Journal: 2018

Backing Out and Turning Over

The most popular flavor of the Canadian ice cream company Sweet Jesus is “Rocky Road Rage”.

 

OK, i’m backing out of Facebook and soon will be deactivating my account.  I mentioned reasons for this in my previous post, but to that i’ll add another, which is that while i do dearly love the Facebook posts of a handful of friends, a problem with Facebook is that it’s addictive, and we all know that as time shoots by, addicts require larger and larger doses of their Substance.  And yes, even though for a good number of years after i started Facebook, i’d forget to look at it for weeks at a time i gradually, gradually found myself requiring a hit more often, and my use became first weekly, then daily.  Recently i found myself opening it more than once a day.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but it struck me last January that if i were going to make one, it ought to be to try to snap somewhat less often at clickbait.  And Facebook is definitely a form of clickbait.

So yes, i’m folding the tent within the next month or so as i create email distribution lists for a few friends who are not followers of my longtime companion, Matte Gray, who has been chronicling my life for the last twenty years.  He’ll continue to do so and will remain the best source of news about me.

Finally, as close as Matte and i are, i’ve not been able to convince him to deactivate his Facebook account, which a number of my friends already see.  I encourage everyone else to send a friend request to Matte Gray on Facebook.

Meanwhile, since so many people liked that garage door treatment in the last post, here’s another:

Garage door treatment

 

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Food, Glorious Food

Sen. Feinstein is encouraging us to implement “responsible encryption”, that which, for our own good, has a backdoor for the government. Next, it will be responsible locks, in which you take to the police department a key/combination for all your locks: front door, back door, file cabinet, car, scooter, and don’t forget your diary.

 

As one of my readers might have noticed, i’ve recently maintained radio silence for the longest period since near the beginning.  Sorry ’bout that, but lots of little problems reached a confluence.  The good news is that i have finally got rid of ten of the twenty pounds i gained upon my return to the city last August.  Too much good food here.  The other good news is that i have discovered some good new restaurants in which i can eat abstemiously.

The last time i saw my friend Carol, she led us to a place in her neighborhood called Dumpling Time.  It’s at 11 Division, in the transition zone as gentrification spreads into the warehousy, semi-industrial area at the north foot of Potrero Hill.  Yes, it’s dim sum where you’d least expect to find it.

I discovered dim sum shortly after i arrived in the city when a Cantonese friend took me to Yank Sing, which at that time was the best dim sum in the city but located in an utterly unprepossessing place on Broadway in Chinatown.  Yank Sing can still claim to have dim sum of the highest quality, but now they’re in a gorgeous setting in the Rincon Plaza.  Over the decades, i branched afield to many other dim sum restaurants, and by now i also really like Ton Kiang, Riverside Seafood Restaurant, and Hong Kong Lounge II with the latter perhaps the best.  It now has competition, and i need to alternate it with Dumpling Time to determine the winner.  Go.  It’s fabulous.  Alas, it’s also very popular, so you need to arrive before the lunch and dinner rushes start.

As much as i love dim sum, though, my favorite cuisine is Thai, but no, i’m not going into another rave review of Basil Thai, my favorite place.  Rather, i’m talking about Esan Classic, a spinoff from Lers Ros.  I know Lers Ros only from their second location on 16th Street because i’ve been taken there on several occasions by friends who swear by it.  I grudgingly admit that the food is excellent, but even though i’m turned off by obsequiousness, i rate the service there as ranging from unveiled impatience, to smug disdain, to downright rudeness.  The last time i was in there, which will be the last time i was in there, the waitress snapped, when i ordered a certain dish, “you can’t send it back if you don’t like it!”  I liked the dish but wanted to send her back.  About Esan Classic, to which i was taken by the same folks who dragged me to Lers Ros, i have to admit that the food was excellent and the waitress, perfectly acceptable.  I wrote earlier that i’d still go back to Esan Classic even though i still thought Basil Thai was the best Thai restaurant in the city.  On more recent visits i’ve been chatting up the manager and the primary waitress and finding them very friendly.

