Saturday, September 29, 2012

More Figs!

29 September 2012

Having been at work Monday through Thursday, by today (Friday) the fig tree was laden with fruit. I picked about 12-13 lbs (6 kilos). About half of them went into the food dehydrator last night - which reminds me, I need to package those up now that they are cool.

The other half went into the pot to become jam. I cut them up into pieces, ending up with about 4 cups of cut fruit.
 To the fruit I added about 3/4 cup of sugar and a cup of lemon juice and then simmered for about half an hour, stirring often. I didn't measure, but added them little by little until it was to my taste, as I prefer jam to be slightly tart. The recipe for fig jam in the pectin box called for NINE cups of sugar for this much fruit, ugh! I ended up not using pectin at all because it seemed thick enough and will probably firm up a bit as it cools.
Once the figs were really soft, I used a potato masher to "puree" the fruit, being too lazy to get the food processor dirty. It worked well and left the little seeds intact, which looked pretty in the jars, as you see below. This was only my second attempt at canning. so I hope the seals will hold.

Since those were yesterday's figs, I picked a few more today. I saw a recipe on the Food Network site for baked figs with mascarpone, honey, and pistachios. I adapted it a bit by omitting the honey and using toasted walnuts.
 The mascarpone takes a little practice to handle. It took me a few tries before I could get it off the spoon without making a total disaster, and also, by the time I got them all done, the first ones were starting to melt like butter. It would have been better to wait until the figs had cooled completely before adding the toppings.
Although the baked figs were good, the flavors were somewhat bland. Just for curiosity's sake, I made one up with a fresh uncooked fig, and we decided that the three flavors were much clearer. Next time I would not bother to bake them.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Crouching Cat, Dragon Fruit

28 September 2012

A fruit became ripe on one of the cacti which earlier had produced the outrageously huge white blossoms, and I was very curious to know what it was like inside.

The flesh inside is amazingly similar to that of the Dragon Fruit, which I ate often when I was living in China. The color and texture of the outer skin is also somewhat similar, although without the "scales" that give the Dragon Fruit its name. I would not be at all surprised to discover that the plants were closely related.

The texture is the same - like a kiwi with crispy little tart seeds. The flavor of the fruit is slightly different, reminding me a little of flowers or passionfruit. I highly doubt that I will ever get the two fruits side by side for a taste test, though.

And in other news... where is my cat? Hmmmm....
He likes to hide under/behind things and then jump out and "tag" me (he doesn't use his claws, so it reminds me of playing tag). It always makes me laugh when he hides like this because he thinks he is cleverly hidden, but his backside is totally sticking out. I gamely walk back and forth wondering aloud where he is until he "surprises" me. Here he is stalking my toes.
 Awwww, all worn out from playing.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Figs, figs, figs!

22 September 2012

The fig tree in the front yard is producing like crazy now. The starlings are on the top of it every day, but mostly they only get the figs that are too high to reach with the small ladder. Many of the figs from the top of the tree drop onto the yard and sidewalk, making a figgy mess.
Today I picked two big bowls full of figs (using my lunchbox because it has a carrying strap) and only half of them would fit into the food dehydrator. That is not counting all the ones I ate while I was on the ladder!
I'll probably do another round of picking tomorrow, because I won't be able to get to it again until Friday. I'm not certain why, but this year many of the figs are beginning to ferment before they are ready to pick, so I've picked most of them just a tiny bit underripe - ripe enough for eating, but not "perfect". A perfectly ripe fig is just beginning to wrinkle, drooping at the stem and easy to pick.

Speaking of perfection, near the garage, one of the rosebushes has a couple of perfect blossoms right now. The first one, as seen from the side.
 From above, also perfect.
 The second one is slightly older and so it has a bit of "sunburn" in its color.

Update: Here is a picture of the dried figs after about 16 hours in the dehydrator.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Butterflies Alive!

16 September 2012

Went to the "Butterflies Alive" exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History with some friends who were visiting from Monterey.
We were lucky because it was the last day of the exhibit for the year. It will still be there, but it will be closed to let the butterflies rest.

I tried to photograph every variety of butterfly I saw there. They were accustomed to the people, so it was easy to get close to most of them.

 This one was iridescent in the light, an effect I was not able to catch on camera.
 Yes, that is a real butterfly sitting on the sign!

 Many of the butterflies had different designs or colors on the inside and outside of their wings, like this one in the next two photos.

 This soft gray butterfly in the above photo has semi-transparent wings, as you can see in the following picture with the three butterflies.
This one looks similar to a Monarch from the outer wings, but the photos above and below shoe that it's a different species. 

 Amazing camouflage - from most angles, this green one looked just like a leaf.
 This little butterfly was only about 3 cm but with big color!
They told us that most of the butterflies were collected in Florida, but there was one local representative, the Monarch butterfly.

At the end of the day, we had just time to peek into one of the museum exhibits before closing time.

I love the artwork on the museum van!

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

16 September 2012

Some friends and I went to see the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, one of my favorite buildings in this city. We took a guided tour and learned enough historical details to play Santa Barbara Trivial Pursuit. The tour began in the Mural Room, which was painted by a famous American illustrator, but flash photos were not permitted in that room, so the only good shot I got was of the ceiling, which was done by a famous Italian painter. From what the tour guide said, no expense was spared when they built this courthouse, bringing in famous architects and painters and importing materials such as the many painted tiles.
Just outside the Mural Room is a beautiful rose window. You can see the top of a Moorish arch at the lower right, part of the Andalusian style which was the motif for the entire building.
The corridor to the right of the rose window.
 The stairwell at this end of the building, like all of the building, is filled with elaborate details such as this amazing lamp. The painting is of the first Presidente de la Fiesta.
 Still in the stairwell; you can see some of the beautiful painted tilework.
 A view across the Sunken Garden in the middle of the U-shaped building - the part on the opposite side used to be the county jail. The jail was more beautiful than most people's homes
 At the corner of the building is a round staircase which is open to the air on the outer side and onto the interior of the building on the inner side.

The staircase above is in the round structure in the photo below, which was taken from the corner of the Sunken Garden near the street.

 Looking out over the Sunken Garden from the corridor along the back part of the U.

Despite its appearance, this window is inside the corridor, so the bars are decorative.
 The entrance to the archive room, which was closed that day, but which we were told is in a Gothic style completely unlike the rest of the building. I will have to visit someday on a weekday and see it.
 This door is also on the corridor at the back of the U, and has a similar one behind, probably was a pass-through from the street to the Sunken Garden.
 A side door, and one I am very familiar with from my five weeks on jury duty in 2009. The inscription over the arch reads, "Reason is the life of the law."
 The clock tower from below. I don't know whether this arch is the main entrance, but I've always thought of it that way.

Inside the lobby, looking down the right arm of the U.

Posing in a little alcove of unknown purpose. I love the way the handles on the window are perfectly lined up to make my friend look like Princess Leia...
 One of the last public pay telephones in existence. Hello?

The stairs leading up to the clock tower.
 In the stairwell you can see into the room containing the clock mechanism and the bells. We were there when the bells struck and it was fun to watch the mechanism working the bells.
 Views of the city from the top of the tower.
  Goofing around...

Here is the view on the ocean side of the tower in a video. 

And finally, 360 degree view from the tower.