25 September 2009

Soul Style

In the last year, I've rediscovered music videos. I took a break through college from MTV, et al, and haven't had cable since high school, so now when I see things like this my jaw hangs agape and I'm really fairly bowled over by all that marvel. Sure, they're a bit frivolous. And of course, they're basically commercials. But I love intelligent advertising; it is most absolutely a genre like any other. A good music video is exciting, in its own way, like a blockbuster movie or primetime tv. When it happens to be great and mainstream, well then you know it's really something.

This, for instance. The style in this is unreal: the lead singer, her big hair, that white dress, the dusty old theater and that Porsche 356 convertible. London in the 80's never looked so polished. I love a good song with inspired visuals to set the tone for fall. Don't you?

22 September 2009

Happy Birthday, Miriam

Here's to counting fun with the color of the cotton candy stains on your teeth and friends with forks and years with candles and love with cakes. xo

16 September 2009

Beginning with pie.

This is an old family favorite, but pie for breakfast. Pie. For. Breakfast. Is there a dissenting opinion anywhere in the world on this one? Pie for breakfast! A la mode, even, with your morning coffee. In this case, peach pie made with very very fresh peaches. It may actually be the best thing there is.

13 September 2009

Dilly PIckles

If flowering dill weren't so dern tasty when it's floating in a spicy brine, I'd put the stuff in vases all over my house. That yellow of the flowers is nearly the color of paint covering the walls of our living room and man, I cannot get enough.

Where was I? Oh yes, PICKLES. Usually I'm more of a refrigerator dills sort of a girl, thanks to the expert tutelage of my friend Gerik, but we really wanted to complete this trifecta of canning projects with something more savory. Tomato sauce seemed a bit risky and we'd heard mixed reviews of canned salsa, so with little hesitation we picked up this hefty bottle of vinegar at the store and mixed it up with several shades of carrot and bean.

Keeping with our habit of beer pairings, we sipped a dark porter whose name I can hardly recall. I swear that at the time the beverages were clouding our minds just enough to numb the swell of our ankles and dull our sense of time's passing, not enough to get sloppy in our sterilizing and incubate the makings of botulism. Promise.

In the end, this was probably our least successful of the three recipes, mostly because we lacked the foresight to anticipate how beautiful purple carrots when bathed in hot brine would turn the whole mess violet! Also, we should have erred on the side of stubby vegetables instead of tall ones because while processing them in boiling water, we lost some brine out of the jars. Now the tips of some of our vegetables protrude above their liquid, which is no way to craft a crunchy pickle. Worst case scenario, they'll grow mold. We were really too tired to worry much about it at the end of the day. Total cost for 8 quarts of pickles? $9. If they're inedible, we'll live.

From this insane project I believe we gleaned a few lessons:

1. Jam is best made in small batches to ensure you can get a nice pectinated result.
2. A dishwasher is not for chumps. It is one of modernity's conveniences and comes in handy for washing jars.
3. Refrigerator pickles are probably easier and just as tasty as canned ones. While living in California with year round produce, canning pickles may be actually unnecessary.
4. Three canning projects in one day is a bit of a stretch, but doable.
5. Holiday weekends are perfect settings for crazy projects.

{High Five!}

12 September 2009

Strawberry Fig Jam, with break for Hot Dog

Phase two of what I have coined Canaganza ushered in the red period of our day: Strawberry Fig Jam cooked while sipping a Rogue dry hopped red ale.

We subbed figs for rhubarb in this stage when we failed to locate the rhubarb patch at Berkeley Bowl West, and the combination certainly made for some nice photo ops. Ruby red against plumesque purple was just a photo waiting to be taken. Then I had a little affair with the part of the recipe that instructed us to combine 10 cups of sugar with all that fruit to let it mellow for an hour. Sugar is rather photogenic, in my defense.

Cara's help was instrumental for this part because she not only chopped strawberries, but also juiced all the lemons. You may or may not know that the hero that juices the lemons is contributing the most important part to any jam making project. In the end, we maybe could have used a few more lemons for our monster batch of jam because it's a little on the saucey side. Then again, I don't really mind the saucey side.

