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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Forbidden Tomato Love!

  It is one thing to make a film of the Oedious myth. It is another to cast it entirely with... animated vegetables. Oedipus The Movie ( is one of those things that, even with my vivid imagination, I am unlikely to have come up with. For this, I am thrilled... and strangely relieved.

It must be seen. To be believed, or otherwise.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:40 PM

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of strange tomatoes

  the moonscape of an heirloom tomato by A.E. Graves Image at left: the scarred, festively colored moonscape of a tomato I bought at the Farmer's Market today. Isn't it awesome? Answer: YES.

Summer has come to San Francisco, in the form of cold, cold days. We had a high today of 56. I put on a sweater AND turned my heat on today!

Happily, however, this also means that summer crops are arriving at the farmer's markets. Today, after sleeping most of the morning away to pay my body back for many nights of marginal rest, I talked myself out of going all the way to the Ferry Building, and instead went to the small Parkmerced Farmer's Market (, which is just west of me, out near SF State's campus. It opened for the season on May 16th, and runs from 10 to 2 on Saturdays until sometime in fall.

The campus, and adjacent Parkmerced, were hopping: graduations were in progress, and families were wandering around in fancy clothes, parking badly, making illegal turns, and strapping couches to the tops of small compact cars...

There were about 20 vendors braving the chilly, windy, gray weather. But that isn't limiting: unlike at some other markets, where a farmer may grow just one thing (onions, or maybe mushrooms) nearly everyone at this market had a wide range of offerings. There were beets, chard, peaches, apricots, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, spinach, lettuces, a wide range of potatoes, hot coffee, prepared Afghan specialties, prepared Italian specialties, soaps, a crepe stand with crepes made to order (using vegan batter), several types of onions, peas, a bread and pastry vendor, a dining area, a dessert table, cheese, fish (happily shrink-wrapped, and so unscented), Asian greens, herbs such as dill and basil, several types of tomatoes (heirloom, yellow, several types of cherry, round red), green beans, eggplant (!!), blueberries.... There is a wide variety for such a small market, and some vendors sell more than a dozen types of produce.

This time around I chose:

-golden chard (to saute in olive oil with garlic)
-lettuce, spring sweet mix (lots of purple! for salad)
-strawberries (which I started eating while waiting for the bus - HEAVENLY)
-bok choy, baby (forever good with ginger and tofu)
-cherries, the red-and-gold type that are sometimes called Ranier
-peaches, white and yellow (these bruised to the touch - literally)
-Swiss three-seed bread (a mixed white/whole wheat bread with sunflower, sesame, and poppy seeds, from Beckman's in Santa Cruz)
-tomatoes, round red, still on the vine (which looked generic, but the samples were so full of tomato goodness that I caved)
-tomatoes, yellow round
-tomatoes, freakazoid, scarred, multi-color - one, for photography. The image at the top of this entry is the rear of this tomato. You can see more of this particular tomato at my gallery entitled tomato porn (, no login required). There were several other interesting, "ruffled" or strangely scarred tomatoes I considered buying to photograph, but... I was pretending to be reasonable, and my bag was full.


One interesting thing about the strawberries was that there was a choice at multiple stands between conventional and organic: some growers grow and sell both, to hit both price ranges of shopper. While this makes sense economically, it puts the farmer into an interesting bind when it comes to selling them. A potential customer asked what the difference was between the strawberries at opposite ends of a display table: the farmer pointed out which set was organic. The customer asked what the the difference was, helpfully offering that perhaps one of them was sweeter, which inspired a noticeable pause before the farmer suggested that the customer just taste them. Ordinarily, he'd want to talk up the fact that one set had no pesticide residues... but having the conventional (pesticide residue) set on the same table made that something that would be awkward to bring up.


The prices seemed comparable to other certified organic markets ($3.50 a pound is a common price for most things), and the selection is good. Everything looked delicious. It's also not a total mob scene, and has its own dining area. Unlike the Alemany Market, this one is really easy to get to: the 17 Parkmerced stops just across the street, and it's within walking distance of the 28, 29, and M.

