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Journal 2012-Q1

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Welcome to 2012

Let's start the year out right with some recognition of those American patriots who are taking issue with the willingness of our President and Congress to grant the Administration the power to jail indefinitely any American citizen that they even suspect might somehow be involved in terrorism.  Indefinitely.  With no charges.  And meanwhile, our Homeland Security folks have taken it on themselves to branch out from our airports and conduct random examinations of citizens in public transit systems and on our highways.  I ask you to join the few of us who have begun to stand our ground against the intrusion of these examiners:

Patriotic Movies - 8 January 2012
A bit of entertainment went around on the Internet recently asking people to post a clip of the song that was at the top of the charts the week they were born.  I found this interesting enough that i went digging and discovered that although i could not pin down the top song the week of my birth, i could get close enough with this clip of the Andrews Sisters,  which made me reflect on the changes i've seen.

When i was born, we were a profoundly nationalistic but also deeply isolationist country.  As the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was playing across America in July of 1941, the war in Europe had been going on for nearly two years while we sat watching.  In the summer of 1941 Hitler was launching Operation Barabarossa, the Nazi march on Moscow that would ultimately be brought to a halt literally within sight of Moscow on 5 December,  just two days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States finally entered the war.

What strikes me most about the Andrews Sisters clip above is the propaganda aspect.  The Roosevelt administration had started a peacetime draft in preparation for war in 1940, but it needed popular support and Hollywood was eager to do its part.  Buck Privates was the first of three service comedies that Abbot and Costello made before Pearl Harbor, soft core propaganda to supplement the more blatant stuff.

As a student i was taught that the Nazis, the Russians, and the Chinese bombarded their citizens with propaganda, and i knew from tuning in Radio Free Europe on my little Hallicrafters in the late fifties that we were bombarding the Soviet block, but it wasn't until the Great Disillusionment of the sixties that i realized that we Americans were also being bombarded by our own government.  

Now, of course, Herr Gauleiter Goebbels turns in his grave in envy of the heights to which Fox News has taken this fine art, and even as i write this the neocons are using to drum up support for an attack on Iranthe same specious arguments they used to justify our invasion of Iraq.  Meanwhile, our Secretary of Defense has unequivocally stated that Iran is NOT building nuclear weapons, not of course that this will get in the way of our impending attack.  

We certainly are living in interesting times.

A Low Cloud - 9 January 2012

Here's a low cloud that was hanging over the valley to my west the other morning:

And actually, there's been rather a low cloud over my life recently, as i came down with a cold shortly after Christmas, and it is hanging on with uncommon persistence.  But now that i've complained, i've had some good news, too.

First, all that poking around under the hood with sharp objects seems to have worked, and i'm ecstatic to announce that your beloved Matte Gray website is once again being found by Google searches.  Better yet, all those unwanted hits on the defunct Matte Gray blog on Blogsite are no longer appearing, that stake through its heart apparently having done the job.  

But there's more.  I decided this morning that i could put it off no longer and returned to the gym for a light reintroductory workout.  Jumped on the scale and discovered the fringe benefit of being sick for two weeks....i'd lost three pounds and am now finally back into the 150's.  Was gonna go rushing out to the bakery to celebrate but held myself back.

Here's a Segway gang, the Balanced Angels, showing their colors while interviewing a prospective mama in Golden Gate Park:

 Field Trip - 12 January 2012

My friend Mark called my attention to the Here Be Dragons exhibition at the Intersection for the Arts, so i suggested that we take a look at it and combine this with lunch at the Rib Whip truck, which i had determined was going to be parked today four blocks down Mission.  Mark is a fellow food truckie, but by delicious chance he'd not eaten from the Rib Whip truck, so we made a field trip (his description, dammit).

Damn, but it's hard to take good photos of food, and my miserable attempt to capture the soul of the Rib Whip's sublime pulled pork sandwich was so dreadful that i won't use it.  Mark had the pulled pork sandwich, too, and approves.  Try it for yourself although in the interests of taxonomic precision i must warn you that the pork, while eminently pullable, is served unpulled.  Here's the Rib Whip's Facebook page, which gives their schedule.

After gorging, we regrouped at the Intersection, which gave me an opportunity to demonstrate that a Segway is a far faster vehicle in downtown gridlock than Mark's motorscooter owing to my ability to use bike lanes, marked or not.  I also nearly demonstrated my terminal display of vehicular virtuosity, as i was very nearly taken out by an impatient SUV that elected to join me in the bike lane while i was right beside him.  Gasp.

If you haven't been to the Intersection for the Arts, do so.  It fairly sizzles with artistic creativity.  And if you haven't seen the Here Be Dragons exhibition, i recommend it highly.  It supplements Rebecca Solnit's Infinite City.  Perhaps my favorite work was Jenny Odell's exquisitely minimalistic bird's-eye portrait of Dolores Park formed entirely of little specks representing the people (and nothing else) in the park on a sunny afternoon, thus defining the park by its users.  I loved the whole thing so much i'm gonna swing by again.

On the way home i dropped in on Clarion Alley to see what was new and found this slightly defaced tribute to Mohamed Bouazizi, arguably the initiator of the Arab Spring revolts that swept North Africa in 2011:

Blackout - 19 January 2012

Matte went black yesterday in solidarity with all those other sites protesting against the draconian "anti-piracy" legislation pending in Congress.  Then this morning i ran the analytics and discovered that nobody had noticed.

On the other hand, our magnolias are looking pretty good:

Early May - 23 January 2012

My beloved Pachypodium brevicaule has been behaving strangely for months.  Back in September it declared Winter and dropped its leaves, and then around Thanksgiving started getting them back, months ahead of schedule.  And then the other day i was scratching around its ears and noticed, omigod, inflorescences!   Well, hell, maybe it's May in Madagascar or something, but normally this time of year it doesn't even have leaves.  Look at this.  Each inflorescence has several buds and there's a fifth inflorescence hidden on the far side.  It has never bloomed so vigorously for me.

Oh, and speaking of the sun, we're not complaining about its absence.  No indeed.  Here it is the end of January and the snowpack, upon which we depend for our water, is measurable over most of the Sierra in millimeters, so we took my friend CK's advice and started doing our snow dance last week.  It worked, as much of the Sierra got two feet of snow yesterday.  Alas, we need between fifty and a hundred feet, depending on the location.

Eat Here - 24 January 2012

I read where Wall Street has been negotiating this deal with the Obama Administration where the banksters will all line up and get their wrists slapped and then, having been punished will be protected from further attack by a populace bled white by their rapacity.

"Them that has, gits," i thought, in this paradise of free enterprise where only for a period that roughly corresponded to the first half of my life did we have a tax structure in which the rich paid their fair share.  It took the Great Depression to spark that, and it's with a wave of nostalgia that i listen to an Andrews Sisters song from 1946 that reveals the popular sentiment of those days.

And then i look at contemporary San Francisco, still smeared by the right as a socialistic cesspool, when in actuality it's anything but.  Yes, average residential real estate prices dropped a bit at the pit of our recent recession, and they're still somewhat down over in the southeast corner where the less expensive stuff is.  But in Pacific Heights the market is again booming at the over $3 million level, where sellers are ending up settling for more than they'd asked owing to lots of bidding.

And i haven't done an actual scientific survey, but it sure does look to me like i'm seeing new businesses opening in storefronts that had been dark for a few years.  And certainly a couple of construction sites on Market that had been stalled at the empty pit level are again enjoying a frenzy of activity with workers scurrying like ants and huge machines gouging and roaring, most especially at that place at the corner of Noe and 16th and Market formerly occupied by a Methodist church that God smote with a great fire thirty-five years ago as a reflection of His disagreement with the Church's hatred of gays.  Should smite more of 'em, if you ask me.

And upscale restaurants!  They're sprouting like weeds.  Well of course, even while it's slashing services to the less fortunate, the city is showering high tech industry with tax breaks, the favorite being a commitment not to tax the avalanche of stock that will bury to the nostrils the better paid employees when the companies go public.  Ah yes, tax breaks for young millionaires while the neighborhood health centers go unfunded.  Look, i understand and support the idea of certain tax breaks to attract companies with lots of employees, but tax breaks aimed at young millionaires????  Oh please.

Still, i don't really mind having all these delicious new restaurants available for young techies even though for me they'll have to be rare luxuries.  One's opening soon just down on Market Street, and it's already showing potential.  Last week they had a sign up, "Jake's.  Everything you always wanted in The Castro, except with clothes on".  Here's this week's:

Manners - 25 January 2012

We all remember our parents trying to teach us some manners.  And i think most of us can recall realizing even at the height of our rebelliousness that there was some good common sense behind the manners.  I mean, how stupid does a kid have to be not to understand that a nice thank-you note for a gift not only fulfills the etiquette requirement and keeps your mother happy but also might very well maintain the foundation for future gifts.

