On the Green – Wind Play

When tracking statistics for PGA Tour professionals, certain factors do contribute to higher scores. High rough, fast greens and wind are the three biggies. The higher rough puts a premium on putting the ball in the fairway and hitting greens. The high rough around the green places some element on luck. Catching a good lie can make the difference in whether the player can “predict” the way the ball will come out and what it will do on the green once it lands on it. Fast greens demand a more skilled player with better touch and imagination and being able to place the ball in position to have up hill putts verses the defensiveness of the dreaded down hillier. Wind, though, provides the golfer the challenge of club and shot selection and the great challenge of staying steady over the putts and controlling speed.

A 10 mile an hour wind can actually be fun! Playing a little more or a little less club while coming into the green or aiming a little more left or right to adjust to a cross wind. Into or down wind can also cause the ball to stop quickly or to release another 20 to 30 feet. You will also need to do this with the chip and pitch shot. Just don’t try to adjust to going into the wind by trying to get there by hitting the ball harder. This is a rookie error. The ball will spin more, climb up ward quicker and actually travel shorter. I think a 10 mile an hour wind usually causes me to take one maybe two clubs more so I don’t try to hit harder. By clubbing up it will actually cause you to swing more within yourself and help you maintain your rhythm and tempo.

Playing in more than a ten mile per hour wind say 15 to 25 is very challenging. I played for several years on the Australasian Tour and had to learn quickly how to play in the wind. Most of the tournaments played in Australia are in or around the coast. When the temperatures rose, the wind would pick up. Every afternoon round was usually played in up to 20 mile per hour winds. You would sometimes need three extra clubs in this wind just to get the ball to the green. I have hit four-irons from 140 yards before when that club usually would go 185 to 190. I also learned how to play “knock down shots.” For the more experienced player, this shot needs to be a staple in the bag for all kinds of situations. The knock down is simply a shot that flights low and bores through the wind. When the ball flies lower it is less affected by the wind. Mostly though, the good to average player should just remember to take PLENTY of club and swing smooth.This will keep the ball a little lower and keep the ball from flying way off line.

Finally, in the wind, you must have a good short game. Playing the wind on chips and putts is very challenging. The wind moves you around when putting and can actually push the ball around on the green. Widening the stance can help stabilize you so the wind doesn’t push you around and you can stay still. Remember, when the wind is up, so to will the scores be so pars become really very good. Hang tough, use your imagination and you might surprise yourself with how well you can do when others are struggling!

A Giants World Series Ring for Fans? Yes, If You Have an Extra $4,000 Handy!

SF Giants Fan Ring

SF Giants Fan Ring


In yet another element of their seemingly-endless World Series championship victory lap, the Giants are offering fans their very own World Series rings. Yes, any fan can have a version of the bauble that players strive for all their lives and that represents the greatest team achievement possible in baseball if they have the scratch and they don’t mind that it looks a lot different than the rings given to Giants players and staff members in April.

Balfour, the company that makes high school class rings and has also made championship rings for franchises like the New York Yankees and Boston Celtics, is manufacturing the rings for sale through the Giants website and Giants Dugout Stores. The 14-karat gold version with diamonds retails for $3,570 on the high end, the sterling silver version with cubic zirconium can be had for a mere $429. Both the Giants and Balfour say that sales forecasts and sales performance to date are proprietary.

SF Giants Player's Ring

SF Giants Player's Ring

The player rings were manufactured by Tiffany, and while their exact value is also a closely held secret, Tiffany is giving the person who wins the raffle for a player ring $5,000 to meet his or her tax obligations, which suggests that ring might be worth about $20,000.

According to Giants Retail Marketing Manager Megan Cooperson, the Giants’ program is the most extensive fan jewelry offering made in the wake of a team’s championship and was the result of the unbridled joy Giants fans displayed as the team won its first World Series since coming to San Francisco in 1958. “We definitely noticed fan reaction during the post season, and this offering is driven by that fan enthusiasm,” she said. Cooperson shared that at least one of the 10 karat gold rings with diamonds has been sold at the retail price of $2,370.

As for the difference between the player rings and the fan rings, Cooperson said, “The organization wanted the player ring to stand out as its own entity, but the fan ring to have its own personality.” Top Giants executives received official Tiffany rings, while lower level employees will have an opportunity to purchase a replica version of the Tiffany ring. Cooperson said the details of that program are not yet available.

