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Butter With A College Education

Cultured ButterOK, bad joke maybe, but I’ve been noticing that the next new big thing in San Francisco cuisine is all about cultured butter. Restaurants are making their own like it’s something new that’s never been done before and mixing in bone marrow or herbs or whatever they have laying around in the kitchen. The reality is that it’s not that new, it’s actually been around since people discovered milk comes out of cows and oddly enough it’s pretty easy to make yourself.

Why would I want to make butter? You’re probably saying. You can buy it at the store and if you look hard enough you can sometimes even find cultured butter. This is a bit different though because it’s fresh since you made it yourself and the thing that the restaurant chefs aren’t talking about is that if it’s made here it’s got San Francisco bacteria in it that you can’t find anywhere else. Just like our sourdough bread has it’s own flavor, cultured butter made in San Francisco has it’s own super rich awesome flavor.

I came upon making butter totally by accident actually. I kept hearing about creme fraiche as a new big thing and realized that I didn’t think I had ever tried it before so I had to make some. That part was easy. Here’s what you need:

1 pint heavy cream [not ultra-pasturized]
2 tablespoons plain yogurt with live cultures or cultured buttermilk
1 jar

Yes, it’s that simple. Pour the cream into a bowl and whip in the yogurt with a whisk then pour it into the jar. Here’s the part where people might get a little hincky. Lightly cover the jar and leave it out for 24 hours and you’ve got creme fraiche. The creme thickens up and starts to get a taste that kind of between cream cheese and sour cream. You’re free to stop there and use it anywhere you’d use sour cream. The fun fact with creme fraiche is that it’s higher butterfat content means you can mix it into sauces and it won’t break. I was tossing it on everything just to see where it would be good. Baked potatoes are great. Add a little sugar and pour it onto berries or dessert and it’s great. Mix in herbs for a super rich and wonderful dip for whatever you want to dip in it.

Now for the butter part. You can take your creme fraiche and pour it into a butter churn. Don’t have one? A food processor will work just fine. Turn it on and watch it start to look like beaten whipped cream in a couple of minutes. Let the processor keep going for about 5 minutes and it starts to break up from all that agitation. You’re getting butter and buttermilk. Pour the buttermilk off and add some cold water and run the processor again. The water will wash out more of the buttermilk and you might have to do this a couple of times before the water starts to come out clear. The more buttermilk you can extract the longer it will last.

When you’re done you have cultured butter. The buttermilk you got out of it you can use to make more by adding a couple of tablespoons to more cream or you can make buttermilk pancakes. Part of the culturing comes from the yogurt cultures and part comes from your geographic location, i.e. San Francisco. It’s very high in butterfat like European butter. It’s kind of like a rock when you pull it out of the fridge. You can use it on whatever you like. I personally like it melting into some homemade dinner rolls, but again, I’ve been putting it on just about everything to see where it’s best. I’ve yet to be disappointed. It’s a little bit tangier than regular store bought butter and more than even the store bought cultured butter I’ve tried. I’ve used organic cream from Clover Stornetta or Straus Creamery because they’re local and I know the cows are grass fed so you get more Omega 3’s and all the good stuff that comes with grass fed cow’s milk. At the very least don’t tell anyone how easy it is to make and you can been all food snobby when you tell them that the dish you made incorporates hand made butter from the cream of grass fed cows. That’s a lot of words so that means it’s really good.

Yes, it’s pretty much all saturated fat, but it’s healthy saturated fat so it’s good for you right? Just try it and taste it and you really won’t care. I think I’ve found my last meal that won’t disappoint me.

Living The Techy Life

Mug for the camera. Microsoft wants to see where their money went...I went to a mixer last night which is sort of like an all you can eat buffet for techies and in talking with a few people I started to understand how people with a tech background survive in the City.

First off you have to get invited to lots of mixers or meet ups. They’re free, offer food and lots of free booze. They run from 4pm to around midnight depending upon the day of the week. The food and booze is sponsored by large tech companies or at least partially underwritten to make it less expensive to the attendees. So let’s see what I got last night.

