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Hobbit Forming

The Hobbit – Orange, CA

Visited: May 2019 (Fine Dining)

It was time for a splurge, and in Southern California there’s no place like The Hobbit in Orange to plunk down some extra bucks for a unique (and delicious) dining experience. We’d eaten here about 20 years ago with friends Rob and Barbara, and when they asked if we wanted to make a return appearance, we quickly checked our bank account and said, “Yes.”

From its website: “A meal at The Hobbit is somewhat like a play in three acts.”  Luckily I looked at the website because there is a dress code, which I had not remembered.  It said, “No denim (no problem) … and jackets preferred for men.”  Well, since I haven’t had a jacket that fit me since the beginning of the Obama administration, I instead opted for a tie.  I hoped they wouldn’t mind that it was a San Diego Padres’ tie (someday I’ll grow up).

Luckily, I’d lost a few pounds earlier in the week, because The Hobbit serves a seven course, prix-fixe menu, for which it has garnered numerous awards throughout the years.  We met Rob and Barbara at 6:30 and headed upstairs for, what I called, the Prologue.  Cocktails are available for purchase in the small bar (once a children’s bedroom), so while waiting for dinner to commence, a Manhattan was definitely in order.  We enjoyed our cocktails in the adjoining  lounge area. The interior reminds you of an elegant mansion.

Promptly at 7 p.m. we were summoned back downstairs to partake in Act I  … a visit to the wine cellar of this lovely Spanish-style home replete with more than 1,000 bottles of wine, plus a major serving of hors d’oeuvres.  We were offered glasses of sparkling wine from their well-trained, professional and friendly staff, which we consumed while perusing the wine selection.  You could purchase a bottle or two for dinner, however we decided to go the corkage route of $25 for the first and $35 for the second. (photo on left courtesy of The Hobbit)


The hors d’oeuvres buffet selection was extensive including steak tartar, a French tart, olive tapenade, ratatouille, stuffed dates, mini goat cheese soufflés with prosciutto, liver mousse pate, cucumbers with caviar and a chilled pea soup, which I amazingly enjoyed given that I usually pass on peas. This time, in a John Lennon moment, I gave peas a chance.


As per usual, I ate too many of these small appetizers and probably could have stopped here.  Tracy reminded me we still had six courses to go. Oops.

After enjoying the house sparkling wine we traveled upstairs.  It was time for Act II.

The living room with a barrel vaulted ceiling and cozy fireplace …


… and an intimate side room (our room), where the walls are covered in toile fabric, are utilized as the dining rooms.

Both rooms are lit with crystal chandeliers, and the tables are set far enough apart so the noise level is not a concern.  On this evening, there was a large party also seated in the wine cellar, which was a good thing because it seemed they had hit a bar before hitting the bar at the Hobbit.

With seven courses, there is only one seating per evening.  The set menus are available for viewing on the Hobbit website a few months in advance, so we knew what the featured main course was going to be. (because it was dimly lit, food photos are not of the best quality … luckily, the food did have great quality)

Our first course consisted of a seared diver scallop on a bed of fresh corn succotash with pesto sauce. “Wow!”  The succotash was simply incredible.  What a way to start dinner!  I could just hear Daffy Duck yell out, “Suffering succotash!”


Coincidentally, we went daffy about our next course of roasted Maple Leaf duck breast with a fresh cherry and port reduction over Po Valley Italian Black Rice.   Another “Wow!” The duck medallions were perfectly seared, and the fresh cherries delightful.  Tracy said she could have stopped with this course.  I reminded her we had four courses to go. Two can play at that game.

Fortunately they give us time to digest each course (the entire dinner takes nearly four hours from cocktails to dessert).

Next up … we enjoyed the shaved fennel and green apple salad with Société Bee Roquefort Dressing and a small goat cheese soufflé with crispy prosciutto, which did not linger on our plates long.  The Hobbit was on a roll.   Even Rob, who does not eat goat cheese, thought this was a wonderful course. No kidding.

At this point, the Hobbit serves up a unique idea … Intermission.  Diners are encouraged to relax on the outdoor patio …

… venture into the kitchen to chat with the chef and staff, plus mingle with other diners.   While everyone is away from their respective tables, the staff refreshes and straightens the dining rooms.

Back at our table after intermission, we started with a marvelous palate cleansing sorbet.  Blackberry with subtle hints of cinnamon, cardamom and cloves was a great way to start Act III.  Somehow we need to steal this recipe.

The main entrée this night was roasted sirloin of lamb with chorizo Demi-Glace.  On this particular night, the restaurant offered two alternative choices for an additional $7.75, which was a prime filet mignon with truffle sauce or wild caught Alaskan halibut with ginger garlic jasmine rice and black bean sauce.   The entrées were served with baby vegetables; all the fruits and vegetables here are seasonal, fresh and artfully prepared.  Although the dishes were good, they were actually outshined by their understudies (I mean the other courses).

Finally it was time for course #7 … dessert.  Since we were all quite full, we thought it would be a challenge to eat our final course.  However, when the apricot custard tart with apricot glaze and Italian meringue was delivered … as Worf would say … “Resistance is futile!”  It proved be yet another “Wow!” for the restaurant and topped off an incredible dining experience.

The seven course meal came out to $92 per person, plus tax and gratuity (wine not included).  Expensive, yes, however when it was all said and done, we all felt it was worth every dollar.  I had read somewhere that when the restaurant began offering the prix-fixe dinners in the early 1970s, the price was $14.50.

The restaurant name and philosophy is described on a sign as you enter.  It reads in part, “The Hobbits … like to laugh and eat (six meals a day) and drink … they wear bright colors (they’d love my Padres’ tie) … they love parties.”   It ends by saying,” To the hobbits and j.r.r. tolkien this restaurant is gratefully dedicated.”


As the four of us waddled out to the parking lot, we all remarked that this special occasion dining experience was something we would cherish for a long time.  If you’re looking for something unique, be sure to reserve in advance for a night to remember.  Some of the upcoming entrées include Prime Roast New York Strip Steak with Black and Green Peppercorn Sauce, Filet of Beef with Bone Marrow Bordelaise, Veal Osso Bucco and Beef Wellington.

The price point might mean I can’t make The Hobbit a habit, but it is surely a place I hope to return to one day (I believe there’s a beef Wellington with my name on it).

Mai Tai Tom Rating – 4.85 Mai Tais (out of 5)

The Hobbit
2932 East Chapman Avenue
Orange, CA. 92869
Phone: 714.997.1972
Hours:  Wednesday – Sunday 6:30..

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Scrumptious Summer Salad

Watermelon, Arugula, Mint & Feta Summer Salad

Watermelon, Arugula, Mint & Feta Salad is one of my favorite go-to salads for summer.  Recently, we fired up the BBQ and invited some friends over for grilled corn on the cob and Mr. C’s Flank Steak.  To round out the meal, I made this refreshing salad with my absolute favorite salad dressing.

I discovered this dressing when I first started dating Tom … so easy and versatile (the dressing, not Tom). It’s made with a package of Good Seasons Italian Salad Dressing (yes, in a box) dressed up with good quality olive oil and balsamic.  Occasionally, depending on what I am serving, I use flavored balsamic and olive oil.  On this evening, I used a Blackberry balsamic.  (Strawberry balsamic and lime olive oil makes a delicious combo, too.)

Tom was skeptical the first time I made this salad; he thought it had too much mint, but now it is one of his favorites and agrees that this is a refreshing addition to any summer menu.  Soon, I will have him eating the dreaded peas and asparagus! (Mai Tai Tom Note: Not in my lifetime)


1 bag baby arugula, washed
1 mini-seedless watermelon, scooped or cut into bite-sized chunks
1 medium shallot, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)
1 bunch mint, washed and dried
6-8 ounces good quality Feta, crumble


1 package Good Seasons Italian Dressing Mix
¼ c. good quality balsamic
3 T. water
1/2 c. good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Follow the package directions.

Salad Directions:

Remove the larger leaves from the mint and chiffonade them to make ½ cup (stack the leaves together, roll them tightly like a cigar, then cut across the rolled leaves with a sharp knife, producing fine ribbons).
Toss the arugula with enough dressing to lightly coat.  Layer the arugula, watermelon, sliced shallots, feta and mint on a large platter or in a large bowl.  Drizzle with more dressing if desired. Sprinkle with coarse ground pepper.  Toss well just before serving.

You have now made the perfect summer salad!

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Iconic & Nostalgic Burger!

Bob’s Big Boy – Burbank (Toluca Lake), CA

When I was growing up, the favorite words I heard from my dad on a Sunday afternoon were, “Let’s go to Bob’s Big Boy.” From the scrumptious double-decker burgers to the carhops to my Big Boy comics, there was no restaurant I wanted to go to more than Bob’s.

Sadly, the Pasadena Bob’s exists no more, but fortunately there is still one in nearby Burbank, California. This year it celebrates its 70th anniversary.  Recently, I returned to revisit an important piece of my childhood.  Oh, who am I kidding … I was craving a delicious hamburger.

Tracy and I joined friends Rob and Donna for hamburgers, fries, onion rings and even a dinner salad for breakfast (best to get those calories out of the way early in the day!).   Oh, and don’t forget the Hot Fudge Cake for the table.  More on that later.

Out front stands the iconic statue of Big Boy holding that delicious burger in one hand.  As I would find out shortly, Bob’s still delivers my favorite hamburger on earth. The 70-foot tall neon sign makes it a hard place to miss.

Located at 4211 Riverside Drive in Burbank, this Bob’s Big Boy was built in 1949 making it the oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy in the United States.  The restaurant was designated a California Point of Historical Interest in 1993 by the state of California. It was designed by famed Los Angeles architect Wayne McAllister, and built in 1949 by local residents Scott MacDonald and Ward Albert. McAllister also designed the original Lawry’s restaurant on La Cienega, Burbank’s famed Smoke House and also the original Sands and Desert Inn hotels in Las Vegas.


McAllister’s style of architecture was called Googie, “a form of futurist architecture that was a subdivision of futurist architecture influenced by the Space and Atomic Ages.”  I googled ‘Googie” and found out that this type of architecture “originated in Southern California in the late 1930s and was very popular from the late 1940s until the mid-1960s.”   Speaking of Vegas, the famed “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign is an example of Googie architecture (photo from wikipedia).

Bob’s history dates back to 1936. After selling his DeSoto roadster for a reported 350 bucks, Bob Wian started a 10-stool hamburger stand in Glendale. It was initially called Bob’s Pantry.  In 1937, at the request of one of his customers (a member of Chuck Foster’s Big Band) who wanted “something different for a change,” the Bob’s Big Boy Double-Decker hamburger was born.

