Saturday, November 21, 2020

Miscellaneous: Home-baked sourdough bread

When I was in high school, oh so long ago now, I used to bake bread quite often. Loved doing it. Had a great recipe for a Swedish limpa bread (light rye) that was sometimes our daily bread and another for a delicious oatmeal bread. But I haven't baked bread in years. During the pandemic, we've been trading garden-grown greens with a friend for sourdough loaves. After months of doing this, I asked for some starter and yesterday tried baking a loaf--my first attempt at sourdough, never having done sourdough back in high school. Even though I mixed up the order of doing things to some extent, it worked. Behold! My first loaf.

I used this recipe, which is quite easy to follow, but you have to first make starter or get someone to give you some. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Rain: First real rain of the season (November 2020)

Last Thursday, November 12 we had a little rain--about 0.4 inches--but yesterday (November 17) and today we've had a decent downpour. It finally feels like fire danger is over for the year after an evacuation in August (much earlier than usual--because of fires started by lightning in many parts of the state in the absence of rain) and then fire scares again in October. 

The last rain we had was on May 13, in the 2019-2020 rain year. This new rain is the first of the 2020-2021 rain year, which goes from October 1, 2020 to September 30 2021. So far there is 1.20 inches of new rain in the rain gauge, bringing our total to 1.60 inches (way below normal for this point in the year), but it looks like there will be at least a little more rain today.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Birds I'm Watching: Bald Eagle at Howarth Park, Santa Rosa

Out for a walk this morning looking for birds. Not enough birds and far too many people walking, running, and biking without masks. Along the trail several people volunteered that they had seen a Bald Eagle earlier in the day near the lake by the parking lot I had parked in. As I rounded a corner near the spot he was supposed have been, there was no bird. Then someone said he'd flown away down the edge of the lake not long before, where I spotted him in the distance. Shortly afterward, he flew in much closer. I spent about 45 minutes getting some decent photos. First time seeing a Bald Eagle in Sonoma County, CA, which is about the southern edge of the Bald Eagle's historical range.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Went out for a short walk along a creek trail not far from home on Saturday (October 17). It's the autumn migration season for songbirds, so this is a good time of year to see warblers moving south for the winter and sometimes to see exotic strays not normally present in our area. Didn't see anything exotic and only one warbler species (a pretty Townsend's Warbler), but I did see a busy Pileated Woodpecker working on making a hole in a tree branch. North America's largest woodpecker species (Dryocopus pileatus).

Wines I'm Making: 2020 Cabernet Pressing

It's that time of year again. On Saturday I pressed the new 2020 wine (October 17). We got about 150lbs of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc grapes from our little backyard vineyard (25 Cabernet vines, of which four, or 16%, are Cabernet Franc) this year. I fermented the grapes this year using Rockpile yeast after a two-day pre-soak. As we harvested and crushed the grapes on October 3, fermentation took twelve days. We ended up with 11.4 gallons of pressed wine (and last week four gallons of rosé from our nine Sangiovese vines).

Next step is to inoculate the new wine with malolactic bacteria to induce malolactic fermentation, which converts some of the malic acid in the grapes to lactic acid, which softens it--standard procedure with red wines. This wine will be ready to bottle in about a year. The 2019 wine is ready to be bottled now--the next wine-related task that awaits me.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Miscellaneous: Unusual garden visitor

We had an unusual garden visitor today (October 11, 2020). I spied this little butterfly, a skipper, in the garden today, but it's not one I've ever seen before. Looking it up, I see that it's a Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis). Not common here, apparently. According to what I found online, it's normally found in the Orange County, California area, well south of us. Very pretty, though, with its bluish body and checkered wings.... 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Wines I'm Making: 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Harvest (October 3, 2020)

Just finished harvesting and crushing our Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc grapes. It was a novel situation this year. Ash everywhere. Everything lightly dusted, but the grapes were mostly protected by the leaves of the vines. Many of the commercial wineries in the area heavily thin the leaves around the grape clusters toward harvest time, to give them extra sun and light and to facilitate harvesting, but I generally don't follow that practice and this year leaving the leaves alone served to protect the fruit.

