Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Tart Tatin - another cooking adventure with a girl named Ham

"Mama, what day is it today?"
"Is today the day we make apple pie?"
"Tart Tatin? Yes. We are making Tart Tatin for Thanksgiving."
"Mama, that's three words that start with 'T'! Tigery is going to help us too. That makes four 'T's. Did you know, Tigery got FOUR stickers in Kindergarten and he got a prize? But that's not fair because I didn't get a prize because my teacher counted wrong."

"Well, how many apples do you see?"
"Five. One is hiding in the back."
"So, you get FIVE stickers. There is one on each apple."
"Five is more than four but I wish that numbers went 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 because then I'd be six years old, not five."

"Mama, Tigery is done peeling the apples."
"OK, now we need to measure the ingredients for the caramel."
"Yummy. Yummy. Yummy. Caramel. Caramel. Caramel."
"You need 1-1/2 cups sugar and a 1-1/2 sticks of butter."

"Now what do we do?"
"Melt the butter, pour in the sugar, and don't stop stirring."

"I love the smell of caramel in the morning."

"Ham, we still have a lot of work to do."
"Mama, why do you always call me Ham?"
"It's short for 'Hamsta'."
"Oh yeah. I remember."

"I'm so tired. Will that pie ever finish...
...ever, ever?"

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Neurosis Revised at the Port of Oakland

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to revise the definition of my fear of heights during a visit to the Port of Oakland. As it turns out, I'm not afraid of ALL heights, just the ones inside, like glass elevators on the 50th floor, interior balconies, or antique, completely vertical gondolas in Switzerland.

Terry, a regular at the cafe I frequent, has worked at the Port of Oakland since 1969 and invited me and another cafe relative, Lior, for a tour of the shipping port. (Well, actually, Terry invited Lior and Lior invited me.)  I've received numerous benefits from spending thousands of dollars at Cafe Fanny over the past 18 years, but this invitation for a private tour of the Port of Oakland and its shipping cranes tops the list.

After a couple weeks of experiencing how the worst lies in anticipation, Lior and I set out on a Monday afternoon so clear and crisp you could hear crinkling when you moved through the air. We met Terry at a nearby park and he escorted us through port security to the bottom of a giant white crane. I couldn't even see the top. I knew that if I didn't fall to the ocean after having a heart attack due to my fear of heights, I would certainly fall due to my clumsiness, so death was pretty much certain. I thought, "This is definitely a good day to die and I'm glad it will be with Lior and Terry at the Port of Oakland, and I'm also glad that it will involve the ocean (or I guess technically "The Bay"), and that death will arrive on this beautiful, crinkley day."

It took all my confidence to get into the elevator at the bottom of the crane, but oddly the higher we went, the less afraid I became. I thought, "Does this mean I'm fine with dying?" And then, "Does that mean that I'm depressed? Should I call a suicide hotline? Where is my iPhone? Why am I not scared? What is wrong with me? Maybe this orange vest has powers?" I tried to keep a straight face but at a certain point I didn't need to try any more. The air, the views, the heavy metal of the cranes, everything together was really breathtaking and serene, and a little bit Bladerunner and I guess Star Wars (but I've never seen that movie somehow).

The elevator took us up about eight flights to the boom of the crane. This is where we entered the car with the spreader that the operator uses to pull containers off ships. Here I am driving the car out over the water and a shot of some buttons and switches I got to use.

After our driving lesson we climbed another eight flights above the boom.

At the top we were met with more stunning views and lots of grease and cables... well as some dizzying scenes when looking down.

Then we headed back down to sea level.

Some interesting facts about the Port of Oakland:
  • The Port of Oakland is the fourth largest port in the world.
  • 2.4 million containers go through the port each year.
  • The cranes were built in China and came to Oakland by boat.
  • Each container can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. They are pulled off the boats using a spreader which has four 2-inch think metal "hooks" to grab the container.
  • The largest ships are 13 containers wide.
  • The cranes are really, really high.
  • Terry has worked at the port for forty years and has over fifteen 6-month projects outside of work to do so, he retired last month to start getting those done. I was incredibly honored to have one of his port tours.