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Friday, December 31, 2004

This morning I woke up to bright sunshine, followed immediately by dark, threatening clouds, followed by bright sunshine, followed by rain, followed by sun...

This meant I couldn't go out and photograph the old, brick industrial buildings I've been scoping out. And that sun printing (making cyanotype photograms) was likely to be a frustrating experience.

I turned to S and said, "You know what I'd really like to do? Get the new Seeds of Change catalog and plan out our spring garden."

And today, the catalog came in the mail. Yaaaay! (Details to follow.)


We also spent some rainy time in the garden, seeing what was poking up through the lush clover and where there is room to start new plants. I wound up harvesting a lot of arugula -- it takes over, no matter what other greens seeds I plant it with -- and some brun d'hiver lettuce. Our late lunch was a fresh salad of romaine (store bought), brun d'hiver, arugula, scallions, and fresh feta with a light vinaigrette. Mmmmm. It's FUN to live where it doesn't snow!


After hours of cleaning out boxes in the garage (and taking some rather frightening walks down memory lane), I'm off to enjoy a cozy bowl of minestrone soup.

Happy New Year, everyone!
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:27 PM

Thursday, December 30, 2004


I survived the holidays so far!

I'm thankful to find myself near the end of 2004, a year older, a bit happier, only slightly fatter, and with reasonably good health.

Fall has been good to me. It's been surprisingly productive in terms of processing and printing photographs, though I have a long way to go still before I'm anywhere near satisfied. National Novel Writing Month was delightful, and I feel lucky to have such supportive friends. I was able to travel; I was able to socialize and correspond with my pals; I was able to hand make most of the Xmas gifts I gave.


Our Xmas feast was lovely! It was S and my first Christmas without either traveling to be a guest, or hosting other guests. It was the most peaceful and relaxing holiday I've had in years. Our house was warm and filled with lights; we exchanged small, thoughtful gifts; we curled up and listened to holiday music (especially Chris Isaak's album); we tidied up the house a bit, and made our feast. The feast went as planned, though the spinach was a bit mature (tough) so we kept our salads small. I made my own, simple variation of the corn & leek stuffed red and green bell peppers, and it was simple and pleasant. S had a set of red glass dishes that his mother had collected, and we ate off those on a very festively decorated table, surrounded by candles. The entire celebration was romantic and sweet.


There was a catch: one of S' sisters was supposed to attend our feast, but flaked out in the afternoon and expected us to rearrange our schedule for her. We didn't. S collected her late in the evening, and I dealt with her very little before going to bed.

On the 26th, we got in the car and headed 2 hours north and east to visit another of S' sisters, with the flaky sister in tow. The family we visited was warm and hospitable, and we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon with them.

The flaky sister was moody throughout the event. She suffers from bulimia (, which was in unfortunate evidence during the visit. Her sister pointed it out, and it explained a rare event: the sister had refused my cooking at breakfast time, though I'd offered food repeatedly. I couldn't understand why. Worse, once we arrived, she had claimed I'd FAILED TO FEED HER. Which is an accusation I could not bear, and which is so completely out of character... Well, I'm not offended: I just feel bad for her. I now understand that she could not accept food prior to the long car trip: the car ride would have prevented her ordinary practices from occurring.


Since then, I've had two friends visiting. We ate out with them, and I demonstrated book binding and cyanotype printing. I sent them home with two lovely, hardcover journals, and will mail them the results of their cyanotype printing efforts once they are completely dry. I am happy to spread my fanaticism! S pointed out that my friends may be more fanatical than I initially was: they took NOTES during their stay here at our place. :-)

I have just two regrets from their visit. One is that I was all cooked out by the time of their arrival, and didn't prepare a feast to eat at home. The other is that S and I had a long, circular political discussion shortly before they left that was INCREDIBLY boring, and I feel like I made them suffer unduly.

Without boring YOU to death: the gist of the conversation was that S believes that if ordinary people all took an effort to be more informed, our government would be promptly transformed, and our political situation would be swell. I believe that there are institutional barriers in place which prevent an informed populace from displacing the power structure, and all we get from our good behavior is minor concessions toward the much brighter future we want.

We dragged this out for nearly an hour.


S was convinced that I loathe him and was only arguing to be contrary, which resulted in hurt feelings for the rest of the evening on both sides. But to me, he is blaming the victims for the entrenchment of our rulers, and I think that goes too far.

To make a bad analogy, I compare this situation to 'breast cancer awareness month.' BCAM is an industry-sponsored event which insists that women wouldn't get cancer if they didn't smoke and eat junk food. Those women who get cancer despite good behavior then have their situation blamed on genetics. But the pesticide/drug companies which sponsor the event ensure that cancer patients are solely to blame for their situation, and that the toxic environment around them is irrelevant.

Under this bad analogy, I am accused of saying that women shouldn't be held accountable for smoking and eating junk food. What I'm actually saying is that good behavior isn't enough to protect against cancer, that women have no control over the carcinogens that others put into their environment, and that THAT is what needs to change MOST.


I often mock doom-and-gloom liberals, but I sounded like one during this discussion. I said we should be progressive activists for our own sake, and not because of any guarantee of success. I'm just as willing to work for a better world if I lose: it's better to work for good and fail than to do nothing but whine. To TRULY succeed, our good will and effort isn't enough: we need control of the media (or at least a fair and free media), we need politics that aren't based on cash, and we need an economic and systemic change that will take the advantages away from our rulers and level the playing field so that people are more important than profit. Without a major break, I don't think we'll be successful in a systemic way. And for the world to get better, we need systemic improvement, not minor concessions.

