Friday, September 4, 2009

Wines I'm Making: Sangiovese at 22 Brix (2009)

Tested a ripe-looking berry on one of the Sangiovese vines this morning. Showed sugar at 22 Brix, which is a bit surprising for September 4. Looks like the harvest may be fairly early this year. In a day or two I'll start taking representative samples from all the plants to get an idea of where the average is. I plan to pick at about 24 Brix. The seeds of at least some berries already look mature. There is a lot of fruit, even after the raccoons. It's been three nights now with no losses, though. Putting the nets on the outside of the electric fence seems to have been a good idea. It prevents them from pushing up against the plants and stealing fruit through the nets. Wonder whether to make rosé or red wine from the Sangiovese this year?

Today [September 5] I tested one of the riper-looking Cabernet berries in the yard. It, too, was at about 22 Brix. The seeds still looked a little green, but the fruit is well on its way to ripeness. I'll need to bottle last year's wine before too long to make room for this year's production. Looks like it'll be time to pick in about a week or so, maybe a little longer.

For more on the wines I make, use the Wines I'm Making tab.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Birds I'm Watching: Bodega

Spent a very productive day birding at Bodega with a group from the Madrone Audubon Society, the first time I've ever been out with a group of people who know the area well. Usually I go out on my own. Saw a total of 35 species, six of which were first sightings for me--Vaux's swift, long-billed dowitcher, short-billed dowitcher, Wilson's warbler, semi-palmated plover, and pied-billed grebe. Other birds sighted were an immature red-tailed hawk, crow, American goldfinch, turkey vulture, scrub jay, song sparrow, Osprey, Western grebe, Western gull, whimbrel, willet, Western sandpiper, black turnstone, ruddy turnstone, black oystercatcher, brown pelican, white pelican, great blue heron, great egret, Brandt's cormorant, pelagic cormorant, double-crested cormorant, common murre, common loon, pacific loon, brandt, barn swallow, violet-green swallow, and black-bellied plover.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Food I'm Eating: Blackberry Pie

I took a walk around Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake today, to collect blackberries. The bushes were heavy with them. Although picked over, we managed to bring home a couple pounds of fruit. I'm in the process of making a blackberry pie as I write this. I've made the dough and rolled out a crust (now in the oven baking). I've made custard. When the crust is ready, I'll line it with custard, then berries and then throw the whole thing back in the oven. An excellent excuse to try all three of the ice creams I brought home from Whole Foods today.

While collecting berries was my purpose, I managed to see quite a few birds while walking. Besides the usual--Mallards, Canada Geese, California Towhees, Spotted Towhees, Song Sparrows, California Quail, Scrubjays, Red-winged Blackbirds, Snowy Egrets (many of these), Great Egrets, and a Great Blue Heron, I saw what I think may have been a female Wilson's Warbler and what was definitely a Black-throated Gray Warbler, a first sighting for me. He was in the willow trees between the path and the water about thirty yards before the eastern end of Lake Ralphine.

I ache from the work yesterday of re-setting the nets on the grapes in the backyard and raising the electric fence around them. Those dastardly raccoons are still stealing fruit. Last night nothing disappeared, though. I think I may have finally thwarted them.

Miscellaneous: Musings about Mad Men--Season Three

I've just finished watching the third episode of Mad Men this season (Season Three). Mad Men is slow as molasses. There are many untied loose ends. It's essentially a soap opera with only one hour a week to do what a 30-minute daily drama gets two-and-a-half hours to do each week. I'm beginning to wonder how long it will sustain my interest if it never rises above the soap opera level. There's only so much dallying and office politics people can take. (Maybe I'm wrong about that. Isn't The Guiding Light going off the air this month--after 72 years? And, if pressed, I'd admit that I am wondering what will come of Don's eyeing the teacher dancing round the maypole, I am wondering about the man with his hands on Betty's pregnant belly--will he appear again?) Still, I enjoy Mad Men. It's the only show on TV I make time to see each week--and that's something I haven't done in decades (in fact, since Star Trek--the original Star Trek). I'm asking myself why does Mad Men fascinate?

