Yesterday we celebrated -- all day long -- the birthday of my dear friend Jill with a bit of a road trip. After dropping Sadie at school, Mark, Jill, Wyatt, Byron and me headed to the Napa Valley for the day.
We managed a stop at Rancho Gordo to salivate over beans and bean accoutrements. We bought a few -- I loaded up on the Christmas limas -- and the birthday girl even came away with a squatty clay cazuela. And we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Bottega, one of Michael Chiarello's restaurants, in Yountville. The man does know his food.
Wyatt, who had slept all the way to the Valley, was ready to eat by the time we'd arrived at Bottega. He happily gobbled up a majority of our polenta appetizer (creamy polenta with Parmesan and wild mushrooms and a balsamic-game reduction sauce) while the rest of us enjoyed nibbling on the others: burrata with walnut crostini, calamari, and focaccia from the Model Bakery with a garlicky Parmesan spread. We moved on to salads of Brussels sprouts with citrus, and beets with blue cheese, then progressed on to entrees that included a spinach and ricotta raviolo with a poached egg and black truffles, pan fried potato gnocchi with winter vegetables, short ribs, and skirt steak. The bottle of zin from Brown Estate that we shared went well with everything.
Part way through the main courses Wy decided on another nap, which provided yet more time to savor our time together and order another course and coffee. For dessert: a super creamy panna cotta with pineapple compote and candied grapefruit, affogado of coffee over salted caramel ice cream with a crunchy Marcona almond cookie, and, of course, the mini doughnuts with creme anglaise and raspberry jam. Oh so good.
Three hours later, we ventured further up the Valley to St. Helena to wander main street shops and enjoy the holiday lights. Our trip was not completely without agenda, however, as we really wanted to give the English muffins made by the Model Bakery a try. Apprently they have quite a following.
Half of the dozen muffins that we bought turned into dinner later (although at the time we bought them we didn't think we'd ever want to eat again) . . . a dinner of toasted muffins with butter and strawberry freezer jam and mugs of tea. Tender, light, fluffy, a bit like a savory doughnut, actually. I think we'll have to learn to make them ourselves given how far away we are from Napa.
Before lunch, Jill and Mark also generously accompanied us to visit some friends from law school who now live in the Napa countryside -- Helen and Jason and their little girl Marina and Helen's dad, Richard, and his lovely wife, Mary. We were so excited to see them again, and to meet Marina and to introduce them to Wyatt. They live in a wonderful spot. Vines, fields, woods with gnarled trees, hills, and blue sky above it all . . . beautiful even in midwinter.
Helen and Jason built a house for themselves on the same property that Helen grew up on, down the hill from her dad's house. In February, they will welcome a baby boy into their family. We were so pleased to spend a little time with them catching up, telling stories, seeing their pizza oven, cellar and still, relaxing . . . and being reminded how glad we are to know them and consider them our friends.
Although the drive back to the city required fighting more traffic than we'd hoped, Mark got us all home safely after a thoroughly enjoyable day together.
At the risk of sounding a bit sentimental, I must also add that when Jill and I met way back in 1984 and nearly instantly became friends, I had no idea that I had just gained one of the richest and best relationships of my life. Happy Birthday to my smart, funny, interesting, capable, strong, and beautiful friend. I am so privileged to know and love you.