the really excellent food! I wasn't expecting anything extraordinary when I ordered but my roasted chicken salad was outstanding - best dish of the trip including our time in London - with a fine subtle mix of flavors and excellent presentation. Frankly, I was so dazzled by it I was a bit sad it was our last night in Penzance. I almost ordered a second, but I realized that was my taste buds not my stomach talking. Joe had something more traditional - bangers & mash maybe? - but as he's currently snoring away in a happy nap while I write this, I'll let him add his bit in a comment later. I do remember he quite liked his beer which had the catchy name of Betty Stog.

Sadly, it was time after dinner to pack, tidy up, and head to bed for our last night at the lovely Egyptian House. Our first Landmark Trust visit together - but very probably not our last!

Posted on November 18, 2007 at 06:19 AM in travel | Permalink | Comments (1)

2007 big vacation: Day 5 - Penzance 2007

Wednesday, the midpoint of the trip, we chose to take it easier and recover a bit from our exertions and adventures. Sleeping in, cooking breakfast in the lovely tiny kitchen of Egyptian House with its fine view of Mounts Bay, and then eventually getting ourselves organized enough to walk over to the library to use the wifi connection in order to post some travel news. Turned out they don't have a wifi connection (this can be found at two cafes in town), but Joe wisely brought his thumb drive and so we had no problem transferring the text I'd already written.

After the library we strolled down toward the bay through a pretty park and then along the promenade to the first likely looking lunch spot which turned out to be the Yacht Inn. Perfectly fine, though rather entertaining in the other clientele. There was a table of 8 old age pensioners - all women but one - who made us smile with the evident long-standing friendships evidenced by their joshing each other through their meal. There were three very quiet people at a table by the window. And then there was a table with half a dozen younger people a couple of whom were in wheelchairs. Soon after we were seated one man burst out in wild laughter. Wild, loud, almost manic, but clearly happy laughter. Everyone in the room jumped or flinched. And then he announced loudly "I like to laugh!". A few minutes went by and then he, most unnervingly, did it again. From what we overheard from the other folks (staff and the others at his table) it's a symptom of his MS. Joe & I hadn't encountered this one before. This went on for 10 or 15 minutes and then one of the waitresses rolled him over from the restaurant half of the inn into the bar, from which he was muffled enough to merely create the effect of a jolly party next door. We all breathed a sigh of relief and enjoyed our lunches much more after that. Strange how uncomfortable we can be made by transgressions in routines of accepted behavior.

I had a lovely trio of Cornish fishes, probably caught by one of the boats we passed in Newlyn walking the previous day, and Joe had a roast beef sandwich with outstanding horseradish sauce. Quite tasty and I was very glad to have had the chance to so efficiently sample different local fishes.

After lunch we walked back up Chapel Street by way of a stroll in the cemetery of the church whose tower provides the kitchen clock for the Egyptian House. Lovely old gravestones, many from the early 19th century. Beautiful typography and decorative flourishes, and of course the lovely lichen which decorates any stone in the southwest of England given time.

We enjoyed more lazy time - me doing a jigsaw puzzle and listening to some podcasts on my iPod, Joe reading magazines and listening to music on his - before meeting Ryan, a friend of a friend, who is stationed not far from Penzance. We had a drink down the road at the Turk's Head and then a very tasty dinner at Coco's. Joe had salmon & smoked haddock fish cakes with homemade tartare sauce, I had some very tasty homemade ravioli involving mushrooms, and Ryan had a simply gorgeous - and great smelling! - dish of mussels in (I think) a lemongrass broth. Despite the inherent awkwardness of hanging out with someone you've never met before, we had a really lovely evening with Ryan. It was very nice of him to drive down and help us enjoy our Penzance stay.

After dinner, we were only a few doors - and 45+ spiraling steps! - from our little flat at the top of the house. We enjoyed a little more quiet time by the faux coal fire in the sitting room before retiring to bed for another chapter of The Twenty-One Balloons and deep sleep.

Posted on November 18, 2007 at 05:24 AM in travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

winter living room 2007

Photo by Mum Jinx while housesitting.
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Posted on November 17, 2007 at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

2007 big vacation: Day 4 - Penzance 2007

The thing about going to bed at 9pm is that if you wake up at 5:30 in the morning, it's not that big a deal, sleep-deprivation-wise. I was thrilled to have had my first proper chunk of sleep since leaving San Francisco and celebrated by peering out the kitchen and sitting room windows at the fine views to the east as the dawn light grew. A bit chilly though, so I went back to bed and was coaxed by Joe's example to sleep even more. Ahhh, vacation!

When we really got up, I cooked us a nice breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast and tea. We felt frightfully civilized. About 11:30am or so, having dressed for a big walk, we took our bags with camera, water bottles and guidebook, and set out for the day. A pleasant walk through the town - busy in the noontime with local folks shopping and talking in the streets. We stopped in at Millets outdoor supply on the main road, Market Jew Street, to case out the sweater & coat options. Joe decided he was content with what he already had on, so we continued down to our destination: the bus station. Sadly, we found a sign on the transit office "At lunch - back 12:45", so we just wandered round the different stops looking at the destinations & times. Our original plan had been to take a bus to Porthcurno, but we'd missed it and the next wasn't going for quite a while. Having read in the guidebook that the walk between Mousehole (pronounced "mowzl") and Penzance was along a fairly dull path, we were considering taking a bus to Mousehole and walking the other direction, figuring we'd catch a bus back from one of the other towns further down the coast. Conveniently enough as we were debating this plan, the bus to Mousehole pulled up and decided us.

It was a nice 20 minute or so ride which gave us a little tour of the route from Penzance through Newlyn and on to Mousehole with it's insanely narrow streets. So odd to see warning signs not of maximum height but maximum width! And more alarming to be on a bus, even a small shuttle variety, when seeing injunctions against anything wider than 6'6"!

Our walk to the west was lovely, light shifting from behind clouds, temperature cool but pleasant, and the astonishingly beautiful landscape and seascape. The path was a bit more adventurous than we expected, but we managed all right with rests when we (mostly I) got winded. We met mostly people walking their dogs - one of the advantages of off-season travel is the lack of other tourists!

Fortunately the big disadvantage of off-season travel - things being closed - didn't cause us trouble when we reached the next town, Lamorna, after a couple miles of rambling along the cliffs. Set in a gorgeous little cove, we can see how a little place like this could get overrun in the summer, but we had it almost to ourselves apart from half a dozen folks going about their business at the local homes. The Lamorna Cove Cafe was fortunately open and we shared a pasty & chips and a cream tea (two scones, clotted cream, jam) which re-fortified us nicely.

The downside of the transit office lunchbreak timing came home to roost here. Lacking the schedule we would otherwise have obtained, we did not know that probably right as we sat eating during the 2 o'clock hour, the bus back to Penzance was leaving from the Lamorna Wink pub up the hill. There's another bus in the 5 o'clock hour, but the pub's closed between the two times. We figured this all out after scaling the hill road up to the pub and reading the bus stop schedule.

Fortunately, the weather was still okay and we knew we had a couple hours of light left to head back to Penzance, so we just walked on along the road to the T-junction with the road to Porthcurno. There was a chance we could catch another bus on the road which didn't turn down toward Lamorna and sure enough when we got to that bus stop we saw there would be one - but alas not for a couple hours, by which time we could probably already be back in Penzance.

So we just walked along the road, facing oncoming cars to facilitate pressing ourselves into the hedgerow when the occasional one came by. It was fairly easy going and presented more lovely scenery, different from the coast, but also nice. Just as we were growing a bit weary of the road - which had become increasingly busy as we got nearer to sunset - we came to more houses which rapidly coalesced into a town. A turn, a new vista, and a sign confirming we'd reached Newlyn and thus, access to the easy walkway along the seaside.

Though we were quite ready to rest our feet for a bit, we found the Tolcarne Inn was closed, so we headed on along the wide shoreline promenade back into Penzance and to the base of our destination: Chapel Street. Conveniently, en route to the Egyptian House, we had a choice of pubs and stopped into the quaint Admiral Benbow, which feels quite ship-like inside, for refreshment. Joe had a pint of Guinness, I a half-pint of Strongbow cider, and we enjoyed a conversation about food & music with some nice folks. Pub culture is very sociable and you should expect that 9 times out of 10 you'll end up chatting away with strangers. I've been to parties where people made less small talk than the average random group thrown together at a local.

