Monday, September 18, 2017

Hodgepodge 324/365 - Photos, Mostly Macro

My first photo show at my hairdresser and friend Charlene Smythe's shop was an assortment of macro photographs, which I published in this blog here. Today, for lack of anything to write about, I started scanning some Flickr albums, and what jumped out at me was . . . macro photography. So here's another installment (plus an odd perspective or two), mostly from my fourth photo-a-day project, from 2013 (which is what brought me to a blogpost-a-day project, twice now). I love getting up close and personal with my camera. I also love abstractions. Maybe when I've finished this blog, I'll return to a photography 365. Or maybe I'll be sane and give up this nonsense! Time will tell.

Anyway, here's some photos. As always, click on them to view them large on black.

Straining anatto-infused olive oil
Christmas cards plus fish
Geocaching charms
Ben 1962
Power pole
Hui Ho'olana friend
Chrysler Valiant
Scrub jay
Sushi (some of these don't need captions, but whatever!
Whacadamia nut cookies
Raspberries (like I said)
Wine and tapas

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hodgepodge 323/365 - Opals

Today we had lunch with our niece Erica and her husband, Terry, whose wedding we attended on May 12. We hadn't had much chance to chat with Terry before, so it was fun getting to know a little more about him. His profession is in social work/mental health (he used to run a large homeless shelter in Seattle, but since moving to LA he's been doing hospital intake). As a sideline, he buys raw opals and sells them to individuals on eBay.

That made me wonder about opals, "a hydrous silicon dioxide (SiO2.nH2O)," according to  "It is amorphous, without a crystalline structure, and without a definite chemical composition. Therefore it is a 'mineraloid' rather than a 'mineral.' " (The "n" in the formula indicates that the amount of water is variable.)

Ninety percent of the world's precious opal comes from Australia, but it's also found in the United States (e.g., Constellation Mine in Spencer, Idaho, source of the "harlequin opal" shown above; also Louisiana), Mexico, Hungary, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Ethiopia. There's also opal on Mars! Really!

Instead of an engagement ring, David gave me an opal pendant (white opal, perhaps from Coober Pedy, South Australia?). I love opal.

If you want to see the full array of opal types—there are lots, and not all of them flashy—go here. This site has great photos and descriptions of the many opals in the world, including blue, morado, pinfire, cat's-eye, Andamooka, Ethiopian, Honduras black. It's well worth a visit if you'd like to learn more.

To close, here's a poem by Amy Lowell (1874–1925):


You are ice and fire,
The touch of you burns my hands like snow.
You are cold and flame.
You are the crimson of amaryllis,
The silver of moon-touched magnolias.
When I am with you,
My heart is a frozen pond
Gleaming with agitated torches.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hodgepodge 322/365 - Twins

This morning, before the wedding (that I guess I'm not going to write about... I've been to three weddings this year, and I was too busy simply enjoying being there to [a] take photos, which is something I like to adorn my posts here with, or [b] think about much more than, well, simply being there, in the moment, enjoying conversation with good friends, enjoying the couples' love and high spirits, enjoying the food, drink, and music... so yeah: I won't say anything about today's wedding except I'm so glad I was there to witness Brian and Melissa's love: it was a beautiful ceremony)...

Anyway, before the wedding, we had time to do a little (you guessed it, if you know me at all) geocaching! One of the caches was an ostensibly difficult (4.5 stars out of 5) "puzzle" called "The Twins." In the end, I'd rate it, oh, 2 stars difficulty (it was not hard, though you did need a partner), but 5 stars on the fun scale; and it wasn't a "puzzle" so much as a "multi." Here's a couple of pictures:

I mean, really: how often do you find a pair of angels guarding a simple torii-like gate in a cactus garden? Each angel-pillar had a box on the back, with a combination lock. Inside each box was an electronic gadget that we needed to press simultaneously—hence, twins. By doing so, we got coordinates to the final cache. Easy, really. Just not a park-and-grab.

