Thursday, December 27, 2012

Kitty Ornaments Fom My Collection

I have collected these kitty treasures over many years. Actually, most of them were given to me by my sister Lucia who lives in New York City and seems to come up with a precious cat ornament every year, which she sends with her incomparable plum pudding. I am still waiting for this year's installment...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Solstice

Diagram of the winter solstice from " Windows to the Universe"

     Welcome to the Winter Solstice—the longest night of the year and the shortest day, when the sun  reaches its lowest point in the sky at noon. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol 'sun' + stit (sistere) 'stationary', and the winter event is, of course, associated with many festivals. The Wikipedia link.
     On a positive note:  Technically, the winter solstice lasts only a moment in time, after which the days  start getting longer. And in the Southern Hemisphere, residents are welcoming summer on the longest day of the year.

Green Bin filled with seasonal flora gathered in my neighborhood for the winter solstice

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Candy Cane Cookies

Freshly-baked Candy Cane Cookies
      Every Christmas during my childhood my mother baked Candy Cane Cookies and Starlight Mint Surprises. My sister and I would demand these two favorites, and we helped with the baking and testing. These were classics of their era (the 1950s) and in a recent search of the web I found so much nostalgia for these delicious morsels that I realize my family was joined by a nation of Candy Cane Cookie-lovers. By all accounts, they are still admired and included in Christmas baking lists. The preparation is a bit time consuming, since you have to divide the dough, color it, braid it and form it, but that was part of the childhood ritual and totally fun. Miraculously, I still have my mother's old metal file and her original recipe, clipped from who-knows-what magazine. This is the very copy we used to bake cookies  every holiday season. She covered it in a plastic sleeve, so there are no smudges. Talk about nostalgia!

The original clipping from my mother's recipe file
     Since it is difficult to read the yellowed original Betty Crocker recipe (above), I advise clicking on the link below for a clear and legible recipe. Many websites offer this, but interestingly, the current Betty Crocker website prints a version using peppermint instead of almond extract, which would disrupt the perfect balance of flavors and ruin the cookie for me. I advise sticking with the original. Be sure to read the helpful comment below the recipe.   RECIPE FOR CANDY CANE CANE COOKIES

     As well as recipes, one can find specific cooking videos on the Internet. Above, you can access a terrific demonstration from the Joy of Baking website which takes you step by step through the baking process, ensuring that you will create a perfect batch of Candy Cane Cookies. As my mother's copy says, "So different, yet so easy!"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

December Persimmons (#3)

 Hachiya persimmon tree on Shasta Road, Berkeley--Dec. 4th

                                                                                    Lingering Fruit
                                                                               On barren branches
                                                                                  Lonely Winter                                                              

Arch Street persimmon tree in early November
 Tree in December with one half-eaten persimmon   

For one last persimmon treat, I reached for Fresh from the Farmer's Market by my friend Janet Fletcher. She suggests freezing persimmons and making a simple "ice cream" in the food processor. But smoothies are even more fun and much easier. She freezes two super-soft hachysas, then takes them out of the the freezer, softens slightly, removes the core, quarters them, and puts them in the blender with some brown sugar, or honey, buttermilk and vanilla. They make a fabulous thick smoothie, and with buttermilk, it's low-cal.  Now's the time to buy (or pick) persimmons and load up the freezer.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Buddha's Hand

Buddha statue with buddha's hand         
                            "True freedom comes when we follow our Buddha nature,
                                     the natural goodness of our heart."

Jack Kornfield. Buddha's Little Instruction Book. Bantam Books,1994.
The above quote comes from this small handbook of instructions and
words of wisdom by the well-known American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield. He has managed to distill and adapt ancient teachings to the needs of contemporary life, as he has done in so many previous books and classes.

