Friday, December 3, 2010

Struck by Lightning

Serra Do Espinhaço mountain range, in Minas Gerais and part of Bahia,  form the divide between the tributaries of the São Francisco River and the streams that descend directly to the Atlantic on the east. Their peaks reach between 3,600 and 6,500 feet (1,100 and 2,000 m). Since the early 18th century the Espinhaço Mountains have been mined for gold, diamonds, and gems, but they are now economically important chiefly for their vast store of iron ore. It is also know for its major thunderstoms, which develop from the forced ascent of conditionally unstable air along the mountain barrier. Atmospheric discharges have very peculiar features. Interest in the topic is partly due to the consequences of hazard to populated areas, but little is know about their effects on rocks and minerals. According to digger reports from mountain ranges in central -eastern Brazil, many apparently enigmatic dynamic deformation features on sediments and rocks are related to lightning strikes. There are documented furrows in Precambrian quartzites with 100 m long with blocks ejected as far as 30 m. Fissures 30 m long, gigantic blocks dislocated from their original position.

Proving the origin of such features is a difficult task. Evidences of the effect of this special lightning on lightning-struck quartz crystals are the presence of beta-quartz (which only forms at temperatures over 573°C), along with the presence of cristobalite, the high-temperature modification of quartz (which forms at temperatures of about 1,715°C). Also, an enormous pressure of about 35.00 bar (508 psi) is evidence by the presence of coesite, the rare high-pressure polymorph of quartz. The stress caused by this very rapid heating and cooling, along with the intense electrical charge and the high pressure, creates a characteristic crisscross fracture pattern on the surface of the affected quartz crystals.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Crystallized Gold

I came across a beautiful parcel of crystallized Gold from Venezuela.
It was really difficult to make a choice with so many beautiful crystals.
They come from Santa Elena de Uairén,  a small city (29,795 inhabitants in 2006) in the state of Bolivar,  near the border with Brazil and Guyana.
Gold comes in various shapes and forms, and there are several classifications of  Gold forms, from dendritic, (gold that grows in tree-like branches), to leaf ( Gold that grows in thin to extremely thin sheets) , to wire (Gold that grows in the form of thin wires or thicker “ropes"), crystallized Gold, ( Gold with geometric crystals visible to the naked eye.) These last ones can be very rare, and are highly valued by collectors. Among other shapes, they can be octahedron, trigon, cubic, they can be hoppered, (gold that forms step like structures otherwise known as chevrons.)
The photo above has all the pieces I bough and most of them are available at .
In the begining these gold pieces were labeled as "Palladiun-rich" there was a lot of controversy, on how much Palladium it would need to have to bear that label. I know a lot of them do not have Palladium at all so I think the safe bet is not to call them Palladium-rich.
John Rakovan, from the Dep. of Geology, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. did extensive reseach on those pieces, part of his reasearch was published on Rocks and Minerals, and you can see the article here.
The article is called " Characterization of Gold Crystallinity by Diffraction Methods" and it is very thorough.
If you are curious about the formation of these pieces, this is a great resource.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like FALL

The weather is starting to cool down. It has been drizzling since last night, which I love, specially because I don't have to get out of the house today. I woke up thinking I wanted something simple yet very hearty. Nothing better than a nice bowl of hot soup on days like this.
So I headed to the kitchen in my "it's beginning to look a lot like fall" mode and here it is, a light version of what could be a heavy soup, but with lots of flavor!

Corn and Crab Chowder
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
3 cups uncooked sweet corn from the cob
4 cloves of garlic (minced or pressed)
1/2 cup of finely chopped celery
1 cup crab stock or fish stock
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups of milk  (if you want it richer you can substitute one or two cups of milk for cream)
1 teaspoons crab boil
3 tablespoons corn starch (dissolved in cold water)
1 and 1/2 cups lump crab meat, picked over for shells and cartilage
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Parsley for garnish
1 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon each of thyme and oregano (dried)

In a large saucepan heat the olive oil. When the oil is smoking hot, add the onions, corn, garlic, celery and saute for 1 minute. Season with paprika, cayenne, oregano and thyme. Add the stock, and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Whisk in the milk, cream if you are using it, and crab boil. Bring back to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. Whisk in the corn starch, 1 tablespoon at a time, checking for desired thickness. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook,  (if you want thicker, you can add a little more corn starch.)  Stir in the crab meat and Worcestershire and simmer for 6-8 minutes. Re-season if needed. Ladle into the bowls and garnish with parsley.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Green Hydroxylherderite

