Tag Archives: Food

San Diego: Anatomy of a Paella and More than a Walk in the Park

After our return home from Iran, we slowly adapted back to California living. To help us do this, we took a quick weekend trip to San Diego to spend a day with friends in the countryside. The highlight was a huge “paella cookout”, that became a super-sized version of a cooking demonstration.

ANATOMY OF A PAELLA

 

 

In a nutshell, you follow these steps (as shown in photos above):

1. Heat lots of olive oil in a large shallow pan.
2. Add and cook marinated boneless chicken thighs.
3. Add onions and garlic.
4. Add water, saffron and rice.
5. Add mussels.
6. Add shelled prawns, clams and frozen peas.

Here are a couple of tantalizing videos for you, about the chorizo sausage used (you might need to step up the volume):

 

 

And the fait accompli!

 

 

Try this at home, on the stovetop!

MORE THAN A WALK IN THE PARK

The next day, we took a leisurely, 5 mile walk to and from Balboa Park. It was filled with museums, outdoor sculpture, a huge plaza for people watching, yoga, and even a botanical garden!

 

The walk to and from included a couple of pedestrian bridges. I didn’t realize that the San Diego terrain, in true California coast style, not only consisted of water and mountains, but deep craggy canyons in the middle of the city. Creative connections between hills and over valleys provide pedestrians with interesting and sometimes challenging routes. As in San Francisco, the gridded streets from the map are deceptive and can often put walkers in a dead end or facing a steep, but fitful incline.

 

The Botanical Garden provided a calming respite from the city’s bountiful activities within Balboa Park. The families enjoying the beauty of the late Spring bloom reminded me of the parks we enjoyed in Iran.

 

And there were even a couple of interesting developer-architect buildings to ponder and appreciate through the streets of San Diego:

 

Shimmering Shiraz and Perceptions of Persepolis

Tehran

After a few days of jet lag, weather changes, and internet hell, we resparked our curiosity and thirst for the unknown. We visited museums, mosques, and even a madrassah, but no mausoleums yet. The last three m’s were the order of the day for Islamic architecture during my visit to Uzbekistan, but there no indications of that being the same here.

At the Golestan Palace in Tehran, a World Heritage Site, the pre-Pahlavi royalty (within the last 150 years) displayed their wealth and were over-the-top ornate. Most of the public rooms including the ceilings were covered with intricate mirror mosaics and made you feel like you were inside the Hope Diamond.

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Interior with Mirrored Ceilings

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The exteriors demonstrated the integration of gardens and fountains that are
famous in Iranian architecture and design, as well as the intricate mosaic work and marble carving on doors and walls.

The National Museum of Iran contained some of the most precious relics of the ancient world. The statue of Darius I (Xerxes I, from which an opera is based!)  and a panel from the Achaemenid Period in Persepolis are shown below. For those interested, you can scale up the text included in the adjacent photos.

The bazaars in both Tehran and Shiraz contained endless boutiques in a Walmart-sized atmosphere with limited and inexpensive goods from copperware to aromatic spices.

Shiraz

We bonded with our local guide from Shiraz after he passionately described Iran’s native son and poet, Hafez. His elegant poems are beloved by all Iranians and transcend cultures. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Goethe were known to quote his poetry. It was enough for me to determine to read some when I get home.

As we stood in the garden of the tomb of Hafez, Abdullah, our guide, explained that Shiraz is known for its wine, women, and roses. Many of us will recognize the famous wine namesake that comes from this region.

In the evening light, Abdullah pointed out the abundance of young couples strolling in the park, with flowers intoxicating the warm breezes. Knowing a little or a lot about the poetry of Hafez is enough to start amiable conversations and the start of a promising relationship, Abdullah surmises (maybe from experience?)

While Abdullah waxed poetic, we observed that families were out selfying just like any other society, enjoying a delicious evening, and lingering among crowds of friendly visitors.

There seems to be tremendous respect for fellow humans in Iran. So far, we have found the urban environment remarkably quiet. We stayed on busy streets in two cities and found the traffic unusually quiet. Being highly sensitive to noise, I am finding the calm, lack of noise shattering to my ears.

People glide about the streets, smiling at one another with eyes and lips, and salaam each other without exception. I’m not sure our guide has coopted us, but we sense the immense pride and confidence in the people.

Persepolis:

Just outside of Shiraz, on a wide open plain, lies the ceremonial center of Darius. Before him, Cyrus the Great created and led an impressive empire. The wooden ceilings of buildings and both palaces of Darius and his son built around 518 BC were later razed to the ground by Alexander the Great (around 330 BC), but the massive stone structures with priceless carvings remain.

After just having seen the great empires of Rome, Greece, Inca at Macchu Picchu and Aztec in Teotihuacan, it’s hard not to be impressed by the volume and quality of artwork in situ at Persepolis. We could not believe how much of its splendor is still present for the whole world to appreciate.

Were it not from my earliest art history lessons on ancient civilizations and curiosity on its context and meaning, I would not have made this trip.

Everything begins to fall into place, as the pieces of the puzzle assemble. My scant preparation for this trip, thanks to Francopan’s Silk Roads, a New History of the World, captures the whirlwind tour through the rise and fall of Eurasian civilizations. Iran, and more fondly, Persia by the same name, stands prominently at the helm of the Silk Road.

The artwork at Persepolis chronicles the peaceful arrival and acceptance of the local inhabitants to the new ruler. Darius followed shortly after Cyrus (within 40 years), and while not a direct descendant, they were related. Although the local Medians were conquered by Cyrus and the Archimineads, he managed a peaceful settlement and was respected for his accomplishments as a capable ruler. Darius culminated the dynastic rule with his grandiose and impressive complex at Persepolis.

Within the ceremonial entrance and grand reception areas are magnificent stone reliefs of warriors supporting the king on his throne. Rows of roundheaded conquerees alternating with the conquerors proceed to meet the king, hand in hand. Offerings from 23 nations include food, treasures and animals from surrounding areas and those as far as India.

Other friezes demonstrate the high quality of craftsmanship that preceded the Greek and Roman periods revered in history. In a splendid exemplary frieze, a bull and cow signify the end and beginning of the new year.

The symbolic meanings of birds, rings and flowers stem from the ancient monotheistic Zoroastrian and Mithras religions. They did not have a concept of God as a human, but that he lies within each of us.

Individually the symbolism of the characters presented are less significant than the collective splendor of the human mind that is left behind for all of us living creatures today to ponder.

(This post is now formatted as intended. It was created on April 17, 2018 and edited April 22, 2018).

Carry on in Tehran

With all my worldly possessions-and a precious visa to visit in tow, husband Gee Kin and I have just arrived in Tehran, the capital of Iran. We left behind the globalized world of Starbucks, KFC and Macdonalds, to one with brewed tea, fast food chicken legs roasting on an open fire, and lamb kebabs with bread made with pebbles for dimples. We passed tantalizing corner stores filled with pistachios and dry fruits that you buy to take to a friend’s house. Hospitality means alot here, and we can already feel it in the air.

Having just completed a marathon flight in 19 hours (San Francisco-Washington DC-Vienna-Tehran, I was glad to hit the end of the day with a hearty meal of lamb stew mascerated at the table and mixed into a tomato based soup, chicken and lab kebobs, saffron rice, yoghurt dressing, a vinegar-based eggplant sauce on the side, and bread.

Everything is not so different at first blush. Getting through immigration was a breeze and easier than stateside! Tehran has about 9 million people living here, with the active daily working population at around 14 million. Iran is a country of 80 million, about the population of Germany. The mountains just outside of Tehran are over 5,000 m, so skiing is a big attraction for tourists, who normally come from Germany, France, and Italy, but more recently even from China.

Stay tuned for more to come in art and architecture in Tehran and Shiraz, our next stop.

(This post is now formatted as intended and was created on April 15, 2018)

…seems it sometimes rains in Southern California…

Coming from Northern California to Southern California and finding drippy rain is a real downer. We Northerners never dispute the better weather LA gets…but what happens when it rains an entire day, causing plans to change and the wet weather gear to be pulled out…when it’s supposed to be an endless summer kind of town!?!

San Francisco rises to the ratings meteorically as a result. Better public transit, food, art, museums. Hands down. We don’t even have to make apologies for the fog this way.

