Staff Blog


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Welcome to Manta Ray

The BLUE Ocean Film Festival launched last night with a crowded gallery showing of BELOW, an exhibition of the breathtaking sea life imagery by renowned photographer David Doubilet.

Most of the images on display in Monterey's Portola Plaza celebrate the cheerful and weird beauty of marine life, like this baby green turtle swimming to relative safety through azure waters to the open ocean.

But one corner of the exhibition reflects the grimmer reality facing many of the ocean's most magnificent creatures. A trio of photos shows a blood-red pool where spinner dolphins are trapped for slaughter; a fisherman cutting a live dolphin's neck; and a pile of dismembered entrails and dolphin heads.

A pair of young women merrily dancing in front of them seemed symbolic of how easy it is for us land mammals to ignore the massacre.

Later, Congressman Sam Farr took the microphone from BLUE Co-Founder Debbie Kinder to extol the importance of the festival, legislation supporting ocean conservation and "the blue revolution."

"Let's figure out how to do no harm to the ocean," he said. "We've been killing it all these years, and now we've learned how to stop it…but you have to develop people who appreciate that."

He said efforts like BLUE help "to get the photographers, the artists, the poets, the writers, to get that new necessary breed that's really going to bring together that meeting of land and water. You can't just have knowledge about one side and not about the other."

Doubilet then joined Farr at the mike, joking that he'd tried but failed to get the city of Monterey to change its name for BLUE. "It doesn't work, the song, 'It Happened in Manta Ray,'" he said.

-Kera Abraham

Friday, August 20, 2010

Whales are still huge in Monterey Bay.

For the past couple of months, the whale-huggers of the Central Coast - including Nancy Black, owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch - have been gushing over the abundance of whales feasting on the unusually hearty krill blooms staining the Bay's surface a rusty red this summer.

Here's MBWW's marine naturalist, Lori Beraha, with a single teeny krill. A single whale, however, can eat millions of these little guys in a day.

The krill brought out the whales, and the whales brought out the whale watchers, for a Thursday morning MBWW trip, leaving from the end of Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey.

Almost 70 customers packed the boat, including a vacationing British family (whose three boys hogged the money view at the bow for four hours); a retired teacher and her seasick-prone husband, in town for their 44th wedding anniversary; and a quiet birder from Santa Cruz, who trained his binoculars on a passing black-footed albatross while everyone else gasped at a breaching humpback.

Here's a lovely photo of the species, taken on a recent whale watching trip by Alison Barratt of the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

It didn't take long for us to see our first whales: a pair of humpbacks arcing gracefully through the gray water, showing off their fingerprint-unique flukes as they dove.

By the time we reached the edge of the Monterey Submarine Canyon, the sightings had multiplied. Now we were surrounded by several pods of humps and a group of playful Risso's dolphins, which splashed along next to us for several minutes.
We even caught a glimpse of the Zeus of whales: the mighty blue, the Earth's biggest animal, measuring up to 100 feet. The pair didn't do anything fancy for us, just a gentle arc, but that arc lasted astonishingly long as their enormous slender blue-gray bodies slid through the surface of the water.

Barratt snapped this photo during a recent whale watching trip. Can anyone tell me what blue whale body part this is?

Hint: it's about 10 feet long and would put John Holmes to shame. What I'd like to know is, what is it doing sticking out of the water?

My favorite moment - and MBWW's Tony Lorenz's - is when the humps started "lunge-feeding": opening their giant mouths to take gulps of the surface krill. Both blue and humps are baleen whales, which means they don't have teeth, but rather swallow big glugs of ocean and then push the saltwater out through a filtering structure that's like a sieve in their mouths, leaving them with tasty bites of krill.

Beraha's final cetacean count for the trip:
2 blue whales
42 humpbacks
80 Risso's dolphins

Lorenz (pictured below) - whose son Matteo was on hand to help out Thursday - says MBWW's three daily tours have been full to sold out lately, a trend he expects to continue as long as the whales keep on their krill binge. Blues and humpbacks tend to stick around into late fall. 375-4658,

Bonus: Customers hungry after the voyage can snag a VIP card good for a free appetizer at the wharf's Cafe Fina, a green-certified restaurant that prides itself on ocean-friendly seafood selections.