Lacy Laborde, Balfour Director of Communications, said that the fan rings are becoming a growing business for her company. “We had a fan line for the Celtics when they won in 2008, but the Giants have done more with this than other teams.” Indeed, Jostens put out a fan version of the Boston Red Sox 2007 championship ring that did not have diamonds, along with a plain band that Off the Bench supposes symbolizes that a true fan is married to his or her team’s success.

“The Giants told us that they wanted to honor their fans. Giants fans are a big part of the franchise, and they wanted to do something special for the fans who mean so much to them,” said Laborde.

According to Laborde, the Giants played the main role in deciding what the fan rings would look like. They were interested in showing off the logo, the ballpark, McCovey Cove, and the championship trophy. Each fan ring is personalized with the owner’s name.

The fan rings, along with a jewelry line that includes cuff links, pendants and ear rings, will be available until Dec. 31. To view the line you can visit www.balfoursports.com/sfgiants or go to one of the Giants Dugout Stores, including the outlet at AT&T Park.

Dirt Gardener – Watering the Lawn

Q. When and for how long should I water my lawn? I’ve been reading that you promote a deep-rooted grass by watering infrequently but for twenty minutes to a half hour. My husband says he waters daily for ten minutes starting at six am. Who is right?

Ans. This is a tricky question, as both answers could be correct. The key factor in determining the correct answer is found in the soil profile. This is where the majority of the roots are found. With a round nose shovel, I’d make two perpendicular cuts in the turf. At the apex of the two cuts, lift the pie like section up exposing the profile. You should now clearly see the blades of grass, thatch, an organic layer between the grass and the soil along with the native soil.

Your two options are ‘A’, an infrequent watering schedule but for a longer period while ‘B’ has you watering frequently for a shorter period. For example, with Option ‘A’ you would be watering every five to seven days verses Option ‘B’ everyday. For Option ‘A’ to be viable, you need to see roots in the native soil layer. The lack of roots indicates you have a shallow rooted grass that requires frequent watering to sustain them during the summer months. The grass roots have no ability to access the moisture in the native soil so water stress occurs quickly. Option ‘B’ would then be the appropriate answer. Over the years, this has been an increasing problem with the popularity of soded lawns. It was less of an issue with lawns started from seed as the roots penetrated the native soil right away. Watering longer but less frequently is not going to solve the problem in any turf that receive six hours or more of direct sun per day. Aerating, removing the cores and then top-dressing the area is one method of encouraging the shallow roots to go down. This should be done twice a year for several years. Another method is with Liquid Thrive from Soil Logic, a liquid soil conditioner. Liquid Thrive is designed to break up clay soil, improve drainage and reduce compaction.

Neither of these methods are quick fixes. They take more than one season to be successful; however, they’re less expensive than starting over by installing a new lawn. I prefer watering turf and landscape plants during the morning hours from four to eleven am. You’re applying water on a rising temperature putting moisture in the root zone as the plants needs it and the air is calm unlike in the afternoon and evening hours. With Option ‘A’, Drought Defense from Soil Logic can also extend the days between watering. Drought Defense changes the physical nature of the water droplets along with changing a soil’s ability to absorb and hold moisture. When applied to the soil surface and watered in, it adheres to the soil particles where it will stay for many weeks. The captured water molecule is no longer able to evaporate, allowing moisture in the root zone to stay longer. Hence you’re able to water less often.

Treatment for Golfer’s Elbow – Don’t settle for sub-par results in healing your pain

What is Golfer’s Elbow?

Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is similar to its counterpart, Tennis elbow. The primary differences between these conditions are the location of the pain and the activity that leads to injury. However, both conditions are caused by overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm, leading to inflammation and pain around the elbow joint, commonly called tendonitis. Golf is one common cause of tendonitis, but many other sports and work related activities can cause the same problem.

The cause of golfer’s elbow can vary from a single violent action (acute injury) to, more commonly, a repetitive stress injury where an action is performed repeatedly and pain gradually develops. In an acute injury of the elbow inflammation occurs without substantial tissue damage. However in a repetitive stress situation a person may experience damage to the tendon and surrounding soft tissue causing tissue degeneration over time. Inflammation from acute injury often responds quickly to rest and anti-inflammatory treatment. However, if the injury is due to tendon tissue degeneration, treatment will be longer and will be focused on improving the strength of the tendon as well as rebuilding tissues.

