The Perfect Holiday Cocktail

IMG_3718I was in Napa last week for the annual Tokyo Tomodachi gift exchange. Each year, a group of friends who met in Tokyo many years ago re-enact a holiday tradition that was started by a group of expats in Tokyo circa early 2000s where great friends dress up, eat a decadent meal, drink many cocktails and fight over an expensive trinket. I look forward to this exchange every year, and it really has nothing to do with the gift. I don’t see these women often, but our connection to one another was formed in the perfect kind of petri dish – we had no extended family, we lived in a very foreign land, earthquakes were a regular occurrence, and we all shared an adventurous and curious spirit. Our time together last week was a whirlwind of fun, and the best gift I could have given myself for Christmas. We cheer each other on and give big hugs when needed. We learn from each other, and I always return home with a list of things I need to read, see, buy or eat. I think a part of the magic is that we are not in each other’s daily lives and so we never take one another for granted. We appreciate every minute together.

Okay, getting back to the title of this post… the perfect holiday cocktail (besides the mix of old friends, great food and bottles of Napa wine), it’s called a Paperplane, and I’m a huge fan. Hilary, the Napanista made it for me last week. Equal parts Bourbon, Aperol, Nonino Amaro, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Shake over ice. Many of these will be quaffed on Christmas Eve at my apartment.

Before I get to the “all things good in Napa” part of this post, I need to tell you about a new play that just opened at St. Ann’s Warehouse on Sunday. It’s called The Jungle, and the reviews are fabulous. I have tickets in January, and I can’t wait. You should go too. Also, Oklahoma (from the same St. Ann’s Warehouse) is coming to Broadway, and the tickets went on pre-sale today. The show was so fun, and I know it will be a big deal. Get tickets for this too!

Napa:

Sleeping in a home surrounded by grapevines is divine. These were the views I had with my morning coffee.

 

We had two full days in Napa and did some serious wine tasting. First up: Okapi Wines. Kim is awesome. You need to meet her and drink her wine.

 

 

Next up: Kenzo Estate a very special place for our Tokyo group. The wine is mostly distributed in Japan, so it’s hard to experience unless you visit the estate. The attention to detail in everything they do is very Japanese, right down to the etching of the names of each wine on the glasses.

 

 

Dinner that night was at Miminashi – are you sensing a Japanese theme? The food was divine – Japanese but with a twist. I loved everything, but I’ll be thinking about that macaroni salad they serve as an amuse bouche. I need the recipe. Put this place on your Napa list. The dessert is just as good as the meal so leave room.

On the second day, our crew became a peloton (I recently learned the definition, and I’m excited to use it in my first sentence) on our rented ebikes. We started in Napa and powered our way to Yountville along the highway next to the train tracks – the views were breathtaking, but we were going so fast it would have been dangerous to take pictures. Thankfully this ride took place BEFORE the wine.

 

 

Lunch was at the new Restoration Hardware restaurant in Yountville. I’ve been to the one in NYC, and I thought it was nice. The one in Yountville will blow you away. The food is better, and the experience is more authentic. I also learned that antique wheat threshers can be art. Now I want one.

 

We dropped off the bikes and ubered to Robert Sinskey Vineyards where there was a table waiting for us in a cave surrounded by library wines, and more food. Somehow we powered through it. Their wine tasting pamphlet “Gluttons Only” was aptly named.

 

Guess what was next? More wine! Our last stop was at The Prisoner Wine Company, which gets a lot of play on Instagram and is very popular with millennials. I was sort of obsessed with their sexy rose and shipped some home. The question will be whether I wait until summer returns to drink it – not likely.

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Our final meal together that night was at Angele in Napa in a small private room. We dressed up…heels, fur, jewels, the works and kicked off the night with the giving of omiyage. The Japanese love bringing small gifts to friends when traveling and we do the same when we see each other.

 

The evening ended back at Hilary’s house where gifts were exchanged and fought over, all in good fun, of course.

Have fun. Be bold.

 

What are your holiday traditions?

My friend and fellow blogger, Dina, talks about the origin of the tradition of Christmas trees in her newsletter, which got me thinking about the holiday traditions our family looks forward to each year, and how they have changed depending on demographics like the country we are living in and the age of the kids. We spent six Christmas holidays in Japan, and although the Japanese don’t celebrate Christmas, they have come up with some of the most interesting ways to put a Japanese spin on the festivities. The tradition I found the most hilarious is the eating of KFC on Christmas, and the need to place your order months in advance.

