Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Heart of It All

Also known as: Things I learned (or relearned) while spending the entire month of July, plus a few days in August, in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Mistake on the Lake. Home Sweet Home.

It's seriously hot back there in the summer. Hot and humid. But not all the time. A corollary of this might be: there's a big difference between 82 degrees and 92 degrees.

It's also green. Alarmingly, freakishly, splendidly green! I've lived in San Francisco for the past 30 years, and by July the Bay Area is already starting to become dangerously dry and brown and way too much like a tinderbox. (This year, once again, it is literally just that, unfortunately.) During my month+ stay in Ohio I was constantly, delightedly amazed at the cacophony of flora—all the towering trees and fat bushes and mowed lawns and myriad other plants and flowers—most of it, but not all, green green green!

Speaking of flowers: people go to TOWN on their front yard landscaping, both with annuals and perennials, and the blooming riot of color is eye-popping.

Enough of plants for the time being. Back to the weather.

I (still) love the ominous feel that somehow precedes a big storm blowing in from the west or north or wherever. It's almost indescribable, the sense of it, but in the air nonetheless. Brought me back to my childhood days on Macauley Avenue, feeling this again.

Which leads to...I (still) love a rousing, violent, hair-raising thunderstorm! Experienced a couple while I was in town and once again was transported back to our childhood house; to the front porch where we'd huddle together and watch the lightening, thunder and rain from a (yup, that's right) rusty old metal glider. Fricassee of children, anyone?

Okay, what else?

For several years now, during my summer visits back home to Cleveland, I've lamented (have been alarmed by) the lack of fireflies, but this trip there seemed to be a much healthier population all around.

That said...There is perhaps no sight as lonely as the sight of one single plaintive firefly, calmly blinking its way about an otherwise flash-less yard, briefly lighting up the dark night.

That said...Fireflies are (still) absolutely enchanting.

After wearing them for 34 days straight (not the same pair, of course) I realize that I could probably live the rest of my life in Gramicci original G-shorts and be one happy man.

Food and drink, et al.

Cleveland has got some hip scene happening! With bagels and other foodstuffs, with beer, with farming, with restaurants, music, art and more.

Heinen's Grocery Stores. Cannot say enough good things about Heinen's Grocery Stores! The family owned company embraces local—produce, meat, fish, what have you—and/or organic, but not exclusively; they offer very good prepared foods in all departments, pretty much; the stores are clean; their customer service is spot the hell on; the wine department and vinous selection is a-okay; and every 3rd week of August they celebrate the New Mexico Hatch chili harvest by fire roasting up bushels and bushels of 'em in the parking lot in those big traditional metal drums. I love Heinen's.

I call this Imeldabob because I always forget/can't pronounce the name.
What I do know is that it's a traditional Turkish preparation of eggplant,
onion, pepper and tomato, and that I love it!.

I'm a sucker for anything Great Lakes Brewing Company produces (have been for 25 years), but a cold-ass can of Palesner from Platform Beer Co. (founded 2014) is my new favorite summertime suds.

GLBC rocks!

Ohio corn! When it's in season, there is no tastier. (Many equal, perhaps, but none finer.)

Ohio peaches, bitches!

Ohio mosquitos! I'd forgotten, but learned anew, what it's like to have one's ankles covered in pesky bites.

Okay. Not sure I learned anything from the following, but here you go.

I drank more beer (see above) during one month in Ohio than I have in the past six in California. And I used more paper towels during one month in Ohio than I have in, oh, I don't know...five, ten years in California?

I love kayaking. (And I still want to kayak the Cuyahoga River down in The Flats.)

Lorain lighthouse, see from a kayak on Lake Erie.

Speaking of the Cuyahoga River: the damn thing caught fire in 1969, almost 50 years ago, when, let's face it, a whole lot of polluted America might have easily done the same. So let's give it a rest, people.

Back to what I learned, what I already knew, and what I learn again every time I see my family.

