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: