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Saturday, June 28, 2008

 

Growling.

[growling sound]

Him: Was that my stomach?

Me: Yes.

[growling sound]

Me: That was my stomach.

[sound of a circular saw outside]

Me: That was a saw.

Him: Whose stomach is that in?

[Pause]

Him: The sounds the saw is making are no scarier than the sounds our stomachs are making.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:49 AM


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 (cdc.gov/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


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

 

Showing my age.

When discussing hairstyles, my office colleagues discuss young rap starlets or Victoria Beckham. So I laughed when I confessed that I would like to have my hair look more like Bonnie Rait's.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:12 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.

Ingredients:

-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 (ferrybuildingmarketplace.com) 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 (bluebottlecoffee.net), to even my own surprise. But it was a great haul:

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

Those last two items were from Cowgirl Creamery (cowgirlcreamery.com), 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

 

Evolve: Be Sarcastic.

A friend who knows me well sent me the article Sarcasm Seen as Evolutionary Survival Skill, by Meredith F. Small (livescience.com), a light-hearted article about how not understanding sarcasm is a sort of pathology. The parahippocampal gyrus (wikipedia.org), which helps people recognize certain visual contexts, may also play a role in recognizing social contexts, which is necessary to recognize sarcasm (which is context-based). People with injuries to this part of the brain often can no longer respond appropriately to sarcasm.

I already think that people who don't get sarcasm have something wrong with them: it is always nice when research backs this up.

*

Iíve recently ranted to friends about how some of my colleagues fail to Ďgetí and respond to either sarcasm or any complex humor. It's not just my humor, and it's not the contexts. Itís not just the youth of my colleagues: it isÖ some major lack of awareness on their part.

Example: I tried to persuade a male colleague to install SuperPoke in Facebook. To paraphrase our conversation:
Him: Iím not going to install SuperPoke. It doesnít sound right. Iím a poke giver, not a receiver, if you know what I mean.

Me: Thatís not what your best guy friend said about you last night.

Him: Yipes!
I told this story to several male friends, and they all IMMEDIATELY came up with better responses than ďyipesĒ that followed the same tone I had set. They gave comments like: my best guy friend was supposed to keep that secret between us; Iím only a receiver when thereís money involved; etc., all delivered wittily. They recognized that my comment was silly, and replied in kind.

I couldnít believe this colleague failed so miserably. So I wrote again, and gave him another chance, explaining that my preposterous slander against his reputation (in the e-mail chain that was still attached) was supposed to be responded to with an equally preposterous defense.

He replied that he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

Meanwhile, within his same social network, another guy got commentary from a female friend. She wrote on his "wall" that she was bitterly offended that his girlfriend was not abundantly represented on his page, and demanded that the situation be remedied, all in an obviously over-the-top, humorous tone. Her next message was a response to an unseen reply, explaining the nature of hyperbole to him, explicitly stating that exaggeration is often used in humor. This indicates that he completely failed to get what she was doing.

Neither of these English-speaking boys is from the Bay Area, and text is a complex communications medium in which nuance requires more effort to interpret, but... But...

In contrast, my long-term friends SPOIL me with lightning fast, witty repartee. Thank you, sarcastic friends! No, really, I mean that sincerely. Really! Oh, come on...

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:29 PM


Sunday, June 15, 2008

 

Heat-induced imagery

multicolored salpiglossus sinuataImage: salpiglossus at Filoli.

I took 244 pictures today that I was able to save, and about 6 that I wasn't. I had planned to take "a few" digital camera photographs at Filoli, and then many iPhone photographs for my photoblog at mobilelene.blogspot.com. There was a catch: I could "take" all the photos I wanted with my iPhone, but it wasn't saving them: when I looked at the Camera Roll, there were white squares where the photos were supposed to be: opening a white square made the Camera Roll close abruptly.

The iPhone is set up so that you can't freely transfer files back and forth from it easily, likely as a concession to various download-based services. (If you recall, Apple had difficulty finding a phone carrier, because nearly all carriers make too much money on ringtones and song downloads to permit Apple to let you load such things for FREE.) I had more than 1500 photos on the phone, and it made the camera slower than I wanted, so I used ImageCapture to remove the photos, and (apparently) some associated files. I did this last night; today, the camera couldn't remember how to save a photo.

The solution from that fabulous resource known as the Internet: restore the camera to its original "factory" settings; then take a new photo; THEN sync your phone with iTunes so that all of your backed-up personal stuff is returned. (Be sure you are photo syncing to a folder containing only photos you want on the phone.) Then all is back to normal.

Yes, this means I had to use a NORMAL digital camera at Filoli today. I had no self-restraint whatsoever during the time period before the heat overwhelmed me completely and I had to sit in the cafe, drinking iced red "tea" and eating strawberry shortcake while Steven observed at how pale I'd become.

I'm not good at dealing with heat. I'm looking over today's photos now, and I think that many of my plant abstracts are less abstract when I'm not overheating.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:33 PM

 

Lazy Saturday.

I'm Le Tired, so it is good that I have had a lazy weekend. I am supposed to be preparing several contest entries and a book mock-up over the next several weeks: it is exhausting just thinking about those projects. It is almost enough to inspire me to procrastinate by working on my Facebook page instead. But I've already got enough crap up there. Except for my biographical photo essay project, in which I will post a photo from each year of my life. I'm missing most of my teens right now, but I could still start scanning, I suppose.

*

Ingleside trivia: The Coffee Lab (yelp.com), our newest local cafe, not only serves fabulous Ritual Coffee (ritualroasters.com), but also has very, very tasty sandwiches.

I had lunch there Saturday. I had a heavenly soy cappuccino, plus a "regular" (enormous) pepper jack cheese sandwich with lettuce, tomato, mustard, and olives on rosemary bread. The sandwich was toasted so that the cheese was pleasantly soft and the bread had a light crunch to it. It was great. I will go again.

*

Weekend trivia from a Saturday morning spent on Valencia:

-Little Otsu (shop.littleotsu.com) not only has charming stationery and notebooks (which I knew), but also has a good selection of vegan cookbooks.

-Beadissimo (beadissimo.com), the wonderful bead shop that is the source of nearly all jewelry I have worn over the last several years, is closing. :-( They are having a 40% off closing sale until the stock is exhauster or Wednesday, whichever comes first. I'd bet the stock will be exhausted sooner. I bought several strands there, since there is no use in resisting until later. The sale brought out terrible "bead greed" in me: I confessed this, to the amusement of the woman beside me.

-Needles & Pens (www.needles-pens.com) has a much larger selection of zines than I had previously realized. And books by David Shrigley (davidshrigley.com).

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:21 PM


Thursday, June 12, 2008

 

Most Played Songs on my iPhone/iPod.

There are about 517,000 Google results for iPod 25 most played. Which means that I am being completely unoriginal in posting this list. To the point I care about such things. Which I donít.

On the bright side, Iím NOT posting my entire record collection (yet), my massive audiocassette collection (which Iíll never do, because I lost/dumped it while moving at some point), or CD collection (which seems to be the least representative of all formats Iíve owned so far). I will tell you whatís on my iPhone, however, because it is a very short, very selective list. Iíll do that as a "featurette" here: music (albums) on my iPhone.

My current top 25, presented as "song (band, album)," as reported by my iPhone:

High Rise (Ladytron, Witching Hour)
Plastic (Portishead, Third)
Hunter (Portishead, Third)
Silence (Portishead, Third)
Headhunter v1.0 (Front 242, Front By Front)
257.zero (Moby, Last Night)
I Love to Move In Here (Moby, Last Night)
Alice (Moby, Last Night)
Ooh Yeah (Moby, Last Night)
Information (The Definite Articles, Boy Wonder)
Elixirs (The Definite Articles, Boy Wonder)
Sea Things (The Definite Articles, Boy Wonder)
Weekend (Ladytron, Witching Hour)
Destroy Everything You Touch (Ladytron, Witching Hour)
The Beginning Of The End (Nine Inch Nails, Year Zero)
Lullaby (The Cure, Distintegration)
All Mine (Portishead, Portishead)
Between The Bars (Elliott Smith, Either/Or)
Holographic Universe (Thievery Corporation, The Cosmic Game)
Li citta nuda (The Dining Rooms, Tre)
The Nasty (Amon Tobin, Bricolage)
Easy Muffin (Amon Tobin, Bricolage)
Yasawas (Amon Tobin, Bricolage)
Beauty *2 (Ladytron, Witching Hour)
Black Cat (Ladytron, Velocifero).