According to Bob’s website, “Customers couldn’t get enough of Bob’s new creation. One fan, in particular, was a chubby six-year-old boy in droopy overalls. He would often help Bob sweep up in exchange for a free burger.” According to the website, “One day Bob forgot his name and called out ‘Hey, Big Boy.’ Something clicked, and a name was born: Bob’s Big Boy.”  Another regular customer, a movie studio animator Ben Washam, who was an animator for Looney Tunes, sketched the now famous character on a napkin. (photo from Bob’s website)

One year later in 1938, Bob’s Big Boy became the official name, and that 10-stool hamburger stand had been transformed into a drive-in restaurant. By the 1950s, there were Bob’s Big Boy franchises dotting the landscape all around Southern California (only five remain). At one time there were franchises in numerous states, as well.

During my formative years, Bob’s was THE place to go late on a Sunday afternoon with my parents, sitting in the car as carhops served our food. “Big Boy … light on the relish …. fries and a thin strawberry shake, please!”  Why “thin?”  Bob’s marketed their milkshake as “so thick you can eat them with a spoon,” but I liked them more when I could drink them.  For awhile, I was addicted to Bob’s strawberry shakes. All my friends went for the thick shakes … and loved them.  I would have had one on my recent visit, but I am only allotted 25,000 calories per day.

Going to Bob’s Big Boy as a kid was always cool, and, oh how I loved those Big Boy hamburgers!  You couldn’t leave without picking up a Bob’s comic book featuring stories about their mascot (photo below from internet shows what the comic book looked like).

At their Burbank location, there are no longer comic books, but you can purchase some Big Boy paraphernalia …

… including some vintage Big Boy t-shirts, hats and mugs. They also have cartoon placemats for kids to color.


Some of the more famous customers at this Riverside Drive location included Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, and numerous others, including four lads from Liverpool.

During their 1965 Summer Tour, reportedly The Beatles were looking for a ”real American diner” when visiting Los Angeles. They stopped here, and there is a booth with a plaque that commemorates that moment. (“The table is the last booth on the right, where the end of the windows facing Riverside Drive stop. A plaque at the booth describes the event. The plaque has been stolen many times by fans .. and has been replaced each time.”)

Many people request the booth, and since we arrived early for breakfast (yes, hamburgers for breakfast, baby), the booth was available, and that’s where we sat. I assumed that’s why Tracy said, “I want to hold you hand.” After we finished our hamburgers I exclaimed, “I could eat here eight days a week, but it might be hard to carry that weight.”


Tracy ordered an order of onion rings and said they were among the best she has tasted.  Rob helped her finish the large plate of delectable rings.

We also ordered a mountain of Hot Fudge Cake that Bob’s is offering for 70 cents (one per table) during a limited time to celebrate its anniversary.  By the way, one per table is plenty … and it’s plenty scrumptious.

In high school, after I received my drivers license, Bob’s was my #1 spot to go to for lunch or dinner. And I wasn’t alone. From a 2003 L.A. Times article, “Bob’s was more than a mere restaurant. In the age of rock ‘n’ roll and hotrods, it was a teenage play land, the hottest place to be after a high school football game.” The carhops are gone, but on Friday nights from 4 – 10 p.m. you can still catch an array of cool automobiles at Bob’s Classic Car Show in Burbank. (photo from Roadside America)

Some people even want to pose with Big Boy.  I mean, who would want to do that?

You can no longer get their famed double-decker burger, fries and a shake for 60 cents like you could in 1938, but you can still get a “Big Boy Combo” (double-deck burger, fries and a dinner salad) for $11.49.  Throw in that milkshake (thick or thin) for $5.49 and you have a heavenly meal.  Bob’s serves those famed burgers all day long, along with a host of other great dishes, including their famed “Pappy Parker’s Fried Chicken.”

There might be better hamburgers out there (“might” being the key word), but the Bob’s Big Boy double-decker will always remain my nostalgic favorite for as long as I live.

Bob’s Big Boy
4211 W Riverside Dr.
Burbank, CA 91505
Open 24 Hours

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Three Countries In Three Hours

Golden Gate Park – San Francisco

While visiting San Francisco, my buddy Kim said, “How’d you like to visit three countries in the next few hours?” Not having brought my passport, I didn’t think it would be possible, but Kim told me not to worry.  “We can do this without even leaving Golden Gate Park,” he quipped.

Scoring a fantastic parking space on JFK Drive near the DeYoung Museum, Kim and I (along with Mary and Tracy) started our journey toward our first country.  Along the way, we viewed what looked like a large spider.

As the fog and clouds scuffled with blue skies, we caught a glimpse of Sutro Tower (well, part of it anyway).  Sutro Tower was constructed in 1973 in an effort to help Bay Area residents receive better television reception. At first, it was considered to be an eyesore by many, but is now recognized as a Bay Area icon, although not as beloved as Steph Curry.


In a tilting-at-windmills moment, we happened upon the Miguel Cervantes Memorial. It was presented to the city of San Francisco in 1916, and it depicts Sancho Panza and Don Quixote gazing up at Cervantes.


I loved these colorful plants, but were told by the group they can be quite invasive.

