Friday, November 22, 2013

Notes from Phoenix/Scottsdale

I've just spent four days in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area visiting with friends, eating in wonderful restaurants, and doing a bit of shopping and touring. I spent an entire day at the Musical Instrument Museum, a unique, educational, and delightful museum.

I traveled on Halloween and, as always, the Southwest Airlines gates in Oakland were wildly decorated. At 5 a.m., this is what greeted me as I descended, blurry-eyed, to my gate. It certainly jolted me awake.

I've spent many a Halloween with Lois and Jim in Phoenix and it has become something of a tradition for us.

Lois and I started our visit with a pilgrimage to Last Chance, the legendary Nordstrom discount store for it's returned, overstocked, and sometimes damaged items. After a solid three hours of foraging through Last Chance (see the "fruits" of our shopping at the beginning of this blog), we were famished.

We chose Pizzeria Bianco in the nearby Town and Country shopping center for our lunch. This location is the newest of James Beard Award-winning Chef Chris Bianco's Phoenix restaurants. Chef Bianco got his start in 1988, in the back corner of a neighborhood grocery store. He is known for being a driving force in the slow food and artisinal pizza fronts.  I've just recently heard of the Bianco restaurants and Lois knew of them, but has stayed away because of waits of as long at two hours at his restaurants.  For our late lunch on a Thursday afternoon, there was no wait; we were seated immediately.

Our choice was the "Wiseguy" pizza, made with Wood-Roasted Onion, Smoked Mozzarella, Fennel, and Sausage.  I liked the combination of toppings and the thin, crispy crust. Lois, had assumed that the pizza would have tomato sauce on it and was a bit disappointed.  Our consensus on Pizzeria Bianco is that we enjoyed and appreciated the fresh and creative combination of ingredients and the friendly service, but, if we had had to wait two hours to get a table, we would have gone to another of the many excellent pizzerias in the area.

That night for dinner, we headed to Downtown Scottsdale to Barrio Queen, another restaurant whose chef has a large following. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's popularity came from her several Scottsdale cafés. Barrio Queen is the first of her full-service restaurants. Her authentic Mexican dishes are made with unique combinations of market-fresh ingredients.

On Halloween night, the restaurant was packed.

The extensive menu features a large selection of tacos and small plates, Chef Silvana's versions of Mexican "Street Food,"  as well as a tempting variety of entrees.

Lois made her meal of six different tacos. Her selections included Carnitas (slow cooked pork); Cochinita Pibil (marinated pork); Suadero Azteca (brisket); Carne Asada (marinated beef), Huitlacoche y Champinon (grilled beef with huitlachoce ((a fungus that grows on corn; considered a delicacy like a truffle)) and mushrooms); Barrio Pollo (chicken); and Camaron (beer-battered shrimp). Each taco was unique, with a complexity of seasonings.

Jim chose the Enchiladas Suizas, Chef Silvano's take on a traditional dish..the chicken was rubbed with spices and the toppings included a spicy serrano tomatillo sauce.

I had the Cochinita Pibil, one of Chef Silvano's signature dishes. It is pork, marinated in sour orange and achiote paste, wrapped in a banana leaf and slow cooked all night long. This dish is topped with pickled onions and pico de gallo. It is served with chipotle mashed potatoes and calacacitas (squash, corn, and peppers).

We were all happy with our meals and Lois and Jim think Barrio Queen's Margaritas, which we all drank, are the best anywhere. Prices are very reasonable with about all entrées priced under $20. The tacos are $3.50 each or 3 for $10.

Other dining adventures included a lunch with Hallie, my cooking teacher from Provence. Hallie suggested Phoenix City Grille as a good place to linger and visit, while enjoying tasty food.

Hallie had the Grilled Salmon Skewer. Lois and I had Sandwiches; Crispy Eggplant for me and the Spiced Chicken Breast for Lois.  