Twenty years ago, my father came across a lot with 2 rough pieces of "Green Apatite". It was previously sold as Beryl, and the person who had bought it saw it was too soft when he was trying to cut it. The lot was promptly returned and the second known possibility was Apatite. My father always liked the unusual, collector's gems and they looked pretty darn good as Apatites. At that time, people cared mostly about Beryls, Topazes and Tourmalines.
The pieces came from an old man that had it stashed for a while. He said they came from Ouro Verde de Minas Gerais, a small municipality located in the northeast of Minas Gerais, neighboring Teofilo Otoni. There are not a lot of minerals that come specifically from Ouro Verde, but it is right in the middle of that pegmatite rich area in the Doce Valley. I love the fact the Ouro Verde means green gold in Portuguese.
The stones were analyzed first at the Federal University of Minas Gerais by X-ray and the result: Hydroxylherderite. So much better than Apatite. It was truly green gold! One of the pieces was quite large and we were able to cut a few large stones with around 50 to 90 carats. Smaller pieces were later sent to GIA for confirmation. Everyone was so amazed by the color, size and transparency of the pieces. One piece was featured on Gems and Gemology at the time. My father kept going back to the dealer's house to see if he could get more and one day, finally, he sold him one last piece. It had 5 kilos. Huge! Not all facetable, but from that piece, he cut a 160 carat pear shape:

It was amazing. The largest in the world probably and undoubtly the finest. From the same rough, many smaller pieces were cut. My father went back for years to see if he could get another piece, until the old man was no longer around. That was it. We sold some pieces to museums around the world, collectors, big and small. And we still treasure a few in our inventory and ocasionally put one up for sale. And the big one? It is in the Smithsonian since 2008.  (click the link and you will see it on their website)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Killer Gazpacho

We lived in Spain for a year when I was 10. My father got his gemology degree at the Instituto Gemologico Español. We fell in love with spanish food, (yes, I remember). My mother bought a gigantic Spanish recipe book and started trying recipes. My favorite was the gazpacho.
Gazpacho is a chilled soup with Spanish origins. It is widely consumed through Spain and Portugal.
It is the perfect summer dish for its freshness. It is like a salad made into a soup. There are many reasons to love gazpacho: It's easy to make, you can make it ahead, you don't need a stove, and the presentation can be beautiful.
I know it's the end of summer and I should have posted this way sooner but I hear it's still pretty hot everywhere and I just made this gazpacho this weekend for a dinner party and it was a success.
Here is what you need:

10 ripe tomatoes
1 small garlic clove ( I put half depending on the size)
1 slice of a nice crusty bread (sourdough works) in pieces.
red wine vinegar to taste ( I use 1 to 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Start blending the tomatoes, in batches. when its a puree, add the olive oil, vinegar and garlic and salt. Blend some more. Add the bread pieces and taste for salt and vinegar. it should have a good balance of salt and tartness. You can add half cup of water or so to make it a little smoother.
Strain into a pitcher, check if it needs more water and chill for a couple hours.

Cucumber diced in small cubes (1/4 inch)
red pepper diced in small cubes
slices of bread diced in small cubes (1/2 inch)

There are many ways to present gazpacho. The traditional way is to serve in in a soup bowl with the garnishes on separate little bowls so people can add as much or as little of each ingredient as they want.
Or you can bring the little bowls already assembled. For parties, you can serve them in shot glasses sprinkled with smaller garnish and a parsley leaf and a little olive oil drizzle. You can also get creative and add crab meat or a grilled shrimp skewer, and make it a main dish.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ouro Preto and Imperial Topaz

Ouro Preto, (Black Gold) founded at the end of the 17th century,  was the epicenter of Brazil's gold rush in the 18th century under Portuguese rule.
The city contains well preserved Portuguese colonial architecture, with few signs of modern urban life. Modern construction must adhere to historical standards maintained by the city, to keep its UNESCO heritage status.
From Belo Horizonte it takes one and a half hour to reach it, through a winding but pleasant road.
Ouro Preto was the capital of Minas Gerais from 1822 until 1897, when the needs of the government outgrew this town in the valley. The state government was moved to the new, planned city of Belo Horizonte.
There are several Imperial Topaz Mines in the area, apart from many nameless small open pits. The most important mines are Mina do Vermelhão, in Saramenha and the Capão Mine. This last one is the largest mine for Imperial Topaz in the world. It is an open cast mine, where weathered topaz-quartz-calcite veins are mined. The gravel is transported by a dredge bucket to the hydraulic washing station. The clay is removed with huge water cannons and the material is transported to a sorting a belt, where the crystals are picked out by workers. They process tons of clay to get a few dozen topaz crystals per day (2 cubic meters of rough for 1ct of gem).    
I am not a miner and I have only been inside a handful of mines in my life. So I can't say how amazing it is to dig your own stone, but I can say how great it is to be able to buy from the source. In Ouro Preto, when you visit a mine like Capão, you go as a tourist, you watch, take pictures, have a lecture and get a peak at beautiful overpriced crystals. It is quite interesting but from a business point of view, it's prohibitive. So we rely on the good old small mines. It is quite gratifying to get lucky and see a nice little crystal being found in front of your eyes and then try to bargain a fair price for it. (The prices are crazy in every little corner of the world.)

This trip, I was really lucky. I was able to get Topaz on matrix, Topaz inside gemmy Quartz , Gem grade Topaz, that is being cut as I type and some beautiful  Purple Topaz!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Special Alexandrite

Sometimes we get lucky to be at the right place at the right time. This is one of the most beautiful pieces
of Alexandrite I've ever seen. You can see from the video how much it glows when back lit. The color is much better in person. It is a much brighter purple-pink color.
It is one of the mineral highlights of this trip to Brazil. (along with the large Euclase crystal)


Monday, August 2, 2010

Quartz, Quartz and more Quartz

Curvelo is a small town two hours drive from Belo Horizonte. If there's no road construction that is. Our way back took 4 hours due to repairs on a bridge. It is a large Quartz producing area and has a few adjacent villages, like Corinto, where Quartz is also mined and polished. This area is one of my favorite places to go. It is where my father finds the treasures inside Quartz (Inclusions). It is not as easy as it sounds though. Sometimes we have to go through thousands of kilos of material to find a few pieces of interesting material. Once we find something interesting, we have it cut or polished to make the inclusions very visible and aesthetic. The cutting process is carefully followed by my father to insure it is cut properly. The picture below shows one of the places where our pieces are polished. Note the last photo where my father stares attentively as the cutter saws one of the pieces. We have just cut really great Quartz pieces with Tourmalines inside and some with Pyrite. I am bringing lots of new inclusions along with some minerals that rank really high on the cuteness scale.

Now if you love spheres, this is your place. The best sphere makers are in Curvelo. When we find large enough pieces of unusual rough material, we have them cut there. We are making some Garnet ones at present that will be ready for Denver.
Here is a picture of some big.. really big spheres we saw for sale:

Can you imagine the shipping cost? I am glad there were no inclusions!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Euclase and Monkeys

The trip to Brazil is going well. I have been finding really good specimens and gems. I have a gorgeous Euclase crystal and some faceted stones of great size.  An Alexandrite on matrix that although not complete, is huge and lights up when backlit. I will photograph that very soon. Also some great inclusions in Quartz and some really great Tourmalines from Escondido Mine. I am trying to make a little studio setting but I still need the lighting. This coming week we are going to Bahia. We went to my parents house outside Belo Horizonte and there are so many monkeys around. They usually come in the morning and make a lot of noise. Once you bring a banana out, they crowd the trees around you. They are scared in the begining but end up going for it. The name in english is Black-tufted Marmoset (Callithrix penicillata) Here we call them Mico Estrela. Estrela means star. They have a little white spot in their foreheads that sometimes look like a little star.
So here is a video of them:

I had to crop part of it to be able to upload to flickr

Friday, June 18, 2010

Colorful Minerals

I remember being a little girl and seeing my father's collection of cut stones inside little plexiglass boxes, all carefully arranged in black boxes with lids, stacked inside the safe. It was kind of magical, like a treasure hidden in the safe. I would see a row of colorful stones and ask: What's this one? He would reply: Tourmaline. And this? Tourmaline. This? Tourmaline. It would go on for rows and rows. It was my favorite. How can they come in so many different colors?
There are many factors that influence color in minerals. My favorite "factor" is impurity.
Impurities are elements (e.g., Ti, V, Cr, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu...) that are not present in the pure compound. They occur in low concentration in the stone.
Take Amethyst, Citrine, Rose Quartz, Smoky Quartz. They all have the same SiO2  Quartz formula. What causes the different colors is the presence of chemical impurities.
Beryl is another example. With different impurities, we get different colors:
Morganite and Red Beryl contain Manganese. Aquamarine and Heliodor are colored by Iron. Emerald is colored by Cromium. The hues depend on the amounts of each element.
One famous example of color by impurity is Paraiba Tourmaline. The bright neon color is cause by Copper.
Another interesting fact is that Chromium makes Emerald green, but it also makes Ruby red.

