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Saturday, October 30, 2004


A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle

photograph of Arlene in metallic fish costume on bicycle photograph of Arlene as fish coyly looking over shoulder
Yes, I decided that I needed a costume for Halloween CM, and worked feverishly all day Friday to assemble my first ever hard-shell costume.

I was (yet again) a model mad scientist, running around the house, laughing maniacally with a fish head on, trying to make the body comfortable. Which was a vain effort.

There's a reason people don't often make hard-shell costumes: they are really difficult to move around in. My tail had to be quite small to accommodate the rear of my bike. The front of the suit laces up with copper stereo wire, to keep the wind from filling and tearing the suit. (Copper stereo wire came in very handy once it was revealed that kite thread simply tore the material when pulled tightly during sewing.) The shoulder gills/armholes were very difficult to reinforce, because the board material creased so easily: you can see exterior tearing in both photos. And the helmet's fasteners are reinforced multiple times in a way that made my head hurt.

Aside from the insane joy that came from assembling this suit, I don't consider it a success: it was nearly impossible to mount and dismount smoothly from the bike, and the head guaranteed that my neck would never be in an ergonomically sensible position while riding, which meant I couldn't really see. And so, for safety reasons, I didn't actually ride.

'More proof that fish don't need bicycles!
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:24 AM

Friday, October 29, 2004

I woke up this morning at around 5 a.m., full of ideas and motivation to work on my Halloween costume for tonight's Halloween Critical Mass bike ride. I will be: a fish on a bicycle. As in, 'a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.' I bought most of the materials yesterday, but still need brown twine and to test out some of my design ideas. I haven't decided whether I will be trout or salmon.

The other volunteers at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's volunteer night had some good suggestions. One had seen a large group representing a wide range of sea creatures riding together, including a guy with a jellyfish hovering above him, lit wit those flexible glow-bands. Another suggested that I get together a group of friends to be salmon with me, and we can swim against the current of CM. :-) I like that, but I don't have those sorts of friends. That, and it's pretty hard to swim against the current of an anarchic (in a good way) ride with no set route.


My dreams were filled with activity: I was taking photographs of the beautifully textured buildings of the Presidio, just as I have been doing in recent days. Twice in a row, our predicted stormy weather passed us by, leaving a trail of tall, dramatic, fluffy clouds across otherwise sunny skies as S and I walked along the bay shore. Two days in a row, my antique camera framed the views beautifully for me, and I exposed all of the film I had carried with me. Two short, cloud-dappled days have given me 7 full rolls of 120 film. 84 frames! It's just amazing.


I shouldn't be so surprised: a recent tally of this summer's professional film negatives revealed that I have exposed more than 3,000 frames since June 16th. Many of the early frames were lost to my unfamiliarity with the new camera and the need to advance the 120 film outrageously far before beginning; a few others were damaged in my 'negative hanger crash' during my early developing efforts, or to spotting from problems with my switch to a multi-roll developing tank, which requires profoundly more agitation than I am accustomed to giving. But all losses have taught me something, and my techniques have improved dramatically.

Three THOUSAND frames. That doesn't count consumer film or digital images I've taken this summer, of which there are a few hundred.

I have experimented with wild abandon. The local scenes that have tempted me as I rushed past so many times are now mine to study in detail. And study I have: I have learned more about photography in these last few months than I have over the last few YEARS. And there is more to come: my long list of local scenes still unrecorded calls to me on days with clear weather; the chemicals required to experiment with antique photographic printing processes arrived two days ago; there are other films with characteristics I haven't tried waiting to show me something new; and this year's extensive outdoor travels are not yet over.

This is a fabulously educational and fun time.


Official NaNoWriMo 2004 Participant
As if I don't have enough on my plate, I have decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month. ( Two of my friends are participating this year, and their enthusiasm infected me.

The idea is to get people off their couches and writing. The goal is a 50,000 word first draft of an original novel written entirely between November 1 and November 30. The light-hearted program language promotes 'quantity over quality,' because starting is the hardest part: a single perfect sentence isn't really as useful to making progress as a couple hundred average-but-fixable pages. There are discussion forums, parties, support groups, procrastination tips, and other fun motivators for registered writers.

What's stopping YOU from signing up? It's not like there will ever be a completely free and easy month to start writing. Heck, I'll be out of town for a significant part of the month, and tied up with family functions near the end, but I signed up anyway. Visit their site (click the icon or link above) and check them out!

So expect creative writing rambling to join the food ramblings here over the next month plus.

posted by Arlene (Beth)9:09 AM

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

This morning I made a wonderful, satisfying, delicious soup which is a traditional staple of Ramadan, which this just happens to be. Savory harira soup (from Vegetarian Times) (, scroll down to find) is absolutely perfect. It is one of my favorite soups, and one I make frequently.

The others are kale and potato soup with red chili (, originally from Deborah Madison's the Greens Cookbook, miso soup and its many easy variations, rahmen with veggies of my choosing, the dal soup recipe from the Kopan Cookbook, and roasted squash and tomato soup, from the mysterious W&H magazine. They're all great, and just perfect for this time of year.

posted by Arlene (Beth)1:56 PM

Monday, October 25, 2004

Last night I watched the Sophia Coppola film Lost in Translation, about two people dissatisfied with their lives who largely fail to adapt in Tokyo. The film had been described to me repeatedly as 'pretty and plotless,' but I think the plotlessness appropriately reflected the lack of clear life course for the two protagonists.

The film was VERY pretty, and made Japan seem very exotic.

Which is something of a prank: beyond the scope of the camera, their fast food joints look like ours (and generally are ours), their tourist souvenir booths are filled with inflatable smiling animals and plastic replicas just like ours, their ugly 1950s apartment complexes look EXACTLY like our ugly 1950s apartment complexes (and were likely designed by the same band of international, aesthetically criminal architects)... There actually are things the foreign eye can rest upon with comfort and familiarity.

And then there are all those other things.


I once visited Japan. A student of architecture, I LOVED Japanese traditional architecture and modern industrial design with a profound passion. And the travel posters tricked me into thinking I'd see some of that. :-) So when I popped off a train in Kyoto and was surrounded by office buildings which could have appeared in any modern city, I felt ripped off!