Notes: Portishead's Third has displaced several Pixies songs. Bricolage and Tre were the first albums I loaded onto the iPhone, but I'm still impressed at their placement. I don't think I listen to Elixirs as much as is represented, but I do listen to the songs on either side of it very frequently. My actual hours of listening to Elliott Smith are surely underrepresented; however, I also listen to him on Steven's iPod, and that may be the cause of his lower figures here.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:26 PM


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

 

The Romance That Is In Vitro Fertilization.

One of my former law firm colleagues is ready to have another baby, and since her spouse had banked some of his genetic material before being treated for testicular cancer, this means another trip to the fertility clinic.

Strangely, one of my colleagues decided this is a romantic plan.

As is typical, I decided to interpret my perception of the romance. As with many of my more lengthy humor commentaries, I did not expect to receive any reply to my message. (Sometimes, months or years later, my friends tell me how witty the message was. More often, no one remarks. In the good old days, my girlfriends would come to my [law office] office door, bow down, and repeat 'we are not worthy!' until I laughed. Ah, the good ol' days.)

My commentary:
His eyes drifted longingly over her loose-fitting hospital gown. He wished she was wearing the one with little hearts on it, instead of the blue one. Though the blue one did seem to bring out something exciting in her eyes. There was a Hallmark poster of lit candles on the wall above the sink and beside the rubber glove dispenser. "Darling?"

"Yes?" She said, suggestively putting both feet in the gynecology stirrups.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes!" She said breathily, with zeal, as he carefully revealed an enormousÖ test tube. It sparkled in the bright, fluorescent lighting of the fertility clinic. "I am SO ready!"

All fifteen of the attending staff at the clinic then entered the room, as Frank Sinatra wafted in through the PA system.

Etc.
Much to my surprise, the hopeful mother-to-be said my assessment of the romance level is pretty close to her experience.

I would feel vindicated if I weren't slightly alarmed.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:32 PM


Sunday, June 08, 2008

 

I have a four-image portfolio up at Artists Wanted.

cyanotype print of succulentYou can find me at http://www.artistwanted.org/aegraves. (Plural in the group name, singular in the website name.) Apparently, there is voting, so if you are inclined, you can "vote" on my portfolio.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:03 PM

 

Gestalt Haus

view of lights on the ceiling of Gestalt on 16th Street, San FranciscoIt's not often that I comment on a bar, but it's not often that a bar offers both a wide range of beers on tap that I am willing to drink AND vegan sausages cooked on a separate grill/sandwich press from the animal sausages. This is noteworthy enough that it merits mention here.

Gestalt Haus is just a block or so down 16th Street from THE favorite dive of one of my favorite "mean law firm girlfriends" (as I advertise them), and after a round at that dive and commentary on bars to avoid in the area, we both realized that we hadn't been to Gestalt to drink, either together or separately. She was concerned that, being a "German" bar, it might be too meat-oriented for me, but I had already has assurances from a brown-eyed, hipster bike-boy in the office that vegan sausages are available there. And how many places can you say that about?

My girlfriend was immediately thrilled: she drinks Speakeasy beers, of which there is an unusual abundance of there, and so she had a wide range of choices that she loves. I had some trouble choosing from the dozen or more taps that were protruding over the heads of the boys with uncombed hair at the bar, but only because there were so many of them. (Both uncombed boys and beers.) I went with Blue Moon, a wheat beer that I adore, but I could have also happily had Fat Tire, or Franziskaner Weissbier, or... other good choices that I have forgotten, but which were promising. (Yes, I like white beers, wheat beers, and Belgian beers, but actively dislike regular beer. My immediate family would look over their Buds with me in confusion.)

There were two vegan sausage options, Italian or Kielbasa, and about 8 meat sausage options, all of which come on organic rolls. I went with the Italian vegan with sauerkraut and a bit of mustard, which was exactly what I needed. As with all good vegan sausages, it did not taste like icky meat, but was its own tasty thing. My girlfriend assures me that her animal sausage was both enormous and delicious.

I've actually spent a lot of time in the space where Gestalt now is. I loved Cafe Macando (in which the walls were covered with odd colors of paint and framed black and white photographs of left-wing heroes) and Cafe La (L)Onda (which carried over the mismatched tables with individual, mismatched bedside table lamps, which gave the place a warm, comfortable glow that I swore I would one day commit to paper with pastels, but never did), and was really bummed when the latter closed. Now, I am not as bummed, as I would happily spend time at Gestalt also.

The music was fine. No one hassled us for having combed our hair. My girlfriend got to watch the A's game, and we both were amused by the skateboard videos.

Bonus: the reviews of Gestalt Haus on Yelp are a riot. Everything they say about the bathroom is true.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:15 AM

 

Observations on really bad red wine that would be unkind to post or share.

-Has notes of ozone and carbon monoxide that would be appropriate to burned foods.

-If I wanted flavor this oak-y, I would go outside and suck on a tree.

-Incapable of producing an adequately annoying stain on least favorite sister-in-law's white suede furniture.

-Has undertones of flammability.

-Are you kidding?

-Reminiscent of 1980s era wine coolers.

-Features aromas of overripe fruits, possibly already composted.

-Will mature to passable housecleaning vinegar.

-No, oh god no!

-Please.

-It's red, alright.

-'Sure is red.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:00 AM

 

Another tasty nigori sake!

I know that I lean toward being a "localvore" - I prefer, for a wide range of freshness, quality, and environmental reasons to eat foods that are grown in my local area, rather than foods that are shipped or trucked in from great distances. This hasn't applied to my sake-tasting for what I think are obvious reasons: sake is generally produced in Japan.

But, as a once-frequent viewer of Channel 26, I do know that there are locally brewed sakes, and I finally picked up a bottle of the one that is brewed closest to me: Sho Chiku Bai. SCB makes Nigori (unfiltered, milky-looking sake) that is reasonably priced, and which goes beautifully with Thai food and other spicy dishes that I make. I purchased a bottle of their "Silky Mild" sake... And it is light, clean-tasting, and delightful. It is on the sweet side, and I think it could go with anything.

In light of the clean, light flavors in my more recent tastings, I now do realize there are nigoris (such as the one I tasted with the slightly bitter aftertaste) that just aren't as good, and that there are more differences in flavor than I would have guessed.

I will buy this again, and drink it with my Thai curry experiments!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:52 AM


Saturday, June 07, 2008

 

The hills are alive, with the sound of... lupines.

a hillside covered in yellow lupine and wild radish in bloomI have never seen so many yellow lupine blooming in once place as I did last week at Point Reyes. We went on a very windy hike to Tomales Point, and I was stunned to see hill after hill completely yellow with lupine.

It is GORGEOUS.

Go visit now!

As an aside, we also had absolutely fabulous breakfasts at the Station House Cafe (stationhousecafe.com) in Point Reyes Station before our hike, and I was planning other hikes in the area around the idea of getting to eat there again. Our party appeared to be uniformly satisfied with the meal. I had the huevos rancheros (because black beans are an important part of many nutritious breakfasts!), which is a dish I have rarely, but which I find is a good judge of quality, and these were VERY good. (It's so odd to realize that this means I've eaten eggs already this month! That is less and less common...) Others had Mexican omelet, an egg special, and a waffle with strawberries and fresh whipped cream. It was all stellar. I wish we had returned for dinner!

There are photos from the outing at mobilelene.blogspot.com starting here.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM


Thursday, June 05, 2008

 
A note about the photos in my Riverbank entry: two of the images were actually taken outside of Riverbank, from the Amtrak train heading south toward Riverbank from Antioch. The oak-lined path is a park across the river from my mother. I don't have many photos of Riverbank proper for a few reasons: I don't spend much time in town, and I don't like the way the town looks. It is mostly street and cars, with everything else so wide-spaced that you can't really tell you're in a town. In the newer sections, there are also strip malls. So it resists looking like my definition of a town.

