Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dandelion Salad

Food foraging is the latest in the Bay Area foodie scene.  I've got mixed feelings about this new trend, as it has the potential to be yet another excuse for "entrepreneurs" to decimate our natural resources.  (Other examples include abalone and sea urchin poachers.)  However, if any plant is going to be foraged, let it be the dandelion.  The plant appeared about 30 million years ago, and has been used as a food and an herb for much of recorded history.

Thanks to the Mystery Sender for this dandelion salad recipe and information.   As the message says:

The name of the dandelion comes from the French name for the plant "dents de lion" or teeth of the lion, referring to the jagged edges of the leaf.  The other French name for the plant is "pis-en-lit" which means "wet the bed" because the greens, when eaten, remove water from the body.  Not recommended for a night time snack!

The Wiki provides additional  insight as to the origin of the name:

In modern French the plant is named pissenlit, (or pisse au lit in the vernacular).   Likewise, "piss-a-bed" is an English folk-name for this plant, as is piscialletto in Italian and the Spanish meacamas.  These names refer to the strong diuretic effect of the roots of the plant.  In various north-eastern Italian dialects the plant is known as pisacan ("dog pisses"), referring to how common they are found at the side of pavements.

The recipe for Dandelion Salad includes the caution that the greens be harvested only "from an area that has never been sprayed or fertilized".  I think they should add a caution about dogs, as well.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Walla Walla Onions

We passed through Walla Walla, Washington during July's whirlwind road trip to Missoula and back in six days. According to the locals, it is the new "Bend, Oregon" - a town that is relatively far removed from anything else, but that is kind of hip and cool. We only stopped for lunch there, but the downtown was way more than just okay.

I've long been aware of Walla Walla for two reasons:

1. My college roommate's boyfriend (now husband of many years) attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, and in those days we often referred to him as Walla Walla. (Side note: The official mascot of Whitman College is the "Fighting Missionaries" which, although controversial due to its implied imperialistic bent, did inspire one of the all time great college cheers: "Missionaries, Missionaries, We're on Top".  Oh, how I wish I had looked harder for a Whitman College postcard!.)

2. The sweet onions. There are three well-known brands of sweet onions: Walla Walla Sweet Onions from Washington state, Vidalia Onions from southern Georgia, and Maui Onions from Hawaii. I imagine in onion circles there is much debate over which is sweeter, better, easier to cook with, etc. as well as the potental for significant trademark infringement and branding issues.

Anybody have an opinion one way or the other? Does an onion debate even exist?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Killer Tomatoes

As far as I'm concerned, summer is the only time to eat tomatoes. I never really like them except in sauces the rest of the year - they're often mealy and flavorless and not really worth the trouble.

This year, the entire state of California has experienced a relatively mild summer, which is great from a liveability standpoint (except for those of us in San Francisco who have experienced the foggiest summer in 40 years), but not great from a farmer's standpoint, whether commercial or backyard. Tomato growing has been particularly thwarted. I wonder if the promotional postcard, above, was delayed due to the product's availability?

In June, we planted a backyard garden, including three kinds of lettuce, arugula, tomatoes and basil. The lettuce has done great. The tomatoes, on the other hand, grew into beautiful bushes and then started fungi-ing themselves to death. We had one measly green tomato appear, but ultimately had to just pull the disintegrating bushes without harvesting a single tomato. Even my mom, who grows a variety of beautiful tomatoes in her backyard, has only just started harvesting. In a normal year, she'd be rolling in tomatoes by late July.

Speaking of rolling in tomatoes, the annual Tomatina, Spain tomato fight took place last Wednesday. (See photos here.) For this annual food fight festival, upwards of 40,000 people descend on the town of 9,000 and spend one to two hours throwing 100 tons of mushy tomatoes at each other. It sounds like a blast.

Note to anybody who lives in the Bay Area: If you're looking for killer tomatoes, we discovered a place off 101 in Morgan Hill, Dave's Famous Old Tomatoes. It's worth a visit, if you are so inclined.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Corn Palace

Here's one for the "only in America" list:  the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.  From the Roadside America website:

Mitchell's Corn Palace is built out of reinforced concrete, not corn. Every spring, however, its exterior is completely covered with thousands of bushels of native South Dakota corn, grain and grasses that are arranged into large murals. Typical yearly themes are South Dakota Birds or A Salute To Agriculture; this past year's was Youth In Action.

 Locals take great pride in the Palace's "corn-septual art" and "ear-chitecture." Mitchell isn't called the Corn Capital of the World for nothing.  Corn Palace Week marks the end of the harvest - and the beginning of the planning for next year's Palace theme.

