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Monday, October 31, 2005


Halloween 2005 - Costume Gallery

jellyfish costumeThis was another ambitious costume year. Last year's fish costume set a high standard, and I wanted to continue using a sea creature theme. (Because.) I decided I wanted to be a jellyfish.

I had never seen a convincing jellyfish costume on Halloween, and that should have served as a warning to me. At the left is the costume (though it's short one boa). The jelly body is made of heavyweight drafting mylar, which worked beautifully - even without the fabric covering, it looked like jellyfish I've found on the beach. However, ON me it looked like a very odd hat. Which wasn't the effect I was after.

monster costumeSo, for Halloween, knowing that everyone would expect me to come to work in the jellyfish costume I'd talked so much about, I came in as a furry monster. This is a costume that S bought years ago, with enormous rubber hands (not visible) and feet (not worn). It was a little cold in the office, so it was even a comfortable temperature most of the day! I left the head and gloves on only long enough to puzzle people, but then went the rest of the day wearing the big, furry body. (This caused some hilarity in the bathroom, when someone noticed my enormous, furry legs under the stall door.)

The monster costume was a great success. I got honks, waves, and laughter all the way to the shuttle stop. No one would sit beside me on the ride in, while my fellow commuters tried to pretend that all was normal, which was unusually satisfying. And at the end of the day, S was waiting for me at the shuttle stop. The big hug I gave him, and the sight of us walking away, hand-in-monsterhand, caused great hilarity behind us. [My shuttle driver advised me later that I need to work on my growl.] The mask terrified our younger trick-or-treaters, though, so I had to remove it to prevent tears.

Next year, I want to be a red and white brittle star. I have a plan for that, but I think I'll need to start in April, and visit my father to use his fancy sewing machine.
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:13 PM


Halloween 2005 - Pumpkin Gallery

jack-o-lanternIn addition to last weekend's group carving event, S and I each had two more pumpkins to carve on Halloween.

It's one of the more satisfying holiday crafts. (I used to like stringing cranberries and popcorn onto string to put on the tree, but since we don't put it outside for the birds, it seems like a waste of good cranberries to me now.)

jack-o-lanternjack-o-lanternjack-o-lanternthick-walled pumpkinThis was a year of very thick-walled pumpkins. It was hard to get my hand inside some of them to clear enough space for the candle!
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Why I should go vegan, part 342

So, after my fascination with the office's "fat free half and half," I turned my attention to the purported "half and half" which comes in tiny, single serving containers which do not require refrigeration.

I'm okay with asceptically sealed containers. I have often purchased silken tofu in little, sealed boxes, or soy milk, and have no problems. So I'm not entirely alarmed about putting a dairy product in a little, round, plastic box. Yet... cream is something that spoils so easily. Butter never seems to come this way, and people would LOVE to carry butter around in little sealed containers, so they could do really silly things like put it on rice in Asian restaurants. (You think I'm joking about that, but my east-coast raised mother and midwest-raised father put butter on EVERYTHING, including white rice. And long-grain white rice was the only kind of rice they knew of, incidentally.) What, I wondered, could be preventing the little containers of half and half from spoiling?

Well, there are a few options. The ingredients, which are not displayed on the little containers but which can be found on the massive box the containers come in, are as follows:

*half and half
*sodium citrate
*Tetra sodium pyrophosphate

Well! Perhaps it's those last four ingredients. I used the best encyclopedia in the world, Wikipedia, to interpret this ingredient list.

Sodium citrate is a sour salt, used as a preservative. This might explain the sour aftertaste that put me off this product. It's also used in blood banks as an anticoagulent! Gosh.

Wikipedia explains that DATEM is Di-Acetyl Tartrate Ester of Monoglyceride, which is an emulsifier.

Sodium pyrophosphate - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Sodium pyrophosphate is used as a buffer, an emulsifier, and a thickening agent, and is often used as a food additive. Common foods containing sodium pyrophosphate include chicken nuggets, marshmallows, imitation crab, and soy-based meat alternatives.
And it's used in toothpaste, where it removes calcium from saliva to prevent tartar buildup. Oh my.

I already know that carageenan is a thickener from seaweed.

