Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best Banana Bread Ever

"What's that smell?" my husband sniffed while sitting in the back seat on our ride home from Stinson Beach. He was sitting in the back seat because my 16-year-old son was driving, and I was sitting in the front because I get carsick on the curvy road. Highway One between Stinson and Tam Junction is not exactly a beginning driver's ideal road; in fact, it is unforgiving, with cars and a rock wall on one side and a cliff on the other. Our son did well, however, driving at 25 mph or under the whole way, pulling over only 3 or 4 times to let other drivers pass.
The smell was the three ripe bananas I made sure to bring home with us from our vacation. I had brought them with us and since no one had eaten them, I had plans for them: this banana bread.
I read about it more than a month ago at Muffin Top. Somehow all our bananas kept getting eaten before I could make it. Finally yesterday I made it, and it turned out looking exactly how it looks in Muffin Top's photos. Apparently it is modeled after Bakesale Betty's banana bread. All I can say is, it is every bit as good as Muffin Top says it is, maybe even more so. It is very moist and banana-y and has a wonderful crumbly sugar-cinnamon topping. We inhaled it. There was none left by midday the next day. Go out and buy some extra bananas so you can make it. You can find the recipe over at Muffin Top.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Many Birds Sighted

We were out at Stinson Beach for a few days with family and I did a lot of bird-watching. My mom is my fellow bird-watcher (she calls herself "obsessed"). She has a serious harness-contraption for her binoculars, which puts less strain on your neck. I have a little bit of binocular envy since hers are a lot better than mine.
The oddest birds we saw were vultures sitting on the ground and in trees, lots of them, sometimes up to ten at a time. The smallest bird we saw was a Bewick's Wren, in a bush. In the water we saw many wigeons, mallards, scaups, buffleheads, goldeneyes, and surf scoters. I saw a northern shoveler, and she saw a northern pintail and a green-winged teal. On the beach we saw marbled godwits, willets, curlews, and whimbrels. She saw avocets and I saw a killdeer and a semipalmated plover.
I think my sister thinks we're weird. She took a lot of beautiful photos of the winter beach scene (all the beach photos on this page are by her). I like how she captured that silvery look of the beach in December.

There was also swimming (in the swimming pool), driving-practice, tennis, poker-playing, reading, talking, and a lot of cooking and eating.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Cookies

The other day I was at my friend Beth's house and she was showing off some beautiful Christmas cookies she had made at a class on how to make the best Christmas cookies. That inspired me to make my first batch of Christmas cookies this year. Beth was telling me some tips the pastry chef had passed on, like having the ingredients at room temperature when you mix the dough, refrigerating the dough to stiffen it before rolling it out, and rolling out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper, instead of sprinkling extra flour, to avoid sticking. I already do the first two, so I decided to try the last tip, except with waxed paper, since I had lots of it.
Even though the dough was still quite cold from the fridge when I rolled it out, it warmed up quickly and became very sticky and fragile. I couldn't remove the cookies from the waxed paper without them tearing, so I put the whole sheet in the freezer to firm them up. For the next portion of dough I did sprinkle a tiny bit of flour on the waxed paper--like 1/4 tsp.--and then shook off the excess, just to help the sticking. By the time these were cut out, they too were sticking so I put them in the freezer and pulled out the first sheet. By then these were nice and hard, and peeled off the waxed paper easily. So I made all the cookies this way: putting the sheet with the cookies stamped but not removed from the surrounding dough in the freezer while I rolled out the next batch. It took longer and kind of gave me a head ache.
But...the results were dramatic. The cookie edges were nice and sharp (from being in the freezer) and the cookies did not expand much or get puffy. They turned out crisper and more delicate in texture than usual. They seemed to take slightly less time to bake, but had that lovely golden brown edge and bottom. I think all those trips to the freezer may be what makes such a big difference--as well as not using flour to roll them out.
I went all out and iced and sugared them (normally I just toss some colored sugar on them before I put them in the oven). Then I ate two. This is just a regular old sugar cookie recipe from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham. I'm sure the recipe on the back of the Gold Medal flour would be fine, too, since it's with butter. It's all about the butter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cool Bird Sighting of the Week!

I found a site where I can download photos of birds: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Digital Library. This photo of a hermit thrush is by Dave Menke and it's in the public domain.

I saw a hermit thrush eating ivy berries on our back wall today. I got the binoculars out so I really got a great look at his black spotted breast, white eye ring and rusty tail and rump. He was looking frantically around as he gobbled the still-green berries, poor thing. Just in the last few days we have noticed the robins gathering, I suppose standing watch over the berries as they ripen since I haven't actually seen the robins eat any. A crowd of blackbirds gathered on the telephone wire, too, and there was a tense stand-off but no air fights.

Here is the best I've been able to do so far with the yellow-rumped warbler and his mate eating the white berries outside my kitchen window (which is all steamed up in this photos). This is his mate, who seems to be a bit less guarded (or hungrier?).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Big Day at the Founders' Cup

I admit I was resentful about it: a soccer tournament, in Morgan Hill, Saturday AND Sunday, two weeks before Christmas, after their season was already over? But we went along with it. We had to leave the house at 7:30 am this morning, and weather was predicted to be in the 30s. We got there an hour early and stood around sleepily until it was time for them to play. The Scorpions (my younger son's soccer team) played their game, and they played really really well, even missing three key players. And they won! Yes, it was very very cold, but I wore my down jacket. We had a 3-1/2 hour break until the second game, so my husband and I and our son had a delicious, peaceful and restorative lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, then we hit the premium outlets in Gilroy and bought pants, shoes, belts, and some secret items. We saw quite a few people we recognized from the soccer complex at the outlets. Back to the fields for the second game, which the Scorps also played really really well. They worked really hard, had some brilliant plays, took chances, got knocked down, and knocked some other players down. They won again! It was very exciting. Even though they still have one more game to play on Sunday, this means they go on to the quarter finals, next weekend. Oh.

Youth soccer is insane, my husband and I decided long ago. Mostly because of the parents. And yet there are some endearing things about it, like the kids, and even, sometimes, the parents. At a tournament like this (not a select or elite level, but strictly recreational, class 4) the families are not just from one ethnicity or one socio-economic group. There are teams from all over Northern California. We played Hayward and Napa, and tomorrow is Manteca. A parent from Modesto gave us some tips on what our players should and shouldn't have for lunch. At the end of our second game, one of the Napa parents came over to ask who were the parents of player #17. I hesitated a moment (was she going to complain his flying elbows?), but it turned out she was grateful that he paused on the field to check on her son, who was down. She appreciated his concern. Player #17's parents weren't there, but we made sure the compliment got passed on.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cool Bird Sighting of the Week!

I saw this bird sitting on a telephone wire today as I walked over to the fitness center to work out (well, not this actual bird, but one just like it). At first I thought it was some warbler with a ball of red fluff in its beak. Its head is the most brilliant red. It's ridiculously red. The strange bird hopped down from the wire and sat on a stone wall in front of a house. I was able to approach it pretty closely and observe its markings, and then it flew up to a roof, as if it were unsettled.
When I came home I searched through my North American bird book, all the while pretty sure that it was an escaped pet. Finally I found it online: A red-crested cardinal (Paroaria coronata), native to South America and introduced to Hawaii. It's a popular, although somewhat rare, pet bird. I went out again a little while later and looked around for it (with my camera this time) but there was no sign of it. I hope it gets back to where it belongs.
This photo is from a website for the University of Hawai'i campus at Manoa (near Honolulu), where the red-crested cardinal is apparently a common bird on campus.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Tale of Two Frozen Desserts

I recently made these two different frozen desserts. The one on the right is maple bourbon frozen yogurt; the one on the left is maple ice cream with buttered pecans. Just by looking at the photo, you can tell the one of the left is creamier and more delicious. In fact, it is incredibly good and chock full of pecans (not stingy like some butter pecan ice cream). I made the frozen yogurt to go with the pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, but although it has a nice tangy flavor with a hint of bourbon, it's too icy. My sister said thoughtfully, licking her spoon after eating her portion, "You could make maple ice cream..." So I did, "for my book group." (Although the idea that I need an excuse to make ice cream with two teenage boys at home is a little ridiculous.) I could have made the frozen yogurt creamier by straining some liquid out of the yogurt, but it would still be just frozen yogurt. The maple ice cream with buttered pecans might be a bit over the top with pumpkin pie; I like it with Anna's Ginger Thins (hey--that would make some adorable little ice cream sandwiches).

The recipe for the maple ice cream, and the buttered pecans, is from David Lebovitz's decadent ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop. I will not reproduce the recipe here because if you are at all tempted to make this and have an ice cream maker you should go out right now and buy the book from your local independent bookstore.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cool Bird Sighting of the Week!