I walked in and was handed two free drink tickets. These were pretty much good for anything from a coke to a long island ice tea. I’ve just saved potentially $20. After walking in the door and before I could get a drink the food servers got me. I was offered [not in order of appearance] crab cakes, mushroom duxelles on toast, smoked salmon on toast, kobe beef styled sliders with grilled onions, grilled polenta dusted with parmesan, sweet potato fries with a habanero aioli to name what I can remember. I stayed a little over an hour and I have to say I left overly stuffed. When I got home I could barely keep my eyes open from the food coma I was in and had one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in a long time. Getting seconds and thirds of the food wasn’t uncalled for, but expected that evening and I probably got an extra 2000 calories to add to my diet that day. Total cost for the evening? $2 muni fare round trip because I was able to transfer back home in under the hour and a half time frame.

As I was walking down Montgomery street to the location I noticed something about downtown that I hadn’t in awhile because I don’t go there very often. Most of the people were in a severely dressed down state. I could count the number of button down shirts on one had and most of those were worn by the doormen at the various clubs along the way. Most of the people looked like they bought their clothes at a Goodwill and aimed for the lower end stuff. Passing by 111 Minna there were an large number of hipsters all with bike messenger bags yet there wasn’t a single bike to be found. 111 Minna has a low entry fee and cheap beer so if you’ve got a few extra bucks it’s a good place to end an evening or start one if you’re not hungry.

Now let’s relate this to the techy life. San Francisco we all know is an expensive town to live in. If you work here it’s almost as if no matter how much they pay you, it’s never enough. The ways you make ends meet is by attending the meet ups and mixers. They have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner so if you swing it right you never need to have food in your house. You can supplement those with the perks your business offers you such as chips and cookies before you run home to your your apartment that other people would call a closet. While I’m not as into the tech field as many other people I could still eat out on someone else’s dime for about three nights a week.

To get the techy look you have to buy used clothing or just have not bought clothes since Web 1.0. You very rarely need a button down shirt so you only need to own one that you can keep in your closet and pull it out once a year when you have to dress up or attend a funeral. The bike messenger bag is for carrying all your laptop/tablet and to stuff swag that you get at the meet ups, or stuff food into for a late night snack.

I never had to live this lifestyle since before I got my house the rent was way cheaper and I wasn’t spending upwards of $40k/year just on rent. While I can’t fully relate to it, I do have to say that I admire the way they get by. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go pull the kobe beef sliders and smoked salmon out of my jacket from last night.

John Dobson: The Hippy That Made Astronomy Hip

The Dobsonian telescope named after it’s inventor, John Dobson brought the heavens to a great number of people. It was fairly cheap to make, but gave you the ability to see things in the sky that most store bought telescopes would never let you see. The first time I got to see Saturn for myself was through a Dobsonian telescope and Jupiter looked huge and I could even make out more than the four moons you normally can see.

I’m not sure why, but John popped into my head over the weekend. I haven’t seen him in years and figured he had probably died. I think I was 10 when I last saw him and my parents and I took a class from him to make our own Dobsonian telescope. We met him one night outside the California Academy of Sciences with the group the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. They had brought telescopes out and had them set up and were inviting people to have a look. They were really quite simple reflector type telescopes. They had a mirror at the end of a big long tube which focused the sky’s image on to what he referred to in the class as the spider which had a mirror that reflected what it saw into the viewing aperture.

My Dad had always been into astronomy and when he asked John were he bought the telescope [this one was called the Zebra and painted with psychedelic zebra stripes] John told my Dad that he made it and offered classes on how to do it and you’d end up with one when you finished. You had to do all the work yourself, but I think it only cost around $50 at the time and my Dad was sold. The first couple of classes were just discussion and then we were given two round portholes and grit and told to get to work.

The process of making the big mirror for the telescope consisted of mixing some grit with water and putting it between the two portholes and rotating them in small circles. I think most of our neighbors thought we were crazy as my Dad on weekends would take the portholes out in the driveway and he and I would sit there for hours grinding away at the glass. Since my Dad only had weekends to work on the mirror and John always focused on perfection in the grinding we never finished the mirror, but we did get it as far as the pitch lap which I’m still not sure what part that plays in the mirror, but I remember it was the last step before your porthole became a mirror for your telescope. That and the tube for our 12″ telescope sat in our house for years until my astronomical friend Patty took them off our hands a few years ago.

One of the interesting things about John was that he wasn’t a child of the 60’s although he totally fit the bill when you saw him. He was actually born in 1915 [turns out he’s a Virgo like me] in Bejing, China which made him the same age as my Dad. He had a ponytail and probably still does. I don’t know how old the picture I found of him is, but that’s how I remember him. He, unlike my Dad is still alive today and still talking about Astronomy at the ripe old age of 96. I bet he still gets on his knees and grinds portholes into mirrors to this day. The San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers [which John helped found] and their urban guerrilla astronomy are still thriving today. You can find them showing up around the city on clear nights holding star parties to entertain and teach the people passing by.

Because of John, I took up a big interest in science and still have a love for it today. I actually even worked at the Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences for a while as a teenager because I though the planetarium projector was just so cool and the fact that it was built out of spare parts during WWII gave it a kind of Dobsonian feel to it. John doesn’t have his own website, but he’s got a Wikipedia page and he’s mentioned frequently on the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers website. They have a calendar, but I didn’t see any upcoming star parties listed. You can also follow them on Twitter where you’ll probably here about their next star party. Check them out and you’ll be able to check out the stars for yourself one day.

Appnation: Boy are my dogs tired.

My legs are sore from standing for a couple days at one of the weirdest conferences I’ve ever worked. Over the past two days I represented the company I work for at Appnation. It was at Moscone Center and was a convention for mobile app developers to learn ways to make money as app developers. They say it’s a mash-up of developers, venture capitalists and people who do stuff that could benefit developers [more on that later].

This was a show that compared to MacWorld was an oversized garage type of event. There were maybe about 100 people hawking their wares and the people that would come by the booth I was working were a mix of end users, VC people, but mostly people who were too cheap to purchase a booth and were coming by to try and sell their product to me to include in my app even if it had nothing to do with or was of no use to my app. In other words, in my opinion the show was a bust for the company I work for.

There was lots of talk about how to get venture capital funding for your app, but in reality most of these hip app writers live out of virtual spaces that don’t have anything a real office has. Imagine working for a company that is based in a eggshell of an industrial workspace. They have no landline phone, no printers, cheap Office Depot tables and chairs, no form of interior design what so ever, mail never gets delivered because, well snail mail is so 10 minutes ago and after all, in a month or two we’ll be moving to an even better eggshell to work out of!

Eggshelled companies are not what a Venture Capital firm has much interest in because once they give you the money they want to be able to keep track of you by something other than email and a cell phone call, neither of which they can find a real person to shake down to get the money back.

I was able to meet some interesting people there though. Steve and Reed from appMobi were right across from me and put on a good show. Steve incidentally speaks 8 languages and was happy to demonstrate that fact even though it had nothing to do with his product. AppMobi is a web-based product that lets you write mobile apps using web design skills not programming languages and then deploy your product not just to one platform, but to several. This sounded pretty cool and they’re demo showed how cool it was. Then there was Chris and Cherie from Technomadia. These were a couple of Burning Man people who actually live out of a trailer and because of that wrote an app called State Lines. This is a fun app for travelers that tells you the speed limits, smoking rules, alcohol laws in every state. Very useful if you’re a frequent traveler and only $2.99. I asked them if the app paid them well and they told me that, “It keeps them in lunch and sometimes dinner.” OK, while I can’t exactly say I’d be able to live off that, at least I know I’d be getting a couple a meals a day from it.

Probably the best thing I learned from the show was that geek girls with iPads can be hot. These girls weren’t icing on the cake like you have at car shows, but they were spouting off about objective-C, equity investors, marketing throughput, etc and their eyes weren’t all glossed over like they were just repeating what they were told to say. I’d also have to say that most of the people there were talking more about the free after parties than the products people were trying to sell, so that should tell you something about the overall effectiveness of the show.

Hi, I’m Eric and I’m a Fish Geek

Welcome to the first meeting of fish geeks anonymous. I’ve been keeping fish for over 30 years as pets and as decorative accessories to add a little umph to my dwellings. At the worst I had over 11 fish tanks in my home. Then I kicked the habit for the most part, but held onto my 55 gallon fish tank. I’ve had freshwater, saltwater, brackish water fish tanks. It became a bit of an addiction for awhile.

It got so bad that I became the President of the San Francisco Aquarium Society where I was on the Board of Directors for 10 years and served as President for 4 years. Not something many other fish geeks can claim. I thought I had gotten over the whole fish thing and then I was looking around through my book collection and found a book long forgotten, “Breeding Killifish”. You notice it wasn’t titled “Raising Killifish”. What’s a killifish you might ask? Well the picture along with this post is of a killifish. This is a killifish that when I first saw it I wanted it big time, but no one had it. It doesn’t have a common name like many killifish, but it has a scientific name of Aphysemion elberti “Bafoussum”. The Bafoussum part means it’s from a part of Africa called Bafoussum. Killifish are interesting fish. They’re the most colorful fish in freshwater and give many of the saltwater fish a run for their money. They’re easy to care for, don’t need a heater unless you might live in Alaska and they breed like teenagers in heat [i.e. daily]. They have somewhat hard eggs that if you build a little mop out of knitting yarn they’ll lay eggs daily that you can pick off with your finger and drop in something as simple as a baby food jar with some water and they’ll hatch in 2-3 weeks. These are the top spawners I like. There are bottom spawners that  lay their eggs in peat moss [in an aquarium] or mud [in the wild]. I don’t like the bottom spawners as much because I’m an impatient type of guy and don’t like to wait 6 months for the babies to hatch out.

I have searched for over 20 years for this species of fish and today I finally met up with my new bestest buddy in the killifish world Ryan Grisso who gave me a pair and insisted that he wouldn’t take a cent for them. Ryan is a member of the Bay Area Killifish Association and these guys are serious about killies. These guys breed killies from all over the world and trade and sell them at their meetings. One of the few things I’ve never seen someone with killifish do is set up a nice planted tank filled with these fish. I had a friend once who was big into them and brought me over 100 of them for my 55 gallon tank and told me to feed them every time I passed the tank. The fish tank was the focus of the Christmas party I had that year. People didn’t know how colorful these fish were, how easy they were to take care of and how you can keep making more of them.

Most killifish come from water that isn’t that great in dissolved oxygen so they’re used to doing odd things like jumping out of the water and living the wet grass next to the water. The bottom spawners tend to be like a phoenix in that they breed in puddles that dry up and then when the rains come later on in the year they’re reborn again.  I’ve never heard of a fish that lives in conditions like that.

Now before you get all excited and are going to run out and get some of these fish you have to remember one thing. Normal pet stores won’t carry them. Probably because the wholesalers don’t carry them and also because they’re so colorful people think they’re tropical fish and keep them in warm water and they die. There are a few stores in San Francisco that will occasionally have some, but that’s nothing compared to the mollies, swordtails, guppies and neons that are standard fair in most fish stores. Killies are a rare treat as they’re easier to keep than goldfish [they’re smaller so they don’t poop as much]. You can actually send them across the country via priority mail and they’ll get their alive. They don’t need a lot of maintenance and for the most part they will live fine on flake and freeze dried food. So tell your fish store that you want killifish so that they start carrying them or if they don’t contact me. If you need more info on them drop killifish into google and see what pops up. It will boggle your mind.