The Impossible Happens


The Impossible Burger.  You know it isn’t mine with all those mushrooms.

I don’t understand vegetarians.

I get the idea that one doesn’t want to eat meat, or anything sentient, or anything that has a face.  Not my choice, but OK fine, if that’s what you want.

What I don’t understand is how much vegetarians seem to want to eat something that looks and tastes like meat, it just isn’t.  I see “vegetarian chicken” on menus, but it makes no sense to me.  Every burger place around offers a veggie patty, made from various and sundry vegetables and mushrooms.  They don’t really taste like good beef, but people seem to want them for the illusion.

I like meat, but I sure don’t have any interest in a “carrot” made of beef to experience veggies without having to eat them.  If I want a carrot, I’ll have one.  I think if anyone wants a piece of chicken, or a burger, they should just go out and have one.

All this is preamble to having dinner last week at The Counter, a marvelous custom burger joint on California Ave. in Walnut Creek.  They’ve been advertising the new “impossible burger”, a manufactured slab of wheat, soy, potato protein, coconut oil and something called heme.  It is supposed to look, cook, taste and bleed just like real beef.  We brought our friend Reed, who eats chicken and fish but not red meat, as the official tester.

I have always liked The Counter.  You get to create a burger to your taste, with dozens of options and thousands of possible combinations.  Big patty or small.  5 kinds of bun, or put it all in a bowl with lettuce. Beef, turkey, fish, vegetarian patty, and now the Impossible Burger (which is $3 extra–so-called “ethical eating” isn’t cheap.)  They have great fries, sweet potato fries, onion strings,  and thick malts.  It’s kind of noisy inside, but you can’t have everything.  Go when the weather is warm and you can eat outside.

Back to the Impossible Burger.  The damned thing is good, real good.


If it looks like beef, and tastes like beef, but isn’t beef then what is it?

Reeds Impossible Burger was excellent.  Seared and crispy outside, red and tasty inside.  Looked, smelled, chewed and tasted like beef.  It’s everything a non-meat eater could ever want in a burger. You could easily be fooled by this–you just would never think it wasn’t real.

The Holy Grail of fake burgers has been found.  This one is the real thing.  If you’re a vegetarian who still craves burgers, head out to The Counter and have one.  Heck, even if you’re not a vegetarian–it tastes so good you’ll enjoy it and not get any of that nasty cholesterol.


In Our Own Backyard

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Veterans Day. There will be ceremonies at Arlington, and Normandy, and parades down the main street of every town in the country, in memory of the men and women, living and dead, who fought for their country.  As there should be.

Walking in Lafayette last week, I was reminded of the now almost 8000 people lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, memorialized in a politically controversial display on a hill across from the BART station.  It was a big deal when it was new; now I think people just pass by without seeing, or noticing that the numbers are still going up, although much more slowly than before, thankfully.

Nobody wants to think about the Iraq war.  Bush lied us into it, with grand talk of non-existent WMDs.  Obama couldn’t solve the problem.  Trump?  Not bloody likely.  But there are almost 8000 families out there who can’t forget. Not to mention countless veterans who need help that a heartless congress won’t provide.

So thank a vet today, enjoy a parade, have a hot dog with extra relish.  And don’t forget the vets of the forgotten war, or the politicians who put those 7932 crosses on a hill in Lafayette.




Halloween at Reed’s

Our lifetime total of kids looking for a “trick or treat” stands at 0.  Living behind a gate and down a long, dark, steep driveway is often pleasant, but the drawback is a total lack of urchins begging for candy their mothers will promptly confiscate and dole out over time.

Wanting to have some fun, we went up to Benicia to our friend Reed’s house.  She promised horde of kidlings searching for candy, and a bowl of lobster bisque.  Who could resist?  Her house was decorated for the event, and I spent 20 minutes trying to get the candles to stay lit.


Reed dressed up for the event, and looked spectacular in the candlelight and twilight combined.


