meat

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Point Bonita Lighthouse

My niece Juliana who lives in Virginia came over to spend a few days with us recently. She’s been here few times before so she’d done all the touristy stuff in San Francisco. I like that because it forces us to push ourselves and expand our horizons in terms of visiting different places in the Bay Area. Last year when she came we took a day trip to the Marshall Store, a hole in the wall place in Tomales Bay where they sell delicious fresh oysters served in many different ways. That trip was a complete success, and not something that we’d likely have done without our adventurous visitor.

This time around I chose a visit to Point Bonita and Lighthouse of the same name. They’re just across the Golden Gate Bridge on the Marin Headlands. It’s part of the Golden Gate National Parks.

Oddly for us, this was a food-free afternoon: just sightseeing. I had wanted to see the lighthouse for a while. Right after we relocated to San Francisco, we tried a visit but it was closed for renovation. That left us with “only” the gorgeous surroundings to admire: the GG Bridge, the inlet to the Bay, the Pacific, stunning mountains, exotic wildflowers, and so on; but no lighthouse. What a disappointment ;)

Juliana and I enjoying the wind and fog

Juliana and I enjoying the wind and fog

gorgeous rugged coastline in the Marin Headlands

gorgeous rugged coastline in the Marin Headlands

Steven and Ju admiring the hazy Bay entrance

Steven and Ju admiring the hazy Bay entrance

purple thistles

hardy purple thistles

The day we went was very foggy. It would restlessly whip along the mountains and occasionally just disappear, leaving a beautiful bright blue sky in a non-stop, off-and-on fashion; hiding the surroundings, then revealing them magically. San Francisco and the Bridge kept appearing and disappearing in this chilly haze.

This time of year it gets very dry so all the flowers and grasses from early spring were shrunken husks with the exception of a few thistle plants, various herbs, hardy trees and some imported coast-hugging succulents. The air was infused with aromas of the sea and plants such as the Monterrey cypress, wild sage and eucalyptus.

can you make out the sea lions half-heartedly sunning themselves on the rocks

can you make out the sea lions half-heartedly sunning themselves on the rocks

this is lovely

this is lovely

ocean filled with cormorants

silver ocean filled with cormorants

amazing plants hugging the sheer rock

amazing plants hugging the sheer rock

I've read somewhere that these colorful succulents are in fact imported weeds killing off native plants

I've read somewhere that these colorful succulents are in fact imported weeds killing off native plants

We spotted the ubiquitous seagulls, but also frolicking sea lions, a hawk, tons of cormorants and several beautiful pelicans nesting on the scarps of the cliffs. One of the rocks just off the coast, housing for hundreds of cormorants, had accumulated so much guano that it was totally white at its peak. Nice contrast with the black stone and the grayness of the ocean.

cormorant haven

cormorant haven

reading ourselves for the descent to the lighthouse

readying ourselves for the descent to the lighthouse

the three of us all thought this rock was totally cool--sort of like dinosaur skin or something

the three of us all thought this rock was totally cool--sort of like dinosaur skin or something

that suspension bridge is totally awesome

that suspension bridge is totally awesome

the Golden Gate from Point Bonita

the Golden Gate from Point Bonita

The coastal drive from the park entrance near the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge takes you past remains of a ruined fort and a military base. We stopped a few times to check the area out. Pretty cool!

Finally we reached the lighthouse. Point Bonita Lighthouse was built on the top of a lone rock at the entrance of San Francisco Bay, partially connected to the continent. To get there you must walk down a steep hill, over a bridge, through a narrow, low-ceilinged hand-carved tunnel and then over another, suspension bridge. Here’s more info on the lighthouse.

I love it here

I love it here

Where do you like to take out-of-town visitors to show them the local sights?

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Greed never pays. Listen to what happened to us and our new, dramatically bigger community garden plot.

here you can see the part that we had to return

here you can see the part that we had to return

After a couple of arduous weekends working on our new plot: digging, cleaning debris, adding topsoil, planting boundary poles and installing wood planks to hold the soil back, then finally wrapping the whole lot in chicken wire, we thought we were happily done with delimiting the grounds and were finally ready to do the actual gardening. What a chore! I had pain in muscles that I hardly even knew existed.

