July 2018

There I Was

TPAMП – That’s TRUMP in Cyrillic, in case you need to know it.

 

There i was, lying on the floor at SFO halfway through one of those electronic screening gates you have to go through before you can get on a plane, surrounded by TSA agents with their guns pointed at me in case my threat escalated.

Ummm, that makes a better story, but i’ll just stick to the facts and admit that none of ’em actually drew on me although they did seem to have their gun hands dangling in close proximity to their guns.  Ready.

Maybe i should back up a little.

When i got to SFO and checked in at Southwest Airlines, i asked for a wheelchair to get out to the gate.  I can actually walk that far, but it’s a slow shuffle to keep the pain down to a reasonable level, and the wheelchair is so much more comfortable.  My pusher was an agreeable sort, and everything went fine until we got to the TSA screening point.

There were three of those electronic screening gates to the right, but my pusher for some reason parked me to the left in front of this gray wall.  At the moment he stopped, i happened to look off to the side and saw my checked bag sliding past on the conveyor belt.  I am unable to remember why, and wasn’t even immediately afterwards, but for some reason i needed to get up and examine my bag as it traveled past.  So i stood up, promptly lost my balance, and reached out to steady myself against the gray wall.

Alas, it was not a wall but rather a thin sheet of stiff plastic they’d used to block an out-of-service electronic gate.  So it provided no resistance at all as i continued falling until the plastic sheet and i had crashed onto the bottom of the gate.

I do not recall ever having felt greater pain, and i think i must have blacked out for a moment before i heard my pusher inquiring if i were OK and saw a ring of TSA folks around me.  Of course i said i was OK because that’s what you always say.  Well, if you can speak.  Besides, after the initial sharp stab of pain, i wasn’t hurting so bad.

But still, i had to think fast when the pusher asked if he should take me to medical assistance.  Oh wait, that means i’d miss my flight…and my ride to Rolla, and the whole glorious adventure.  So the answer had to be No.  And anyhow, i figured the moderate pain would soon subside.  Doesn’t it always?

It didn’t, but i got through the whole adventure i’ve described in previous posts by staying so busy that i could mostly forget about the pain until i got home to my refrigerator full of pain meds leftover from various broken bones and surgeries and immediately gobbled a couple of the oldest ones.  Rotate your stock.

One of the problems of aging that i’m experiencing is that i don’t think as fast as i used to; moreover, the first solution that comes to mind is often far from the best. And yet, in the spirit of keeping on pressing on, all too often i just go with the first solution.

The first solution was actually the correct solution in this case, which was to go to the ER at St. Luke’s (newly renamed to trip lightly off the tongue, the Mission Bernal Campus of the Sutter Health California Pacific Medical Center), just three blocks away on Valencia Street.  However, the pain pills kicked in rapidly and somehow the Emergency part of “Emergency Room” was no longer operant, so i took another pair of pain pills and went to bed, saving the ER for in the morning.

They were nice, CT scanned me, showed me a picture of the fracture running across my 11th thoracic vertebra, handed me a measly 20-count prescription for pain meds, and said the only treatment was to just take it easy while the fracture healed all by itself.

That was a month ago, and even though i’ve cut out all the activities that i can think of that would be stressing my back, most especially riding the Segway everywhere, i don’t feel like i’ve made any progress toward healing.  Yeah yeah, they all say it will take some time, but my goodness is life ever difficult without the Segway.

I’ve discovered that i can ride the Segway the block and a half to Safeway since the streets are quite smooth and, more importantly, totally familiar so that i know where all the bumps are and can avoid them.  At Safeway, i lock the Segway to the bike rack and go across the street to take the 14 Mission bus, which will get me anywhere along the Mission corridor all the way to the Ferry Building.  Alternatively, i can go around the corner and take the 24 Divisadero, which runs west to Castro Street and then north all the way to the CPMC medical building where my retinologist and my cataract/glaucoma guy work.  It also stops at the front door of my internist enroute.

And if really necessary, i can take my car although i hate to do this because parking is nightmarish in my neighborhood and getting a place when i return is very difficult.  So neither the bus nor my car is even close to as good as my Segway, and not being able to use it is rather depressing, as is facing a recovery from the fracture that all my medical folks know will be so long that none dared speak a number (of weeks or heaven forbid, months) before i can expect to be recovered.  And by recovered, i mean when the pain, with which i’m already very tired, will have stopped.

On the other hand, there’s an abundance of beauty in places we might not have thought to look.

 

 

 

 

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The Dinner

Best Menu Competition entrant:  “We aim to be as vegetarian friendly as a barbecue joint can be with smoked tofu”.  Cross Ties Barbecue.

 

I described the first day of my recent adventure in The Summons.  So what went on the following day?

