Journal: 2014

Barry Redux

OK, one last post on Barry, as  I find myself missing him profoundly.  He’s one of those cases like my former barber Wess at Viking who i didn’t know meant so much to me until he suddenly died.

So to get some closure i did a little digging around online and came up with the following collection of links where people other than myself had written online about Barry:

Scott James

Vince Blaskovich

Paul D Quin

Kytha Gernatt

Jay Barmann

Roy McKenzie


And to this i’ll add links to some local agencies that help the homeless, not so much in hopes that you’ll be dropping dimes on them (in a benign sense) but rather that you’ll be able to speak knowledgeably about available services when you’re trying to talk them into getting help:

Homeless Outreach Team  The more i read about this group, the more impressed i get.  They just made my Donations list for 2014.

Human Services Agency of SF

Episcopal Community Services   Look, i do not normally have anything good to say about Christian churches since they’ve all been such enemies of gays, and it is my intent to fight back against those bastards for the rest of my life.  Still, the Episcopal Church was the first (or at least the second) Christian church to treat gays as fully equal human beings, and i have to applaud that even though it was less than twenty years ago.  That action has also opened my eyes to the other good they do, and it is painfully obvious that even though all Christian churches practice public charity to some degree, none of the others comes even close to the generosity of the Episcopal Church.  Good for them.

SF Department of Public Health Homeless Services

Mission Neighborhood Health Center

Homeless Resource Center   This is a branch of the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, above, that is focused on the homeless.

And since we’re focused on the neighborhood today, here’s a row of Castro Street victorians as seen from my balconette with a zoom lens.  My great regret is that i did not have the equipment to photograph at nighttime twenty years ago these and their three neighbors to the right before the right-hand three were obscured by trees.

Castro Street Victorians


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February Food Notes

A few days ago I did a spur of the moment solo visit to Company when they opened at six and had my first disappointment there.  That gin and bitter lemon cocktail is still delicious, and i had decided i was just gonna wolf their hamburger and dash back home, but i hadn’t looked at the menu all that closely and when the waiter asked whether i wanted the regular hamburger or the deluxe, you can guess my response even though i didn’t know what the difference was.  Turns out the deluxe includes both bacon and cheese, which do not create a carbohydrate problem, but also a small mountain of french fries, which does.  Worse yet, since i didn’t get into them at the end of a too large meal, as i did the last time, they tasted even better than the previous visit and i ate every last one of ’em, including the tiny runts.  I am retracting my previous supposition that the Parmesan truffle oil fries at the Mission Beach Cafe are better, at least until i can get back there and give them another try.  The hamburger was good, and would have been even better if it hadn’t come out medium, rather than the medium rare i’d asked for.  Not that i left a single scrap of it.

The disappointment?  Well, i spotted a new item on the menu, a cranberry bean and kale soup, and since i just love cranberry beans i couldn’t resist.  I should have.  As i readily admit, i’m a bit of a cranberry bean fanatic and go to such great lengths in preparing mine that i should have been nervous about eating somebody else’s.  The stock was good although the soup could have benefited from more kale, but the problem was that the beans were not sufficiently soft for my delicate tongue.  Maybe just me, but if y0u like your beans soft and creamy, don’t order this soup.


I rode way out to Children’s Hospital on California Street the other day to check into how come i wasn’t healing as rapidly as i’d hoped from my spectacular December face plant and was reassured that my upper lip would eventually return to normal.  And since even now it doesn’t get in the way of my eating, i decided to celebrate by riding straight east on California and stopping just before Divisadero at B Patisserie.  You can’t go wrong in there  (Well, except for the carb0hydrates), and the Kouign Amann remains perhaps the finest pastry i ever ate, certainly the finest that wasn’t chocolate.  The only real competitor i can think of in San Francisco is the Pomme d’Amour at Knead on 24th Street off Folsom.