For information on the amazing citrus fruit, buddha's hand, photographed by Ricki Pollycove, check the always useful source Wikipedia Description of buddha's hand

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Chasing Ice"

One of many exquisite photos from the film

      Green Bin gets ignored once more, because I must urge everyone to see the film Chasing Ice. Link to official site for CHASING ICE.  James Balog, veteran nature photographer and author, has made an extraordinary documentary about the receding and death of glaciers. That, in short, is the visible proof of GLOBAL WARMING. He documented the process by painstakingly setting up cameras in Greenland,  Iceland and Alaska.
     The film is gorgeous, dramatic, fantastic and scary. I hope everyone sees it. As we overheard one viewer say on the way out of the theatre, "It's beautifully depressing."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Turkey—Friend Not Food

     The week before Thanksgiving my friend Jenny (famous for her pumpkin bread) began wearing this necklace.
Friend not Food necklace from Vegan Cuts

     She is a faithful vegetarian and I highly respect her for that. Her husband Dean is very supportive even though his family owns Golden Gate Meat Company! I too have become more and more concerned about the  inhumane treatment and slaughter of farm animals, so I was pleased to read this front page article on Mary's Chickens in The Chronicle this Sunday, "Poultry Bet Pays Off".  Mary and Dave Pitman's philosophy is that all birds must be free-range (every hen house has a spacious yard where they're free to wander). Because they won't feed the birds antibiotics for non-therapeutic use, their barns must be roomier, cleaner and warmer than most conventional farms, so the fowl won't get sick. And they have instituted a much more humane method of slaughtering their chickens. They purchased a controlled atmosphere stunning system in Europe, approved by PETA, which renders the killing process much less traumatic for the birds. They would like to buy another for their turkeys. I've always liked Mary's chickens because they're air-dried and flavorful, but now that I know about the ethical treatment of their birds, I won't buy anything else. It's a first step.
     Though I will be feasting on roast turkey on Thursday, I will not forget to give special thanks to the bird who gave his life for my pleasure; and I will think of Jenny happily eating her Tofurkey among a large family of meat-eaters.

Jenny's Thanksgiving Tofurkey roast

I also want to mention that Jenny adopted a turkey through "Adopt a Turkey Project", created by an organization called Farm Sanctuary. They rescue and rehabilitate turkeys and other farm animals, and for a small fee, they provide an opportunity to adopt and visit their animals at  their sanctuaries in California and upstate New York. What a great idea!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Arch Street Persimmons #2

                                                                      November fruit          
                                                                  Glowing amber-orange
                                                                       Fading slowly

Fortunately the leaves were still vivid when I visited the Arch Street tree for the second time, because most of the persimmons were gone... picked or fallen in the wind. Perhaps the lucky owner made my favorite persimmon bread. The recipe calls for ripe hachiyas (not the crisp fuyu variety), and appears in Beard on Bread by James Beard, dating from 1973.                                                                

                                                               Persimmon Bread

In his introduction to this recipe James Beard comments,"Persimmons grow in many countries of the world, but often, as in France, they are left hanging on the trees. In this country we have learned to appreciate their superb deep-orange color, their shape, and their delicious flavor... In earlier times they were allowed to ripen on the trees until dead ripe before being eaten raw or used for puddings, cookies, and breads. Nowadays they show up in our markets in a firm state and must be left at room temperature for several days or a week to ripen until they are almost mushy."
                           3 1/2 cups flour                         1 cup melted butter
                           1 teaspoon salt                          4 eggs, lightly beaten
                           2 teaspoons baking soda           2/3 cup Cognac or Bourbon 
                          1 teaspoon nutmeg                    2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts & raisins (optional)
                          2 cups granulated sugar          2 cups persimmon puree from about 4 medium, very
                                                                            ripe persimons—not necessary to peel                                                                    

Sift all five dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Then make a well in the center and add the melted butter, eggs, Bourbon (I always use Bourbon instead of Cognac, which gives the bread a je ne sais quoi magical quality), persimmon puree, and if you like, the nuts and raisins. Mix the dough until it is quite smooth. Butter two 9X5X3" loaf pans, or four smaller molds, and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Cool the loaves in the pans and turn out on a rack.
Note: Wrap in foil after cooling. They will keep nicely from 1 to 2 weeks