Restored and feet slightly rested we went on up Chapel Street back to Egyptian House, climbed the stairs, and settled in by the gas fire for a relaxing evening. We warmed up leftover Indian food for dinner, which was just exactly right, and enjoyed the pretty little sitting room. Another early-to-bed evening after all our strenous explorations, rounded out by another two chapters of The Twenty-One Balloons and quickly off to sleep.

Posted on November 14, 2007 at 04:04 AM in travel | Permalink | Comments (2)

2007 big vacation: Day 3 - London to Penzance 2007

On Monday morning I again woke early, after only 5 or 6 hours sleep. Very frustrating and the sleep deprivation was starting to reduce my ability to focus. As Joe enjoyed the remainder of his good night's rest, I showered, gathered up our dirty clothes and went downstairs to the laundry room to get our two little loads done before heading out to the train to Penzance. We managed to get our act together and be off on time just before 11am. A brief ride on the tube from Charing Cross to Paddington and we arrived with enough leeway to enjoy a light lunch in the station.

The train ride from London to Penzance was a visual delight and exactly suited my sleepy frame of mind. Window-watching, magazine reading, daydreaming - trains are the perfect way to travel!

The Cornish scenery during the last 2 hours of the 5 hour trip began to work us up into a gleeful state of excitement (and also a certain amount of smugness over the wisdom of our choice of destination). We got into Penzance just about sunset and found our way to the Egyptian House before dark.

--- A few words about The Egyptian House ---

This is an 18th century building which was remodeled in 1834-7 to have a facade in keeping with the then craze for all things Egypt. It was restored by the Landmark Trust about 35 years ago to preserve it and make it available as a holiday rental.

---

As I expected from a Landmark Trust place, it's delightful, quirky, cozy and no fancier than it needs to be. After winding our way up the 45+ spiraling steps to our flat on the top floor (3rd floor as the brits say, 4th floor in American parlance), we set down our few bags, and scurried from room to room exclaiming with glee over the details. I immediately seized on the logbook and checked past visitors comments.

Hunger was only briefly held back, though, and we ventured out just up the street to Curry Corner (as recommended in the logbook) for Indian takeout. We enjoyed a nice dinner of the lamb vindaloo, saag paneer, an oddly sweet chicken kurma, rice and naan, which Joe had waited for - chatting with the chef as he cooked about how people in Texas don't like indian food and how pretty but boring San Diego is - while I popped over a few blocks to the market we'd passed on the way in to get breakfast things (milk, eggs, bacon, butter, orange & tangerine marmalade, bread).

Though dinner helped a good deal, I was still very tired & a bit groggy afterwards. Joe had had a good laugh at me when I came back after going to a shop 3 blocks away and he pointed directly across the street from Curry Corner to the grocery there. Glad I went where I did though - everything I bought has been top quality!

We puttered about a bit looking at the books & things here in Egyptian House and then conceded defeat to my sleepiness and went to bed early - with another couple chapters of The Twenty-One Balloons as our finale to a good day of travel.

Posted on November 14, 2007 at 03:59 AM in travel | Permalink | Comments (1)

2007 big vacation: Day 2, second half - London 2007

We napped like rocks, like logs, like lumps of mud, and woke up to the prudently set alarm rather similarly stolid in cognitive powers. After a bit of staring and blinking and watching BBC news on the telly, we started to function normally enough to aim ourselves toward dinner.

This time we did not stop a block short and got ourselves to 1 Aldwych and the Lobby Bar. Really glad we did too; we enjoyed two of the most innovative cocktails we've tasted since our first try of a Bravo at Citizen Cake. I had a Caraway Maker - Maker's Mark, Kummel, Angostura bitters, Xanath vanilla liqueur - which had a very extended set of flavors it rolled slowly through with each sip.