How to make real and really delicious, intensely citric lemon curd. (I adore lemon curd.) How to make buttery, velvety caramel sauce. (First try, it was so easy!) How to fuck up caramel sauce. (Second try, not so much.) How to make a classic British custard tart. How to make Greek pastisio (the dish, as children, we called moussaka).

Lemon curd, served with oatmeal shortbread cookies.
So so good.

First attempt at traditional custard tarts.

Sunsets overlooking Lake Erie are consistently some of THE most spectacular in the world. Again and again and again. Period.

Both these pics, situation normal from my sister Anne's house in Lorain.

That's right: I drank iced tea, beer, and rosé.
Lots of all three. 

Thea, Molly, Anne and Susan: My sisters are in-fucking-credible! As mothers, daughters, wives, teachers, cooks, bakers, artists, professionals, human beings, women. (Did I miss anything?)

George and Georgene, aka mom and dad,
who started it all in Ohio, the heart of it all.

I'm sure there's more, but I'm also sure y'all have things to do.

Until next time, Ohio!
Peter J. Palmer

Friday, June 22, 2018

Uncle Pete's Most Excellent Seaside Adventure

Summer is back, my trusty cyberpeeps, and, as usual, the Monterey Bay is once again going OFF in all its beautiful, wildlife-filled glory! Thus it's time to make a choice, carpe diem and all that jazz; time to do whatever you have on the calendar for tomorrow or next Tuesday or next Whateverday, or chuck it all, hop in the damn car and get a wiggle on.

Time to hit the road. Hit the deck. Hit the beach. Time, in fact, for Uncle Pete’s Most Excellent Seaside Adventure!

"What's that?" you say. 
"Sounds exciting!" you add.
"Pray, do tell..."

Uncle Pete's Most Excellent Seaside Adventure (UPMESA) is an epic, adventure-filled day out on the road and on the water. Assuming you're starting in San Francisco—or Oakland or somewhere else North Bay—the idea is to freeway south in the AM to get where you're going fast, spend a few awesome hours on a boat in search of aquatic wildlife, and then mosey back up the slower, more scenic coast road in the PM.

So...with our eyes on the prize of Moss Landing, that krill-sized speck of a town on the edge of Monterey Bay, halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey proper, let's begin with a basic outline of the round-trip road trip and follow up with some details.

Start - San Francisco

Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria
504 Bay Ave, Capitola, CA
Stop here for to-go breakfast bites and/or snack provisions to tide you over until lunch after the whale watch.

Sanctuary Cruises
7881 Sandholdt Rd, Moss Landing, CA
Blue Ocean Whale Watch
7881 Sandholdt Rd, Moss Landing, CA

Allow a full 2 hours for the drive south to Moss Landing—including the stop at Gayle’s—just to be on the safe side (one never knows about traffic).

Phil's Fish Market
7600 Sandholdt Rd, Moss Landing, CA
If they’re on their game, it’s some of the best fish and chips around (I like the halibut). One order is big enough for two people. Ask for extra tartar sauce.

Swanton Berry Farm
25 Swanton Rd, Davenport, CA
Cute little coastal farm stand with organic strawberries, strawberry jam (do not miss!), coffee and some other sweets.

Historic lighthouse and beautiful point of land for a brief walk about.

Pescadero, CA
(Detour to the self-proclaimed artichoke capitol of the world.)
Duarte's Tavern
202 Stage Road, Pescadero, CA

The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay
1 Miramontes Point Rd, Half Moon Bay, CA
Dad's Luncheonette
225 Cabrillo Hwy S, Half Moon Bay, CA

