I love crab season: the having ceased to crawl crustaceans filling the display cases of the fishmonger on a glistening bed of ice, all neatly lined up in a row in their unmistakable bright orange – the color of Dungeness crab when cooked. On sale at $5.99 a pound, who can resist? Apparently the customer in front of me, who is of the opinion that the crabs are too small in size, insisting that they should be at least two pounds minimum in weight. The girl behind the fish counter politely informs the customer that the crabs that have just come in from the wholesaler are all the same size. The words picky and ungrateful come to mind, listening to such demands. Asking “who’s next” after the grump’s departure, I raise my hand and order one of the “undersize” Dungeness crabs from the girl and ask for the crab to be cleaned. A delectable pound and a half my specimen presses on the scale – that is going to be one fine dinner tonight accompanied by some garlic bread, hot melted butter, and several slices of lemon. My cat Calvin knows the word crab very well too. As the girl cleans the crab in the stainless steel sink under the streaming water of the faucet, her co-worker on the other side of the counter grins broadly at her and me: “don’t forget to clean behind the ears”.
I see some pots of slender white daffodils with just one or two open blossoms, all lined up in a row, ready to be purchased in front of the grocery store. It is a stormy day today, and the looming rain clouds and their white counterparts are alternating their routines in the sky, with the dark gray ones maliciously sending their raindrops, while the white ones are being pushed along by the wind, happily doing nothing – January weather for California. A bit brisk by most people’s account I would venture a guess – “freezing”, if you were to ask a local. I am however pretty certain, that the daffodils are none too fond of this sitting outside bit on the shelf exposed to the raindrops, after most likely having spent a cozy life in the greenhouse.
Inside at the produce section a little girl brings mirth to my spirit as I overhear her telling her mother “I really am not too fond of this salad”, glancing at a bag of salad her mother just picked up, and then back at her mother. Meanwhile a little brute about the same size as her is reprimanded several times by his mother for bumping into people with their shopping cart oblivious to everything around him but the cart and its contents. Grace and oafish behavior in close proximity.
Having found the chives I was looking for and spying some salted butter on sale, I get into the “15 items or less” check-out line. A few lines over from mine, the same girl I had seen earlier is now being told by her mother to bring the big shopping cart back outside. Apparently no easy task, as she maneuvers carefully through the store avoiding other shoppers. Although now halfway to the door, she glances back at her mom with a question on her lips unsure as to where she should go. I wave to her and point towards the exit door, where a woman who has just come in from outside makes her back up as she tries to resume her task. This happens to her two more times until the girl finally reaches the door with the cart that is much too big for her. I crouch down to about her height where I am standing and look around me – indeed this is no mean feat if you are looking at life from this level. Good job girl!
This post is a tribute to my oldest friend who passed away in October. I named my youngest son after him, so in order to differentiate between the two when we got together, he was always known as “Big Patrick”. It was also a befitting name, as he was a tall former Vietnam Marine. I knew my friend as a chef. He learned his trade in the restaurants of San Francisco, where I first met him over 40 years ago. The restaurant he worked in that he talked the most about was Doro’s, a fine high-end Italian restaurant which no longer exists. Tucked in a little alley across from the famous landmark “the pyramid”, Patrick learned to cook probably at least 20 different types of veal dishes there from the head chef, which he later incorporated into the menu of his own restaurant as well as his own creations of course. I think that Doro’s was the restaurant that most influenced him.
If you think the Bay Area is unaffordable now, even back in 1985 Patrick decided to move with his wife Sanae to Portland in order to be able to afford to buy a house. This became a reality and he worked in several restaurants in Portland plying his trade, while Sanae worked for a Japanese business. Some years later they took out a loan on their house in order to finance buying their own restaurant – a lifelong dream that Patrick had. Thus, da Vinci’s Italian Restaurant was born in Milwaukie – a suburb of Portland. This was a second home to my boys and I, and we visited it almost every summer, first stopping near Whiskeytown Lake in California to go camping, which was our halfway point on the way up to Portland.
What a privilege it was to “hang out” in the back of the kitchen. Well, perhaps that is not quite the right word, because it was a tight space and when the orders came pouring in, the pace was fast and we had to duck to get out of the way of Patrick cooking at the two six burner stoves, as well as the kitchen crew buzzing at their various work and prep stations. Cramped quarters indeed.
Back in the dining room Patrick fed us his delicacies over the years: osso bucco, veal piccata, spaghetti Bolognese, halibut cheeks, and all of them came with fresh-baked garlic bread. It was a feast every time. The restaurant was kept simple in decor, with occasional dining room embellishments brought back from culinary trips to Italy. The emphasis at da Vinci’s, and Patrick’s view of food was to feed people – generous portions at reasonable prices. Sometimes he had specials such as abalone, and he had a waiting list for such rare culinary delicacies. Patrick just loved to talk about food all the time when he wasn’t cooking. It was hard to get a word in, but that was quite OK. His stories and food knowledge were so much fun to listen to.