But that got me thinking about twins: famous, infamous, fictitious, or otherwise. With scant research, I learned that actress Scarlett Johansson has a twin (Hunter), and of course there's Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, musician Alanis Morissette has a twin (Wade), Robin and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees were twins, George W. and Laura Bush's daughters Barbara and Jenna are twins... Et cetera. The above link lists many dozens of twin-sets as well as famous people with unfamous twins (95 percent of whom I have not heard of). And I also thought of Cathy and Patty Lane, of the Patty Duke Show—though as David pointed out, they were identical cousins, not twins.

The iconic twins for me are the ones from Rochelle, New Jersey, captured forever by Diane Arbus in 1967:

And of course Romulus and Remus:

But then David reminded me about the artist twins Doug and Mike Starn: the Starn Twins, as they go by. Photography is their base medium. We've seen their work various times and are always impressed. Lots of good, interesting, quixotic, large-scale (their pieces are wall-sized) energy. So here are a few images from their oeuvre.

The twins themselves + dog

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hodgepodge 321/365 - Sour Cherry Rice (Abaloo Polow)

We're in Los Angeles this weekend for a wedding (more about that tomorrow!), staying in Woodland Hills on the edge of the San Fernando Valley. My brother lives not far away, in Van Nuys, so of course I proposed that we get together for dinner. He suggested three restaurants: one Japanese, one Indian, one Persian. I checked the websites, and although the photos on the Persian restaurant's site didn't look all that exciting, I settled on it anyway because that's one cuisine we just don't have in Monterey. And the reviews were good. And the place (it's called Shirin, a woman's name evidently) is right nextdoor to the hotel!

The menu was full of enticing possibilities, but the ones that especially appealed involved "special rice": rice with dill and baby lima beans; rice with lentils; rice with barberries; rice with sour cherries. Wait: rice with sour cherries?

I had to have it—and it was delicious! (It came with succulent chicken in a tomato sauce.) Now, I must try to make it myself. There are a few recipes online. A couple involve fresh sour cherries. As if. (They have a very short early-summer season and are difficult to find even then.) Others involve preserved sour cherries: that seems much more possible. Here's one (stolen with thanks from Jaden at Steamy Shortcuts—complete with her photos because they're yummerific):

Abaloo Polow

1 24-oz jar of sour cherries in light syrup (or 1 can sour pie cherry, light syrup), drained and syrup reserved
1/2 teaspoon saffron, soaked in 2 tablespoons hot water
3 cups basmati rice
1/2 cup butter, melted (clarified, if possible)
1 cup sugar

1. Wash and soak the basmati rice in water for 2 hours. (Optional, but it produces a more tender rice.)

2. Drain the rice. Fill a large pot with water and boil. Add the rice and boil on medium heat for 8 minutes exactly. Drain the rice and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking. Drain. In the same pot over high heat, add half of the butter. When hot, add half of the drained rice. Pour half of the saffron+soaking water over the rice. Stir a bit. Add half of the drained cherries. Add remaining rice. Add rest of saffron+soaking water. Add remaining butter. Stir a bit. Add the remaining drained cherries. (Traditionally, this is done in a pyramid shape. The wider the pan you have, the more crusty rice crust you get.)

Wrap your lid with a thin kitchen towel and cover the pot. This helps the steam stay in the pot, which is important because you aren't adding any additional liquid to the pot. Cook on high for 10 minutes (to create a nice crunchy crust). Turn heat down to super-low for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

3. While the rice is cooking, cook syrup + 1 cup sugar over medium heat for 30 minutes until it reduces down to a sweet, sticky syrup. Set aside.

4. When the rice is done, drizzle 1/2 cup of the syrup over the rice. See the nice crust of rice at the bottom of the pan? Its well known that household bribery, deception, and wars have erupted over who gets to eat that part!