There was a Monet exhibit going on at the DeYoung, which explains the mural painted on the exterior. It made quite an impression, as did this bee buzzing in the nearby flowers.


The next statue had me “hooked” at first glance.  Peter Coffin’s “Pirate” is a compilation of Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and Captain Hook from Peter Pan.  Like something out of Noah’s Ark, this pirate has two parrots, two pegged legs, two hooks and two eye patches. I could just hear him say, “It’s only a flesh wound. Come back here you chicken!”

French winemaking was toasted by the bronze Poème de la vigne (Poem of the Wine), created by Gustave Doré, which was exhibited at the 1878 Paris World’s Fair.  There are plenty of figures associated with the Roman God of Wine Bacchus in this 11-foot high vase. It’s been here since 1894.

It was time to enter our first country (not counting the United States). Stepping through the Main Entry Gate into a wonderland of magical scenery, we were inside the Japanese Tea Garden.  Being a tea garden, I figured it had to be steeped in history.


The Japanese Tea Garden was originally conceived as a Japanese Village exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, where the first fortune cookies were served (more on that later). According to the website, “When the fair closed, Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara and superintendent John McLaren reached a gentleman’s agreement, allowing Mr. Hagiwara to create and maintain a permanent Japanese style garden as a gift for posterity.  He became caretaker of the property, pouring all of his personal wealth, passion, and creative talents into creating a garden of utmost perfection.”

Between 1895 and 1942, Hagiwara (who passed away in 1925) and his family “resided, cared for, and furthered the development of the Japanese Tea Garden.”  In 1942, the Federal Government evicted them from their home and transported the family to an internment camp along with other Japanese-Americans.  Due to anti-Japanese sentiment, the garden was renamed “The Oriental Tea Garden.”

After the Hagiwara family were relocated, the garden fell into disrepair.  From the GGP website: “During wartime, many of the beautiful arrangements were destroyed or removed, sculptures vanished, and many plants succumbed from lack of care.”

Sanity returned in 1952, when the garden was renamed the Japanese Tea Garden. A plaque was installed here in 1974 for the Hagiwara family’s accomplishments.

The five-acre Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park is the oldest Japanese garden in the United States.  As we meandered about, we passed by one of the numerous stone lanterns that dot the landscape.

Kim and Tracy were quite fond of the purple iris in the pond.


This guy spent a lot of time trying to rub his back.  He was almost a fish out of water at times.

Everywhere we turned, there were enchanting trees, and even a lovely wisteria still blooming.


We approached a large bridge that Tracy said I should attempt to scale. Obviously, she has a larger life insurance policy on me than I surmised.


The Drum Bridge was also designed and built for 1894’s World’s Fair (shipped from Japan) and afterward was donated to the city of San Francisco. Mary braved certain death and made it to the top.

The word that best describes the Japanese Garden is “tranquil.”


Ponds, pagodas, pines, wooden bridges and stone structures mingled perfectly with the flora, fish and birds.


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Marvelous Meat Marinade!

Mr. C’s Grilled Flank Steak with Chile, Cinnamon and Cumin Marinade


Just in time for grilling season …

Summer weather in Southern California came late this year (yay, for May Gray!), so we only recently fired up our gas barbecue.  Speaking of fire, there was one small problem … when Tom turned on the barbecue there was an explosion, and flames shot out from underneath the grill where the propane tank is located!  We ran away (well, I ran, while Tom inexplicably stayed close to the barbecue), and I dialed 9-1-1 fearing it was going to explode.

The firemen arrived, quickly extinguished the fire and inspected our barbecue for the cause (pan drippings fell onto the propane tank catching fire, causing the plastic cap on the propane tank to ignite).  Fortunately, it was safe to use again, which is great since a Weber Genesis is not an inexpensive barbecue AND it was Tom’s retirement gift to himself.  Before departing, the firemen did recommend that we clean the barbecue more frequently … looking at you grill-master Tom!

Here is another terrific recipe from my step-father, Mr. C.  While he always used this marinade on flank steak, it’s also great on Tri-Tip or chicken.

Two tips for this recipe … the first is to heat the spices until just fragrant, which opens the aromas of the spices.  Don’t skip this step, it really enhances the flavors.

The other is to slice the meat across the grain as thin as you can (about a 1/4 inch or so).

We served this steak with a Watermelon, Arugula, Mint & Feta Summer Salad (recipe coming soon) and a Grilled Street Corn on the Cob, which Tom learned about at a recent cooking event he attended. This is summer grilling at its best!


1 t. ground cinnamon
4 t. cumin
2 t. chili powder or cayenne pepper
3 limes (one zested and three squeezed to make ¼ c. fresh squeezed lime juice)
¼ c. balsamic vinegar
¼ c. good quality olive oil
2 T. molasses
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. Herbs de Provence (dried oregano or Italian seasonings will work too)
1 t. Kosher salt

1 ½ – 2 lbs. flank steak
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced (green and pale green parts only)


In a small skillet, whisk the cinnamon, cumin and chili powder together over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until just fragrant, about 25-30 seconds.  Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk the cooled spices, lime zest, ¼ cup lime juice and remaining ingredients together (except the steak and green onions).

Place the steak in a large ziplock bag.  Add the marinade and turn to coat completely.  Press out the air and seal tightly.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours or better yet, overnight, turning occasionally.

