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What Larry and I Ate to Celebrate My 65th Birthday, and How We Recovered From This Over Indulgence
Last Thursday was my 65th birthday.
After three months of sheltering-in-place we suddenly found that restaurants and hotels and shops were open and kind of went crazy. We looked online for a nearby hotel and found one in Yountville, a small town in the famous Napa Valley where some of the best wines in the world are produced, and which also has some of the best food in the world.
Even though we are both committed to eating wholefoods and in the midst of [a month-long challenge to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Rice Diet , we made a conscious decision to let that go for two days and enjoy the culinary experience of the place. A few restaurants were just opening, so we weren’t sure what we would find, but we just gave ourselves permission to do anything, knowing that we knew how to recover our diet once we got home.
Before I go any further I will say that it is impossible to eat wholefood meals in restaurants. The concept just doesn’t exist there yet. Even in restaurants that make everything from scratch and use the best organic ingredients, they still use basic fractionated, refined white flour and white sugar. They are so careful about the vegetables and fruits and meats, but the refined flour and sugar and lots of fat are still there. So our choice was to bring our own food or eat what was available. We chose to eat what was available because eating in restaurants gives me ideas about how to develop my cuisine of wholefoods.
I want to tell you what we ate, what it did to our bodies, and how we recovered.
What We Ate
Everything we ate was just standard food that the world thinks is “normal,” though very excellent versions of that normal.
On Wednesday morning we left for a two-day overnight. We ate our usual rice and fruit for breakfast, and then set out on the road.
We stopped for lunch in St. Helena, one of the towns on the famous Highway 29, which is bumper-to-bumper on weekends as visitors from all over the world go wine tasting. But since it was the first week of opening, we pretty much had the road and every place else to ourselves.
We stopped at a restaurant that had caught my eye some months ago when we were driving by. Farmstead serves American farmhouse cuisine showcasing ingredients fresh from their farm, ranch, and vineyards.
To our pleasant surprice, there was a rice dish entree on the menu and a bean side dish, so we ordered those, plus a pulled pork sandwich with potato salad. We always share everything, eating right off the one plate.
The rice was delicious. They used our own Lundberg California arborio rice, of course, to be local and cooked it risotto-style with lots of butter and cheese so it was very creamy. They added green garlic puree, chunks of summer squash, and fresh herbs. So delicious. Then there were braised cannelloni beans in an iron dish, right out of the oven, mixed with various vegetables. The pulled pork sandwich was served on a soft buttermilk white-flour bun with a good mustard potato salad on the side. The rice dish inspired me to see how I could make my rice creamier by adding more water to the cooking pot and then add more vegetables to make a savory dish.
We had purchased some apricots at the farmer’s market the previous weekend and they were now ripening, so we brought about a dozen apricots with us that were now ready to eat. So we eat some of those mid-afternoon when we reached our bed-and-breakfast. The room was supposed to come with a wine and cheese tasting but it wasn’t served because of the covid-19 restrictions.
At dinnertime we went for a long walk around downtown Yountville to see which restaurants were open. We finally arrived at Bottega , the restaurant of celebrity chef Michael Chiarello. Years ago I had eaten at his first restaurant Tra Vigne, which made a big impression on me at the time. I had also met him one day at a product demonstration at a local cookware store I happened to be walking through. He took the time to have a nice chat with me.
The website tells us “Bottega is an Italian word for an artist’s workshop, a place where a skilled craftsman practices and perfects his trade. Here, Chef Michael Chiarello shares the culmination of his life’s work in the kitchen, bringing together the best of Italy and Napa Valley in one unforgettable dining experience through traditional family recipes prepared with an inspired California twist.”
We just took one look at the menu and said, “This is where we are eating.”
Let me just say that if not for covid-19, we never would have gotten in to this restaurant. It would have been totally booked. But we just walked right in and got a beautiful corner table.
I can’t even begin to describe the details of preparation of the food here because it is so advanced and complex. And it’s not about being aware of every ingredient as much as being aware of and enjoying the complete dish.
First they brought each of us one chunk of excellent Italian bread with a dipping sauce that was mostly garlic.
Then we had for an appetizer a polenta dish made with “Anson Mills ancient grain polenta finished and wood fired in grape leave, topped with crispy Parmigian, balsamic game sauce caramelized mushrooms and Brentwood sweet corn.” So good.