Now let’s spin the globe all the way around to the Middle East.  Gyros is one of my favorite foods, and i mentioned earlier this year having finally found a decent one on 24th Street.  It was good enough that i went back twice even though i uttered a futile plea to my readers to recommend a better place. Well, the other day i was on Castro Street and noticed that Sliders hamburgers had been replaced by a new restaurant with a vertical spit turning in the window.  Yow!  So i pulled a U-turn and went into it.  Oh wow, significantly better than the one on 24th St, and my only complaint is that they didn’t dress it with enough labneh.  And let’s be clear here, i’m talking about Park Gyros at 449 Castro, not that wretched place called Gyro Express at 499 Castro, the corner of 18th Street, that i tried it a couple of times when it opened a few years ago and cannot imagine how it has remained in business.

I was already planning my next visit to Park Gyros when i picked up a foyer flyer from Melody Cafe, just two blocks from me at 3401 Mission Street, across from Walgreens, and yes, gyros is on the menu.  So i stopped in at lunch.  Not much effort wasted on decor, but hey, ambiance is well down on my list of requirements for a restaurant.  Of course i ordered the gyro, but before it came to table they brought out a single falafel dressed in labneh as an appetizer.  It was perfect, crisp on the outside while still moist on the inside, so i got off to a good start.

Then they brought the gyro, and the presentation was unlike any other i remember in that they’d split the pita in half horizontally to get two equal pockets that they’d stuffed with the meat, dried tomato, olives, and feta and drizzled with labneh.  The meat was delicious, moister and tenderer than any i’ve had in recent years, and it was accompanied by a small bowl of chopped cucumber and tomato.  This was the best gyros i’ve had in ages.  It, the falafel, and the complimentary piece of baklava were all so good that i want to try other things on their menu, so i know where i’ll be having a lot of my lunches in the immediate future.

Well, i thought i’d be lunching in there a lot, but as i started frequenting it, an issue with the “vibes” arose, which put me off a bit.  Luckily, at that moment i discovered Souvla on Valencia Street, a clean, well-lighted place that serves an excellent gyro.  So far, definitely the best i’ve had in San Francisco and good enough that i don’t expect to find better.

In case there’s any question, i did a bit of research and discovered that “gyros” is the nominative and “gyro” is the accusative.  Not, of course, that places that serve it are likely to correct your grammar.

Meanwhile, for a food shot here’s a strawberry i bought recently for making jam.  I normally go for smaller varieties like the Chandler since in my experience they have more flavor, but the vendor encouraged me to just taste one.  OMG, it was perfect even though, note the quarter in there for reference, it was the size of a jumbo egg.

giant strawberry

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Too Awful To Eat

A recent restaurant review: “A true work of art is never done. And neither was the chicken.” Clarissa R.

 

I’ve long been fascinated by picky eaters, by which i’ve always meant people who refuse to eat things i like, which is virtually everything.  There are a handful of foods i don’t really like, e.g. chicken hearts and gizzards, but i would certainly eat any of them if it were served to me.

And yet, the world is teeming with culinary fussiness.

Let’s start with religious rules, which i consider ridiculous because i was brought up in the Methodist Church where the only forbidden food was alcohol.  In response to my question in Sunday School, i learned that the beverage Christ served the disciples was “just grape juice”.  Besides, almost all the adult Methodists i knew drank at least beer.  Back in those days, American Catholics demonstrated that they were holier than their European counterparts by abstaining from meat on Friday, which i found really strange even then.  The Hindus won’t eat beef, the Muslims and the Jews won’t eat pork and shrimp and rabbit and all kinds of other tasty and nourishing things although the Jews take that to the height of absurdity with their law against eating milk and meat in close proximity.

But you don’t have to be religious to be ridiculous about your food.