Joe ordered a Gentleman and it proved to be an immediate favorite. Made with a bold and unexpected combination of ingredients - Campari, Pimms, and Fonseca 10 year old Tawny Port, shaken together with an orange peel garnish - it's a true original. We spoke with the very nice bar manager Roberto De Vivo and he told us that the drink had been invented by one of their Italian bartenders, Giovanni, who has since returned to Italy. The Gentleman will be off menu for the winter season as they make room for hot drinks to warm up visitors from the nearby ice skating rink at Somerset House, but I bet you can still get one if you ask nicely. ;)

I'd like to see the appetizers at the Lobby Bar rise to the level of their drinks and their flower arrangements. Maybe we were spoiled by Pegu Club in New York City, but it did serve to illustrate how food and drink can both shine and enhance the experience of each other. With the artistry of Lobby Bar's drinks as a starting point, the potential for a skillful chef to create better food pairings is clear. The one standout from our otherwise just perfectly adequate appetizers was a proscuitto wrapped around a breadstick; great flavor and ideal presentation for easy eating. The rest of the plates didn't seem well thought out for their context - low tables and deeper chairs - and it took a fair bit of coordination avoid spills.

Overall, a very good experience and we'll definitely visit Lobby Bar again on future trips to see where Roberto has taken it.

Well-pleased with our good fortune we tramped off through the theatre district to locate Milk & Honey for future reference (and to try our luck, but sadly they were closed). As always seems to happen when visiting London, without really intending to do so we found ourselves walking along Oxford Street. Perplexing to see the holiday decorations up already - thank goodness for the buffer Thanksgiving provides in the U.S. before the shopping advertising blitz.

Our next stop turned out to be a real surprise. I cannot recommend highly enough the wonderful public toilet at Oxford Circus (the intersection of Oxford & Regent streets). Spotlessly clean and well-maintained, it was a marvelous convenience. Joe spotted a plaque saying it had won Loo of the Year 2007 and it certainly seems to deserve the kudos. San Francisco could definitely use a few of these!

Heading on up Regent Street we were going to stop in at Market Bar but it had been taken over for a private party, so we went on to Artesian at the Langham Hotel (across from the BBC, who we thank for their presumed steady fiscal contributions in its success). Another solid performance here and an enthusiastic bartender, Alex, happy to share cocktail geek conversation and recommendations.

I had the house signature drink, the Artesian Cocktail (equal parts of Ciroc grape vodka and Lillet Blanc vermouth with subtle hints of Absinthe and orange oil) and Joe, always on the lookout for a good Fernet Branca cocktail, ordered a Frisco Mule (Havana Club Añejo Especial, shaken with Fernet Branca, vanilla syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice, lengthened with ginger beer, poured over crushed ice, garnished with sugar cane strips (which Dinah ate almost all of in a fit of nostalgia for Honolulu)). Artesian specializes in rum and we got to taste two special ones - from 1990 and 1997 - each aged in oak, the younger in bourbon barrels as well and the older in virgin oak. Really different flavors and both excellent. Alex also encouraged us to try a drink called Jerry's Medicine made with Mount Gay XO, Pedro Ximenez 20 year old sherry, orange bitters, angostura bitters, and a hint of creme de banane, finished with a flamed orange twist. Very tasty indeed.

Between the light supper, the jetlag, and great cocktails, we could barely keep up with Alex's rapid litany of recommendations for more of the best of London bartending. [I've integrated these into my Bar & Cocktail roundup post]  I think he could have given us another ten, but a large party came in and he had to go pour wine for the fools who weren't ordering his delicious cocktails.

Definitely a fine way to round out the evening and we walked back to our hotel through quiet streets. Or perhaps we floated and bounced - our very light supper gave the drinks more impact on our sobriety than usual. In any case we made it back quite cheerful. Before sleep I read aloud chapter one of William Pene du Bois' The Twenty-One Balloons, which fit our buoyant mood.

Posted on November 14, 2007 at 03:57 AM in travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

2007 big vacation: Day 2 - London 2007

Hard to believe we've been here less than 48 hours. Partly, I'm sure, it's the extra number of hours in my day due to not sleeping as much as normal, but mostly it's because we know how to pack a lot in!

As I had just finished up my blog post in the Club Quarters living room yesterday, Joe came downstairs ready to start the day, so no morning nap for me. He went up the block to Tesco and got some bread & cheese and we had that to get our day started. In retrospect, it would have been wise for us to then go get something more substantial, but we survived some very minor moments of being spacy from jetlag and hunger later in the day.