The Kouign Amann is a Breton pastry, and like anything Breton, it isn’t pronounced like it looks but rather, in this case, as if it were spelled “Queen Ahmahn”. That said, you don’t eat it for the pronunciation. When i got there this time i discovered that they were offering a chocolate variation on the original and of course i had to try it even though i feared they’d just be sticking a chunk of semisweet chocolate in the middle of the dough the way many bakeries do with croissants and which frankly is not really an improvement. Shoulda realized B. Patisserie would be more imaginative, and sure enough, they squirted some semisweet ganache in there. Yes, good ganache. But did it make the pastry better? Not really. Stick with the original, but for goodness sake, if you can find an excuse to be anywhere near California at Divisadero stop in and try this splendid pastry….and maybe even one of the other fine offerings.  That B in the name stands for Belinda, and she’s a genius.


My newest discovery worthy of  mention is Proposition Chicken on Market at Valencia.  Great name, entertaining website, good cole slaw, good chicken, and spectacular art inside.

Proposition Chicken

I had the roasted, and i’ll stop again to try the fried when i’m struck with a great hankering for chicken as i pass by.  But not until then because it somehow seems a bit pricey for what it is.  Faint praise?  We calls ’em as we tastes ’em.


A recent disappointment was Dante’s Table on Castro.   It’s in a good location, and i’ve been eating at this site since it was Luisa’s in the early eighties.  I liked it very much when it was Nirvana just four years ago and was sorry Something Happened and it swirled rapidly down to closure.  Nirvana was replaced by the Dancing Pig Barbecue, which i was not sorry to see fail since it had a deadly combination of shabby barbecue and surly service.  But now it’s Dante’s Table, and Jeff and i gave it our first try last week.  The three owners were all there, and they are gracious and charming guys, so it grieves me to write about the food.

The meatballs at the beginning were good, as was the flourless chocolate cake at the end.  But in between?  Well, Jeff gave me a taste of his paella, and it was pretty good, but my entree, a special described on the chalkboard as a chicken saltimbocca, wasn’t.  It was neither a real saltimbocca nor was it good, consisting of a large chicken breast half into which a bit of proscuitto and pesto had been stuffed before the whole thing was cooked until completely dried out.  And our appetizer of a grilled squid salad had good flavor, but the raw red cabbage had been roughly sliced rather than finely mandolinned and thus was really tiresome to chew up.  Besides, the squid was overcooked and pretty hard to chew itself.

This is a warm and friendly and inviting place with a great bar, and they’re working on getting that garden in back into shape, so i want the enterprise to succeed.  I’ll go back in next week with my fingers crossed, hoping i can report that the squid salad and chicken saltimbocca were aberrations.  Meanwhile, if you beat me in there, eat something else.


And while i’m whining, i’ll go ahead and mention that this year’s mandarin orange crop has been a great disappointment.  Surely it can’t be something to do with two years of drought and hotter than usual weather year round.  For whatever reason, the ones at the beginning of this season have tasted like the dried up ones at the end of a usual season. None of my vendors has been up to his usual quality this year, with the possible exception of Schletewitz at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, and i just learned the other day that his well has gone dry.  Gasp.  And global warming’s barely got started.

On the other hand, it’s green garlic season, and somebody’s selling it at all my farmers’ markets, the best being the Herr’s at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market.  I’ve made a potato salad using lots of it instead of the usual onion.  Can’t get enough of that stuff.

And Glen Tanimoto’s kiwi fruit are better than ever.  Wednesdays and Sundays at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market and Saturdays at the Alemany Farmers’ Market.  Let us be grateful for what we have.


And that said, what i have no longer includes a memory, as i have forgot the name/artist behind this famous sculpture on Market Street.  Help me, somebody.

 famous sculpture





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Dear Senator Feinstein

Dear Senator Feinstein,

Spurred a recent protest exhortation, I just called your San Francisco office, but nobody picked up and i was diverted to voicemail.  I tried to leave a voicemail message and was told that your voicemail inbox was full.  Goodness, you must be a very popular senator nowadays.

For nearly forty years, I’ve been voting for you for supervisor, mayor, and senator and in fact have never voted against you.

But the other day I read that you were apologizing to Angela Merkel for tapping her cell phone, and that popped my cork.  Nonsense, i say, to keep our nation strong we need to gather intelligence on foreign powers, even those we currently think of as allies.  Every reasonable citizen understands this and would wonder what your reason for apologizing to Frau Kanzler Merkel might be other than the courtesy that powerful politicians extend to each other.

A courtesy they don’t extend to their constituents.  I find it utterly outrageous that you would apologize to Merkel while at the same time declare it necessary to record and save every syllable I utter, every character I type under the preposterous claim that you are doing this to protect me from terrorists.  That makes about as much sense as saying you were tapping Merkel’s phone in order to protect her from terrorists.

What i need protection from is YOU.  And it is my fervent hope that a majority of your constituents will soon come to the same conclusion.

Since i was unable to get through to you by telephone, i am trying to send you this message via email although it occurs to me that so many of your constituents may be trying to reach you by email that you will have also blocked that avenue of communication.  If that fails, i guess i’ll try mailing you a traditional letter, but it’ll probably come back stamped UNDELIVERABLE.

The next step would obviously be to rally a crowd of your former supporters to go to the corner of Lyon and Vallejo and encircle your house in shifts 24/7 waving placards demanding freedom from your surveillance, but i haven’t been past your house recently and won’t be a bit surprised to find that you’ve taken the precaution of setting up a block away a defensive perimeter of specially trained SWAT team goons to protect you from your loyal American constituents.

I do not want to live in a police state, even with you as Big Sister.

Yours in complete disenchantment,

Matte Gray
San Francisco


Here’s a lovely valentine on Market Street, but not to Big Sister.

Market Street valentine


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More February Food Notes

OK, i’m not doing this every month, but for February there’s gotta be a second food column.

First, the bad news:  I’d whined before that this year’s mandarin crop has been overwhelmingly disappointing.  Well, the disappointment has spread.  My primary supplier of Marsh grapefruit, Cliff Hamada, has not yet brought this year’s crop to market, and he has expressed some fear that he may not have a Marsh crop this year since it’s dependent on the one old tree standing in his yard, those in his groves having long since been replaced by modern sweet varieties.  Last week i was so jonesing for grapefruit that i broke down and bought two of his sweet varieties, just to tide me over.  Alas, they both had such tough inner membranes that they were rather a chore to chew up in my preferred method of consuming grapefruit, which is to just skin and core them and cut them up into bites as i described earlier.  If Cliff’s Marsh crop turns out to have failed and i’m reduced to choking down sweet grapefruit, i may have to break down and buy me one of those grapefruit spoon thingys.  Il faut souffrie être gourmand.  

The rest of it’s all good.

After mentioning a couple of weeks ago that the only competitor with the Kouign Amann at B. Patisserie for the San Francisco Pastry Olympics gold medal was the Pomme d’Amour at Knead Patisserie, i realized that i owed it to my readers to confirm that my statement was true.  So i swung by there this morning.  Yep, the damn thing may be even better than the Kouign Amann, and i say “damn thing” only because each delicious one must surely contain more carbohydrates than i’m supposed to eat in several days.

Not, of course, that i’ve otherwise been of late a total stranger to carbohydrates.

Last Sunday i introduced my friend Stephen to Company, and we split the Crisp Kale, the Warm Ricotta with Poached Pear and Levain Bread, and the  Chicken Wing Confit as appetizers, and then both of us had the Lamb Shank as an entree.  The kale is utterly delicious, i could live on that ricotta no matter what it came with, the chicken wings are crisp and tender and marvelously flavored, and those lamb shanks are a culinary tour de force.  I do not understand how he can braise the damn things until they fall apart at the touch of my fork but still somehow transfer them to the plate atop a layer of creamed semolina and have them remain absolutely intact.  I suspect witchcraft, and that’s just the appearance since the first bite confirms that witchcraft is involved.


On Monday i introduced my friend Mark to Mission Beach Cafe, where we started with their excellent French fries with truffle oil and shredded reggiano, which take them over the top and make them the best French fries i ever ate.  Not, of course, that i’m supposed to eat potatoes anymore, so no wonder they taste so good.

Truffled regianno fries

And then we moved on to the Brussels sprouts, which were good, followed by the rabbit gumbo that i’ve raved about before.  After i explained to Mark that the greatest amount of my chocolate cream pie he had any chance of getting would be a tiny sliver barely large enough to taste, he wisely concluded that he needed his own slice.  He agreed with me that it was everything a chocolate cream pie could ever hope to be, and we left stuffed.


Then Tuesday it was back to Company for dinner with That Pig Jeff.  Since it was his turn to pay and he’d ordered up such a gargantuan feast the last time we were in here, i insisted that this time we had to try their dinner special menu, which has a limited selection and a significant price reduction.  What could go wrong?

Well, in the first place since it was The Pig and I, we quickly agreed that well, it would be OK to buy an extra appetizer of that divine Chicken Wing Confit, wings that the chef has confitted until they’re falling-off-the-bone tender, flash fried crispy, and then dressed in a reduction of pomegranate juice with rosemary and black pepper.  Breathtaking.  And then the chef comped us a bowl of his sublime warm ricotta atop a layer of braised artichoke with little slices of Levain bread.  Gasp.  Jeff had a composed salad that looked good even to me and he left no trace of it while i had a carrot soup in hopes that it would be as good as the astonishing cauliflower, parsnip, and celeriac soup i’d had on my second visit.  It got close.  And then we both had the perfectly roasted chicken with its crispy skin and moist, tender interior.  Dessert?  Oh please.  We’re on diets.


I’ll close with another little disappointment.  Last week i uttered a plea to my loyal readers that one of them kindly help me with some information about that fascinating sculpture at 720 Market Street, but the plea lay bleeding in the gutter all week, unanswered.  When i have one of my little Segway Events and am lying mangled in the street, total strangers come running to assist me from all directions, but when i beg for help from my dear readers, all i get is tough love.  Suck it up, Bud, and figure it out for yourself.  So i did.  There’s no signage, inside or out, but the nice young lady at the desk was a wealth of information.

It’s one of the cast bronze Angel series Stephen de Staebler did in the late eighties, early nineties.  And here’s a closeup of her.

Stephen de Staebler  "Angel"


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Learning Experience

Well, you can lead me to water, and if you kick me in the stomach to get my attention, sometimes i’ll drink.

See, last Thursday afternoon i was going to my regular meeting with my volunteer group at the GLBT Center and was in a rush owing to my hysteria about being a single second late.  Whizzing down Market in the bike lane, i was concerned about getting to Octavia Street in time to screech to a stop in the crosswalk, execute a Left Face, and still have five seconds to get across both lanes before the countdown ended and cross traffic resumed.  I mean, what if there were only two seconds left in the countdown?  I’d have to wait two and a half minutes until the light changed again.  Oh please.

A plan sprang full blown.  Glancing over my left shoulder, i saw that, oh joy, no traffic was coming up behind me.  So i swerved over into the far edge of the left turn lane to run to the left of the vehicles waiting before the crosswalk, where i’d have only one lane of traffic to cross and thus would need less time.  As i started the run i realized that the damn second vehicle, an obese pickup, had positioned its fat butt too far to the left for me to squeeze between it and the raised divider, and after my December Incident i’m touchy about raised dividers.  No problem.  I’ve been on the Segway over ten years and am at one with the machine, so it was easy to slalom around the pickup, pass the vehicle in front of it into the crosswalk, Left Face, and see that a full six seconds remained on the countdown clock.  Three seconds to spare.  Success!

So i whirred across to the southbound Market Street bike lane, transitioned into the crosswalk across the eastbound right-turn-only piece of Octavia and up onto the sidewalk in front of the Center.  All glassy smooth and exquisitely executed but for one little problem.  A motorcycle cop was sitting there in the lee of the Center watching for rush-hour miscreants, and somehow sticking me into that category, beckoned.

Couldn’t he see i was in a rush?

I grudgingly accepted his invitation, but the moment i dismounted in front of him he accused me of “running a red light.”  What!?! I rushed to defend myself against this outrageous charge, pointing out that i’d not gone beyond the crosswalk and that i could legally use the crosswalk since i had a complete set of disability permits, fumbling for the permits as i said this.

I was interrupted by a Great Light shining from the heavens, illuminating me like a squirming spirochete under a microscope.  I burst into laughter at the absurdity of my denials and blurted to the cop that while i might honestly argue that i didn’t think i was breaking the law, the blunt bottom line was that what i had just done was a bit antisocial, quite dangerous, and utterly foolish.  Not to mention hideously, sarcophagicly embarrassing.  He was mollified, i was mortified, and thanking him for giving me an Aha moment, i slunk off into the Center.

Afterwards, i got to thinking about the incident and how, the last year, i’ve been riding on the wild side.  I haven’t been doing it consciously, really, but what’s going on is that my body is wearing out and my mind is doing its best to keep up.  Part of my perversity is that this has not depressed me.  I still have dear friends, i’m having a good time when i have the energy to do things, i like going out to eat, i’m reading with increased voracity and great enjoyment, and i’m even still preserving things.  On the other hand, my affairs are in order, i’ve given away most of my non-essentials, and i’m ready to die.

Actually, that’s the problem.  I have so totally lost all fear of dying that i’ve fallen into the trap of not exercising reasonable prudence and have been, i realize, courting death.  Need to work on that.

Since last Thursday i’ve been paying attention to how i’m riding and have been upping the caution level.  After all, i’d like to stay alive a while longer so i can get some tales written for my new menu, not that i expect it to draw many readers.  Ummmm, yes, and to eat some more at Company and other favorite restaurants, hang out with friends, raid Carol’s Rangpur lime tree so i can make  more marmalade, that sort of thing.

Thanks again, Cop.  I hope you see me again so you can admire the enhanced wholesomeness of my riding.

Coming up 24th Street the other day with Pomme d’Amour crumbs on my face, i took a little detour down Balmy Alley.  It’s all been redone since my last visit, and although i was saddened at the departure of Sirron Norris’ Victorion, Defender of the Mission, it had a good run from 2007, and i was pleased that there were some new ones i liked.  Love how this one incorporates the ivy, or vice versa:

on Balmy Alley



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Let’s imagine that after he was elected President Obama began drifting to the right and instituted repressive surveillance of the population as well as clamping down on dissent.  During the rightward drift he increased the rate of privatization of public resources and even went so far as to privatize the White House, turning it at public expense into his palatial residence with glittering gold, elaborate woodwork, and lots of marble…but no public access.

Then he began pushing for closer economic and political ties with Canada, recognizing that the US was highly dependent on Canadian petroleum products and that it was thus important to maintain good relations with them.  When critics complained that he was giving up too much control to the Canadians, he declared martial law and instituted a crackdown.

But the citizens had had enough and began staging mass protests in Washington, so Obama called in troops to maintain order.  Nevertheless, the protests grew, and the military began firing into the unruly crowds.  Dozens died.  The protests grew larger.  And finally, Congress grew a spine and impeached Obama.  Nonsense, said Obama, I’m still President.

But then, as the protesters took over more and more government buildings, Congress decided that perhaps Obama should be arrested and charged with murder for the deaths of all those civilians.  Obama took this as a sign that he and Michelle and the kids should jump into a helicopter in the middle of the night for a quick vacation to their home town, Chicago, where their supporters vastly outnumbered the opposition.  Once there, they decided that this would be a nice time to visit Canada, but when they got to the airport to meet the private jet they’d chartered, troops loyal to Congress blocked their boarding.

Time to execute Plan B, an overland trip to Duluth, a hotbed of Canadian sympathizers, where a Canadian gunboat has made a voyage down Lake Superior and docked on a friendly visit.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the gates to the White House were thrown open and thousands of ordinary citizens swarmed onto the grounds to peer at the luxurious appointments, champagne cellars, and exotic animals in the private zoo…and to recover and spread out to dry reams of documents that had been tossed into the pond as Obama fled.  And yes, the documents were thrown into the pond because they detailed some of the corruption in the Obama administration.

As our tale ends, Obama has escaped from Duluth and resurfaced in Ottowa.  In Duluth and Chicago, the populace is clamoring for secession and incorporation into Canada and has taken over federal buildings while Canadian troops have been sent in to maintain order.  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared that he has no intention of invading the remainder of the United States and is merely providing a few troops in border areas to protect pro-Canadian citizens and those of Canadian ethnicity.

Too far fetched?  Ummm, take a look at Ukraine.  Hint:  Duluth = Sevastopol, etc.

For today’s pic, a favorite switchbox, off 24th Street between Mission and Valencia.



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Big Sister’s Response

My readers will recall that on 17 February i posted here a letter i’d sent to Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Protector of the People, in which i took strong issue with her apologizing to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for tapping her cell phone while remaining utterly unapologetic about tapping mine.

Here is Big Sister’s response on 26 February.  I’ve taken the liberty of redacting my name from her salutation since i’d written to her from an alias in a feeble little attempt to make things a tiny bit more difficult for the 24/7 surveillance maintained by our national security apparatus over all of us dissidents and potential terrorists, but otherwise, not one word has been omitted:


Dear Mr. [redacted]:


Thank you for writing to express your support for alleged National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance of government leaders of our allies.  I sincerely apologize for the delay in my response.

Dear Big Sister,

I find it rather amusing that you use the word “alleged” here since Angela and the whole world learned about this surveillance by reading documents leaked by Edward Snowden that made front page news when they were reproduced in their entirety.

As you are aware, recent news reports have alleged that the NSA conducted surveillance on foreign leaders of our allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as other countries and institutions that are friends and allies to the United States.

 Again, what’s this “alleged”?  Top Secret NSA documents describing this surveillance were released for everyone to read.

Please know that I strongly support U.S. intelligence programs like the NSA’s collection under Section 215 of the PATRIOT ACT and 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which I believe have been essential in preventing terrorist attacks at home and abroad.  However, I am concerned about the potential costs of conducting surveillance on foreign leaders of allied nations.

 You ignore here repeated testimony before Congress that surveillance of the communications of US civilians has not prevented a single terrorist attack.  And yet you are concerned about ‘potential costs’ of surveillance of allied foreign leaders, but you make no mention of what those costs might be.

You may be interested to know that on January 17, 2014, during his speech on proposed reforms to NSA programs, President Obama announced that “unless there is a compelling national security purpose – we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies.”  I support this approach and several of the other changes proposed by the President, and look forward to working with the NSA and with the White House on these issues going forward.

 So you and Obama have caved to international pressure and have stopped monitoring foreign leaders (or at least you say you’ve stopped).  Again, my point remains that any reasonable person can see far more utility in monitoring the communications of foreign leaders  than there is in monitoring every word uttered by loyal citizens.

Again, thank you for your letter.  While we may not agree on this particular issue, I hope you will continue to be in touch on issues of importance to you.  If you have any additional comments or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841.

No, we do not agree on this particular issue. I believe that your vociferous support for the gathering of intelligence on loyal American citizens goes far beyond the wildest dreams of the Gestapo, the Stasi, and the NKVD and that if you are not stopped, you will lead us into a complete police state.  Well, without the monitoring of highly placed allied political figures, which apparently you think of as “professional courtesy”.

With Senators like you as our Democratic friends, what need do we have for Republican enemies?

Sincerely yours,

Matte Gray
Loyal American

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Further information about my position on issues of concern to California and the nation are available at my website,  And please visit my YouTube, Facebook and Twitter for more ways to communicate with me.


Whew. Hard to come up with a good pic after that, but here’s one of a citizen who’s just discovered he’s being bugged:


MACE1 Monitored Citizen


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Horticultural Disappointments

Well yes, i admit that i’ve succumbed to the sin of pride on occasion and posted pics of local floral extravaganzas.  Worse yet, i’d posted pics of my houseplants i wanted to show off.

So in compensation, i’ll share a couple of horticultural disappointments.  First, the “banana tree” on Hartford Street.

I don’t ride very often in the block of Hartford between 17th and 18th, but last year i noticed that this palm-like tree i’d thought of as a banana tree was sporting a large inflorescence.  I’m a sucker for large inflorescences, as folks will have noticed from my frequent photos of various agaves in bloom, so of course i snapped a pic of this one.


"Banana Tree" inflorescence

I was just fascinated by that three-foot-long inflorescence and kept swinging back by there for weeks, expecting it to erupt into a brightly colored blossom two feet across.  Umm, yes, until one day when i swung in close to examine the tip and looked up inside there.

"banana" inflorescence closeup

Click on the photo and look closely around the edge of the central shaded circle.  Those are dozens of miniscule flowers.  Whew.

The other great disappointment occurred in my own kitchen window, where i’ve had a little cactus for going on twenty years, so long that i forgot its name ages ago when it was clear that it wasn’t going to do anything except sit there obstinately.

Then finally last week my eye swept past it and skidded to a stop.  What!!!!!  Is that a bud?   Yow!   Nearly broke my leg getting a cup of water to it and then nursed it impatiently for several days until it finally opened.

ungrateful cactus

Yep, there it is.  My reward for twenty years of patient tending, a pale greenish yellow blossom fully three-quarters of a centimeter across.  Oh, and it lasted only one day.  And OK, i’ll admit it –  it blessed me with a second bloom a couple of days later.

Glad i wasted no effort remembering its name.

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Resonant Chamber

The other day a friend sent me a fascinating video clip of the most amazing music box device i’d ever seen.  Bear with me here, click on that link now, and watch the video.

Pretty amazing, huh?  I was just stunned, played it over and over, and sent it to a number of friends, most of whom reported enjoying it.  One of them posted it to his Facebook page and told me that it was an overwhelmingly successful post.

I watched it a couple more times, and then noticed something a bit strange.  And if you haven’t yet clicked on the link and watched the damn thing, please do so before you read farther.  I’m serious.  This is a spoiler alert!!!!  Maybe go ahead and watch it twice.

Here’s what caught my eye.  I was watching the section over on the left side with only two strings that functions as a horizontal string bass and noticed that the mechanism that was acting as the left hand and stopping the strings was unlike the other multistring sections in that instead of performing rather like mechanical fingers with joints more or less corresponding to the human wrist, hand, and fingers, the string bass version had a tip somewhat like a two-jointed finger but used a solenoid to throw the “finger” out to the correct point before it then clamped down on the string.

And then i thought, hmmm, must have been a lot of advances in electromechanical solenoid technology in recent decades, as i could not imagine a solenoid having anywhere near that length of stroke.  Went online and browsed around, and the longest stroke i found after a few minutes of searching was way less than one inch.  And all the solenoids i could see had coils with diameters at least five times that of the shaft….unlike the skinny thing on this device.  Worse yet, we do not yet seem to have a solenoid that can be thrown for only part of its stroke, they’re either all or nothing.  So that solenoid looks to me to be impossible.

Then then i looked at the mechanism of the mechanical fingers on the multistring sections, and it was sort of like having my first question about religion and the unsatisfactory answer leading to more questions, which led to more unsatisfactory answers.  In this case,  the functionality of the mechanical fingers also did not seem plausible under close scrutiny.

Oh, and then i noticed things like those vertical harp-like strings that, if you look closely as the camera pans around, you’ll notice are not actually struck by anything and are there purely to make the device look more complex.  Well, OK, an engineer friend pointed out that they might provide some resonant harmonies.

The air was already almost completely out of the balloon, but i went ahead and clicked on and discovered that the name of the company is Computer Animated Music.  Yep.  It’s all fake.  And that said, much of it is quite entertaining.  But this video is the only one of theirs i saw that at first viewing looked like it might be of a real device.

Folks, people are out to fool you, and much of the time not in innocent ways like this one.

Take, for example, the current clamor for us to start bombing Russia to ensure democracy for the freedom-loving folks in Ukraine now that Russia has taken over Crimea.

What i’ve seen very little of in discussion of this crisis is some basic history.  The blunt fact is that in 1954 Comrade Khrushchev turned over governance of Crimea, which was then a part of Russia, to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine, but leaving Crimea an autonomous republic.  Because dissent in those days was rewarded with a one-way ticket to Siberia, there was little resistance in Crimea at the time even though 90% of the Crimeans were ethnic Russians, spoke Russian rather than Ukrainian, and had no ties to Ukraine other than having raided them for slaves back in the good old days a few centuries ago.  After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine gained its independence, which left the ethnic Russians as a minority in the nation as a whole even though they were an overwhelming majority in Crimea and in the eastern provinces.

Flash forward to 2014.  When President Yanukovich decreed that he would not continue the push to get Ukraine into the European Union but rather would seek closer ties with Russia, the people revolted and staged a revolution.  Yanukovich fled to Russia and the ethnically Russian parts of Ukraine began their own counter-revolt.  Dissent is particularly strong in Crimea, which as best i can tell remains an autonomous republic where the population has steadfastly refused to learn to speak Ukrainian for the past sixty years, and the Crimean government has scheduled for 16 March a referendum on whether to exercise its autonomy and leave Ukraine for Russia.

What we’re not hearing very much on the news now is that the United States, passionate defender of democracy that it is and absolute advocate of freedom and self-determination for the Ukrainians, is just flat hysterical over the idea of self-determination for the Crimeans.  I mean, since over 90% of ’em don’t even speak Ukrainian, guess who they’re gonna vote to join?  Well, if they’re allowed to vote.  So now we have the hideous spectacle of Putin clamoring for a free vote while Obama declares it should not take place.  Yes, Obama is arguing that people who have endured sixty years of bondage to Ukraine should not be emancipated.

It’s always good to look closely at the mechanism of our music boxes.

A timely pic:

European Collision Center


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March Food Festival

OK, i’m calling it a festival, but it’s really just a smörgåsbord of culinary updates.

In the restaurant news, i keep going back to Company and continue to find it my perfect match with its combination of charming and friendly staff, relaxed and quiet atmosphere, and superb food – the latest delight being perfectly sauteed scallops on a bed of impossibly tiny black lentils, a combination i’d never dreamed of that worked wonderfully.

Another good experience in dining out occurred when i worked up my nerve to give Dante’s Table a second chance after the disappointing first visit.  This time i confined myself to a Bianca Pizza and am much relieved to be able to say that it was delicious, one of the better pizzas i’ve had lately.  You are forgiven, Dirk, and i’ll be back.

The bad news is that Pearl’s Deluxe Burger will be closing next week its outpost at 6th and Market, rent raised more than they could pay and still break even, so to get the best burger bargain in the city you’ll have to go to their other location at Post and Jones.  Can you get a better burger downtown?  Sure, but not at that price, not even close.


About fresh bread, there is now a competitor to the Acme sourdough baguette and the Thorough Bread baguette, the loaf from Sour Flour, which you can get at a number of places in the city (see their Locations) but which i get at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market, where they are currently hidden in the far back corner at the Stall From Hell reserved for the newest vendor.

It’s so rich and flavorful that you can slice it very very thin, surmount it with some Gouda, sprinkle it with black sesame seeds, and throw it in the toaster oven until it’s all crisp and bubbly.

"Sour Flour" bread toasted with Gouda and black sesame seeds


Regarding the fresh produce, we’re well into green garlic season, and i’ll be serving it braised as a green vegetable to visiting Canadians later this week.

And joy of joys, Cliff Hamada is now bringing to market Marsh grapefruit.  No, not from his groves, since the Marsh grapefruit is virtually extinct, but personally plucked from the old tree beside his house.

Finally, my friend Carol dropped by yesterday with a big paper bag of her Rangpur limes. Get in line, folks, as they sure do make fine marmalade. I went in the kitchen this morning to start prepping them and discovered that she’d not only picked and delivered the damn things but also washed them for me.  Hell, it looks like she detailed them with a toothbrush.

I mean, is she angling for two jars outta this batch?

And speaking of jars:  Does a Bay Area reader have a use for a couple dozen quart-size canning jars, a mixture of various brands (Mason, Kerr, etc), some traditional lid and some wide mouth, all with screw bands but no lids.  I make nothing in quarts and want to pass these on to someone who can use them.  Here’s the Contact Form, or call me.


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