Journal: 2018

The Rat’s Reward

I’ve been a volunteer in medical studies for decades, so i have a long history as a lab rat, but it is very rare that they give you any information about your results, if for no other reason than that all the better studies are double blind, so they don’t know any information about you.  Your reward is getting to feel good about yourself as a volunteer and, in my case, getting to brag for decades about being in the cohort of volunteers in the late seventies who participated in the development of the vaccine for hepatitis B.

In recent years, though, a number of the studies i’ve been in have offered a nominal payment, so after you’ve completed the tests, they give you an envelope with a twenty dollar bill in it.   I always tell ’em i’m not doing this for the money, but somehow i always end up pocketing the envelope.

I’m currently volunteering in a VA medical study of the mental decline of veterans with AIDS, which has been quite interesting.  Last fall the doctor running the study offered to do an analysis of the current state of the mental health of any of us who wanted it, perhaps out of gratitude but probably because this would give her more detailed information about a subset of her subjects.

In the case of this particular study, i’d already been handsomely rewarded.  They had given me an Apple I-Pad to use every six months at home for the follow-up testing…and to keep after the study has run its course in a couple of years.  So the offer of something more was bit embarrassing.

Not so embarrassing that i refused her offer.

Even though my internist is up to the minute on all the latest AIDS developments and provides me superb care, it would still be nice to get a second opinion, one focused on my mental health.  So i said yes and set up the appointment.  Three weeks ago i drove down to the doctor’s office in the Palo Alto VA hospital, handed over the paperwork for my latest blood tests, and did a couple of hours of mental tests under the supervision of one of her assistants.

Then i saw the doctor, who performed a physical exam, put me through some physical tests, gave me a couple more mental tests herself, and then grilled me at some length to determine my current grasp on reality.  I knew who was president and could name my local politicians.  I also knew what day it was and where i was although i lost points for not being able to name the county Palo Alto was in.  Which i still gnash my teeth over.

I couldn’t help noticing that she had clearly worked in medical research all her career.  Bedside manner?  Oh please, just the facts.  When she was done, she briskly thanked me for being one of her volunteers and told me she’d send me a copy of her written analysis.

I got it the other day.  The result:  I show no signs of Alzheimer’s disease and my only cognitive impairment at this time is the normal decline to be expected in a man my age.

This is quite a relief since i’ll no longer view forgetting some trivial something as Alzheimer’s wingèd chariot drawing near.

And besides, i can now prance around calling myself a very stable genius.  Ummm, or at least very stable.

Meanwhile, here’s a swath of sideways January sun on some Market Street bamboo.

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Tax Reform

I thrashed around for some time gathering notes and linking to substantiating articles on our President’s great tax reform package passed by Congress last December as its Christmas present to the nation.  I tried to detail the winners and losers in the years to come, not only the tranches of our population in terms of relative wealth – the top versus the bottom percentages –  but also the various types of businesses – mom and pop groceries as opposed to big banks.  I took a close look at how our new tax structure will affect our national debt, formerly of great concern to the Republican party.

Oh yes, i gathered quite a pile of notes.

And then i blundered onto a graphic that utterly undermined my intellectual endeavor, one worth way more than a thousand words.  I cringe with shame over not being able to find the name of the author, but it looks like George Grosz has been resurrected.

Oh dear.  An early reader has got back to me that the graphic doesn’t display for him.  I’m trying again to insert it in a form that all readers can see.




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Dinner for the Ladies

I have an excuse for not marching on January 20th. I was cooking dinner for five women.

Well, see, i was jonesing for some of my Texas chili, which i’d not cooked since summer before last in Petaluma, and the only way i’d get any was to cook dinner for some people who’d eat both peppers and pork.

Fortunately, i already knew a couple of people who liked my chili, my friends Ruth and Pam, so all i needed was three more diners to fill the table.  And since the women in my new apartment complex have been way more friendly than the sourpuss men, i figured i’d just invite only women.

I’ve been here only since last August, but i already know lots of enjoyable women in the complex, and when i started asking them in order of which pleasant ones i saw first, only one declined owing to the menu before i’d found three.  And of course by now everyone in the village but those four knows they weren’t invited.

