November 2018

Eureka!

These Fokkers were Messerschmidts.

 

Yep, i’ve found it.

The search was long and tedious, and i’ve written about my previous attempts to find a good gyros in San Francisco and how i kept finding one that was slightly better than the previous best.  But somehow, finding a better one blinded me to the fact that it still wasn’t really what i’d call a top quality gyros.

Umm, a brief digression.  When i wrote “a top quality gyros” instead of “gyro”, i was not making a grammatical error.  In my digging around about this treat i discovered that “gyro” is the nominative case, while “gyros” is the accusative case, which exhausts my knowledge of Greek grammar, but at least i now know to say, “I want a gyros” when i’m ordering one.

Anyhow, my friend Mark is an inexhaustible font of leads to new and exciting inexpensive restaurants here in San Francisco.  Like recently he mentioned on his Facebook page eating at a popup on 11th Street.  Sounded so good i whirred down there and gobbled with great delight one of their garlic chicken tacos.  Mentioned this to him, and suggested that we get lunch there.  This time i tried their hamburger, and oh my goodness was it ever delicious.  So yes, Mark’s culinary recommendations are worth trying.

More recently he had a Facebook post about Souvla at 758 Valencia.  Yep, a gyro place with a short menu consisting of pita sandwich or salad versions of chicken, pork, lamb, or veggie gyro (although i cannot imagine a veggie gyros).  That plus a few sides: avgolemono soup, fries, or home style potatoes.  A handful of soft drink choices, wine by the bottle only.

But how is the gyro?  It’s the best one i’ve had in San Francisco but still not as good as the ones i had in Hayward thirty years ago at a place i can no longer remember.

One annoyance: they make you buy for a dollar a very small little paper cup of the absolutely essential yogurt sauce, and one is not quite enough, so i feel rather ripped off.  I mean, this is like a steak house charging for the butter for your baked potato.

Another annoyance occurred when i went back a second time, taking a friend with me and had to wait for them to open.  The gyro this time was not nearly as good as it had been the first, when i was there in the middle of the afternoon.  So i suspected that i got served last night’s reheated leftovers.  I went back again in the afternoon to give ’em another chance, and it was back to the original quality.  So just don’t go there before the early afternoon.

And keep your eye open for a better gyros somewhere else where they will give you the yogurt dressing.

Meanwhile, here’s a red tile roof that caught my eye.

red tile roof

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Le Salon

“They trust me, dumb fucks.” – Mark Zuckerberg

 Ou la la, i’ve been to a salon. Actually, i’d always thought of salons as a gathering of literary figures to talk about literature and perhaps read something they’ve recently written, but this was the other kind of salon, one focused on music.

It all started when i found this taped to my door.  Note: “Louis” is my alter ego, and people here know me by this name.

 

Here’s the obverse.

 

And opened it.

And opened it.

And opened it.

What a spectacular, hand made invitation!  It’s like a two-dimensional matryoshka.  Since Jude is one of my favorite people in the building, i instantly RSVP’d yes.

At the appointed hour, i arrived for my first salon only to discover that the other guests save one had already arrived, so clearly you’re supposed to arrive a bit before the hour for salons. Next time.

After i’d taken a seat, Jude handed me the program.

Oh wow. Jude played some.  Here she is at the piano.

Jude at the piano. Photo by Linda.

Richard also played a couple as well as singing the Haggard and accompanying himself on the guitar. Then together they played the Brahms, so well that i thought of Anderson and Roe, whose recital for the Noe Valley Chamber Music i’d enjoyed last Month.

It was a most enjoyable afternoon that underscored how fortunate i am to be living under the same roof as such talented people as Jude and Richard, and such appreciative people as their seven guests.

Such a wonderful sense of camaraderie inspired me to build on it by lending some of them CD’s of music i thought they’d like.

The salon was, for me, just another reason for gratitude this time of year.

 

 

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Accomplishment and Joy

I broke down, paid for one of those DNA ancestry tests, received the package, spat in the tube, mailed it back, waited for weeks, and finally learned that i’m 100% European. What!!! Not the tiniest taste of something lactose intolerant? How boring.