Doom-and-gloom. Sorry. Sorry especially to my friends, who had to hear this dragged out for so very long.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:31 PM

This is a great site, and a brilliant idea for a direct, targeted environmental campaign: Victoria's Dirty Secret. ( "...395 million catalogs are mailed by Victoria's Secret each year - that's more than one million a day... Almost all of these catalogs are produced from virgin fiber paper with little or no recycled content." This company's mailings are a running joke in our household: a day when a catalog does not arrive is one I remark on. Last month, I was joking that perhaps VS is a bigger environmental threat than some of the more overtly wasteful companies, and now I see it isn't a joke! Check it out.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:16 PM

Speaking of the year in review, 2004 has been the Fourth Warmest Year Globally. (, 12/24/04)
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has determined that 2004 was the fourth warmest year since accurate records commenced in 1861. The last 10 years (1995-2004), with the exception of 1996, are among the warmest 10 years on record.
That's a lot more important than which celebrities got married or which rich ivy leaguers ran for office here.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:15 PM

It's time for all of that pesky 'year in review' stuff. One of the first such item I generally look at is The Washington Post's "Best of the Post" photo collection. This year it isn't especially interesting: between war footage and Reagan's funeral, my mind wandered.

My other favorite is SF Gate's Day In Photos Annual, with selections from its daily collection. SFGate leans toward a near even split between news photos and cute animal photos, with a touch of lovely sunsets.

posted by Arlene (Beth)11:44 AM


Activist stuff: Sea Surge Damage in SE Asia

After a few days away from the news & internet, I logged on this morning to see the staggering death toll and damage caused by the earthquake and resulting sea surges in Aceh and around Southeast Asia. I also read of the U.S. government's rather stingy offer of help, which amazed me further: back in 2001, the world opened its hearts to us, and we opened our wallets to each other to ensure that the families of over 3000 victims could meet their needs. I would hate to see a response any less generous toward the more than 100,000 victims of this disaster.


Wikipedia's 1004 Indian Ocean earthquake page is a fabulous (and evolving) resource. Nearly every term and reference to other events is linked to explanatory, detailed material.

Indymedia has links to reports from its independent correspondents and from major aid organizations. (The initial summary was last updated 12/29, but the links to which it connects are more up to date).

Yahoo! Asia Disaster page (compilation of links to stories posted so far)

BBC Asia Quake Disaster Page (compilation of links to stories posted so far)

Donation info:

Yahoo repost of op-ed from the Nation: How to Help Tsunami Victims (especially good overview of the official U.S. government response, U.S. foreign aid relative to other nations as a percentage of gross national income, and recommendation of a few charities)

Americans rushing to be generous: Rush of Donations from USA is immediate and immense (Yahoo/USA Today)

List of disaster relief organizations (much longer than it initially looks - the list is interrupted by a large ad, be sure to scroll past it): in the Washington Post.

posted by Arlene (Beth)11:39 AM

Saturday, December 25, 2004


Merry Christmas!

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:18 PM


Very bad haiku

What better day than this one to begin publishing my very, very, very bad, pseudo-haiku poems about the solstice. I'd intended for these to go out on a festive card, but never got around to sending it, instead revising cookie recipes and running errands. Ooops.

Real Japanese haiku follow a wide range of rules that foreign "haiku" don't: we don't invoke symbols of the season or other requirements that set the scene, but instead just do 5-7-5 syllable poems.

But here are some of mine. You have been warned.
The winter solstice
and fat pagans with presents
approach in darkness.

Large Father Christmas,
despite his doughnut waistline
was never a cop

though he thinks like one:
lists of good and bad children
are kept and enforced.

Santa's Finnish Lapland home.

Listen to the song:
"All of the other reindeer"
were a bunch of jerks.


Under mistletoe
(ancient aphrodisiac),
Long nights aren't so bad.
No, I don't know why I was inspired. No, I didn't mean to hurt you. It's just uncontained silliness.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:02 PM

Friday, December 24, 2004

Why get cross about Xmas? (, 12/22/04). The story: just because Christmas has been abbreviated as "Xmas" for a thousand years by the Greek-reading clergy, doesn't mean you can't gripe about "kids today" attempting to ruin your solstice holiday by secularizing it with a traditional religious abbreviation!! :-\
posted by Arlene (Beth)4:18 PM

On a completely different topic: ancient pomegranate sculptures!!! Ivory pomegranate 'not Solomon's' (, 12/24/04).
posted by Arlene (Beth)4:04 PM

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

This link describes Christmas celebration foods in a variety of different cultures. It's a semi-religious site: Christmas traditions & customs around the world. ( I know many people found it odd that my family often had an Xmas lasagna, but they didn't know my mother grew up in an Italian neighborhood, so they were being silly - it's very traditional!!
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:17 PM

This is pretty interesting: Christmas Archives: Chronology of Santa Claus (

I like how the Saturnalia and so many different solstice celebrations were all co-opted by late coming religions, without ever losing their characteristics. And so now, we have to hear people try to explain how Santa Claus is related to something happening in Bethlehem 2000+ years ago, where there are no evergreen trees and snow, and Mr. Claus would be severely overdressed...
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:06 PM

Hey! Shortly before 8 a.m. on 21st, we had the winter solistice!

Happy Solstice!

[P.S. Saving this as a draft didn't help me post this promptly, did it?]
posted by Arlene (Beth)12:54 AM

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Baking for "baked" cooks? About four years ago I bought one of those little cookbooks that is always present at supermarket counters, one produced by a butter company to promote the use of their products. I don't often go to supermarkets (and buy butter only for unusual dishes, often around the holidays), and thought I might need to learn a few more cookie recipes, since I don't have a wide cookie range. (For reference, I make oatmeal, pumpkin, chocolate chip, and peanut butter.) I've never used it, but I found it this week and decided to try it out.

The cookbook doesn't appear to have much beyond butter cookie recipes (from a butter company! Who knew?) What is surprising is that the cookbook appears to be written for people on drugs.

One of the MAIN cookie baking tips it provides is: to use a cookie sheet that fits in your oven. I was so taken aback by this one, I had to get independent verification that I was reading it correctly.

Wow. One that fits in the oven. That changes EVERYTHING. For someone.

