October 2014


When i studied Spanish in high school sixty years ago, we learned the second person familiar conjugations (tutear) but were given no practice in actually using them.  It was always, “¿Quantos años tiene Usted?”  And then fifty years ago when i studied French in college, we studied the familiar forms (tutoyer), but again did not use them in dialogues.  Oh no, it was  “Après vous, mon cher Alphonse.”  And immediately after that when i was in the Army in Germany trying to learn German i had become so neurotic that i was afraid to duzen (say “du” to) anyone for fear of getting the circumstances wrong and offending them, so i ended up saying “Sie” to everyone, even when totally inappropriate, as in “Es war gut für Sie?”

But finally, finally, when i started ruining my German by studying Dutch, i pulled it together and started using the familiar (jijen en jouen) from the start, which makes Dutch the only language in which i am familiar.  Of course i have to admit that being in my seventies and white haired, i can get away with saying “je” to just about anybody except the royal family….well, and God, since the Dutch, unlike the pushy Germans and English, would never never never consider themselves on a familiar pronoun basis with God.

Now i’m studying Spanish again, and this time, it’s “tu” to all my classmates.  So soon there’ll be two languages in which i’m familiar.

No language-appropriate pic today, so i’ll mention that there are some fabulous doorway treatments on Market Street.  Here’s a favorite:

Market Street door treatment


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Want to play little online games that start easy and then grow utterly diabolical in their difficulty?

Want to participate in an online study of brain function.  Your addled brain!

Want to contribute to the advance in medical understanding of brain function that will hopefully lead to improvements in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and senile dementia?

Join the great cause at Brain Health Registry.  Click on the damn link, folks, especially those of you “of a certain age”.

Before you’re ready to play their little games, they warn you repeatedly that the games are designed to be difficult.  They’re right, but they give you tiny crumbs of success at the beginning before they start clamping down, and then when you’ve reached a nadir of despair, you get to move to a new game and have a bit of success before the nightmare begins again.

Do it for science.  Hell, something may come of this in time to help you.

The other thing i do to try to keep my mind alive is take pics.  Finally got a halfway decent shot of Mona Caron’s new murals on 14th Street, and yes, i coulda cropped the pic but do that rarely since it feels like cheating.



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No, not the herb but rather the Thai restaurant at 1175 Folsom, between 7th and 8th.

See, the wonderful thing about having a foreign visitor is that it spurs me to go out to eat in favorite places and also to try new ones.  Thus, Basil, which now has a second location up the block in that fabulous old brewery at corner of 11th Street, but i figured i’d best start with the original venue.

Wow.  One of the partners is an architecture student at UC Berkeley, and he did a stunning job of gutting a nondescript space and making it lovely, most particularly by knocking out the entire wall on Rogers Alley and replacing it with glass brick, which lights up the serene interior.

But i didn’t go there to look.

Since it was my first time, i opted for three favorites, none of which Valentin was familiar with.  He’s the ideal fellow diner, somewhat knowledgeable but eager to try new things, and by exquisite chance, he was not very familiar with Thai food and had had none of my favorites.  Great.

So we started with the old standby, “Crispy wrapped whole tiger prawns with sweet chili vinaigrette (goong gra bog)”.  They were perfect, and Valentin inquired in delight of the sauce, “What is this?”

Next was “Minced chicken salad with shallots, mint, lime, dried chili, & roasted rice powder * (larb gai)”  This was Basil’s version of the fabulous duck version at the legendary Thai House on Noe at Henry twenty-something years ago, and it may have been just as good.  One caveat.  That asterisk i faithfully copied and pasted from the online menu title supposedly means that the dish is spicy with pepper.  All i can say is that their official spiciness evaluator must be blond haired and blue eyed, as i could barely detect the capsaicin.  Next time i go in, i’ll ask ’em to up it a bit although as i observed to Valentin, that runs the risk of the waiter sticking his head into the kitchen and smirking to the chef, “White boy wants more pepper” and their doing a fist bump.

And finally, i’d been jonesing for yellow curry since i had a spectacular version of it last August in Portland, so i ordered “Yellow curry braised ‘all natural’ 1/4 chicken, onions, and potatoes served with cucumber salad (kang gari gai)”.  I’d never had this dish except with the chicken boned and cut up, but it was plenty good this way.  The chicken was infused with curry flavor, as were the creamy potatoes.  The curry sauce?  Well, owing to popular demand, Valentin scraped it off the platter for us down to the last molecule.