I go for the barbecued sardines (normally $9.95) when they're in season: finger-smacking, sustainable silver slivers of the sea.

Friday, June 18, 2010

More Than Fairways

OK. We get it. The famously tough U.S. Open course conditions—the predatory rough, the fast fairways and beguiling greens—make it really hard on the professional golfers.

Cry me a water hazard. They're getting paid to stroll some of the most superlative stretches of coast anywhere. Their season started in Hawaii, stopped over in sunny SoCal and traipses around the East Coast's finest courses all summer. People live to give them free sirloins and clean their cleats.

The real challenge is trying to catch a glimpse of their swings; the real heroes are the fans braving bottlenecks that pinch hundreds into swaying baby-step parades. They build calves of steel from constant tippy toeing. They develop sharp keyhole-precision eyesight, able to track a Lee Westwood putt through just a sliver of between-shoulders daylight.

They also apply classic golf course technology to overcome galleries that grew as deep as eight or 10 people at certain points during Thursday's opening round.

Jeff Parker of Los Angeles told me he got his five-times magnification periscope from Phil Mickelson's dad after the 2000 U.S. Open for $40. As Tiger Woods addressed his second shot over the huge chasm that haunts the approach to the 8th, someone somewhere in the gallery scrum shouted Parker an offer: "$10 for just one second!"

The camoflauge scope: cooler, cheaper ($28 according to one user) but less zoomy—no magnification on this model. The earpiece this female fan has on relays the ESPN radio feed on course so folks can follow the wider tournament action. The device is available free for anyone with an American Express card.

All things being equal, though, my favorite periscope is the original edition: dad's shoulders.

There were other techniques afoot as well. Some climbed oaks.

Others watched from the beach.

Joanne Druery of Hilton Head, South Carolina, who traveled here to volunteer with four of her college cronies, had a pretty sweet vista of the shoreside 10th from her elevated scorekeeper cradle.

I was left to more creative means to sneak just a peek of a putt. That included climbing one of the electric wheelchairs that the USGA furnishes that someone had abandoned and trying to follow an ESPN camera team under the ropes. I did successfully mount a bottled water delivery cart for this look at the 8th green (above).

The crowds only thicken when the Phil Mickelsons of the world are in an adjacent fairway. And when Tiger Woods plays through it's dramatically more clotted. (For a look at all the elements Woods is up against—from his wife to golf history to himself—click here.) Just the photogs following Woods alone (above) could fill The Tap Room.

Good luck finding a seat here to watch Woods, Ernie Els and Lee Westwood play 7. Like almost all of the sponsor tents, skyboxes and grandstands, this towering four story bleacher was erected specifically (and temporarily) for the U.S. Open.

The most massive makeover: The complex of soaring tents on what was Peter Hay—football fields worth of square footage peddling gear, grub and signature souvenirs. The Weekly's Adam Joseph filed a special report on its transformation earlier this year.

Back in the on-course crowds, superstar sightings aren't impossible—just potentially distant. Here's a look at Tiger through the grass at the scenic 7th, at the top center of the green.

And Woods (right) joined by Els (left) and Westwood on the 11th fairway. There's a golf shot worth admiring.


Click away for more on fun guys to root for, the 18 most intense U.S. Open moments at Pebble Beach and a newly remixed catalog of Pebble Beach Golf Links history.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sustainable Brands has an app for that.

The sad truth is, we're probably doomed. Our oceans are choked with plastic, our babies are little bundles of flame retardant, and a very cute grebe in Madagascar just went extinct.

But the folks at the Sustainable Brands Conference, held at the Monterey Conference Center June 7-10, were peppy anyway. There's still money to be made.

The conference has been criticized for giving green cred to some of the world's most polluting companies - like Clorox, Dow Chemical and Wal-Mart. At the same time, it assumes corporations must clean up their acts. And it inspires businessfolk (who fork out $2,300 per conference pass) to make changes that can have major global impacts.

SB10 also engages lots of little companies that are doing cool stuff.

