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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Voting is still unreliable in the U.S. Get It Straight By 2008 (
18,382 votes were LOST by paperless voting machines in one Florida House race this year. That's one in seven of the votes cast there JUST GONE because electronic voting machines left no paper record!? The Republican candidate only won by 368 votes.

Common Cause is jumping in, demanding outside tests of the machines and a revote. Learn more about the Florida situation.
I have many friend here in California who are unconcerned about voting irregularities anywhere beyond their own precinct, which I will never understand. . . Having any part of our democracy based on shaky, unreliable, unfair systems weakens the entire country.

Absolutely everyone who votes should have the right to have their vote count.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:44 PM

Dosas. I really love dosas (or dhosas), the southern Indian dish that is something like a spicy, lentil-based tortilla filled with spiced potatoes and other marvellous fillings. So I decided to try to make them.

Many of the recipes on line seem to have come from the same source: they use the exact same wording, leave out the same few mystery steps, use the exact same measurements, etc. My experiment was largely based on the top Wikipedia link for dosa recipes (which I'm not going to link to here, because it didn't work for me), and seemed representative.

The result was tasted okay, but wasn't quite like the dosas I eat in restaurants. The texture to the dosa was much heavier and crunchier, and the filling was less interesting.

There may be a few reasons for this. I used black urad dal rather than white urad dal, which I couldn't acquire (black was recommended by a book I read for this particular purpose, and so I wasn't concerned at the time I purchased them). Soaking the rice and lentils in water and then attempting to grind them into a very smooth paste wasn't very effectual - the uncooked texture remained, and the batter was never completely smooth. (It might be easier to by garam flour and rice flour and make batter from that, than to smoothly grind the soaked, whole, raw versions. The restaurant versions are completely smooth, and very yellow-white, like fine cornmeal.) The fermenting step had very little noticeable affect, possibly because of the cold weather this time of year. The filling for the masala dosa was also completely different from the filling I was trying to match, which is no surprise: everyone has their own personal, secret restaurant, and no two Indian restaurants I've been to have exactly the same style. I just need a recipe closer to the particular favorite version I want. The final result was interesting, but too much work for something that didn't resemble the particular addictive dosa I wanted closely enough.

I think this is an excuse to eat out again. :-)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Friday, December 29, 2006


The FDA has approved using cloned animals and animal products made by cloned animals, despite widespread public opposition.

If ever there was a time to consider going vegan, I would have to say that now is it.

Despite Lack of Science and Strong Public Concern, FDA Okays Food From Cloned Animals (, 12/28/06):
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a preliminary safety assessment that clears the way for marketing of meat and dairy products from cloned animals for human consumption. The assessment and the agency's endorsement of cloned food comes despite widespread concern among scientists and food safety advocates over the safety of such products. The move to market cloned milk and meat also flies in the face of dairy and food industry concern and recent consumer opinion polls showing that most Americans do not want these experimental foods.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "since when has industry ever cared what consumers wanted?"

If you follow the link above, you'll read that cloned animals are still prone to sicknesses and overall weak health: if there is anything the food industry should not want, it is sick animals providing the national food supply. The link also provides information about a farmer who decided that cloned livestock were worth getting, but his have been experiencing unfortunate and unexplained health problems.

Of course, the problem with this entire discussion is that there may already be cloned animals involved in the food supply. FDA Issues Draft Documents on the Safety of Animal Clones (, which is the official press release on the subject, you'll notice that the subtitle is Agency Continues to Ask Producers and Breeders Not to Introduce Food from Clones into Food Supply. Not to tell them - just to ask them. Because producers could already be selling such products.

BBC NEWS | Americas | US body backs sale of cloned food (12/28/06) contained a quote that was met with some hilarity:
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that cloned cattle, pigs and goats produced food 'as safe as the food we eat every day'.
It was met with hilarity because, in a year with a variety of contamination recalls and similar scares, that wasn't the most reassuring thing to say.


I've read some interesting commentary on the subject from the public on various websites. For the most part, the general response has been disgust, and there is abundant industry concern because their own surveys have demonstrated that the public is non interested in buying or consuming products made by or with cloned animals. The most interesting comments have come from a few academic scientists, who may or may not be commenting on behalf of their employers (they didn't disclose their affiliations). There was a good set of comments on the Huffington website, which I can generally summarize as "science is good for you, you ignorant bastards."