Here are some examples of color by impurity:
Top row: Spodumenes: Hiddenite, Kunzite and Colorless
Middle row: Tourmalines: Rubellite, Yellow and Green
Bottom row: Beryls: Aquamarine, Morganite and Heliodor

I still marvel when I see a Tourmaline in a color that I haven't seen before!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The 3 hour Gnocchi

Gnocchi is one of my favorite dishes. I test restaurants by ordering gnocchi. If they have a good one, the rest is probably very good too. Most places use too much flour so it gets harder then it should (in my opinion). I like it soft, creamy, with a lot of potato taste.
After getting disappointed with my last gnocchi order, I decided I could do better. I even had the sauce in mind. I just had to do the dumplings.. "Just".. as if it was that simple.
I got beautiful yukon gold potatoes. Big, with not a lot of bumps and smooth skin. I usually bake them in the oven or the microwave. I Find that if you boil them, the water makes it too soggy for gnocchi, calling for more flour.  Since the potatoes I got were huge, it took half an hour for them to bake.  So, let's start with the recipe:
3 pounds of yukon gold (russet works too)
1 and a half cup of flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 cup of olive oil or any mild vegetable oil.
A big pot with boiling water with 1 tbs of salt.

After the potatoes are baked, press them through a potato ricer. (Yes, it is one more gadget to buy but, you can use them for fantastic mashed potatoes too)
Make a little potato "volcano" on the clean surface of your counter.
Sprinkle the whole volcano with the flour and the salt and break the egg in the center. 
Start mixing everything with a fork, and then begin kneading with your hands until it come together.  If it is still sticky, add more flour and keep kneading until it's dry to the touch. Divide the dough into 6 balls. Roll the balls into ropes of  3/4 inch diameter, and cut them in little pillows of 1 inch.
Some people like to roll them with a fork to create the typical ridges. I think they look good as little pillows, besides, I didn't want this to become the 4 hour gnocchi.

Drop the gnocchi in batches in the boiling water. At first, they will sink and when they are ready, they will float. Transfer the cooked gnocchi to a large pyrex and as you go, drizzle a little olive oil, so they don't stick. Toss them a little to make sure they are all coated. You can keep them covered in the fridge for 2 days. I made two pyrex, one I kept in the fridge, the other I used right away with the following sauce:
Tomatos, olives and smoked mozzarella sauce:
1 pound of ripe plum tomatoes chopped in little cubes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
2 cloves of garlic, sliced very thinly.
1/2 cup of sliced green olives
3 ounces of smoked Mozzarella in small cubes
1 cup of fresh basil, coarsely chopped.
sal and pepper to taste.
Saute the garlic in the olive oil until light golden. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the olives, stir well, seanson with salt and pepper and turn the heat off. Add the cooked gnocchi to the pan, the mozzarella and the basil leaves.
Stir gently and serve immediately.

Note 1:
It is very easy to make this recipe. The only problem is that it's time consuming and can be messy. So messy that afterwards I thought it would take forever for me to want to venture in gnocchi-land again. I must confess, it was so good, I am already flirting with the idea of doing it again soon. Who knows? maybe with the experience I got, it will only take me 2 hours.
Note 2:
The unused gnocchi that was kept in the fridge can be revived by a quick boil again, or pan sauted with olive oil and then served with he same sauce or a different one. hmm I am having new ideas...

Friday, May 21, 2010

I love Inclusions

Of course I had to talk about my favorite topic in the mineral world: Inclusions.
What was once considered a flaw, nowadays has a totally different meaning. Flaws not only can be beautiful but add a unique characteristic to a stone. A long time ago, nobody cared for gems that were not flawless. An Aquamarine had to be clean, free of "impurities" to be considered good. The same for Diamonds, Amethysts and all the Quartz varieties. The only gem to have its value enhanced by inclusions was Amber. As time passes and the world evolves, some people started to realize that inclusions are a whole world inside a gem. They can tell stories that trace to millions of years ago. How the stone was formed, what happened along the way, even how the weather was like back then.
The piece below is a Quartz with water inside. Isn't  it amazing to think that the water has probably been there for millions of years?


The uniqueness of inclusions is also a very appealing factor to me. You can cut a million Amethysts that look all exactly the same, but an Amethyst with Cristobalite inclusion? each one will be different.  

I also love to see uncut crystals . The one on the top is an Aquamarine with a Quartz crystal inside. The Quartz is very visible through the top and side faces. 
One of the reasons we cut gems with inclusions is to make it visible. Sometimes, the inclusion is in the center of a large crystal that has a crusty face, or is too big, so you can barely see it or it's just inside an ugly piece of rough or a very damaged crystal. Cutting it, not only makes it visible, it also makes it more aesthetic, because you have control of the position of the inclusion in the gem. What side should face up? Should it be in the center or in on one side? How big should the gem be?
It is nice to have a good balance between the overall size of the gem and the size of the inclusion. You don't want a huge gem with a tiny little inclusion in the middle. The inclusion will not look so tiny if it is inside a small gem. The other option to cutting a gem, is to polish the crystal keeping it's natural shape. This is particularly good for phantom-like inclusions.  A phantom, is a layer or more of inclusions, that follow the host crystal growth shape. Sometimes, the individual crystals are visible, sometimes they are so tiny and packed together that you only see a layer of color inside, like a smaller crystal inside a crystal. This is very common with Chlorite, but I have seen a huge variety of minerals presented in a phantom form. Another great point for loving inclusions is that, by being inside a Quartz or any other host, crystals that are too soft or delicate are preserved in a very good state.  An example is the rare oxide Ankangite. It is rarely found as a specimen, yet it was found recently inside Quartz. Thin long needles that would never survive being mined, are frozen, untouched, inside a Quartz "window". Or a Phlogopite inside Topaz preserved undamaged FOR MILLIONS OF YEARS.  We are not talking about the latest iPad model, that will be obsolete in months. It is something that has been on earth way before we were. Really, are you in love yet?
(I really wish I had documented better all the inclusions that I have sold in the past. My most memorable ones were a polished Quartz with bicolored Tourmalines with water bubbles running through them, a Quartz sphere with an Amazonite crystal, surrounded by Schorl needles that looked like lashes on an eye, and a gorgeous large polished Quartz with an Anatase that was so intensely blue, it looked like a Sapphire.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spring Nirvana

I am not a deep-fried person at all. I like to cook and eat healthy. BUT, when I saw those zucchini blossoms at the farmers market, evil took over and all I could think was stuffing them, dipping them in beer batter and frying. After making a pact with the high cholesterol gods and promissing them it will be only this one time, I headed home with a bag full of those babies. Let me tell you, these are one of those delicacies that show up in the market for a very short period of time in Spring.

They are very delicate and I recommend cooking the same day you buy them. The recipe is not really difficult but it is a little time consuming and possibly a little messy.  This is a staple in Italian cooking in springtime.
Here it goes:
Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms
8 zucchini blossoms.
oil for frying

For the filling:
1 cup of ricotta cheese
1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano cheese
1 small clove of garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon of chopped Italian parsley
1 egg
4 slices of salami Toscano chopped
pinch of nutmeg
salt to taste
1/3 cup of flour
1 egg
1 cup of beer
salt and pepper to taste

Wipe the zucchini blossoms, remove the pistils and make sure the cavities are clean. 
Mix all the ingredients of the filling together so you make a paste. check the salt.
Fill each blossom with this mix. Some people use a pastry bag. I just used a smaller spoon.
Twist the end of the blossom to secure the filling.
In another bowl, mix well the batter ingredients. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan. Mine was close to an inch deep. When the oil is hot enough, dip the zucchini in the batter and fry in small batches. Turn them carefully a couple times to make sure they are nice and golden brown. Serve them immediately. As an appetizer 2 per person sprinkled with a little parmesan. As a light meal, 4 per person with a nice arugula salad.

(I must say, I made a mess with the frying part of the process. The oil at the very beginning was "exploding" and I think I should have waited a little longer to start frying.  A lid helped. )
If you don't like salami, you can substitute for chopped anchovies or just skip it. I also deep fried a few without the filling just to try and they were really nice too.


Sunday, May 2, 2010


Ok, this is not food related nor rocks, but I have to share a few photos taken on April 25th.
There is a State Park called Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve near a city called Lancaster, 90 minutes drive from L.A. Every spring, the mountains turn orange. A very bright fiery orange. California Poppy is the official state flower. Here are my favorite photos:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A little Bit of Mining History

I have been posting for the theme auction that starts today at  Mineral Auctions . The theme is historic mines in North America. It was a very enjoyable research for me and although I read about several mining districts on all parts of the US. Canada and Mexico, I will only mention on a couple Copper Mines and at a later date, may come back and write about other locations like Gold in California and Silver in Mexico.
This chart shows recoded mining activities in the Americas in general.  As you can see, the start of the mining boom in the U.S. was in the 1800's. 

