Midnight in Juneau

Midnight in Juneau

Downtown Tom and Grandma Juju, and my sister’s family just got home from an Alaskan cruise, what sounds like a fabulous, relaxing time during which they waved at grizzly bears on the beach, watched whale flukes on Glacier Bay, hunted for John Brown’s grave, and saw Victoria in a horse-drawn carriage. The ship off from Seattle – a town they all agreed seemed fabulous and worth it’s own trip. They have wanted to revisit their old homes in Sitka and Juneau for as long as I can remember, and my sister’s college graduation along with a couple of significant birthdays was the catalyst to carpe diem. Sitka is where my sister and I went to kindergarten and first grade way before there was tourism or wifi or even much fresh fruit, where we learned to ride bikes while careening down Mt. Edgecumbe, where we picked blueberries while looking fearfully for bears, and where we screamed with delight as we slid around on glaciers and solidified our love for the out-of-doors. So the trip was bittersweet for my parents – their old government homes had been razed, there were coffee shops and that cruise ship port – their memories flowed but the glacier had ebbed. Their daughters are grown and it was all good but  just . . . different. Except for the sunset. Here’s a photo Grandpa Tom took . . sunset doesn’t last all evening, unless you’re in Alaska in the summer:   To end, George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.”   embedded by Embedded VideoYouTube...
Sooty shearwaters feeding in the surf (everything eats)

Sooty shearwaters feeding in the surf (everything eats)

Each summer flocks of sooty shearwaters fly low over the Monterey Bay, diving and squawking as they feed on masses of bait fish – anchovies, sardines, squid, and krill – that school just below the water’s glistening surface. You see them coming in the distance, an impressive mass a mile or more in length; thousands of birds flying low over the water forming a cacophony of feathered missiles plunging headfirst for food.

What do you do with 12 pounds of salmon?

What do you do with 12 pounds of salmon?

Don’t let the prospect of purchasing 9 or 12 or 15 pounds of salmon ever keep you away from buying a whole fish – although you do need a dependable freezer. Surprisingly, it goes faster than you imagine. Here are a couple of tricks I’ve picked up from my fishy friends for preserving that fresh sea flavor: Get it home as quickly as possible while keeping it cold. Fisherman Frank assures me that temperature fluctuation hastens that “fishy smell.” Exposure to air also makes your fish smell fishy instead of like the sea, so if you have access to a vacuum sealer, fantastic. Just vacuum pack individual portions and then freeze. No worries if you don’t, though – you’ll have to just MacGyver it. Put individual portions into freezer-friendly zip-lock bags. Seal almost all the way, and then suck the air out yourself. You know, with your mouth. Like in the old days when you smoked. Do it right and the baggie collapses around the fish, and you can breath freely again. Finish zip-locking it and freeze. Now you have freshly frozen pieces of salmon to defrost and cook at your leisure. Your first meal with that super-fresh salmon could be little sashimi. You don’t have to be a sushi chef to do this, just use a super-sharp blade and respect the fish. Slice thinly. Layer with a little avocado, while you eat close your eyes and imagine the sea:   I don’t like to use any sauce or marinade on salmon that is this fresh – I just toss it on a super-hot barbecue dressed with a little lemon, salt,...
Very cool fuzzy cactus

Very cool fuzzy cactus

It was a foggy morning at the Big Sur Garden Gallery, where we stopped to admire their very cool and interesting collection of cactus and pick up a cappuccino and croissant from the Big Sur Bakery right next door. Here’s the star of the show:     Isn’t that so cool? I’ve never seen anything like it before. Here are a few other of the roadside cacti. This artichoke-shaped cactus is enormous, almost four feet tall.     Interesting shapes:     And cactus texture with a single tear:  ...
The mystery of the Humboldt squid

The mystery of the Humboldt squid

6:00 AM. They hadn’t yet beached when my neighbor took Daisy Duke out for her morning constitutional. He noticed something odd, though, what he reported to be an enormous forest of kelp drifting just outside the swells. He assumed it had probably been torn up from the previous week’s rain and was drifting in on the high tide. 8:00 AM. The tide was ebbing when my friend Jen showed up for her beach walk. There was no fresh kelp, only the drying mounds that had been deposited several days several days earlier. But she DID see – piled on top of those briny vines – squid. Fresh, fat, 2-3 foot long squid with the clear black pupils of VERY fresh fish. Some beachgoers tried to drag them back to sea to save their lives, but the squid insisted on wriggling out of the water and breathing their last. Freaky. 2:00 PM. I hadn’t heard any of the above yet. When I showed up with Koah for our own walk, I was shocked to stumble across the enormous calamari littering the sand for miles. Kid One happened to call me on his break from work, and I described the scene. Beach-raised Kid that he is, he ID’d them as Humboldt squid. Neither dogs nor seagulls knew what to make of them, the fish too fresh and new to nibble on (the gulls) or to roll in (the dogs). We walked along the high tide line from Rio Del Mar to New Brighton and estimated there had to be thousands. People passing by were mildly freaked out. Did I know kind of...
Playing I Spy with your food

