February 2018

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.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

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 a bad 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

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Responses