There were no kids.  Okay, maybe 8, total.  Each one got enough Kit Kat bars to cause diabetes, and a few Reese’s peanut butter cups to seal the deal.  Still, we had fun, because we had dogs in costumes to entertain us.


Reed with Claudia and Elmer.

The Halloween Superstore didn’t have costumes for pets, but a kindly 13 year old girl told me Target was the place.  No, I have no idea what the black and white wings adorned with spider and web are supposed to represent, but it looks good on the little girl and it was the only thing that fit.  Elmer tolerates his wings, but refuses to get up and walk as long as the tutu is attached to him.  Wise dog.

Reed likes Claudia almost as much as we do.

Elmer tries hard to be distinguished and mature, which is hard when you have a silly costume forced upon you.


Gail doesn’t really get into the spirit of things like Halloween.  She just wanted to sit on the porch and hold her dog.  It looks like a plan to me.


We enjoyed our lobster bisque, ate a bit of candy, watched a few kids and were home early.  The doggie costumes went into a costume box for next year.  A good time was had by all.

Out walking on Sunday

Part of trying to get more exercise: I take the dog for a walk, ending up at a nice restaurant.  Gail meets us for Sunday lunch, then drives us back to where I left the car.  We get lunch like a family, the dog and I get to stretch our legs a bit.

This week I parked on North Main St.   Started by heading to the Walnut Creek Farmer’s Market.  Since it was the weekend before Halloween, there were plenty of kids in costumes already.   I particularly admired Super Dad here, with his two kids all in Superman costumes.  The littlest of them even had tiny capes attached to his super socks.



Some people just need to make rules.  I take Claudia to the grocery store every day.  We’ve been in Safeway, Lunardi’s, Target and Whole Foods.  Nobody cares.  Try to take her on a city street where they are selling farm goods?  Not so much.


I somehow doubt that the health department is regulating streets, but it wasn’t worth the fight.  I can buy veggies lots of other places.

I love little kids.  Little kids love Claudia.  This is working for me.


I can be very naive.  I thought these were carefully bred hybrid carnations, just for the season.  Gail told me they just put the cut white flowers in dye to make this color.  What next?  Will I find out Trump dyes his hair and sprays his tan on?


We walked downtown and around a couple of long blocks, then met Gail at Va de Vi, her favorite restaurant, and a place with lots of outdoor seating so all 3 of us could enjoy our meal.  I appreciate that their menu changes, so there is always something new to try.

This week, the new treat was arrancini (deep fried rice balls stuffed with gooey melted cheese) on a bed of pureed butternut squash, topped with a bit of pesto.  Very, very good.


Feeling energetic, Claudia and I turned down the offer of a ride back to the car and walked up N. Main.  The city has embarked on a campaign of public art, and I was entranced by a sculpture on a streetcorner.  So was the dog.


This walk was far from strenuous, but I guess every little bit counts.  Better to get out of the house for an hour than sit motionless in front of the computer raising my blood pressure by reading political posts from people I disagree with.  Even though I refute them with certified facts and unimpeachable logic, they never seem to see the light of my indisputable wisdom.   Better I should walk the dog.

Our party went to the dogs


Claudia turned one year old yesterday.  Gail, who doesn’t believe in birthdays, thought we should have a party.  I’ve never said no to a party, and neither has Claudia.

We invited a bunch of dogs, and said their owners could come, too.  I found out that the pet store sells dog treats that were appropriate for the event:


All designed for your furry friend.

I had to find some thing to put out for the two legged guests:


Wrigley arrived, bringing Jill Mclean.  Wrigley is a tiny Malti-poo, who moves so fast I never really got a clear photo of him.


Claudia did a nice job of hostessing, greeting her guests politely.


Elmer showed up with Reed:


Elmer heard there would be treats.  Nothing keeps Elmer from treats.