So, now I know what this stuff is. And I know why it has a sour taste that keeps me from using it! But learning this just makes me so glad I bring little boxes of soymilk into the office. Which raises a few questions about my relationship with dairy, which I'll save to discuss another time.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:49 PM

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Pumpkin goodness. I eat a lot of winter squash, and I eat it many different ways. I've been trying to work up a list of my favorite winter squash dishes, and this is what I have so far:

* Pumpkin bread
* Pumpkin cookies
* Pumpkin cupcakes
* Pumpkin curry, Indian (with coconut milk, green chilies, turmeric, etc.)
* Pumpkin curry, Thai (with coconut milk, red curry paste, etc.)
* Pumpkin enchiladas with pepper jack cheese (with either chipotle sauce or tomato salsa)
* Pumpkin ice cream
* Pumpkin parathas (stuffed, fried Indian flatbread, with ginger, garlic, and spices)
* Pumpkin pie
* Pumpkin ravioli with sage brown butter
* Pumpkin scones
* Pumpkin soup, Tibetan (with onions, ginger, cinnamon, and chili peppers)
* Pumpkin tamales with white cheddar (I buy these at Rainbow; they are really good)
* Pumpkin tempura
* Pumpkin with leeks and garlic, baked in parchment.

I'm sure there's something I'm missing. A colleague advised me that there's something called "pumpkin butter," which is a spread the way "apple butter" is, but I've never seen it.


I'm writing "pumpkin," because it's such a nice name. But I rarely use actual, orange pumpkins in these recipes. Sugar pumpkins are tasty, but there are so many other wonderful squash!

Instead of pumpkins, I use (by volume):

* Butternut squash (the large, creamy colored, male-member-shaped ones)
* Delicata (the small, cream-and-orange or cream-and-green striped ones, mostly oval shapes)
* Blue Hokkaido (often gray)
* Hubbard (pumpkin-shaped, but blue-green, with yellow flesh that's a little blue around the edges)
* Acorn (shapely, deep green to orange, with well-defined lobes and yellow flesh)
* Kabocha (looks a lot like Hubbard)
* Red Kuri (large, hot red-orange, and a little pointy at the bottom).

I'd like to use the one called "Turk's Turban," but I'm under the impression it looks cooler than it tastes.

I also eat a lot of spaghetti squash, which is a large, yellow, oval shaped squash whose insides are wonderfully spaghetti-like when cooked. I serve the squash like spaghetti, in a tomato sauce with cheese, or bake the spaghetti part as I would a lasagna, complete with tofu-ricotta, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. I'm not including it with the other winter squash, because it's not quite as versatile - just as wonderful, but I wouldn't make a dessert pie with it.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:30 PM

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

There's something awfully luxurious about eating baked potatoes with either olive oil, butter, and/or sour cream, covered with a heavy sprinkling of chives we grew ourselves.

(We didn't plant as many potatoes this year, so we haven't had a big crop. Next year we'll make more room in the garden and try again!)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:28 PM

Monday, October 24, 2005

Nepali food.There's something about the chill in the air and the recently full moon that has me thinking about my trek in Nepal back in 1997. And, of course, the food I ate there.

In particular, I was thinking about a fried onion soup we used to have during the trek, one with very thin noodles, which was unimaginably delicious on a cold, snowy night after 7 hours of hiking at high altitude. It was, at that moment, in its glorious, rich onioniness, the best soup in the world.

Hiking can do that, but it was REALLY good soup. It's been eight years, and I can STILL remember how satisfying that soup was.

And then there was the Bhutanese restaurant in Katmandu. On our first or second night in town, before the trek, we went to eat at a place I'd never be able to find again, since we got there on darkened streets with few landmarks. Our trekking group divided up into omnivores and herbivores, and each half of the long table was filled with wonders: steaming vegetable soup in a bundt-pan-like cooker that was piping hot; fabulous spinach, potato and cheese dumplings in a wonderful sauce; fried veggies, with every bite packing unusual and wonderful taste combinations...

And breakfast at the Garden Hotel. My favorite breakfast was a spicy fried potato dish and a big, pale glass full of thick lassi (a sweetened yogurt drink). I remember that one of our trip leaders thought my choice of a local dairy product was unwise, but I wanted the local friendly bacteria on my side, and am still convinced that the yogurt protected me from regional dairy perils throughout my journey.

And then the onion soup on the trek. And the fried potatoes on the trail. And the yak-milk-cheese, skip that memory, those were kind of disagreeable. Instead, I'll think of the hot tea every morning at sunrise, served in the opening of our tent to try to warm us enough to dress and come out to breakfast in the big, group tent.

Or the apple-turnovers at the "German" bakery in Namche Bazaar, a few days hike from Everest Base Camp.

My trek was probably the only trip I've taken where I can say that I lost 15 pounds BUT had fabulous food at every meal but one. (That evil meal was the final trek meal, consisting of a mysterious soup which turned out to be cream of chicken. I threw up all night, and was too woosy to do much eating when I got to Thailand two days later) Throughout the trek, our activity level outstripped our dietary intake daily, leaving me exhausted and trembling every night. It just wasn't possible to eat enough, and I returned home weak and a unusually thin.


There's a Himalayan restaurant in town, near one of my friend's new apartments, and I am DETERMINED to eat there soon.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:53 PM

Sunday, October 23, 2005

group photograph of carved jack-o-lanterns

A Halloween pumpkin-carving celebration menu:

-pumpkin enchiladas (with or without pepper jack cheese) in smoky chipotle sauce
-corn and black bean salad in chipotle vinaigrette
-black bean and cheese layered dip
-chips and spicy salsa
-organic grapefruit soda with a couple shots of vodka
-butternut squash (like a pumpkin) pie
-pumpkin ice cream.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:59 PM

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Apple trees have been fine without my genes or yours for millennia, so this is ridiculous. I needed to find a poem that I was going to parody, and wound up finding someone else's parody on a strange, food-related topic.

Transgenic Tombstones: Plan for Human DNA/Tree Splice [Archive] - Rapture Ready Message Board reported on a May 2004 story that people who are wealthy and gullible can pay to have their departed loved one's genes spliced into trees.

Which makes no sense at all, "living memorial" ad line or not.

Anyway, the poem at the bottom of the page is a riot. Tiny sample:
Oh, apple tree, oh apple tree!
The apples made transgenically
At Thanksgiving the family
Will have a pie with genes of me!
Go read the rest of it.

What was that? As a matter of fact, there are several of us with sick senses of humor who type fast enough to crank this sort of thing out - it's not just that we have idle hands. :-)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:37 PM

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bad news. Latest Developments in Spread of Bird Flu - New York Times (, 10/19=05).
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:23 PM

EU Agency Sees No Need to Panic Over Bird Flu - New York Times (nytimes/reuters, 10/19/05)
"For the time being there is no reason to panic in Europe,'' said Zsuzsanna Jakab, head of the EU's Stockholm-based European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). "The risk for citizens to have this virus is minimal,'' she told a news conference....

Her center recommended, however, that people properly cook eggs and bird meat. "If they take these precautionary measures the risk will be practically non-existent,'' Jakab said.
Until reading this, I had no idea that people who eat birds or eggs were at risk.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:22 PM

Revenge of the Chicken. China: 2, 600 Birds Found Dead of Bird Flu (nytimes/ap, 10/19/05)
The dead birds in China were found in a breeding facility in Tengjiaying, a village near Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia region, the official Xinhua news agency reported. They were infected by the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus, Xinhua said. It did not give any further details.

"The epidemic is under control,'' Xinhua said.
A breeding facility, with 2,600 birds. Hmm. Why do I get the terrible feeling that the industrial farming techniques that humans use is the cause of these pandemics and panics?

Mad cow is caused by human industrial agriculture - cows wouldn't naturally eat sheep brains, after all, and that's the way cows get it. Thousands of birds, kept it close quarters and unsanitary conditions, shipped around the world... if ever there was a way to spread a pandemic among animals that humans commonly use, that sounds like it.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:21 PM

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What's the other half? I'd mentioned a month or two ago that I was fascinated by a supermarket beverage which appears in the office refrigerator called "nonfat half and half." For those of you unfamiliar with "half and half" it is half milk and half light cream, coming to 10 to 12 percent butterfat, and is often used in the place of heavy cream in recipes or in coffee. "Nonfat half and half" can't really exist: it's like nonfat butter, when butter is defined by its fat content.

These are the actual ingredients to so-called "nonfat half and half:"

  • nonfat milk
  • milk
  • corn syrup solids
  • artificial color ("not normally found in half and half")
  • sugar
  • dipotassium phosphate
  • sodium citrate
  • mono- and diglycerides (it's unclear how many ingredients this item includes)
  • carrageenan
  • natural & artificial flavors (again, multiple ingredients)
  • vitamin A palimate
One alarming premise is that makers of this product claim that ONLY artificial color is "not ordinarily found in half and half." However, a search for half and half generates results like this one from which states that "Half and half is a commercial dairy product that consists of half milk and half light cream." That looks like two ingredients to me.

I tried this to be brave, mixed in two different types of coffee. It wasn't really possible to identify it as a dairy product, aside from a strange aftertaste. I don't recommend it.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:09 PM

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Autumnal feelings and favorite soups. More of the non-local trees are going leafless, which makes it feel even more like fall than the storm currently blowing over. Though the weather has confused a few plants - magnolias and succulents are blooming randomly around town, and calla lilies are coming up early - the air has a crispness which hints that winter is on the way.

Winter, such as we have it, that is.

Half Moon Bay, the foggy coastside area with record-breaking pumpkins, has held its annual fall competition. Pumpkin season is upon us, and I'm ready to acquire a wheelbarrow full of them again, and hold a carving party here at home. We've nearly finished off our second butternut pie, and I'm ready to move into apple territory. It's also time to revisit favorite soups.


My top soups:

  • Tupka, a Tibetan noodle soup with ginger, garlic, tomatoes, noodles, and spinach. The Kopan Cookbook has a fabulous recipe.
  • Kale and potato soup with red chili, from the Greens Cookbook. There are perhaps 5 ingredients, but this soup is one of the best there is.
  • Roasted squash and tomato soup, a puree of oven-roasted veggies that make your whole house smell edible.
  • Yellow split-pea dal soup from Simple and delicious.
  • Harissa, a Middle Eastern soup popular during Ramadan, with lentils, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and spices (including cinnamon) from Vegetarian Times Cooks Mediterranean.
  • Dal from the Kopan Cookbook.
  • Pancotto, a fresh tomato, basil, and garlic soup with diced bread. The bread poofs up into tender dumpling-like delicacies. It's a perfect summer night soup.
  • Minestrone with rosemary pesto, from the Best 125 Meatless Pasta Dishes.
  • Rahmen with fresh veggies. The oily fried noodles are what make it good - I usually toss the dry soup base packet. Greens, chilies, onions, and spices make it satisfying. The best brands are from China and Thailand, and come with wet spices that are worth using, in addition to the common dry powder packet.
  • Miso. This is only low on the list because I haven't had any in the house for a few months, but while it's here, I have it all the time. With garlic, ginger, tofu, and greens, it becomes really hearty.
In restaurants, I enjoy Tom Kha J (a Thai soup of coconut milk, galangal, and lemongrass soup with vegetables), Tom Yum J (a Thai soup with a clear, red broth with lemongrass and veggies), miso soup with tofu and seaweed (be warned that most restaurants add powdered fish to make it saltier), and hot and sour (a thickened, clear, Chinese soup with shredded tofu, carrots, greens, and a touch of vinegar). I like rasam in small doses. There's a bean broth with deep fried tofu served by a local Mexican restaurant which is also quite delightful, but best in small doses.

Last fall's most memorable soup was made by one of S' relatives. It consisted of onions, garlic, fresh roasted peppers (home grown!), (possibly tomatoes), and deep fried corn tortilla chips, which were added after the soup was served. It was amazingly, addictively good. I'll need to learn how to make it.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:34 AM

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Definitions. S was watching the baseball playoffs on television, and heard an ad for a fast food sandwich chain. The ad included a comment " a [brand] restaurant..."

S remarked: "I don't think of [brand] as a restaurant. A restaurant has both service and food."

Ouch. I think it's a fair definition, but harsh by low modern standards.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:42 PM

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

the bow of a ship, in a monochrome brown print with yellow highlightsVandyke Printing Experiments, days 1 & 2. I've been such a good blogger, and have refrained from posting images larger than thumbnails... But I'm feeling bold today, or my eyes are tired of squinting, and so I'm linking to an unusually large image "for science."

I've been playing in the laBORatory again.

I've added a new gallery at my portfolio site: | vandykes - toned & untoned, which displays my first two days of printing experiments with another antique print making process. It's a brown-printing process (as you can see from this sample), and with the solution I'm using, it naturally prints rather yellow. I'm mystified by that - most of the images I've seen clear to white in the unexposed areas. However, most printers who use this technique use an archival treatment of gold, selenium, or other stable metals to replace the vulnerable silver in this process, and those "protective toning" processes often result in a colder, whiter color.

In this particular gallery, I've posted pairs of images from my two printing sessions so far. The first set is brown with a white background, representing images which have been soaked in a solution of gold chloride and potassium thiocyanate. The second set is a higher contrast brown-and-yellow version of the same images, printed at a different time, which give an idea of what the prints look like without the gold treatment. (I changed paper for the second set, and the solution had aged a bit, and I think the two factors account for contrast differences. I've also trimmed the yellow images to a slightly different size.)

You can read more about the technical aspects of this process, and see samples of the work of experienced vandyke printmakers, at
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:23 PM

Another good Thai restaurant. Yesterday, we went out to celebrate a surprise honor bestowed on me at work. We went to Siam Dish Thai Restaurant at 757 Monterey, which is a longish walk from our house, or a medium-long walk from Glen Park BART.

It was quite good.

The menu was extremely vegetarian-friendly: in addition to the dedicated vegetarian section, announcements throughout the menu pointed out which dishes could be made vegetarian. This is the sort of thing that always thrills me - it's great to have such a large range of choices.

We had veggie egg rolls/spring rolls, which were filled with fresh mushrooms, noodles, and other tasty things and deep fried. The rolls were large, and came with a tasty, sweet red sauce. We chose eggplant with garlic, green beans, and peppers, which was slightly salty and just the right texture, and Panang curry, which was orange and had a pleasant, peppery edge to it. We didn't want to leave any of the sauce, and so we actually finished ALL of our rice, for once. I had a Thai iced coffee, and left feeling very full. S had wanted the fried banana with ice cream for dessert, but knew he couldn't finish it on his own. But we'll try next time.

The service was super-friendly, and the dining room (in the rear of the restaurant) was cheery and comfortable. We'll definitely eat there again.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:15 PM

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Bread in translation. There's a small, local cafe that recently changed hands, where simple, tasty sandwiches can be had for reasonable prices. S likes to go there. He is partial to sandwiches made on a bread roll known as "Dutch Crunch." My understanding is that the roll is lightly brushed with a watery syrup of dissolved sugar, which evaporates when baked and leaves a crunchy, cracked surface. (I was going to call it "a weak solution of sugar," but that would suggest I've spent too long in the darkroom, mixing my own chemistry, and I'm not ready to admit to that.)

While the new staff at the cafe has Dutch Crunch, S is quite distracted by the fact that he sees the counterperson writing down his order. Each time it is written down as "Touch crunch." He keeps overemphasizing the D, so that the order taker will absorb the true name of the bread. His efforts are in vain.

This is nowhere near as disturbing as "flavor coffee" (rather than flavored coffee) or "shave ice" (which is a command; shaved ice is a dessert). "Touch crunch," while technically inaccurate, is at least novel. Perhaps it is crunchy to the touch. Perhaps it isn't really Dutch, the way French fries are actually Belgian. But once the current name of the bread is lost, we may wind up as cranky old people who scream at kids for calling it "touché crunch" someday.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:02 PM

Monday, October 10, 2005

DECADENCE. Dinner: pasta with marinated artichoke hearts and ripe avocados. (And fresh pepper.) So easy, so rich.

Dessert: strawberry ice cream.


We went to a conventional grocery store last night on the way home from a Buddhist teaching, and wound up buying two tubs of ice cream. They are "Breyers" brand, which is my favorite national/store brand of ice cream. But they didn't have my favorite type of vanilla, so we also bought two containers of whipped cream to go with the two butternut pies currently in the fridge. (Me? Hormonal? Why do you ask? And what's HIS excuse?)

Amazingly enough, there ARE national brands of ice cream worth eating. Or, at least one.
Ingredients: milk, strawberries, sugar, cream, natural flavor.
Notice the absence of gums and chemicals? Yes. It gives the ice cream a very simple texture and flavor that the gums and other emulsifying additives can't have.

Oddly, they now have a flavor called "extra creamy vanilla" which has LOTS of different gums in it. For people who want that odd, artificial texture that frozen cream doesn't give on its own, I guess. (They could have called it, "extra gummy vanilla," but then people would expect gummi creatures... [This makes me think of "custard-style yogurt," which was in vogue when I was younger. They took soft yogurt, and added... gelatin. An animal byproduct to make an otherwise nice dairy product non-vegetarian. That trend didn't do much for me.]
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:37 PM

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Official NaNoWriMo 2005 ParticipantNovember is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) A friend sent me an e-mail this week, reminding me of how much fun we had sending each other encouraging messages at odd hours last November while (successfully) attempting to write 50,000 word novels. Last year was rather wild: even though I wasn't working at the law firm, S and I took a long trip to Redwood National Park, spontaneously visited a relative of his for several days, and spent the Thanksgiving holidays with my folks -- all without access to a laptop or computer, so that my story came to a grinding halt for long periods of time.

