Tag Archives: San Francisco

Waiting right around the corner.

Succulents and mustard are related by their mutual membership in the plant kingdom, but also by being bright particulars of my weekend that also included lots of ocean watching.

“Why pay a premium for organic brassicas like kale and broccoli at the farmer’s market when all the free wild mustard you could ever ask for is likely waiting right around the corner?”

This question was posed in an article about food foraging that I read last weekend. Pippin’s family was here and we had opportunity to explore the topic. On Saturday we took a long drive to Salt Point State Park, farther north on the coast than I have been in many years, and passed by many vineyards looking like this:

We tried to remember whether the mustard we are used to seeing in springtime in California is at least a near relation to what one buys prepared in a jar, and that night we researched further, finding once again how many good edibles are in the Brassica family. We had no idea we’d get the chance to taste some very soon.

Yes, that mustard above is mustard, and in this context it isn’t considered a weed that needs eradicating. It actually helps suppress the nematode population among the grapevines, because mustard contains high levels of biofumigants in the form of glucosinolates. Evidently the sharp flavor isn’t appreciated by the nematodes. However the mustard got there, it’s ubiquitous now, and beneficial.

At Salt Point the sun shone on us brilliantly, and made us squint. The wind pushed us this way and that, and the sound of crashing surf thundered up the cliffs to where we walked along the headlands. Some of us had gaiters around our necks, which we pulled up to keep our hair out of our eyes and our cheeks warm.

We wanted to climb that “castle rock,” but Pippin thought she better go scout ahead for poison oak. She found a lot of it, so we gave up on that idea.

Most of the plants out there hug the ground or the rocks where they are growing. Even the milkmaids stay under cover. When Ivy took off her gaiter scarf, her hair needed re-gathering into its scrunchie; once we accomplished that, she bounced off musing, “Some people say, ‘Another day, another dollar;’ but we always say, ‘Another day, another hair out of place!'”

Milkmaids
Some brassicas are likely in this mix.
sanicle
lupine

Where the trail dropped down close to the shore, we explored the sandstone that has been carved into strange shapes by the wind. The surface of the rocks with the smoothest appearance, where I grabbed when I felt buffeted off balance, was like the coarsest sandpaper.

The children all napped on the way home that evening, but slept long in their bags after they went to bed again later that night. Before we knew it we were all up and going again, but southwest this time, aiming for a hike along the Marin Headlands. Marin County is the one just north of San Francisco County/City, and it soon became evident that this destination, so much closer to a large population, was going to be too crowded. There was nowhere to park at the trailhead.

So we went into the town of Sausalito and looked at boats in the harbor, and ate our lunch at a little park with a view of Angel Island, and the Bay Bridge to the southeast.

The first wild thing we found to eat that morning was oxalis, or sourgrass, also called wood sorrel. Once I told the children about it, they continued to break off stems and chew on it for the rest of the day, it being everywhere we went. Ivy liked the flowers best, but most of us preferred the stems.

Plantain was growing everywhere beneath our feet, mixed in with the oxalis. Scout told me that if you get a rash from stinging nettle you can chew some plantain and put it on the rash to soothe it. But there were no nettles in this neighborhood, and we left the plantain alone.

The water was glittering, and the children discovered countless crabs as they peered into their dark caves among the rocks. While the more agile folk spied on crabs, I admired the colorful minerals in the giant specimens bordering the sidewalk.

Big pine trees with gorgeous trunks shaded us at the park. Ivy and Jamie took on the challenge of climbing one of them. Their mother gave them tips from time to time; eventually Ivy gave Jamie her knee for a footstool, and he was up! Pippin then helped Ivy, and they finished their lunch in an elevated position.

We drove to a different access point for the Marin Headlands and ended up at Point Bonita. Here is a map on which you can see the point, right where a lighthouse needed to be, outside San Francisco Bay at its north entrance. The lighthouse itself is closed currently, but we walked down the little peninsula as far as possible.