Many of our community garden neighbors came by to congratulate us on the job and wish us luck with the new plot. Steven even quoted Robert Frost’s “good fences make good neighbors.” We were content.

Well that lasted for less than a week or two, then the unthinkable: we received an email from our community garden coordinator apologizing for his mistake in determining the boundaries of our new plot 17. Noooooooo!!!!!!!!!! He wanted us to give some land back. And after all that work!

He claims, though it was his mistake, in fact we misappropriated part of plot 16, at the time a pebble strewn, overgrown nothing that had been vacant for at least a year or more. He wanted us to re-do the fencing, and so sorry about all the tomatoes that you’ve planted, but, um, they simply have to go. We were flabbergasted by his mistake and demands. We flirted with the idea of suing the community garden, but that’s expensive and likely not to get much traction. Naturally, we protested on the grounds that we were innocent victims here. And what about all the work, time, energy and money we had already invested?

here I am breaking my back to tie off the chicken wire around the new boundary line

here I am breaking my back to tie off the chicken wire around the new boundary line

But it was to no avail. I wonder if this is how the ‘49ers felt when they made the horrific trek cross country to California to strike it rich with a goldmine, only to have their hopes dashed when the land got snatched back from under their feet? I bet that happened a lot in the old days.

Morgan was sincerely sorry for the problem he caused and offered to assist us in moving the fence. He even volunteered to remove a couple of annoying stumps that were sort of on the new boundary. That was nice. We were just super upset. Plus we were about to go on a vacation that had been planned for months. Eventually we told him that we’d comply but at our own pace (i.e. after vacation). What a letdown!

So we went to Arizona and Death Valley. And Morgan more than lived up to his word. Not only did he move the fence on his own, he also removed the stumps and brush around them while we were at work. That really was cool. The shrunken plot didn’t shrink quite that much it turns out. Only about a 5’ by 5’ section on the border with #16 was reallocated, which is probably about a tenth of the entirety of #17. So we were happy again!

view of plot 17 from the land reallocated to plot 16

view of the revised plot 17 from the land reallocated to plot 16

We did have to do a bit of work straightening the fence and adding a few more planks to secure the dirt on the new border, but nothing major. Our plants are thriving. We just recently had our first harvest of broccoli rabe which I prepared with pasta. We ate it for lunch after a few hours of intense labor at the plot on a sunny Saturday morning. It was so successful that we planted a few more beds to rabe. Already they’ve begun sprouting.

broccoli rabe and squash

broccoli rabe and squash

The tomatoes and various squash are really coming along. The transplanted artichoke has recovered and is doing well. We sowed a whole bunch of new veggies from exotic heirloom seeds that our friend Michelle mailed to us from New York. The rhubarb plant that came with the plot is making gigantic leaves. Some of the stalks are over 20 inches long, though still green. Our gardener neighbor gave us some confusing advice about rhubarb but suggested that it makes an excellent chutney.

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Let me begin by stating right here that, despite myself, I liked this book, a lot. I’m starting with that because should you read further, I don’t want you to lose the essential fact in my barrage of nitpicking.

This is not a book that I would have sought out, even though it has “INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER” spelled in all caps at the very top. Do you ever judge a book by its cover? I know that everyone says that you shouldn’t but I do anyway.

Badwater Basin in Death Valley Nationl Park the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level

Badwater Basin in Death Valley Nationl Park: the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level

The cover of this book has a gorgeous smiling blond woman in a red blouse holding a plate of what looks like a piece of lasagna with a colorful side salad. That and the title, “Veganist: Lose Weight, etc, etc.” put me off. I assume that the image is Kathy Freston though cannot seem to find confirmation in the text.

The title sounds too imperialist, take-no-prisoners and self-helpy; plus she’s simply too saccharine perfect. That’s my problem. How could this kind of book have any relevance to my life?

It arrived at our home as a birthday gift to Hegui from our friends Jasmine and Prof. T. It was sort of sitting on the coffee table for a week or two when suddenly I’d finished all the other stuff that I was reading and, feeling bored, I picked it up one evening.

Veganist is all about persuading you to “lean in” to a “plant based” lifestyle. Freston doesn’t intend the title to be brutal or unseemly (Not “chauvinist” or “racist.” Instead think “specialist” or perhaps “enthusiast.”) The book has ten chapters, or “promises,” each one devoted to a different rationale for giving up animal food products. Most we’ve all probably heard of before: health, weight management, and saving money are three. She believes that a plant based diet will promote a longer and better life, lower your carbon footprint, reduce animal suffering, and align your diet with traditional spiritual teachings. She suggests that this diet will take you out of harm’s way (consider all those meat-borne illnesses that pop up periodically in the food supply) and that somehow you will aid the global hungry to eat better by embracing veganism. Finally she asserts that the diet will help you “evolve.”

don't equate veganism with Death Valley

don't equate veganism with Death Valley, rather think of all the exciting, colorful, and much more varied foods that you can enjoy

In the intro you’re advised to skip around the various sections of the book depending on your interest. I started that way but ended up reading the thing straight through. The work’s filled with many personal anecdotes of the author, stories of how a vegan diet changed many individuals’ lives and interviews with some experts.

Freston seems super into it and though the book is a blatant attempt to convert you, she’s cool about that. She writes at the end of Promise 2 (health), “You may be thinking that a vegan diet may be too challenging, and a more moderate diet change may seem more sensible. I always encourage people to ‘lean in’ to a diet change so that the changes come comfortably and gradually.”

You know, we’ve given up “land animals” several years ago and lately it seems that we’re eating less fish and dairy, at least at home. So I guess that we’ve sort of been leaning in. Nevertheless I wasn’t convinced by her experts simply because she quotes the same few over and over throughout the work. That’s not much of a comprehensive scientific analysis if you ask me. The ten promises range from seemingly reasonable to a bit hokey. Giving up meat will truly help third world starvation? I’m skeptical to say the least. And my diet will help me evolve? Please. I’ll admit that the stuff about animal cruelty, health and carbon footprints compelled me. It wasn’t until I read a testimonial by this one woman that it really hit home and started to make personal sense.

I know that some people find a vegan diet difficult to follow, but I can’t understand how or why. For me, the diet opened me up to a range of foods that I had previously ignored. My old diet was centered on four animals, with everything else only making up “sides,” that now strikes me as narrow and boring. My new vegan diet was exciting, colorful, and much more varied than my previous diet.

Oddly, something like that happened to me, too. When we agreed to become pescatarian a while back, there was a sudden crisis. I had no idea how to cook any more. Sure, I could make pasta or rice-n-beans, but you can’t have that every day. I remember that I became acutely depressed, lost confidence and grew more irritable during our transition. Certainly I fought with Hegui more. But then, a miracle! I learned some new recipes, got my groove back, and unexpectedly my taste expanded rather than contracted. You can really be creative if you’re not tied down by that meat portion as the highlight.

So I don’t know. I liked this book, though it was a bit over-the-top at times. Freston has encouraged me to use more of what I prefer to call ‘fake meats,’ which she seems to adore. Vegan sausage isn’t like “real” sausage but perhaps it does have a place in the kitchen after all. And believe it or not, I’ve been flirting with the idea of becoming… vegetarian after reading her book. That’s something.

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I registered, um, I mean Steven took the initiative to register my name for a community garden plot after we moved to Potrero Hill in San Francisco about eight years ago. I’d wanted one for ages! But every time I looked at the SF community garden website I just felt dismayed by the number of people that were ahead of me on every list: about 50 or so. It seemed impossible. So, silly me, I just kept dreaming about growing my own veggies someday vaguely in the future. Steven’s more pragmatic. It only takes a moment to join the list, and who knows? Perhaps that’s another kind of dream. I dithered for about three years then waited for five on the list, so it was a test of patience and fortitude. Even so, it turns out that the community garden dream came true faster than I’d imagined possible.