The ash is easily removed. The problem is that "fire taint" is caused not so much by ash from distant (relatively speaking) fires, as in our case this year, but by prolonged exposure to thick smoke, which is absorbed directly through the grape skins and by the leaves, later migrating toward the fruit. I'm hopeful that the grapes we've just harvested won't suffer from taint as we have had only a few days of really bad smoke. We'll see.

Today harvested 152.46 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc grapes, including fruit from two more-recently planted vines at the front door. The crushed juice measured at 24 degrees brix, which is perfect, and at a pH of 3.48. Aside from the ash, the fruit was very healthy. Suffered no losses to critters at all this year and no losses to mildew either. So, I'm hopeful that, despite everything, we'll have good wine from 2020.

The crushed grapes will undergo a two-three day cold soak now (or a cool soak anyway) until I inoculate the must. I plan to use the Rockpile yeast strain this year as my notes say that's what I used in 2015 and our 2015 wine turned out to be very good indeed.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Miscellaneous: Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933-2020

It was a shock last week when I read breaking news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died--a shock because it was sad news of the passing of a such an important figure, but a shock because we are so close to the election and there was no doubt in my mind that Mr. McConnell would have no qualms about pushing through a replacement nominee, despite the insult of his refusal to even consider President Obama's entirely legitimate nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016--despite the bald hypocrisy. 

The Republicans now are, of course, correct in saying that the President has a right and a duty to appoint a new justice. The point is that President Obama had the same right and duty (why does this need to be explained to anyone?). Objections now to appointing a justice so close to the election are based on a sense that to give Mr. Trump another appointment is a double insult to President Obama and Merrick Garland--and that to block another trump appointment is only to right the original wrong. The Republican party has sunk lower than I would have ever thought it could go. 

Wines I'm Making: Harvest 2020--Sangiovese

I decided to harvest the Sangiovese grapes today. The berries appeared to be mature, judging from the seeds, and some were already turning to raisins. With a heat wave predicted for today and the next couple of days and the next opportunity to harvest likely next weekend, it seemed the time was right. We got a total of 53.2lbs of grapes, which is roughly normal. We've harvested anywhere from about 40lbs to over 70lbs in the past. 

A juice sample before harvest showed a brix of 19.5 degrees, which, corrected for the temperature, is around 20.25 degrees. The crushed grapes tested at 20.25 brix and a specific gravity of 1.080. As I often do with the Sangiovese grapes, from which we make rosé, I bumped up the specific gravity with a small addition of corn sugar (450 grams or so), which raised the specific gravity to 1.090. That should yield a wine of about 12.6% alcohol. The pH of the must was 3.58. I crushed the grapes a little after noon and will press them this evening after they've had about six hours on the skins--which is less than usual. I frequently leave them overnight, so that they've typically had about 18 hours before pressing, but that would mean pressing first thing in the morning and there won't be time to do that before work starts. The color this year is likely to be a bit lighter than usual. We'll see. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Books I'm Reading: Double Exposure: Fiction into Film

A somewhat more scholarly read than I was expecting, but Joy Gould Boyum's Double Expsoure: Fiction into Film (Mentor, 1985) is written well enough that I enjoyed reading the book for the pleasure of it. Boyum argues that an adaptation, done well, is entirely capable of translating into film not only the storyline in the writing that underlies it but the mood and effect of literature and even a great deal of a writer's style. 

Boyum looks at a series of films more or less current at the time of writing, using them as examples of adaptions well done, adaptions that failed, and adaptations that she contends outdo the original.

