Wednesday, July 8, 2015

San Francisco Day 2

Looking at my photos, I have to admit this day was mostly about food. But in our defense, it was Saturday, and that always means farmers market morning, even on vacation! We had been admonished by foodie friends not to miss the one at the Ferry Plaza, so off we went.

Since one of my multiple jobs back home is with a small bakery, I had to check out the variety offered here. In summary, there was a lot of it.



The seasons are different here than in North Carolina, but there are also some crops I’ve never seen at our markets back home any time of the year.



Artichokes are a type of thistle, and I guess this is what happens when you don’t harvest them in time.



After working our way through the whole place, we took a long walk up to Fisherman’s Wharf, made stop in a cheesy souvenir shop, then we met up with my older cousin. He had offered to drive us around a bit, so our first point of order was a short trip across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.



And while I hate photos of myself, and this isn’t an especially good one of either of us, here’s proof that we were there. Also, if you look closely you can see evidence of the excellent sunburn I was working on that day.



After our photo op, Miss Chef was dying for a good burrito in the Mission District, and my cousin had a favorite dive to take us, called El Farolito. There was a short line, but we food fanatics enjoyed the show while we waited. (This is where the video was supposed to go, but YouTube isn’t cooperating, so you just get a still photo.)


For the rest of the afternoon we walked a bit around the neighborhood and down Valencia Blvd, then eventually drove home to change for dinner and pick up a couple of other diners. Our destination tonight was Zuni Café, right on Market Street.


Now this was the day after the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, and the beginning of San Francisco’s Pride celebration, so along the way we saw lots of rainbow accessories, pink tutus (on both sexes), and the occasional body paint in lieu of actual clothing. All in good fun, if often accompanied by a slurred word here or a stumbling gait there. Anyway, I thought the hostess stand at the restaurant was charming.


As to the food, we had also been admonished to absolutely order the roasted chicken, which is cooked and served atop fresh, schmaltz-soaked bread. One order is supposed to serve two, so four of us got two orders. Which (to skip ahead a bit) fed the family for the next several days. Loooots of leftovers.


And here’s the happy dinner gang: me, Miss Chef, my younger cousin who I’d met for the first time an hour before this photo was taken, my older cousin and his girlfriend. And my ripening sunburn.

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The remainder of the evening’s entertainment came in the form of the streams of revelers along the sidewalks as we got stuck in traffic. More tutus and body paint, more stumbling gaits, but all in good cheer. I was just glad I wasn’t driving!

I’m breaking this down into daily segments, so if you want even more, here’s Day 1.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

San Francisco Day 1

For Big Trip 2, we were gone 10 days: 2 days of travel and 8 days of adventures. I took 364 pictures. We ate at…um, a lot of notable restaurants, including Chez Panisse and the French Laundry. Needless to say, this one earned the right to be called a Big Trip.

So let the fun begin.

Here’s our home away from home, ie my aunt and uncle’s house on the south edge of the city.


Theirs is the yellow house on the left, at the start of a nominal slope. In the distance to the right is where you might see some of the city itself, but it turns out they live smack against the base of Mt. Davidson, one of the foggier areas of town. The character and weather in this city can change completely from one block to the next.

Our first activity of the day was to walk up that mountain, at least part way. We navigated our way on foot through charming if confusing curved and sloped streets lined with cheek-to-jowl blocks of homes. It didn’t take long for the gardener in me to go all agog at the unfamiliar flora along the way.


The impression of being in a very different natural world was confirmed as soon as we entered the footpath to the top.



We didn’t go all the way up—there was no point with all the fog—but we did find some interesting scenery all the same.




Great place for a cabin-in-the-woods horror flick, eh?

After we wended our way home, my aunt, who is Thai, took us out for some pretty authentic dim sum. The menu and ordering routine would probably have confused us without her guidance, but we ended up with a table full of interesting flavors. Which is exactly what we wanted.

