Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Unwaged Afternoon in Dolores Park

We've been having a bit of an Indian Summer (Michael's Little Summer, Gypsy Summer, or tiger in autumn, depending on who you talk to) in San Francisco.  Interspersed with drizzle and fog, of course, but SF will be SF.  My sister and I took a walk the other night in the Marina, and this will only make sense to Thacher alums, but it was nine-thirty to ten weather.*  That certain smell of cooling asphalt, a slight warm breeze, and everyone wandering around in the dark.  To use her phrase, a mindset and not a period of time. That's how it feels these days in the Bay.  I returned to Dolores Park last Tuesday.  What follows is what I jotted down in between turning pages of Huck Finn.

There never seems to be an empty moment in Dolores Park.  Hordes of Mission burghers, maybe bartenders, or artists, or street performers taking a break now the tourist season is over, or those of us in the 9.1%.  Grass is ubiquitous and banal (legal or otherwise).  Vendors call out clearly to hawk their wares: hash brownies, pot rice crispies treats, weed lollipops, mushrooms, even acid (really?).  People light up and work their way through handcrafted microbrewed six packs purchased at a premium.  Dogs wander off-leash and sniff around strangers, sometimes leaving behind shit that doesn't get picked up by distracted owners.  In the Marina earlier in the morning, two women all but chased down a runner when her German shepherd pooped on the beach.  Not so here.  Apart from the group of thrift-store junkies with well-designed tattoos, and eccentric hats, and fixed gear bicycles, there are remnants of a counterculture that did not know where to go but here when their revolution went the way of everything else and became a marketing tool.  If you like Communism, antique clocks, or Ann Coulter, they got a t-shirt for that. 

A mysterious fire breaks out somewhere beyond Mission High School, big black plumes drifting eastward.  It takes ten minutes to hear the sirens.  Fifteen later, the news choppers show up and hover like black flies over the scene.  No one barely looks, a few shouts of, "Fire! Fire!" are in jest, disconnected from the reality over on Haight and Fillmore, where windows bent and then burst out, thirty-one lost their homes.  A woman nonchalantly removes her jeans and sits cross-legged in the sun in her purple underwear, all the while talking on her phone.  A man tripping on something or other raves about the reggae culture and wheels around the guy freestyling over a portable speaker.  Deadlocked and confused, he reaches out with a laid-back desperation for someone to understand his epiphany.  Afropop blasts from a corner.  A drunk old man swigs from a wine bottle and sneezes, almost compulsively, for five minutes.  The sound of clicking lighters, flint on metal.  The sound of clicking iPhones.  The sound of clicking bicycle gears.

Frisbees and acrobats spin across the lawn.  Girls tell quiet little details of their ordinary lives and discuss fake IDs while lighting up a pipe.  Young men on OKCupid dates teach young women how to use fancy camera features, preening their blogging credentials.  Old Chinese women wander through the groups with big rice bags, collecting glass for deposit money.  A Latino man advertises his ice cream cart with jangling bells, another man with a cooler and newsboy cap sells cold beer.  Informal economies spring up anywhere there are people.  Cyclists rip by, too close to the sedentary.  Platinum blondes in a stars-and-stripes caps, colored feather tattoo peeking out from tank tops, chugging Newcastles.  Two sweet-looking lesbians with punk haircuts and tricked-out bikes talk behind their hands, write in journals, and smoke rollies.  Young men, shirts unbuttoned and beards perfectly unkempt, split watermelon beers between them and ignore their strategically-placed academic work.  A man in a red beard sips a 40 and plays guitar badly and enthusiastically, and you have to love him for it.  An older black man in a cycling cap smokes a blunt, foot resting on his handlebars, holding a banana to eat later.  Indian Summer, all in their own ways.  The smoke dies down, and no one seems to pay it any mind. 

*Nine-thirty to ten, or 9:30pm-10:00pm.  Perhaps the only true free period of time on the weekdays at boarding school, it was the slot between study hall and check-in (AKA you're in the dorm for the night OR ELSE) when you could play pool at the SUB (RIP, Student Union Building), eat vending machine candy, hang with your buddies, or MO with your SO.  Mostly good, clean fun, though subject to increasing restrictions since my graduation year.  Poor kids.  I mean, that was the only time I could justify talking to upper-class students (i.e. sophomores, juniors, and seniors) when I was a wee freshman.  Almost half of your time is spent walking across the campus, anyway.  Can't get in too much trouble.