In the aftermath of WWII when much of Europe was starving or close to it, the US sent shiploads of food under the Marshal plan, and some of this was corn.  Alas, the French thought corn fit only for animals and had to be actually starving rather than merely malnourished to eat it. This silliness continued at least until the early sixties when i was in the Army in Germany. One weekend i cooked my mother’s cornbread recipe in the BOQ kitchen, and the smell permeated the building by the time i’d taken it out of the oven.  At that moment, a French colonel came in the front door, smelled the delicious odor and detoured into the kitchen with a smile on his face.  This was the first time i’d ever seen him smile because we little lieutenants were beneath his notice, and the smile vanished instantly the moment i identified the source of the smell.  He dashed out before he had to actually see people eating that stuff.

During that time we also shipped tons of American rice to Asian countries, and their reaction to it was that the stuff looked much like rice but had absolutely the wrong taste.  So as with the French and corn, they had to be really hungry before they would eat it.

When i was an undergraduate i had an Indonesian roommate for a summer term, and we kept up the friendship until, back in Indonesia he was killed by rioters in the great purge of communists (and the Chinese who were supposedly all communists)  At some point i asked him for his take on American food, and he shocked me by saying that he found it so bland as to be virtually tasteless, and the only thing he really liked was ice cream, which he had first tasted in this country.  Alas, man does not live by ice cream alone.

Lest you think i’m letting the Americans off the hook, oh no, i’m saving the worst for last.  Even as a child i’d figured out that my peers didn’t eat nearly as many things as i did.  Well, see, i’m the child of people who grew up in families that were poor before the Depression started, so they, like most Americans in those days, had no scruple about eating all parts of the animal…and serving it to their children.  My parents were smart enough to insist that we kids taste everything that came to the table, but if we didn’t like it, we didn’t have to eat it.  So my sister and i grew up without the food neuroses so common in postwar generations.

For example, as a special treat, sometimes Daddy would come home on Friday afternoon with a wrapped package from the butcher, and Saturday morning my sister and i would eagerly await the unveiling of the treat.  Often it was pig’s brains, which he would mix in equal proportion with eggs and then scramble in butter.  My sister and i ate this dish avidly because it was so delicious, but then one day in the middle of grade school i finally put two and two together and realized what the brains part of brains’neggs was and thought, Oh, how disgusting. But then my taste buds erected and conducted a brief war with my mind, which they won.  I still eat brains when i can find them and discovered a little Pakistani dive called Shalimar on Polk Street that serves a delicious brain masala.  Alas, i’ve almost never succeeded in getting my tablemate to even taste it.  In fact, i don’t recall ever meeting an American who would pay good money to eat this treat.  The same goes for almost all other innards, the only exception being that some Americans will eat beef and pork liver and many Americans will eat fried chicken livers.

When i spent the summer here in ’73 and ’74, i went to this Japanese place called Ichigo on Columbus to eat their tempura.  I ate there frequently and at some point noticed that many of my fellow diners were eating plates of something all sliced up into bite-size pieces.  I asked the waitress and was told it was sashimi.  I asked what that was in English, and then sat there in shock for a moment.  Oh.  See, in 1974, everybody in Texas thought of raw fish as something you ate immediately before you resorted to cannibalism when you were marooned on a raft in the Pacific.

Oh hell, i thought, it can’t be that bad if all those perfectly normal looking Anglo Saxons were gobbling it up.  So i ordered the tempura and sashimi combo dinner so at least i’d get some tempura and there’d be less of the sashimi to get through.  I ate the tempura first because, as we all know, the hot foods must be consumed at once.  Then the waitress showed me how to mix a lump of this green stuff into a bit of soy sauce in a tiny saucer.  Yow! Sure does clear out the sinuses…and is kinda intriguing.  Covertly watching my fellow diners, i saw that they were dipping a corner of the sashimi into the wasabi before sticking it into their mouths, so that’s what i did, and sat stunned as i chewed.  How could tunafish taste so much better raw than cooked?  When my mother visited me here a couple of years later i took her to Ichigo, knowing that she’d love tempura, and i offered her a piece of my sashimi.  To my delight although not surprise, she accepted a piece, ate it, and proclaimed it good although i don’t recall her ordering it on subsequent visits. Even now, there are still people, even in San Francisco although in much greater numbers in Texas, who won’t eat sashimi.