The next tip, by the way, is to use a METAL cookie sheet. Because all of those paper cookie sheets you have been using, or the ones made of leaves you gathered from the park, or string from that old sweater of yours, well, that won't work as well.

The best instruction in a recipe? "DO NOT OVERBAKE." (All-caps theirs.)

It never occurred to me before, but I could write a parody cookbook with really stupid directions, if I applied myself. Now I have a standard with which to measure it against. (This makes me wish I bought copies of the parody magazine, Is Martha Stewart Living, in which they explained all sorts of terrible things, like how to sweep, and how to make a perfect tree with a real tree, a saw, and a glue gun....)

posted by Arlene (Beth)11:06 PM

Christmas meal planning. Christmas (everyone's favorite solstice celebration dressed up as something else) is nearly here, and I haven't finalized the menu for the Christmas feast. It will be a small feast this year: billed as S and my first just-the-two-of-us feast ever, it has abruptly evolved to include one of his siblings as of this afternoon. (Now BREAKFAST is supposed to be our just-the-two-of-us event, but it invariably is, so...)

Our holiday feast will include: a spinach salad with wilted red onions, fresh Greek feta, and my homemade garlic-balsamic vinaigrette; olives; marinated artichoke hearts; roasted red and yellow peppers (purchased); sparkling cider; mashed potatoes (either olive-oil mashed or butter-mashed); cornbread stuffing (from one of the Moosewood Collective cookbooks); the red roasted winter squash and tomato soup (or some other red dish); and homemade butternut pie with whipped cream.

I'm having difficulty deciding on the red dish. I know, for composition purposes, I want a savory red dish. I make a number of red Thai or Indian tomato curries, and S proposed that I serve one of those, possibly in individual baked squash bowls, but I think curry would stray too far from the overall theme. Stuffed red (imported) sweet peppers are common and festive, and I see this recipe for leek and corn-stuffed red peppers ( Did I ever mention that roasted red peppers stuffed with cheese and baked just until the cheese (mozzarella is good) melts are delicious? Hmmm. Lentils are red, at least the kind I like best, though they're rather orange when they cook. Tomatoes are red, but they're not anywhere near in season right now, so I'm not sure I should grill those things posing as tomatoes in the store. Red wine is out....

I'll have to think about that some more.

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:15 PM

Sweet acorn squash enchiladas in chipotle sauce (Recipe)

This dish is so sweet it is nearly dessert-like, though the chipotles provide a deep, mellow warmth.

-one acorn squash, baked until soft but not mushy (about 40 minutes at 400 degrees F)
-1.5 cups of casero cheese (or your other favorite queso blanco), grated
-5 scallions (green onions), finely diced
-1 recipe of my red enchilada sauce recipe, made exclusively with chipotles (smoked jalapeños), but with 1.5 to 2 times to number of chilies (because chipotles are smaller)
-10 small whole wheat tortillas.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Set aside about 1/4 cup of the casero.

Scoop the acorn squash out of its shell in small, 1/2 teaspoon sized spoonfuls or simply peel and dice. Mix the diced squash, the casero you didn't set aside, and the scallions in a bowl.

Pour about 1/4 of the sauce into an enchilada pan (lasagna pan). Put about 1/10th of the squash mixture into each tortilla, rolling it as tightly as you can and placing it in the saucy pan. When all the tortillas are rolled, pour the remaining sauce over them, making sure sauce makes it into all of the corners, and that the tortillas at the top are thoroughly wet. Decorate the top with the casero you set aside earlier. Bake 30 - 45 minutes, by which time the sauce should be bubbling all around.

PLEASE NOTE THAT MANY CASEROS DO NOT MELT COMPLETELY, and so you shouldn't think your enchiladas aren't done because the cheese in the center of the enchiladas has some firmness. They are done: this is just 'different.'

This recipe serves about 4 (more with side dishes). It is surprisingly filling. Also, baking the squash and then the enchiladas makes the house smell really good.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM


Three banana smoothie recipes

Basic Banana Smoothie (Recipe)

-1 cup of soy milk (or cow milk)
-1 ripe banana
-1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.

Put the ingredients in the blender, and blend until there are no more banana chunks. Serves one (tall glass).

Banana Milkshake (Recipe)

-1 cup of soy milk (or cow milk)
-1 ripe banana
-1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
-1 scoop of organic vanilla ice cream, soy dream, or other favorite frozen cream.

Put the first three ingredients in the blender, and blend until there are no more banana chunks. Then put in the frozen cream and blend only until the drink is thick. (Those of you who like ice cream lumps should blend less.) Enjoy.

Obvious variations: egg nog ice cream; chocolate ice cream; berry sorbet...

Holiday Banana Smoothie (Recipe)

-1 cup of soy milk (or cow milk)
-1 ripe banana
-1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
-1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg.

Put the ingredients in the blender, and blend until there are no more banana chunks. This is amazingly good, despite being so simple.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:53 PM

I'm always fascinated during this time of year by the successful, confused attempts to merge ancient solstice traditions with a rescheduled "Christmas." So I found this trivia about mistletoe's ancient symbolism quite interesting: Ancient Origins: Yule (

I've been trying to write amusing haiku about the solstice. It is not going well.
posted by Arlene (Beth)4:14 PM

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

One friend has read my NaNoWriMo story and NOT died of boredom! Yaaaay!
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:12 AM

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Fabulous and quick recipe: Bengali zucchini curry at Mmmmmmm.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:52 PM

Monday, December 13, 2004


My mother's cupboards

Here's a continuation of my September pantry report, which I updated a few days ago with a listing of my father's pantry and fridge.

My mother's collection of food is really something. I know there were times in her childhood where she didn't have a lot of food security. But this Costco, volume-buying thing is out of hand. (I should note here that I've read good things about CostCo's labor policies, and so they're not a bad company - not by far. It's the overconsumption that is alarming.)

