October 2016

Most Memorable Dinner

Don’t worry. The revolution won’t occur until after the next economic crash.


In my heyday i got great pleasure out of cooking elaborate dinners for friends, and i turned out some good ones.

The one i remember most fondly, though, was for my friends Jeanette and Ron.  Both previously married and divorced, they’d been living in sin for several years when her daughter by her earlier marriage got old enough to ask whether they were married.  Oops.

Oh well, why not?  So they ran down to city hall and for just a few minutes and a few dollars picked up a certificate to brandish.  On the way home, there being no rush to consummate the union, they stopped by my place for dinner for eight of us.

And since it was a Special Occasion, i pulled out all the stops and served quite a few courses.  I can’t recall all the courses now, but i started with Julia’s Potage Crème d’Oseille (Cream of Sorrel Soup) from Vol 1 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking served cold because it tastes better that way.

Next course was a cold appetizer, artichokes i’d boiled, gently opened up enough to de-choke, and filled with caper mayonnaise and a few bay shrimp.  (I used the leftover egg whites to make the shell for my chocolate pecan pie for dessert.)

Can’t remember the other vegetable courses, I had on the stove in a holding pattern a pot of spinach braised in butter, also from Julia’s Vol 1, and while we were eating the soup and appetizers, i sauteed in butter and olive oil a pan of diced potatoes à la Julia.  Put those on the table in bowls, whirled around, stepped back into the kitchen to fling open the oven, and extracted the entree, Tranches de Jambon Morvandelle (Ham slices in a Madeira cream sauce).

Then i lifted the lid off it and, standing there ten feet from the expectant table, shouted “Oh shit!”

I would like to say that i’d planned this to provide some levity, but even though there was levity in abundance, some of ’em falling out of their damn chairs, it was unplanned.

Nor was there the disaster i’d thought i was looking at.  All that had happened is that the top film of the sauce had broken, a problem that was fixed with a quick stir.

I got a lot of compliments for that dinner, pretty much equally divided between those for the food and the ones for the entertainment.

Meanwhile, speaking of entertainment, a culinary offering at my local Lucky’s.

boxed water


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Proposition Duplicity

I knew virtually nothing about Kaine before his debate, and now i know too much.


Around the turn of the twentieth century, progressive Republicans backed the establishment in many states of the public initiative process through which citizens could bypass their state legislatures and place laws on the ballot themselves.  This would have worked out better if the public were better informed.

Alas, what has happened is that vested interests have learned to use this process to fill the ballots with propositions that would stuff their pockets and to pour millions of dollars into misleading, at best, advertising.

I say, “at best” because in many cases the advertising contains outright lies, as in the Roman Catholic Church’s ads for Prop 8 stating that if it didn’t pass, the clergy would be forced to marry gays when in fact they would be permitted to marry them.  And what, Your Grace, is the 9th Commandment?

Add to these measures the referenda put on the ballots by legislators, and you end up with ballot lists so long that they tax the attention span of the average voter.

Both sorts of propositions, though, are routinely shot through with hidden agenda.  Take a look at California’s November ballot propositions.


Proposition 53 – This one is ostensibly to rein in cost overruns on projects like the Bullet Train, but actually it’s funded exclusively ($4.5 million) by Stop Blank Checks, which, it turns out is funded exclusively by Dean and Joan Cortopassi, wealthy Stockton agribusinessfolk who are trying to pervert the initiative process to block a water project they oppose.


Proposition 56 – Opposition is partly funded by California Citizens Against Special Interests and Wasteful Taxes, which when you dig down you discover is itself funded by tobacco companies and retailers.  But advertising for the opposition is mainly funded to the tune of $60 million dollars directly by tobacco companies.  No surprise here since passage would sharply increase state taxes on tobacco products.


Proposition 63 – Gavin Newsom’s proposition regulating sales of firearms and ammunition.  The opposition is funded by the Coalition for Civil Liberties, whose primary funder, go figure, is the NRA. Ahhh, those civil liberties.


Proposition 65 – Funded exclusively by plastic bag manufacturers, this proposition requires grocery and certain other retail stores to charge customers for single-use bags and deposit their receipts for these bags into a fund earmarked for environmental purposes.  Sounds good, huh?  Well, until you look at the loopholes and see that it’s funded by plastic bag manufacturers who have poured millions of dollars into the campaign for it and the campaign against Proposition 67, which doesn’t have the loopholes and would severely cut into the proliferation of these bags, a major source of pollution in this country.