Video courtesy of Ms. Catherine Robinson.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Music Break

For your listening pleasure in the AM, Fleet Foxes played on David Letterman last night.  Ignore ol' Dave at the end getting the name of the song wrong.  They kill it.  So hauntingly beautiful.

And if you want something a little more upbeat to pep up your morning, try out Tinariwen, a Tuareg desert blues group.  They have a strange little history too.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Adultery Fridays

A new post is available for your global health reading pleasure over at the Foreign Policy Association.

I found this via the phenomenon known as Facebook.  I think I love Ojai even more.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Canning My Way Into Food Nirvana

One of my friends is a farmer (you can check out her farm stand here).  Due to an unseasonably cold summer in Lompoc, her tomatoes didn't come in until now...and they came in all at once.  When she showed up in SF on Tuesday, the bed of her pickup was filled with tomatoes, plus smaller (though certainly not negligible) amounts of pears, kale, apples, eggs, dahlias, quinces, beef, peaches, and peppers.  When she opened the camper shell, a delicious, sweet perfume of pears and tomatoes (some of which had started to split) wafted out.  What did this mean?  Canning, of course.

Wednesday and part of Thursday were dedicated to this task.  Another friend was nice enough to donate her apartment/kitchen in The Mission, which ended up covered in tomato juice.  We estimated that we processed about fifty pounds of tomatoes, which came out to just under fifty jars of quarts, pints, and half-pints of tomatoes and tomato-japaleño jam, all-told.  This was not, by the way, all of the tomatoes.  There were three or four boxes remaining, which we split amongst ourselves.  My friend also took one box down to Tartine Bakery, in appreciation of their ridiculously, insanely delicious desserts, sandwiches, and bread.  Oh, the bread.  I'm working my way through a round of walnut bread right now.  Blistered in all the right ways, it has wide striations of flour on either side of the split ridge of crust on top.  The loaf's so heavy, it feels like I could use it as a blunt bludgeoning object, and you have to really muscle a serrated blade to get through the crust.  When you do finally cut into it, a tangy, yeast-enhanced smell--like the way bread should smell--almost bursts forth.  The soft walnut pieces studding the interior crackle a bit in the toaster oven.  That deep, almost syrupy taste you get with a perfectly browned crust.  A nice, thick slice toasted and topped with cream cheese is pretty close to nirvana.  It would fulfill the Vietnamese idea of năm giác quan, which means that it appeals to all five senses.  And I won't get started on Tartine's chocolate pudding, lemon tarts, croissants, or coconut cake.  This is one of those places that's absolutely worth the money.  To be honest, when I first heard of Tartine, I was skeptical--there was no way it was worth the hype or the ridiculously long lines.  But it was.  It so, so was.  Go immediately.  Buy bread.  Bathe in pudding.  No judgments.

Our process started with cutting the tomatoes and prepping them for a quick blanching, to loosen the skins.  Then, we peeled off the skins and cut or pulled the tomatoes into large chunks and cooked them down to a nice pulp with some lemon juice for acidity.  Once the jars were sterilized and the water hot, we jarred them and processed them in boiling water (I'm being vague on purpose).  Jars were removed and cooled, and we checked their seals.  Rinse, then repeat with the next round.  Jarring/canning requires some amount of knowledge (yay, botulism!) and special tools.  Make sure you have a buddy with you, maybe to just shout directions at you from a recipe as you wrangle jar lifters, sterilize lids, and pour near-boiling fruit goop from one thing into another.  It goes without saying that I required close supervision.  Fire, boiling water, and knives were involved, after all.

We were working with a variety of heirloom tomatoes, including yellow pears (they're tiny and went whole into a jam concoction with sugar, lemon juice, jalapeños, and basil), green zebras, purple cherokees, amaras, pineapples, and brandywines. 

There's something very satisfying about taking a whole product--especially one that's close to being unusable--and turning it into a long-lasting something else.  For instance, making an iPod case out of a (clean and not ratty) sock with a hole in it, which is pretty much my only DIY skill and isn't going to get me any attention on Etsy just yet.  Or, in this case, taking on-the-cusp-of-composting tomatoes, beautiful shouldn't-be-wasted heirlooms, and sealing them up for use in soups, pasta sauces, and so on, for a year (or more) to come.  The tomatoes were gorgeous before we cut them up, and they continued to be as we processed them.  