Finish - San Francisco

Beginning in San Francisco, drive south on US 101 or US 280 to CA 17, up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains, to CA 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway). Head south on CA 1 to the day's first stop, Gayle’s in Capitola. Founded in 1978 as a small neighborhood bakery, today Gayle's is 10,000-foot food emporium loved by locals and tourists alike, and you’ll be blown away by the depth and breadth of all the edible goodness inside; by the cleanliness and organization of the place. Enter and peruse for a moment the mind-numbing, eye-popping, beautifully displayed selection of cakes, tarts, pies, pastries, cookies, breads, sandwiches, wraps, salads, whole roasted chickens, and other cold and hot prepared foods of several makes and sizes. (They also make a killer humus; I like to pick up a container for home.) When you’re ready, take a ticket from the machine by the door and wait for your number to be called. After some efficient and smiling service, grab your goods and jump back in the car.

Continue south to Moss Landing and check in for your whale watch (arrive ½ hour before boat departure time). In the parking lot, over by the first brick building on your right, there’s a drop box for parking fees ($8.00 per car, last time I checked). Good to take your own pen as sometimes the pencil is MIA, and make sure to display the receipt on your dashboard

Next...Enjoy your whale watch on Monterey Bay!

Putt-puttering from the slip, cruise down the harbor channel toward the big briny, toward the beautiful Monterey Bay and the mighty Pacific, passing cormorants and sea lions and western grebes and those cuddly California sea otters while your naturalist for the day points out the different boats, the various buildings, the wildlife, and what to expect once we leave the harbor behind.

And what should you expect?

Well, don't expect. Hope...that's better. You're bound to see something out there, but one never knows what that might be, exactly. Definitely some whales—humpback whales mostly—but also, depending the time of year, big blue whales, fin whales and/or gray whales, maybe orca (!), plus dolphins and porpoises of several different species (in groups that number in the thousands, at times), sluggish mola mola, sea turtles, jellyfish, sharks if you're lucky (great whites are out there and are being seen more often!). Albatross. Pelicans and shearwaters. Tufted puffins? Yup. There's no guarantee. Every trip is supremely different. I adore it out there!

Once back on land, drive or walk over to Phil’s Fish Market for lunch. The menu is large, but there's really no reason to not try the halibut fish and chips. Make the queue, order and pay, and take a number to your table (they deliver the food when it's ready); while you wait, grab a beverage at the bar (you pay separately). There's a quality retail fish market on sight, too, if you're hankering to cook up something for dinner at home. 

Tasty lunch complete, it's time to head north now, this time on the gorgeous, wide-open, curvy Pacific Coast Highway (CA 1), all the way back to San Francisco and/or home. You have to drive thru Santa Cruz proper (traffic can be a pain), but once beyond enjoy the view as you zip up the dramatic coast, pausing here and there should you wish (lots of beautiful vista points and beaches) until you reach...

Swanton Berry Farm is a must stop for fruit and quite possibly THE best strawberry jam on the planet. (About 3 miles north of Davenport, it’s the place with the old truck and the plants/big wooden strawberry display at the road.) Inside, find some jars set out for sampling the different jams, plus a coffee urn for a small cuppa. Honor system payment; accepts cash and now CCs.

Back in the car, 15 miles further up the coast, at wild and windswept Pigeon Point Lighthouse, stretch your legs, enjoy the view, and tour the grounds and the historic lighthouse. Tide pools for exploring (at a low tide) are about 100 yards north of parking lot.

Pescadero, CA. Detour inland to the kinda funky yet charming town for a look-see and some artichoke goodness, which could include the famous cream of artichoke soup at Duarte’s and a big loaf of artichoke heart bread.

In Half Moon Bay you have a choice, should you desire: relax for a spell at the ritzy Ritz-Carlton or get some more casual seaside sustenance at Dad’s Luncheonette, a cute little diner slash train caboose. The main street strip of "downtown" Half Moon Bay is actually kinda cute and might be worth a stop and short walkabout.

After Half Moon Bay I'm usually ready to hightail it back to SF, but should you desire there's a few more potential stops along the way.

