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

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Veg Out

Spring has definitely sprung here in San Francisco's beautiful Fort Mason District, my trusty cyberpeeps, and with its return comes some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that, thanks to El Niño, many reservoirs in northern California have been substantially replenished by winter rains and snowmelt (the drought ain't over, but it helps). The good news is that a record numbers of California gray whale calves were born in the lagoons of Baja California and are now heading north to Alaska with mom. The good news is that the annual Technicolor display of native wildflowers is peaking in Golden Gate Park, in the Marin Headlands, in the Santa Cruz Mountains and beyond.

The good news is that, without a doubt, the burgeoning bounty of fresh, local produce on display at my Sunday morning farmer’s market (yours too, I hope) is just now hitting its glorious, dewy springtime stride.

The bad news, alas, is that it looks like I’m gonna need to pick up a couple extra sommie shifts hawking wine to support my asparagus and daffodil habits. Even in the massive quantities I desire, the flowers alone aren’t much of an issue, as a bunch of ten stems is only $2.50 and usually last a full week or more, but coupled with the armloads of Asparagus officinalis I’ve been scarffing down daily (organic, freakin’ delicious right now, and $7.99 per pound) the cash quickly adds up. Throw in various handfuls of this and that, of all the other freshly plucked offerings; throw in a basket or two of (gasp…talk about expensive!) organic strawberries, and you may soon find me standing at the intersection of Van Ness Avenue and Pine Street with the other panhandlers, sheepishly brandishing a cardboard sign: “Will Pull Corks for Spring Veggies”.

My favorite way to cook asparagus in a flash is to pan roast it atop the stove (the really thin ones I just munch raw). Heat a large frying pan, pour in a hefty drizzle of really good extra virgin olive oil and wait a moment. Add the trimmed spears (I don’t peel) and a dash of coarse sea salt, cover the pan and, still on high heat, blast away. Vigorously shake the pan every so often, and in literally a minute or two they’re done. Depends, of course, on the thickness of the the asparagus spears, but this method is, and should be, fast. You want them still bright green and crunchy.

Asparagus gets a bad rap when it comes to wine. (Artichokes do too, but my savings account isn’t in danger because of fresh, local artichokes.) Alas, the reputation is true, as many wines can take on a weirdly sweet yet metallic, artificially canned fruit kinda flavor when paired with this iconic spring delight.

Not to worry, tho, for two reasons.

The first is that you’re probably not sitting down to a lonely platter of asparagus for lunch or dinner. Unless you’re me and do do that, it’s probably just one part of a larger meal, so grab a nice bottle of whatever you find works with the main event and sip away. If, however, asparagus is the star attraction and you wish to try and hone in on something a bit more focused, you may want to bear in mind a basic rule of thumb (we’re talking white, here): choose something really fresh, crisp, lean and acidic even, with zero oak treatment I would suggest. Much depends on the preparation, on how you cook and accent the asparagus, but Sauvignon Blanc naturally comes to mind, and worldwide this wine is better than ever as winemakers learn to leave it alone and let the grape’s aromatic, pungent personality shine. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley in France are two classics, or try a Touraine Sauvignon for a less expensive choice. A slightly less tropical and less bodacious New Zealand offering might do the trick, as can a balanced California version from Lake County, Sonoma County or Monterey County, to name but a few. Italian suggestions include an honest, zesty Pinot Grigio, of course (thinking Friuli or the Alto Adige), a Roero Arneis from Piedmont in the northwest, or a Vernaccia di San Gimignano from Tuscany. From Spain a citrusy Albariño, Rueda or Txakoli; from Portugal a lean and zesty Vinho Verde. And definitely search out Grüner Veltliner from Austria, one of the current darlings of the wine world: a slightly peppery, grapefruity, mineral laden white wine, and a great foil for many vegetable-based dishes.  Finally, perhaps a pale, firm and dry (and ever so slightly earthy) Mediterranean-style rosé, another of my favorite springtime indulgences as the newest vintage comes to market, and a wine that needn’t be fussed over. There’s a bevy of other interesting options out there, and most of them can be easy on the pocketbook, so chat with your neighborhood wine merchant to get some more suggestions. Then cook up some damn asparagus and have fun.

Grüner veltliner was going to be my second tip (especially a lighter and leaner expression), because it’s so damned adept at succeeding where other wines fall a bit flat, but I already mentioned it.  So my second suggestion is to squeeze a bit of fresh lemon and a couple grinds of cracked pepper on top your log-jam mound of asparagus (maybe some minced chives, too), a no brainer as the threesome (foursome?) goes hand in hand, but a finishing touch that seems to help mitigate the sometimes difficult or awkward food/wine match.