We took a break to re-fuel at Tartine and Bi-Rite Market (we did Bi-Rite Creamery on Tuesday night: Basil and Crème Fraîche double scoop).  Bi-Rite is a bit amazing.  Apart from its absolute ridiculousness--I once saw $10 blackberries there, I am not joking--the market has an impressive selection of food-porn-worthy goods.  Frozen rendered duck fat.  Dry spaghetti with that perfect rough texture in violet tissue paper.  At least twenty varieties of gourmet chocolate bars wrapped in beautiful papers, single-origin, organic, hand crafted, nibbed, or fair trade.  A dried bean gallery to die for.  For any foodie, further nirvana awaits.  We cleared out the last copies of the first issue of Lucky Peach, which has a delicious 3-part haiku recipe for miso corn and a conversation among David Chang, Anthony Bourdain (my current obsession is "No Reservations"), and Wylie Dufresne on authenticity.  Did I mention the magazine is devoted almost entirely to ramen?  

As the experts talked shop with the butchers/meat cutters on types of cuts--cowboy steak, a novel London broil, etc.--I learned a few things about beef.  Of course, if you've read Michael Pollan's The Ominvore's Dilemma (or remain in limbo, never quite finishing it...I'm not describing myself), you know that corn is the devil.  I think that's what he was getting at; it might be a bit more complicated.  100% pasture raised means that the cows are eating grass before they go off to a feed lot or are otherwise finished.  "Grass finished" means that just before the steers are killed, they're still eating grass (no hay).  "Grain finished" means that they get some kind of grain, which is occasionally specified.  When a steer is grain or hay finished, it tends to have a better marble on it, which means more delicious fat.  When that finishing grain is corn, that can be a problem for steer's health, as well as yours.  You can read Mr. Pollan's book for more on that.  Something good to know: Santa Barbara County has outlawed feed lots.  Those are the tiny, poop-filled enclosures where steers are contained to fatten them up prior to slaughtering.  So, if you can source your beef from SB, you're probably in better shape, and the bovine specimen you're eating was in better shape before reaching your table. 

After our break, we finished up most of the jarring (apart from the yellow pear tomato and jalapeño jam, which was...a bit fraught), ending around 9pm.  After we chowed down on some Vietnamese noodles, we called it a night and did the final bits on Thursday.  Which brings us to our final product.  A summer's bounty for a winter of lycopene.  


Sunday, September 11, 2011

No Title

I don't know what to say about today.  Or what I think.  So, here's Paul Simon.  Don't bother with the video.  There's been enough media manipulation already.  Just listen.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Adultery Fridays

New post over at Foreign Policy Association.  On non-communicable diseases, the upcoming United Nations High Level Meeting on said diseases, and how we (being the global community) need to do a whole lot more. 

Off to eat some ramen and wander around China Town and Union Square with the sis.  Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I live in Cow Hollow.  It's a green, lush place that sits between the steep slopes of Pacific Heights and the flat Marina.  Pac Heights is all big, fancy houses with views of the Bay and gardens that are manicured perfectly, or neglected in the orderly way that means: "We didn't hire a landscaper, but we do have help." The Marina is all residential, apartments and some houses, but perhaps because it was flattened in the 1906 earthquake, it has a strange feel.  And none of the stately Victorians that are on the hill above.  Cow Hollow is a mix of both and includes Union and Chestnut, two boutique-y, cute-restaurant streets that are great for wandering around.  I do that often, as I am unfettered by a job.  Currently. 

The entire area gets a bit of a bad rap--Pac Heights for its old-money snobbery, the Marina for the same, except of the yuppie variety, and Cow Hollow for being a meeting place for both, as well as for being a bit bro-y or fratty.  Although some of this is undeniably accurate, Cow Hollow offers more than the (different kind of) snobby brush-off given by some San Franciscans and tour books, including Time Out.  In the past, I've loved Time Out for its ability to give the locals' view of a city, and I used the guide (and magazine) frequently to find new things in New York.  Maybe I'm getting too old, at the ripe age of 25, to put up with a certain level of hipster-inspired superciliousness (I also complain about music being too loud in bars, sometimes), but their out-of-hand dismissal of my neighborhood was a bit of a bummer.  Boo, Time Out. 

