Monthly Archives: August 2009

Slow News Day: San Francisco Library Offers Library Card Made from Corn

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Ever since Rogers and Hammerstein wrote about corn “as high as an elephant’s eye”, in their musical Oklahoma, it’s probably the rare person who has experienced corn country in late summer and not had that phrase spring to mind. At our house, as in many, the sweetness of corn signals summer.

In recent years, corn — more specifically its derivative, high fructose corn syrup — has appropriately come under fire for being a ubiquitous, harmful, and subsidized dietary alternative to natural sweeteners and foods.

Given that last, then, it’s nice to report a positive new alternative use for corn, and an unexpected one — library cards. The San Francisco Public Library has recently included among its offerings an “ecocard” that is made from corn and is renewable and biodegradable, as an alternative to its plastic library cards.

The library eventually hopes to replace all of its plastic library cards with ecocards, and its pilot program, in which new patrons are offered ecocards for free, will help test the cards’ durability and usability.

As with San Francisco’s other pioneering green efforts, I wonder if other cities will follow suit.

You can read more about the San Francisco Public Library’s corn-based library card, as well as about their Green Stacks program, which features books and events about a wealth of environmental and sustainability issues.

This terrific article in Smithsonian Magazine, by Elizabeth Royte, goes even further to illuminate some uses and properties of corn-based plastic as an alternative to petroleum-based plastic and how, while a vast improvement over the latter, corn-based products have some issues of their own.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow Family Online on Food News Journal

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Slow Family Online is mentioned on today’s Food News Journal. Each day, Food News Journal rounds up the freshest food writing in the mainstream media and among the blogs. I am thrilled to be included!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News Day: Rogue Creamery in SF Chronicle

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Oregon’s Rogue Creamery and its award-winning Rogue River Blue Cheese just got mentioned in Janet Fletcher’s wonderful cheese column in the San Francisco Chronicle. She also noted Cowgirl Creamery‘s Red Hawk Cheese, which took second place overall in the recent American Cheese Society competition and has won Best of Show in the past.

In addition to the traditional dairy states — Wisconsin, California, Vermont, New York  — that are associated with award-winning cheese, Fletcher noted that ACS ribbons were spread around to some relative newcomer states, like Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Texas and Utah. Good news for U.S. cheese production (and enjoyment)? One can only hope.

Rogue Creamery’s Blue Wins Top Cheese Prize

It would be achievement enough to be crowned Best Blue Cheese, but the Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery in Oregon did even better, winning Best of Show at the 26th annual American Cheese Society competition, which was held recently in Austin, TX. The blue cheese beat an astonishing 1,326 other entries in what is often billed as “the Super Bowl of cheese”.

Cowgirl Creamery, in Point Reyes, CA, took Second Place in the competition, for its superb Red Hawk washed-rind cheese.

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Days before the win, we visited Rogue Creamery in Central Point, OR, on our return from our road trip between San Francisco and Portland. We got a chance to chat with talented and passionate cheesemonger Tom Von Voorhees and to taste tons of special, hand-recommended cheeses.

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The blues were indeed a highlight, and we had many generous samples. Choosing a favorite was immediately impossible — it was always the last cheese tasted. The Oregon Blue, made with raw milk, was robust, bright and creamy, with lots of wonderful classic roquefort taste. The Oregonzola was also very tasty and had a harder texture. If pressed, I’d say my favorite was the Crater Lake Blue, which was very creamy, with an even stronger and more complex blue flavor than the others.

They’ve all won their share of awards.

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The new Caveman Blue, below, was also outstanding and flavorful and extremely creamy.

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Along with the cheese tastes, we enjoyed splendid Carpenter Hill wine from the nearby Carpenter Hill Vineyard. We especially liked the Tango Red, a warm, fruity mix of merlot and cabernet, and bought some to take home. Syrah leaves from Carpenter Hill are used to wrap the Rogue River Blue for aging up to one year. Lee Mankin from Carpenter Hill explained how the Syrah leaves are macerated in Clear Creek Pear Brandy made from locally picked pears, so that the cheese is a complete example of local terroir. We moved to the cheese counter, where we got talking to Tom about all things life and cheese, and we never tasted the ACS award winner! Based on the array of Rogue Creamery blues, it has to be terrific. I can’t wait to try it.

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We first tried the 4-year Noordhollander Gouda, which offered an extremely tasty mix of caramel sweetness and tangy bite, along with a wonderfully rich, crunchy texture.