One last example, but for this one we need to go to the wilds of Sarawak.  I’m currently reading a pre-publication copy of a book by my friend Ian about the nomadic tribesmen who live in the jungle there, and i’m just wallowing in all the insights into a radically different culture. Ian writes at length about their dietary habits, and we learn that they subsist primarily on the starch of the sago palm.  This is augmented by the fruit they gather, the occasional small fish they catch, and the wild animals they shoot with poisoned darts, their favorite being the wild pigs.  Like my pioneer forebears in Texas, they ate every bit of the animals, the difference being that they preferred the innards.  On the other hand, the very idea of eating the meat raw or even rare is so disgusting that they use a euphemism for the act.

Meanwhile, in keeping with the food theme, here’s a jar of snow peas i pickled the other day, and i promise you that everybody will eat these.

pickled snow peas

 

 

 

 

 

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The Joy of San Francisco

I keep mentioning visits to Redding to photograph bridges in hopes that someone will ask me “Do you like Redding?” so that i can reply, “I don’t know, i’ve never redded”.

 

Somehow being rusticated to Petaluma for a couple of years has made me appreciate San Francisco even more.  I’ve written about my love for the farmers’ markets and the restaurants, but it’s not just about food.

There’s also a gestalt here, one that the galloping gentrification has not yet ruined, a certain mindset that endears the city to me.  The infamously liberal politics is part of it, of course, but more than that i find appealing the readiness of the citizens to engage with each other.  This is not some big city where folks don’t make eye contact.

I’ve complained that every time i take a fall on the Segway, i’m immediately swarmed by people wanting to help me when i’m so embarrassed that i’m wishing i could just lie there and lick my wounds in peace rather than having to jump up immediately proclaiming that i’m fine, just fine even though my entire body is throbbing in agony.  And of course when i see anyone else (usually a bicyclist) fall, i’m instantly all over ’em while they get to play the naw, just a flesh wound role.

When i was on my first month-long stay in Amsterdam i wrote about how impressed i was at the Dutch immediately letting me know when i’d dropped something, but San Franciscans are almost as good as the Amsterdammers about this.

But most of all, the great joy of San Francisco is the humor.

Sometimes this takes the form of a graffito. Now graffiti range from vulgar “tags” to expressions covering an entire wall, rising to the form of murals.  Then again, they can be exquisitely simple, like this tiny addition to the street sign for Rose Street outside the Zuni Cafe that you have to squint to see.

Rosé Street

 

Since i’m on the on my Segway almost every day, i encounter lots of people, and there’s a high level of cordiality.  A while back i pulled up at a traffic light alongside a Prius, and the passenger enthusiastically cried, “Electricity rules!”

My favorite Segway encounter, though, occurred one day when i was riding home from Costco with a 25 lb. bag of sugar (for all my jams and jellies) balanced on the platform.  A bicyclist pulled up beside me at a light and inquired, “That thing run on sugar?”

Segway sugar

 

And yes, the above photo was staged…in the old folks’ home courtyard.

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How To Make Hot Chocolate

Regarding the future of solar-generated electricity: We’ll never go to war to get another country’s sunshine.

 

You don’t know how to make hot chocolate.

Whaaaaat? I know you’re thinking, you know perfectly well how to make hot chocolate.  In fact, you know several ways of making hot chocolate ranging from buying a container of chocolate milk in the grocery store and microwaving a cup of it to pouring a good slug of my acclaimed Callebaut chocolate sauce into a cup of milk and stirring and microwaving.  Well, I’ve done it both ways as well as mixing into the milk various chocolate powders, by far the best of which being the Suchard powder that was imported for a few golden years back in the late sixties – early seventies.  Eat your heart out, Swiss Miss.

But while using my chocolate sauce does make an excellent cup of hot chocolate, i’ve gone farther, and so can you.  Here it is, step by step.