We were too stuffed to have my favorite dessert, the Thai iced coffee, so the bill for the two of us came to only $33.  What a buy.  Now i gotta try the other location, where the menu is somewhat different, and work my way through everything on both menus.

Oh, and the lunch was made all that more enjoyable by our dropping by the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market on the way so as to give Valentin a tour of it, me on the Segway and him on the bicycle he’d peddled here from Montreal. Yes, Montreal,  Canada.

The return home was made more entertaining by my suggesting to Valentin that we loop his two-meter-long bicycle cable lock around his handlebars with my holding the ends of it with my right hand so i could tow him up Noe hill with the Segway.  He was hesitant at first, but when i pointed out that the worst that could happen was that we’d both die horrible deaths, he was immediately onboard.

The great glory is that it worked!  Yes, he did some peddling, but he kept remarking at how vastly easier it was to climb the hill with a Segway assist.

The great shame is that no friend was available to photograph us, and i’d forgot my camera so we couldn’t enlist one of the lamentably few observers we delighted.  We must  do this again to get it documented.


And since i’d forgot my camera, there were no pics of lunch, so i’ll have to make do with this shot of Valentin on the Billy Goat Hill swing yesterday.

Billy Goat Hill swing



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Hong Kong Lounge II

Oh. My. Goodness!  I have a French visitor just now and used his visit as an excuse to check out Hong Kong Lounge II at 3300 Geary because i’d read Michael Bauer’s review back in the spring and was curious.  He’s right, it’s fab.

I’ve eaten a lot of dim sum, but i never had it this good, not even at the storied Yank Sing, about which i’ve repeatedly raved.  Not that Yank Sing isn’t still a wonderful place to take out of towners owing to the spectacular setting and high quality, but the most honest part of my tongue is my taste buds, and they vote for Hong Kong Lounge II.

Is it a bargain?  No.  The prices are right up there with Yank Sing, noticeably pricier than typical, but the quality is breathtaking.

The only dish we had that was less than superb was the salt and pepper soft shell crab, which was merely good.

The dry cooked string beans, a great favorite of mine, were dramatically better than any i’d had elsewhere – tender but still crisp and sauced to perfection.

I might have had shrimp dumplings (har gow) as good somewhere but don’t recall when or where.  These contained large shrimp and were wonderfully tender and flavorful.

The braised pork belly was utterly succulent, wading in a rich sauce, and accompanied by little flattened rolls that could be easily opened up, lightly anointed with the accompanying bowl of Chinese mustard, and stuffed with a piece of the pork so you could eat it as a small sandwich.

The egg custard tarts (dan tat) for dessert were absolutely perfect.  Never had ’em better.

Since i mentioned “pricey” earlier i’ll go ahead and add that the bill for a pot of pu’er and the above feast came to $47, and since it left us both stuffed, that’s not very pricey.  Better yet, Valentin picked up the check.

My only disappointment was not seeing the baked pork pastry (char siu sou) on the menu and then, when i inquired, being told they don’t make it.  That said, they do make another kind of baked pork stuffed item that apparently uses the same dough as the char siu bao but is cooked in a  dry oven, so maybe i’ll try that next time since several reviewers quite liked it.

While looking for in vain for the restaurant’s website, i ran across Patricia Unterman’s review.  She rates right up there with Ruth Reichel as my favorite restaurant reviewer, and i was delighted to see from her review that they serve that Shanghai-style soup dumpling (xiao long bao), which i’ll definitely have next time.

Now that i’ve eaten lunch there, i’m dying to go in for dinner.  Stay tuned.


Oh, and here’s a photo of the Seward Street Slides, where i took Valentin on the way to lunch.

Seward Street Slides



That’s him at the top of the left slide.


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The Magic Typewriter

This morning’s Chronicle had a long story about the political career of Jerry Brown, and i found it highly entertaining and informative.

But it omitted an incident that i found one of the most interesting of his minor coups.  Back when he was California Secretary of State in the early seventies, his office discovered that one of Nixon’s lawyers owned a magic typewriter.  It had written up a deed that supported one of Nixon’s enormous income tax deductions, and Brown’s keen eyed staff after a bit of digging found that the deed was dated several months before the typewriter had been manufactured.  Well yes, a time-traveling typewriter.

Not that this had any significant impact on Nixon’s departure from office since in the first place most folks were just fascinated by this miraculous machine and either openly or secretly wished their lawyers had access to it, but more importantly, the Watergate incident blew up and there was larger game to pursue.

Still, that discovery was for me Brown’s shining hour.