Unfortunately, none of this advice will help later when a quick jaunt to the restroom lets you know for sure you’ve been indulging asparagus-style (you and anyone else nearby).
Eat real food, people, and eat your veggies.
See you on the trail, or in the Poor House!

Peter J. Palmer

Monday, April 4, 2016


What the fuck, Palmer!

Oops, sorry...Let's try a different opening line, one that doesn't remind me so much of my accolade-filled (not) high school years at Western Reserve Academy back in Hudson, Ohio.

Something's afoot, cyber-folk, and as you very well know by now it sure ain't me cranking out post after scintillating post for my blog, The Headlands Report. Shocking, I know, how much you've missed the whole kit and caboodle. How, since August 6, 2014, you've no doubt waited with baited breath for the next riveting installment. The beautiful pictures! The captivating prose! The complex issues concerning Mother Nature and population Earth! All of it delivered instantly from the nerve center here in San Francisco to wherever you sit, firmly plugged in, or wherever you go, constantly connected.

Instead, this: LIVE! from the beautiful Fort Mason District...absolutely nothing.

I'm not sure what happened, or how it happened, but it happened alright. "It" being good old fashioned writer's block (okay, so perhaps I do know). Doubt-filled, nagging, persistent writers block, intertwined with lethargy and procrastination, my two middle names. Days became weeks, weeks became months, and after a while, after so much vacant time spent kowtowing to The Block and The This and The That, even when I did feel slightly inspired, even when the passion briefly burned and I wanted desperately to write something, anything, it had already been so damn freaking long I thought...well, I thought "Why bother?"

In addition, there was (is and always has been) the whole "Do I really have a voice, a vital one, and a unique style?" thingy looking over my shoulder. A voice and style that people want to hear, and read, and give a shit about? Like, does any of this really matter?

Seems to be a little bit of a pity party in those last couple lines, and a dangling preposition, I believe, but hold your horses because there's also the word MATTER...and speaking of MATTER what about somebody's theory of something from my junior year physics class with Mr. Turner? You know the one: "Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and objects at rest tend to stay at rest."

Might not be how the saying goes, exactly. Can't remember, as I was stoned for most of the high school, but I know you've heard it before. Lethargy breeds lethargy, and action breeds more action.

So, that there's the answer, plain and simple: get my ass back in motion and write. "Write forward," my nephew Alexander told me, as his own writing teacher had advised him. Don't get bogged down; don't scrutinize and re-scrutinize yourself into immobility. Have fun, be creative (one way or another I have the hankering), and while you're at it include some pictures, because people love pictures. Doesn't have to be earth-shattering, mind-bending subject matter (not that this blog ever was); simply pick an easy subject to get the ball rolling, an experience, one you know and love, and just do it man. Can't be that difficult to start again, can it?

Okay, then...Eureka! With all that in mind, here's a picture of some damn corn!

Not just any corn, mind you, but high summer Ohio corn, accompanied by some ripe-ass Ohio tomatoes and insanely tasty Greek feta from The Greeks (the store has a name, Athens Foods, but we've always called it The Greeks). You stalwart followers of The Headlands Report are no doubt familiar with me and my love for the home-grown culinary delights chez Ohio in the month of August, and pictured here is one of my favorite repasts - so simple and so delicious - from the annual two-week family visit last year (last many years). I swear it seems like a person can't leave the house without coming back in toting a dozen ears or two, no matter where that person was heading in the first place.

But wait, there's more!

Above is a somewhat current photo of mom and dad Palmer - Georgene and George (I know, right?) - and a towering stack of red Solo cups for beer and pop and lemonade and what have you at their annual family and friends summer lawn party last August. Ginger and George are both mid-80s now, living large in Rocky River, twenty minutes west of Cleveland proper, and I cherish them and the time we get to spend together throughout the year! The picture at the top of this post, by the way, is of the downtown Cleveland skyline, seen from the west side as well, from Edgewater Park.

So, readers-mine..there you have it. A real page-turning entry, eh? Told you it might not be spellbinding stuff, but I did promise (myself, mostly) to just write, and that I did. Do it often enough, methinks, and it could get easier. Better, even!

With those brief words of encouragement, I'll leave you until the next installment - oh my stars, what a cliff-hanger! - which I promise will be soon(er than later).

I hope.

Ciao for now.
Peter J. Palmer