Saturday, December 20, 2008

Food I'm Eating: In Search of the Perfect Tomato

Even in California, there's no such thing as a perfect tomato in December. Having found fresh sea urchins at the farmer's market this morning (a treat we get only once or twice a year), I went looking for ripe tomatoes to use in a tomato cream sauce for pasta with sea urchins. It was hopeless from the outset. All made of rubber. I settled on some fat cherry tomatoes that at least had the scent of the vine to them after trying Whole Foods, The SkyHawk Market (a place I never go, but something attracted me there today; must be the time of year), and then to Oliver's, driving past Howarth Park, and the Rialto theatre along the way. What possessed me to drive all over the city for a good tomato? I suppose I wanted the tomatoes to live up to the promise of the sea urchin. Or was it something else?

This is what I did with my tomatoes:

I chopped them. I chopped a big shallot (onions will do, but shallots are perfect). I chopped a clove of garlic. I sauteed the shallots in butter and olive oil (mostly butter). When they were browned, I added the tomatoes. When the tomatoes were soft (but not too soft), I added the garlic (nothing worse than bitter, burnt garlic; never add it too soon). While the pasta was cooking, I added a few tablespoons of heavy cream and a couple tablespoons of tomato paste (not required if the tomatoes are perfect) and simmered it all very gently for a few minutes. When the pasta was cooked, I turned off the heat under the sauce and added great chunks of sea urchin, letting the lingering warmth of the pan heat the roe, not cooking it at all. I added the drained pasta into the sauce, tossed it, sprinkled it with salt (pink Murray River salt from Australia is my favorite at the moment) and finished it off with a little parsley from the garden.

And there it was. Very tasty, if I say so myself. With a 2006 Domaine Daulny Sancerre, it was perfect. It's meals like these that make me surly at expensive restaurants with big reputations and chefs that cook no better than I do.

The Domaine Daulny Sancerres are worth looking for. In Santa Rosa, you can find them at the Wine Spectrum Shop & Bar ((707) 636-1064). Tell Roland that Colin sent you. It won't do anything for you, but it might get me something next time I'm in (that's a joke), although I rarely get to go. It's at 123 4th St. in the old section of downtown.

[Update (9/27/09) Roland is no longer at the Wine Spectrum. Say "Hi" to some of the other nice people that work there.]

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Miscellaneous: Hard Frost

Hard frost last night made the morning walk to school more interesting than usual. Here are some photos.

I love the way the morning sun melts away the frost to leave behind frost shadows in the shapes of things--as in the last photo.

Words I'm writing: Opening Lines

Is it just me? I suppose it is. I occasionally find myself writing books in my head. I never get beyond a few opening lines. Things like this:
Arnold, the neighbors' son, was an odd child. So odd, in fact, that many otherwise rational people occasionally entertained the notion that he might be of another world. In summer, he'd sit on the sidewalk for hours frying ants with a magnifying glass. One by one, they'd crackle faintly and curl up. I can hear you protesting—"I did that as a child!" 
But Arnold was different. Sometimes he would name the dead ants and take them home. He kept their corpses in a box. Sometimes he would pull the legs off one ant and feed its tiny limbs to another. He once showed me an ant carrying a leg, looking--as Arnold, himself, astutely pointed out--like the builder across the street who just then happened to be walking by, carrying a long 2x4 over his shoulder. Sometimes Arnold would eat the fried remains of an ant or two. 
As he got older, Arnold focused hot sunlight more often on things made of paper that burned in an entertaining way (I used to keep a bucket of water on my porch, just in case). As a teenager, Arnold was fond of killing stray cats and talking to the sky. Later in life, Arnold found a way to combine some of these talents: He killed his wife, dismembered her, and burned down his house, having consumed part of his spouse before the fire. The newspaper reports were unsure about his intent. Had he meant to roast her? Thankfully, Arnold had moved away by then.
Where to go from there? Nowhere really.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Birds I'm Watching: Turkey in a Tree

Walking this morning, I saw a black phoebe--a comparatively unusual bird around here--and robins, one of our winter species. The robins have moved in from colder parts, but they will find little relief at the moment. It was down to well below freezing last night.