Bring meat to room temperature before grilling.  Heat the grill to medium-high (400-450°F). Grill over direct heat with the lid closed, turning once to sear. Grill to desired temperature (8-10 minutes for medium-rare).

Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for ten minutes.

Thinly slice across the grain and transfer to a serving platter.  Garnish with the thinly sliced green onions.

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The Birds and The Bees and The Caterpillars …

Celebrating National Pollinator Month

June is National Pollinator Month (June 17-23 is Pollinator Week 2019), so I thought I would share some photos from our garden, as well as a little background on why I love to garden.


When Tom and I were first married, we had a small yard that I thought was well stocked with flowers, but I was mortified to learn it was “flower light” after we found a baby hummingbird lying in the driveway.

We carefully picked him up and immediately called Hummingbird Rescue.  The rescue lady drove over in a van full of baby hummingbirds in cages.  Apparently they have to be fed almost continuously when they are young, and the rescuer did not want to take the chance of being gone too long and not being able to feed the babies.  She located the nest, which had another baby in it and put the fallen bird back in.  The mother arrived and immediately knocked him out of the nest!

Next, she wired a small nest adjacent to the existing nest, but the momma bird would have nothing to do with the twin.  The rescuer surmised that I did not have enough flowers in my garden for the momma bird to sustain two babies!  She took “our” baby bird home with her to be fed and cared for, and then released it when it was ready to be on its own.

Long story short (well, sort of), I now rarely plant something that does not support a bird, pollinator or insect.  When we originally landscaped our bigger garden at our newly purchased home years ago, we decided upon an English garden (and English roses), which started my passion for roses that has now grown to (gulp) 76 bushes!

The last few years of drought have been tough on the garden and rose bushes, but I refused to throw in the trowel and plant cactus.  I have, however, added many natives and other drought tolerant plants from similar climates as long as they can support a pollinator or bird.


To save water, I keep a bucket in the shower to catch the water while it is heating up, and Tom has the partially torn rotator cuff from lifting the bucket to prove it!  That, plus a rain barrel and other measures, and we were able to reduce our water usage and still have a decent looking garden.

With all the rain this year, my garden is lush and the roses prolific.


We have hosted two weddings over the years …

… but with no weddings on the horizon …


I have been making bouquets like crazy.


I even tried rose-scented linen spray.

This year I converted my vegetable trough to a “Nectar Bar” planting Hummingbird Mint (Agastache), Brazilian Verbena, Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) and Milkweed (Asclepias).

The hummingbirds have already found it, and I was excited to see a couple of Monarch caterpillars in there as well.  (Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed and the caterpillars only feed on milkweed plants –  so plant a couple dozen or so!)


Because of our dogs, and because I want to encourage the pollinators (and the beneficial insects!), I only use organic products in the garden.  Praying mantises and ladybugs should naturally help to keep pest populations in check.


I choose roses for their color and re-blooming properties rather than scent so not all of my roses are aromatic.  The David Austin English Roses are the most fragrant in the garden.  A favorite is the Evelyn rose named on behalf of Crabtree & Evelyn who use it in their rose products.  I also love the lemon scent of the Jubilee Celebration I planted this year; and the Pat Austin which has a strong tea scent and the added bonus of being a gorgeous copper/apricot color too.  Don’t you love the color of the Lady Emma Hamilton on the right?


As far as the non-English roses, Shelia’s Perfume (hybrid tea) and Gold Struck (grandiflora) are very fragrant.  My “current” favorite rose is Cabana, a yellow and deep pink striped hybrid tea.


In case you’re wondering, I love, love, love Otto & Sons Rose Nursery in Fillmore (and, no, I don’t get a discount).


This year I added five new bushes to the garden – Gold Struck (2), Polynesian Punch, Jubilee Celebration and Boscobel.  It is kind of a trek, but you can see hundreds of roses in bloom all at the same time to see which ones you want to purchase.

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Bay Area Treasure

Grace Cathedral – San Francisco

Visited: May 2019

During the April 2019 fire at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, I learned that San Francisco and Paris are Sister Cities, and that Grace Cathedral was constructed in Notre-Dame’s same French-Gothic style.  What I didn’t know was that a section of its interior is patterned after another famed and beloved Paris religious site, and there were also doors that would transport us back to Florence, Italy.

The history of the Episcopalian Grace Cathedral dates back to the Gold Rush Days, when in 1849 Grace Chapel was built on Powell near Jackson.  In 1860, Grace Church was started at California and Stockton. It was consecrated in 1868 and destroyed by fire in 1906 during the San Francisco Earthquake.


The construction of the “new” cathedral commenced in 1927 on land donated by railroad baron and banker, Charles Crocker (their house had been located on this spot, but was destroyed in the fire after the earthquake), but it was not fully completed until 1964.

According to the Grace Cathedral website, “Grace Cathedral architect Lewis Hobart chose French Gothic. The cruciform plan, twin towers, central fleche and polygonal apse are all French in origin, with the cathedrals of Amiens, Paris (Notre Dame), Beauvais and Chartres being principal influences.” (Photo of Notre-Dame is from our 2006 Christmas visit to Paris.)

It was at Grace Cathedral where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a sermon in front of 5,000 people. Other notables who have preached here include the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and even Jane Goodall.