Pretty basic, really, and i had that one down early.  On the other hand, there were some social conventions that simply didn't come up for a middle-class kid in the oil fields of West Texas in the fifties.  And one of these marked a major turning point in my life. 

Sometimes as a child you were invited to eat a meal with the family of one of your friends, and the first time this occurred, your mother sat you down and made it clear that you would eat everything you were served and you would either like it or very convincingly pretend that you liked it.  Furthermore, you would be using your very best table manners and at the end of the meal you would tell tell the hostess how delicious everything was and you would thank both host and hostess for inviting you.  Any violation of this policy would be punished by immediate and permanent banishment.  No no, from your house.

So we followed these rules, and they served us well.  What they did not do is prepare us for contact with the upper classes.  

In the spring of 1970 i was living in Cincinnati.  At that point i was still desperately trying to make myself straight, and i'd dated a young woman named Ann a few times and remained friends with her after we broke up and she took up with a man named Ethan.  I socialized with them some, as i was a budding foodie and Ethan was deeply involved since his parents were John and Marion Becker. Yes, that Marion Becker, Marion Rombauer Becker, author of Joy of Cooking.

And then Mrs. Becker invited Ethan and Ann to dinner and suggested they might bring a friend.

I accepted with alacrity.

I should have realized i was getting in over my head when Ethan drove us out to a suburban part of greater Cincinnati i'd never seen and pulled off the road onto a gravel drive that wound through what looked like an immaculately groomed botanical garden until we crunched to a stop in front of a Bauhaus jewel.  As we walked to the door, i heard someone playing a Haydn sonata on the piano, not professionally but competently.  Turns out, it was his father, an architect who had designed the house and who was not at all displeased when i asked if it hadn't been Haydn he'd been playing.

Ethan's mother was equally charming, and i just loved them both instantly.

Before dinner Mrs. Becker led me from the kitchen through French doors to the herb garden, where she identified everything for me and encouraged me to pinch off leaves to smell them.  Up to then, the only herb i'd ever seen alive was mint, and all those i'd cooked with had come from bottles.

Dinner was simple, focused on a baked chicken breast dish from the cookbook, and as it progressed, i grew to like the Beckers more and more.  After dinner, they proposed that we play a word game that had been invented by a friend of theirs about the same time as Scrabble and involved making words out of randomly drawn letters but, unlike Scrabble, had never gone into full production.

Nor did it involve building words off of existing words, so it was really only a test of vocabulary at which i naturally crushed them all.  It was a splendid evening, and not just for me.

Two days later in my morning mail there was a note from Mrs. Becker saying that they'd found me delightful and looked forward to seeing me again.

I sat there stunned.  I had known to write a thank-you note, but i had not realized that it needed to be done the next morning so that it would cross in the mail any note from the host.  That my host might write me was not a consideration that my mother had prepared me for.

By not acting quickly, i'd exposed myself as either a worthless ingrate or someone of insurmountably miserable upbringing.  Racing out to the post office with a thank-you note was not an option i could imagine, since it would be obvious that i'd already received Mrs. Becker's note.

There were no good options.

Lacking the courage to commit seppuku and being too distraught to stay in town and face friends or even tell anyone about my disgrace, i jumped in my car and drove off to see my friend Peter in St. Louis, who was gracious about my imprompu visit even though i never told him what had sparked it.  Sorry it took me over forty years to own up, Peter.

Not too long after that, i left Cincinnati, thrashing around desperately and sending out resumes while it gradually became clear that the window of opportunity for community college jobs had slammed shut owing to there now being a surplus of folks like me who wanted to teach in them.  Missed it by one year.

And as that horror sank in i realized that if i had had the sense to properly cultivate the Beckers, i might have somehow with their help been able to make a career in culinary writing.  But i had slammed that window on my own fingers.

On the other hand, it taught me a lesson.  And i probably would never have made anything of myself anyhow.

And yes, of course i understand that my change-direction-and-try-something-else syndrome when i've done something stupid sure has stopped me all my life from salvaging partial successes.  

Not, of course, that my life turned into a totally blasted ruin.  It could have been worse:

Farmers' Market Discovery - 26 January 2012

I went out yesterday morning to the Heart of the City Farmers' Market to pick up some kiwis from Glenn Tanimoto so i could make another batch of the pepper-flavored kiwi jam, and as i glided in noticed a new vendor.  I came very close to dismissing them as purveyors of horribly expensive snack foods but luckily caught out of the corner of my eye an arresting sight.

So i skidded to a stop long enough for the cunning vendor to thrust a sample at me.  Silly me, i took it.  I mean, i'm an experienced farmers' marketeer and know very well not to take samples.  After all, they wouldn't be offering it if the damn thing weren't delicious, would they?  So once you put it in your mouth, the only question is how much of it you're going to buy.

The okra was just superb - light, flavorful, and crispy - and once she had the hook set, she kept offering me samples of their other items.  The beet slices are divine and make a nice color/flavor contrast with the okra.  I went online at Gourmet Snackers to see their full line and couldn't help noticing that they also sell the stuff in larger quantities at an enormous price break.

And yes, you read about this here, first, before that pig Mark discovered it.

Language Moments - 27 January 2012

It struck me last year that i've had some language moments that some people might find entertaining, especially if i don't go on and on about them and just use them as interludes to lighten the tone.  

The first of these moments was in June of 1955 when i was thirteen and my family was visiting my aunt and uncle in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  At that point in my life i had not been out of Texas, and even though i had noticed that my aunt and uncle talked funny, the idea that i might be described as having an accent had never occurred to me.  As a Texas friend of mine remarked to me after i returned home in 1966 upon completion of a two year tour of duty in Germany, "Ah doun't haeuv an akseyunt".

So there we were in Pittsburgh, and my uncle gave me a quarter and suggested that i take my sister off to the drugstore a few blocks away for a soda.  Innocently, i set out, clutching the coin in one hand and my sister in the other.

We found the drugstore, went in, and sat down at the fountain.  When the waitress came around, i ordered a coke for Becky and a Dr Pepper for me, but we were immediately surrounded by a crowd of grinning, funny talking people who sounded just like our uncle but who were delighted by our performance, never having seen two little kids who could effortlessly sound exactly like Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara.

And they got a full performance as i tried to get the waitress to understand that i wanted a Dr Pepper, unaware that Dr Pepper would not reach Pennsylvania for two or three decades.  Well, if it ever did. Cincinnati friends in 1970 tried it and called it "fly spray", so i'm thinking you have to be born in Texas to like it.

[For my foreign friends, here's a wonderful description that captures the essence of the largely vanished American drugstore.  It's on a Roman Catholic propaganda website, so parental discretion is advised.  Wouldn't want my loyal readers to fall prey and be struck with an uncontrollable urge to kiss His Holiness' red slippers.]

Pachypodium Valentine - 14 February 2012

Yes, as a display of its great love for me, the Pachypodium is putting on its grandest show ever.

Adventures with Gloria - 15 February 2012

I've just had some great adventures with Gloria.  

It all started when she made plans to come down to San Francisco and take her ex, who is even crazier than i am, out to lunch for his birthday and then come over to my place and hang out and have dinner and hang out some more and go back to Santa Rosa the next day.  What could go wrong?

I should have said, "What could go righter?"  We went out for dinner at Mission Chinese Food and had their astonishing Tea Smoked Eel, Beijing peanuts, and a tasty hot noodle dish that has disappeared from the menu.  That's it.  The wonderful thing about going out to dinner with Gloria rather than with one of my gluttonous guy friends is that she sets such a good example that i eat more slowly and actually stop when i'm full rather than stuffing myself as fast as i can like in one of those competitive eating contests.

The next morning i made us my acclaimed Baguette Louis by simply splitting half an Acme sourdough baguette lengthwise, topping the halves with Roquefort, sprinkling them with sesame seeds, gently placing them on the bottom shelf of the old Wolf restaurant stove, and cranking it up to 450.  Turn it off in 12 minutes, snatch the now crispy baguette out, split each lengthwise, and serve.  Fringe benefit:  since there's not a scrap of insulation in the oven, the kitchen got warm enough that Gloria was able to take off her coat.