smiling in the new plot before the work really began--my back wasn't hurting then

smiling in the new plot before the work really began--my back wasn't hurting then

the Swiss chard and flowers came with the plot--it even has some fava

the Swiss chard and flowers came with the plot--it even has some fava

We were so happy about our first plot despite its puny size. As soon as we got the green light from the garden coordinator we started digging, revolving the dirt, bringing in new top soil and uprooting weeds in that cold, sunless and wet December. Steven’s parents came for visit that month and we took them there. They were excited about it and not too long afterward, Steven’s mother, Lynda presented me with few books on organic gardening. Very cool! Thanks again for the useful gift.

right now it looks a little messed up

right now it looks a little messed up

Steven looks like a farmer here, don't you think

Steven looks like a farmer here, don't you think?

it's looking a little better now that the fence is in place and the heavy lifting is over... oops I forgot those bags of dirt

it's looking a little better now that the fence is in place and the heavy lifting is over... oops I forgot those bags of dirt

Since it was winter, the first thing that we tried to grow was French radish. They’re so cute, and crunchy, tasty and mostly sweet. The roots are white at the bottom and red at the top. You know, the pretty kind. Per package instructions, they thrive in cold weather. What the instructions failed to mention was the voracious appetite of all the birds! I was a tad upset when they were devoured before we had time to pick them. But looking at the bright side, I think we made some winged creatures happy and I truly appreciate waking up every morning to the free avian concert right off my bedroom window. It’s all good and I mean it, especially because we registered for multiple gardens and our number kept coming up!

Twin Peaks view from our plot

Twin Peaks view from our plot

some of the herbs, tomatoes and other yummies ready for planting

some of the herbs, tomatoes and other yummies ready for planting

A few months later I got a thrilling email from the community garden we wanted in the first place. When Dan, then the garden coordinator, showed us the new plot I was smitten. It was perhaps 2 to 3 times the size of the first one, in a more established garden with incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks, the Mission and Civic Center areas of San Francisco, all an improvement. So we switched. It’s not all a bed of roses. The place is really windy. So windy that I was contemplating getting a few sheets of plexiglass to break it a bit. Over the last year we grew many different veggies. It’s incredible how fecund the land is. Right now it is dominated by fava beans. Really the place is like an unruly beard or even a small jungle. Fava beans are a delicious vegetarian source of protein. I love eating the whole young pod deep fried in tempura batter or just eating them shelled and puréed. This is my absolute favorite recipe. And now’s the time of the year to eat enjoy them. We planted the whole thing to fava both because we like the beans but also they’re supposed to fix nitrogen in the soil, thereby revitalizing it.

our new plot after all the heavy lifting and toil

our new plot after all the heavy lifting and toil

here I planted the edible pansies

here I planted the edible pansies

baby tomato plants

our baby tomato plants

We were looking forward to harvesting a lot of fava from the garden and then move on to a summer crop. But then three weeks ago during our spring garden meeting, the unimaginable happened: it was announced that one of the gardeners had surrendered her plot after moving to Oakland. Hers is one of the biggest there: about 23 feet by 11 feet. Huge! The first proposal was to split it up to allow more gardeners in. But that was voted down after someone suggested that gardeners working in larger plots would be more motivated and stable members of the community. Plus it’s sort of a reward for those who stuck it out in smaller plots, as they can transfer. Plus, from the coordinator’s point of view, more plots means more individual gardeners to ‘take care of.’ I‘ve always looked at the bigger plots with a bit of envy. I’ve been happy we ours, but more is more, right? Next to vote on was the reassignment of this large plot, number 17. I raised my hand immediately, and yippie, I got it!

The new plot is more than twice the size of our last one and probably 5 to 6 times bigger than the first. It took us two entire weekends to cut down the weeds, remove the many rocks and debris, build a new fence, replenish it with top soil, prune some bushes, redesign the plot and plant. We would come home exhausted, covered in dirt with muscle pains in places that we didn’t even know existed. That’s why our blogging has slowed down in recent weeks. We hardly had time to shop for food, let alone write about it. But it is totally excellent!!!

these are pretty

these are pretty and the bumble bees are excited, too

We preserved some of the original plants and added several more. It already had some Swiss chard, a small rosemary bush, a Buddha’s hand tree, some artichoke and rhubarb plants as well as a few herbs and flowers. We planted about eight kinds of tomato, some zucchini, Japanese eggplant, broccoli rabe and some edible flowers to attract bees and other insects.