For the pasta course we had the famous raviolo, which I had seen on TV some years ago. I think Michael Chiarello is the only one who makes this and I think he invented it. It’s one large ravioli about the size of a saucer under a coffee cup, filled with Swiss chard, ricotta cheese and a farm fresh hen egg, with truffled sage butter. The big amazement about this dish is the raviolo is cooked so perfectly that when it is served and you cut into it, the poached egg yolk runs out onto the plate at just the perfectly cooked consistency. It was brilliant.
For the entree we had marinated organic chicken with roasted cippolini onions, cherry tomatoes and peppers. It was very flat and crisp and delicious.
And for dessert we had a trio of house-made gelati—vanilla, coffee and the most incredible chocolate—served in three golden goblets.
We enjoyed every bite and was perfect for a 65th birthday celebration. I will say it was a tremendous amount of food. We ordered one appetizer, one pasta, one entree, and one dessert. One complete dinner. Between us it was more than enough. I can’t imagine eating that whole dinner myself.
The following morning we were looking for breakfast, and drove right by Bouchon, the bakery of Thomas Keller . There was a line out front so we knew it was open, so we stopped and had the most delicious croissant and a ham and cheese baguette, and a tiny brownie.
Then for lunch we stopped in Glen Ellen at a deli and had a chicken and apple sandwich on focaccia, potato salad and fresh fruit salad.
For dinner we went to a small local restaurant called Portico that makes organic handmade pasta, We had burette cheese with house-baked bread, heirloom tomatoes and olives, two bowls of pasta with different sauces, and, again, chocolate gelato (just as good as Michael Chiarello’s) and almond fig gelato. There was a miscommunication about the gelato so we were served a larger portion than we ordered and we ate it all.
On top of all this, because it was my birthday we had purchased a slice of cake instead of a whole birthday cake and then decided to get gluten-free cupcakes to share with our family. And we had a bag of organic popcorn made by a local couple.
I would say what we ate over two days is typical of what most people would eat on a vacation. They probably would not eat at these restaurants, but they would be eating pasta and bread and ice cream and pulled pork sandwiches and the like. And we consistently ate only half portions. At lunch in Glen Ellen, for example, we each ate 1/2 of a deli sandwich, 1/2 of a single serving of potato salad, and 1/2 of a single serving of fruit salad.
And the Results Were
As much as we enjoyed eating all this food from a culinary pleasure point of view, the following day we both felt terrible.
My blood sugar went up from 136 on Wednesday morning to 190 on Thursday morning and 301 on Friday morning for a total of 166 points up! And I gained three pounds.
Larry’s blood sugar went up from 104 on Wednesday morning to 107 on Thursday morning and 188 on Friday morning. for a total of 166 points up! And he gained 3 pounds.
Interesting that we both ate about the same and had the same increase in both blood sugar and weight.
We decided to go on a three-day Rice Diet “sprint. “ For three days we did a modified version of the Rice Diet Revival Quickstart Day. We ate rice and fruit only for breakfast and lunch, plus we added a huge salad of organic lettuce with green onions and mustard-honey-vinegar dressing for dinner.
After day one on the Rice Diet Quickstart my blood sugar came down 102 points (yes, in one day!) and I didn’t lose weight. Larry’s blood sugar came down 70 points and lost 2 pounds.
After day two my blood sugar was down a total of 157 pound and I had lost 2 pounds of vacation weight. Larry’s blood sugar was down a total of 89 points and was still down 2 pounds.
After day three my blood sugar went up 9 points because I lost a pound.
So after three days of Rice Diet Quickstart our bodies were back to where we started before 2 days of overindulgence.
After seeing the results of eating this typical American food for only two days we are not surprised obesity and diabetes are epidemic in the world today.
And we were also happy to see how easily the Rice Diet Revival program can fix it.
I would love to be able to walk into a restaurant and have wholefood options available. As much as I love to experience the skill and art and taste of professionally prepared food, it seems to be designed more for pleasure than health. Even restaurants that value organic and local ingredients still use refined white sugar and flour and lots of fat. I’d love to see that professional level of skill, art and taste embrace an entire wholefood orientation and see what that would be.