Parkmerced's farmer's market is a worthwhile, high quality little market!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:19 PM

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Peaches? Peaches!

  Christmas lima beansPhoto at left: Christmas lima beans, the sort of beans that photographers cannot resist.

It has been a lovely weekend, with cherry blossom petals blowing down the streets, and hummingbirds hovering in the garden. The kind of weekend that lets me know it really is spring.

I love spring: I love how the garden turns purple with lilacs and cineraria, the way the calla lilies (still my favorite flower) aggressively colonize all available space with their giant leaves and long stems, how the azaleas and rhodies become a riot of color... And how I cannot stop fantasizing about the summer foods I will soon enjoy. Nectarines, plums, eggplant, tomatoes... Especially tomatoes.


I have been trying to keep my meal fantasies under control. Recent fantasies have been winter-vegetable-friendly:

-white bean soup with fresh olive bread and artichoke spread
-black olive and pesto polenta with a marinated three bean salad, a cold glass of pinot grigio, and a bowl of vanilla bean sorbet
-linguini in sun dried tomato sauce, with a cucumber and marinated artichoke salad. Perhaps with a nice glass of sauvignon blanc.

I fantasize about menus like other people fantasize about... whatever it is other people fantasize about. If their fantasies are as interesting as late winter/early spring Italian-inspired menus. Which I hope they are.

Anyway, it looks like I can expand my fantasies closer into summer territory now, because the farmer's markets are beginning to look "summery." The Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market ( was a madhouse, as it so often is, but worth it for the amazing produce. Except perhaps for snow peas, because no one in their right mind should pay $6 a pound for those. Come on, now.

I couldn't list all of the summer squash, herbs, lettuces, root veggies, types of peas, flowers (sweet peas!), and other items on offer, but I can say that the white peaches are incredible. INCREDIBLE. And that there were TWO booths offering heirloom tomatoes! But I can ramble about my own selections easily enough, and so I will:

-Acme olive bread. Does anyone else put as many amazingly good green olives in their bread? (Hint: NO.) I was the third or fourth consecutive customer to get this.
-heirloom tomatoes. They look like "Cherokee Purple," and several people asked the exhausted woman at the stand, but she had no idea. Even though she was in a booth that ONLY sold tomatoes, and only was selling about three kinds. The less exhausted woman had gone to get something, so I'm going out on a limb and saying Cherokee Purple. Overripe (I went late), but perfect for use within 48 hours. I diced these, deseeded them, drained them in a strainer, and mixed them with shredded basil and fresh minced garlic for use as a raw sauce for vegan ravioli. Because I know how to live.
-rainbow chard. These will wind up in miso soup, and in stir fries with black bean sauce and tofu over quinoa.
-French breakfast radishes. For looks and for salads. I need a recipe for using the greens, which are crisp and tall.
-mesclun mix. It looks expensive by the pound, but a pound must be something like three cubic yards.
-white peaches. The sample was sweeter than the peaches I bought, but I didn't feel too cheated. I somehow bruised many of these on the way home, and wound up slicing the uncrushed parts up and tossing them with lemon juice and Triple Sec, then leaving them to chill in the fridge. Chilled, Triple Sec-marinated peaches are a heavenly dessert.
-fresh chevre from Cowgirl Creamery. Having eliminated most dairy products from my diet, I'm kind of fussy when I bother to consume dairy: this stuff is AMAZING. And organic. And it will take me a long time to consume it, and then I won't crave other dairy products for many weeks.
-Stockton red onions. While $2 an onion shows that there is some degree of hysteria that breaks out at the Ferry Plaza, these are some of the most beautiful onions I have seen in ages. And they are enormous. And a lovely shade of purple. Photographers like me go weak for this sort of thing.
-carrots. For cole slaw and a curried cauliflower soup I fancy.
-basil. For pesto and brushetta toppings for vegan ravioli.
-parsley. Also for pesto.
-torpedo onions, oblong green onions. For salads, miso soup, and gingery stir fries.
-green onions/scallions (same)
-flageolet beans (dried, pale green, recommended in several recipes in the Greens Cookbook)
-Christmas lima beans. This is another item I bought for primarily photographic purposes. How could I resist? Look at those patterns! While I know most gorgeous beans cook down to a dull purple-brown, these look so good dry, I hardly care. It will be all I can do not to thread them and wear them as a necklace.