His drill sergeant approach in the kitchen usually weeded out lazy workers very quickly: particularly the waiters, who drew his ire more than one time. I will refrain from illustrious details, applying self-censorship here.
One of my most amusing memories was when we met up in Paris one summer for a short vacation – Patrick and Sanae on the way to a culinary exploration trip of Italy, me to see family in Germany. We enjoyed some wonderful French cuisine and had a lovely time there, however with one notable exception: one morning we sat down for breakfast in a tourist-style restaurant (we should have known better) and ordered our food. It came and was edible, but Patrick’s omelet was runny. He was livid and in colorful language expressed his contempt for the mess in front of him, saying that this is absolute cooking basics, knowing how to cook a proper omelet. It was sent back and arrived again, this time overcooked. Patrick was ready to go into the back of the kitchen to kick the guy’s butt and it took all our persuasion to have him remain seated at the table. I do believe he talked about that incident for a couple of days afterwards, and a lot in later years. It is a good thing reason prevailed, I would not have been able to restrain him physically. It showed me how seriously he took his profession.
I have been able to publish a couple of books, but a cookbook that I have been working on since 1990 has yet to be completed. Thank God that I learned and kept a couple of recipes from my old friend which are included in my cookbook, so that his memory and some of the food he created will live on, bringing joy to kitchens and smiles to hungry faces.
Rest in peace “Big” Patrick. I love you my friend. Oh, and you still owe me that halibut cheeks recipe! 🙂
Putting a cat on a leash is not logical, as Mr. Spock would probably say. Nonetheless, when I saw warning signs about coyotes and mountain lions at the entrance station to the regional park and was subsequently informed by the ranger on duty of feral cats and poison oak in said locale as well, I deemed it as a good decision that I purchased a leash some weeks ago. The first harness and leash fitting attempt were at a park in Napa, where my son Patrick and I had stayed together for a night. Patrick made a suggestion at the time that I should practice with the harness on my stuffed manatee which I use for a pillow, as I was having trouble following and visualizing the printed instructions of putting the harness on a feline. This turned out to be a great idea. Now to try it on the cat: harness attached to cat, to leash, to picnic table leg. Calvin then managed to get tangled up a few times, but did untangle himself before settling down on top of the picnic table – a good vantage point at least – although without roaming possibilities. Disdain and annoyance were clearly visible on his face. An “encouragement” treat was reluctantly accepted after several prior bribery attempts were declined.
Several days past when it rained and then briefly stopped, I attempted to go for “a walk” on the aforementioned leash with Calvin. After first talking to him, then gently nudging him, and finally slowly having to drag him for a few feet (he was flat on the ground and lying sideways for this) I gave up. The look I got while dragging him was indescribable. Perhaps something along the lines of “a walk? On this thing? I don’t think so”. I did dry his wet stomach and feet afterwards, and he smelled wonderfully of eucalyptus bark. It was just pitiful how he became a bag of cement on the ground attached to a leash. He made his point unequivocally. Walks may have to be shelved, at least for now.
From a few weeks ago. The size of the plant has diminished…
I always love wandering about in a nursery, looking at the abundant variety of botanical splendor, but today I’m here for a specific purpose: a new catnip plant for my cat Calvin. As I wander through the aisles, I am approached by one of the employees: Max, who turns out to be a catnip expert. I didn’t know there was more than one variety of catnip. He shows me a plant that is blooming purple and says: “this one is for Persians and Calicos” with a completely straight face. Playing along, I ask him if he has anything in a Tabby, and am promptly directed to another table that displays a different and also much smaller variety of catnip plant, that will also be easy to transport. Calvin will be most delighted.
A pit-stop for a beverage: Standing in line to order a cappuccino behind a young woman holding a baby I notice that she is wearing a 1989 Oakland A’s t-shirt listing all the games on the back of it of the infamous “earthquake” World Series. I comment to her that I remember the series and that day vividly, to which she responds: “Oh I bought this shirt on eBay, cause my dad played in that series – his name is Lance Blankenship”. I tell her that I do recognize the name. As time goes by I ponder. Just a few weeks later the last segment of the piers that held up the old Bay Bridge are safely imploded, a remnant of a bygone era giving way to the new gleaming white Bay Bridge, an astounding sprawling ten lanes wide, including a bicycle path to Yerba Buena island. A most definite improvement in every aspect.