In the Jardine family, a tradition is simply something you do more than once, so we have a lot of them. Our oldest holiday pastime is the newspaper barrier my husband creates that blocks the kids from opening presents Christmas morning. When they were young, it made more sense. When two of your kids are 6’3″ and they can see above the few taped pages of newsprint, it doesn’t hold the same significance, however, we still do it every year. For the past five years, we all wear matching Christmas PJs on the 24th while we watch Love Actually and the Polar Express and drink hot chocolate. This year, we are reducing our carbon footprint, and we’ll wear matching fluffy socks. From our years living in Japan, we’ve incorporated the New Year Daruma wish. I buy the tiny ones at  Pearl River Mart. We color in the left eye of the Daruma, and we write our wish for the coming year on the bottom. We place them on a small altar in our apartment (aka book shelf), and then wait for them to come true! They almost never do, but this year we have two wish winners – Annie and Tom (Tom had two of his past year’s wishes come true this year). We will throw those in the fire at New Year’s to acknowledge their accomplishments. The rest sit on the altar waiting for their time to get thrown into the flames.

 

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And each December 23rd, we dress up and eat a massive amount of Chinese food at Mr. Chow, the place I celebrated special occasions with my family as a young girl, made even more special by the fact that Tom asked me to marry him after eating a meal there. We order exactly the same thing every year, never veering from our favorites, and we like it that way.

One of my most practical traditions started about five years ago when I realized that one day my kids are going to want to take their ornaments with them when they get married and have their own trees. So each year they receive an ornament representative of something big or small that happened to them that year. Here are a few examples:

I’m a lover of holiday traditions, so if your family celebrates in a fun or unusual way, please let me know. I’m always looking for new opportunities to have fun, make memories and bring meaning to celebrations.

Wednesday I planned a holiday lunch at Union Square Cafe. It’s the perfect place to celebrate with good friends as the food never disappoints, the service is on point, and the chance of a celebrity sighting is high (I see you Zach Braff and David Schwimmer). It also happens to be across the street from Union Square (natch), and it makes for an easy transition to the holiday market for shopping.

I started the weekend at a two hour breakfast at Buvette another one of my go-to spots. It is one of the original all-day dining restos that are now so popular, opening at 7 am and closing at 2 am. They don’t take reservations, but it’s worth the wait. To me, it’s the cheapest and fastest way to transport myself to Paris. The espresso steamed scrambled eggs with prosciutto and shaved parm is perfection.

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I’ve wanted to have brunch at Sadelle’s since it opened but I refuse to spend a large amount of my weekend standing in line, and it’s not easy to get a reservation during the prime brunch hours. Since it was the first Saturday in months without college football, I planned to seize the day and start very early. We had a table reserved for two at 8:45, and although it wasn’t brunch, it was still oh so awesome.

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We had enough time after breakfast to walk the semi-empty streets of Soho, window shopping and laughing at all of the ridiculous items for sale. For the person who has literally everything…

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A 10:20 am showing of Mary Queen of Scots at The Angelika Film Center, my favorite place to see a movie since it opened circa 1989, made the start to the day that much more enjoyable. I thought the movie was very entertaining as I am a huge fan of the early royal days and like nothing more than reading or watching anything to do with this historical fiction genre. I am team Saiorse since I first saw her in How I Live Now – the movie version of one of my favorite dystopian Young Adult books (same title).

Today, I spent the morning at the The Whitney Museum.

Thanks to my friend Lotte (who was the idea behind the emptynestnyc.blog btw) we had the good fortune of going “All Andy” with the supreme Whitney docent Debbie. I learned that Debbie has many talents and is the co-founder of an intimate art salon, EdelHaus Art Salon  If you are interested in attending one of her private events, please send me a note and I will connect you. My fascination with Andy began while a student at NYU in the early 80’s when Andy was still alive, and I had the good fortune of spying him at Area – one of my go-to clubs while in college. I was totally obsessed with him and his Factory crew after reading Edie: An American Biography. The show at the Whitney is fabulous, and I will go back as it requires more than the hour I spent this morning.

Tomorrow I am off to Napa to celebrate the holidays with my West Coast Tokyo ladies. The annual gift exchange started in Tokyo and continues each year in California. I cannot wait to arrive. Look for a fun post when I return – maybe even a co-blog post with one of my all-time favorite Tokyo transplanted friends and fellow blogger: Napanista!

Have fun. Be bold.