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Tuesday, March 25, 2003

The war has harmed my appetite. I try to eat. I try to take pleasure in food. But at night, I dream about how bad the world situation is, and about protesting peacefully in the streets in times of chaos.

This is an odd time. I had expected this century to be full of greed, the erosion of human rights, and the weakening of the democratic U.S., but only as part of an overall cycle that would swing in the other direction eventually. Not as part of a downward spiral into rejection of the rule of law, especially international law, isolationism, and state-sponsored large-scale violence.

Not that this hasn't happened in the past. But I didn't think it would happen again so soon.

So very unappetizing, these times.


I try to muddle through, but my sorrow at the state of the world has been reflected in a lack of cooking creativity. I'm not reading cookbooks. I don't know what to buy when I go to the grocery store. Sometimes I get lucky, but I'm just drifting, food-wise, at the moment.


My health food store did make it easy tonight. I bought fresh artichoke and sundried tomato ravioli (with ricotta) in a spinach pasta; some artisan bread with dry jack cheese and garlic baked into it; and served those with a light tomato sauce and a greed salad with a bottled lemon and tarragon vinegar-ette (which I can't even spell at the moment). It was good. The glass of sangiovese helped. But I'm still sad.

posted by Arlene (Beth)9:29 PM

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

I took a vacation! I know, as improbable as it sounds, I took a break from work AND blogging.

I took a car-free vacation from my home in southern San Francisco up to the spa town of Calistoga in the wine country. S and I biked to BART (the electric underground train system), rode BART to the ferry terminal, took an hour-long ferry ride to the north/east bay town of Vallejo, and biked north up the Napa Valley.

None of the thunderstorms, hail, high winds, flooding, or any other adverse weather which had been predicted for the duration of our weekend trip appeared, except for a bit of gentle rain during the wee hours of Sunday morning while we slept.

Instead we biked through the Napa Valley under big fluffy clouds distributed evenly across the wide, bright blue sky. The wine country is beautiful this time of year, full of burbling streams and wildflowers, though there is a noticeable absence of lush vines. The best part of the ride was north of Napa, when we got to bike on the Silverado Trail, a well-maintained wine country road with nice, wide bike lanes on either side. Vineyards stretched out on either side of us, with bright yellow mustard blossoms waving in the breeze between the straight, staked rows for grapes.

I was too busy cycling, eating, soaking in a mineral water jacuzzi, and lounging about while my legs prepared for more cycling to photograph the valley, strangely enough. (This is very odd, for me.)

We biked about 90 miles. I feel healthy, strong, and relaxed.


There are places to eat in Calistoga. More of them exist now than the last time I was there. It's gotten kind of fancy, in an abrupt way.

Places I've eaten at and liked:

  • Puerta Vallarta. They feature excellent Mexican-style breakfasts on weekends, with most entrees at or under seven dollars. I had a ranchera omelette: peppers, onions, and guacamole wrapped in an egg, served with chip-crisp potatoes and yummy salsa. This is authentic, fresh, and good.
  • Checkers, a good Italian place hiding under the name of a cheesy 1950s retro-diner. We had a lovely meal, which included a 'Calistoga Salad' of field greens, sun dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and pine nuts in a mustard dressing; aurora ravioli containing spinach and mozzarella, in a tomato cream sauce; pear and mango sorbetto; and a nice glass of Sangiovese (which I can't spell right now, please forgive me). The wine by the glass selection is quite respectable.
  • Cafe Sarafornia, named when a gentlemen with a fondness for drink said that he wanted to make the area as famous as Saratoga, New York. But instead of saying he wanted it to be the 'Saratoga of California,' he said it should be the 'Calistoga of Sarafornia.' Or so says the menu. This place serves waffles and eggy breakfasts, including darned good huevos rancheros.
  • Cal Mart ("Napa Valley's Finest") is actually a grocery store, not a restaurant, but it deserves an honorable mention here, because we got a meal there. The pasta salad in the deli made with kalamanta olives and feta is VERY GOOD, and it's a great place to buy fresh fruit, bread, and spreads for a picnic lunch. We inadvertently ruined our appetites for dinner by having such a sumptuous lunch with goodies acquired here. We also had a very pleasant conversation with a nice woman at the deli counter, who was amused that we'd biked there, and told of her own future-in-laws who biked down from SEATTLE. That's a long ride!
  • Bosko's Trattoria is an Italian place that I ate at a few years ago during a previous visit. It was okay.
  • Pacifico is a Mexican restaurant I also ate at during a prior visit. The meal was fine, though I was initially alarmed by the place's vast, Chevy's like-size.

Calistoga has many other places to eat, including fancy bars that serve brunch on weekends, but we were only there for 4 meals. Next time I'll try to apply myself to research with more dedication. :-)


Also very worthy of mention is the Soda Creek Deli about two miles north of Napa, which is a pleasant place to stop for a bite to eat. They have picnic benches beside the creek for you to enjoy your purchases.


I can't remember the name of the place we lunched at in Napa. Peking something. It was good. I'll remember it some time in the future.

Napa is a deceptively charming town in spring. The weather is pleasant (rather than oppressively hot as it is in summer), and there are many cute Victorian homes in the old part of town. S lived there for about 1.5 years, and says that it's much less pleasant than it appears. I proposed we visit again to explore, and he rejected that idea VERY quickly. :-)

Though it might be amusing to visit Copia.

Copia has bike parking!!!


There was another cyclist who arrived at our hotel at the same time we did. We didn't speak with him for long (we were too eager to get into the warm mineral swimming pool), but found out later that he'd biked down from Ashland, Oregon. THAT must have been a long ride!


Two more thoughts: 1) garlic mashed potatoes with butternut squash puree mixed in, and 2) creamed spinach. Those two thoughts were shared by a colleague early in the day (before lunch) as a report on a new restaurant that recently opened near SF's Union Square. I'll hold those thoughts for now.

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:40 PM

Friday, March 14, 2003

Obesity is increasing dramatically in Asia, especially in cities. The health risks are vast:
A particular concern is the rapid spread among Asian children of what was once known as adult-onset diabetes. The ailment, which rarely affected children in the past, is so closely linked to obesity that it has been nicknamed "diabesity." In China, experts say, it has been rising by 9 percent a year....

As with so many things, this all comes down to food. Especially processed food.
It is not only the fast-food chains that have changed the Asian diet. Milk, ice cream, cookies, soft drinks and potato chips ? these once-alien foods are as common in many parts of Asia now as in the West. Meat and eggs are making inroads on rice and vegetables.

In the last two decades, Thais have doubled their annual intake of sugar to 63.9 pounds per person from 27.9 pounds, according to a study in 2001 by the Public Health Ministry.
I think of all the silly diets that say that all carbohydrates are evil. Of course carbs are NOT evil - but processed white sugar and white flour, so empty of nutrition, can throw an otherwise healthy diet completely out of whack.

I read a good description long ago of why Americans are fat: our bodies crave nutrition, and so we eat, but we eat white bread and white sugar, enough to fill us. But our body realizes that something went wrong, because calories without nutrients came in, and so it makes us hungry again, hoping to do better. But we don't do better, and continue a cycle of never eating the healthy foods our body needs to be satisfied.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:52 AM

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Oh no! Fruit irradiation comes to California! Noooooo! Huge monocultures -- miles and miles of just one crop, planted together in an artificially sterilized area -- encourge one or more types of insects to thrive, and then megacorporations sell high tech "solutions" to these man-made problems. (Irradiation to kill E coli in meet is unnecessary, if meat is handled properly. Oh, but that requires effort. Never mind, then. We'll pretend it's so much better to sell dirty meat that has been radioactively disinfected...)

Why solve the problem when we can spend a lot of money treating the symptoms?

Another reason to oppose irradiation: " Avocados, an oily fruit, haven't fared well in irradiation testing so far, according to SureBeam spokesman Mark Stephenson." And if it's bad for avocados, one of the world's most wonderful fruits, the entire process can go to hell.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:22 PM

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Over the weekend, I ate my first two artichokes of the season.


They were each about the size of my fist. They had some purple and brown markings on the outside, and a sign in the store said they had been 'frost kissed,' and warned that they tasted better than they looked. They looked fine, but they tasted WONDERFUL.

To prepare them, I put a pot of water deep enough to cover them on to boil. I cut off the top 1/4 inch (about 2 cm) to get rid of some of those spines, and cut off most of the stems. Before they could turn funny colors, I immediately put them into the water, along with the juice of half a grapefruit (lemon also works), 4 halved cloves of garlic, and a drizzling of citrus champagne vinegar. I simmered them for about 35 minutes, by which time the entire house smelled fabulous.

I ate them with extravirgin olive oil, a dash of citrus champagne vinegar, and salt.



It turns out that Cafe Ethiopia, the wonderful restaurant on Valencia, is closed on Tuesday nights. The last few times I wanted to eat there were Tuesday nights. So even though they don't post their hours or days, implying that they're open whenever they want, they do keep a schedule.

I went there for lunch on Saturday. Everything was perfect, and was prepared very quickly.

posted by Arlene (Beth)7:25 AM

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

*yawn!* I have been so sleepy lately. The biking is wonderful, makes me RAVENOUSLY hungry, and knocks me right out after my bath.

Food is a highly important part of successful biking. Food is fuel, and you must be sure your tank has the right fuel, and is overfull and never empty. When your tank runs too low, you'll 'bonk.' Bonking, when you feel like your otherwise very healthy body can't move any more, is a very sad thing.

There are many foods that are good to eat before biking. Crepes or even actual egg-based omelettes can be a good mix of nutrients. Soups with beans and veggies or tofu warm you up before a cold morning ride. Fruit is always a good sugar rush, and much cheaper and more nutritious than those strange little gels sold in bike shops. Pancakes don't do much for me (too much white flour?), but whole grain cereals with fruit and soy milk also last a while, and provide a balance of calories that hit you over time.

I know that if I eat a huge meal before biking, my body wants to concentrate on digesting instead of riding, so I recommend eating lightly before eating. But definitely eat!

A series of web pages I enjoy very much describes Amy & Ryan's long bike trip in Northern California, and the many available pastry shops along the way. (Food centric pages you like Arlene? How could that happen? I know, how out of character for me...)

I am also amused by the April 2003 issue of Bicycling magazine, which has several food related features, including a tale of losing 70 pounds of unneeded weight the hard way, and another about vegetarian cycling (pro, with tips and references to champs who are).

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:22 PM

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