Jaden likes jarred ZerG├╝t brand sour cherries (available at World Market). Cook's Illustrated recommends jarred Morello cherries available at Trader Joe's (apparently Morellos are sour? or at least tart?). Canned sour cherries for pie work in a pinch; make sure they're packed in light syrup, not heavy syrup. See photo below: the clear bowl contains boiled-down sugary syrup for drizzling on rice.

And for a thorough disquisition on how to make authentic Persian rice (without cherries), you might be interested in My Persian Kitchen's tutorial. It's not just a matter of throwing some water and rice in a saucepan or rice cooker, I'll tell ya!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hodgepodge 320/365 - Happy Birthday, David!

I decided to skip back through my Flickr archive for photos from September 14ths past. There aren't all that many, surprisingly: I must have been having too good a time just spending the day with David, having fun, celebrating his birthday, his life, life in general. But here are a few that I turned up, some of which actually feature the birthday boy himself! (With Flickr captions attached as appropriate.)

Harpers Ferry, WV, 2014: This photo showed up on FB
today and is what gave me the idea for this post

This was at the birthday dinner itself, in Baltimore,
later that same day apparently: baked alaska!
2007: "David's 54th. I got him a few presents: a Swiss army knife
(to replace one now languishing in a 'security hangar' somewhere),
a silk Hawaiian shirt, and a long-sleeve lightweight sweater...
hope he likes 'em!"
Lightweight sweaters must be my MO, because guess what I got him today: a long-sleeve lightweight sweater, merino wool, medium blue. It looks nice! Also a bottle of Fog's End rye whiskey (from Gonzalez, Monterey County). We don't go in for elaborate around here . . . just quality.

2009 (56): A misty walk along the shore, a little
bit of a workout at the rock gym, and then
dinner at the (yes) French Poodle in Carmel.
Despite the name of the restaurant, the
food was, I have to say, amazing.
(I had abalone, full size. That right there is amazing.
Not that I had abalone [well, okay that a little],
but that it was full size and not silly medallions.
Just like in my youth. And oh so tender.
Both the abalone and my youth.)
French Poodle dessert
Abalone garnish
2010 (57) This was actually on a walk with my friend Jen in the morning,
but that evening I surprised David with a Sheryl Crow concert
at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga (South Bay). (No pictures allowed.)
She was great!
2011 (58): Geocaching with Babar (see him?).
Sometimes geocaching is the perfect way to spend a birthday.
2013: David's sixtieth. We threw a party on Monastery Beach
that was very well attended: potluck bbq, a firepit, people from
many of our various circles, and family and old friends too.
We'd done the same ten years earlier. I guess we'll have to do it
again in 2023. It's a wonderful tradition. That's our great-nephew Felix
giving David candle-blowing juju. Sixty candles!
All of David's sibs came for his sixtieth! Super special!
A high-end bottle of tequila gifted by the Norwegians
Did I mention that there were sixty candles? Yup.

And tonight, after an afternoon trek along the Big Sur bridge-construction bypass trail and through Pfeiffer–Big Sur State Park along the river, we stopped at Bill Lee's Sur Restaurant in the Barnyard. After we'd finished our meals (filet mignon; ahi tuna), the waiter asked if we'd like to see a dessert menu. David said, "Just a peek." I mentioned that it's David's birthday. The waiter said, "Oh, I didn't know that," and disappeared. A few minutes later he reappeared with a scoop of chocolate-covered ice cream, in a gorgeous, dry ice–enhanced presentation:

Very celebratory! Happy birthday, David! And many more!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hodgepodge 319/365 - Poetry (Mary Oliver)

The Kingfisher

Mary Oliver 

The kingfisher rises out of the black wave
like a blue flower, in his beak
he carries a silver leaf. I think this is
the prettiest world—so long as you don't mind
a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life
that doesn't have its splash of happiness?
There are more fish than there are leaves
on a thousand trees, and anyway the kingfisher
wasn't born to think about it, or anything else.
When the wave snaps shut over his blue head, the water
remains water—hunger is the only story
he has ever heard in his life that he could believe.
I don't say he's right. Neither
do I say he's wrong. Religiously he swallows the silver leaf
with its broken red river, and with a rough and easy cry
I couldn't rouse out of my thoughtful body
if my life depended on it, he swings back
over the bright sea to do the same thing, to do it
(as I long to do something, anything) perfectly.