So what did i serve those who made the cut?

The traditional accompaniment for chili is beer, and i had on hand Anchor Steam, Heinekin, and a 22 oz. bottle of Naughty Aud Imperial Stout that i’d smuggled down from Petaluma.  Also, i figured i’d open this bottle of 2006 Fetzer Valley Oak Gewürztraminer as the guests arrived since it would go well with the salad and also with the chili as an alternative to beer.

Since we’re not French, i started with my Rocket, Blackberry, and Gorgonzola Salad.  Yes, the fringe benefit of our having got hardly any rain so far this season is that some of our farmers are still bringing limited amounts of blackberries and raspberries to market.  And of course the farmers’ markets are full of beautiful rocket and wall rocket (popularly called “arugula” and “wild arugula”).  For the gorgonzola, to keep it local i substituted Point Reyes Blue.  For the vinaigrette i used walnut oil and my blackberry vinegar.

The main course, of course, was the chili, which i call by its Mexican name in my recipe, Chile con Carne.   For the meat i bought five pounds of pierna sin huesos at the Lucky Pork Market on Mission between 22nd and 23rd St.  Yeah yeah, i was being disloyal to Casa Guadalupe, just south of 25th St., where for years i’ve bought produce not available at my farmers’ markets and my stewing hens.  They also have pierna in their pork section, but alas, they sell it sliced in fillets.  At Lucky Pork Market, the butcher just cut a five pound chunk off a big, well trimmed fresh ham.  When i arrived at that neighborhood forty years ago, Lucky Pork was a Chinese meat market.  By now, the only thing Chinese about it is the name, and the signage is all in Spanish.  And the other reason i went to Lucky Pork is that shortly after i moved back here in August i went to my favorite meat market on Mission St. only to discover that the whole damn building (and a big one it was, several storefronts on Mission and stretching all the way through to Bartlet St.) was gone.  Condos.

I also served fresh cranberry beans with chopped onion and carrot, and to preserve truth in advertising i told the diners that i’d bought the beans fresh last fall at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, spread them out on newspapers for a day on my livingroom floor to help them relax,  shelled them easily since they were no longer putting up a struggle the next day, blanched them, and froze them in plastic bags so i’d have them to serve throughout the winter and spring.  Treated that way, they are indistinguishable from fresh.

For a green vegetable, i did Braised Green Garlic, a dish that has surprised and delighted everyone i’ve served it to.  I varied the recipe this time by using toasted sesame oil instead of butter.

And of course i served cornbread.  This has always been popular, but it’s even more so since i tweaked Grandmother’s recipe by slightly increasing the wheat flour and sugar.

I warned the guests to pace themselves to allow room for dessert but also noted that the dessert was light, my Flourless Almond Torte.  Something Happened this time, and it wasn’t as light as usual, but the guests knew no better and gobbled it up.  Also, to entertain them i spread their slices with my raspberry jelly and then topped that with quark.  By that point in the evening, i had them eating out of my hand, since they’d all eaten something for the first time and liked it, so even though none of ’em had eaten quark, they were all game to try it.  My kind of guest!

With the torte i served that old standby, Quady Essencia Orange Muskat, the perfect down home alternative to a pricey Trockenbeerenauslese.

I have to say that this was one of those wonderful occasions when everything i cooked turned out just as i’d wanted it and the people i invited turned out to hit it off famously with each other.  So it was a wonderfully enjoyable evening.

By next week i’ll have recovered and will start thinking about doing another dinner.  Until then i’ll be feasting my way through the leftover chili.  To soak up some of the chili i’ve bought a huge garnet yam, a flavor combination of the gods.  Somehow the sweet starchiness of the yam counterbalances the savory piquancy of the chili.  To take it over the top, add a dollop of quark or skyr.

Meanwhile, we’ve all read a great deal about the gentrification of the city, and certainly there’s been a enormous amount of upgrading since i moved here in ’75.  Still, a few pockets remain untouched.  Here’s one at the corner of Mission and 17th St.