Golfer’s Elbow Symptoms

With golfer’s elbow pain is on the inside of the elbow, usually during or after intense use. Typically the pain increases during wrist flexion or pronation and often radiates to the forearm. Because this frequently occurs in golfers, it has become known as “golfer’s elbow”. However, it is also known as “pitcher’s elbow”.

Treatment for Golfer’s Elbow
Golfer’s elbow does not usually cause any long-term disability. However, the condition may become stubborn and proper rehabilitation will help alleviate the symptoms and get you back to life again.

Rest and Reduce Inflammation: The first step a person should take if tendinitis is suspected is to stop the activities that cause the pain and inflammation in this case, rest the arm. Use a topical cream containing Arnica to begin to reduce the inflammatory process quickly.

Laser Therapy to Heal the Damaged Tissue: Ending the pain caused by golfer’s elbow requires healing the damaged tissue. Class IV laser therapy is an excellent method for this, because it is presently the only form of therapy that can both reduce inflammation and heal tissue simultaneously. Laser treatments at Align Healing Center are done with the K-laser 1200 a Class IV Laser. This laser does not cut or burn but is gently absorbed by the tissue. During Laser Therapy the infrared laser light interacts with tissues at the cellular level, increasing metabolic activity and improving the transport of nutrients across the cell membrane. This initiates the production of cellular energy (ATP) that leads to a cascade of beneficial effects, increasing cellular function and health. This creates an optimal healing environment that reduces inflammation, swelling, muscle spasms, stiffness, scar tissue and pain.

Correct the Mechanics of Motion: Assessing the forearm, elbow, shoulder and spine for proper postural feedback is done to diagnose and correct improper alignment. After proper alignment is restored specific muscular taping is applied to improve circulation and insure proper motion on a daily basis. Lastly, specific strengthening and stretching exercises are given. By strengthening the muscles and tendons involved with golfers’ elbow, you can prevent the problem from returning.

At Align Healing Center we are having great success treating golfer’s elbow, tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis, sciatica, shoulder and neck pain, migraines, arthritis, carpal tunnel, post surgical pain, sports injuries and more; even long-term residual pain. Ar¬thritis and degenerative disc disease sufferers can see long term benefits from this treatment without any of the negative side effects experienced with the long term use of medications.

Dr. Niele Maimone, DC is the owner and founder of Align Healing Center in Danville, CA. She has been active in our natural health & wellness community since 1999. For more information or to set up a consult call 925.362.8283 or visit www.alignhealingcenter.com.

Paris Fashion and Beauty – Keepin’ it Real

It’s 1:30 in the afternoon on a beautiful spring day in Paris. We are sitting at an adorable café in Saint Germaine and people watching – a pastime the Parisians love. The weather in Paris is beautiful and warm. The fashion scene on Rue Francois is a sight to see: women are dressed in adorable dresses, perfectly matching outfits and the occasional Levi straight leg jean paired with a beautiful blazer and stylish boot. Spring trends float up and down the street like a fashion runway. Sitting here, I feel like I am watching the greatest fashion show on earth. Women and men are dressed to the 10’s – it’s that incredible. Even the way they walk, or should I say, “stroll,” they have their own chic swagger. It’s a lesson in fashion sitting here for a mere few hours. Truly it is no wonder designers in Europe take to the streets of Paris to seek out new ideas for inspiration.

As we sip our delicious tea and espressos and share the most wonderful Nutella crepe, I notice Europeans love their scarves – both men and women – and on this particular dreamy day, every scarf we see has a pop of color: orange polka dots, wasabi greens, bright yellows and a lot of stripes of every hue. RED is the color choice of the season in Paris and by no mistake women everywhere I see are wearing red lipstick. Every skin tone color, young and the wiser, are sporting the boldness of red. I love the natural reds, the blushing reds and just the plain drop-dead-gorgeous matte shades. Three women come in to the café where we are musing and all three are sporting fabulous red lips. Another stand out is blue eye shadow Lovely tones of blue eye shadow colors shimmer across our path in all corners of Paris. Combined with the red lips, it is a very interesting look, and it reminds me of the 1930’s style, but much more modern. I would call it a modern vintage style with a twist of retro.

We say our goodbyes and merci’s to our waiter friends at the café and walk down the street to the Metro to find Train six to go to Printemps and Galeries Lafayette: a shopping paradise in France and a sure shop-until-you-drop wonderland. We get lost in the perfume and cosmetic land, and we have only seen the first floor of the Galeries Lafayette. We are in cosmetic heaven!