 

Thanksgiving is near.  It’s my favorite holiday because even though Norman Rockwell famously depicted the whole family praying at the table around a huge roast turkey, it’s a completely secular holiday, one that can be celebrated by anyone of any religious affiliation or none.

Perhaps it’s darkness falling earlier and earlier this time of year that helps put us in reflective moods, or maybe it’s just a pent up need to express some gratitude for our good fortune, the best way being to lend a helping hand to those in need.

I’ve just done that, flying off to Albuquerque to visit my dear old friend Charmazel.  We met in September, 1966, when we both matriculated at Texas Tech for postgraduate study, and we instantly clicked.  So much so that the friendship continued for the next 52 years as i ended up retired in San Francisco and she in Albuquerque.

Alas, in recent years her diabetes has impacted her vision, to the point that a few months ago she became completely blind, so she listens to audio books and has learned to use a cane.  Fortunately, her retirement home includes a restaurant that’s really quite good, so she doesn’t need to cook.

Even though the blindness was decades coming and she had plenty of time to get used to the idea, when the lights finally went out, she became a bit despondent.  We talked fairly often, but i gradually felt that that wasn’t enough and decided that i’d pay her a visit.

I no longer travel well, to put it mildly.  My previous flight, the first in 9 years, ended up costing me a fractured vertebra that took three difficult months to heal, but other than that, the trip went well.  So surely a nonstop flight to Albuquerque and a rental car to get us around would be doable.

Well yes, sort of.  I got lost on the way from the airport to her place, but i finally found her.  The reunion was joyous, and while we’d been talking on the phone a good deal, somehow being face-to-face was much better, particularly for me since i can still see.  The assortment of her favorite jams, marmalades, and pickles survived the trip, which gave me a sense of accomplishment, and we got to spend three days eating and schmoozing to our hearts’ content.  It was an excellent visit even though i got lost again trying to get back to her place from an Indian restaurant.

And then, on my way back to the airport for my return flight, i got lost for the third time, which helped me understand that i should not travel out of state anymore even for a reunion as wonderful as this one, particularly since i could have saved myself all the anxiety and hassle by simply bringing a map.  I’m done.

Meanwhile, since i didn’t take a single damn photo in Albuquerque, here’s a moiré effect i spotted on Market Street the other day.

Moiré on Market

 

 

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A Mysterious Bean


Clearly what happened is that in a moment of asperity, Mohammed bin Salman wondered beneath his breath, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome journalist?”

 

A couple of weeks ago i was at the Alemany Farmers’ Market, and out of the corner of my eye as i passed a stall that had never before got my attention, i saw some interesting beans.

Hmm, i thought, they look much like my beloved cranberry beans, but there’s way too much of the cranberry red in them.  So i asked the vendor, who said, “Cranberry beans.”  Here they are:

Cranberry beans newer (Crimson?) variety

I’ve been buying cranberry beans from my vendor at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market all this fall, spreading them out on the floor overnight to help them relax, shelling them, blanching them to kill the enzymatic activity, and freezing them so i’ll have ’em all through the winter and spring to serve folks who appreciate them.  But on only a couple of those occasions have i reserved any to simply eat all by myself.  So fine, i’ll buy ’em and eat ’em.

But when i started shelling them the next day i immediately saw that something was wrong, not only did the shells look not quite like cranberry beans, but also the beans themselves didn’t.  Like the shells, the beans had more of that cranberry color, and the shape was distinctly different: more rounded, less elongated.

Then i cooked the beans with a chopped up a carrot and onion, not salting them until they were tender to encourage a creamy texture as Harold McGee recommends.

Oh my goodness, were they ever delicious, and i don’t think it was just because i was hungry for them.  I swear they taste better than the cranberry beans i’ve been raving about for years.  So of course i went back to that vendor the next week and bought a big bag to freeze.

Then the question arose, what are these things, anyhow?  I’d read somewhere about a variety of Phaseolus vulgaris called the rattlesnake bean, and perhaps these are rattlesnakes.  Easy, i thought, since we are now blessed with an indefatigable research assistant, DuckDuckGo.