Nevertheless, I continued my independent sketching exercises at the LA County Museum today. A painting of sketchers in an art studio gave me inspiration:

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Despite a host of Chagalls, Monets and other famous artists, we focused this time instead on a fine collection of German Expressionists.

Each time I explore this period of modern German art, I learn new means and methods for this group. I am drawn to them, not only because I am learning the German language, but because the techniques and emotional content speak to me.

They may even  seem a bit primitive (as in the large wooden sculpture in the featured image above), but apparently this particular artist studied the people and art in Palau, an island in the S. Pacific. Many of the artists have been displayed in museums I have visited in Germany, Chicago, and New York. Particularly those derived from the Bauhaus movement in Weimar and Dessau are represented(Feinnger), but also artists from Die Brücke movement or the Dresden artists were included.

Our antidote to wet days in LA was dining in two restaurants: a new one in the Arts District called Manuela, and an old favorite, Carlitos Gardel.

Manuela displays original artwork, including this mural by Raymond Pettibon.

 

 

Pick Your Poison

The Mushroom Madness event last week at the San Francisco Arboretum showcased not only the infinite variety of fungi, lichen, and spores that surround us, but it also surfaced many mycological fanatics. Not mythological, but close. In case you ever wondered whether the ones growing in your backyard were edible, this was the place to rub noses with those in the know.

The society reminded me of a similar group of astronomical buffs. When we stayed overnight at Fremont Peak years ago to stargaze, the featured delicacy of the evening, aside from Saturn and Jupiter,  was blue jello hidden below a frothy cloud of white meringue.

We couldn’t resist the Mushroom Soup this time either. Nothing too exotic, but we slurped and savored the mushy mess despite a few lingering trails of what looked like earthy seaweed in the broth.

December is wrap-up time for the academic fall semester. The student art show at City College of San Francisco’s Fort Mason campus brought together many new and old faces. Paper versions were displayed, while friends and family proudly gathered to admire the visual works. Below is a quick scan of a part of the Figure Drawing class exhibition’s earnest efforts.

And last night’s presentation of the SF Opera’s new and upcoming young singers from the Adler Program:

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Birthday wishes this month go to Eric, Melissa, Ruth, Jeff and Sherry!
Continue reading Pick Your Poison

A Thanksgiving Sketch 2017

Visiting Chicago earlier this month already seems like lightyears away, especially with the advent of the annual year-end Holiday Season. Eleven of the mostly Fong clan gathered around our dining table for a home-made traditional feast with basic turkey and trimmings, Chinese sticky rice “stuffing”, yams, vegetables, apple pie and pumpkin custard.

To throw in a few world influences from traveling this year, I kicked off the event with Peruvian pisco sours and yucca fries followed by Moroccan zaalouk. A bit eclectic, but I couldn’t resist the yummy new recipes I learned by being in these fascinating countries with deep food cultures.

Naturally, it was fun to see everyone. We are all older and wiser, and the lone child under thirty was the highlight of the evening. Our conversations shift from children’s activities to adult careers, friends, and travels. It was a leisurely, enjoyable evening, and indeed, a very satisfying and thankful one.

I noticed this year a focus on food preparation. Ladies in my classes, on the street, and in between were into some serious food therapy. Everyone delved into and savored the minutest details beyond what was described above.  They seemed to taste and smack their lips at each morsel being described.

A professional therapist would probably diagnose that these women (I did not notice if there were men engaged in the same conversations, but there could have been) are finding comfort in what little can be controlled in an uncontrollable world. It gave me a smile to think of these small pleasures, and to appreciate these heartwarming conversations.

The day after Thanksgiving was highly anticipated with the opera world premiere of the “Girls of the Golden West”. Unlike Puccini’s opera by the same name (except singular instead of plural), it is a factual account of the events during the California Gold Rush of 1849. It reveals many of the dirty little secrets of that golden era, now mystified and synthesized into a romantic vision of California’s genesis.

The opera features characters who suffered incredible brutality during that era: fugitive Black slaves, Hispanic workers, Chinese prostitutes being chased out of town, murdered, or lynched. Even the environment was not unscathed: a 24-foot wide redwood was cut to a stump and used as a stage. This formed part of the backdrop for what was a fascinating historical event in American history.

