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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Con Olio

If you like to toss tasty pasta in olive oil instead of a sauce that may not let the pasta's clean flavor come through (especially for pastas that already have herbs or other natural flavorings), here are three easy variations I've been using lately:

* a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, half an avocado per person in little tiny chunks, and freshly ground pepper: this allows the flavor of both the pasta and the avocado to come through. It's simple, fast, and delicious.

* drained, diced, marinated artichoke hearts plus a dash of extra virgin olive oil: this is tasty, but not overpowering. Most artichoke marinades nowadays are watery and made with less tasty oils than Ex.Vir.Olive, so I drain them more than I use them.

* 1/4 cup or so cup of extra virgin olive oil; 1/4 cup of washed cilantro leaves; freshly ground pepper; a dash of salt; and 2 cloves of garlic pureed together. This is great on hot, squiggly pasta with freshly steamed or sauteed broccoli. This is not a very social dish, due to the garlic aura you'll have, but who needs to be social?

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:25 PM

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

I asked a girlfriend traveling in northern Europe on the food currently available, and especially on the quality of the waffles and chocolate in Brussels. Her report:
but now iøm in Copenhagen where there's not much but meat and fish and cigarette smoke. And you go to to the grocery stores and you worry that people are starving to death because how can they afford to pay that much? What else was good in Brussels, pretty much everything is good there,a lot of people think they cook better than the French. Fries, seafood, soup. It`s just that there's too much of it and it's all formal. You go to something called a cafe and you have to order a four course meal.

posted by Arlene (Beth)11:21 PM

Rainbow Grocery is carrying a wonderful cheese it calls Italian Montasio. That's a little bit redundant: Montasio is now a protected name, like Burgundy, and so it only should come from one place in Italy. But anyway, it's really great. The type that Rainbow is carrying is slightly aged: you can cut it with a knife, or you can grate it.

It's really good with bread or crackers. It's also very good with Bordeaux.

It's what Parmesan would be like, if Parmesan were more interesting. :-)


I've never made a wine recommendation here, but I'll start right now: Malesan Bordeaux (red/rouge), 1998. Mmmmmm. I know that's not a very detailed review, but it's a very deepy cherry sort of wine that I don't have the capacity to describe, because it's not garlic or chili based. Sorry. It is VERY good for people like me who love cabernet. I believe I bought mine at a very reasonable price at Trader Joe's. I will buy a lot more when I can find it again.
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:07 PM

For those of you with wanderlust, my cousin has posted his most recent Italian travel blog here. (
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:56 PM

Playing with your food: there is such a thing as a vegetable orchestra. (
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:13 PM

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Run - Do Not Walk - to Your Local Farmer's Market!

I'll try not to gloat, but here in SF, our farmer's markets are BURSTING with fabulous foods. I realize that some parts of the country are still swaddled in blankets of snow, and are looking longingly at spring outfits that do not involve 4 or more layers of clothing. But you folks CHOSE to live there, so I hope you're making the most of it, developing your curling or hockey skills, and making plans for when your region offers the same sort of bounty that California does right now. :-)

The Alemany Farmer's Market ( has foods aplenty year-round, but now is an especially great time. Right now, highlights include:

Herbs: Basils of all varieties; mint that attracts your nose's attention from 10 yards away; cilantro; and herbs I don't even recognize.

Root veggies: Daikon radishes the size of my forearm compete with blue, red, yellow, sweet, and fingerling potatoes for space.

Greens: Every Asian green locally available in any store, including gai lon, all the variations of bok choy, spinach, mustards, tender head and loose leaf lettuces, and lots of things I don't know the names of.

Citrus: California oranges have reached perfection (be sure to sample at each stand to pick your favorites! say it's for science!), and are surrounded by grapefruit and lemons nearly the size of grapefruit.

Squash: Nearly every color and shape of summer squash is now available, including the stripey-pale green zucchini, every yellow squash you can think of, and lots of things that look like squash but which are secretly bitter melon trying to trick you. There are still some winter squash (like hubbard) available.

Onions: Nearly every stand with root veggies had fresh red onions nearly the size of my head, which have a heavenly scent. For those of you who only eat dried onions year round, you should know that they are a treat before they've cured: they are more tender, more moist, and have less paper to remove when they're newly plucked from the earth.

Garlic: Mmmmmm. Garlic.

Stone fruit: I have just purchased the best white nectarines that I have tasted in YEARS. Tasty peaches, apricots, and plums are also available. Bing, 'commercial,' and Ranier (gold/red) are available. (The bing cherries I bought are ripe, but not perfectly sweet.) There was just one stand with avocados that I noticed, which largely involved two teenagers, a bucket, and a fruit cushion/pad to display them on, but this means more are on the way. (I've had several divine CA avocados in recent weeks, which are now filling the neighborhood produce markets.)

Berries: PERFECT strawberries, large, ripe, just-picked, $5 for half a flat.

Prepared foods: I have a tremendous weakness for freshly baked artisan breads, marinated olives, and Indian specialty foods. Nearly half of my farmer's market expenditures today went to Sukhi's. I could not resist the pumpkin parathas; I had to buy the aloo parathas, and then the nice man pointed out the spinach parathas... (Parathas are like flour tortillas which have been filled with a thin layer of simmered, soft, spicy veggies, and then toasted briefly with oil...) Of course, once you buy parathas, you really want to eat them with heavenly-fresh cilantro chutney and tomato bhaji. Of course! We also picked up a vegan honey whole wheat bread which S loves, and some kettle corn to tide us over until we could get home and stuff our faces with all this newfound bounty...

SO: go to the farmer's market here in SF! If you can't get to Alemany (it is difficult to access by transit), there's also the fabulous and gourmet Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market on Saturdays and Tuesdays on the Embarcadero, featuring organic food so beautiful you'll want to take it home and photograph it. Wednesdays and Sundays there is a farmer's market at UN Plaza in Civic Center, right next to Civic Center BART/Metro and many transit lines.

posted by Arlene (Beth)5:10 PM

I see that lately, instead of speaking of the merits of food generally, I'm speaking of the merits of food I've been enjoying. My purpose isn't really to tell you about what I had for lunch -- unless you're not sure what herbivores like me eat, and so are reading this with a curiousity you ordinarily reserve for sideshow freaks, and in the process are developing a more veg-friendly world outlook, which I fully support. I'm really just trying to encourage experimentation and eating at great restaurants!

So, while I may be self absorbed, my stomach is in the right place. I mean, my heart. Oh, whatever.

posted by Arlene (Beth)5:05 PM

Thursday was a long, food-filled day.

I got up at six to staff the Energizer Station at Dewey and Laguna Honda for Bike To Work Day, the annual celebration of bicycle commuting. Our station was sponsored by Big Swingin' Cycles here in the City. The weather was cold, windy, and somewhat bleak, but people cycled by, stopped for free coffee, bananas, the Bike To Work Day canvas bag, and to comment on potential (and much needed) improvements to Laguna Honda at Dewey.

I took our spare materials downtown to BTWD Central, and then headed into the office. S came downtown while running some errands, and we went to Mercedes Mexican Restaurant on Commercial for lunch. The specials happened to include a zucchini enchilada in green sauce, and an artichoke quesadilla. S ordered the former, which was straightforward and pleasant (but not as interesting as my own), with cheese and zucchini. The artichoke quesadilla was HEAVENLY, especially with the big serving of guacamole and tossed salad it came with. Yum yum yum yum yum.

The day flew by. To prepare for the Bike To Work Night show, I knew I'd need dinner, so S and I met at India Garden on Folsom near 9th. It was extremely tasty: bhindi marsala (okra, tomatoes, and spices), aloo benghan (potatoes with stewed eggplant), rice, naan, chai, and a mango lassi were JUST the right thing. We keep forgetting to order our food extra-spicy, but will surely remember next time.