After that we had to let it cook for what seemed an eternity, so we broke for a hot dog snack and a root beer float out back. It was exactly what the Preservation Doctor ordered, a Top Dog with everything.

And before we knew it, we were ladeling the hot jam into sterilized jars like professional jammers. Next up: Dilly Pickles.

11 September 2009


Trying to find a subject for my drawing class assignment has turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated, but sitting on the train tonight I caught these two subjects that would have been perfect.

The first, a woman named Lupe, who was mopping the platform at Embarcadero and the second, a man dressed to the nines in a long black evening jacket with red and green plaid trousers, patent leather shoes and even a flower in his lapel. You can see him striding away between the shoulders of those two girls in the foreground. I'm not quite brave enough yet for asking strangers to take their picture, but I am sneaky and shameless enough to take their pictures anyway however quickly through the car's closing doors. Someday I'll bring you splendid portraits, I promise.

10 September 2009

A Record of Life

I don't know how some people have such capacity between their two hands. This is beautiful:

09 September 2009

Peach Butter with Cinnamon and Vanilla Bean

I mentioned I was out collecting mason jars, but did I mention why? I don't think I did. This labor day weekend, Miriam and I opted to labor over some of late summer's bounty and put it up over 12 odd hours in her cozy kitchen. It was the perfect thing for a three day weekend. One day to gear up, one day to do it, and one day to recover from all the hard work. Maybe we're insane, but we undertook three separate projects to do in one day. Which means that by the end, we'd made more than fifty jars of preserved food to gaze upon with self satisfaction. If that constitutes insanity, then you'd better lock me up. I'd do it again in a heartbeat...but give me some time to get through the stuff. There is a lot of food in my cupboard now waiting to be slurped, spread and crunched upon.

We bought a box of peaches from the Temescal Farmers Market, 50 cents a pound for the bruised ones. Even these were of such high quality that we squirreled away some of them fresh while we were busy cooking down the rest.

Here are some photos of the festivities. I'm going to post them in stages, so that no one has occassion to be overwhelmed. To keep things light, we paired a nice beer with each phase of the process. For the huge batch of peach butter, we selected Anderson Valley's Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema. The beer was light but flavorful, a good combination to savor over the three hours that pot of butter sat on the stove. Waiting for spoon-coating consistency can seem an eternity and so it was important to keep our hands full of cold beverages.

Next up: Strawberry Fig Jams

07 September 2009

A Boy and His Bike.

This Saturday began like any good one should, with a little coffee in the morning and a big plan: garage sales and errands and a good chunk of time to myself. Not that I mind company on the weekend, of course, but lately that hasn't been balanced much with time for absolute solitude. By this weekend, I was ready for it. There is something about browsing through junk and walking around the grocery store that focuses my usually wandering gaze momentarily onto a single dusty plate.

This weekend, I was restricted to going to garage sales in our neighborhood for one reason or another and Miriam had called with a tip on some mason jars on Clarke Street. With backpack and cash in tow, I headed there first. Three little old ladies greeted me warmly, with all manner of things laid out on card tables, pulling evenly from the latest five decades. They were contentedly sitting in the shade, discussing the neighborhood generally while I scoured the piles until I settled on a few silly things: 3 yards of red cotton fabric, a gold barrette, a new belt and an old-fashioned metal ice cube tray. As I traded 8 dollars for the treasures, I asked after the mason jars. The oldest and least mobile of the three indicated that she'd been the one who talked to Miriam and sure, she had some jars, but no one but her knew where to look for them. She'd have to go down to the basement herself, but she wasn't feeling up to it just then. Could I come back a little later on?

Of course, I said, I could certainly stop back later but not to trouble herself too greatly after just these jars. She got a curious look and asked why we wanted mason jars after all. Her friend answered for me, Why, these girls want to make jam! The older one looked again at me doubtfully. Jam? And then what are you going to do with it! Eat it? She chuckled at the thought and told me again to stop back later on. Then she handed me back a dollar, reconsidering after this little while her earlier price on the piece of red cotton fabric.