I'm not saying the film is misleading: Tokyo is as modern and exotic as advertised, but is about as representative of Japan as New York City is of the U.S. If you visit NYC and then Ohio, you're bound to be a bit confused. Especially when you try ordering a bagel.


I had some food challenges while in Japan. The diet of most people there is based on fish and veggies at home, and heavier, meatier dishes at restaurants. And I was eating in restaurants. In some instances, I ordered foods that I was certain were vegetables-only, but found meat added on top, likely due to a conviction that a towering foreigner like me must need or want some. I set the meat aside, but had many digestive challenges from eating foods where meat had contributed fats and proteins that I am incapable of digesting.


I clearly recall a meal in a cute restaurant in Sendai, a town far north along the bullet train line, which had some lovely islands and odd monuments. I looked in vain at rubber display food for a long while before finding a place that served veggie tempura donburi (lightly battered, deep fried vegetables over rice). Excited, I went in.

The place was fancy, dark, and all the waitresses had little French maid costumes on. I sat down, and was thrilled that there was a picture menu. I asked, in my best child-level Japanese, for the tempura dish I spied in the window display. The waitress apologized: that was not available at this time. She directed me to other portions of the menu. Bigger, fishier, meatier portions.

There was a problem beyond my inability to digest meats: the prices on the portions of the menu she was pointing me to were several times higher than the section I'd viewed outside. There were dishes that appeared to cost $80 or more. Terror began to rise within me.

I asked her for her suggestion: she pointed to a dish, I agreed, and she left. The waitresses than gathered in the doorway to discuss her encounter with me, and then the group surveyed me closely when the food was delivered.

It was a special crab plate. There was deep fried crab, steamed crab, and (possibly) a crab cake. There was also sashimi and noodles, with raw egg to dip it in. And miso soup. And rice. And tea.


When I first became a vegetarian, and was still annually compromising with my family to pretend to eat turkey once or twice a year on national holidays, I had lots of ridiculous conversations with people. My favorite ridiculous conversation went like this:

Fool: You're a vegetarian!? Oh my gosh. That is so weird.
Me: I love it.
Fool: So, what would happen if you were stuck on a desert island in the middle of the Pacific, and there was no food at all, except a plate full of steak?
Me: That's not very plausible.
Fool: Whatever. Anyway, what would you do?
Me: Well, I couldn't eat the steak.
Fool: Sure you would!
Me: No, I can't digest it. If I ate it, I would just throw up. And that would make me weaker than before. So it wouldn't do me any good to eat it.
Fool: OH. Well. What about a pork chop?
But if the ridiculous conversation went on long enough, I could say, 'you know, I have been eating noodle soup that turns out to be made with fish stock at my local noodle house every few months, and it doesn't make me sick, so it turns out I can eat fish if I need to.' But the conversation never went that far.


So at this restaurant in Sendai, I ate everything. With chopsticks, which I had been using for years at friends' houses and restaurants. As I competently dipped the sashimi into the raw egg, the waitresses lost interest in me, and went back to other conversations in a booth across the way.

Everything was very fresh. The sashimi didn't even taste like anything in its freshness. The meal didn't cost as much as the scary ones on the menu, and I thanked the waitress as politely as I could, by which time she'd stopped looking at me as if I were a space alien.

The only really embarassing thing I did was fail to operate the electronic sliding glass door on the way out. I pushed the button; nothing happened. I pushed the button; nothing happened. I concluded the door was stuck, and forced it. (!!) In retrospect, something else must have been required. But the door closed behind me (so I didn't break it), and I fled into the night.

It turns out deep fried crab and sashimi were too rich, in some respect. But I was only queasy, and my stomach only made unhappy noises, rather than expressing dissatisfaction more violently.

I was very pleased with myself in the youth hostel the next morning, having successfully navigated a night out in this distant-from-tourists town. I felt less successful when I received breakfast: a lovely plate of finger-sized, whole, smoked fish, with rice, miso soup, and pickles. The fish looked up at the plate from me, with their small smoked eyes, and said, "ha!"

I had a lot of miso soup that morning.


When I found a veg-friendly place to eat during my travels, I stuck to it. There was a small, dark noodle house in Nikko on the main road in town. It had large sheets of paper outside with all sorts of endorsements about the food from other tourists, in English, in their own writing. The brilliant owner, who was also the cook, had found a great way to advertise. I was in town two nights, but I believe I ate there 3 times. And I brought friends from the hostel! The owner laughed merrily while she made me delicious fried noodle-vegetable dishes.


I even remember how cold the hostel was, during the rainstorms in effect when I arrived, and how we had a choice at night of hot tea or hot lemonade. And I had a dozen cups or more of hot instant lemonade, which was just so great!!


I kept elaborate notes on every soft drink and candy I tried while I was there. The ones I liked best were likely pineapple-milk soda and olive chocolate, which was olive green and didn't especially taste like chocolate.

I didn't keep such elaborate notes on the meals, though I remember some of them vividly. Especially the o-dofu in Kyoto. That was so great, and so perfect for a winter day...

More on this some other time.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:10 AM

Sunday, October 24, 2004


The time of year when I advocate getting fat and hibernating

Yes, it's time to eat a lot of pumpkin pie and sleep through December. Each year I advocate this. Thing of how nice it would be to get fat once a year, and sleep it off? Think of how pleasant it would be to have an entire month to curl up at home? Think of not shopping in crowded malls, but rather, of rolling over, having another helping of cornbread stuffing, and going back to sleep!

Doesn't that sound better than whatever you had planned? Of course it does.


I'm planning meals for the next few days. My dear partner, S, is of little help during meal planning. His standard response to the question, 'what do you want to eat' is always "food." He likes just about everything I make (except for the celery seed soup with barley), and so it's not that he is difficult to please. Just not forthcoming with ideas.

Perhaps if I served spaghetti every day for a month, he would have more ideas? Wait, I couldn't handle that. Never mind.

I've wandered through some cookbooks and will try a few new recipes. A red onion/red wine soup with thyme, sweet potato ravioli (if I can find pre-rolled pasta), an eggless mushroom quiche, artichoke heart cannelloni, a marinated broccoli salad, and a simple veggie dishes (cauliflower with ginger, etc.). I'll report back.

