SF and Cookin’

The day after the park walk, C and I went to San Francisco via the Caltrain, of course.

First we went to Rainbow Grocery to check out the bulk selection. We were actually too starved to shop, so first we ate our picnic lunch on the bench in front of the store.

At Rainbow Grocery, we bought 00 flour (Wikipedia on flour type numbers) for making pasta. C also bought some Rancho Gordo cassoulet beans (would not recommend) and some heirloom Carolina gold rice from Anson Mills (here’s a Serious Eats article on it’s history). C was duly impressed!

Then we went to Cookin’, a mid-century-European-cookware thrift store.

(stand for food mill, wok spatula)

Cookin’ was very impressive! They have a large selection of very niche items – not just one canning food mill, but 5! – and a large selection of vintage and non-electric cookware (e.g. hand-crank egg beater). The store is organized by type, so that all the wooden cooking spoons are together within the larger implement section, the copper pots are together within the larger pots and pans section, etc. Not everything is displayed, so ask if you’re looking for something specific.

I bought a canning food mill stand, which I haven’t even been able to find on eBay. C bought a wok spatula, which she’s been looking for at thrift stores for ages.

The triangle legged thing is the stand. Source.

Cookin’ is kind of expensive, but the prices are worth it for those hard-to-find items. The prices for popular items (vintage Le Creuset) are on-par with eBay, but the low demand items seem too expensive (worn plastic spatulas for $0.75). The store specializes in European cookware, so you won’t find a lot of specialty Asian items, e.g. (although C did get to choose between 3 different wok spatulas).

Darning eggs are used to stretch knit fabrics to make them easier to repair.

Oddly, they were selling darning eggs as pestles. They do look a bit like wooden pestles (see canning food mill picture above), but the owner obviously doesn’t do crafts. At least I know where to find darning eggs now 🙂

As some reviewers note on Yelp, the shop is like a display of the owner’s personal collection of cookware. The inside is an organized hoard – leave large bags and hats at home to avoid accidents! Enjoy!

Shoreline Park and baby squirrels

Sibling C and I went on a nature walk along the in Shoreline Park, a public park and nature preserve for endangered animals. It is build on an old landfill (and had problems with methane fires a few decades ago…) along the San Francisco Bay and provides habitat for burrowing owls, among other animals.

The main feature of the walk was a pack of baby ground squirrels on the side of the trail.

At first, we thought the babies were some type of tree squirrel, but they acted funny. They seemed really slow and dumb, for example. Great for photo shoots!

Ground squirrels are not quite as cute when adult, looking like a cross between normal squirrels and rabbits (I’ve seen what I think are black-tailed jackrabbits in the area too).

An adult ground squirrel we saw at the park.

We also saw ducklings!

C also took a lot of plant photos to try to identify via iNaturalist. iNaturalist features a plant and animal-identification algorithm that guesses the species featured in uploaded photos. Most of the suggestions are spot on! Other users can also help with identifications.

A generic lizard, for example.
And invasive English ivy.
Cute sedum-thing.

After the walk, we ate dinner out and visited a nearby rooftop garden (big enough for a basketball court)!

Making olives

Last fall, I made olives from fruit gathered from a neighbor’s tree. As it turns out, this neighbor had been interested in making olives for a while, but never looked into it. He was very excited about the project and readily let me pick his olives.

I hadn’t cured olives before, but I’ve did some research on it (and have a lot of experience with other niche food projects!). As it turns out, it’s pretty easy and makes an item that is relatively expensive to purchase, so definitely worth it.

There are four basic ways to cure olives: in water, in salt brine, in lye brine, and in salt (dry). The lye method is the fastest- it can take less than a day, but lye is rather dangerous, of course. Curing in water is also supposed to be relatively fast (a month), although it seems of questionable veracity to me. Dry-curing takes 1-2 months. This method is also called oil-curing, since these types of olives are often marinated in oil after being cured. The low water content makes them taste richer and oilier. The slowest, but one of the easiest and most common, methods is brining. It takes 6-12 months and produces a “normal” olive.

The salt-based methods rely on lacto-fermentation for flavor and additional preservation. The salt prevents the wrong types of bacteria from growing (which is why it’s important to use enough salt and why I’m dubious about the water-only method!); the fermentation adds flavor and acidity.

All methods can be used on all types and ripeness of olives, but there are combinations that are more common. For example, dry-curing is more common with ripe olives. Brining is more common with green (unripe) or half-green olives. Unripe olives tend to have a stronger taste, since they start off more bitter.

