Journal: 2013

Recent Culinary Adventures

Jeff got a big promotion and a major raise the other day so we celebrated by my taking him to dinner at the Zuni. And yeah, yeah, i know it’s supposed to be the other way around, but we take turns treating, and it was my turn.

I’ve loved the Zuni since it opened in 1979 in the southern sliver of Red Desert, the most gorgeous cactus and succulent store i’ve ever seen, before or since. The food at first was southwestern and quite good, but Judy Rogers changed the focus and drove the quality higher when she came on board ten years later. Superb food at fair prices for what it is.

For an appetizer i had the house-cured anchovies, which were merely good and an entree of duck breast with wild rice that was the best of both i’ve ever had. The wild rice was braised in stock and wonderfully chewy, the duck breast was buttery and fork tender. We both had the Gâteau Victoire, which has got to be the lightest flourless chocolate cake i’ve ever eaten, and among the most delicious, not that i don’t perhaps enjoy even more the luscious denseness of a Gâteau Reine de Saba.

And now, from the sublime to the HP Pavilion snack bar. We knew. We knew all along. Leopards do not change their spots. And somehow, seeing new vendors and menus at the refreshment stalls in the pavilion made me forget what food was like there. So i looked through the offerings and spotted a barbecued chicken sandwich that i assumed would have smaller amounts of carbohydrates, fat, and salt.

One bite was all it took to discover that if the ingredients in that sandwich had been listed by weight, the first would have been high fructose corn syrup because the sauce in which the shreds of chicken were swimming tasted like, and had the mouth feel of, barbecue-flavored simple syrup. But i was starving, so i ate it. And then when, in the middle of the first match, The Great Thirst struck, i realized that the second ingredient by weight would have been MSG. All for only $11.

And no, i did not seek out the HP Pavilion for its food but rather because the 2013 SAP Open marked the end of a tournament that had run for 125 years, the second oldest in the nation. See the last post at the end of Lobs and Volleys.

On the other hand, talk about good enough to eat, a delectation provided by my landlord to brighten up the front of the house:

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Cecil Wayne Blank

Last year i discovered Openhouse and started getting their help in finding housing. Thanks to their understanding of the system and the alerts they send me, i managed to get myself onto a waiting list very quickly, and realizing that i needed to give back, i volunteered for their Friendly Visitor program in which shut in or otherwise isolated gay seniors get some human contact with the outside world in the form of a periodic gay visitor.

It took quite a while for the program manager to match me up, but finally just before last Thanksgiving she found a man with whom she thought i’d be compatible and took me to his apartment for an introduction. We hit it off immediately.

He’s 86 and has started to use a cane, but he can walk at least as well as i can. He’s getting forgetful, but frankly his mind doesn’t seem all that much worse than mine, as he’s a voracious reader. Mostly history rather than fiction, but still, there’s plenty of overlap and we can talk about books we’ve both read. He doesn’t have the energy to do much gardening anymore, but he’s quite knowledgeable about horticulture. Here’s a potted begonia on his back steps.





Went back for a second visit during which we talked about history and music and discovered that we’re both apostate Methodists. Turns out he’s a birder, and we spoke of going out to Stern Grove down the street and giving me introductory lessons.

For the next visit, i introduced him to Riverside Seafood Restaurant at Vicente and 23rd Avenue. Although it’s in his neighborhood, somehow he’d never eaten here, and it was an enormous pleasure to watch a man who likes his dim sum discover a new place. Few pleasures are greater than good food in good company.

And then i called a couple of times and he didn’t respond to my message on his machine, and out of the blue the idea hit me that he was in the hospital. He was. I went. He’d fallen on the street, had a horrible bruise on his forehead, and seemed a little disoriented. Then he was discharged to a convalescent home way out in the avenues, and when i saw him there he was still a little disoriented but he was crystal clear that he didn’t like the place.

Somehow he managed to get himself sent back to his apartment, but before i could visit him there he was back in the hospital. He was pushing his tray away at meals, but i managed to seduce him with mandarins from Olsen. He ignored them while i was there but later tasted one out of boredom and on my next visit told me he was astonished at how good they were. I reminded him that he was in the presence of a major foodie and produce procurer.