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Let Me Count the Ways

An entertaining aspect of aging is remembering how much you used to eat.  My God, the quantities!  And of course when you cooked for your friends, you had to cook lots, especially in my case since i could seat eight around my table.  So your recipes ended up being for large amounts, and it’s hard to remember that since you and your friends are eating less than half what they used to, you ought to cook only half as much.

Recently i cooked dinner for some friends, including as the entree my Texas Chili, a recipe revolving around five pounds of meat.  So after the guests had stumbled away gorged to the eyebrows i was left facing two-thirds of the chili and what to do with the leftovers.  Let me count the ways.

  1. In a bowl with sides of beans and tortilla chips.   Boring after the first few days, but luckily the leftover beans didn’t last that long.
  2. Poured into a bag of Fritos®.  An old Texas favorite.    Note that the proper way to open the bag is not to go in from the top.  No no.  You turn the bag sideways and slit it open with a knife to make it easier both to pour in the chili and to eat from.  You can tart this treat up by putting some chopped lettuce and tomato in there, but it’s routinely gobbled “animal style” (pace, In-n-Out®).  Also note that you must use the little individual serving bags of Fritos.  I mean, did you ever try to get two Texans to eat peacefully out of the same bag?
  3. In a chili-dog.  The problem i find in this delicacy almost everywhere i’ve tried it is that the chili isn’t worth eating.  Back in Texas the problem was never with the chili but rather with the dog because really good frankfurters are almost impossible to find in Texas, or at least they were fifty years ago when i left.  The solution here in San Francisco used to be to make your own chili and buy Frankfurter Wurstchen at Hans Speckmann, the legendary German deli on Church Street.  Alas, folks got too lazy to make a trip to Speckmann’s and subsisted on Safeway’s ersatz swill, so Speckmann’s gradually withered away.  Nowadays the solution is to go out in the avenues to one of the Russian delis for the frankfurters.  I like Royal Market and Bakery on Geary Avenue because they seem to have the widest selection of sausages.  The “Royal” is for Tsar Nicholas II.
  4. A generous scoop on top of a baked Garnet (no substitutes!) yam.  Surmounted with a large blob of quark or skyr.  The creamy sweetness of the yam is cut by the piquancy of the chili, and this is an especially good option if the chili turned out hotter than usual.


Meanwhile a shot into Heath Ceramics, 2900 18th Street.

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The Anti-Vaxers

“San Francisco is the only city I can think of that can survive all the things you people are doing to it and still look beautiful.” – Frank Lloyd Wright


This post is aimed at folks like me who did get their flu shot even though it’s not as effective as usual this year.  Under no circumstances should the post be allowed to fall into the hands of anti-vaxers, the reason for which will become apparent at the end.

I’m a staunch believer in vaccination, at least partly because i’m in my late seventies and can thus remember a childhood during which i cycled through all the common childhood diseases against which children with intelligent parents are now routinely vaccinated even though the death rate from those diseases is quite low.

For example, the vaccine for chicken pox was introduced in 1995 in this country, after which incidences of it declined precipitously.  The death rate, formerly around 100 per annum, has plunged in recent years to single digits.  The fringe benefit for being vaccinated against chickenpox is that you will never develop shingles, a horribly painful disease that occurs spontaneously only in people who have had chicken pox.  There has been a vaccine against shingles since 2006, and it is recommended for adults over 50 since virtually all of ’em had chickenpox as children.

Or take measles, for which we have had a vaccine since 1963.  Before then we had 450-500 deaths every year.  Since then, the death rate has plunged to nearly zero because the disease has been virtually wiped out in this country.  That death rate did not include the kids who were merely struck deaf.

I survived both measles and chickenpox, although the most miserable week of my life was when i had chickenpox, driven crazy by the itching and also by the thirst, which had to go unrelieved because i vomited right back up every sip of water.

