Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Has a hurricane ever hit the West Coast? (The answer may surprise you)

Last week, the East Coast endured both a 5.8 earthquake (and its aftershocks) and Hurricane Irene. This week, the locusts are scheduled to descend.

I'm grateful Irene wasn't quite as bad as many had feared. But the occurrence of both events last week left me wondering: Has the quake-prone West Coast ever been hit with a hurricane or a similar storm of its magnitude?

After some Googling, I discovered the answer is: kinda sorta. There was one known tropical storm to hit California in 1939 with 50 mph winds, according to a USA Today article, but that's the closest we've ever come. Remnants of hurricanes and tropical storms formed off the coast of Mexico or elsewhere have sometimes worked their up to the U.S. West Coast. But a direct hit from the likes of Hurricane Irene just doesn't happen here.

Hurricanes do form in the Northwest Pacific Basin. And like hurricanes born in the Atlantic, they move in a west/northwest direction. In the case of the Northwest Pacific, that direction would take a hurricane away from the West Coast, whereas in the Atlantic, a north-by-northwest direction aims hurricanes directly toward land.

The other reason we don't get hurricanes here is that the Pacific Ocean along the U.S. West Coast is way too cold to fuel a big funnel. You know how you get a headache if you drink a Slurpee too fast? Imagine that happening to your entire body when you get into the Pacific Ocean here, even during the height of summer. When I was in Charleston in late June, the Atlantic Ocean temperature at Folly Beach was 85 degrees. According to today's San Francisco Chronicle, the ocean temperature here is 57 degrees today.

The SF skyline is completely invisible this morning from our deck
Because the Pacific is so chilly, there's a virtually permanent fog bank just offshore. When the inland valleys heat up, it often pulls that 'marine layer' into San Francisco. And so, I wake up on a late August morning like today, stare out our window at the fog (see the picture), turn up the heat (yes, I turn the heat on in August), and confront my mixed emotions about that damn marine layer. I despise it because it robs San Franciscans of a true summer, year after year. I miss the simple pleasures of a summer that East Coasters take for granted: swimming in the ocean, dining al fresco at night, to name a few.

But this morning, after Irene has come and gone, I begrudgingly appreciate the fog. In the land of major earthquakes and huge summer wildfires, the fog is a reminder of why we don't have to worry about hurricanes, too.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Oh thank God - Apple's new CEO is a Southerner

As the world reacted to the news of Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple CEO, my thoughts turned to fried chicken.

Tim Cook, the man Steve Jobs chose to succeed him as Apple's CEO, is a Southerner. So it was only natural that I wondered if this meant Apple's company cafeteria will now be serving fried chicken? (Perhaps it already does?)

Cook is an Alabama native. He majored in industrial engineering at Auburn University, is a big Tigers football fan, and claims his office is covered in Auburn memorabilia. He gave the 2010 commencement address at Auburn's graduation ceremony. Cook earned an MBA at Duke University.

It's truly sad to see Jobs, who's had more impact on our lives as CEO than most government leaders could ever hope to achieve, resigning. It's obvious Jobs departed for health reasons. I sincerely hope he grows stronger and, a bit selfishly, I also hope he will continue to enrich our lives in ways we can't imagine (which was always his specialty). But hey, at least we've got a Southerner as CEO at the world's most valuable technology company.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A mint muddler and other essentials for surviving Southern earthquakes

Yesterday's earthquake, with its epicenter in Virginia, rattled window panes and nerves throughout the South as well as that place above the Mason-Dixon line. The quake and its aftershocks surprised a lot of people, but honestly, such seismic events aren't completely unknown in the South.

In the 1970s, somewhere between my pre-pubescent and post-pimple years, I experienced my very first earthquake, and it was in my hometown of Greensboro, N.C. I was taking a shower when, suddenly, the shower glass doors began to tap against each other. I assumed it was one of my sisters trying to scare me yet again (which happened so often, I believed "Boo!" was simply another form of saying hello). I grabbed a towel and ran downstairs as the shaking continued. "Oh law!," my mother exclaimed, as the dishes she had just placed in the dishwasher danced. "Earth tremor, Earth tremor!" I believe her next move was to light a cigarette.

Having lived through that earthquake and several others of greater magnitude in San Francisco, I feel obliged to offer y'all some earthquake survival tips, should there be another "Earth tremor."