Then i shaved us a couple of my beloved first-of-the-season sour Marsh grapefruit from the Hamadas.  I dearly love these nearly extinct treats.  First tear the outer skin off with your hands, then shave off the inner layer of pith as shown below, cut the fruit into quarters, cut off the white central core, pick the seeds out, cut into sixteenths as shown in the lower pic below, sprinkle lightly with salt, and serve.  It's worth it.

It's much easier if you get your knives sharpened by Jivano and touch them up every so often with a fine steel.  I mean, who wants to shave with a dull blade?

Thus fortified, we hung out until lunchtime and drove over to the Japan Center, where we had lunch at a noodle place the name of which i'll stick in later.  Excellent ramen with beef curry.  And then we set out for our real destination, the Japanese grocery on the ground level at the corner of Post and Webster.  It was packed with shoppers but i had to push a cart around as a substitute for a walker.  Lean your forearms on the push bar, and it'll carry most of your weight while you look like a slightly slumped normal person.  The old and lame get cunning.

But not cunning enough to bring with me both issues of Lucky Peach, the first having a long disquisition on ramen and the second a discussion of a dozen different misos.  So we had to guess and just got a cartful of random ramen and miso, shrimp shumai, pork and leek gyoza, and brought it all home to feast on.

Do check out Lucky Peach.  It's from McSweeney's, and through a major miracle i got in as a charter subscriber.

Ambushed in Sonoma - 16 February 2012

One of my loyal readers asked the other day how things were going with my new body, and i realized it was time for an update.  For those who are tuning in late, i wrote in the 2010  Christmas Letter and some entries at the beginning of 2011 about the successful transplant of my brain into the body of a 160 lb. mountain lion.  You can imagine his disappointment when he woke up in my old body.

I still spend most of my time in the city, but as often as possible i like to go for a run in the hills, partly just for the exercise but also to contribute to the genetic health of our wildlife by culling some of the weak and slow.  So a couple of weeks ago i was out there up above Sonoma when the weirdest thing happened.

I was loping along enjoying the wind in my fur when suddenly it was as if aliens had taken control of my body, and i had this urge to backtrack a bit to examine this piece of what looked like old carpeting with nubs sticking out of it.  And as i got closer to it, things got stranger and i found myself rolling around on it on my back like some damn little cub playing.

I couldn't gather the willpower to pull myself away until i had this mental image of a row of deer watching me from up on the ridge and laughing their fat butts off.  That tore it.

Even after i escaped, though, i didn't understand what was going on until i read an article in the Chronicle about a Sonoma biologist (the answer to the mystery is on page 3). 

Here's a fuller explanation of the phenomenon.

And yes, i realize he's on my side, but i still feel a little used....or at least manipulated.


Meanwhile, it is Spring in San Francisco or what?

Culinary Update - 17 February 2012

A couple of items here.  First, the city has been trying for decades with little success to address the myriad problems of the stretch of Market Street from 5th to, oh, say Duboce, but especially the 6th Street to 8th Street section plus the first couple of blocks of 6th Street itself.  Some Realtor types have actually spoken of "gentrifying" the area, but frankly i think actual gentrification would require the nuclear option.  Still, i am clinging to a little hope that the area might be undergoing what honestly might at least be called an upgrade, as more and more reasonably priced, high quality eateries have been opening.  

So i stopped at Pearl's Deluxe Burgers at the corner of 6th and Market to express my support.

Isn't it wonderful when you get an instant reward for doing a good deed!

Well, if consuming a medium rare Deluxe Burger, hold the lettuce, could be construed by any stretch of the imagination to be a good deed since it consists of a half pound (that's 225 grams!) of ground beef with mayonnaise, onion, and tomato on a bun.  Well seasoned with guilt.

I don't recall ever having eaten a better hamburger, and for sure i'll be taking my European visitors there, especially since they offer a more reasonable quarter-pound version and are somewhat better and much more conveniently located than In-and-Out Burger.

The other item regards a place at which i've not yet eaten although a couple of 'em are nearby.  I'm adding this because i got a flyer on my doorknob from them:  Sushi Raw.  The reviews of the place range widely, and there are many one and two star reviews, which makes me nervous.  I'm writing about them, though, because one item on their menu leaped off the page at me.  Here's the Special Rolls menu for the Haight Street location.  I direct your attention to the ninth item.

Texas Roll -  Eel Avocado Roll Wrapped with Beef Served w/ House Special Sauce

Oh please.  A sushi roll wrapped with beef sounds utterly bizarre to me, with or without the Special Sauce.  Not a combination that clicks for me.  Worse yet, eel??  I mean, i love eel, but i haven't lived in Texas for forty years.  And yes, i can see calling it a Texas Roll because of the beef, but who ever heard of a Texan eating eel?  Hell, the only way i can imagine getting a Texan to eat eel would be to trick him by calling it rattlesnake.

Meanwhile, more evidence of springtime in San Francisco, identified by my friend David:

     Euphorbia cyparissius

A Luncheon to Remember - 18 February 2012

I've been getting together for lunch every quarter or so since 1998 with four ex-colleagues from Oracle, and i cherish what has become something like a tradition.  After all, only one of us still works at Oracle and two of them have married and had children.  

This time i decided i'd cook for them and worked up a foolproof menu:  an entree of poached salmon served cold with caper mayonnaise and brined and lightly marinated cucumber and red onion slices.  For a green vegetable i'd wilt a chiffonade of mixed fresh spinach and choy sum, throw in a half cup of chicken stock, clap the lid on for a few minutes over low heat, and then remove the lid to let any excess liquid escape before serving.  

Note:  I better admit that i just discovered choy sum last Saturday when i asked my Hmong vendors at the Noe Valley Farmers' Market what that new vegetable was.  The version my vendor sells looks somewhat different from the photos in the above link, more like gai lon than anything else i know.  I'll photograph his the next time he has it. 

For a second vegetable, cranberry beans that i'd bought fresh last October, shelled, blanched, and frozen.  Simmering them with a chopped Chantenay carrot and some yellow onion for an hour takes them to the top of almost everyone's favorite bean list.

Hot cornbread instead of something from a bakery, and, to use up the egg whites left over from making the caper mayonnaise, The Pie for dessert.

What could go wrong?

Well, on Friday morning i tracked down a Coho side at Whole Foods, bought it home, and poached it just beyond that perfect moment when after it cools off there remains a bright red raw stripe dead center in the thickest part.  No biggie, as at least it was darker in the center and wasn't dried out.

That evening i made The Pie and once again put the sugar into the egg whites a little too early so that the meringue was not stiff enough to form a proper shell.  Another no biggie, and i put it in the oven anyhow since the filling can just be spread over the top of the disk.  

The caper mayonnaise turned out fine.

Then when the hour was up for the crust i noticed that the disk had not taken on any color this time but i was tired and knew it had to cool before i could fill it, so i decided it would be ok as it was.

I had to start Saturday morning by making a dash to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market for Marsh grapefruit from the Hamadas.  I mean, if they're kind enough to to keep bringing to market the dwindling output from one of the last remaining Marsh trees on this continent, i have to be there for them every Saturday to buy a dozen.

Then i got home and realized that omigod, everybody's gonna be arriving at noon, so i frantically took all the cold ingredients out of the refrigerator and started prepping.

The doorbell rang before the chopped bacon in the bottom of the cornbread pan had rendered its fat and crisped but at least the greens and beans were in holding patterns.

The greens were good, the beans were fabulous, and everybody seemed to like the salmon.  The cornbread wasn't done until we'd nearly finished the other courses, but it was good.

And then it was time for the pièce de résistance, The Pie.  The presentation went splendidly, and then i started cutting the first piece.  Where's the crust?  

It had somehow deteriorated to a thin, runny layer beneath the filling, but i had no choice but to serve it anyhow.  I couldn't imagine what was wrong, as nothing remotely like this had ever happened before.  The guests were kind.

It was only late that afternoon when i was driving down to San Jose to catch the evening semifinals of the SAP Open, for which i'd bought a ticket on the spur of the moment the previous evening, that it struck me what had happened.

I don't cook as much anymore, and nowadays the main use of the oven is to sterilize jars for jams and jellies, which i do at 225 degrees.

And that's what i set the temperature to.

So instead of a crunchy crust, i ended up with warmed eggwhites with sugar and chopped pecans over which a thin veneer of doneness had formed.

The delicious irony here is that a part of the lunch conversation was over the horror of caring for aged parents as they slid down into Alzheimer's.

And the rest of 'em don't know it yet, but equally horrible is watching oneself slip inexorably into the same abyss.