And then there was Bike To Work Night, a wild benefit show (or reward show for the many BTWD and SFBC volunteers) at the DNA Lounge, hosted by Heklina of Trannyshack. It was an evening of those cool purple lights; performances by local bands Giant Value, Rogue Wave, and the Marginal Prophets; and WILD performances of drag lip sync-ing and stripping by the Queens, Kings, and friends of Trannyshack.


I'm old, so I left before BART closed, but had a great time. Also, S won $100 in gift certificates to Sports Basement through the excellent raffle (thank you, Sports Basement!!), so he's quite pleased.

posted by Arlene (Beth)3:53 PM

Tuesday I biked home around the west side of Twin Peaks, and started to 'bonk' as I approached West Portal. As I began fantasizing about what foods would best give me the blood sugar level I would need to complete the ride home, coasting down Claremont, Silver Spoon Thai Kitchen appeared before me. I pulled over and hopped off my bike to examine the menu, which has a nice selection of veggie items, including a dish whose name I just love, 'Evil Jungle Prince.'

So I biked around the corner to West Portal's metro station, invited my significant other to join me on the pay phone, chained up the bike, and enjoyed a pleasant meal.

The highlight of the meal was pumpkin curry tofu. The pumpkin (it looked a bit like hubbard, actually, which is the sort of blue-green shelled pumpkin with ordinary golden-orange flesh) was EXACTLY the right texture - firm enough to hold its shape, but just the right tenderness to eat. It was in a very wet, coconut milk-red sauce, of the same sort I make at home, and came with small slabs of tender tofu. The dish itself was quite simple, but extremely satisfying. It was just the right thing.

We also tried the vegetarian egg rolls, which had a good texture but were a little plain, and the Ba Mee Hang Jay, spinach noodles tossed in chili sauce with veggies. It was pretty good.

We'll go back again to try out additional dishes.


Thai update: Jitra Thai on Ocean near Junipero Serra is currently our neighborhood favorite, and Thai Time on 8th Avenue at Clement is still our city-wide favorite. S has mixed feelings about Plearn in Berkeley: he finds their pad thai J too greasy, even though that's their most famous dish. I love Plearn's green veggie curry, which packs more heat than most other places...
posted by Arlene (Beth)3:41 PM

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

simple, garlicky broccoli pasta

-about two cups of pasta (rotelle, linguine, or whatever you're in the mood for), cooked according to its needs
-a generous amount of olive oil
-two large broccoli florets, sliced into bite-sized pieces, stem bits sliced very thinly
-4 cloves of garlic, minced
-1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
-1 or more large green onions, sliced into thin rounds.

Start heating the water in a covered pan. When it boils, start cooking the pasta.

Sautee the broccoli, garlic, and crushed red pepper in the heated olive oil over medium-high heat. Cover for a few minutes to allow the broccoli to steam itself, stirring every 3 or 4 minutes; add 1/4 cup of water after a few minutes to speed things along, and cover again.

(Lower the heat if anything tries to burn or the garlic tries to crisp too quickly - the moisture of the broccoli should keep it all under control, but if it doesn't, try lower heat and a tablespoon or so of water.)

When the broccoli is bright green and still slightly crisp, remove from heat. (This should take 10 minutes or less.) Mix into the pasta, adding the scallions, additional olive oil, and some freshly ground pepper.

This is very simple, but not very sociable: this will make you, your one to three friends, and your kitchen smell fabulously garlicky.

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:05 PM

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Lunch this afternoon: angel hair pasta tossed with extra virgin olive oil, marinated artichoke hearts, fresh diced roma tomatoes, a ripe avocado, and freshly ground pepper.

Mmmmmm. Avocados.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:31 PM

Friday, May 14, 2004

Dinner this evening: a salad of mesclun (home-grown!), scallions, and avocado with roasted garlic dressing; a pan of sliced, home made polenta, with olive oil underneath, garlic-tomato sauce and fontina on top, baked until very hot and bubbly; a glass of 1998 French Bordeaux (for me only); and a Polar Bear bar of white chocolate with macadamia nuts.

It was a lovely meal. To be funny, S burst out mid-meal in a tone of complete alarm with: "This is just CORN!!!"
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:47 PM

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Avocados. Self-satisfaction. Habanero cheese.

I was volunteering this evening at the wonderful San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (, as I like to do, and there were various snacks for us to munch on during our office chores. I began to listen to a conversation around me about how great guacamole is. And how great chocolate is. And how, perhaps, there is a way to combine them to make something satisfying.

And so I said, "chocomole."

Hysteria ensued.

I am strangely pleased with myself.


This led to a conversation about avocado milk shakes (; see also

It seems like it has undue amounts of milk in it. Yes, yes, I KNOW that's why it's called a milkshake. But still.

The person who mentioned this also mentioned that her favorite banana milkshake recipe involves a banana, vanilla ice cream, and whole milk.

My stomach involuntarily froze for a moment.

I'm just not a whole-dairy person. IF I were hypothetically to make an avocado shake, I would use an avocado, a cup or two of soymilk, and a scoop of Mitchell's avocado ice cream. My banana shakes either involve a banana, soy milk, and vanilla OR a banana, orange juice, soy milk or yogurt, and possibly strawberries.

I'm just saying...


Last night the sister-in-law who we took home after her surgery made us a thank you dinner of Spanish rice, black beans, and enchiladas with squash, onions, habanero jack and cheddar cheeses, asparagus, and green sauce.


I over ate, and was uncomfortably full all evening. But it's hard to resist habanero cheese generally, and ESPECIALLY when it's in enchiladas.

I'd never had enchi's with asparagus before, but it worked well: they were fresh and tender, but also scattered so their flavors didn't take over.

It was a WONDERFUL dinner.

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:37 PM

Sunday, May 09, 2004

S has been teasing me about all the food-scented products I use. There are quite a few, but it seems natural: why save all of food's goodness just for eating?

My shampoo is scented with fresh grapefruit juice. My toothpaste is cinnamon; my floss is mint. My soaps include oatmeal and cucumber. I have a facial gel which contains honey, papaya, and pineapple; a heavy cream facial that contains green tea and almond oil; and a facial scrub made of almonds. My sunscreen contains orange juice; I have a bit of exfoliating, fruit-acid face lotion that is scented with peaches. S received some essential oils which I love to use, especially vanilla and carrot. Even the henna I use in my hair is scented with walnuts and tea.

And then, there are the body lotions. I've been working through the Body Shop's collection of Body Butters, which are luxurious, sensuous, and delicious-smelling. I've used up nut, which smells sweet and edible; shea butter, which smells a lot like cocoa butter, which is the main ingredient in white chocolate and the butter currently gracing my desk; olive, to which they've added some floral scents so it smells less like the food; and now honey, a gift from C in Germany (hi, C!), with a delightful scent and wonderful feel.

I used to hate scented products, especially those oppressive rose perfumes that elderly women in elevators used to suffocate people like me in elevators. But now I know that I hate ARTIFICIALLY scented products, which give me strange allergic reactions and make my face feel hot by their scent alone. Naturally scented products, especially those scented with foods, are quite fabulous - the natural scented oils fade promptly, and no one needs to smell my selections while trying to breathe in confined spaces.

Yes, there are even MORE ways to enjoy food!!
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:45 PM

Polenta with sauteed spinach and garlic

-5 cups of water or mild veggie broth
-1 cup of polenta (which is a coarsely ground cornmeal; you can use regular cornmeal)
-olive oil
-one bunch of spinach, washed thoroughly and finely chopped
-three cloves of garlic, minced.

Bring the water or broth to a boil. Pour in the polenta slowly while whisking; turn heat to low, and continue to whisk the polenta until it becomes very thick. This takes 10 - 15 minutes. Turn the heat off, put the polenta into an oiled casserole or cake pan, and allow to cool and firm up for about 45 minutes.

When the polenta has firmed up, heat the olive oil and saute the garlic and spinach together in a pan, covering the mix at some point to allow the spinach to steam itself. When the spinach is wilted and the mixture smells incredibly wonderful, remove from heat.

Arrange soft wedges of polenta on a plate; arrange the saute over the polenta; if you like freshly ground pepper, apply some.

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:38 PM

It appears that Blogger has launched a new interface. It doesn't work in Netscape 6.2 (all the links and the news section overlap, and no links are active in the jumble); it sort of works in Netscape 4.7 (if you don't mind using a window that's just over an inch wide to create posts); it works fine in Real Player, which is where I'm writing this. Which is silly, but...
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:35 PM

Saturday, my next door neighbors began demolishing the interior of their home.

It's very difficult to write about food while listening to wood splintering, sledgehammers hammering, and saws sawing.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:34 PM

Friday, May 07, 2004

Wasabi Ice Cream!!! There is such a thing, and I tried it, and it was another part of a delicious meal at Samovar Tea Lounge at 498 Sanchez (at 18th in the Castro) here in the City.

Delicious vegetable potstickers, ochazuke with marinated roasted tofu (fresh delicate cabbage, tofu, wasabi, and a pickled plum over rice, over which green tea is poured to make a pleasant, soup-like meal), a fabulous plum oolong... And wasabi ice cream to top it off. 'Just fabulous.

posted by Arlene (Beth)7:12 AM

The lovely lettuces I planted in a raised bed in the garden are mature, and much happier than some of my other seedlings (like the garlic chives, which are cute but only an inch tall).

I made a lovely salad of garden cress, Brun d'hiver lettuce, Pirat butter lettuce, a ripe avocado, extra virgin olive oil, orange muscat champagne vinegar, and some freshly ground pepper for dinner.

It was soooooo good!

I'll need to plant more lettuces this weekend. And eat more, to make room, of course.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:08 AM

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

A conversation in e-mail

Me: [announcement about giving notice at work]

M: CONGRATS!!!! I am again - soooooo jealous!! Can't wait to buy a copy of your book. ;-)

Me: You don't have to wait - go out and buy Confessions of Mistress Sonja: a Memoir of a Vegetarian, Faux-Leather Dominatrix, available wherever smutty books are sold. (Well, okay, I didn't write that, but it would be fun!)

G: I always thought the hard part about being a dominatrix would be not laughing. Am I right?

M: I would need a map to "wherever smutty books are sold"!!!!!!

F: [provides G's address in place of map]

G: Sold? People just walk off with them whenever they come over.

M: Sold? I thought that is where smutty books were acted out (for a price of course).

G: I'm not the dominatrix! And notice Mistress Sonja has fallen suspiciously silent, and hasn't answered my question about whether it's hard not to laugh while flogging one's partner with a pleather whip!

Me: Sorry, I was having flashbacks to a party I attended in high school, where I joked that the best paying summer job I'd had by then was as a stripper, and weeks later I had to explain to a very puzzled male friend why someone who hadn't even been at the party had referred to me as 'the stripper' when providing directions to find me during lunch.

Well, it's possible to pass the laugher off as haughty, cruel laughter. That keeps it in character.

G: not with your laugh!

Me: What if I combine my laugh with insults? That would help. "You call that groveling? I haven't seen such pathetic groveling since the Democrats lost control of the Senate! Grovel like you mean it! Grovel like the Governator at a fundraiser! Grovel like the entire staff of 'Campaign for California Families' at a bathhouse! Grovel like Eddie Murphy for another Doctor Doolittle film! Grovel, dammit!" *whip*

How's that?