Reed seemed to be holding court with Elmer, Martha and Claudia:


We finally got to meet Rosie, brought by Ed and Sheryl:


Rosie has some dysplasia and arthritis, has just had surgery and wasn’t allowed to run and play much.  She’s a beautiful chocolate lab.


Martha came with Lisa.  She’s a chubby little thing, always smiling.  (Martha.  Lisa not chubby.)

You can’t have a birthday party without ice cream and cake.


There were presents, too.  This bear, with squeaky toys in all four paws, came from Rosie:


We all had a riotous time.  The dogs jumped and played, the adults just chatted and laughed when something funny happened, or all 5 dogs started barking at once for no apparent reason.

When it was time to go home, Rosie looked sad:


Wrigley doesn’t know how to look sad:


Thanks to all our friends and their dogs who came to celebrate Claudia’s big day.  We had a wonderful time with you, and look forward to doing it again.

Your government at work



I got a new car, and I’d like to transfer the personalized plates from the old station wagon in the garage to the new ride.

So I called up the DMV and asked what to do.  Because one car is registered to Gail and one to me, there is a small problem.  With the DMV, there is always a problem.

Paperwork needs to be filled out.  Gail sure as hell isn’t going to go to the office with me, so I needed the paperwork at home.  Could they email it to me?

No.  The DMV doesn’t do email.  Can’t have any of that new-fangled communications in the largest state in the union, the third largest economy in the world.

So the nice lady at the other end of the phone pulled out the paperwork, hand addressed an envelope and sent it to me.  Just like they did in 1863.  Can’t get more efficient than that.

History in my back yard.

We’re going to Antarctica in January, and I have to be in good enough shape to get in and out of the Zodiaks that take you ashore, and then walk along the snow fields.  Even a world class procrastinator like me knows better than to leave that for the last 2 weeks, so today I got a cortisone shot in my bad knee and took off on a walk with the dog.

Looking for a place to stretch my legs, I found a park I’d never heard of with something really special–an airmail arrow from the 1920’s.  Before electronic navigation, there were hundreds of great big arrows on the ground guiding air mail pilots on routes from the east coast to the west.  They were accompanied by lighted beacons, but those are long gone.  The concrete lives on in a few hundred sites around the US.


The two arrows point to the LA–Seattle route (left) and the San Francisco–Chicago route

The park is at the end of Bacon Drive in Walnut Creek, a part of the city I’d never seen before. It wasn’t a long walk, about 1/2 mile.  But I think it was about 4,500 feet of vertical rise.  At least that’s the way it seemed.

The airmail marker was something I had long wanted to see, and never realized there was on right in our backyard.


The squares seem to indicate the approach to the arrow.

Being on top of the hill gave me a great view of Walnut Creek and the 24/680 interchange, down to Danville.  Visibility wasn’t great, due to smoke in the air from the fires.  Turning towards the North, I could see mostly to the Martinez refineries.


A very welcome bench to rest on.  Claudia didn’t need any rest.

There was something interesting on the ground–a ton of compressed gas containers.  CO2?  Nitrous Oxide?  If young people are coming up here to get high, they’re sure willing to put a lot of work into it.


Having caught my breath, it was time to walk back, which seemed to entail another 4500 vertical foot climb.  Maybe that was just my impression.

Claudia raced to the end of the trail, ignoring all calls to come back.  Then she waited politely for me to stagger up and drive her home.

Finding the arrow satisfied a long held wish.  I need to take lots more walks before our trip, are there any other interesting places to stroll around here, preferably much, much flatter?

Good news from Napa


Many trees survived when the grass burned through quickly

Our friends Harry and Mike live at Green Valley Ranch, on the east side of Napa and smack dab in the Atlas fire.  They left their home at 3 a.m. last Monday when the fires started, then snuck back on Tuesday morning and stayed to fight for their home.

For the next 36 hours they chopped down trees, cleared brush and used the water from the tank they installed a few years ago to protect against emergencies.


The water tank that supplied their efforts.

They got lucky when a Cal Fire helicopter saw them and dropped a full load of water on the house, then came right back and dropped another on burning trees near the building.


What is left of the front yard.  The sculpture on its side is coming to our house.

The first night they had no sleep, never stopping their efforts.  The second night they set the alarm every 20 minutes to get up and check for flare up, hot spots and any other dangers.

Finally, the fires died out.  They had saved their home.  Harry and Mike live in a small compound with 4 homes situated around a common cookhouse—zoning allows only 1 kitchen for each 250 acres, so their homes have no kitchen.  (Mike and Harry found a loophole allowing a “mother-in-law” unit, so they have a small kitchen).

The others were not so lucky.  All the homes, and the cookhouse, burned to the ground.


A panoramic view of the other buildings, all destroyed.

Gail and I drove up there Saturday, but the police wouldn’t let us get near.  On Sunday, we tried again.  This time the CHP officer guarding the road said we could only go up if someone came down to vouch for us. Cell service is spotty at best, but we called Harry and come down and got us in.


Gail, Michael and Harry.  We brought the Champagne to celebrate.

The boys still have no power, save a small generator.  No running water.  They cook in the outdoor kitchen Harry created, over an open fire.

The pond behind their home is still busy with egrets, herons and ducks.  They came back as soon as the smoke cleared.  In this shot, you can see the hill across the pond, where the fire raced through all the underbrush and some of the smaller trees.


Life at the ranch will never be the same, but nobody was hurt, none of the cattle were lost, buildings can be rebuilt.  In a few days there will be water and power, and life will go on.

Not wanting to overstay our welcome, we said goodbye.  I drove around the ranch some to get more photos.

The barn was built in the 1800’s, so the wood was tinder dry.  It went up in a flash, and left the remnants of a tractor on view.


Here is what remains of a phone pole:


Fire retardant is dropped from planes as large as a 747. It’s dyed red so they know where it has been applied, and works as a fertilizer to help regrow the area after the fire to prevent erosion.


A streak of fire retardant across the trees.

We met this fine gentleman riding around the ranch looking for hotspots.


There are fire crews here from all of the western states, working tirelessly to put out the more than 20 major fires plaguing northern California.

I have been stunned by the capriciousness of the fire.  You can see here how it was on one side of the road and not the other:

untitled-12And here how it burned a narrow path up a hill:


And somehow it burned three quarters of a canoe:


Our friend Tom Flesher lives in the Pavillion House, and you can see the fire burned right up to the building, which was unscathed.  They lost the well pump house and other out buildings, but the main structure was safe:


Driving down the hill towards home, we met another fire crew.


I had to know where Daisy Mountain is, and found out they had come from North Phoeniz, AZ.  That’s a long drive in a fire truck that only goes 55 miles an hour, but they were here to serve and still smiling.  I’ve never met a fireman I didn’t like.  We made sure to thank them for coming.

In Napa, we passed “Incident Central”, a huge RV area that was being used as the base of operations.  I noticed this:


Many hundreds of tiny tents, where the exhausted firefighters could get some sleep.  All that hard work and they didn’t even get a real bed, for there were no beds to be had.  On another part of the facility were hundreds of fire trucks and support vehicles parked, and this was towards the end of the emergency.

Napa is safe.  Santa Rosa is still burning, but the fires are largely contained.  We were happy to see these signs in town, and echo the sentiment.

World Wide Photo Walk

Every year, on the second Saturday of October, Scott Kelby runs the World Wide Photo Walk, where photographers from all over the globe get together to take a walk and find photos.  It’s free, but people contribute a few bucks to the Springs of Hope orphanage in Kenya.  I’ve been wanting to do this for years, and today the stars aligned and I got my chance.

This morning, 14 of us, 7 women, 7 men, met at Camera West, the upscale camera store on South Main.  They have a Leica Store, one of very few in the world factory designed to showcase the crown jewel of the camera world.  The Leica is the Faberge egg of cameras, as beautiful to look at as it is perfect to shoot with.  Way, way out of my price range, as well as my ability range.  Nice to look at, though.