When i woke up, Mark and Stephanie were already hard at work in the kitchen.  I suggested that i could help by picking out the crabs, and they put out in the center of the work island a large, 1/2″ thick plastic slab to work on.  Stephanie had not done this before, so she got on the other side of the island.  I demonstrated how to open the crab and warned that all the delicious green tomalley displayed inside the shell when you break the crab open should not be eaten because of a high level of dangerous toxins concentrated this year in that digestive organ.

How did she do? you wondered.  Well, i had a quarter of my crab picked out before she really got started, but somehow she managed to catch up and we finished the first one simultaneously.  She did the next two while i was doing one.  Hmmm, young people with their advanced motor skills.

The rest of the day was a blur, and i spent much of the morning helping with prep work like mashing pureed raspberries through a chinois to achieve a velvety texture.  FYI, in French that would be much more simply, “Jai chinoisé les framboises.”  English really needs a word meaning “mash something through a very fine strainer to achieve a velvety texture”.

Anyhow, there was an early lunch break to a pie place that rocketed above my highest expectations.  Superb chicken salad and sublime chocolate cream pie.  Better than the one made by the previous dessert chef at the Mission Beach Cafe in San Francisco.  That good.  The coastal elites may call this flyover country, but they’ve not eaten at A Slice of Pie.  Even though they don’t take credit cards, they would be a great success in San Francisco’s viciously competitive restaurant scene.

After lunch i did more prep work and then helped set the table for 11.  Then the guests arrived and we all went out onto the croquet court.  Some of the intrepid young ones began playing, led by Mark, even though none of them showed Mark’s familiarity with the course, it not being a rolled lawn.  Actually, we were not really out there to play croquet, at least most of us, for it was there that the first course was served.  One note:  the links i provide below are my guesses as to where they got their recipes…or parts of recipes.

Etta’s New Crab Cakes and Martinis Marseillaise

This crab cake recipe makes cakes as good as i’ve ever had anywhere.  Ummm, the chefs may have had something to do with that, too.

For the remainder of the dinner we moved to the back porch, which they use during the window of opportunity after it is warm enough in the spring and before it’s too hot in the summer.  Here, the courses were:

Chilled Tomato Soup with Crab Pistou

I’d never had this combination, and OMG, did the crab and pistou go well in the soup, setting each other off.

Asparagus, Snap Pea, and Black Rice Salad with Gochujang Dressing

Thanks to having a Malaysian Chinese friend, i was familiar with gochujang, but i’d never had black rice before and just loved it.

Nectarine and Mushroom Risotto

Nectarines are my favorite fruit, but i’d never caramelized them, and i’d certainly never dreamed of adding them to a creamy risotto.  Oh wow.

Halibut and Coconut Braised Greens

Yet another marvelous combination, and this time i went Googling around for quite some time looking for a recipe they might have used.  Clearly in this case they drew on at least two recipes, but whatever they used, the dish turned out spectacular.

Mojo Pork Steak with Seared Avocados and Oranges, and Beef Tallow Potatoes

Oh my goodness, we know how well fruit accompanies pork , but i’d never have thought of using an avocado along with orange segments…and searing them both.  I’d fried potatoes in lard and duck fat, but never in beef tallow.  Will now.  And what a fine course this was.

Cheese and Port

The cheeses were Agour Ossau-Iraty AOP – Aged Six Months, Blu 61 by La Casearia Carpenedo, Fiscalini Bandage-Wrapped Raw-Milk Cheddar, Parrano, and Petit Sapin – Vacherin Mont d’Or Type.  At this point in the dinner, my taste buds had been under attack for so long that it was no surprise that the winner was the strongest cheese, that blue.

Basil Panna Cotta with Raspberry Coulis

I knew ahead of time that this dessert would be fabulous, but only while i was eating it did i realize that serving a flavorful but light dessert would be, after a 7 course dinner, perfection.

Speaking of perfection, one of the guests, a physicist named Gerry Wilemski, provided a perfect barrage of excellent wines throughout the meal.

This was the finest meal i’ve ever eaten in a private home, and it vies with favorite meals i’ve had at the restaurants of internationally acclaimed chefs.

Here’s a photo of the table taken by Sarah Edmands Martin:

Afterwards, i staggered off to bed, fully intending to get up in the morning and help Mark and Stephanie with the cleanup.  Alas, i was rudely awakened by Jim with the news that i needed to get moving if i were going to catch the last car to St. Louis.  Yes, the previous day had been such an overload in both physical activity and gorging on the finest dinner i’ve ever eaten that i had hit the ten hour mark and was going strong when Jim interrupted.

My return flight was uneventful, the way i like them, but there’s more to this story, so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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The Summons

 

It all started when my dear friend Jim sent me an email proposing that i jump onto a Southwest Airlines non-stop flight to St. Louis, where i would be met in the baggage claim area by him and his wonderful wife Cynthia, whisked effortlessly through rush-hour St. Louis and on to Rolla, MO and the home of his son Mark and his wife Stephanie, who would be my hosts for an eventful weekend.

