Close Up: Niagara Falls

“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.

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Striking the Mother Loaf: San Francisco Sourdough

Baker, Boudin BakeryFernando Padilla, – Master Baker, Boudin Bakery, San Francisco

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.

Laffing Sal, San Francisco’s Creepiest Tourist Attraction

I moved to San Francisco, way out near the ocean, in 1972. Just a short walk from my house was a rubble strewn, abandoned theme park called Playland at the Beach. I wandered through just before the wrecking ball smashed it to smithereens. Playland had a roller coaster, a fun house, a replica of Noah’s Ark, a diving bell. Its creepy ambience costarred in Orson Welles’ “Lady From Shanghai,” “The Princess Diaries,” and many others, some of dubious distinction such Roger Corman’s “X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes.”

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