The only vaccinations available when i was a kid were for yellow fever, smallpox and diphtheria.    Diphtheria killed 15,000 Americans in 1921, but a vaccine was developed in 1923 and the death rate since then has declined to virtually zero. Smallpox had been by that time almost completely wiped out in this country by almost universal vaccination.  In fact, the last death in this country was in 1949, and routine vaccination was stopped in the early seventies.  It was declared globally eradicated in 1980, a wonderful victory for vaccination since this horrible disease is estimated to have killed 300-500 million people worldwide in the 20th century (before 1980) alone.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, yellow fever epidemics killed thousands of people in coastal cities (and up the Mississippi River at least as far as Memphis) but quarantining had so reduced infections that the last death in this country was in 1905, so even though a vaccine became available in 1938, my parents didn’t vaccinate me since we were hundreds of miles from the coast.

The vaccination i was most eager to get as a child was for polio, since this country was swept with epidemics in the forties and fifties, with annual deaths ranging from 1000 to 3000 and many, many more left with varying degrees of permanent paralysis.  There was a particularly frightening epidemic in west Texas in 1953, so scary that many people stopped going to the movies, public swimming pools, and public events, and some parents even kept their kids out of school.  Consequently, when Salk’s vaccine became available in 1955 there were no anti-vaxers in west Texas and we all rushed to get it since by that time we all knew or knew of someone who’d died or been paralyzed.

However, nothing is free.  Vaccines have negative results in some cases, usually a very small number.  The most horrible example of this occurred with the Salk polio vaccine, when some batches of this vaccine made by both Cutter and Merck were bad and actually caused many recipients to develop polio.  The Sabin vaccine, which appeared in 1961 was a vast improvement in that only 1-3 recipients in a million contact polio from it.

I received the Salk vaccine and had no ill effects, but i can claim to be a victim of a bad vaccine batch.  I was in ROTC in college, and in our last year of training we were all sent off to Reese Air Force Base one afternoon for a complete set of inoculations including several for diseases no longer found in this country.  However, by dinnertime i was not feeling at all well and took to my bed, skipping supper.  I was missed.  Not because i was so popular that everyone would remark on my absence.  No, it was because none of us who were in ROTC showed up for dinner since we were all miserable in our beds that evening.  Yep, don’t know which one it was, but one of those shots was from an iffy batch.

So yes, vaccines sometimes make people sick, and on very very rare occasions they kill people.  But lets play the odds.  Vaccines have prevented untold millions of deaths while doing proportionally very little harm.  Rates are way, way down for all the childhood diseases for which we have vaccines. Smallpox has been eradicated from the planet.  Polio has been almost eradicated, by now residing only in particularly stupid areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan where there is an active anti-vax movement.

The anti-vaxers’ vociferous promotion of their campaign against vaccination took off several years ago when a now thoroughly discredited 1998 study in Britain found that children who were given the MMR vaccine were more likely to become autistic and to have bowel disorders than kids who weren’t.   Almost immediately, there was criticism of the study because no other researcher was able to duplicate the results.  And then, it was uncovered that the doctor who led the study had performed unnecessary procedures on some of the kids he was studying and had received more than £400,000 from lawyers pushing a lawsuit against the MMR vaccine, so his license to practice medicine was withdrawn and he moved to the US where, in spite of his having no license, he found a nation with a higher percentage of gullible people and is now a leading anti-vaxer.

Alas, exposing the fraudulence of that doctor and his study does not seem to have slowed the anti-vaxers down.

“Going up against the anti-vaccine movement is a thankless task for a number of reasons. For one, the goalpost is moving,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the school of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

“So if you can explain why MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine doesn’t cause autism, they’ll turn around and say well it must be thimerosal in vaccines. If you debunk this, then they’ll say ‘well we are spacing vaccines too close together’ and if you debunk that and then it’s aluminum in vaccines,” he added.

So what we have in the anti-vaxers is a bunch of idiots like global warming deniers, utterly unimpressed with factual science.  The only difference i can see is that the global warming deniers are being sheltered by the Republican party and funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers.

If the anti-vaxers are sufficiently successful in recruiting, they’ll get enough folks to stop vaccinating their kids that the herd immunity effect will be lost and epidemics will sweep the nation.

That’s the reason i don’t want anti-vaxers to read this post.  They are doing themselves a serious disservice by bombarding the social media with anti-vax propaganda.  Why?  Well, if they had any sense, they would keep their mouths shut, not vaccinate their children, and send their kids out to schools in which all the other students are vaccinated, thus getting a free ride on the herd immunity.  After all, if all the other students are vaccinated, their kids will much less likely to be exposed to any of the childhood diseases.

It somehow gives me a sick pleasure to see that they’re too stupid to understand that once their propaganda has spread and the herd immunity in their communities is compromised, it will be their unvaccinated children who will be the primary victims in the ensuing epidemics, reaping the just reward of their parents’ foolishness.  I’ll do my best to avoid schadenfreude.


Meanwhile, i’ve started taking Harrison Street downtown and have discovered Garfield Park, where many years ago (perhaps at the inception in 1884) the city planted around the edges Sequoiadendron giganteum, the giant redwood.  It’s a joy that they’ve survived since this is not their native habitat, and some trees have done better than others.  The trunk of the largest must be twenty feet in diameter, and i’d estimate its height to be eighty to ninety feet.  Take a look, starting with a cone.

And the largest one.

And its massive trunk


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The Production Reports

The older i get, the more i enjoy serpent’s tooth jokes.

 For ten years now i’ve been making Production Reports listing all the preserves i make.  Here’s the one listing everything so far in 2018.

2018 Production Report

Pickled Peruvian Red Manzana Peppers (1/7) Well yes, i pickled a pair of pints of Peruvian peppers.  The red Manzanas that are every bit as blindingly hot as the yellow Manzanas Poli Yerena brought from Jalisco, so they’re earmarked for people like Lisa, my North Vietnamese barber, and Bruce at Hooverville Farms, for whom nothing is too hot.

MC – Mango Chutney (1/13)  I went ahead and made another batch of Mango Chutney while Mexican mangoes are in season because it’s so popular.

Pickled Brussels Sprouts (1/20, 1/30)  There have been very handsome Brussels sprouts in the farmers’ markets lately, thus these batches.


K – Kiwi Jam (2/7) I was desperate to make a conserve that had no peppers in it because quite a few of my fans don’t eat peppers, so i realized i could make my old favorite, Kiwi Pasilla Jam, without the Pasillas.  Ha.  Worked fine and went over well.

KC – Kiwi Clementine Jam (2/13)  Somehow it struck me that adding a bunch of peeled and segmented Clementines to the Kiwis might make a jam that would taste good and set well owing to the pectin in the pith of the Clementines, so i used five pounds of Kiwis and about a pound of Clementines (after peeling).  And then, to make sure, i ground up an apple into it.  It set well.  Also tasted good

Chocolate Sauce (2/13)  I make chocolate sauce frequently because there’s great demand for it, but i never mention it in these Production Reports.  I’m mentioning this one because it’s extra-splendid owing to my having bought online a 5 kg. bag of Callebaut cocoa powder and a 5 kg. block of Callebaut unsweetened chocolate, both smuggled in from Belgium.  So for the foreseeable future my chocolate sauces will be 100% Callebaut.  This is the best chocolate sauce i ever made.  Period.

KM – Kumquat Marmalade (2/14) Last Saturday i took my beloved old vendor Bruce of Hooverville Orchards a jar of blindingly hot Peruvian Manzana chiles that i’d pickled with him in mind because he’s one of the few people i know who has a capsaicin tolerance high enough to enjoy those things.  He handed me back a bag of kumquats, suggesting i might experiment with making a marmalade of ’em.  I thanked him, telling him it would be interesting to try.  My recipe is for five pounds of fruit, so i did the math and reduced the quantities of sugar and water to be appropriate for a pound and a half of kumquats.  Then i set to work prepping the kumquats.  Oh. My. God.  What an agonizingly tedious job!  So awful, in fact, that the pain triggered a memory of Glenn Tanimoto having given me several years ago a big bag of “seconds” kumquats because he hated to see ’em go to waste but found them not quite up to his exacting standard for the fruit he sold.  Oh yes, making that marmalade was so excruciating that to save my sanity i forgot it immediately.  It was like performing heart surgery on a thousand mice.  See, what you have to do is start cutting perfect slices off the end and then, when you hit the first seed, stop and pick all the seeds out before you continue slicing the little slippery thing.  Thank God Bruce didn’t give me five pounds because prepping that many would have driven me blind and crazy.  After all that work i ended up with only seven 4 oz. jars of marmalade.  No damn way i was gonna put it in 8 oz. jars.  And by the way, it’s so delicious that when my pain has abated i’ll consider making another small batch even though i’m having a little trouble thinking of people who deserve this stuff.