For now, I'm off to visit a local park I've never wandered through, and buy some groceries.
posted by Arlene (Beth)2:53 PM

I love olives. I'm very dedicated to olives. So it saddens me very much to read this: Ugly war over West Bank olive crop (, 10/19/04)
The slopes of the hills around the Palestinian town of Nablus are dotted with olive groves, and on the summits of many of these hills are Jewish settlements....

Sometimes the settlers throw stones at the farmers. Sometimes they set dogs on them. A few days ago, a villager was shot dead.

On the wooded slopes below the settlement of Tappuah, one Palestinian farmer, Hekmat Abdul Rahman, only feels confident enough to continue with the harvest because he and his workers are accompanied by activists from a group called Rabbis for Human Rights.
Living in an occupied country in which your only hope of safety harvesting your own crop is having peaceful religious leaders from your occupier guarding you from extremists is outrageous beyond belief.

Even if you don't like olives.
posted by Arlene (Beth)2:52 PM

To laugh, or to cry, that is the question: Bob Harris remarks on the recent Governator's press appearance:
Governor Schwarzengrabber made a big show here yesterday of driving... wait for it, this is rich... a hydrogen-powered Hummer.


Incidentally, breaking an earlier promise, it wasn't one of his own Hummers, but a ginned-up prototype presented especially for the photo op. And the prototype was fake, too: it doesn't actually run on hydrogen fuel cells.

Also, the nozzle he pushed into the tank wasn't actually hooked up to anything. And the station he was in isn't open yet.

But, um, other than that...

posted by Arlene (Beth)1:38 PM

Oh dear: Bob Harris' Blog Entry, " Major New Survey: Bush Supporters Simply Wrong On Facts, Unaware Of Bush's Positions" has links to some scary information. Like, 3/4 of self-identified Bush supporters in a poll still think there were WMDs found in Iraq. And majorities of same think he supports positions they support, when he doesn't. And that the world thinks Bush is great.

This is what cuts in education spending lead to.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:28 PM

Saturday, October 23, 2004


Wintry Weather!

The rain has come, and my garden is sighing happily. The big stories of the week here in the Bay Area related to the three FEET of snow which blanketed the Sierras, and the many parties of local hikers and climbers who were caught in the storm. Since the Sierras demand preparation for extreme weather in all seasons -- snow can fall in the high elevations at any time, and the nights are frigid and windy even in summer -- I was surprised at the fuss made over the hikers. Most of them were sensible: they had food, they stayed put when they realized the snow was too deep to navigate, and one group was brewing coffee when a rescue helicopter appeared.

It was probably even GOOD coffee.

But others were hiking in shorts and sneakers, which is silly even in July for overnight trips.

My sympathies go out to the families of the climbers visiting from abroad to climb El Capitan, who had no shelter and couldn't survive the exposure. They were one of many parties who risked climbing despite consistently adverse forecasts and the obvious seasonal norms for this time of year. It's a shame they had to pay so dearly for their misjudgment.


Here in the rain, things are much more cozy for those of us with adequate shelter and warm cups of tea. My oh-so-late planted bean plants are providing gorgeous, tasty purple long beans now. I will be sure to plant many more of these in spring, and protect them with hot pepper spray galore. My lettuce bed is full and happy, even though the sun has dropped behind taller plants for much of the day. Since arugula has been dominating the bed, because it grows faster than the loose head lettuces is the 'mesclun mix' I plant, I am considering switching to some of Seeds of Change's other lovely lettuces, all of which look so leafy and lovely. If I can't choose, I may go with their lettuce heaven mix, which sounds delicious: "Formidana, Red iceberg, Winter Density, Rouge d'Hiver, Bronze Mignonette, Tom Thumb, Red Oak Leaf, Cosmo Savoy, and Ruben's Red Romaine." Doesn't that sound delightful? To be able to serve home-grown salads with hot soup all winter sounds ideal to me.


I haven't been experimenting with many new recipes, though plentiful sweet potatoes in my potato bin mean more recipe testing in the near future. The only experiment of recent days has been a veganized version of this sweet potato gratin recipe from the BBC Food site. The sweet potatoes were wonderfully tender and flavorful, but even as a garlic lover I found the garlic to be too dominant. I might try it again with lightly fried or baked garlic, so that the potato flavor won't have to fight so hard to come through.

A search at the BBC food site for "sweet potato" leads to all sorts of promising recipes, from a simple sweet potato and spinach salad, to sweet potato ravioli with sage and rocket, to a reader contribution of Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Baby Spinach and Gorgonzola Sauce, which sounds a bit too rich for me.


Speaking of gnocchi, this recipe for Potato Gnocchi with Ricotta Sauce at the BBC site sounds awfully good. And quick! It's been years since I made gnocchi. Did I ever tell you that story?

I found a gnocchi recipe years ago, when I had three roommates. We thought it would be a fun and fast project to do jointly, since there was a lot of labor involved. So we followed the recipe to the point when we had the mashed potato and flour dough, and started to form the gnocchi.

At this point, two of my roommates who had never made gnocchi before either insisted that the mashed potato dough was too soft, and that they wanted to double the amount of flour in the recipe. Which would obviously be too much flour. But they insisted.

I didn't want them to ruin everything, so we divided the dough in half. They added vast amounts of flour to their dough, until it resembled a firm (hard) breadstick dough. I left mine as the recipe said. We make our individual gnocchi, and followed the boiling and baking instructions that followed.

BUT in the last step, their gnocchi and mine were mixed together. If only I had prevented that!

At the end, we each received a plate of gnocchi. Half were rock hard and chewy. The other half were tender and smooth. But you never knew, before sticking your fork in, which you'd get.

It wasn't a fun dinner. I threw a lot of the chewy, hard gnocchi out.

I haven't spoken to those roommates in years. But not as a result of this! Honest!


I'll be visiting my parents soon, and will do a report of what is in their cupboards and refrigerators. It should be entertaining. The last time I visited one of my parents vegetable crispers was entirely filled with one of those clear-beer beverages, which appalled me.