I’m thrilled with the new plot. I’m exhausted, too. It does actually hurt having to move, though everyone knows that. Now, like farmers worldwide, I hope that the weather keeps so our plants can flourish.

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I’ve been reluctant to read The Hunger Games. The idea for the series and the movie are so disturbing. Essentially a novel about poor, starving children randomly selected to murder one another for the pleasure of the crowd doesn’t play well with my sensibilities. Give me the squishy romance of Bella and Edward or even the playful drama of Percy Jackson any day.

a crowd of spectators gather in front of mounted police at The Mall in Washington, D. C.

a crowd of spectators gather in front of mounted police at The Mall in Washington, D. C.

But something changed when I got a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine. It featured actress, Jennifer Lawrence, on the cover. She’s the star of the film, currently in theatres. There’s a long puff piece about her but what I really noticed is that they reviewed the movie favorably, and I usually enjoy their recommendations. (They hated the Twilight movies, which I loved, so perhaps they were a bit misguided there. I think The Hunger Games fits better into that pseudo-macho-yet-enlightened style RS strives for better than Twilight ever did.) And then, of course, there’s my colleague at work who is always dialed into this kind of thing. Sara’s the one who initially talked me into reading Twilight, after all. She’s been hounding me about The Hunger Games for weeks. So I finally relented.

Last Wednesday, around noon, I got the first book and by Saturday afternoon of the same week I had finished the third. Hegui and I went to see the film that evening. This was total immersion and I’m still reeling.

There’s much to say about both the series and the movie. To start with the second, I liked it. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Katniss Everdeen, and I found Josh Hutcherson to be a delight as Peeta Mellark. The way the Capitol got filmed blew my mind and I was especially enchanted by the crazy hair and makeup everyone wore there: just like the book in a good way. Stanley Tucci is breathtaking as Caesar Flickerman! And I couldn’t help but be amazed by Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. That’s a tough role as the character seems so two-dimensional yet slowly develops into something unexpectedly subtle and remarkable in the series. I think that Ms Banks is right-on. My only real disappointment is with Lenny Kravitz. To me, Cinna has such a powerful emotional role in the series and I didn’t quite feel it in the film. Perhaps if they had given him a bit more time? So anyway, I liked the cast and thought the movie, with all the little changes that inevitably happen when you transform a book into a screenplay, remained basically true to the original.

Yet the film upset me intensely, even more than the books.

I think that a big part of the story is the impossibility of seeing The Hunger Games as entertainment. Used as a political tool to dominate the 12 districts, thereby keeping them “in line,” the idea that the killing of children for pleasure is morally abhorrent is burned into almost every page of Collins’ remarkable work.

When I read the novels, I feel that I’m right there with Katniss: in the Arena, on stage with Flickerman, clutching hands with Peeta on the chariot, trying to hold back tears when confronting her mother at the Justice Building in District 12, or freezing in a tree guarded from below by the Career tributes. It is incredibly uncomfortable being that close. Frankly, I was traumatized. The emotions are so raw and the situation so dire. I cried at times, laughed erratically and even had nightmares. I can’t get the story out of my head. I started re-reading the series the day after I finished it the first go-round. Now I’m paying more attention to character development as I already know the plot. At least that’s my excuse. Certainly, I’m a fan, though isn’t it also the case that people with PTSD ruminate over their horrific experiences repeatedly? I hope that’s not what’s happening to me because I can’t let it go. My reaction is not pure pleasure by any means. I share Katniss’ outrage at the impossible, spirit-crushing system that sustains the monstrous Hunger Games.

That said the movie’s way more disturbing.