Examples include The Innocents, The Great Gatsby, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and Apcalypse Now, which she examines from the point of view of perspective. She looks at Women in Love, Ragtime, Tess, and Daisy Miller in an examination of style and tone. In a chapter that considers metaphor, symbol, and allegory, she uses A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies, Wise Blood, and Death in Venice as examples. Her final main chapter, which looks at the problem of communicating thought, dream, and inner action through film and takes as its examples Slaughterhouse-Five, Under the Volcano, The Day of the Locust, and Swann in Love, is followed by an essay on The Magnificent Ambersons. The author argues persuasively that, contrary to the received wisdom, film versions, while not always successful, can be works of art in every way the equal of their source material and that in some instances they are even improvements upon the original. She is a staunch defender of the adaptation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Wines I'm Making: Harvest 2020--First Test of Grape Ripeness

I took a sample of the Sangiovese grapes today, Tuesday, September 15, 2020, the first check I've done on the ripeness of the grapes this season. They are at 19 brix. I usually like to harvest the grapes for the rosé we make every year at a somewhat higher reading than that (ideally 22 brix) and typically we harvest a little later than this, but I'm worried that the very hot weather we had at the beginning of September (up to 111 degrees!) may have accelerated ripening. I can't find my pH meter, so wasn't able to test the pH level.

Many of the seeds are completely brown, suggesting the berries are ripe even if the sugar is a little low. Do I wait or do I pick soon and chaptalize, if necessary? A little research is in order. I'll have to go back and look at what I've done in the past. It's hard to remember the details from year to year. I need to refresh my memory. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Miscellaneous: Fiery garden visitor

A garden visitor recently. I think this is a fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus). These are pretty common around here, but I've never attempted to photograph one before. I got this nice, sharp shot with the camera in my iPhone. From the iPhone 6 (which I have) forward, the cameras are very good, but there are tricks that allow you to get shots like this one that people assume were made with much fancier equipment--although, if you think about it, these phones we are all so used to nowadays are actually extraordinarily capable devices. Pretty fancy, even.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Book I'm Reading: Umberto Eco's HIstory of Beauty, John Colville's The Fringes of Power

I've recently finished two very long books, History of Beauty (Rizzoli International Publications, 2004), edited by Umberto Eco, at 230 pages (there is a lot of very small print), and John Colville's The Fringes of Power (W. W. Norton, 1985), subtitled "10 Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955," at 725 pages of main text (with another 70 pages of biographical notes and a glossary).

Eco edited History of Beauty, which is a collection of short essays on ideas about beauty through history, each illustrated with numerous color plates and supplemented by excerpts from contemporary writing. He begins with a chapter headed "The Aesthetic Ideal in Ancient Greece" and ends with one called The Beauty of the Media" that looks at how film, TV, and advertising have influenced ideas about beauty. Some sections are thematic, some focus on movements in art. The reader is mostly left to draw his or her own conclusions about what beauty means from the broad survey of examples presented. Beautifully illustrated and a pleasure to look at, but at times the very small print and lack of any central thesis made a straight read-through a bit tedious. Having said that, the various sections of the book could be read in virtually any order. Worth the time, but perhaps best considered a reference book.

The Fringes of Power, too, is a bit disjointed, but, being mainly a diary, that's perhaps to be expected. It begins with the author finding himself "twenty-four years old, a Third Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of two years' standing" and thinking at the outbreak of WWII in 1939 that it might be best to resign from the foreign service before his job became what was called a "reserved occupation" from which it would become impossible to exit before the end of the war. He decides to stay on and notes in his preface "Unsure of what was going to happen, I decided to keep a diary." Not long after the start of hostilities, he is seconded to 10 Downing Street from the Foreign Office and for the entire duration of the war (and beyond) he acts as Winston Churchill's private secretary.

Colville describes himself, again in the preface, thus: "...the money saved by my parents' carefulness (which never verged on meanness) went on providing their three sons with the best and most expensive education available; and though they were far from being cadgers, they had enough devoted friends and relations to provide their children with pheasants to shoot, horses to ride, yachts in which to race and pleasant country houses in which to stay.

"Thus in 1936, when I came down from Trinity College, at the age of twenty-one, I had not been stinted of pleasures and had even, in the days when travel was still an adventure, been to the Soviet Union, steamed down the Danube in a barge, crossed Asia Minor in a third-class railway carriage, spent ten days as a guest in the monasteries of Mount Athos and learned to speak both French and German with fluency. I had also won two scholarships. However, I was well aware that I must soon earn my living with greater urgency than some of my university friends."