The younger lady then nodded toward the end of the driveway where a younger boy, of 13 or 14 had set up a stand selling lemonade and had displayed some things of his. I do hope he sells some things, she said to her friend. He's such a nice boy. And you know, his parents don't help him out at all either. But he is such a nice young man.

I said I'd take a look at what I might be able to use, but glanced doubtfully at the old computer printer, skateboard and BMX bike. As a junk collector, I reach more readily for old lady junk than for 13 year old kid junk, but looking more closely, I saw that he was selling an old bike lock too. We can always use another bike lock around our house, with all of our bicycle riding friends, and I asked him the price.

He asked how much I had to spend. I offered five, and he offered seven, and I caved at the higher price, because this was a little kid after all. And a bicycle lock with a working key is a commodity indeed. As I handed him the dollars, I asked why he didn't need a bike lock himself and looked up for the first time at his face.

For a boy, he was pretty quiet and he had nice manners without sounding maladjusted. Although his sneakers weren't name brand or new, they were clean, like he'd made an effort to stay out of the dirt. Well...he said, I'm selling my bike too, so I don't need a lock anymore. I felt a sting in the end of my nose. Oh, I said, a little lump caught in my throat. He handed me the key to the lock, wrapped carefully up in a little plastic sandwich baggie and I placed it into the pocket of my backpack. I turned and headed back to my own bike, feeling fairly rotten.

I had meant to be nice, to buy something he was selling, but that was before I realized he was just a little kid, selling off his bike just as the weather here is getting nice out. I imagined that he needed school supplies or some similarly responsible thing, the kind of kid the elderly ladies next door affectionately call a nice young man, and here I was letting him sell me his bike lock.

My own little brother, another quietly responsible kid who's always been helpful and responsible beyond his years, watched too closely as my grandfather got sick when he was only 12. And here was this kid Chris, who so reminded me of Jake, both without much mischief behind their eyes.

I ran the rest of my errands and came back a few hours later for the mason jars. The bike was still for sale. Another truth hit me after leaving the second time: that if he didn't sell his bike now, he wouldn't be able to ride it without the lock he'd sold me that morning. I was fairly crushed at this thought, but didn't want to meddle. On the other hand, I couldn't bring myself to use the lock, knowing he probably needed it.

At five o'clock I succumbed to the guilt of the thing. I called my mom and laid it out for her. She assured me that I wouldn't seem totally insane if I went back and tried to give it back. So before I really knew what I would say and before I could get nervous, I rode my bike back to Clarke Street for the third time that day. I found Chris next to his own house next door, wearing his bike helmet and getting ready to ride out on his bike.

Hey there, I said, So, no luck selling the bike then? No, he replied, Actually I'm glad you came back. He too, had realized the mistake in selling the lock in advance of the bike, but he seemed troubled over the issue of refunding the money he had already grown attached to. So I proposed a solution. I told him I wanted him to keep the lock as long as he still had the bike. If he did sell it, then he could email me and bring me the lock, but he could hang onto it until then. I wrote down my email address and told him that it didn't really matter how long it took him, I was in no hurry, and in the meantime, he could also hang onto the money I'd already paid him.

I handed him the lock and the key and my whole person felt instantly lighter. He seemed pretty relieved himself. Even if I never see that lock again, I'm not too concerned about the seven dollars, either way. For me, seven dollars is a tiny amount of money, but for a kid, I recall it being quite a lot.. And I'm happy to gamble on the possibility that it is.

03 September 2009

First Family Farm

I love to be pleasantly surprised. I know Alice Waters and Michael Pollan and by now, everyone else under tarnation has implored the new White House to take on food access issues and plant a White House kitchen garden, as existed during the depression. But who knew the Obama's would come through on this one? Not me, that's for sure. I'm feeling so impressed with our first family today:

And I've been having a bit of writer's block lately so bear with me, in the sometimes lengthy interim between posts. I usually don't like to repost other things from around the internet, but I'm making a temporary exception for this.