Playing I Spy with your food

So far, the verdict is out on my Farm to Table CSA box. I do love the idea of farm fresh fruits and veggies dropped at my door, but in reality it’s an awful lot of produce to deal with at one time. The apples and beets from that first week’s box were tasty, but the pears and kiwi weren’t ripe. And unfortunately, since I left the broccoli and green beans out overnight and they were bad within a day of delivery. Week 2 came too fast, and I wasn’t terribly interested in the contents: even MORE beets, more unripe fruit, a cute little pumpkin, and an uninspiring bitter green I’d never seen before. I compared notes with a friend; turns out she spent her delivery day cooking up dishes and soups with all the vegetables so that nothing went bad – beet greens included. I was ready for a fresh glimmer of possibilities when Week 3’s bounty arrived:   Sorting out the box was like playing a game of I Spy: I spy, with my two eyes . . . a Caesar salad, a broccolini and carrot stir fry, and squash soup. We even got a potato leek fennel soup out of it. I call this a succesful CSA week. And in the interest of giving this box, and the CSA box concept, a fighting chance, I even went crazy and made a pesto from the radish and carrot greens – new pizza...
Calf nursing by the lake (everything eats)

Calf nursing by the lake (everything eats)

We squeezed in one last late-summer day at Lake San Antonio this week, slowly cruising the perimeter in a rented ski boat. School is back in session and the lake was empty; better for the animals who call the lake home. In the course of an afternoon we saw the expected deer and cows come near the shoreline to graze and were also fortunate enough to witness some unexpected wildlife: a family of wild boar lumbering back into the forest after a cooling sip of water and a lone coyote skittishly running up a rocky hill to the shade of a live oak tree, away from the drone of our engine. Here’s a calf checking us out as it nurses. Udderly delicious, I’m sure he’s thinking....
A wasp’s dinner (everything eats)

A wasp’s dinner (everything eats)

This one may get the icky props. Thanks to my my friend Teresa McGrath, I got to see something out of the ordinary – in my world, at least. She writes: Survival of the fittest at its best. I was sitting by the pool and watched as this wasp grabbed (yes, with all of its legs like a bear hug) this caterpillar off of the plant next to me. The wasp chewed into it until its guts came out – the black stuff – and then ate some. This photo is of him finishing off the back end of the poor guy. Fascinating. Fascinating but kind of ewww. It reminds me of the time we’d been vacationing in the Sierras, a family trip. We were in the car driving home and LL got a pained look on his face and said he got a bite. He pulled over on the side of Highway 4, stuck his hand inside his shirt over his shoulder, and came out with a handful of green caterpillar goo. It was kind of...
First pick of home-grown blackberries

First pick of home-grown blackberries

My neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks, so that awkward strip of land between property line and county-maintained street is a landscape free-for-all, a curb value coda. A few neighbors fill the space with asphalt. Others plant prim mounds of multicolored lantana, rosemary and lavender bushes, pots of bamboo, or birds of paradise; almost everything grows here. Many carefully groom the space with pebbles that coordinate with their house color. Many also just let weeds and visiting cars fill the space. Last year I ripped out a native landscape garden I’d established in our strip during one enthusiasm in favor of my newest obsession – growing only/mostly things we can eat. Kid Two helped me dig deep holes in the clay dirt, mixing in fine soil, filling the space with tiny springs of bareroot grapes, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and huckleberries. One day, I thought, we’ll be able to pick a few berries as we walk to the beach, or gather an after-school snack, or maybe even grow enough for a batch of homegrown jam. Dream-berries. The reality of a berry patch has certainly not been as glamorous as my fantasy. We navigated the jigsaw puzzle of drip irrigation only once, but everything else is continuous. Fertilizing, mulching, weeding the prickly California roses that kept sprouting up, figuring out how to train the prickly brambles away from the street, from scratching my arms and leaving stickers in my thumb. We’ve done the work randomly, mindlessly, losing track, really of when to expect a harvest. Life was that much sweeter then, after pulling into the driveway from vacation – mind already building the endless...