Saturday, August 23, 2008

Zoo Friday

You can't hiiiiide your... [*]

We continued our summer "fake-cation" Fridays yesterday with a trip to the San Francisco Zoo with our dear friend Lucile. (Lucile has a membership in the Zoo, so we had free admission and parking under her auspices -- thanks, 'Cile!)

I have been a frequent visitor to the San Francisco Zoo since 1973, when I first was hired as a part-time astronomy instructor at City College of San Francisco. My sons became very familiar with the place as little boys, since it was a great (if obvious) place for a divorced dad to take his sons on a weekend. Toward the end of my tenure at CCSF (1989), many of my former students were working at the Zoo in various capacities -- just as I could find many former students all over the city in other occupations -- and I could count on cheerful greetings from young staffers on every visit. After taking my current position at DeAnza College, forty-five minutes away from San Francisco, my visits became less frequent, but didn't fall to zero by any means.

Malibu Stork (No, he's not really impaling himself. Lucile, a longtime, avid birder, tells me he's molting and grooming. Me, I think he's checking his wallet.)

The zoo has had a hard time in recent years, with scandal, management issues, construction, and a horrible tragedy last Christmas day. (No links here, because that's not what this entry is about, but Google stands ready to assist you if you're curious.) A quick check of the Zoo's website before we left prepared us for the closure of some of its prime attractions, which are undergoing significant renovations: we expected to see no elephants, or small cats, or big cats. Right on two counts, happily wrong on the third.

Stumped Gorilla

The Zoo's parking lot is on its west side, close to the ocean, and adjacent to the huge derelict remains of the Fleishhacker Pool. The first section after the entrance is a relatively-newly remodeled, very attractive area called the "African Savanna," and, adjacent to that is the gorilla preserve.

Black Lemur

At left, a ringtailed lemur idly looks up at a big ape on a walkway above him. At right, a Koala rests on a eucalyptus stump. The Lemur compound is a fascinating array of open spaces, jungle areas, heat-lamp warmed elevated platforms,
and a maze of enclosed, lemur-sized walkways leading from one part of the compound to another through, over, under, and around the elevated walkways for humans.

The elephant area is closed. In fact, right now the zoo has no elephants, and the Pachyderm palace is undergoing major renovation. The buildings for the elephants and big cats are at the geographic heart of the zoo, as befits zoos' traditional main attractions, and having both of those areas closed down made for an odd, almost decayed aura at the zoo's center. We walked quickly through there, heading for the bears' area at the park's east end.

We were in for a treat at the bears, because none of us had seen the new Grizzly compound before. It appears to be a fine place for the sisters Kiona and Kachina to inhabit: plenty of open space, plenty of things to occupy their attention. They were very active when we visited: much running and cavorting.

Running bear, sans white dove. These two bear photos were taken through a thick plexiglass window which didn't play nicely with my lens's polarizing filter.

As we walked back westward toward the exit, we passed by the closed hippo section (at right -- the hippo is a sculpture, not a leftover) and passed the big cats' house, where we expected to see no occupants. But, as evidenced at left, there was a tiger out in his compound. (Click on these, or any other pictures, to see larger versions.) He entertained us for a while, even playing with a yard-wide blue ball. The photo at left was taken through a chain-link fence, which is why it has that odd overlay pattern, and none of my other pictures of him came out very well, either. We continued westward, and came on this:

Lions through Plexiglass

Three summers ago, on a trip with Doug and Adrianne and Grace, we paused at this compound to admire the lions. At left is a picture from that visit; Grace is the little kid in blue in the stroller. All of the remaining pictures from this place were taken from behind that window, from roughly in its center.

I know he's probably checking the air currents for scents, but it really, really looks like he's posing in this shot and the next two...

... and the state of his mane emphasizes that impression. Diane and Lucile both remarked that it looked like it had at least been carefully brushed, if not shampooed and blow-dried.

Right Profile.

