Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Olio nuovo californiano

On a visit to my uncle in Italy a few years ago he took me to his local frantoio, an olive oil press, where anyone who has a few buckets of olives from their own trees can drop them off. The owners of the frantoio, in this case a co-op of local farmers, then press the olives, produce the oil, and a few days later you return to pick up bottles filled with an amount of olive oil equivalent to the weight of olives you left. Before leaving that morning, I had a discussion that I often have with my relatives who can't understand why something so routine to them is so interesting to me. Don't you have frantoios in California, asked my 80-year old uncle, who has rarely stepped outside of his corner of Tuscany? At that point, I had to say no.
Now, I can tell him that we do have frantoios here in California and they are working much like they do in Italy. And, the olive oil is pretty darned good. A couple of weeks ago, some friends invited me to join them on McEvoy Ranch's annual harvest open house, a day when regular clients and guests make their way to the rolling hills along the Marin and Sonoma border where 18,000 olive trees of Italian origin cover about 80 acres. Just like at my uncle's local frantoio, on this day anyone is invited to bring their own olives to press. And, you pick up an equivalent amount of olive oil later on.
McEvoy, which was founded in 1991 by Nan McEvoy, conducts regular ranch tours, but the harvest open house has a bit more to offer: a chance to show off the season's luscious and deep green, freshly pressed oil. There's also opportunities to buy a tree from dozens laid out in the beautiful grounds and consult with Samantha Dorsey (see above) who patiently fields all kinds of questions about types of olives, curing them, and taking care of trees. Judging from the number of people happily carting away the leafy trees more frantoios will be springing up all over California. Check out the McEvoy shop at the San Francisco Ferry Building for more information on olive oils and tree planting. Or, make a note to visit McEvoy web site in March, when they start their public tour program for 2009.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Goldsworthy in the Presidio

I walk in in the Presidio almost every day but, somehow, I missed the new Andy Goldsworthy sculpture until a couple of weeks ago when a friend led me to the new clearing just past the Arguello Gate where the work -- called simply, the Spire -- now towers over everything around it. I was speechless for a few minutes. If you've seen the documentary, "Rivers and Tides," you know how Goldsworthy works: he draws inspiration from materals he finds around him. Twigs, leaves, stones and reeds are used to create art from nature. Here, he's made a piece from cypress trees that were planted in the Presidio more than 100 years ago. Apparently very quietly, Goldsworthy has been spending quite a bit of time in the forests and groves of the Presidio the last three years. Thanks to funds from an anonymous sponsor, he set about creating a new work, deciding to use 35 trees that were felled as part of the Presidio's reforestation project. During a two-week period this October, Presidio workers dug a 14-foot hole on the site Goldsworthy chose just above the Inspiration Point overlook. A 350-ton crane lowered in the trees, which are anchored in concrete. Eventually, as new young trees grow, 90-foot high Spire will disappear in the forest. All this is described in a wonderful exhibit on the Presidio's Main Parade Ground in Building 49, a restored officer's home from 1873 that has been turned into a temporary Goldsworthy museum. There's a history of the Presidio forest, background on Goldsworthy, the drawings he did for Spire, and even another, smaller spire that he created inside one of the house's cabinets. Admission is free. Meanwhile, the Spire is just beyond the Arguello Gate and the Presidio Golf Course's clubhouse. Walk a few hundred yards up the Bay Area Ridge Trail. If you park at the the Inspiration Point Overlook look west and you'll see it poking up above the hill.