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We really enjoyed Pholia Farm’s Pleasant Creek and Covered Bridge goat cheeses, which are made locally in Rogue River, OR. Both had a superb, strong goat taste and, were we not traveling by car in a heat wave, we would have picked up a bunch. If you are lucky enough to live near Pholia Farm, they offer farm tours and cheesemaking classes.

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From the Willamette Valley Cheese Co. in Salem, OR, comes this Perrydale cheese, a cow/sheep mix that was wonderfully sweet and delicately fruity.

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We were very impressed with this raw-milk Emmenthaler from Edelweiss Creamery in Wisconsin. It had a terrific taste and is made the traditional way in huge copper vats.

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I must mention that Rogue Creamery is also known for its cheddars. I was personally nearing my limit — Yes, there is one — so I didn’t cheddar up, but here’s a sampling, along with Rogue’s famous curds, which are very good, and the Caveman Blue.

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We snapped up some curds and the hardest (hardiest) cheese for the journey, along with some Rustic Bakery crackers, which come from our home county of Marin. They are extremely tasty. We first encountered them at a local Wine and Gourmet event, and fell in love. Rustic’s flatbreads were originally created specifically to compliment the complex cheeses being produced by artisan creameries.

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Rogue Creamery was started in the 1930s by Tom Vella, of Sonoma, CA’s Vella cheesemaking family. He learned blue-cheese-making techniques in Roquefort, France, and in 1957, produced the first cave-aged Blue Cheese west of the Missouri River.

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I was very enamored with both the creamery and the picturesque Rogue River Valley and plan to return to sample other local artisan foods. Congratulations again, Rogue Creamery, on your most impressive win.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

More Nitty-Gritty on San Francisco’s Cable Cars

My last post explored the pleasure of riding San Francisco’s famed cable cars and the fun neighborhoods that surround the cable car routes. Here, you will find more information about how to ride the cars and deeper ways to explore cable car history and mechanics.

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Created in the 1870s by the son of a Gold Rush ore car inventor, San Francisco’s cable car system once sported 20 lines. Today, three remain: the Powell-Mason Line, the Powell-Hyde Line, and the California Street Line.

More information about each route and many fun things to do in Chinatown, Russian Hill, and Fisherman’s Wharf can be found here.

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A cute map with animation to illustrate the various routes is here.

Another source for route descriptions, as well as schedule information, is here.

Cable Car Barn and Museum

Those who wish to delve deeper into cable car history, mechanics and lore will want to visit the Cable Car Barn and Powerhouse, which houses the Cable Car Museum. It’s located at Washington and Mason, which is on the Powell/Mason line. The big building is also home to the Muni buses, and is a working office for Muni and cable car workers, so you’ll see a lot of people coming and going. Inside the barn, you can go up in a gallery to view the actual cable-winding machinery. There are a lot of mechanical devices – grips, tracks, brake mechanisms — to better help you understand how the cable cars work. The very first cable car, from inventor Andrew Hallidie’s day, is also on display in the museum, as are more antique cable cars, photos, and other historic items. A shop sells books, clothing, and cable car bells.

The Cable Car Barn is located at 1201 Mason Street (and Washington.) It’s open every day except Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, April-September, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., October-March, 10a.m-5p.m. Admission is free.

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Cable Car Fares

Cable car tickets are sold right on the cable cars, as well as at the cable car termini and ticket booths. Tickets cost $5.00 each way for adult and youth aged 5-17. (Children 4 and under ride free.) There is also a one-day pass, which is highly recommended if you’re going to ride around a bit, or want to transfer from one cable car to another more than once. (Cable cars don’t issue or accept transfers from other cable cars, or from Muni buses.) The one-day pass is $11 for adults and children. If you buy one you will receive a fun “passport” onto which you scratch off the date. (Be careful to scratch the right one!) You then show the passport on each car, and don’t need to further fumble with money. The passports make great souvenirs. They are also sold in 3-day and 7-day increments. Note that conductors can make change for $20 or under.

Many other places around the city sell one-day and other passes, including the San Francisco Airport and the Ferry Building. A list of places that sell the passes can be found here:

Passes are also available at the Bay/Taylor cable car ticket booth (Daily, 8 a.m.–7:30.p.m.) and the Beach/Hyde cable car ticket booth (Daily, 8 a.m.–7:30.p.m.)

How to Ride the Cable Cars

Cable cars run every day. Riders can board at any cable car terminus (located at either end of the route) or anywhere the brown and white cable car stop sign is posted. Each sign contains the name of the route, the car’s destination, the hours of operation, and a phone number to call with any questions. At the terminus, you may find yourself waiting in a line to board.