It turned out that was just late in a nasty discussion that had gone downhill fast: the general theme was that, while the scientist wasn't necessarily in the food science business, that he considered opposition to any technology, regardless of whether or not it offered any benefit to anyone other than big business, to be inherently good, and that opposition to such products was based purely on ignorance or opposition to knowledge/science/technology/all that is good.

You can imagine your kid sister or brother rushing toward you with a syringe full of something they made with a home chemistry kit saying basically the same thing, can't you?

Science is swell, and has brought us many wondrous things, and a lot of crappy things that we still can't figure out how to get rid of. It is not a religion: we need not accept the inherent goodness of every scientific invention on faith. Penicillin is great; germ warfare is not so great; science brought us both. One of the most interesting aspects of the discussion about cloned animals is that no one can explain why they would benefit consumers. It just isn't mentioned. Perhaps because, so far as the immediate future is concerned, there are no benefits. A bunch of sickly copies of a healthy, high-milk-producing momma cow might put dollar signs into the eyes of a CEO for an agribusiness company somewhere, but who wants milk from a sick cow? Who wants antibiotic residues in their milk? Who wants to eat animals whose organs never really functioned properly, and who are prone to dying young? How is that supposed to appeal to me, no matter how many scientists were involved?

We live in a time when livestock products of all kinds (both flesh and dairy products) are so abundant that the prices have to be manipulated by the government to keep them from dropping too low; where industry is concerned because people are switching over to healthier, lower cholesterol, lower fat foods and away from those subsidized animal products; where abundance of rich foods is making people morbidly obese, and costing the nation billions in health care costs. Why on earth would we need MORE animals? More high-producing animals? Animals that provide more of the products we don't need?

Obviously, there is some future profit motive anticipated. But like so many new food technologies, it's hard to see how this could benefit the public, which has had so little faith in the food industry that it has been prone to believe fabulous urban legends about fast food chains making products out of mutant, featherless chickens and being forbidden to use the word "chicken" in their name as a result (

Organic foods are gaining the interest and dollars of the public, allowing the natural food specialty part of the market to grow about 20% each year. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the most recent past wave of 'revolutionary food science,' proved to offer so few benefits that GMO products have to be hidden in the food supply, and other nations cannot be persuaded to purchase them. It looks like cloned animals and animal products are riding against a tide toward natural foods, and toward the sort of sneaky, unlabeled presence that GMOs currently have - products that have so little to offer, that their makers have to hide their identities - and this may also be the fate of cloned animals, which are unnecessary, unethical (if the process causes animal suffering of any kind), and unappealing.

I'm going to check out some more vegan cookbooks.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:02 PM

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I hope you had a fabulous collection of winter holidays of whichever flavor you celebrate! Our rather pagan Christmas celebrations were quite pleasant. We relaxed, exchanged presents, cleaned house just a bit, and feasted.

This year's feast was pretty simple, so it didn't take too much of our time, but was fun to prepare together. I had already made a luscious vegan pumpkin pie (with a turban squash, one of those delightfully red-orange type of pumpkins with a green and white stripey bit near the end) the day before, along with a spinach, artichoke and feta quiche, which took care of lunch on Christmas, so we could lounge around even more! For the evening meal on Christmas day, we enjoyed:

-even more of our enormous turban squash, diced and baked with leeks, garlic, and thyme in little parchment triangles
-mashed russet potatoes
-fresh spinach sauteed with garlic
-green and black olives, and
-spiced apple cider.

I was so full that I didn't have room to eat pumpkin pie, which was a shame, but what can you do. :-) I'd say it took an hour or so to prepare the feast, so we were able to spend more time relaxing and chatting, and less time cooking, which was quite nice. Our plates were also quite colorful: the bright orange-red squash, pale green leeks, deep green spinach, cream-colored potatoes... It looked great and tasted better.

