Things Consumed

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008


New photos.

Veiled Buddha photograph by A.E. GravesStrangely enough, I have posted some photographs to... Facebook. Seriously. Even though Facebook can't handle grayscale images, so they all looked ridiculous until I converted them to RGB and uploaded them again.

Softly Wander currently has just 9 sample images, but I plan to upload more. When you least expect me to. Hah!

(I am using the "public" link which is supposed to work outside of FB... Does it?)

I have quite a few things to say about Facebook, but right now I need to sleep.

Ooooh, sleep.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:17 PM

Monday, July 28, 2008


The French are both exotic and fascinating.

Matching Japanese style purse and shoes in a kimono shopI went to Japan Center ( this weekend on a sort of reconnaissance mission, primarily aimed at figuring out what I will need to recognize at Japanese supermarkets when I have a chance to visit Japan later this year.

My ideal would be an arrangement like Steven and I had in Paris: I was inexplicably familiar with two major Parisian gourmet food stores prior to our arrival in Paris, and insisted upon visiting them early in our trip. During the visit, I stocked up on all sorts of treats, from juices and fruit soft drinks to roasted eggplant spreads, olives, and chocolate bars. After a long day of sightseeing, when we had already eaten out twice during the day and I just wanted to have a bath and relax, we would pick up a fresh loaf of bread from a bakery (or, if he wouldn't sit still, I would send Steven out to procure a loaf), and we would sit in our room and enjoy a sort of gourmet picnic dinner in our bathrobes. We always had the makings of a light meal, complete with a tasty beverage, bread spreads, snacks, and dessert.

It was luxurious. Especially as a respite from all of the smokers we encountered in restaurants. I would love to have a similar set-up while we are staying in Kyoto.

Back in 1992, I hadn't been so good at fancy advanced food planning, and so I had several minor disasters, generally associated with eating things that made me sick because they weren't vegetarian. There was the elaborate crab and sashimi meal in Sendai, which, while lovely to look at and surely a tribute to my bravery, made my stomach make crying sounds through much of the night, and made me quite queasy. There was the rahmen restaurant, which made me very sick because it had some sort of pork broth (and not a miso broth, or even a miso-and-fish broth, which would not have harmed me so very much). Luckily, I only ate a small amount of that. And there were those breakfasts at some of the youth hostels that involved whole smoked fish, soup, and rice. I remember nibbling on the side of a fish briefly, as it stared up at me with its dried, vacant eyes... [sound of sobbing] I had quite a bit of soup and rice that morning. And tea. So very much tea.

There were a wide range of meals that worked out a bit better. The meals from the faux-German/French bakery in Kyoto worked out well. One oddity: a potato salad sandwich!! It was a sweet roll with a scoop of potato salad in the middle (the kind with mayo and sweet peppers). I had many of those, along with pastries. There was the Indian place in an underground mall in Osaka, with unusual naan and tasty, not-the-Indian-I-know veggie entrees, where I blissfully ate my fill. (Ordering Indian food in English in Japan is... tricky.) There was the pizza place in Kobe, where I believe I managed to avoid corn pizza. There was the "Italian" place in Nara, which... was completely unique, and had me picking sliced cold cuts off of my plate of spaghetti. There was the fabulous odofu meal with my pen friend and her associates... And there were a few meals when I ate ebi tempura in train stations, or okinomiyaki (which I couldn't actually eat, as I quickly learned), or even "lunch" at an American chain ice cream shop, just because I was sure I couldn't do better. That was when I could still digest shrimp. I'm reasonably certain I can't do that now.


Japanese foreign design booksMy first stop was Kinokuniya Books, which always has a fabulous selection of culturally significant products. The fashion magazines adorned with all of those non-Japanese models are really peculiar!!

There were a variety of photo books about French style, showing French people at home, with their modern French furniture, wearing French sweaters, eating French food... There was a sort of documentary/lifestyle combination approach, where I was supposed to be fascinated by the way the French lived... But I really couldn't see it. I loved Paris, but... It wasn't all that exotic to me. But it is to someone. Which is nice, I suppose.

There was a book about Danish "love apartments," which I was hoping about some sort of "love-hotel"-type fetish I was heretofore unaware of, but it was really just a book of photos of small apartments that couples share. (Say it with me: awwwwww.)

There were a series of design books containing paper/textile pattern sample, which were very interesting, especially the ones that purported to be "Japanese" or "Scandinavian," but which could really have been produced anywhere. Those books came with CDs of the patterns as both PDFs and JPEGs: you could print the patterns out using a color printer onto paper or 'inkjet' fabric, and then use the small prints for craft projects around the house.

Both the bookstore and the Kinokuniya Gift stationery shop had large displays of "Japanese wrapping cloths," plus books on how to use them to wrap various objects in a Japanese style. (I was tempted to buy some, before remembering that I don't really wrap things, and that I am, in fact, going to Japan later this year, and will probably have a wider selection there.)

The bookstore had a dining guide that covered Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe: it listed hundreds of restaurants, literally hundreds... But could only come up with five in the entire region that were vegetarian friendly. None appeared to be in Kyoto.



I had lunch at Mifune ( so I wouldn't hit the grocery store hungry. I had a delicious platter of zaru cha soba: buckwheat noodles with green tea added to them, which was served with a dipping sauce, green onions, grated radish, wasabi, and green tea. I also ordered something I had thought was sacrilegious: flavored sake. Lychee sake was on the menu. I love lychee; I love sake. How could this be wrong?

Aside from the oddity of having anything at Mifune arrive in a martini glass, it was a really good choice: it tasted REALLY good. I don't know what brand it was; I don't know where it came from; but it was really yummy. As yummy as soju drinks I have with lychee in them. I may have to find some of this bottled, somewhere.


Then came the grocery store. I knew it wasn't a gourmet place, I knew it wouldn't be like the snooty Paris places I had been to for gourmet goodies for our hotel room. But... It was still rather distressing, how un-veg-oriented the place was. Fish, fish, fish... Japan is an island with a seafaring culture, and it shows in the incredible range of things that have fish in them. Golly. I picked up a range of fresh things from the deli area, most of which were seaweed, a range of pickles (I LOVE picked daikon radish!), some steamed veggies, a package of organic nama (raw) miso (without fish added), some packages of seaweed specifically to add to miso soup, some organic edamame (frozen), a bunch of different types of mochi (sweet glutinous rice desserts, generally filled with bean paste), some Pocky sticks, some cookies, a few rice crackers, fried tofu (also organic)...

The reception at home for these items was wary. Some of these items will not be finished. I think some of my strategy in Japan, when faced with smaller supermarkets or convenience stores, will be to stock up on drinks (especially soy milk, when available - I will have to keep note of the characters before heading over), fresh fruit, and non-shrimp crackers (I can re-learn the character for ebi, and thus remember to avoid it).

I'm also hoping that good advance research will tip me off as to where I can buy things that will hold us through the night on those evenings when we don't have the energy to go out to eat.

But I have high hopes that one of Japan's centers for "shojin" vegetarian cuisine can deliver some spectacular meals. My fear is that we will go broke getting them, considering both the weakness of the dollar and the price of meals at Buddhist shrines.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:10 AM

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Bicycle Film Festival

cyclists and bikes waiting outside the Victoria Theater, San Francisco[Image: Bicycles and cyclists line Capp Street while waiting for the final program of the Bicycle Film Festival.]

The fabulous Bicycle Film Festival ( returned to San Francisco this week as part of its 17 city world tour, and brought us an excuse to hang out with other cyclists INDOORS on warm nights. I went to events on three nights: the bike-art show, Program 2, and Program 7 of films.


The art show was at the Bottle Capp Gallery at 180 Capp Street, an exotic space that went all the way through to Mission Street, with access for the full depth of the building on the higher floors. It was difficult to tell what the space has been originally built for. (I asked the artist staffing the front desk/booming-microphone, and he said that the building had a long history as, among other things, a sweatshop and a place for growing pot.)

