New Ways to have Enough fun on Vacation while approaching 80

I’ve learned to redefine what it takes to enjoy a vacation. Enjoyment and enough being the key word here.  Non stop activity has largely vanished as something to be desired or enjoyed while vacationing.  It’s been replaced  by a more laissez faire point of view.  

In the mornings, no longer do I have to hit the streets running which is good because that would literally be an impossibility with asthma and hip bursitis.   It’s rather delicious to linger in the morning for much too  long  over my cup-o’tea.  I can  leisurely check my email, stare at the beautiful color of apple green that I painted on an outside wall, and idly wonder what happened to the butterflies that were supposed to be inhabiting the butterfly garden in front of my house.  They were here en masse the last time we visited.  At some point, it will feel right to take a shower and consider making  the bed while deciding which colorful t-shirt to wear to complement this bright and  sunny day. Continue reading “New Ways to have Enough fun on Vacation while approaching 80”

The T Club Flashback

Flashback!  The year, 1960.or ’61.  The sound, jazz. The feel, beatnik wanna be.  The setting, a dingy nightclub under railroad tracks in run down industrial city.

It was the T Club.  I had one or two friends who I could easily convince to come along with me.  In order to get there, I had to get my Mother’s car.  That required some white lies, which I could easily justify to myself.   If I had told Mom the truth, she’d never would say yes. She probably would think I’d lost my mind.

It was a summer thing.  About once a week.  Head up a very long and dark flight of stairs to the closed-door at the top of the stairs.  Enter the dark and smoky T Club.  Take a seat at a small table near the stage.  Order cocktail(s). No id’s required. Smoke ciggies. Feel very devil-may-care.  Look around to see if my current crush might be there.  Rarely, but one could hope.  Zone out to the sound of jazz.  Look cool.  Feel cool. We didn’t call ourselves beatniks, but we were under the influence for sure. Continue reading “The T Club Flashback”

The Kyoto Hospitality Hour

“Come to our apartment for a little sake and chit chat before we go out for dinner,” is how our invitation goes.  That said, we have easily pulled together a spontaneous series of Vapnek hospitality hours that we are very happy with.  Our guests seem delighted as well.  It could only happen here.

Our more frequent visits to Kyoto have coincided with a rise of Kyoto visits from friends and friends of friends of friends who are making first visits to Kyoto for a few days.  Invariably, we’re contacted for obvious reasons by folks just wanting to say hi, curious about how we live here as well as  looking for restaurant/sightseeing/shopping guidance.

We’ve gotten into the habit of inviting visitors over.  That way, we have a friendly social hour and can determine their interests and offer suggestions.  Generally, they’re visiting for a few short days and my main advice is not to expect to see it all on one trip! If the spark is lit, I assume they’ll return for a deeper exploration of this remarkable city.  We’ve acquired a nice selection of sake cups.  Our guest are happy to pick their own, which is a fun custom here.

Within a quarter mile radius of our apartment is a store in the Nishiki Market that has a wonderful sake selection.  (my husband’s job).  Then on to a pickle emporium grabbing some cucumbers, daikon etc.

Japanese cucumber pickles

A short walk follows to Daimaru food court for a bag of assorted rice crackers that always gather a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the first timers.

Japanese rice crackers

We bring some almonds and pistachio nuts from California each time we come so that rounds out the food tableau.

Of course, I’m in charge of set up and flowers.IMG_0158

How is Everything?

I generally see myself as a relatively easy going and compassionate person.  An uglier, impatient side of my personality reveals itself when I eat at certain California restaurants. I’m surprised by the depth of my annoyance. And, it’s only getting worse.


I have pet peeves with many restaurants in California.  They can cause an otherwise fine meal to turn unpleasant. There are some restaurant practices that ought to be eliminated and never should have begun. But it’s been contagious and now these scenarios described below are very common.  They arouse an inner nastiness and a penchant for sarcasm in me that can border on the abusive.  The key words there are “in me.” Fortunately, I rarely verbalize my disdain.  Well, only once or twice, when I absolutely couldn’t stand it anymore.

Scenario One

I’ve just met a long lost friend for lunch/dinner.  We’re happy to see each other and quickly become engaged in an intense conversation, catching up with each other.  The menu is on the table, but we haven’t glanced at it yet.  We’re connecting.

Out of nowhere the bright smiling face of a server appears, asking us if we’d like to order.  Our conversation is instantly interrupted without any hesitation. It’s sometimes hard to pick back up again and harder still not to resent the interruption.

Note to managers:  Please train your staff to remember it’s rude to interrupt.  They most likely learned this years ago when they were toddlers.  You and they are going against the grain of established politeness.

Second Scenario.

I’ve ordered my food.  It’s been delivered. It’s been in front of me about 6 seconds. I may or may not have had time to take a bite.  Again, out of nowhere, a smiling server rushes over, “How is everything?? ” he/she gleefully asks.  A little later in the meal, another unwarranted appearance is made.  I’m  busy talking or eating when I’m confronted again.  “Is there anything else you need?” or “Is everything all right?   Or, the favored stand-by  “how is everything?”

