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Monday, March 29, 2004

Today's new successful recipe experiment: Tomato, rosemary, & onion pasta sauce. None of my cookbooks seemed to have a good recipe for fresh rosemary with tomatoes, so I made one up. It was just right.


-1/4 cup of olive oil
-2 medium yellow onions, quartered then sliced thinly
-4 cloves of garlic, minced
-3 tablespoons of well rinsed fresh rosemary leaves (no stems), chopped
-2 cups of canned stewed or diced canned tomatoes (it is still winter, after all)
-1/4 cup of drinkable red wine (I use cabernet)
-1/4 teaspoon or more of salt
-freshly ground pepper.

Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until the onions begin to soften. Add the rosemary and stir well. After about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes, wine and salt. Simmer on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. (You can put your pasta on to cook during this time). Serve mixed into squiggly pasta with freshly ground pepper to taste.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:34 PM

Friday, March 26, 2004

Quick food image of the morning: "Froth was on the menu for young Russians making a 100-litre cappuccino at the International Culinary Saloon in Moscow." (BBC)

posted by Arlene (Beth)8:02 AM

Quick aside: artichokes! ( It appears that my favorite brand of marinated artichoke hearts was bought by a Spanish company and then shut down, so they could use the brand name in Spain. What a waste!! Cara Mia had the best recipe for marinade ever... I will miss them!
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:01 AM

Ah, what a beautiful morning! Think of all the things I could do today! Why, I'll just... Oh. Wait. Work. I have to go to work.

Dang it!!


S has two pet rats, including one who was abandoned on Haight Street and ran into his outstretched hands. After about a year with that one, he decided she might need a friend, and so he went to a pet store and got another one.

They do not get along very well. The second rat immediately started developing dominance issues, humping the first one, until the senior rat had to exercise various wrestling-smack-down kinds of moves. After months of attempting to establish control of the rat duplex, they have fallen into a pattern of mere abuse: the senior rat bites the ears of the younger until they bleed, while the younger rat screams; the younger rat always attempts to steal and hoard all food.

It's unpleasant. But S won't separate them, because he really WANTS them to get along and is unwilling to admit that they won't. It's bad enough that I use the couch in the room with the rats less often than I used to, because the cries of pain from the cage set me on edge. (I've taken to spraying the attacker-of-the-moment with water to break things up, but that only wins a temporary truce.) Whenever they sleep beside each other, S is happy and points out how nice it is that they get along. But the rest of the time, it goes unremarked (except when he's breaking up their fights).

Last night I asked if his unwillingness to face the reality that they are not friends (understatement) also applies to any of my problems with those of his relatives who either behave strangely or with a certain absence of niceness when I'm present. Would we suffer in close quarters regardless of the outcome while he hopes in futility that things will be better at any moment? My comments inspired a very lively discussion that went on for some time, and which I'm glad we had, which basically confirmed my right to avoid unpleasant situations if there is no active plan to change things. I'm satisfied with that.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:58 AM

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

I spent $200 on groceries this weekend. I'm rather taken aback by that. Sure, there were many, many staples I needed and was completely out of. But there were also many specialty foods in the cart at the end of the trip which tipped the register in a surprising direction. $14 worth of delicious, locally made tamales (filled with potatoes, spinach, cheese...); fabulous fresh ravioli filled with pepper jack cheese and cilantro; gorgeous marinated olives; imported cheeses; large containers of Soy Delicious frozen dessert...

I don't regret buying any of those things: they're wonderful and healthy, and are still more reasonably priced than a meal out. I'm just not over the sticker shock yet...
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:36 AM

Thursday, March 18, 2004

A day off!!

It is a cool Thursday evening, and I'm tired from walking around at the San Francisco Garden Show all day. I took the day off to avoid the massive weekend crowds at S' request. It was a wise idea: by getting there when it opened on a weekday, we both avoided being trampled by white haired ladies with canes and digital cameras.

The Cow Palace (I can't wait to translate this into German for my friend there, because she will be CERTAIN that 'der Kuhpalast' is a horrific mistake on my part) was FILLED with outrageous, spacious gardens complete with multi-story live palms, waterfalls, sculpture, buildings that must have been constructed on site... Here's how I described previous shows to my colleagues:
You should consider coming out to the completely outrageous SF Garden Show, so you can see staged gardens with more outdoor furniture than you have in your house, clever fountains, temple sculptures, small scale model follies with lights inside, outdoor grill set ups larger than your kitchen, giant koi ponds, and other wild things that you will never, ever, ever need.

("Oh look! A full scale sculptural rendition of the 'fall of man' in the Garden of Eden in a mock Trevi Fountain! Why didn't I think of that?")
The displays were outrageous - one waterfall and forest arrangement took the vendors more than two full days to set up!!! One of the displays smelled unusually fabulous: it turned out that it was mulched which used chai spices! Oh, how I would spend my days mulching if I could mulch with chai spices... (Steven doesn't even seem interested in mulching with cocoa bean hulls for reasons that elude me still...)

After an overpriced rice bowl lunch in the food court at 10:30 (breakfast cereal is wasted upon me), we continued to explore the pavillions below 'der Kuhpalast' which included frightening sales floors (where I witnessed the sort of 'naked garden nymph with enormous upward-pointing breasts' sculptures that traumetized a friend of mine), an orchid sale area, and a fabulous bonsai display by local chapters of the Golden State Bonsai Federation, whose outdoor display in Oakland I am now quite determined to visit. The bonsai club members were very helpful, and answered all of my questions about how certain plants evolved, where they found them, how they get their moss (apparently, I need to start up the Spore of the Month Club if I want to make some money), and so on. Plant people are so pleasant!!


After returning home, making a lovely mushroom/garlic/tomato/fresh oregano pasta sauce and enjoying lunch, I was visciously attacked by mosquitos, and then hid inside to enjoy reading a pile of Sunset Magazine-related books. Really, I looked at the pictures in their Annual, which is a compilation of gardening articles from the past year, and the '97 edition of their Western Landscaping book, which I inexplicably have never purchased before. As a dedicated landscape photographer, I thought I should get a better grip on how commercial/private landscape projects and gardens are photographed. The fact that I am also drooling over the lake-sized decorative ponds, massive fountains, and spectacular plants is not relevant!! :-)


If not for the blood sucking insects in the back yard, I could have attended my own planting areas a bit. (S, who doesn't swell when bitten, is out there still, gardening away...) Entire rows of darling little mixed lettuces have popped up, as has the entire row of garlic chives and many of the Greek basil. The raised bed that S made for me is FABULOUS!!! Unlike the sandy areas I directly sowed seeds into, it is not only filled with higher quality soil, but it is level, so it won't wash out in the next rain like my initial round of plantings did.

My darling little yellow pear cherry tomatoes all withered away during the heat wave - they were a little too tender to take it. Ordinarily, the heat would end so soon that it wouldn't be a big deal... My little beans are being nibbled by some unseen nibbler... My older Greek oregano and rosemary are quite happy, and my poppies are growing into large, healthy plants, waiting for their turn after the golden poppies are done to surround the cobblestone path with their color. S is attempting to start my violet angel's trumpets and checker poppies from seed for me in between watching over his Japanese maple seeds, which he hopes to persuade to germinate soon. (One had already germinated, but it also died in the heat wave after I watered it - I rinsed away some of the protective soil, and it burned. :-( I feel bad about that.) My lemon verbena seems unhappy, but I'm not sure why. I planted cilantro in the washed out area, and hope it grows before the next rainstorm (rumored to come several days from now) washes the area out again.


I'm thrilled to be growing plants from seed, but a bit mortified that the only area to wash out is mine, since I'm the only one starting large numbers of seeds in open soil, and am doing so in one particular place. The only really bare soil is mine!! I'll need to mix in more perennials to hold everything down, or have S make another, smaller raised bed for me...

Since I work 5 days a week and S doesn't, I have really not contributed as much to the garden as I would like, deferring to his choices and hard work. But I would like to do more. I would like to add many more herbs, especially lavender and fuzzy lamb's ears; grow hostas and purple coneflower in glazed, partly sunken pots; have an area to sit in the sun not far from the path; put in an overflowing-pot style fountain; and have far more mossy plants, like creeping thyme, along the edges and spaces in the paths; and make the outdoor room beneath our living room more comfortable for lounging around. More days like this off from work will help move toward these goals quite a bit!!

posted by Arlene (Beth)6:48 PM

R.B.: I'm not sure if you are receiving e-mail from me. My message sending fails when I try to reply to your excellent advice (on focaccia and blenders, most recently), unless I also send to other recipients, which may mean you're not getting them. I tried to send test messages today, three total - let me know if you receive them.
posted by Arlene (Beth)6:48 PM

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I should get last night's pasta sauce down in print (pixels?), before I forget it:

Pesto avocado pasta sauce

-1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
-a bunch of basil leaves, washed
-half of a large avocado, or more
-3 cloves of garlic
-a dash of salt.

Puree these ingredients in a blender until smooth. Toss with hot pasta. This sticks well to long, thin pastas. Serve with fresh ground pepper.

This will likely make a lovely sandwich spread...
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:07 AM

Our local pattern of unseasonably warm weather continues, breaking records and messing up our traditional 'guaranteed to be inconsistent' weather. Though it did cool off slightly on the 4th day (which is traditionally when any weather pattern is disrupted), it's STILL far warmer than we locals can easily become accustomed to.

The warm weather has me craving summer foods: pasta salads with marinated artichoke hearts, avocados, tostadas with lots of shredded lettuce, grilled marinated veggies on antipasta platters, bruschetta, ravioli in salsa fresca, guacamole, eggplant sandwiches on focaccia... Which is a bit frustrating, because many of the ingredients aren't yet at their best.

My local produce market's tomatoes (likely from Mexico) are gradually improving, and I made bruschetta with fresh basil, garlic, and olive oil a couple of nights ago. With a firm fresh bread, it doesn't really require that the bread be toasted.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:04 AM


-4 large, fresh tomatoes, diced and drained in a strainer for 10+ minutes
-10 large basil leaves, rolled up and sliced into thin strips
-3 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
-2 tablespoons of olive oil
-a dash of salt
-thickly sliced fresh bread.

Combine the non-bread ingredients in a bowl and allow the flavors to meld for a few minutes before serving. Than pile the toppings onto slices of the bread. If the bread is extremely soft, toast it first, so it won't become soggy.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:04 AM

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day. I spent much of the morning in the garden, admiring and photographing the latest round of spring flowers (including tulips!), and lounging in the hammock.

I need a lot more days like today to just relax. It was WONDERFULLY pleasant (and painfully unfamiliar) to just listen to birds and view the return of the white butterflies to our yard.


This evening I made a butternut squash pie (still cooling) and attempted another focaccia recipe.

The focaccia didn't work out. I'm experiencing several problems that I somehow avoided back when I initially began making homemade pizza, but which now plague me each time I make a wheat-based flatbread.

The main problem is that the results suck.

More specifically, the dough doesn't rise significantly or promptly, whether I use regular active dry yeast or 'rapid rise.' I suspect this relates to inadequate temperature (either the water I mix into the yeast isn't warm enough, or the place where the focaccia pan rests isn't). It's also possible that the yeast is unhappy because it doesn't get to soak in the warm water at all, getting immediately mixed into flour and kneaded pursuant to recipe instructions. (Though if I make the water hotter to solve the first problem, I won't be able to knead it immediately pursuant to the recipe instructions....)

Also, almost none of the recipes I've used call for any significant amount of olive oil, which completely mystifies me, because olive oil is part of the point of focaccia.

The focaccia I buy at the farmer's market is three quarters of an inch or more thick, light, has a neat pattern pushed into it before baking, and is moist and olive-oily. It is unlike pizza dough, which is heavier and flatter. (Many of my recipes use the same dough for pizza and focaccia, which may be part of the problem, but my pizza crusts should be fluffier than they are also...) It is never crunchy or hard, though it may be firmer along the edges of the pan. It is never brown, but always completely cooked. The toppings, when I get the topped kind, are always moist and partially embedded in the bread.

I would LOVE to learn how to make a light, olive oil-y focaccia. Anyone out there have any tips?
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:27 PM

I had absolutely no idea that it is possible to buy GALLON SIZED BOTTLES of Tabasco sauce - AND have them personalized!! (

How could I not have known this?
posted by Arlene (Beth)4:07 PM

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Maybe I'm just really tired, but I laughed so hard I cried while reading this installment of Get Your War On (
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:22 PM

Thursday, March 11, 2004

One more note about the heat wave: I would do this, too, if I had enough ice cubes. (
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:06 PM

Now that my homeopathic allergy remedy has kicked in, I can spend my evenings without the nagging headaches that were plaguing me earlier in the week. Although, I suppose those headaches could have been caused by work. Hmmmm...


The past six days have been absolutely gorgeous, with plenty of unseasonably warm weather well into the evenings, and several temperature records broken. I'm not a big fan of hot weather (I was born here, and fog is my natural habitat), so I was a bit put off by the fact that this morning, San Francisco was warmer at sunrise than Hilo, Hawaii (66 degrees Fahrenheit)( But the warm nights have made for a pleasant bike ride or two, and some pleasant evenings out, including al fresco drinking.


Recent food highlight: Tallula, a posh little restaurant and lounge on 18th in the Castro, about a block uphill from the tasty Taqueria Zapata ( The plain exterior hides a rambling interior restaurant spread across multiple levels and decked out in rich, lovely colors. The staff was charming, and my tamarind cocktails (with rose petals floating on top!) and snacks were all delicious. It's a special occasion kind of place: the rooms upstairs especially are really gorgeous, and would be a great setting for dinner for any dress-up event.