And then the bad news started. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer so advanced that nothing could be done and was discharged to a hospice. I kept calling in hopes that he’d be up for a visitor, but not quite yet, not yet.

And then this morning he went and died on me.

Rest in peace, Wayne.

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We must live life to the fullest, extracting every sweet morsel, and just to demonstrate that it’s not by food alone i went out last Sunday evening to a Noe Valley Chamber Music concert at the little Lutheran church on the stub of O’Farrell between Franklin and Gough for a program of the music of Berkeley violist Nils Bultmann.  It opened with his Homage to Bach for solo viola followed by 10 Short Viola Duets played by Bultmann and Charlton Lee.  And then, after an intermission, From the Depths for viola and didjeridu featuring Bultmann and Stephen Kent on the didjeridu.  It was a fascinating concert, and i have to say they pushed their instruments to levels i’d not known possible.

But it’s really mostly about food, so this morning i rode down the the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market and picked up a pound of fresh anchovies to saute for lunch.  Then i spotted the fresh asparagus and couldn’t resist, thinking i could cook that with creamed eggs for a supper, and then capped the trip by spotting Erik Schletewitz at his booth.  He doesn’t come to the market all that much anymore, but he was training a new worker and we reminisced about our having met back in 1993 when we were both young and skinny (OK, when we were both skinny and he was young) and he threw a few bags of his oranges into the back of a pickup and ventured to the San Mateo Farmers’ Market, which at that time was at Fashion Island.  It’s just wonderful to have relationships with some of my vendors going back twenty years.

And then coming back home i realized as i hit Valencia that Dandelion would be open, so i swung by there and discovered that they finally had bars of their newest chocolate, the Patanemo Venezuela.  And since i was in there went ahead and had a cup of their Mission hot chocolate, which killed my lunch hunger so i just ate the legs off a Costco roasted chicken when i got home.

And then realized that what i really wanted for supper was an order of the saag gohst and a couple of pieces of naan at Aslam’s Rasoi, so that’s what i’m gonna do.

And no, it’s not all food and flowers.  Here’s an alley shot off Valencia

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A Coven of Chocolati

I wrote about my plan to stop at Aslam’s Rasoi last Wednesday, and i did just that for an early supper on their saag gosht. Afterwards i segued on down Valencia to Dandelion Chocolate, where i joined about forty other chocolati to watch Caitlin and Greg’s talk and slideshow about their five day blitz through four chocolate farms in the wilds of Venezuela, getting to know vendors and encourage them to strive for quality rather than quantity in their production.

Caitlin and Greg were fine narrators, and we all got a good feel from this presentation that the adventure, like all excellent adventures, consisted of a mixture of terror and exhaustion leavened with learning and excitement, not to mention some real joy. Well, some relief, too, as their van managed to get safely across numerous rural Venezuelan versions of a bridge, two stout logs planed flat on one side and positioned so that the tires of the van would stay on them if the vehicle were guided across by someone on foot indicating minute course corrections to the driver while the passengers gazed far below, fascinated, at the water seething with piranha between the anaconda-infested banks.

Gives you a good appetite for a rustic supper. Well, that is, if you don’t look too closely at it. The supper…of umm, different vegetables and unidentifiable meats.

We chocolati, on the other hand, were seated in comfortable chairs in the squeaky clean Dandelion cafe being plied throughout the show with cups of hot chocolate, chocolate delights from the bakery case, and samples of the various chocolate bars.

The best time to go is on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday (11:00 – 6:00) since that’s when the production line is running and the place is buzzing with worker bees. You can walk all along the right side and get great views of the process.

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We Have a Winner

I’d written about being all excited over the opportunity to get onto a wait list for some senior housing on Bernal Heights, and yesterday i got great news: I won. They’re estimating that there’ll be an opening in about 18 months, and although nothing is guaranteed, i’m excited, as the place is pretty much ideal.