I'll try harder to photograph it at some point, but it is... complicated. I would want you to be able to tell that I was in Riverbank, but there isn't much in the parts of Rivebank that I have seen that makes that plain.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

 

Time with my Mom.

central valley landscapeLast Tuesday night I boarded the Amtrak train out to Modesto, to visit my mother for several days while she was recovering from her big surgery. (As I'd mentioned earlier, she had some large granulosa cell tumors removed from her ovaries, along with her reproductive system.)

I went out to visit her and help her around the house as soon as she would accept the help, which was Tuesday night. I know how difficult it is to recover from surgery, and figured she could use some company, some home cooked meals, and some help around the house.

*

I had expected to spend most of my time reading while my mother slept. However, she had quickly decided that the Vicodin didn't do much for her aside from make her delirious and give her nightmares, and so she was awake but very weak. She told me that she had worked up the energy to eat up to one canned peach at a time, but otherwise she had dozed.

I had my father take me grocery shopping at the local supermarket (which had once been a big deal, as it was the town's FIRST supermarket, and still has just one rival after about a decade), and then set to work on inspiring my mother's appetite.

Over my Tuesday through Saturday visit, I prepared:

-Tibetan noodle soup: a warmth-spreading concoction of ginger, garlic, spinach, tomato, potato, egg noodles, and spices
-potato, kale, and garlic soup: exactly what you think, blended just enough to have a thick potato smoothness, with chunks of potato and kale to make it interesting texturally
-whole wheat spaghetti with tomato sauce (this was intended for my dinner, rather than hers, but she managed to eat a bit of it anyway)
-broccoli with garlic over rice stick with a bit of soy sauce: simple, easy to eat
-a moist and saucy stir fry of garlic, ginger, tomato, spinach, and rice stick with soy sauce: the delicate rice noodles are so easy to eat, and feel very light even as they absorb the other flavors.

I was thrilled that Mom was able to move from having a single canned peach to having an entire bowl of noodle soup at a time. Her energy came back, and her color improved. I made large pots of each soup, and divided them into several small containers in her refrigerator: when she wanted a snack or got up in the middle of the night, it was very easy for her to serve herself up another small bowl. I also bought a nice sourdough loaf, which she was able to eat with butter as a side dish to most small meals I served her.


I tried not to eat very much during my visit, since I stayed indoors with her nearly all day. I'm not accustomed to going without exercise, and so cutting back on food seemed like a wise choice.

*
sunset sky, near Escalon, CAThere isn't too much to do when you're taking care of someone who is recuperating and needs lots of rest. During the day I would cook, wash dishes, and chat with her between her naps.

We spent some time making fun of old issues of Martha Stewart Living and Food and Wine which a friend of hers had left there, both of which were completely unhinged from reality as my mother and I know it. It is odd how publications like that could take things that are fundamentally wholesome - keeping a clean house, making handmade gifts, serving tasty food - and corrupt them so completely. These basic pleasures are turned into something quite different, something concerned with status, price, and purchased forms of legitimacy. Buy this specific color and brand of paint, arrange these specific designer/custom/expensive flowers/vases/artifacts, eat this imported foodstuff along with these other specialties that you should spend improbable periods of time preparing...

No one should spend weeks of their lives accessorizing their napkins for specific holiday meals, okay? It is not healthy. It is not proportionate. It is a sort of obsessive-compulsive brand of materialism that has no place in a well-adjusted life. Please.

Also, F&W was almost entirely about pairing wines with the flesh of the dead. (Zombies, take note!)

It was also interesting that, in both magazines, the world beyond the U.S. merely exists as a source of decorative elements for home entertaining, rather than as a place where real people live with their families and have normal aspirations for long, healthy lives with their loved ones. Other countries were referenced as sources of inspiration, color palettes, and wine. But that's it: no one is home there aside from winemakers and people who sew pretty scarves.

*

When my mother had more energy, we sorted through boxes of loose photographs that my mother had amassed and wanted to have in better order. About half were test prints from my father's darkroom experiments of the 1970s, and the rest were family photos, which we reviewed (especially with regard to hairstyles) with great hilarity. (One of the benefits of this project was that I have more material for my biographical photo essay. As I approach 40, I am assembling a set of photos representing me in each year, one per year. This project helped me cover the years 1968 - 1976. Sadly, my mother has stored nearly all of the family photo albums in some inaccessible, unspecified place, and so I could not complete the project during my visit.)