We waited in a pleasantly lit bar/speakeasy area overlooking Mission Street while waiting for the gallery to open. I was a bit concerned, since none of the art in the bar area was bike-related at all... but then the gallery facing Capp Street opened up, and I overcame my shock at how long the building is again to enjoy the art.
bar gallery, Bottle Capp Gallery, San Francisco
bike art at the Bottle Capp Gallery, San Francisco

Photography was the favored medium, but there were also charming drawings, several sculptures, and some sewn pieces: the promotional poster's graphic features layers of stitched bicycles in 3-D-like red and green. [I can hear Steven scolding me again for not providing any bike art for consideration for this year's Winterfest... I'll get to it, really I will... Maybe.]


Brendt Barbur, the festival's organizer, often gives excellent, highly informal tidbits of inspiration. Last year, he spoke of how we will look back on these early days of the worldwide bicycle movement with pride, because it is going to evolve into something highly important for a wider part of society. This year, he entertained us with words about how the festival differs in different countries: in Italy (Milan), the festival features a five course meal prepared entirely by volunteers; in Japan (Tokyo), the volunteers staffing the festival wear uniforms, form a line, and bow to the attendees as they arrive...

Ines Brunn at the Bicycle Film Festival, San FranciscoThe live highlight of the festival was Ines Brunn (, a phenomenal acrobat who appeared to defy gravity and physics to perform some TRULY REMARKABLE FIXED GEAR BIKE TRICKS. We were amazed. Go to her website and watch the video that is on the very front page - watch it all the way through. This will give you some idea, though the video has been edited to leave out the amazing transitions she makes from one trick to another, all of which are worth watching. Actually, that was what made them real - watching her get the bike up to speed and then do these completely improbable, dangerous stunts on the stage... Really. Go watch the video. Watch it NOW!!! She is awesome.


Ines DOMINATED Program 2, which contained 13 short films. The next highlight was a music video called "What's a Girl to Do" by Bat for Lashes (on, which was primarily entertaining because it made no sense at all. A girl is singing about her love going cold, while biking down a nighttime highway with men on bikes around her wearing animal heads and performing bike tricks. It is funny, in a vaguely surreal way. This is what YouTube is for, right?

There were also brief glimpses of cyclists participating in a/the Tour of Africa, and interviews with New Yorkers about the bike movement there.

Program 7's 15 films had a sort of common theme. If I had to sum it up, it would be: "Boys like to film themselves doing stunts." Last year's program (especially the one I referred to as 'the children's program') had plenty of this, but there was a sort of... prettiness to it? Elegance? Variety? It seemed like some of the riding was about grace, and not just about imitating skateboarding tricks on a fixie.

This year, it was more about imitating skateboarding tricks on a fixie. It was as if many of the boys were saying, I can go up a wall forward and then slide down it in reverse! Over and over! Wheee! To quote the woman a few seats away, "Didn't we just see this? Like, eight times?"

Problem: Ines Brunn had just done all of the tricks these boys were doing and more before Program 2 , LIVE, and waaaaaay better. It was damn near impossible to be impressed with the simple end of the fashionable tricks after seeing her riding her fixie as a unicycle, with no hands, with the handlebars as a seat, riding backwards at high speed... Did I mention that Ines is a badass?

There were highlights of Program 7 that went beyond masturbatory self-promotion by fashionable urban males playing in traffic and doing skateboardy stunts: "BELLE EPOCH," a compilation of found footage directed and edited by Robert Chynoweth shows Italian cyclist Giuliano Calore cycling up improbable alpine roads while playing musical instruments, riding without handlebars or brakes, and generally being wacky in a hard-core mountain cyclist way; and "Waffle Bike," a narrated, faux-European-mockumentary directed by the Neistat Brothers ( and Tom Sachs about a bike/waffle cart equipped with a refrigerator, Honda generator, shotguns, a machete, chicken cages, an obnoxious sound system... It is a deadpan riot. The diagrams rock! (The Neistat brothers were also the authors of one of my favorite previous BFF entries, Yogurt versus Gasoline, in which a cyclist in flip flops races against one of the world's fastest production motorcycles in New York City.)

