Last week we had the good fortune to be invited to a 7-course dinner with wine pairings with the visiting wine maker. It was hosted at our friends' house and we were asked to simply bring an appetizer to share and show up for a good time. I looked forward to it all week long. It was SO fun!
As guests arrived we were served this Rose wine (photo above). Cold, crisp, slightly sweet but not overly so. It went very well with the Grilled Prawns with Spicy Miso Dipping Sauce that I brought and the Spicy Seafood Gazpacho that another guest brought for appetizers. They named the rose wine "Vin de Porche" which means "wine of the porch" in French. Perfect served with appetizers on the patio!
As the Rose bottles were finished, the wine maker brought out a couple of bottles of Pinot Noir to finish up the appetizer course.
The hostess had set up a table for 12 outside in the yard, under a canopy with small white lights. She always sets a nice table, but I thought this was fabulous for a summer evening. It reminded me of the set-up for a formal summer wedding dinner.
I went back inside to see if I could help the hostess with dinner preparations and found she had just picked some fresh produce from her garden and was preparing it for a salad.
She picked these beautiful heirloom tomatoes from her garden just an hour before serving (still warm from the sun!) and drizzled them with some olive oil and sprinkled them with gray sea salt for the salads.
The host had set up an outside prep table in another part of the yard complete with white linens and fresh flowers. A smart idea to have your serving area outside to dish up and serve each course! Sparkling water was chilling in preparation.
Back inside, the hostess was just finishing up with salad prep and asked us all to be seated at the table. Our dinner was about to begin! I was was in heaven with all the foodie loveliness!
Our 2nd course was a cold cucumber soup prepared and brought by another dinner guest. She served it in china coffee cups and sprinkled it with the french seasoning, "Quatre Epices" and fresh dill. It was very delicious! She said that it also contained potato and onion which added a lot of flavor and creaminess.
The chilled soup course was served with Sauvignon Blanc which was so refreshing and a cool compliment to the dish. I loved it! A perfect wine for summer!
The pace of the meal was very relaxed and we sometimes got up from the table between courses and roamed around the yard and chatted while the next course was being plated. Here are the salads (remember the prep photos of these above?) being plated on the outdoor prep table.
The salads were absolutely delicious and so very fresh! A foodie's dream salad!
To go with our salads, they served the Reserve Chardonnay. It was a perfect compliment - so rich and buttery, but not overly oaked. Yum! Heavenly!
The main course of the evening was a beef tenderloin with blue cheese sauce, broccoli rabe, and roasted baby potatoes and onions. I'm not usually a big beef fan, but this tenderloin was utterly delicious! So tender and flavorful. I LOVED the blue cheese sauce which was rich and creamy without being too "blue". The hostess roasted both the broccoli and the potatoes in her wood-fired outdoor pizza oven (yes! she has one in her backyard!) and it added a lot of smokiness and depth of flavor to both.
To serve with our main course, the wine maker had earlier decanted the wine: a Cabernet Sauvignon blend called Dancing Bear Ranch. It was absolutely wonderful with the beef course. Rich, inky, smooth. Perfect for sipping in between bites of juicy tenderloin. How perfect could a meal be? I almost had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't just dreaming this!
Blissful happiness and appreciative dinner guests!
Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, our hostess served the dessert. A beautiful light cake with vanilla bean creme anglaise and mixed berries roasted with maple sugar. Possibly one of the best desserts I've ever had. So lush and fresh tasting. This was served with very small pours of a deep fruity Zinfandel.
After a brief rest and lots of laughing and stories, the hostess brought out a plate of chopped chocolate chunks to pass. It was creamy, dark, bittersweet, and the perfect end to the meal. It was served with a port to sip.
By now the night was late and the sky was dark, but the white lights above us were twinkling. We were warmed by delicious food and drink, friendship, and laughter. An absolute perfect evening. How lucky were we?
THANK YOU to our host and hostess, Ben and Sharon, and Dennis from Cakebread Cellars.