To celebrate, my friends Ruth and Pam took me to a concert last night at Davies Hall, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis playing works for violin and piano: the Mozart Sonata for Piano and Violin in G Major, Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major, Lutoslawski’s Partita, and the Saint Saëns Violin Sonata no. 1 in D Minor. The Mozart was good, the Schubert was fine, and the Saint-Saëns was electric. The crowd brought them back for three encores, the second an arrangement for piano and violin of Chopin’s Prelude No. 1, which i’d learned to play in my youth owing to its being within my pitiful technical grasp.

And to celebrate this glorious day, back to the flowers. Well, hey, it’s springtime, and the blossom structure here is five or six feet long. Enormous.

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The Bay Lights

Last night my friends Andrew and Frank hosted me at a party in their 50th floor home in the Millennium Tower, where we had a superb view of the premiere of Leo Villareal’s astonishing light show, The Bay Lights.  Magnificent views, good provender, and a lovely crowd made for a delightful evening.

The capper, though, came when i descended from the clouds to the ground and discovered that a snappy little rain had started to provide some entertainment for the Segway ride home.  No, it wasn’t a hard rain even though by the time i got home my lower legs beneath the raincoat were soaked and my toes were squishing, but it was great fun because quite a few bicyclists had been similarly surprised, and we absolutely wallowed in our shared adversity.  Lotsa joking on the themes “This wasn’t supposed to start until after i’d got home,” “Aw, just testing my rain gear,” “Got room under that poncho for me?”

And yes, it’s still springtime, and surely you didn’t think i was going to try to photograph The Bay Lights when their website is full of shots far finer than i could do, not to mention video clips.

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Cameron Carpenter

I’m so occupied with farmers’ markets, preserving, cooking, eating, and socializing that i don’t usually even look at announcements of upcoming events, but last Thursday my eye was somehow caught by the San Francisco Symphony’s advertisement in the Chronicle about this afternoon’s Cameron Carpenter recital at Davies Hall.  Hmmm, i thought, finally after 28 years of fiddling around i’ve spotted an organ recital at Davies, so i could hear the magnificent Ruffatti for the first time.  Here are the specs.

<Oh, and even though i’d been thinking the best introduction to that organ would be a performance of Camille Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony, Carpenter might well give the organ a better workout.  After all, he outrages purists with the liberties he takes with classical compositions, and better yet, he’ll be performing the US premiere of five movements from his work in progress Science Fiction Scenes, described in the program notes as “essentially an opera for organ alone”.  If nothing else, i thought, Carpenter ought to provide some good entertainment since he’s already more flamboyant than Liberace was at his age.  Just saying, but when he performed movements from Science Fiction Scenes for the first time in Berlin last fall, he was described as a “bird of paradise”.  In a word, glitter.

So i agonized for a day and then on Friday went ahead and called the Symphony box office to get a ticket. And then, on the spur of the moment realized i should get two tickets so i could take somebody. But once the order was confirmed i started wondering if i knew anyone who might enjoy this spectacle, which took up most of the day until i thought of Tony, who not only likes classical music but doesn’t mind having it glittered up and is also not averse to a gay spectacle.

The recital? Well, i’d gone YouTubing and was ready.

He came glittering out and launched his transcription of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major.  Look, i’ve loved Bach since i was an undergraduate, but i have to say this may have been the most exciting Bach work i ever heard on the organ, or at least the most different one.  He followed this with Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, and it was equally exciting although i promise you it never sounded like this in Lüneburg.  You can hear, and see both of these works on the Berliner Philharmoniker’s site  It’s free after you register.

Carpenter followed the two Bach works with selections from Franck and Dupré, which were unconventional but enjoyable. And after the intermission he played the Science Fiction Scenes, getting in touch with his inner theater organ, and i just loved them. IMHO, he’s better at this than at revising the classical repertoire.

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Food, Glorious Food

Today, a feed bag.

The other day i made a Rangpur Lime Marmalam out of some that Carol had given me from her tree. I also had the pleasure that day of introducing her to the new cafe at Dandelion. She’d not been in the new place and was impressed by watching a chocolate factory operate at full tilt, and then she was blown away by a cup of their Mission hot chocolate. Her face registered shock at the first sip, it was so good.

