Monthly Archives: June 2009

Gone Fishin’

.. Or at least camping.

I’ll be away from my blog for a few days while I take a mother/daughter camping trip with another pair. We plan to explore the El Dorado National Forest and the Yuba River. I’ll be back in time for July 4. Have a great week, everyone!

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Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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Cheese of the Week: Hirtenkase

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This is a nice gouda-type cheese in the same family as one of our regular purchases, Sankaenter. In fact, Hirtenkase could be Sankaenter’s older, more serious brother. The cheese is a hard worker — it’s hard in texture, in fact and a bit dry. It’s dotted with protein crystals, which lend the texture some crunch. A bit of oil pleasantly coats the mouth, before a caramel undertone, and even a hint of flowers, catches up to the sharp, salty crunch.

So why do I find this cheese serious? A solid cheese, it gets the job done, without fooling around, without frivolity. The flavor is relatively strong and especially consistent. It doesn’t veer off into surprising places. Hirtenkase is more Journeyman than Drama Queen.

Hirtenkase literally means “herdsman’s cheese”. After bringing their cows into the Alps each spring to graze, Southern German cow herders traditionally bring them back down each fall — In the case of Hirtenkase, they come back to the Allgau area, near the Austrian border. Wonderfully, the cows’ mid-September descent down the mountains is marked with a festival for which the cows are adorned with flowers, and people along their route gather and cheer.

Aged eight months, Hirtenkase’s hard texture and good flavor make it a nice grating, as well as snacking, cheese. Its slight salty taste could take a fruity wine to compliment it. The strong taste and caramel-ly aspect work well with ale and good pretzels.

Come mid-September, I’ll be eager to celebrate.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Local, Sustainable Tastes of the Sonoma-Marin Fair

Sonoma and Marin Counties enjoy such a rich agricultural bounty that it should come as no surprise that the Sonoma-Marin Fair provides a wonderful opportunity to sample some of the best and newest local, sustainable food. This year, the Farm-to-Table exhibit had been expanded. The first item we tried was the fantastic McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil. You could really taste the fresh grass in it.

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McClelland’s Dairy (where we used to take our daughter to watch the cows being milked) is now making their own organic, artisan, small-batch butter, which we happily sampled and found extremely tasty.

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We had terrific honey from Hector’s Honey, which is available at the Santa Rosa, CA, and other local farmer’s markets in eucalyptus, vetch, wildflower, and other flavors from local flowers.

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We spoke with Karen Bianchi-Morada, 8th generation cheesemaker (Italy, Switzerland, and now five generations in West Marin). Her Valley Ford Cheese Estero Gold was extremely tasty. Aged 120 days, it’s an asiago-type cheese that’s buttery, distinctly flavored, and affordably priced. It’s available in Whole Foods and other local markets.

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Next up was something new called Sonomic Vinegar, from Wine Country Vinegars. It’s a rich balsamic-like vinegar that had more depth and flavor than a typical balsamic and, yet, was still made from 100% grapes. The producer also runs Sonoma Valley Portworks. I assured him a visit would be forthcoming.

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Of course, no fair would be complete without the requisite corn dogs, funnel cakes, garlic-fry bricks, deep-fried twinkies (!), watery margaritas, barbecued chicken, chow mein, kettle corn, and lemonade. And, sure enough, we left the sustainable exhibit and sampled some of that stuff, too.

Follow our other fair adventures here.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Tales of the Sonoma-Marin Fair (One Day Left!)

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I just love this fair! We went opening day and had a spectacular time, as always. It’s a familiar, comfortable, classic fair that’s extremely easy to navigate. This year there were a couple of new additions to the old favorites, as well.

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Each fair visit has its own highlight. I always love the many animals at the Sonoma-Marin — goats, sheep, cows, pigs, poultry, rabbits — and the way visitors can walk around and see them, and then watch different animal events. One year, we saw a Sheep Shearing contest, which was fascinating. This year was the first time we saw a 4 H Pig Showmanship contest. We watched kids from 10-16 years old compete.

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The judge was wonderful and encouraging to every entrant. He explained to us some of the things he was looking for — command of the animal, eye contact with the judge, ease. Some pigs had clearly chosen Show Day to act up and had to be coaxed out of the ring’s corners. The participants all seemed serious and dedicated.