At my local multiplex, I’m not crouched next to Katniss on her incredible, harrowing journey. Instead I’m part of an audience, sitting comfortably with my box of jujyfruits in the soothing dark. The silver screen separates me from the action as completely as if I were some Capitol bigwig dressed in crazy colorful clothes and makeup, dining at President Snow’s mansion, making witty comments and daring bets about which tribute may earn that problem title, victor. That’s intense and really weird. How did I suddenly become one of the silly Capitol elites living opulently off the oppression of the Districts; that, by my indifference, actively condones the murder of innocent, starving children? That’s not me…

The book provides the illusion that I, too, am a victim. The movie cannot. Sure, both are for “entertainment.” Yet, somehow my identification with Katniss in the novel deflects my responsibility for enjoying it. Turns out merely changing my position relative to the action from participant to spectator is all it takes to ruin that safe haven.

Panem doesn’t exist, but we do see televised violence all the time. There’re shows and movies, of course, which are easy to dismiss, as we all know “they aren’t real,” but what about the TV news? Mainly I watch it for the weather report. Beyond that, the news certainly does feature a lot of shootings, automobile accidents, rapes, fires, unexplained disappearances, and, yes, even murders, often detailed in the most gruesome ways imaginable each night. And the beautifully coiffed and groomed TV anchors sit as calm as can be describing all the horrors just as if they were chatting lightly at a dinner party. How is that any different from Caesar Flickerman interviewing the tributes?

It is very troubling when you really think about it. I’ll bet that the people whose lives are touched by these terrible, real-life incidents feel pretty awful. Frankly, I don’t especially enjoy the news myself. Often I find that I ignore it or shut it off. But after this book and movie, I wonder if that’s a reasonable position any more? Sure, you don’t have to watch local news like the citizens of Panem were required to attend to every gruesome moment of The Hunger Games. But that hardly makes the insane violence stop. I don’t know if there’s supposed to be a message in Suzanne Collins’ work, but perhaps, if there is, maybe this could be it: what to do when neither tuning in nor tuning out are enough?

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a wet vineyard in springtime at Clos du Val

a wet springtime vineyard at Clos du Val

It poured rain that Saturday. It was bitterly cold and at times windy, but the bad weather didn’t matter because we were super excited about finally meeting these fine bloggers face-to-face. I discovered Fer’s blog chucrute com salsicha when we first started ours back in 2009. Fer was already a veteran back then. Her wonderful blog has incredible recipes and super entertaining writing. In the past, she suggested that we met here in San Francisco and go eat at that hip tapas restaurant, Contigo, but somehow it never happened.

blogger meet up at Clos du Val

blogger meet up at Clos du Val

this is where we would have had our picnic had Mother Nature cooperated

this is where we would have had our picnic had Mother Nature cooperated

Hegui, Fer and her husband

Hegui, Fer and her husband

Fer introduced me to Maryanne from hotel California and later to Priscilla from inquietos blog.

Both write about traveling and travel tips, all in Portuguese primarily for a Brazilian audience. Don’t miss them, esp. if you’re coming to the Bay Area. Maryanne has an extensive collection of posts on what to do (and what not to do) while you’re here.

Priscilla lives in Brazil but is here right now training to become a pastry chef and baker. She plans on opening a bakery in the south of Brazil late this year. She wanted to meet us, too. And since she’s only here for a short time, this seemed the perfect occasion to get the group all together.

setting up our beautiful picnic before the rain strikes

setting up our beautiful picnic before the rain strikes

some of Priscilla's excellent breads and pastries

some of Priscilla's excellent breads and pastries

Fer's delicious asparagus panazanella

Fer's delicious asparagus panazanella

Fer came up with the idea for a picnic in wine country. I selected the winery, Clos du Val, because I had not been there in a while and wanted to taste their wine again and also because I like their gardens with ancient transplanted olive trees. They have these sculptural gnarly trunks and branches which are wonderful. Normally this is the perfect spot, hot or cold, though turned out to be less so in the intermittent, at times heavy rain.