The Corn Palace has one more title - the World's Largest Bird Feeder. After Corn Palace Week ends and winter sets in, local pigeons and squirrels make a feast of the tasty murals.

Turns out this week is Corn Palace Week.  The line up of performers includes Kenny Rogers, Gary Allan, Bjorn Again - the ABBA Experience, the Village People, a couple comedians and a magician.  The town is corn crazy - the local sports team is called the Kernels and the call letters of the local radio station are KORN.

The image of the birds and squirrels descending on the building for the winter is a bit unsettling actually - think the Hitchcock movie "The Birds".  Winter must come early to South Dakota, and I can picture the birds gathering in the Bad Lands, waiting for their opportunity to swoop in and start feasting!

A shout out to Duke and Sandy for sending this postcard from their cross country road trip!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Picking Peaches

For the past four years, I've been part of a peach "family".  Every January, we (well, Gayle submits it actually) submit an application to the Masumoto Peach Tree Adoption Program.  The Masumotos are family farmers, and they set aside about 50 heirloom peach trees for this program.  From their website: 

We farm a wonderful old heirloom peach called Elberta (certified organic). Elberta is one of those old fashioned, creamy, buttery smooth peaches with a bright yellow flesh and a golden skin when ripe. ...  So how can you get a taste of these gems? By adopting a tree! And, if the weather and nature cooperates, each tree should have between 400-500 pounds of these peach gems.

If you are chosen to be an adoptive family, you commit to two weekends of picking peaches, dates dependent on Mother Nature.  Our family is big enough that most members only pick one weekend.  Then, for a couple of weeks after harvesting, it's a plethora of peaches - peach cobbler, barbequed peaches, prosciutto wrapped peaches, peach salsa, peach chutney, peach jam, peaches in salad, and just plain perfectly ripe sliced peaches.  This year I made jam for the first time. (I was quite pleased with myself, I have to say.) 

We also enjoy a post peach picking potluck, in which all "family" members bring a peach dish.  This year we had tortilla chips and peach salsa; prosciutto wrapped grilled peaches; pork with peach chutney; a green salad with peaches, candied walnuts and bacon; green bean, tomato and cucumber salad (our only peach free dish); ginger peach ice cream; peach upside down cake; and a nectarine crisp (a guest picker had picked some nectarines while we were in the orchards).  Delicious!

The postcard to the left above shows some of the fruit and nut products grown in the central valley of California, including peaches.  From upper left, clockwise: raisins, peaches, oranges, and almonds.  The picture on the right features just a few perfect peaches, post harvest.

P.S.  It's Postcard Friendship Friday.  Check it out.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday the 13th

It's Friday the 13th.  Do you know what your superstitions are?  I am not particularly superstitious but a Friday the 13th does make me stop, for just a second, and think about the day.  The black cat thing doesn't bother me, as we had a black cat for 14 years and if I had worried about her crossing my path, I would have been unable to move around in my own home.

What about manatees?  Do you think it's bad luck if a manatee crosses your path? I can't imagine how. Manatees are gentle, slow moving herbivores, who are thought to be at least as intelligent as dolphins and whales.

Perhaps we should start a superstition that it is good luck if a manatee crosses your path.  This superstition might help minimize the damage inflicted on them daily by speed boats in their habitat.  From the Wiki:

Their slow-moving, curious nature, coupled with dense coastal development, has led to many violent collisions with propellers from fast moving recreational motor boats, leading frequently to maiming, disfigurement, and even death. As a result, a large proportion of manatees exhibit propeller scars on their backs. ....Often the cuts lead to infections, which can prove fatal. Internal injuries stemming from hull impacts have also been fatal.

Manatees hear on a higher frequency than what would be expected for such large marine mammals. Many large boats emit very low frequencies which confuse the manatee and explain their lack of awareness around boats.

In 2003, a population model was released by the U.S. Geological Survey that predicted an extremely grave situation confronting the manatee in both the Southwest and Atlantic regions where the vast majority of manatees are found. It states,

“In the absence of any new management action, that is, if boat mortality rates continue to increase at the rates observed since 1992, the situation in the Atlantic and Southwest regions is dire, with no chance of meeting recovery criteria within 100 years."

A 2007 University of Florida study found that more than half of boat drivers in Volusia County, Florida, sped through marked conservation zones despite their professed support for the endangered animals. ...84 percent of the 236 people who responded claimed to obey speed limits in manatee zones during their most recent boating experience, but observers found that only 45 percent actually complied.

If you've ever seen a film about these animals, or seen them alive, either in captivity or in the wild, you'd know how incredible they are and how terribly sad it is that the selfishness of humans is hastening their demise.