I know there's no bird in this photo. But there was one, just a second ago! This is the view out my kitchen window at the palm-tree-like thing that has grown up between my house and my neighbor's. Some birds really like to eat the little white berries, including a yellow-rumped warbler (or maybe two). They are really skittish and dart away the moment we appear at the window. There was no way I was going to get a photo, despite standing at the window with my camera focused on their landing spot. Until my arms hurt. So I found another photo of a female, below. Mine has a more vivid yellow patch at the throat, and darker, bluer back and wings, so it's probably a male. I don't think I'm patient enough to be a nature photographer.
This photo is by Will Elder of the National Park Service. There are lots of great photos by park service employees of local wildlife and fauna at the Presidio website.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Okay, She Won!

Rachel finally acknowledges that she did in fact win a seat on the Board of Education. It took a week of the numbers not really moving much for her to decide that she wasn't going to jinx it by saying she won. By today's count, the Dept. of Elections was up to more than 80% of registered voters casting ballots, and she is nearly 4,500 votes ahead of the next candidate. They have fewer than that number left to count, making it mathematically impossible for that person to overtake her. She'll be sworn in the first week in January, and I'll be there.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

49,129; 48,130; 49,131...

That's the Department of Elections, counting ballots. Estimates are ranging wildly from 60,000 (Dept. of Elections) to 130,000 (Aaron Peskin in the Chronicle) of how many SF ballots are still to be counted. Here's what it says on the Dept. of Elections website as of today at 1 pm:

Last Updated: 11/5/2008 2:55 PM

Total Registration and Turnout

Registration 477,651
Total Ballots Cast 241,090 50.47 %
Election Day Reporting 191,962
Vote by Mail / Absentee Reporting

Check out that turn-out number: 50.47%. (This reflects only those ballots that have been counted.) Now go to the elections archive page and see what historic voter turn-out in SF has been: 74.3% in November 2004, the last presidential election. With Obama and Prop. 8 on the ballot, did only 63% of San Franciscans turn out (projected total if there are only 60,000 ballots left to count)? I don't think so. If there are 130,000 left to count, the total turn-out would be 77.6%. Now that sounds more like it.

I think Rachel is right in concluding that the number of outstanding ballots must be much higher than 60,000, because I can't believe that turn-out for this election was less than for the last presidential election. In Noe Valley alone, which usually has the highest voter turnout in the city, they are currently only recording a 56% turnout. And best of all, Rachel feels that these uncounted ballots will tend to go more moderate, which favors her (she is the one who tipped me off to the historical turn-out figures). The Department of Elections is now saying they should know the results by Friday. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Head Space

It was a relief to get away from the post-election buzz and go take a walk on the Marin Headlands with my friend Jenny.

Tempering my pleasure at Obama's win was the inconclusive results of the Board of Ed race. It's too close to call at this point. Rachel is 898 votes ahead of the fifth place candidate, which puts her on the Board. But there are still 60,000 provisional and absentee ballots to be counted. Most likely they will fall as the already-counted ballots did, and Rachel will remain in 4th place. But we have to wait until all the ballots are counted to be sure. Today they only counted 5,000 more ballots. We may have to wait two more weeks to be sure.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Eve

My husband came home from work tonight and asked me if we had any large Rachel Norton for Board of Education signs. I told him yes.
"Good, because the N___ Y___ people are out on the corner with their signs and we can't let them be the only ones out there," he said.
I ran downstairs and told the boys there was a campaign emergency.
My oldest went in the garage and got some leftover posts and started taping our signs to them. My youngest got his sweatshirt on. We left Dad to finish cooking dinner and me and the boys went out to the corner with our signs. We decided we didn't want to be too confrontational so we planted ourselves across the street and started waving our Rachel Norton signs. I waved at the N___ Y___ people, who were joined by a S__ L__ F__ person. We waved our signs at each other.
One lady stopped. "You are all pretty nice to be out here for this....Rachel Norton," she said.
"Well, she's our aunt," said my son.
"So, why should I vote for her?" she asked.
I started to give her my spiel, and she waved her hand.
"If the three of you are out here for her, that's good enough for me!" she told us.
One more vote for Rachel Norton!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

We're getting trick-or-treaters in flurries. I'd say a total of around 75 by now. We're almost out of candy so we'll have to pull in our pumpkin soon. One dad had flashing lights on his "grill" (teeth). There was one Hillary Clinton mask, but no Sarah Palins. Otherwise there was the usual intergalactic villains, pirates, superheroes, witches, monsters, brides of Frankenstein, princesses, and mermaids. Oh, and a cowgirl in a pink cowgirl hat. The two most beautiful costumes of the night were a handmade peacock and a handmade Monarch butterfly, sisters, with matching bags. The most creative costume award goes to three teenagers (young adults?) with their heads covered by paper grocery bags decorated with crude faces fashioned out of paper plates, masking tape, more crumpled grocery bags, and crayons.