There was one aspect of my late morning and early afternoon at the market which left an odd taste in my mouth, literally. I had arrived with a very serious tamale craving, and was initially discouraged that there was no tamale stand out front to sell me a vegan or chili-and-cheese tamale smothered in salsa. But then I went to the information booth and spotted Primavera's location. Primavera makes my FAVORITE vegan tamales: pumpkin and corn. Oh, they are so good!

My wait in the long line for their lunch plates paid off quickly with two "Yucatecan" tamales, refried black beans, and cabbage salad. The tamales were described as "tamales with Swiss chard, pumpkin pesto, hard pumpkin seed pesto, habañero salsa." I was so there! I asked for the "vegetarian" tamales, though the ingredients made them look potentially vegan, and I know this company is good at vegan tamales.

They smelled WONDERFUL. The salsa was fabulous. I was loving them. Until I found the quartered hard boiled eggs.

When was the last time you were eating a tamale, and thought "wow, this tamale is so good. If only it had quartered hard boiled eggs in it, it would be perfect!" Let's see, that would be... never? Am I right? Even if you like hard boiled eggs, which I do not? Would it be fair to say
hard boiled eggs : tamales :: sauerkraut : berry sorbet?
I think so. So I had to spend some time picking these out, and applying more salsa to cover any weird, eggy flavor residues they left behind. This made me want to avoid tamales for... the indefinite future. Despite my otherwise profound vegetarian tamale love. I'm sure I'll get over it. Once I forget how weird that was.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:47 PM

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Tomato love is a beautiful thing.

Heirloom Tomato Farmer Finds Beauty In The Ugly : NPR (, 8/8/08). I love the idea of planting thousands of baby tomatoes indoors, and THEN trying to figure out what to do next.

Not that I would ever do that. No. Why are you looking at me that way?

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Love your LOCAL tomatoes.

While I am wallowing in the many joys of fresh heirloom tomatoes grown here in California, my friends are living in fear of all things red and round. Why? Why, it's the national raw tomato scare, of course.

The Centers For Disease Control: Investigation of Outbreak of Infections Caused by Salmonella Saintpaul (, updated 6/24/08) notes that now, 652 people in 34 states (plus DC) have been affected by this previously rare strain of salmonella that only affected THREE people last year. According to the current version of the CDC's hot topics page on this outbreak,
The agency has been able to trace the pathway of some tomatoes from the point of purchase (e.g. supermarket) or consumption (e.g. restaurant) to each point on the distribution chain down to certain farms in Mexico and Florida.
I live in a major tomato exporting state, so this only confused me: how the heck could other states be importing tomatoes in such volume that this obscure contamination incident could be so widespread? I mean, it's June! It's tomato time! Local tomatoes are available! Right?

Well, yes and no. I have mentioned that my local green grocer, just four blocks from my house, routinely stocks foods that are major exports of my home state, which they happened to have purchased from Chile. Nectarines are grown a few hours from my home, but this stand will carry nectarines from several thousand miles away much of the year. Why? Well, they are cheap due to the oddities of the world market and subsidized fuel. Economically, it makes no sense to me to fly a nectarine halfway around the world to me when they grow so close to home, but I am not a cheerleader of capitalism who finds ways to make all sorts of inefficient arrangements profitable. There are really lame, pale roma tomatoes available at this stand much of the year: they do not change from month to month, likely because they have been harvested weeks earlier and have spent ages on a truck on their way up from Mexico. As an alternative, the shop also offers hydroponic tomatoes from CANADA on the vine, which are lovely to look at and relatively flavorless.

So nothing about the worldwide travels of contaminated tomatoes should surprise me at this point.

I go to the farmers' markets or to Rainbow Grocery for REAL tomatoes.