On the other hand, this is why God invented trailing rosemary:

Senior Advocate - 22 February 2012

After thrashing around uselessly for months trying to penetrate the brambles of bureaucracy surrounding senior housing, i finally tracked down a Senior Advocate at OpenHouse to see how i might get into some housing.  Certainly i am well qualified, what with income well below the SF poverty level, 70 years old, and AIDS that's causing a cascade of increasing medical problems.

I saw Ellyn this afternoon at the GLBT Center and just loved her.  And oh, was she ever informative.  I came away with a fistful of listings of housing and, even more importantly, with tips on how to get on waiting lists.  I haven't felt so encouraged in ages.

And oh, is there ever icing on this cake.  When i arrived for the interview, Ellyn told me that an emergency had come up with some even older people who had been brought up unannounced from San Jose to see her and asked if i could possibly move my interview out a couple of hours so she could see them.  Not a problem at all since i had just picked up at the library a critical analysis of Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire that i was dying to read.  

But first, i went off to the gym, since i'd forgot to bring my lock when i'd stopped off in the morning.   And then, since i'm always starving when i get out of the gym and i was just around the corner from it, i swooped down upon Chile Pies on Church.  It's connected to Green Chile Kitchen on Baker Street, where i was totally unimpressed a year ago.  Now i'm thinking that maybe i just had exactly the wrong things there because i was blown away by the food at Chile Pies.

The only posole they were offering was a red chile version but i ordered a cup anyway.  It was delicious! And it was accompanied, unannounced, by a blue corn muffin that was so good that it made me consider being disloyal to my grandmother's cornbread recipe.  I gotta try making something like that muffin.

And then i noticed the pie case out of the corner of my eye and thought i'd grab a slice of the Mexican Chocolate Pecan version to take home to share with my voracious house guest, Jeff, who's back again for a week while he waits to move into his new apartment.  Unfortunately, i decided to taste a sliver off the end before i returned to the Center for my interview.

We know where this went, don't we?

Yes, i couldn't stop.  I think they might use lard or something in the crust, which in any case may have been the best i ever ate.  Sorry, Mother.

Then i raced off to meet with Ellyn, but i did have time to make a stop inside the Center before my interview.

Maximum Occupancy 12 Persons

Yee - Haa Moment - 23 February 2012

I Segwayed out this morning to have lunch with Sybil and took 21st Street for a change.  Another gorgeous day, so i made sure i had my camera in my pocket.  I was feeling somewhere between adventuresome and foolhardy so i maxed my speed out as i crossed Sanchez street and then, as i experienced brief weightlessness plunging off the lip onto the steep downgrade, uttered a pretty much involuntary "Yee Haa!"

Alas, i was not alone.  Construction has resumed on the big corner house, and one of the workers was standing in the lee of his red truck as i passed in full vocalization.  He was richly amused, and shouted, "Go for it, Dude!" in what i tried to take as approval of my derring-do.  My embarrassment knew no bounds but was instantly replaced with fear when i envisioned the result of losing my tenuous control - a long smear of my flesh on the rough concrete before i finally ground to a stop.  At best.

Oh, and while i'm thinking about this sort of thing, does anybody know of a nearby short flight of steps with a wide tread and low rise that i can practice taking the Segway down in preparation for my planned death-defying descent of the Liberty Street Steps?  I really must do that before i die.  Most likely immediately before.

But for today i slowed to a reasonable pace until i reached my interim objective that i'd spotted a few days ago, an Agave attenuata in bloom on the north side of 21st Street just a few doors east of Dolores.  I don't recall ever seeing an A. attenuata in bloom.  Blooming A. Americanas are common  in San Francisco, and i've photographed them, but the attenuata has a very different type of inflorescence, and i am blessed to have discovered this one when it is nearly full grown but before a single bud has opened.

I'll be back repeatedly to take advantage of this opportunity to document the bloom process.  

Lunch with Sybil at the Civic Center Off the Grid location was great fun although it was marred by her having taken a fall a couple of hours earlier and being a bit banged up.  My favorite truck, the Rib Whip, was not there today, and of the five trucks present we both picked Southern Sandwich Company.  She got a couple of sides and described the slaw as having an "excellent spicy sauce" and the mac and cheese as "perfect".  So i should have tried those instead of the pulled pork sandwich that was good but not even in the ballpark with the one from Rib Whip.

Sybil is such a trooper, pressing on despite an injury, and this provided the occasion for a role reversal in which i, for a change, was cautioning a woman to be careful.

Did i mention it was a beautiful day?  Actually, it was uncomfortably warm at the tables baking in full sun in the center of the ring of food trucks although it does seem perhaps a bit much to be complaining about a February day being too hot and sunny.  On the way home up Market Street i spotted a local taking full advantage of the sun in the four foot wide strip of sidewalk between the street and a bus stop.

Carpe diem

A couple of weeks of broad hints finally worked, and sweet Carol invited me over to pick some of her legendary bitter oranges this afternoon.  Well, legendary among recipients of my marmalades, anyhow.  Had a wonderful time in her garden chatting and raiding the tree, and ended up with ten pounds of the little lovelies plus a handful of Meyer lemons from the next tree to the left.

So the winter of 2012 will come to a conclusion with a couple of batches of Carol's Little Bitter Orange Marmalade.  

Oh, but wait.  Enter, stage left, the brilliant Liz Crane, manager  of the Noe Valley Farmers' Market.

See, it seems that Liz did her homework and determined that what i've been calling for several years "little bitter oranges" just because they were little, bitter, and orange colored were not, in fact, oranges at all but rather Rangpur limes.   And i was mistaking "exceedingly sour" for bitter although since i've been using the whole fruit, the pulp would be adding a bitter note.

So thanks to Liz, this year's product will be renamed CRLM. Carol's Rangpur Lime Marmalam.  And yes, i'm now calling it a "marmalam" because it's as close to a jam as it is a true marmalade.

I'm thinking that, now that she's supplied me, Carol could supplement her social security by hawking the fruit from her doorstep.  They're fetching $9/lb in New York.

Meanwhile, another horticultural breakthrough is the appearance of the first blossom on our 21st Street A. attenuata.


By Thy Signage, Are Ye Known - 27 February 2012

I met my German friend Chris in May of 1998 when i was making my first visit to London.  Chris and i clicked, and at one point we were talking about our impressions of the British.  He mentioned that an aspect of British culture that left visiting Germans aghast was signs prohibiting behavior that would be unthinkable to any civilized person but which the Brits were obviously indulging in or there'd have been no need for the signage.

Hadn't thought about that in years, but it came to mind the other day when i wheeled the Segway into one of the BART elevators:

Kept the Segway on a short leash to make sure it was on its best behavior.

A Magnificent Misadventure - 28 February 2012

It's been kinda frantic recently since i've been in a bit of a social whirl and have a house guest and broke a tooth out of my upper plate chomping down a little too vigorously on one of Cipponeri Family Farms' Natural Sesame Glazed Almonds the other day, so on Monday i took the plate in for repair to my dentist and talented prosthesis artisan, Dr. Michael Okuji at 450 Sutter.  

I was due at his office today at noon to pick it up, so i left home at 11:15 to allow time to stop for photo opportunities and make it a relaxed, leisurely journey.  Alas, i got only just beyond 15th Street on Market before the Segway gave a great shudder and went into this electronic meltdown like it did last Friday and from which it did not recover for three days.

No problem, i thought rapidly, i'll just chain the paralyzed Segway to a parking meter and jump onto Muni at the Church Street Station down the block.  Somehow, though, the trip turned into a nightmare misadventure since i get confused so easily now and went to the wrong platform and boarded a train headed in the opposite direction.  Got out at the Castro Station and reboarded, this time on an inbound train.  Got out at the Powell St. Station but forgot that Stockton was one way toward Market, so i couldn't jump on a bus or hail a cab and had to walk four agonizing slightly uphill blocks.

Agonizing enough, in fact, that by the time i got to Sutter Street i was so addled that i thought i was at Post (which i'd already crossed), and then saw that Stockton disappeared into its tunnel and figured i'd need to get up to the next level by going diagonally across the street into the parking garage and riding the elevator up a level and then exiting on the far side.  I've known for forty years that the name of that garage is the Sutter Stockton Garage and that the far side is bounded by Bush, but i said i was addled.

But then i got all turned around in the garage and couldn't decide where to go and got a little desperate.  A kind woman came to my rescue and led me out of the garage where i'd come in and back onto Sutter and pointed me in the right direction to get to 450.  

After all that, i was only seven minutes late, and since it was the first time in 25 years, they forgave me.  

