Saturday, April 3, 2010

Found Art: Fish Colors (April 3, 2010)

More found art from the Santa Rosa Farmers' Market (Saturdays and Wednesdays, 8:00AM to noon, all year 'round, rain or shine, in the parking lot of the Veteran's Memorial Building, across the street from the Fairgrounds).

Sometimes the food we eat is astonishingly beautiful. I loved the spots on this salmon and the bright stripes on the halibut. Pretty--although maybe not quite as pretty as the flowering trees that are everywhere right now?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wines I'm Drinking: 2006 Château de la Meulière Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux

Last night I opened a bottle of the 2006 Château de la Meulière Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux. This is one of a number of wines I picked up recently on sale at Beverages and More. Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux wines come from a strip of hilly land sandwiched between the east side of the Garonne river and the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation. The area mostly grows Merlot. This wine is a 50-50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tasting notes follow.

Deep plummy red. Barnyard scents and leather—rather stinky at first, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Cocoa as well. Initially quite closed on the palate. Tannic, but not at all harsh. Cherries, but rather closed. Mid-palate is very light, followed by a fairly bright, slightly tart finish. Doesn’t seem especially long, although there is a lingering subtle sweetness offset by soft, tannic astringency. Clearly has potential but not in a generous mood at the moment. Bordeaux can be very deceptive; wines that seem like nothing at first can start opening up like flowers after 15-30 minutes in the glass--so I decanted the wine. Going back to it later, I began to get hints of cinnamon, but mostly attractive animal scents--musk and leather. Still, the wine was noticeably sweeter and fuller on the mid-palate and there was more fruit apparent. It continued to evolve slowly, getting better. The tannins that initially masked most of the flavors eventually dropped away to reveal a nice chocolatey element offset by subtle acid and delicate tannins.

Not a powerhouse by any means, but balanced and tasty. This may not appeal to fans of very ripe, alcoholic, California wines, but I can recommend it for everyday drinking if you know and love the little wines of Bordeaux. I believe this would repay cellaring for another two to three years, perhaps a little longer. A good value on sale at $14.99 for two bottles at Beverages and More, but I don't think I'd stock up on this at full price.

[Just opened my second bottle of this today (July 20, 2015). Wow. Perfect. Ripe, round, soft, delicious. What a difference five years has made. Wish I'd bought this by the case.]

I write about many topics, not just wine. Use the labels at the upper right to browse the blog. For more wine reviews, use the Wines I'm Drinking label.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Cistus x skanbergii

First blooms today on Cistus x skanbergii, below the "Ray Hartman" Ceanothus. Only one or two buds have opened. With rain predicted again for tomorrow and through the weekend, this is unlikely to start blooming in earnest until next week at the earliest. The Cistus salvifolius plants in the garden have had almost no flowers since the single blossom of nearly two weeks ago. I expect this to follow a similar pattern--one or two flowers and then a lull before a burst of color. Last year, this plant bloomed on April 6, yielding a year of 360 days.

Birds I'm Watching: The Ninth St. Rookery, Santa Rosa

My son's clarinet lesson happens to be near what is locally known as the "Ninth St. Rookery," a spot in the middle of Santa Rosa that herons and egrets have used as a nesting place for many years. I had heard about it, but never been there. Today, while waiting for my son to finish, I drove by.

It's remarkable. In three or four large trees in the median on Ninth St. (between Stony Point Rd. and Dutton Ave., but closer to Stony Point) there are three large trees that now have about 100 nests in progress. I saw snowy egrets, great egrets, cattle egrets, and black-crowned night herons (photo) in the trees or flying around, bringing in nesting material. Of all the suitable trees in the area, why do they choose to use these that are right next to a busy street? Who knows?

The birds made the strangest noises. I'm not aware of any of these species ordinarily vocalizing much, but there was a constant undertone of bizarre sounds that at first reminded me of Pokémon, but Pokémon wasn't quite right. Still, there was something very familiar about the noises. After some thought, it finally hit me: It was one of the ringtones built in to the iPhone. Turn on your iPhone. Go to Sounds. Choose Ringtones, and then go to "Robot." That's what these birds sound like.

Birds I'm Watching: Bodega Bay (April 2010)

Warning: This is a post only a bird watcher could love.

I spent the morning today, April 1, out at Bodega Bay, bird watching. It's a time of transition. Overwintering birds are starting to leave. Spring migrants are beginning to arrive. Birds are moving from winter plumage to breeding plumage. Today I saw four birds I've been trying to see for some time, so it was a good day; I got clear, unambiguous views of a White-Winged Scoter, a Red-throated Loon, a Glaucous-winged Gull, and a Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage (top photo).