I've been doing a bit of walking/jogging/slogging around the neighborhood and surrounds, and I've started to notice a few trends.  Jogging is very popular, at any time of day.  Probably because of the hills.  If you ever want to see your life flash before your eyes, take a little sprint up the Lyon Steps.  I can't say I was able to even jog all the way up, but I did, at least, make it to the top.  The sharp inclines from Cow Hollow to Pac Heights are totally worth the view, by the way.  On a clear day, you can see all of Alcatraz:

Pac Heights and Cow Hollow dwellers take advantage of every available space for flowers, gardens and greenery.  This includes carefully maintained tree boxes in front of almost every house (right next to the street), vines and other creepers on walls, rooftop gardens, flower boxes and potted plants, and trees and bushes that trail over fences, usually with beautiful blooms. 

Like these.

Or these.

A well-maintained garden is a point of pride.  Sculptures optional, but arresting succulents, sprays of flowers, and different shades of green are not.

 I love how this Japanese maple just flares up in the late afternoon.

There are quaint leftovers from simpler times.  Like these emergency boxes (which do not appear to work).

And great little details or touches that differentiate every house.

Even houses that look the same.  Doesn't this remind you of the Bo-Kapp?

There's one final thing that seems to be a must, especially in Pac Heights: having your house renovated.  Which means lots of cones, city permits, signs, and, of course, port-a-potties.  They're everywhere.   See?

When I first moved to Cow Hollow, I was a little intimidated by the way people (mostly women/girls) dress.  And I decided that to fit in, I would have to acquire a dog, which is not allowed in my building.  Or a baby (plus $2,000 stroller), which is out of the question.  And a Mini Cooper.  OK, so the area is a bit (a lot) fancy.  And I can't guarantee that you won't find young people reliving their college weekends at some of the bars, especially for college football games (last weekend was kind of intense with all the face-painting...I was glad I don't care).  But let's be real: in any place with a young, highly-educated demographic (much of The Mission, too, my little hipsters), regardless of their particular scene, you're going to find twenty-somethings  "reliving their college experience" in some way.  That's just life.  On top of Cow Hollow's somewhat questionable population, there are delicious restaurants for every wallet size, shops with unique clothes that make me want to cut up my credit card (yes, I have only one) to stop me from buying anything else, weird bookstores, bakeries of all dispositions and specialties, exciting antiques (I'm a nerd, it's already established, let's move on), and great little cafes for sitting and watching all of the people that walk by.  You can hear the fog horn from the Golden Gate Bridge almost every night.  And there's so much greenery, which must mean that most people here are a bit happier and healthier.  Cow Hollow (and around) is great.  It has everything you need.  Plus a stinky port-a-potty on every corner.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Walking the Mission

As I mentioned in my Foreign Policy Association post, I spent some time wandering The Mission during the week. It's a strange area, a limbo of sorts (you can decide which way is heaven and which is hell), because, of course, it's gentrifying. And it has that cooler-than-thou hipster/fringe/wannabe fringe vibe (hey, I dig the coffee and the stores too, it's OK) and then the I-live-here-and-you-a-holes-are-upping-the-rent vibe. It's just how it goes. I don't know how to fix gentrification. It's one of those urban social evils that isn't always evil. But that always ends up hurting a chunk of the community. I just want to acknowledge that.

Anyway. I took some pictures. There's a lot of awesome street art on Valencia and around as well as more formal (though no less awesome) murals.

A mural commemorating the Arab Spring.

On a building being renovated on Valencia, a nod to SF Giants pitcher Brian Wilson, the wildest beard in the MLB. Feel free to disagree (please note: I am still a Dodgers fan).

A panorama (not great, sorry) of the Women's Building mural on 18th St. Seriously boss.

And finally, a sweet street art installation. The sign reads "What do you love?" Below, people have put luggage tags on the fence listing things that they, presumably, love. A nice spot on Valencia to stop, take a breath, and appreciate the community.

Please note that the photo of Bigfoot at the top is not from The Mission. It's actually Polk St.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Adultery Fridays and the Golden Gate Three Ways

So, it's Friday. Which means a new post at the Foreign Policy Association. This time, I get environmental and discuss why we need green spaces everywhere. For health. Seriously. Also, if you have time, go read the report to which I link in the post. After I read it, I immediately opened all the blinds in the house so that I could see the trees outside. If you're lucky enough to have chlorophyll outside your window, you'll possibly want to do so too. Or please, consider buying a house plant.

I've been doing some (not enough) walking/running around the Presidio and Crissy Field. So, I'd like to share three photos I've taken of the Golden Gate Bridge in various states of fogdom. In order: iPhone with Hipstamatic (topmost), regular camera (middle) and iPhone with Photosynth's panoramic business (below).