So, let's start in the cupboards before moving on to her TWO, full-sized refrigerators. As with my father, I'll put an * near the items which I also have in my pantry, though not in the quantities she has.

All of these items are either dried or canned:

15 bean soup
Alike (aspartame)
Baby food: mac and beef
Baking soda *
Bean sprouts (2)
Beans, baked (5)
Beans, black turtle
Beans, butter (2)
Beans, great northern (2)
Beans, lima (2 large bags)
Beans, pinto (4.5 lbs) *
Beans, refried (9)
Beets, pickled
Beets, sliced
Bisquick (60 oz)
Black olives (2)
Bouillon, beef
Bouillon, chicken
Bread crumbs (2 - 10 ounce)
Broth, chicken (4)
Buttertop white bread
Cake cups (formerly known as ice cream cones)
Chai latte mix
Cheerios (2 lbs 5 oz)
Cherry pie filling
Cherry throat lozenges
Corn (2)
Corn bread mix (4 lbs+)
corn puffs
Corned beef, canned (3)
Cous cous, parmesan cheese flavor
Cranberries, dried (30 ounces) *
Cream of rice
Creamy mash (108 servings!)
Crème de cacao (I think I bought this in 1990 for a recipe in Gourmet, and my mom still has it)
Crystal hot sauce (2)
Crystal light drink mix (5, in 3 flavors)
Evaporated milk
Flour (4 multi-pound bags) *
Fried onions
Fruit cocktail
Gingerbread mix
Goldfish crackers (58 ounces)
Graham crackers
Hershey's cocoa
honey lemon cough drops
Hot chili *
Instant cocoa (66 servings)
Instant mac and cheese
Instant oatmeal *
Jellied cranberries
Jell-O flan mix (2)
Jell-O pudding mix (2)
Jell-O, fruit flavors (5)
Kahlua (2)
Lentils (4) *
Lipton tea (4 big boxes)
Madras sauce (a gift from me, no doubt)
Malt O Meal (2 - 28 oz)
Mandarin oranges (10)
Milk, evaporated (6)
Minute tapioca (3)
Misc. candy
Molasses *
Mushrooms, canned (10)
Nestle's chocolate chips (60 ounces)
Nestle's cocoa
Oats, old fashioned *
Olive oil *
Olives, black
Onion soup, powdered
Pappy's choice seasoning
Parlsey flakes
Pasta, angel hair (4 lbs+)
Pasta, large elbow macaroni
Pasta, lasagna (6 lbs) *
Pasta, manicotti (2)
Pasta, medium egg noodles (2)
pasta, organic whole wheat penne *
pasta, organic whole wheat rotelle
Pasta, regular elbow macaroni (2)
Pasta, rotini *
Pasta, salad macaroni (2)
Pasta, shells
Pasta, vermicelli (2) *
Peaches (4)
Pearl barley (3)
Peas, green split (4)
Peas, yellow split (2) *
Pesto sauce, powdered
Pineapple, crushed
Pizza sauce (2)
Popcorn (5 lbs +) *
Pork rinds (2 bags)
Potatoes (fresh) *
Pumpkin pie filling (7 cans)
Raisin Bran (large)
Raisins (4 lbs) *
Raspberry honey almonds (coated nuts)
Ravioli, beef (canned)
Rennet tablets (for custard: I told her what rennet is, and she was disgusted)
Rice A Roni (6)
Rice, long grain *
Rice, long grain brown *
Ritz crackers
Salt (3 - 26 ounce) *
Scooby Doo fruit snacks (gummy)
Shari's Indain black bean & rice soup (from me)
Shark bites fruit snacks (gummy)
Shortening (3 lbs) *
Smarties candy (2)
Smorz cereal
Soup mix (lentils, split peas, rice) *
Soup, chicken noodle (2)
Soup, chicken with rice and veggies
Soup, chicken with wild rice
Soup, cream of celery
Soup, cream of chicken (3)
Soup, lentil
Soup, minestrone (3)
Soup, mushroom
Soup, onion powdered
Soup, tomato
Soup, tomato condensed (2)
Spaghetti squash *
Spice: allspice *
Spice: anise seed
Spice: arrowroot (this is a thickener more than a spice)
Spice: basil *
Spice: bay leaves (2) *
Spice: black pepper (2) *
Spice: cayenne red pepper *
Spice: celery seed (2) *
Spice: Chinese five spice powder
Spice: cinnamon, ground (3) and stick (1) *
Spice: cloves, whole (3) and ground (5) *
Spice: coriander *
Spice: cumin, ground & seed *
Spice: curry powder *
Spice: dark chili powder
Spice: dill and "dillweed"
Spice: fennel seed *
Spice: food coloring kits (6) (for making playdough)
Spice: garlic powder
Spice: garlic salt
Spice: ginger (4) *
Spice: Italian seasoning
Spice: majoram (2) *
Spice: mint
Spice: mustard (2) *
Spice: nutmeg (4) *
Spice: oregano (4) *
Spice: paprika *
Spice: pepper, black (2)*
Spice: poultry seasoning (4) (I sometimes get this: it's a mixture of sage and two other spices good for vegan stuffing)
Spice: rosemary *
Spice: seasoned salt (2)
Spice: thyme *
Spice: turmeric *
Spice: vanilla (2) *
Spinach, canned (2)
Strawberry daquiri mix
Sugar, brown (3) *
Sugar, dark brown
Sugar, golden brown (3) *
Sugar, white(2 - 5 lb bags) * (I often have this; right now I have fructose instead)
Sweet potatoes, canned (3)
Sweet Tarts (small, tangy candy)
Taco seasoning
Tomato, paste
Tomato, sauce (5) *
Tomatoes, stewed (7 cans) *
Triscuit, reduced fat (2)
Turkey gravy (2)
Vinegar, apple cider (2)
Vinegar, rice (2)
Vodka *
Wheat Thins (3)
Worcestershire sauce
Zucchini, canned (!!!)

I didn't even know you COULD can zucchini.