SBBV – Strawberry Jam with Balsamic Vinegar (2/16)  There was a garrulous vendor at the Alemany Farmers’ Market this morning who chatted me into buying a flat of strawberries.  I just finished cooking them down with two cored and shredded apples and 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar.  Turned out intense, but i’m not sure i can actually taste the balsamic vinegar although the flavor does seem brighter than usual.  Then again, that stuff is so expensive that i’m realizing that the best use of it is not in flavoring jams.

LLM – Little Lemon Marmalade (2/17)  I spotted at Casa Guadalupe this morning two pound bags of Eureka lemons the size of a medium lime for a dollar.  What!!!!!  Then i looked more closely and saw that they were organic and from Twin Girls Farm, a top-flight vendor at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market.  This has got to be the bargain of the century since they’re bound to be good if they’re from Twin Girls Farm and and anything from Twin Girls at their stands costs six times as much.  Bought a bag, tasted one, bought two more bags and made marmalade out of five pounds of ’em.  Held back enough on the sugar that nobody’s gonna call this one over-sweet.


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Dinner for the Gentlemen

English doesn’t ‘borrow’ from other languages. It follows them into dark alleys, mugs them, grabs the vocabulary it wants, and then rummages through their pockets for loose grammar. – modified from James Nicoll


Last month i cooked a dinner for the ladies, so to balance that, i cooked yesterday a dinner for the gentlemen.

I put out for appetizers bowls of tortilla chips and guacamole.  Also plates of AkMak crackers and the Fabrique Délices Truffle Paté from Lucca Deli.  Guacamole normally gets gobbled up fast, but that paté went first.

The Rocket, Gorgonzola, and Blackberry Salad went over so well with the ladies that i decided to serve it again.  The guys liked it, too.

Cold Poached Salmon with Caper Mayonnaise.  I went out Friday morning to Sun Fat on Mission Street for the salmon because i’d recently been reading high praise for this fishmonger and wanted to see for myself.  Very nice place with lots of good-looking fish.  What i really wanted was wild, line-caught King Salmon, but i’d priced ’em at $29.99/lb. at Whole Foods the day before, and that’s just out of my price range.  Sun Fat had nice Atlantic farmed salmon for $11/lb. and i settled for that.  Poached it that afternoon in court bouillon and stuck it in the refrigerator.

I don’t like overcooked salmon, but this time i sure did err on the side of caution because the thick parts were just plain rare.  But hey, we eat it dead raw in sushi, and nobody left his serving on his plate.

Braised Green Garlic.  The ladies got this, too, but when fresh green garlic is in season, i eat as much of it as possible.  As with the ladies, this was a new dish for most of the gentlemen, and one they liked.

Sauteed Sunchokes.  OK, i nearly choked over calling these things “sunchokes” since it’s blatant marketing language for Jerusalem artichokes, but this is a battle i’m willing to give up.  I was planning to serve that old Julia Child recipe for sauteed potatoes, but on Wednesday at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market i spotted the best-looking sunchokes i’d ever seen.  Best looking by a long shot since they were nearly completely spherical, barely larger than a ping pong ball, and scrubbed squeaky clean.  Couldn’t resist, came back here, Googled for recipes, and found one that called for cutting them in quarter inch slices and sauteing them in olive oil and butter.  Got a bit too much oil in there but i used a slotted spoon to serve them, and folks seemed to like them.

