Category Archives: Blog Posts

A March Friday

It is comforting to see normal March weather for California again after the bone-dry months of January and February. Thank God we got some rain in the fall. What is typical beginning of March weather you ask? Green hills, yellow mustard blooming profusely on said same hills, many fruit trees professing their white, magenta, and pink blossoms. Most of all though it the sudden change of weather, where dark clouds pushed by a brisk wind arrive quickly, empty themselves of rain, only to give way to puffy white clouds with a blue sky and sunshine behind them. This frequent exchange of clouds delights our spring, and it is advisable for the nature enthusiast to carry an umbrella.

The first flower of an Iceland poppy I planted in a pot came up about a week ago. This particular one was a bright yellow-orange and radiated color. Sadly it has already lost it’s petals now due a merciless wind coming off the mountain. We are also supposed to get some more rain tomorrow, perhaps even a storm – or atmospheric river – the current buzzword favored by the meteorologists. We shall see. Rain here equals snow in the Sierras, so a win-win for this time of year, except for my poppy.

Having picked up an almond croissant from the bakery – a café au lait was already in my possession – I drove down to the pier in Benicia to look at the water and and enjoy the aforementioned items. The wind whipping outside, I thought it wise to remain in the car with the window cracked a bit to take advantage of the fresh air, and at the same time protecting my croissant from many hungry eyes and beaks outside. Indeed, the pier is frequented by a multitude of pigeons, flocks of seagulls, ducks, ravens, and sparrows, all hoping for something to eat with minimal effort. I have even seen pelicans on a small island nearby. Numerous signs advise not to feed the feathered pier dwellers – much to the annoyance of the birds no doubt.

There – that was one tasty croissant, and I even managed not to make a mess in the car. Taking a stroll along the pier I notice a woman dumping something on the ground. Unclear of what it might be, the question answers itself a moment later, when a mad rush among all things feathered erupts to eat what I presume is bird seed. Birds and humans unable or unwilling to read the sign make for this frenzied spectacle. It is over in a matter of minutes, with the last ones to hang out being the pigeons, in making sure not a single seed is left behind. I do hope your next meal will have more of a slow food pace to it, somewhat less competition, and with perhaps some better table manners too.

Have a blessed weekend

Peace

The wind is whipping over the mountain, and the oaks are ducking as much as a tree can duck. Sheets of rain are cascading down. It is dark now. My cat Calvin was not at all pleased to take a walk on his leash today, although he managed to chew some fresh green grass that has sprouted over the past few weeks on the way back. The hills are shimmering again. The command of “wait, I have to wipe your feet” he hears from his caretaker before entering the door is completely ignored in the rush to evade the rain, so I have to grab him before those little footprints get everywhere. It’s like having a kid, although probably not too many kids stop on a walk to chew grass.

I had to mail a package today and the frenetic pace on the roads does not exemplify what the Christmas season should be about, so I was glad to get back home. I had to think again how much more pleasant the driving in Oregon is when I visit part of my family than here in the Bay Area. Yet even here it could be so simple if everyone did their part to contribute to civility.

The highlight of my evenings the past few weeks has been to light the Advent candles before going to bed and to listen to Christmas hymns. Thank you God for the peace that comes. Often my cat will come and sit on my knee, silently watching the candles too.

I have decorated some of the vegetation outside with simple strings of white lights and they lend such a glow to the dark evenings. I am rather happy to say that Calvin has learned the words “Christmas lights” – I have a very, very smart cat.

Have a blessed Advent season as we wait for the coming of Christ.

Cat-astrophic

Knocking over three quarters of a pint of heavy cream with it splattering everywhere on your kitchen floor (accompanied by colorful language I normally don’t use), is a major mishap. Having half of the contents land on your cat below who then dashes off in a panic is an UNMITIGATED DISASTER.

Ouch

It was that time of year last week, time to get a flu shot. When the California sun is smiling brightly it is hard to think about such matters, but when you are sniffling under a blanket in January, you wish you had paid attention.

