Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Elena Ferrante Books Get Wet...then Dry




Wednesday night I mistakenly left three windows open in my car parked outside on the street, so when gusty winds and torrents of rain blew into the Berkeley hills early Thursday morning, they soaked my Toyota's upholstery and floors and all the belongings left on the seats. Luckily, there was a puffy vest and swim towels which soaked up some moisture, but by the time I went out to the car Thursday morning the interior was pretty damp. While furiously mopping up the water, I noticed four books by the Italian author Elena Ferrante on the back seat. The two I had just finished were completely dry but the other pair, which I had just started, seemed at first glance to be rain-spattered only on the covers. The dry pair were the first volumes of Ferrante's Neapolitan trilogy, My Brilliant Friend, and it's Italian original titled  L'Amica Geniale.  The second pair, closer to the window, were the ones I am eagerly devouring at present, Storia del Nuovo Cognome and the English translation, Story of a New Name. As with the first two volumes, I am  reading the Italian original with the help of the English translation. It takes me a long time to read Ferrrante's dense, passionate prose in Italian, even with help, but it's so rewarding to read these brilliant novels in Italian and it's lots of fun.

Anyway, back to the stormy day cleanup:  On closer inspection I realized that most of the pages in the midsection of Story of a New Name were saturated, and its Italian counterpart was also wet and damaged. My first attempts at blotting and wiping did nothing but reveal more soaked pages all stuck together and ruined. I felt sick. I'm totally immersed in the stories of these vivid characters in their poor Neapolitan neighborhood, and the precious books I had recently bought were soaked and unreadable. Calming down slightly, I decided to check the Internet for instructions for drying books. I knew "the angels" had saved whole libraries after the disastrous 1966 flood in Florence, so why couldn't I save two books?  As hoped, there were numerous websites devoted to air drying wet books, so I chose the Cornell University Library site  with bright illustrations and clear directions for drying "thoroughly wet, partially wet or damp" pages. I was encouraged, and I abandoned immediate plans for a trip to the bookstore. Why not make this a rainy day DIY project?  I unearthed my Vornado, fanned out the pages as Cornell suggested, stood the books on edge and turned the fan on high. The pages fluttered in the breeze, separating and drying as predicted.


After air-drying for hours, many pages were still damp to the touch, especially interior portions near the spine, so I decided to use my Baby Pro hair dryer. For some reason, the websites did not suggest this option. Drying the sections page by page was tedious, but the warm air directed at each damp area really worked. The downside of the page by page process was that it was all too tempting to read the pages as I dried them. I couldn't resist skipping ahead and discovering what the two main characters, Lina Cerullo and Elena Greco, were up to later in the story. The intense relationship of the two girls, their families, friends and enemies came alive in their poor Neapolitan neighborhood, as they grew from young girls in the 50's to adolescents and beyond in the recently published third volume, Those who Leave and those Who Stay, which I will read when I finish Story of a New Name.


My hair dryer completed the final drying process

Blow drying yielded two books with stiff, wavy pages, totally readable, but not very aesthetically pleasing. I may try pressing the books between boards, as The Cornell Library site suggests, or I may visit my local bookstore for a fresh copy. However, to buy the Italian version I have to order from the wonderful San Francisco online bookstore Libreria Pino, Here, which carries a large selection of Italian books and ships promptly. Unfortunately, prices are high so I may read my disfigured Italian copy after all.


Flattening air-dried books between boards
My car has also recovered, though friends are still discovering puddles in the most unlikely places.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Rain At Last



Today, December 3rd, after a night of heavy rain, my handy rain gauge registered five inches. To be truthful, this measurement was the result of the last three storms. I just couldn't empty it and start from scratch after each small accumulation. Finally, yesterday's rainy weather brought the total to three inches. Then when I went out this morning I was overjoyed to see it had topped out at 5!  Now I'll empty the rainwater and look forward to starting over.

Thank you rain gods! The plants are happy, the fire danger is nil and the hills will soon be green.