I'll also ask my maternal grandmother what she eats. Her Polish culture has had an enormous influence on her habits. When I last visited her home (now in a rural and swampy area of Florida, very full of scary men with gun racks) more than 20 years ago, her diet consisted entirely of hot dogs (I assume Polish sausages just weren't available in her area at the time), potatoes, margarine, home made tangerine juice, bread, and beer. My sister and I had to plead with my mother to acquire other food during the visit... My grandfather does all the shopping, and doesn't tolerate much variety, so it will be interesting to see what she eats now. I know he buys bread and bananas if she demands it, but am not aware of much else.

My paternal grandfather mostly likes southern food. He fries everything in bacon fat, and eats an amazing number of dishes which contain some form of pork. Potato salad? Made with crumbled bacon. Green salad? Bacon bits. Potatoes? Fried in bacon fat. Pork sausage? Well, that makes its own oil. Greens? Fried in bacon fat. Green beans? Guess. Go ahead.

I will ask him what he eats, but I think that likely covers it.


I have four distinct memories of foods associated with my mother's family. Back when I was a child and my father worked as a mechanic for a major airline, we would visit both sets of grandparents annually. One set lived in Ohio, the other in Connecticut. It was a long flight and a big deal, and I found the trips very exciting, even the parts where we would have to get up long before dawn to catch underbooked flights or sleep in uncomfortable seats at distant airports during long layovers.

One childhood food memory is of ordering clam chowder at a chain restaurant. My only prior experience with clam chowder had been that Three Stooges scene, with the still-living clams eating the croutons and ultimately attacking Larry. I was sorely disappointed in the real thing. I much preferred the fried fish part of dinner, because that was deep fried and came with tartar sauce, which I thought was the best part of the meal.

I also recall riding in a car with my relatives along the Connecticut Coast. There were little shacks along the road which sold fresh, fried fish. I tried something called "scrod," which is a young cod. It is breaded, deep fried, and served with -- yes! -- tartar sauce. Because it is so fresh, it doesn't really taste like anything, so the breading and tartar sauce dominated, which was fine with me. I enjoyed the entire experience: the fried food smells, the shack, the eating outside at a picnic table - very much. I did not want a T-shirt that said "I got scrod in Cape Cod." Though I got the joke. Sort of.

One of my aunts moved to San Diego for a while. During that visit, my mom took me to a Mexican food place called Roberto's. Roberto's made enormous and inexpensive burritos, and gave LOTS of little salsa containers to you on request. The salsa was so hot, it made us cry. But we LOVED it, and so we poured it on heavily. It was just so great.

Later, when I was in my early-to-mid teens, the same aunt moved back to Connecticut, and hosted a barbecue at her home for a visit. I was actively avoiding meat by then, and so dreaded the BBQ idea. When I arrived, the aunt told me not to worry: she knew I didn't eat meat. So she'd bought something special for me: a swordfish steak. Which is, of course, meat. :-( But it was early enough in my foray to vegetarianism that I was pretty sure I could digest it, and it looked like my only option aside from a paltry green salad, so I went for it. I can still remember what it tasted like! It was surprising dense, and had grill marks on it. I think I can safely say it was the only time I've ever had swordfish, and it was pretty good: mild, rich, grilled-tasting, tender-yet-dense. (I don't want to endorse swordfish-eating to anyone reading, because I don't believe it is sustainably caught. You might want to look that up at the Steinhart Aquarium's Seafood Guide.)

It's odd that I remember these food experiences from childhood visits, especially since I don't really recall much else in such detail. Perhaps this says something about me?
posted by Arlene (Beth)2:32 PM

Friday, October 22, 2004

A quick political reference: This is a fun list!! Republicans for Kerry 2004 - dKosopedia. The quotes from prominent Republicans for Kerry here are more entertaining, in some ways. Horror at a President's actions from past supporters and party members is less predictable than from the opposition.


Hey! The Chronicle Food department now has a roof garden! And they have some interesting things to say about it!

They were lucky to get so much basil: inexplicably, one of the easiest herbs to grow has been very unhappy in my own garden, whose soil temperature is never quite warm enough to thrill the seeds. Basil only grows in cloches for me: plastic juice jars without their tops or bottoms.


[A note to my readers: you'll notice that there are jumps in my publishing, where I suddenly publish several days worth of entries at once. Sorry about that. When Blogger gets bogged down, I tend to save a lot of entries as drafts. I sometimes try to spread them out later, the next time publishing is easier. This entry is actually from 10/21, but it looks better spread to 10/22 (when I didn't log in), so I moved it. Please excuse any confusion this may cause.]
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:10 PM

A food comment from an unexpected place: Guardian Unlimited | US elections 2004 | The Baghdad Blogger goes to Washington: day one:
I am officially a bagel fan now.

My big bagel is full of eggs that come out of a milk carton (I kid you not - and already beaten, too. They must have such clever hens here. I am flabbergasted) and smoked bacon. (All future immigration officers are to refer to this: I am not religious - I eat forbidden meat).

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Thursday, October 21, 2004

It is the season for pies. There are currently home made apple and butternut pies in my refrigerator, the result of an effort to convince S that I wouldn't make either pie without his assistance. And so he assisted.

Motivation is a WONDERFUL thing.


I just read this interesting, yet also somewhat silly, article in the New York Times magazine. Our National Eating Disorder by Michael Pollan proposes that Americans are unhealthy because we have no great national culinary tradition. Our diversity, he thinks, has confused us with too many choices. Inexplicably, he believes that Americans are obsessed with health, and so choose foods solely for nutritional information, leading to feelings of deprivation that somehow, magically, make us unhealthy.

Mr. Pollan does not know the same people I know. My aunt, the one who eats entire buckets of fried chicken without the assistance of others? She is not choosing her diet based on nutrition. The in-laws with the multiple empty dozen donut containers in their fireplace from a day's snacking? Ditto. The grandfather that fries everything in bacon fat, and has twice had surgery to relocate blood vessels from his legs to replace clogged ones upstairs? My mother with the multiple gallons of full-fat ice cream in her fridge, who lives alone? The father on the fad protein diet? My entire immediate family who have been warned about their cholesterol levels?