Grandmother’s Cornbread.  This was the first time in recent memory that i’d served cornbread when nobody raved about it.  And that must have been that in the excitement of the arrival of the guests, i lost track of the time and ended up cooking this batch a tad too much.  I love it very crusty like this, but apparently most people don’t.  Lesson learned.

The Pie.  Keen observers will have noticed that every time i serve fish with caper mayonnaise, the dessert is The Pie.  Well, you don’t have to be Mr. Holmes to figure out that the mayonnaise calls for egg yolks and the meringue crust for the pie needs egg whites.  The synchronicity becomes even finer when you realize that since the fish and the pie are to be served cold, they need to be cooked the day before and that the mayonnaise can be made while the crust is cooking and cooling. Ta da.  As usual, The Pie drew requests for the recipe.

Some guests brought wine to drink with the meal, and i pulled out a chilled Dr. Loosen 2013 Riesling Beerenauslese for the dessert course.  It was a most enjoyable evening.

Meanwhile, i can’t do gorgeous light and shadow landscapes like my friend David, so i have to stick with pieces of buildings.


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A Language Embarrassment

Just imagine how much better everything in Parkland would have turned out if all the teachers and students had been packing.

I have suffered many language embarrassments, but the one that keeps coming up most often occurred when i was in the Army conducting cryptosecurity inspections of US military installations.  I arrived at a missile base in remote northern Germany on a lovely spring morning.

I’d been taken to the lieutenant in charge of their crypto facility, and he’d offered me coffee, which i’d accepted.  He led me to a little break room, and a German national, an older woman (since i was only 23, most people were older) brought me a cup.  Black.

I’d started drinking coffee black because that was the way my parents drank it, but i’d learned to take milk in it when i was in ASA school at Ft. Devens because those Yankees called coffee with milk in it, “regular”.  And they served their coffee just short of boiling in order to leave it still warm after the addition of a generous slug of milk.  So you had to take it regular to be able to finish the damn cup during your ten-minute break between classes.  Those of us who didn’t call it “regulah” called it “coffee with cream” even though it was just milk we added.

I’d become accustomed to taking milk in my coffee, and so i politely asked the woman, “Sie haben vielleicht Sahne?” Do you perhaps have cream?  Alas, she seemed rather offended and barked, “Nein!”  How strange, i thought, that they don’t have milk for their coffee like all the other military installations, and how strange that she’d be bothered by my asking.

Oh well, no problem, and i went on to conduct the inspection, which they passed even with black coffee.

It was only after i’d left the kaserne that it hit me.  I’d fallen victim to one of the banes of learning foreign languages, the direct translation that gives entirely the wrong meaning.  In this case, asking for cream rather than milk.  Not a biggie, you say.

Oh yes it was.  See, every fine Kaffee-Konditorei in which i ordered coffee brought it with a little pitcher of cream.  However, i do not recall ever seeing real cream for the coffee in any military installation, or for that matter, in any home.

So by asking for cream instead of milk, i’d sounded like an entitled big city snob who expected to be plied with luxuries.  I hadn’t realized what was going on in time to explain that i was really just asking for milk, so i’ve squirmed over this for a bit more than half a century.  My only relief is that, since she was probably in her forties then, she’s most likely dead now and thus can’t remember me.  And if she isn’t dead, she’s in her nineties and regaling her grandchildren with the tale of that awful American.

Meanwhile, i find selfies somehow creepy, but i finally broke down and took one of myself descending Cortland Street on the way home from an early morning trip to the Alemany Farmers’ Market.  I’m not saluting but rather holding the camera up.

Cortland Street



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Off the Bucket List

“America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” has been stricken from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services mission statement and replaced with “protecting Americans” and “securing the homeland”.


Well no, it’s not an actual, tangible list, but rather fairly frequently thinking of something i want to do while i still can, and i can now mentally check off my bucket list watching from the gallery as Roger Federer slaughters an opponent.  I’m a passionate Federer fan, and i watch him on television routinely, but i’d never seen him play live.  And yeah, yeah, i can drive a thousand miles and see him at Indian Wells, but have you looked at the price of tickets there?  Not to mention the cost of accommodations.