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Latte Surprise




The following article appeared in the Health section of the SF Chronicle on Sept. 17th

A Great Pumpkin Surprise


"This time of year there's little question Americans are pumped about pumpkin. We gobble up about $300 million worth of pumpkin-flavored products annually, mostly from September through November. Although few vegetables boast the same level of fandom, the craze doesn't always have nutrition experts smiling.
Starbucks recently was criticized because its famed Pumpkin Spice Latte doesn't contain actual pumpkin. Nor do many of the other pumpkin-flavored products, including Nabisco's new Pumpkin Spice Oreos, set to hit shelves next week. But, in most cases, the lack of pumpkin isn't the biggest health concern. It's the sugar.
Nutrition expert Joyce Hanna, associate director of the Health Improvement Program at Stanford, points out that a 12-oz. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with nonfat milk and no whipped cream contains 37 grams of sugar. That's a tad more than seven teaspoons.
The World Health Organization says adults shouldn't consume more than 25 grams of sugar per day, so just one latte puts you over the limit. Adding whipped cream or other types of milk raises the fat and calorie content. Pumpkin-flavored baked goods and ice cream often present the same problems, whether they contain pumpkin or not.
But Hanna says real pumpkin is a super food. A cup of it has as much potassium as a banana and more fiber than a bowl of high-fiber cereal. It's rich in calcium, iron, and other vitamins, and it's a top source of beta carotene. Hanna suggests including baked or steamed pumpkin in savory dishes like soup, and keeping an eye on sugar, fat and salt when you make pumpkin desserts."
By Kathryn Roethel

"Everything nice" means loads of sugar

During the next few days there was a flurry of letters to the editor commenting on the Sept. 17th article. 
                                                             Two readers agreed

Making healthy choices

"Regarding “'Pumpkin-flavored’ may be full of sugar” (Health, Sept. 17), companies use healthy food titles as a marketing strategy to appeal consumers to purchase their products without the feeling of guilt. If a consumer picks pumpkin spiced latte versus a caramel macchiato, they believe to have chosen a healthier choice, but realistically, the sugar levels in both are beyond the daily recommendation. In this generation, Americans are mindful of what they are eating, although unhealthy foods are not eliminated, the healthier sounding food is the next preferred choice.

The naming of foods can play an important role in increasing consumer purchases, although the ingredients aren’t 100 percent true to what the title advertises. For example, Jamba Juice sells fruit and vegetable smoothies. However, in a regular size strawberry wild smoothie there are 93 grams of sugar, which is more than three times the recommended amount by the World Health Organization. It is important for consumers to make distinction between natural sugars and added sugars. Consumers should eat more fruits and vegetables that contain natural sugars and are high in fiber, potassium and antioxidant to optimize their health."

Kathy Deng, San Jose

'Tis the season for the pumpkin craze “'Pumpkin-flavored’ may be full of sugar” (Health, Sept. 17). It is not uncommon to see someone sipping a pumpkin spiced latte on a chilly day. However, many consumers do not realize the immense amount of sugar “pumpkin flavored” foods have. On Starbucks’ website, they claim to use real pumpkin, however, this is not the case. One cannot assume that if a food or beverage claims to contain a healthy vegetable, that it always be the case.

The fact that there is more sugar in the pumpkin spiced latte than the average adult needs on a daily basis is quite unsettling, and the 37 grams of sugar doesn’t include whipped cream. There needs to be more awareness available to consumers in terms of how much of sugar is contained in these drinks. It is misleading to advertise real pumpkin in their beverages because many people will assume it is healthier than other options.
There needs to be more regulations in place to prevent false mislabeling of food items in regards to their actual contents. In the meantime, you will not find me drinking a pumpkin spiced latte. Instead I will go for a real baked pumpkin.
Monica Villegas, San Jose

But on Sept. 24th there was one reader who contradicted the other comments and thought the latte's sugar level was just fine:

