Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Reflections of Unseen Clouds: Trying to Get the Picture Right (Weekly Photo Challenge: Light)

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Good Morning:

This represents the latest in a series of posts devoted to my fumbling bumbling stumbling tumbling experiments in trying to edit flawed but potentially decent photographs. I observed a beautiful phenomenon when walking past the Nema Apartments (NEw MArket?) construction project and took a pair of shots from different locations in an effort to record it. First, the unedited raw material.

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I should start by pointing out that the upper picture demonstrates a flaw that I like (!) in my Nikon S9100 point-and-shoot. See how the buildings on the left and right edges “lean” into the picture? That distortion is a weakness in the camera, but sometimes I rather appreciate the results.

Both shots have different lighting problems: the first is too dark; the second is too light. This won’t constitute the last I post where I write this, but exterior photography San Francisco presents a lot of challenges because of the intense and sharp lighting and shadows. So as usual, I had to edit. I’ll begin with the second one.

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Using iPhoto settings, I selected the following: Exposure -0.25, Definition 100, Highlights 10, Shadows 35, Sharpness 100. The result becomes much truer to what I had seen, but the location where I stood does not do justice to the phenomenon I wanted to capture. I picked the wrong place to stand.

The other one turned out better.

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Exposure 0, Definition 60, Highlights 15, Shadows 30, Sharpness 70. The blue sky is slightly more intense than in real life, but it helps capture what I really want to show: the clouds in the background seem to be visible through the building! Look especially closely at the right half of the construction project. Of course, this is an optical illusion–we see the reflections of unseen clouds in the building windows (and isn’t “The Reflections of Unseen Clouds” the awesomest title of something?! You know, like a blog post?).

I’ve published a similar optical illusion in Merge: Building & Reflection. I would have liked to capture the entire crane in this shot, but that was impossible, and this picture turned out satisfactorily.

Vonn Scott Bair

Pictures of West Oakland, 16 November 2013

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Good Morning:

Still digesting the Thanksgiving dinner, with Hitchcock’s Vertigo playing in the living room. Hitchcock chose his locations brilliantly; everyone gets the iconic spots right, but he excelled at finding the perfect alleys and side streets. He even chose his bookstore well (in real life, the Argosy book store is the Argonaut, still going strong, and I recommend it).

Meanwhile, time to resume posting. Two weeks ago, I travelled to West Oakland to take pictures of shipping containers for the Layers Weekly Photo Challenge, but of course I didn’t limit myself solely to those, and I present some of the more satisfactory shots.

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If the cranes in the above shot look familiar to you, you have seen Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Everyone who has seen these cranes assumes that they inspired the giant four-legged walking tanks of the big battle scene on the ice planet, but people associated with the film insists it’s not true. If they say so…

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A reminder of the old days of the rails.

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“The Graffiti Experience.” Boy, was that ever true! But I also saw a few more murals:

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I don’t know why or what the railroad people were doing with this engine; my best guess is that they wanted to test the results of recent maintenance. During the time I watched, all they did was advance it about 50 yards. stop, swarm all over it, advance it another 50 yards, then swarm some more.

A poster from a current/recent union election. Twas a brave man who posted it there.

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Perhaps it results from living in San Francisco for so long, but whenever I see a normally busy highway or street with zero traffic, it makes me stop and stare.

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Have a good weekend–if you celebrated Thanksgiving, enjoy your leftovers!

Vonn Scott Bair

The Bubble Music of Haight Street (Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected)

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Good Evening:

You expect buskers on Haight Street, especially during Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday weekends. Superficially, these two gentlemen seem hardly surprising:

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But this group was actually a trio performing at the intersection of Haight & Ashbury late last Saturday afternoon.  See the gentleman in back wearing an olive zipper-front hoodie and blue jeans? He constituted the third member of the band.

And you will never guess what instrument he played.

He played this:

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While bubbles are a frequent San Francisco phenomenon, I had never seen such a contraption before. Now don’t get me wrong: the machine made no music at all. The only sounds it produced came from the motor and the popping bubbles. However! It did do to passersby what good music frequently does.

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It made them dance.

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And dance.

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And dance some more.

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It’s official; San Francisco is magic.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Tiger House & The Latest San Francisco Snippets! (Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected)

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Good Evening:

San Franciscans face a paradoxical difficulty when faced with this week’s Challenge: in this city, the unexpected is all we expect, and only the expected is unexpected! So I have to ask myself: what would a visitor not expect to see?

I certainly did not expect to see this when I first moved here in 1982:

The Tiger House, San Francisco, California, 23 November 2013

The Tiger House, San Francisco, California, 23 November 2013

Those danged vehicles ruin the effect; the Tiger House (located in between the Upper Haight and Cole Valley) features such good trompe l’oeil that upon first glance the cute cuddly little critter can look quite real after each restoration. The paint job has been around since before I moved here in 1982, so a lot of money and paint has gone into the maintenance.

But the most unexpected things I’ve seen and heard recently were not photographable, with the possible exception of the tip jar at a food truck with the message “FEAR CHANGE: Leave It With Us.”

First I heard this snippet, and this was all I heard of the conversation: she said, “Office negativity is so less stressful when you’re in your pajamas.”

Then there was this other guy.

I was following a pair of young gentlemen on my way to the Rainbow Grocery when I suddenly realized that I had approached too closely.

MUCH too closely. Witnesses who overhear this sort of speech tend not to live long:

“So this one f—– has his gun on me, and I have my gun on the other f—–, but he’s using Natalie as a human shield, so I can’t do s—, when Trevor, who’s got his head up his a– as usual, just walks in not knowing what the h— is going on, and the guy with his gun on me draws down on Trevor, so I pop him, and the guy who’s got Natalie tries to pop me, but Trevor, that m—– f——, shoots him through Natalie!! I mean the first bullet explodes her HEAD and goes into his chest and Trevor keeps popping until they’re BOTH dead, and he turns to me and says ‘Too bad ’bout Nat, huh?’ and then he f—ing laughs, that pr—, and then he blames me for the all the s— gone down! He–blames–ME!!

“So we’re like this close to shooting it out right then and there, I mean, I am SICK of that crazy m—– f—–, but then he tells me he’s got this one last job worth like forty million, I don’t know, and he needs my skills, and after this we can both retire, ’nuff money for two lifetimes, and I decide like, OK, I’m gonna do it, but then I’m gonna pop that m—– f—–, f—ing POP him, but I know he’s gonna try’n pop me, too, but I know how to get to him first, he gonna die ‘fore he knows what happened and I will take his money and leave the country…”

Meanwhile, at that particular moment I felt that I had gotten too close this particular conversation and I rather needed to hear one particular tiny little detail…

“…so after all that s— went down, I saved my progress and went into Sniper Mode, which is totally beautiful, you have got to check out this game, man…”

…and that was the particular little detail I needed to hear. Not what I expected, but it was what I wanted.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Resurrection of Jake! (Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected)

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Good Evening:

Jake was one of the Upper Haight’s great characters, human or otherwise. An all-white English Bulldog known as “The Mayor of Haight Street” whose pet human works at Blade Runners Hair Studio, Jake served as the store mascot, sitting at the entrance and watching the world go by with absolute phlegmatic calm serenity. Nothing could upset him, and Jake became such a famous fixture that when he finally shuffled off to the Great 24-Hour All You Can Eat Free People Food Buffet in the Sky, the San Francisco Chronicle published his obituary. For that matter, so did I.

I never expected to see anything like him again.

I should have known better.

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Say hello to the resurrection of Jake the Bulldog (you can also say hello to me; that’s my reflection in the glass). The rookie looks about one year old, and he has some very big paws to fill, but he already knows not to move from his spot, so I think the kid has potential.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Literary Shower Curtain (Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected)

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Good Evening:

Admit it–until you saw the phrase “literary shower curtain,” it never occurred to you that it never occurred to you that you never realized that you never thought that it never occurred to you that you never thought that you would ever read the phrase “literary shower curtain.”

The Literary Shower Curtain, San Francisco, CA 23 November 2013

The Literary Shower Curtain, San Francisco, CA 23 November 2013

Welcome to San Francisco.

Vonn Scott Bair

Signs o’ the Times, 22 November 2013

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Good Evening:

When I visited West Oakland last weekend in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge, I saw much more of interest than just shipping containers. I bet the folks who work at this union hall would feel quite surprised at how their building looks during the morning Magic Hour:

Western Service Workers Union Hall, West Oakland, CA, 16 November 2013

Western Service Workers Union Hall, West Oakland, CA, 16 November 2013

Upon closer inspection, I espied two signs on the door. The first one read, “Food Giveaway Fridays 6:30.” The second one read, “Please Do Not Trash Or Break In. We Will Give You More Than You Can Steal.”

I can’t wait for this recession to really end.

Vonn Scott Bair

World Championship Caliber Misanthropy on the 71-Noriega

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Good Evening:

Connoisseurs of misanthropy, rejoice, for I overheard a brilliant display on 71 bus.

I would say that our world-class misanthrope was probably younger than he looked, maybe 30-35, his prematurely receding hairline and tortoise shell eyeglasses adding years to his appearance. Caucasian, over six feet tall. His riding companion, also 30-35, was an Asian woman considerably shorter than he. She had related how her daughter was faring in kindergarten.

He asked, “So how expensive is this private school?”

She shook her head. “Totally expensive. We will probably have to send her to a public grade school.”

“You know, they just came out with a study. Raising a kid until 18 years old will cost the parents nearly $250,000, not counting college tuition.”

“I believe it. <Husband’s name redacted> and I spend a lot of time looking at the bills and wondering where.”

“So is the girl really worth it? I mean, what does she offer to justify her continued existence?”

“Of course she’s worth it, because she give us so much–wait, did you say ‘continued?!'”

“Well, come on, if she can’t justify the money you spend on her, maybe it’s time to cut your losses.”

“CUT OUR LOSSES??” She leaned away from him whilst tilting her head to him. “You don’t go on many dates, do you?”

“Me? Go on dates? With what? Humans?”

At which point, she finally realized that he had been teasing her during the entire conversation and they both had a good shared belly laugh. But dang, I have to give the man his due credit. As someone who uses Alceste’s “I include all men in one dim view” speech from Moliere’s Le Misanthrope (Richard Wilbur translation) as an audition piece, this guy did misanthropy as well as one of the greatest playwrights in history.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Minimally Artistic Art of Instant Minimalist Art: Brown & Grey (Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers)

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Good Evening:

Geology fans must love getting dirty in San Francisco; I know my Dad did. Corona Heights and Land’s End both have expanses of exposed rock and sedimentary layers for study. First up, some pictures from Corona Heights.

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But Land’s End/The Sutro Baths have their own pleasures. Only a few miles away, the colors alone differ significantly. So do the layers themselves, perhaps due in part to human influence.

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Note that some of the Land’s End layers are vertical, some horizontal, some diagonal. I didn’t tilt the camera for any of them, that’s just how the geology turned out. I would guess that I found all of these sedimentary formations within no more than 200 yards of each other.

Odd (but very cool) aspect of this Week’s Challenge: now that I’m actually looking for layers, I see them anywhere. And is that not what a good Challenge should do?

Vonn Scott Bair

The Full Moon at Dusk Over the San Francisco East Coast, 16 November 2013

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Good Evening:

I began today’s chores at 3:04 p.m., taking buses everywhere, starting with the 71-Noriega, followed by the 22-Fillmore, the 14-Mission, the 14-Mission Limited, 48-Quintara, 22-Fillmore again, and concluding with a return on the 71 and safely back home at 7:01 p.m. I even managed to visit all five stores I wanted. But dusk fell in between the 48 and the second 22 as I walked along 3rd Street.

And with the dusk, the full moon, nestled in the heart of The Belt of Venus.

Full Moon Over San Francisco's East Coast, 16 November 2013

Full Moon Over San Francisco’s East Coast, 16 November 2013

The Belt of Venus is the pinkish ring, sometimes with an orange tinge, that you see just over the misty horizon at dusk on cloudless (and fogless) evenings. Except these pictures turned out purple. Odd, but explainable.

Medium Zoom In of Full Moon, 16 November 2013

Medium Zoom In of Full Moon, 16 November 2013

I only had the point-and-shoot with me, and the Landscape Mode was failing badly to capture the scene. So I switched to the Dusk/Dawn Mode and captured a fairly crisply detailed Moon, but the Belt had turned purple, and the silvery-grey mist at the horizon had turned violet. It’s just the nature of my point-and-shoot.

Full Moon at Extreme Zoom In, 16 November 2013

Full Moon at Extreme Zoom In, 16 November 2013

Of course, purple happens to be my favorite color, so this became an attempt to take a weakness that might be unique to my old-ish camera and turn into something I like, namely, the incongruous conjunction of a very nice looking Moon with a brilliant purple background–and an industrial environment of poles and wires in the foreground.

Vonn Scott Bair

Container Shipping at the Port of Oakland, 16 November 2013 (Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers)

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Good Morning:

Late in 1999, I instigated and stimulated an email thread amongst my online pen pals with a simple challenge: what substance created in the 20th Century has done humanity the most good without at the same time causing the most harm? After much debate over a host of possibilities (heavier-than-air flight, water purifying technology, birth control pills were just a few of the also-rans), we settled on two items: 10W40 motor oil and pantyhose.

At the time, I had never even heard of Container Shipping.

Train Bearing Miles of Double-Stacked Containers, West Oakland, CA 16 November 2013

Train Bearing Miles of Double-Stacked Containers, West Oakland, CA 16 November 2013

I think my long-term temping assignment at Xtra Corporation (now XTRA Lease, a Berkshire Hathaway company) didn’t happen until 2001. Aside from paying the bills, my tenure taught me a lot about one of the most important inventions of the 20th Century that most people don’t realize affects them every day. The ability to load up a container on the back of a flatbed in Bangalore, drive it to Chennai, hoist it onto a freighter to The Port of Oakland, hoist it from a freighter onto a railroad car to St. Louis, then hoist it onto an 18-wheeler that can carry it to shopping malls in the suburbs reduces costs and minimizes losses to an extent that most people don’t appreciate.

It also provides great urban landscapes for amateur photographers–and that’s what really matters, right?

Port of Oakland, West Oakland, 16 November 2013

Port of Oakland, West Oakland, 16 November 2013

I awoke at dawn this morning to take BART to West Oakland, a huge neighborhood given over to The Port of Oakland, one of the biggest on the American West Coast, fifth biggest in the United States, and the first on our Pacific Coast to develop facilities for containerization.

And home to layers upon layers of containers.

In the right light, and this was one of those occasions when The Magic Hour presented truly magic opportunities, the containers glow like hard candies and become much more picturesque than during the duller light of a dusty industrial noon. Aside from some cropping, I have done nothing to enhance the pictures at this time. Maybe later. I used my Nikon D40 DSLR for the above shots, but I couldn’t poke the lens through various fences for specific shots, so I resorted to my S9100 point-and-shoot for something like this:

Yellow, Red & Blue, Port of Oakland, 16 November 2013

Yellow, Red & Blue, Port of Oakland, 16 November 2013

Green, Brown & Orange, Port of Oakland, 16 November 2013

Green, Brown & Orange, Port of Oakland, 16 November 2013

The area becomes almost desolate at such an early hour on a weekend morning; in fact, for a period of about one hour, the only person I saw was a security guard, who was enjoying breakfast and coffee in his personal automobile when I walked past. Since I stayed on public property (i.e., I never saw even one “No Trespassing” sign), he did nothing but look astonished, put on his safety-yellow “SECURITY” vest, step out of his car and watch me work. Putting on his near-black sunglasses for an extra-toughness look was a nice touch.

When finished for the morning, I walked past him on my way back to BART and said good morning. He said good morning back with just the right touch of “you are so @#$%&^*& nuts” in his voice. But heck, I’m an amateur photographer. “@#$%&^*& nuts” is part of the job description.

A tiny sample of the 192 pictures from this morning’s haul, and then it’s off to do my chores.

Hapag-Lloyd, West Oakland, 16 November 2013

Hapag-Lloyd, West Oakland, 16 November 2013

Layered Trailers for Hauling Containers I

Layered Trailers for Hauling Containers I

"K" Line, Port of Oakland, 16 November 2013

“K” Line, Port of Oakland, 16 November 2013

Layered Trailers for Hauling Containers II

Layered Trailers for Hauling Containers II

Layers and Layers of Containers, Port of Oakland, 13 November 2013

Layers and Layers of Containers, Port of Oakland, 13 November 2013

Layers in Front of Layers in Front of Layers, 16 November 2013

Layers in Front of Layers in Front of Layers, 16 November 2013

Have fun with this week’s Challenge; I certainly did.

Vonn Scott Bair

Batkid Saves San Francis–Uh, Gotham City!

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Good Evening:

All 5-year-old Miles Scott wanted was to become Batman for a day. And San Francisco obliged.

Oh, did we ever oblige.

When the Greater Bay Area chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation started organizing this event, they hoped that maybe a hundred or two hundred volunteers would help Miles live out his dream of becoming the Batkid and fighting crime in San Francisco/Gotham City. Yeah, right. This is San Francisco, legendary home of legendary parties, legendary costumes, legendary role-playing, and legendary crazy events. One or two hundred?!

Try 12,000+. And counting.

View of Just One of the Batkid Parties in San Francisco; the Main One at the Civic Center, 15 November 2013.

View of Just One of the Batkid Parties in San Francisco; the Main One at the Civic Center, 15 November 2013, as Seen from the 10th Floor of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Headquarters.

The city government (which loves a good time as much as the rest of us) got involved and helped whip up a series of daring challenges for the Batkid to face. At least two were known to the Scott family in advance: a classic rescue of a damsel-in-distress tied to the railroad tracks–um, make that cable car tracks (this is San Francisco–oops, I mean Gotham City); and then a heroic arrest of The Riddler as he tried to rob a bank. I don’t know if the family knew about the next one; this one could have been a surprise adventure. As they joined Mayor Ed Lee for a celebratory hamburger at Burger Bar, a crowd of people formed outside the restaurant and pleaded for the Batkid’s help on yet another crime: The Penguin had kidnapped Lou Seal, the official mascot of the San Francisco Giants, uh, the Gotham City Giants, and only the Batkid could help. I hope he got to finish his lunch.

With the aid of thousands of “Gotham City” citizens, and his good buddy Batman, the Batkid rounded up the usual gang of suspects; you can read the “indictment” here. In fact, the San Francisco Chronicle released a limited edition of today’s paper as the “Gotham City Chronicle,” and you can read the front page. The writer of the headline article? Clark Kent, of course; you weren’t expecting Peter Parker, were you?

The whole adventure turned viral worldwide. President Obama contributed a Vine video, while Batman artist Graham Nolan contributed a Twitter drawing of the Batkid triumphing over Bane. You may follow the full timeline of the day’s event at the Chronicle’s blog: here are some more pictures I took during my lunch hour; unfortunately I had to get back to my desk before the Civic Center party officially began. Fortunately, my fellow San Franciscans never wait for a party’s official beginning to begin partying.

Superman Didn't Get Much Attention Today

Superman Didn’t Get Much Attention Today

An Appearance by Batdog, Wearing Batwings on His Head

An Appearance by Batdog, Wearing Batwings on His Head

Civic Center Before the Batkid Party Began

Civic Center Before the Batkid Party Began

"Authentic Fan" of the Batkid

“Authentic Fan” of the Batkid

Bat-Fans Awaiting the Party

Bat-Fans Awaiting the Party

Incredibly, the City still managed to conduct City business today, including civil weddings, such as this couple in the foreground of the next picture, who scheduled their ceremony long before the Batkid event was planned.

Posing for Pictures After Their Wedding, with the Batkid Party in the Background

Posing for Pictures After Their Wedding, with the Batkid Party in the Background

I suspect it will prove very hard for them to forget this day.

Vonn Scott Bair

San Francisco City Hall by Dusk & by Day

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Good Evening:

San Francisco’s City Hall looks its best during the winter. What follows is only a taste of the light shows it will present over the next 3-4 months.

San Francisco City Hall, Wednesday Afternoon, 13 November 2013

San Francisco City Hall, Wednesday Afternoon, 13 November 2013

San Francisco City at Dusk, Thursday, 14 November 2013

San Francisco City at Dusk, Thursday, 14 November 2013

Vonn Scott Bair

Boolean Logic in the Kitchen; Or, Recipe: Pork (or Beef) & Butternut Squash Stew in Red Wine

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Good Evening:

IF 1) you have 2.5 pounds of boneless pork shoulder left over from another recipe, AND 2) you bought one more butternut squash at the farmers market than you needed, AND 3) you have 1.5 cups of cheap but decent red wine remaining in your kitchen, THEN–what do you do?

Last night, I improvised. Without bragging, the results tasted great, one of my best ever spur-of-the-moment dishes, so I want to share the improvisation with you. You may substitute beef or lamb for the pork.

Pork & Butternut Squash Stew in Red Wine

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon each of salt, black pepper, powdered garlic, cinnamon, rubbed sage, nutmeg, and marjoram
  • 2-3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, beef or lamb
  • 1-2 cups flour
  • Canola oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion or shallots
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh garlic
  • 1.5 cups red wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth, bouillon or stock
  • 1 butternut squash, 2-3 pounds, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons yellow prepared mustard

Cooking

  1. Mix together all of the spices except the paprika.
  2. Remove the meat from the refrigerator, cut into 1 inch chunks, toss with 1/3 of the spice blend in a bowl. Let the meat come to room temperature.
  3. Place 1/3 of the spice blend and the flour into a leak-free plastic bag. Close securely and then shake until all is well blended.
  4. Place the cubed meat into the bag (in batches if needed), close securely and then shake until the meat is thoroughly coated.
  5. Heat the oil over medium high heat.
  6. Use a 12 quart pot with a thick bottom, a cast iron pot, or a Dutch Oven. Brown the meat on all sides in batches. DO NOT brown too much meat at one time; not only must the meat fit in a single layer, there must be space between the cubes. If needed, add a tablespoon of oil between batches. Do not worry about the brown crust (the fond) that will form at the bottom of the pot unless it gets too dark, in which case turn down the heat.
  7. Remove all of the meat and set aside. Saute the onions for about 5 minutes until they turn translucent, stirring often.
  8. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds, stirring constantly, or until fragrant.
  9. Pour in the red wine and chicken broth, stirring and scraping up the fond and other brown bits on the bottom of the pot. The fond will dissolve into the liquid, thickening it.
  10. Return the meat to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 60 minutes, stirring often.
  11. After 60 minutes, remove the lid, add the butternut squash and the remaining 1/3 of the spice blend, stir thoroughly, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 60-90 minutes, stirring often. Butternut squash cooks very slowly in a braise, so be patient. The stew will be ready to eat when you can easily cut a cube of the squash in half, encountering no resistance.
  12. Optional: Stir in the smoked paprika and/or the mustard at the very end, then turn off the heat. Yesterday I used the paprika and decided to skip the mustard, and felt very happy with the results.

Serve in bowls. I chose to spoon the stew over elbow macaroni.

The dish has only two colors–orange and brown–so I recommend as side dishes blanched and sauteed string beans, along with a salad of butter lettuce with sliced radishes, grated carrots and grated red cabbage. Beer or any full-bodied red wine will serve well as beverages.

Ideas for future experiments:

  • Add 1 tablespoon allspice, fennel seed or ground anise to the spice blend.
  • Add 1 pound fresh or frozen peas during the last ten minutes.
  • If using lamb, substitute 2 tablespoons powdered rosemary for the sage and marjoram.

And always–have fun. If it appears that I might have left out a step or two, please let me know, as writing recipes is surprisingly hard work.

Vonn Scott Bair

Red, White & Black: A New Photo Puzzle!

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Good Evening:

If you have only recently begun viewing “The San Francisco Scene–Seen!” you might not have seen these. I like to create these puzzles, which I personally rate easy to moderately difficult, using one of the city’s hundreds (thousands?) of murals as raw material. First, the mural as a whole:

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Now some closeups of the mural’s sections.

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Can you locate where the closeups fit into the mural as a whole?

Have fun.

Vonn Scott Bair