Friday, March 25, 2011


There are just a few more days of the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show which opened this week on Wednesday 3/23/11. The show closes this Sunday, 3/27/11.

For one reason or another, I've not been to the show since its early days in the mid 1980s, when it was at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

This year, because I am studying Landscape Design, and because I was intrigued by the pre-show press about this year's emphasis on edible gardens, I decided it was time to spend at least a day at the show.

As luck would have it, I chose Thursday, the day we had torrential rains all day in the Bay Area.

I will say, the drive to San Mateo (the show is at the San Mateo Event Center) was less than pleasant, but, once there, I was warm and dry and starting having hope that the rain will eventually stop and I will be able to, once again, be out working in my own garden.

The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show is quite different from my memories of its early days.

What has remained, and what I consider the mainstay of the show, are the Garden Displays created by local Landscape Designers. This year there are 19 Garden Displays, 18 of them are in the Expo Hall and one, Star Apple's Edible Garden, a 6,000 square foot display, is off in an enormous tent by itself.

These are photos from some of the displays that caught my attention:

"Fresh Ideas: Born and Raised in California" by Ah Sam Flowers, Florist and Greenhouses:

"Latitude" by McKenna Landscape:

"A Garden for Life" by Filoli Center and The Garden Route Company:

"Edible Garden: The Modern Homestead" by Star Apple Edible & Fine Gardening:

"Pi R Squared" by Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architects:

"Plant Lab" by University of California at Berkeley Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning:

"Reality Rocks" by Saunders Designs and CK Landscape:

There is a huge Flower & Plant Market that occupies about 3/4 of another exhibition hall, the Fiesta Hall. Here, show attendees can buy all kinds of living plants, from a single pot of herbs, to hard-to-find bulbs, to enormous trees. My observation of the the Flower & Plant Market is that the buyers have their favorite nurseries and come year after year to purchase from them at the show. It's a great way to purchase from and see the plants of nurseries that are not in your own neighborhood.

Most of the remaining area in both halls was dedicated to booths filled with garden accessories, tools, furniture and other items, most of which had some connection to flowers and gardens. I saw booths selling clothing with floral patterns, jewelry with floral designs, and some selling vinegars, oils, pasta and who-knows what else.

Some of the Educational exhibits included a Wine Tasting area and the Western Horticultural Society's New Plant Picks exhibit.

There are two separate buildings where Cooking Demonstrations by local Bay Area chefs

and Seminars by gardening and landscape experts are being held. Each day, there is a different schedule of these educational programs.

There are additional educational programs at the DIY Stage and in the Edible Garden, as well as special programs for kids.

One of the highlights of my day was the Cooking Demonstration by chef Andrea Froncillo, of the Stinking Rose, Bobo's, The Franciscan, The Dead Fish and several other Bay Area restaurants.

Chef Froncillo prepared a mixed green salad with a fresh raspberry dressing, steamed mussels with linguica, and pan-cooked steaks. There had to be at least 100 people at his demonstration, and he and his sous-chef made enough for all of us to enjoy generous samples of each dish.

On Saturday, Chef Alice Waters will speak about the Garden to Table Movement on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and do a cooking demonstration at 2:30 p.m. On Sunday, Chef Roland Passot will take to the Chef Stage for a cooking demonstration at 3:00 p.m.

Other random thoughts/details on the show:

As hardcore a shopper as I am, I was disappointed that such a large part of the exhibit halls was dedicated to merchandise, some of which had extremely remote connections to anything related to flowers and gardening. I would have preferred even more Garden Displays instead.

The Flower & Garden Market is wonderful and an amazing opportunity to buy plants and connect with growers from all over the Bay Area.

The Cooking Demonstrations and other Educational Seminars are an excellent compliment to the exhibits. I had scheduled my visit so I could spend the entire day at the show. If it were not for the Chef demonstration and some seminars, I would have seen what I came for in a few hours, hardly making it worth the time and cost of admission.

If I were returning to the show this weekend, I'd want to see both chefs as well as attend such seminars as "Growing Edibles in Containers," "The Art of Bonsai," and "When Bad Things Happen to Good Plants."

The best place to get lunch is in the Expo Hall where there are a few small food booths and a coffee bar in one corner. I had a wonderful carved-to-order turkey sandwich, served with potato salad, at the Deli for a reasonable $8.

There is a big cafeteria style restaurant in the Fiesta Hall, with more seating, but very long lines.

The Admission price of $20 (children under 16 FREE), includes all the demonstrations and seminars. Parking costs $10.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Today's excitement in my city was the opening of a Fresh & Easy grocery store.

As luck would have it, this Fresh & Easy is in the shopping center closest to my house. Just a bit over a mile away, I can actually walk to it, if need be. More significantly, this shopping center has been without a grocery store for about 5 years. The rumors of the arrival of my neighborhood Fresh & Easy started a few years back when Fresh & Easy started its expansion into California, Arizona, and Nevada. But, as the economy slowed down, so did the expansion.

So today was my city's day for its very own Fresh & Easy. There were lines of people, myself included, lined up outside in the rain for the 10 a.m. opening.

With my $5 off on a total purchase of $20 in hand, I joined the masses, walking up and down the aisles.

No problem buying $20 total was over $70 before my discounts.

So what is Fresh & Easy? They call their stores "Neighborhood Markets" and I can best describe them as a combination of a down-scaled Trader Joe's and a Target grocery store.

They feature fresh meat and produce and lots of prepared meals. They carry all the packaged staples too...paper towels, laundry soap, cereal, crackers, soda...everything bigger grocery stores carry. Their prepared meals contain no additives and preservatives. About half their merchandise is their own label and the rest are brands that you will find in mainstream grocery stores.

I came home with everything from two meals for tonight's dinner, to a tub of Butternut Squash soup, to their brand of liquid soap (a version of Joy), to a loaf of bread, to organic mushrooms, to several bottles of their own California wine. Many of their breads are made for them by Il Fornaio.

Fresh & Easy says they keep their costs down with covers on their freezer compartments, bare cement floors, energy efficiency, and self checkout. There is more to their cost-saving list, but this gives an idea of their philosophy.

Will I be a regular Fresh & Easy shopper? Probably. Will this be my main grocery store? I doubt it; I like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods too much to toss them aside. But, I'm happy to have my very own Fresh & Easy and I know I will be one of their frequent visitors.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


While most of the newer California desert resorts have been built in towns outside of Palm Springs, like Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and Rancho Mirage, we have always preferred to be right in Palm Springs, staying in the historic downtown district where we can walk to town and many other attractions. While we do spend time in the other communities, we also, even in our brief week's stay down here, spend several days right in town, walking to everything.

One such day this week started with breakfast at Cheeky's.

Cheeky's serves breakfast and lunch...and what creative meals they are..fresh ingredients, beautiful presentations. Cheeky's was new last year and continues to thrive and to even expand. The owners, Marco Rossetti and Tara Lazar, have just opened a new evening restaurant in a newly-constructed building on their property. It's called Birba and has been described as Cheeky's sophisticated sister.

Birba is about Pizza, salads, rotisserie duck and chicken and fabulous cocktails. I love its architecture and its gorgeous outdoor patio with comfortable benches and couches and fire pits...simply great for hanging out with friends on a warm night. In one corner are raised garden beds which now are growing vegeables and herbs for the two restaurants. We didn't get to eat a Birba, but certainly will try it out on our next visit.

But to get back to breakfast at Cheeky's. Jim and I sat outside on the patio. I had the Creamy Scrambled Eggs which were served with housemade sausage and a cheesey scone.

To go with my eggs, I ordered a side of fresh fruit. Today it was a mix of mango and passion fruit. Not only was this fruit plate beautiful, it was delicious. I've never seen nor taste fresh passion fruit until today where it was served cut in half to be scooped out.

My breakfast serving was so large, I could not finish it and did not eat again until dinner.

Jim had the Fresh Corn Pancakes with Blueberries. They were served with strips of bacon.

Jim's serving was large as well, but he ate and enjoyed the whole thing.

I took my time walking back to our condo from breakfast, stopping along the for a bit more shopping.

I spent a bit of time taking in the "scene" in the park area behind The Corridor shops. This park is a favorite with locals and always includes a mix of retirees, young mothers with their kids, and gay men...ever harmonious and always social in a beautiful park area behind many unique retail shops and the ever-popular coffee house, Koffi.

I stopped at Lush Couture, a women's clothing and accessory boutique where everything costs $16 except some jewelry which costs $12!

They get new merchandise at least once a week and the quality and styles are quite nice. The sweater I bought here last year is one I am still wearing regularly.

In the afternoon, we walked over to the Palm Springs Art Museum.

We both fell in love with a new "dog" called "Stray" who greets visitors in the museum's main entry lobby.

This year the Museum had a special event called "Art in Bloom" where local florists created floral arrangements to complement selected works of art from the museum's collection. It was only a three day event and it was wonderful. While there, I attended a lecture by a well-known local landscape architect. We also enjoyed the Donald Wexler exhibit which will be at the museum until May 29, 2011. Many of Wexler's buildings are in Palm Springs. He did both residential and commercial architecture.

My pictures are mainly of the "Art in Bloom" displays.

After our stimulating afternoon at the Museum, it was time to get ready for an early dinner at Kalura Trattoria before the evening performance of the Palm Springs Follies, another of our yearly traditions.

At Kalura, we started our meal by sharing an order of Mushroom Bruschetta.

Jim carried on the mushroom theme with his main course: Mushroom Pasta.

While I love Kalura's pasta dishes, this evening, still feeling the effects of my huge breakfast, I went for a light dish: The Grilled Tuna salad. It was delicious and just the kind of meal that I craved.

The Follies is a fast-paced musical review hosted by its creator, Riff Markowitz.

It is always funny and irreverent and enjoyable. Add to this that all the performers are over 50,many of them former singers and dancers who had careers on Broadway or in Las Vegas. We go every year and never tire of this creative show.