While Colville did not come from great wealth, perhaps, his family was comfortable and with numerous connections to people of the upper classes. While at times he sounds a trifle snobbish (particularly to an American) his is the perspective of a man with the kind of education and breeding that it might be nice to see in people in public service again, and some of the most interesting comments he makes are about the US generals and politicians he and Churchill work with when dealing with the United States, particularly later in the war. The Americans, if not laughed at, are generally regarded as sincere but poorly educated and naive.

There is much of interest here about Churchill the man—his quirky habits, in particular—and about the workings of Parliament. The deep respect for and expectation of fine oratory in the House of Commons obvious in the time and effort Churchill and the author put into speech writing will probably seem alien to those of us used to US politicians and, especially today, when we are led (if that's the right word) by a man who is obviously both of limited mental capacity and limited education. If Eisenhower seemed sincere but poorly informed to Colville, how would he have characterized a Mr. Trump?

Some of the diary will sound like gossip—Colville rarely misses an opportunity to comment on the beauty, charm, or intelligence (or the lack of any of these) of the women he meets or on the effectiveness (or lack of it) of the politicians he works with. There is quite a bit about behind-the-scenes maneuvering among the politicians of the day. The coverage is uneven, and there are some startling omissions. For example, while there is a great deal of comment on Churchill's efforts to push Roosevelt into providing Britain with more aid in the early stages of the war,  the attack on Pearl Harbor that finally precipitated US war participation is not even mentioned. The atomic bomb is barely noted. That said, a very interesting and entertaining read, not least because of the writer's excellent writing style, a product, no doubt, of that expensive education. Recommended.

Serendipitous Art: Ceiling Shadows (July 23, 2020)

Shafts of light reflecting off a car parked in the driveway and shining through blinds left this pattern on the ceiling. Unintended art.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Art I'm Making: Recent Collage

A recent collage. We’re already half way through 2020 and I’ve finished only three pieces so far this year that I’ve thought worth keeping. While volume of production isn’t and never has been much of a concern of mine, it does feel good to be working steadily and producing satisfying work at a regular pace.

This year has been a struggle on many fronts, creating art among them. The work I’ve done so far this year has been slow in coming and has not come with ease, but, I suppose the important thing is to keep at it. I’m a firm believer in the idea that good work comes from the process, that no amount of planning ahead, at least in my case, is ever of much value. I start with one idea and before long that idea has vanished and something quite different is in front of me and seemingly pulling the strings. I content myself by knowing that I always retain the power of final judgment, that it is I who decides whether what emerges is worth presenting to the world or not.

This is Untitled Collage No. 220 (Santa Rosa). April 10, 2020. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper (handwritten music, postage stamps, wine label), collage. Image size: 19.9 X 12.1cm (7.8 x 4.8 inches). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Wines I'm Making: 2020 vines looking good so far

Grapes coming along nicely. Yesterday, I trimmed the backyard vineyard for the third time this season. The vigor of the vines is quite amazing. Keeping them trimmed back keeps everything exposed to light and air, which helps prevent mildew, although, since switching last year to dusting with sulfur in the spring instead of spraying with sulfur, I've had virtually no problems with mildew. The grapes look great at the moment. Before long, the little green globes will take on a blush of warmer color, which will mean the next vineyard task will be to put on the nets that protect them from critters--foxes, turkeys, deer, mice, raccoon--but especially raccoons, which can strip several vines of fruit in one night. 2020, the plague year, will be our 17th harvest. In those 17 years, I've learned how to protect the fruit. Sulfur, nets, and an electric fence.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Miscellaneous: New Garden Visitor

New garden visitor: I came across this butterfly in the garden this afternoon. I'm no expert, but it was a kind I've never seen before. I looked it up and I think this is a Funereal Dusky Wing (Erynnis funeralis), one of the group known as "skippers." According to the website I looked at, they are normally present from the San Joaquin Valley south to Argentina and Chile and they are described as an unusual stray in our area.

However, it could be a Mournful Dusky Wing (Erynnis tristis). The two types appear to be quite similar. As here in my part of northern California the Mournful Dusky Wing would be in its normal range, perhaps it's logical to assume this is a Mournful Dusky Wing. In any case, new to me.