First get your chocolate.  Since i recently bought a 5 kg. slab of Callebaut 100% unsweetened chocolate, i’m using that.  Otherwise, get the best chocolate you can buy, like the divine stuff from Dandelion Chocolate or Tcho or any of your other fine boutique chocolates, ideally unsweetened.  Yes, they cost more, but you’re worth it.

First, put a little pat of butter into the bottom of your chocolate mug.  The standard little pat weighs 15 grams although this one, as we see, ran a little light.

 

 

 

Using a sharp knife, shave 15 grams of chocolate off your chunk or bar and add it to the mug.

 

Add a squirt of blue agave nectar.  The standard squirt weighs 15 grams.

Put the mug into the microwave for 22 seconds.

Retrieve and stir well with a teaspoon until you get an even consistency.  Then stir a little more to make sure.

 

Grasp a milk carton in your left hand and, while stirring vigorously with the right, allow small dribbles of milk to fall into the mug.  To get the proper texture, it is critical to add the milk in very small amounts at the beginning.  Continue stirring and dribbling with larger and larger amounts of milk until the mug is full.  Actually, high speed mixing and small amount dribbling are so critical to the finished product that i recommend your buying one of those battery-operated twirly thingys (technically called “milk frothers“)to add to your batterie de cuisine.

Stick the mug in the microwave for 1 minute and 25 seconds.

Remove and stir in a teaspoon of sugar (I use instead a mixture of equal parts erythritol, xylitol, and stevia, with a dab (1/8th tsp. in a quart batch) of sucralose so as to reduce the carbohydrates.)  Be sure to run the tip of the spoon all the way around the bottom of the mug to dislodge any remaining bits of the initial paste.

 

Sip with great pleasure.

OCD?  Moi?

But yes, it’s worth the trouble.

 

 

 

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A Kafkaesque Encounter

A tidbit from Yuval Harari’s Sapiens:  “We didn’t domesticate wheat.  It domesticated us.”

 

It all started a couple of months ago when i decided that i wanted to renew my drivers’ license a year early so that i could get my final address on it and simultaneously have it upgraded to the new “Real ID” format required if you’re trying to fly someplace or enter a “secured” federal office.

After forty-something years of dealing with the DMV, i’m wise to the system and know that if you make an appointment with them, you can just breeze right through whatever you’re there for instead of waiting literally for hours, much of it standing in lines.  They assigned me an appointment a couple of weeks ago, instructing me that i needed to bring with me my social security card, proof of my identity, such as my current drivers’ license, and proof of my current residence, such as my PG&E bill.

No problem, i thought.  I couldn’t find my social security card, but luckily i had my redwhiteandblue Medicare card, which you can’t get without being enrolled in social security and which uses your SSN as your Medicare number.  Of course i had my drivers’ license, and i printed out my latest PG&E bill, which i get electronically but which shows my current address, that being what they’re after.

I did make a little mistake, though.  I got to my appointment early, where i discovered this huge line leading to the appointments window.  Omigod.  So i joined the end of it and finally, as it inched forward, was able to hear this this guy in a DMV outfit calling out times, so it’s a total waste of time to get there early. Ahhh.  When he calls your time, you and the others in your cohort get to go to the head of the line, and after a few minutes you get to talk to someone.

Her job is to see whether your papers are In Ordnung.  She glances at my drivers’ license and my PG&E bill, but when i hand her my Medicare card, she says, “This is not your social security card” and is utterly unmoved when i point out that i couldn’t have got it without having the social security number emblazoned on the front.

“Go to Window 17”.  I walk down the row of windows until i come to 17, where there is a short line that i get in.

When it’s my turn i tell her that i was sent there because i had my Medicare card rather than my social security card, whereupon she cuts off further explanation and gives me a new appointment a couple of weeks later, to which she cautions me that a social security card must be brought.

