Monthly Archives: July 2009
Without the constant changes in latitudes, hotels, restaurants, and internal turbulence… life just doesn’t seem as varied here on the home front. Notable events seem fewer and farther apart, so I will probably write every other week or so (unless life becomes suddenly a good deal more bizarre).
I have noted how my morning walks on West Dry Creek Road differ from those in Asia. I see a (very) occasional bicyclist or car instead of 25,000 or so elderly folks doing their morning ablutions. It’s also very cold here in the early morning, with temperatures in the high 40’s and low 50’s, a good 40-50 degrees cooler than later in the afternoon. I like it.
This time of year (the last two weeks of July to be specific) is blackberry season. We have a large field of blackberries, and last year our friend Phil cut a meandering path through the field, which has made for easy pickings. It takes only about a half an hour to fill a 3-4 pound can, and the picking is therapeutic (at least for me). You cannot hurry or you will get stuck. The only sounds I hear are the screeching of our resident red tailed hawk. It is all very Old MacDonaldish.
Not all books I read are terrific; Nicolette Hahn Niman’s RIGHTEOUS PORKCHOP being a case in point. Despite the cool title, the condemnation and description of the gruesome corporate pork and chicken industries are not that new; and the description of her newfound life as a steward of the land is a bit too precious for my taste.
Much more to my liking is SEVEN FIRES: GRILLING THE ARGENTINE WAY, by Francis Mallmann. South America’s most famous chef takes one through seven methods of cooking on open fires. His recipe for “Una Vaca Entera” says it all. The ingredients list is as follows:
- medium cow, about 1400 pounds, butterflied, skin removed
- 2 gallons Salmuera ( 2 cups salt, 8 quarts water; boiled to dissolved)
- 2 gallons Chimichurri
How can you not love this guy?
Last weekend was a full one. On Saturday we attended the 19th annual Wrubarb – a blowout our friends Francis and Priscilla orchestrate every summer. Wonderful food and wine in an idyllic Napa Valley setting; with the chance to catch up on old friendships, many of which go back to the 1970’s.
The next day we celebrated to 90th birthday of my mother in law, Alvina Lyons. Her daughters put together a tribute to a woman who has touched and nourished the lives of many. Another day of cheer.
On another note; in the previous blog I spoke of the demise of a Sonoma County landmark – Red’s Recovery Room. I do not like dwelling on the passing of venerable institutions; I’d rather pay tribute to those establishments that keep on trucking – like the Joe Matos Cheese Factory, located in the boonies southwest of Santa Rosa. The setting is early dilapidated, the aromas barnyard, and the cheese (a topflight cows milk farmers cheese known as St. George) is delightful. Highly recommended.
Let the summer continue. The warm days and cool nights are bringing the grapes to maturity, and the harvest will be here in no time. I’ll have a winery report and update this weekend in the State of the Street section of our website.
Check it out.
Until next time, Cheers to all.
July 16, 2009
(One half hour of blackberry picking)
How does it feel to return from the exotic Orient with its fantastic foods, adventuresome traffic, suspect air, and nonstop activity?
Pretty damn good, actually.
Back to a budgetless land with little water, few jobs, and a dismal economy. There are, however, a few positives. Taft Street wine is widely available (if you know where to look); the first tomatoes, blackberries, gravenstein apples, zucchini, strawberries, cukes, potatoes, onions and carrots are ripening; blue skies, clean air and cool nights are the rule; plus, there are free concerts in the square. The above combinations goes a long way in soothing the soul.
There is quite a contrast between the megalopolis of Shanghai and the southeastern province of Yunnan. From the Himalayan peaks down to the rainforest bordering Myannmar and Laos, Yunnan is the most diverse province in China, both geographically and ethnically.
The city of LiJiang is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and also a focus for the Nature Conservancy. At 7800 feet Lijiang is the home of the Naxi people, descendants of Tibetan traders who established a trading center of cobbled streets, intricate canals, and distinctive buildings. Government and world wide agencies have poured tons of money into this area and a major tourist industry has developed. The result is a very handsome old town built and rebuilt with quality materials. However, the economy is now firmly tourist centered, and the shops sell curios and the restaurants are set up to get diners in and out. There is also a two block area reserved for night clubs – a high volume mix of traditonal Chinese music with disco, techno, hip hop and other such trends of which I am blissfully unaware. It was not music to my ears. One of the major tourist attractions while we were there was our grandson Otto. Almost all the tourists were Chinese and a young blonde curly headed white boy was a curioisity indeed. He had his picture taken more often than many of the local attractions, and for the most part he put up with it quite well.
The food scene is interesting. Fresh produce and pork abounds, yet most restaurants offer only average fare. However, we did find superior food at the aptly named Chinese Restaurant. Here we had roasted pork right off the spit; kau yu (bar be que fish in sauce); and baba (wheat flatbread). We passed on the bee babies – roasted bee larvae.
It was in LiJiang that we tested some more Chinese wine. I had unpleasant memories of the two dominant players in the Chinese wine industry – Dynasty and Great Wall. Both, I believe, produce wine of great mediocrity. So when I saw saw Yunnan Red, a Cabernet blend, hopes rose. Sadly, my hopes were dashed, as the wine tasted very much like cherry cola – without the fizz. The search goes on.
After 3 days we were off to Zhongdian – renamed Xannggelila (Shangri-la) by the Chinese government in 2002, undoubtedly to attract more tourists. The name Shangri-la is derived from the 1933 best selling novel by James Hilton, where airplane crash survivors found peace and harmony in a Himalayan valley. Many locations claimed they were the site upon which the book was based, but the government decreed Zhongdian was the place, so Shangri-la it is.
We hired a van to take us from LiJiang to Shamgri-la and en route we stopped at the jaw dropping Leaping Tiger Gorge; a gorge deeper than the Grand Canyon with truly terrifying rapids. We had the breathtaking experience of climbing down and up several thousand ricketty steps in the pouring rain with several thousand Chinese tourists. It got the heart pumping! Afterward, we had a lesson in how local food should be utilized. We stopped at a no named vacant restaurant, where we were led to the kitchen where 8 or 9 baskets of produce sat. We pointed to some things we knew – zucchini, beans, tomatoes, chilies, eggplant- and then sat down to a cold beer. Minutes later an eight course feast appeared. Localvore eating at its best.
So here we are at a 10,500 feet valley with glimpses of 24,000 foot Himalayan peaks. It is cold enough to wear levis and a jacket, and the rooms have fireplaces. Most of the people here are Tibetan and the food and architecture reflect this. Prayer flags and yaks are everywhere.
Another outing today, with more local food. Tomorrow we put away our warm clothes and head for the heat – Hanoi and Vietnam. We will keep in touch.
For those interested in China today, check out Lost on the Planet China, by J. Maarten Troost. This Dutch born California resident gives an irreverant but often spot-on betrayal of travel in China today. Good read.