Not all women can where red lipstick or blue eye shadow, nor do they feel comfortable wearing such a strong and bold trend. But it is fun trying new colors and still keeping it real with your own personality. At The Rouge, we take makeup very seriously while still giving you a fun experience. We want you to leave the studio with a fresh and updated look ready for the streets of your destination. We care about your needs and style, and we know everyone is different. As fashion comes and goes, we can help you choose your own personal and unique style and give you what you need. It just might be fun to stop in and try a red lipstick just to see how red may affect your fashionista swagger. Have fun!

Theresa Taylor Grutzeck is the owner of the Rouge, Kiss and Make-up Studio, 822 Hartz Way, Danvile, CA 94526. Phone: 925-736-3900 and email: info@therougecosmetics.com

ALIVE Book Review: Where Love Crosses Boundaries

Burnign Veil - The Book
At the heels of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, author Jean Grant’s book called The Burning Veil could not be more timely or relevant with her poignant message of learning about the beauty of other cultures. A labor of love, her 242-page novel offers her readers an up close and personal view of a love story between two young people from different cultures; Dr. Sarah Moss from Wisconsin and Ibrahim Suleiman from Saudi Arabia.

Living in the Middle East for 20 years herself, definitely helped contour her fictional story lines laced with real life experiences, lifestyles and beautiful landscapes. “I lived in Cairo, Egypt for one year, Beirut, Lebanon for 10 years; and nine in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Each country is unique. In Egypt, there was great poverty, but much laughter and culture. It’s a tiny country; so many are jammed into the river delta. Everything is crowded, the trains and shops. We were there when the great Arab nationalist Gamal Abdul Nasser was in power, but many of those we knew opposed him,” said Grant, who was a staff reporter for Arab News in Saudi Arabia.

“In Lebanon, there are mountains and it is a land of extraordinary beauty,” added Grant. “There is also a great diversity of culture, with Muslims and Christians working and living together. It seemed to work beautifully, but then everything fell apart in the mid 1970’s, the beginning of the Civil War.”

Married to Bob Fraga with their two grown sons, Grant hails from Montreal, Canada. Her upbringing and travels as a young adult helped shape her love for various cultures and prepared her for life outside of the United States. “I grew up in Montreal in a Jewish/French neighborhood, so I knew there a great many ways to live one’s life. After getting my B.A., I went to France as a graduate student and traveled to Great Britain, Ireland, Spain and Italy, so by the time I got to Egypt I was already accustomed to a variety of people,” she said.

Grant went to French school for grades 3 through 5 in Montreal, received her B.A. degree in Vancouver, received a French government scholarship and studied the sociology of religion there, then continued with her M.A. in English Literature at the American University of Beirut.

Inspiration for her love story came while she taught at Dhahran Academy in Saudi Arabia. “Since women weren’t allowed to drive, every morning at 7:15 a.m. we teachers were bussed to the school. One morning, I noticed a fellow teacher silently weeping. She was an American married to a Saudi, and the marriage was going poorly,” wrote Grant on her website. “A few weeks later, she left. I met several women like her, who came to the kingdom full of hope and very much in love. A few stayed on. Several left. I was curious about Saudi American marriages. I hoped for a better outcome for my heroine, Sarah.”

Appreciating other cultures is not really how Grant chooses to define things, since she feels that resonates more with tolerance. “For me the key thing is the pursuit of happiness and I’ve gained so much enjoyment from other cultures, their cuisine and literature and different ways of showing affection,” said Grant. “I suppose it is important (appreciating other cultures), but that focus makes it sound like getting to know other cultures is some kind of bitter medicine. It’s not. Or it needn’t be. It’s fun. That said, it’s important to see ourselves as others see us. We may not like it, but many see Americans as spoiled, violent children who have little dignity. The television shows that we export and that the world so loves to encourage this unfortunate perspective.”

While she believes it’s not entirely unavoidable, Grant is not a big fan of stereotyping. “It’s lazy, sloppy thinking. But it’s hard to avoid stereotypes if our lives are not rich with experiences of others who are different from us,” she said. “That’s why it’s marvelous to befriend foreign students, to go to films made by those of other cultures, to read their books in translation and to fall in love with them.”

Currently working on her second book called Faithless in France, which starts off in Beirut in the Civil War, Grant is hoping it doesn’t take nearly as long as it did to write the first one. “I’d write it and then put it down. I had two or three versions with different plot lines. Ten years? Twenty years? It sounds like forever, but it was diddle-daddling trying to find out what I wanted to say. I rarely worked on it full-time,” she said.

Her advice to would-be authors out there is to start small and work your way up. “Almost everyone I know is writing a book. I think those of us who write, do well to read the works of others. We’re all in this together. We learn a great deal by writing and with the advent of e-publishing and print on demand publishing, it’s easy to get one’s work out there,” she said. “Maybe for starters, consider a short, easy book. There’s a need for more “how to” books. e.g. how to grow out your hair; how to use money to help the world. Creative non-fiction is a marvelous field.”

An extract from her next book was first runner-up for the 2011 Maureen Egen Writer’s Exchange Award, and Grant is keeping her fingers crossed for finalist in the categories of fiction-religious and fiction-multicultural in the ForeWord Reviews contest for The Burning Veil. But Grant is not writing for accolades, she’s writing for humanity. “I’d like them to garner a sympathy for the beauty of Islam in everyday life and how it helps people live lives of kindness and generosity,” she said.

The Burning Veil can be purchased at www.Amazon.com or visit her website at www.mishmishpress.com.

Stamps In My Passport – Guatemala

GuatemalaGuatemala

There are definitive moments in life. As one mellows, or ages, depending on perspective, these moments become clearer and more meaningful. Often they relate to loved ones either entering or leaving our lives. Some of them bring on fear and the adrenaline flows – or panic as we recall moments of major jeopardy. Others are friendly and bring on a smile of satisfaction as we recall an amusement, an unusual contentment, or some special pleasure. Often these recollections lie dormant, forgotten, out of mind until suddenly they surface, often at night, triggered no doubt by some outside stimulation. Then we relive them either enjoyably or with trepidation. Many of these moments occur for me while remembering overseas trips.

Guatemala, in Central America, remains one of the best-kept secrets in the tourist industry. Barb and I have visited it a number of times and find it most tourist friendly. There are many sites of interest in this country, the people are most gracious, accommodations by and large are clean and comfortable, and best of all the price is right. On one of these trips we were encouraged by some friends to include a visit into the highlands – specifically to try to catch the weekend market at Chichicastenango. Easier said than done. In fact, we found it almost impossible to make that trip on our own, so we arranged to join a small tour through a reputable agent.

The little bus that took us into the hills held eight passengers, and it was full. We left Guatemala City early Sunday morning and wound ever higher on narrow crooked roads. Lush tropical vegetation surrounded us on all sides and obscured some of the deep treacherous ravines we were passing. As we climbed higher, we found ourselves following a stream, which often entertained us with huge waterfalls cascading down into placid pools.

After a four-hour drive we arrived at Chichi at about noon. The topography had changed dramatically from the flat city streets we had left to steep ravines and now to a number of flat or gently rolling hills. This was acceptable farming country with fields of corn and other crops. Mostly vegetables began to appear. Our hotel was a converted monastery, over one hundred fifty years old, made of adobe block. It had no central heating, and the bathroom had been added by attaching a six-foot by eight-foot structure to the side of the building. There was a one-foot step required to enter this attached outhouse. The purpose of the platform was to allow the plumbing to both enter and leave. Ingenious! Another interesting innovation was the roof. The original cover had long since disappeared and been replaced by sheets of galvanized plates. There was no need for insulation. The sheets were neatly laid over rough wood joints.

We were anxious to join the crush of people who now populated the town square. It was market day and locals from miles around had come to buy and sell. In general, it was organized mayhem. The town square was chock-full of stalls arranged in crooked lines; and passages between rows were restricted. I would guess that between our hotel and the church, located on the opposite end of the square, there were between ten and fifteen stalls. Probably about the same number going in the perpendicular, totaling hundreds of vendors displaying their wares.

Each stall housed its own specialty. Many sold vegetables and other food crops. A few contained manufactured goods, which no doubt had been brought up from the city. Many handmade items covering a broad spectrum of the art world filled the stalls to overflowing. There was some order to this chaos as certain categories were grouped. Shawls, blouses, skirts, and boots comprised one such category. Dolls, whistles, tops, and other toys made of wood, cloth, or stone were in another. Finally household items like pots and pans appeared.

On the church steps a band of actors performed amid a heavy dose of incense. I did not understand the significance of their drama but felt it must have been religious because spectators would light candles from their incense and enter the church. This whitewashed Catholic Church had stood here for hundreds of years and over that time had apparently been altered with a great deal of pre-European religious tradition. Statues of strange saints sat in alcoves, all with features resembling the local population. Even Mother Mary had a decided pre-Columbian face.

We spent hours in the market, caught up in the diversity, looking very out of place among the color-fully dressed locals with the blackest of hair and eyes imaginable. Generally we were ignored – accepted as occasional interlopers into an affair that had changed very little in eight, maybe ten, generations.

We ate our evening meal in the dining hall of our hotel. All vegetables freshly cooked, piles of flat, thick, fried bread, and lots of chicken. Washed down with wine, it was only then that we realized there was no electricity here. Candles were not on the table for decorative atmosphere – they were there for light. We were given a lamp and sent off to our rooms to spend the evening as we chose.

Entering our room was like stepping back in time. A huge fire blazed in one corner, casting flickering shadows throughout the room. Years before, robed monks had preceded us here – the beds undoubtedly not as soft, but nevertheless just as cozy. The chill of night in this mountain air was driven away by the crackling fire and exchanged for the sweet smell of burning fruitwood.

It began to rain, thundering down on the metal roof. We dug deeper under the covers. A peaceful, secure, and protected feeling filled our minds. The fire crackled and gave off warmth. I lay there cherishing the moment. All five senses alert. The color of the afternoon, the sounds of the rain on the roof, the odor of incense and fruitwood burning, the taste of good food and wine, and the feeling of warmth about me. I shall never forget that evening. It will always remain part of me. Different sights and sounds will bring it back to mind, always pleasant, always peaceful.

Harry Hubinger is a retired engineer who operated his own company for twenty years. He first began traveling outside the United States on business, but these visits escalated upon his retirement. He has now traveled to 115 countries and continues to add several new ones each year. In 1998 he began writing his humorous and insightful articles for a supplement to a local newspaper. These stories, based on experiences most travelers could identify with, soon earned him a wide local following. In 2005 he published his first book, Stamps in My Passport—a collection of travel vignettes. Harry has lived in Danville for almost forty years and has volunteered with the Danville Police Department for the past seven. His wife, Barbara, is the detail chronicler of their trips. Her journals provide the background for Harry’s broader view. You can get his book at: www.travelbookspub.com.

Celebrating Apricot Season

Market Fresh ApricotsThe farmers’ market is an ever-changing garden of sensual delights. Between the rainbow of berries available this month and juicy cantaloupes, apricots, peaches, and nectarines, the aromas wafting through the air are utterly intoxicating. We’ll continue to be seduced by many of these fruits throughout the summer, but apricot season is short but sweet…and a uniquely California phenomenon not to be missed.

Anyone who has ever purchased an apricot at the supermarket has probably already learned an expensive lesson: don’t bother. Well, okay, if you’re fortunate enough to find fruits that are organically- and locally-grown they may indeed taste fine, but you will surely pay a premium for the rarity. This is yet another time when shopping at the farmers’ market is the only logical choice.

In order for apricots to develop flavor and texture they need to ripen on the tree. Unfortunately the tree-ripening process also leaves them soft and far too fragile to ship without suffering damage from bruising. This may not sound like a problem for locavores, but many of the apricot orchards that once blessed California have been replaced by housing developments and office parks, seriously reducing sources for tree-ripened fruit. Due to increased land values apricot growers who held their ground and stayed in business now must often rely on selling to large commercial canners, jam-producers, and other fruit preservers in order to remain solvent.

To appease demand from consumers throughout the United States, scientists thought the answer was to develop bruise-resistant apricot varieties designed to look quite glamorous for weeks at a time and withstand all sorts of abuse during transit to supermarkets. Too good to be true? You bet. One bite and you’ll know you’ve been had. It’s frightening to think there is an entire generation that assumes this is how apricots should taste. If you want to experience a real California apricot that isn’t mealy or sour or flavorless—and there’s no apricot tree in your own backyard—you simply have to buy them directly from a grower. And the best place to do that is at your local farmers’ market.

When you first encounter a golden pile of tree-ripened apricots at the market, no doubt you’ll immediately want to eat your fill out-of-hand; but be sure to buy a few extra for the following updated American classic recipe.