The Bicycle Film Festival is a great time, as always, and the glimpses of bike culture around the world are excellent. To balance out the program, I really need to get together with a bunch of women outside of northern hemispheric cities and make some films that aren't all about how cool we look doing fixie tricks or racing in alley cats on multi-thousand dollar bikes, to help make the view more world-wide.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:32 PM

Random dinners and how pasta names can be spelled.

Spinach linguini (which blogger spells linguine, which is also allowed) with pesto sauce, and a salad of heirloom tomatoes with marinated artichoke hearts, fresh avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and freshly ground pepper.

Fettuccini (which blogger spells fettuccine, same) with spicy tomato sauce, plus a spinach salad with poppy seed dressing, black olives, and Semifreddi's garlic croutons.

I mostly bring these up because I am fascinated with the alternative spellings of pasta names. Italian uses the same letters, so I am surprised there isn't a RULE. A rule that favors an i at the end, like I like it. I mean, e is usually silent after a consonant in English. You remember the Sesame Street song about silent e, right? ("Who can turn a man into a mane? Who can turn a can into a cane?...") You were singing right along with me there, weren't you? Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.


posted by Arlene (Beth)2:51 PM

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Leaving the house now and then.

I have been out eating and drinking entirely too much lately, and it is beginning to show in the way my pants (fail to) fit. I would whine and carry on about how cruel life is... but good food is not exactly a curse, so it's not like I will earn your sympathy.


My efforts to reclaim my nightlife have been reasonably successful, especially with regard to live music. The first week of July I was able to enjoy the Charlie Hunter Trio ( at the Great American Music Hall ( It has been a few years since I've been able to see CH, and his show was excellent. I was wary at the beginning of the first set for no particular reason, but as the set became more intense, I remembered how fabulous a musician he is...

The first set, strangely enough, featured an arrangement of Blondie's Heart of Glass, which was done so cleverly that it took a while to identify itself, since it came through as pure jazz... And the second set was even better than the first.


The following week was the stellar Black Francis show, which I wrote about previously.


The Definite Articles at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, July 17, 2008This past week brought me back to the Rickshaw Stop for The Definite Articles (who have a new song!), the Brass Liberation Orchestra (who gave themselves a longer-than-scheduled set, from what I understand), and Mucca Pazza (, who were fun fun fun fun fun.

Mucca Pazza at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, July 17, 2008Who can I compare Mucca Pazza to? ("Your band is like a summer's day...")

They are like... The Extra Action Marching Band, except they all keep their clothes on!

They are like... The Infernal Noise Brigade, except they are still together and they wear mismatched costumes!

They are like... people I might have hung out with in school, if I had actually signed up for band/orchestra, which I did not, but those of you who were in band/orchestra who I do hang out with could have turned out to be these people if you had been... significantly less sedate and more inclined to grow facial hair?? Maybe?

MP is extremely fun. Talented musicians! Energetic peformers! They dominated the Rickshaw Stop. The show was enthralling, and audience bounced out merrily into the streets at the end of the encore.

Mucca Pazza at the Tour de Fat, San Francisco, July 19, 2008Little did I know that I would be able to enjoy Mucca Pazza live TWICE in the same week, for they were also the headliners at the Tour de Fat ( The Tour de Fat is New Belgium Brewing's fabulous summer festival series dedicated to raising money for biking and open-space causes in the localities where they put up their tents. Which means that people can come out for a day of free entertainment, show off their fancy custom bikes, and buy delicious, 16 ounce New Beligum beers with all of the proceeds going to organizations I love dearly, especially the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The weather was terrible for an outdoor festival, but the festival was a blast, and I was there from 8:30 until it shut down.

Have I mentioned that I love bike people? I love bike people.

Visit the bands' websites to hear their great stuff.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:37 PM



M: [observing fast food packaging on J's desk] Fried food?

J: I was hungry. Actually, I wasn't hungry, but I need to eat to survive.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:30 PM

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Bicycle Film Festival in San Francisco This Week!!! I am so excited!!

poster for the Bicycle Film Festival 2008

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:03 PM

Monday, July 21, 2008


Light rice noodle soup

For when you want something tasty and warming, but light enough not to spoil your appetite for whatever you have planned next.

