Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Rainbow Dinner

These are just a few of the colorful dishes we dined on last weekend when my brother-in-law came over to cook dinner with us before flying back to NY. We asked him to accompany my husband to Berkeley Bowl to buy the ingredients, and as you can see, the abundance of Berkeley Bowl produce inspired both of them.
Unfortunately the first course went unphotographed: sauteed prawns with garlic, parsley and Spanish paprika. We consumed that around 7 pm, before my son went off to play his jazz concert. While he was at the concert we sipped our wine and finished the prep on the second couse: baked petrale sole in butter, roasted purple and golden carrots and red and golden beets with dill, and frisee salad with more beets and carrots with avocados and golden tomatoes. The concert went on longer than we thought (in addition to jazz there was a classical tenor and Chinese poetry; kind of glad I didn't stay for that one), so we went and watched some of the Olympics and got inspired by sailing ski jumpers. We finally all sat down around 9:45 for the second course, and by the time I brought my son home for his dinner it was 10:30. The sole and salad and vegetables were delicious (forgot to photograph the sole, too).
Then for dessert a medley of berries with whipped cream.
I don't think there is any color found in nature that we did not have represented in that meal.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Starting the Garden Again

Last weekend I got the garden going again. First I top-dressed the raised bed with a bag and a half of chicken manure. I transplanted some sweet pea volunteers and planted more sweet pea seeds in that box on the left side of this photo. I planted some chard starts (upper left-hand corner of this photo) and a lot of sugar-snap pea seeds. I left in the African basil (left-hand edge of photo), alyssum, and a healthy fringe of chervil (upper right-hand side of bed). I'm very proud of that chervil; it's all volunteers from last year's planting, which never really thrived. As usual I have all my netting and stakes up to ward off evil cats from using the raised bed as their potty. The squirrel still makes regular visits to our backyard, and I know the netting and stakes would be no match for him/her, but he/she does not seem interested in the raised bed at the moment.
Right now gardening is pretty easy since I don't have to worry about watering. Those light, gentle misty rains we've been having all last week watered my new garden just enough, and the soil is still quite damp from all those earlier harder rains. All I have to do is pop out every day to see if the peas sprouted.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Redlead Roundhead

More mushrooms in our backyard, this one with a common name, Redlead Roundhead. The Latin name is Leratiomyces ceres.
It was not easy for me to identify this one. I began with my one slim mushroom guide, which has a simple key to identify fungi. It told me I had to take a spore print to discover what color the spores were. It also identified the parts of the mushroom and told me how to make a spore print. Here's my spore print:
I decided these were purplish brown. Then I had to look closely at the gills and stem to decide if the gills were waxy, free, adnate, adnexed, decurrent, or a mixture of several of these. I had to examine the stipe (stem) to see if it had an annulus or a volva (don't ask). It was very interesting to look closely at a mushroom but all this examination did not lead me to anything that looked like these mushrooms. I finally ended up online at mykoweb, clicking through all the photos of mushrooms with purplish-brown spores. Finally I ended up at Leratiomyces ceres (which likes to grow on wood chips).
One thing I learned from my mushroom research is that quite a few genera have been split into two or more genera in recent years, due to microscopic differences. So my 1971 mushroom guide is quite outdated, but I am fond of it for sentimental reasons and so I'll keep it anyway. It was published by University California Press as part of the original California Natural History Guides series. When new, it cost $1.85. I think it looks pretty good for a nearly 40-year-old paperback.
This book belonged to my in-laws. When they were cleaning out books they gave us a boxful and all the original natural history guides from this series focusing on the S.F. Bay region were in it. I nabbed them, since I really love to read natural history guides. They are a very special kind of book that reveals both what is known and what is not known about the natural world. They are written for those of us who are walking along contentedly one day and suddenly come upon an amazing butterfly, or wildflower, or rock, or mushroom, and cannot rest until we find out more about it. The original California Natural History Guide series included books on butterflies, rocks and minerals, mushrooms, seashells, early uses of plants, evolution of the landscape, a classic on weather by Harold Gilliam, and more. They are mostly under 75 pages and very clearly and succinctly written.
Now the California Natural History Guides have been reissued, mostly completely rewritten by other authors, although Harold Gilliam did the weather one. I am a big fan of the new ones and have three of them: butterflies, trees and shrubs, and spring wildflowers. (I have written about the butterfly one, which I particularly adore, in this post.) But at 300+ pages, they are a whole different undertaking. I find myself turning to the older guides if I come back from a walk and have a burning need to read about, say, seashore plants of Northern California, before I tackle the bigger, newer one.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Along the Coast

We took a walk last weekend on the trail between Baker Beach and the Golden Gate and there were all these sheet webs caught in the thickets and highlighted by dew. I had to read a little about them afterward. Sheet webs are made by sheet-web weaver spiders, which are usually quite small. I didn't see any although I looked for them. They create a mass of vertical threads above the sheet web so a flying insect will become disoriented and caught in them, and then fall to the sheet below. The spider waits underneath the sheet web to seize any insects that fall on it. You can see the vertical threads very well in this photo.

The trees and thickets on this trail are full of birds and probably other creatures (like this spider) that I can't see. We saw a pair of northern flickers, jays, and many white-crowned sparrows, in addition to all the sea birds like cormorants, pelicans, gulls, and maybe some phalaropes offshore. Sometimes I can't believe I live in such a beautiful place.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mushrooms on the Lawn

It has been so wet lately that mushrooms are blooming on our lawn. These are some variety of cup mushroom, probably a species of Peziza. They can come in bright "orange peel," reddish brown, tan, and beige. One species, Peziza repanda, seems to enjoy decomposing wood chips, and since this part of our lawn has been heavily mulched, I'm guessing that's what it is. My neighbor caught me crouching down this morning taking their pictures.
"Weeds getting to you?" she asked.
I hemmed and hawed and finally admitted I'd been photographing some mushrooms. I hope she didn't think I was too weird.