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2022 September 17

Focaccia 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:51
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Our block had a potluck block party today (first in 3 years), so I decided to bake focaccia. I threw away my sourdough starter a few months ago, so I’m trying the focaccia recipe starting from new yeast (see sourdough focaccia and Sourdough focaccia 2 for the recipes I used with the sourdough starter).

Day 1: I started with a light sponge to rise and sour overnight. Mix

1 cup bread flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water

together in large bowl.  Cover and let rise overnight.

Day 2 (morning): Mix into the sponge

1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
2 cups bread flour
½ cup water

and let rise for all day.  Meanwhile, mix

1 cup olive oil
7 cloves garlic, pressed through coarse garlic press
11 g fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon salt

and let it steep all day to make a garlicky oil.

Day 2 (evening): Mix into the sponge

½ cup of the garlicky olive oil (getting as much of the solids as possible)
2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt

with bread hook. Knead in an additional

½ cup bread flour

by hand, to get a smooth dough. Place the ball of dough in a bowl with the garlicky oil (turning to coat the ball with oil), cover, and let rise overnight until tripled.

Day 3 (the day of baking):  Stretch dough into a sheet about 12″ by 18″ by ⅜” in a greased cookie sheet with raised sides (use the garlicky oil from the bowl to grease the sheet). If the dough springs back, let it rest a couple of minutes and stretch it out again.  Make dimples in the top surface and pour the remaining garlicky oil on top.

Let rise (covered) for an hour or two. I was limited by the time between when I got up and when the bread had to be ready for the 12–3 potluck—a longer rise would have been better here.

Preheat oven to 400°F (which means setting 450°F on my oven) and bake 30 minutes, until golden brown.

I cut the resulting sheet into 24 3″×3″ pieces.  It was fairly popular at the potluck, as we ended up with only 3 pieces at the end.

The focaccia made a nice display in the basket, though it would have been better if the bread had risen just a bit more.

2022 September 3

Secret Walks: Kalkar Quarry

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:44
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On Thursday 1 Sept 2022, a friend of mine and I took a short (3.2 miles) but slightly hilly walk to Kalkar Quarry, which is where the spring is that gives Spring Street its name. This is a somewhat easier walk than the one described in Secret Walks: Harvey West-Quarry loop, but still has a couple of steep uphill segments (on Laurent and on Limestone Lane).

(Click map for higher resolution) The route was a fairly simple loop—up Laurent to Major, around Westlake, up Spring to High, then up Kalkar and Limestone Lane to the stairs at the end leading down into the quarry. We went around as much of the quarry as possible, then exited through Rockridge And Spring Street, taking the pedestrian walkway at the end of Quarry Court back to Limestone Lane. From High Street, we headed down Moore Street, and back down the Laurent Street hill.

The pond in the quarry is still choked with tule.

But there is a little open water by the houses, here seen from the east end of the quarry.

2022 September 1

Pear muffins

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:00
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Our Seckel pear tree has started producing fruit for this year, and there is far more than I could ever eat.  Most end up getting eaten by various insect pests (we refer to those as “friendly fruit”) and a lot get bruised falling from the tree, ending up in the compost.  I think that gophers eat the ones in the compost, as they seem to disappear within a day and there are large tunnels through the compost now.

Tonight, to use up some of the bounty, I decided to make pear muffins.  The recipe is based on the buttermilk muffin recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, somewhat modified as I have no buttermilk.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 2 muffin tins (for a dozen muffins).

Mix dry ingredients:

2½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix wet ingredients in separate bowl:

2 eggs lightly beaten
⅔ cup yogurt
⅔ cup milk
⅓ cup melted butter
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup finely diced pears (the Seckel pears are somewhat mushy, so this may not really be feasible)

Stir the wet and dry ingredients together to get a somewhat lumpy batter with no pockets of flour.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins to the top. Bake until browned and well-risen (about 25 minutes).

They came out looking and tasting good, but we really didn’t use up many pears to make a whole lot of muffins.

The dozen muffins cooling on the racks.

2022 August 31

Santa Cruz Shakespeare 2022 season

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:06
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I went to all the performances of Santa Cruz Shakespeare this summer and most of their other events also: meet the directors, meet the cast, meet the interns, educational program for Tempest, educational program for Twelfth Night, the announcement of the 2023 season, and both staged readings, but not the memorial for Audrey Stanley.

The staged readings were ok, but nothing special this year.  The two-hander Nasty, Brutish, and Short by Ian McRae was rather predictable and had somewhat clunky dialog.  The motivations for the Black character were unclear—why did he keep letting the white character continue?  The play might be better with some tightening and an additional character (family member for the Black character? breaking the long dialog into separate scenes rather than having it all one long night?).

The 5-woman Simply The Thing She Is by Kate Hawley was a little more polished, but was probably more fun for the actors than for the audience—again, it was very predictable and the jokes fell a bit flat. As works in progress, they were reasonable plays to do staged readings of, but neither is one that I’d want to see the company move into full production (unlike The Formula, which they premiered this year after many people liked the staged reading they did pre-pandemic).

The interns’ play Just Deserts by Carol Lashof (and, yes, the playwright did use that apparent mis-spelling in the title) called for 1 man and 3 women (or non-binary), but there were 4 acting interns: 2 men and 2 women, so one of the men played a female role (somewhat unusual for Santa Cruz Shakespeare, as they do equal-gender casting, but that usually results in women playing roles intended for men, not vice versa). The interns had three weeks less rehearsal time than planned, as the play they started with was not working, and they spent their third week of rehearsal time choosing a new play.  The one they chose is based on Greek literature: in it Orestes is asking permission of the Furies to kill his mother (who killed his father because he had killed Orestes’ sister Iphigenia).  The interns were all good actors, though the lines for Orestes were not great, and the actor was not able to make them very convincing.  The Furies (particularly Tisiphone) had some great lines, though. The first act was great, but the second act lacked the emotional gut punches of the first act—it seemed a bit anticlimactic.  I think the problem here was in the writing, rather than acting or directing.  Overall, I think that this was one of the better intern productions.