I have two nieces who my mom cares for while my sister is working her evening shift, but neither could eat as much as is stockpiled at my mom's. They are her excuse for having pork rinds and candy in the house, but since my mother has a notorious sweet tooth, I'm not sure I'm convinced.

My mother has two refrigerators. Yes, two. Don't look at her power bills, okay?

Freezer One:
Bell peppers, diced (2 bags) * (I freeze these myself)
Broccoli, cut
Corn *
Green beans, cut
Ice cream, mint chip
Mixed veggies *
Otis S. cookie dough
Pierogies (these are Polish ravioli filled generally with potatoes and cheese)
Spinach, leaf

Refrigerator One
"homemade" chili sauce (this is a tomato sauce in a low, round jar with a sweet chili aftertaste)
Barbecue sauce (3)
Beer (2)
Butter (2)
Cabbage *
Canned tuna (?? In the fridge?)
celery *
Cheese, cheddar
Cheese, cream
Cheese, mozzarella, shredded
Cheese, Parmesan, grated
cheese, Rondele
cold cuts, misc.
country crock (a sort of margerine/milk solid spread)
Eggs (30)
Ginger ale
Grape jelly
Italian dressing (2)
Ketchup (3)
Kielbasa (2) (this is a Polish sausage)
Lemons * (I don't keep mine in the fridge, generally)
Lettuce *
marinated artichoke hearts *
Martinelli's sparkling cider
Nuts, mixed
Olives, green
Onions *
Orange marmalade (3)
Oranges *
Pace picante sauce
Ranch dressing (3)
Relish (3)
sour cream
Soy sauce *
Strawberry preserves
Sugar free syrup
Teriyaki sauce
Tomatoes *

Freezer Two
Buttertop wheat bread
Cheese ravioli
English muffins
Green beans
OJ concentrate
Sports drink

Refrigerator Two
Apples *
Black olives
Cheese, brie
Ginger ale
Grapefruit *
Green beans
Near beer
Pasta sauce *
Potatoes * (I keep mine in a cabinet)
Prune juice
Pumpkin pie *
Redi-whip canned whipped cream
Root beer
String cheese
Thanksgiving leftovers


It took a very long time to inventory my mother's cabinets and refrigerators. She was appalled that she had so many multiples of items, but it's easy to have happen: once you fill all the cupboards, you can't see in far enough to figure out what you really have. I told her I'd send a version of this list so she could stop buying some of these items.

While I went through her cupboards, I asked her about her life on a farm. My mother lived on a farm until she was 5 years old: her father was away at "WWII" in Europe, and so she and her mother moved in with my great grandmother. Great grandma sold honey, milk, eggs and chickens, and made just about everything that her family ate. Homemade and homegrown foods my mother remembers include bread, sausage, ham, butter, apples, plums, corn, wild strawberries and ice cream.

(I asked her about grains, and who milled them, but she doesn't recall anything about that.) I imagine there was also lots of cabbage and potatoes, since my mother always fondly refers to those as traditional Polish foods she enjoys.

SO! That's my mother's diet, then and now. In great detail.

When chaos breaks out, I think I should move to my mom's and live with her to help her eat all that food! I am now teasing her about being a survivalist, with a caveat that I don't object so long as she'll share.

posted by Arlene (Beth)11:12 PM

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Religious Zeal: The dark and cloudy weather has kept me indoors more often than not lately, and so I'm home when the doorbell rings. I have an impulse to answer, but should really be more cautious, since I don't like dealing with religious zealots. But the doorbell rang, and someone in what looked like a UPS outfit was at the door, so I rushed out, eager for packages.

He didn't have any packages.

He did have a clipboard and a religious zeal to sell me cable television services.

Those of you who have known me for many years know I have never owned a television set. I watched a lot of TV as a child, but mine was the only bedroom in our house without a TV, by my choice. I had housemates with a TV where I lived for 10 months, which was great for watching Japanese Anime on VHS, but not much else. My next apartment was blissfully television-free for the full 8 years I lived there. S currently has a TV (a large screen model given to him by a sister who had gotten a larger one), but cancelled his cable subscription when we moved here, thus cutting me off from the Hindi video-music shows that I otherwise might have developed an addiction to. S uses it during baseball season, and we use it to watch DVDs. But that's about it. I do watch -- my father won't turn it off during my visits, and likes to nap in front of it -- so I've managed to see the same three episodes of Seinfeld that every station runs, plus a bunch of really awful Sci-Fi channel special features. But that didn't exactly win me over. TV has never really lived up to its potential as a communications medium, and so I've given up on it entirely. So this man at the door didn't have a snowball's chance in the microwave.

He opened with a charming line: "My list here shows you don't have our cable service, our broadband service, nothing. What is it, you don't have enough money, or what?"

So charming. Really, I could barely resist throwing money at him right then and there. Coins, preferably, at high speed.

But I was polite. I told him there's no point, because there's nothing on. And that every friend who has cable switches channels constantly in vain, looking for something worth watching.

"But look at all these channels!" he said, pointing at a list of 500 channels of nothing, helping to underscore my point, but failing to perceive that. I laughed and said that I have a job and have art to make. He helpfully pointed out that he had this job (insulting people in my neighborhood to make them buy cable), and that he finds time to watch. "Everyone needs entertainment."

That was my point again! I advised him that I recycle all cable-TV related offers, took his cable-religion literature, and promptly recycled it.

I told S about this exciting encounter when he came home. He was disappointed that he missed an opportunity to vent his feelings about the entire concept of paying money to be forced to watch advertising in your own home with little consolation from what little programming was to be had. Ah, well. He'll have his chance again, since we'll remain on the list of people who don't subscribe to cable.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:12 PM

Friday, December 10, 2004


My father's cupboards

Back in September, I listed what I had in my pantry/cupboards, to contrast with what BBC readers in England were listing as having in theirs. Among other things, it became very apparent that I have a LOT more storage space here than most in England do.

In that entry I suggested that I would inventory the pantries of others at some future time. I thought I'd have more opportunities to be nosy, however, I wound up waiting until the Thanksgiving holiday before finding myself with some spare time at first my mother's home, and then my father's. Both of my parents live in Riverbank, California, in sprawling houses that look like the others in their development. (I have to look at the numbers to be sure I'm about to knock on the right door.) They live on opposite sides of the same block as a married-but-separated couple, a situation possible because their home in San Francisco sold for more than 12 times what they'd paid for it when I was a toddler.

My mother cooks quite a bit, both for herself and for my nieces, who visit her nearly daily. My father doesn't cook as much, and favored fast food prior to his triple bypass. He favored fast food after his triple bypass, too, though he recently went on that fad Atkins diet and so had to cook more dishes to comply with the diet's requirements. (My parents go on many fad diets, since none of them require a life-long commitment to health.)

My mother has more goods in her cupboards than a survivalist. So I'll save her entry for another time.

My father's cupboards and refrigerator contain the following, organized alphabetically just for the heck of it:

Bacardi (rum)
Bailey's Irish Cream (3)
Bay leaf * (* means I have it, too)
Bean sprouts
Beef bouillon
Black olives (3)
Black pepper *
Blanc de noir
Bombay Sapphire Gin *
Brandy (4)
Bread crumbs
Brown mustard
Canola oil *
Cayenne *
Cereal, honey bunches of oats
Chicken bouillon
Chicken Broth
Chili beans (dried 4 bean blend)
Chivas (3)
Chow mein vegetables
Cinnamon (3) *
Corn muffin mix
Cream of Wheat
Crystal hot sauce
Crystal light mix (5)
Dark brown sugar *
Dry sherry
Fat free dressing
Fig Newtons
Garbanzo beans *
Garlic powder
Garlic salt
Grey Poupon
Hot chocolate mix
Idaho spuds
Instant oatmeal
Jell-O (3)
Jell-O flan (3)
Malt o Meal
Noodle soup envelopes
Nutmeg *
Onion soup packets
Oregano (3) *
Oyster crackers
Parsley flakes
Peanut butter
Popcorn (2) *
Potato soup mix (3 - 2 lb tubs)
Quick oats
Raisin bran
Rice A Roni, Spanish Rice
Rice-A-Roni, beef (2, 14 oz size)
Ritz crackers
Roasted red peppers * (I sometimes have these)
Sage *
Salt (2) *
Saltines (2)
Sauerkraut (they sell this in cans!!!)
Sauvignon blanc
Slim Fast powder (3)
Soup, cream of celery
Soup, cream of mushroom
Soy sauce *
Sugar *
Tanqueray (2)
Tarragon *
Teriyaki marinade (2)
Thyme *
Tomato paste
Tomato sauce (2) * (though I use different brands)
Tomatoes, stewed
Vanilla extract *
Vodka (2) *
Yams, cut

Dad's Refrigerator
Apples *
Bacon (2)
Balsamic vinaigrette
Bloody Mary mix
Blue cheese
Chocolate syrup
Cocktail onions
Collins mixer
Crystal hot sauce
Dried plums (once known as prunes)
Egg nog
Eggs (5 18-packs!!!)
French's mustard
Garlic mustard
Garlic ranch
Ginger beer
Green olives *
Jalapeno garlic olives
Ketchup (2) *
Kosher dill pickles
Molasses *
Onions *
Pasta sauce *
Salad olives (green)
Sandwich pickles
Slim Fast (canned premixed)
Spanish olives
Stir fry sauce
Tabasco sauce
Whipped cream (2)
White wine Worcestershire sauce
White zinfandel
Zima (several)

My father is big on condiments and beverages, from the look of this. He only recently read that apples are good for you (!!!), so he's been eating those despite Atkins. He is also known to eat strawberries in season, and broccoli as a side to his lean-meat Atkins meals.

I marked the items I also have with an *, and you can see that the overlap is limited.

I've never posted the contents of my own liquor cabinet, but it doesn't take long: Absolut mandarin orange vodka, plain Ketel One vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin, Triple Sec, and a champagne that one of S' in laws brought over and we forgot to drink. I also have a bottle of red wine, just one, in a wine rack. (I was drinking wine every week at least once for a while, but now I'm spending my money on film and fancy papers.) So even in the liquor cabinet department, there isn't a lot of overlap happening there.

Since this visit, I've taken a renewed interest in green olives. I had forgotten how tasty they can be! I'm also tempted to get some Kahlua, though I'm not sure soy "white Russians" are a good idea. :-)

So there it is: insight into another person's kitchen. I'll work on the massive listing for my mom's pantry another time.

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


December Greetings

I am alive! Really! Truly! And I hope you are, too. (If you're not, you're not reading this...)Hidden Beach, Redwoods National Park

The last 5 weeks or so have been a chaotic whirlwind. I'm in the mood to post, so let me tell you about them. From most recent to least, more or less, here's recap.

BOOKBINDING. The weather hasn't been conducive to sun printing, and the winter solstice celebrations that pass themselves off as Xmas are approaching, so I've been putting my obsessions with pretty paper and blank books to use by engaging in making handmade books. The first book was a mess, but each one since then has been surprisingly better than I expected. I made 4 last night as good as some I've bought. So I'm terribly pleased with myself. Whenever I feel insecure about what I'm doing, I refer to Cover to Cover: Creative Techniques for Making Beautiful Books, Journals, and Albums by Shereen LaPlantz (Lark Books, Asheville, NC, 1995), which covers all the basics and then offers some extremely far-out artwork as examples of where you can go. My paper fetishism now knows no bounds.