There were quite a few photos that my father had taken and printed in his darkroom that I had never seen before. Photos of the apartment that I was conceived in, and of the apartment down the hall where I was first taken home from the hospital. These photos inspired stories from my mother about the Madam and her prostitutes who lived in the apartment building, and who worked the fancy hotels downtown. My mother told me stories about the doctors who delivered me during my mother's 24 hour labor, including the doctor who had survived the Japanese internment, and told my mother her story while they waited for me to be born.


*

oak trees near Stanislaus River, Riverbank, CAI spent my nights listening to trains rumbling past, since the same train tracks I arrived on pass by just 30 yards or so from her house, directly across the street from her home. The train traffic is mostly freight, which allowed me to wake up repeatedly during the night, attempting to differentiate between passing freight trains (common) and earthquakes (less so), which became easier after the first night.

The only real exercise I got during my visit came from a few floor exercises I did to stretch my back, and from walking my mother's three dogs. All of her dogs were eager for walks, though my mother had insisted they were fine since they could play in the yard. I decided to walk each of them, even though it was hot out. They all appreciated it, though my mother's 72-pound pit bull managed to yank me off a steep slope and drag me briefly through loose gravel before the leash came off my wrist as I tried not to bounce any more.

I was also able to refresh my memory about how much dogs drool and pee. That was an added benefit.

*

My parents joked about keeping me chained up in the house so that I could continue to cook and clean for them, but I pointed out that Steven would come rescue me if only to have me cook for him, and so they dropped that idea. :-)

My mother gave me tons of credit for all of the improvements she made while I was there, but I was really just happy to have been able to help out for a few days. It was much more satisfying for me to be there, cooking, cleaning, and chatting, than it was for me to sit at work, worrying about how her recovery was going. So I think it was good for both of us.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:05 PM

 

New Cookbook

I try not to buy cookbooks any more - how many recipes does one food fanatic need? Especially as she slides toward veganism while still being basically set in her favorite types of foods? Well, I apparently needed at least one more. I was at my favorite book shop, Green Apple (greenapplebooks.com), and found an inexpensive copy of Jackum Brown's Vegetarian Thai. And so I'm engaging in some experiments.

Thai food is readily available in San Francisco, and much of it is quite well prepared. So, it's not like there is any amazing urgency in getting this cookbook - the best Thai meals I've had were generally here in San Francisco, rather than during my short stay in Bangkok. But I do want to better understand how my favorite Thai dishes are made, and improve the Thai dishes I make at home with purchased curry pastes. Those curry pastes in particular often have a dozen or more ingredients, and so while they make preparing Thai curries very simple (heat coconut milk, add paste, stir well, add veggies, serve), I haven't been very effective at adjusting them to make them more like the dishes I eat at restaurants. Every restaurant seems to have a slightly different recipe for these dishes, and I would like to know how they do it. The only adjustment I usually make to the purchased pastes is to add fresh lemongrass while the curry simmers, but that isn't the level of control I would like to achieve.

So far, I have only tried out the recipe for green Thai curry paste: a chunky blend of lemon grass, garlic, green chilies, cilantro (tons!), shallots, ginger, coriander seed, pepper, lime, salt, and oil. This mixture has a fabulously green, fresh taste, and it makes the kitchen smell wonderful whenever I use it. I need to change the proportions to see if I can make it more like the green curry I have in restaurants (more lime, less cilantro, more ginger?). I need to learn to use a lot more of the fresh paste for the volume of veggies I like: it takes several ounces to flavor one can of coconut milk in the powerful way I want, and I am repeatedly too shy in using the right amount. I'm sure I'll improve in the near future.

I'll report back when I have something specific that you MUST try to share, which may be a recipe I can recommend from the book, or may be a recipe I've developed using the book as a point of departure.

Hey! I've got fresh galangal in my kitchen! How cool is that?

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:48 PM


Monday, June 02, 2008

 

On the subject of my lasagna

This comment from Steven:
Even if you couldn't cook this well, I would still love you. I just wouldn't love you as much. [laughter]

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM


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