February 2012

A Magnificent Misadventure

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 had 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:

not an exit

And then this self portrait:


customers only



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By Thy Signage, Are Ye Known

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.

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A Horticultural Breakthrough

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.

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Yee – Haa Moment

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.

Agave attenuata

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.

Carpe diem

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.

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Senior Advocate

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.

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

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A Luncheon to Remember

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.

Rosmarinus officinalis prostratusOn the other hand, this is why God invented trailing rosemary:

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Culinary Update

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.

Euphorbia cyparissius

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

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Ambushed in Sonoma

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.


Springtime in SFMeanwhile, it is Spring in San Francisco or what?

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Adventures with Gloria

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.

Marsh Grapefruit Prep


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.

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Pachypodium Valentine

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

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