Further north find Moss Beach Distillery, a local favorite for casual eats and drinks and jazz on selected days/dates, and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a state-protected area of rocky seashore with an expansive intertidal zone perfect for exploring during low tide (naturally).

Moss Beach Distillery
140 Beach Way, Moss Beach, CA
A seaside patio, fire pits, more food and refreshment, and a ghost?

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve - Tide Pools
200 Nevada Avenue, Moss Beach, CA
Great place for kids and adults alike to explore an expanse of protected, healthy tide pools. In addition to the official park website listed above, use the following for more info and to check local low tide times/days: Friends of Fitzgerald Reserve.

As opposed to a big meal/luncheon at any one spot, I like to graze my way through UPMESA. Morning muffin or croissant from Gayle’s; a sandwich and a cookie for the boat from Gayle’s; split the fish and chips at Phil’s; strawberries at Swanton; with perhaps some more snacks in Pescadero and/or Half Moon Bay. I think the old west town of Pescadero makes for an interesting detour, whether or not you're hungry. Moss Beach Distillery is very popular and has some interesting history but is not my top choice for a food stop (tho many would disagree). The tide pools at Fitzgerald Reserve don't offer food but are def worth a stop if time (and the low tide) allows.

There’s so much to see and do on UPMESA, on the big day out, especially during the late spring and summer when daylight lasts and lasts and lasts. Enjoy sunset from the road or back in SF, then, if you're still even remotely hungry, head out for dinner!

Happy trails,
Peter J. Palmer

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Flower Power '18

Greetings, all.

Behold several wildflower pics from a few recent spring hikes in the Marin Headlands and Mount Tamalpais State Park. Also seen lots of blue-eyed grass, checker bloom, goldfield, sun cup, bush lupine (just beginning), sky lupine, rock cress, California poppy, sand verbena and more. Great time to get out as things are popping right now. Hope you enjoy them!

 Milk maids. Wolf Ridge Trail behind Hill 88.

Redwood violet. Steep Ravive Trail.

Trillium! Steep Ravine Trail.

Bermuda buttercup. Tennessee Valley Trail.

Douglas iris. Coast Trail above Rodeo Beach.

Crimson columbine. Wolf Ridge Trail behind Hill 88.

Shooting stars. Wolf Ridge Trail behind Hill 88.

Narrow leaf mule ears. Coast Trail above Rodeo Beach.

Peace out.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Out & About - Recent Pics

The GGB, the bay and the Marin Headlands, seen from Crissy Field.

Outside the Gate, toward the north end of Marshall's Beach.

With an extra low tide you can walk this far north, and can even
make it to the sandy beach in the lower right, just below the bridge.

The mighty Golden Gate Bridge.

New kicks! First time pair of Obōz Scapegoat Low.
Lovin' them so far.

A tray of baklava? No. It's the Crissy Field hard-pack trail,
seen thru some construction netting in the afternoon sun.

Looking north to Tennessee Cove and beyond from the landing pad.

One major eucalyptus tree on the Coastal Trail above Rodeo Lagoon.

Rodeo Beach on a classic early summer day.

Happy trails!
Peter J. Palmer

Friday, July 15, 2016

Chow Time!

I don't think I've ever before witnessed a bonafide humpback whale stampede. Hell, prior to a few Sundays ago I didn't even know such a thing existed! Sure do now, though.

Father's Day 2016 dawned with bright blue skies and nary a puff of wind, the San Francisco Bay a placid, shimmering expanse of gray-green glass in the rising sun. A busy Saturday night at work in the restaurant biz kept me up well past midnight, and it seemed that I had just powered down for some shuteye when the alarm startled me awake at 6:00am. Undeterred and excited (once I remembered why I had set the thing so damned early), I popped outta bed and hopped in the shower, sipped a quick cuppa Peet's Costa Rica and packed up for an 8-hour day on the Mighty Pacific, then walked over to the Marina Safeway for provisions: a coconut-almond Kind Bar (I need more coconut in my life), a hefty, freshly made turkey sando from the deli (delicious), and a bag of dried fruits and nuts (just in case). Out the door and once again toward the bay, at 7:30am sharp I found myself huddled with a group of adventurous, like minded souls by the Saint Francis Yacht Club harbormaster building, listening to our naturalist from Oceanic Society give a detailed introduction on the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, that incredibly productive and thank goodness protected patch of Pacific Ocean outside the Golden Gate. That wonderful watery world I love so much.