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This Ohio State University site shares more about pig showmanship. As usual, at the fair, I learned something about animals and their care and came away with renewed respect for farmers.

We watched this participant bathe her sheep.

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The goats were very rowdy this year, really bleating at one another.

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We visited all our other favorite animals.

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And we learned more from the wonderful displays kids had made about their animals or their 4 H projects.

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This was the first time in years that we hadn’t entered our own jam, so of course we spent a lot of time looking at the food exhibits.

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The young cake decorators were particularly impressive. This fondant cake was made by an 11-year-old.

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These TV-dinner-themed cupcakes, also made by a young person, were original and perfect.

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Still another exhibit hall featured art, collections, and other hobby work, from antique doll collecting to woodworking, by people of all ages. This apron, made by a 10-year-old, was very well done and had a nice vintage look, in fabric choice and design.

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The sky turned blue and a sliver of a moon came up. Even the Cinnamon Roll trailer, on the great midway, looked poetic and somehow Western.

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We bought kettle corn from a Ft. Worth, TX, couple we always visit. We first had their wonderful kettle corn at the California State Fair, which comes to Sacramento mid-August through Labor Day.

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Back down the midway, for another session of rides! This fair charges one admission price, which includes all the rides and exhibits, so there’s no having to stop the fun and/or pay extra for tickets for things. The games do take cash, and we always have to try our luck at those.

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Night fell, the neon of the rides came on, and more people seemed to arrive. The fair just felt more lively and exciting.

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As always, we’d been there for hours, and it was still incredibly hard to leave.

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Until next year!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Sonoma-Marin County Fair Opens Today

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The Sonoma-Marin Fair is here!

I love county fairs, and we in the Bay Area have an abundance of great fairs to choose from. Because it straddles two counties that each have a fair later this season, the Sonoma-Marin Fair can be overlooked. This fair, in Petaluma, has been my family’s favorite for years.

All your fair favorites are here: a midway with tons of traditional food, like corn dogs and funnel cakes, good rides for all ages, carnival games, food and animal exhibits, live music and performances, and lots of special contests. Over the years, we’ve seen sheep shearing, cheese carving, cow milking, hypnotists, and contests for everything from gathered wool to painted shoes.

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The Sonoma-Marin Fair has a down-home feeling, which is in keeping with Petaluma’s farming and historical roots. There are a lot of animals to see and activities for small children. It’s also not as large or crowded as some other fairs, making it particularly appealing for families.

The Sonoma-Marin Fair is in town Wednesday, June 24 through Sunday, June 28. We plan to be there opening day and will report back.

For directions, hours, events and more, see the Sonoma-Marin Fair site.

See you on the midway!

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Explore the Undersea World at Bay Area Tidepools

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The undersea world is always fun to explore at low tide, when creatures like barnacles, crabs, periwinkles, and sea stars, who are normally underwater, become revealed. This summer, we in the Bay Area are in store for an especially stellar show, as there will be an unusual amount of very low tides, or minus tides, at times of the day when we can get out and enjoy them.

How do Tides Work?

Tides are influenced by the moon, whose gravity pulls at the oceans each day as the Earth completes its daily spin. That pull creates a high tide at the portion of the Earth where it occurs. Most places experience two high tides each day. The second one occurs when the moon’s gravity pulls on the spot exactly opposite it on the Earth. (The second high tide is usually not as high as the first high tide.) Low tides occur when the moon is first rising in the east, or setting in the west, and the strong pull is happening elsewhere. Full or new moons usually create higher high tides and lower low tides than moons in other phases.

Reading a Tide Table

Tides are relatively predictable, but not entirely, as they can be altered by factors like temperature, air pressure, storms, and wind. A tide table is like a forecast, as opposed to a rigid schedule. That said, tide tables are usually fairly accurate. Most tide tables read in military time (a 24-hour clock), rather than using a.m. and p.m. Tides are measured in feet, so a 2.0 tide means that the water is two feet high.