[Not too long after posting this, I saw a Gulf Fritillary in the garden--which I don't think I'd ever seen before. A very pretty butterfly.]

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Beekeeping: New Bees Again (June 9, 2020)

Yesterday, friends notified me that their bees had swarmed and that the bees were hanging out in a very easily accessible location low on a fig tree. I was happy to pick them up. It was about the easiest swarm capture I've ever done. The bees dropped easily into my homemade swarm capture box and I drove them home on the car seat next to me. About five years ago I captured a swarm that subsequently left not too long after I installed them or they succumbed to the so-called "disappearing disease." I hope these new bees fare better. I still had the two deep hive boxes from the last swarm and today I added a super and a queen excluder to give them more room. I also decided to feed them a little to get them off to a good start. We'll see....

[Edit: Today is June 14, so the bees have been in the new hive for five days now. Today for the first time I noticed bees bringing in pollen, which is a good sign, as it means there is brood to feed or there will be soon. Until today, all the bees I saw coming back to the hive were bringing in nectar only. They need nectar to produce wax. As these were installed on bare foundation (no drawn comb) they will have had to build comb from scratch. It's amazing how quickly they work. They can build a significant amount of comb in a day, so I suspect things are progressing well. I won't open the hive to check on things, though, for a couple of weeks. You can tell everything you need to know usually just by watching the patterns of activity. And, as I say, pollen coming in is a good sign.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Rain: Real Rain in May (May 13, 2020)

How nice it is to get real rain this late in the season—and encouraging considering how far behind we are this rain year. It's been raining for the past couple of days. We've had about an inch so far, and it's coming down quite respectably at the moment, so I suspect we'll get at least another quarter of an inch. I'll update the total soon. Before this latest storm, we were at 15.55 inches, so we are now approaching 17 inches. Better, but still well short of the historical annual average, which is somewhere around 36 inches.

[Update: We ended up getting 1.3 inches of new precipitation. That brings our total as of May 15 to 16.85 inches.]

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 219 (Santa Rosa)

The last collage I made in 2019 was this one, Untitled Collage No. 219 (Santa Rosa), a small piece, as usual using monotyped papers of my own creation. October 16, 2019. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 11.2 x 11.2cm (4.4 x 4.4 inches). Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Wines I'm Making: 2020 First Sulfur Dusting (April 29)

The grapes this year are off to a good start. The shoots are about 18 inches long already. I've finished thinning the excess growth and on April 29 I did the first sulfur treatment, this year again using a duster and dry powder rather than a sprayer. I tried this last year for the first time. It's much, much easier. It's faster. It covers the leaves and stems with a more even layer and it seems to last longer. Last year, for the first time ever, we lost almost no grapes to mildew. I'm hoping for the same result again this year.

Wines I'm Drinking: 1992 Caparone Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

I've read that telling people about wines you've enjoyed is virtually always boring to them because you're describing an experience they can't participate in, so, I'll keep it short, but recently I opened a bottle of 1992 Caparone Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that I bought at the winery in the early 2000s. The cork crumbled away when I tried to insert the corkscrew. I had to push most of it into the bottle and then decant the wine through a sieve. I would have decanted it anyway, as there was an unusually thick layer of sludge in the bottom of the bottle.

Despite being 28 years old it was still vibrant, with scents of blood orange, brandy, and something that put me in mind of a fresh cigar--even a hint of wintergreen. It was richly fruity on the palate, with hints of cloves and herbs. It was almost like vermouth. I take the trouble to mention this wine because it was tasty, but also because it was a good example of a wine that really benefited from bottle age. Far too much good wine is drunk far too early.