Calumet: The first englishman to visit the Michigan Copper Belt was Alexander Henry. He remained there for several years after his arrival  in 1765. In his correspondence he reports the discovery of masses of virgin Copper weighing several tons, laying detached upon the surface. He mentions a mass of ten tons which he thought may have rolled down a hill. He went back to England in 1770 and founded the first company ever organized for mining Copper in America. Henry returned to the mines with two companions but they never got farther west then Quebec, where their effects were seized and sold for debt. They were never seen again. There were various other explorers that described the area in a similar way.  A lot of studies were made, but practical mining only began in 1844. In 1867, a man called Alexander Agassiz, took over the management of the Calumet and Hecla Mines. Later they were consolidated as the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company.
The year of 1898 was the most prosperous ever known in the Copper districts of Lake Superior and both owner and employees, which by then were 10,000 were making a lot of money. Their production in 1898 was 90 million pounds and the shares were soaring at the Boston Stock Exchange.
Here is a photo of the mine in 1906:

The Quincy Mine is an extensive set of copper mines located near Hancock, Michigan. The mine was owned by the Quincy Mining Company and operated between 1846 and 1945, although some activities continued through the 1970s. The Quincy Mine was known as "Old Reliable," as the Quincy Mine Company paid a dividend to investors every year from 1868 through 1920. The Quincy Mining Company Historic District is a U.S. National Historic Landmark District.

Quincy Mine was at some point the leading Copper producing mine in the U.S. It was exeeded by Calumet and Hecla in 1867. The Quincy Mining Company closed operations (but did not dissolve) in 1931 due to low copper prices. During World War II, the mines re-opened due to increased copper demand. When the government stopped supporting copper prices after the war, the mines quickly closed for good.

I have a few Calcites with Copper inclusions from Quincy Mine.

As a coincidence, we have been watching a documentary made by Ken Burns:  The National Parks: America's Best Idea  . It was aired by PBS but we got them through Netflix. There are 6 discs of almost 2 hours each, so once every other day, we watch one. I must say it is one of the most beautiful and moving documentaries I have ever seen. The coincidence is that the National Parks started to be created around the same time that mines were being discovered and implemented and sometimes arose conflicts of interest. The documentary shows the railroads being constructed. The railways that would take ore and lumber across the country.
I highly suggest this documentary. It shows the greatness of men and nature. A greatness that we probably miss. But still gives us hope and makes us proud. Men that dedicated a lifetime for a cause and sometimes all they owned to preserve places that otherwise might have disappeared. All with the future generations in mind. A gift. For us.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spring is here!

There are many things I like and dislike about living in LA. One thing I really love is the availability of farmer's markets. You can find one somewhere, every day of the week. So this morning I went to the one on Arizona and 3rd St, in Santa Monica. The morning was cloudy and so it was perfect for walking around. Spring is here and you can really see it. Fava beans, sweet peas, zuchinni flowers, beautiful leafy greens of all sorts, plump tomatoes, a feast.. Two days ago, I made pesto, and as usual, I made more then I will use so I have some left to use through the week. A mineral dealer friend, Riccardo Prato, from Genoa, Italy, gave me this very delicious pesto tip,  he told me to skip the garlic. We tried it there and you know what? It was so perfect! I think the garlic overpowers the basil. So I've been going garlicless.
Back to the farmers market. There is one cheese producer that has lots of goat and buffalo cheeses. Today,
I decided to buy burrata. Burrata is a mix between mozzarella and cream. It is a mozzarella ball with a light cream and mozzarela filling. It sound heavy but it really isn't. it feels fresh and light. So I decided to make a salad with sliced tomatoes, prosciutto, burrata and kalamata olives. All drizzled with pesto and a little balsamic. It is one perfect meal.
Here is the pesto:
1 big bunch of basil
1/2 cup of pine nuts
1/2 cup of pecorino or parmigiano (grated)
1 cup of olive oil (you can add more to control how runny you want it)
salt to taste
Blend everything in a food processor
I sometime would try it a couple times and add more cheese or pine nuts.
Serve over pasta.
In Italy they toss it with short pasta like penne, and add cubes of  cooked potatoes and string beans or asparagus. It sounds weird to mix potatoes with pasta, but try it and tell me later.