Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sunrise this AM...

Looking south from San Francisco toward Guadalupe Canyon & San Bruno Mountain...

February 28th, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wild Fennel...

There's gold in them thar hills. Well, the gold is mostly gone now but the hills of San Francisco are still covered with another prize--wild fennel.

Wild fennel leaves growing on stalks along a San Francisco hillside.

Originating from Southern Europe, wild fennel is believed to have been introduced to California by the Spanish at least 200 years ago. The stems and leaves of this invasive plant are what produces its strong anise scent.

Unlike the commercially grown fennel that you see in supermarkets, wild fennel does not produce a bulging bulb. This herb grows in stalks that can become 6-10 feet tall and is sought after for its spring shoots, feather-like leaves, seeds and flower pollen.

Wild fennel favors the Mediterranean climate of San Francisco, flourishing in a variety of Bay Area places including vacant lots, weedy hillsides, grasslands and pastures as well as within coastal scrub. Open habitats nearby fresh or brackish water sources such as the banks of creeks, estuaries and/or bays might also harbor wild fennel.

The peak of wild fennel plant growth is during the months of July and August but seeds can germinate year round and it is possible for seeds to remain dormant in the soil for years before germinating. 

Seeds remain on a wild fennel stalk.

The zenith of wild fennel seed production is reached during August and September (but seeds will grow from about May until November). The seeds are one way that this perennial herb propagates through the assistance of water, animals, and humans that all act as disbursement agents. New wild fennel plants are also produced from existing root crowns.

Yellow flowers begin to appear on wild fennel plants when they are about one and a half to two years in age with blooms appearing around the month of May through September.

Pollinators will gravitate to yellow flowers on fennel stocks.

If you decide to go foraging for wild fennel when you're in The City, use caution. Although it usually feels great to get something for free, keep in mind that dogs love to mark their territory (urinate) in pretty much all of the various wild fennel habitats and tainted leaves are unlikely to taste good in your salad for instance. Another detriment to harvesting desirable wild fennel is air pollution in the form of car exhaust. So for these reasons especially, try to acquire your wild fennel from remote / lightly-traveled areas and be sure to wash each piece before consumption.

The last time I cooked with fennel was during this past Thanksgiving when I made Martha Stewart's Cherry-Pecan Stuffing. I distinctly remember crushing fennel seeds with my mortar & pestle as that a pleasingly fragrant licorice smell rose up from the result of freshly ground powder. The stuffing tasted so good that I am likely to make the recipe again next year!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Carly Dreibelbis...

The San Francisco Beacon is in full swing! After a week of postings, I now wish to give credit to my sister, Carly Dreibelbis, for the creation of the banner at the top of the blog. The gull portion of this image is utilized for photo representation at social media websites (Facebook & Twitter).
Carly and I grew up together in State College, PA, where she currently resides, working as a graphic designer for Pennsylvania State University. She really impressed me with her talent when I asked her to make the banner because I simply described what I wanted and she did it in practically no time almost exactly as I had envisioned.
In her bio, Carly says, "Photography is where most of my work began as a way for me to document my surroundings and experiences. As I developed my interest, I found inspiration in my day-to-day life. It has ranged from everyday encounters with my eccentric father and his "semi-urban farming," trips into cities and even simple walks in the woods. In a rut, I will relentlessly turn my camera on anyone close to me, shoot rolls of black and white film, or drive through state forests on the outskirts of town."

Carly's dog Dempsey is one inspiration for her photography.

Many clients have solicited her professional services including (product photography) and (food photography). She is available for photography,  illustration and graphic design including web graphics, identity, logos, stationery, business cards etc. If you would like to work with Carly, she can be reached at her freelance email address: 

Carly Dreibelbis

Sunday, February 24, 2013

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park...

Possessing a nice balance of scenic beauty amid urban landscape, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (located within Fisherman's Wharf) is an experiential gem of The City because of its plentiful attractions and entertainment options.

Signage noting the park.
The Hyde Street Pier is where a fleet of historic vessels are on display and serves as eastern boundary of the park. It is also one place where you can watch the Blue Angels air show during Fleet Week which happens annually during the second week of October (but maybe not this year due to looming fiscal cliff budget cuts).

Balclutha, an 1886 square-rigger ship docked at Hyde Street Pier.
Aquatic Park Historic District is located just off Van Ness Avenue on the west side of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and includes a maritime museum that was originally constructed as a Streamline Moderne style bathhouse by the Works Progress Administration in 1936. The exterior of this musuem resembles a large ocean liner and inside you will find interesting underwater-themed murals that were created Sargent Johnson and Hilaire Hiler in the 1930's.

Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building/Maritime Museum (Photo Souce: National Park Service)

Outside to the right of the museum are concrete bleachers that give way to a small beach and man-made lagoon on a site once known as Black Point Cove. This is where you're likely to see swimmers from the Dolphin Club (established in 1877) braving the cold bay waters (temperature is only around 50 degrees Fahrenheit).

To the right of the maritime museum bleachers is Victorian Park. Booths of artist merchants line the southern end of this park which is nearby Ghirardelli Square, an area that once served as the headquarters of famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Company.

Looking east through Victorian Park.

The south-eastern corner of Victoria Park is where the Hyde Street cable car turnaround is located. From here you can board a cable car and travel all the way down to Powell and Market Street in Union Square. Across the street from the cable car turnaround is the iconic Buena Vista Cafe, home to America's very first Irish Coffee!

Corner entrance to Buena Vista Cafe.

The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Visitors Center is inside the historic brick cannery warehouse that was erected in 1908 and located to the right of the cable car turn around.
Beach Street entrance to The Cannery.

Especially on a warm sunny day, Jack's Bar (part of The Cannery) is an excellent place to stop for a drink because of the comfortable outdoor seating and selection of over 85 draft and bottled beers.

Outdoor seating area of Jack's Bar.

But my favorite part of this area is the the Municipal Pier that makes up the western side of Aquatic Park. This is where the 4th of July fireworks are set off each year with Victorian Park serving as an excellent viewing place. What I like the most about Municipal Pier is the fact that although it is eroding and deteriorating pretty badly, you can still walk out over the bay waters on it to see wonderful views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island and Alcatraz.

Gated Entrance to the Municipal Pier

Golden Gate Bridge from Municipal Pier.
Maritime Museum and Ghirardelli Square from Municipal Pier.

And if you want to visit Point San Jose in Fort Mason, consider taking a less-traveled shortcut nearby the Municipal Pier. Look to the left side of Van Ness Avenue near the entrance to the Municipal Pier for a little path leading to stairs located below two water tanks that are part of the San Francisco Pumping Station #2.
Stairs from Van Ness Avenue to Point San Jose.

Follow this path along the headland to find a couple benches built into the wall of the cliff as well as more expansive views of the San Francisco Bay Area than you would see from the ground below.

Aquatic Park and bay view from the pathway to Point San Jose.

Flowering dogwood tree on the pathway to Point San Jose.

Angel Island, Alcatraz & the Municipal Pier from pathway to Point San Jose.

This path will lead you right to the picnic tables behind Point San Jose (see last post).

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fort Mason...

Fort Mason, named after Richard Barnes Mason (a former military governor of California) in 1882, was a U.S. Army post from 1864 to 1966 that played a significant role in the transport of troops and supplies to the Pacific during World War II (but the Spanish are credited for first establishing this former stronghold in 1797).

Nowadays, the 1200 acre Fort Mason area is utilized mostly for civilian and cultural purposes. The Fort Mason Center within the Fort Mason area is a complex of renovated late nineteenth and early twentieth century military buildings that are home to more than 50 non-profit cultural and environmental organizations as well as Greens Restaurant, serving exceptional vegetarian cuisine since 1979. Also part of Fort Mason Center is the Festival Pavilion where several exciting events are held annually including the Bay Area Brew Festival and the Pacific Orchid Exposition.

Entrance to the Fort Mason Center Festival Pavilion.
Fort Mason's location near the north-eastern edge of The City allows for expansive views of both the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay Area. The gardens and parks within Fort Mason provide for plentiful recreation opportunities too.

Golden Gate Bridge behind Fort Mason Center buildings.
When the weather is nice, the Fort Mason Green is a where you're likely to find scores of sunbathing Marina dwelling locals and tourists, especially on the weekends. You are also likely to see bikers, hikers and exercise enthusiasts burning calories all along the paved pathways circling the park.

Fort Mason Green.
Looking toward the bay, follow the foot traffic you'll see along the northern edge of Fort Mason Green until you reach these crossroads...

Battery Street at McDowell Road
Head east along Battery Street for a short distance to reach the often overlooked Point San Jose where you will find the restored West Battery cannon that was originally erected in 1864 during the Civil War era.

West Battery
To the right of the cannon, there are several day-use only picnic tables that can be reserved for parties through Golden Gate National Recreation Area's Special Park Uses Group.

Point San Jose can be utilized for gatherings.
Behind the West Battery, you will notice a historic looking building that currently makes up the San Francisco Fishermans Wharf Hostel. If you're hungry for a bite to eat or maybe an espresso drink, just go up the back stairway and you'll reach Cafe Franco, a perfect place to pause and enjoy bay views that is open to the public (although it's not very obvious).

Stairway to Cafe Franco.

Inside Cafe Franco.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bison Paddock...

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is full of many treasures, including American bison. Have you ever seen an American bison? These prehistoric looking creatures (also known as American buffalo) used to roam the grasslands of North America in massive herds then nearly went extinct during the 1800's. Their population decline was the result of hunting and slaughter by European settlers along with deadly diseases originating from domestic cattle.

Considering that the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species™ notes the number of remaining wild bison in North America to be around only 15,000, when friends and family come to visit, I almost always take them to the Bison Paddock. Together, we've created many great memories there.

Mom was with me when I snapped this artsy black and white pic.
American bison have a long history with Golden Gate Park as that they were first transported there from the Great Plains in 1890. But we have the husband of California senator Dianne Feinstein to thank in part for the bison we see at the paddock today because these animals are the descendants of the ones he gave her as a birthday present in 1984 (she was mayor of The City then).

Although the bison are beautiful to look at, when I take people to the paddock, we don't spend too much time there because these animals usually aren't incredibly active and there's lots more to see in the park (expect more blog posts about other Golden Gate Park sights in the future). Most times, the bison are just standing stoically in the field or grazing on the various grasses and weeds they have access to. Sometimes I've seen them roll around on the ground, rub on nearby trees and even defecate (gross).

But when I look into the eyes of a bison, I feel like I understand why the Native Americans see them as sacred. Each visit to the Bison Paddock is a time of reflection, a reconnection with peace and a reminder for me to try to be thankful for the things I already have instead of always wanting more. Yes, the buffalo take me there for some reason, they are very special animals so go and see for yourself!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Estancia Beef...

San Francisco is e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e, especially if you rent your living space. One of the ways I am able to keep some money in my pocket is by cooking at home most of the week. I do the majority of my grocery shopping at Safeway because I'm a big fan of their "Just for U" personalized shopper savings program which has enabled me to save over 40% on some shopping trips! But one thing that I have not been so pleased about in relation to Safeway is their beef selection. I've tried several of the different beef brand offerings there but none of them taste good to me. And since I am lucky enough to live in an area where there is lots in meat variety, one of my New Year's resolutions was to stop purchasing the Safeway beef options and try some alternatives instead.

Meat and I have a love/hate relationship. Some days, I convince myself that I am going to be a vegetarian (like after I hear those terrible stories from Peta). Other days, I contemplate a vegan diet, then cave to the idea due to my love for dairy products. Plus I get a cravings for meat often...why just last week, I was jonesing for some pot roast (comfort food).

Never in all of my life had I ever felt the inclination to make pot roast until late last year when I got on board with the latest crock pot craze...set it and forget it right? So on Facebook, I asked my friends to share their favorite pot roast in the crock pot recipe and a couple of them honored my request. One of the recipes, To Die For Pot Roast, looked as though it would taste great so I decided to give it a try. I also decided that I would add in a 1/2 cup of red wine for more flavor (as my friend recommended). But what beef would I use for the recipe?

Another friend suggested Estancia Beef which is only available at select butcher shops and grocery stores, mostly located on the West Coast (Here in San Francisco, you can purchase Estancia Beef at Bi-Rite Market & Real Food Company). I recalled how my friend raved about this beef because the animals are pasture-raised and grass-fed rather than grain-fed in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) as is often the case in relation to U.S. meat production present day. I appreciated the natural sounding approach more and couldn't remember a time of knowingly consuming grass-fed beef in the past. So I picked up some Estancia chuck roast and set off to make my very first pot roast in my crock pot. And after waiting out the roughly 8 hours of cooking time, this was my reward...

To Die For Pot Roast.
The beef tasted AMAZING in its slow-cooked form--tender, fell apart easily and possessed both a rich flavor and clean finish...distinguishably different in comparison to the grain-fed meats I am more used to consuming. Plus I felt lighter than I usually would after a meat meal.