At Bodega harbor, I saw Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Western Grebe, Hermit Thrush, Band-tailed Pigeon, California Towhee, Hutton's Vireo, Osprey, European Starling, Brewer's Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, Turkey Vulture, and Horned Grebe. On the way home, passing by this point, there were about 350 Marbled Godwits (lower photo; the fellow with the two-tone bill), many Willets, Western Sandpipers, and a Dunlin or two, with at least one in breeding plumage (lower photo; the Dunlin is the bird with the black spot on its belly).

At Bodega Head, I saw Western Gull, Black Oystercatcher, Pelagic Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot, Red-throated Loon, Common Murre, Eared Grebe, Scrub Jay, and White-crowned Sparrow.

At Campbell Cove, I saw Pigeon Guillemot, Common Loon, Willet, Brant, Surf Scoter, Raven, Marbled Godwit, Northern Harrier, Red-winged Blackbird, Great Blue Heron, and Brandt's Cormorant.

Across from Owl Canyon, I saw Brant, Marbled Godwit, Willet, Bufflehead. At Owl Canyon, I saw Allen's Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture and heard Bewick's Wren and Wilson's Warblers.

At Gaffney Point, I saw Osprey (3), Western Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Brant, American Goldfinch, House Finch, and American Crow.

At Westside Park, I saw Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Brant, Caspian Tern, Brewer's Blackbird, Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, and Pigeon Guillemot.

At Porto Bodega, I saw Osprey, Double-crested Cormorant, Black Turnstone, Whimbrel, Pelagic Cormorant, Willet, Common Loon, and Turkey Vulture.

At Doran Beach, I saw Pigeon Guillemot, Peregrine Falcon, Red-necked Grebe, Turkey Vulture, Western Gull, Surf Scoter, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, and Marbled Godwit--about 50 species in total.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Miscellaneous: Sandra Bullock's Texas Hat Trick

In the checkout line at the supermarket yesterday I found myself staring at the usual racks of magazines and candy as I waited for my turn. There in front of me was poor Sandra Bullock on the cover of four gossip magazines. I guess it's a big story in the world of gossip magazines. I think they should just leave her alone.

Three goals by the same player in a hockey game is called a "hat trick." Everyone knows that--but what do you call it when a player scores four goals in a game? Apparently, it's called a "Texas hat trick." You know, a little bigger than a regular hat trick? Learn something new every day.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Found Art: Honeycomb (March 30, 2010)

At the Santa Rosa Farmers Market this week one of the beekeepers brought in some comb that a swarm of bees made in one of his hive boxes last year. It was like a sculpture or an architectural model. Something made me think of Gaudi and Barcelona--where I plan to be this summer.

Notice the two different sizes of cells. The smaller cells in the front are ordinary brood cells, used to raise worker bees and also to store honey and pollen. The larger cells at the back are drawn for raising drones. Drone (male) bees are considerably bigger than worker (female) bees. Found art. Beautiful.

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: "Pink Lady" Apple

First blooms of the season today on the "Pink Lady" apple tree--in the pouring rain. As pretty as the cupcakes I just mentioned.... I can't seem to find a record of when this bloomed last year, but the photo is from March 26, 2009. Assuming that was the date, a year according to this plant was 369 days.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Food I'm Eating: Cupcakes Take Over the World

Cupcakes are taking over the world! Well, not really. But I see and hear an awful lot about cupcakes these days. When did cupcakes go from being a school birthday party staple to a gourmet offering? Is this one of those transformations that happened while I lived in Japan all those years? Why am I just noticing?

I have mostly bad memories of cupcakes. Those birthday party cupcake trays were usually studded with cupcakes from an off-the-shelf mix that somebody's mom didn't really want to make. No love in that.

Cupcakes seem to have followed the same trajectory as jelly beans, chocolate, and soda water. Marketing (and some dedicated and creative enthusiasts) have transformed these once ordinary products into fancy specialties with myriad variations. There are bakeries devoted entirely to cupcakes these days. Am I way behind the curve on this one? I think so. I guess it's time I tried a gourmet cupcake instead of simply enjoying the pictures I keep seeing. Luckily, I just got a coupon for two free gourmet confections of the cupcake kind from Sift, a Cupcakery, in Santa Rosa, as a thank-you from KRCB Radio for renewing my membership (and also two tickets to attend West Coast Live in person--and two CDs to boot).

The tasty-looking mini-cupcakes above are baked fresh each day at my local Whole Foods, on Yulupa Ave., in Santa Rosa. They're decorated by the lovely Megan and others. Megan used to be out front, by the display case making coffee and hot chocolate for people. About a year ago (longer maybe?) someone seems to have discovered she has quite a talent for decorating cakes, and cupcakes, and tarts. Now she works in the inner recesses of the bakery and we get only an occasional glimpse of her. She and the rest of the bakery staff make wonderful treats, but I miss seeing her smiling face.

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Wisteria

The first blooms opened on the wisteria today. As usual, only one or two have opened. It will be a week or so before the plant is in full bloom and the air is thick with the sweet, root beer-like scent of the flowers. They are a favorite of our big, very loud bumblebees. Lying in the hammock, reading in the early spring can be rather noisy. If it gets too noisy to concentrate, I just put down my book and go to sleep....

This wisteria was grown from a seed collected in Imari, Japan in 1999 or so. There is a plant on either side of the arbor that supports the hammock. So far, only one of the two has bloomed. I had hoped to see the color of the second one this time around, but it looks like I'll have to wait at least another year. The parent plant was a wonderful, deep pink. This one, while pretty, is closer to the usual purple color. I still cling to a hope that the other one will be pink. The wisteria bloomed on April 4 in 2009. A year according to this plant was thus 359 days.

Miscellaneous: Fun with Fiverr

Not long ago I discovered an interesting little site called Fiverr. What's the idea? Create a marketplace for just about anything. The only condition is that every transaction has to be valued at five dollars. It seems like a great idea to me. There are plenty of things I'd happily do for five dollars. I already have seven or eight gigs posted. One of the most popular so far has been my offer to tell people with a tattoo in Japanese (or considering one) whether the design they have used (or will use) really says in Japanese what they think it does: believe me, I've seen some unfortunate mistakes.

People are offering all kinds of services, some of them seem to me to be worth far more than $5. Some are just plain silly, but some are eminently practical.

Martin, for example, will send three real cards (that is, paper and ink cards, not e-cards) for you anywhere in North America for only $5. He puts them in the envelopes, attaches (and pays for) the stamps, and sends your greetings on their way, so you don't have to. Brilliant. Just one of hundreds of useful things you can get done for a simple fiver. Martin's gig is here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Movies I'm Watching: Delicatessen

Last night I watched Delicatessen, the next film on the three lists of little-known cinematic gems I'm going through. (For more on this topic, see my initial post on the subject, or use the "Movies I'm Watching" tab to the right.)

This one certainly fits the bill. I'd never heard of it, but it's wonderful. I'm virtually at a loss to describe it (I'll think of something, no doubt), so let me start with the conclusion: This is strange and wonderful and highly recommended. It's one of those films that seems both perfect and to make no sense at the same time--the sort of film that you keep going through over and over in your head for a long time after seeing it. It's a high-speed drive down the Autoroute strapped into a car that seems on the verge of losing control. There's nothing to do but sit back, watch the scenery whizzing past and hope to survive.

Delicatessen (French; 1991; Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Starring Pascal Benezech, Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, and Karin Viard) is like an underground comic come alive. The entire film plays out in, on, or immediately around a single crumbling building in a city of the future (Paris?) after some cataclysm has reduced the world mostly to rubble--or in the underground sewer tunnels controlled by what might be described as a group of vegetarian commandos. Food is scarce. People above ground do whatever they can to feed themselves. People are quietly hunted for meat like rats.

But there is some semblance of society still functioning. There are taxis. There is a mailman who delivers mail. There are newspapers. The butcher, owner of the delicatessen at street level in the building, keeps an ad running that seeks a handyman to help with chores. The people that answer these ads keep disappearing....

The film starts with the arrival of the latest handyman, one Louison (Dominique Pinon), a former circus performer who proves more resourceful than the butcher bargains for. Delicatessen is a small war in progress and the viewer has a seat at the front lines--obscured as the view is by heavy mists and the frightening, unfamiliar rules of this post-apocalyptic world. A general sense of disorientation is heightened by effective use of montages and distorted dream sequences.

The sound of Delicatessen is wonderful. Some of the funniest scenes in the movie (and this is a comedy) involve orchestrated sound samples. Patching together the sounds of everyday actions to produce music is now a staple of TV advertising, but once it was a novel idea. I don't pretend to know who thought of it. I first heard something like this listening to Pink Floyd's 1973 Dark Side of the Moon--remember the opening of Money, where the cash register sounds "play" the introduction? Delicatessen uses this device to wonderful effect. Everyone in the building is subordinate to the Butcher and dependent on him for food. The point is hilariously driven home when the squeaking springs of the amorous Butcher's bed momentarily take over control of everything going on in the building; every sound begins to fall in with the gradually quickening rhythm of the Butcher's love-making. Later, handyman, Louison, looking for the noisy coil to oil is just as funny when he tests the springs of the squeaky bed with the Butcher's lover (she has asked him to silence the squeak--and he does).

To say too much would be to spoil the fun. (For the squeamish among you, there is very little blood, despite the gruesome premises behind the story.) Strange and wonderful and highly recommended.

[Update: I was just reading about the film and I see that the writer of the screenplay is normally a writer of comic books--which explains a lot.]

Found Art: Blacktop Scribblings (March 28, 2010)

I liked these chalk scribblings on the playground at my son's school. Pure, unselfconscious expression. I love the handprints. A modern Lascaux.

Rain is in the forecast. By the time you see this post, this little bit of art may have already vanished.
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