Getting home was a snap because all i had to do was walk downhill to Market, jump on a train to the Castro Station, and take the 24 Divisadero trolleybus to the top of the hill.  Easy.

Well, except that when i got down to the Muni platform a short train whistled in and stopped way down there and i had to do a sort of shuffle/trot to get into it.  Collapsed gratefully into a seat and was almost recovered when suddenly the damn train was outside and i knew i'd blundered onto either a Jaycherch or an Enjooda.  So i had to get out at Church and Duboce and troop all the way down to Market and wait for an outbound Kingalside, El Taravel, Motionview, or Teetherd.

Oh, and i should mention for the non-San Franciscans that Muni, being devoid of a sense of humor like so many of our modern metropolitan transit authorities, spells the names of its streetcars "J-Church, N-Judah, K-Ingleside, L-Taravel, M-Ocean View, and T-Third".

But i made it to Castro, and got a 24 to the top of the hill, jumped in my Prius, drove down to where i'd left the Segway, threw it none too gently into the back of the car, and drove over to the Segway repair shop in Oakland.

Where the damned little beast, so terrified that the mechanics were about to violate it with electric anal probes, acted as if nothing was wrong and started up normally.  In its hearing, i told the mechanics to keep those probes handy because if the problem happened again, we'd be back.

Meanwhile, there sure has been some interesting signage recently:

And then this self portrait:

Ahh, fond memories of that Smothers Brothers skit from the sixties, but don't bother hunting it down on YouTube, as it has not worn well and was much funnier back then.  To cut to the chase, yes, there was a vat of chocolate, but i neither fell into it nor yelled, "Fire!" like Tommy did since he knew nobody would come to his aid if he yelled, "Chocolate!"

See, i went to Dandelion Chocolate's Chocolate 101 event last night, and it was everything i'd imagined and more.   A couple of the principals conducted the show, Alice and Cam, both lean as ferrets in spite of all that chocolate but, unlike ferrets, delightfully nice.

They started us out with an hour-long overview of ingredients and a tasting of types of chocolate:  dark chocolate - a bittersweet bar from Patric, milk chocolate - Scharffen Berger, 100% - from Pralus, white - the Askinoise, and finally a confection made of cocoa powder, hydrogenated palm oil, sugar, lecithin, and probably some artificial flavors that was designed to taste like chocolate but could not be called "chocolate" since it had no cocoa butter.  After the others, it was dreadful and had such a weird taste that i disposed of it discreetly.  And no, i did not know what it was when i put it in my mouth since i was trying to make this a fair tasting.

After we'd tasted all the chocolate types, they gave us samples of a puree of chocolate fruit.  No no, not the beans, but the fruit that dries up before the seed pod is harvested.  Hell, i didn't know the fruit was even edible, but it's delicious, perhaps more so because i can't imagine being able to buy it in this country.  And no, it doesn't taste like chocolate.

The second hour was the best part.  They led us over to the beginning of the production line, where there were stacks of 50 kilo bags of fermented and dried cocoa beans.  We got to crack open the beans and taste them as Alice and Cam demonstrated how to determine the quality of the beans using a magra, a sort of bean guillotine that lets you chop fifty beans precisely in half with one push and then holds them perfectly displayed for your examination.  

Then they passed around alcohol soaked towelettes for our hands before we left the raw bean station.  They had warned us before we tasted that there existed a remote possibility of salmonella or other pathogens in the raw beans although it looked to me like all of us were eagerly tasting, anyhow. But they have a non-negotiable policy of always sterilizing your hands after touching the raw beans so as to prevent any possible contamination of the final product, poisoning your customers having a dreadful impact on business and, besides, not being nice.

Next, the roasters.  Here, the point was driven home that Dandelion is still a very small operation.  The roasters are a couple of home-microwave-size ovens with wire mesh cylinders in which the beans are tumbled as they roast.  Looked to me like they were designed for home roasting of coffee beans, and as with coffee, what a difference the roasting makes!  The raw beans didn't really taste much like chocolate, but roasting them made a dramatic difference.

From the roaster, the beans go into a cracker that whacks them just hard enough to shatter them into chunks.  And then they go into a homemade riddle that separates out the larger chunks on two levels for another pass through the cracker.

The finely cracked beans are put through a Rube Goldbergian homemade winnower that blow/sucks the chaff away to get the beans ready for the pre-grinder, which is store bought since they discovered that the standard heavy duty peanut butter grinder works great.  What comes out looks like a darker colored, chunky peanut butter but with very small chunks.

The pre-grinder supplies four melangers, which grind the pre-ground beans and sugar with stone wheels in a process that takes a couple of days or so.  Here's the largest, which is about 18-20 inches across.  What Dandelion uses as melangers are sold as Indian spice grinders.

Chocolate melanger at Dandelion Chocolate

After the melanger comes the temperer.  And this is the only machine they use that was actually manufactured for processing chocolate.  

And at that point the chocolate is ready to be poured into molds, and the tour is over.  If they do Chocolate 101 again, i recommend it as it's both fun and informative.  And while i'm recommending, their home page is really a communal blog, and i found it highly entertaining reading.

Lt. Chung and the Howlies - 2 March 2012

Another language tale.

In the Spring of 1964 i attended IOBC (Infantry Officers Basic Course) at Ft. Benning, Georgia as my first duty assignment after graduating from Texas Tech and being commissioned in January.

It was good training although probably not as arduous as it is now.  My fellow students were graduates from OCS and ROTC programs all over the nation, so right off the bat there was more diversity than most of us had ever seen.

Like, for example, Lt. Chung from Hawaii, who besides his exotic appearance distinguished himself by pronouncing the name of his native state in the strangest manner [hɐˈwɐiʔi], breaking what i was saying as the final dipthong into two separate sounds with a glottal stop between them.  How was i to know that was the way it was pronounced somewhere out there in the middle of the ocean?

The only Chinese i had ever seen in real life before that were the folks who ran the Ming Tree restaurant in Lubbock, Texas and an exchange student whose path i crossed on campus but with whom i do not recall speaking.  And clearly many of my fellow students back then were similarly inexperienced, so for us Chung was an exotic encounter.  

Other students were clearly more familiar with Chinese people and engaged in good natured ethnic banter with him.  Chung was a good sport about it, and laughingly referred to the rest of us as 'you howlies', an expression i hadn't heard but assumed meant that we were howlingly a jocular way.

And then i went off to Germany for two years of language tales and a little US Army in  my spare time.

Several years later, when i was in graduate school, i ran across the Hawaiian pejorative for Caucasians, the equivalent of 'gringo', a strange word spelled 'haole'.  It took a while to sink in that this was what Chung had been calling us and that he'd been giving as good as he took.

Oh, and speaking of exotics, here's an Aeonium arboreum atropurpureum around the corner on Liberty Street that's just about to burst:

Aeonium arboretum atropurpureum

Another White Meat - 5 March 2012

California Fish and Game Commission President Daniel Richards achieved notariety when he shot a mountain lion at a Flying B Ranch, a "Corporate" hunting and fishing lodge in Idaho last January and then sent to Western Outdoor News a photo of himself grinning broadly as he held up the carcass, little expecting mountain lion huggers to see the photo.

So there was a bit of an outcry among city folk and Democrats and that sort, and there's been a good deal of newspaper coverage.   My own outrage, of course, was monumental.  Just wait, you bastard, one of these days i'm gonna catch you in my new body without your snowmobile, your rifle, and your pack of dogs.  Mano a mano will be just fine with me even though you clearly outweigh me by forty pounds.  Yes, biting is permitted.

Richards neglected to get his story straight with Joseph Peterson, the ranch manager, so their accounts show glaring inconsistencies.  Hell, the account of neither man is even consistent with itself.  Peterson claims that Richards shot the lion "as a favor" since the lion was "roaming the property" and had to be killed because it was a "threat".   Hmmm.  The ranch website (see above link) states that the ranch property is only 5,000 acres but that it has got "exclusive permits to outfit (sic) in 740,000 acres of the Nez Perce and Clearwater National forests in North Central Idaho."  Sounds like a sweet deal to me, getting access to hunting rights in national park acreage a hundred fifty times the size of your own property, and then i start wondering why somebody would be doing you a favor to kill a mountain lion that you could charge somebody else $6,800 to kill...or for that matter why you'd be calling an important part of your revenue stream a threat.  

Richards, not knowing that Peterson would be saying Richards was doing him a favor, is now in total damage control mode and is claiming that he shot the lion in order to eat it.  Next, he'll be saying he shot it to feed his starving sister like Jean Valjean.  Meanwhile the ranch manager is scrambling frantically to back Richards up and is declaring that lion is a very popular meat with hunters and is considered a delicacy somewhat like pork loin but tastier.  And much better, he avows, than bear or horse.

Well that changes everything and explains Richards' triumphal grin since now i can just look at him and see he was clearly envisioning braising a lion loin with turnips and serving it with a good Chardonay.

When i wrote about finally getting around to eating horse last August in Amsterdam and finding it absolutely delicious, all of my former equestrienne friends were appalled.  But this takes the pressure off me.  If lion tastes better, hey, i can do without horse.  

But i'm willing to be reasonable about this.  I think we should be careful not to eat up all the mountain lions but rather make certain that we're taking only a sustainable harvest.

And of course that's Richards' job as Fish and Game Commission determine a harvest level that will make it possible for our children and grandchildren to enjoy mountain lion.  Well, at least those grandchildren that can pay $6,800 apiece for them.

Oh, and speaking of paying $6,800, the plot has thickened.  Seems that in California elected officials are prohibited from taking gifts worth over $420 per year, and the lion lovers are attacking Richards over this, too.

Oh, and since we're talking about predators, here's proof that they're everywhere, great and small:

Crime Scene Photo - 6 March 2012

Sometimes we can take a look at a photo and interpret it like a Hogarth.  

Like this crime scene that i spotted on my last visit to Carol.  If you sit down and think it through, you realize that the murderers must have tossed the decapitated, skinned, and horribly mutilated corpse off the back of the truck and then squashed it flat as they backed the truck over it into the garage.

And Carol?  Oh, she sleeps like a baby right next door.

The Adventures of OR7 - 8 March 2012

I don't want folk to think that since my operation  i've gone totally Orwellian on you and put myself to sleep at night chanting the mantra "Four legs good, two legs bad", but i have to say that i've been, umm, tracking with great interest California's newest Oregonian immigrant, OR7.  Up in Oregon they've renamed him "Journey" but us Californians are sticking with "OR7", the name he was given as a pup.

Think about it.  Do you know a single guy who wouldn't rather be called "OR7" than "Journey"?  Or even a married guy?  Shucks, you kin call me "O.R." for short.

Seems that OR7 was already famous in Oregon before he extended his journey into California to grab the title of first wolf here in nearly a century, but the move into California spread his fame.  And well,  not everybody loves OR7.  Environmentalists love him on principle, but ranchers and hunters see wolves as a threat to their cattle and the ungulates they hunt since wolves feed primarily on deer but will eat just about any animal if they're hungry enough.

With our usual moderation, we here at Matte Gray think there's room for a few wolves in California.  The ones that stalk cattle can pay the price, leaving some wild to help the hunters keep the ungulate population under control to reduce overgrazing and the resultant riparian erosion.  

Everyone wonders why OR7 has made his journey of over a thousand miles, but you don't have to watch a wolf pack too long to figure it out.  Only the alpha male gets to mate, so if you're young and the hormones are acting up, you have to go off and start your own pack by luring a female out of another pack.  You know, the old Handsome Stranger bit.  Unfortunately, nobody has told OR7 that from the beginning he's been headed in the wrong direction since his pack was the westernmost in the land.

On the other hand, if he wants to submit his application, we have an opening for a young, healthy male in our zoo.  Lifetime job security and top of the line health benefits. And we have to be delicate about this in the job description, but applicants must be willing to assist the luscious lady wolves in the production of offspring.  And no, we are not providing photos.  What kind of site do you think this is?

And i can't think of a transition to this Potrero Hill sight since OR7 is mostly color blind:

Segwayless Mode - 12 March 2012

Today marked a full week since i'd taken the dead Segway over to Oakland to get it fixed, so i finally broke down this noon and called 'em to inquire about progress since i'd called on the previous Wednesday.  Turns out they couldn't extract a confession even with those electric probes, and they'd given up.  They first thought the problem was in my batteries, so they tried to rejuvenate them.  When that proved unsuccessful, they threw a couple of good batteries on it, and it still "threw a wrench".   

It had been throwing wrenches for me since noon on the 2nd of March, but i didn't know the idiom to describe it flashing a little wrench logo on the display and refusing to start.  We all know how much i adore idioms, but that's one i'd just as soon never have learned since it means that the Segway isn't reparable locally and must be sent back to the factory in New Hampshire for re-education.

At this point, they can't even tell me for sure what the diagnosis will be when the factory opens it up, and all we know for certain is that it'll be expensive.  And since the damn thing has to go back and forth across the continent, who the hell knows when i'll get it back.  Sigh.

I was already feeling sorry for myself for having been without it for over a week.  Damn damn damn, now it's gonna be three or four, and life is so much harder without the Segway.  Like for example it being impossible to go to the Noe Valley Farmers' Market without doing an elaborate two bus adventure,  using the 24 to get me up and down the hill and the 48 to run up and down thru Noe Valley,  plus of course who knows how long waiting to transfer between them, not to mention the two block walk each way between here and the 24.  But there's no parking for blocks in any direction on the morning of the market.  And after all that has been whined, i am acutely aware that life would be vastly more difficult if i were in a wheelchair, so suck it up, Matte.

On the other hand, the blooms are spreading nicely up the inflorescence of that A. attenuata on 21st Street, and in the daytime there's parking right across the street for the photographers:

Cornbread Breakthrough - 14 March 2012

Well, see, that blue corn muffin at Chile Pie i wrote about back on 22 February kept resurfacing in my memory, and then when i was on the way home from shipping the Segway off to Siberia for re-education i stopped at The Dancing Pig on Castro to try their barbecue.  

The cole slaw was excellent, the more vinegary kind rather than the mayonnaisy type; but don't waste your time on their dried out spare ribs, and if you have to, at least tell 'em to keep that cloying, sugar-syrup sauce on the on their side of the counter.  That said, i ate all the ribs but it was pure gluttony driving me rather than any sort of gourmandism.  I'll go back to give the pulled pork a try, and maybe that stuffed poblano, but the only reason i mention the restaurant now is the cornbread.  It was good.

So good that i got to thinking more about my grandmother's cornbread recipe that i've been using for decades and decided that well, since everybody in that generation and the one that followed it is dead now, i guess it might be alright to mess around with the recipe a little bit.

Well, actually, i've already tampered with it.  The first heresy i'd already confessed to, my conversion from the traditional iron skillet to Pyrex glass pans for the cooking, as described in the recipe above.  And i'll add a fresh, new confession that several years ago i had cut the amount of baking powder in half without telling anybody.

So now, starting with a clean breast, i'll tell you about experimenting on my friend Jeff last night with a couple of tweaks.  First i put back half the baking powder that i'd removed from the recipe, and i just now went into my recipe file and changed the baking powder quantity to 3/4 t. (3,75 ml.), leaving no fingerprints so nobody'll ever know i was messing around with it in the first place.

No biggie, really, just helps it rise a little better.  The real change is that i adjusted the ratio of wheat flour to cornmeal from 1/4 c. flour and 3/4 c. meal to 1/3 c. flour and 2/3 c. meal to make the cornbread a bit lighter without turning it to cake.  Oh, and while i was in there i rounded off the tablespoon of sugar to brighten it up a bit without actually making it sweet.

And here's a brightened up sight on a late winter morning.

Noe at 19th Street

My Life As a Vegetable Gardener - 16 March 2012

My entire history of vegetable gardening took place during the spring and summer of 1971 in Midland, Texas, the only summer i stayed in Midland during the years i taught at Midland College.

In the early spring i was out in the back yard of the little house i was renting and noticed this fern-like weed growing vigorously over by the east fence, encouraged by unseasonably early rain that year.  Since i'd already decided that i was going to take care of the yard, i went over to pull this weed up.  However, as i bent to grab one of the stalks by the base i noticed something quite strange right beside it.  Good grief, i wondered, that looks like an asparagus spear!

And it was.  And since i liked asparagus and was so stone broke that buying a luxury as expensive as asparagus was out of the question, i ran for the hose.

A bit of background here for the readers fortunate enough to know nothing of west Texas.  It's a semi-desert.  The annual rainfall for Midland is 14.5 inches (37 cm.) and the great majority of this rain comes in the summertime.  In fact, the average rainfall in Midland in each of the months from November through April is less than two cm., so if you want anything other than a handful of hardy native plants to survive, you have to run water on it with a garden hose.