But the grand prize goes to Michael Weinstein, founder of AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its president at a current salary of $400,000 a year.  This is called doing well by doing good.  Yes, the foundation undoubtedly did a lot of good in its early years, but oh my goodness it sure has come under a lot of fire nowadays what with the discovery that its clinics had overbilled Medicare and other sources of support by millions of dollars.  And then there’s its zeal in filing lawsuits to intimidate those who would stand it its way and its rapacious behavior against smaller AIDS organizations without the resources to defend themselves.  Etc. etc.

Weinstein has outdone himself with a pair of propositions on the November ballot, both funded to the tune of millions of dollars by his AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

First, Proposition 60, which ostensibly calls simply for a requirement that male porn performers wear condoms.  Well, who can argue against that?  Until you dig down into the details and see that the proposition is so badly written that it is opposed by the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Libertarian Party.  He designed it to intentionally unleash a tsunami of lawsuits because he included a provision that will require the State of California to hire him to defend it from these lawsuits, a position from which he cannot be fired except by legislative action.

Almost as bad is Proposition 61, which masquerades as an attack on Big Pharma by reducing the cost of prescription medications for state healthcare agencies.  Alas, according to the California Medical Association and other prestigious medical groups, it is likely to actually increase costs.

And once you start digging into it, you discover delicious tidbits, like Weinstein having written it to exclude the HMO and multimillion-dollar prescription business operated by his own AIDS Healthcare Foundation and to contain a special provision that would require the State of California to pay his lawyers for suits they bring under this provision.

Litigious parasite consumed with egregious greed or what?

The great pity on Prop 61 is that Bernie Sanders was in the Bay Area last week stumping for a couple of candidates and for this proposition.  Yes, Weinstein concealed his agenda very well, but you’d think Bernie would have done his homework.


Meanwhile, having no photographs of parasites, i’ll make do with this entertaining sculpture on South Petaluma Boulevard.

South Petaluma Boulevard sculpture

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A Limousine Language Moment

It’s looking like we won’t need Gary Johnson on the ballot to Naderize Trump.


I drove a limousine in San Francisco in the early eighties and listed myself as able to give tours in French, German, and Spanish.  There were some interesting moments like the time i got an order to give a city tour in German.  When i arrived at the concierge desk at the St. Francis, i didn’t see anyone who looked like they might be my clients, so i told the concierge the name i’d been given and was directed to a couple of women in saris.  Well, yes, a lot of Indians emigrated to this country, but quite a few went to Germany and of course learned German rather than English.  Still, there was great cognitive dissonance in speaking German with folks in saris.

But by far the best limousine language moment started another time i was waiting for walkups at the airport.  I was called to the limousine desk for some Spanish-speaking clients, who turned out to be a middle-aged Chinese couple wanting to go to Walnut Creek.

I chatted with them on the way and learned that they were restauranteurs from Peru and were on their first trip to the United States to see his brother, who’d emigrated to this country many years ago about the same time they went to Peru.  His restaurant had also been successful and he’d just moved into a new home.

When we got to Walnut Creek i stopped to consult my map only to discover that there was no such address.  Luckily, a fire station was in sight, and firemen know all the newest streets.  Sure enough, the address was in a brand new subdivision, and i got there with no problem.

Having already been a little traumatized at the airport and by my having to stop at a fire station for directions, my clients remained cautiously in the car while i went up and rang the doorbell.  To my great relief, the man who answered was Chinese, and when i told him his brother was here, he raced out to the car for a joyous reunion in rapid Cantonese while i unloaded all their luggage and carried it to the front door.

Time to settle up, so i delicately excused myself in Spanish to the Peruvians.  He paid me, and i thanked them and wished them a very enjoyable visit to this country.

And at that moment i noticed out of the corner of my eye the American restauranteur standing there in slackjawed amazement at the utter, ineffable wrongness of this white driver being able to stand there right in front of him, chattering away with his brother in a language he could not understand.

The only way it could have been worse would have been for his brother and me to have been speaking Mandarin.


Meanwhile, totally changing the subject, here’s a fascinating old barge i recently spotted off Hopper Street on the banks of McNear Channel.  Anybody have any information on this thing?  All i’ve found when i searched on “Lee Richard” is a couple of images with no text. Surely there’s a story here.  Does anyone know anything about it?


My sometime First Reader, CKM, remarked, “Ahhh, so that’s where i left it!”

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D Street Bridge Breakthrough

Faintest praise: i think Clinton will be less disastrous.


Great D Street Bridge event the other day.  I was going to call it “spectacular” but realized i’ve reached an age at which the slightest improvement on the mundane is impressive.

