Journal: 2016

Kurt Ettler

Something light to begin the new year, a tale from my last visit to Germany in January, 1988.

In Berlin i stayed at Toms Haus, a Kreuzberg B&B owned by a Swiss emigrant named Kurt Ettler until his death and its closure in the late ’90’s.  It was conveniently located, just a few blocks from the KaDeWe with its legendary food hall for my daytime entertainment.  It was also within walking distance of three gay bars for my nightime entertainment.

But this is about Kurt.

He was an entertaining conversationalist, enough so that we were having too much fun talking for him to make many interruptions to correct my grammar although he did at one point break down and mention that the one thing i could do to make a dramatic improvement in my German would be to please, please, please always remember to stick the subject after the verb in dependent clauses because my frequent failures to do so were painful to the German ear.

He also extended my vocabulary by pointing out that since i wanted a pair of Bundeswehr Springerstiefel, i could find an excellent price for them at a motorcycle shop across town, and while i was in there i could pick up a replacement visor for his motorcycle helmet.  That was an entertaining expedition since the guys at the shop knew absolutely zero English but had a sense of humor and were able to laugh with me over my talking around words i didn’t know in German, which they then supplied.  Alas,  while the visor they supplied Kurt fit perfectly, my jump boots never got comfortable.

Better yet, Kurt gave me a chance to rise to the occasion, and who doesn’t love that?  Well, if you’re successful.  In this case, one evening near the end of my stay he knocked on my door in a panic because he was cooking dinner for friends and suddenly his oven had gone off and wouldn’t relight.  I asked myself what made him think i was the most practical of his guests and then wondered, hmmm, do German ovens use the same sort of safety measure that American ones do?  A device that shuts off the gas supply if the pilot goes out and requires holding a button down while you insert a match to relight the pilot and let a thermocouple get hot?

So i got down on the floor and pried off the protective panel at the bottom of the oven, and sure enough, there were all kinds of wires and tubes in there and something that looked like it might be an extinguished pilot light.  And yep, a knob with three positions just like in America – on, off, and something else that by default had to be “pilot”.  And yes, a conveniently accessible red button.  So in a couple of minutes he had his oven going again, and in another minute an explanation of how the system worked so he could relight the oven himself if it ever failed again.  Great fun and besides, the pleasure of feeling competent.

I told about my having picked up a new visor for his motorcycle helmet, but now’s a good time to mention that Kurt was the most complete leather fetishist i’ve ever met.  Head to toe. Seven days a week.  Hell, maybe even 24/7 since i would not be surprised if he’d had leather pajamas.

My favorite memory of him, though, was his travel tales, most of which involved thwarting obnoxious officialdom.  Like the time he was going through customs on a visit to this country and had an encounter that started out rather badly.

See, when he’d opened his suitcase, the agent was highly interested to see that it contained little but leather, and seeking to embarrass him, started holding items up for everyone to see and inquiring loudly, What is this?

Dis is a pair of leder pants.

And what is this?

Dis is a leder shirt.

And what is this?

Dis is a pair of leder shorts.

And what is this?

Dis is a leder jockstrap.

And finally, Why do you have all this leather clothing?

Becauss i am allergic to silk.

At which point, the audience patiently waiting behind him during the show gave such a roar of approval that the agent, seeing he had lost the game, slammed Kurt’s suitcase shut and waved him in.

Meanwhile, who says PG&E lacks a sense of humor?

PG&E substation, Petaluma

 

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Eatsa

Imagine how much safer we’d be if everyone routinely carried a loaded handgun.

 

I drove back to the city to have lunch with Sybil, and she led us to Eatsa at 121 Spear Street.   What a delightful adventure that was.

Eatsa is certainly the most high tech eating experience i’ve ever had.  It’s located in the Rincon Center, positioned to ambush you on your way in to Yank Sing.

Just inside the door, you stop at one of the terminals, order your meal, and pay with your credit card.  No cash. No waiters.  The menu is short, just six bowls to choose from – all vegetarian, all featuring quinoa, and all $6.95.  The only sides available are their own porcini-dusted potato chips, quacamole, and about a half dozen non-alcoholic cold drinks.

Eatsa order points

 

Step away from the terminal and almost instantly your name appears on a screen high on the wall above a bunch of cubbies in the next room.

Eatsa - the cubbies

In no time at all, literally three or four minutes, you’ll notice that your name has reached the top of the list with a cubby number beside it.

Eatsa - Cubby number

Sure enough, your complete order is in that cubby, piping hot…well, if it’s supposed to be.