So i did.  And i even coughed up a few dollars for some fertilizer to scatter around the patch.  And as the stalks got large enough, i cut and refrigerated them until i had enough to make that excellent Joy of Cooking recipe "Creamed Eggs and Asparagus Cockaigne", a rich dish i made for Dutch friends on one of my visits just to show them that green asparagus could be edible.

Harvesting my own asparagus in the spring made me realize that i could plant something myself, and i decided on tomatoes and okra.  I spaded up a section of the sunniest part of the yard and put in four "Beefsteak" variety tomato sets.  The okra i decided to grow from seed, so i planted a bag of seeds in a straight line at the end of the tomatoes.  The tomato sets grew vigorously from the day of planting, and then, in a few days i saw a row of tiny okra seedlings break through the soil.  After a week or so, the okra seedlings were several inches tall and so i went down the row pulling almost of them up so that the remaining four would have plenty of room to make vigorous, heavily laden plants.

The next morning i went out and discovered that during the night mystery varmints had come out of nowhere and gobbled down to ground level all four of the okra seedling i'd left.  My first garden tragedy.

But the tomatoes grew like mad, and since i'd never peered over the fence of the codger who lived behind me, i didn't know that his life revolved around growing tomatoes using astonishingly elaborate cultivation methods.  As it turned out, he was also covertly monitoring the progress of my crop since i was clearly a competitor.  

So we both watched as my plants grew and grew and then blossomed and were covered with little green tomatoes that got larger and larger and larger, and then redder and redder and redder until finally he could bear it no longer and lay in wait behind his fence until i came outside.  He then opened his gate and came into my yard beside me and my tomatoes and plaintively inquired, "Are you gonna just let 'em rot on the vine?"

And then i knew it was harvest time, so i picked two, and we ate them standing there.  I didn't remember ever eating a better tomato, feasted on them all summer, and gave many to friends.  And apparently i was not the only person who'd never tasted a better tomato because he for sure never gave me none of his to compare.

Since i don't have a garden now, i confine myself to house plants.  Here's my Aloe aristata, on regal display for passers by in my southeast office window. 

I'd been thinking as the winter progresses and spring nears that it ought to be showing its appreciation of my granting it the best spot in the house, and my heart kept sinking as i peered nearsightedly into the center, hoping hoping to see the tip of an inflorescence.  Nothing.  "Day after day, day after day, we stuck, nor breath nor motion."  

And then i happened to glance down to the side a bit:

Surely you didn't expect it to be dramatic yet.

Marketing by Foot - 17 March 2012

Today i continued learning how to get around the city without my Segway, and i hit two farmers' markets using Muni.

So how'd i plot out the route?  Well, first i walked down Liberty Street to Castro and then down to 20th Street, where i stopped and waited for a 24 Divisadero bus to catch up with me.  When i got on and deftly swiped my divinely inspired Clipper transit card, the driver asked me to do it again.  And then when i did so and the reader emitted the same little warble, she announced that that warble meant the card was underfunded.   I had somehow been assuming that the card was so smart that it would notify the system to send a uniformed agent to my door to warn me when the balance on my card was getting low, and that didn't happen.  So i fed a dollar into the farebox since i didn't have three quarters.

Told the driver i'd just started using the card a lot and had lost track of the balance.  She then suggested that if i was using Muni a lot, it would be cheaper to buy a senior fast pass for the month.  There are some cranky ones who get all the publicity, but there sure are lots of really nice Muni drivers.

I got out at 17th Street just as an F-Market streetcar was pulling up to the platform and rode it down to the front of the Ferry Building, walked through to the Hamada's booth in back for eight Marsh grapefruit and passed out little sample bottles of a new product:  my chocolate sauce augmented with one of Dandelion's Columbian chocolate bars.  Much saluting ensued.

Popped back out of the building just as an outbound F-Market arrived and took that back to 17th Steet, where i had to wait only about ten minutes for an outbound 24 Divisadero over the hill to 24th Street and walked downhill to the Noe Valley Farmers' Market just beyond Sanchez.  Bought some more Dandelion chocolate, three bunches of fresh green garlic, a bunch of pea sprouts, a pound of gorgeous sugar snaps, and a bunch of asparagus.  

Ambled along slowly back up 24th Street, expecting the 48 bus to come along, but i got to Castro on foot just in time to catch an inbound 24 Divisadero to 22nd Street for the two block walk back home, all flat except the last half block.

So i did an entire shopping round, two farmers' markets using three bus rides interleaved with two Muni rides all for the dollar i had to pay to get onto the first bus since the whole excursion took place within the time limit for the transfer.  ta da.

So there's a ray of sunshine in my life.

Asparagus is Here - 18 March 2012

I bought that bunch of asparagus yesterday because i'd been thinking about it since writing about finding a patch growing in my yard in Midland, and it's now in the markets.  And what should i do with it other than my favorite dish that i mentioned, the "Creamed Eggs and Asparagus Cockaigne"?  Thinking that i might find an online version of this recipe, i googled the title and got page after page of hits on it.  Then i looked a little more closely at a few of these hits and realized that they were all the demon spawn of some thieves who have a business model in which they build websites for American grocery stores and then put stolen recipes in them.

The asparagus recipe is copied word for word from Joy of Cooking in all of the websites and so crudely done that it contains ingredients like "au gratin I" that in the original cookbook has a page number leading you to the first version of an au gratin topping.  The recipe also includes ludicrous typos like "Serve with French" because when they blocked and copied the text to plagiarize it, they missed the last word, "bread".  

So no, lest i sink to the level of those website thieves, i will not be giving you Joy's recipe here, but i can talk about what i do now based on their original recipe, which is on page 224 of the 1963 edition and 202 of the 1975 edition (which was reprinted up through 1996).  Yes, i owned both editions, and then in June bought the 75th Anniversary edition of 2006 to show solidarity but discovered when i got home that the creamed egg and asparagus recipe is not in this edition.  

For those who don't own an older edition of Joy of Cooking, i've put into my recipe section my own version of the old Joy recipe, Asparagus with Creamed Eggs.

RTFM - 22 March 2012

I was well and truly backed into a corner.

Some folks may recall my having complained last August about having had my camera slightly mis-set so that the first half of the pics that i took during Edward's wonderful Amsterdam by Boat tour were sent to internal memory in the camera and thus could not be accessed while i was in Amsterdam because i didn't have the cable with me.  Ummm, yes, and then returning to the States and discovering that even with the cable i couldn't get to those pics.

But i got distracted and didn't pursue this issue.  And then yesterday i accidentally got the camera slightly mis-set in the same way as last August and discovered 94 pics hidden in the camera that i could see.   So seething with curiosity i managed with a great deal of thrashing around and gnashing of teeth to get them copied onto the hard disk of my computer.

But then i was unable to delete them from my camera, and the camera's internal memory was full.   Oh, and i examined every menu on the camera and looked at every button and switch.  What if i suddenly need that internal memory?

And then i sat here weeping bitter tears because i knew i was beaten, crushed, utterly defeated.  And even though it is common knowledge among the documentation community that all technical writers, working or retired, enjoy a lifetime exemption from the RTFM rule, the little Lumix had me by whatever it took until the end of our lives, whichever came first, and that i was going to have to RTFM.

To quote Ivan Ilyich's widow, "You cannot imagine how i suffered."

Actually, the suffering started when i began hunting for the manual.  I mean i knew it was in a safe place.  And sure enough, one of my file drawers had a folder labled "Lumix", where i found manuals for my big DMC FZ50 and the little DMC-ZS1 that i'd fumbled, dropped onto the concrete in front of me, and run over with the Segway, from which i'd been able to salvage only the memory card, the battery, and the carrying strap.  But no manual for its replacement, the DMC-ZS6.

After a frantic search i discovered that someone had copied onto the Desktop of my PC, an online user manual for the ZS6.  Wonder when that happened.

So then all i had to do was penetrate the brambled thicket of exposition defending the secrets of the camera's internal memory operation from outsiders, and i finally did.  And while i was in there i also read a bit about taking closeups.  Like this Euphorbia buplurifolia blossom.  And this is just my first attempt, but to give you an idea, the wingspan of the outer green bracts there is about a centimeter.

I was shocked at the superficiality of my description of the splendid tour of Amsterdam that Edward gave me in his little boat last August, and now that i have access to dozens more photos, i'll add some details.

I spent all afternoon laboriously tracing the route Edward took, going back and forth between detail maps and getting the names of all the canals right, throwing in links to information on the Internet and adding new photos.  Fortunately, i made a mistake before i had saved my work, and it all vanished.  As i hacked around trying to get it back i realized that there was probably not a single other person on the planet who would have been in the least interested in my detailed reconstruction of the route, so luckily you are spared that.