1. When the ground shakes, stay inside. You don't want to go outside anyway, what with all the humidity and mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

2. Stay away from glass. Unless there's a cocktail in it. Which raises a question: Is there a mint muddler in your disaster survival kit?

3. Get under a table. Which raises another question: When was the last time anyone actually cleaned down there?

4. Don't try to call anyone afterwards. Cell phone networks will likely be overloaded. A better option is to text your loved ones to tell them you're alright and, if they are out and about anyway, ask them to pick up dinner at Chick-fil-A on their way home.

That's it for now. If I think of any other helpful tips (or any tips that are actually helpful), I'll pass them along. In the meantime, where the heck did I put my mint muddler?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The shocking story of my Sunday in the park with Colonel Sanders

"But really, Colonel, I'm on a diet!"

When I came up with the name of this blog, I decided the subhead should be “Eating fried chicken in the fog, and other tales,” because I liked the image it conjured, a mix of things quintessentially Southern and San Franciscan. I certainly had no intentions of eating fried chicken in the fog, because the only thing I ever intend to do in the fog is flee it.

But this past Sunday morning, I ate fried chicken in the fog. And are you sitting down? It was KFC chicken. And are you still sitting? It wasn’t bad.

Now before you write me off forever as a hopeless hillbilly, allow me to explain.

Nick and I had arranged a Sunday picnic with our good friend Suzanne and her adorable mother, Meg. Because it was a Sunday picnic, Nick decided fried chicken must be consumed. He’d promised to pick up some for Suzanne and Meg, too. We suggested meeting them at McNear’s Beach in San Rafael at 11 a.m. McNear’s is a lovely grassy park on the bay, with a small sandy beach and a pier and palm trees, and it can usually be counted on to be fog free, even when much of the Bay Area is blanketed.

I resisted the fried chicken because, if I may be honest, I weigh about five pounds more than I’d like. So into my Piggly Wiggly cooler bag I packed a leftover grilled chicken Caesar salad from the previous night and one of my last cans of Cheerwine. (Hey, I had to have something fun to eat or drink).

As we headed out of town, we stopped at the Popeye’s on Divisadero Street. It was 10:30, and Nick discovered they didn’t open until 11. So as we continued driving, I called ahead to Andy’s, a grocery store in San Rafael with good home-made prepared foods.

“Do y’all have any fried chicken?” I asked.

The young woman on the other end of the line paused, and I could read her thoughts: “No, Jethro, we don’t do fried chicken and if you want pickled pigs feet, we’re plum out of that too.”

Thwarted, I remembered there was a Whole Foods in San Rafael. In the spirit of research and not wanting to disappoint Suzanne and Meg, I called and, to my surprise, their answer to my “Do y’all have fried chicken?” was “Not today.” Really? Whole Foods sells fried chicken (but not on Sunday)?

In desperation, I remembered San Rafael was also home to a KFC. I called; they were open; we stopped. Nick ordered chicken for himself, Suzanne, and Meg. Strictly out of curiosity, I ordered two wings, crispy. The friendly cashier informed me that for 87 additional cents, I could walk out with a total of four wings and a biscuit.

By the time we arrived at the park, less than about five minutes later, I had already consumed two of my four wings. The biscuit was now in my past, too, and I hurriedly brushed away the tell-tale crumbs from my sweatshirt. My review: While not as succulent or as tasty as Popeye’s, KFC’s crispy wings are not easily dismissed, especially under duress.

Unfortunately, the fog sat heavily over McNear’s that morning as we had our picnic. The wind blew hats off heads and plates off tables. A yellow jacket grew unreasonably interested in my face and I had to run to escape it. Aside from the agreeable company, I began to think this picnic was a mistake. I was trying to diet and I had so many things to do and yet here I was, eating KFC chicken in a cold, foggy, windy park.

McNear's Beach, San Rafael
After a while, I focused my attentions on Meg, Suzanne’s delightful mother. Meg lives in an assisted living facility, yet she has a child’s wonder and observations. She savored the boats on the water, the brave souls paddleboarding on the bay, the kids chasing the geese, the fishermen reeling in their lines on the pier (one caught a small shark and threw it back). Meg is also slightly mischievous. Suzanne said she wouldn’t give Meg any more wine until she finished her cup of water. Naturally, when she thought Suzanne wasn’t looking, Meg dumped the remaining water in her cup on the ground.

At last the sun emerged and the wind calmed down. We went for a walk on the pier. Meg took it all in and was hesitant to leave when it was time. “I’m so glad you shared this wonderful secret place with us!” she exclaimed as I walked beside her. “Thank you!”

“You’re so welcome!” I answered. But I was the one who was grateful—to Meg, for helping me appreciate the moment and the place, and for reminding me that the sun eventually appears. You just have to be patient. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Riding a streetcar named desire in San Francisco (or intending to)

Everyone knows about San Francisco's cable cars, which, of course, only the tourists ride. But most people outside the Bay Area, when asked under cross examination, would not know about the city's vintage trolley cars.

Nearly 16 years ago, San Francisco began regularly running historic streetcars from various cities around the world along Market Street toward Castro and later, along the Embarcadero waterfront. We have streetcars from the early-mid 20th century hailing from Philadelphia, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Boston, Milan, and Australia. And yes, the locals ride them.

As with most things from the mid 20th century today, these streetcars are both anachronistic and essential. They operate at a much slower speed than most people today would prefer, but they move you from point A to B with charm and style. Though I hate getting stuck behind one of these streetcars due to their narcoleptic pace, I love to see them swanning down the street.

And wouldn't you know it, we have one of New Orleans' streetcars named Desire. It was built in 1923 and ran for decades in New Orleans until the city no longer needed it and cast it aside (kind of like Blanche DuBois, the heroine of that great Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire.) Today the streetcar runs from the Ferry Building to Fisherman's Wharf.

Unfortunately, I've yet to ride this particular streetcar, either during my visits years ago to 'Nawlins' or here in San Francisco. But wouldn't it be fun to rent the streetcar named Desire for a Mardi Gras party? Fill it up with your friends and ride up and down the Embarcadero drinking hurricanes and eating king cake? This being San Francisco, you could even have a drag contest, The Battle of the Blanches.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Imagine my astonishment: Krispy Kreme doughnuts with Cheerwine

After blogging yesterday about both Cheerwine and Krispy Kreme, I discovered something shocking.

When I wasn't looking, the two Carolina brands had secretly spawned the Cheerwine-filled Krispy Kreme doughnut. The doughnut was originally introduced back in June 2010--in a ceremony held at the North Carolina State Capitol. And it was unveiled by none other than Bev Perdue, the governor of North Carolina.

I find myself imagining Gov. Perdue, glancing at her to-do list over her latte on that particular morning and blinking in disbelief at the following:

Things to Do Today
1. Balance state budget.
2. Find jobs for all the former furniture workers and tobacco pickers.
3. Debut a doughnut.

Anyhow, the Cheerwine-flavored Krispy Kreme confection was a limited-run treat sold only in North and South Carolina grocery stores and then resurrected for about one month this past July.

My mind (and to be honest, my stomach) is reeling. What other Southern culinary mashups might be in the works even as I type these words? Could we one day be getting tipsy from mint julep-infused Moon Pies? Is Chick-fil-a scheming to slather pimiento cheese on its fried chicken sandwiches? (Hmm...neither one of those sound half bad, come to think of it.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oh dear, almost out of Cheerwine

I'm down to three cans of Cheerwine.

For those who don't know, Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored cola made in North Carolina and not easy to find outside of a few Southern states. (It's kind of like a cherry Dr. Pepper.) Beverages & More in San Francisco was carrying Cheerwine in bottles--the holy grail--but seems to have lost interest. I haven't seen the soft drink there in months.

So on my last visit to Greensboro, N.C. (where I'm from), I shipped two six packs of Cheerwine cans back to my San Francisco address. I've consumed them sparingly, like bottles of water on the desert. And just as I had finished counting my last cans, I thought: Why don't I Google Cheerwine and see if there's a way to have some shipped to me?

Indeed there is. The Cheerwine site will sell me 24 Cheerwine Longneck Bottles for $22. I felt a song coming on--until I saw that the cheapest shipping option was $38.

Oh well. It seems to me the more unobtainable a comfort food/drink is, the more firmly rooted in your hometown it remains, the better it tastes. Case in point: Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

I used to roam the streets of Greensboro during visits home, hoping some Krispy Kreme employee would deign to flip on the 'hot light,' designating that they'd just cranked up the conveyer belt to produce dozens of delectable, warm, sugary circles. Once they started selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts in San Francisco grocery stores, I lost interest immediately.