Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Painted Ladies and Blue Dicks

No, my blog hasn't turned porno! Above are the Blue Dicks. They are out everywhere on Mt. Davidson. And below is the mystery yellow daisy that I believe is Narrow-Leaved Mule Ears (Wyethia angustifolia). I found it at the same site where I found the Blue Dicks: the Friends of Edgewood Natural Preserve photos.
I went up on the mountain before 9 am today and photographed these and other flowers. Here's some lupine:
There are a few others I haven't identified but none as striking as the Mule Ears.
In the last ten days I have noticed Painted Ladies everywhere--in the arboretum, on Mt. Davidson, even in my backyard. This one was sitting right next to the trail.
(Note: After a look at Art Shapiro's butterfly site, I realized I had witnessed part of the Painted Lady migration, because one day all the butterflies I saw were flying in the same direction. Next time I see that I will do a count and email it to the site--it's fun to read the "citizen-scientist" reports of migration observations.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mt. Davidson Wildflowers

Wildflowers have burst out on Mt. Davidson, my familiar hike. The flowers bloom in successive waves. It's the time of year when I need to go several times a week, just to catch the newest wave of blooms.
In this photo (from a previous year's hike) the pink ones are Checkermallow, the yellow are violets--California Golden Violet, or Johnny Jump-Ups, I discovered thanks to this site. I see these every year, as well as the lupine and poppies, which are also blooming now. Douglas iris will bloom shortly. There were two new flowers today, at least new to me. One I quickly discovered was Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) thanks to another websearch, and there were patches of some yellow daisy-like flowers. I have no idea what the daisy-like flowers are but they look a little like Mule Ears. I realize that I need to get a more specific field guide to SF--or Northern California coastal--wildflowers. My beloved Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers is not cutting it! I think I am going to have to go up there tomorrow and catch some photos so I can solve this.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why I Like to Dig in the Dirt

Today I was admiring my daffodils in their pot. Then I transplanted some sweet peas to the lovely crumbly rich soil on the side of our house. Before transplanting, I had to do a lot of weeding, since grasses and fumitory and oxalis all love this rich, crumbly soil, too. Man, it felt good to dig in the dirt. I love the smell and the surprise of finding out what is below the surface. And I recently found out there is a scientific explanation for why digging in the dirt makes you feel good.
It turns out that breathing soil bacteria triggers neurons in the brain to release serotonin. I first read about this at a great website called Hooked on Nature. It's all about getting people, especially kids, to enjoy just being in nature. There are all sorts of cool activities to do, like breathing with trees. I know this sounds suspiciously treehuggerish, but if you're in the right mood, breathing with trees is a great meditation, and hugging trees makes you feel pretty good, too, especially if it's a Jeffrey pine that smells like pineapple. There are weekly thoughts on connecting with nature on their blog, 52 Ways to Love the Earth. And one of them, on Jan. 14, 2009, was about digging in the dirt, with a little factoid about how there's scientific proof that digging in the dirt really does make you feel good. And for a more scientific article on the experiments with mice that identified the soil bacteria-serotonin connection, here's a Discover magazine article about it.
Today I also checked out my sugar snap peas, which are hanging on to their sticks and the tomato tower and growing ever upward. It's pea season!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