Yet, it all worked out. I crossed the minimum word count, did some light continuity editing which pushed it even higher, beat the deadline by more than a day, and had a blast at the Thank God Its Over party, with my staunch supporter S wearing a special 'Author Groupie' name tag made up by the organizers.

Against my better judgment (which never leads to fun anyway), I've reactivated my NaNoWriMo account. I plan to restructure and restart a story I had started a few years ago, but which immediately veered so hard from light comedy toward interstellar war that I am convinced I need to start over.

I hereby heartily encourage each of you (yes, you!) to exorcise the demons of untold fictional tales haunting you by signing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) at If nothing else, it provides abundant author forums with hysterically horrific 'worst opening lines' and amazingly and intentionally poor dialogue, so you'll have fun doing nothing but procrastinating for the entire month. (This may be the only creative group exercise I have participated in which procrastination is actually encouraged and technologically supported.)
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:27 PM

As expected, the Bicycle Film Festival was Fabulous. As a concession to the fact that I'm still ill, I only took in TWO programs from the BFF during it's run at SF's Victoria Theater.

A Sunday In Hell is a 1973 documentary by Dane Jorgen Leth about the Paris-Robaix rode bike race, featuring the legendary Eddie Merckx in action. It is pure agony. Sure, the Paris countryside is lovely, nearly everyone has an devastatingly embarrassing 1970s haircut, and little slo-mo details of spectator activity and people trying to edge themselves into the camera are a riot. But just watching this road ride made my body hurt. OH MY GAWD. It's a mean, mean, cruel, masochistic race that almost makes the Tour de France look civilized.

The digitized film was in poor shape, and the extensive French commentary by officials and passersby was not subtitled, but it was still a great film experience.

Adventure High is the digital travel documentary of 5 Estonians who bike through the Gobi Desert, the valleys of Western China, the passes of Tibet, and the stark valleys of Nepal. I'm still absorbing all of the imagery, and S and I are still marveling at the scenes and comments. This is a great buddy film; a great look at how stark high altitude landscapes can be; and a completely unglamorous, realistic description of how harsh treks can be while still being worthwhile, memorable, adventures of a lifetime. Bonuses: Estonian drinking songs; amusing transitions from unwashed hairy trekkers to cafe patrons in new, custom-tailored suits; and a make-your-own-wilderness-sauna demonstration!

These were wonderful films, and the short that makes up the trailer for the Fest is a strange delight.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:07 PM

Artistic photos of clear-cut forests are depressing. S and I went to the opening night party for SFMOMA | Robert Adams: Turning Back, A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration (, a photography exhibit in which Adams retraces portions of the return trip of the Lewis & Clark expedition, and photographs the stark reality that we've really screwed up the landscape since then.

Rooms of clear, sharp, harshly lit black and white images of clear-cut wastes that were once forests are very discouraging. It didn't help that S and I were both really tired. But when we left, we had a long, sad discussion about how we're the only animals completely intent on ruining our health through environmental destruction, which may eventually threaten all life on earth.

If you can handle that kind of train of thought and that much devastation of the natural world concentrated into images that way, you should go see the exhibit.


The evening had started out on a much happier note. Earlier we had a very satisfying dinner at Pazzia on Third Street near Folsom. We had the mozzarella and fresh tomato salad (mmmm); I had fusilli melanzane, those corkscrew pasta with roasted eggplant, whole milk mozzarella, and a light tomato sauce; S had the lasagna, and miraculously saved room for the fluffy, wonderful cheesecake...

Really, it's a tribute to the Adams photos that we could have such a great dinner, and then go home despairing for the human race.

But art can be like that.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:55 PM

Sympathy? Now that my sabbatical has been over for a few months, I've been getting sympathetic messages from former colleagues. I appreciate the messages, even if I don't entirely understand them.

When I left my law firm employer shortly after my tenth anniversary in the spring of 2004, I announced I was taking a 3-month "sabbatical." I had to quit to do this, because that employer didn't believe in staff sabbaticals, but "sabbatical" describes a sort of study break from a career program, and that's what I planned, complete with a list of goals and projects. But once my sabbatical extended and I didn't return, my colleagues decided I was doing something else entirely. I've now been told that I was actually trying to get rich on my art projects (!) so I'd never have to work again, or I was off "finding myself" and unsure about what I should do in life - and accordingly receive sympathy because my plans "didn't work out," as evidenced by the fact that I'm employed again.

Analogy: I feel like I had a lot of physical therapy done for my tendonitis, and people feel bad for me because I didn't get pregnant. It's that kind of disconnect. What can I say? They mean well. But if I tell them I wasn't trying to get pregnant, and they are so certain that's what I was trying to do, it's "Poor, childless Arlene is trying to be so brave!" :-)


My two favorite comments when I left were from colleagues who were paying a bit more attention. One wished me well on my "retirement" and advised me that my colleagues would live vicariously through my freedom, so I'd better have some fun. I hadn't really thought about the impact that leaving the firm would have on others, so I'm glad he pointed it out to me. I now feel something of a duty to wind up happy in another place, just to prove it can be done, contrary to the company propaganda!! The other advised that she had absolutely no understanding of what these pursuits were that I was so determined to pursue, but if I was happy pursuing them, she is happy for me.

Who could ask for more?

If I were more dedicated to my colleagues, I would "take one for the team" and get rich to satisfy their expectations. :-) But I'm afraid that's not my style.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:31 PM

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Now the office ailment is after me! After weeks of struggling, I finally think I'm beating bronchitis, and now the cold that people have at work is beginning to get to me. And I've been low on garlic and out of parsley, so I haven't been making soothing pots of garlic soup (or even miso) to nurse myself back to health.

I'm still 'off my feed,' with little appetite or interest in food most days. It's disturbing, but I could use to lose a few pounds, so I'm not very concerned. If I needed the food, I'd be eating more of it. (That 'feed a fever, starve a cold' stuff is nonsense, but if you're too sick to be interested in food, it's okay to cut back. I've been good about staying hydrated, at least.)


In anticipation of pumpkin (well, butternut) pies, S went out and bought some locally made ice cream from one of our favorite places. I was rather discouraged to read the ingredients: fresh cream, milk, nonfat milk, sugar (okay so far!), corn sweetener, pure vanilla extract, and then less than "total less than 3/10 of 1%" of mono and diglycerdes, guar gum, polysorbate 80, cellulose gum, and carageenan. Why is this small, family-sized ice cream business adding such weird things (even in small amounts) to their products?

The glycerides are highly heated oils and glycerin, which may be used to keep foods from separating.

Guar gum is an emulsifier and thickener.

The polysorbate 80 is used to make ice cream fluffier.

Cellulose gum is a thickener, and may keep ice cream from forming ice crystals, if I understand the tech-speak about it.

Carageenan is a seaweed-based thickener, which "stabilizes" ice cream, supposedly helping it maintain its texture if it is thawed and refrozen.

I know they're using really tiny amounts of these things, but I also know from making home made ice cream that they're not necessary ingredients. Maybe "necessary" if you're running a large business and have a lot of inventory that might be delivered under less-than-idea conditions. But not necessary to eat.

If you think I'm looking for an excuse to buy an ice cream maker, you may be right.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, October 03, 2005

Actual instructions on package of uninteresting cookies purchased by S: "Microwave for warm cookies."
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:24 PM

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The smell of a butternut squash baking in the oven. Mmmmm. The smell of photographs clearing in hypo in the sink. *cough* A wet storm was predicted for San Francisco today, so of course I woke up just before sunrise, realized I could see the horizon through a clear sky, and ran down to the garage to prepare some paper for my first ever attempts at Vandyke printing, another antique iron silver process. The sun was kind enough to stay out most of the morning, so I had nearly 3 hours of light for use in sun printing. (The sun came out again later, when I was sleeping off the affects of my prescription cough medication.) This one prints in brown, and can be toned to grey, violet, or black. I hope to be able to make attractive brown and black prints, and plan to handcolor toned prints with vivid watercolors.

tiny brown and yellow image of the bell of the ship Balclutha The experiments are drying on a line in the garage right now, and aren't too promising. When first printed they're an amazing red-brown over yellow (see my terrible little thumbnail on the left, showing a print just after exposure); when developed in water, they are slightly less red; when cleared in hypo, they fade to a flat brown, but the yellow doesn't want to go away. I'm a bit mystified by that: the instructions I've compared from several sources all mention the print rinsing cleanly, yet mine soaked and rinsed for more than an hour, far longer than suggested, in acidic water, and are still vividly yellow. I'm using Canson Montval, a paper I've used with success for cyanotypes, so it's not just a problem with the ferric ammonium citrate fighting the paper.