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After lunch we wanted to go to the Ferry Building, so my aunt dropped us off at the most convenient underground Muni station (Muni covers underground, buses and aboveground trams; Bart is kind of like the RER in Paris, designed for suburban commuting. The famous cable cars are a separate system.) That stop happened to be at Castro, the heart of San Francisco’s gay community. And this happened to be the day after the Supreme Court made its historic decision regarding same-sex marriage. Needless to say, there was a tangible spirit of shared jubilation here.




We strolled the area for a bit, then hopped the Muni to the terminus downtown and found our way to the Ferry Building, home of the city’s biggest farmers market. This was Friday afternoon, so the real fun wouldn’t be ‘til the next morning, but there are plenty of daily vendors to peruse.




What a great slogan—to the point!



Miss Chef was mesmerized.



Of course we bought two.




There were other things to look at besides food, like this sweeping view of the Bay Bridge.



We walked a bit along the piers and got a nice view of the city skyline.



Then we cut inland and dipped our toes in Chinatown before picking up the Muni again.




This was one of the few nights we did not have fancy-pants dinner reservations, and my aunt was planning to cook a simple Thai meal for us.



One sign you might be in the kitchen of a Thai cook:



Most of the family gathered for dinner, including one of my cousins and his girlfriend.



Spicy green beans with tofu, and garlic prawns and calamari. Look at that beautiful presentation. Simple, huh?


Once again I have clogged a page with an overload of photos. So I guess I’ll do the same as our last Big Trip, and break this down day by day. Besides, it’s about bedtime here now, and I have to be at work in the morning. Oh yeah, back to reality! That’s ok, our air conditioner is on the fritz, so I’ll be happy to be in some cooled air for most of the day. Adventures never cease around here…

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Update 2 of ?: Garden

It’s been a long while since I wrote a blog post and there’s a lot to catch up on. But rather than get dragged into one long, neverending story, I’m breaking it into several little bits, a la John Grey, Earl of Bwythn-y-Llan. Who knows how many I’ll accomplish before the day wraps up?

The big news this week around these parts is the weather. After weeks of spring deluges, the rain has trickled off, and we’ve had only one good shower in the past month. It was dry enough before that for me to have drained my 40-gallon rain barrel, one 2-gallon watering can at a time. I was relieved to get a refill before Mother Nature turned off the spigot for good.

So, with occasional watering, this was my garden last week.

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Not overwhelming, but the right-hand pea trellis had finally turned into the lush wall of vegetation I was looking for, and the pods were starting to fill. Sadly, last year’s pea-eating pest was back at it, and I didn’t know how to dissuade it. The damage was too high for rabbits, so I assumed the lately-arrived squirrel population (our neighborhood is still developing a tree canopy, so we’d been squirrel-less until the past year or so). I sprinkled cayenne powder, tucked onion tops and garlic scapes into the vines, and tied shiny bits of paper and ribbon onto the trellises. The onions seemed to work for a day, but nothing else had any effect.

Then Miss Chef happened to catch the thief red….feathered.


Yes, she saw a cardinal eating my precious peas! Now, I’ve been very conscientious about creating a little bit of habitat here for wildlife: no chemicals for lawn or garden, a little patch of wildflowers I let grow in the backyard, avoiding invasive plants, and of course the birdfeeder and birdbath. I stopped filling the feeder after spring had turned and I deemed it easy enough for them to find natural food sources. But after Miss Chef’s report, I filled both the feeder and the birdbath…however, I’ve not been diligent about it, so it’s hard to tell if it helps.

In the meanwhile, this week’s forecast looks like this:


And according to Mr. Weatherguy on the tv, there’s no relief in sight. It’s only been a few days into the heatwave thus far, and here’s how my garden looked this morning.

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The deep shade makes it look darker and lusher, but take a second look and you’ll see signs of stress. The peas and nearest tomato plant are turning yellow from the ground up. For the tomato, that’s a common virus which will eventually kill the plant, but I can still get a little harvest from it. For the peas, that means it’s too hot and too dry. I haven’t been getting up early enough to water as frequently as I’d like, and frankly I’d rather save my dwindling supply for upcoming crops like my beans, peppers and squash.