Under the GGB on Fathers Day 2016

Five hours later we were twenty-seven miles west of the mainland, hunkered down on board the 56' Salty Lady, and had just finished a somewhat leisurely, closeup look at the craggy, desolate Farallon Islands. I write 'somewhat leisurely' because things had changed quite a bit since we cruised under the bridge; the wind was howling in from the northwest, the sea was choppy with whitecaps, the afternoon swell was building - all of it a typical spring and early summer weather pattern in northern California - and our trusty whale watching boat was a rocking! Captain Roger Thomas, a 40+ year veteran of the bay and beyond, kept us in the lee of the islands, however, where the wind and the waves were a little less fierce. Slowly he motored back and forth from Saddleback Islet to Fisherman's Bay and guano-covered Sugarloaf, allowing us a chance to observe the lay of the land, the thousands and thousands of noisy, nesting seabirds - including several colorful tufted puffins, dont'cha know - the local pinniped population of gregarious, acrobatic California sea lions, homely elephant seals and endangered Stellar sea lions, and one juvenile California gray whale that had decided to linger by the Farallones instead of up in Alaska for the summer.

By this point in the day we had already seen several humpback whales, and the trip was shaping up to be a very good, if very blustery, adventure. Our first whale sighting was a surprise, lunge-feeding adult about 4 miles west of the Golden Gate; a whale we didn't even know was there, but a whale that was astutely predicted by a 12-year old boy standing at the bow of the boat. I was up there with him, searching searching searching for a blow, a fin, anything, when he noticed a mad swirl of seabirds diving into the ocean ahead of us. "Look, dad!" he exclaimed, "There's probably a big school of fish right under those birds, right under the surface."

I swear not 30 seconds later, right in the midst of all those birds, a gargantuan humpback came charging up from the deep, took an enormous gulp of water and whatever food it was hunting, then settled back into the ocean with a misty blow. I turned to Mikayla, a nice young woman from Dallas who was sitting next to me, and said, "I don't know about you but I'm sticking close by the amateur naturalist over there." Kudos, kid!

We were almost to the islands when Salty Lady swung hard starboard and headed south toward another whale watching boat in the distance. Based on the abrupt maneuver I figured our captain had received some good news via radio: good news meaning animals, animals meaning whales, and whales meaning...well, you never know. Ahead we could see spouts  - lots of spouts, and one looked so different, so tall and vertical, I immediately thought (hoped) whale? - and were soon treated to our second closeup encounter, a large humpback that sounded in front of us with a beautiful, broad fluke salute high in the air. Like he usually will when a whale dives nearby, Captain Roger slowed the boat, idled the engine, and waited for the whale to surface. We waited, too, but not for long, as smack dab right in front of us, maybe 75 feet from where we stood on deck, rocking back and forth with the motion of the ocean, the whale rocketed from the water in a full on, super spectacular breach! Amazed, shocked, in awe, hooting and hollering our delight, we waited for the humpback to breach again, as they often do, but this time to no avail. Instead, after a few more looks at some other beautiful humpbacks here and there, we turned north again, straight into the howling wind and waves and swell for a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to the Farallones proper.

Humpback whale fluke.

California and Steller sea lions at the SE Farallones.

Pelicans! And a seagull.

The Farallon Islands, aka the Devil's Teeth, shrouded in fog.

The north Farallones from a previous voyage: the weather and ocean have
to be just right to see these three bumps up close and personal,
so most trips to the islands visit just the main southeast group.

