June 2019


Here in San Francisco I’m perfectly positioned at the lower lip of a cornucopia. Ummm, make that a safe distance back from the lower lip so as not to get buried alive. That’s all year ’round but especially during the summer and fall. And most especially right now since in my farmers’ markets I’m overwhelmed by a tsunami of my favorite fruits.

It starts with the first cherry varieties, then the blackberries, raspberries, apricots, and peaches (which I don’t eat because the nectarines are nipping at their heels). They are followed by more varieties of cherries and the queen of the berries, Yerena’s tayberries.

I do a lot of my shopping now at the Alemany Farmers’ Market because it’s the second-closest market to me and most definitely has the best bargains like that rather unfriendly woman who insists that you buy the cherries that she’s pre-bagged for you. That would normally be a deal breaker except that she gives good weight; and, more importantly, the bagged cherries are not only every bit as good as the loose ones on display but also less than half the price you see at upscale markets. My second favorite is the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market because it’s also full of good buys as well as hosting some of my favorite vendors.

I went there last Sunday and had a remarkable visit. I stopped first at Yerena’s for my second flat of tayberries. I missed the entire tayberry season last year owing to breaking my back, so i’m determined to make as much tayberry jelly this year as possible. Poli (short for Apolinar) Yerena has been my main berry man for decades, ever since my previous sole supplier’s tenure at the market ended simultaneously with the cessation of his under-the-counter sales of an unauthorized dried leafy green.

Yerena is right next door to the guy who’s my primary source for cranberry beans, but they’re still a month out; so then I went to Alfieri’s, dear to me for a couple of reasons. I discovered Gary Alfieri many years ago because of his almond butter. I mean, how hard is it to make almond butter? You just grind your good almonds up into a paste. Right? Well, some folks slip other ingredients in, primarily sugar and/or salt, but the product needs neither. But even the almond butters claiming to consist of nothing but almonds can taste radically different. I can only speculate as to the answer; but, for whatever reason, Alfieri’s almond butter is the most delicious I’ve tasted.Once I became his regular customer after he got my attention with his almond butter and delicious almond candies, I noticed that he’s obviously a very nice guy because his operation is big enough to employ lots of workers, and the turnover is downright glacial. I also couldn’t help noticing that during cherry season, he brings a lot of ’em to market. All of highest quality, and a great many varieties, some of which, like the Black Tartarians, I don’t see elsewhere. Alas, there was a deleterious effect from those wonderful winter deluges that thankfully filled almost all of our reservoirs: one of ’em stripped every single blossom off his Black Tartarian trees. Maybe next year.

All was not lost, though, because he had three other varieties: Rainier and Brooks (from which I’d already made batches of jam) and another variety I’d never heard of. First I tasted the Brooks for comparison. Then I tasted one of the new variety and nearly fainted from the pain of every taste bud in my mouth saluting simultaneously. So astonishingly delicious, in fact, that I forgot their name and for now am just calling the jam I made from them “Astonishing Cherry Jam”.

Meanwhile, in the next stall over was Rogelio Martinez of Rancho Azul (and what a great name for a blueberry farm!). He joined in on my conversation with the cherry guy (whose name I’m now blanking on even though he remembers mine). I told him that his blueberries looked real good but that what with the tayberries and the cherries, I already had as much fruit as I could deal with today. Maybe next week.

Alas, it turned out to be his last day in the market for the season, so he gave me six pounds of the Star variety that he’d put aside because he felt they were getting overripe. I saw nothing at all wrong with them, especially for the price. At that point I had only two jars of jam left, but I gave him both of them.

Rode home with extra caution since a fall would strew the whole street with berries and cherries and me, creating a road hazard. Arrived at Coleridge Park totally chuffed to find Joanne basking on her bench in front. Perfect. The hunter cannot be more pleased than when he returns home and finds someone before whom he can proudly display his catch.

And then I staggered upstairs laden with three kinds of fruit, none of which has a long shelf life. So I threw the blueberries and the cherries into the refrigerator and made tayberry jelly that afternoon, blueberry jam the next day, and cherry jam the following day. I sit back in smug satisfaction.

Meanwhile here’s some cherries at the market, just a shot I snapped in passing rather than the bin of Alfieri’s “Astonishing” variety.


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The Garden Tea Party

The great joy of living in Coleridge Park is my fellow denizens; and one of the finest is Jude, who was inspired by our bedraggled garden to organize a Garden Club to take care of it. Many of us had been pitching in at times to do some watering or maintenance; but this was, at least in my case, hit and miss…and the garden showed it. So Jude called for volunteers who’d commit to taking a regular shift, and she got seven of us to join her. She draws up a schedule assigning a pair of us for each week of the month and posts the schedule every month to remind us.

The pairs are Rose and Eileen, Jude and Sally, John and me, and Jesse and Mary (who are our newest residents and are indefatigable volunteers as well as inexhaustible fonts of creative energy). Some of them go out together, but it fits John’s and my schedule better if, except for unreeling and rereeling the hose for watering, we work separately, since he has less need for constant conversation than little loquacious me.

This system has worked splendidly, and the garden looks better and better with every passing month, partly because of the extra attention but also because some of us are taking advantage of the space provided by dead plants and bringing in replacements. For example, I added a two-foot-tall Meyer Lemon that seemed quite happy at first but then lost all its leaves even though it’s still covered in flower buds.

Jude took it to the next level when she suggested that to celebrate the improvements in the garden, we club members throw a Garden Tea Party for all the residents on the 8th. In preparation for the tea, some of us gathered the night before to help Mary and Jesse with their idea of stringing crepe paper on bungee cords. And then the next morning we went out and helped them stretch the cords between trees to decorate the garden.