"Regarding a comments made by a reader regarding the labeling of pumpkin spice flavor, I strongly disagree with her statement that a pumpkin spice latte has too much sugar (“A great pumpkin surprise,” Letters, Sept. 22).
It is quite unrealistic, noting that dairy like whipped cream adds more sugar and fat to the pumpkin spice latte. Baked pumpkin goods like cookies and other pastries sold by most coffee shops and bakeries are loaded with more sugar and fat than a typical spiced latte. It is as simple as that."
Anne Cohen, San Francisco



I'm  following The Stanford nutritionist Joyce Hanna's advice and using this super food in a healthy  recipe for Scapece di Zucca or Marinated Sugar-Pumpkin from Mario Batali's cookbook Holiday Food. Batali uses butternut squash in place of the pumpkin, but I was happy to find  some "sugar pie" pumpkins at the Riverdog stand in the Berkeley Farmers' Market. You can cook them just as directed for the squash, or pre-bake them for 20 minutes for easier handling

                                                        SCAPECE DI ZUCCA
                                                 marinated butternut squash

2 medium butternut squash, skin-on, seeded and cut crosswise into 1 inch pieces
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper                             1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 cup extra -virgin olive oil                                             1 garlic clove, sliced paper-thin
1/4 cup red wine vinegar                                                     1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 medium red onion, sliced paper-thin

preheat oven to 450 degrees 
Season the squash with salt and pepper, drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, and arrange on a cookie sheet. Roast until just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the remaining 1/4 cup oil, the vinegar, onion, oregano, ad garlic and season with salt and pepper.

When the squash is cooled, immediately transfer to a dish and pour the marinade over them. Allow to cool in the marinade for at least 20 minutes. This dish can be made up to 6 hours in advance but should not be refrigerated. Sprinkle with mint leaves just before serving at room temperature.         Serves 8 to 12, but quantities can  be adjusted easily.



Scapece di Zucca


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Goodbye Eames Chairs




     While in the process of moving some old family furniture out of storage, I found two of the four classic Eames chairs that my family had used as dining chairs throughout my childhood. Though the metal legs were rusty, the wood worn and the backs loose, I was struck by the elegant lines and timeless beauty of the design. I researched Eames and found that the designer was actually a talented couple, Charles and Ray, who had long and fruitful careers. Below, from the website "Design within Reach," is a short synopsis of their lives and work throughout the 20th Century.

Charles and Ray Eames

 USA (1907–1978; 1912–1988)
Headshot of designer.
Design is for living. That maxim shaped a widespread shift in design during the 1940s and 1950s. It was a revolution of form, an exciting visual language that signaled a new age and a fresh start – and two of its prime movers were Charles and Ray Eames. The Eameses were a husband and wife team whose unique synergy led to a whole new look in furniture. Lean and modern. Sleek, sophisticated and simple. Beautifully functional.
Yet Charles and Ray Eames created more than a “look” with their bent plywood chairs or molded fiberglass seating. They had ideas about making a better world, one in which things were designed to fulfill the practical needs of ordinary people and bring greater simplicity and pleasure to our lives.
The Eameses adventurously pursued new ideas and forms with a sense of “serious fun.” Yet, it was rigorous discipline that allowed them to achieve perfection of form and mastery over materials. As Charles noted about the molded plywood chair, “Yes, it was a flash of inspiration,” he said, “a kind of 30-year flash.” Combining imagination and thought, art and science, Charles and Ray Eames created some of the most influential expressions of 20th century design – furniture that remains stylish, fresh and functional today.
And they didn't stop with furniture. The Eameses also created a highly innovative “case study” house in response to a magazine contest. They made films, including a seven-screen installation at the 1959 Moscow World's Fair, presented in a dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. They designed showrooms, invented toys and generally made the world a more interesting place to be.
As the most important exponents of organic design, Charles and Ray Eames demonstrated how good design can improve quality of life and human understanding and knowledge.