We had another batch of guests arrive a few days ago. We looked forward to these three couples, all from different states, converging at our place for a long time. We're feeding them, pouring wine, sitting on the patio under the stars, going for walks on top of the rimrocks, touring them through town, golfing, going to outdoor concerts, and going out to eat and some fun restaurants. Each evening I fall into bed...around midnight ...exhausted. But when morning comes I'm ready to do it again because I know they'll be leaving soon and we're trying to fit in as much as possible.
About to start another day.....
In April we decided to tackle a house project that we've had on the backburner for a few years. This was to basically do a "remodel" of the backyard, deck, and patio. It kind of followed the "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie..." syndrome, in that if we were to do THIS project, we might as well do THAT project, and so on. The project definitely grew as we progressed.
Unfortunately, I don't have any "before" photos, but I have plenty of "after" photos. It all began with this: the deck which is right off of french doors from our family room and kitchen. Our house was built in 1992 and we are the original owners. The original deck was here, but made out of redwood and smaller. The wood was worn, shabby, and a bit warped from years of winter snow. My original idea was just to replace this deck with the re-cycled all-weather product called Trex (that's what is shown here).
But I also thought that as long as we were re-doing the deck, we might as well solve two problems that I'd always thought our deck had from day one: 1) Make it a bit larger , 2) make a step down because it had an awkward 1-foot drop from the old deck to the grass below. It had always felt a bit too small for more than four people and that it lacked steps down to the yard. Unfortunately, it took us 18 years of living in this house to finally address those issues.
So we had a meeting with a contractor (the one who originally built our house) in early April and talked to him about ideas. Kevin also talked about adding a space for a hot tub which is something else we'd wanted for some time. The contractor looked at the space and I told him my ideas about having different "zones" or areas for different types of activities in the deck: sitting and chatting or reading, eating at a table, hot tubbing. I originally was thinking of just one huge deck that wrapped around the back of the house, but the contractor though that an added patio would be better. So we waited to see his drawings and plans (as well as the cost estimate).
I guess that I should take another step back to talk about the inspiration for this outdoor living space project. For the last three years we have rented vacation homes in California to spend Thanksgiving week with our two sons who now live in California. Each of those homes - in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and Newport Beach - had lovely outdoor living spaces. I was really inspired by each of them - how the outdoor spaces were just extensions of the living areas inside the homes. I liked that the spaces were arranged almost like rooms of the house, but that they invited you to go OUTSIDE and treat that space like your home too. Our family really enjoyed those spaces while we vacationed and it made me realize even more than we were missing that back at home. Of course, we don't have the California weather to go along with those homes. Here, we can only enjoy our yards about four months of the year rather than year-round. But still, I remembered those spaces - the sitting areas, the dining areas, the gardens and plantings, the spa-like hot tub areas. I wanted to re-create that kind of feeling here. The feeling of being "on vacation" in your own backyard.
I realized that for the past 18 years we hadn't really made use of this outdoor space very well. I think because it didn't feel inviting. When we moved in there was a pergola over the small deck and we placed a round table and four chairs under it. Just sparse and uninviting. Even though I added nice flowerpots to the space each year, we just didn't use it. The backyard itself sat mostly unused except for our dog doing his "business" out there. The yard and deck mostly just sat.
In May, our contractor finally got back to us with his plan. His idea was to enlarge the deck and replace the redwood with Trex, and to add a patio - made with dyed and stamped concrete to create a second level and space for a table and the hot tub. We decided to go for it. I quickly picked out the colors for the deck and patio - tan and dark brown to match the house, and we ordered the hot tub to match.
And then we waited. And waited. There were a lot of delays with the excavation, the patio pouring, the delivery of the hot tub, the plumbing and wiring, the tear-out of the deck, and finally the re-building of the deck. Finally, finally on July 3rd the deck was finished. Then we could begin the process of landscaping which we did ourselves. Well, mostly Kevin did the work himself. But I helped and planned and shopped for plants, barkdust, and decorative elements.