P1020489

Tap twice, and the door opens, allowing you to remove your order and take it to the countertop running all along the wall or to a table on the patio.

Eatsa - Open cubby

I had the Burrito Bowl, consisting of Guacamole, Salsa Fresca, Queso Mexicano, Asada Portabello, Grilled Corn, Warm Lemon-Herb Toasted Quinoa, Tortilla Chips, and Seasoned Pinto Beans.  It was quite tasty and the portion was more than adequate.

What a strange experience.  The sole visible employee was a guy at the door whose only function seemed to be to answer questions from newbies, not necessary for Sybil, she being an old hand.

Would i go back?  Ummm, yes, if i happened to be right there and hungry and since i’m a bit curious about a couple of the other bowls.  Most likely, the reason i’d go back would be to take someone there for a wonderfully strange dining experience.  Well, or to take a photo of the artfully arranged bowl with the lid off.

Thanks, Sybil.

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Aeon

Don’tcha just love it when you discover an excellent new website?  Well, i did a couple of weeks ago thanks to a link in an excellent old website, SAR.  The new website is Aeon,  a digital magazine with superb essays and breathtaking videos.

I lean strongly toward the written word as my source of information, but occasionally i’ll grit my teeth and watch a video.  Today’s featured video on Aeon is nine whole minutes long, and you really do need to watch it all the way through for the point to come crashing home.  But take nine minutes.  It’s worth it.  Click HERE.

Meanwhile, the Alhambra Theater on Polk Street in San Francisco:

Alhambra Theater

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Private Browsing

Well, yes, after a flirtation with Google Chrome, i’ve returned to using Firefox as my Internet browser, so of course their notices of their new Private Browsing feature have come to my attention, and i’ve tried it.

And i’m usually too lazy to do two extra clicks to get to the private version of the browser.  After all, i’m so thoroughly outed in every possible way, not to mention having been for years a vociferous critic of the NSA and all the rest of our layers and layers of citizen surveillance, that i really don’t feel like i have much to lose, being so old and sick and all.

But still.  While ago i ran across one of the finest ads i’ve seen in years.  Do sit back and enjoy this thing.

 

Meanwhile, Petaluma has a population of only 58,000, but this doesn’t mean that we lack the sophistication of the city.  No indeed, we have something for everyone here, including this facility for those who now and then need a little cage time.  The listed hours are the permitted departure times.  For the full experience you’ll want to arrive shortly before 4:00PM on Saturday.  Might want to bring a jug of water and a pail.

cage hours

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Hypocrisy on the Range

I’ve long found it a source of amusement that areas of this country in which anti-government sentiment runs highest are routinely those which enjoy the largest government benefits, and this has been brought into sharp focus by the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation having been led by a man who currently has a half million dollar Small Business Administration loan and whose father owes the government a million dollars for grazing his cattle for decades on public land without paying for this privilege.  I mean, these are wealthy Mormons who see nothing wrong with taking government aid, even illegally, while at the same time claiming that the government is abusing them.

Here’s an article that details some of the hypocrisy.

7 kinds of government subsidies those angry ranchers get that you don’t

One thing i noticed about God, back when He and i were speaking with each other daily, is that He tells you what you want to hear, so i wasn’t surprised that He had told Ammon Bundy to occupy Malheur.

Well, i’ve recently been chatting with God,  and He says i need to follow Ammon’s example and take me a modest little chunk of federal land for a cottage and garden.  Nothing excessive, just a tiny parcel of shorefront on Mountain Lake in the Presidio.

Oh, and don’t worry, i’ve arranged for some patriots in pickups to maintain a security perimeter.

Meanwhile, blowing in the wind:

Blowing in the wind

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The Hypotenuse

It’s good news that female executives in California, led last year by Oracle’s Safra Catz at $53 million, now enjoy improved compensation packages on par with men. It would be even better news if the contract laborers who scrub the executive bathroom had got a raise up to $15/hr.

 

As children in our checkerboard grid towns and cities we learned, other things being equal, to take the hypotenuse when there was one.

When i first moved here i immediately went exploring for the best route to downtown from my apartment complex immediately above Jess Ave at the top center of the map below.  The logical route for a car was to take Graylawn down to Payran Street, turn east to Washington Street and follow Washington downtown.  Alas, Washington is one of the very busiest streets in Petaluma and has no bike lanes.  Worse yet, the sidewalks on either side are so rough that they’re not really Segway material.

