Tag Archives: birthday


After the train ride from hell, we joined all of our family in San Francisco. It was several days of celebration: a couple of kids’ birthdays, one family had their Seder while others dyed Easter eggs. Little did I know of the celebration of celebrations. I was instructed to be sure to wear the sport coat that Susan had insisted on packing. All of the family showed up, the children prepared for a day of play and the adults dressed up – unusual for a family gathering. The mystery deepened when a long white limousine pulled up in front of the house. The kids were left behind with the oldest teenager and a sitter in charge. The adults piled into the limo and headed through the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was told we were celebrating my upcoming birthday, but nothing more. The conversation turned to family activities and reminiscences as we maneuvered the weekend traffic in Marin and San Rafael out onto the green expanses of the Delta farms and marshes. It became evident that we were heading to Napa when the flatlands gave way to rolling hills and rows of close-trimmed grapevines.

Enjoying the ride

Finally, we pulled up to a gray stone building that was immediately recognizable as The French Laundry, the legendary restaurant that all of the family knew had been on my must-do list for many years. This was their surprise to commemorate my eightieth birthday.


We were greeted by a young man who had known Sarah and Evan since their days in New York where he had worked at Per Se. He and a young woman dressed in black led us on a brief tour of the gleaming kitchen filled with at least two dozen cooks in whites, each stationed at a specialized work space creating one or another beautiful dish. The woman in black then led us through the chilly wine cellar of 13,000 bottles into an elegant room that would be our home for the next four hours of eating. She pushed back a glass door and next a louvered screen to open the room to the outdoors and a beautiful garden scene. Then the performance began. The first act was a ritual sabrage performed by a tall man dressed in formal attire and carrying a shiny sword. With one whack of the sword, he lopped off the cork and bottle neck, losing nary a drop of champagne that he then poured into our waiting flutes after stabbing the sword into the lawn in front of us.

Then the food began.

The meal was filled with French Laundry classics. First were coronets: black-sesame-studded tuiles shaped into cones filled with crème fraiche and salmon tartare. Whimsical, beautiful, and tasty at the same time. Each coronet came in a little silver stand that was centered on the huge blue Limoges service plate. They outshone the accompanying “Ritz crackers”, tiny little cheesy biscuits, in visual drama but not necessarily in flavor. Both offerings were delicious.

Next came a small white bowl that nestled two perfect white asparagus tips and a dark disc of Perigord black truffle, Holland White Asparagus “Vichyssoise”. It was a little sad to see the composition disappear beneath a small lake of creamy soup, but the flavor made up for the visual loss.

Then came what is arguably the restaurant’s most famous dish: “Oysters and Pearls.”

Hen Egg Custard with ragout of Perigord truffles served in an egg shell with a laser-sharp rim and topped by a chive imprisoned between two impossibly thin, matched potato wafers

Éleveges Perigord Moulard Duck Foie Gras “Torchon” served with wine-poached sour apple, wild sorrel, and fennel “gastrique”

Sautéed Fillet of Mediterranean Turbot served with cream braised La Rotte potatoes, buttered brioche and black winter truffle emulsion. The fish and truffle emulsion were a perfect flavor combination.

Alaska King Crab “À La Plancha”  served with bantam hen egg “gnocchi”, winter radishes, garden celery and “Consommé Madrilène”. The fragrant, flavorful broth tied everything together.

“Bread and Butter” was a perfectly formed  rosette “Parker House Roll” with a center of roasted paprika and served with a  quenelle of Diane St Clair’s Animal Farm butter.

Devil’s Gulch Ranch Rabbit satsuma “Suprêmes”, served with glazed garden turnips and arrowleaf spinach

Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb with pea shoot “Pakora”, slow-roasted Nantes carrots, and Spanish caper-brown butter jus

“Gougère” Andanta Dairy “Etude” and Australian black winter truffle “Fondue”.

Tropical Fruit Ambrosia young coconut puree, lime scented golden pineapple, Matcha “Genoise” and Cherimoya sherbet

“Gâteau Pear and Caramel” caramel mouse with pear compote and “Pain de Gênes”

“Mignardises” – handcrafted chocolates and truffles of many flavors and beautiful coatings

To be sure, it was a most amazing meal. But the best part was to be surrounded by family and to share remembrances and stories that had already been retold many times and to laugh with one another. It was a wonderful way to mark eighty years of being on this earth, and this post is one way for me to thank all of my children and their loving spouses.


Filed under Food, Photography, Restaurants, Travel


Mothers’ Day and Susan’s birthday coincided this year, so during our visit to Los Angeles, Carol needed a dessert for our celebration. One of Susan’s favorites is cheesecake, and this is one of Carol’s favorite recipes.

She originally found it in Gourmet magazine, and it has been published widely since then in other magazines and on the internet.

But everyone (or nearly everyone) gives credit to the Three Cities of Spain coffee house in Santa Fe for the original. Many years ago, the popular artists’ street, Canyon Road, was a narrow dirt road heading up the canyon from Paseo de Peralta. The Santa Fe artists’ colony was experiencing a boomlet in the 1950s-1970s, and this was one of the places on Canyon Road where the struggling artists hung out, drinking coffee, smoking, and eating cheesecake. There were nearby bars for more serious drinking at night.

For reasons unknown to me, Three Cities of Spain closed in the 1970s, Canyon Road was paved, and the old adobe home which housed the coffee house was transformed into Geronimo, one of the best and most famous restaurants in Santa Fe. The restaurant was named after the man who built the house in 1756.

I think you’ll like the cheesecake.

hree Cities of Spain cheesecake after the first baking

Three Cities of Spain cheesecake after the first baking

Spreading on the topping.

Spreading on the topping.

Birthday candles for more mature adults

Birthday candles counted out for more mature adults

Blowing out the candles

Blowing out the candles

Cheesecake with berries

Cheesecake with berries


Three Cities of Spain Cheesecake



  • 11 graham crackers, ground fine (1½ cups)
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt


  • 24 ounces (3 packages) cream cheese, softened
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup sugar


  • 16 ounces sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • berries (optional)


  1. Stir together crust ingredients. Sprinkle half of mixture onto the bottom of a buttered 9½ inch springform pan. Then press the mixture up the side of the pan about 1¼ inches. Sprinkle and press the remaining half of the mixture into the bottom of the pan.
  2. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the vanilla and sugar until just combined.
  3. Pour the cream cheese and egg filling into the crust. Bake for 45 minutes at 350ºF or until the center of the cake is set.  Cool on a rack for 5 minutes.
  4. Stir together the topping ingredients.  Drop by spoonfuls around the edge of the cake and spread gently into the center.
  5. Return to the 350ºF oven for another 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a baking rack before chilling overnight in the refrigerator.
  7. Serve at room temperature with or without optional berries.


Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes, Restaurants, Travel