During our close up inspection of the southeast islands, while our naturalist educated us on their history and present day importance,  I continued to see blows south of us, back in the area we had already been, but there seemed to be more and more of them with every passing minute. Apparently captain Roger noticed as well, and before long Salty Lady doubled back for a rendezvous. And in this case, by rendezvous I mean whale stampede.

Sugarloaf Islet on Fathers Day 2016

The southeast Farallon Islands on Fathers Day 2016.

I swear it was like somewhere way up by the north Farallones someone had clanged a cetacean-sized dinner bell and a slew of hungry hungry humpbacks to our south heard the call. For 20 minutes, maybe more, we bobbed about with the wind and waves, scrambled back and forth across the boat in disbelief, as dozens of humpback whales - two, then three, then two more, then three again, then sometimes five or six together - swam around the boat, right under our boat, at times it seemed directly through the boat...and these whales were bustin' a move! We watched fluke after gorgeous fluke as they sounded one after another, glimpsed the occasional pectoral fin above and below the wind-whipped water, saw their bizarre and bumpy snouts as they hightailed it to who knows where, accompanied by blows and trumpets and quivering blubber and stinky whale breath. It was totally awesome! And each time a group passed there were more spouts to our south, heading directly our way.

In my mind I imagined an enormous neon sign suspended in the sky, pointing to the surface of the ocean above the Cordell Banks perhaps. "FREE KRILL! FREE KRILL!" it flashed, as humpback after humpback sped by the Salty Lady in pursuit of food glorious food. And then, lo and behold, amidst all the fantastic commotion, a call I have not (personally) heard out at the Farallones for several years: "Blue whale!"

The GGB, seen heading back in from the Farallones.
"The only thing we guarantee," Captain Roger avows, "is that
we're gonna pass under that bridge twice."

Yup...we were blessed with three different baleen whale species that day - one small gray at the islands, a good look at one gargantuan blue amidst the stampede (possibly two, we couldn't tell for sure), and, oh...I don't know, 50 humpbacks? More? Plus harbor porpoises and harbor seals and sea lions and sea birds by the zillions! It was, in retrospect, a very special day on the Pacific Ocean, in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. A windy and wild day for sure - several trips have been cancelled this year due to weather - but a beautiful, glorious and very memorable one to boot.

See ya' next time, landlubbers!
Peter J. Palmer

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Point & Shoot

I love when wildlife and urban life collide.

Relaxing on the small, grungy, outdoor 4th floor fire escape-cum-utility roof at Farallon in the Kensington Park Hotel building (we used it for restaurant break time, for smoke time, for Angry Birds time), surrounded by the vertical urban thrust of Union Square and downtown San Francisco, over the years I learned that if the cooing, courting, copulating pigeon population that also shared the area suddenly flew off all at once they'd no doubt spotted a raptor in the sky.

Took me a while to figure out the reason for the avian mad dash, but once I did I could predict it like clockwork. Boom! En feathery masse the pigeons would make like a bat outta hell, quickly escaping the dangerous confines of their dirty little ledges and nooks and crannies, their hiding places, their nests. Moments later I'd look up and sure enough, in the patch of blue between the tall buildings, a soaring, patrolling red-tailed hawk would appear.

I was out there one day, nose down in the iPhone, no doubt, when I felt a rush of air above my head, sensed the close encounter flap of wings. The pigeons had scattered a few minutes before, and I had since returned to my thoughts. Roused that second time from a game of online Scrabble, perhaps, I glanced up and caught my breath. Time briefly stopped, then I remembered the camera in my hands. To this day I'm still not sure if it was a red-tailed hawk or some other bird of prey (it seemed small, any help out there?), but it was a perfect little raptor - for an instant my little raptor - perched atop a security lamppost at the edge of the roof...alert, ruffled and primed for the kill.

Point and shoot, baby!
Peter J. Palmer