We had a little time before heading to dinner at the fabulous Roma Antica in the Marina District, so friends, Kim and Mary, along with Tracy and I decided to check out Grace Cathedral at the corner of California and Taylor Streets on Nob Hill. Since it is San Francisco, there was no street parking available, but we found a parking lot situated underneath the church where we parked and headed upstairs.  We were greeted with a glimpse of its stunning interior.


We checked out Benjamin Bufano’s statue of Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals, who seemed to be giving us a welcoming grin.

If you come in October for the “Blessing of the Animals,” there’s a good chance you’ll see dogs hanging out in the aisles and kitties being held by their owners. Our corgis’ barking would surely drown out the sermon.


Fun Fact: Originally from Italy, Bufano was a pacifist. After the United States entered World War I, Bufano accidentally cut off a portion of his right index finger. Not wanting to let that accident go to waste, Bufano “decided to mail the ‘trigger finger’ to President Woodrow Wilson as a protest against the war.” Subsequently, the legend grew (but not his finger) that he had intentionally severed it for this purpose.  Now that’s what I call, “Giving someone the finger!”  There are numerous Bufano sculptures located throughout “The City.”

Nearby St. Francis stands a large baptismal font.

On the floor is a 35-foot-wide labyrinth patterned after the 13th-century one at Chartres Cathedral in France. It’s said that walking the labyrinth will “calm the mind.” There is an app you can download to your phone that gives directions on how to walk the labyrinth (and also highlights many areas of the church). There is also a labyrinth situated outside the church.

The walls of Grace Cathedral are lined with a number of murals, many depicting scenes from events in San Francisco history. They are primarily the work of Polish-born John Henryk De Rosen, and Bolivian-born Antonio Sotomayor.
  A World War II war refugee from Poland, De Rosen emigrated to the U.S. in 1939. He created the “Founding of United Nations 1945,” which portrays people from various countries. The United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco in 1945.


Antonio Sotomayor created the murals depicting the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires.


Each mural in the cathedral is quite striking …

… and after a couple more …


… it was time to admire the stained glass windows.


There are “68 named windows by five artists,” some containing famous figures such as John Glenn (Photo courtesy of Grace Cathedral website.) …

… and Albert Einstein. Not being an Einstein myself, relativity speaking, I didn’t catch a photo of that one either.

The Rose Window is stunning, from inside and out. (photo on left courtesy of SFGate)


Thankfully, Kim (aka “Mr. Ceiling Photo”) was able to crane his neck upward for this fantastic shot. I tried the same, but nearly had to call a chiropractor afterward.

The pulpit on the right is where many notables have spoken. Dr. King’s speech was made before a standing room only crowd. The downloaded app contains a portion of that sermon.

There is a tribute to Winston Churchill, which was a donation from the British Commonwealth Association in 1974. On the right is a copy of a cross made in Kent, England in the 8th century. Cut in stone from the walls of Christ Church Cathedral in Canterbury, it was dedicated in 1962 by the Archbishop of Canterbury.


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A Little Bite Of Rome in the City By The Bay

Roma Antica – San Francisco, CA

Visited: May 2019  •  Italian

I’m always on the prowl for a great cacio e pepe, and recently I found one of the best I’ve ever tasted at a small restaurant located in San Francisco’s Marina District.  Roma Antica specializes in making authentic Roman recipes, which is no surprise since one of the owners hails from Rome.

On a recent jaunt to Northern California, we dined in San Francisco with friends Kim and Mary.  Their daughter lives there and is a fount of excellent dining knowledge.


We arrived early on a Friday evening as no reservations are accepted and just beat the crowd at 5 p.m. (15 minutes later, it was jammed)


We were seated in the rear next to the small bar with a view of the super busy kitchen and pizza oven.


I had looked at Roma Antica’s menu before heading north as well as some reviews touting their cacio e pepe, so I knew one of the dishes I would be ordering on this evening.

Before dinner, we perused an interesting wine list featuring vintages from many of Italy’s wine regions. There were also French and California wines, but we gravitated toward Italia.  For the red selection, we chose a spectacular 2016 Ruvei Barbera d’Alba ($50) from the Piemonte region, where the four of us had visited in October 2018.

Mary and Tracy preferred a white vino choice, and after sampling, a couple of wines went with a 2017 Vermentino ($42) from Tuscany.  I had never heard of Vermentino before.  It was also quite tasty.


Mary started with the Insalata della Casa; Mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, croutons, fennel and balsamic vinaigrette ($8).  Kim ordered, you guessed it, an Insalata di Cesare ($9).

Tracy also ordered to form an Insalata di Barbabietole: roasted beets with baby spinach, salted ricotta, and extra virgin olive oil ($10).

I was starving after a day wandering for miles through various cand exploring Grace Cathedral.


Instead of salad, I thought I’d make it a two-pasta dinner. Whenever I do this, my dining companions shake their heads in caloric disbelief.  I started with the cacio e pepe; handmade tonnarelli with pecorino Romano and black pepper ($16).  It was cooked to absolute pasta perfection, a tad al dente with flavors bursting in my mouth on every bite.  It might be the best cacio e pepe dish I had ever eaten. Wow!!!

For their main course, Tracy and Kim ordered Boscaiola; rigatoni, mushroom, onion, Italian sausage, cream or tomato sauce ($19). It was excellent.