After he had enough of posing, he took direct notice of us behind the window, and very purposefully marched over to investigate us.

Lion's Arrival. I don't know what this fellow's name is, but, for some reason, "Mojo" sounds like it might be an appropriate one for him.

Looking at Lucile, who was to my left.

Looking at me.

A goodly crowd had arrived by the time the last picture was taken, and, until then, my only view of His Highness had been through the viewfinder of my camera. I pulled the camera down from my face... and damn' near had a heart attack. I was not at all prepared for the visceral, overwhelming feeling that seeing a real lion riveting me with his stare from inches away would engender. I don't mind saying that it was a primal fear; reason had nothing to do with it. Diane, bless her black, shriveled heart, is still ridiculing me for...

... basically running away. I didn't run away, dammit, I was just going back to get this establishing shot of the lion and the crowd! Story. Sticking to it.

Much later, when we arrived back at Ft. Harrington and greeted all the critters in our zoo, it struck me that this was the only time, ever, that I looked at Cooper (right) and thought that he looked small.

Addendum: Many photos from this outing are available at much higher resolution over on Flickr. To see high-resolution versions there, you need to click on the image you want and then click on the magnifying glass icon over the image that appears then. You'll be given several options after that; choose the highest-resolution you can stand.

[*] ... lyin' eyes. But you knew that.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Photo Stuff

I recently stumbled on the very fine works of an Irish photographer, Steve Ford Elliott. If you liked some of the Ireland photos that appeared here last year, you'll love Elliott's work -- and his captions, too! I suggest that you start here, but anything in his photostream over at Flickr is well worth perusing.

In order to leave him a comment thanking him for the enjoyment, I had to have an active Flickr account -- and, since I had one of those, I thought I might as well start filling it up. So I did. I'm trying to limit the entries to photos of general interest, so family stuff is generally absent. So far, I've popped in stuff from the archives up to 2003 -- please go have a look!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Casey's First Ft. Harrington BBQ

I'm not sure if "tradition" is really the right word for it. "Common sense" may be a better term. After all, if some member of your family lives in a place like the Santa Cruz Mountains, then a summer barbeque there is just The Right Thing To Do. No tradition necessary, no bunting, no nothin' but a bit of a travel.

So we do it every summer as a simple matter of course and season.

This high summer, the usual small subgroup of the extended family gathered at Ft. Harrington for the traditional/common-sensical barbeque last Saturday, August 16th... and, for the first possible time, Casey Rose Vickers was in attendance!

Casey Vickers, August 16th, 2008. All babies look like Winston Churchill at some point; it takes a special one to master his gestures at such a young age.

We eat well, but not extravagantly, at these summer gatherings. To demonstrate that, I'll scatter recipes for our eats (in red) between the photos here. (All of these recipes are for a group of about eight people. We had a total of ten, but one of those was an infant, two were very young girls, and one had eaten before arriving. In the aftermath, we had a lot of leftover beans, tiny amounts of leftover ribs, and no leftover desserts at all. Big surprise, that last one, eh?)

Oh, and the photos: Blogger presents very low-resolution images in the body of a blog. If you click on an image, though, you're taken to a file of whatever size and resolution the blogist (is that a word? should it be? crikey, I don't know) has uploaded to Google's universal memory. Mine are of modestly high resolution, and significantly better than what you see on this page, so please click on a few of them.

Grace and her Uncle Adam. The candles are citronella bug-be-gone-ers. They worked.