The world premiere of The Formula by Kathryn Chetkovich was great, as I expected from having seen the staged reading of it. I actually liked the casting of the staged reading better, but a repertory company has to use the actors it has for the season, and most seemed to have been selected for their roles in other plays. The story is very loosely based on Midsummer Night’s Dream, in that there is love potion that causes people to fall in love with the first person they see, and (of course) the wrong people keep getting seen first. It is almost a door-slamming farce, which made it a little difficult to stage this year, as the minimal set had no doors. I was a little bothered by having all the actors visibly on stage for most of the play—it might have been good to put up some screens at least, so that characters could enter from the wings.

The Twelfth Night production was good—perhaps the best of the season, though not the best Twelfth Night I’ve ever seen (that goes to a Berkeley Rep production over 40 years ago that featured singing by Oak, Ash, and Thorn). Setting the play in the jazz era and using jazz music worked ok, as did having all the nobles be Black actors. Malvolio as a woman worked ok, though I think that the role still works better as a male one. They cut a bit too much (including some of the more famous jokes), but the actors clearly understood the jokes in the script and made them fairly clear to the audience. Both the acting and the directing were good.

The Tempest production was a bit disappointing. I did not have any inherent problem with Prospero being Miranda’s mother, rather than her father, but they mangled a lot of the lines to make them more PC.  I don’t accept Ariel as a student of Prospero—Ariel was clearly an indentured servant. Ariel seems to have been cast for her voice (a reasonable criterion), but her body language was more that of an earth elemental than an air elemental. Casting Caliban with an older actor seemed a bit strange also—Caliban is supposed to be about the same age as Miranda. Removing the masque from The Tempest is probably sensible (few modern audiences would get anything from it, and it is a bit tedious), but replacing it with catering staff delivering Shakespeare’s fortune cookies (inappropriate quotes yanked from other plays) was worse than leaving the masque in. Most of the acting was good, as were the lighting and special effects, but the cutting and rewording of the play marred an otherwise good effort.

Because of difficulty getting stage carpenters at the beginning of the season, the set was really minimal this year, consisting of 4 circular areas (raised 0, 1, 2, and 3 steps). For three of the plays, this minimal set worked well, but The Formula really needed a more conventional set with doors. The relatively new sound system (all actors were miked) worked well—I did not need my hearing aids for any of the shows, but the voices seemed to be associated with the actors, not coming from random other locations.

We saw the 4 plays in four successive nights, walking to the Grove (about 3.7 miles) each evening up the Audrey Stanley Grove Trail and coming home via Uber. We clustered the plays so that our son could make one trip home from his house in Richmond and see them all.

Next year’s season will consist of King Lear, The Taming of the Shrew, and Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will. The only Gunderson play I’ve seen (I think) is Silent Sky at the Jewel Theatre—I was not particularly impressed by the writing, which seemed heavy-handed and “sincere” (which is not a compliment). Some of her comedies look promising, but the historical and science dramas all sound overly sincere.  I suspect that next year’s season will not be one of their best, as The Taming of the Shrew is very difficult to perform for a modern audience (the humor is inherently misogynistic), and the Gunderson play looks like it will be more fun for the actors than for the audience (the two leads will be the artistic directors Mike Ryan and Charles Pasternak, both good actors). The Lear should be good, if they play it fairly traditionally.

Secret Walks: West Cliff—River

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:38
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On Sunday 2022 August 28, my wife and I  did a combination West Cliff and Riverwalk walk.

We started out taking King to Miramar, then Rankin and Surfside to Delaware, jogging over half a block to take Bethany Curve out to West Cliff.  We walked along West Cliff to Beach Street, where we had lunch at the Picnic Basket, then took Beach over to the San Lorenzo River, where we hoped to see lots of birds in the lagoon formed by the construction work on the culverts.  We saw the construction site, but there was not much water backed up behind it and very few birds.  We walked along the river levee to Spruce Street, then took a one block detour to walk the length of Sycamore, before heading home along Laurel.

The morning was very cool and foggy, which made for pleasant walking, though it did get sunny for the last part of our walk.  The whole walk was between 5½ and 6 miles.

Parts of West Cliff are eroded back to the sidewalk—I think that the city will need to close one lane of West Cliff to cars in a few years (when we get some big storms).

The tide seemed to be high, with most of the rocks of the coast submerged.

The cormorants and pelicans were sharing this island, but not mixing.

This small natural bridge looks almost as if someone had Photoshopped a gap in the outcropping. The bridge will probably collapse in a few years also.

I think that these concrete objects by Steamer Lane are footings for a staircase that washed away (there is a newer staircase nearby).

The cormorants like to hang out on this very steep rock.

At the river, we saw this bird that we did not recognize. After I got home and could look at the photo and do some searches, I identified it as a female common merganser. There were about seven mergansers (all female), but most of them were sleeping with their beaks tucked under their wings, making them very hard to identify.

Here is the merganser preening.

My wife wanted this plant identified—it seems to be California mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana). I don’t know whether it was planted as part of the river levee rewilding or if it seeded itself there.

We regard a walk along the water as well formed if, and only if, we see an egret. This walk was well formed.

In fact, we saw two snowy egrets fairly close together.

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