And speaking of shining hours, here’s the first bloom off my Phalaenopsis, no idea what the species is, but i still love it since this is only the second time in my life that an orchid has ever bloomed for me.  Well, see, they don’t respond well to the same care i give my Haworthias.



And a shot into its mouth.



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Dinner for Ian

My Canadian friend Ian is back in town, and i just love cooking dinner for him and mutual friends.  So here’s the dinner.

On the kitchen table as little appetizers:  Crackers, a truffle mousse by Fabrique Délices, and my own pickled jade beans from McGinnis Ranch.

Salad of Rocket, Radish, and Sautéed Pimientos de Padrón all from Happy Boy Farms, dressed with a vinaigrette made with walnut oil and my berry vinegar.

Sour Flour sourdough bread with Springhill unsalted Jersey butter.

Shrimp Poached in Butter on a bed of Polenta, a variation of  Michael Rullman’s recipe that i experimented with last month in my slow cooker.

Okra Sautéed with Red Onion, New Mexico Chiles,  Sweet Peppers, and Purple Cherokee Tomato from Happy Boy Farms.  This is Okra in my Recipes.  Was thinking i’d braise some spinach as an alternative vegetable since i had a feeling that Canadians don’t eat okra and there would be three of ’em at the table.  Ummm, plus two Yankees, and we know for sure about them.  Then checked and discovered, wonder of wonders, they all like okra.  Sure was wonderful to watch a bunch of Canadians and Yankees gobbling up okra.

Fresh Cranberry Beans with Chantenay Carrot and Red Onion.  The beans are from Busalacchi at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market and the carrot is from Tierra Vegegables.

I’ll have some Oakdale Cheese quark on the table for folks to plop into the okra and/or the cranberry beans.  The quark tastes much like sour cream but since it’s only about 5% fat, it’s actually good for you, and it’s a marvelous addition to both beans and spicy dishes like that okra.

Flourless Lime Almond Torte.  This is a recipe i got online from Simply Recipes although i did tweak it a bit when i tried it last week by substituting lime for the lemon zest and using lime juice instead of the vinegar.  Oh, and this time i upped the recipe 20% and got away with it.  I use almond meal from Rodin Farms at the Castro Farmers’ Market.  I bought a pint of Three Twins Madagascar Vanilla ice cream for an optional topping, but instead used that quark with a little sugar stirred into a small bowl of it. Oh, and i cast a handful of pohas (Physallis peruviana) from Tierra Vegetables and baby kiwi fruit from Alpine Blue Farm onto the plate – neither of which, as best i can tell, is available from any other source in San Francisco.   Was planning to add some crunchy texture with a few sesame glazed almonds from Rodin Farms but forgot ’em.

Held myself back and refrained from sticking a cognac-soaked cherry on top.  As the co-owner Wolfgang at the long lamented German Oak on Market Street said when i suggested that they add to the menu a Cordon Bleu (a very popular dish in many restaurants in Germany in the sixties), “Ve are not a fine dinner haus!”

For today’s food-related photo i’ll use this one of the caviar lime (Citrus australasica), also known as the finger lime.  Vince Bernard brought a handful to the Castro Farmers’ Market the other day to show us although he doesn’t have them to sell yet.  They’re delicious and the little balls pop like tobiko.  Yum.

Citrus australasica


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Failed Expedition

We’ve all read about failed expeditions in which the ineptitude of the leader caused the death of not only himself but also all his men, as in Scott’s sad attempt in 1912 to beat Amundsen to the south pole.  And others in which a handful of bedraggled survivors stumbled back to civilization with horrifying tales of hardship and suffering, as in John C Frémont’s incredibly foolish attempt to cross the Colorado Rockies in mid-winter, 1848 that resulted in the loss of all the expedition’s equipment, all its animals, and a third of its men.

And of course my avid readers will recall my own infamous failed attempt to reach Portland in 2013 documented in these pages in the posts A Calamity of Errors and Good Samaritans, although nobody died in that expedition and my pride eventually recovered from its near-mortal injuries.

My latest failed expedition is not on that scale, but it sure held my attention for a while.

See, last Sunday was an utterly gorgeous Indian Summer day in San Francisco, and it was also the Sunday of Fleet Week so i decided this would be a perfect day to Segway down to Mission Creek and lie in wait for a sailboat to want the drawbridges opened so that finally, after 39 and 3/4ths years living in San Francisco, i could get photos of them in the upright and locked position.