Jesse and I were designated as “Garden Tour Guides” because she is so knowledgeable about plants and because one of my little things is knowing botanical names (at least genus and often also species) of most of the succulents seen in California gardens, quite a few of which not having common names.

All the Garden Club members brought finger food, as did most of the other who attended. And since everyone brought enough food to serve several, there was great abundance of deliciousness, and I was not alone in gorging myself.

But better than the food was the camaraderie. All the previous garden events I’ve attended fizzled out fairly soon, but this one kept going on. People didn’t want to leave, and it wasn’t just because the weather was particularly nice. Somehow the conversations were also extra fine. I cannot imagine a happier gathering.

I forgot my camera, but fortunately Fides didn’t. Here’s a shot she took of one of the tables.

Garden Tea Party

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The Excursion of Death

OK, in the first place, nobody died. It was a memorial gathering for my friend Nina Youkelson, about whose death I recently posted. The only thing that died was another little piece of my pride.

So yes, I went overboard for a snappy title just because not everything went smoothly even though the memorial itself was a joyous occasion. Nina’s family held it at Huckleberry Flat #2 in the San Mateo County Memorial Park, a sylvan chunk of redwood forest astride CA 84 about three quarters of the way between Woodside and Pescadero on the coast. CA 84 wriggles all the way to the top of the peninsula hills and part way down the other side with 15 MPH turns, highly scenic and untrammeled with route signage.

As I’d mentioned in my earlier post on her, Nina cut quite a swath in San Francisco because she directed the Noe Valley Nursery School for 37 years and thus had students whose parents had been her students. Everybody in Noe Valley knew and loved her, as did the residents of Coleridge Park. So the family knew they needed to find a large venue for a memorial. They chose Huckleberry Flat #2, nestled in the redwoods and described as accommodating 200 people, which it did on this occasion. The family laid out a huge spread of delicious food in this beautiful venue, and we ate and socialized for a couple of hours before her son Jason delivered a brief and moving eulogy and offered the mike to anyone who wished to say a few words. Many did, and most were quite moving even though some went on to quite a few words. It was a marvelous, heartwarming occasion.

So what’s this bit about “excursion of death”? Well, it was a breakthrough learning experience for me and, like many of its ilk, harrowing. I’d offered a ride to anyone who wanted to join me for the memorial, and immediately three women took me up on the offer and filled the car, making the trip ecologically sound.

It was a beautiful drive down to the park for all of us even though when we came to an unmarked intersection out in the wilderness and I asked a young man who looked like a local which road led to Pescadero, he smilingly responded with an incorrect answer. After a few miles, we figured out that we’d been pranked and were on the wrong road. So I backtracked to the intersection to get back on CA 84. I’d studied maps of the park beforehand, and when we got there knew to take the second left directly to Huckleberry Flats. Easy.

After the memorial, all I had to do was backtrack to get us home.

Well, yes, except that when we got back to that intersection of great sorrow at which I’d been misdirected on the way down, I somehow took a wrong turn all by myself and ended up totally lost.

Finally we spotted some people at a clearing and asked them for directions. It was then that I learned that I’d somehow got onto CA 35 headed southwesterly and was just a handful of miles from its intersection with CA 17 at Los Gatos, way south of the CA 84 route.

Well, OK, I thought, I sure am taking us the long way home, but at least once I get onto CA 17, getting us home will be easy since I’ve taken that route many times over the past few decades. I even remembered that as we approached San Jose I should take CA 85 as a shortcut to US 280 and save a dozen miles. So I did that, and fairly soon saw the sign for 280.

And somehow missed it, and just continued forward on 85, which did not go unobserved by my passengers. Fortunately 85 fairly soon crossed US 101, where I had the presence of mind to get in the correct lane to get us back home in about the same time as taking 280 would have. Whew.

I crept back to my room and started mixing myself a drink. I was so stressed and needed a drink so badly that I’d already poured three jiggers of vodka into my glass with the fourth in the jigger before I realized what I was doing and carefully poured the fourth back into the bottle. Even so, the three jiggers got me quite pleasantly drunk, that being the largest amount of alcohol I’d had in one day in many years.

And as I mellowed out, I sat there analyzing what had happened. I do not recall ever before in my life getting lost at the wheel with passengers in my car. Twenty or thirty years ago I used to drive aimlessly out into the country admiring the scenery until I’d had enough and then, when I was ready to turn back, looked at a map at a crossroads to see where I was, but that was the extent of my getting lost before this.

Oh, but wait! Last fall when I’d flown to Albuquerque to see Charmazel, I ended up getting lost both to her place and back to the airport; but I’d thought of that as a bizarre aberration, since it had never occurred before, my being such an expert with maps.

And then it sank over me. I’ve lost my ability to navigate, yet another aspect of the decline into senility. What I haven’t lost is the ability to learn from my mistakes, so I’ll never again let a passenger into my car except for short trips on totally familiar terrain.

Aging is so interesting. I feel like I’m on the sidelines watching my abilities fall away from me one by one. What’s strange is that I view this with equanimity, perhaps because there are still so many things that I can do that I don’t have time for them all. Oh, and my passengers were good sports about my ineptitude, and we got a big laugh about it at the Monday Coffee Hour the next morning. Some of the sting was taken away by my learning that one of the other cars of folks from Coleridge Park also got lost on the way home. Whew. And in our defense, would it be too much to ask the state to stick up some signage at that damn intersection?

Meanwhile, here’s a shot of folks at the memorial listening to one of the speakers.

Nina's Memorial
Nina’s Memorial

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