If in the past you have been traumatized by cloyingly sweet upside-down cakes that showcase thin rings of canned pineapple and iridescent maraschino cherries, set aside your prejudice and give this one a try. Baked in a cast iron skillet for a touch of nostalgia(and a lot of soul), with juicy stone fruits, a tender crumb from buttermilk, and the subtle crunch of cornmeal, this cake is lovely all by its lonesome—but even better when accompanied by a dollop of crème fraîche or softly whipped cream.

APRICOT-CHERRY UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE
with Toasted Almonds

Good news! Apricots do not need to be peeled. Right before using, rinse them under cold water and pat dry. To halve and pit an apricot, use a small, sharp knife to cut along the visible seam that goes all around the fruit; then twist the halves gently in opposite directions, pull apart, and use the tip of the knife to remove the pit.

  • 1/3 cup California sliced almonds
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 10 to 12 tree-ripened apricots, 2- to 2 1/2 inches in diameter (about 1 1/2 pounds total), halved and pitted
  • 10 to 12 tree-ripened Bing cherries, halved and pitted
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal or instant polenta
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the almonds in a small baking pan and bake, stirring once or twice, until just golden and fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool. Do not turn off the oven.
  2. In a 10-inch well-seasoned cast-iron skillet*, melt the half-stick (4 tablespoons) of the butter over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter. Cook without stirring for 3 minutes. (It’s okay if not all of the sugar has melted.) Remove the skillet from the heat.
  3. Place each cherry half, cut-side down, into the center cavity of each apricot half. Carefully arrange the apricot halves, cherry-side down, in concentric circles in the skillet, covering as much of the surface as possible. Scatter the toasted almonds in the spaces between the apricots.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; whisk gently to blend.
  5. Using an electric mixer on medium-high, beat the remaining 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 additions (beginning and ending with the flour mixture) and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix until just blended.
  6. Spoon large dollops of the batter into the skillet, taking care not to disturb the fruit and nuts. Gently smooth the top with a spatula. Bake in the middle of the oven until the cake is golden on top and the center springs back when lightly touched, about 45 minutes. Cool in the skillet for 20 minutes on a wire rack.
  7. Place a serving plate upside down on top of the skillet and, using pot holders to hold the plate and skillet together tightly, invert the cake onto the plate. Use a rubber spatula to scrape off any of the syrup that may remain in the skillet and drizzle it over the cake. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. This cake is best eaten the same day it is made, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days…if it lasts that long. Serves 8.

* ‘Don’t own a cast-iron skillet? You should really get one; but I’ll save that lecture for another day. For now, you can substitute another heavy nonstick skillet that is at least 2 inches deep. If that skillet is not oven-proof, wrap the plastic handle securely in a double-thickness of aluminum foil before baking the cake.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM or visit their web site at www.pcfma.com.

Purses Like Dating


Among other things, a woman can never have enough purses. And so on my umpteenth trip to the mall to find just the right one, again, a comical analogy occurred to me.

Shopping for a purse is a lot like shopping for a date. The variety, first of all, was almost overwhelming. From ESPRIT to Liz Claiborne, I could take my pick of red, brown, black or white. And if I’m in the mood for some pizzazz, I could even go for a multi-colored number.

But once I found an appealing color, style became the next issue. I listened to others nearby, also trying to make a good choice. I chuckled when I overheard one woman commenting on a purse with a broken zipper. Ha! Must’ve been one of those pervs.

Some handbags were sleeker than Alec Baldwin; some as smooth as Eddie Murphy, bad language not included. The sturdy leather bags reminded me of Paul Hogan or Robert Redford, and the fake leather, well … sorry Rick Rockwell. It said, “Who wants to carry a multi-millionaire knock-off?” all over it.

I found some purses to be quite complicated: straps here, doodads there; much more baggage than I need at the moment, sorta like Justin Timberlake. Who needs all that drama with the ex? But then there were the simple ones, almost too simple. They had no character, no life, and no creativity – no thank you Hugh Grant (you’re hot, but that’s all).

Feeling a bit like Goldilocks in the dissatisfaction department, I finally settled for comfort. Yeah, that’s it, comfort. I tried it on. The straps fit perfectly around my shoulder. It was just the right size, not too short, not too tall. It had a John Travolta-look to it, with a disco design that seemed to hum “burn, baby burn.” I’m thinking this could be long term here. I mean, this purse just might last through several seasons without the usual boredom, frustration and unnecessary arguments at tollgates when looking for loose change.

