Note to self: Sun Gold!

Don't forget: It's the Sun Golds that I want next year.

I grabbed it by luck this year at the nursery, along with previous favorites Sweet 100s and some regular Roma tomatoes. The Sun Golds eclipsed all previous favorites as the hands down most awesomest tomato that there is. Yes, Sweet 100s are still quite good and offer a color contrast to the Sun Golds. Yes, Romas were sliced on hamburgers and dried in the oven for a tasty faux sun dried tomato (6 hours or so, low heat, on cookie sheets covered in parchment paper). But nothing compared to the Sun Golds.

I'm writing this because I had no way of knowing the name of those scrumptious tomatoes due to my steel sieve memory. That was until this evening. Tonight I cleaned out the prolific growth from the summer tomato crop, now mostly dead and decaying, and found the little tag from the nursery identifying my favorite: Sun Gold. They are
other people's favorite

I didn't find the tag from some golden colored plum tomato that I despised. They were mealy and bland. Turns out that it took until this summer to realize that I've actually never had a good plum tomato. So no more plum tomatoes for me.


Ahhh vacation!

I've had a two week vacation in Santa Barbara. The occasional readers (all four of you) of this blog won't really have noticed since I'm a sporadic poster. The good thing is that I managed to clear my head and get a feeling of forward momentum / positive goals in my personal life.

Vacation activites included Super Delux sub sandwiches with extra peppers, no mayo, and oil and vinegar dresing at Tino's Deli (corner of De La Guerra and Vine). These are every bit as good as they were in high school. Unlike many American products they don't seem to have changed or lost the recipe.

Hiking along the lower San Ysidro Creek (a nice stroll with opportunities for collecting acorns) and up the west fork of the Cold Spring Trail (it gets hot and exposed above the Cold Spring tunnel due to pruning from recent trail improvements). On the day I hiked CST, I didn't see anyone on the west fork except for a baby king snake.

The beach was nice, and swimming lessons for my son helped me feel that he wasn't in imminent danger of drowning.

I saw old friends Jeff, Lisa, and Matt. Jeff has an art project going on display on State Street today, which he was finishing up. Lisa and Matt added a second dog to their household and changed their yard for the better.

Connected and Empowered

I finally joined the 21st Century last week when I purchased a cell phone for the first time (first time purchasers are sufficiently rare that we are referred to as virgins by store personnel). I had been reading how people are growing more distant in their immediate interpersonal relationships, and how they are counteracting this with electronic connectivity. While I believed it, the reality of actually realizing it is different: Returning from vacation, I felt secure in the knowledge that I had instant access to a growing electronic list of friends and family. It was reassuring. I felt connected and empowered; finally part of the digital web.

On the down side, it was somewhat costly despite my best efforts at frugality. Take for example the price of the car charger: $29.95. This is obscene! The only thing that makes it cost that much is greed (and the custom-sized electrical connector which prevents the use of a $3.95 generic charger).


Root Beers Compared

I've always been a root beer fan. Over the years I've tried many, and here's how I'd rank the ones I find frequently in the store today for taste to price ratio.

A&W - Best of the breed. Priced right, with that "frosty mug taste", makes great floats, and is enjoyable by itself. Buy! Interestingly, I don't care for IBC root beer as much, even though it too is owned by Cadbury-Schwepps

Virgil's - Pricey but quite good when you have some extra cash to spend on a sipping brew BUT my recent purchases (two four packs, about six months apart, each from Trader Joe's) have had inexplicably low carbonation compared to before. This is a complex root beer with a slight anise taste backed up with other spices and flavors with a good mouth feel but I feel that it still needs abundant carbonation as a necessary foil for the sweet, so I was less than happy. Perhaps it is related to the takeover by the Reed's soda empire? However, even more recently I had some from another Trader Joes in a far away city and it was fine. This finding allows it to keep its number two position provisionally. Don't make floats with this one, but sip it when in a contemplative mood. Buy.

Hansen's - Thin and watery both in taste and mouth feel. As a result it makes horrible floats. It's not incredibly satisfying to drink either. Avoid.

Barq's - Bad taste, thin mouth feel. Not really a root beer so far as I'm concerned due to the "barq's bite" (caffeine). Avoid!


Our Disappearing Lawns

Well, we can only hope.

Among the people who give it any thought at all there's two current schools of thought on the future of the front lawn in California and other western states. In one camp are the people who view American's penchant for acres of underutilized, sterile, groomed turf as a barrier to community. "Let's foster community using our front yards. We'll redesign and plant things that draw people together instead of using our lawns as barriers," they say. In another camp are those who see our acres of underutilized, sterile, groomed turf as the spawning ground of a return to Nature movement. "Plant natives and you won't consume as much water and chemicals plus you will help the return of wildlife that needs the native plants to survive."

I think there's merit to both of the lawn reformers' points of view, but I have to admit that I'm biased to the return to Nature crowd. Wouldn't you want a quintessentially Californian, low maintenance, chemical-free, low water garden that buzzes with sleepy bumblebees (they don't sting, mostly), attracts and feeds humming birds, gets visits from a wide variety of colorful butterflies, and harbors a few lizards?

Although I've had an interest in native plants for some time and occasionally used them in my landscaping, I only installed my native front yard in winter of 2005/06, so it's just getting through its first summer as I write. It took over about half of the lawn that used to be snugged up against the front of the house. There's still a few non-natives that I'll remove once the baby native plants grow a bit more.

Landscaping now accounts for at least half of our domestic water use according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Because sod is basically wall to wall carpeting for the outside (meaning that it's inexpensive and fast to install but requires constant upkeep) residential developers favor it in new construction. You've graded away all the topsoil? That's OK. Throw in some sod, water and fertilize heavily, and you too can sell the house as "fully landscaped". Large new developments are in hotter inland areas and therefore require proportionately more water. Our appetite for more affordable housing in the near term drives an unaffordable appetite for water in the long term.

The city of Las Vegas now pays people to remove their lawns and enforces a very strict (and wise) water waste policy. Given our periodic drought conditions, concern over runoff contributions to shoreline water quality, and our ever-growing population, I'd expect similar policy to be enacted here sooner or later.

How to replace your lawn.