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Crosses of Lafayette

On the way out to the beautiful suburb of Lafayette, just east of Berkeley in Contra Costa County, you pass a stunning sight—an extravagantly wide hillside covered with white, wooden crosses. This dramatic landscape (really an earthwork), serves as a memorial for U.S. troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Each cross represents a casualty, and a large, bold sign at the top of the hill denotes the number of soldiers killed from 2003 to the present. The memorial is clearly visible from both Highway 24 and from the BART train as it passes. A glimpse of the thousands of crosses is always a visceral reminder that the U.S. is still at war, and that every day real people are losing their lives. It always brings tears to my eyes.
Link to 2010 You Tube video of the sight 
The project was started in 2006 by Jeff Heaton, a local building contractor, on land owned by Louise Clark. The Mount Diablo and Lamorinda Peace and Justice Centers, and Grandparents for Peace, joined Mr. Heaton to support the project. Volunteers erected 300 crosses on Veterans Day 2006, and they continued to maintain the sight and add crosses until, at number 4,500, they ran out of space. They now simply post the number of casualties on the placard at the top of the hill. Originally, only service members killed in Iraq were represented, but when parents and friends of soldiers killed in Afghanistan asked that their loved ones also be included, 600 crosses were added. Mr. Heaton said that no one knows exactly how many crosses are currently on the hill. When I photographed the site the number read 6,667. This number represents only American casualties.

There have been some individuals who have objected to the memorial as anti-American and anti-military, and vandals have occasionally removed crosses and dismantled the sign that lists the numbers.  However, on the day I visited, many passing motorists honked their horns in solidarity.

Most crosses are white, but many are colored or decorated.

Mosaic cross designed by an unknown artist

View of Mt Diablo on the way to Lafayette
Majestic and peaceful, Mt. Diablo comes into view at the Hwy 24 gateway to the lovely town of Lafayette, named after Marquis de La Fayette, a French general who fought and encouraged France's participation in the American Revolution. The landscape is stunning and serene, but you soon pass the crosses of Lafayette and you are reminded that the war grinds on in the Middle-East. On this Veteran's Day 2012 the black number on the bright sign above the crosses reads 6,667.


Monday, November 5, 2012

President Barack Obama

Flavor of the day: Baracky Road

To support Obama's campaign, the geniuses at Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream offered a creatively titled version of Rocky Road at the Ferry Plaza Market. Secret Breakfast is my absolute favorite, but on Nov.6 let's indulge in Baracky Road to propel Obama to victory!    Slocombe's great web site

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Great bumper sticker photographed in North Berkeley BART parking lot

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pumpkins at Davis Ranch

Orange Kabochas at Davis Ranch 
It's always fun going to the Big Crush in Amador county (The Big Crush)  because, in addition to visiting our favorite wineries at harvest-time, we get to stop at Davis Ranch Produce stand, just East of Sacramento. This is the big daddy of all farm stands and because grapes are crushed in October, we also get to see the astounding number of pumpkins the ranch displays in preparation for their Halloween Harvest festival. Here are some of the unusual varieties.

We Be Little pumpkins above, and Hubbard and Fairy Tale below

 Big Mack and Long Island Creme


Knucklehead,  Delicata, Wolf and Goosenecks
Turban, Hubbard and One Too Many
Lunch Lady, Wolf and Long Island Creme
Summit and Super Herc

Description of Summit Pumpkin
Homozygous resistance to powdery mildew. Large dark orange fruit. Good ribbing. The standard for large fruited hybrids. Handles are impressive for size, dark color and durability.

Many of the same varieties we observed at Davis Ranch were artfully displayed at CUESA'S annual Sunday Night Supper event upstairs at the Ferry Building, catered by Paula Le Duc this October.
                                                                                                                                               Photo courtesy of Marissa Rodriguez

                Enough ogling: let's smash those bad boys and eat  PUMPKIN BREAD!

Jenny's pumpkin bread with chocolate chips

This excellent pumpkin bread is a specialty of my friend Jenny Offenbach. It was her mother's recipe and she generously bakes it and gives small loaves to her co-workers at holiday time. The chocolate chips are optional, but I recommend the addition of some Scharffen Berger bittersweet baking chunks.

Mom's Pumpkin Bread                              
1/2 cup oil                                1 2/3 cups sifted flour
1 cup canned pumpkin              1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs                                     1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup milk                             1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cup sugar                        1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350.
Combine oil, eggs, milk and pumpkin. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Gradually beat into wet mixture. Pour into greased loaf pans and bake
at 350 for 1 hour or until done. (Take out of oven before bread is fully cooked, so that a tooth pick
has some mixture on it when inserted.

Servings: 2 medium loaves