Put The Shark Fin Down…

Would you like a shark fin or two?Today is the day all the animal welfare people have been waiting for and the Chinese traditionalists have loathed. As of today it is officially illegal to engage in the trade of shark fins within California.

Specifically this will hit Los Angeles and San Francisco the hardest so I’ll focus on San Francisco because I suppose we hear about it more here.

Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy by the Chinese and served to celebrate births, weddings, nowadays pretty much any celebration comes with shark fin soup, or at least it did until AB 376 was passed. This caused quite a brou-ha-ha within the Chinese community with cries of racism being throw around like the shark fins themselves. While being seen as an attack specifically against the Chinese which is actually more collateral damage since the Chinese are the only ones who eat it, it was more about saving the wildlife of our oceans, mainly the top of the food chain predators of the ocean — sharks.

AB 376 was passed because there was a huge amount of sharks, including endangered species of sharks being harvested to make the delicacy with no taste. In some cases there has been a 90% reduction in the population of sharks who’s fins and only fins are used for the soup. No other dish uses shark fins and the less economically feasible rest of the shark is worthless in comparison and is thrown back in the ocean allowing the finless shark to die.

If you’ve read my articles on the subject before you’ll noticed that I was called a racist by Senator Leland Yee’s twitter account along with several other lovers of shark fin soup who tweeted to me questions such as, what about sharkskin suits? They use shark [No they don’t. Sharkskin is a smooth worsted fabric with a soft texture and a two-toned woven appearance. No sharks are harmed in the making of a sharkskin suit]. Shark meat that was said to be sold at Costco and other food outlets was shown not be sold any longer and it’s next to impossible to find shark meat for sale anymore.

Because of the ban going into affect today there has been a few more articles on the subject noting that the stores and restaurants who still have stock on hand were trying to unload it before today with everything from a Father’s Day 20% discount to $999/lb to discounted shark fin soup with a whole chicken for $138.

In one article I did find information on why this delicacy with no taste because popular. It dates back to ancient China when killing a shark took some major cojones or however one says cojones in Mandarin or Cantonese. To show off your masculine prowess by killing a shark meant you had to get your hands dirty and risk your life. So after risking your life you have to show off to guests by making them eat it. Makes me think of something along the lines of, I had to work hard for this food so you’re going to eat it. Kind of like something your parents would say to you when you were a kid, but in this case you were celebrating the prowess of the shark killer by consuming the flesh of the animal that would have consumed the flesh of your host. Now I’m thinking of some of the hunters I know and that works out pretty similar.

There’s a difference here you have to take into account. It doesn’t take any physical prowess to ask, how much is that shark fin in the window? The whole ceremony behind eating shark fin soup has been lost today and in some ways that’s a shame. I’d like to see how much a person really wants a cornerstone of their culture if someone hands them a knife and points to the ocean and says, help yourself.

I have to admit that I am no vegetarian and a far cry from it, but when I was a Boy Scout and handed a live rabbit and tossed into the woods over night the rabbit got to run free and I was a vegetarian for the night. It might have been different had I been stranded for more than a couple of weeks, but I could go a night without meat. Most of us that were raised in cities don’t have the hunter instinct anymore so the idea of you’ve got to kill it before you grill it is lost on us. I can understand the original reasons why it became a delicacy and that also helps explain why someone would want to eat something that’s tasteless. It’s not about what it tasted like, but how you got it and that part has been lost in today’s Westernized culture.

I enjoy cultural traditions and do think that in San Francisco the retaining of cultural traditions should remain. You also have to keep in mind though that there are some cultural traditions that need to change. Slavery was an American cultural tradition at one time. There are many cultures that cannibalism was a cultural tradition as well, but they had to be let go. I’m sure the Chinese have more cultural traditions to focus on than one that has been destroying the natural eco-system of our planet to support a cultural tradition that is outdated and anachronistic.

On the other hand, here’s a knife, there’s ocean. Have at it.

Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake

Blum's Coffee Crunch CakeIf you want a taste of old San Francisco you have to go to Blum’s. Unfortunately it closed sometime in the early 70’s. I remember going there a few times. My Grandmother would take me and always make sure she had her proper hat and gloves when she went there.

My family was not a rich family, but they did what they could and would set aside money for special things. My Grandmother tended to frequent places that wealthy women would go to shop and Blum’s was the place they ended their hard day of shopping at. It was a candy store and soda fountain that also served meals I don’t remember much other than the huge sundaes my Grandmother would buy me when we’d go there and she would sit and have her cup of coffee and delicately nibble on her Coffee Crunch Cake.

Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake has been popping up for me recently enough that I had to find out more information about it. Some people refer to it as Blum’s coffee cake, but it’s not a coffee cafe it’s a coffee flavored cake that has some crunchy toffee bits on top. The story goes that Ernest Weil who managed Blum’s in San Francisco came up with the idea when a candy making friend made a mistake and over cooked some coffee flavored candy and it sort of turned into an aerated toffee. Not exactly the way it was supposed to look and it was a bit on the ugly looking side too. Ernest helped him out by smashing it up and putting it on top of a lemony cake with coffee frosting. It was a hit. Apparently it was a big hit that I was too young to realize.

As it turns out a year after making it for Blum’s Ernest Weil left and opened Fantasia Bakery in Laurel Heights. This is remembered because of their florentine cookies my Mom used to get when we’d visit her best friend who lived nearby. These weren’t like the florentines you get in any other store or bakery. They were so sinfully good that my Mother used to joke that she’d have to go to confession after eating one. Odd considering she had given up being a Catholic before I was born.

Today Blum’s and Fantasia are gone, but there is a place called the Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop located in Mira’s grocery store that makes it. They run out frequently I’ve been told so it’s best to call ahead first to see if they have any. If you’re not afraid of getting your hands dirty, I’ve managed to find the recipe for you:

Continue reading “Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake”

A Letter From Uncle Frank

When I wrote my article on the Treasure Island Hot Dog and not understanding how hot dogs had any association with San Francisco it triggered a response from Uncle Frank of the Schwarz Sausage Factory. While the name sounded familiar I wasn’t aware that they had started in San Francisco. Here’s the letter I received from Uncle Frank yesterday morning:

I read your post about San Francisco having no hot dog connection.

I also notice you quote Herb Caen, a serious hot dog guy.

Actually, San Francisco has a proud, although not well known, hot dog heritage. Up until a few years ago, The City was home to Schwarz Sausage Company, a multi generation family business who have been at it longer than Nathan’s of New York.

And they provide Berkeley’s spectacular Top Dog with some of the finest hot dogs on the planet.

How do I know all of this?

We’re The Hot Dog Hall Of Fame (Mr. Caen was a supporter) and we’ve tasted hot dogs all across the country, easily a thousand places in the 35 years we’ve been doing this.

There’s more to it than that but I thought we should introduce ourselves.

A few of our blogs and web sites:

Our web site: www.TheHotDogHallOfFame.com
Our blog: http://FrankfurterChronicles.blogspot.com
About the collection: http://TheHotDogHallOfFame.blogspot.com
How we got into the weenie trade: http://TheGreatAmericanHotDogMachine.blogspot.com
The Presidential Wiener: http://PresidentialWiener.blogspot.com

With Relsh,

Uncle Frank

I thought I knew a lot about Herb Caen, but I didn’t know he was a hot dog fan, but that makes sense. Hot dogs were always what you got at a baseball game and it was probably one from Schwarz Sausage Factory that I used to get as a kid. While they’ve been sold and are now in Fairfield [like so many other companies that grew too big for San Francisco] You can see their current website at the Engelhart Gourmet Foods site.

Thanks for the info Uncle Frank.

San Francisco Sourdough

While sourdough bread is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt, it’s claim to fame has become it’s association with San Francisco gold miners [the other 49er’s]. I think I was probably around 12 or so before I tasted a French bread that wasn’t made with sourdough. My family used it for everything.

Their brand of choice was the now defunct Larabaru bakery’s brand. The company is so defunct that you won’t even find their name turning up results in Google. I remember the first night I had French bread that wasn’t sourdough. It was at the SF Zoo on a member’s night back when non-profits really gave back to their members if only but once a year. They offered everyone who came chili with a french roll and butter. When I bit into the roll it didn’t have the sour taste and something changed in me. I realized how much I hated sourdough bread.

Yes, I have to admit that while be a born and raised San Franciscan who is living in the same house I grew up in, I hate sourdough bread. There are people who used to come to the  city just for the sourdough bread. They even had stands at the airport where you could buy it to take home with you. When there was any major event between competing cities the Mayor of San Francisco would always send sourdough bread and crab to competing city’s Mayor [ahem, not organic hot dogs, please take note Mayor Ed Lee].

Now for the few of you who don’t know what sourdough bread is, it’s basically bread made from old dough. In particular the dough has offered itself as a home for the bacteria Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. Yes, it may have started with the Egyptians, but when someone found out what was making it sour it was named after San Francisco. Thanks, I think.