WHO is this man talking about???

He does have one idea that I would agree with and endorse: the idea of enjoying food. He writes:
But how we eat, and even how we feel about eating, may in the end be just as important as what we eat. The French eat all sorts of ''unhealthy'' foods, but they do it according to a strict and stable set of rules: they eat small portions and don't go back for seconds; they don't snack; they seldom eat alone, and communal meals are long, leisurely affairs. A well-developed culture of eating, such as you find in France or Italy, mediates the eater's relationship to food, moderating consumption even as it prolongs and deepens the pleasure of eating.
But the idea that Americans are unhealthy because they're sad from depriving themselves must apply to some culture far, far away, that I have never encountered.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:38 PM

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

How could I not know this existed? BBC NEWS | In pictures: Culinary Olympics. I want that white chocolate sumo wrestler! More at the Culinary Olympics website.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:50 PM

Monday, October 18, 2004

Peppers solve everything: They warm me internally in cold weather; they elevate my mood with spicy joy; and now they protect my garden. I've been delaying pepper spraying my plants this week, since the forecast has called for big thunder and lightning storms for a few days, which are not currently in evidence.

What? Pepper spraying your plants? Are they rioting?

No, I'm using an organic, natural insect repellant called "Hot pepper wax," which I order from organic seed company Seeds of Change. It is made with cayenne peppers, and it keeps insects from eating leafy green plants. Our angel's trumpet was looking totally mangled (mostly by what S calls pincher bugs), but now that I spray it weekly with this stuff, it is healthy and in full bloom with no chew marks (except on some low leaves I missed the
last two times). It's great stuff, protecting our rhododendons, lupines, and other tasty plants from complete leaf loss by chewing bugs. I was told by
a nurseryman that it's likely got paraffin in it to make it stick, but
that's not so bad.

I've also been advised by this same nurseryman that crushed dried chili
peppers will also keep bears from digging up your garlic. I hope to
never need to apply that advice.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:46 AM

Sunday, October 17, 2004


The dangers of going grocery shopping on an empty stomach

You always buy more food when you're hungry. S and I went to the wonderful Rainbow Grocery Cooperative for this week's shopping, our favorite place (aside from the farmer's market) to buy food.

We lost our minds.

Perhaps I'm being generous. Actually, S lost his mind. :-) He was apparently hungrier than I was: items flew off the shelves and out of the bins into our cart as if a tornado had hit when he was nearby. I've never seen him shop so rigorously! I think this is the most food we've ever purchased in one shopping trip.

What we bought (just about all in large volumes or multi-packs):

fruits and veggies
-baby carrots
-Hokkaido blue squash (a future pie)
-garnet sweet potatoes (I found several recipes, including pie, to try with these)
-small, red, ripe tomatoes (for enchilada and fresh pasta sauces)
-"jac o lantrn pumpkins"

wines (me)
-a bottle of zinfandel from Lodi (which I've now tasted, and it's okay)
-a bottle of Bordeaux

-chipotle cheddar (it's lovely: streaked with a smoky red)
-Monterey jack (this went into the black bean enchiladas)
-pepper jack

things that come in packages (or bulk bins)
-hibiscus tea
-pink grapefruit green tea (too unusual to pass up)
-soymilk (both refrigerated and boxed, since S is miserable when we run out of Silk for his morning cereal)
-cilantro-flavored and whole wheat tortillas (for black bean enchiladas and quesadillas)
-artichoke spaghetti (dried artichoke powder is in the dough; it has a subtle, pleasant flavor)
-cherry, ginger snap, pumpkin spice, and 'super natural' granolas (all for S)
-dried mango
-dried pineapple
-rigatoni (a shape I rarely buy)
-canned refried beans (vegetarian, of course)
-buckwheat pancake mix (vegan: you add soymilk and egg replacer. I was looking for something that S would willingly make me for breakfast on weekends, and it worked: we had some this morning, and they were very tasty. 'Much more substantial feeling than white-flour pancakes, which are just fluff to me.)
-Endangered Species chocolate bars: the dolphin (milk chocolate with dried cherries), harp seal (white chocolate), and bear (dark chocolate with dried raspberries). At least, I think that's what we got: we've already eaten two of them, so I don't see the labels around...
-Martinelli's sparkling cranberry-apple and sparkling apple-grape ciders
-kalamanta/tomato pasta sauce
-Newman-Os cookies
-egg replacer (a vegan powder)
-Oregon chai
-marinated artichokes
-'garden' pasta sauce
-tomato-basil pasta sauce
-three cheese marinara pasta sauce (a purely S purchase)
-blue corn tortilla chips
-organic shortening (no trans fats, no hydrogenation, for pie crusts)
-Tasty Bites entrees: eggplant, lentils (2 types), spinach, masala
-dishwashing detergent.

S kindly picked up the tab for this hungry spree. The packaged selections were irresistible to him, since he doesn't cook. While I may love to make everything from scratch, when I'm not around the raw ingredients leave him at a loss if we don't have quesadilla ingredients or canned chili. So now he is well supplied with ingredients for nachos, quesadillas, and easy pasta dishes.


Rainbow has always strived to promote healthy, plant-based, organic food consumption. Their produce is beautiful (and certified organic, and there's often a sign up about the farm where it comes from), their bulk foods section is comprehensive and priced well (and I love being able to buy just the amount of ingredients that I need, from spices or pastas to beans or blue corn flour), and they carry a wide assortment of organic brands. When I pick up a can or jar of a processed food product there, it's bound to be organic, vegetarian, and contain ingredients I can pronounce. Their cheeses are fresh, have elaborate reviews and descriptions with them, are clearly marked as to whether they are bovine growth-hormone-free, and where they were made. All of their cheeses appear to be rennetless. (Rennet is an animal stomach product used in coagulating milk by many modern manufactuers.) And the store is owned by its workers, so I can feel good about it's employment practices, too.

But even so, this trip was unusual. We felt about six bags 'good' about shopping there. Which was a bit much. Though I don't imagine for a moment that we'll waste a single thing.


We also shop at the farmer's market about once per week (though SF has three farmer's market locations, some with multiple market days!), which I love profoundly; a local produce market called "Fruit Barn" just four blocks from home, which carries our favorite brand of soy milk, growth-hormone-free and some rennet-free cheeses, whole grain products, bread from local bakeries, and produce; and every other month we visit the supermarket chain Trader Joe's, which has inexpensive juices, wines, packaged sweets, backpacking/camping foods (Indian entrees, instant rice, unsulphured dried fruits, etc.), and items that S finds easy to prepare himself.
posted by Arlene (Beth)2:19 PM

Saturday, October 16, 2004

A long entry trying to pass itself off as a cafe review

The heat wave that baked San Francisco has ended!! Yesterday, the day dawned thick with fluffy, damp fog which obscured the City. I went for a lovely walk in Golden Gate Park, thick with mist, photographing the faint outlines of trees, and then for a walk on the largely invisible Golden Gate Bridge, whose mass was merely implied (if you were close enough to make it out).

I had a lovely lunch at the Warming Hut, a cafe and bookstore on the Crissy Field promenade near Fort Point, all of which are in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. (It's near the bottom of the steps that come down from the bridge, if you follow the temporary path. It's much easier to find from the Fort or Crissy Field.) The cafe is bright and cozy, with tempting stationery and book products beneath displays of the Golden Gate National Parks signature series of posters and logo items designed by graphic designer Michael Schwab.

I had a lovely cafe au lait, and a marinated vegetable sandwich (artichoke hearts, marinated peppers, sundried tomatoes, and fresh field greens) on a lovely focaccia roll. It was just the right amount of food, and a perfect spot to rest. I have visited before, and will definitely go again.

I continued along Crissy Field (see their webcam for current conditions), heading away from the bridge, whose feet were visible. I continued into filtered sunshine near the all the way down to the Palace of Fine Arts (currently under renovation, requiring donations) and back downtown to run some errands. Downtown had more sunshine than the rest of the City, but it wasn't very bright. The smoke from the northern county fires is still hovering. Looking back toward home, I could see the blanket of fog covering my neighborhood...
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:20 AM

Not even the food is safe from U.S. forces in Iraq: U.S. hits Sunni hot spots -- 7 mosques raided / Muslim leaders irate over air strike destruction, arrests (, 10/13/04):
Warplanes attacked twice in Fallujah in the early hours, with the first strike demolishing one of Iraq's most celebrated kebab restaurants, Haji Hussein, named after the owner. Hussein's son and his nephew, both working as night watchmen, were killed in the attack, residents said.

posted by Arlene (Beth)9:14 AM

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I'm melting... I can't write about food -- or even cook much of it -- when it is as hot and polluted as it has been in recent days. (For representative images of how filthy the air has been, check out this article, with special attention to the image from atop Twin Peaks.)

I love cooking, but can only bear it for short periods of time between doses of acetaminophen. We've been eating heirloom tomato salads with fresh mozzarella, quickly grilled 'pizzas' on sourdough rolls with fresh mushrooms and provolone, and quick stir fries of greens such as gai lon or baby bok choy with Vietnam-style chili garlic sauce. But all the baked items I had planned (pies, roasted veggie soups) are off-menu for the time being.

The heat won't last for long. It never does. Even though this is the closest thing San Francisco gets to a "summer."


Meanwhile, I realize that I need to add Richard Misrach and Hannah Hinchman to my 'favorite living artists' feature, update my reading list (yikes), post some of the 6 x 6 images I've been taking with the 1958 antique camera I've been playing with, put up that text page about photography that I've been making notes for (which will remain unrelated to any separate, all-photo site I'm trying to postpone setting up), order ink cartridges, develop yesterday's film, and figure out where to buy chemicals for making cyanotypes... Now I remember why I don't keep 'to do' lists: the roll paper required for the ever-growing lists is bothersome to handle.
posted by Arlene (Beth)4:43 PM

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Really, really big trees

I returned last night from a multi-day visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, two gorgeous Sierra parks east of Fresno, California. We were planning a day visit to S' sister in Fresno, and I couldn't pass so closely to this park without going. On the spur of the moment, we packed a few nights worth of clothes, our 'car camping kit' (cooking equipment, candle lanterns, extra blankets, and other items which I should list somewhere on these pages), a tent, and sleeping bags, and headed down to visit the sister. After a great Indian buffet lunch with S' sister in a part of Fresno I can't accurately describe, we headed for Fresno's Trader Joe's to stock up on pasta, sauce, Indian entree pouches, carrot cake, energy bars, dried fruit, lemonade, and chocolate soy milk (none of which required refrigeration), and we were off. We had no trouble getting a campsite at Lodgepole, one of the year-round campgrounds along a scenic river in Sequoia NP.

It's difficult to describe the giant sequoias, because it's hard to believe that they are really so large. The Park Service's list of the 30 biggest trees gives you some idea:
It is difficult to appreciate the size of the giant sequoias because neighboring trees are so large. The largest of the sequoias are as tall as an average 26-story building, and their diameters at the base exceed the width of many city streets....

The ages of the General Sherman, General Grant and other large sequoias are unknown, but it is estimated that these giants are between 1800 and 2700 years old.
Walking through the groves is a lot like walking through a place out of mythology: everything seems normal, and suddenly you're at the foot of a tree that 20 people holding hands can barely reach around. The bark of the mature trees is a soft and red, with a texture like the nest of a paper wasp's home. When you look up, you can rarely see the top of the tree, but there are branches more than 100 feet above your head which are larger than the other trees around you. And then you spot more of them, improbably large backdrops to the smaller, younger trees around you. And more. And more.


Heavy logging in the last centuries destroyed what had been the world's largest grove of these ancient trees, whose poor tensile strength meant the wood was used for petty products such as pencils and toothpicks. But concerned citizens banded together to have the remaining groves preserved, not only for their inherent value, but to save the water quality of the rivers that flow through the groves, and prevent erosion which could damage the water supply to the fields in the Central Valley.