Neighborhood Butcher

Here's my five star review of our new neighborhood butcher: San Francisco Meats & Delicatessen. (Check out more rave reviews on Yelp!) My friend June, who lives on Ocean Ave. just a few blocks down from them, told me about the new shop, so I went and checked them out. Joe, the owner, used to work at a hoity-toity meat counter in Pacific Heights but always longed to open up his own meat shop in...Ingleside! We're lucky he did, and I bet we appreciate his friendliness and top quality all the more over here in lowly Ingleside. I have to say, I didn't just embrace SF Meats without subjecting the shop to a few tests.
Test #1: Did they have family-sized, home-style cuts like pot roasts, london broil, etc. that require a bit more cooking knowledge than just throwing it in a hot pan? Yes! I bought a very nice roast that Joe said he uses for their roast beef sandwiches, and another time an "Ingleside broil" (his name for it). He also has the ubiquitous steaks and chops.
Test #2: Did they have knowledge about how to cook the pieces of meat they sell? Yes! When I was drooling over their rotisserie ribs, Joe suggested that I buy a rack of ribs and cook it myself. I told him that my smoke alarms went off whenever I tried to roast ribs, and he wrote down his very own special ribs recipe in which you cover the ribs and let them braise rather than roast. It was delicious.
Test #3: (Most important) Did they know how to prepare specially ordered cuts? Yes! I called them up and asked Joe if he could make some braciole for me out of pork shoulder. There was a short silence. I asked if he knew what that was and he said no, but nicely. So I described it and he said he could do it, and he did. I may be imagining it, but I think I saw a new light of respect in Joe's eye when I came to pick up the braciole. He asked if I wanted to inspect it, and I said no, I trusted him. And I do. And here's some rare good news amidst the economic grimness all around: another customer came in when I was picking up the braciole and asked him how business was. Joe said, "Business is awesome."

Here's how to make braciole:
Ask the butcher to prepare 3 pounds of pork cutlets sliced from the shoulder and pounded approximately 1/4 inch thick. Sometimes these turn out to be squarish, around 6"x6". Joe's turned out to be long strips, about 5" by 10-12". It doesn't really matter, as long as they are thin, and not too lean or they will not be flavorful.
Other ingredients:
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. minced garlic, plus 8 large whole peeled garlic cloves
2/3 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2/3 cup grated aged provolone (or other semi-hard cheese; I used Manchego)
2 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes, good quality
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cutlets up on a clean work surface. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with garlic, cheeses and parsley (I like to mix all these together, then sprinkle them on.) Roll a cutlet, starting at one of the shorter ends, into a tight log. Tie with twine as shown below. Repeat with all cutlets.
2. Puree the tomatoes, one can at a time, in the food processor (you can also use canned puree but sometimes the tomato quality is better in whole tomatoes). Reserve.
3. Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat and add oils. When oils are hot but not smoking, add the braciole and sear, rotating every minute or so, until browned all over. You can do this in batches if all braciole don't fit. Remove braciole to a deep-sided roasting pan. Saute whole garlic cloves for 2-3 minutes in the skillet, then add 1 cup of the pureed tomatoes and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Turn off heat and pour this sauce over the braciole. Add remaining pureed tomatoes to the braciole, completely covering them. Cover with foil and bake for 2-1/2 to 3 hours, until they are very tender.
4. Snip off twine, and arrange braciole whole or sliced on a warmed platter, with some sauce spooned over. The remaining sauce can be used for a pasta to accompany the braciole. Pass Parmesan at the table.
(Recipe from the New York Times, adapted from Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Kilo Cake

My husband has been calling this "Kilo Cake," I think because he feels like he gains a kilo every time he eats a slice. But really, it's only pound cake. Actually, it's a divine cardamom and vanilla pound cake from this month's issue of Gourmet magazine. I served it with vanilla ice cream and candied kumquats to my mom and stepfather when they were over for dinner on Saturday night. It was a little over the top. I think it like it best plain, with a cup of green jasmine tea.
Normally the Gourmet magazine recipes are on the epicurious site. But this one isn't. I guess they don't put all the magazine content on the site. This is one of my favorite sites for recipes, and I love the recipe "reviews." It's astonishing how the same recipe can win one fork with a paragraph of snarking from one cook, and four forks with gushing praise from another. Most reviewers are like me: they just can't bring themselves to follow the recipe exactly as written and feel compelled make some kind of change, either because someone is allergic or doesn't like the ingredient or didn't have it on hand or just plain had to tinker with it. (In the case of the cardamom vanilla pound cake, I substituted 2 tsp. vanilla extract for 2 vanilla beans, which would have cost $10 each at my neighborhood Safeway.) Sometimes the reviewers' changes are so extensive it's a completely different recipe. I feel a kinship with these reviewers, although I have not myself written any reviews on the site. I always check the reviews before committing myself to a recipe; if there are too many bad reviews, forget it. And I like how most of the reviewers are identified by their location ("A Cook in Chevy Chase, MD") depending on how they registered at the site.