And then she takes pity on me and admits that all the employees there know very well that the medicare card has your social security number on it, but they are required to accept only the social security card.  What a kind thing to do, and i thank her for it.  She then hands me a multipart form, telling me that i can save myself some time on my next visit if i already have this form filled in.  I thank her again and wish i had a jar of jam in my pack.

I get back home and go online to see how i might get a social security card to replace the one that must have been lost sometime at some point after the original was issued in 1956.  Yep, there’s a procedure, but then i realize that the odds are against my having a new card in hand by my next appointment, and i start ransacking for the original.  And glory be, i find it.  Ahhhh.  Problem solved.

So for my next appointment i arrive at the DMV almost precisely on time and clutching my documents.  When i get to the intake window i show her my documents, and she hands me some forms to fill out.  I show her that i have already filled them out.  She tells me the forms have changed and i have to fill out the new ones and bring them back to her.  Yep, in the past two weeks, the forms have changed even though they do seem to be demanding exactly the same information.

But i fill them out and get back in the short line for her window.  She checks the forms, determines that i’ve filled them out completely, writes a two-character four-digit number at the top of them, and tells me to sit over there and wait for my number to be called.

As i sit there straining to keep my eyes focused on the screen displaying the numbers that come up in random order forcing you to look carefully at every one, it occurs to me that Sartre’s depiction of hell was wrong.  Hell is watching that damn screen for all eternity, hoping that your number will come up.

But it does after only a few minutes, and i walk to the assigned window and hand over my forms, my social security card, my drivers’ license, and my printout of my PG&E bill.  Oops.  There’s a problem.  The printout clearly shows my address, which is what they’re after, but she points out that my name is somehow shortened to just “Matte”.  I protest that i just printed out the bill as PG&E sent it to me, and she says she’ll have to consult her supervisor.

When she returns, the news is of course that the supervisor has not accepted this bill, but she takes pity on me and suggests that there’s a cafe nearby where i can go online and find another page from PG&E that shows both my full name and my address.  Furthermore, when i come back, i can just hang around while she finishes with whoever she’s working on and she’ll take me then so i won’t have to go back to the dread Window 17.

Thinking rapidly, i realize that it would be just as fast if i simply rode back home and used my own computer to hunt for the right page from PG&E, which i do, only to keep coming up with pages that don’t show my full name.  Then i realize that even though they suggest PG&E, all they’re after is a bill that shows my address, and i dig into my files and find a bill from my health insurance that was sent before i went electronic.  Ta da.

So i race back to the DMV, noticing enroute that my battery level is dropping alarmingly and that it might not be adequate for two round trips to the DMV.  Fret fret, but we’ll worry about that later.  I go racing into the building and go to the window where the last woman was working, but nobody’s sitting there.  Hmmm.  There’s a woman at the next window who’s not helping anyone at the moment, and i tell her that the nice lady at the window beside her had told me to come back to her window.  Is she on a break?  Alas, she’s gone for the day.

Back to Window 17, where i’m given a new number to watch for while i worry about the whole operation shutting down before my number comes up.  But it does, and i go to a window where there’s, for a change, a guy.  He listens to a short version of my tale of woe while he examines all my papers and declares them just fine.

What?  No problem?  Really?  I’m delirious with joy as he processes me, takes my $20, and sends me to the last stop, the photography booth.  No comb.  And i have a serious case of helmet hair.  Oh well, that’s what i look like most of the time.

So i’m done.  I have a temporary paper license to use until my new one arrives in the mail.

The rest of the good news is that i made it home before the last battery bar flickerered out.

Meanwhile, here’s a fine display of San Francisciana.  Twenty years ago an artist painted “One Tree” on that wall, and at that time there was only one small tree on the lot.  As time has passed, people keep renewing the paint as the original tree grows and others are planted.  Recently the owner of the building made the major changes seen in the photo below, moving the arrow to the right end of the building so that it no longer points at the tree and worse yet, is obscured by it.  Oh well, it’s still an icon.

One Tree

 

 

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The Clumsies

Regarding that cake baker thing: How would the Supreme Court have ruled if the baker had refused to decorate a wedding cake for a couple because they were Mormons, which he considers heresy?