The oldest downed sequoia they've found was 3,700 years old when it fell. The trees don't die of old age: they may stop growing, due to damage near the roots that cuts off circulation to the top, but they are resistant to most disease and most fires, and live until their roots are disturbed or are undermined, causing them to fall over. If their water supply is maintained, giant sequoias just continue to live, cranking out millions of very tiny seeds locked into cones which require fire to open and have a chance to sprout. Despite 60 years of misguided fire suppression which prevented ANY new sequoias from sprouting, new fire practices are allowing tiny sequoias to grow again in the groves.


The cathedral-like feeling of coast redwood groves is present here, though these trees are more spread out, and the forest floor is firmer.


We also visited Kings Canyon, a deep, glacially-carved granite ravine which manages to look nothing like Yosemite, to which it is often compared. Leaving the lush, middle elevation forests, descending into hot, dry, crumbly valleys, and then into the breezy, smooth Kings River canyon is an exercise in contrasts. The river is suprisingly full for this time of year, and sparklingly clear.

After lunch at the snack bar at the Cedar Grove Lodge (good fries!), we went to the Road's End and hiked a 4.6 mile loop along the moraine floor of the canyon. Sandy and littered with boulders, the floor alternates from shady and tree-filled, to damp and filled with ferns and segmented marsh reeds, to hot, exposed and dry. It's difficult to see the dramatic sides of the valley from along most of the loop trail, the view being blocked by tall trees (mostly cedars).


S wanted to scope this area out as a trailhead into the extreme high country where the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails wind; I'd prefer to start higher, near the Lodgepole area where we camped. There's something about the higher elevation in the Sierras, the cleanliness of the air and quality of the light especially, which are nearly addictive.


The Central Valley's cities and agriculture industries are damaging the parks: the air quality was unhealthy in both parks during our visit, and "sensitive groups" were advised to limit their exposure (yes, to breathe less, ostensibly by staying inactive and/or indoors, for what little that is worth). The pollution damages the needles and leaves of trees in the parks, hindering their health. Scenic "vista" points provided views of the thick haze smudging the sky and obscuring distant objects. People more than an hour away and 5,000 feet below are harming ancient groves (and all of our health) through their pollution every day.


The parks were beautiful, and I enthusiastically recommend visiting them!
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:24 AM

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Family Food Histories

The item about what BBC readers have in their pantry cupboards made me think about the foods I found in the cupboards when I first moved in with S, who was caring for his then-frail mother.

As I took stock of the deep shelves that stored most of the dry goods S and his mother consumed, I was surprised to find that we had NO products in common. Since I cook a very wide variety of fresh dishes and do so from scratch, shelves full of powdered-cheese-flavored rice/noodles in boxes, canned beets, canned peaches, a high fat and sodium soup or two, and sealed pudding cups made no sense to me. The refrigerator was almost entirely filled with dairy products and bottles of high-fat salad dressings, with an occasional head of iceberg lettuce, a leaking, plastic-wrapped meat product, and a decaying tomato or two. I spent quite a bit of time in shock, before demanding some exclusive space for fruits and veggies, pasta sauces, and homemade foods.

Sadly, S' mother died of massive heart failure just over two years ago. Her food choices had kept her at risk for a long time.


The other night, S observed that his diet has changed considerably since I moved in with him, and that his childhood diet foods were very different from what he chooses to eat now. His mom, who was born in Utah to Midwesterners, was raising six children on welfare after her husband abandoned her, so her cooking was both traditionally Midwestern and geared toward stretching out meat and potatoes. They had a lot of casseroles with ground beef in them, including "tamale pie" (corn meal, corn, bell peppers, ground beef), plus other dishes like "cheesy eggs" (scrambled eggs with cheese), macaroni and cheese, and dishes that involved creamy canned soups, like ground beef stroganoff. There were lunch meat sandwiches (including olive loaf), and his mother's invention: grilled peanut butter and jelly. She made homemade desserts, plus gelatin desserts (Utah). Going over the list, the only thing he ate then that he still chooses to eat is spaghetti.

My diet is also very different from what my mother had fed me growing up. My mother, who is Polish and grew up in an Italian neighborhood, cooked to please the mild, meat-and-potatoes tastes of my father, an African-American whose immediate family raised him in Ohio, but who had escaped from the south and had brought Southern-style cooking with them. Dishes my mother made regularly include spaghetti with meat balls, meatloaf with mashed potatoes, chicken egg rolls (chicken, bean sprouts, and canned vegetables, served with mushroom gravy, soy sauce, and those deep fried noodles that came in cans), lunch meat sandwiches (salami, baloney (ick), olive loaf, liverworst), rahmen soup with toasted cheese sandwiches, meatballs with rice (rice mixed in), canned spinach, canned green beans, beef stew (stew meat gristle! eek!), canned corn, fresh corn on the cob, homemade black olive and cheese pizza, beef lasagna, iceberg lettuce salads, steamed cabbage with butter, Polish sausages with potatoes and mustard, pierogies (potato and cheese ravioli), and fried potato breakfasts with scrambled eggs and bacon (that last item I refused to eat after about age 4). And lots of toast with butter. My mother discovered at some point that she was allergic to fish, which discontinued an early pattern of breaded fish sticks with mayonnaise, and fried salmon patties, which I refused to eat once she explained that they were crunchy because there were bones in them. She also made homemade apple pies, and homemade cakes for our birthdays.

We didn't eat a lot of fruit (except canned), and everyone in the family complained about constipation, which they all accepted as a normal fact of life and opportunity to read in the bathroom.


Awkwardly enough, I didn't like meat. I could eat it if it was heavily processed (like unidentifiable fast food burgers) or disguised (heavy sauces, minced in gravies, boneless and chopped). However, I was obligated to eat everything on my plate, and couldn't really make up for my needs with canned, side dish vegetables. My mother had encouraged my sister and I to take up baking, but I couldn't just live on pound cake and oatmeal cookies, either. And even though I loved burritos and take out Chinese food, I couldn't afford to live on those. I was chided by my family for 'fussy eating' - which always involved not wanting to eat meaty dishes. But I couldn't stand the meat any more. After refusals and succumbing to pressure to eat what I was given, I finally realized that I had acquaintances that were vegetarians, that other cultures in the world had large groups that didn't eat meat, and that I could be one of them. When I was sixteen, I strongly declared my intention to become a vegetarian.