WINTERFEST. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition throws a huge, annual party in December which is one of those not-to-be-missed events. It is fun beyond belief, if you happen to be a bike person who loves chatting, eating, and being thoroughly entertained by other bike people. The company is great, and the entertainment is always fabulous. In past years, there have been burlesque troupes like the Cantankerous Lollies, the famous pogo-stripper Rocky Roulette, (yes, just try to explain his act to your friends) live bands, scary extreme bike movies, impressive bike-related art, and a fabulous live auction. (S and I are in the lower right of this picture.) My favorite part of last year's show was an appearance by the President of our Board of Supervisors, Matt Gonzalez, whose campaign for mayor I'd been volunteering for. Dinner with Matt was auction item in the exciting live auction. His self defense against the two friendly Coalitionistas who kept trying to undress him as he stood onstage was a hoot. (Gary Fisher won the dinner.)

I volunteered a bit on Saturday and early at the party, and then enjoyed an amazing performance by Circo Zero. Contortion! Incredible feats of balancing in improbable positions! Aerial acrobatics! Extraordinarily graceful dancing while swinging from ropes! One of the most impressive and non-conventional clowns I've ever seen! They rock. (And they provided those of us t-rex shaped cyclists an opportunity to see what women with really fabulous upper body strength look like.) They also provided entertainment during the auction, which vexed and distracted the professional auctioneer volunteer beyond belief, which somehow made it even better.

I left just giddy with joy that I've been there. And I left with a new, proper messenger bag from the sales table. They always have good stuff, and it always benefits the SFBC, so there's no point in resisting.

NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH.Official NaNoWriMo 2004 Winner! Fall was settling in, and I was taking photos, developing and scanning my film, practicing cyanotype printing, outlining a book proposal, looking for stock agencies who might be a good fit to represent my landscape and botanical images, and planning to travel. What better month to also enter a contest to write a 50,000 word novel? NaNoWriMo is a contest/support group that encourages people who always say "one day I'll write a novel" to DO IT, by getting that terrible first novel out of your system in one month. It builds confidence. It keeps you focused. It provides discussion groups on procrastination techniques. It provides forums where you can ask all sorts of weird questions about facts that come up in your novel that you'd never figure out on your own. It keeps your novel ideas from haunting you, unused, when you're wondering why you're a passive consumer of entertainment made by others, or when you're reading a book and are convinced you could do a better job with the story. It's a great way to share the insanity of a month of frantic writing with others similarly situated.

My November was rather eventful. S hurt his leg rather dramatically, in a manner that required me to change his dressings twice daily with the professionalism that my first aid certificate provides, and wanted company while he convalesced in front of the TB with a stack of DVDs. We had an uninvited guest, a relative of S', who was a hard core smoker of filterless cigarettes, and who made my eyes water whenever she was near. She hung out in the room with this computer, where I needed to write. Then we went on a fabulous vacation. Then we went to visit relatives, both his and mine. So I wound up writing my entire 51,036 word novel in 12 days.

It was mayhem, but it was a happy, delirious sort of mayhem.

Ruthless Batty and Swaziloo are the friends who talked me into participating, and I will be forever grateful. It was an incredible creative exercise, and an exhausting and fun way to spend November.

What? The story? Oh, that. The story is about a woman who dies and learns that the afterlife is a vast bureaucracy, which is why things don't make a lot of sense on earth. She has a job managing certain aspects of the way the world is run, and does some tampering with the way rules are applied to fix it, which results briefly in 'instant karma' for everyone before she has second thoughts. I described it to my father as a combination of Asimov's "End of Eternity" (a story of a time bureaucracy) plus the story of the carjacker who tried to steal a van with a karate team in it. The world is a fascinating place when people actually get what they deserve.

I am making experimentally bound hardcopies of my oh-Shiva-please-edit-me first draft available to selected friends upon request.

Swaziloo posted this pretty photo from the Thank God It's Over party here in the City. The TGIO party demonstrated to S, who very kindly attended and was given his own "Novelist Groupie" badge, that I am insane in a similar way to other insane local people. Which frightened him a great deal.

THANKSGIVING. My mother laid out a big feast at her home in Riverbank, 'City of Action' in the 'greater Modesto area.' (I can now say that without laughing, after 10 years of practice.) It was fun to get together with my family. Even though it took me away from my novel. Which I was outlining plot twists for in a little notepad whenever my family wasn't around.

TRAVELS TO FAR, FAR, FAR NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: EN ROUTE. On the way north, we stopped in Willits at Burrito Exquisito (42 S Main St, (707)459-5421), which is our favorite Highway 101 resting spot in Willits. Organic veggie burritos. Mmmmmm.

We also stopped in Eureka, where S lived for several years, and ate at Hunan's Restaurant. The food was delicious. The veggie potstickers were not as interesting as I'd hoped, but everything else was just perfect (spicy eggplant, spicy tofu, mmmmm). We also stopped at Los Bagels in the cute old part of town for a light breakfast of seeded bagels with cream cheese, tomato, and minced onion. And OJ. Which was just right.

TRAVELS TO FAR, FAR, FAR NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: REDWOOD NP. Redwood National & State Parks are incredible, lush, massive groves of redwoods in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties along California's cold and foggy coast. The world's tallest trees live here, some of which are the height of a 35 story building. Nearly half of the old growth redwoods in the state are protected within the boundaries of these parks.Gold Bluffs Beach in Prarie Creek Redwoods State Park

There were once 2 million acres of old growth redwood on our west coast. Now, there are just 85,000 acres. Just 4% of what we used to have.

[This is a sad example of what happens when natural resource extraction industries are allowed to do whatever they want: if they had been replanting, their entire industry wouldn't have collapsed so spectacularly, and they wouldn't be ranting about how environmentalists are trying to restrict their activities now. Folks, if you had managed the 96% you took properly, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Put back 46% of what you took, and then we'll talk.]

We stayed at the very charming ReQua Inn in Klamath. They make the best pancakes I've ever tasted: incredibly fluffy, with vanilla and nutmeg. Mmmmmmmm. Our room also had a claw foot tub, the perfect place to relax after a wet day of hiking.breakfast at the Requa Inn

We hiked in rain, fog, and blinding sun. Every grove we visited was different, either in the undergrowth, the terrain, the spacing of the trees, the degree of lushness, the moss...