A common kingfisher catching fish in the Netherlands, by Jeroen Stel

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hodgepodge 318/365 - Book Report (The Child Finder)

Rene Denfeld, The Child Finder (2017) (9/11/17)

I basically shunned work yesterday and hunkered down on the bedroom couch, reading, reading this beautifully written page-turner. The mystery at the center is dispelled immediately: we know from the outset that a five-year-old girl, Madison, went missing three years ago in a desolate, snowy mountain region of Oregon, yet chapter 2 opens with that same girl, inside a "cave," "remember[ing] the day she was born" as "the snow girl." From there on out the story weaves back and forth between the snow girl's imaginings, and her interactions with the broken man who saved her from freezing to death, and the real-world hunt for clues and information by the "child finder," private investigator Naomi Cottle.

It turns out, of course, that Naomi has a checkered past (she did not become a child finder entirely by chance), with issues of her own to resolve. At the end of chapter 2 we learn: "Her entire life she had been running from terrifying shadows she could no longer see—and in escape she ran straight into life. In the years since, she had discovered the sacrament of life did not demand memory. Like a leaf that drank from the morning dew, you didn't question the morning sunrise or the sweet taste on your mouth. You just drank."

And of course too, it's not that simple. There are some things—like, human relationships—that she has has quite a bit of trouble drinking in.

The story also shifts between Oregon's forbidding mountains and the gentler valleys, where Naomi's foster mother and brother and Madison's parents live. As Denfeld explains in a Powell's Bookstore essay, "There is another Oregon [besides the wild, natural one we tend to think of], ignored by most writers because it tempers our ideals of our oasis. It is the Oregon of distilled poverty, a state where there are more prisons and jails than colleges; a place that incarcerates more blacks than Louisiana. Just as you can drive from desert to snow in one day, so can you drive from homeless camps in the city to abject poverty in the woods. Both Oregons exist, not side by side, but with hands linked." This more complex Oregon is a character in this book.

Just as the place is complex, so too are the people. "As a writer," Denfeld notes, "I want to dive deep. I want to show how we are all changelings, capable of good and bad—often at the same time—and yet how steadfast, too, as firm as the forgotten hills. I want to feel and touch the truth: how dangerous and wild those snowy mountains, where dozens go missing every year; how complex and human our souls, even those who have done the worst harm." And those who have had harm done to them as well.

So yes, it's the story of a quest, to find little Madison (and another missing child as well, a less hopeful scenario); but it's also the story of people filling in gaps in their psyches, by asking, by imagining, by remaining hopeful, by reaching out and trying to connect, by risking, by trusting. That's probably the bigger story. For us all.

It's not really giving anything away to quote the final paragraph of the book:
This is something I know: no matter how far you have run, no matter how long you have been lost, it is never too late to be found.
(That said, the last few pages of the book felt sentimental to me and I did not care for them. I also found some of the dialogue in the book a little cheesy. And as the initial quote above suggests, the lyric writing may obscure some harder emotional truths. But overall: a satisfying read.)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hodgepodge 317/365 - Poetry (Timothy Donnelly)

The Endless

Timothy Donnelly

I saw a yellow butterfly
in my opinion
the wrong way, flying across
the sound
to Connecticut

I saw a cormorant
close to the sea’s surface
as I floated on it on

my back in
the attitude of the crucifixion
minerals in my body
conversation with
the minerals of the sea

about the sun
how can I possibly
to what’s already been said
so well
by the ancients

and said with
an austerity I’ll never
it is an honor to take
a backseat to the ancients
who knew how

I was a fat white fish
under the sold-out stadium sun
like a god
but like a god
I could live through anything.