In order to continue to make sourdough bread you have to keep a little bit of the raw dough behind to make your next batch. This mother as they call it is the starter that every bakery has their own version of which dates back to opening of the bakery. I won’t go into all the chemistry of this because it will bore you to tears, but if you really interested you can check it out on Wikipedia.

I do still eat it every once in awhile though and it makes a particularly good combination with San Francisco’s clam chowder from Boudin Bakery. I might add that it is the only bakery I will purchase sourdough bread from. They started in San Francisco in 1849 and are still here. That something to say about a San Francisco company that old.

Leland Yee: Outraged over animal abuse, but not shark abuse

I received an email from Senator Leland Yee yesterday about his outrage of the funding of a $750,000 grant for a Brooklyn artist to create sculptures for Muni who in the 70’s made a film where he made an art film in which he adopted a dog and chained it to a fence and then shot the dog.

I have to admit that I had heard of the film, but never saw it, but not only am I disgusted by the idea of this film, but so was the man who made it. He remarked that what he did was wrong and it was the stupidity of his youth that made him unable to see the bigger picture, yet at the same time, we have a California state Senator who while being disgusted by the shooting of a dog, sees nothing wrong with the dismembering of a shark and throwing its writhing, living body back into the ocean to die as being a Chinese cultural tradition.

To quote Senator Yee from his email:

This week, Ed Lee and the SFMTA approved spending $750,000 of taxpayer money on a central subway contract for Brooklyn artist Tom Otterness, who made a 1977 film in which he chained a dog to a fence and then shot and killed that dog on camera.

Yes, you read that correctly. He chained a dog to a fence and then shot and killed that dog.

This is a completely unacceptable use of taxpayer dollars.

I woke up early this morning to find a youtube video had been sent to me by an old friend of mine, Dave King. This is a video of Chef Gordon Ramsey tasting Shark Fin Soup for the first time to see what all the fuss was about. Not only do you get a chef’s analysis of the soup, but Ramsey also goes out to see how the shark fins are acquired. Warning for those friends of mine who are defenders of animal rights, while sharks aren’t all warm and fuzzy like a dog or a cat [which also happen to be eaten as a part of “traditional Chinese culture”  in China that I have written about before] this video does show the finning of sharks, in which case you might want to stop the video after Chef Ramsey leaves the restaurant.

Senator Yee, who is a candidate for mayor of San Francisco [which I might add he filed for just a week after being re-elected as Senator of California] has a problem with animal abuse as long as the animal being abused isn’t a shark. He talks about how shark meat is available everywhere, yet you can’t find it anywhere and the basis if AB 376 is an attack on “Traditional Asian Culture” when Chinese citizens are the only Asians who consume shark fin soup. In reality, this email isn’t an attack on a man who shot a dog, but an attack upon another fellow Chinese citizen of San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee. While as you all know I am not in favor of our interim Mayor running for re-election because it goes against the promise he had made that he would not run for re-election, I also do not like the focus that our Chinese candidates for Mayor are using to focus on getting the Chinatown vote. While Chinese make up 33% of San Francisco’s population, only 18% of them actually vote and the majority of the Chinese population isn’t living in Chinatown, but the majority of non-voting Chinese is.

Supervisor John Avalos and Attorney Dennis Herrera are making huge jumps in polls because of the fact that they are focusing on the population of San Francisco, not a small eight block area of San Francisco. We need a Mayor that will focus on all of the districts to bring about change. From the Sunset to the Bayview, from the Mission to North Beach and yes, also Chinatown, but not appearing to be only in favor of helping Chinatown.

Now with that being said, on to the movie:


The Camera Obscura, Relic of the Golden Era

Go into a very dark room on a bright day. Make a small hole in a window cover and look at the opposite wall. What do you see? Magic! There in full color and movement will be the world outside the window — upside down! This magic is explained by a simple law of the physical world. Light travels in a straight line and when some of the rays reflected from a bright subject pass through a small hole in thin material they do not scatter but cross and reform as an upside down image on a flat surface held parallel to the hole. This law of optics was known in ancient times.

The earliest mention of this type of device was by the Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti (5th century BC). He formally recorded the creation of an inverted image formed by light rays passing through a pinhole into a darkened room. He called this darkened room a “collecting place” or the “locked treasure room.”

Aristotle (384-322 BC) understood the optical principle of the camera obscura. He viewed the crescent shape of a partially eclipsed sun projected on the ground through the holes in a sieve, and the gaps between leaves of a plane tree.

The Islamic scholar and scientist Alhazen (Abu Ali al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham) (c.965 – 1039) gave a full account of the principle including experiments with five lanterns outside a room with a small hole.