Prarie Creek Redwoods State Park, within RNP, provided our first hike, in rain. We hiked along a creek and back along the west ridge. photograph of big trees in Prarie Creek Redwoods State Park The trees were enormous, the ferns were taller than we were, and the light was soft and almost eerie. It was absolutely beautiful. And almost impossible to photograph decently in without a tripod and an umbrella. Near the end of our trip, we returned to visit Gold Bluffs Beach, which is an amazing, wide, peaceful beach that was wrapped in mist, and Fern Canyon, a vertical channel lined thickly with five-finger ferns. Beautiful beautiful beautiful.

fall foliage Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP on the Smith River, east of Crescent City, offers beautiful walks. The Simpson-Reed Grove is filled with ferns, and is especially damp, cold, and dense. The Stout Grove is right beside the river, and offers widely spaced, wide trees in an amazing and easily accessible grove. The undergrowth was turning gold, and the light from the river was amazingly pretty. There's a compacted dirt road through part of the park with several names, including Howland Hill Road, and the scenery is BEAUTIFUL.

Crescent City's Battery Point LighthouseCrescent City isn't bad, either. They have an adorable lighthouse that's only accessible during low tide at Battery Point, and another far off the coast that doesn't look real.

The part I especially want to visit again is RNP's Lady Bird Johnson Grove. This grove, on a steep ridge, is filled with tall rhododendrons!!!

TRAVELS TO FAR, FAR, FAR NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: WEITCHPEC. The road that leads east from the Lady Bird Johnson Grove eventually becomes a packed dirt road, and leads to Weitchpec, a town near the Klamath River on the Hoopa Reservation where S' biological father lives.

S' and his 5 siblings have a complex relationship with their father ("G"), who abandoned the family when his wife was pregnant with their sixth child. (S was a baby, #5.) The family was forced onto welfare, and lived in a crumbling home in a bad neighborhood after his departure. G turned up when S was about 7, in order to demand a divorce and half of the crumbling house. This didn't go over well. [understatement] But he also demanded that his kids come visit him in his new home about 8 hours north, for a week or two each year in the summer. This resulted in complex interactions in which it became clear that he often didn't know how to deal with his offspring. S' stories from that period are vivid, and generally involve his siblings being left to their own devices while his father entertained adult friends. All of this led to years of estrangement between G and all but his eldest child, who had run away from home to live near him.

wild mushrooms After S' mother's dramatic death two years ago, S decided he had some things he wanted to discuss with G. So he re-established contact, and went up to visit him. This led to some factionalism among the siblings, who were torn over whether or not to befriend someone who had failed them so completely as a parent, and betrayed their mother so dramatically. This is complicated by the fact that G's recollection only includes the times he was around, and so the hardships of his absence don't exist to him, and he speaks as if they had a happy, ordinary family existence. This is further complicated by the fact that G is a heavy drinker. But S broke the ice, and there is more routine communication between S (and a few of his siblings) and G now.

I did not want to be involved in this situation in any way. But I had consented to the theory of visiting some day, and so found myself standing in the driveway of his nursery business for an unexpected two night stay for which I had not packed, on our way back from Redwood. I was tired, and I wanted desperately to work on my novel. I wasn't sure how our trip had come about, and was uncomfortable with the idea that S had invited himself (us) over unexpectedly.

But it all worked out fine. In addition to growing plants, G and his wife are food people. They especially love to grow and cook with chili peppers, and so we had a lot to talk about right there. G's wife made a fabulous soup of garlic, onions, roasted/peeled sweet peppers, deep fried corn tortillas, avocado and lime that was absolutely heavenly. I ate until I wanted to pop. They also fed us fresh, homemade pasta with pesto and eggplant marinara sauces they jar themselves, and roasted sweet peppers stuffed with cheese. Their home was very cozy, with lots of 1970s-Sunset kinds of touches (high ceilinged bathroom the size of a bedroom with huge windows, all exposed wood, locally made ceramic sink, etc.). S didn't discuss any controversial family issues, and I didn't flinch whenever G referred to something that happened in S' childhood. There were no cocktail-related accidents. We stayed in a small guest house/potting shed with a wood burning stove, a loft, and an outdoor running-water bathroom and shower, paneled for privacy but with views of trees. I played with their friendliest dog, wrote in my journal while S went for a walk around the greenhouses, and fell asleep while everyone else was watching Cirque de Soleil shows on the generator-powered TV. (They'll have phones -- the ugly telephone poles have just been installed on their dirt road and on their property -- and likely wired electricity in their area soon.) They were not only kind enough to make vegetarian meals during our stay, but packed us off with a crate of fresh produce they've grown, including fresh, sweet carrots, leeks, zucchini, butternut and acorn squash, two sacks of peppers (one hot, one sweet and sweet-hot), and several bottles of the hot sauce they bottle themselves ad sell locally.

TRAVELS TO FAR, FAR, FAR NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: RETURN. On the way home, we stopped in Eureka again to visit one of S' friends and eat at Amiga's Burritos. Mmmm. Burritos.

wine country vineyard colorsThe wine country was beautiful to pass through in both directions. The vines are turning red and gold. It's quite lovely.

FOOD EXPERIMENTS. I tried making a cornmeal crust pizza topped with lightly stir fried leeks, zucchini, garlic, smoked gouda, and tomato sauce. It was pretty good, but the crust need some adjustments.

I had S roast some of the large, long, green poblano-like peppers his father had given us, peel them, stuff them with pepper jack cheese, and bake them until the cheese was melted. I served that with a hot black bean salsa. That was HEAVENLY. I may provide instructions for that at some point. Maybe. Everything else I've made has been described here earlier, especially those wonderful feta quiches.

SO. My hand is going to fall off, so I'll stop for now.
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:38 AM

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