One of the remarks Andrew and I do not tire of making to each other is that the vegetation here in San Francisco is like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Every walk reveals a new and outlandish tree, flower, or bush. To remember it all I've been trying to take more pictures, even quick & dirty ones with my phone, when Bee and I are out and about. Above is a little yard we pass on our way to the playground, the park, the bank, or the butcher. This one is not exotic, I know, but I love what a wild little riot it is. A month or so ago this yard's side extension was full of wonderfully blowsy roses.
This is the kind of stuff we stroll past in Golden Gate Park. I keep waiting for a triceratops to come crashing through those giant leaves of kale. I can't believe I was lucky enough to live two blocks from Central Park in New York and now five minutes from the crown-jewel park here. After many years of confusion, I finally got my bearings in Central Park; I only know a little corner of this one. Central Park is like a formal ball; Golden Gate Park is more like a wild rumpus.
This picture is to give an idea of the scale of those leaves. (I am in week 2 of this couch to 5K program. I miss running a few miles and having it feel good, and I'm hoping to get back there. You can put a free podcast on your iPod to keep time for you, so you don't have to worry about getting a stopwatch or anything.)
There are many trees in GGP that are clearly inhabited by otherworldly beings. Incidentally, in addition to taking more pictures I have been trying to identify more trees by name, since I'm pretty embarrassingly ignorant in that department (as Nabokov made me realize more than a decade ago). I don't know who this lovely old fellow is, but the unbelievably tall trees who shower the playground with their leaves, green or red and shaped like scimitars, are eucalyptus (bluegum eucalyptus?). My beloved tree that acts as curtains for our front window is a California planetree, which is actually a kind of sycamore. I've been using The Sibley Guide to Trees. Here's a passage I liked from the introduction:
One of the keys to identifying trees at a distance is knowing how to sort the important bits of information form the unimportant ones. The overall size and shape of a tree is usually useful only for the broadest indication of what group it might be in, while the pattern formed by twigs is a very useful identification clue. Getting out in the field and looking at lots of trees is the only way to develop this knowledge, as you will gradually, and subconsciously, begin to understand which elements really distinguish each tree. Looking at the same trees daily throughout the year and noting changes will also provide valuable experience. Taking notes or making sketches of what you see is an excellent learning tool--it forces you to focus on all the aspects of the tree and the act of recording your observations will reinforce what you have observed.
This is what the planetree looks like from our front room. I've never had a tree so close to my windows before; I feel as if I live in a tree house, and I love it. In the evening after Bee goes to sleep, it's very soothing to spend a few minutes in the fading light just watching its sway and hearing its rustle. There must be some structural reason for not planting trees this close to your house; otherwise everyone would do it.
This is the botanical garden in GGP (one of the park's more cultivated corners--although it has nothing on the Japanese Tea Garden in terms of order and beauty). We went on Sunday, hoping to read as many identification plaques as possible, but identification plaques were not a part of Bee's plans for the day.
My final bit of green stuff is pesto, which I have been eating too greedily to photograph. We've never eaten a lot of pesto around here because Andrew is allergic to tree nuts (i.e., everything called "nut" except "peanut"), and you never know where pine nuts will be lurking (actually, you do--they are frequently lurking in pesto). I've been meaning to make a nut-free version for, oh, I don't know, not nearly as long as I've been meaning to learn the names of trees, but for at least a few years. Yesterday I realized that the basil I couldn't resist at the farmers' market despite having no plan for it was on its last legs, so I went for it, simply substituting pumpkin seeds for the pine nuts. I'm no connoisseur, but to me it tastes marvelous tossed with cold whole wheat couscous. My mortar was not big enough to use for the whole process, but the blender was not ideal--maybe I'll try the food processor next time.
Pumpkin Seed Pesto
adapted from Chez Panisse Pizza, Pasta, and Calzone
Slice 4 cloves young garlic (or 2 cloves mature garlic) and pound in a mortar with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and a few whole black peppercorns. When you've mostly pulverized the garlic, scrape it into a blender or food processor where you have already put 2 cups roughly chopped basil leaves (cup should be full but need not be super-packed when measuring; this was exactly 1 bunch from my market) and 1/4 cup lightly toasted pumpkin seeds. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and blend. Scrape down the sides, add 2 more tablespoons olive oil and blend again. Scrape down the sides and blend in a final 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in a healthy handful of grated Parmesan.
This was very garlicky, which I loved. I was poking around on Gourmet's still-up, still-fabulous website the other day and found this great story about garlic by Annie Proulx. Isn't it astonishing that there was a time when a hint of garlic could render a dish inedibly offensive to some people? Now that it's in almost everything we cook, it takes great gobs of it raw, as in this pesto, to snap me to attention.