The store clerk told me to save the receipt just in case I needed to return the item. I told her I always do, because once you see them in a different light, their personalities can change on a dime. She said, “Huh?”

I further explained that on first dates they can look and smell great, say the right things and be a top-notch gentleman. But once all the paper stuffing is tossed aside, and you begin to see his character, what’s really inside, that’s when the receipt comes in handy, and you suddenly find yourself back at the mall, rummaging through purses again.

Charleen Earley is a veteran freelance writer, comedienne and high school journalism teacher. Please visit her website at www.CharleenEarley.com.

The Ringing of the Bells

Music expresses that which cannot be said, Victor Hugo

The ringing of bells has played an important role in European, American and numerous cultures for many centuries. From “Big Ben” which rang for three hours after the recent wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, to small rural churches and universities across the land, bells are a beautiful and reassuring sound to many. Another form of bell ringing one can easily participate in is “handbell” ringing.

Handbell Choirs

There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of handbell choirs in the United States offering concerts for audiences to hear and appreciate. They are alive and well in many churches and similar institutions across the country and most certainly in Europe where they originated in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Origins and Characteristics

The early developers of English tuned handbells were brothers, Robert and William Cor, in Wiltshire, England circa1696-1724. A handbell is defined as a musically tuned bell with a flexible handle usually made of leather or plastic. It has a hinged clapper which travels in one plane and is controlled by springs to prevent the clapper from resting against the bell (this allows the bell to ring freely) when struck. This is in contrast to other bells when the clapper swings freely in any direction. The handbell is used by a handbell ringer who is part of a handbell choir.

The Cor brothers tuned their bells more carefully in order to have a very accurate fundamental or basic tone. All musical instruments produce composite (many) tones sounded simultaneously. The resulting sounds above the fundamental pitch are called overtones. The overtones on an English handbell are a 12th (an octave and a perfect fifth) above the fundamental tone or pitch.

Margaret Shurcliff, from England, was one of the first to bring English handbells to America in 1902. They are a relative new-comer to the musical genre of the United States as evidenced by the number of handbell ringers here. Handbells are a well established addition to our musical heritage.

Handbells vary greatly in size and weight. They weigh from the smallest at seven ounces to a large bass bell weighing 18 pounds. Obviously it takes a strong arm and hand to manipulate this weight and size of a bell. Men are the usual ringers of these larger bells. Women usually play the smaller lighter bells. The larger the bell, the lower the pitch and conversely the smaller the bell, the higher the pitch.

Music

Because of their unique tonal characteristics handbell choirs usually play music specifically written for them. They do not have separate parts for each bell – rather they all read off of a complete piano-like score. The notes below middle C are written in the bass clef and notes above middle C are in the treble clef. Music written for handbells usually is around or fewer than four minutes in length. The bells used in performance encompass all the notes of the chromatic scale within the range of the bells. The set may include several octaves. Ranges of the set are generally two to eight octaves.

Performance

“No one was born ringing handbells but anyone can learn to play them,” said Margaret Settle, director of the English Handbell Ministry at Community Presbyterian Church in Danville.” Settle is the director of the Agape Ringers and Primetime Ringers at the church. She is also a woodwind Pedagogue. Many of her woodwind students have gone on to ring in the handbell choirs. “Bell ringing touches hearts and souls.” She said.

Her handbell ensembles are made up of people with many ability levels including students, seniors, rookies, old pros and everyone in-between.
The ringers, as they are called, are responsible for only three or four notes e.g. A flat and A in the left hand and B flat and B in the right hand. But they must play these notes as they come in the score seamlessly with the other ringer notes as if they were rung by one person. The ensemble must be well trained with great discipline and attention to detail. The result must be musically and aesthetically pleasing. “The music of the handbells seems to strike a particularly deep chord in many of the audiences we play for,” said Settle.

You may contact Mrs. Settle at msrsmusic@sbcglobal.net or phone her at 925-837-6371 for information regarding performances and the handbell choirs. If you want to learn to ring, it’s free and it’s fun!

Mark your calendar for the Danville Community Band annual free Spring Concert, Sunday, June 12, 3:00 p.m. at Community Presbyterian Church, 222 West El Pintado in Danville.

Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net
Visit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.