Like Design Ecology, a Petaluma firm that installs living walls that remove volatile organic compounds from the indoor air.

And PeopleTowels, a Monterey startup that sells reusable, pocket-sized hand towels made from all-organic, Fair Trade cotton. According to the website, the average American worker uses 2,400 to 3,000 paper towels annually at the office. By switching to PeopleTowels, that same worker can save save one-quarter of a tree, conserve 250 gallons of water and reduce 23 pounds of landfill waste per year.

ECO eyewear makes shades using recycled metal and plastic, and plants a tree for every pair sold.

Even Monterey Bay Aquarium was there, giving out its Seafood Watch pocket guides. I won't be caught in a sushi joint without one.

But I can't shake my skepticism about the huge corporations. While their efforts are certainly a good thing, I don't see them trailblazing a revolutionary new breed of sustainable capitalism.

OK, so Frito-Lay's Sunchips are now sold in plant-based, compostable bags. That's an improvement over the old zombie bags, which will continue to blow around the planet, or swirl in an ocean garbage patch, for all eternity (perhaps passing through a few turtle and albatross guts along the way).

And PepsiCo, which owns Frito-Lay, is surprisingly on the right side of the climate lobby, supporting cap-and-trade and renewable energy bills. But does that make PepsiCo a "sustainable brand," considering the incalculable damage their packaging and emissions have done to the planet? Why not make all their products, from Gatorade bottles to Cheetos bags, compostable? Why not go all-organic? A single product's biodegradable snack pack will not save this spaceship.

Starbucks also tooted its green horn. Ben Packard, company VP of global responsibility,talked up the goal of making 100% of Starbucks coffee cups "reusable or recyclable" by 2015. The company produces almost 1% of the 500 billion cups used once, then thrown away, worldwide every year.

Customers are encouraged to bring in their own mugs for a dime off, Packard said. There are already front-of-store recycling centers in S.F., Seattle and (next month) New York City, soon to be followed by Chicago, Atlanta and Boston, he said. Customers can recycle their cups on the way out of the store...

...except that most people take their lattes to go. Packard admits that 80% of Starbucks cups leave the stores with their cups.

Doug Woodring of Project Kaisei, a San Francisco nonprofit working to find ways to clean up and re-use that swirling vortex of plastic litter in the ocean, wasn't super impressed by the Starbucks pledge.

“ 'Recyclable' is a very deceiving word. Just because it’s recyclable does not mean it will be recycled," he said."And to me, the paper cup is not as dangerous as the plastic lid and straw. Those are what will last 300 years."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

From the Food & Wine magazine editor keying Olivier Krug Retrospective: "If you were overserved last night, there is no better remedy than Champagne, and no better Champagne than Krug."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Patron station with Kevin Fisher pouring power-dry ice-chilled margaritas saucy like.

Caviar exploration with Cristal led by Jaques Pepin and offspring Claudine. PBF&W honoring chef this year with special dinner - and presentation of magnum bottle of Roederer vintage from hands of Roederer heir a moment ago.

One of the best dessert chefs on two legs is Jon Hui - happily enough, he calls Pebble Beach home. Here, everything from homemade pistachio gelato and pistash brittle to milk chocolate mousse shaped like a perfect little square with pear gelee inside.

Lobster with pan-roasted pierogi filled with Maui onion soubise and caviar - a lil chanterelle and morel on the side - from Roy Yamaguchi. The stuff these studs come up with. Inspiration: RY says he used to rent a room from a Polish woman in upstate New York.

By Land or By Sea Delicacy Lunch featuring Russian River wines and chefs like these doing things like this. three (I think) over the toppers going for $200 a pop (or more).

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"Sometimes people say they're allergic when they just don't like something," Thomas Keller says. "That's gotta stop." More on topic, he discussed what he called "lifesavers" prized for their flavorful versatility: sweet onion tapenade, mushroom conserva and cured lemons.

Ming Tsai taking pavilion through east-west style crab cakes with sambal. "Pack the cake loosely, like Julia Child did with hamburgers" - then he let lucky audience member named Anika Sorenstam try it.