Monthly Archives: February 2009

Entertainment: Itzhak Perlman


Itzhak Perlman

Earlier this week, I had the great honor of seeing Itzhak Perlman perform at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis. What a pleasure! (A big thank you to Nancy for asking me to go.)

I have been a fan of his for many years. Mere months ago, it was thrilling to see him on TV perform with another favorite, Yo Yo Ma, at Obama’s inauguration in Washington DC. If I could have cornered him in person, the one question I would have asked was “Dude! Was it really as cold as it looked up on that precipice when you performed at the inauguration?” It looked freezing and I marveled at their ability to play despite frozen fingers. It’s a good thing I didn’t get to corner him for who knows what other inane questions I would have peppered him with. Yet these are the things that run through my mind. Hey, I’m just being me.

Now here we are, two months later, and he’s performing in our own backyard. Ooooh. To say I was excited is an understatement. I was giddy.

Itzhak Perlman

I was so excited that I risked snapping some photos before the usher came rushing at me, waving her index finger in the universal symbol for “NO! STOP THAT PICTURE TAKING!”

Hey lady, I wasn’t using flash.

Itzhak Perlman

I know what she meant. I’m in the business, I get it.

But I was so excited! I don’t have adequate words to explain the experience but here are the ones that keep coming to mind.

Exquisite. Beautiful. Exhilarating. Awesome. Resplendant.

Perlman was accompanied by an incredible pianist, Rohan de Silva. If you have an opportunity to see either perform, RUN, don’t walk to get tickets. You won’t regret it.

P.S. It was interesting to note that despite this terrible recession, the house was packed.


On location: learning to pair wine and veggies


Ubuntu, Daniel Samao

I spent this morning chatting with Daniel Sarao, General Manager and Director of Wine at Ubuntu, an outstanding vegetarian restaurant in downtown Napa. We did an interview with Ubuntu’s executive chef Jeremy Fox in 2008. Since Ubuntu’s launch 18 months ago, Fox has been noted in every major food publication in the nation including ours, Gourmet and Food & Wine.

Of equal note is Ubuntu’s pastry chef (and Jeremy’s wife), Deannie Fox, whose desserts are worth a trip on their own.

The menus are developed around the restaurant’s organic garden and seasonal produce. The menu changes minorly every few days and majorly every few weeks.


The restaurant’s holistic vision encompasses not only the food, but also other aspects of the dining experience: the restaurant’s interior design and even the inclusion of a yoga studio upstairs.


The food is terrific, but I was in to talk with Daniel about wine. Specifically, about how to pair wine with vegetable dishes. For many it’s an intimidating subject. When you take away the major protein from a dish, where do you start?

Turns out that you start in the same place as traditional protein-based dishes, with the overriding flavor component. Figure out the base flavor, its weight, and then move from there.

Sounds easy, right? Uhm. Yeah. Not really.

Daniel provided a breakdown of a half dozen major categories of vegetables and the perfect wines to pair with them. For example, in the lightweight category you’ve got salad greens, which he’d pair with crispy grassy Sauvignon Blancs. A medium-weight vegetable would be beets and heavy-weights might be legumes or root vegetables for which he would pair Rhone-style whites and Pinot Noirs respectively.

I’m writing this story for our May issue and will provide more examples and detailed recommendations. Some of the other interesting pairings address sunchokes and artichokes, mushrooms and that tricky creature, cauliflour.

Daniel was pretty specific about not only the type of wines, but also the region of the world that they come from. I’ll toss you a red herring and tell you that he’s a big fan of California North coast wines.


It was a fascinating discussion and he threw out a delightful twist on one of the pairings … sake. Turns out he loves sake with vegetarian cuisine and stocks a good selection. I was pretty thrilled to see that you can order a flight of sake for just $17. If you’re not normally a sake drinker, here’s your chance to taste a variety of quality drink for a dime. If you’re nervous you might not like it, share the flight with a friend. Either way, just try it. You might find a new favorite.

Ubuntu, Daniel Samao

All around, a delightful and interesting morning. Thanks, Daniel!

For the full scoop on Daniel’s recommendations, tips and tricks, check out our upcoming May issue.

Tuesday Tryouts: Boxed wine


Tuesday Tasting

One of the benefits of working here at the magazine is that we’re constantly trying new things, rating them, offering up our opinions, such as they are. We’re always on the lookout for the “best” whatever … hamburger, pastries, fish and chips.