Go away.  Don’t bother me. You might have good intentions, but… If I need to let you know how my food is tasting, I’ll find you.  If I need something else that’s missing from the meal, I’ll find you. If I’ve dropped my silverware, I’ll find you. If you’ve forgotten the popover that’s supposed to come with my rib roast, I’ll find you.   FYI, The food is the same as it was when it first came to my table.  No one switched plates on me. No need to ask again.  EVER!  (See?  Just nasty.)

disclaimer: Actually, there is one thing I want to be sure you keep an eye on.  It’s is my need for a drink refill, be it water or wine or cocktail.  That’s ALL you need to keep an eye on.  Don’t approach the table unless you see a glass that’s been drained. Only then, may you ask me if I’d like a refill.empty-glasses

Third  Scenario


It’s winter in Central California.  Although it’s warmer than most of the country, it does get cold, particularly once the sun sets.  That’s cold enough to need to wear several warm layers and even wrap a scarf around your exposed neck to keep warm.

Some restaurants attempt to delude themselves and their clients, pretending to be in the exotic tropics, serving food indoors and outdoors year round.   Beware of restaurants that have their front doors open in 50-degree weather, even if it does mean that there’s one less move required to go inside and it initially looks welcoming. An open door really means you’ll be freezing through dinner or awkwardly wearing all your outside clothes while you’re sitting inside, wondering why you have to pay for such an experience.

Beware also of restaurants who are still serving dinners on their patios or courtyards during the dark nights of winter.  That means an open door policy as well so that the waiters can pass easily between the indoors and outdoors with plates of food. While the doors are open, the outside diners huddle together under heat lamps and those inside must pile on their clothing layers just so their hands work well enough to hold silverware and bring food to their hungry mouths.

Another note to managers:  Just close the damn doors, please.  Recognise that night time temps in CA in the winter are generally in the low 50’s or 40’s.  This is the time to create a cozy INDOORS atmosphere, not one that feels as if I’m eating in a refrigerator.   99.9% of diners are capable of opening your front door, no matter what the temperature.  Regarding your back door, those tourists must be taught to eat inside.

Fourth Scenariorestaurant-disgust

The first question out of a servers’mouth is “Have you eaten here before?”  Even if it’s a lie, please say yes.  If not, we all might be subjected to an item by item recitation of everything on the menu.  It’s as if no one except the server is able to read.  Then, creative embellishments are added.  For example, if the menu says sauteéd they’ll tell me with what and with how much.  They’re also capable of making up stuff, telling diners whether items are wild when they’re not, or they have no idea. Beware of mushroom descriptions as well, usually, they’re  just plain brown, but they’re claimed to be wild. This might be a self-indulgent moment for the server to shine on center stage, but it’s pure torture for me.

If I have a question, please let me ask it.

Fifth Scenario

I stop eating out.

Nice to Meet You, Mr. Sazerac.


“Meeting a good drink, like meeting a good man, is an unforgettable experience.”  Dianne Vapnek


  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 1/2 ounces whiskey — rye whisky
  • 2 dashes Bitters — Peychaud’s bitters
  • 1 dash Bitters — Angostura bitters
  • absinthe
  • lemon peel

old-fashioned glass


In an Old-Fashioned glass (not a mixing glass; it’s part of the ritual), muddle a sugar cube with a few drops of water. Add several small ice cubes and the rye whiskey,* the Peychaud’s bitters, and the Angostura bitters.**

Stir well and strain into a second, chilled, Old-Fashioned glass in which you have rolled around a few drops of absinthe (no substitute really works, but you can try either a mix of Pernod and green Chartreuse, or Absenthe) until its inside is thoroughly coated, pouring off the excess. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel (some insist that this be squeezed over the drink and discarded; Handy wasn’t so picky).

* Use the good stuff, if you can find it: Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye (13 years old), or Sazerac Rye (18 years old).

** Optional. It’s not in the original recipe, but it’s traditional nonetheless, and it’s not bad.

The Back Story

While visiting New Orleans this past weekend, I was introduced to a new and welcome companion, the Sazerac cocktail.  Unassuming on the outside, Mr. Sazerac captured my immediate attention on my first sip.  He is a complex, yet subtle blend of kick -ass cocktail.

I went steady with Gin & Tonic for many years, played the field a bit, settled in with Cosmopolitan for a few years, flirted with martinis, then was captivated by Negroni and have been with him for about a decade.  Truth be told, after so many years in the relationship, I was getting a little bored and restless.

Sazerac is different from the others I’ve known and loved. Mr. S is from a pedigreed family that can trace itself backwards for generations, but there’s nothing stuffy about him.  He’s self-assured, but displays startling originality and a compelling air of mystery as well which becomes obvious as soon as you get to know him..  He doesn’t preen in lurid bright colors or lure you in with cloying sweetness.  He’s direct and authoritative, no foolish games played with him.   He delivers what you came for. Quickly.

How very nice to meet you.