Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Giant Teddy Bear on MUNI

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City Life: Elaborately Painted Door at 20th and Valencia

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City Life: Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park

Stow Lake is a donut shaped man-made lake. It's located up the hill from the Japanese Tea Garden. Strawberry Hill is a small island in the center.

I spent some time there last Saturday. It was cold and quiet. Usually the boathouse is open and there are plenty of people in paddle boats and row boats but the day I was there, no one was on the water.

Stow Lake is a lovely little walk. You can walk all the way around the lake, cross the footbridges, and walk up the hill. I used to bring my dog here. I live about five blocks from this section of Golden Gate Park.

The photos highlight one of the realities of San Francisco: its cold, foggy summers. I'll never understand why people don't check the weather before they travel somewhere. San Francisco is located in the Sunshine state, it's true, but our overcast, cold summers are legendary. Not to say there aren't any nice, sunny days in the summer but they are few and far between and tend to be cool and breezy. As soon as you leave the City, however, and cross a bridge or go just a bit south, you leave the fog behind and temperature is in the 70s and 80s.

The best time to visit San Francisco is in the Fall. It's the warmest, loveliest time of year, usually (check the weather first!)

As I mentioned Stow Lake is located behind the Japanese Tea Garden. This is a picture of the front entrance of the Tea Garden just to give you some orientation.

This is the back exit of the Tea Garden and...

...directly behind the tea garden exit are these stairs. Take the stairs up to Stow Lake.

Ah yes, an idyllic scene. The quiet was nice but I have to say I missed seeing folks on the lake attempting to get their paddle boats to move faster. And watching people in a row boat on the lake is a nice romantic image. You can see the Peace Pavilion on the far right.

You know, I'm pretty good at identifying birds, water fowl in particular, but I can't find anything that tells me what this goose-like bird is. Either way, he's particularly splendid (I'm assuming it's a he because of the lovely plumage and red around his face).

If I'd been thinking about it, I would have brought my sketchbook and done some drawings. I'll have to go back there with my notepad soon. I also saw a Canada Goose, the usual assortment of Mallards, and a Red-eared Slider Turtle. The lake has quite of few formerly domestic turtles that have been "set free" by owners who don't want them anymore. There's also Koi in the lake. I wasn't looking very hard but there are plenty of other animals around here.

I made my way along the footpath and crossed the first footbridge I found. I went directly to the man-made waterfall. There was a fashion photo shoot going on.

The lovely couple. I love how her yellow dress provided a "pop" of color for the gray day.

The waterfall.

There's a staircase along side the waterfall. It's a nice climb.

A shot of the fashion photo shoot from above.

A view from the top of the waterfall.
As you can see, there are places to stop and sit on the way up.

The top of the Hill. There's a view but it's partly obscured by trees.

The view from Strawberry Hill looking west.
That's the Pacific Ocean and our legendary fog rolling in.

A pop of color from the various flowers planted around the top of the Hill.

There were a few people here and there. Locals with their dogs, solitary folks who regularly walk the hill as part of their day-to-day routine, tourists, and young couples. There are appeared to be quite a few young couples on getting-to-know-you dates. Having them around gave the atmosphere a kind of sweetness. It was rather ingenious. The young men were able to give their jackets to the young women because of the chill, a chivalrous gesture.

I made my way down the west side of the Hill. Because of the wind and fog, I could smell the sea and the nasturtiums that dot the path. I kept inhaling deeply. The scents in the air were almost therapeutic.

A view of the west side and one of the footbridges. In addition to boats, you can also rent a bicycle. A bicycle ride around the Lake and through the Park in general is a wonderful way to spend your time.

The forest and the trees. I'm almost at the bottom of the Hill at this point.

Yet another footbridge. A young couple were biking around the Lake on a date.
I offered to take a picture of them sitting on the bridge. They were adorable.

More water, more waterfowl.
I've come full circle. The Peace Pagoda from the other direction.
That's Strawberry Hill on the left.

Strawberry Hill. You can see the waterfall.
I didn't go to the Pagoda but it's a nice place to linger and take photos.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My Dog's Grave

Looks like my dad planted a new bush there.
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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wine Notes: Prager 2001 Aria White Port

Seriously good shit.

I've been meaning to open this bottle for long while now because of its age. It's a good thing I finally did because while the cork was intact, it was getting a bit soft. I bought this port on my first wine trip with my girlfriends but I was already familiar with Prager. My ex and I went there for our honeymoon in 1988. Prager is a small operation run by a single family. They are located right next to Sutter Home. If you're in Napa Valley, I highly recommend stopping by.

As you can see from the label, the alcohol content is 18%. This port is produced from Napa Valley Chardonnay grapes. As mentioned before I like reds and generally prefer whites that have been fermented in steel barrels so this was a departure for me. The label notes that this port can be served chilled and I have to say it tastes GREAT chilled.

