“So, you are going to Niagara Falls. Are you going to go over in a barrel?” was the question posed by almost everyone I told of my upcoming adventure. Annie Edson Taylor, a 63-year-old Michigan school teacher, was the first to do it in 1901, but only after testing the waters (and the barrel) by sending her cat over first. Both survived and since then 14 more people have gone barreling over the rim.
Imagine, if you will, an SUV frozen in a momentary apogee above your head.
I could live quite happily just on fermented stuff: wine, cheese, sauerkraut (but maybe not Eskimo whale flipper), but most of all bread, my favorite being San Francisco sourdough. Fernando Padilla has been Master Baker at San Francisco’s Boudin (pronounced bowdeen) Bakery since 1988. But Boudin goes back to 1846, when Isadore Boudin (French pronunciation), son of a Bordeaux baker, took the miner’s bread he discovered during the California Gold Rush and alchemized it to fermented gold.
The secret is in the starter, a pool of microorganisms consisting of lactobacili and natural yeast living in a blob of wheat reverently called the mother dough. Miners carried Mom close to their hearts, in pouches around their necks and on their belts. The beauty of this concoction, mixed with wheat, water and salt, was that the bread it made didn’t spoil and mold quickly, due to its acidity. Boudin’s perhaps not-so-secret ingredient was honored with scientific name, lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. Padilla says that the DNA of his mother dough probably dates back to Gold Rush times.
Sourdough differs from other breads in that it doesn’t use commercial yeast to speed it along. It takes 72 hours to make a loaf of bread, but the reward is the unique sourness that bubbles up inside.
So how about celebrating the phenomenon of fermentation with a glass of Pinot, a slice a cheese, and while I’m at it, why not tear off a chunk of San Francisco sourdough?
Boudin is considered the oldest still operating business in San Francisco. Its showplace bakery, museum and restaurant is located at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
Today would have been the 100th birthday of futurist, science fiction author Sir Arthur C. Clarke, best known for his screenplay (with director Stanley Kubrick), “2001: A Space Odyssey”, inventing the concept of the communications satellite, and shedding tears on TV (with US commentator Walter Cronkite) when the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon. He earned the title “Prophet of the Space Age”.
I spent a day with Clarke in his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1994, watching him redesign the surface of Mars on a primitive computer, having long chats about everything under the sun, and interviewing him for a documentary I was producing on the future of travel. Following are excerpts from my upcoming book “Tales of the Radio Traveler” and a video memorial I put together upon his death in 2008.
It was literally a breath of fresh air to experience the fall colors this year. We are headquartered in fire-ravaged Sonoma, California. We evacuated for about a week, but unlike several of our friends, we had a place to come home to. We returned to smoke and ash. Some areas of the Napa and Sonoma valleys were destroyed: homes and memories lost, automobiles and possessions melted. But certainly not all was lost, as you can see in the above picture that we snapped on our way over the mountain from Sonoma to Napa and the old vines below, some of which were still sporting fall plumage after as many as 100 years.
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