Unfortunately, converting a Ken Burns-style docudrama to opera did not translate. Librettist Peter Sellars and composer John Adams (Nixon in China fame) made a noble effort, but somehow the decent singing, decent music, and decent story–all necessary ingredients for a decent opera–did not come together. Even our upgraded Center Box Seats where you can sip sparkling wine during the performance could not salvage the evening. Hopefully time will mellow this opera like all others.

Above: Pre-Opera chat with Librettist Peter Sellars, and the curtain call with dancers. Note the reproduced tree stump and felled tree in the background.

Below: the final curtain call with both Peter Sellars and John Adams, and young cast

As the Fall Semester winds down, I am still busily preparing for final exams and projects. I continue to practice sketching at Meet-ups. The last one I attended at the Apple Store in Union Square produced an encounter with none other than Emperor Norton. Another character from the Gold Rush days, this impersonated, once-real character gives tours of historic San Francisco. I cartooned him while he anachronistically used his cell phone to schedule tours and take care of business of the day.

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Day 9-10: Easter Island Moai

A full day of sightseeing led me to the various Moai on the Eastern side of the island. The Akahanga Quarry where the stone for the Moai were carved and extracted was a graveyard of sorts for the stones themselves. They were in various stages of completion: some were still in situ, some were being transported, and some were never to reach their intended sacred sites. The characteristic topknots for hair were gathered in one spot, as the red stone was normally placed separately from the body on top of the basalt.

I loved pondering how each sculptor decided on the eyes, nose, and mouth for each piece. Most of the bodies included full torsos, but no legs. Their hands were placed below their bellies, with long fingernails indicating royalty. The long ears of the royalty were evident, as there were no short-eared Moai (see previous post).

Behind the quarry are caves where people hid during wars and invasions. Next, we reached the highlight of the 15 Moai at Ahu Tongariki.  The guide explained in detail how the moai were carved out of bedrock, transported to a site where the dead were buried, and then erected with great teamwork and collaboration.

The Easter Islanders had a long term vision of creating these images to protect successive generations. It took incredible energy, creativity, and determination to plan, design and execute such monumental exercises. The photos above do not convey the extensive area where they were situated. See video below (apologies for the wind–you may need to turn your volume down to reduce the noise)

A Japanese construction company helped to sponsor the UNESCO world heritage site, after it exhibited one of the Moai in Japan. Many of the Moai that were toppled were turnd upright and restored so they can be appreciated in their orignal splendor.

I returned to the Te Moana Restaurant in town for an another adventurous dining experience. This time I ordered whole fish, and was delighted with this pair on a bed of mashed tuber:

My sunset view at dinner gave me time to reflect on all the amazing human achievements from the past. Even better, I caught the last rays behind the Moai at the harbor just a block away from my hotel.  It symbolized another successful completion of travels with myself and others to two of the most magnificent places in the world. I hope you enjoyed traveling with me!

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Day 5-6(b) Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru

Peru’s lack of distinguishable modern architecture is more than made up by its warm and friendly people, their genuine desire to help others, and a long history that does a country proud. Everything seems harder to accomplish here, yet the people are undaunted by physical hardships and challenges.

Cusco lies on a plateau in the highlands, so everything is downhill from there. After adapting to the 11k high altitude in Cusco, each 1K descent towards the 9K Sacred Valley and 8k level at Macchu Picchu feels noticeably easier. I can breathe normally. Not being a mountaineer, I have never focused so much on elevation before. I paid more attention to these stats than to rainfall or temperature in the area!!

We made stops along the way to visit an alpaca/llama (pronounced yama) farm, a weaving group, and a market in Pisac. (See photos above). Our foodies will note the wide array of fruits and vegetables as well as colors–a good sign of healthy eating.

Speaking of colors, Peruvians love bright colors. As demonstrated by the rainbow flag, it represents the people of the highlands. The familiar stripes and ribbons of color seem to aptly reflect the nature and personality of the Peruvian people.

The coca plant is used extensively as a tea to ward off high altitude sickness and one can survive on it alone for five days by chewing the leaf. You drink coca tea here to overcome altitude sickness.

There are over 2500 types of potato grown in Peru of the 3500 varieties known throughout the world. One type has alot of eyes, and as the story goes, if a young girl falls in love with someone, she will tell whether she will marry him by how well she peels one of these potatoes. If she peels it flawlessly, she’ll win her guy, but if she doesn’t….well the eyes will cry the tears for her!

Many of the ruins throughout the Sacred Valley, particularly the fortress at Ollantaytambo, are dress rehearsals for the big Kahuna, Macchu Picchu.The massive sandstones were hewn along the edges to perfection and carved to fit the next/last one as if the stone were extruded from some supersize tube of frosting, only to dry perfectly, without gaps or mortar in place. Hard to believe how these stones were cut, and the ability seem beyond human skills.

A word about the Macchu Picchu buildings from yesterday’s post. There were various ceremonial buildings for offerings to the sun god and others, but an area also served as the King’s residence. Grain was stored in one area, and the extensive terraces were used to grow food.

For more about Macchu Picchu, Hiram Bingham, the man who discovered it, and its origins, go here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machu_Picchu

The other important uses for terracing the mountains was to serve as a system to prevent soil erosion and to collect water from the top to the bottom of the mountain. It’s tempting to compare these to the terraces used in China to grow food, but I’m not sure which came first. In any event, the Peruvian terraces are spectacular just in sheer height and they demonstrate the ingenuity of the Incas and their predecessors.

As I leave Peru after such a short sojourn here, I realize that I may be naive and easily impressed. Nevertheless, the hardships of living in mountainous zones like this make the people sturdy. They live close to and respect nature.

Just a few random snippits about Peru:

Although Spanish is the national language, the second language spoken by people in Cusco is known as Quechua, an ancient and indigenous highland language.

The jungle covers 60 per cent of the country, and the balance is 30% highland and 10% is coastal.

The Inca based in Peru conquered and occupied parts of Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador, incl. Santiago, Chile.

Trees do not grow above the alpine level in the highlands, except for the imported eucalyptus from Australia, an invasive but fast growing species. The Macchu Picchu climate is at a lower elevation and has a microclimate more similar to the tropical forest (with orchids, bromeliads and coca plants.

Both Cusco and Macchu Picchu are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and highly recommended.

And for the bus and rail fans out there…here was the interior of the Vistadome Perurail car and a couple of the many spectacular views:

Day 3-4: Cusco, Peru

Cusco is over 11,000 feet (3,399m) so it literally takes your breath away. It takes a couple of days to get used to the high altitude, so I hope you will excuse my temporary silence. It still took a bit of huffing and puffing to walk just a few steps at a shallow incline. I finally got acclimated enough for a full day of visiting Saqsayhuaman and Tambomachay, two Incan ruins outside Cusco. The first showed the extensive construction of terraced walls of sandstone, and the latter showed how the Inca developed and conserved water through irrigation and waterways. The Inca were very concerned about the predominant dryness of the area, and they developed ingenious ways to combat the forces of nature.

The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting Qorikancha, or the Convent of Santa Domingo in town. The Incan priests that preceded the Spanish Catholics constructed thick limestone-surrounded storehouses to stockpile dried potato, quinoa, and other foodstuffs to combat the warm periods caused by El Nino at this site. The priests and nobles shared the food with the peasants when they were unable to produce food.

Before the rain hit in the afternoon, I took a walk around Cusco in the morning. It turned out to be a good idea. It didn’t rain on my parade! Apparently parades with a cast of thousands are held every Sunday to commemorate a school or celebration. Great for tourists like me, who stumbled into colorful event by accident.



Braided Ladies in town were preparing to sell or selling their wares in the Plaza de Armas:

Glimpses of my delightful hotel in the early morning sun reminded me of similar intimate hotel stays in Cappodoccia, Turkey, and in Essaouira, Morocco:

Treated to a room with a view, I made time to sketch!

Last, but not least, the end to a satisfying day was topped by a delicious and adventurous meal of alpaca brochettes at Pachapapa Restaurant. It was lean, well-prepared, and tasted far less gamey than venison. Unfortunately, Jusannah (my new Brazilian friend in Lima) and I ordered the specialty dish of guinea pig the other night but it was cancelled. This restaurant had the dish on the menu, but it would have taken an hour, to prepare and not worth the wait.

The next couple of days will be heavy traveling to Macchu Picchu, so I probably won’t be posting until after I return to Cusco. Keep sending those comments!