Lynch Creek Trail route

The map shows a route from my apartment complex along the west bank of the river (i’m immediately to the left of the “m” in Petaluma River), but this route, built by the Corps of Engineers when they were constructing the flood wall to protect the housing south of me, is utterly unimproved and is such a rough trail that it can be taken only at a slow walk on the Segway.  However, the route on the east side of the river is the Lynch Creek Trail and is maintained for bicycles, so i can take it at full speed.  Here it is looking north toward the Payran Street Bridge.

Lynch Creek Trail between Payran and Lakeville Streets

The only problem is that when i moved here some serious construction was underway and the trail was blocked at Edith Street

Fortunately, i fairly soon discovered that if i took Payran just to Madison Street, i could follow it to Lakeville and with just a jog to the right get onto the Lynch Creek Trail south along the river (not shown on this map) and across a new bicycle bridge to downtown, which was not only scenic and shorter but also avoided the horrors of Washington Street.

And then, joy of joys, they finally finished the construction of the Lynch Creek Trail at the Lakeville Bridge, so now i can swoop under the Payran Street Bridge onto the trail and follow it all the way to downtown. Much lovelier, much safer, and even shorter.  Here’s the NWP railroad bridge at Lakeville Street with the Hunt and Behrens mill in the background

NWP railroad bridge at Lakeville Street

So yes, take the hypotenuse when you can.

Oh, and it’s not a hypotenuse, but i can take the Lynch Creek Trail north from the Payran Street Bridge and go through a bicycle/pedestrian-only underpass beneath the freeway and get to the farmers’ market and some of my new medical specialists in half the distance required by car.  Here’s the Lynch Creek Trail looking north from the Payran Street Bridge.

Lynch Creek Trail

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Prius Bingo

Nestlé recently had in the Chronicle a full page ad going on and on about how many millions of gallons of water they’re now saving in their various state-wide operations and how many more millions they will be saving as they implement new conservation measures. It’s all save, save, save for a full page color ad, without a single word about how much they’re using.

 

I’ve long been wanting to do a post on Prius Bingo to popularize my new game among Prius drivers, but i’d been waiting until i’d actually won a game.  I mean, doesn’t the creator of a game typically wait until he has actually won before he starts popularizing the game?

And yes, it’s not horseshoes, but i got so close to winning the other day that i thought i’d go ahead and do the post now, thinking that my near victory would inspire others to play the game, win, and send me dramatic photos of their triumph that i might post them here.

And besides, if i don’t post this soon, somebody else is going to claim that he invented Prius Bingo and steal my thunder.

So here’s the playing board:

Prius Bingo

 

It’s the Energy screen for the 2nd generation Prius, and the relevant portions for the game of Prius Bingo are the six vertical columns on the left side of the screen, each representing the MPG achieved in a succession of five-minute intervals.  The screen is read from right to left, with the most recent interval on the right, and as you can see, for the last five intervals i managed to max the MPG rating out at 100MPG.  I did not Bingo, however, because for the first interval i got only about 85 MPG and needed another 100MPG interval on the right to push the offending 85MPGer off the left.  Alas, conditions had got so bad that by the time the next five-minute interval had elapsed, i showed barely 75MPG.

So what’s the trick for winning?

Well, you achieve a 100 MPG rating for a bar only by reducing the time spent with the engine running to a small fraction of the five-minute interval of the bar, and you can do this only under two circumstances.  First, if you happen to be going down a hill for almost all the period.  Or second, if you happen to be ambling along at 25 or so on flat ground so that you are powered almost entirely by the motor.

Unfortunately, your battery will hold nowhere near enough wattage to keep the vehicle moving on flat ground for 30 minutes, so you actually need to rely on downgrades to keep recharging the battery.  Alas, what goes down, must go up, so right off the batt, success at Prius Bingo depends on finding the right terrain as well as the right road speeds.  The reason i almost Bingoed above was a humongous traffic jam that reduced northbound travel for the lower third of Marin County to speeds under 20MPH.  We were all in it together, but i, at least, passed the time by entertaining myself with Prius Bingo.

One cannot open a sports page nowadays without reading of illegal performance enhancement and other means of gaming the system, and it is owing to this unfortunate aspect of human behavior that Prius Bingo, like all games, must have strict rules.

Rule 1.  No creeping along on the shoulder.  Your Prius must remain within the normal travel path of the road.

And the corollary:

Rule 2.  No impeding traffic by traveling at speeds significantly slower than your fellow vehicles.

Obviously if we didn’t have these rules, every Prius would descend the Grapevine on I-5 into the Central Valley at 15MPH and, if he were not run over by several large trucks going 85MPH, rack up a Bingo every time.

Meanwhile, a Petaluma neighbor also given to unconventional vehicles.

Petaluma neighbor

 

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Oakdale Cheese

I found Oakdale Cheese in 1992 at the San Mateo Farmers’ Market, which i discovered when i started working at Oracle.  This was also when i first started frequenting farmers’ markets and getting to know vendors, so Oakdale Cheese is my oldest vendor.

The first Oakdale product i ate was their quark.  I’d discovered quark when i was in the Army in Germany in the mid-sixties but had not seen it in this country.  I just love the stuff, it tasting much like sour cream but substituting protein for all but a very small fraction of the fat and thus actually being good for you.

In recent years i’ve discovered at upscale groceries other brands of quark, but Oakdale’s is the best, and cheapest, so i still buy it avidly at the Marin Farmers’ Market, where Walter and his son John alternate manning the stall.  And of course by now i’ve sampled a number of their other products and regularly buy their aged Gouda and quark brownies.  After twenty-something years of eating their cheeses, i finally tried their smoked Gouda and was astonished that a product i’d turned my nose up at without tasting in Amsterdam was actually delicious.

When Walter first started selling the aged Gouda, his production was limited and he did not display it at the farmers’ market but rather, kept it under the counter for the cognoscenti who knew to ask for it.  That was a fine marketing ploy for a good cheese, but now John, who’s taken over production from his father, makes enough of it that it’s on display with the rest of the cheeses.  I mentioned to John that perhaps he ought to consider producing a Gouda aged even longer as a premium product, and he admitted that he’d done a few wheels of this for the family.  I gnashed my teeth.  See, the problem is that the wheels have to be turned over every week during the aging process, and it’s a question of manpower.

Oh, and a word of warning about those brownies:  don’t taste them because one bite is all it takes to hook you.  For life.

So anyhow, after decades of buying their cheese, i decided i’d do a visit to their store in Oakdale, especially since John offered to give me a tour of the cheese making area.  I had the wit to bring my camera and was able to hang around long enough to document the making of a new (at least to me) product, a goat milk cheddar.

When i came in on the process, John had already added the rennet, and it had worked its magic under the surface.

John Bulk, making goat cheddar

 

Here he is, feeling of the curds.

John Bulk, feeling of the curds

 

Then he starts draining off the whey, which goes into a tank to be sold as a food supplement for the dairy cattle that provide the milk.  Going full circle.  And as the draining starts, he inserts into the vat machinery these grills (which i later learned are properly called “cheese knives”) that rotate slowly on eccentric cams, stirring the curds as they move back and forth from one end of the vat to the other so that over the course of a few minutes they cover every square inch of the vat.  Do i love big machines or what?

Stirring the goat cheddar curds

 

When enough of the whey has been drained off, he removes the grills and inserts baffles at both ends to squeeze the curds to the center of the vat.

Curds being squeezed to the middle of the vat

 

Then he puts more baffles onto the top to weight the curds down.

Weighting down the curds

 

He throws those grills on top for more weight and then for even more weight puts into the middle a ten gallon bucket of water (unphotographed owing to being too low tech).

More weight for the curds

 

The next step is to remove all the weights and then use this square cutter to portion the curds into ten-pound blocks.  He does this by feel since of course you can’t see into the whey on the surface.

Cutting the curds

 

Meanwhile, his helper has put out rows of molds on the table across the way, and John reaches into the whey and pulls out blocks of curds.

Lifting out the blocks of curds

 

Once he gets many of the blocks out, the level of the whey has receded and you can see the astonishing precision with which he made the cuts without being able to see where he was cutting.

The cut blocks

 

He puts the blocks into the molds and the helper puts caps onto the tops of the blocks.

Putting the cap onto the block

 

The helper stacks the molds up and puts a baffle onto the top for the squeezing process.

The molds ready for pressing

 

Then the molds are pressed.

The molds are pressed

 

During the pressing, the vat is scrubbed clean with a detergent and sodium hydroxide, rinsed with super hot water, and is ready for the next batch.

The freshly scrubbed vat

 

And finally, the cheeses are unmolded.  John was a bit annoyed at this point because he’d used a little too much pressure in the molding process, which made it more difficult to separate the wheels from that fine mesh you see in the foreground.  Looks to me like there are so many variables in play that making cheese is as much art as science.

Unmolding the cheese

 

The next step is to move the wheels into a brine bath for a few days before they go onto the shelves in the curing room, but after watching all that work i was too tired to document that step.  The least i can do, though, to end this essay is provide a shot of the helper waxing cheeses in the curing room.