And speaking of Carol, i got from her Gyalden’s recipe for chicken curry and have inserted it in the recipes as, oddly enough, Gyalden’s Chicken Curry. This is the best chicken curry i’ve had in this country, and the recipe is easy. Try it. Oh, and getting the recipe spurred me into doing a search for a good Indian grocery in SF. Bombay Bazaar used to be good, but it went into a gradual decline, moved to a little slot on Duboce with a pitiful selection and half empty shelves, and finally closed its doors. From the Yelp reviews it appears that the best of the current lot is a place called Jai Ho in that shopping center by Safeway on Webster, so i checked it out. I went in mainly to get good curry powder for Gyalden’s recipe, and was a bit disappointed by the indifference of the clerk. I mean, i asked him about fried moong dal, and he clearly understood my Hindi but said they didn’t have the item and directed me to a huge selection of dried beans, including lentils. As i cruised the aisles, though, i found bags of fried moong dal in the snacks section. The good news, though, is that they had a wide selection of curry powders. Not only that, they had Patak’s hot lime relish, my favorite brand of this condiment.

The good news from yesterday is that it was the 2013 opening day of the Castro Farmers’ Market, an occasion so gala that i actually shaved for it yesterday morning. My favorite vendors were back, Shelly with her excellent free-range eggs, Spring Hill with the best butter i’ve had in this country, Happy Boy Farms with consistently the best baby arugula in town, and Home Maid with their exquisite Fig and Olive Spread. And there’s a new vendor, Bernard Ranches of Riverside. I was cruising by their booth and noticed those huge hybrid grapefruit bred for sweetness and then beside them some much smaller red grapefruit, also way too sweet for my taste. And then in a separate bin i noticed a slightly smaller one that looked like it could be the old, sour Marsh variety that i love so much. I asked, he complimented my perception, and then put back the identifying sign that had fallen aside. I bought five even though i have a week’s supply of them from Hamada. Well, i had to reward Bernard for bringing them and, of course, needed a couple for comparison. Got home and tried the smallest one even though i’m supposed to eat only one at breakfast, and i’d already had it. Yep, it’s a Marsh, and almost as good as Hamada’s at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Now that there are two places in San Francisco where you can buy these, you have no excuse not to.

The rest of the food news is that i spent today making a kumquat marmalam from a big bag of kumquats Glenn Tanimoto gave me last Sunday at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market. The light freeze they had down there spared the other citrus, but kumquats are so sensitive that it stymied their full development and Glenn felt their quality was not up to his standards. Still made good marmalam, though. See the 2013 Production Report for what’s new in preserves.

Trametes versicolorAnd finally, here’s a Trametes versicolor growing out of a buried stump on Hartford Street. Spotted by my friend Oliver and identified by my friend CK. The reason it’s in this food post is because Wikipedia says it’s “edible but not palatable”. Hmmmm. Maybe sauteed with some fresh green garlic?

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For several years now i’ve been just sick with envy over my friend Louis’ getting all those letters published in the Chronicle.  Well, the tide is turning, and i finally got one published.  Archbishop’s Stand.  Ahhh, feels good doing the Lord’s work.

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Visiting Friends

First Church of Christ Scientist in BerkeleyMy friends David and Chris from St. Louis are visiting, and i’ve had such a wonderful time trying to keep up with them that i’m exhausted, which means that the next few posts will be mercifully brief, serving simply as a framework for some photos marginally worth sharing.  David’s an architect and got us a private tour of Berkeley’s First Church of Christ, Scientist.  Weird cult or whatever, at least they had the sense to get Bernard Maybeck to do their church, and it stands now as a hundred-year-old jewel.  Here’s the ceiling in the main sanctuary.




Afterwards, we went on up to the UC Botanical Garden, where i found this lovely new leaf coloration on a Tsuga sieboldii, the Southern Japanese Hemlock.

Tsuga sieboldii


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