This year seemed so easy, I'm wondering if I'll be able to top being so laid back. I'm sure I can try!
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, December 25, 2006


Merry Christmas!

variegated poinsettia
posted by Arlene (Beth)4:31 PM

Food and fractals all at once! romanesque cauliflower Last night I cooked some Romanesque cauliflower (which Steven insists was labeled as Romanesque broccoli) in a pan with a little bit of oil, a lot of shredded ginger, cumin seeds, and some garam masala. I cooked it on medium and low heat, covered, so the cauliflower could steam in its own internal water. It's a north Indian style of cooking: the traditions there say that cauliflower will give you internal discomfort if you steam it with added water, so instead you cook it to tenderness without any.

And it works. Oh, does it work. It is heavenly. I never would have believed it - my mom always steamed both cauliflower and broccoli to tenderness - but I should have guessed this as soon as I discovered stir-frying. I'm happy I learned this from an Indian cookbook.

I'm also happy to try this favorite recipe on Romanesque cauliflower - it's pretty to look at! So geometric...
posted by Arlene (Beth)4:18 PM

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Feeling sorry for omnivores during the holidays. During the holidays, there are many food-related social events. I've attended a few, and at one large one there was a group meal where many unfortunate, but completely American viewpoints were aired. These included a suspicion that vegetarians (who were well represented) surely had to take nutritional supplements, that carbohydrates are inherently evil, that fast food is part of a healthy lifestyle, and other nonsense.

Thanks to Super Size Me (, there were at least several people at the table who took issue with the fast food idea; several went so far as to voice enthusiasm for the upcoming release of Fast Food Nation - the Movie. But the fact that the meat enthusiasts at the table, a group with a 50% or so heart disease rate in this country, as well as high rates of cancer, could question the adequacy of a group with a tiny fraction of their disease risk, was typical and frustrating. The athlete of the group actually asked why Americans are fat, and was stunned when two herbivores present responded that Americans eat too much.

As if that isn't apparent everywhere. (As if he just hadn't brought up Super Size Me himself, having apparently only thought that the sugar/carbs in the fast food was to blame.)

If there was a way for me to coerce everyone at that particular table to visit the National Cancer Institute site, I would. Here's a sample - you should, of course, go and read more. Diet and Diseases - National Cancer Institute (
Leading causes of death, which include heart disease, high blood pressure, many cancers, diabetes and stroke, are largely preventable through lifestyle choices such as eating more fruits and vegetables. Eating 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day is one of the easiest things everyone can do to lower their chances for all of the diet-related diseases.
The catch, of course, is that the folks at the table don't think of ANY diseases (aside from perhaps obesity) as diet-related.

Go read this entire page. The benefit of fruits and veggies is blatant. And while you may be tempted to merely add them to whatever you're eating, part of the key here is that folks are eating them INSTEAD OF meats and higher fat foods.

This is especially interesting in the DASH study, whose summary reads as follows:
According to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Study, when people with elevated blood pressure followed an eating plan that emphasizes fruits and vegetables (8 to 10 servings a day) and low-fat dairy foods (2 to 3 servings a day) as part of a healthy diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat, they lowered their blood pressure within a month. In addition, those who had the lowest sodium intake had the greatest fall in blood pressure.
There are many pages on DASH, and many articles: go read a few. Then you can marvel with me at the folks at the table, who worried for me and my fellow herbivores, instead of worrying about their alarmingly high risk for diet-influenced diseases.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Friday, December 22, 2006

Steven's new, most favorite drink. Steven has learned that mixing chocolate Silk (soymilk) with eggnog creates a very rich, smooth, festively sweet beverage. It also looks interesting: the egg nog is heavier, and sinks down lower, while the chocolate floats to the top (until you stir the combination vigorously). So it has an interesting, two-tone look at first.

It doesn't call to me: the only thing I like about egg nog is the nutmeg, it turns out. But the chocolate silk is mighty nice on its own.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cutest Blog Header Yet: Mollychicken - My Weblog (
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Very, very unusual holiday crafts. NPR, of all places, held a crafts competition for the holidays. The crafts not only had to be about the holidays, but they also had to say something about this year's news. They succeeded, amusingly. NPR : Contest Winners: NPR Listeners Know News, Crafts (
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Sleepy winter holidays

The solstice holidays are nearly here, and I am hoping that the ongoing pattern of spending more time relaxing and enjoying my loved ones, and less time worrying about the intricacies of gift exchanges, will continue to move in its pleasant direction. I have always believed that Christmas - and all the pagan rituals which have failed to be subsumed beneath recently added religious frosting - is fundamentally a great food holiday that should be spent socializing and feasting. Unfortunately (to me), advertising has subverted its most fun purposes. This has caused me stress since about the time I got to college (the first time), not because of my family, but because of the families of the guys I was with.


My family is pretty mellow about Xmas: they like the tree, the feast, and the lights, but full-scale shopping is reserved for small children - the gifts are an element of the children's celebration, but not so much for the adults. We give each other little things - witty books, chocolate treats - but those are small, thoughtful gestures that I have been known to give randomly at other times of year.

The families of my male romantic companions have always had a much more gift-oriented view of the holiday. I was nearly yelled at by one long-time boyfriend on more than one December shopping trip, because he knew his parents and sister were spending X dollars on gifts for me, and I needed to either match or outdo their efforts; simultaneously, I needed to choose gifts that fell into a certain range of status, from certain types of stores that I would never otherwise set foot into. He would drag me out to malls (malls!) the weekend before Xmas with a keen determination to see that I exceeded the expectations of the gifts that had been chosen for me. He had to evaluate each prospective item to determine whether it was appropriate. It was nearly a competitive sport, the way he saw it. It was all the more foolish because we, as students, couldn't afford to be so frivolous on things that ultimately held so little meaning, but he was convinced that this was a game I must play to be accepted by his family. It was horrible on every level, and resulted in some very awkward moments in which gifts were evaluated for all of the wrong reasons by recipients, and real joy seemed rare. I told my love that I didn't want to exchange gifts, but that he could count on me for festive specialty foods, thoughtfulness, decorations, etc. But it was no good. My every Xmas with him was reduced to rote ritual materialism.

My current love's family was initially stressful to deal with for the holidays, due to one or two individuals OBSESSED with gifts. The persons in question operated on the '2nd grade birthday party' model, in which all activity in the house must stop so that each gift recipient can make a spectacle of unwrapping every gift received, and expressing appropriate thanks one gift at a time. Having about 14 people taking turns ritually unwrapping and announcing one gift at a time was unworkable: it once took FOUR HOURS of Christmas Day to get through it all!! Four hours without food, merriment, or conversation (efforts at which were shusshed). I left the room for approximately half of it, but was never fully able to make an escape.


Due to a variety of circumstances, we now spend our Xmases in our own immediate family units, engaging in our own rites and rituals for the holiday itself; we get together with Steven's family a few days later to feast, chat, and to exchange lower-key gifts. Yes, we still exchange gifts, but the gifts are now primarily hand-made: handmade candles, hand-sewn winter hats and scarves, baskets containing all the ingredients to make a treat, small framed photos of the family, and so on. It's mellower, and less consumerist - there's something different about making gifts that changes the dynamic, because you're really giving your time more than some indirect sum of money. I've been able to utilize my bookbinding skills two years in a row, making large photo albums covered with lovely, decorative papers two years ago, and handbound, hardcover journals last year to give as gifts. They are modeled after commercially produced albums and books that retail for improbably large sums, but mine are covered with better papers - and are made with love. Steven helped me choose the papers and items for each recipient. They have been a lot of labor, but are pleasant to make and give.

(Before learning bookbinding, I went to small, local shops and bought little gourmet items - locally made chocolates, locally made soaps, cruelty-free lotions, etc., - or bought essential oils and various salts to make custom-scented bath salts, which I gave in small, decorative, colored glass bottles, along with baggies of herb teas and homemade gingerbread woman cookies.)

I'm not opposed to exchanging gifts: I'm opposed to joyless, thoughtless, obligatory, rote exchanges of impersonal material goods that you wouldn't otherwise get for someone if it weren't Xmas.


Steven and I traditionally make two items for all of our relatives: a homemade holiday card and a homemade calendar. We take photos or make collages, assemble or print the images ourselves, and cut and fold the cards ourselves. We're pretty good at it! The calendar has been the most time-consuming: we produce 16 or more calendars, and each needs to be designed, laid out, printed on our slow home printers, and (now) hand-bound. We've done calendars of my orchid photos, my photos from our backpacking trip in Yellowstone, our photos from many trips in the Sierras, and (most recently) a fabulous calendar exclusively of Steven's close-up photographs of dahlias.

This year, we again did all of our own artwork - but with my work schedule and Steven's school schedule, we chose to farm the printing out to a consumer printing service. This is good and bad. The cards are printed beautifully, but are strangely cropped; our 'test/proof' calendar has not arrived, and without the proof, I'm unwilling to place our large order for the next 14 or so. (Shipping exceeded the cost of reliable, 2-3 day Priority Mail, but the printer paid UPS to pick it up on the 12th and mail it via USPS: it hasn't arrived, though the printer is just a long BART ride away.) It's hard to say if waiting for a sample is more fun than staying up until 1 a.m. every night printing calendars. :-)


Enough about holiday materials for now: I'll write again soon with menu plans for this year's holiday feast.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:10 PM

Sleepy winter evenings. We've had some actual, winter-like weather here in San Francisco, which may not qualify as "real" weather to anyone who lives away from the coast (but deal with it). It's afternoon and only about 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside; it has been actively chilly at night (in the 40s here in town), for here. The sun is setting before 5, long, long before I leave the office.

We haven't been eating anything too daring. Veggie quesadillas. Fresh rosemary bread with Swedish-style fontina and roasted red pepper spread. Instant Indian food with rice. Delicata squash & pumpkin Thai yellow curries in coconut milk. Spinach and mushroom ravioli with marinara sauce.

I have the ingredients to make dosas, but haven't had the energy and brain power at the same time to give it a try. Soon, I hope.
posted by Arlene (Beth)12:51 PM

Thursday, December 14, 2006


When change is bad.

It's happened again. Another one of my favorite restaurants is slipping.

It's happened before. My favorite neighborhood pizzeria changed its recipes. Suddenly, the pizza sauce had no flavor. Suddenly, my orders for pizzas with 'artichokes' contained 'anchovies,' and the kitchen couldn't send a new pizza in under 2.5 hours (we waited). It took three bad pizzas for them to drop off my list of recommendations, but three is enough to establish that whatever they had done right before was gone.

Now, it's my favorite neighborhood taqueria. The taste of my old favorite, the vegetarian "super" burrito, a wonder of beans, rice, lettuce, guacamole, salsa, and sour cream began to taste bland and sit heavily in my stomach. I figured it was just a batch (or two) of weaker chilies, and I started ordering my burritos with habañero sauce instead, but the quality and strength of that sauce was wildly uneven, and the burritos began to be awkward to digest. So, I skipped the habañero sauce and added jalapeños instead, but something was still wrong. It had been so good before, though, that even after several strange experiences, I wanted to go back and have a great burrito. It seemed like it was still possible. I rationalized away the recent experiences.

Finally, I was in line with a group of people, and we were all ordering vegetarian burritos. The guy next to me, as his burrito was being made, said, "and I want rice - oh, wait, you guys use chicken stock in that, don't you?" And the guy behind the counter said, "Yeah." He said yeah in a totally noncommital way, but still. So, the young man skipped the rice.

But on every other vegetarian burrito order in the cue, the cook added rice. Which, he had just admitted isn't vegetarian.

The menu says vegetarian burrito. That is the most evil form of false advertising. In contrast, there is a burrito place that's been around since 1973, and they don't have a vegetarian burrito: they have a 'no meat' burrito. THAT is honest. They're only saying that the list of toppings doesn't include meat, but that the burrito may contain lard and other meat-based ingredients.

So, it just got knocked off the list. I'm sad about it, but last night I went to dinner at Pancho Villa on 16th street, and it was PERFECT, ultra-fresh, the salsa was spectacular - and my food was completely vegetarian. There's no reason to settle for less.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

When I'm tired, I use homonyms. My apologies for replacing "flour" with "flower" in some of my evening posts. I don't actually spell out words when I type: my brain sends a message to my fingers about the word, and when I'm tired, my brain apparently sends unclear signals. I'm not actually conscious about the individual letters as I type, unless I hit a bad key, and then my fingers send my brain a little 'wait!' message, and I pause and review.

I know the difference between flour and flower most of the time. :-)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, December 11, 2006


[Insert image of a cucumber with a condom over it here.]

Outbreaks of contaminated processed foods are in the news again. Unfortunately for me, one of those news items had to do with a company that supplies my employer. (See this press release.) This event was overshadowed by a warning and recall at a national fast food chain, which used a supply of green onions which had been contaminated with the dreaded E. coli bacteria. Outbreaks Reveal Food Safety Net's Holes (12/10/06, discusses the current situation in some detail. In short, the industrialization of fresh produce production and distribution has increased opportunities for any sort of contamination to have a large impact. Consumers want the government to intervene; industry wants to regulate itself; yet no regulations or self-regulations across the industry are imminent. At the moment, it's up to individual companies to put requirements in place for testing their suppliers, but the only recourse if a supplier doesn't obey is to take your business elsewhere.

One of several interesting quotes in the Washington Post article:
E. coli O157:H7 has been a particular problem. Unlike the usually benign E. coli bacteria that live in warm-blooded animals and humans, the strain produces toxins that destroy the intestinal lining, leading to bloody diarrhea, kidney failure and, sometimes, death. It was first blamed for a food-borne-illness outbreak in the early 1980s, leading some microbiologists to suggest that it arose in industrial livestock, which are force-fed grain and pumped with antibiotics.
While a former vegetarian-cookbook author who was revealed to be an omnivore once famously said that it's no one else's business where she gets her protein, this theory about E. coli suggests that the meat industry's practices are hurting everyone.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Naranjilla juice is tasty!

If you previously read my report on the naranjilla pie project, you know that I was gently coerced by Steven into making a pie to enter into a competition at a classmate's house of his using naranjilla in heavy syrup, which he had purchased in jars. He was enormously pleased with the pie, and was using the pie-contest-party as a test run for his actual class presentation on the naranjilla. The test presentation went well (though he hadn't brought a CD player to the party, and so the musical accompaniment was lacking), and he was satisfied. He felt prepared for the presentation to his class.

Of course, there was a catch. A few days before the presentation, he returned to the shop where he'd found the jarred naranjillas, the only place he had found that carried them during a very long search. And they didn't have any in stock. He wanted to ask if they had any in the back room, but he doesn't speak Spanish, so he settled for two types of frozen naranjilla puree, which is used to make a pleasant, blended juice.

He called the shop later, and was told that they don't carry naranjilla in jars. Even though he'd bought some there before.

Ultimately, he called the distributor, and was told that the place he'd purchased them from was the ONLY shop in town that carried the fruit. So, he enlisted a friend who is fluent in Spanish to call up and request that the store order some for him. Which he did. Again, there was a catch: the fruit wouldn't be in stock in time for his presentation.

LUCKILY, the frozen pulp makes a WONDERFUL juice. It is surprisingly green, even though the fruit is orange on the outside. (Hence the name, little orange.) The fruit is pureed, the tomato-like seeds are strained out, and the pulp is frozen with or without added sugar. Diluted with water and blended, it makes a frothy, pale green, VERY tasty beverage. It's a little like peach juice with a touch of lemon, or... Well, it's difficult to compare it, because it is its own thing. But it's really very tasty. Tasty enough that I began to wonder what other fabulous fruits I'm missing out on!!

Steven's original plan had been to make dozens of individual tartlets, using my pie recipe, to serve to the class while playing my Andean music CD, showing off two specimens of the plant, and giving his verbal presentation. Making and serving the juice was so very much easier than making two dozen tartlets!! And was very well received.

So now we have a gorgeous naranjilla plant, and a couple of packages of wonderful juice concentrate. AND the jar naranjillas that his friend ordered arrived, and so we have enough of that to make two pies.

So both life and naranjillas are very good. :-)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:33 PM

Friday, December 08, 2006

Gosh. Some of my art is hanging in a gallery in London at this very moment. That makes me feel good!

Some of my images for my stock agency have been sitting in a quality control queue since November 13th at their offices in a suburb of London. That's less fun, but not enough to cancel out the enjoyment of the other item.

I have a warm and fuzzy association with London right now.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A thought about egg nog.
"Egg nog should hit you like a brick. When you finish a glass, the thought of having another glass should make you want to hurl."

-Steven, a huge fan of egg nog

posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, December 05, 2006



So, now I've recovered from NaNoWriMo, and am far, far, far behind in my posting and web page updates on both of my websites. Funny how that happens so quickly.

Anyway, I should report briefly on the pie party we attended, bringing our very exotic naranjilla (lulo) pie, which was spiced with exotic spices, mildly sweetened to preserve the fruit's enticing tart (ha ha) edge, and patterned with tiny holes in the top crust, representing the cross section of the naranjilla fruit and its seed patterns.

The pie party, which is a semi-regular ritual event for one of Steven's gardener friends, resulted in:
-me nearly being ill after sampling about 13 different pies,
-me being nearly ill at merely thinking about sampling the 14th pie, and
-a great deal of surprise.

The hostess/organizer was practiced at this contest, and wound up permitting voting in several separate categories: it turns out that pure points-based systems sometimes resulted in the winner being a pie with many fine individual attributes, but not necessarily the pie you'd want to eat. So the categories we voted on (presentation/sliceability, most original/exotic, best overall, best crust, best taste) were each independent of one another, and the prize (a peculiar ceramic turkey teapot) went to the best overall pie.

The pies were: banana cream, chocolate-espresso, a chocolate-banana pie, a key lime, a shaker lemon, a pomegranate/cream, coconut cream, pecan, apple, strawberry-rhubarb, cherry, naranjilla, blueberry, and sardine.

The results weren't what I expected. It wasn't so much that we didn't win in any of the five categories (despite outperforming others in such categories as 'sliceability' to actual cheering), but that only one of the pies we really liked placed at all.

This party featured one of the best coconut cream pies I have ever had. The pie itself was not only impressive - light, fluffy, not too coconut, not too sweet - but it came with a hilarious story about Abraham Lincoln having stopped at some inn and being so taken with a lemon meringue pie recipe that he asked for it - only the lemon meringue part was crossed out, and "coconut cream" was written prominently above the revision. And there was an illustration of Honest Abe. Everything about that pie was right, yet it didn't place.

There was also a very good strawberry rhubarb pie. It's baker confessed to having to use frozen rhubarb (the non-poisonous parts of rhubarb being out of season), but it was one of the tastiest, tenderest examples of its genre, and it had a good crust. It also failed to place.

We had thought that our own naranjilla pie would win in the most original/exotic category, since our pie was surely the only naranjilla pie anyone in the room had ever tasted. But shortly before the judging ended, a group walked in carrying aloft a pie with whole sardines sticking out of large flutes in the crust, which left a disturbing, lingering smell. The pie included the whole sardines, eggs, bacon, and a few other ingredients that couldn't be smelled over the stench of hot sardines. It won for 'most original' handily. No one would stand downwind of this pie - how often has that ever happened with a pie? And that merited recognition. But it wasn't something many of us would eat, so it almost seemed like a spoiler.

For my tastes most of the pies were too sweet and too mildly flavored; whipped cream was VERY dominant, when I prefer to be able to taste fruit (or coffee, or banana, or whatever) and let any cream flatter it, rather than control. (This is why I was nearly sick: I have a low cream/sugar tolerance.) One of the guests said that the problem with voting for pies is that we all come into it with our own preferences: if we love key lime, we'll vote for key lime over other things. Once I heard her say that, I began to realize how things were going to go, and so I wasn't shocked when my favorites didn't win. Ultimately, a cherry pie with a decorative crust that was a struggle to cut won best overall - which was a surprise, since cream pies had dominated the evening in other categories, the crust was so thick, and it wasn't the best cherry pie I've had.

I was voting for the pies based on experience with that type of pie, and that wasn't the way others were voting.


Other surprises:

There were no squash pies at all - no sugar pumpkin, no butternut, no delicata.

There were also no sweet potato pies, which was shocking, though sweet potato pies are challenging to make just right. Any champion sweet potato pie maker could have kicked everyone else's rear with the right pie.

There were no Ritz cracker "mock apple" pies. That wasn't surprising, but I was sure someone would do that as a joke.


I came out of the party certain that fruity vegan pies with light, thin crusts will always be the best pies anywhere - for ME.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:50 PM

[Relaxing intermission from typing.]
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:08 PM

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