Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jill and the Romanesco Stalk

February 23rd
It happened last year - I was given a packet of seeds for my birthday from a stranger. I didn't even have to give up the old family cow in exchange. But still, the kid with the beanstalk probably got the better deal.

Nonetheless, I was pretty excited. Romanesco broccoli. I had been looking for these babies for a while (even in Italy, in fact, when I had to be consoled with puntarelle and radicchio seeds instead).

Romanesco is a variant form of broccoli, or cauliflower, depending on who you ask. (Most people you ask probably won't even know what you are talking about, but then most people don't eat their broccoli, either.) Those who know, though, know that it can be rather fussy about growing. Which is why it is difficult to find at the market and costly when you do.

March 3rd
(Years ago, inspired by the most perfectly-formed romanesco - a bridal bouquet of a broccoli - I asked the kind cashier at Monterey Market if she would marry me. It's not as if I really wanted to get hitched; somehow I just lost my head. She almost fell over, but wisely turned me down. We've continued just as friends.)

Right, then. I planted the seeds this past summer for a fall planting - the preferred time - and nobody showed up.  So I replanted, replanted and finally got two seedlings. One didn't amount to poo-poo, and the second one wasn't going anywhere fast until it got a load of full-strength horse manure dumped on its head.

March 10th
And then we got somewhere. What started out as a small inch-wide bud expanded to the size of a softball. Every day I had to go observe its progress. I was in love again. I was boring my neighbors. Harvesting was easy and the roasted cauliflower recipe from Epicurious was great. Just be prepared for major shrinkage. Or maybe my people actually do eat their broccoli?

I can't say that I will be growing romanesco again anytime soon. But even without the giants, the golden eggs and the bag of gold, I got a fairy tale's worth of entertainment.

March 16th
In the roasting pan

Sunday, March 17, 2013


It should happen later in the year. It would certainly have more meaning if it were a little later in the year. But this year, springtime has come especially early. Like, by mid-February, it was all well underway.

Maybe because the rains forgot to keep coming? Or because, with the time change so early, the calendar had to get bumped up as well?

The daffodils are always early, but usually the hyacinths wait a little longer than this. Around the corner from our house it is even more obvious: there is a protea bush which has reveled in the mild weather.

Proteas look ancient and slightly primitive, and they are. Their ancestors go back 300 million years (prime dinosaur time) to the continent of Gondwana, which included the present day Antarctica, South America, Africa, New Zealand, India and Australia.

Even though their origins are in the southern hemisphere, they have adjusted to a northern springtime. And bloom like nothing else - start as a tight, little, green pine(ish) cone and blow yourself apart. The show lasts for weeks and weeks. It is impossible to walk past and not stop and stare.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

You Never Know What the New Year Will Bring...

Marilia and Marco
Brazilians. Of course. But very unusual Brazilians.

First up, most Brazilians do not ride bicycles very much. Secondly, they certainly do not ride them halfway 'round the world: from Thailand, across much of Southeast Asia to China, on through Kyrgyzstan (try spelling that without help), Kazakhstan, Iran, and into Turkey. Then west across much of Europe to Morocco. And onward to Oakland.

Who are these Brazilians? Well, Marilia is the daughter of a friend who hasn't been sighted for 30ish years and Marco is her best buddy who is crazy adventurous enough to pedal all that way with her. Together they are 2 Bikes and the World.

A little assist from modern-day air travel allowed them and their bikes to arrive here just before the new year. They came for a short visit (their big surprise was that they were not permitted to ride their bikes across the Bay Bridge, but had to take BART instead. I mean, really, it's on the map, already...) and stayed for a week.

They then cycled up the coast to Ratna Ling, a Buddhist (nope, that's right, most Brazilians definitely are not Buddhist) retreat center, where they are spending the next five months working - binding books to help preserve Tibetan Buddhism and culture.

I haven't heard what the bikes are up to, but I'm sure it's something very interesting as well.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Brag, Brag, Brag #6: Tamzin Elliott

Tamzin Elliott
photo courtesy of Ann Elliott (Proud Mom)
Our niece Tamzin is studying at the Bard College Conservatory of Music. Last week a few of her vocal compositions, written in the Ingaaric tradition, were performed at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. Very cool.

Her songs were well performed, well received, and even garnered a most positive review in the New York Times. Trick is, the "Ingaaric tradition" - music, language and culture - is a complete invention of Tamzin's.

I don't know what the Ingaaric eat, but knowing Tamzin, I can hardly wait to see the cookbook.