There i was, Segwaying to the post office via the D Street Bridge in hopes of catching a tender about to open it.  Alas, no tender in the cabin, but i spotted out of the corner of my eye to the south a large catamaran just sitting there in the river with her sail furled.

Hmmm, i wondered as i crossed, has her motor conked out or is she waiting for the bridge to open?  Got about a block and a half before i decided to postpone the post office and just wait around.  Turned back onto the bridge, and yep, a tender had just arrived, so i whirled around over to the foot of C Street where there is an excellent vantage.

Oh, was my timing ever superb.  Just as i dismounted, the bridge horn started blowing to signal the closing of the roadway barriers.

Whipped out the camera and got some shots of the bridge opening and the boat passing through.  As the bridge starts to open.

D Street Bridge opening




Fully open with the catamaran approaching.

cataraman approaches




Catamaran passing through.

Catamaran passing through the D Street Bridge


Catamaran clear and bridge closing.

Catamaran through the bridge




Oh, but there’s more good news.  When i went back across the bridge to thank the tender, he turned out to be a delightful young man who invited me inside the cabin and gave me a complete tour with operating information, history, and photo ops.

The bridge was designed by Leon Hagop Nishkian in 1933, and when it was new, the two tiny eastern rooms in the cabin were occupied by the bridge tender, it being routine in those days for lighthouse and bridge tenders to be domiciled on site so they could work 24/7.

Here’s the main room with all the controls.   The old controls have been left in place, inoperative, at this end of the room.

D Street Bridge control room


And here’s a closeup of the new control panel.

D Street Bridge new control panel



Here’s the tender at the controls.  He corrected me when i called him the “tender”, saying there wasn’t actually a tender anymore.  The guys just take turns operating the bridge as necessary.  Note that since he’s not actually operating the bridge, his foot is not on the dead man switch.

The operator at the controls


And finally, some historical photographs on the wall.  Leon Nishkian is at the left.


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Lunch for JoAnn

I cooked lunch the other day for JoAnn, her grandson, and Christian.

Red Onion and Cucumber Salad – an old favorite of my mother’s.  Thinly slice red onions and cucumbers, break up the onions and brine them with the cucumbers in the refrigerator for thirty minutes, drain off the brine and cover the vegetables with white vinegar,  steep for thirty minutes in the refrigerator and drain.  Serve cold.

Sous Vide Pork Belly – Ideally you’ll find a belly that’s not half fat although i love it either way.  Cook it sous vide for seventy-two (72!) hours at 140 F with the Anova sous vide immersion circulator you bought yourself for your birthday.  Take it out of the bag and let it rest for a few minutes before very carefully cutting it into thick slices with a very sharp slicing knife and serving it warm.  Before i sealed it in the sous vide bag, i rubbed it with a mixture of salt and ground Sichuan peppercorn (椒, hua jiao, Zanthoxylum bungeanum), cumin, oregano, and a tiny amount of chile powder. I was going to dry it off and pop it into a 500 F oven for a short time to get a dark crust but quailed for fear i’d overcook it. As it was, it turned out fork tender and delicious, but next time i might try searing it in a film of oil in a very hot skillet for a short time.  Oh, and that belly wasn’t from some tasteless fat lazy factory pig but rather from a lean country cousin they executed because he didn’t meet his work quota.  More flavor but not tender until he’d spent 72 hours sous vide.

Cold Potato Salad – This is my own recipe that has been popular. I used whole baby Yukon Gold potatoes, lots of chopped red onion, and reasonable amounts of capers and chopped sweet pickles. And of course the traditional mayonnaise and mustard dressing. The secret to my potato salad, though, is using several times as much sliced hard-boiled egg as in the usual recipe.

Blanched Romano Beans – We’re having good fresh Romanos in the markets now, and i like to cook this seasonal delicacy when it’s available. With a different menu, i’d serve ’em à l’Anglaise, but considering the level of fat in everything else, i omitted the butter and just squeezed a lemon over ’em.

Sliced Sourdough Baguette – This is the Bay Area, and we have superb bakeries for this regional delicacy.

Willie’s Crisp – For this one i used a mixture of the last of this year’s yellow nectarine crop and the dwindling blackberries that grow along the riverbank behind my apartment, a great combination.

Meanwhile, since i failed to take a pic of any of that food, here’s a shot of the Rangpur lime bush JoAnn has growing in a pot.  Small bush, small crop, but OMG are they ever delicious in a gin and tonic.

Rangpur limes


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