The intertidal zone, which is what you’ll be exploring, is the area that is revealed during a low tide and covered during a high tide. You can begin to see some creatures in this area when the tide is as low as 1.5, but your best bet for seeing a show is to visit when the tide is listed as a “minus tide”, which is an especially low tide. Try to time your visit to arrive before the time listed, so you catch the tide going out. Generally it goes out (becomes lower) for about two hours, and comes back in for an hour and a half, so that’s the window of time for the visit. You need to be aware of the time and the tides, especially if the beach you’re exploring is one that can become cut off from access during high tides, or is known for tides that rise quickly. (The best beaches for exploring intertidal life with children have easy access, even during high tides, and are not known for large waves or drastic changes. That said, visitors still have to be aware of the tides and the time.)

This is a fairly accessible tide table. There are others online, and others that can be purchased at bookstores and marine-supply stores in calendar form.

Bay Area tide tables often reference the tide time at Golden Gate. Be sure to follow any links to the adjusted times for different spots up and down the coast, as the tide times change based on exactly where the tide hits.

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Upcoming Minus Tides

The following are days and times for upcoming minus tides. As mentioned, there is an unusual abundance of opportunities for visiting a tidepool this summer. Note that these are all minus tides at Golden Gate. Be sure to adjust the time for your tidepool spot.

Weds., June 24, 7:24 a.m., -1.9
Thurs., June 25, 8:11 a.m., -1.6
Fri., June 26, 8:58 a.m., -1.1
Sat., June 27, 9:45 a.m., -0.4

Tues., July 7, 6:28 a.m., -0.7
Wed., July 8, 7:00 a.m., -0.6
Thurs., July 9, 7:31 a.m., -0.5
Fri., July 10, 8:02 a.m., -0.3

Thurs., July 23, 7:03 a.m., -1.3
Fri., July 24, 7:46 a.m., -0.9
Sat., July 25, 8:28 a.m., -0.3

Thurs., Aug. 6, 6:31 a.m., -0.1

Fri., Aug. 21, 6:35 a.m., -0.4

Who Lives in the Intertidal Zone?

When the tide retreats, sea creatures can be seen clinging to, or underneath, rocks. These animals, as well as intertidal plants, are especially adaptable to their changing conditions. They are often also colorful and unusual. The animals you will likely see include limpets, which stick to rocks high in the intertidal zone, and their relatives, the chitons. Children may identify periwinkles, which have a snail-shaped shell, and tough barnacles, which cling to rocks and other surfaces. You may see sculpins, which are tiny fish, moving in the extremely shallow pools, or prickly sea urchins, or everyone’s favorite, the many kinds of starfish (sea stars). There will likely be many types of crawling crab. And you’ll probably also see anemones, which open and close around food, or a gently placed finger, and which squirt a bit when touched.

The best way to identify these various creatures is to pick up a field guide to local sea life at a bookstore or library. Some places also sell easy-to-reference cards that can be worn around the neck, saving you from fumbling with a book while out along the shore.

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Some Places to Experience Tidepools

Pillar Point Harbor, Half Moon Bay. Pillar Point features a large, easily accessible tidepool area rife with creatures like sea urchins, sponges, sea anemones, and sea stars. This is also a commercial fishing harbor. Boats come in with fresh fish for sale daily, and there is a fishing pier.

Directions: From the South or East Bays, take Highways 101, 280, or 880 to Highway 92 West. Go north on Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay. Turn left (west) on Capistrano Road (signal light four miles North of Half Moon Bay). Take the first left into Pillar Point Harbor.

From the North Bay, take Highway 1 South seven miles past Pacifica. Turn right (west) on Capistrano Road, and take the first left into Pillar Point Harbor.

For more information, see the San Mateo County Harbor District site.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach. This slightly rocky seashore is more natural than Pillar Point and provides a different experience. Its shallow marine shelf offers a very rich habitat with a variety of sea stars, crabs, mollusks, and sea urchins. There are species within this three-mile reserve that are found nowhere else in the world. Naturalists are often present during minus tides.

Directions: Take Highway 1 to California Street in Moss Beach, and turn west. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is at the end of the street. You can also take Highway 280 to Highway 92 to the ocean, and then go north on Highway 1 to Moss Beach. The reserve is at the end of the street. The area is also served by SamTrans bus. This SamTrans site has more information.

For more information, see the Friends of the Fitzgerald Reserve site or the San Mateo County Parks site.