We stared and stared at the Golden Gate Bridge, from that perspective that we rarely get, looking in toward the bay. That narrow entrance to a huge bay was named the Golden Gate Strait by John C. Fremont:

“In 1846, when soldier, explorer and future presidential candidate John C. Fremont saw the watery trench that breached the range of coastal hills on the western edge of otherwise landlocked San Francisco Bay, it reminded him of another beautiful landlocked harbor: the Golden Horn of the Bosporus in Constantinople, now Istanbul. Fremont used a Greek term to name it: Chrysopylae – in English, Golden Gate. In his 1848 ‘Geographical Memoir,’ Fremont added another layer of meaning: The rugged opening to the Pacific, he wrote, is ‘a golden gate to trade with the Orient.'”

Here is another map of the bay from 1909, before the Golden Gate Bridge was built.

A couple dozen harbor seals were sunning themselves on rocks in Bonita Cove. We could see Ocean Beach in San Francisco to the south, and the skyline of the city with its new, tallest building, the Salesforce Tower, and indeed it towers over the others. I don’t think it’s as ugly as its name, which speaks volumes about our society. But let’s get back to more interesting things…

… And what do you think we saw at our feet? Mustard! I wouldn’t be surprised if these plants or their grandparents have been hanging around these bluffs for a hundred years or more; they are obviously robust and venerable.

Quite recently they’ve had baths and blow-drys, and the leaves looked so juicy…

… it’s no wonder Pippin wanted to taste a leaf. I of course had to follow suit… Yikes! That is the strongest tasting Brassica I ever hope to sample.

Ivy tried a periwinkle flower and spat it out. Then, the kids interacted with their environment with hands and feet, making their way up the rocky wall to our west.

We walked back up the path and drove around the corner to the former Fort Cronkhite, now part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area. From the batteries we could see north up the coast and south to the lighthouse.

Another Brassica lives on that side, the very common wild radish, raphanus raphanistrum; shown here with violet blooms, though white and yellow are common, too. I used to notice these flowers as I walked home from the bus stop as a child. We didn’t taste this one.

wild radish
California Manroot

The last Brassica experience of the weekend was the next morning when Pippin took a little tour of my garden before they started home. She told me she’d eaten some of the flower buds of my collards. How did they taste? “Like broccoli.” I don’t normally eat my collards raw, but I decided to snap off all the developing flower stems, and I ate them right then. Mm-mm — they were so sweet and tender. And just around the corner of my own house.

Gingerbread Philosophy

“The great gingerbread war has heated up in San Francisco, and it all comes down to one eternal question: Is it a gingerbread house if you can’t eat it?” So asked an article in the Chronicle newspaper a few years ago. Just as I also wondered this morning, when I heard from two young women who for years have used a hot glue gun to put theirs together. I had never heard of such a thing. Their children have started asking when they can eat the house, and the mothers remind them that they always only eat loose candy while they are assembling it.

At our house, we’ve had two gingerbread construction events that I can remember. I wasn’t the instigator. I prefer to provide background support in the form of dishwashing and photography, because cake and icing have always seemed like the most unlikely media for art or architecture, and near certain failure doesn’t sound like fun.

These first photos are from 25 + years ago, when young people could do things solely for fun without having to spend time on their phones taking pictures to share worldwide. My kids and their friends were making two houses, and one never would stay standing. I think the siding was hopelessly warped from being baked on a thin cookie sheet.

In San Francisco, it’s been traditional for the chefs at the Fairmont Hotel to make their large Christmas gingerbread house (top picture) out of completely edible components. Because a gingerbread house is the last thing that should be purely symbolic, right? When my friends and I had a tradition for a few years, of a trip to San Francisco at Christmastime, we appreciated being able to break off pieces of the house to eat. Nibbling was discouraged, true, but every day the house was quietly repaired, and sometimes a repairman chef would hand a child a piece of candy from his kit in hopes that it might mean one less candy cane broken off.

“Go ahead, have a piece,” said Tom Klein, Fairmont hotel’s regional vice president and general manager. He was handing out gingerbread shingles to startled hotel guests in the lobby. Technically, eating the Fairmont’s walk-through gingerbread house is not allowed, but Klein had a point to make about the edibility of the building materials, and the kids he was handing the gingerbread to were not complaining.