The walk was led by Richard Herzog, a longtime professional who also works for Camera West and teaches. He had mapped out a simple route around downtown Walnut Creek and off we went.

As soon as we got down to the street, people started shooting.  Every flower, every brick, tree leaf, geometric pattern on a sidewalk bench.  None of this interests me, but to each his own.   I occupied myself shooting the shooters, imagining a newspaper article titled “Downtown invaded by doofuses with cameras”.

While everyone else was looking for architectural, botanical or geometric items to photograph, I was looking for interesting people.


One lone man on the second floor, watching the people watching him.

There was a man standing on the sidewalk chanting/praying/raving in Arabic and English.  I recognized “Allahu Akbar”, the rest could well have been gibberish.  Or not.


Laurie and Carol saw this man, but were too polite to approach him.

So I walked up and said “Good day.  Mind if I take your picture?”


Some people are just made to photograph; it would be a crime to ignore them.


I saw this woman walking and noticed her dress.  A block later she crossed our path again, and I had to get her portrait and talk to her.

She is the Reverend Mother Josephine Hendy C Robertson, Matriarch of the Miskitu Nation. They are an indigenous native/African/Creole group in Central America fighting for independence from Nicaragua.  She wasn’t looking for money, just support for her cause.  You meet the most interesting people when you just talk to them.


Still walking, we met the character of the day:


Love Love.  That’s her name.

A homeless guy, with a dog in a trailer behind his bicycle.  And the dog has a hat and shades.  Not something I could pass up.

The homeless guy had a tale of woe, which he mumbled far too fast for me to follow.  The upshot of it was that he starts a job in the Petco Warehouse next week, and hopes to get his life together.  I hope he does, too.

I said I don’t have any interest in the geometrics that others were so diligently shooting, but one wall piqued my interest:


This is a building just off Main Street, with steel walls that have rusted beautifully.

Then we found some trees that had been “yarn bombed” by a local knitting group. Kind of an interesting,  giving, peaceful enterprise.

Still on the lookout for people, I liked the angles of a little girl dancing in place as her mom had a coffee.


Something about these two women attracted me.


We wound around to the rear of Va de Vi where they have a huge koi pond, with a magnificent collection of fish.  I don’t need pictures of fish.  Apparently I am alone in this.


On a beautiful Saturday, there was a good crowd enjoying lunch al fresco; that was worth reaching for the camera.


To sum up, it was a delightful day of walking around, actually seeing things I had merely looked at over the years, meeting some decidedly different and intriguing people and make a few new friends.  To put the words into a picture, here are three of the walkers checking out each other’s work:



It just keeps getting better

11 Years we’ve been subscribing to Smuin Ballet, and it just keeps getting better.

We went last Friday to Lesher Center with Mike and Linda, introducing them to our favorite local performing company.  As usual, we were left awed by the perfection of artists.

The second act was titled Requiem for a Rose, choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who just happened to be sitting right behind us along with Celia Fushille, the Artistic Director and Amy London, the Ballet Master.  We really like the seats we have.

Requiem for a Rose is a beautiful piece, with both the males and females dressed in red skirts, no shirts for the men and pale nude tops for the women.  They were practically indistinguishable from each other, except for one woman with long flowing blond hair, a blue leotard and a bright red rose in her mouth.  The music was from Franz Schubert.

The piece is clearly moving and evocative, but I can’t say I much understood it.  Then Celia, the Artistic Director, was walking back to her seat and I asked her to explain it to Mike. (Easier to claim he need help than to admit I was at sea).  She did so, then MIcky asked why they hadn’t put that in the program.  The manager in his personality never takes a day off.

Today, the Smuin set out an email to subscribers discussing the creation of Requiem for a Rose.  Watch it and see why we love modern dance and the Smuin Ballet so much.