I forgot to post this (from four summers ago), but better late than never: The salmon you see pictured here, is a sockeye salmon, I’d say perhaps a good two feet long or so. Now I would like to say he was caught at the end of my fishing pole, but that would be a tall “fish story”. He was however so kind as to accompany me back from the seafood section of a mostly fancy “organic” supermarket. The price per pound for a whole fish was substantially less than that for fillets, so it was an easy decision. Not only that, but to me, a fish as a whole fish is so much more enjoyable to look at. After being wrapped by the fish monger, I proceeded to the check-out line and playfully held the fish package up to my shoulder, pretending it was a baby and that I am burping it, much to the checker’s delight.
Once in the kitchen, the salmon was first washed of course, then scaled, stuffed with various herbs, before being wrapped in fig leaves, awaiting it’s final destination on the BBQ. Another fine culinary treat by my son Patrick.
Thank you God for making all the fish in the sea – especially salmon.
A business partner once said to me: “life is like a zebra, sometimes black stripes, sometimes white stripes”, in one of his colorful picturesque analogies.
Without going into detail: I had typed about three long paragraphs worth of material on numerous neighbor noise and dysfunctional behavior issues, but then decided to delete them again, so as to hold the tongue in check as James advises, or keyboard as the case may be. It was at least somewhat therapeutic. I do however, have even more empathy now with my good friends Carol and Paul, who for years put up with a spiteful neighbor. Walk a mile in my shoes, as the saying goes.
So let us now resume on day two of the black zebra stripe days, about mid-day or so:
Exasperated, I head to the library for some peace and quiet. Picking up a magazine, I sit near a corner window, where the sun streams in to facilitate easy reading. Engrossed in an article, I barely notice someone sitting down in the chair next to me. After a few moments, the guy starts to eat some crackers: crunch, crunch, crunch, in a methodical and utterly annoying manner. Yes, food is of course forbidden here – so I presume he is illiterate. I move to the other corner of the library and continue to read my article. A patron checking out at the front desk then proceeds to talk at great length to the librarian about the book he is just returning, with her listening politely and me being unable to concentrate on my article. The queue behind him looks more than annoyed, and I have had it too with the incessant blabbermouth, as I return the magazine to the rack and leave. So much for the library being a place of refuge. Back at the apartment, the racket next door is still going on, and I can hear it even after closing the front door. I walk into the bedroom, close that door too, and take a nap. That’s two black zebra stripe days in a row.
At night, I eat too much pizza, and pay for it dearly.
The next day, I drive to Vallejo to pick up my friend Gary. I am going to take him out today to listen together to a chamber music quartet. I meet Hans, his son, outside the house who greets me holding up a 9 volt battery which he licks to see if it is “still good”. He grins at me and says: “too bad, I don’t have my kids around anymore to do this for me”, then ponders thoughtfully: “of course that could lead to some trust issues”, as I burst out laughing.
Gary comes out the front door and we get in the car. It is a very windy day, the white blossoms from the trees – courtesy of an early warm February – are blowing and twirling through the streets in a most delightful manner. On the way to the concert, I tell Gary about my two black zebra stripe days. He is familiar with my reprehensible housing situation, but can’t contain himself and bubbles over with laughter when I get to the library part, which does have its moments from an outsider’s perspective, I must admit. It feels really good to share.
We arrive at the Capitol building and Gary ambles up the incline with his walker. I worry about him falling, but let him walk. The ticket taker escorts him inside, while I go to get some coffee down the street, after promising the ticket collector not to spill any of it inside upon returning. Normally food and drink are not allowed inside the Capitol, and I’m happy he has made an exception for us. After a brisk walk, I return with two cups of double cappuccino, and once inside find my seat next to Gary’s.
The ticket collector has some interesting facts for the small audience: He not only elaborates about the musicians, but also answers my question as to why some of the top hats on display on the tables in the Capitol/Museum are turned upside down. It has something to do with how the senators in years past voted – yea or nay – and usually involved distilled spirits of some sort we are told, influencing some of their decisions no doubt. This explanation is concluded with a final remark before the music is set to start, that the restrooms are around the corner to the right, and for the gentlemen not to use the tree next to them, but rather the restroom itself.
The musicians warm up with a beautiful rendition of “My Funny Valentine”, then continue with some chamber music by Mozart. Exquisite. I can tell that Gary really loves the music.
After a short intermission, and visiting the room of rest – not the tree – we find our seats once again, and are treated to some music by Brahms: the String Sextet in B flat Major. What a wonderful Sunday afternoon.
As Gary and I leave, the ticket collector winks at me, and says that next time we come, to bring him some coffee too – with perhaps a bit of brandy in it. “Duly noted”, I tell him. Perhaps he is related to one of the former senators.
Gary and I visit a small restaurant down the street. He has a glass of Lagunitas – he sure loves his glass of beer – and we share some crispy, hot, baked just right garlic bread and I have some delectable Tiramisu. We talk a bit about the music when I drive Gary home, with Gary thoughtfully expounding on the nuances as usual. This was to be my last concert with my dear friend. I am so glad that we went together.