 

Ahhh, yet another joy of aging, getting clumsier and clumsier.

In my case, this started back in the nineties when i was enmired in depression over my cognition problems and spending a lot of time in Texas dealing with my mother.  The only good part of doing that (other than getting to feel good about myself for being dutiful) was that the frequent trips gave me a opportunities to raid her large collection of glasses for replacements for those i was breaking at home – dropping them, knocking them off counter tops, or, my favorite, putting them down on the table with a satisfying clunk only to discover when i released my grip that only part of the bottom of the glass was resting on the table.  But that clumsiness abated as soon as i got off the AIDS drug i was taking that was causing the cognition problems and, i later realized, the clumsiness.

All was back to normal until the last year or so, when i couldn’t help noticing the thumb-fingeredness returning.  Occasional broken crockery, a lot of fumbling with keys, missing the leg when drawing on my pants, dropping everything everywhere, and stumbling.

A couple of weeks ago on plain level ground at very low speed i somehow lost my balance on the Segway, which is damn difficult to do under those circumstances without hitting a pothole or obstacle.  And when i fell, i managed to whack my left leg hard enough to tear my thinning skin open in a few places.  Oh no, not bandaid size, so i had to mess with taping on gauze bandages for several days.  Grrrr.

And then a couple of days ago i dropped my credit card before i could get it back into my pocket after a purchase, which i didn’t discover for several hours until i wanted to use it again.  Went back to the store, but no, i hadn’t dropped it on the counter where the checker could see it.  Sigh, so i had to race home and call up the company and cancel the thing.  I guess the good news is that when she read out to me the last transaction, it was the one i’d made in the store, rather than $4,000 in Victoria’s Secret.

And then this morning i was in Rainbow Grocery and decided to treat myself to a good (aka expensive) cheese and walked up to their counter display.  Their breathtakingly knowledgeable cheese man has gone, perhaps for the better since his counterside manner left a lot to be desired.  His replacement is a lovely young woman, and before i’d had a chance to really study the offerings in front of her window, she inquired whether she could help me.  I told her i was in the mood for some good cheese and was just browsing the display, whereupon she extended her hand with a sample on a piece of waxed paper.  Try this.  It was superb, and i told her so, but also said i wanted to look at another counter behind me. I turned and stepped to the counter and suddenly there she was behind me with a sample in each hand, one different and the other the same as before so i could better compare.  How nice of you i said, but i shouldn’t have tried to talk and reach at the same time because i knocked one of ’em out of her hand onto the floor.  Why can’t i do this kind of thing when nobody’s watching?  She was, of course, totally gracious.  The cheese i managed to get into my mouth was the one she’d offered me at the other counter, and the second bite was even better.  Turns out, we were standing right in front of the display of it, so she handed me one and remarked that she could find a smaller one.  Oh please.

And then, just a while ago i was making a batch of my chocolate sauce, which  has always been popular, but since i went over to making it with a combination of Callebaut’s solid 100% chocolate and their cocoa powder, people have been purring and rubbing against my leg as they inquired when i’d be making the next batch.  After i’d cooked the batch and was bottling it, i managed to knock over one of the full bottles before i’d capped it, causing a chocolate cascade across the countertop and onto the floor, which i had just mopped a couple of days ago out of fear that someone would come in and see it.

chocolate sauce spill

 

I somehow refrained from going down on my hands and knees and lapping it up.  But, yes, i did do that on the rather more hygienic countertop.

And don’t get me going about what my sister calls “senior spots”, the spills and dribbles down the front of one’s shirt.

My goodness, is all this ineptitude ever annoying.

Not, of course that it’s grounds for an Intervention after which i’m carried off screaming, strapped to a stretcher.  No no.  My mind’s still clear, and to prove it, i’m learning to conjugate Italian irregular verbs:  ho, hai, ha, abbiamo, avete, hanno.  See.

The problem is purely with the body, and it’s clear that i’m going to get my wish that it fail before my mind.

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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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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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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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