The wine itself is a golden amber color. There's no mistaking the high alcohol content. With the nose, you're hit with alcohol fumes but with some patience and letting the port breathe a bit you can pick out just a hint of roasted marshmallows that have not yet been burned.

According to label, this port has "flavors of apples and pears with a pronounced nutty finish." Well, after 10 years it doesn't really taste like that anymore. The most striking thing about it is when it first hits your tongue, it has a long super smooth beginning. There's no syrupy mouth feel but there is floral honey and subtle flavors of very fresh caramel, like just cooked caramel. It seems like there might be a bit of spice on the sides but that could just be the high amount of alcohol. There's a hint of very juicy ripe pears before the swallow. The finish isn't long but I can taste caramel apples (the kind you get at the Boardwalk, not the gourmet kind) and I get just the barest taste of cashews but that's it for the "nutty finish." When it's warm you can taste cotton candy at the very end of the finish.

I definitely prefer this port chilled but it tastes great when it's a little warm. I'm drinking it with Ham and White Bean Soup with Spinach and it's friggin' awesome! Too bad I don't have any Rosemary Foccacia Bread to go with it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Contents Of My Backpack

I have a lot of backpacks. Too many for my own good. Most of the time I carry the one below. It's beautiful, lightweight, cozy, and has a laptop sleeve. Since I carry a lot of stuff, I thought I'd make a list of the current contents. Just for fun.

Front zip pocket (clockwise from the Meetup sign):

  • Coffee splattered Meetup sign for my writing groups.
  • "Billy Elliot" theater ticket. A great musical, by the way.
  • Lighter. I don't smoke but you never know when you're going to be stuck in a med lab with an alien and you have to set off the fire alarm so the marines will come rescue you. Okay, maybe I've watched "Aliens" a few too many times but my excuse is I own the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set.
  • Buttons from my favorite online comic: two "tops" and one "bottom."
  • Hemp Lip Conditioner from Body Shop and Vincent Longo Lip Stain Lipstick in Belle Etoile. Ms Anne, a regular reader of this blog, once asked me how my lipstick stays so perfect in my pictures. This is the lipstick I use for those photos and for nearly everything else. I also like Burt's Bees lip balm.
  • Mints
  • Stash's English Breakfast black tea bag.
  • A sample of Gun Oil, a silicone lubricant from Good Vibrations, a famous woman owned sex shop here in San Francisco.
  • Work badge, volunteer badge.
  • Moleskine Notebook: plain pages, soft cover, pocket size.
  • Various pens, including a green mechanical pencil and some Hello Kitty pens.
Main middle compartment (clockwise from purple scarf):

  • Purple tissue weight cashmere pashmina scarf bought on sale at Nordstroms and, other than my Raybans, ID case, and phone, my constant companion.
  • One hand knitted merino wool "Oliver Twist" style fingerless glove bought at an antique shop in the Mission. The other glove is around here somewhere.
  • Zip cosmetic bag with various sundry items: hair brush, contact lens case, compact, etc.
  • Super gory Korean military mystery/horror film "The Guard Post." The film is a bit confusing with the flashbacks but I really liked it. I should enjoy subsequent viewings. Not available here in the U.S., had to order it from the U.K.
  • Ear buds for phone.
  • Flash light in case I get stuck in the MUNI tunnel and the power goes out. Hmm. I better check those batteries.
  • Not shown: Motorola Droid phone and its power cord.
Laptop sleeve (clockwise from the keyboard):

  • Close to full size keyboard made specifically for my Galaxy Tab. It's very sturdy, has a good feel to the keys, and there's no typing lag time. It was pricey at the time and a little heavier than I would have liked but turned out to be a great buy.
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab, 7 inch screen. Tablets are typically thought of as "consumer" devices but I use mine primarily for writing. My favorite writing program, Scrivener for Mac, syncs folders and documents through Dropbox so I have my entire story on the Tab. When changes are made, it uploads the edited files to Dropbox and when I open Scrivener, the changes are sync'd inside the program. I can also upload new files from Scrivener to Dropbox to my Tab. No more cutting and pasting documents. It's beautiful! I also have Amazon Kindle on the Tab. I surf the internet, check Twitter and GReader, etc. but mostly I write on it. I often pull up my current story when I'm in the tunnel on MUNI and read and make edits with the onscreen keyboard.
  • Power and extension cords for Galaxy Tab.
Items I'm never without:

  • Raybans. I wear my Raybans all the time, even at night. I don't do it because it looks cool; I do it because they are very good at blocking the wind. Because I wear hard contact lenses, any little thing that gets into my eyes hurts like hell and I can't see. Raybans prevent stuff from being blown into my eyes. Sometimes I'll wear them on MUNI late at night when I take the bus because they're a kind of psychological barrier between you and bothersome/drunk/stoned passengers. For some reason, people tend to leave me alone if I'm wearing them.
  • Clipper card. This is my public transportation card for MUNI and BART. I use both all the time.
  • Zip ID case. I replaced my wallet with this wonderful little case. I have my drivers license, insurance and registration info, credit card, ATM card, Starbucks gold card, cash, and several different museum membership cards. Sometimes, like now, it gets a little full so I have to empty it out on a regular basis.
  • Not shown: Again, the Motorola Droid phone which I'm using to take these pictures.
And the main missing item? My camera and an extra charged battery. I should carry my camera everywhere but I don't because of the extra weight it adds. I need to get used to carrying it with me all the time, like before. When I first started this blog, the camera was another one of my constant companions.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Wine Notes: Kalyra 2004 Syrah Port

I haven't written much about wine but my wine fridge holds 50 bottles and I'm slowly drinking my way through it. I'd like to keep a record of what I drink somewhere. I figured this blog is as good a place as any.

As you can see, this is a 2004 Syrah Port, half bottle. I bought this bottle during one of my wine trips with my girlfriends. We go tasting 1-2 times a year and when we're flush we might go up to 3 times a year. I think I bought this bottle in 2005, maybe 2006. I believe it was our first trip to the Santa Ynez Valley which is about 350 miles from San Francisco near Santa Barbara. Kalyra Winery was a busy place with very friendly, down-to-earth wine servers. Also, I recall the prices for the wines were economical.

Though I don't know much about grape varietals, I do enjoy a good Syrah. In fact, I don't really know much about wine in general but I do have a good palate, as my girlfriends say. I know what tastes good and can pick out subtle flavors in wine. When I first started wine tasting, I was mostly into Cabs (big reds). Now I really like Pinot Noir and Syrah. I still love a good Cab but I don't automatically zero in on them anymore. I've also been interested in whites. I particularly enjoy white wines that have been aged in steel barrels.

Back to this Syrah Port. Since it's a 2004 you know it's been in my wine fridge for several years. When I first opened it there was an overwhelming smell and taste of alcohol. As you can see from the label, the alcohol content
is 19%. The thing is when I opened it up, the cork looked weird. I examined it and realized the cork is synthetic! It's made up of a kind of foam. In recent years we've seen wineries going to screw top and synthetic corks but I don't recall that happening in 2004-2005. I called my good friend and told her about it. We discussed the thinking behind using a screw top lid vs. synthetic cork. A screw top effectively arrests the wine in its current state; no more aging is possible with a screw top lid. Using a screw top lid is very effective with an already well-developed white wine. We've spoken to folks at wineries and they say a synthetic cork allows a little air in but the wine can't really age like it would with a regular cork. This means this Petite Syrah has been sitting in its own massive alcohol content for years.

I poured the wine into a wine glass with a big bowl and spent time swirling it around. If I had a decanter I would have definitely decanted it in an attempt to mellow out the alcohol fumes. When I first tasted it after swirling around it had a sweet port-y taste. I couldn't understand it. I enjoy port but not heavy sweet ports. I made no sense to me that I would have bought this bottle and I talked to my friend about this fact. I kept swirling and we kept talking. Eventually the wine had breathed long enough so I could get a better idea of the taste. Sometimes it can take a while for a wine flavor to really come out after it's been poured.

Decent to brilliant wines have three tasting stages: when it first hits your mouth, how it tastes after you've held it in your mouth (this is the stage where you can pick out any tastes on the side of your tongue), and the finish. By the way, this isn't anything I've read. It's just something I've learned while doing my own tasting. There's also "the nose," that is, what it smells like. And there's what the wine looks like: color, transparency, etc.

This Syrah port could definitely fall into the dessert wine category. It has an interesting mouth feel. Like some ports it has an almost syrupy feel but with some time to breathe it's not really sweet. When this Syrah first hits your mouth it tastes like very ripe strawberries that have been marinated in balsamic vinegar for several hours. It's taken me some time to figure this out. This explains the very fresh, ripe strawberries in the finish (after the swallow, it's very subtle), yet the syrupy mouth feel remains after the swallow and this has an almost maple-y flavor. There's a hint of box-just-opened brown sugar at the end but this is very subtle as well since this wine does not have a very long finish. Most of the time it doesn't take me that long time to figure out how a wine tastes but this was a tough one.

As for the nose, it's difficult to get an accurate scent because of the high alcohol content. Nah, I won't attempt to figure it out because I've already drank almost a full glass and since I'm a lightweight, I need to stop here.

I'll be enjoying this bottle for another couple of days and if memory serves, it was well worth the money I spent on it.