Shortly after this, I opened a bottle of 1983 Château D'Issan that was even better—and another nine years older. I was too lazy to write down any impressions, but it was delicious. Having been in lockdown now for six weeks, we're beginning to make a dent in all the wine that's in the house. Haven't bought a new bottle for quite a long time. Among those we've been drinking down have been our own wines. The 2015 Clos du Tal Stone's Throw Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc (to give it its full name) from our backyard was especially good—really top notch. Last night I opened a bottle of our 2009. It was not as nuanced and had a distinctly milky quality, which suggests I got the malolactic fermentation to go well in 2009. The grapes were, of course, much younger (the vines were planted in 2001; we made our first wine in 2004). Nevertheless, the 2009 is quite pleasant.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Wines I'm Making: Shoot Thinning Finished (spring 2020)

Yesterday evening I finally finished thinning the grapevine shoots. Both the Cabernet and the Sangiovese started growing aggressively when, finally, a few days ago the weather began to warm. It has been a long, cool spring this year. The next task in the vineyard will be to dust the shoots with sulfur to prevent mildew. Will try to get to that soon.

Books I'm Reading: Brilliant Blunders

I belatedly note here that I recently finished Mario Livio's Brilliant Blunders (Simon and Schuster, 2013), a look at instances of error in the thinking of some of history's most brilliant scientists.

Livio looks at a logical gap in Darwin's theory on the evolution of species, which at the time of its publication, lacked a mechanism for natural selection; Darwin was ignorant of Mendel's research on inheritance which showed that traits are passed on to offspring in a way that allows natural selection to work. Darwin was right in spite of this failing.

The author looks at Lord Kelvin's mistakes in calculating the probable age of the Earth. He looks at the eggregious error Linus Pauling made in suggesting a structure for the DNA molecule, a particular interesting case as the error was so glaring. The book presents the curious case of Fred Hoyle who stubbornly attempted to refute the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, and finally examines Einstein's introduction to his equations of the so-called cosmological constant, which he later regretted, although recent research seems to be pointing in the direction of Einstein having been correct. An interesting look at the psychology of scientific thought and, in the current environment, five useful lessons in the importance of dispassionately examining facts with an open mind and a willingness to abandon conviction in the face of contradictory evidence.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Serendipitous Art: Scratched Blue (April 16, 2020)

The scratched bottom of a blue plastic cooler looked like art to me. Serendipitous art.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 218 (Santa Rosa)

Catching up on posting art I'm making. I've been in a lull for several months--partly because of a new job, partly because I simply needed a break, and then the virus hit. This is one from the latter part of 2019.

Untitled Collage No. 218 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. October 12, 2019. Image size 12.4 x 12.0cm (4.9 x 4.7 inches). Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse. Small and simple, but this has become a favorite.

For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Food I'm Eating: Fast, Easy, Adaptable Six-ingredient Pasta

If you're tired of your own cooking and looking for something super easy to make for lunch or dinner, here's a recipe I like because it's tasty, easy, and fast--you can prepare it in the time it takes the pasta to boil. Only six ingredients are required, but you can make additions and substitutions.


1. Black olives (fresh, pitted--not those horrid little black tires they put on pizza at the big pizza chains)
2. Capers 
3. Anchovies (the kind in the jar, not a can (although those work in a pinch): I like the Agostina Recca brand)
4. Fresh garlic 
5. Chili flakes (I like chipotle flakes) 
6. Fresh parmesan cheese (shaved, not the powdered Kraft stuff) 
7. (Optional): Baby spinach, snow peas, other greens


Boil water for pasta. While waiting for the water, chop the olives, capers, anchovies, and garlic finely but not too finely. Set aside.

When water is boiling, add the pasta. If you normally salt your pasta water, in this case don't: the olives, capers, cheese, and anchovies provide plenty of saltiness.

In a large skillet, heat a little olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted, add the olives, anchovies, capers, and chili flakes. Stir. Reserve the garlic and parmesan cheese. Turn down the heat.

About four minutes before the pasta will be ready, make a space in the skillet for the garlic, turn up the heat again (medium-high) and add the garlic and more butter so that the garlic sautés in the butter. Make sure the garlic doesn't burn. Turn down heat if necessary after the garlic takes a little color, which should be just before the pasta is ready. If you add greens, put these in along with the garlic so that they're just cooked as the pasta finishes.

When pasta is ready, drain and add to the pan with the other ingredients. Turn off the heat and mix well. Last, add the Parmesan cheese. The residual heat will melt it. Serve immediately!