Having obtained a prescription refill a week earlier it came to my attention via a poster on the freezer door next to the pharmacy counter that recipients of a flu shot would be entitled to a free scoop of ice cream. Now that is an incentive! Thus, almost giddy when it was time, I filled out my paperwork and waited in line to get poked. There was one person ahead of me who got his flu shot and he yelled out ouch before he got poked – apparently an attempt at humor – which was warily acknowledged by the pharmacist. My turn. “right or left arm”? “The left please”. It was an ouch moment, but I kept silent. “would you like a band-air”? “Yes please, and where and what kind of scoop of ice cream may I get”? “Sorry – no ice cream, but you can take a bottle of free hand sanitizer from the counter”. Imagine my shock and disappointment. Hand sanitizer? Practical perhaps, but certainly not the same. False advertising came to mind, “bait and switch” tactics, things, one does not expect at a pharmacy. Sigh – hand sanitizer it is then, as I reach down and grab a small bottle, sadly slinking towards the exit door.

Is there a happy ending to this preposterous misrepresentation luring unsuspecting ice cream aficionados into a pharmacy only to get poked and sanitized you ask? There is – a self-service pint of ice cream from the freezer that night, including whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top in order to recover from the afternoon shock.

Unintentional

It was my turn to fix dinner yesterday. I had procured some rockfish for only $6.99 a pound, that may have been strategically placed next to the $29.99 a pound halibut. A simple budgetary decision. Seeing the rockfish, I remembered a recipe I have probably not made in over a decade. It’s an easy and tasty recipe I found at a fish counter or in a magazine – I don’t recall. All the vegetables as well as the potatoes (except for a red bell pepper) were readily available in Patrick and Hannah’s garden and basement respectively, so my shopping list was of a short nature.

Mushrooms, the aforementioned red bell pepper, and zucchini seasoned and sautéed in olive oil, mashed potatoes, a butter and orange cream sauce – all complementing the fish which I baked in foil.

As we started to eat, I noticed that our napkins were missing, so I got up, turned around, and grabbed a few paper towels from the paper towel roll holder and tore them into three sheets to use as a substitute. Now I’m guessing I may have been a bit fatigued from cooking as I handed them out automatically, first one to Hannah, then one to Patrick, and a third to my cat Calvin who was sitting upright on the couch next to the dining table. I then caught myself retracting the paper towel for recipient number three and started to laugh as did everyone else. If I may interpret the surprised look on my cat’s face, it may well have been a response of “rather kind of you, but I don’t think I will be needing one of those”.

Winged Visitor

Memorial Day. As the sun is setting and I see the silhouettes of the dry oak trees, I am grateful for the quiet day. It was almost 100 F. today and a good day to stay inside with the AC on. I wish I could have been with family to have a BBQ, but they are far away. Sigh. Well, at least I was somewhat productive in tending to the cleaning of the shower, kitchen sink, and restroom. Sheer excitement you say no doubt. As I briefly perused the news earlier, I saw the honor and respect President Biden paid to the people in whose honor and memory this day is. I was also grateful to see that in Texas injustice did not prevail, but rather that it was defeated. I have high hopes that liberty, justice for all, and freedom will once again become the fabric of what this country was meant to be.

Sitting in a lawn chair this evening under the hummingbird feeder, one of these tiny lovely birds suddenly appeared out of nowhere, despite the fact that my cat Calvin was on my lap, and after briefly inspecting the feeder, started chattering at me. I do believe his or her exact words may have been: “hello, it’s a hot day and I’m thirsty – however this feeder does need some attention”. Thus, after placing Calvin inside, I took down the feeder and brought it to my now sparkling clean kitchen sink. Indeed, after opening the feeder a musky smell greeted me. I wouldn’t want to drink from that either. A cleaning was most definitely in order.