A shout out the Mystery Sender who sent this card, perhaps by chance or perhaps in response to my post on August 3 about beluga whales in which I mentioned that I thought the beluga whale and the manatee looked like distant cousins.  I imagine it wasn't by chance.

P.S.  It's Postcard Friendship Friday the 13th.  Check it out.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010


One of my mom's best friends,Peggy, and her husband, Big Brent, have traveled all over the world, including driving from Southern California all the way to Panama, in their little mini-camper, aptly named "Peggy's Palace".  Peggy is vivacious and out-going, with a wonderful laugh and a bit of Lucille Ball about her.  Big Brent doesn't say as much, but adores Peggy and is generally a smiley guy.  Even though we are not related by blood, they've always felt like an aunt and uncle to me, and we spent many vacations and Christmas eves together.  Peggy plays the guitar and most of the campfire type songs I know, I learned at her side.

I love her postcards because her personality is ever present, from the naming of the dancers ("Brento" and "Margarita") to the text on the back including "mucho pescado, mucho tequila".  Note that this card is dated 2001.  They were both over 70 years old on this trip, and sent this card from Veracruz, on the eastern coast of Mexico. 

There are three things I think of when I think of Veracruz:

1.  Huachinango Veracruzano.  For all you gringos, "Red Snapper Vera Cruz Style". During the very early days of my travels through Latin America I was introduced to this dish.  It's pretty tasty but it is even more fun to order, because Huachinango is a great word to pronounce.  (Wha-chee-nan-go.  Try it!)

2.  Warren Zevon.  My favorite Warren Zevon album, Excitable Boy (it was an album when it was released in 1978) includes a song called "Veracruz", which I've probably listened to 1000 times, although not in a long time.  (Note to self:  include a Warren Zevon song on next mix tape.) While it's not my favorite song on the album, there are several greats including "Werewolves of London", "Excitable Boy" and "Roland The Headless Thompson Drummer".  If you do not know these tracks, you might want to check them out.

3.  US Occupation of Veracruz in 1914 aka the Tampico Affair.The Tampico Affair is one in a long list of Mexican/US mis-understandings, primarily resulting from an on-going inability among far too many to speak each other's languages. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Statue of David, Before and After

My oldest son is in Oxford, just completing a summer school program there.  While in Europe, he's been able to travel some.  One of his journeys took him to Florence where he was fascinated by the Statue of David.  He sent this postcard with the note: "I have bought almost 50 cards on my trip.  This is the one I thought most fitting for mom's blog."  When my 20-year old son is collecting postcards, remembering to mail a few, and even reading his mother's blog occasionally, I've got no reason to complain.  Even if his taste is a bit suspect, his sense of humor is always intact.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Speaking of Tigers

A card sent from Taiwan through Postcrossing.  I assume it is celebrating that 2010 is the Year of the Tiger, but I don't know how to read Chinese characters.  Were you born during a Year of the Tiger?  You were if you were born in one of these years:  1902, 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, and 1998.

From another website on characteristics of those born in the Year of the Tiger, a list of careers that are supposedly well-suited to tigers: Actors, Comedians, Chauffeurs, Musicians, Race Car Drivers, Pilots, Artists, Writers, Flight Attendants, Travel Agents, Advertising Agents, and Office Managers.  The western astrological sign equivalent is Aquarius.

Who knew?

Friday, August 6, 2010


Sambos Restaurant was founded in 1957 in Santa Barbara, California.  At one point there were as many as 1200 locations.   I remember eating pancakes at a Sambos, more than once.  Today, only the original remains. 

While the name "Sambo" was a combination of the names of the two founders, it became associated with a popular children's book at the time, Little Black Sambo, first published in 1899.  The "owners capitalized on the coincidence by decorating the walls of the restaurants with scenes from the book, including a dark-skinned boy, tigers and a pale, magical unicycle-riding man called 'The Treefriend.'"  In the early 1970s, the chain distributed a series of postcards, called the "Sambos Picture Story Series".  Number seven of the series of nine is pictured above.

The Wiki describes the story well:

An Indian boy named Sambo prevails over a group of hungry tigers. The little boy has to give his colourful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella to four tigers so they will not eat him. Sambo recovers the clothes when the jealous, conceited tigers chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of delicious melted butter.

I remember reading this book as a child, and the image of the four tigers turning into butter has always stayed with me.  It seems neighborhood mothers admonished us with the threat of turning into butter when, as children, we ran wildly in circles chasing each other.  This image was further cemented in my memory by the fact that the butter at a Sambos was called "Tiger Butter".