Pork Ribs
Four slabs of "baby back" pork ribs
(Full-sized ribs would be fine, too, but I use baby backs to conserve volume in a single Weber 22-1/2" kettle.)
Cut slabs into thirds, and rub liberally (in the AMOUNT sense, Dann!) with this mixture (which I cribbed from a story in the San Jose
Mercury News in 1995):
1 part each:
ground cumin
ground black pepper
chili powder
2 parts each:
(I generally shake up a bunch of this at the beginning of the summer and store it in a restaurant-style cheese shaker for use throughout the season.)
After letting the rib slab portions sit in their jackets of rub for a while (that's a
southern while, not a northern one, please note), grill over indirect heat for about an hour and a quarter.
Grilling notes: I think this, and everything else, tastes better over a charcoal heat source rather than a gas grill, but that's like Mac-vs-PC or Beta-VHS or Betty-Veronica, I know. What's probably not just a matter of preference is this: DON'T use lighter fluid (or other petrochemical accelerants) to get your charcoal going. It adds a taste that some like, but which overwhelms other tastes. I've used a chimney for starting charcoal fires for more than ten years, and it's wonderful -- not only odor-free, but much, much more reliable than any other method of starting a charcoal fire.

Adrianne and Grace. I think this is a lovely photo, but Adrianne laughed when she saw it: evidently, this is a typical brace of expressions when Grace is lobbying for something that her mom doesn't think is quite warranted at the time -- so what we're seeing here is parenting in action. (I still think it's a wonderful view of them both, though -- maybe even better when we know the backstory!)

We were all lucky enough to be treated to Grace's friend Scout again, as we were ten weeks earlier. As I told Adam this past weekend, Scout is like Yosemite National Park in one respect: it's almost impossible to take a bad picture of either one of them.

Diane's Cole Slaw
half a head of white cabbage, finely shredded
stir with a dressing of:
1 cup Italian parsley
1/2 cup chopped green onion
4 oz mayonnaise
2 tbs sour cream
1 tsp vinegar (ordinary white, not balsamic, etc.)
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
This is not intended to "age" or "mature": mix immediately before serving.

Kelsey, as always, was in doggie heaven with all the people and children and activity that he usually doesn't get around here with his two old fogie people. This picture was taken on Saturday morning, before anyone arrived, and shows his anticipation, I think. It also shows his gray muzzle. Kelsey will turn ten in just a few months, and his face betrays his aged-ness every bit as much as my hair's color does mine. (Click here to see his black face in youth.) He's still in great health, though (albeit a bit lumpy here and there) and springy-spry. There's something to be said for a "blender dog" (as our vet calls mongrels): they're generally awfully sound for the long run. There's something else to be said for this particular blender dog: he's part of me now. I'm not sure exactly when that happened, but it's not going to change.

Approx. 100 oz. canned baked beans (3 32-oz cans or 2 54-oz. cans are pretty much standard)
1 lb. slab bacon or salt pork (increasingly rare in urban grocery stores; ordinary bacon will do fine but will lack that heart-stopping, chunky toothiness of real 1/4-inch cube wads of pork fat) cut in chunks.
3/4 cup of spicy catsup (such as Heinz's "Kick'rs") or ordinary catsup to which several shots of your favorite pepper sauce have been added. Do not let a teenager or your tipsy brother-in-law be in charge of this.
8 oz dark brown sugar (even if "sugar" is an ingredient on the bean cans' label -- this is a
celebration beans recipe, remember?)
3 tbs honey
Half-cook the pork in a skillet, then mix everything together and let the whole thing stand for a day or two, preferably in a really, really heavy metal pot. Not for anything that involves taste, but for the am-bean-ce.

Ribs a-cookin': Lynda, Sherwood, and Adrianne chat on the deck. (Photo by Adam.)

Chicken at the barbeque: Old Lucy chatters at Adrianne. Lucy is our oldest chicken, well over five years old now. (Photo by Adam.)

Dessert 1:
Food Network's Key Lime Pie
Just click on the above link to go to the recipe. However, as it says and warns, the recipe involves
uncooked egg yolks, so, to be safe, you'll need to gather six to eight very, very fresh eggs from your backyard chickens in order to make this yummy pie safe. I'm sorry, did that sound smug? Did I break your concentration? Also be warned: the recipe involves a whole can of sweetened condensed milk for a mere 9-inch pie. This thing is downright nuclear.

Casey and Gramma Diane

Much to her mom's amusement, Casey practices her hand-eye coordination on my beard.

Dessert 2:
Diane's Pina Colada Pie

The crust isn't so important for the taste of this, so you can start with a pre-fab, 9-inch pie crust from your supermarket's freezer section.
Other ingredients:
6 oz pineapple-coconut nectar (generally found in a soda-can style container)
8 oz coconut milk (generally found in the Asian foods section of most supermarkets)
1 box of Jell-O instant vanilla pudding and pie filling (3.4 oz is the standard size)
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
a bunch of whipped topping, such as Redi-Whip (at least a cup)
From here, the recipe works just fine:
Pour into pre-baked pie crust and chill in refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
Combine remaining whipped topping with 1/2 teaspoon rum extract. Top chilled pie with whipped topping and toasted coconut.In a large bowl, combine nectar, coconut milk, and 1 teaspoon rum extract. Sprinkle pudding mix over liquid and whisk for 2 minutes. Fold in coconut and 1/2 of the whipped topping.

Formal Group Photo 1
Standing in back: Sherwood, Lynda, Adam, Christel, Casey, Ryan
Others, clockwise from lower-left: Kelsey, Diane, Andrew, Adrianne, Scout, Grace, Emma
Feathery tail under bench: Jax-the-Spaniel

Formal Group Photo 2
Front-and-Center: Kelsey
Others, left-to-right: Adam, Lynda, Andrew, Ryan, Adrianne, Sherwood, Scout, Casey, Christel, Grace, Emma, Diane

Goofin' around, and...

... more goofin' around.

While the others couldn't stay for Sunday, a significant subset could: Lynda, Adam, Andrew, and Scout. They and Kelsey and Jax and I took a little walk in Henry Cowell State Park on Sunday afternoon (Emma had a little limp, since better, so she and Diane stayed home.)

Scout, Andrew, Jax, and Dan'l Boone in Henry Cowell Park. (Photo by Adam.)

Scout and Jax in Adam's car. Can you tell that Scout and Jax hit it off extremely well? As in extra-special bondo joy? (Photo by Adam.)

Scout, Andrew, Kelsey, and Jax at low water. (Photo by Adam. I actually forgot to bring my super-duper Nikon along on this outing, so the only available camera was Adam and Lynda's. I'm trying hard -- really hard -- not to notice that there's not a tinker's damn worth of noticeable difference between these Canon itty-bitty PNC pix and what the Nikon would have captured. But, know what? In most cases, it's the subjects that make the picture, not the box, so it shouldn't really be surprising. Besides, Adam's got a good eye for composition and content, as has been demonstrated here in SherWords before.)

Rocky. Mike and ronnie are in charge of Bullwinkle. (Photo taken with Lynda's camera.)

Lynda and Adam, Henry Cowell Park, August 17, 2008.

So that's this summer's barbeque -- hope you enjoyed it! Next summer, Casey should be able to sample some of the goodies herself, rather than having them cycled through mom first.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Fishy Friday

My summer school class is almost over now. The summer session at DeAnza is six weeks long; classes meet for an extended time Monday through Thursday, but do not meet at all on Friday. Looking over our schedule, Diane and I found that we had a three-week stretch in late July and early August in which we had no commitments of any kind on these bonus Fridays.

Like many other Americans, I suppose, we have been very tight with our purse strings as we learn to deal with the new economic realities. A traditional vacation of any kind was out for this summer -- not even a trip to Southern California, let alone Southern Ireland was envisioned. So we looked at those three Fridays as our summer vacation opportunity, sort of a "stay-cation" but not exactly. We called them collectively our "fake-cation."

We live in Northern California, a region that people travel thousands of miles to visit on real vacations from places like Europe, Asia, and even fabled New Jersey. So why not be tourists in our own land? After all, we wouldn't have to book flights or hotels.