Window display at Antiques and Modern with reflected biker on Adeline Street

     Though I admired my chairs, I really had no place for them, nor did I want to devote the time and energy for their restoration. So I took them to a stylish shop in Berkeley called Antiques and Modern which specializes in furniture from the 50's-70's. Chris Howard, the owner, was happy to take them off my hands for a small sum. He has a  workshop in back of his store brimming with eye-catching mid-century pieces needing work.


     My two chairs have joined the hodge-podge. Hopefully they will find a good home once they are refinished.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Brown is the New Green

Driving through Tilden Park the other day I was amazed to see this sign. I just  had to stop the car and take a photo.



And sure enough, as I gazed up the hill to the Brazil Room , I saw a huge swath of unwatered lawn, quickly turning brown.

The BRAZILIAN  ROOM,  presented to the East Bay regional Parks by the country of Brazil as a gift of friendship

Browning grasses and drought-tolerant plants are the theme of our California summer and we're all conserving water in every possible way (more on our recently completed drip irrigation system later)— so I was encouraged to see that the Park service is also cooperating.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Food In Jars


Last Saturday I had the pleasure of spending an hour with Marisa McClellan, author of Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint. She was signing her new book (Preserving by the Pint) at the huge Saturday Farmers' Market in front of the Ferry Building, and I was  representing Book Passage which was providing her books for sale.

Saturday Farmers' Market at the Ferry Building

As the market swirled around us on that beautiful, sunny day, Marisa filled me in on her life story. She was born in Los Angeles, moved to Portland with her family at about age 9, spent a happy adolescence in Oregon and moved to Philadelphia to be with her grandmother, where she married and has lived ever since. She has become an expert on canning and preserving, published two books on the subject, does freelance editing and writes a blog called  Food in Jars.

While we chatted, Marisa's fans would wander up to our table, recognize her from her blog or Face book page, and tell her how much they enjoy her blog and which recipes they had tried in her first book,  Food in Jars,  published by Running Press. The constant favorite was the Strawberry-vanilla jam. I confessed that I was a reluctant canner and didn't eat much jam anyway. She countered by explaining that most recipes in her books are not jams and jellies but ingenious combinations of various seasonal fruits and vegetables. In the new book she emphasizes preserving in small batches and often doesn't use the canning pot at all.  She suggested one summer recipe that really appealed to her followers—and to me: Zucchini Butter with Garlic and Fresh Thyme on page 85 of Preserving by the Pint. The veggie spread is delicious on bread or crackers and can be used as a quick sauce for warm pasta. I was sold, and since zucchini was bursting forth in the market and my herbs were in need of a trim, I made her recipe on the Fourth of July as my contribution to an annual block party in Walnut Creek. I decided to add savory as well as thyme.


My Winter Savory

And my Thyme



















Zucchini Butter with Fresh Thyme and Savory

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
5 garlic cloves, gently smashed
2 large zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
5 to 6 sprigs thyme and/or savory
1/2 teaspoon finely milled sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place a large skillet over medium heat. Place the olive oil and butter in the pan and allow them to melt together. Roughly chop the garlic and add it to the pan. Add the zucchini. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the zucchini has begun to soften. Strip the thyme and savory leaves off their stems and add them to the pan.
   Lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring often. The goal is to cook the liquid out of the zucchini and melt it into a flavorful, spreadable paste. If at any point, the zucchini starts to brown and stick, add a splash of liquid...and lower the heat a bit more. The total cooking time should be right around an hour.
   Divide the cooked spread between 2 half-pint jars. It will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge or a year in the freezer.

Gemelli Pasta with Zucchini butter, green beans,  corn and basil

The next day I followed Marisa's advice and used more of my zucchini butter on warm pasta with a healthy addition of green beans and corn kernels, also from the farmers' market. It was quick and delicious, but unfortunately my supply of the zucchini butter is almost gone! I'll need to make more and next I want to  try her Peach-barbecue sauce and Thai-basil pesto. I may become a canner yet!





Monday, May 26, 2014

JOHN

                               
John holding two mated Long-Eared Owls in Wisconsin,  c.1985    (photo courtesy of Prof. Robert Rosefield)

                                                  John Bielefeldt  1945-2011