We spent every weekend in July working on the landscaping part of this, and then decided to re-do the front beds as well. Kevin pulled out the old black landscape edging and had a concrete edging business come in and put in new landscaping edging in all around the yard. We dug and tore out the old shrubs and landscape fabric. Then Kevin laid new landscape fabrics, we dug and planted for new plants then arranged river rock (two deliveries by dump trucks!) and small bark dust around the plantings. This part is almost like creating artwork.
I studied the yard to see how much sun or shade each area received during the day. I then shopped for the plants for that particular bed based on the amount of sun it got. It was easier to approach each section of landscaping individually - decide what to do in that area, shop for the plants, and complete the work. That's how we completed it over the course of four weekends.
Above is our corner of the yard, behind the hot tub, that used to be our "ugly" corner. Truly, it was just where we piled the old flower pots, firewood, and other yard debris. Ugly ugly. But now we've transformed it and created a bi-level space and planted some sage juniper trees to have a natural fence for privacy. Perhaps in a year or so, these shrubs will screen the space for more privacy while hot-tubbing. No more ugly corner!
We were able to mix in new plants with older shrubs and trees that were still in good shape. I like how some of the spaces receive almost full sun, while others (like this above) are shaded for most of the day. Coming from Oregon, I love shady, green garden space. But no moss or ferns will grow here.
I like how we could create different landscaping "vignettes" in different areas around the yard. I like to go out and water and just gaze at the different gardens we've created around the the yard, patio, and deck. Very pleasing and calming too.
I like the play of colors, textures, and natural elements. The builder had to adjust the enlarged deck around a boulder that we'd had brought in years ago. It would not be budged and we couldn't bring in a bobcat to move it without ruining some other more mature plantings. So we literally worked "around" it.
Two plants that I selected during this process that were new to me were willows which are indigenous to Montana. The one of the left is a dwarf blue willow which grows naturally along river banks in Montana. In the winter it loses its leaves of course, but still has the purple reeds which will add winter color to the landscape. I love how this plant sways gently in the breeze, its very calming and reminds me of a water fountain. The other willow I planted elsewhere is a dwarf variegated leaf willow. Also interesting and adds a nice color and texture contrast. The plant on the right above is called Tiger's Eye and is a substitute for me for a Japanese Red Maple which I love but will not grow in Montana. The Tiger's Eye has a similar look but is rated for Zone 4. I think it will look nice as it grows.
Kevin even spiffed up some of the old beds in back with new river rock and barkdust. I love tidy gardens! We also had to have our sprinkler system guys come to work SEVERAL times - to shut off some of the old sprinkler sections for the patio excavation, to add more sprinklers heads, and to put in a drip line around the patio for new shrubs.
This little green patch was the last part of finishing our project. Kevin had to bring in more dirt and then sod rolls to create a level lawn where the new patio dropped off. The yard before was sloping in this area and now it is a nice level transition from the patio to the yard. We're still watering the dickens out of this patch with our 90+ degree July weather, but it's still looking healthy and growing.
And that's the happy ending of this long-winded story. We're now just ENJOYING our new deck, patio, hot tub, and landscaping. I feel like we've been visited by the crew of HGTV's Outdoor Room except we planned and hired it out ourselves. The biggest delight for me is not only feeling like I'm on "vacation" in my own backyard, but also hosting lots of friends and family in this space. So far we've had people over at least once or twice a week, so we're getting lots of use of it. It IS inviting and draws you out of indoors. But also, an unexpected surprise to me was that we can enjoy the beauty of it from INSIDE because the space is visible from three rooms of our house. I like gazing out the window at it too.
The rest of the summer weekends are just going to be spent RELAXING, golfing, and hosting our out-of-town guests. Yay!