Monday, October 27, 2008

More Buttons

It's the last week of the campaign. Rachel is really tired but she's still out there talking to voters and passing out her flyer. We're all wearing our buttons. Think positive. Yes we can!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Goodbye to the Butterfly Zone

The Butterfly Zone exhibit over at the Conservatory of Flowers is something I’ve been meaning to go to ever since it opened last spring. Now it’s closing on Nov. 2 and I finally made it over there last week.

I was entranced, walking into the exhibit space, to see butterflies flying around me and feeding on various blooms. But as I examined them more closely I could see that most of them had tattered wings. The caterpillar and chrysalis house was closed, with a sign saying that they couldn’t raise any more butterflies because the exhibit was coming to a close. The USDA (they regulate butterflies?) would not allow the release of their “leftover” butterflies into the wild, so they were just letting the remaining species live out their lives. Note to self: do not wait to visit an exhibit until the last two weeks.

There was only one battered ID guide around that didn’t even list all the butterfly species I saw. Of course I knew the one Monarch I saw on the milkweed. With the help of the $2 official Butterfly Zone ID guide I eventually identified these species:
Julia (Dryas iulia)
Atala (Eumaeus atala)
Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius)
Crimson-Patched Longwing (Heliconius erato)
Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)
Great Southern White (Ascia monuste)
But what was the striking black one with iridescent blue stripes and white spots, the most numerous butterfly left in the exhibit? On an empty bulletin board outside the exhibit, dark squares showed where more info once hung. I asked one of the gardeners if she knew about butterflies.
“Why?” she asked, apparently tired of butterfly questions.
“There’s a butterfly that isn’t identified on any of the guides,” I said. “I just wanted to know what it was.”
“Well, the exhibit is about to close. The entomologist has been taking all her pictures down so there’s not a lot left.”
“Is she around?” I asked.
“Oh no, she’s gone. There’s only about a week left now, so …”
Even the entomologist had abandoned it.
On my way out of the Conservatory, I glanced up. Those blue-striped butterflies were clustered thickly on the skylight, like moths around my porch light.

Back home I searched for the mystery butterfly on bugguide.net. After paging through more than 100 pages of butterfly images, I found it: a Mexican Bluewing (Myscelia ethusa). One reason my search took so long was that I had no idea where this butterfly’s habitat was, or even if it lived in North America. If I had observed it in, say, my backyard, I could have looked on one of the Bay Area-specific sites and saved a lot of time. The only reason it showed up on Bugguide.net is that is also found in extreme southern Texas, since they only include insects from the U.S. and Canada.

Which is really why the Butterfly Zone didn’t grab me like I thought it would. I did see some gorgeous butterflies I probably never would have seen in their natural habitats (unless I traveled to extreme southern Texas, for example). But out of context, they were only decorative, like the orchid in my bathroom. It was more interesting to me to find the chrysalis of the lowly Cabbage White on my kale than have the exotic Mexican Bluewing land on my leg in the glass-enclosed exhibit space.

You can see gorgeous photos of all the butterflies I saw, including the Mexican Bluewing, at bugguide.net. I think I was the only adult at the Butterfly Zone without my camera.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I hadn't checked the chrysalis for a few days, and when I checked it again, it was only an empty shell. I wish I had seen it hatch, but I guess I would have had to be more vigilant or more lucky. I figure it pupated for approximately two weeks. Definitely not in diapause. There are still more Cabbage Whites fluttering around my garden so maybe they will just continue their reproductive cycle through the winter. I finally got fed up with the aphids so I chopped down the kale and threw it all in the compost. I have tried hard to love worms and caterpillars and pillbugs, but I cannot love aphids. I respect their reproductive powers, but I do not love them.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

These are truly delectable. I made them for an outdoor party in Marin yesterday and they were gobbled up. I think I'll have to make another batch. You can see in this photo there were a few "tunnels" in the cupcakes which supposedly means I over-mixed them, but who cares?