While the chain lightened the skin of the little boy over time, and no  longer referred to him as Little Black Sambo, the term "Sambo" is a racial slur in some countries and the image of "Little Black Sambo" in the US is not exactly PC.  Both the book and, ultimately, the chain fell out of favor.  It filed for bankruptcy in 1981 and attempted a series of name changes in a desperate effort to survive, but by 1982, all but one location remained. 

This is a good example of a brand icon "turning" on the brand, and bringing it down.  Can anybody think of any others?

P.S.  It's Postcard Friendship Friday.  Check it out.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oh, Deer

My friends Duke and Sandy are traveling throughout the US in their luxurious motor  home, on the way to "winter" in Coronado (San Diego), sending postcards along the way.  This one comes from their meanderings along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469 mile road through western North Carolina and Virginia.

The Blue Ridge Parkway isn't just a road, it's both a National Parkway, described by Wiki as:  "...a protected area in the United States ... given to a scenic roadway and a protected corridor of surrounding parkland...(which) .... often connect cultural or historic sites" and an All-American Road, which is the designation for the most scenic roads in the National Scenic Byway System.  There are 99 National Scenic Byways and 27 All-American Roads, located in 44 states (all except Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Texas), with a listing here.  The requirements for a National Scenic Byway are listed as well.  I've traveled on at least pieces of almost 30 of the 97 byways, which for a self-professed road tripper doesn't seem like many.

Oh, deer.  The postcard describes this animal as "deer fawn".  Nothing more - not white tail deer, mountain deer, red deer, nothing.  I suppose that's the end of the animal series, then.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Beluga Whale

The beluga whale is incredibly well-adapted to arctic waters.  It is relatively small, for a whale, but still huge as far as ocean mammals go  Males can grow up to18 feet long and weigh up to 3500 pounds, with females growing up to 13 feet and 2,600 pounds.  In appearance, the beluga looks like it could be the manatee's cold water distant cousin.

The beluga whale "is considered an excellent sentinel species (indicator of environment health and changes)."  According to the NRDC (National Resources Defence Council), its very existence "is threatened by hydro-power development in James Bay, Canada....this mega project would flood a wilderness area the size of New Hampshire."  It's not clear to me exactly how flooding will impact its survival, unless the hydro-electric development adds lots of bad stuff to the water.   From the Wiki:  " ... pollution is proving to be a significant health danger. Incidents of cancer have been reported to be rising as a result of St. Lawrence River pollution. Local beluga carcasses contain so many contaminants that they are treated as toxic waste.[citation needed] Reproductive pathology has been discovered here, possibly caused by organochlorines. Levels between 240 ppm and 800 ppm of PCBs have been found, with males typically having higher levels.[18] The long-term effects of this pollution on the affected populations is not known." 

Most likely, any of you who had children after about 1985 at least heard, if not owned, the cd "Baby Beluga" by Raffi.  The title song of the cd is considered by many to be Raffi's greatest song.

Monday, August 2, 2010

More Animals - Dall Sheep

I seem to have started an animal series, and I see no reason not to continue.

Dall sheep are native to northwestern North America, and according to the postcard "can climb straight up cliffs to avoid predators".  In fact, the Dall sheep on the postcard almost looks like it is photoshopped in, as there appears to be so little to stand on.  Dall sheep look a lot like Bighorn Sheep, but are apparently separate species.   Interesting to read the Wikis about both types of sheep, as DNA testing is now being done on these animals to determine if each has a variety of subspecies within its species.  While the Dall and Bighorn sheep are not considered the same species, let alone subspecies, their DNA lineage is complicated by some instances of "hybridization".  I've seen Bighorn sheep while hiking in Colorado and around the Ritz Carlton Palm Springs, but had never heard of Dall sheep. (It might have something to do with the fact that I've never been to Alaska.)

A shout out to my friend and birthday soul sister, Erin, who sent me this postcard from Alaska, where she went with her dad for a very wonderful and exciting fly fishing adventure.   Her mom and dad are regular contributors to  my postcard collection, and she wanted in on the action.  At one point, she dropped out of college and ran off to Alaska (what she is referring to as her "freebird" days).  Sounds like she's having a blast revisiting her old haunts. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

El Oso de Madrid

This statue of the bear and the strawberry tree is located in the Plaza Puerto del Sol in Madrid, Spain.  It was never clear to me how or why these two icons combined were symbols of Madrid.

Some claim there used to be lots of bears in the area and the madron (strawberry tree) sounds like the name "Madrid".  More believable is that they are physical representations of the original coat of arms of Madrid.  Check it out here