-a tablespoon or so of canola oil
-two large cloves of garlic, minced
-one small onion, quartered and sliced thinly
-about two teaspoons of fresh ginger root, minced
-water, four cups or so
-one flat of "rice stick" (about 1/4 of the average package), or your favorite rice noodle
-one to two cups of fresh spinach, washed thoroughly and chopped coarsely (you may swear while chopping if it puts you in the mood)
-1 tablespoon of delicious, powdered veggie broth (NOT that nasty cube stuff), or a teaspoon or so of your favorite curry powder
-1 teaspoon of turmeric
-one diced scallion (green onion)
-two teaspoons of soy sauce, or to taste.

Sauté the garlic, onion, and ginger root in hot oil for five minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the water, and bring it to a boil. Add the powdered broth and rice stick (which usually cooks in two minutes) or your favorite rice noodle (which you should boil until it is thoroughly cooked). Reduce heat so that the soup simmers.

When the noodles are just about done, add the remaining ingredients. Let them simmer for about a minute. Stir well and serve.

This is a nice, light, foggy weather soup, good for tiding you over when you're on your way to a party in a foggy place where you know dinner will not be served on time. You'll be able to eat soon after, but you won't be famished, and you will have a mild inner warmth. Not that this ever happens to me.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:16 PM

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Small website updates.

My non-blog food page has just experienced a few minor updates. I have updated the recipe index so that it is current, and have revised several of the SF restaurant recommendations. I have also added the years of my regular visits to restaurants, so you can gauge how fresh the recommendation is.

Some of the significant changes to the listings:

-Andale Mexican Restaurant (Marina): DELISTED due to closure.

-Cafe Grillades (Hayes Valley): DELISTED due to closure. It has been replaced by Stacks, a very egg-oriented, comfort-food breakfast establishment. In the place of this listing, I have posted references to a couple places that I should eat at again soon to better review.

-Great India (Richmond district): DELISTED due to... the meal I had there today.

-Kwanjai Thai (Marina): DELISTED due to closure.

-Siam Dish (Ingleside/West Portal/Sunnyside/and between): DELISTED due to closure.

-Yokoso Nippon (Castro, sort of): note that the restaurant remains closed due to fire damage. I really hope it opens soon!

I have new recommendations to make, but I don't have those notes handy. And I really want to prepare my short list of Eville restaurants before working on that.


I have updated the things consumed archive page, which provides links to my old blog entries.


I also republished my entire archive so that there is always a link available to the current blog entry... but blogger has an issue with this, and has created individual entry links that don't work. This problem is described on the Blogger Group Help pages here, but you'll notice that no one has posted a reply.

Note at 12:30 a.m.: it looks like Blogger helpfully decided to add an EXTRA, invisible #<$BlogItemNumber$> without allowing it to appear in the template, where I could see it. So, I had to delete the only #<$BlogItemNumber$> I could see, and that appears to have cleared up the problem. I have republished the entire blog. Sorry I didn't notice that Blogger had introduced this issue until now.

Sleep tight!


posted by Arlene (Beth)12:05 AM

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Sayuri Nigori Sake

Nigori sake must be "in" fashion among... people who make their drinking choices based on what is "in" (you know I'm talking about you, G). When people ask me what I like to drink, and I tell them nigori goes with everything, they either know what I am talking about (and tell me how they like it much more than regular, fine-filtered/clear sake) or fake knowledge of what I'm talking about very effectively.

I bought a bottle of Sayuri nigori sake, which is bottled in one of my favorite Japanese cities, Kobe. (Kobe is a lot like San Francisco. More on that some other time.) Sayuri comes in a frosted, pink glass bottle. It has a label that looks like a pretty washi paper and features small, adorable little flowers, some of which are printed in gold. The packaging, with the matching pink screw top, suggests that this darling little bottle is filled with some sickly sweet syrup drink which tastes the way Hello Kitty erasers smell.