I like to make this with baby spinach, which adds some nice color. If you're a vegetarian, you can omit the anchovies. If you don't like spicy foods, omit the chili flakes. If you like things spicier, this works well with fresh minced jalapeño or Fresno peppers (or hotter varieties, if you like). The photo here shows it with snow pea pods instead of spinach. Dinner last night. :)

Rain: New Rain is Welcome

In the past couple of days, we've had 1.00 inches of new precipitation, which is welcome, particularly this late the season, but that still leaves us only at 15.35 inches for the 2019-2020 rain year, only about half normal rainfall. A bad fire season on top of the coronavirus will be just what we need....

[Update: More rain on April 6 added 0.20 inches to our total, which now stands at 15.55 inches for the 2019-2020 rain year, still woefully low, but every little bit helps.]

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Books I'm Reading: The Lives of the Great Composers

I've been reading Schonberg's The Lives of the Great Composers (Third Edition, Norton 1995). Very interesting for its perspectives on the most important composers and their music. I like that it's forced me to read about genres and styles I may not know well or listen to much.  The Magic Flute is the only opera I really love, but I've been reading a great deal about opera, to take just one example. I didn't know that Wagner was the arrogant, completely self-absorbed narcissist he seems to have been, or that Richard Strauss was henpecked.

The book has opened my eyes to some composers I now think may deserve more of my time and confirmed my opinions about others (not that Schonberg is the last word, but he seems to know what he's talking about). I was up to Les Six and the modern French composers when I started writing these notes, I've since finished the book. There have been some surprises. I had no idea, for example, that Berlioz was such an interesting character. He seems to have been a bit crazy but a superb writer about music and about other composers and their work.

The author has much to say about the differences between Mahler and Bruckner that are quite amusing, pointing out that the latter was a deeply spiritual man and suggesting you have to be equally spiritual to really get Bruckner. The author has a great deal of sympathy for those who find Bruckner boring while acknowledging that he can be worth the time. He calls Mahler a whiner and a peevish child, essentially, who reveled in his agony and couldn't stop asking BIG questions about life. He suggests that Mahler and Bruckner wondered about the same sorts of things, the main difference being that Bruckner was sure of the answers to his questions while Mahler never found an answer that satisfied him.

The author has a very high opinion of Debussy as a modernist (calling Mahler the end of Romanticism rather than a forward-looking revolutionary and Debussy the real revolutionary at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th) and has a surprisingly low opinion of Sibelius. Perhaps Sibelius was at a low point in general esteem in 1995, I thought, but I've since found that the first edition of this book, published in 1970, said the same thing. Schonberg also doesn't think that much of Richard Strauss, or at least argues that Strauss peaked very early and that his later works are rather dull, something I tend to agree with, although, because my father was a fan I have a big collection of Richard Strauss discs that I keep trying to like more than I actually do.

Not being a pianist or that familiar with the technical aspects of piano playing, there's much in this book about performance style that has made we want to pull out all kinds of records and CDs and listen for the things he mentions. For example, he talks about Chopin being among the first to write music for keyboard that requires use of the pedals in a way that was entirely new (and suggests along the way that many modern pianists completely miss the point of much of the music of Chopin) and he talks about Debussy's piano music being music that has to be played as if the piano is not a percussion instrument at all--as if the fingers are working directly on the strings.

It's also interesting to read that very well known composers have been contemptuous of the music of other very well known composers almost throughout the history of modern music, which suggests we should perhaps all be confident in dismissing those composers we don't care for! :) Anyway, Very interesting.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Rain: Rain, Thunder, Lightning, and Hail

Rain on and off since last reporting, but mainly a good downpour today (March 22) with thunder and lightning and hail, even, has added 1.80 inches of precipitation to our total. That puts us at so far at 14.35 inches for the year--less than half of normal cumulative precipitation for this time of year, (about 30.9 inches for March 22). There is rain in the forecast again this coming week. The more the merrier. However, with coronavirus spreading and a wealth of fools apparently not taking things seriously in this country, a dry winter is not the first worry on my mind at the moment.  
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