But darn it, those vines keep putting out new sprouts and flowers amid all the yellowing leaves.

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So I was out there this morning, trying to at least get them through the week. But since checking the 10-day forecast, I think it may be time to stop kidding myself.

The garlic and onions have been indicating they’re ready to come out, too, and while my onions have been rather pathetic, I did pull out some handsome heads of garlic.

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Dirty, yes, but handsome to my eyes.

While those plants are gasping their last, the resilience of my squash plants entertains me. This is what they look like in the heat of the afternoon. You’d think they were toast.

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Yet once the shade rolls on in, they look like this within an hour:

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Amazing, eh? And even better, they’re working diligently on growing me some squash.


Heck, if I can get just one crop through the next couple of weeks, I’ll feel like a successful gardener.

Update 1 of ?: Rosie


Sometime this year Rosie turns 11.

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You’d hardly know it, short of looking closely at her eyes, which have developed the typical cloudiness for an older dog. She’s as energetic as ever when she grabs a toy and does her “I want to go outside” dance (which closely resembles her “I’m hungry” and “I want some attention now” dances.) And while she’s developed at least one white whisker and the little patch on her chin nobody ever sees has grown a bit, by all appearances she hasn’t aged a day since she walked in the door almost 9 years ago.

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So fierce

Yet one telltale change is marking her time on Earth. Over the past several months I noticed her hearing seemed to be diminishing. Her ignoring of my “c’mere”s seemed a little beyond passive stubbornness, and it was obvious from her startled waking growls that she was no longer able to hear the cat’s plaintive greeting meows. I mentioned this to the vet during her annual checkup in May, and she confirmed there was nothing outwardly wrong with Rosie’s ears, so it was surely age catching up with her. She’s such a sweet, responsive girl it didn’t really matter; she rarely used “I didn’t hear you” as an excuse.

But one morning last week at breakfast, Rosie was looking me right in the face when I gave her the “ok” to eat. (I make her sit and wait when I place her bowl on the floor. I told you she was a Good Dog.) After I gave her the command she just continued to smile eagerly at me, awaiting permission. I tried again louder, then a third time, at a shout. It wasn’t until I added a swipe of the hand in the direction of her bowl that she jumped up and dove in.

She’d done this before, hesitating as if she weren’t sure I really meant “ok.” But usually that was accompanied by a false start and some tail swishes. Not today. It was as if she’d forgotten to turn the volume up in her world.

Over the next few days Miss Chef and I repeatedly tested the dog’s hearing, calling her loudly from right behind. It became apparent from Rosie’s startled reactions whenever we touched her that she had no idea we were anywhere nearby. Seemingly overnight, her hearing had gone from “poor” to “practically nonexistent.” Thank goodness she’s such a calm dog and never reacts aggressively when we frighten her. I’ve been searching for gentle ways to awake her from her naps—waving my hand in front of her nose worked once, and tapping the floor if she’s not on the carpet works too.

Though it may seem like “aw, such a shame,” I’ve actually been kind of enjoying this new adjustment. I guess it’s the scientist in me, testing new ways of communicating and interacting with her. Fortunately I had already taught Rosie many hand signals—come, sit, stay, look over there cover most of our daily needs. Oh, and the “Where’s your toy?” shrug. Yes, I taught her that! I’m glad she’s such a quick learner, and had picked them up almost effortlessly along the way.


This is not me. Also, crazy eyes are not part of the signal.

The only thing I wish I’d developed a signal for was “good girl.” Because I can tell she misses the balm of verbal praise. She often comes over just for a little pet-pet, seeming to want that reassurance that she used to get so frequently via tone of voice. I’m trying to teach her a “good girl” sign now, but it doesn’t seem to have clicked yet. That’s ok, pet-pets are a nice substitute, if a little hard to achieve when one’s hands are full.

And then there are some other benefits. Like when I want to go from bed to bathroom to bed again without a dancing, huffy escort who thinks any post-sleep movement means it’s time for breakfast. Or when I let her in the backyard, she no longer hears me close the door and turns around with a look of betrayal; she just goes on about her sniffing and peeing business.

