Category Archives: Blog Posts

The Mud Dauber

Walking under the canopy of an ancient olive tree that is whispering its blossoms on the dry parched ground around its gnarled trunk, and feeling a bit sluggish this morning, I wander into the park’s restroom. As I enter the doorway, a buzzing sound is audible coming from the right side. Attached to the doorframe of the supply closet I see what appears to be an awkward chunk of mud. Hovering right next to the chunk of mud is an oversized insect similar in appearance to a wasp. I proceed with caution to the furthest restroom stall not wanting to attract attention to myself, as I’m unsure as to the disposition of this mysterious creature that seems to be fully consumed by its activity around the mud deposit. The wasp-like creature’s hovering in the air reminds me vaguely of a hummingbird.

After quietly washing my hands I tip-toe to the exit door casually making visual contact. The insect seems oblivious to me and is still going about its muddy business.

A bit later I discover that this mysterious insect is known as a mud dauber. It is indeed a species of wasp that uses its mandibles to collect mud and then build a nest made of mud to lay its eggs. A dietary aspect of the creature that was unknown to me as well, is that the mud dauber consumes spiders. Most peculiar. But God made everything for a reason – in this case – an arachnid lunch for the mud dauber. An overpopulation of spiders in the locale thus seems a slim possibility with the mud dauber(s) doing their job so to speak. Many a person suffering from arachnophobia may be applauding now at this perhaps altogether new revelation.

I must say that with some regret I later instigate the destruction of the mud daubers habitat – when none is in sight of course – as a restroom certainly is not the proper place for building a nest – at least from a human perspective.

The next morning I again see a mud dauber – perhaps it is the same one – inspecting the now empty door frame. I can perceive that it undoubtedly is smelling the remaining traces of mud wondering what on earth (no pun intended) went on here. Luckily for me it doesn’t associate my presence with the loss of its home, as I also read when doing my research that the mud dauber can get belligerent and attack if provoked. I’m sorry little mud dauber to have caused you so much trouble and inconvenience negating all your hard work, but kindly build another of your unique structures somewhere outside if you don’t mind.

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Timing

My note pad in conjunction with the empty paper towel holder on the ceiling tells me I’m out of paper towels again, plus a few other household items as well. Since the laundry basket is also rather full, this seems like an opportune time to accomplish both errands together on this warm sunny morning.

Arriving at the laundromat, first stuffing then feeding the machines, and letting them commence their duty, I employ a new feature I have discovered on my phone – a timer – thus letting me depart from the laundromat. I tend to think that watching a washing machine rotate is really not that terribly exciting, and thus am grateful for the new discovery.

Having procured a six pack of paper towels, part of my my second errand, I then meander the aisles and peruse the shelves looking for a can of oven cleaner.

All of a sudden a jar of peanut butter rolls around the corner at an astonishingly swift pace, catching me by total surprise. I stoop down and pick it up hindering it’s forward progress. The new found freedom thus impaired on behalf of the peanut butter jar, I spy the purchaser of the little runaway rounding the corner in hot pursuit. She smiles at me as I hand her the impertinent runaway. I ask her if she might know where the oven cleaner is kept, and just as I’m asking, I see it almost at eye level right in front of me – the last can of it too! This was no mere coincidence, it was destiny!

Trampoline

Late December 2018: I awake being misused as a trampoline once again. Meowing informs me that my duties of emptying the litter box are perceived as being neglected. Oh well, it is still dusk but I guess I’m up now. Did I see some leftover eggs, bacon, and chives waiting to become breakfast? I did indeed. Flashing orange lights and the loud roar of an engine approach as Calvin hops down off the mattress and instinctively hides. Yes indeed, “the blue monster”, albeit green in color in this locale has encroached upon the regional park to empty the refuse containers. I imagine the grin on the driver’s face, as he makes his unholy racket, surely rousing every last camper at the campground in the pre-dawn. “If I have to get up early, they might as well too”, is most likely the motto here. Luckily the brute soon disappears, the sun peeks out just a sliver, and the first birds awake, chirping their morning joy. The aforementioned breakfast items are turned into breakfast as the aromatic smell of Colombia Luminosa drifts through the brisk morning air.

Walking to the showers, I look for the wild turkeys I saw a few days ago but they must have wandered on. It is nice that this campground has hot showers. As I turn on the shower – the button needs to be pressed twice before the water gets hot – I see a rather large spider about the size of my thumb crawling into a corner of the stall and roll itself up as a stream of water hits it. We call it detante as I enjoy the shower and he remains curled up awaiting for my departure. Where this inside an apartment his destiny might not have been the same, but after all, I am in his domain now so a truce seemed appropriate.

February Delight

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”.

A Hint of Daffodil

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!

“Big Patrick”

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! 🙂

Matthias