We met friends Marcia and Charlie for Sunday brunch at Timo, another of Hallie's recommendations. None of us was familiar with Timo, but we all agree that it is so good and so pleasant, we can't wait to return. The restaurant has a beautiful outdoor patio as well as an indoor dining room. We ate indoors but felt like we were outdoors on this warm Sunday because the garage door front windows were rolled up and we had full exposure to the outdoors.  I suspect that Timo's building was once a gas station.

Several of us had the 3 Eggs on Toast. Other choices included the Crab Cake Benedict and a Green Salad with fresh berries, pecans, pancetta, and feta cheese. 

Our day at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) was memorable. The MIM is the world's only global musical instrument museum.  Other such museums, including those in France and Belgium, only include musical instruments of their countries.

The MIM was founded by Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO of Target Corporation, a collector of African art and museum enthusiast. He was inspired to create the Phoenix MIM after a visit to the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium.

Having been to some of the European musical instruments museums, I can say that the experience of this MIM far exceeds anything I've experienced. Being a new museum, it takes advantage of the latest technology and combines displays of instruments from about 200 countries with wireless audio that streams music and sounds of instruments along with videos of the instruments being played in their context in their countries.

The museum is so extensive that, in a full day, Lois and I were only able to cover the Africa and Middle East and Asia and Oceania galleries. We never got to the Europe, Latin America, or United States/Canada galleries. We also didn't have time for the Mechanical Music Gallery.

These photos are from the galleries we visited.

After a lovely lunch in their restaurant, Café Allegro, whose menu features local ingredients in creative preparations,

we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Special Exhibition, "Women Who Rock," an exhibit created by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.  

It includes the costumes, instruments, and artifacts of more than 70 women from the Foremothers of Rock, such as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Ma Rainey, up to the rockers of the New Millennium, including Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Janelle Monae.

"Women Who Rock" will be at the MIM through April 20, 2014. Here are some highlights of the original outfits of some of the women. What I can't include here is the sound track that fills the gallery with music by the artists featured.


The Supremes

Tina Turner

Admission to the MIM is $18 for all over age 19. "Women Who Rock" costs an extra $7 with museum admission and $10 for this exhibit only. The price is definitely worth the experience; just allow a day for your visit.

A final note on Sky Harbor Airport: The Southwest Terminal, Terminal 4, is the nicest airport terminal that I've been in, and it gets more interesting each time I am here.

It's central pre-security screening area has restaurants, shops, and art exhibits that are local to the area. I usually buy my dinner at the Paradise Bakery in this area, but lately have noticed that at the post-security gates in Terminal 4, there are even more tempting restaurants. My favorites at Gate D, include La Grande Orange and Barrio Café (the Barrio Queen restaurant group). Humble Pie, Pei Wei, and Olive & Ivy are just some of the local restaurants at Gate A. Look for La Madeleine, Focaccia Florentina, El Bravo, and Cowboy Ciao at Gate B. And, there's a second Paradise Bakery at Gate C.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Swim-A-Mile for Women with Cancer, 2013

Well, I did it again...for the 16th year!

I did the annual Swim-A-Mile for Women with Cancer, a fundraiser for the Women's Cancer Resource Center (WCRC) in Oakland, California. This year it was on October 5 & 6.

Harriet & Janet shared a lane with me. This is Harriet's 7th Swim-A-Mile and Janet's first. Janet is a cancer survivor who is going strong...for the past 5 swims she's cheered Harriet and me on. But this year, she took the plunge and swam with us.

Janet and I even wore matching glittery swim suits.

This year, 586 people (women, men, children can all do the swim) swam in the course of two days. The event is at Mills College in their beautiful pool.

I swam in Honor of 32 people and in Memory of 26 people, all of whom have a special connection to those who sponsored me in the swim.  We swimmers post their names on a big bulletin board by the pool.

I'm proud to say that I have raised, so far, nearly $3900 for WCRC.  My part of swimming 72 lengths of the pool (1800 yards) is nothing compared to the generosity of friends, family, and colleagues who continue to sponsor my swim.  I truly appreciate it and am gratified that we are able to help WCRC continue to provide the FREE services that it continues to offer to women with cancer.