Instead, i'll give you a mercifully brief summary and a couple of the pics.   Edward took us in a great loop to the east to the mouth of the Rijnkanal and around the end of Borneo Eiland, a new housing development with which i'd been fascinated since he'd showed it to me several years ago.  The front doors open onto Scheepstimmermanstraat for pedestrian access, but here's a shot of the back sides:

From there we went back west past Java Eiland and then south past Nemo, Renzo Piano's spectacular interactive science museum

and then on through the Entrepôtdok under the Nijlpaardenbrug, one of my favorite bridges in Amsterdam although i somehow doubt that there were ever very many Nile horses in the city.  (Hint:  the ancient Greeks called them 'river horses'.)

 From there, through the Prinsengracht and out by the Westerdok across the IJ to a little cafe, where Bobo de Tweede, Edward's little dog, even more lovable than his predecessor, frolicked from table to table, graciously receiving the adulation of his subjects while Edward and i sipped a couple of biertjes and nibbled at a plate of bitterballen.

And then back across the IJ and through the Herengracht around to the secret little southern entrance to the Oudezijds gracht and thence to Edward's doorstep.

And here's the totally relaxed captain, pilot, and navigator.  One tough sailor.  What we don't see in this pic is the cowering photographer - dressed in heavy long pants, two shirts, and a jacket - whimpering when a few drops of cold spray off the IJ gets on him and nervously calculating the distance to the closest land.

Well, see, it wasn't just us tiny little city craft out there:

And i could just tell from their body language that once they'd swamped us, they'd have some sport chunking things at our bobbing heads.

All Our Base Are Belong to Them - 26 March 2012

Breaking news reveals a shocking new development that places new difficulties in the path of our nation's righteous struggle against international terror and the forces of evil who hate us for our EZ Boy recliners with power assist for when you've too obese to get up by yourself.  But horror of horrors, it's not just our enemies turning on us. Now it's our supposed friends.

This website had suggested as early as two years ago that the defense of liberty might require that we invade and occupy our Icelandic neighbors, little realizing at the time how prescient the suggestion was.  Shoulda done it while we could.

Because early this morning, while godfearing Americans slept peacefully, the Prime Minister of Iceland, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, held a press conference and revealed the culmination of a hideous conspiracy with their neighbors, the bloodthirsty Faeroese, that resulted in the formation of a unified New Northern Republic, which they demand that we call Nýtt Norður Lýðveldi, as if we could speak that stuff.  She's going easy on us and and not asking, for now, that we do the declinations.  [I keep hoping someone who's literate in Icelandic will read this and and add the declensional endings that i feel sure i've missed.]

Demand? you sneer, Iceland and the Faeroes are making demands on us?

Well, actually, yes.

It seems that while our backs were turned and we were busy bringing democracy and consumer culture to our Iraqi and Afghan allies, the diabolical Icelanders were using their virtually unlimited geothermal power to excavate vast caverns far underground and install there an ultrasophisticated uranium enrichment system, which fed their development of a large number of nuclear weapons.  Meanwhile, their evil Faroese allies, while pretending to be a peaceful nation of sheepherders and fishermen, had dug similar caves and built ICBMs.  So now their joint Republic has hardened launch silos full of nuclear tipped missiles.

And this morning, Ms Sigurðardóttir announced that they are now extending their benevolent leadership to their neighbors, starting with those who they feel need it most, the United States. She suggests that the transition will be easier for us if we go into this with open minds and a good attitude, recognizing that they are doing this for our own good and that we are fortunate that besides our Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines we already having an ample supply of prisons and a more than adequate multi-level secret police force to keep our citizens in line, what with our CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, Coast Guard, Treasury Department, IRS, Immigration Service, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Bureau of Prisons, state departments of corrections, county jails, city jails, state police, county police, city police, sheriff's departments, game wardens, and meter maids.  Not to mention all the private security, police, and prisons.  Oh, and Guantanamo and all our secret detention facilities.

Matte is recommending that as a first step you go ahead and preemptively practice pronouncing the phrase, "Frú Forsætisráðherra Sigurðardóttir" (Madame Prime Minister Sigurðardóttir).  It sounds just like it looks except ð is like th in 'the', g is more like a glottal stop, the r's are trilled, and tt comes out like German cht as in Achtung!  The vowels are more difficult and can best be learned from a native speaker during your interrogations.

Meanwhile, here's an update on that A. arboreum atropurpureum on Liberty Street: 

Aeonium arboretum atropurpureum

Aeonium arboreum atropurpureum

Pink Slime - 27 March 2012

Consumers have been recoiling in shock and horror at reports revealing that the ground beef they've been buying contains up to 25% of a substance described by its producers as either BLBT (boneless lean beef trimmings) or LFTB (lean finely textured beef) but more colorfully called pink slime by a USDA microbiologist named Gerald Zirnstein back in 2002.

The issue is not that the stuff, whatever it's called, is any more unsafe than steak, and it probably isn't, as the LA Times points out.  Rather, the problem is the mendacity, that the industry has been sneaking the stuff into our hamburger for ten years by describing it in deliberately misleading ways and, usually, without telling us that it's even there.

The bottom line, though, is that it's a marketing issue, so i predict that very soon we'll start seeing advertising for "Biff - Another Pink Meat™".

The Hebbie-Jeebies - 29 March 2012

Matte's been in one of his frenzies since yesterday noon when he discovered that he was mistaken when he ran around telling everybody that Segway of Oakland had shipped the core of his Segway back to New Hampshire for repairs on 12 March.  

What actually happened, i learned from the shop owner when he called me yesterday after repeated calls to the shop foreman had gone unanswered, was that the foreman had run off on an extended vacation leaving my Segway sitting there enjoying free storage.

And then when the owner and i discussed the issue of what was wrong with the vehicle and what might be done to repair it, alarms began warbling in the background as versions of the possibilities i got from the owner bore little congruence with those delivered by the foreman.  So i called back later and made it clear that i wanted an estimate before any work was done.

Then later that afternoon i drove down to Electric Bicycle Outlet at 660 Bryant and talked with Len.  He first enticed me to try this twitchy thing called a Lyric, which i loved the idea of since with two back wheels it would be a lot more stable than a bicycle.  Ummm, no it wasn't.  Not real sure what was going on, but my first flight was rocky.  Had trouble keeping it on the sidewalk, so we moved it out into an unused patch of the street and i got to the point that i figured i could master it with enough practice.  Besides, it weighed only 70 pounds and would thus be much easier than the Segway to fling into the back of my Prius.  Better yet, the cost brand new was about what i'd reconciled myself to have to pay to get the Segway fixed.

I almost didn't try an electric bike since bikes had made me so nervous in Amsterdam, but i knew i had to try one, however briefly.  To the astonishment of both Len and myself, i barely even wobbled on it and found it vastly easier to control than the Lyric.  Furthermore, it weighs only 56 pounds and is $300 cheaper, so i walked out thinking that if i decided to let go of the Segway today, the Hebb bike would be what i'd get.

That is, until i looked it up on the Internet and discovered where it's from.  No, not China.  Worse. Texas.  Worse yet, it's not even from the civilized part of Texas, Austin, but rather the rednecky red hills of east Texas about 35 miles from where i was born.

Now why? i ask, would Bubba and his buddies be building an electric bicycle, the very essence of the atheistic, socialistic, ecologistic, global warmer, peak oiler, spotted owl hugger, red legged frog fucker, California vegetarian fag culture they abhor?  Why indeed, when they know full well that what Jesus drives is a full size SUV with knobby tires and loud mufflers.

And then it hit me.  The central frame of each vehicle is probably packed with C-4 and fitted with a remotely actuated detonator.  That's why each one of 'em is shipped with a free set of hooks that they advertise can be screwed into your bedroom ceiling to safely store the bike "out of the way".  And then, when they've sold enough of 'em, in the middle of the night, California time, a thumb black with bike grime will come down hard on a red button in Tyler, Texas.

May keep mine out in the shed.

After i have it x-rayed.

Well, if i get one.

And so as to end on a less horrific note, here's a shot of Ansela Adams at the beginning of her career in a coastside cafe in Pacifica.

Ansela Adams in a cafe in Pacifica

Finally, here's an update on my favorite A. attenuata, taken on or about the 31st of March, when i also got to talk with the proud owner:

Agave attenuata

And that's the end of the Journal 2012, Q1.  Newer journal entries will be found in the Journal 2012, Q2.  The newest are in  New Journal.