This week we’re looking at boxed wine. With the influx of boxed wine available from some pretty reputable brands, I wanted to take a closer look at what’s available. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be trying more boxed wines in preparation for camping and picnic season.

To start off, we’re trying two rated wines by Bota Box of Delicato Family Vineyards: one red, one white. Here are the comments as pulled directly from the comments sheets.

RED: Shiraz
2006 from California. 3L, $14
(84 pts by Wine Enthusiast Magazine)

  • Drinkable camping wine.
  • Ok for camping, but I’d rather have two buck chuck
  • Chuggable. I’d take it camping.
  • Drinkable.
  • Soft. Good for making Sangria.

WHITE: Chardonnay
2007 from California. 3L, $14
(83 pts by Wine Enthusiast Magazine)

  • 😦
  • This would be great for a wine cooler.
  • Kind of sour; wouldn’t recommend.
  • Ugh. Gross.
  • Best served cold. Definitely need to refrigerate, so not good for camping.

So, there you have it folks. Raw. Uncensored.

Just in case you’re wondering, we don’t just drink a little wine during the work day. We eat, too.

We had some leftover cheese, a french baguette and a container of green Italian-style olives. So we pulled ’em out to accompany our mini wine tasting. Now the cheese, oh, good heavens … we fell on like rabid wolves and couldn’t get enough of. Many a “oh shoot, it’s gone!” wheeping and whailing was heard from the kitchen. A creamy blue cheese brie, an absolutely outstanding Parmesan and some fresh mozzarella balls dredged in olive oil and herbs.

Tuesday Tasting

Within an hour or two, there was nothing left but these crumbly bits.

Cheese source: Whole Foods Market

D.I.L.: Siberian Husky Elle


We have a couple of dogs who come to work. Elle, the Siberian Husky, comes a couple days a week. She’s an absolute sweetheart—mild mannered, low-key and funny.

She’s also extremely popular. She’s got her own Facebook account (“Siberian Husky Elle”) and a million friends on it. Go visit and become friends. No joke. I’d bet money that she has more friends than you do.

One of her favorite places to sleep is in the hallway right outside my office door. Lucky me.


She’d make a terrible guard dog. If you broke in, she may, or may not lift her head to look at you. More likely, she’d crack one eye open to check you out and then would promptly fall back asleep. Hello thief, please help yourself. Snore.



Do I smell food?


I love her feet—big puffy padded paws. She hates for you to touch them though. Hates it. Screams like a little girl.


We’re pretty lucky that we can have dogs come to work. When I get tired and cranky, maybe a little stressed, I’ll go pet Elle and instantly feel better.

Look at that face. Who wouldn’t feel better?

I heart Canepa Deli


Canepa Deli

We have been waiting for months for another deli to open in downtown Fairfield. When we heard that Gigi and Ray Canepa, owners of the popular dining spot, Vintage Caffe at Manka’s Corner, were opening an Italian deli downtown, we were thrilled. And hopeful. And we did cartwheels down the office hallway.

Okay, I’m the only who did a cartwheel. Not pretty. My mind is young, my body is not.

While I don’t think my peers are interested in standing beside me on this cartwheeling thing, they’re enthusiastically supportive when I say, “Welcome!”

If you haven’t been, go. Go. Now. They’ve got a terrific assortment of cheeses, meats, prepared deli salads and of course, sandwiches.

Canepa Deli
I am particularly fond of the cheese cases. Just looking at all that glorious cheese makes me feel tingly. There’s both a wide variety and good quality of offerings. They’ve also got some premium jellies and spreads to accompany the cheeses. One of my favorite pairings is fig chutney with a baby brie. Or an apricot jam with a sharp blue cheese and a glass of muscat. Oh, good Lord! It’s heaven, I tell you.

So, welcome to the neighborhood Canepa, we’re so happy to have you.

Visit Canepa Deli at 721 Texas St, Fairfield, Calif.

Yo sushi


sushi 1

For the past several weeks, my Vietnamese cousin Ly (who has been living in Japan for the past five years), has been staying with me. Before picking her up from the airport three weeks ago, I had never met her. While she was living in India, I was living in Colombia, South America. While she was living in Indonesia, I was living in Saudi Arabia. While she was living in Japan, I was living, well, here in California.