Duxbury Reef State Marine Sanctuary, Bolinas. Though in Bolinas, Duxbury Reef is part of the extensive Point Reyes National Seashore. Connecting to lovely Agate Beach, mile-long Duxbury is the largest shale intertidal reef in North America. It’s known for calm surf and relative privacy for visitors. Its very accessible tidepools are home to clams, limpets, urchins, anemones, and sea stars, among other animals. Duxbury Reef doesn’t have the amenities of the other tidepool areas, but it makes up for that with its ease of discovery and its array of sea creatures.

Directions: Take Highway 1 to the Bolinas turnoff, which is Olema-Bolinas Road. Be warned that the turnoff is often unmarked. You can also take the more northern Horseshoe Hill Road, which turns into Olema-Bolinas Road in Bolinas. Turn right on Mesa Road. Turn left onto Overlook Drive. Make a right on Elm and follow it to its end, or where it turns into Ocean Parkway, and park in the parking lot for the reef and beach.

For more information, see the Point Reyes National Seashore site or the Marin County Open Space – Agate Beach site.

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Tips for Making the Trip Enjoyable and Preserving the Habitat

Tidepools are very sensitive environments that are easily damaged or even destroyed, so it’s important for visitors to be aware of the fact that they will be walking among, and probably on, living creatures. Remember that you are a guest in the animals’ habitat. It will also help to follow these tips for respectful visits:

Look before you walk to try to avoid stepping on barnacles, mussels, and other creatures. Walk carefully for your own safety and to protect all the tidepool life.

Leave animals where they are. Don’t pry them off of rocks. Removing them from their habitat could be very dangerous to them. Many don’t survive once removed, even if people think they are placing them back in their spots.

Also leave shells, rocks, plants, and other marine life in its place, as much of it serves as homes to the sea life.

Do not bring household pets to the tidepool.

Do not disturb other animals, like seals or birds, that may also be present.

Other tips to help visitors stay safe and enjoy the experience include:

Try to find a good guide book ahead of time so you can acquaint yourself with some of the marine life you may be encountering, and possibly bring the book for use at the tidepool.

Be sure you’ve planned your trip to arrive before low tide and leave before the next high tide.

Stay aware of the tides. Keep an eye on the waves as the high tide is coming in.

Tidepools are slippery, so wear shoes with good traction that can get wet.

Dress in clothes that can get wet and keep you warm. It could be windy or chilly.

Take the time to really observe the tidepool life. Lots of animals are not immediately apparent to visitors.

Something about the act of tidepooling in the early morning hours invariably leaves our family hungry. Plan to stop for breakfast or lunch on the way home and talk about all the marine life you saw.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Juniper Grove Tumalo Tomme Goat Cheese

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The world’s longest lasting cheese course (lucky us!) continues with a Tumelo Tomme Goat’s Milk cheese (also known as Tumelo Classico) from Juniper Grove Farm in Redmond, Oregon. This is a lovely cheese, with a firmer texture than you might ordinarily find in a goat cheese, which results in something like a goat gouda. It’s a solid, pleasing cheese, with a lot of body in the mouth.

The goat aspect takes a moment to hit you and, when it does, it is equally pleasant and on the mild side. (The Haystack Mountain Queso de Mano, which was on the same plate, is bolder.) There are nutty and sweet, even caramel-like notes, along with an earthy, slightly mushroom-y taste.

Redmond Grove Farm’s owner/cheesemaker, Pierre Kolisch, studied cheesemaking in Normandy with master cheesemaker Francois Durand, and cites European “tomme” cheeses as an influence. (“Tomme” loosely means small cheese from partial milkings, with the “tomme” and “toma” names in particular use in the French and Italian Alps.)

Tumalo is a raw-milk cheese, made from milk from Redmond Grove’s herd of goats, which feed on alfalfa year-round on beautiful land east of Oregon’s Cascade Mountain range. (Indeed, Tumalo bears the name of a local village.) Kolisch employs traditional farmstead methods in his cheesemaking, such as separating curds from whey, and then brining, stacking and hand-turning the washed-rind cheese, as it ages on pine planks in a dry, cool environment for three months.

The result is this nice, lovingly made goat cheese.

The Tomalo Tomme works well with crackers, grapes, apricots, or a fruity red wine, such as Pinot Noir or Merlot.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman