Posts Tagged ‘ Food ’

Aftel Archive of Curious Scents

My nose needs a nap after taking in dozens of smells this morning from the 300 note perfume organ at the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents. The Archive is a tiny museum located next door to perfumer Mandy Aftel’s home in Berkeley.

Mandy and her son graciously answered our questions about the artifacts on display. Mandy showed us her collection of ambergris, which is used as a natural fixative in perfume. When sperm whales eat squid, they produce ambergris to protect their stomach linings from sharp squid beaks. Sperm whales puke or poop out waxy lumps of ambergris, which then float on the ocean until they are collected and sold. In 2016, three fishermen from Oman harvested 80 kilograms (176 pounds) of ambergris valued at $2.8 million USD! Ambergris smells better than expected – it is musky, earthy, and sweet. Mandy’s son opened a small vial of oud oil and held the stopper under our noses. To me, oud oil evokes a dank moldy forest. It is distilled from agarwood using steam. High quality oud oil may sell for as much as $50,000 USD per kilogram.

We were invited to take home paper strips dipped in our favourite essences. Scott chose dill, plai, and massoia bark. Dill is Scott’s favourite potato chip flavour. Plai is a Thai ginger. Massoia is an evergreen laurel from Papua, New Guinea that smells like sandalwood and coconut. As Scott put his strips in a single glassine envelope, the plai and massoia bark aromas were quickly overpowered by the dill. I chose citronellol, tolu balsam, and ravensara. Citronellol is a compound found in rose oil. Tolu balsam is a dark sticky resin that smells warm and spicy. Ravensara, an evergreen from Madagascar, reminds me of anise and fennel.

Our sensory experiences included not only smells but also tastes. After eating dark chocolate spritzed with essences of cardamom, ginger, and peru balsam, Scott bought a pink peppercorn spray to flavour our salads and ice cream at home. Yum!

Julia’s Restaurant

Hearst Castle architect and engineer Julia Morgan was the only woman to graduate from UC Berkeley civil engineering in 1894, and the first woman awarded a certificate in architecture from Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1902. She designed the Berkeley City Club and led its construction in 1929. Tonight, we dined at the Club’s restaurant, which is named after her. Both are local gems.

Dragonfly

20130714 Dragonfly

Last Saturday, we drove with Scott’s Indian colleague Aditya and his wife Kamakshi from Berkeley to Bolinas for lunch at Coast Café and a hike along part of the Point Reyes National Seashore.  We had plans to hike between the Palomarin Trailhead and Bass Lake.  But first, we took a quick detour down to the beach.  I’m glad we did; I found this lovely dragonfly sitting on the rocks.  He and his stained glass wings were ready for their close-up, and I was happy to oblige!

Schlumpfdorf

Yesterday, I had lunch with two German colleagues and the conversation shifted to the topic of fungus as Christopher described his brother’s research to me and Eva.  At one point, Christopher couldn’t find the word he wanted to say in English, so Eva prompted him in German and he responded in kind.  All I heard was “German German German FUNGUS German German”.  This happens to me quite often, and not only at work.  Earlier this week, I accepted an invitation to Skype with my German friends Julia and Eberhard tomorrow morning.  They seem to forget sometimes that I’m not German as I had to run part of their email through Google Translate to understand it.

I took this photo of fungus growing along the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail in Topanga State Park a week before last Christmas.  My Canadian friend Lisa inspired the shot as she had once told me that she wanted to capture a wild mushroom’s point of view in a photo.  To me, this juicy cluster of Armillaria solidipes resembles a Smurf village, or Schlumpfdorf as my German friends would say!

Mentors

In bookstores, I pick up books at random and flip them open to see what phrases move me.  A copy of Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!):  How To Unleash Your Creative Potential by George Lois recently caught my eye.  Lois bills himself as “America’s Master Communicator”.  I was curious yet skeptical.  However, he had me at bon mot 113.  “Extoll your Mentors.”  This post is dedicated to three of my mentors:  Bob Lank, Sandy Thornton-Trump, and Ron Vermette.

In the past four months, I have:  quit a job; traveled with Scott to Italy, Germany, and France; renewed many friendships; visited Mama Chow in Canada; started a new job; and helped Scott move to Berkeley, where he will be working for the coming year.  A major catalyst for this frenetic cycle of good fortune is my mentor, Bob Lank.  When I lacked the confidence to leave my job for the unknown, Bob advised me to take a leap of faith.  He declared, “Helsa, this year is going to be about betting on yourself.”  I heeded his counsel and traveled to Venice, where Scott was attending a conference; I took this photo of the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco as Scott and I walked to Harry’s Bar for dinner one evening.  Bob was assigned to be my mentor during my second year of business school.  Over the years, Bob has coached me through several professional and personal transitions.  He has become my confidante and my friend.  He and his wife were guests at our Chinese wedding banquet; Scott and I have been guests at their Sunday dinners.  Now that we live 2,200 miles (3,500 km) apart, it’s difficult for us to meet for dinner but Bob always has a few words of wisdom for me each time I contemplate a job offer or move to a new city.

Sandy Thornton-Trump was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at my alma mater.  I don’t remember how we met.  I do remember the hours we spent talking in his office as I transcribed his lectures on Automotive Design, typed his correspondence, and tidied his desk.  He was visually impaired, so he needed an extra set of eyes to stay organized at work.  Even though he was blind, he could see that I felt a bit lost at the time.  He was generous with his sympathy.  Before and after I graduated from engineering school, we would meet for lunch at the Faculty Club to gossip and puzzle over the small intrigues of our lives.  We shared sorrow and joy:  he and his wife helped me to cope with my father’s death; I had the pleasure of meeting their little grandson; they vetted and approved of Scott.  The final time I saw Sandy was soon after my honeymoon.  Scott’s parents had hosted a reception on their farm to celebrate our marriage but Sandy and his wife had declined to attend.  I paid Sandy a visit and sadly found him in ill-health.  He passed away three months after our visit.

Ron Vermette was my teacher in Grade 3.  Mr. V made learning fun for me.  More importantly, he proved that it’s possible to do great work and remain true to oneself:  his long hair, Chuck Taylors, Winnipeg Jets jersey, convertible, and proficiency at air guitar were incidental to his talent for opening minds to new ideas.  He shook up my eight-year-old reverence for orthodoxy and for that I remain grateful.  He taught me how to tie-dye fabric, tool copper, and mold plaster of Paris.  I still enjoy getting my hands dirty to learn something new.  He used to print math exercises on top of cartoon characters, so that his students could colour in the cartoons as they learned to add and subtract.  I still have a collection of booklets that I wrote and illustrated in his class – he had taught me how to sew the pages together.  A couple of years ago, I wrote Mr. V and asked him if he had continued to play floor hockey, build reading caves, and make art with his students.  He responded to my note and I was happy to learn that after 33 years of teaching, he was still having fun.  He still plays floor hockey once a week and he still has a reading cave in his classroom.  He still has long hair but has “traded in the hot car for a Jeep“.  Mr. V plans to retire next year.  Before he retires, I will send him another note.

Chocolate Mousse Taco

Yesterday afternoon, I wandered into Sweet Lady Jane on Melrose Avenue and discovered their Chocolate Mousse Taco.  Imagine a Florentine folded into the shape of a taco, filled with Mousse au Chocolat, and topped with wide curly ribbons of dark chocolate.  The delicious result is a mash-up of traditional Tuscan(?), Mexican, and French treats!

I took a photo of this fine dessert to share it with you.  If Willy Wonka‘s Television-Chocolate Room / Wonkavision were real, then I would use it to broadcast a piece to you right now!

The 84th Annual Academy Awards

Yesterday afternoon, I ran some errands in Hollywood.  As I drove north along the 101 from DTLA, I noticed that my car was running on fumes so I exited the freeway and headed toward the closest gas station, a Chevron on N Highland Avenue.  When I saw that traffic was at a standstill near the gas station, I realized that I’d driven straight into Oscar madness!

The former Kodak Theatre, now known as the Hollywood and Highland Center Theatre since Kodak filed for bankruptcy recently, is where the 84th Annual Academy Awards will be held this evening.  The Theatre is 0.3 miles (0.5 km) away from the Chevron station.  Since I had my camera with me, I decided to fill ‘er up, park my car on a side street, and walk towards the Theatre to see what was happening on the red carpet.

Hollywood Avenue was shut down and a chain link fence kept the curious at bay.  Having shepherded many visitors through the Hollywood and Highland Center to take photos of the Hollywood Sign, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and Kodak Theatre, I’m familiar with the nooks and crannies that afford a good view of the street below.  I took this photo of the red carpet while standing in front of Sun Taco on the third floor of the Center.  If you watch the ceremony tonight on TV, Sun Taco’s signage will be hidden from view by a glamorous gold curtain, which is hung each year to hide storefronts.

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