Peanut Butter Cupcakes (from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham)
6 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1-1/4 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup salted peanuts, chopped (I didn't include these because I didn't have them)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with fluted paper baking cups. Cream the butter and peanut butter together, then add the brown sugar gradually, beating until well blended. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt together onto a piece of waxed paper. Add the sifted dry ingredients and the milk to the peanut butter mixture. Beat until the batter is thoroughly blended and perfectly smooth. Stir in 3/4 cup salted peanuts, if desired, reserving the rest to garnish the frosted cupcakes. Spoon into the prepared muffin tins, filling each cup about 3/4 full. Bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool. Frost with Chocolate Butter Frosting, below, and sprinkle with reserved nuts.
(makes about 17 cupcakes)

Chocolate Butter Frosting
(makes 1 cup)
1-1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
3 Tbsp. milk
1-1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
dash of salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave oven, then set aside. Heat the milk up in the microwave, separately, then pour it over the sugar in a mixing bowl, and beat vigorously until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and beat well. Let the mixture come to room temperature, then beat in the butter, salt and vanilla. Spread on the cupcakes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Good Things Cooking

My son stepped into the house today after school, and a beatific smile came over his face.
"Mmmmm," he said.
He walked over to the kitchen and stuck his nose in this pan.
"There's always something worth coming home for," he said happily.
Tonight it was chicken curry.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Aphids Upon Aphids

I am less and less disgusted by my kale's aphid infestation. I am restraining myself from blasting them off with a squirt of water from my hose, or brushing them off with my fingers. Acutally, I am waiting for the legions of lacewings and lady beetles to come and devour them. But so far, no one has shown up. So now there are layers and layers of aphids, huddled together, sucking. Why?

My research brought me to the wondrous revelations of Gordon's Aphid Page. I found out that there are 4,000 species of aphids in the world, 1,350 of them in North America (mine are cabbage aphids).

It's their sex life, however, that will really stretch your mind. First of all, they can reproduce parthenogenetically (that is, unmated females produce young from unfertilised eggs) AND can also reproduce by sexual mating. They bear live young (are viviparous) AND lay eggs (are 0viparous), at different times of the year. Ponder this:
Ova within a viviparously reproducing female start to develop immediately after ovulation, this occurs long before birth (even human females are born with all the ova they will ever need throughout their life, though they remain undeveloped for many years.) This means that an embryo can exist inside another larger and more mature embryo. In fact a newly born Summer aphid can contain within herself not only the developing embryos of her daughters but also those of her grand-daughters which are developing within her daughters. Parthenogenesis combined with this 'telescoping of generations' give aphids an exceedingly rapid turn-over of generations meaning they can build up immense populations very quickly.
Hence my infestation.

Still hoping for some predators.

Friday, October 10, 2008


There's a chrysalis on the kale. It's a green caterpillar (imported cabbage worm) pupating into a cabbage white (Pieris rapae). I'm so glad I didn't squash that green caterpillar. The chrysalis has looked like this for 3-4 days, since I first spotted it. Those grey dots to the right are aphids. The chrysalis could be in diapause, which means that its reproductive cycle is on "pause" until the spring, at which time it will mature into an adult and hatch. Or it may do it sooner, since our winters are so mild. I'll be watching. I photographed a cabbage white in my garden a year ago, and added a poem by Mary Oliver about white butterflies to that post.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Insect Observations