Hanging the freshly cleaned and refilled feeder back on it’s hook, I sat back down in my chair once again with Calvin on my lap, and we enjoyed the twilight again. What do you know, the sound of fast beating hummingbird wings could be heard and then my little friend appeared directly above me and flew straight to the feeder to drink – quite a few sips too I might add. He or she then flew over to me, chirped briefly, and flew off into the evening sky. I do believe it was a thank you.

2021

I think it is safe to say that most people will be more than happy to leave this last year behind. The unexpected pandemic, the wildfires here in the West, other natural disasters around the globe, hunger, poverty, injustice.

The shelter in place implemented in March led to some unexpected experiences. Almost car-less streets, fresh air, families spending time at home and with each other, leaving behind the frenetic pace and wrong priorities for a while. There were lots of positives and things to be learned or re-learned.

Now with a vaccine on the horizon, and finally a decent man to lead our country again after the catastrophic last four years and the hope that “build back better” will indeed be what lies ahead. The potential is there to do good and to set a high standard and correct the wrongs that have plagued especially this country for so so long. Our wonderful President Obama set the bar real high and pointed the US in the right direction while making sure this country was part of the world community. This was and is so vitally important.

The hardship of the holidays without being together with loved ones, children being unable to go to school, overworked caregivers. Yes, the last year is best left behind.

On a personal note, I hope to finally publish my so oft delayed next book. I certainly have had time to write and draw a bit this past year.

May 2021 be a year of healing, learning, and making the world better in all regards. It starts with every one of us.

Time stands still

It has been a very different time these past months, and unlike the rest, I’m going to try to focus on the good in writing this post.

Taking an evening walk with my cat down the long straight road a ways (I usually carry him one-way, he drags me back on his leash the other way), we encounter some bicycles (he ducks down when they pass by), people walking their dogs (resulting in a bushy tail with the larger breeds – and then I pick him up until the disturbance passes), a lone jogger, the occasional horse, or perhaps a stroller.

It is so quiet. It seems almost like a different century, perhaps the 18th or 19th. The frenetic pace of modern society seems to have come to a complete standstill. The pink super moon just a short while ago was incredibly bright in the sky. Stars twinkle and can easily be seen. The usual smog and bad air are gone. My youngest brother told me he even saw a string of satellites above.

The quails I often see and that sometimes go almost unnoticed, now stand out with their pronounced calling, as sadly do the wild turkeys (they are lucky they don’t taste like butterballs), with hardly any other sounds or cars around. The sparrows that I feed every morning are getting accustomed to me, and when Calvin is sitting outside on his leash they ignore him as they hop about, sometimes they are almost within his reach as they peck at their food. As I told some friends, I know our heavenly father feeds them, but I’m supplementing their breakfast. The live and let live attitude among sparrow and cat is makes me happy.

It was a blessing to be able to watch some Easter services online and to listen to music this weekend. That’s using technology for good!

I try to  joke with the grocery store clerks when I go shopping (wiping my hand basket with a clean wipe before entering the store of course) or at least smile. They clerks and nurses bearing the brunt of this, and welcome any friendliness or cheerfulness – I can tell. Where is all the TP and PT? Really folks? It may however be an unexpected economic boon for the producers who may be wiping their hands with those extra towels.

Instructions have been given out and people seem to be heeding them. As opposed to similar things that happened a century ago, we now have the luxury of instant communication, and there do seem to be a few sensible leaders left who are looking out for the common good. I find it is best though just to turn off the news and focus on the beauty of time standing still.

What was that recent expression or fad? “Slow food”? When I grew up that was how you ate – enjoying your food and giving thanks to God and the hands that tended to and prepared the food.

I found some trout for $4.99 a pound today. It is seasoned now, residing in the fridge, but will be cooked tomorrow. Tonight I think I will have some leftover lemon-rosemary Risotto (you can find this tasty recipe in Saveur Magazine), and a little Wayne Shorter to go with it.

Have a blessed evening.