It's partly style. From the first episode, the creators made it clear they would attempt to faithfully reproduce the period. I was born in New York in 1960, living in Brooklyn. Although we left when I was seven, my earliest memories are of New York, from late 1963 to 1967. My New York memories are those of a small child, but I still feel that the people of Mad Men inhabit an era and a place that I know. I feel like I'm filling gaps, getting glimpses of the backdrop to the earliest period of my life that I can remember.

I take it in, but always with skepticism. Are they getting it right? I hope they are. It's hard for me to say. The people of Mad Men are not the people of my childhood. We moved in different circles. Peggy's mother and sister are most like the people I remember from our apartment in Brooklyn. The cramped living spaces of their home and Peggy's are familiar. In these scenes and others I sometimes find myself looking at objects in the room with more care than at the characters that people those rooms. There's an odd comfort in things like the foldable wooden drying rack that Peggy uses, in a container of spices wearing the package I remember from our Brooklyn kitchen.

Style, in the sense of fashion, is another aspect of the same. I love the men's suits. The women, however, seem overdressed most of the time, which feeds my skepticism, a nagging skepticism I wish I could let go of. It's a shame Mad Men is not actually a show of the era. I wish there were no room for doubt. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the only other TV show I'm vaguely passionate about is the Dick Van Dyke Show. Likewise set in an office and in the homes of its main characters and again in New York in the early 1960s. The Dick Van Dyke Show, too, is a fiction, but at least we can be certain its props are period-correct--no room for doubt. I keep wondering if Rob and Laura Petrie will appear within Mad Men. That would be a nice touch. The Dick Van Dyke Show debuted in October 1961. Don and Betty could be watching it now--but it was slow to take off and it ran five years. There's time. What year is it in the Mad Men timeline? 1963? I noticed that the marriage of Roger's daughter is set for November 23.That won't go off well. JFK will have been assassinated the day before--the first day I remember in my own life.

Perhaps my fascination with the physical details allows me to be less concerned about the authenticity of the interpersonal relationships. I question these less, but I question them nevertheless--especially the office interactions. Would these people really have been as rude to each other as they sometimes are and then, upon next meeting, have behaved as if the slights were never delivered? Would the women really have been treated with so little respect? Are we being fed nothing more than stereotypes--pictures of what we think we already know about the 1960s?

There are so many loose ends. The most bothersome is the relationship between Pete and Peggy. Is Pete so dull that he is entirely unaffected by Peggy's revelation about her baby? Has he forgotten that she told him? He behaves as if he never heard the news. It was never clear what he felt about her in the first place--I'm as confused about that as Peggy herself was (at least while she seemed to care). Roger's health is another loose end. He had two heart attacks and nearly died, but he lives his life as if it never happened--still drinking, still smoking. His lifestyle choice is not the issue. Maybe a man in his position would choose to make no concessions, but he looks far too healthy for a man that has made that choice. What happened to the character that openly announced he was gay? He has disappeared. Where did Ken Cosgrove the short story writer go? There are others loose ends.

There are details that bother me--especially the airline crew in Episode 1 this season. Having been married to a stewardess--excuse me, a flight attendant--for 18 years, I know a thing or two about the habits of airline crew. I can't imagine they would have gone to dinner in their uniforms. Surely they would have checked in to their hotel rooms, changed, and then gone out again. No? A detail, but one that continues to bother me. I'll have to ask my father. He worked for British Airways (B. O. A. C.) through the 1960s and beyond. [Update: My father says this would have been normal until a somewhat later period. As stewardesses got a reputation for looseness, airlines apparently started forbidding them from wearing their uniforms except on the job and to and from the job. Interesting.]

Still, I enjoy watching the story lines unfold. We'll see where things go. We already know there will be a Season Four. I wonder if there will be a Season Five? I think that will depend on how well the creators transition from soap opera to something of a little more substance. [Still looking for an appropriate credit for the photo above, which, fairly obviously, is not by me.]

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