Further along the street, I saw a turkey calling rather forlornly from high in a tree. Turkeys are a common site in my neighborhood. They run around in packs of up to thirty or more, often stopping traffic as they cross streets. They rarely fly into trees, however. I think this one had lost his friends. I say "packs" rather than "flocks" because these birds seem vaguely threatening. They leave tracks that suggest dinosaurs. They look to me like bitter old men in tweed coats, bent over, running with their hands thrust in their pockets. I try not to get too close.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cars I'm Restoring: New Hub Covers

Much of the restoration saga is finished--too late to be chronicled in this newly started blog, but I continue to make small improvements to my 1978 Alfa Romeo Spider. I finally located a set of new hub covers for the car, on Ebay. Technically, hubcaps, I suppose, but these are only about two inches in diameter. They are adorned with the Alfa Romeo logo, which comes in many minor variations of drawing, but all with some sort of humanoid being swallowed by a serpent. The humanoid on these looks more adult than the "baby" the serpent is often eating whole.

The usual sources of Alfa information suggested removing the old caps (and the snap rings that hold them in) might be difficult after 30 years of corrosion and grime build-up (someone suggested I'd have to jack up the car, remove the wheels, and tap them out from behind), but they came off from the front--in a snap, you might say. I had allocated a morning to this project, but did it in about half an hour. No one will notice the improvement--a detail--except me, but I'm grateful for little pleasures.

Old cars can be mysterious. Today's little upgrade offered this mystery: Behind two of the wheel caps (those on the front wheels) there is a ball of metal. Each has a dab of sky-blue paint on it. Behind the covers on the back wheels there was nothing, just a hole. Hmmm...... Sort of makes me want to take apart the wheels on my other little convertible, a blazing yellow Miata. Not really.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Miscellaneous: Rainbow

Fabulous rainbow at 4:30 in Santa Rosa today. It appeared in the east as a bank of charcoal rainclouds moved past the sun on the opposite side of the sky  and let orange shafts of late-afternoon sunlight beam through the rain. Perhaps the best rainbow I've ever seen outside of Hawaii. A full half circle, deeply colored, with a distinct secondary rainbow above it, also complete. Not long ago, a friend pointed out to me that the order of the colors is always reversed in the secondary bow. Sure enough, the green was on the inside of the main semicircle of color but on the outside of the second one. I can't remember the physics of the phenomenon. It's Google time....

Which yielded this very interesting link: Atmospheric optics

Unfortunately, my hastily snapped photo captures only the main rainbow.

Music I'm listening to: New Kid on the Block

I have lived eight years now in Santa Rosa but have never had a tuner in the main pile of components in the living room. Why it took me so long, I don't know, but today I finally got around to buying a receiver. After the usual struggle with cords and jacks that connecting a new component entails, I now have--for the first time in a very long time--easy access to music programmed by somebody else. I listen mostly (but by no means exclusively) to classical music, so I've tuned in KRCB, our local PBS station. I wish it were commercial-free classical 24 hours a day. It's not, but it's something. I noticed immediately upon returning to the US after nearly 20 years abroad that not even PBS is entirely commercial-free anymore--especially the TV stations.

You would think the San Francisco Bay Area could support at least one such radio station, but I guess not. Makes me nostalgic for WOSU in Columbus--my standby during my college years--or WGUC in Cincinnati, the station that fed me classical when I lived in Dayton, Ohio, many years ago. All classical, all day long. All-classical public radio fed the growth of my record collection in those years. Maybe it will now do the same for my CD collection--not that I have room for many more. The radio is playing. I look forward to that little thrill of hearing something new that is immediately exciting. Sometimes you recognize a piece that will be a friend for life the first time you hear it.  

About This Blog

I had intended to keep subjects separate, in discreet threads, but I can see no way to do that, so I guess this will become a linear affair, with topics indicated by their headings and with various subjects interwoven. I intend to attach key words to each post, in the hope of making distinct trains of thought easily navigable.
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