After a bit of confirming of hours & opening days of places we want to go and establishing that there were no shows to try to see today, we set out first to walk to the British Library. I couldn't recall ever going before - I see you are shocked, but somehow I think it's truly escaped my agenda on past trips - and Joe was very excited about the current exhibit, Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937.

We wandered our way up through Seven Dials - all the shops closed - and past the British Museum. Many people out en route to Remembrance Day events wearing their red poppies. Lots of men of all ages with military medals on. Crossed lovely Russell Square in Bloomsbury where there's a nice walkway with overhanging trees just getting started. Have to make a point of coming there on future visits to see how it's coming along as the little trees grow. Got to the British Library about 15 minutes before opening and once allowed in began our visit in the cafe with cups of tea and a small snack. Nice to sit and look at the lovely old bindings of the materials in the glass-encased stacks. (I think this was the King's Collection, but I'm having trouble finding info on it on the British Library website; finding your way around at the actual location is similarly confounding at points. The catalogue design is quite nice, but the rest of the website could use a bit of navigation help, I'd say). Joe having seen the gallery of treasures of the collection before, he went on to the special exhibit while I looked around at, oh, you know, stuff like the Magna Carta.

Definitely worth a visit for us both, but by the time we were done it was clear we were feeling the jetlag and the need for lunch. Since our next destination was the Science Museum, we went over to King's Cross, bought 1-day transit passes and rode down to Hyde Park Corner. Sure enough, walking along Knightsbridge it was only a few blocks before we spotted an intriguing sign: Masgouf House Iraqi Restaurant. One look at the menu outside and we could tell we were on to a good thing. We were not disappointed; a great meal, particularly the lamb dish Joe had (makhsoos) and our appetizer which was ground lamb in a small crust which had been fried (I hate not being able to find a menu online to get all the names right!) which was made really fantastic by having a leaf of what I assume was fresh tarragon with each bite. Very delicious and worth a repeat visit!

Thus fortified we headed onward for science! No disappointments there either: it's a fantastic science museum and if we weren't a bit jetlagged we probably could have spent more hours more. As it was we checked my big coat and Joe's bag containing the camera, reaffirmed our decision to have a smaller pocketable camera for our next trip, and headed down to the basement for The Secret Life of the Home. Joe has made me an enormous fan of Tim Hunkin's work and in addition to having some great explanatory pieces by him this is also a gorgeous collection of general household machinery going back a few hundred years. I think every city should have a simple, down-to-earth household science resource like this; it is a fantastic foundation for exploring scientific principles behind the things we use every day.

After a break to sit down on the basement terraces (ideal for school groups, we both thought) and have something to drink. Mmm, hydration! We went upstairs to ogle the prototype Clock of the Long Now before heading out.

By this point we realized we were quite tired and so journeyed back to our hotel by tube - wishing for a pneumatic tube to drop us straight onto the bed for a nap, but settling for the London Underground.

Since it's almost time to pack up and head out by train, I'll leave us napping and resume the tale later.

Posted on November 12, 2007 at 02:21 AM in travel | Permalink | Comments (2)

2007 big vacation: Day 1 - SF to London 2007

When are you not, but really Joe and I were more ready for this vacation than even we'd expected. Very busy times at work for us both this past 6 months. Ahhh, and so far it's working out even more relaxing & restorative than hoped.

Part of that is due to having planned well. Back in February Joe saw an amazing price (cheaper than, say, SFO to Chicago) on non-stop British Airways flights to London and we decided to just go for it and picked this early November date semi-randomly. We both adore London and had never been here together. What's great is that not only do we both love it, we love most to do the same thing: walk all over the place, plus visit a few museums, see a few shows, and find interesting places to sit & eat & drink & people watch.

Knowing that the dollar was unlikely to improve internationally until the administration changes to one with a fiscal clue, we realized that staying all 9 nights in London could get pretty costly. I was also eager to share with Joe my love of the Landmark Trust, so I booked our weekday nights at a marvelous spot which you'll hear more about later. Despite staying in an historic building which appears often in guidebook photos of the place, those four nights were cheaper by far than two here in London. Plus we get to take a multi-hour train ride - which is an activity we also both love - through the beautiful English landscape getting there.

One of the great benefits of Joe's work is his Club Quarters membership and our home away from home this weekend and next in London is another illustration of what a great service they provide. Well-designed, small, practical rooms and great facilities. I'm writing this sitting on a sofa in the "living room", sipping a cup of tea, and enjoying the wifi. Lovely wood-paneled room with tasteful modern furniture, books, an espresso/coffee drinks machine, printer, and other accoutrements for the traveler. Club Quarters is primarily used by business travelers which leaves the weekends cheaper & less busy. When Joe & I went to New York City we stayed at the Rockefeller Center location and loved it. If you have a chance to use their services I think you'll find it a welcome change from the standard hotel room and its generally ugly interior decoration.

--- An aside ---
As I write, I'm sitting on the sofa with my stocking feet up on the edge of a glass coffee table. My tea cup is in front of my toes. A few minutes ago I noticed a vibration in the table and felt the cup quivering against the tabletop. And then again. And again, at an irregular rhythm. I'm guessing this incredibly subtle effect must be the vibration of the London Underground passing by below. The duration is about right for a short train going by.
---

Our last really great piece of planning was the decision to bring fewer clothes and just do some laundry during the week. Turns out Club Quarters even has facilities for that, which makes everything nice & easy. We cannot recommend highly enough the delight of traveling with only carry-on luggage. Cuts out a whole chunk of potential airport annoyances. Joe printed our boarding passes from the office Friday and so we just strolled in through security - almost no line contrary to my expectations - with his small Timbuk2 bag (his laptop & camera), my new little Kavu purse, one small shoulder bag (actually a conference giveaway) and one roll-aboard. Despite getting to the airport just two hours before our flight, we actually had time for a relaxed, perfectly adequate pasta dinner near our gate before the boarding began.

As I mentioned in a Twitter post, Joe slept 2/3rds of the flight - the lucky bastard - and I not at all. *sigh* I did get to watch La Vie En Rose and Ocean's Thirteen which was nice. Our flight was, y'know, 9 and a half hours in a plane. Ugh. But we arrived on time and - after walking right past the people waiting to collect their checked bags, ha! - breezed through customs and down to the Underground station. Then the inexplicably pleasant hour of rollicking along from Heathrow into central London. Don't know why that vibration is so much more enjoyable than the airplane one; maybe something to do with being more like the motion in the womb or on a hip when the mother is walking?

At this point I finally dozed a bit and was thus well primed for a nap at our hotel after the short walk down from Leicester Square station.

--- London tip ---
Often it's faster to just come up out of the station and walk overground than to transfer to a different tube line for a journey of one more stop.
---

Incredibly satisfying to be back in London. I do love this city very much and definitely want to live here for a while at some point in my life.

After a highly restorative two-hour nap, Joe & I set out semi-randomly in search of dinner and quickly found a good candidate which we were very happy with: the Lyceum Tavern on the Strand. This is just a very short walk from Trafalgar Square but far enough to have more of a local crowd. Joe enjoyed his pint of Samuel Smith stout and we were both very pleased with the food. We had the pie special - mushroom & other vegetables in a stout-based sauce with a beautiful pie crust atop - and a ploughman's plate. Much fortified by food & atmosphere of this local, we set ought again for more tramping about.

Being cocktail geeks, I'd noted on our map the places recommended in the New York Times article on innovative bartending in London. We thought we were right near the Lobby Bar at 1 Aldwych and went round about several blocks where we thought it would be but finally gave up and instead headed down over Waterloo Bridge aiming for a southbank destination. Turns out we just gave up 1 block shy of it, so we'll give it a go another night.

That walk proved definitely worth it! A gorgeous night - clear and 13 degrees celsius. Perfect for walking, admiring the lights of the city, especially along the river. London in November can be glorious and the area within a few blocks of the Thames between Westminster Bridge and Southwark Bridge is an ideal region to enjoy it.

We walked down over Waterloo Bridge and then along the water toward Blackfriars. We angled down some of the littler streets, connected up to Blackfriars Road and so down to Baltic, just by The Cut. Hip space - though once you're inside it's hard to know you're not in NYC or San Francisco except by the accents around you - and a good cocktail list. We had a Gin Garden - very nicely balanced - and a really good Vesper. Not sure what made the latter so good; they use Beefeater London Dry Gin and Ketel One vodka and may have allowed more ice melt than I usually have. We'll have to experiment a bit to recreate the experience - it may be somewhat subtler than would truly evoke James Bond, but it's a better drink this way.

After resting our feet and wetting our whistles we thanked the nice barman and headed on back by different small streets - including the very quiet neighborhood of Roupell Street which we quite fell in love with - and back to the Hungerford Bridge and so up to our home away from home about 9:30pm.

Feet a bit tired, we lazed about in the room for a couple hours reading and then - blissfully - got sleepy. We sealed the bargain by taking some melatonin and were fast asleep soon.

Alas, I only for a bit over 5 hours, so I may go back upstairs now and try for nap #1 if Joe isn't ready to head out in search of breakfast.

Our vague plan for today includes more walking - yay! - plus a bit of museum going. Hope everyone else is having a good weekend too wherever they are.

Posted on November 10, 2007 at 11:39 PM in travel | Permalink | Comments (2)

A small assortment of links 2007

Great diagram in this article showing the difference between the farm subsidies pyramid and the nutritional guidelines pyramid. Definitely time for some reform, methinks.

Deeply scary and underhanded stuff happening with the current administration's tinkering with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

At least one thing that makes you cry has a chance of relief: Onion Action Goggles!

Posted on November 7, 2007 at 08:52 PM in linky goodness | Permalink | Comments (0)

My choices for the San Francisco Nov '07 ballot 2007

Gavin Newsom for mayor. No 2nd & 3rd choices to illustrate my disgustipation with the actual alternative candidates. (Wish I could write in Tom Ammiano for 2nd choice, but he's not on the Certified Write-In list).

Harris & Hennessey for DA & Sheriff. Give 'em time to make changes; no quick fixes here and I think we haven't seen their real influence yet.

Yes on A. It will be good for transit and climate.

Yes on B. Clears up an unclear aspect in the current charter.

Yes on C. Doesn't make a radical change in process but does provide for more public comment.

Yes on D. Libraries provide substantial economic benefits to their communities. Money invested in libraries returns manyfold.

No on E. At least as long as the ever-grandstanding Chris Daly is on the board I view this one as counter-productive. The mayor is highly accessible to the board; there is no need to require him to appear before the board.

Yes on F. Simple flexibility for retirement fund management for cops.

No on G. The stables in Golden Gate Park certainly do no harm, but there are more important places to spend this money. Wavered over this one, since I do think there's a value in humans encountering large animals in their daily lives, but it seems this should be supportable through private funds. Also I think other larger benefits could come from other use of this space in the park. Imagine something like the east bay's Alexander Lindsey Junior Museum with rescued wildlife, etc. for instance.

No on H. No, actually we DON'T need more parking. Tough titty, people. We have too many cars for the city as is. Public transit won't kill you; get out of the damn car.

Yes on I. So, if you're not driving off to the big box stores, that makes more market and more need for thriving small businesses providing to the very local neighborhood. Yes to a Small Business Assistance Center.

Undecided on J. Want to talk this one over with Joe.

Yes on K. I've lived in Honolulu. Less public advertising = more beautiful city.

By the way, the interstitial information in the ballot booklet is pretty cool. Check out the "Did You Know" feature on page 59, the "Voter Bill of Rights" on page 70, and the "Be Coyote Aware" feature on page 94.

Posted on November 4, 2007 at 11:31 AM in politics & philosophy | Permalink | Comments (2)

How do you feel about torture? 2007

And what do you think constitutes torture?

Kaj Larsen's decision to subject himself to waterboarding so that we could understand what it is certainly helps lay some clear information on the table to contemplate along with these questions.

I strongly encourage you to watch it and then to think about what it would take for you to watch it with no interruptions of other conversations, with no indicator of the progress of the video to tell you when it will be over, with the realization that the actual time he was waterboarded was much longer than this video. Then ask yourself what if it was you and you didn't know if these guys were planning to kill you or not.

Is it torture?

Posted on November 2, 2007 at 09:36 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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