As an aside, the CDC's Saint Paul Salmonella FAQ notes that salmonella is a form of animal (poo) contamination; the CDC goes on to note that their experiments point to the tomatoes being infected through exposure to contaminated water. They observe that this sort of contamination mostly comes from "food animals," which means that if we were all vegans, this probably wouldn't have happened. That's just an aside.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)6:56 AM

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Polenta with sun-dried tomatoes (recipe)

Sun-dried tomatoes have fabulous, intense, sweet flavor. Using both the sun-dried tomatoes and the olive oil they are packed in adds very intense tomato-goodness to polenta.


-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)
-four ounces (114 grams) of olive-oil packed sun-dried tomatoes (minced or shredded) and accompanying olive oil.

Instructions: bring the water 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 minced or shredded sun-dried tomatoes and their olive oil; whisk 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.

You can eat this many ways: I recommend heating it in the microwave either as it is or smothered in your favorite tomato sauce. You can also cover it in fresh diced tomatoes; fresh diced tomatoes with shredded basil and garlic; and/or your choice of cheeses, such as provolone. Black olives also work well on top of this. If you add a very wet sauce (with or without cheese and olives on top), you can bake the polenta in the oven for about 45 minutes at 450 degrees, and it will absorb some of the sauce's flavor.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:24 PM

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Tomato Love!

scene from the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, San Francisco, CaliforniaIt is relentlessly, oppressively hot in San Francisco today, but nothing could stand between me and a sack of heirloom tomatoes. The Ferry Building Marketplace Farmers' Market ( was a complete madhouse, but it was filled with heavenly summer foods. I managed to buy some of those foods and flee before the heat cooked me completely.

Heirloom tomatoes are in. They are REALLY in. They are everywhere, in all of their multicolor glory. Red, of course, but also red-with-green, red with green stripes, green with red stripes, yellow, orange, yellow with green and red stripes, nearly purple...

I tried to restrain myself: this market is famous for its organics and its expense, and I emptied my wallet at the same time I filled one tote bag. I did managae to resist falling into the long line at the Blue Bottle Coffee stand (, to even my own surprise. But it was a great haul:

-ripe boysenberries
-the aforementioned heirloom tomatoes
-flat leaf parsley
-green onions
-Acme green olive bread
-mixed lettuces with nasturtium flowers
-fromage blanc with fresh herbs
-aged fromage blanc.

Those last two items were from Cowgirl Creamery (, and I have astutely avoided their booth and store in the past because of tales of cheese addiction from friends. I figured that a visit would not aid my ongoing journey toward veganism... But Steven called me up and asked for cheese, and so I went for it. Yes, the cheeses are divine, organic, and local. Don't make me confess how much I liked them, okay? Let's move on.


Today's menu: a light lunch of fresh boysenberries, Acme olive bread with Kalamanta extra virgin olive oil, fromage blanc with herbs, and a cold glass of pinot grigio.

Snack: fresh nectarines.

Proto-dinner: a salad of fresh mixed lettuces, radishes, heirloom tomatoes, green onions, and avocado in a dressing of olive oil, white and regular balsamic vinegar, fresh basil, fresh oregano (from the garden) and young garlic, served with a homemade lime/lemonade.

Dinner: linguine tossed in pesto sauce (basil, parsley, garlic, olive oil) with diced heirloom tomatoes and pine nuts.

Happiness can sometimes be purchased.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:50 PM

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

  The all-tomato diet. Okay, I'm not actually eating tomatoes exclusively, but this time of year it's nearly impossible to resist eating fresh, local tomatoes daily. Steven not only brought me delicious peaches from the farmer's market, but he also brought home a small bunch of basil and a basket with four types of cherry tomatoes: yellow pear, red cherry, red pear, and a round, purple tomato I've never seen before.

We weren't feeling original, so we ate the tomatoes with whole milk mozzarella, a bit of fresh artisan bread, and a topping of shredded fresh basil, minced garlic, and olive oil.

(Really, we should have had this over polenta, but I was too impatient to actually heat polenta.)


If I can get my favorite Italian cookbook from the library, my tomato consumption will take on a slightly wider variety of forms. (Tomatoes with capers and garlic, tomatoes with oregano and garlic, tomatoes with marjoram and garlic...)


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:36 PM

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