In 1490 Leonardo Da Vinci gave two clear descriptions of the camera obscura in his notebooks. Many of the first camera obscuras were large rooms like that illustrated by the Dutch scientist Reinerus Gemma-Frisius in 1544 for use in observing a solar eclipse.

The image quality was improved with the addition of a convex lens into the aperture in the 16th century and the later addition of a mirror to reflect the image down onto a viewing surface. Giovanni Battista Della Porta in his 1558 book Magiae Naturalis recommended the use of this device as an aid for drawing for artists.

Thus are the words to describe a little known artifact of San Francisco history. Perched on an outcropping behind the Cliff House is a piece of San Francisco history that few people ever visit. It’s a shame because the Camera Obscura is an inexpensive place of wonder. For $3 you get to enter a 25′ x25′ box that has a couple or rotating lenses housed in a pyramid that shine down on a white parabolic disc in the center giving you a stunning view of the ocean and rocks of Ocean Beach and there’s no time limit on your stay.

I never went there are a kid, but oddly enough I suggested it to a friend from Texas when we took a trip out to Land’s End to see the ruins of Sutro Baths. At the time it was a dollar to get in which even in the 90’s seemed like a deal. As we entered, it felt like we had walked into some sort of ancient ritual chamber. It was quiet and there was some ambient music playing. We gazed into the disk and something old and magical happened. We were looking into something old, sort of Victorian in nature. There was no CGI involved here it was all a definitely what you see is what you get sort of thing. At the time there were still a few sea lions on Seal Rock and they looked so big that we imagined that one of them would reach out and bite us.

For those who get bored easily the walls contained a holograph gallery. It was a nice addition for those who are of the short attention span theater in nature, but not entirely necessary. We felt transported back in time to the late 1800’s when life was much more simple. We were much more aware of the world around us because this Camera Obscura was bringing what felt far away right up into our face. We walked around the central disk for about an hour mesmerized by the sights we were seeing even though we could have been outside and dropped a quarter into a telescope and seen the same thing. This was more real to us because it was so much bigger.

As stated above the Camera Obscura was noted in a book called Magiae Naturalis. Those words translate into the magic of nature. The Camera Obscura is truly a magic of nature and you should experience it when you get a chance. This weekend would be a good time to do so.

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Leland Yee Called Me A Racist…Publically!

Oh no he dit’nt! Yes he did. Well at least someone on Leland Yee’s staff or Leland trying to look like someone else posted the following to me on Twitter today: @baghdadbythebay he’s against it. Or haven’t you been reading his statements? #racism

I assume it wasn’t Leland Yee posting directly because if he does he’s just become one of those people we all hate who talk about themselves in the third person. I am assuming someone will be getting their walking papers soon. Make sure you click on the picture and read how this all started.

I don’t quite understand how making a statement that a surprising number of Chinese American voters backed the ban on shark finning makes me a racist? Perhaps the fact that Senator Yee backed the ban on foie gras makes him a racist for destroying French Culture? I think the method of foie gras production is just as barbaric as shark finning so do I hate French people as well as Chinese people? No, I think not. We even have Yao Ming speaking out against shark finning in the US and in CHINA, yet I haven’t heard Senator Yee calling him a racist.

Leland Yee has spoke up that he believes it should be ok if you use the whole shark. That wouldn’t be a problem with me either except that people don’t eat shark anymore because of the high mercury content. Yee stated that Costco even sells shark meat so there would be plenty of fins to go around.

The problem is once again, Yee was wrong. Costco hasn’t sold shark meat in over ten years. If you drop Leland Yee into google you’ll find a large number of articles pop up linking him with the shark fin soup debate or pretty much him against everyone else.

Now let’s look at the little #racism hash tag. Take a look at the picture on the right. That’s me the nazi racist standing with a few of my friends at a small high school reunion. See a common thread in the picture? Riiiight, there’s a whole lot of Asian going on in that pic. I went to George Washington High School that was over 60% Chinese at the time. If you didn’t like Asians, that wasn’t a good place to be.

I live in the Sunset District, in a part of which I’ve had Chinese neighbors for the last 15 years and is a predominantly Asian neighborhood. If you don’t like Asians this is not a place to live, but I’m still here.

What this is about is a barbaric act to harvest the fins of sharks then throw them back into the water to drown a painful slow death. Pelagic sharks must always swim. They have a constant need for water to pass over their gills so that they get oxygen. When they have no fins they suffocate while they are bleeding to death.

This isn’t like a lizard that regrows it’s tail when it loses it and this isn’t about racism. Keep that in mind Mr. Yee before you end up putting your foot in your mouth again.