Here’s a review of the process, plus improvements:

  • Collect olives by shaking branches towards a tarp. Gather olives from the tarp (e.g. pour into a bucket). Picking by hand is laborious and bumping the tree as you pick causes nearby olives to fall off and be lost.
  • Many (~75%) of the olives I collected had been impacted by the olive fruit fly, which lays its eggs in the olive meats. Impacted olives are safe to eat, but may be more acidic and have a shorter shelf life. I didn’t use any of the impacted olives this time, but would in the future since I was left with so few olives!
  • I dry-cured the olives, leaving them in a jar of salt for ~3-4 months. Turns out this was too long, as the olives were overly salty and desiccated, so make sure to taste-test periodically. I rehydrated and de-salted by soaking in plain water for a few days, then put the olives in a brine (because they started getting moldy…).
  • Dry-curing works best on ripe olives. I cured some green and half-green olives that turned out kinda hard and bitter, so I would avoid those in the future.

I was impressed with how easy the process was and how olive-like the finished product was.

Leftover salt. I still have it. Maybe I can use it in the next batch of olives.
The finished olives! I eventually put them in a brine (sniped from some commercial olives) for storage. I intend to give some to the tree-owner.

New hat

I lost my hat on the train back from LA a few months ago. 🙁

In my defense, I don’t usually lose things. I was distracted by another train passenger being disruptive. He had had the police called on him for “acting threateningly” towards an Amtrak employee. I was eager to disembark.

Me in my old hat (source).

The new hat is distinctly less cool, and cost $8, twice as much as the old one. At least it has a wider brim!

I look like a gardener now. Picture is from an ocean-side hike in spring.

Furniture-moving trip

I recently took a trip to LA to pick up desk-bed parts. It was a success!

My original plan was to have a friend drive the furniture up for me, but I couldn’t find a willing driver (and car rentals got complicated). Instead, I used uShip! uShip is an online bid-based marketplace for shipping items (especially large, unpackable, awkwardly-shaped items, like motorcycles and furniture).

When shipping something through uShip, you start by making a “shipment” on the website. You enter details about the items (size, weight, number), where you’re going from/to, and when you need the items by. uShip automatically generates an expected price based on the information, so you have an idea of what you’re going to pay. Once you publicly list the shipment (at least 2 weeks before the intended move, please!), movers start bidding on it. You can accept any bid at any time, at which point you should contact the mover directly to iron out pickup/dropoff details.

Pros:

  • uShip provides a money-back guarantee, where you don’t pay the mover until you get your items. uShip holds the money until then. If anything goes wrong with the move, you can contact uShip for help.
  • The auction-based format of uShip helps get you a lower price, both because of mover-mover competition and because movers can combine shipments to the same destination.
  • I didn’t have to drive anywhere.
  • I didn’t have to pack anything (unlike using Fedex, e.g.). The movers provided all of the padding material (nothing disposable!) and loaded all of the items.
  • Items can be delivered to someone else, so I didn’t need to be at both ends of the shipment.

Cons

  • I paid $320 to the movers ($25 fee to uShip), $130 more than uShip originally predicted (and J accidentally tipped 40% upon delivery…). I do think that it was a good value, considering that I didn’t have to drive and a new bunk bed of questionable quality costs around $900.
  • It was scary to use uShip for the first time D:

My experience was excellent, although it heavily depends on which mover you use (reviews are provided on the website). The movers I worked with were very organized and fast! The furniture was delivered the same day as pickup. The movers even helped carry it up to a second floor apartment. I would use uShip again, and would generally recommend it if you are moving a small number of items (i.e. not a whole house of furniture).

Bunk-bed and desk parts, half-shelf, dresser, and a stand mixer (in the suitcase) to be moved.

 

Smaller-than-expected van, although big enough to hold a motorcycle!

By the way, I took Megabus to LA ($37), and BoltBus back ($23). I did not take any overnight buses, due to the last miserable experience. The bus rides were fine by day, since I didn’t need to sleep. They were much cheaper than flights (would’ve been $150 each way), and cheaper and faster than the train (would’ve been $80 each way, since the cheapest tier of ticket was sold out). A friend in the area housed and fed me 🙂

Trip to alma mater in LA

The weekend after going to Sacramento (so about 3 months ago now), J and I visited our undergraduate institution outside of Los Angeles, ’cause our old dorm was having its big annual party! Woo!

We took an overnight BoltBus to get from San Jose (Diridon Station) to LA (Union Station). It was cheap at $25/person, but I would never do it again.

Pros:

  • It was overnight, so that we didn’t waste a day on traveling. Amtrak only has a daytime train between LA and the Bay Area.
  • Going overnight also decreases the chances of running into traffic.
  • It was cheap (half the cost of Amtrak, half to 1/8 the cost of a flight).
  • Lower emissions than a plane.
  • The stop in San Jose was relatively easy for us to get to.
  • There was a bathroom on board!