As for the recipe, I give it 4 out of 5 stars because onions were omitted. Next time I make this dish, I will definitely add them in, perhaps some pearl onions would work well. And while adding the 1/2 cup of red wine was definitely an excellent tip, in the future I think I will use it as a substitute for 1/2 cup of the 1 cup of water that the recipe calls for. But overall, this meal turned out to be a great success because it was easy to make, DELICIOUS and I found a new meat to cook with that actually tastes good.

Want to try Estancia Beef but you're not into cooking? Many restaurants around San Francisco are using it for their dishes including The Slanted Door in the Embarcadero and Tacolicious in the Mission. If you try it, leave a comment with your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sunnyside Conservatory...

Sunnyside Conservatory (236 Monterey Boulevard) is located in a little known San Francisco neighborhood called Sunnyside and was built in 1898 by English inventor and stargazer William Augustus Merralls as a present to his wife.

Street view of Sunnyside Conservatory present day.
During November of last year, I moved to Sunnyside and had walked by Sunnyside Conservatory countless times before I actually decided to explore it. For whatever reason, the place seemed intimidating to me...maybe because of the creepy looking metal fencing and gate out front? It definitely gives off this spooky haunted aura.

Sunnyside Conservatory in 1919. This photo was derived from a glass negative found in the attic of Merralls’s home.
When I finally decided to tour the premises, I was a bit disappointed...just because I was expecting something akin to the only other conservatory in San Francisco, the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park which is amazing (I'll have to tell you about that place in another post).

Since a conservatory is a building used to “conserve” exotic and rare plants and fruits during the winter, I was surprised to find that there are no such items inside the Sunnyside Conservatory building present day...just a bare floor now so that special events can be held there from time to time. But apparently it did serve it's original purpose once.

Image Credit: Date taken is unknown but comes from a book published in 1968 entitled "Here Today"
(San Francisco Architectural Heritage by the Junior League of San Francisco, Inc.)
What you will find now is an empty octagonal faceted Victorian era structure designed to maximize natural light--renovation close to its original glory was completed in 2009. If you're only in The City a few days, this might be a destination to skip. But if you have the time, there are some reasons to visit. First, it's San Francisco Landmark #78.

Sign on entry gate noting historical significance.
There's a palm tree grove (some are over 100 years old, I guess these are the kind of exotic plants you would expect to find at a conservatory) including one Chilean Wine Palm which are pretty rare within our city limits. In Chile, they would use the sap from the trunk of this tree to make a fermented drink or a syrup called miel de palma. Chilean Wine Palm trees are now protected in Chile because you would need to cut them down to produce the two previously mentioned goods.

Palm Tree Grove at Sunnyside Conservatory. The Chilean Wine Palm trunk is visible on the far right of the above photo.
The branches of a towering Norfolk Island Pine.
There are two benches near the front entrance. If you're in the area (about a 10 minute walk from the Glen Park BART subway station) and looking for somewhere to relax for a bit, this is certainly one option.

Sunnyside Conservatory also has a back entrance off Joost Avenue and pedestrians can walk through to Monterey Boulevard if they wish.

I'm sure there are some good times to be had if you can make it to one of the special and often free (donation suggested) events (activities such as weddings, pumpkin carving, concerts and wreath making have taken place there in the past)...likely to be the next time I'll visit again!

Front entrance to Sunnyside Conservatory.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mount Davidson...

Aside from the views, something else is special about Mount Davidson. Technically it's not part of San Francisco! And here's why...

There is a giant cross at the top of this peak! If you look behind the platform that the cross sits on, you will find the following sign...

So I guess it's really just the flat cleared area at the top of Mount Davidson including the land upon which the cross stands that is not considered to be part of San Francisco due to the constitutional principle of separation of Church and State. When I happened to come across this sign, I wondered what that political discussion was like. Could it have been anywhere near as ridiculous as the public nudity ban dialog last year?

Either way, Mount Davidson (named after George Davidson, a Sierra Club charter member) holds a very special title as the highest peak in all of San Francisco with a summit of 928 feet. So if you're visiting The City and you want to get as high as possible, contrary to popular belief, the intersection of Haight Street & Ashbury Street is not the place for this.

Ask some of the guys in the Castro which mount is the highest in The City and you're like to hear them reply, "Twin Peaks!" An understandable mistake considering the fact that Twin Peaks is located just above the Castro neighborhood with a comparable elevation of 922 Feet.