But now, we’re making up for lost time and enjoying getting to know each other. She’s here to study English, which is actually already very good, but she wants to increase her fluency in order to elevate her job skills in the field of international economics. And as we all know, international economics is a bit of downer these days, so she’s taking some time off to improve her competitiveness in the marketplace.

Every day we learn new things about the others culture. For example, she’s realizing that Americans don’t eat quite as badly as she was led to believe. Apparently, our international culinary rep centers mainly around McDonald’s. People warned her that American food was bland, fattening and tasted terrible. I’m going to agree, that we’ve got our fare share of terrible food. The American invention and preference for fast food has completely overshadowed the abundance of wonderful cuisine that the American culture has to offer.

Thank goodness she’s living with me. It quickly became apparent to her that there is definitely wonderful fare to be found in the states.

And in return, she’s teaching me to cook Japanese food, which I love and have wanted to learn for ages.

Last night was Sushi 101: the California roll. Oh, man. I was so excited. Forgive these awful photos, but I shot them quickly, with one hand, and in the terrible light of my kitchen. Under cabinet kitchen lights are the enemy of quick kitchen photography.

sushi 2
My first roll. Looks a little naughty doesn’t it?

sushi 1
Here they are plated. Aren’t they cute? I can’t wait to move on to the more complicated rolls with ahi and other yummies. But alas, I must start at the beginning like everyone else.

sushi 3
Here’s another snack that she taught me to make. It’s a triangle of sushi rice that has a piece of red gingered plum in the middle (the name escapes me at the moment) and a piece of nori wrapped around the bottom. Apparently these little puppies are very popular for breakfast or snacks and are sold all over Japan at local convenience stores like 7-Eleven. I know in Hawaii, they put spam in the middle. I’ll have to try that as well.

See that green blob on the dish? That’s German wasabi horseradish. If you haven’t had that with your sushi, you haven’t lived. I’m happy to say that it’s something that I introduced Ly to. She’d never had it before and is now as addicted as we are to it. I predict she will be hauling it back to Japan in her suitcase.

sushi 4
We made enough sushi to eat for dinner and take for lunch the next day. Here’s mine in a little tupperware.

sushi 5
In Japan, they wrap their little lunch boxes with a scarf or cloth napkin, which can be either your tablecloth or napkin when you eat your lunch. Plus, it provides a little handle to carry your lunch box. The solution is both practical and super cute.

Those Japanese. Clever folks. I’m loving this tradition.

A classic


Brix's French Onion Soup and Ham Sandwich

Ugh. The photo is blurry—sorry. It’s because my hands were shaky. I really miss bread. A lot.

Anyway, here we are for lunch at Brix, in Yountville, CA. The new chef, Anne Gingrass-Paik, has only been there since December 2008. Although she’s quite experienced (ten years with Wolfgang Puck and a handful of well known Bay area restaurants), Anne is a new resident to the Napa Valley.

The lunch menu is fairly simple, with only about a dozen entrees, but she has some classics on there. This combo of a grilled Gruyere cheese and honey roast ham sandwich with French onion soup ($15) is one of them. It smelled incredible when it was placed on the table. Immediately, I started salivating.

Because I can’t have the gluten, I just worshipped it from my side of the table. Kind of like looking at pictures of Gerard Butler. I know I can’t have it, but I really enjoy looking.

Paper dolls for the modern gal



Coco – by mbranton on

When I was little girl I loved to draw. (Still do by the way.) Someone gave me a paper doll fashion kit that came with stencils of clothing types that you could then modify and embellish with color, glue on sequins, glitter. If Bedazzlers existed back then, it probably would have come with this kit. It was a fashion-conscious craft-girl’s delight. I would spend hours designing outfits. I loved that thing; had it for years. And now I love Polyvore. It’s crafting, collaging and shopping all rolled up in one. And I don’t have to spend a dime. How cool is that? Plus, it’s easy and extremely intuitive. If you haven’t tried, take fifteen minutes, give your brain a break and collage something. You’ll feel better afterward, I promise you.

Hint to all fiction writers: makes a great character development tool. For all you character-collagers out there … try this instead and save yourself the hot glue burns.

hilton head

hilton head – by mbranton on

I can see this is going to become a problem. I can’t seem to stop Polyvore-ing.

cherry blossom

cherry blossom – by mbranton on

butterflies – by mbranton on