Cons:

  • It was overnight, so we needed to sleep to have a good next day.
  • The seats are uncomfortable and cramped -> it was hard to sleep.
  • The bus driver talked inappropriately loudly for the time of night. Pretty sure he was the only one fully awake.
  • Intermittent stops were accompanied by bright lights and loud announcements, thus disturbing our sleep.

Yeah… Only take an overnight bus if you’re a heavy sleeper and don’t mind cramped chairs. We were super tired when we got to LA. We made a multitude of plans to find a nice place to nap, but never actually succeeded in any of them 🙁 Overall, Amtrak is a nicer experience.

We stayed with the lovely T for the duration of our trip. Thanks!

We visited Grist & Toll, an urban flour mill located in Pasadena. Who knows how long it’s been there! I’ve been missing out for years D:

The front of the mill. It looks pretty desolate. We initially thought we were in the wrong place because of the industrial vibe the complex gave off. Notice the big garage door for delivery trucks. By the way, that’s a date palm shadow.

Grist & Toll specializes in heirloom and locally-grown varieties of wheat and other grains (einkorn, oats, barley, rye, teff, and sesame, I think).
Cornmeal, too. There was a big quilt hung up in the store. You can see it here against the wall. Of course I asked about it! It turns out the owners know someone with a quilt collection, so the store gets a rotating selection of historical quilts. This particular one was from the late 1800s; the cashier even read us a blurb on it!

J and I got one bag of bread flour (and one as a gift for our host, T!) and one bag of general purpose flour grown by Mai Nyugen, a farmer who tries to be super environmentally friendly. For example, most (all?) of her field work is done using horses(!) and she doesn’t irrigate. Of course, the flour is super expensive (~$35/5 lbs flour).

We had dinner at the acclaimed Chengdu Taste, supposedly the best Szechuan restaurant outside of Szechuan Province, China. Unfortunately, we accidentally went with some friends who don’t particularly like spicy food… I think there was a miscommunication somewhere.

Double-fried green beans.
Cumin beef.
Mapo tofu.

And we went to the dorm party!!

And a few straggler happenings:

The dorm now has fancy recycling bins from Terracycle! Okay, I don’t think anyone is using them, but the intent is good. I may take my dental care waste back there to recycle it.

Recycling paid for by Colgate! This is a form of extended producer responsibility that would help build the cost of disposal into the price of a product.

The communal projector is falling apart.

Seriously, I think it’s weight is being supported by copious amounts of duct tape.

The university recently switched to different dorm furniture, casting off the old (which was much beloved!). When we were visiting, I scrounged around for bunk-bed parts. I got enough for 1 bunk bed (so spots for 2 beds, or a bed and a desk) and 1 table, plus extras for future repairs. Now I just have to figure out how to get them to the Bay Area!! I’m hoping USHIP works out.

Zero-waste household goods delivery service

California has lots of interesting sustainability-focused companies. For food, there are farmers’ markets, Imperfect Produce (still using unreturnable cardboard boxes, unfortunately), and quite a few bulk stores, but it’s harder to find household bath/hygiene and cleaning products. Rainbow Grocery in SF has some items, but it’s far away.

So recently, I tried out Fillgood!! Fillgood is a zero-waste household goods delivery service. If you live in the SF Bay area, they deliver items to your door in a returnable bag and returnable containers (Ball jars). They even take the labels and tags back to reuse.

The only problem with this is how to return the bag. The expectation is that you’ll buy from them again, and they’ll pick up the bag and containers from the previous order. In my case, I’m not sure when or if I’ll every buy from them again. Does that mean I’m stuck with this bag forever???

I bought dishwasher powder and Dental Lace floss refills.

Fillgood carries a lot of useful products that normally can’t be found in bulk. For example, laundry detergent, dishwashing powder, hand soap, makeup remover, lotion, tooth powder.

If you’re not in the Bay Area, Refill Revolution is a similar company that sends bulk goods through the mail. They use returnable plastic pouches, which they then wash and reuse.

How Fillgood works

You purchase items online. Items that come in jars (liquids, powders, pastes) are called “refills” and come in their own containers. You don’t need to purchase containers from Fillgood to get your products (although you can if you want additional storage).

If you are in the Bay Area, when selecting shipping you have the option of door delivery ($5) or local pickup ($2). If you selected door delivery, on a given day your items will be delivered to your door in a black bag.

Next time you order something from Fillgood, leave the bag and containers from last time by your door. Fillgood also collects dental waste for recycling, so you can leave that out in a bag as well. The delivery person will collect the bag and the dental waste, and leave your next purchase.

Pretty easy!

Usaato outing!

J and I went to the Usaato exhibition last Sunday in San Francisco. If you were there, we might have seen you!

It was springtime in Japantown. The cherry trees on the plaza were in bloom. Happy spring!
Cute bunnies on sale and neat fabrics in the background!
I bought something! Both the floor and the shirt are much more orange-toned in real life.