Two weeks ago, we took our Friday in San Francisco, at the Chihuly exhibit in the deYoung museum in Golden Gate Park. Last week, we toured the fabulous Filoli mansion and gardens on the San Francisco peninsula. And yesterday we finished the Friday trio by driving about an hour south of Fort Harrington to the Monterey Peninsula and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Fake-cation locales: Monterey, Boulder Creek, Filoli, and San Francisco. Click the image for a legible version.

Main entrance to the Aquarium. The smokestacks are from preserved boilers of the old Hovden fish cannery, within whose remodeled shell the aquarium was built. The aquarium is at the north end of Monterey's famed cannery row.

The aquarium's tidepool from ground level...

... and from the third floor balcony.

A three-story kelp forest display.

Answer: Hold the anchovies.
Question: What is this tank designed to do?

One of the most inspiring of the aquarium's exhibits is its wing devoted to jellyfish. Above, we are part of the crowd mesmerized by the rhythmic, drifting dance in the huge tank of Black Sea Nettles. (As has been the case wherever we have gone on this fake-cation, I'm struck by the number of people taking photographs where photos would have been impossible before the advent of easy digital photography -- and by the new standard posture for taking pictures: holding the camera at arm's length and looking at its lcd rather than through a viewfinder mashed up against the photographer's nose as George Eastman intended. Of course, that's not entirely new: my mother favored a twin-lens reflex camera, and the Apollo moonwalkers -- who couldn't get a camera closer to their eyes than their helmet faceplate -- used magnificent 70mm Hasselblads. In my mother's camera, she could frame a shot by looking at its projection on a ground-glass screen; the Apollo Hasselblads had no viewfinder at all! But, ah, I digress as though I was over 60.)

Black Sea Nettle.

Black Sea Nettles. Photographing these creatures was a challenge for me, since (like the Chihuly exhibit two weeks ago) the subjects were aglow in a very faint environment, but (unlike the Chihuly exhibit) they were also in motion.

Black Sea Nettles up close.

An "egg yolk" jellyfish.

There are many parts of the aquarium that are geared toward children, and in them I found two kinds of critters that I did not know exist! The first was a tiny kind of fish called "Leaping Blennies"...

... and above is a blue leaping blennie resting temporarily on its little rock. The fish is about two inches long, and its jumps are not modest -- they spring several inches at a leap, and do so frequently.

I also had been unaware of sea dragons. You might not be able to make the above one out because its camouflage is so good, but once you see one...

... against a blank background, it becomes easier. (These dragons are only about five inches long.)

The pervasive displays geared toward children are all done in a remarkably effective and non-condescending way. The adults we saw seemed to be enjoying them as much as their children were, and the children were, pretty much, enthralled. These two images are cropped from other shots; the kids just happened to be in the frames.

A gray whale skeleton hovers over the plaza in front of the cafeteria, and a balcony by the otter tank provides a startling nose-on view:

The aquarium's exterior provides spectacular views of Monterey Bay. Above, we're looking North from a second-floor balcony across the Bay toward Santa Cruz. Barely visible in the distance are our home Santa Cruz Mountains.

As noted before, the aquarium is situated at the north end of Cannery Row. Above, we're looking southward from the museum along Cannery Row.

Lunch locale and a bust of Steinbeck.
You have to work hard to find a line of sight along Cannery Row that doesn't include an image of Steinbeck. He's on banners along the street, portraits in art galleries, and, as above, in statuary. The main gift shop in the aquarium even has a display offering copies of every one of his books. No plush toys of Lennie, though.

Local color.

We had a wonderful time at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, as we did at our previous two stops on our fake-cation, but here's some advice for people who travel from outside the Bay Area: don't make this a day trip from San Francisco. The aquarium experience is at its best very early in the morning (it opens at 9:30) and gets very, very crowded in the summer months after noon. Staying a night in one of the many good hotels or decent motels in the Monterey area will allow you to take in the whole aquarium during the morning hours and free the afternoon for touring the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel, and Big Sur (providing, of course, that they are not on fire at the time of your visit.)