If you lived next door to me, you might see me kneeling next to our raised bed with my eyes a few inches above the soil level. For a long time. No, I am not watching the lettuce grow. I am watching the soil insects.
The rulers of the raised bed are the ants, who have conquered the entire plot for their own uses. The tiny granules of soils mixed in with the dried mulchy layer on top are a result of their tunneling. Earlier this fall the ants were farming yellow aphids on the lettuces, but I became vigilant and brushed the aphids off every day for a week or so and the ants seem to have given up. Now the aphids are on the kale, this time gray ones.
Most noticeable, however, is the population explosion of pillbugs in our garden.
Apparently these population explosions happen sometimes. I've been finding nests of them underneath our lettuce leaves, a ring of them gnawing on the pea plant that had just sprouted, and sometimes they are crawling on the lettuces, nibbling holes in the leaves. I know they normally like to eat decaying plant matter, but they will also eat tender shoots. When I find one of these nests, I scoop it up with my garden spoon and fling it in the compost bin. I am hoping they are not all marching back across the garden at night back to my lettuces. This isn't a major pest crises, just an annoyance. They are actually pretty mellow and peaceful creatures, bumbling slowly over the soil like miniature VW vans and curling up into balls when I pick them up. Eventually, I had to find out more. Here is what I found in an article by Louise Kulzer at the Bugs of the Month website (pillbugs are isopods, an order of crustaceans):
Female isopods have a marsupium, a brood pouch in which the eggs are incubated until they hatch. The young leave the brood pouch and typically molt soon after: in Porcellio laevis, within 24 hours (Nair 1984). After leaving the marsupium, they live in family groups until the young are grown. Each family has a chemical "badge" which distinguishes it from the rest of the population (Linsenmair 1984).
Now I feel a little bad about scooping up the family members and flinging them into the compost heap. Maybe I should just let them nibble. I do wonder, though, what kind of relationship the ants have with the pillbugs--do they cooperate? Or do they just exist side by side? I haven't been able to find anything about that.
There are some soft green caterpillars--Cabbage White larvae--on the kale and the arugula. They are pretty easy to spot and pick off, even though they are usually the exact shade of green of whatever plant they are eating. Here are little, bigger, biggest:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Happiness is...

...getting your favorite number on your new soccer jersey.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rachel Buttons

This happy sight greeted me when I returned home after tramping around my neighborhood for 1-1/2 hours putting "Rachel Norton for School Board" flyers on doors. The other happy sight was a Rachel Norton sign in a window I passed. Today I began touring high schools, and two of the parents I struck up a conversation with had heard of Rachel!
I can really see how a campaign is a roller coaster of elation and exhaustion. And I'm not even the candidate! Let me know if you want a button. It's what all the cool middle and high school kids are wearing.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Bike Safety*

*But Were Afraid to Ask

Last night I took a four-hour bike safety class from Burt Hill, sponsored by the S.F. Bike Coalition. By the end, my head was spinning as fast as my bike wheels going down Forest Hill. One of the many things I learned was that those "sharrows", as shown below, indicate where in the lane the bicyclist should be riding.
I always thought it was just to indicate that the lane must be shared by cars and bikes, but it actually shows you where to ride to avoid getting doored, the top reason for bicycle accidents. Maybe if I had paid a little more attention to this ad campaign I would have gotten it. I have been riding too close to the parked cars even though I was aware of the dangers of dooring. Even a couple of inches too close is worse than being an extra foot out into the traffic lane, since your handlebars can catch on a door and tip you over into traffic. At least if you are taking the lane you are visible, and a car can always go around you.
The point of the class could be distilled to this: ride like a vehicle. Ride predictably and assertively, be visible, be courteous. Burt spent a lot of time showing how hugging the curb to the right is actually more dangerous in many situations: when there's a right-turn-only lane, when the lane is too narrow to share, when you're waiting at an intersection for the light to turn red.
I rode today with a new outlook. There's one point where I always chicken out and ride on the sidewalk: where the road passes under Nordstrom's at Stonestown Galleria. Today I was determined to ride on the roadway underpass, which when I did it seemed much simpler than my old round-about sidewalk route, but it was still unnerving. Mostly on my ride I was much more aware of my distance from the parked cars, and when I should take the lane instead of timidly staying to the right. It's a familiar route so I can't say it was more scary than before (except for the underpass). My next hurdle is to try some routes I've so far been too afraid to try.

I noticed that the class, around 50 people, was mostly women, mostly around their 30s (although a few younger and a few older, like me), and a bit more ethnically diverse than San Francisco overall. Burt kept mentioning how the number of bicyclists in the city is going up, which means it's harder to find a spot for your bike on BART, but great for raising awareness of bicyclists on the road. I felt like part of something big: a slow but inevitable road revolution, and not just for the super-macho bike types who ride the wrong way up busy streets and don't stop for stop signs. If I'm going to ride more places, I'm going to do it in a safe, orderly way and enjoy my ride.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Streets