Hmm. Well, this is my first try, and I still get to experiment with toning them into more neutral colors, so we'll see if they clean up at that point. (I have my doubts...)


blue and white image of striped foliage While I won't be posting my Vandyke experiments soon, I have some other images to share. I've posted a new set of cyanotypes at | foliage in blue, a set of images I'm quite pleased with. They're all from the same printing session, and most of the images were shot on the same day, with the express purpose of printing them as cyanotypes. I'm very pleased with the results.

I have also revised my small set of kallitype experiments at | kallitypes. I made these while experimenting with the Photographer's Formulary kallitype kit, but was too busy having fun and printing little experimental swatches of no artistic merit to generate a proper portfolio of images with any one of the three developer recipes I used. I'm going to take some time and consider what images would make the best set for either the brown or black developer recipes (which I enjoy very much), and then see if I have an opportunity to print a half dozen more images to post. (A link to my kallitype kit review at was posted here in September, but here it is again if you missed it.)


The butternut squash has been in the oven for an hour, and the whole house smells WONDERFUL. I should go check on it...
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:20 PM

Saturday, October 01, 2005

October Farmer's Market: The leaves on my neighbor's plum tree are gone, having decided that autumn arrived this week. Fall is my favorite season, despite marking the decline of summer's wonderful fruit, and I've been looking forward to enjoying all of my favorite winter squash.

As an added bonus, it's pomegranate time! PERFECT, enormous, juicy, bright red pomegranates are abundant right now, and I'm thrilled. Even though eating one is more of a ritual than salvation from hunger, I still find it delightful. I feel bad for distant relatives who have never been able to try one of these gloriously messy delicacies.

It's also nut time. I'm still amazed at how complicated walnuts are, not just their elaborate structures within their shell, but the fact that the shell comes embedded in an odd looking fruit... Fresh walnuts are available, along with fresh peanuts and the new crop of almonds right now at the market.

This week I chose:
-3 baskets of strawberries
-enormous pomegranates
-avocados (not always available, even though they're locally grown: I suspect the growers subscribe to distribution arrangements that are easier than hauling their fruit to market)
-butternut squash
-cranberry-like beans, white with red speckles, in white-with-red-speckles pods
-romaine lettuce
-red and yellow ruffled tomatoes
-red plums
-a green and white variegated pumpkin with 12 lobes, quite lovely
-yellow sweet onions (they've been very good this year)
-crinkly, long red sweet peppers
-Indian delicacies from Sukhi's (parathas and spreads).

I'm trying to work up the energy to bake my first butternut squash pie of the season, but I've been exhausted all day. Perhaps my body is finally beating whatever has been ailing me. Perhaps I'm tried from getting up before the sun to prepare some emulsions for sun printing during this morning's break in the weather. Or from staying up nearly to midnight preparing digital negatives for sun printing. Either way, I've had two LONG naps today, and should have the energy to bake a pie.

This week's menu will surely include: that butternut pie (it has an even nicer flavor than sugar pumpkin; vegan); a pumpkin curry with rice; summery salads like we are having for dinner tonight; a Mediterranean lasagna; deviled tofu sandwiches on 9 grain (for my lunch, with celery and sprouts); a lightly marinated potato or pasta salad; a yellow split pea soup with Indian spices; quesadillas with sauteéd red peppers and onions... And whatever else I think up. Maybe a celery soup. Maybe a cornbread stuffing, since it's that season.
posted by Arlene (Beth)4:29 PM

Now I'll need to find another favorite pizza place. A certain neighborhood pizza restaurant, which has been on my "recommended" restaurant list for several years and whose name begins with a G, will be disappearing from that page shortly.

S was ready to stop using them after an incident in which I kept repeating "artichoke heart" but the inattentive order taker insisted on writing "anchovies," and the three hour debacle which followed. I had a little more faith that they were just having a bad night, but it turns out whoever is running the place has changed the once-great sauce to an average one, and now uses fewer toppings. So my last two pizzas there (including the very late replacement pizza) were both below average.

An odd aside: the folks running it now have decided to begin serving breakfast (!), which is a bit pricey for the neighborhood at about $9 for an omelete, which doesn't even appear to come with potatoes. There is one intriguing thing on their breakfast menu: the "rustica," a baked casserole of ear-shaped pasta with potatoes, onions, sage, and fontina. It sounds like a sort of breakfast lasagna. A very starchy breakfast lasagna. I might be inspired to try some homemade variations of that (though likely not for breakfast).
posted by Arlene (Beth)4:00 PM

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