Waxing cheeses in the curing room

 

I found this whole procedure fascinating, and i highly recommend John’s cheeses.  The quark is his only soft cheese, but he makes a number of hard cheeses with both cow and goat milk, mostly Gouda and Cheddar but including a variety of smoked and flavored cheeses.  Tell ‘im Matte sent you and try ’em all.

Late Note:  As of 1 August 2016, Walter and Lenneke have officially transferred ownership of the company to John and his wife Jessica.

 

Coda:  Three of my favorite vendors have taken over from their fathers since i met them – John Bulk from Walter, Cliff Hamada from Yukio, and Eric Schletewitz, whose father i never met because it was Eric as a teenager who pioneered the family’s entry into farmers’ markets.  Warms my heart that i’m following generations of them.  Hell, the Yerena’s sons all helped out at the market, and their grandchildren are now making appearances.

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Spam

Arguably the best zinger so far of the campaign season: Rubio responding to Cruz’s criticism of Rubio’s advertisements on Spanish-language media by wondering how Cruz knew what he was saying since Cruz doesn’t speak Spanish.

 

I use two spam filters.  I pay for Akismet to screen out the hundreds of spurious comments on my website that are simply carrying advertising, and i get gmail spam screening for free.  Ummm, or at least at no direct cost.  Both do such a superlative job that a month or so passes between the spams that slip through. Actually, the few that reach me are sometimes highly entertaining, like the recent one from Ed, who writes, “I reaching out to you to let you know that with few modification and some tweaks in between your website perform better… I would like to offer a free consultation wherein I can provide solutions that would not just help you out convert visitors to client but also help you save time and money.  I would like to extend help using my expertise and years of experience in building websites are cost effective and hit my clients goals. Let me know when you are available to speak and I will be in touch.”

I thought about replying and suggesting a partnership:  His website skills and my English.  And then i realized that well, he’s obviously just blasting out spam emails to contact addresses he finds on websites, otherwise he’d know that Matte has nothing to sell and is thus quite happy with the cost effectivity of his website.

Meanwhile, what i love most about the Bay Area is that it’s only the ides of February and Spring is already here.

Rosmarinus officinalis, trailing variety

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New Route

There are major hurdles before fuel cell EV’s become practical, most particularly the lack of fueling stations and the cost of producing the hydrogen fuel, but i have to say i do find fascinating the concept of being able to drink my vehicle’s exhaust.

 

I took a new route to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market last week that turned out quite entertaining.  Drove down 101 to Larkspur, parked for free, and jumped on the Golden Gate ferry, which goes directly to the Ferry Building.

Well, actually, i didn’t just jump onto the ferry.  I don’t make anything that easy anymore.  In the first place, i neglected to think about what day of the week it was and got there an hour and a half early because the weekend schedule is much reduced.  Good thing i did, though, because that allowed me to try for quite some time to pound the ticket machine into letting me buy a ticket with my Clipper card, which was clearly listed as one of the payment possibilities.  After breaking down and using my credit card to buy the ticket, i discovered when i entered the gate that i didn’t need a ticket at all because i could have just swiped my Clipper card at the gate.

I hadn’t ridden the Larkspur ferry since the late seventies, and even though you can see the handsome terminal from 101, i’d forgot how interesting it is up close.

Larkspur Ferry Terminal

 

And, as we began our voyage, from the water with ferries tied up.

Larkspur Ferry Terminal

 

What a gorgeous ride this is.  Mt. Tamalpais rises majestically to the west.

Mt. Tamalpais

 

And to the north, along the shore, there’s aquatic life.

Aquatic life

 

And then, as we get out to the mouth of San Pablo Bay, we get a good view of Marin County’s very first gated community – dating from 1852, located on scenic Point San Quentin, and boasting great bay views.  A friend of mine who lived there reported that his unit did not have a good view and that his complaints to the management were to no avail.  That said, the staff is so well trained that there is not a single recorded instance of a successful break-in.

San Quentin

 

As you get out into San Pablo Bay, you get good views of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

 

Another.

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

 

And then, as you get out into San Francisco Bay, you pass by Angel Island.  This is Ft. McDowell, in the middle of the east side of the island.

P1020677

 

And at the southeast tip of the island, Point Blunt.

Point Blunt

 

It’s illegal to ride across the bay without taking a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, but that damn thing has been photographed so well by so many that no shot of mine was worth posting.  Here’s one of the Bay Bridge instead.

P1020694

 

And of Treasure Island.

Treasure Island

 

Finally, we approach the Ferry Building although i somehow neglected to take a photo of the building as we got up to it.

San Francisco waterfront

 

Stay tuned for a photo essay of the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market.

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