Mary went with the Sacchetti; pasta filled with Italian cheeses, fresh pear and gorgonzola sauce ($18), which garnered the restaurant another “Wow” for the evening.  This dish was delicious. (I begged Mary for a couple of bites, and she obliged.)  The pears paired perfectly with the pasta (say that three times), and it equaled the cacio e pepe in deliciousness.

As a person who has rarely met a risotto I didn’t enjoy, I ordered the special Risotto of the Day; mortadella and mascarpone cream sauce ($23). It was a huge (and delectable) serving, and I almost finished it, but, alas, I fell just short.  It was probably for the best since my Expando Belt will not go above certain waist sizes.

With as much as we ate, there was no room left for dessert, but not to worry, we will be returning in July and will not leave without trying a couple of their dolci.  Friends have told us that Roma Antica’s Porchetta; a slowly roasted, herb-stuffed whole pork cooked in a wood-fired oven is their favorite dish here.  Or perhaps I’ll try their Stracciatella, arugula, pesto & prosciutto di parma pizza.  Decisions … Decisions!        In mid-May, Roma Antica opened its sister restaurant in Larkspur.

Everything we tasted at Roma Antica was cooked to perfection, and the service impeccable.  Even with a 3% San Francisco surcharge tacked on, the price for this restaurant was quite reasonable.  Next time you’re in the “City By The Bay” …


… be sure to make Roma Antica one of your choices and don’t miss the cacio e pepe.  Buon Appetito!

Mai Tai Tom Rating – 4.7 Mai Tais (out of five)

Roma Antica
3242 Scott Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11 am – 10 pm • Friday/Saturday 11 am – 11 pm

Roma Antica
286 Magnolia Avenue
Larkspur, CA 94939
Hours: Monday – Sunday: Noon – 10 p.m.

Parking (in San Francisco): Street (metered if you can find a space)

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Sensational Citrus Cake

Citrus Olive Oil Bundt Cake with Kumquat Infused Syrup


I never know what to do with the kumquats our tiny tree produces.  This year it was particularly prolific, probably due to all the rain.  In the past, I have made Kumquat Infused Vodka, but this year I was pretty much just letting the corgis and squirrels eat the fruit, but then I chanced upon a recipe for Candied Cocktail Kumquats from chef Ben Mims in the LA Times.


(I had to get those kumquats off the tree before the Corgis … looking slightly guilty … and our visiting squirrel … he eats well at our house … decided to make them part of their 5 A Day program.) 


The recipe is quick and easy.  Just cook the kumquats in sugar, water and Cointreau (or white wine vinegar for an alcohol free version) and “Wow!”  The concoction is great in vodka martinis or even eating the sweetened kumquats straight out of the jar.  If you have ever tasted a fresh kumquat they are just a tad (ok, a lot) tart.  (Truthfully, I don’t like them all that much alone, but the tree makes a cheerful, orange focal spot on the patio.) 

This recipe takes away (most) of the bite of the kumquat.  After tasting this I knew I had to pour that kumquat infused syrup over a cake …. Think of a citrus Baba au Rhum cake (yum!).  When in Paris we always try to order a Baba au Rhum for dessert, which is often served with a tray full of different rums to pour over your slice of cake. 

But then Tom reminded me of a fabulous Orange Cake we used to eat at a now closed restaurant called Girasole in Larchmont Village.  The owners were a husband and wife team from Vittorio Veneto in Italy.  The husband ran the front of the restaurant, while the wife was the chef.  The secret ingredient in the Girasole cake was orange marmalade.  I did not have any orange marmalade, but I did have a jar of grapefruit marmalade from Laura Ann’s Jams (love her jams!). 

After all that, I ended up making an olive oil cake with grapefruit marmalade, candied kumquats and kumquat infused syrup. Whew! 

For the olive oil cake, I started with my Naked Lemon Olive Oil Cake from last year.  Be sure to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil, the kind you would use in a salad dressing or drizzled over focaccia bread or pasta.  Don’t worry if you aren’t a big olive oil fan as the olive oil is not the main flavor of this cake, but it does make it rich and moist; so moist, in fact, that the cake is actually better a day or two later.  

With each bite, the tiny bits of candied kumquats add a bright, citrusy note to this deliciously moist cake.  So, here you go, Citrus Olive Oil Bundt Cake with Kumquat Infused Syrup … the only way to eat a kumquat!


Ben Mims’ Boozy Candied Cocktail Kumquats: (Make at least a week in advance so the flavors can meld)


2 c. kumquats (cleaned and stems removed)
2 c. granulated sugar
2 c. water 
Pinch Kosher salt
2 T. orange liquor (Cointreau, Triple Sec or Grand Marnier; for a non-alcohol option use white wine vinegar)

Place the kumquats in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the sugar, water and salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally.  The recipe says to simmer until the kumquats swell slightly and look glossy, about 5 minutes. 

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the liqueur.  Carefully transfer to a quart-size glass jar.  Close the lid and let cool to room temperature.  Store in the refrigerator for at least a week before using.  Use within 3 weeks.

Citrus Olive Oil Bundt Cake:


1 c. Candied Cocktail Kumquats. diced and seeds removed (about 40 – 45 kumquats.  If you don’t have enough kumquats, add some orange zest to make up the difference)
2 eggs at room temperature
1 c. sugar (plus some for dusting the cake pan)
1 t. vanilla extract
2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 t. Kosher or fine sea salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
2/3 c. good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. marmalade (orange, grapefruit or lemon
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 c. kumquat syrup from the Candied Cocktail Kumquats


Preheat oven to 350°F.  Prepare a 10-cup (9 inch) Bundt cake pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray and dusting with sugar to coat the sides.