So yes, i was understandably ecstatic when i learned that Roger would be playing an exhibition match in San Jose to raise money for his foundation, and i immediately bought a ticket.  I thought about buying two but then remembered my experience some years ago back when when i was attending every year’s matches at the SAP Open (formerly the Pacific Coast Championships) and bought a second set of tickets for the evening matches only to have great difficulty finding anyone willing to accompany me.  Hell, one of ’em who finally took me up on my offer did so only as an expression of our friendship, which i realized after play had started and i discovered that his passion for the game was at such a level that he didn’t know how it was scored. Sigh. So i went by myself.

This was one of those exhibition matches in which the appetizer was watching a major player teamed with a celebrity play a doubles match against another major player and his celebrity partner.

Roger was paired with Bill Gates.  His opponent, Jack Sock, partnered with Savannah Guthrie, an American news anchor.

There was great hoopla as the players came out, what with flashing lights and smoke, and the party atmosphere continued with brief courtside interviews.  Guthrie was asked what her strategy would be.

“Don’t look at Roger.”

To which Sock responded with his.

“Don’t hit it to Roger.”

Team Federer strategy? Gates “knows numbers very well, so he never makes a mistake on the score,” Federer said. “I’ll do the running and he’ll do the thinking.”  The crowd thundered.

The doubles play was ludicrous.  Gates clearly hadn’t played in years, and it looked like Guthrie had just barely ever played.  Still, the crowd got behind it and cheered hysterically every time Gates or Guthrie got a ball back.

The singles play between Sock and Federer was actually interesting in that you got to see professionals imitate a real match as Roger took both sets.

It was an entertaining evening, and i read in the paper the next day that it raised $2.5 million for the foundation.  Not terribly surprising considering the cost of the seats.  Mine, in the middle of the lower level was probably in the second of three tiers of pricing and was $150.  It was a sellout, nary a visible empty seat.  The only time i’d ever seen that arena even close to as full was one night back when Andy Roddick was at his peak and every teenage girl within thirty miles cajoled her father into taking her.

Meanwhile, here’s a video clip.


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Rethinking Facebook

I’m so old that i remember when tourists marveled at how clean San Francisco was.


We’ve all read the recent news about Cambridge Analytica harvesting profiles and other data from fifty million Facebook subscribers and using the collected data to build applications influencing US voting, all of which was revealed by a whistleblower inside Cambridge Analytica.

Meanwhile, Facebook is turning damage control backflips.  even as a Facebook whistleblower reveals that covert data harvesting was routine.

This may be for me the final straw.

Not really so much that i worry about Facebook giving away my profile data.  Oh no, i was paranoid enough when i signed up that the only things correct on my profile are my name and city of residence.  And now i’m seeing the wisdom of lying to Zuckerberg.  Sometimes paranoids are fearful of real perils.

And of course i’ve also been very wary of giving various applications access to my profile and friends list, preferring to do without the app rather than sell my friends down the river.

So yes, i’ve taken measures to protect myself and my friends, but now i’m starting to wonder whether i really want to keep using Facebook.  And not just because it’s notorious for offshoring its profits to shelter them from American taxes.

The bigger problem is that i have a handful of friends who consistently post stuff onto Facebook that i am genuinely interested in, things that quite frankly i’d be highly unlikely to run across otherwise.  So i don’t want to cut off my nose to spite my face.  And still, i wonder.

What would happen if we reverted to emailing each other?  What if i wrote the people whose Facebook posts i quite enjoy that i was dropping out of Facebook and hoping they’d consider doing emails with a bcc list and including me on it?

Is that any harder than posting to Facebook?  All you’d have to do is go through the agony of building a distribution list (or perhaps two or three tailored distribution lists) onto which you could post everything that you’d otherwise post  on Facebook, and how damn hard is that?

Especially considering that you’d be striking a blow for freedom.

So yes, i’m going to be taking my own advice and gradually phasing out Facebook, encouraging my friends to look, instead, at and monitor their incoming emails.

Free, free at last.  Or at least a shred freer.


Meanwhile, an interesting garage door treatment in the Mission.

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