And so began an intensive persecution by my family, who believed that I would die unless I had meatloaf like they did. Despite the family history of heart disease, obesity, and the immediate digestive challenge issues, my family believed that their traditional diet was the only one possible. My mother made a few concessions at first: if she made spaghetti with meatballs, she'd give me mine before she added the fried meatballs to the sauce. When she bought microwave pizza or burritos, she'd get some which were just cheese or bean for me. But since cooking was a major burden, she also said that cooking separate meals was generally impossible, so I'd have to eat meat.

I offered to do my own cooking, which made her ask why her cooking wasn't good enough for me.

My cooking was restricted to hours when my mother wasn't in the kitchen, and before my father went to bed, since the smell of food bothered him at night - which meant I'd have to cook and eat in a one-hour window in the evening after everyone else was done, a strategy intended to isolate me. So I ate alone. My sister, realizing I was consistent, would eat any vegetarian snack foods instead of the meat ones intended for her, because she knew I couldn't eat hers. My mother falsely claimed that veggies were more expensive than meats, and complained at having to buy me veggies and spices. At Thanksgiving, my younger sister even suggested that not eating turkey with them - even if I ate all 10 other foods on the table - meant I didn't really love my family.


My family's efforts at sabotage failed. I did my own cooking, even under the restrictions placed on me, and felt healthier and happier. Constipation became an abstract concept, except when my relatives wouldn't give up the restroom. I checked cookbooks out of the library, and made meatless versions of common dishes. Sometimes, my family even asked to eat some of my cooking -- my sister wouldn't even ask, she'd just eat all she could get. And when I moved out, I realized how cheap and easy vegetarianism really is.

Now, I've been a vegetarian for nearly two decades, and am the only member of my family who hasn't been treated for cholesterol problems or received dietary warnings from doctors. I eat an unusually wide variety of foods, partly because I figured out how to make many ethnic specialties beyond my family's own history. My family's attitudes toward my food freedom likely contributed to me becoming the food fanatic that I am -- eating a healthy meal that was right for ME was such an incredible ordeal, that I appreciate a meal in ways that other people with equally plentiful food at home may not.

I'm eating happily ever after.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:45 PM

I just finished reading the very informative book by Marion Nestle, Food Politics. Nestle, a nutrition professor who has done projects for the FDA, makes it clear that the nutrition information Americans get is designed primarily to promote the sale of processed foods and is forced on the government by self-interested industries. I like this statement from her introduction:
On the one hand, our advice about the health benefits of diets base largely on food plants - fruits, vegetables, and grains - has not changed in more than 50 years and is consistently supported by ongoing research. On the other hand, people seem increasingly confused about what they are supposed to eat to stay healthy.
The public's confusion is by design: purveyors of unhealthy, processed junk and even traditional foods which are too high in fat and/or salt to be consumed regularly have spent billions of dollars to persuade us that, regardless of our personal health situation, we can and should consume their products. Public health science, which doesn't have a significant budget for nutrition education, simply can't compete financially with the food-industry's self-serving messages.

It's a great book, and also discusses the health supplement industry's attempts to avoid regulation of any kind. I recommend it for serious eaters everywhere! Thank you, RB, for recommending it to me!
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:43 PM

Monday, October 04, 2004

And a couple cases of... pizza? That members-only, bulk-goods warehouse store, where people buy 20-packs of toothpaste to save a nickel, now sells pizza.

You may recoil in horror now.

S had some at a nephew's birthday party this weekend, and since his sibling had ordered about 8 of the pizzas for the crowd of kids, there were leftovers. He brought some cheese pizza home for me to try.

I decided to be brave. Sure it's just cheese pizza, but it's a frighteningly cheaply made cheese pizza. As someone who avoids dairy products with growth hormones and other nasty chemicals my body doesn't need, the cheapness is some cause for alarm. But I had a few slices.

It was somewhere between mediocre and average, as you would expect. This is consistent with the "food" products warehouses such as this sell. S' family has often bought cakes and pastries on the cheap from the same place - they have a large, in-store bakery section - which is how I learned that there is such a thing as artificial cinnamon. Despite the fact that natural cinnamon is one of the cheapest of spices, this warehouse bakery couldn't be bothered to use it. Their ingredient lists are reminders of chemistry class - they use few ingredients that you would choose at home. But they are cheap, so if freshness, quality, and health isn't a high priority, it's a deal.


Coincidentally, S' family was most in the habit of purchasing such products there regularly back when they were all having serious health and weight maintenance problems. I think they've cut back quite a bit - on pastry purchases, and bulk processed food purchases generally - as most have undergone great efforts to improve their overall well-being. Collectively, S' 5 siblings have lost more than 500 excess pounds!! Which is great, especially because their weight was hampering their mobility, and the bad habits that had led to the weight were making them unhappy and costing them a lot of money (more than 2 liters of soda consumption daily for one, multiple 12-pack boxes of donuts for 2 individuals in another instance, etc.). So the warehouse store's "deals" had other, hidden costs.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:40 PM

Perhaps Blogger will let me post my recent drafts? Perhaps? Yes! Yaay!
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:39 PM

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Imagine if children's nutrition were a high priority here: Read this lovely article: From Our Own Correspondent | School dinners: No joke in France (, 09/30/04). This excerpt describes a school cafeteria meal in France:
She will have a salad of endives to start; then organic turkey escalopes, served in a sauce normande - that will be apples and cream - and accompanied by cauliflower with parsley.

The cheeses will be Camembert and Brie, with walnut bread, and there is a choice of fresh fruit to finish.
This writer (Joanna Robertson, BBC correspondent in Paris) also describes cafeteria food in Germany and Italy with incredible detail.

The school meals she describes are healthier and much more varied than the food eaten by many adults I know who work at well-paying jobs.

In light of the horrors of school foods in the U.S., which often farm out the responsibility to feed kids to profit-oriented purveyors of fatty fast foods, this is incredible. And it shows that healthy, varied, fresh, well-prepared foods CAN be served to students. Read the whole thing!! (Yes, the prevalence of meat is unfortunate, but at least the kids in the program described will KNOW what their food is and where it comes from, which is more than is done here.)
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:36 PM

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