Collectively, WCRC has raised more than $350,000 to date from the swim.

WCRC Development Manager, Christine Sinnott, and Executive Director , Peggy McGuire, continued to smile and provide inspiration to we swimmers throughout the weekend.

Both Harriet and Janet finished their swim proud and smiling!

And, when I arrived, friends Pat and Judi were already celebrating the end of Pat's swim.

The pool remained filled with swimmers all day long. More than 140 volunteers made the weekend a success.

After we swam, it was time for lunch.  There is always tasty food for all throughout the day.

Since the weather was exceptionally warm and clear, we relaxed on the lawn while enjoying our lunch and just taking it all in.

And, yes, we did go back for seconds!!!

Harriet and Janet certainly looked like pinup girls, for those of you who remember pinup girls!!!

WCRC is accepting donations for the Swim-A-Mile until the end of November.  If you wish to sponsor me, you can do so on the WCRC website.  Just type in my name and it will lead you to my Profile page.

Looking forward to Swim-A-Mile 2014! The dates are October 4 & 5, 2014.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

28th Sausalito Floating Homes Tour

Once a year, for the last 28 years, the Floating Homes Association in Sausalito, California, holds its Floating Homes Tour. Each year a different set of homes is open to the public.  To quote the current president of the Floating Homes Association on how the ticket proceeds are used, "We share our tour proceeds with our neighbors, the Friends of the Marin City Library, Sausalito Village and other deserving organizations."

To celebrate her birthday this year, Debbie asked me to take her to the Floating Homes Tour. It sounded like a fun way to spend a day together, so, we reserved our tickets, and off we went last Saturday.

As luck would have it, after a glorious summer, on this, the last day of summer, it started raining (I should say "pouring") about 5 minutes after we set out on our one-hour drive to Sausalito. And, it didn't stop raining until sometime in the afternoon.  Given that the tour is on just one day, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., we, and several hundred others, forged on through the rain and mud.

Most of us have called the floating homes "houseboats," but their official description in the Sausalito community is "floating homes" because these homes no longer set sail; they are permanently anchored.

This year's tour included 4 arks and 10 floating homes.  For more terminology: arks are boats that do not float; they are permanently secured on pilings at the edge of the water. In contrast to the floating homes, the arks do not sway or rise and fall with changing tides and currents.

The tour is self-guided and, this year featured homes on three different docks, all within walking distance of one another.

Many of the home owners were in their homes to greet visitors and to answer questions. Docents from the Floating Homes Association and historians were everywhere to provide more information and insights. Seeing this community up close was interesting and a lot of fun. It also gave me, who thrives in clutter in my own home, a lesson in living small (Even the most luxurious and modern of floating home has extremely limited storage space.

This rest of this blog will mainly be photos of the homes we visited or walked past.

By the way, those who come to this tour every year swore that this is the first year that they've had rain. So, mark your calendar for next year and keep checking the Floating Homes Association website for the date and ticket information for the 2014 tour.

Debbie on a bridge in the Appleton Ark's enclosed deck; there is a koi pond below.

The Blue Heron, on Main Dock, has a very modern interior.

The bedrooms in the S.S. Maggie, on South Forty Pier, are on the bottom level of the home. This is the guest room, built into the bow of the boat. The original hull is still visible. The S.S. Maggie was built around 1890 as a steam schooner and retired in the 1930s.

The Mayflower is another ark. It was under construction at the time of the 1906 Earthquake and was completed and launched in 1907.  It has been on pilings in this slip since sometime between 1920 and 1930.

The Winchester Mystery Boat on the Main Dock is relatively new, having been built in the 1960s.

We were constantly amused and surprised by the fanciful and beautiful homes we passed.

The "front yards" of the homes is along the walkways that traverse each dock. It is where owners store some of their belongings and where they have their gardens.

The water views between docks and out onto Richardson Bay give another perspective on the community.