It’s not that close to what I was initially looking for, but I am pleased with it 🙂

I was mainly shopping for a short sleeve shirt to round out my hot-weather tops (which currently consist of one v-neck, and one homemade shirt that is quickly disintegrating and is currently out of commission for repairs) or a sleeveless shirt to use as an undershirt. I didn’t find any of those in suitable style-size-color combinations, unfortunately, so I moved on to my secondary goal: adding more variety to my long-sleeve tops (which also consists of two tops – both currently useable! Wow~).

This particular shirt has an interesting color and goes well with blue jeans, which I wear a lot. I was hoping to get a hemp item. Like linen, hemp is a long-staple fiber that is very durable and can be successfully farmed without much pesticide or fertilizer. This shirt is, less desirably, cotton. It cost $105.

I was also considering a $185 button-up, but wasn’t thrilled with the cut or color (J said it looked very stylish, though).

The fabric is dyed with indigo and other unspecified natural dyes, according to the tag. The background color is more saturated than this picture shows. One nice aspect of Usaato’s items is the care given to the details of the fabric. In this particular fabric, thick and thin threads are alternated to add even more depth.
A welted seam and a closeup of the color changes in the fabric. The fabric is cut on the bias. I’m hoping to use this shirt as a pattern for my own bias-cut garments – initial experiments without a pattern didn’t go well.

After shopping at Usaato, we got Korean food for linner!

Soft tofu soup with dumplings.
Followed by black sesame ice cream. It was not as good as anticipated 🙁
A new ice cream place was enticing, but had a not-so-great line.

Sacramento last day

Our last day started off with a tour of the Stanford mansion! Apparently Leland Stanford (Sr) was the governor of California for a time and lived in Sacramento. The house, originally pretty modest at around 2000 square feet, was expanded to 4k and then 19k square feet.

Front of the mansion in the Second Empire architectural style.

After a really bad flood in 1862, the house was raised up and a relatively low-value ground floor added. That particular flood was so bad that Sacramento was about 10 feet underwater for 3 months. Afterwards, the entire city was raised a story, buildings and roads included. There are tours of the subterranean areas available during the summer.

The alleyways were not raised, which you can see evidence of in the still-present sloping.
A view of the Sacramento River with weird pyramidal building in the background.
Complete with abandoned stroller.
Pizza for lunch! J got a slice of garlic chicken pizza in addition.
Full-size model high-speed train at the State Railroad Museum. There’s a big room full of train cars from different eras.
Snow plow car, essential to rail travel through the Sierra Nevadas.
Dining car with historic train dining car china patterns.
Mail car, back when trains were used to transport mail. Apparently they were vulnerable to robbery.
Shinkansen training simulator. J did it and says its super easy – all you have to control is the brake.

Dinner for J. I had leftover burrito from the previous day.

We took Amtrak home in the evening, and then Caltrain back to our place!

Sacramento Day 2

The day started with a long walk to the farmers’ market! We asked the hostel’s desk clerk for directions.

Downtown Sacramento farmers’ market. Under a highway, dontcha know. We got lots of delicious free samples 🙂
The aforementioned highway.
Fortunately, the farmers’ market was right across the street from a scenic park with solar-powered… ducks?
The local Japanese sweets shop.

We got:

Walnut and red bean.
Peanut butter and mochi (and maybe red bean paste??) in a pancake.
Roasted soy bean flour and red bean paste. Was the mochi green tea flavor? Uhhh…
Sakura mochi.

The shopkeeper even put the sweets into my tupperware instead of the default styrofoam tray. Yay!

After a bit of a walk, we arrived at this hip and trendy mall.
…with a custom cobbler!!!!!!! The shop is also the workshop. In the back there you can see a lasting machine and a welting machine, maybe.

Of course, I was super interested (and pleased to hear that they get enough business). But the shop only uses one particular last, which I’m not interested in. So, that’s a no-go unfortunately.

Huge burrito for lunch. J got ceviche.
Neat street art. Reminds me of this.

We visited Sutter’s Fort and the State Indian Museum after lunch. Sutter’s Fort was an early settlement in California. I knew it only from it’s association with the Donner Party – it’s where they stayed to recover. I assumed Sutter’s Fort was a military fort, but… actually it was this guy’s private village.

Curiously, the fort was renovated in the late 1800s. So despite the fact that it’s not original, it’s historical in its own right.

The entrance.
The doll of one of the children from the Donner Party. She smuggled it during the trip after her mother had all the children throw their toys away to lighten the wagons. The doll is only a few inches tall.
The governor’s mansion! We walked by on the way to dinner. Sadly, tours are no longer available. The half mast flag was for some shooting that had happened recently.

We had disappointing Japanese food for dinner, so I’m not going to include pictures. All the photos are from J, by the way. We figured out a better way to share photos.