The picnic was fantastic despite the uncongenial weather. Fer brought a beautiful asparagus panazanella and Brazilian style corn cake with guava paste on the side. Maryanne brought a selection of fine cheeses from her cheese monger in Berkeley and a box of delectable, colorful macarrons. Priscilla surprised us with not one but three enormous boxes of pastries she made at her class the day before. She had multiple types of croissants, Italian colomba, Danish and a cinnamon sugar pastry cake rich with butter. What a feast! We brought leftovers home for breakfast and had enough for at least two days. I made orichette pasta with broccoli rabe.

Between chewing, chatting, shivering, sipping sauvignon blanc, listening to the birds chirping, and taking turns holding the umbrellas over the food, the afternoon flew by. I want to do this again sometime soon, perhaps next time during the dry season.

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classic White House view

classic White House view

I didn’t know about the new Presidential organic, sustainable vegetable garden project at the White House until we happened across the mansion on our holiday visit to the nation’s capital. While admiring the famous view, I spied a small sign indicating “White House Kitchen Garden.” How interesting!

the sign for the White House Kitchen Garden

the sign for the White House Kitchen Garden

Subsequently, I’ve done some research. It seems that under the direction of the First Lady, numerous beds have been developed and planted to various veggies for the Obama family’s personal use, for donations to local Washington charities and even for meals at important state and diplomatic dinners! So everyone is involved in this praiseworthy endeavor, which obviously has international implications.

Elementary school kids helped with the initial planting and of course there’s a huge White House staff that performed much of the planning and a lot of the rougher labor. There’s a really nifty film that shows how the garden was developed. Apparently they’ve even used some seeds from Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello. We’ve had the distinct pleasure of touring those in Charlottesville, which we highly recommend to you all.

our distant glimpse of the White House Kitchen Garden through the monstrous black fence that surrounds the mansion

our distant glimpse of the White House Kitchen Garden through the monstrous black fence that surrounds the mansion

the ornate black fence that prevented us from inspecting the White House Kitchen Garden a bit more closely

the ornate black fence that prevented us from inspecting the White House Kitchen Garden a bit more closely

Started in March 2009, a New York Times article quotes Michelle Obama, ‘“My hope,” … “is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”’

It is simply marvelous that the Obamas are taking a good look at nutrition, health and the environment (as the garden is organic, sustainable and local). This is also excellent modeling for all of us. Involving the entire Obama clan with the garden project, making a point of working and dining together, and underscoring the benefits of regular consumption of fruits and veggies are all powerful messages.

Wikipedia says about America’s Garden, “This L- shaped 1,100-square-foot (100 m2) garden is located by the mansion’s tennis courts and can be seen from E street.” I don’t think that I saw much beyond the little sign and perhaps the edge of some of their plots. And unfortunately, the WC crew wasn’t invited for the tour, either. Boo-hoo! We’re still waiting for our official e-vites, which I’m certain will arrive any day now ;)

There have been other presidents who farmed the White House property. The last serious veggie project was the Victory Garden planted by the Roosevelt’s in the 1940’s during the severe food shortages caused by the war effort. Then the idea was for all Americans to create their own “victory gardens” to supplement their diets.

well, we were all pretty happy that day regardless

well, we were all pretty happy that day regardless

In the video, Michelle Obama says, “So the garden is really an important introduction to what I hope will be a new way that our country thinks about food.”

If we said something like that, probably nobody would hear, but this is the First Family we’re talking about, so everything’s public and politically charged. As you might expect, this organic garden at the White House got some push-back by big agro and fertilizer companies. The New York Times had a refreshingly different spin, offering an alternative planting model based not on the actual garden, but on how the country subsidizes agriculture: suddenly it’s corn, corn, corn; rice, rice; cotton, cotton, cotton; with a bit of wheat thrown in there for good measure. Say goodbye to kohlrabi, pak choi, rhubarb, endive and spinach.

I was a bit dismayed the read that President Obama isn’t a beet man. Well, nobody’s perfect, I guess.

If you’ve been following this blog, then you probably know that we have a small community garden plot. To be honest, I was pretty ambivalent about it at the start. It is so much work (at least at first). But as we’ve cleared our tiny plot; built a new fence; planted, grown and harvested a few seasons of crops already, it seems positively magical. I thrill to serve things that we’ve grown ourselves. Plus it truly makes you appreciate those “real” farmers all the more. Finally, there’s genuine pleasure to be found in simply watching beautiful things grow that you’re confident will nourish you and your loved ones time and again.

