Monday, November 23, 2009

Crab Season: Dining Santa Cruz Style

Santa Cruz, CA – There are some meals that taste better when eaten at home. Last night I feasted on the first-of the season Dungeness Crab with my good friends Bob and Laurie. Why the home-cooked meal? First of all, you have to consider where my generous friends live, in the mountains of Santa Cruz, in a little berg called Bonny Doon. Picture yourself surrounded by mist hanging on redwood trees, smelling the Earth after a rainstorm, and then reveling in that clean air. Their artisan’s home reflects 20 years of loving care. On their grounds is a hand made yurt that Bob built, a herb garden that Laurie tends, and a Japanese Maple in it’s full autumn glory – red and gold.

Once inside their home, I never wanted to leave. The wood burning stove warmed my bones. Books everywhere I looked. Their furniture is the color of liquid peace and tranquility; a Turkish rug framing the hardwood floors. And then the sweet aroma of Laurie’s Cinderella Pumpkin Soup brought me to the kitchen table. Earthenware style plates fired in a Finnish kiln were waiting to service our meal.

We cracked and ate fresh crab, caught that day off the Santa Cruz coast. Complimenting the star crustacean attraction was an aromatic Arugula green salad picked that evening from the garden, and corn muffins topped with Bob’s homegrown dark honey, thanks to his productive beehive. I shared the story of my first-ever crab-eating epiphany at the virginal age of 22 as a college student at Humboldt State University in Arcata. Laurie talked about her San Francisco roots including her family’s tradition of eating crab, complete with the now non-PC Campbell’s tomato soup with cheese melted at the bottom in a cup. Gentle conversation, warm feelings and a simple, Epicurean meal made this Santa Cruz evening a night to treasure. Thanks Bob and Laurie, for opening up your home and heart to this grateful soul.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Crocker Art Museum: Living in the Gilded Age

SACRAMENTO, CA – The letter arrived in 2008 and began, “I am the great-granddaughter of Jennie Crocker Fassett…” This is the story of how Margaret Crocker’s diamond and opal brooch made its way back to the Crocker Art Museum after 125 years. The result is a new exhibit: Treasures, Curiosities and Secrets: The Crockers and the Gilded Age on display until May 2010.

Margaret Langford, the great-granddaughter of museum founder Margaret Crocker and her brother inherited three jeweled brooches and donated them to the Crocker Art Museum. The younger Margaret carried the three brooches in her purse from Atlanta--an audacious act, given their value and worth. As they were touring the museum, they were shown a portrait of their great-grandmother circa 1877 when she was 55-years-old. They noticed in the portrait, the matriarch was wearing the actual brooch they were donating. “Margaret’s brooch seemed to encapsulate in one object, the importance and social standing of the Crockers,” said Scott A. Shields, Museum Chief Curator, “plus it’s my favorite piece in this collection.”

“It was a lot of fun to put this exhibit together,” said Shields. “The Crockers are a fascinating family.” Indeed. Case-in-point: daughter Aimee Crocker. She was an international social success, receiving widespread press for her clothing, travels, tattoos and five marriages, each to a man in his 20’s—the original cougar. Her exploits strike a Paris Hilton chord. In her 1936 autobiography I’d Do It Again she writes: “And if I could live it again, this very long life on mine, I would love to do so. And the only difference would be that I would try to crowd in still more…more places, more things, more women, more men, more love, more excitement.”

Look for more than 75 objects on display in this collection including gowns, china, furniture, personal letters, paintings and photographs. A standout is the hat collection which features an actual head of a bird of paradise, not the Hawaiian flower. A curious note is that this late 1800 fashion trend wiped out the entire population of this now-extinct bird. The result of this devastating action gave birth to the environmental group Audubon Society.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Do Something With Your Life: Strategic Planning

BERKELEY, CA – “If you want change, the first thing you have to change is yourself,” said political strategist and organizer Larry Tramultola. “Don’t be afraid to take an unconventional path—do something with your life.” Larry is a guest speaker at my daughter’s Political Science class at Berkeley’s venerated Wheeler Hall, sharing with 350 eager students his sage wisdom on living a life of joy and purpose.

Larry is the CEO and founder of Oakland firm Tramultola, and has helped clients win over 400 elections including 247 tax elections that have produced more than $25 billion in community improvements. He is also the author of Sidewalk Strategies – Seven Winning Steps for Candidates, Causes and Communities. He worked alongside United Farm Workers' Union icon Cesar Chavez for 11 years as an organizer, a job that began at $5 a month and ended at the same pay scale. “I did it because I was committed to the cause and it gave me joy,” said the ever-youthful, salt-and-pepper-haired Stanford graduate. “There is a safe path to security and an unsafe path to change,” he said. Here are some of his insights:

• Work for what you believe in—find the thing you love. Have passion for what you do.
• Develop the ability to listen—people who are successful listen and observe.
• Look for ways to make others effective—you can’t succeed without others. Find a way to inspire.
• Never give up—most people lose before they win. The most interesting places are off the beaten path. You learn more when you fail.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Taste of Ireland: In San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- Mary Gleeson, an Irish proprietor on business in San Francisco, is giddy with excitement. She's waiting for a group of 136 neighbors and friends to fly in from her rural hometown of Roscommon, Ireland (population 5,000) -- 61 one of which are dancers ages 6 - 20, competing in the North American Irish Dancers Championship in downtown San Francisco. Her townhouse and restaurant Gleeson's is a sponsor for
this event. "We are so happy to offer this experience to the youngsters," said the ebullient hostess, "it's an adventure they'll always remember."

Gleeson's is part of a culinary revolution putting Ireland on the foodie map by offering local, seasonal and organic faire. The burgeoning Good Food Ireland campaign promotes artisan food producers. Mary is quick to point out that people associate Ireland with a certain he-who-must-not be-named meal, "we don't eat corned beef at all," she said laughing at the idea. Instead, her specialty is a traditional Irish Lamb Stew. At the Flavor of Ireland event sponsored by Tourism Ireland in San Francisco, I sampled Gleeson’s Irish Whiskey Marmalade with homemade soda bread and white cheddar cheese – authentic and hearty. Here’s to Mary’s group of Irish dancers, Erin Go Bragh!