In the middle of a route, you should wait on the sidewalk and wave to the cable car conductor, who alerts the gripman to stop the car for you. Wait until the cable car comes to a complete stop. You can board from either side. As cable cars are often in the middle of the street, be aware of traffic when entering and exiting. The conductor may help you find a seat or a place to stand, or may instruct you to wait for the next cable car. (They come fairly frequently.) People stand on the running boards while holding onto the car’s poles. (This is not recommended for young children.) Ride this way with caution – the conductor will alert people when the route becomes tight and those riders have to squeeze in.

When you wish to get off, let the conductor know verbally, either ahead of time or once the car is stopped. If you decide you want to get off once the cable car is stopped, use judgment in proceeding, both in terms of traffic and if you think the cable car is starting up again. If in doubt, tell the conductor you’re getting off to ensure that the car remains fully stopped. Cable car personnel are concerned for the safety of riders. They know that most people are new to riding and will help you.

Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest

Not only do the cable car crew members have great upper arm strength – many of them display prowess at ringing the famed cable car bell. The annual bell ringing contest is held in Union Square in June. It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear the talents of the crew members and enjoy one more aspect of what makes the cable car so unique. There is more information about the Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest here.

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Here is a movie I took of the contest one year.

A day spent riding, and then exploring, these colorful historic landmarks will certainly make you appreciate them, whether a tourist or a local, as well as provide a fun, inexpensive family outing.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

San Francisco’s Cable Cars, Chinatown & Fisherman’s Wharf

We just had a wonderful visit with my brother Michael and niece Amanda, who came out from Cleveland, OH. Among other fun things, I planned what I think of as the quintessential San Francisco tourist day: A ride on the cable car from Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf and back, with lots of stops, sights, and food along the way. Of course, you don’t have to wait for out-of-town visitors to do this — it’s a favorite local day, too. It’s always fun to combine the joy and openness of a tourist with the knowledge and pride of a local.

A Little History

When Andrew Hallidie witnessed a horse-drawn streetcar sliding backwards toward a terrible accident on a steep San Francisco street, he immediately thought of the wire-ropes his father had patented and he himself had used to pull cars filled with ore up and down the mountains during the California Gold Rush. Through Hallidie’s inspiration and perseverance, those wire-ropes became the basis for our current cable car system, which began service in 1873.

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At one time, San Francisco had more than 20 cable car lines. But once the electric streetcar was invented, in 1888, trolleys (which run using overhead wires) began to replace cable cars in most cities, followed by busses and other forms of transportation.  Three cable car routes remain in San Francisco and, as many people know, they are a delight to ride for tourists and locals alike. Following are some fun ways to enjoy Andrew Hallidie’s invention, the cable car that is a symbol of San Francisco and a great way to get around the city.

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The Three Routes, and Fun Side Trips

There are three cable car routes in operation. The three lines are the Powell-Mason Line, the Powell-Hyde Line, and the California Street Line.

Powell-Mason Line: Union Square, Nob Hill, Chinatown, Russian Hill, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf

The Powell-Mason line begins at the Powell/Market turntable. It runs up Powell, past Union Square and Nob Hill, takes a dog-leg on Jackson, and then runs on Mason, Columbus, and Taylor, through colorful North Beach, until it reaches the Bay/Taylor turntable at Fisherman’s Wharf. The Wharf is, of course, a wonderful place to experience San Francisco. Stroll the stands along Jefferson Street, or buy a shrimp or crab sandwich at Taylor and enjoy it at a table or on a bench overlooking the Bay.

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We like to stop into the Boudin Bakery (160 Jefferson), which offers a fun interactive exhibit about the history and science of sourdough and other San Francisco foods, as well as a chance to see bread being baked in a factory setting.  If you’re hungry, you may want to partake in the bakery’s famous sourdough bread bowl full of clam chowder, or at least an animal-shaped loaf. The Museum and Bakery are open daily, noon-7 p.m.

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Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to the Musee Mechanique, in Pier 45. Open weekdays,  10 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. The Musee Mechanique features a huge assortment of antique mechanized arcade games, many of which found a home here when the Musee Mechanique at the Cliff House closed in 2002, and many of which are fully functional.

This is a very special place – it offers a unique chance for people of all ages to see and enjoy pre video-era games that conjure the times of player pianos and wooden roller coasters and vanished San Francisco amusements like Playland at the Beach and Sutro Baths. Admission is free. You can buy quarters to play the games.