No, not easy.  I spent a couple of hours digging into rattlesnake beans before i finally convinced myself that these are not rattlesnakes.  Then i started digging into cranberry beans and spent a couple more hours.

Finally, i blundered onto a splendid Michigan State University article on the development of a new Cranberry bean variety, and everything fell into place for me when i got to the page where they charted characteristics of six varieties of this bean.

This made me feel clever and stupid simultaneously.  I mean, i always feel clever when i’ve just figured something out, but in this case i felt particularly stupid for not realizing that a bean as widely grown for millennia as the cranberry bean would not fail to have a good many heirloom varieties from natural crossbreeding, mutations, and simply farmers saving seeds from the best bush to plant next year.  Worse yet, i’ve long admired folks starting with Luther Burbank and continuing in professors in the agronomy departments of hundreds of universities who have hybridized plants on a scientific basis, so why in the world did it not immediately occur to me that the vendor who sold me those beans was simply growing a different variety from that i’d previously purchased elsewhere?

The salt in this wound is that i finally read down far enough in the Wikipedia entry on cranberry beans to see a photo of a variety called ‘Crimson’ that sure does look like the ones i bought.  Here are mine:

Cranberry beans newer (Crimson?) variety

Now click on that Wiki link and compare the Crimson variety to mine.

Case closed.   Ummm, at least for me.

P.S.  Thanks to Kristena, a very helpful volunteer with the Cooperative Extension Service to which i was led by that MSU article.  After an extended exchange with her, she provided me a definitive distinction between varieties and cultivars and thus kept me from embarrassing myself by referring to  the above varieties as cultivars.  No, they’re varieties because they’re true-to-seed, meaning that you can plant one of their seeds next year and get the same bean.

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The Great Feijoa Roundup


I’m gonna scrawl “Told ya so!” with a marking pen across the belly of my Bernie Sanders tee shirt.

 

It’s that time of year, and the feijoas are ripening all over the Bay Area.  Yes, i sense your excitement at this news even as i admit that for the first sixty years of my life i was unaware of their existence.

I first saw them at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, where the vendor pronounced their name as if it were Spanish, and i faithfully followed this pronunciation until some years later i discovered that they were Brazilian and came up with what i thought was a Portuguese pronunciation and promulgated it until i looked more closely and corrected it to FEE- j (as in French “Jean”) oa (as a diphthong).  On the other hand, you can just call them the American popular name “Pineapple Guava” even though they taste about as much like a pineapple as a pineapple does an apple.  On the other hand, they do look somewhat like a miniature guava, which is in a genus in the same family, Myrtaceaea.

Even though the trees are widely grown in California as an ornamental, the fruit is not all that popular since it has a strong flavor that many folks find a little too “different”.  A good friend had a tree in her yard as a kid and tells me that the primary use they made of the fruit was to chunk them at each other.  On the other hand, the Kiwis (the people) are wild about them, and i’ve discovered that they’re excellent for chutney.

My friend Joy has some friends named Karen and Charlie who live in a house on an enormous lot in the western Haight that used to be a nursery and which they’ve turned into a botanical garden.  One of the trees is a feijoa, and when they asked her if she could use the fruit, she called me and set up a meeting with them.

One of the characteristics of this tree is that when the fruit are at their best, they fall to the ground so you can easily gather them.  The down side is that once they’ve fallen, they rapidly progress to overripe and then rotten, so you have to pick them up daily and refrigerate them if you’re not using them immediately.  When Joy and i got there, they had a bag half full of the previous two days’ worth, and we gathered the newly fallen ones, Karen assisting the tree by grabbing low-hanging branches and shaking them vigorously.

Took ’em home and made a batch of Feijoa Chutney out of ’em with Joy as my assistant so she could see how i did it.  A couple of days later, Joy and i went back for more, and i made a second batch all by myself.

They’re excellent for chutney since you can throw the small ones in whole and halve the larger ones, the small ones being tough enough that they’ll hold their integrity against the long boiling down to keep the chutney from turning into a homogeneous mush.  These didn’t and thus made good chutney.

 

Meanwhile, a fine example of California’s aptitude for self parody.

Sustainable varietal firewood

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