Friday, June 15, 2012

Photo of the Week - Coastal Redwoods

Coast Redwoods at Muir Woods, California

Coast redwoods occupy a narrow strip of land approximately 750 kilometres long and 8 to 75 km  wide along the Pacific coast.  The most southerly grove is in Monterey County, California, and the most northerly groves are in extreme southwestern Oregon.

This native area provides a unique environment with heavy seasonal rains - 2,500 millimetres. Cool coastal air and fog drip keep this forest consistently damp year round. Condensation from coastal fog accounts for a considerable part of the trees' water needs.  Several factors, including the heavy rainfall, create a soil with fewer nutrients than the trees need, causing them to depend heavily on the entire biotic community of the forest, and complete recycling of the trees when dead.

The thick, tannin-rich bark, combined with foliage starting high above the ground provides good protection from both fire and insects, contributing to the coast redwood's longevity. The oldest known specimen is about 2,200 years old.

 An estimated 95% or more of the original old-growth redwood forest has been cut down.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Finds in San Francisco

Being away from home offers two of my favourite opportunities - time to explore and stumbling upon treasures.  Sometimes I have an idea of what I might want, of stuff I can only find in a city or that has more choices than I could find in my small-but-trendy hometown.

Monday's search was for paper and cupcakes.

Julie and I ended up on Fillmore Street after her web search.  The Paper Source is one inspiring place to hang out; it is one of those places that leaves me a bit dizzy after an hour or so of visual stimulation - so many items I have never seen before.  I spent a lot.  The surprise was that most of what I bought was not paper; it was cloth ribbons.

And that's what happens.  I never know quite I am going to find.  And life is like that.  Really.  If you think about it. 

Which leads me to our next search.   We caught the bus to a cupcake place on Union Street.  Had the cupcake store been open on Mondays, we wouldn't have gone to seek out the next one on the list.  Had we not decided to walk down Fillmore instead of Steiner we wouldn't have found the shoe store.  The shoe store where Julie found 2 pairs of Italian shoes.

We walked to the second cupcake shop, Julie looking down admiring her new purchase which she decided to wear.

The iPhone led us down a few blocks.  We turned a corner and scanned the buildings.  I am always a bit amazed at seeing a place after seeing it on Google Maps.  Like it won't really be there.  The surprise is in the fact that I never know what a place is going to look like, not really.  I looked to my left and there it was, an array of pastel colours gleaming at us behind the glass counter.  Susie Cakes

I chose one coconut and one lemon.  Julie chose chocolate mint and vanilla with pink icing.

As I was eating my cupcake with crumbs all around me and sticky fingers, I had a few thoughts about my intrigue with these sweet treats.

On one hand, cupcakes make a lot of sense - buy only one item instead of a whole cake.  I don't have to be fully committed to my "cake."  Cupcakes are a popular indulgence, perfect for cosmopolitan cities where calories are tracked.  My grandmother would be astonished that there are whole stores devoted to cupcakes, that they even have their own name - cupcakery.

But what separates one shop from another?  Here's what I have noticed.  Red Velvet cupcakes, whose key ingredients are chocolate, red food colouring and cream cheese frosting are faddish.  So are minis.  At most places I can find chocolate and vanilla cupcakes topped with various flavours of icing - lemon, coconut, vanilla.  It certainly doesn't stop there.  Miette Cakes in San Francisco offers “Old-Fashioned” – a bittersweet chocolate cake with Italian meringue and candy-coated peanut.  Mission Minis offers small bite-sized cupcakes in 10 different varieties. 

To top it off, cupcakery stores are visions of colour and the epitome of esthetics.

And yet....

The magic of cupcakes is a delicate matter.  They can have too much frosting.  Or too little.  Too dry.  Too boring. 

Perhaps it is all about the quest, of finding the pinnacle.