So, all in all, I’m content that it’s her hearing that’s gone, rather than sight, mobility or general well-being. And aside from missing her “good girls,” she doesn’t seem to care at all. As long as she’s still able to hang out in the front yard and sniff the world wafting by, Rosie’s a happy pup.

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In case you were wondering, that second picture is her yawning. Not so fierce, actually.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Garden Journal: Now we’re growing!

Through late April and most of May, I was disappointed in how my garden looked.

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Oh, it was growing, and mostly weedless, but it sure didn’t look lush. My peas in particular weren’t making the progress I wished for.

Well, maybe it’s time, or that great downpour we had last week, but finally things are starting to pop out there.

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Three weeks’ difference has made me happy. I had one rogue radish pop up, and let it bloom there in the front. I was happy to see tiny little native bees on it last week. I recently read that those overlooked species do more pollinating that all the honeybees who get all the press. So I’ve been looking with pride at the clover in my unmowed lawn and thrilling at the constant swarm of miniature visitors to the parsley flowers growing wildly between our patio pavers.

And I doubt that’s the only reason, but surely it helps explain the great luck I’ve had with pollination this year?

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Last year at this time, only one tomato plant had put on two tiny green fruits, but this year all 3 of my plants have bunches of fast-plumping tomatoes hanging on them. I’m only hoping they don’t all come ripe when we’re in San Francisco!

The peas, while behind last year’s schedule by about a week, are finally looking plentiful.

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And while last year’s beans were already flowering by this point, these guys look pretty happy…besides, they’re a different variety.

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Usually I grow bush beans because I don’t want to be bothered with poles. This year I wanted to try a pseudo-three sisters approach, with poles instead of corn (modern varieties take lots of space & water). Sadly, my squash plant didn’t germinate here, so it’s just beans and poles.  Oh well.

Luckily, my other two squash plants did germinate, finally.

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They are in our fabulous raised bed built last year—the hoops and covering were supposed to help me get a jump-start on spring gardening this year, but I dithered so much about what I wanted to put in here that it’s now a total summer bed. There’s a lonely onion and a cilantro plant in the back. I took this photo right after Miss Chef harvested about 1/3 of the cilantro, so it’s doing better than it looks from here. In fact, I think it’s planning on bolting (flowering) soon. Fortunately, I’ve got a few other cilantro seedlings scattered around other beds, so we’ll be able to enjoy it a bit longer. The seeds are coriander, which is an easy spice to harvest, and fun to use. I should plant cilantro more often.

Part of the reason my garden doesn’t look quite so jungly as last year was my surrender on the broccoli front. I had about seven plants come up from seeds, half a dozen that survived transplanting into the bed, but only 3 that made it through a last, brutal freeze in March (or was it April?) I could have bought plants, but they take up a lot of space, so I thought I’d be reasonable and just grow what I have.

And now it’s time for examples of “right plant, right place”…and its opposite.

This is my biggest one.

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Handsome fella, isn’t he? Now here’s the one on the opposite corner:

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I’m not sure what the difference is here, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the garlic, either the shading or anti-companion status. Lots of things don’t like to grow near garlic. Also notice it’s more bug-eaten than the other, which I think is more effect than cause here. Healthy plants can resist pests and disease better, which is one of the benefits of using natural methods like companion planting, feeding the soil through compost, and mulching for water retention. Part of the end result is less need for pesticides.

That’s enough Gardening 101. There are more interesting things to look at. Like flowers!

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Well, this looked more impressive a few days ago, when there were fewer dead ones and more new ones. But I’ve got a nice self-propogating mix of galliardia, coreopsis and brown-eyed susans established in my front bed now. I should dead-head the spent blooms to encourage more flowering, but it’s hot out here in the afternoons!

At the bottom of the driveway, Miss Chef’s asiatic lilies are giving their annual show right now, too.

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And walking back to the house, I noticed one of our Mystery Trees has started bearing fruit. Wish I knew what it was!

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Also, this oddball popped up next to our neglected herb bed.

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I think I’ll keep this one.

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