Once my luggage and i were safely stowed in their car, i would be driven straight to Rolla and to the home of Mark and Stephanie.  I’d known Mark when he was a little boy, and then saw him again about 1990, when he and Stephanie were on a pre-honeymoon trip and had been given a wad of money by Jim to take me out to the Thai House, that legendary Thai restaurant on Henry Street.  They were foodies and loved it, which was Jim’s plan.  I found them delightful, which was also Jim’s plan.

I’d decided in 2009 during my month in Amsterdam that i simply no longer had the strength to deal with a transatlantic flight and the rigors of hanging out with my Dutch friends for a month.  And once i’d got back, i realized that the whole airplane experience was one i could no longer handle, regardless of the distance.

Still, Jim’s offer was seductive because it had been many years since i had seen any of these delightful people.  Besides, how much easier can a trip be than one in which you are picked up at the baggage claim and returned to the airport shortly before your flight back home?

Another factor was that Mark and Stephanie had gone from being mere foodies to accomplished gourmet chefs who every month threw a large, fine dinner for a few lucky friends.  I knew about these because Mark for some time has been including me on the email invitation list that details the menu for the upcoming dinner.  Over which i’ve slavered and commented back, never dreaming that i’d get to attend.

One of these grand dinners was scheduled for the day after my proposed arrival.

How could i say anything but yes?  So i booked my flight and started fretting over what San Francisco delicacies i might bring. I finally decided on nectarines from Rodin’s, raspberries from Yerena, cherries from Alfieri, blueberries from Alpine, and five cooked crabs.

How to get them there?  Well, easy for the crabs, on the morning of my departure i put them in a small cooler with lots of those frozen ice substitute blocks that don’t melt after they’ve done their duty.

The fruit i packed in the boxes that my 8oz. canning jars come in, leaving the little baffles in there to keep the fruits from crushing each other into a pulp.  I closed each box by using another jar box upside down without the baffles.  Then i filled the suitcase with gifts, toiletries, and clothes.  Ta da!

There was an issue at SFO that deserves its own post, but after that the flight was just perfect.  I managed to get an aisle seat, and when a young woman took the window seat, i spoke pleasantly to her, the novel i was reading resting in my lap so that after this bit of etiquette i could while away the flight productively.

She spoke back, and the rest of the trip is a blur because we didn’t stop talking until we were ready to deplane.  An entertaining person beside you always makes for a glorious trip, and it’s especially wonderful to have one when you’re in constant pain and they serve as a distraction.  Sure enough, Jim and Cynthia were waiting for me in the baggage area, and the trip to Rolla was uneventful – except for a detour to a fine fishmonger to pick up some fresh halibut and a Google-assisted surface street tour of suburban St Louis to avoid Friday 5 o’clock since we were all talking nonstop.

Mark and Stephanie’s house was impressive, not lavish but rather superbly comfortable and resolutely dedicated to their shared interest in cooking and dining.  For example, what was originally a large family room had been repurposed as a dining room with an immense table that would easily seat a dozen people.

The kitchen was a modern marvel, with the latest appliances up front and lots more tucked out of sight.  The refrigerator was this gigantic silver thing, and the two drawers underneath the countertop beside it were a freezer so the refrigerator didn’t waste space on a freezing compartment.

When i opened my suitcase in what i’d planned as a grand display of the fruit i’d brought, there was mashed fruit everywhere.  Nevertheless, we all gathered around and retrieved, separated, and refrigerated the fruit.  The nectarines and cherries were pretty much unscathed, but a number the blueberries were mangled and the poor raspberries were well on their way to being a waffle topping.

The next morning i raced to the kitchen, only to find Mark and Stephanie already hard at work preparing everything for the dinner that night.  I joined them.

And since the dinner deserves a separate post, i’ll stop here.

Well, one note:  When i got back here and unpacked the now-nearly-empty suitcase, i found a clue suggesting that the devastation might not have been all my fault, a NOTIFICATION OF INSPECTION (NOI) slip informing me that – to protect me and my fellow passengers from terrorists, socialists, demmercrats, and other bad guys – my suitcase had been opened and the contents inspected.  Clearly the integrity of my protection system was compromised during the inspection, resulting in the battery of the berries.  Once they’ve torn everything open, they just stuff it back into the case however they can.

Meanwhile, speaking of food, i routinely go to Sushi Zone after my Italian class, and last month i realized that i deserved a more luxurious meal.  I ordered the sashimi platter with miso soup and an Asahi.

sashimi platter at Sushi Zone

And then Yoshi handed me a little extra plate, a chunk of tuna that he’d briefly held in a pot of simmering dashi, sliced, and garnished with macerated green onion.

tuna simmered briefly in dashi

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