I heard about this great new public space in NYC called "The Highline". It is a repurposed elevated train track that was an eyesore and set to be torn down several years ago, when a neighborhood task force organized to raise funds to restore it into a neighborhood park. The first phase is now open, and they are working on the second phase of the restoration project. Running just short of two miles now, it will eventually continue up the west side.
After reading about the The Highline in the New York Times and on some blogs, I really wanted to go visit it when we were in New York this last time. And so before flying out, Kevin and I took the subway down to the West Village and walked to the stairway leading up to the Highline.
We walked the length of it and since it was a Sunday, there were a LOT of people from the neighborhood up walking the track.
The track is just one story above street level, so it is really interesting to stop and look DOWN on the city. Just being one level up gives you a different perspective on the sites of the city.
I thought that they did a really beautiful design - using the train tracks in the landscaping, and adding outdoor sculpture and seating areas for those who wanted to stop and rest. The Highline runs just one block away from the Hudson River and so its really fun to see that view that you don't get from the Times Square and Midtown area.
They have done a wonderful job of planting lots of lovely flowers and shrubs all along the walkway too.
If you want a fun adventure while visiting New York, check out the High Line park/tracks. I loved it and hopefully next time we visit the new addition will be completed as well. Here is the link for the official website of The Highline. Read more about it.
It's funny sometimes where I find myself. Seems every time I turn around there's some kind of music gig to go to....because of a family member. If it's not the sons, it's the husband now too. And even the father-in-law too.
I've actually found myself in the situation where I come to a venue and tell the ticket takers, "I'm with the band", and they check the list. Kind of embarrassing to say when you're 50-something. But don't get me wrong. I love it. Always have.
People who've known me a long time know that I came from a musical background too. Piano lessons, concert choirs, vocal jazz groups, and performed in high school musicals back before it was a movie. Dated a serious classical musician.Then went on to college on a music scholarship, sang in the summers with a guy for weddings, and sang in the top college choir. Then met my future-husband, a trumpeter. We sang together too over the years - on the churches, weddings, and funerals circuit.
Cousin's wedding on the shores of Lummi Island, 2006
And so of course, when we had two sons, they grew up with musical training. Took piano lessons for years, then saxophone, baritone, trumpet, even drums, and finally they both landed on guitar. And they both sang too. The older son sang a lot during high school...every musical group in high school, lots of solos and musical leads, and played acoustic guitar and sang with another guy. We loved it. Together, Sean and Chase together have become the family "wedding singers" as each cousin gets married.
And then the younger son first drummed in a band and then started his own band with one other guy - acoustic guitars and vocals. He started writing music and singing, performing around town like a troubadour. Went off to college and strummed and sang some more. Got a following, booked some gigs, added a drummer, then a bassist. Wrote more music. Next thing we know he's putting out an EP. That was two years ago. Now he has out 3 CD's and is selling on iTunes (check out Chase McBride on iTunes). He's touring around California and the Pacific Northwest this summer. We love his new CD's - great music.
And the husband, after age 50 was asked to join a popular local cover band to play in the brass section. He's having the time of his life. We plan our summers around the band's gigs. And I've become accustomed to regularly saying things like "gig", "venue", and "EP". It all comes with the territory.
And recently I was at another band's concert (Still Time from California) and was pointed out from the stage, "Chase McBride's mom is in the audience". Embarrassing and yet proud too. And kind of surreal when you're my age. Yes, it seems I still follow the bands around.
So in a way it all makes sense. I've always loved music and performed myself. I married someone who loves music. Together we enjoy music of all kinds and we had two sons who are great musicians and love music. And so continues the musical thread in our lives, going out to support music and follow the band. It's a pretty good gig.
I'm officially 1 1/2 months behind on the blog...and I have so many photos and stories. But the months of May and June have been crazy for us. I just got home from a week-long conference in Minnesota late last night and NOW my summer officially begins. Things should settle down except that our backyard/deck is torn up and our kitchen will be torn apart starting tomorrow. We're having some remodeling/updating projects done around here and projects that I'd hoped to have FINISHED in May are just now getting going in mid-June. It's a mess. Hope July is better. From June 2 - 20 I was only home 3 days! Life needs to get back to normal.