So i set out but got only to the back streets at the foot of Dubose, where everything is closed on Sunday, before my right tire, which i had repaired two weeks ago with a Patented Plug, catastrophically decompressed.

So there i was, out in the middle of this wasteland with no cell phone because i carry the damn thing only when i’m meeting someone and might be delayed.  If i’d had my phone i could have called a taxi into which i might have heaved the Segway to get home since almost all taxis here are hatchbacks, most especially Priuses.  But then i took another look at the Segway’s tires and realized the the tread was nearly gone and that i’d got my money’s worth out of ’em.  So since i didn’t have to worry about ruining a tire by running it flat, i decided i could just wobble slowly home on the flat, putting all my weight on my left foot to take advantage of the inflated tire.

Well yes, except that i’m now so dependent on the Segway that the continuing deterioration of my legs isn’t really apparent until i try to use them, and while i can still stand for long periods without pain, standing on one leg is another matter.  Not to mention the extra effort of balancing on one leg on a Segway rendered highly unstable by a flat.

So i wobbled home at very low speed on sidewalks, alternating standing on right and left legs, and by the time i finally got home i was so exhausted that i fell into bed and slept for three hours.

And then first thing Monday morning called Silicon Segway to learn when i could take the Segway down there for a new set of tires.  Alas, there’d been a run and they were out, but a new shipment was coming in on Tuesday.  Not so bad, i could just stay at home on Monday and pickle Jade beans, which i did.  And then got a call from my dentist reminding me of Tuesday morning’s appointment.  Sigh.

So this morning i walked two blocks down to the closest bus stop on Castro, caught the 24 Divisadero to Market Street, transferred to Muni to the Powell Street Station, and then hiked slowly up Stockton to 450 Sutter, five uphill blocks, gasp, by the end of which both legs were cramping and i could barely stand.  Got a good rest reclining at my wonderful new dentist’s while she with great delicacy cleaned my teeth.  And then walked back down Powell to Market and caught an outbound F Market to Castro, transferred to the 24 Divisadero to 22nd, and shuffled the two blocks back home.

In a response to popular demand, here’s a map.

Before collapsing into bed for a nap, i called Silicon Segway to see what time they expected their tire delivery only to be told that the delivery had been pushed out to Friday.  Aaargh.   I’m cooking dinner on Saturday and must go to the farmers’ market on Wednesday morning, Rainbow Grocery on Thursday, and the fishmonger on Friday.  All these trips will be very difficult without the Segway.

So drawing on untapped levels of resourcefulness and crossing my fingers, i gave the Patented Plug system another try.  Hmmm.  Seemed to seat better than last time.  Pumped it up and it held pressure.  Made a trial run three blocks down to Folio Books and got back home with full pressure.

Whew, so i can wait until Friday afternoon for new tires, just being sure to carry the Patented Plug kit and a pump with me every time i leave the house in case the second plug fails.

After all, when the going gets tough, the tough keep plugging.


Here’s an interesting set of windows down near those drawbridges i didn’t get to.

Mission Bay windows









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Dangerous Weapons

There’s a reason for the dearth of recent blog posts:  I’ve been adding material to my new main menu item, Bridges.  Click on that and take a look.  The next submenu item will be “The Drawbridges of Amsterdam”, which i’ll assemble from photos taken on my visits there but which will take some time.

Meanwhile, i was delighted to discover that i had not, in fact, lost almost all the photos i’d taken of the Sundial Bridge on my visit there in 2004, so i was able to flesh out my coverage of that bridge with additional photos.  Not that i still shouldn’t stop by there next summer for better photos.

Now i’ll get busy taking more bridge photos locally, and of course i’m thinking i might as well go ahead and buy myself a DSLR camera as if somehow having decent equipment might spur me to take better photographs.  That said, many of my friends might feel that giving me more powerful tools would be akin to providing an Apache attack helicopter to the Ferguson, MO police department.

Meanwhile, here’s a pic i took in Northern California on my return from Oregon in August.  I”m titling it “Open”.


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Dandelion-St. Benoit Connection

Don’t want to get into too much backstory here, but i do have to drop back several years,  first to 2004 when Benoît de Korsak emigrated from France and started St. Benoît Creamery in Sonoma, making yogurt using French cultures.  After a few years, he ramped up production by partnering with Diamond M Dairy in Petaluma and started selling his yogurt at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market.  Great yogurt, which is where i came in.

And then, in a few more years, they expanded their product line to include glass liters (and i don’t mean quarts because they’re real liters) of whole Jersey milk, low temperature pasteurized but not homogenized, so the cream floats to the top.  Fabulous milk.  And M. de Korsak needing to devote more time to running the business, he hired Sam, who among other duties now handsomely mans the booth at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market.

Sam is an adult who has retained a fondness for chocolate milk, so he started experimenting with adding chocolate to that superb Jersey milk.  Alas, yogurt factories do not need kitchen stoves, so Sam can’t make a chocolate syrup to stir into the milk.  Thus, his efforts, while excellent in taste, left a great deal to be desired in texture.  Not that this kept me from drinking his tasty, if texture challenged, experiments.  Oh no.  Nor from giving him some of my chocolate sauce to try mixing into his milk.  His last effort involved grinding up some Dandelion chocolate and mixing it into the milk.  Delicious, but lumpy with tiny bits of chocolate.

Leaving St. Benoît for a moment, let’s flash back to 2010, when i was out at the Bartlett Street Farmers’ Market (now renamed the Mission Community Market) and spotted a couple of young men named Todd and Cam sitting behind a card table peddling the chocolate bars made in their tiny new factory in a loft on 3rd Street.  Oh well, i thought, does San Francisco need another boutique chocolate bar?  But they were nice, so to be agreeable i took the proffered taste.  That did it.

The best chocolate i ever tasted, so i immediately became a fan for life and began buying their chocolate regularly at farmers’ markets.  I even attended their first Chocolate 101 class at their loft on 3rd Street in early 2012.  And then last year their chocolate factory/cafe opened in a gorgeous, cavernous space that was formerly an auto shop at 740 Valencia.  A chocolate Valhalla to which i delight in taking friends and visitors.  You can watch the Dandelion Chocolate factory in full production, starting with the bags of varietal beans from their carefully cultivated growers all the way through the roasting, the cracking, the winnowing, the grinding, the melanging, the tempering, the casting into molds, and the wrapping.  And of course from the cafe counter you can get a selection of pastries, cups of various kinds of tasty hot chocolate, a glass of a chocolate fruit smoothie (which is delicious even though it doesn’t taste like chocolate), and coffee from Four Barrel.  Not to mention that you can also buy their current selection of varietal bars.

Oh, and i hadn’t mentioned that they are serious donors to local charities, work very hard at being sustainable, and partner with local businesses (like getting their wrappers from a local artisan paper company), and show a marvelous attention to detail as in their use of extra thick aluminum foil for the inner wrapper of their chocolate so you can easily reclose it around the uneaten portion.

So when Sam at St. Benoît mentioned he’d tried using a Dandelion chocolate bar to make chocolate milk, a brilliant idea struck me.  Why don’t i suggest to Dandelion that they start making a chocolate syrup and partner with St. Benoît?  So feeling downright smug at this, a few days ago i went down to Valencia Street with Sam’s email address in hand to pitch the idea to Todd.

Well, Todd and Cam were out, but they have a new partner i’d not met named Greg, and he came down from the mezzanine office and i told him my idea.  Well, there was good news and bad news.  The bad news was that they can’t start making a new product because even running the factory at full blast they are unable to keep up with demand, not exactly bad news, really.  The good news is that when Sam bought his chocolate from Becky, who runs their new outlet in the Ferry Building, she realized that what Sam really needed was a chocolate syrup, and she’d had my idea first and had already mentioned it to Greg.

So my disappointment over not having been the first to suggest their supplying St. Benoît was tempered by it having been such a good idea that Greg was already on it.

The rest of the good news is that Dandelion is now converting an old paper factory  on 16th Street at Harrison into a second chocolate factory so they can increase production, and at that point they’ll definitely start making a chocolate syrup.  In a desperate attempt to give Greg a fresh idea, i suggested that once they get the new factory up, they might think about producing a cocoa powder, but Greg was a step ahead of me on this one, too.  Worse yet, since the maximum level of fat that can be carried in a cocoa powder is around 25% and cocoa beans are about 50% fat, they’ll be marketing cocoa butter, too.

The final tidbit of good news is that the new factory won’t be opening until 2016, and it’ll take a while after that before everybody tastes their chocolate syrup and stops wanting mine.  And lest that sounds like a whine, hell, i’m sure that after i’ve tasted theirs, i’ll stop wanting mine.

And OK, since i don’t have a good Dandelion chocolate photo of my own, here’s some chocolate photos taken by my Dutch friend Danny, not that Dandelion makes white chocolate, milk chocolate, or bon bons.

Chocolate by Danny




Chocolates by Danny



Chocolates by Danny

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