“Meanwhile, at the St. Francis, its fanciful baked house was more of a medieval castle, lavishly and intricately decorated by chefs with tweezers. It’s a smaller, more intricate creation, exhibited behind a sturdy metal fence designed to keep grubby little fingers at bay.”

I have seen the St. Francis castle, too, but I don’t  think I knew that it was gingerbread. I read that they recycle the gingerbread from previous houses to make it; that would seem to make it inedible right there. On the other hand, I liked getting a whiff of the Fairmont gingerbread:

I’m not saying that the mothers mentioned above were aiming for Instagram perfection. Probably they just feel the way I do about my Christmas cookies; I enjoy the creative project and like doing it alone. And if a recipe calls for a really messy or difficult ingredient, I just won’t use it. That’s why I don’t make gingerbread houses. Even the most precise and well thought out ones, with slabs of sturdy cake baked on unwarped cookie sheets, must be accepted as “the best we could do with the materials.” Here are my pictures of the more recent one built in my house, spearheaded by Pippin and the Professor.

This year the gingerbread house at the Fairmont is bigger than ever, and you may rent it for “private” dining. Up to ten people can sit at table inside, starting at $300 for two hours. I’m really curious about who will be enjoying that luxury. (It doesn’t sound appealing to me, to be on display to every holiday gawker passing through the opulent lobby, while partaking of such a gimmick.) The population of San Francisco is notoriously low on children, but maybe some well-to-do ladies will stop by with their grandchildren on the way back from seeing “The Nutcracker.”

I do love everything about edible gingerbread houses — their colorful and aromatic, candy-laden selves, and their fairy-tale connections — as long as other people are building them. How unlikely! How extravagant and wild. My style is to let the people get old enough to want to try culinary architecture on their own, and to have the patience to see the project through to the end; until then, I’m happy to make a mess in the kitchen with children of any age, baking gingerbread cookies. And when they’ve had enough of that, and run off after a while, I will also love finishing up on my own!

From this house, what I’d like is a few puffs of malt-ball smoke. ❤

Jewel tones and drapery.

Flora, by Evelyn De Morgan

After showing for three months at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, the exhibition “Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters” closed just a few days ago. My friend Lorica and I managed to squeeze in a trip to “The City” in time to see it.

I didn’t read up on the subject beforehand, of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as a group of young enthusiasts named themselves in 1848, and what their concerns were. Lorica gave me some background on the drive down, and there was a lot of help to be had by reading the descriptions of each piece of art. One phrase that I read more than once was jewel tones. This term echoed in my mind as I walked through the exhibit and provided one idea to help me see a little better.

My knowledge being so sketchy, I can’t teach you about the movement, but there are good online sources of information, like The Art Story‘s page. What I will do here is try to share a few points and paintings that made the most impression on me.

And I have found quotes from these artists to let their own words speak as well.

From the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood site:

…the young artists studied early Italian frescoes and marveled at the difference between them and the current norms in the art world.  They believed that for the art world to be revived, it needed to return to the time before Raphael, and thus, the name Pre-Raphaelite was born.  In the midst of the Industrial Revolution and scientific discovery, these artists looked backward and created works that celebrated a distinct Medieval aesthetic.

The Brotherhood’s early doctrines were expressed in four declarations:

  • To have genuine ideas to express;
  • To study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;
  • To sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote;
  • And, most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

The Pre-Raphaelites created art that is known for its colorful brilliance. They achieved this by painting white backgrounds that they would later paint over in thin layers of oil paint. Their work was meticulous and their subject matter drew inspiration from myths, legends, Shakespeare, Keats, and lovely long haired damsels that we now equate with Victorian beauty.

All great art is the work of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly of the soul.
— John Ruskin

The Ransom, by Millais
Flora, by Burne-Jones
La Pia de Tolomei, by Rossetti
Burne-Jones and Morris

William Holman Hunt founded the Brotherhood along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. John Ruskin became their champion for a time, and when William Morris founded his decorative arts firm in 1861 he made partners of Edward Burne-Jones, Rossetti, and several other artists, to “undertake carving, stained glass, metal-work, paper-hangings, chintzes (printed fabrics), and carpets.”

I’ve found it a pleasant use of time to go to the Wikipedia sites for each individual artist who is associated with this movement, to learn more about them and their interrelationships, their wives who were often their models, and their love triangles.

Bocca Bacia, by Rossetti
Isabella, by Millais

I had in the past become interested in John Ruskin from reading Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, and I enjoy William Morris every day as I eat my breakfast and dinner on placemats of his enduring design. (But the picture below is of a special party.)

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
–William Morris

The Wikipedia article on Rossetti quotes John Ruskin:  Every Pre-Raphaelite landscape background is painted to the last touch, in the open air, from the thing itself. Every Pre-Raphaelite figure, however studied in expression, is a true portrait of some living person.

Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante, by Rossetti
Detail of De Morgan’s Flora

Paint the leaves as they grow! If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world.
– John Ruskin

The Light of the World, by William Holman Hunt

From Wikipedia: The Light of the World is an allegorical painting by the English Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt representing the figure of Jesus preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door, illustrating Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me”. According to Hunt: “I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be by Divine command, and not simply as a good Subject.”

The more materialistic science becomes, the more angels shall I paint.
Their wings are my protest in favor of the immortality of the soul.
— Edward Burne-Jones

Colorful brilliance… saturated color… details, textures, women as muses, nature, light.

And clothing! I do often think of this, how much painting of clothing artists have done, and the Pre-Raphaelites were certainly good at it. My appreciation for the beauty of the garments and the way the fabrics drape on the wearers’ bodies was enhanced just today when I was reading/listening to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. He speculates that some artists commonly have the ability to see into the is-ness of things such as he only experienced while experimenting with mescaline. Under the influence of the drug he saw the folds of his trousers as he had never noticed them before, and that leads him to muse on the art of drapery:

Artists, it is obvious, have always loved drapery for its own sake – or, rather, for their own. When you paint or carve drapery, you are painting or carving forms which, for all practical purposes, are non-representational-the kind of unconditioned forms on which artists even in the most naturalistic tradition like to let themselves go. In the average Madonna or Apostle the strictly human, fully representational element accounts for about ten per cent of the whole. All the rest consists of many colored variations on the inexhaustible theme of crumpled wool or linen. And these non-representational nine-tenths of a Madonna or an Apostle may be just as important qualitatively as they are in quantity. Very often they set the tone of the whole work of art, they state the key in which the theme is being rendered, they express the mood, the temperament, the attitude to life of the artist….

Not an inch of smooth surface here, not a moment of peace or confidence, only a silken wilderness of countless tiny pleats and wrinkles, with an incessant modulation – inner uncertainty rendered with the perfect assurance of a master hand – of tone into tone, of one indeterminate color into another. In life, man proposes, God disposes. In the plastic arts the proposing is done by the subject matter; that which disposes is ultimately the artist’s temperament, proximately (at least in portraiture, history and genre) the carved or painted drapery.

 

Truly, the beauty of the clothing in the paintings I have posted is art for art’s sake. De Morgan’s Flora’s dress at the top of the page is a “silken wilderness” of folds, so luxurious and lovely. Even in The Ransom, I am quite taken with the texture of the man’s leggings and the way his trousers have been pressed into creases.

We did not talk about our next activity as being any kind of logical continuance from the museum, but I think it was. As on our previous trip together to the big city, Lorica had business at Britex Fabrics, the kind of store people drive a hundred miles to shop at. You can get just about any textile you need there, in the color you want. The staff really know things and come alongside.

While Lorica was discussing her needs with the salesperson, I watched a smiling black man on one of those ladders, in the green area, trying to help a woman far below, who called up to him, “How about that jewel-toned one?” He laughed and said, “I don’t have any green jewels in my collection, so I don’t know what you mean!”

Lorica was looking for fabric for several projects, wool, silk, and cotton. She plans to make two blouses to wear with a skirt she will sew from a flowered “cotton satin” I brought from India.

She chose the green and the blue.

I saw this piece of linen unrolled from its bolt for display, and think of it as jewel-toned!

In the evening, back at home again, I was reading a magazine while eating dinner on my (blue, this time) William Morris placemats. There in the Bon Appétit restaurant issue was an eatery with William Morris wallpaper.

The past is not dead, it is living in us,
and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.
— William Morris

Cinders, saints, and a pillow.

Before I returned home from my travels,
a little rain had washed the ashes off much of my garden.

lemon balm with echeveria (hens & chicks)

I had turned off the fountain before my departure, and the rainwater that was left in the bowl had cinders at the bottom. It occurred to me that they might be bits of my goddaughter’s house that burned to the ground and released some of itself into the wind during the incineration.

Thank God, almost all of the northern California fires are contained. We no longer have smoke burning our eyes and lungs, and roads and neighborhoods have opened up daily, but thousands of people lost their homes and/or jobs and businesses and many are still looking for a place to live.

When we talk to our friends or even strangers, we start by finding out how they were affected. Everyone has stories of that morning of October 9th, and every day still I think of someone new that I need to check on with an email or text message.

 

dwarf pomegranate fruit

 

 

In the whole of California, a thousand firefighters are still on task, and at the peak of the season 11,000 were fighting. They came from as far away as New York, Florida and Australia, bless their souls. We’ve had 6400 fires in the state this season, which burned 556,000 acres, much more than last year.

But my neighborhood did not burn, and I haven’t seen the destruction close-up yet. I’m walking my creek paths as before.

I’ve also jumped back into parish life:

Last weekend I cooked our Sunday Agape Meal for 100 people. You might remember that I did this twice before as a memorial for my husband; this time it was not for any special occasion. It consisted of 10 gallons of meaty chili with lots of vegetables, served over squares of creamy polenta, with tossed green salad on the side; sour cream and fresh cilantro for garnish.

I had a few helpers to do prep work for me on Saturday, and a few others to help me serve Sunday after the service. This combination was a hit, so maybe I will do it again. Each time I’ve cooked like this has been a little easier, so maybe I can start doing it more often.

Sunday evening we held a Celebration of the Saints party for which children could dress up and tell the stories of the saint they were representing. We had crafts and a soup dinner and it was so low-key and relaxing, with none of the hype and over-stimulation that always makes me wince on behalf of the little ones. I was privileged to help a little boy named Marcus work out his idea for a needle-felted pumpkin with fried-egg eyes that morphed into even thicker stars.

When we communion bread bakers showed up for duty on Tuesday morning we soon realized it was the feast day of our patron saints! Saints Spryidon and Nikodim are communion bread bakers from way back who watch over our baking from their icon each week, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the honor of baking prosphora, the bread of offering, on their day. It was very special, and we arranged an informal photo-shoot for the occasion.

Icons and saints graced my day today, also, thanks to my housemate Kit. I think I told you she is moving back to Oregon from where she came two years ago to live with me and be a blessing. Before she takes her final load of stuff north in a few days she wanted to visit San Francisco once more, and invited me.

St. John

We visited Holy Virgin Cathedral and the relics of St. John Maximovitch, and also walked to the chapel and house where he lived, where one can sit in a little room with the icons and desk and chair that were his own, where he prayed. That my young friend and I could share this last holy experience together is just one more cord that binds us in the Holy Spirit.

We enjoyed just being in the city and not trying to accomplish too much. Visited the Wells Fargo History Museum which is wonderfully free and fascinating. Craned our necks to see the sky when walking downtown; and ate dim sum for the first time, with exquisite fried mochi sesame buns.

Driving in traffic to and in San Francisco is normally a trial, but today’s outing was relaxing and soul-nourishing. I drove and Kit navigated, and we were compatible sight-seers in every way. The next week will be just as busy as the last one has been, so I’ll be glad to sleep soon on the pillow of peace.