Elvia

palmtree

A tribute to my friend:

I was so sad when I looked at my friend Elvia’s Facebook page a few days ago and saw a memorial posted there. A heavy heart at losing another dear friend. Unbeknownst to me, she passed away last month in her native country of Brasil to which she returned about a decade ago.

We had been friends for a long time. I met her around 1990 when I had a part-time job teaching at a language institute in the City. Her husband Paulo who was teaching Portuguese at the same school invited me to come by and have lunch at her restaurant “Café do Brasil – Brazilian Fruit Basket” on 7th Street. It was a tiny hole in the wall and she was in the middle of moving to a bigger space just across the street at the corner of 7th and Mission Streets. It was there that I tasted a smoothie for the first time, long before they became popular. Elvia’s smoothies were called vitaminas, and my sons as well as my favorite one was the Banana vitamina which had honey in it.

As I was underemployed at the time, I offered to do some work in setting up some shelves and moving stuff in what turned into a delightful exchange of labor for food. I am not really mechanically inclined to put it mildly, but am always willing to help. So I got to work and promptly made a couple of mistakes in cutting some wood – and Manuel, the chef cooking there started to sing a song: “Matthias, es un hombre de papel”, while giving me a big smile. It took me a bit, but I figured out what he had sung and I laughed, as he was absolutely right. Elvia named one of the delicious chicken entrees on her menu after Manuel, and the dish became a staple in our home cooking repertoire – chicken cooked in dark beer with plenty of spices. Later on I designed a menu for Elvia, applying some freshly learned Pagemaker skills, and thus gave credence to Manuel’s song.

Café do Brasil became almost a second home for my sons and me. On birthdays, and whenever I could afford it, I would take them to lunch or dinner there, driving over to South of Market from our tiny North Beach apartment. We loved the food: Feijoada completa with rice, black beans, farofa, collard greens, and a pork chop on the side, fried bananas with cinnamon, empanadas, coquinas. Elvia’s restaurant opened up a whole new culinary experience for us.

We attended the opening celebration of the new restaurant space of course. I recall Elvia – surrounded by a multitude of helium-filled balloons – being so happy to have ample space now for cooking, and room for more customers. The restaurant was bright and airy, with picture windows on two sides. We celebrated with our favorite drink: Guaraná Antarctica, a delicious Brazilian soda made from the Guaraná berry.

A few years later, Elvia had to move her restaurant location again, I think she either lost her lease, or they had raised her rent. The move was close – just up to Market Street  – however, gritty would have been an understatement for this section of Market Street at the time, not that it has changed all that much. But: Elvia’s restaurant being there raised the bar and became a lone bright spot between 6th and 7th Street. Inside and outside, the restaurant was painted in the Brazilian colors of bright yellow and green, and there was now also space for the occasional musical performance, or for watching soccer games. World Cup games were rather lively.

When Elvia got sick, the restaurant closed as her employees were unable to help to keep it open. It was a big loss for the many people that loved Elvia and her food, and to have a place to go where you felt welcome and were not rushed. Cafè do Brasil was so much more than just a restaurant and Elvia made sure of that.

I was able to see her in the hospital one more time and thankfully she looked like she was going to be fine. In fact, she was bossing the nurses and attendants around a bit, in the manner of keeping her employees on the their toes, which made me smile. I think she was tired though and wanted to go back home to Brasil to retire, which she then did.

I love you my friend, when I come to knock on heaven’s door, it would be delightful to have some Feijoada together. I could make some Schnitzel the next day too.

Matthias

 

The drawing of the palm tree – to be included in a future cookbook – is by my son Patrick – circa 1990.

 

Banana

Here is Elvia’s recipe for a Banana vitamina:

Ingredients: 

2 bananas, 2 cups low-fat milk, 1 tablespoon honey, and a dash of cinnamon

Preparation:

1. Put all the ingredients in a blender and then blend until smooth (it is advisable to peel the bananas before you put them in)

2. Serve in chilled tall glasses