Whisk flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl.  In another small bowl, combine the olive oil, marmalade and buttermilk. 

In a mixer on low speed, beat the eggs and sugar until pale, thick ribbons form (about 5 minutes).  Add the vanilla.  With the mixer still on low, add dry and wet ingredients in three additions, starting with the dry and ending with the wet.  Stir in the diced kumquats. 

Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Bake until golden brown and a wooden pick in center comes out clean (35-40 minutes).  Remove from oven and let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Using a wooden skewer, poke holes all over the cake.  Spoon ¾ cup of the kumquat syrup over the cake and let soak in for 10 minutes. 

Invert the cake onto a rimmed cake plate and drizzle the remaining ¼ cup syrup over the top.  (Use a rimmed plate so the syrup doesn’t run off.)  Cool completely before serving. 

Store in an airtight container at room temperature. 



Recipe for Ben Mims’ Boozy Candied Cocktail Kumquats in the LA Times.

Check out Ina Garten’s recipe for Baba au Rhum cake from Barefoot in Paris.


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The Indoor/Outdoor Museum Experience

Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (Garden Edition) – San Marino

Last Visit: March/April 2019

With the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino (just south of Pasadena) celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019, I thought it would be a good time for Travels With Mai Tai Tom to revisit what I consider one of the greatest museums not only in California but the world.   It helps that we’re Huntington members because that way we have photos of nearly the entire complex from our numerous visits.


There are a lot of things I appreciate more as an adult than I did as a kid.  They include Mozart, a good bottle of bourbon (well, I didn’t drink bourbon as a kid) and an excellent museum located virtually in my backyard.  As a youngster, the gorgeous gardens at the Huntington Library were just a pretty cool place to play an extended version of hide and seek from my parents (who I think were happy not to find me at times).


The Huntington was founded in 1919 by Henry E. Huntington, a businessman who built a financial empire that included railroad companies, utilities, and real estate holdings in Southern California, and his wife Arabella (Huntington’s second wife, who was well known in both Europe and New York).  At one time, she was described as “the richest woman in the world,” and her story is an interesting one.


Huntington was quite renowned during his life, so much so that 40 miles south of San Marino the town of Pacific Beach was renamed to Huntington Beach.  The Huntington Beach Company, now the Huntington Company, was the primary developer of the city and is still a major land-owner in Huntington Beach.

When Henry Huntington purchased what was then the San Marino Ranch in 1903 ($225,000), it was a working ranch with citrus groves, nut and fruit orchards, alfalfa crops, a small herd of cows and poultry.  Huntington and his superintendent, William Hertrich, who was introduced to Huntington by George Patton Sr.), worked together to mold that ranch into a botanical garden featuring rare and exotic plants.  Huntington created the small city of San Marino to protect his investment.  Hertrich loved purchasing rare and exotic plants, and interestingly his most significant competitor in the area was oil tycoon Edward Doheny, who Tracy and I learned about a couple of years ago when we toured Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills (photos from our day at Greystone below).


In 1919, Henry and Arabella signed an indenture which transferred their San Marino estate with its collections of art and books, to a non-profit educational trust. (In a 1927 Atlantic Monthly article, Huntington was described as the “greatest collector of books the world has ever known.”)

It was opened to the public in 1928.  Neither Henry (who died in 1927) nor Arabella (who passed away in 1924) were around to witness the opening.  Today, the Huntington attracts 750,000 visitors a year. The botanical gardens cover 207 acres (120 landscaped) that include 14,000 different varieties of plants and flowers. 

This installment will include all the gardens, while the next post will cover the art galleries and the Library.  (The photos are an accumulation of ones we’ve taken over the past few years, but about 90 – 95% of them are from March and April 2019.)

A new visitor center was opened in 2013, and as you stroll down the olive-lined allée (the California Garden) toward the entrance, you pass by beautiful drought-tolerant flowers and foliage where you can pause for a moment in one of the “Hedge Rooms,” complete with tables and benches.  (Resting might be something you need to do after enjoying a day of walking miles around the expansive property.)


The first garden you see upon entering is the Celebration Garden.  Such plants surround the rectangular pool of recirculated water as Spanish lavender, kangaroo paw, California poppies and more.


As you gaze out at the nearby foliage, you’ll see this will be quite a colorful experience.

Listen carefully, and you might hear some strange sounds emitting from the area near the end of the Celebration Garden.  On your left is a shell-shaped structure, which is NASA’s Orbit Pavilion. Step inside to hear the sounds made by the International Space Station and 19 Earth Science satellites.  Installed at the Huntington in 2016, this traveling exhibit was only supposed to be here for a short time, but it is now extended until September 2, 2019.


Walking back toward and past the Celebration Garden, on the right stands the library with its fascinating, historical and educational collection, which we will visit in the next installment.

A little further on the left stands what was once Henry and Arabella’s Beaux-Arts mansion.  It now houses The Huntington Art Gallery of European Art (including the famous Gainsborough paintings, Pinkie and Blue Boy).  We’ll go there in the next post also.


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