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There are many laughing characters, like Jolly Jack, below, who is similar to the locally famous Laughing Sal.

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Other really fun area attractions include the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum (175 Jefferson) and the Wax Museum (145 Jefferson), both of which are surprisingly elaborate and will add to the old-wharf mood.

Powell-Hyde Line: Union Square, Nob Hill, Chinatown, Russian Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf

The Powell-Hyde line also begins at the Powell/Market turntable and continues along some of the same route up Powell. It also turns on Jackson, and then goes all the way to Hyde, which then provides a great ride through Russian Hill. Places to stop along the way is Swenson’s Ice Cream, at Hyde and Union, and San Francisco’s crookedest street, Lombard Street. The lines ends at the  Beach/Hyde turntable near Ghirardelli Square (900 North Point), where you can stop into Ghirardelli Chocolates for chocolate samples or a full-blown sundae, or enjoy lunch at the kid-friendly Lori’s Diner. The Hyde Street Pier, just steps from the cable car, features historic ships you can explore on and around. You may also want to walk down the street to the National  Maritime Museum, at Beach and Polk, which features ship models, interactive demonstrations, and other seafaring items such as diaries and maps. The museum is open daily, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free. Both the museum and the historic ships are part of the National Park Service.

These are some pictures from Cousin Jake’s visit a few years ago.

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All Fisherman’s Wharf activities are available from either cable car terminus. If you start your trip in Chinatown or Union Square, you can take one cable car line down to Fisherman’s Wharf and the other back to your starting point. (More Chinatown activities, below.)

California Street Line: Financial District, Chinatown, Nob Hill, Civic Center

The California Street line intersects the other two lines at California and Powell. It runs from the terminus at Market and Drumm through the Financial District, Chinatown, and Nob Hill before reaching its other terminus at Van Ness Avenue. This line tends to be less crowded than the other two, though no less fun, and as a result, you can usually just stay on at the end of the line and ride back, instead of having to get out and get in line to come back on, as you may on the other two lines during summer. From this line, you can get out at Grant Avenue or other stops and enjoy Chinatown.

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Chinatown is colorful and fun wherever you walk. You may want to stop into the Chinatown Kite Shop at 717 Grant. The shop features a wide array of kites of all types. Across from the kite shop is the Eastern Bakery (720 Grant), the oldest Chinese bakery in the U.S. Further up Grant is the Rainbow Station Store (1047 Grant), which features all things cute and Japanese – Hello Kitty and other Sanrio plushes, backpacks, mini erasers, food sculptures and stationary.

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A couple of these characters look a little sad to be under this sign.

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At the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (56 Ross Alley, between Jackson and Washington) you can watch as fortune cookies are baked and bent into their famous shape, and then buy some fresh off the machine. The factory is open every day, 10 a.m -8:30 p.m.

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If you’re hungry for something more substantial, there are many dim sum restaurants, which feature a variety of this inexpensive and filling delicacy. We particularly like the House of Dim Sum (735 Jackson, around the corner from the Fortune Cookie Factory, open daily except Tuesdays), where you can get buns stuffed with shrimp, pork, chives, or sweet sesame.

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A cute map with animation to illustrate the various cable car routes is here.

Another source for route descriptions, as well as schedule information, is here.

For more information about the Cable Car Museum and the Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest, as well as tips on how to ride cable cars and fare information, please see my post, More Nitty-Gritty on San Francisco’s Cable Cars.

Mayors have tried to do away with the cable cars all together. Citizens have rallied to save them. Most of the lines have been lost to buses, and San Francisco is one of the few cities in the world to still operate traditional cable cars at all. A day of riding these moving historic landmarks will certainly heighten your appreciation of them, as well as provide a fun, inexpensive family outing.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

The Perseids are Coming!

The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming our way this week. Anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere may be in for a good old-fashioned sky show, just by looking up.

The Perseids are debris from a wandering comet that appear as shooting stars each August. (Records of this light show go back to 36 A.D., though the Swift-Tuttle Comet was discovered much later.) They often provide one of the best shows of the year, if the skies are clear and the moon is not full.

This year, they should be best on Wednesday, August 12, before dawn and after sunset. Tuesday night before 11 p.m. is another good time to look for shooting stars because the moon won’t rise until 11.

You won’t need any special equipment to see the Perseids. The naked eye is actually best. Just be sure to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. And hope for a good show!

This article in the San Francisco Chronicle offers more information about the Perseids, along with some good viewing tips and a sky map.

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Meteor Burst Photo by NASA Ames Research Center/S. Molau & P. Jenniskens