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First swim in the Pacific in… 10? 15 years?

A distant woman standing in the surf at Baker Beach

My first swim in the Pacific in probably 10–15 years, photo by Sam.

On the Fourth of July, we walked 10 miles from the Sutro Heights Stairs on Balboa Street through Land’s End, past the enormous houses near China Beach, paused at Baker Beach, dipped down to Marshall’s Beach, walked under the Golden Gate, along Crissy Field and through the park at Fort Mason, then took a rest at the Maritime Museum ampitheater before heading back.

I thought I did so well with sunscreen but oh my, the backs of my knees…

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Landed in SF

The sun setting over San Francisco in June

So.

After a lot of planning and quite a few delays, we’re now in the US. We’d considered NYC for a long while for a whole host of reasons, but we ended up in SF. Our first week has been overwhelmingly sunny so I’m thankful for that. It’s nice to be “home”, but it will be a while before it feels like it.

It was a weird journey. Very overwhelming, but in a way that makes your mind go blank and surrender rather than spin out. The trip itself was eerie, so empty. Wearing a mask for 32 hours wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. Silver lining: a face mask makes the air on a plane feel much less dry.

I might go in to it a bit more at some point, but that’s enough for now. Slowly adjusting to feeling like an immigrant in my home state after 10 years in the UK.

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Ramps and Dryad’s Saddle

We took a walk in Middleton Woods this weekend and it was just covered in ramps and bluebells. I collected enough wild garlic for 5–6 meals, and then towards the end of the walk we came across a bunch of enormous mushrooms on a log with caps almost as big as my face. It’s interesting, we came across very few mushrooms elsewhere. Perhaps it’s been too dry?

Though I was prettttyyyyy confident they were Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms, I wasn’t 100% sure… I had a look online to see if it can be mistaken for anything else and it seemed not. I also ran it past some friends that tend to know about these sorts of things and got a thumbs up.

Here’s the forest and the haul. Lemon for scale!

Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms on a log in Middleton Woods

Wild garlic and Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms with a lemon for scale

The ramps are super easy to cook, pretty much like spinach. Just sauté them in a little oil or butter with a pinch of salt and maybe some lemon juice.

Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms are also known as Pheasant Back mushrooms due to the pattern on the cap that looks like a pheasant’s feathers. They can be tough when they’re older so should only be eaten when young. When you give the stem a gentle squeeze there should be a bit of give, very similar to a store-bought mushroom. If they’re any firmer than that, they’re probably be too tough to be pleasant or worth it. Apparently the older specimens can be good to make broth, but I haven’t tried this. It can be hard to tell young from old since big does not necessarily mean old, this article on foragerchef.com has some tips on spotting young Dryad’s Saddles.

The Dryad’s Saddle takes a bit of prep, but not much honestly. I laid the mushroom cap-down on a cutting board and used the edge of a spoon to scrape off the pores on the underside of the mushroom. Very satisfying, they come away really easily. Next, I flipped it over and peeled off the top layer, the “feathers” of the Pheasant’s Back. This can apparently get a bit tough when cooked. At that point I was just left with a very large, creamy interior.

You can cook it a lot of different ways, check out this article and the previously linked Forager Chef article for tons of suggestions. They have a mild scent of cucumber or watermelon, so Kieran’s suggestion of cooking them in a soup with coconut milk and turmeric sounds really great.

I ended up slicing them thin and evenly, then baking them with olive oil and a little salt. This turned them in to mushroom chips, they were almost bacon-y and very crisp! Dryad’s Saddle supposedly can get a little dry and tough when cooked this way, but I didn’t have that problem at all. Probably just has to do with the age of the mushroom. I don’t recommend attempting to stir fry Dryad’s Saddle unless you have a very decently sized wok. Mine released a lot of liquid when I attempted which made for some serious splatter, hence transferring it to the oven.

Look forward to getting back in the woods in a few days.

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San Francisco Art Institute is closing

Facade of the San Francisco Art Institute

SFAI is closing indefinitely. Such sad news. It sounds like the CoViD-19 situation was the nail in the coffin.

I took a painting course there during the summer before my senior year of high school. I lived in the East Bay and took BART or drove over the Bay Bridge every day. It’s the sort of place I’d want to be if I had decided to keep studying art. A place where you could get lost and be left to your own devices, sort of like the old Foulis building at GSA but more labyrinthine.

The school has been around for almost 150 years. Diego Rivera painted a huge mural in the student-directed gallery in the 1930s. The photography department was founded by Ansel Adams. San Francisco’s wild parrots sometimes roost loudly in the loquat tree in the Spanish courtyard. I can’t think of anywhere in SF that offers better views of the city and the bay, for free from the Brutalist ampitheater or for the price of a bagel and a coffee at the cafe.

It’s one of my favourite places. Very sad to see it go.

Loquat tree in the Spanish courtyard at SFAI

Concrete work at SFAI

The cafe and terrace at SFAI