This is one of those classy places that two of my girlfriends love, where we can spend $60 or more and still fail to eat dinner. I admit that I spend my time translating 'tasting plate' prices into huge volumes of food that I could get at my favorite Thai or Indian places, since I am "all about" being full of spicy veggie food when I leave a place. Yet, my description of Tallula was gushing enough that S wants to go to dinner there for a special occasion soon.


This was also a good week for spending an early evening snacking and drinking at Cafe Bastille just around the block from my employer. I suppose this is also the sort of place where you can spend $85 dollars without having dinner, which three of us did. But they do serve food: we just ordered many pricey drinks, and so sabotaged what would have otherwise been a respectable tab.


The only bad thing about going out for drinks is that I have to leave my bike at home. And ultimately, I like biking a lot more than I like drinking and eating small snacks.

Monday night I biked home via a very circuitous route, by heading west through the City, down through the length of Golden Gate Park, along the beach, up around part of Lake Merced, through Westlake, and east toward home. It was amazing to bike at night in a t-shirt in MARCH!! The air smelled very fresh; the evening light was plentiful when I started out, casting winter back into distant memory; and the streets and paths were full of people walking, running, biking, skating, and playing with their dogs. The light was muted; I could see little blinky lights far ahead of me from other cyclists. It was so peaceful! It was so pleasant! And the 15 or so miles I biked in the evening weren't difficult at all, providing me some comfort as I look forward to the 100 kilometer Cinderella Classic later this month.


I won't talk about work, because it's no fun right now. Perhaps some other time...

posted by Arlene (Beth)9:55 PM

Saturday, March 06, 2004

God HATES Shrimp.
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:50 PM

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I am finally appreciating how great the recipes in 50 Great Curries of India are.

Tonight for dinner I made sukha aloo (potatoes boiled in turmeric water and then fried in oil with coriander and cayenne), punjabi gobi (cauliflower with shredded ginger and cumin) and basmati rice, served with 'Better Than Sour Cream' by Tofutti and a tasty cilantro chutney by Sukhi's.

I am terribly pleased with myself. It was PERFECT. And quite easy, all ready in about half an hour.

And I even learned something: cauliflower has enough liquid it in to be cooked to tenderness without any added water. A little oil, a lot of minced fresh ginger root, a little cumin, a lidded pot, and low heat were all it took. I'd always been told that cauliflower REQUIRED a lot of water to cook. But now I know better.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:34 PM

Monday, March 01, 2004

I'm tired of hearing about new, low-carbohydrate products, especially when HEALTHY carbs are supposed to be the foundation for a healthy diet for just about everyone. So it's with great pleasure that I read that the Atkins diet can make people crabby. (BBC) Ha!
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:42 PM

I'm killing another blender. This is my third or so in the past decade, which I suppose isn't too bad in a disposable-oriented society. But I don't break them: I wear them down. Their little motors suffer terribly while making my smooth pesto sauces and thick, creamy pie fillings.

As I write this, despite the late hour, I have a butternut squash pie in the oven. Unfortunately, I used my electric mixer to cream the filling. It's... particulate, with overt chunks of roasted squash, tofu, and spicy bits still maintaining an unfortunate individual identity. I used my hand blender to make the particles slightly smaller, but... It's still more like a carrot cake in appearance than I would like.

I'm sure it will taste fine. But... I really wish my blender would just COPE and get back on the job.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:57 PM

Fortune cookies, despite the fact that they contain eggs, are pretty cool.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:54 PM

I suppose it's the work exhaustion causing it, but lately I've been strangely aware of my mortality. It's not ordinarily something I give a lot of thought to. I have a will; my "affairs are in order," as they are for most compulsively organized people; I subscribe to a philosphy/religion which implies that either this life is it and so I'd better be living it well/right, and/or that I have to keep coming back until I DO get it right, and I'm okay with that. (As an avid environmentalist who likes recycling, the idea of having to come back again and again seems...efficient. Reuse and recycle those intangible soul-thingies!! :-) Mortality is ordinarily a part of what I perceive to be an life and a general inevitability.

But lately my mortality has seemed more... pressing. Not completely imminent: I didn't open a box of cereal yesterday and think, 'I wonder if I'll be alive before this goes stale.' But I do have an odd sense of urgency surrounding my chores and creative goals that I don't ever recall having before.

Perhaps it's time to cut back on the thoroughly caffeinated Peet's English Breakfast tea before bed...

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:52 PM

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