My husband and I rode from the Bayview to the Ferry Building and back at Sunday Streets--a stretch of the waterfront just over four miles that was closed to cars today--along with hundreds (thousands?) of other people. In the photo above there are three different kinds of bikes, a tricycle and a roller skater, just a few of the many kinds of locomotion we passed. I loved riding through a part of San Francisco I've never been to (Mission Bay, and some of the waterfront nearby) and parts I've driven many times before but never dared ride my bike. We rode over two drawbridges: Islais Creek and the Lefty O'Doul Bridge near the ballpark. We rode past people learning how to salsa dance, a yoga class, USF soccer players juggling balls, and people hoola-hooping. We saw someone fall on the train tracks and lots of crying kids. We saw the mayor--who initiated the idea and fought a few grumpy merchants to make it happen--and his wife, and yelled "Thanks Mr. Mayor" along with others as we rode past him. It was a gorgeous sunny day. Even the police officers guarding the intersections were smiling. This is the San Francisco I love.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Garden Success and Failure

The biggest sunflower I have ever grown, over ten feet high! This was not a volunteer (as were most of my past garden successes) but it grew in a patch without a lot of direct sun, between our home and our neighbor's. Reason for success theory: sheltered from the wind.

The summer lettuce and carrot "crop." Reason for failure theory: not enough water or fertilizer. I did hire a neighbor boy to water twice while we were away for two weeks, but I think this was not enough for the 3-inch high plants. When we got back, things looked okay, but a couple of weeks later I came to the conclusion that going away in the middle of the summer is not compatible with being a gardener. By early August, the small lettuces that I had planted in mid June remained stunted, as did the carrots. I started over a couple of weeks ago by planting dill, new chervil, arugula, and buttercrunch and mesclun lettuces in the front of the raised bed. I guess my garden failures don't hurt so much since it's so easy to start over. Here's how the new crop looks today:

This isn't the giant sunflower, but it makes me happy.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Slow Food Marketplace

The Slow Food Marketplace just opened at Civic Center today, along with all the other events of the Slow Food Nation event. My friend June and I went down to check it out. There is a garden with vegetables and flowers right in front of City Hall. It's a great juxtaposition; I wish I had my camera with me to take a photo. (Pam Peirce at her blog, Golden Gate Gardener, has some great photos.) There is a lot of great food for sale, to eat on the spot and for later. I had a nostalgic moment talking to Pablo, an olive oil producer from Apollo Olive Oil, about the varieties they grow and Spanish olive oil. They make divine organic extra virgin olive oil in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Here's what I bought:
1 bottle Sierra blend Apollo Olive Oil
Half a flat of organic strawberries from Salinas
Basket of organic cherry tomatoes
Half a Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk cheese
Organic Canary melon from Fully Belly Farm in Yolo County
1 pound of Tongue of Fire shelling beans
2 lbs. of heirloom apples from Windrose Farm in Sonoma, mixed varieties
June also bought a lot. The only reason we had a hope of getting it all back on BART was because we had brought my deluxe Spanish Rolser grocery cart.
I bought this at the Sant Antoni covered market in Barcelona for 15 euros. It is the best grocery cart I have ever seen. It swerves like a Ferrari, maneuvers bumps like a Land Rover, and has so far transported at least the weight of a Volkswagen in its 8 years of life. And it shows no signs of slowing down. I used it for all my shopping in Barcelona (where we did not have a car) except for the semi-monthly beverage deliveries from the supermarket. Back here in SF, where we live around the corner from a Safeway, I pack it as full as it goes and toddle back home with my purchases, and bring it to the farmers' market. I have received many many comments on it: people want to know where I bought it so they can get one, and even the grocery clerks who help me pack it wake up from their automaton stupor and say, "That's cool!"
You can buy it at a Canadian Rolser website, where you can see some MUCH more groovy designs than mine, but the least expensive one I saw was $69 Canadian dollars, not including shipping. At one time my husband and I had the idea that we should start a business importing them from Spain to sell here. But the rest of life took over. Anybody want to start an import business? I think the time is ripe.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Poem from the Bar Mitzvah

There are things you can’t reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.

The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.

And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.

--Mary Oliver, first four lines of "
Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?", in Why I Wake Early.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My New Favorite Apron

Here's the final result of my apron project. I like how the two different fabrics turned out. It was a bit fussy to make with all that bias tape, but I think it was worth it. I feel like some kind of domestic royalty in it.
Tonight's dinner was Chicken Proven├žal, adapted from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World. There's onion, chopped green pepper, garlic, anchovies, capers, tomatoes, white wine, saffron, and fresh marjoram and thyme. Basically just throw it all together, put in the chicken, and cook it till it's done.
My son who bakes made brownies with pecans, from scratch. He doesn't realize what a good cook he is.