So our advice? Follow Michelle Obama’s lead and get gardening!

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It was a beautiful, chilly and hazy Sunday afternoon in San Francisco when we went to see the hang-gliding.

hang-gliding over the Pacific

We had just finished tending our community garden and felt that we still had some energy to enjoy doing some more outdoorsy stuff. Fort Funston immediately came to mind, and that’s where we headed. Neither of us had been there for quite some time, and we were ready.

gorgeous!

hang-glider airport

hang-glider airport

several gliders high up

several gliders high up

Fort Funston is part of the Golden Gate National Parks and it is located on the coast in the southwest part of San Francisco, bordering Daly City. I love the rugged coast of northern California and anything can be a pretext for a visit. Locally known as “dog’s heaven,” at least to us, pooches can walk off the leash in the park. It is amazing to watch them freely running around with so much joy. I hardly see any fights. In the past we brought Clarence with us but our Bully tires out so quickly, then gets obstinate and refuses to move further. It would be charming if it weren’t so disappointing, as we can never actually explore the park with the beast in tow. Sorry Clarence, this time was all about us.

The beach and dunes down below the cliffs are incredible, but I particularly wanted to find the spot where the hang-gliders take off. It was a perfect day for it as the wind was fierce. One of the gliders seemed to be training. He kept taking off and landing every five minutes or so for quite a while. It is so incredible and beautiful and a little scary to watch. They literally jump off the top of the cliff to launch. That’s got to be freaky! I truly admired them. I could never do that. I am a land animal through-and-through, and I’m adverse to heights.

ready to launch!

ready to launch!

up, up, and...

up, up, and...

...away!

...away!

hang-gliding over the Pacific

hang-gliding over the Pacific

hang-gliding over the Pacific (2)

hang-gliding over the Pacific (2)

hang-gliding over the Pacific (3)

hang-gliding over the Pacific (3)

hang-gliding over the Pacific (4)

hang-gliding over the Pacific (4)

Watching the gliders is amazing, but that pales to the stunning beauty of the surroundings. There’s always lots of birds, particularly large midnight black ravens. We were charmed by this one in particular that seemed to be practicing launching herself off the hang-gliding take-off area into the wind, just like the humans. So cute! I wonder if those hang-glider folk spend time studying those birds to learn some of their amazing maneuvers?

it's all about us

it's all about us

colorful Highway Ice Plant along the coast

colorful Highway Ice Plant along the coast

It isn’t all fun and games at the park. Fort Funston, like much of the California coast, is being taken over by “invading” plant species that were brought to the state mainly from abroad. The most obvious are the ubiquitous eucalyptus trees. Less noticeable, yet more pervasive is the Highway Ice Plant. We already knew about eucalyptus, but just learned about the Ice Plant. They’re all over the coast of California. They’re beautiful and provide a coat of green throughout the year. We had always assumed that they’re native as they look just like lots of other succulents and they do so well. But according to a sign at the park, they’re out-competing native plants and literally taking over all the land.

all of that low-lying green and red are Highway Ice Plants

all of that low-lying green and red are Highway Ice Plants

Coastal Dune Invasion

Coastal Dune Invasion

After we left Fort Funston we kept driving south towards Pacifica and happened upon a large and exciting Asian supermarket in Daly City, 99 Ranch Market. I was as enchanted with the food shopping as I was with Fort Funston itself. We bought a few kinds of citrus fruit, gai-lan, Chinese greens, a huge star fruit from Taiwan that weighed more than a pound (in Brazil they are so tiny!), canned mackerel, a number of staples and this huge purple taro root flavored katsutera cake. Shaped like a “Swiss roll,” this cake had a lovely color and tasted light as air: a perfect complement to an afternoon flying. Delicious!

purple taro roll from 99 Ranch Market

purple taro roll from 99 Ranch Market

mmmmmmmm!

mmmmmmmm, purple!

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