M: That was EXCELLENT!! Spoken like a person with vast person experience. Again, hhhmmmmmm...

posted by Arlene (Beth)11:33 PM

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Zawadi African Tea is DELICIOUS. I'm having a cup of the "Safari Spiced Black Chai" with soymilk, and it's wonderful. It's so tasty, you won't even remember that you're supporting Kenyan farmers, the Kenya AIDS Intervention Prevention Program Group (KAIPPG), and the Kenyan AIDS Orphaned Rescue campaign.

Mmmmm. Chai.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:03 AM

A tofu breakfast scramble/stir fry

This one is sociable (you won't completely reek of garlic like you will after eating my lasagne).


-a little dash of canola oil
-a clove of garlic, minced
-a small onion, halved then sliced thinly
-a small green or red bell pepper, diced
-two serrano chilies, minced, deseeded if it's too early for heat
-4 large mushrooms, sliced
-one package of tofu (or three small cakes, or whatever looks like about two servings to you), diced
-a teaspoon of dried basil
-a half teaspoon of lemon thyme
-a dash of salt or your favorite soy sauce
-fresh cilantro leaves, minced, to taste.

Heat the canola oil. Sautee all of the veggie ingredients for a few minutes, until the peppers start to look less crunchy but not actually soft. Add the tofu and herbs, and stir fry for about 5 minutes, until everything is hot and most of the moisture from the tofu and mushrooms has evaporated. Serve with a sprikling of fresh cilantro leaves.

Mmmmm. Cilantro.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:59 AM

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Yesterday night while biking home, my legs were tired. Pedaling, despite my great new tune-up, was just plain hard. I put more air into my rear tire, but it wasn't a lack of air: it was me.

On the way home, I stopped at Mitchell's Ice Cream for a half gallon of pineapple sherbet.

It didn't make the ride home any easier, but it did provide me with more motivation to get home.
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:31 AM

As usual, some rather random thoughts:

Pineapples right now are PERFECT. Just incredible. Exactly what fresh pineapples should be like. I'm just amazed.


S went on a flattering rant earlier. To paraphrase very closely: 'I couldn't figure out why your calla lily photos were great while mine sucked, and I finally figured it out: I was trying to photograph the whole flower, while you were taking photos of part of the flower and leaving negative space around the edges. So I'm going to steal your technique!'

I told him that was a high compliment, though he didn't seem to think that style theft is.


There are some lovely photographs of St. Petersburg at night at in the (urban) landscape category at, a Contax G camera users community site. I think it's a little odd to fashion a community around a particular brand of rangefinder rather than rangerfinders generally, but it's not a bad site.

[Warning: gear yammering begins here.] I'm being swayed more and more toward purchasing a Contax G2 rangefinder camera, which has many gushy fans. (It appears that many cameras have gushy fans (especially Leicas) on the web, so they all work for someone.) I want it because it's lightweight enough for my many backpacking trips and other travels, may drag me kicking and screaming into the age of automation, and its Zeiss lenses compare favorably with Leica's lenses which cost at least 4 times more. There's even a significant rebate program at the moment, which would bring the cost of getting a good setup (multiple lenses!) down into my budget. The only catch is that rangefinders can't do macro settings, and I do a considerable amount of macro work - my best work, in fact, is macro. But I have a Nikon that's nearly my own age for that, and I don't see the purpose of buying another SLR that I'll constantly be comparing (likely unfavorably) to my 1971 Nikon F. *sigh* [Gear yammering ends.]


I think I really really really need to go to the farmer's markets regularly. And learn to make my own focaccia, perhaps using RB's recipe (thank you RB!!). This may involve staying awake after 8 p.m., however, and I haven't been capable of that recently.


I've been waiting patiently for the local burrito place, Ocean Taqueria to open. Mmmmm. Burritos. They're open now! And... S just brought home a loaf of fresh sourdough bread to eat with artichoke spread. I suppose I am successfully being distracted... Lunchtime!!
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:27 AM

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