Here's some more fun from our Portland/Seattle trip which was the first week of May....seems so long ago.
Matt hooked us up with a very fun cruise up the Seattle harbor and through the Ballard Locks into Lake Union. See the Space Needle in the background? We had such GREAT weather in Seattle. It was so fun!
We were busy picking out which houseboat we wanted for our vacation home when Sean starts his own high-tech company and Kate is his President in Charge of Everything. That has been the plan since they were toddlers.
Of course we shopped at Pike Place Market..and ate breakfast there too. As I remember Kate and Sean started the day with mimosas. I started the day with coffee, coffee, and more coffee.
I had to stop to take a photo of these beautiful morel mushrooms in Pike Place Market. Just about my favorite food on earth. I have fantasies about having a condominium in Seattle so that I could actually go grocery shopping at Pike Place Market and take things like this home to cook. As it is I just get to look and dream.
We also made a stop at Fran's Chocolates to buy the delectable sea salt caramels. Holy smoked salt, they're good! This weekend was all about treating ourselves with fun and good things.
For dinner we went to Blue Acres Seafood just a few blocks from our hotel downtown (the Westin which we "hotwired"). I was a bit surprised at how BIG this restaurant is....and I like little places. So other than that and having a waiter who was literally on his first night of work, it was good and a fun evening.
Matt and I decided to order a half dozen oysters to share for our appetizer. We asked for advice from the waiter, but other than knowing which were large and small he didn't know that much. So we ordered "small" ones. It was a fun experience.
After spending 6 days with family in Portland, we headed to Seattle for some more fun. I toured U of Puget Sound in Tacoma on the way and then we took the ferry from Deception Point to Vashon Island on a beautiful-weather day. Oh, how I love water and water views. Then drove across Vashon island to another ferry and took it to West Seattle. From there we drove to downtown and checked into the Westin and awaited the arrival of Kate, Matt, and Sean for more weekend fun.
Ah, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest - GREEN, tall trees, and flowering shrubs.
When we were first married and lived in Portland 28 years ago we lived out on the far west side. At the time they were just starting to work on the light rail system going from Hillsboro Town Station to downtown (the blue line on the map). As I drove my one-hour commute to work each day I would drive by the construction area and think how nice it would be to ride a commuter rail instead of fight the traffic in the car. But it would be many years before the westside rail was complete and we were no longer living in Portland then. Wince then they added two north lines. This past year they just finished the connection on the southeast side of Portland (the green line on the map). We decided to ride it one day with my mom to get from Clackamas Town Center to downtown. It sounded like a fun adventure, and it was. Portland's Max Light Rail
We parked at Clackamas Town Center transit center, the end of the green line, and hopped on board. While we were sitting on the train waiting to take off, I noticed that there were all of these outdoor "sculptures" on the railings of traditional quilt designs! I was so surprised and pointed them out to my mom. We had read that the city had installed outdoor art exhibits along the route but we weren't sure what the connection with quilting patterns was. But it was fun to see all of them and identify the patterns that we knew! It was cool to see that a metalworker had made the same traditional designs that a quilter does with her fabric and sewing machine! Here is more about the public art on the Max lines.
When we reached downtown, we walked around, visited a yarn shop (Knit Purl) and had lunch. We then went into the famous Powell's City of Books where my mom and husband helped me hunt through the stacks for a particular set of vintage cookbooks (more on that later). I LOVE Powell's City of Books! Heaven on a rainy day!
We then walked back to the Max stop and hopped back on for our ride back over to the east side. The ride was really quiet and smooth (electric trains, I think?). The interior was clean and the passengers just get to sit and watch out the window or read like many do while onboard. It's such a pleasant way to commute to work or to get downtown for a day of shopping. It was a fun creative adventure and I highly recommend it!