But back to Mount Davidson, it's a lovely place to go if you want to get out of the hustle and bustle of The City for a bit. The views you will find at the top of the peak are beautiful on a cloudy/rainy day...

East view of San Francisco from Mount Davidson.

Or a sunny day...

West view from Mount Davidson with Pacific Ocean in the distance.

South view from Mount Davidson points to San Bruno Mountain.

Roughly half of this hill (one of the original seven) is covered by eucalyptus trees, bushes and plant life. This is where you're most likely to hear birds chirping and see wildlife in action.

Sun sets in a Mount Davidson eucalyptus tree forest.

Within the park at the top of this peak, you will find several benches (making for great places to eat a packed lunch) that showcase the expansive views as well as a few short walking/biking trails. There are six entrance points in total but I recommend the entrance where Landsdale Ave, Dalewood Way and Myra Way intersect. This is where the 36 Teresita Muni bus line stop is located making for a convenient way to access the park on public transportation.

Mount Davidson is not usually crowded (unlike Twin Peaks) so if you have the time, check it out!

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Beacon...

Now that I've established a foundation, you might be wondering, what is this blog about? And the short answer is, a lot of things! :) But overall, I envision these posts to showcase what my life is like as a San Francisco resident. The blog title came to me one evening not too long ago as I gazed skyward.

Especially during the Winter months, we tend to get these amazingly colorful other-worldly sunrises and sunsets.

Sun coming up over John McLaren Park and San Bruno Mountain

I'm talking R-O-Y-G-B-I-V, all the colors of the rainbow representing in what was once considered to be the most gay place on Earth so it makes sense right? But just like the seasons, things change and San Francisco is no stranger to this. Many things have taken on new forms over the years that I've been living here.

But getting back to the blog title story, I'm looking up in the sky and I see this seagull flying overhead. The tall buildings of the city created shadows on the ground below as dusk was nearing. But the gull was illuminated in radiant California sunshine. And I thought to myself, beacon. That bird is a beacon, telling me that the sun has not set yet, a signal that there is still a little bit of the day left before the night extinguishes the last remaining rays of light. Beacon, what is a beacon? According to Wikipedia, a beacon is a "conspicuous device designed to attract attention to a specific location." Why yes, this is what I want the primary focus of my blog to be. I want it to be a beacon for all things San Francisco. So I'll be posting about famous places, faces, restaurants, underground hideouts, off the beaten path, tourist destinations, new trends and more but within a framework of my interpretations and experiences. Sometimes, I'll link to articles about The City that I found interesting or viewpoints to consider. I'm also an avid cook so you're likely to see posts about great recipes to try.

Well I hope you enjoy the trip I'm planning to take you are now set up to learn alot about San Francisco, this magical city by the bay, from the eyes of someone who actually lives here.

The Beginning...

About 13 years ago, I made the decision to move to San Francisco, California. I was only 19 years old then--barely an adult, setting out to accomplish this major goal and in turn, say goodbye to the small town life that I came to know in State College, Pennsylvania, the place where I was born and raised. Back then, pretty much nobody knew where State College was and I would always get confused looks when I told people where I came from. But nowadays, post Sandusky Scandal, seemingly the whole World is aware of my origin location.

Prior to moving, my only experience with San Francisco was what I saw while watching episodes of the MTV reality show, The Real World III. I loved that season as it really opened up my eyes to what life could be like somewhere else. In Pennsylvania, I couldn't fathom what it would be like to live in a place where two men could hold hands in public without being beaten up or harassed but I was about to find out.

When I purchased the one-way Greyhound bus ticket to The City, almost immediately, I started having major second thoughts about going through with the relocation. I thought and thought and thought about it while staring at the ticket paperwork and came to the conclusion that it was just too far away and too huge of a concept for me to digest. I felt major fear and uncertainty, started to doubt myself days before my could I move approximately 2500 miles away from everything I've known up until this point in my life with no family or even a friend there?

During a conversation with my mother, I caved to the pressure and said, "I don't think this is a good idea. I've changed my mind. I'm not going to go now." And she said, "Frankie, no. You have to go. If you don't go, you will never know and you'll always regret not doing it for the rest of your life." More and more thinking and I realized that she was right. I would regret it forever. It was something I had been talking about doing ever since that show aired on MTV. So I left on August 15th, 1999, arrived in the Bay Area about 3 days later and have been living here ever since.