It contains nigori. Not my favorite nigori, but one that is tasty and that I will drink again. Also, I will likely have to save the bottle, and find a place for it on a "cute" shelf, until it is displaced with some other cute thing from Japan.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:30 AM



Thanks to my beloved Wikipedia's entry on "Snowclones," I now have a single word to describe comments like X is the new Y.

This is useful! It means I can be more concise when I tell you that Im not sure which is sillier: my colleague T's snowclone that "staying in is the new going out" or an explanation from colleague M that the new word for THAT is staycation.


posted by Arlene (Beth)12:20 AM


Economic self-interest can inspire green action, or at least pro-green websites.

You've read all of those articles about how bees are dying, right? RIGHT? Well, you'll read more of them soon, starting... right now. Un-busy bees a disaster for almost everyone (, 6/27/08) is bound to be part of an increasing trend, now that the bee decline is affecting some companies' bottom lines.
The folks at Haagen-Dazs are worried enough that they and others have mounted a campaign to halt the shocking decline of honeybees and other pollinators of strawberry plants, almond trees and the rest of the roughly 90 percent of terrestrial plant life that needs pollination.


Officials of the Oakland company told Congress on Thursday that more than 40 percent of its product's flavors, derived from fruits and nuts, depend on honeybees. Without bees, fruits and nuts cannot exist.
Of course, this isn't really about ice cream, even if they have come up with a flavor specifically about this problem, and an educational website, This is actually a very serious symptom of a large collection of bad environmental practices which have been hurting us in what, to many people, are non-obvious ways.

This is appearing more prominently in the papers because of concern about money, the U.S.' one true religion.
Fruits, nuts, seeds and many vegetables are the foundation of California's $34 billion agricultural industry, the nation's largest, and the basis of a healthy human diet. About a third of human food requires pollination. The plants cannot grow without it.
The nice thing about this reporting trend, is that the problem bees are having is not merely reported as a scientific abstraction: it is now YOUR problem, and an economic problem. Maybe we really ARE all in this together.


Related website: pollinator,org, "Your Source for Pollinator Information." Because you don't have a source for pollinator information bookmarked yet, do you? When this site is ready for prime time, it will provide lists of plants you can put in your garden to provide pollinators with diverse food sources, to help balance out some of our society's meta-damage. We need meta-solutions urgently as well, but those won't make you feel like an activist in your private life.

Yes, it is nice to have vast agribusiness monocultures and widespread pesticide contamination of nature written about as problems rather than as scientific progress.


posted by Arlene (Beth)12:10 AM

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Censorship should not be automated. Or perhaps it should, to make itself look more ridiculous.

Totally Gay Happy Meals / It is the end of the nutball Christian right. Here is your proof. To go, by Mark Morford (, 7/11/08):
It is this: The [American Family Association]'s Web site apparently has (or rather, had, until just recently) an auto-filter installed. So utterly terrified of anything remotely gay are these kindly folk that whenever the word 'gay' appeared in any news story on their site, their autobot automatically changed it to 'homosexual.' True.

Thus did it come to pass that many fine stories about American Olympic track and fieldster Tyson Gay become a whole lotta wacky stories about the epic struggles of some unlucky runner named 'Tyson Homosexual' to post some good numbers in the 100-meter dash. Poor guy.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, July 14, 2008


Things that turn up in the top of the international BBC News front page news items, which you do not expect to see.

The last time I was at Kinokuniya Books, I enjoyed a book about Banksy (, the international stencil-grafitti artist, whose installations around the world are 'stylin.' I knew the artist had 'arrived' when his book turned up in fashionable Kinokuniya, but hadn't realized that he is so well-known that he made it onto the BBC's splash page, along with major world news and, unfortunately, celebrity baby announcements. BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Paper 'reveals Banksy's identity' (, 7/13/08). My favorite quote:
Asked by the paper whether Gunningham was Banksy, he replied: "Well, he wasn't then". Gunningham's father Peter said he did not recognise the person in the photograph, while his mother Pamela maintained she had never even had a son.
You know your family is cool if your parents are willing to support your secret identity by denying your existence.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, July 13, 2008



The thing I like about calling an artwork "untitled" is that it really isn't possible. By pulling a label on it that says "untitled," you are, in fact, titling it.

This is like when a colleague of mine cleaned off his marker board at his cube to make a sort of statement about his last few days in the office. I went over while he was away and wrote, "[This space left intentionally blank.]" It achieved the same purpose, but more directly, I thought. (For this, he told me that I am brilliant. :-))

Black Francis at the Uptown Nightclub, Oakland, California, in the early hours of July 10, 2008I have been tired most of this week, and the best thing that made me tired was seeing Black Francis at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland on Wednesday night through Thursday morning. The Uptown is a great little club near 19th Street BART station in Oakland, with a divided layout so that the bar is separate from the main performance space. The stage was projected onto a fabric screen over the bar near the front entrance, so you could keep track of what was happening while getting an iced drink. (The club also has immaculate bathrooms and good service at the bar.)

I missed the first act entirely. The second act was a children's band, and I wonder even now if their parents had to explain the significance of the act they were opening for. They were so young, ("How young were they?" They were so young that...) they had a dedication to 'all you over 21s out there,' which was unique in my historical concert attendance experience. They also had a song about how annoying it is to go home and have your parents hassle you. This was the subject of amused commentary between myself and the other audience members born in the late 60s and early 70s who appeared to be in the majority. (In another era, 'in the majority' would be a joke about age, but no one uses 'majority' to talk about coming of age anymore, do they?)

The arrival of adult roadies on stage marked the arrival of the grown-ups' portion of the program. Frank's/Francis'/Charles' roadies spent a great deal of time dealing with a problem with the drummer's microphone. I have never seen so many frowny, sulky facial expressions on a group of roadies, only in part because the club is very intimate (perhaps as intimate as Cafe du Nord, but with much higher ceilings) and I could see every nuance of facial expression made. I had found a spot against the stage in the corner where I could catch a hint of breeze from the backstage door and had spectacular views of the show. I'm rarely standing in a spot where I can exchange looks with the drummer (for no particular reason), so this was novel.

Frank came on stage in the early hours of the morning, and was stellar in every respect. He played a range of songs from different albums, despite his stated intent of emphasizing Bluefinger, and mesmerized the audience.

It was the best show I have been to in ages. I was thrilled to the core, and he didn't even play my most favorite songs from his early solo albums - it was such a remarkably high quality show, and the energy of the audience was just so good...


Black Francis at the Uptown Nightclub, Oakland, California, in the early hours of July 10, 2008I'd had a long, overheated work day before the show, a mediocre dinner at a Cambodian place I had once loved, and a difficult time finding a place I could feel comfortable waiting for the club to open; I was somewhat discouraged that I had no friends who were also late-night fans who could attend the show with me; and by the time I returned to Oakland from a cafe in Berkeley, I had feared that I wouldn't be able to stay awake. But I liked the club, and wound up initiating friendly conversation with other fans around me, who were quite pleasant, and provided commentary while we watched the roadies frown. As soon as Frank's set started, I was internally electrified. I left the show completed elated at about 1:40 a.m. (only the slightest bit disappointed at the lack of encores), and thus barely missed the hourly All-Nighter AC Transit 800 bus that was going to take me back into SF for a mere $3.50.

I considered drinking until 2 and then waiting an additional half hour for the next bus, but decided that I lacked the patience to do that, so I pulled out my iPhone and got a cab company directory. The first company didn't answer. The second answered only to tell me that its last driver had just gone off shift. Mind you, this was at 1:45 a.m., and I began to worry that I would not be able to return to the City easily. Nearby was a handsome young man who was on his cell phone, and I could hear his conversation: he had just advised a taxi company that he needed a cab back to SF, and that he could wait a few minutes. There was a time, in my distant youth, when I would have just stood around, and then approached his cabbie about sending another taxi for me, but that time is very distant. I walked over to him asked him if he'd be willing to share the cab back to SF, since I'd had no luck in raising so much as a possibility of a taxi. He agreed. We got to watch Frank and his crew load their equipment bus (and fuss over the lack of hard cases for the beautiful Vox amps), and had a pleasant chat on the way across the bridge, during which it was revealed that he is new to SF, and pretty much just finished college.

I did not pinch his cheek.

We had several things in common: he had friends who don't stay out late, who aren't as enthusiastic about live music as he/we are, and who leave shows early rather than staying through to the (glorious, encore-filled) end of them. We came to be fans of Frank Black late, after having loved the Pixies for a long time. We hadn't been interested in the Pixies reunion tour, partly due to the lack of new music being released by the band. We both LOVED the show.

It worked out delightfully for me: the nice young man paid for his own full fare over, and so I only paid for my own ride across town, which was worth every minute that it saved me in trying to return by other means. The cabbie was pleasant and just as chatty as works at that hour of morning. I was in bed by 2:45 a.m., and slept until after 7 so that I would be able to stay awake through a social dinner planned for the evening. I went to Peet's, and was reinforced by a large cup of their deceptively delicious, remarkably powerful soy chai, which kept me up chatting with friends late the next evening.

Even now, days later, I remain giddy just thinking of the show.

I'm so very glad I went.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:10 AM

Saturday, July 12, 2008



Eating small black plums

The transience of summer

Drips down from my chin.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:09 PM


Polenta with pesto and black olives.

Every time I eat polenta, I am stunned that it is not a constant part of my diet. Corn is such a satisfying veggie, and treated as if it were a dried grain like this, it is even more satisfying than cornbread. It is so versatile: it can be eaten soft shortly after cooking, cut into wedges once it has solidified, the slices can be baked in any range of delicious sauces, it can be deep fried to a golden-brown level of goodness... And it's less work to prepare than is commonly believed.


-five cups of water with 2 tablespoons of vegetable broth powder OR 5 cups of your favorite vegetable broth
-one cup of polenta (a coarse corn meal: you can buy polenta-specific corn meal, or ordinary meal, though the texture isn't the same)
-1/3 of a cup of fresh, pesto sauce (preferably vegan! My version: 2 cups fresh basil leaves, 1.5 cups fresh parsley, 6 cloves garlic, and enough olive oil to blend into a smooth paste. Put unused portions in a jar with limited surface area and cover with olive oil, so it won't oxidize so quickly.)
-6 ounces of black olives (either the ordinary kind or kalamanta), pitted and halved
-several tablespoons of olive oil.

Instructions: bring the water or broth to a rolling boil. Pour in the polenta in a steady stream while whisking. When it returns to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and whisk constantly and gently for about 10 minutes OR until you can leave patterns on the surface that persist (lumps that hold their shape).

Remove the polenta from heat. Add the pesto sauce, halved olives, and olive oil; whisk or stir thoroughly. Pour the polenta into a pie pan, preferably one lined with baking parchment. (Use a spatula to get it all out of the pan, and be sure to wash the pan before the grains set: it can be tough once it dries on.)

Allow the polenta to set until solid, about 1 hour.

Eat and enjoy.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Friday, July 11, 2008


Taste test of novel foods: taro jam-filled mochi.

These darling little purple treats smell like towels that have not been permitted to dry properly, as one finds often in the windowless bathrooms of poorly trained male college students and engineering degree bachelors.

These delicacies have a neutral taste which will keep your blindfolded friends guessing endlessly as to what, precisely, you have put into their mouths, assuming they didnt spit them out upon smelling them and swear to never, ever allow you to blindfold them for taste testing again.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


An honest endorsement of the sort you'd like to hear from alcohol retailers every so often.

I like this quote, which is from a randomly browsed article about kava, the previously hip natural product that was in every sort of supplement known to man here in the U.S., but which has since been replace with other hip supplements. The product was famous for relaxing those who use it.
'It relaxes you,' explained Chief Selwyn Garu, enjoying his second cup at dusk. 'In fact, I'm struggling to talk right now!'"
BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Vanuatu defends its famous drink (, 7/18/07).

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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