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Saturday, July 29, 2006

I wouldn't put anything with that name on MY body. BBC NEWS | Americas | Woman sought in Magic Cheese scam (, 7/29/06). It's not a food... but doesn't it sound gross? Of course it does.
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:38 PM

Friday, July 28, 2006


We're back from our Desolation Wilderness backpacking trip!

Steven and I just returned from a fabulous backpacking trip in the Desolation Wilderness (, with statistics), 63,000+ acres of roadless wilderness in the El Dorado National Forest near Lake Tahoe here in California. It has the classic "High Sierra" topography I love. We starting hiking Sunday afternoon, and finished this morning.

It was wonderful, and painful. The scenery was SPECTACULAR, especially the high passes, but we were also harassed by more mosquitoes than we have ever previously experienced. These mosquitoes were so aggressive, that they bit me THROUGH MY CLOTHING. My body is so swollen from insect bites that you can count the wounds through black thermal tights. The trip also provided the unique experience of being bitten by mosquitoes while crossing fields of snow that obscured the trails. (Did I mention the fields of snow we had to cross on the steep trails?)

I'll write more about the trip when I've recovered, and will post photos when they are back from the lab. (Of course I hauled a 1970s TLR up those high passes so I could shoot medium format images in spectacularly high resolution!) In the meantime, I'll just write about camping food.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:43 PM


Backpacking food: more options

My food planning for camping has evolved over time. Car camping is easy: you can bring a cooler and just about anything that is appealing, no matter how bulky or heavy. Meals can involve bottled juices, fresh soy milk, cheeses, jars of prepared sauces and spreads, you name it. Those are LUXURIOUS. (See the luxuriously weight- and space-intensive foods we brought along from my list of vegetarian camping foods for high protein dieters that I brought along while car camping with my dieting father.) But of course, that's not the style of camping we do most.

Backpacking is trickier: the food has to be light, compact, and very, very filling. Backpacking can be very calorie intensive, so 2000 calories per person per day doesn't necessarily cut it - some serious backpackers consume up to 6,000 calories daily, just to maintain their weight! I initially overpacked, so we had a day's worth of food left at the end. Then I swung in the other direction, when we got by with LESS than 2,000 calories per day, because vegetarian foods tend to be lower in calories than comparable flesh-based dishes. We felt reasonably satisfied, and didn't lose weight, but we consumed everything we had down to the last handful of nuts on one trip, and I'd prefer not to cut it so close. Now I actually have to count the calories and make sure we get enough to keep us going. Sometimes it's hard to get a week's worth of food into our two bear cans - even though omnivores could squeeze several more days out of the same volume.

Food planning for this trip was a little bit tricky: we didn't have time to shop, thanks to work and other obligations up until a few hours before we were scheduled to depart. I looked over our usual list of foods we bring camping (from my world page), but I couldn't really get out to our usual shopping places. I wanted to dehydrate some homemade foods for the trip, but haven't gotten around to buying a dehydrator, and there wasn't time to test it.

I got desperate and went to... a normal chain supermarket in between other obligations. It was an adventure, because I rarely set food in supermarkets because they're full of silly, over-processed foods that are high in salt and contain nothing fresh. It just happens that this peculiar specialty (over processed foods high in salt) was what I was after. It was useful. I got:

-instant rice noodle soup from Taiwan, a lot like rahmen, but it cooks in just 1 minute. It wasn't quite as filling as deep-fried wheat-noodle rahmen, but packed 300 calories per package.
-instant soup cups, of the sort that Fantastic Foods makes. Two of these cups of red bean and rice, lentil and couscous, or black bean soup pack about 400 calories, and take up almost no space at all if you repack the mix into ziplock bags (and use your own bowl on the trail).
-precooked wild rice, from a maker of instant rices. This heavy envelope had lots of ingredients, but tasted rather plain: however, at 240 calories a serving, it complimented the bean soups quite nicely.
-granola-type bars with chocolate chips. 120 calories each.
-fig-newton style bars with raspberry filling. 140 calories each.
-dried pineapple, mangoes, cranberries, and cranberry/nut/chip/pineapple mixes. 130 - 260 calories depending on my definition of serving size (invariably larger than theirs).
-instant mashed potatoes, with real powdered butter. 220 calories per serving, though we doubled up for breakfast one day to make 440 each. These were amazingly good.
-instant oatmeal. Double servings pack 320 calories, but it turns out this is boring to eat regularly.
-cashews. 340 calories per double serving. Compact and tasty.
-fish-shaped cheese crackers. We don't usually find these interesting, but on the trip they tasted great! 280 calories per double serving, which we had no trouble packing away.

I remembered how good hot cider had been on the trail, and wanted hot cocoa or something similar, but couldn't find anything drinkable at the supermarket. There weren't any soy-type 'instant breakfast' drinks, and most of the others required that you mix them with milk, which we wouldn't have handy. I was sure that drinks could drive up our calorie count, but didn't want to drink children's punch. A quick stop at a sporting goods store for stove fuel revealed a vast collection of "energy drink" mixes, however, and I purchased 6 small pouches of those. These were the revelation of the trip: the tiny pouches provided anywhere from 140 to 270 calories apiece, and some of them contain significant protein supplements, which were useful. The hands down winner: Endurox R4 Performance & Recovery Drink ( which contained that glorious 270 calories and 13 grams of protein per serving. We got fruit punch flavor. I chugged mine so fast, it made my head spin - my body craved the carbs, but wound up thrilled by the whole package. We'll be using that again.

We had previously bought dried berries (calories unknown, but oh did they taste good); honey peanuts (320 calories per double serving), and precooked, pouch Indian food (650 calories per person when we divided two entrees and ate it with rice stick, which cooks in 2 minutes).

All of this filled two bear cans, which was a bit ridiculous, but we never lacked something to eat, and were able to snack whenever we wanted.

So next time: less oatmeal, more instant mashed potatoes with butter, more energy drinks, more instant soups.
posted by Arlene (Beth)6:21 PM

Sunday, July 16, 2006

BBC - Food - Vegetarian and vegan - Moro vegan menus is an article about vegan Moroccan food, and includes recipes for soups, spice mixtures, salads, and hot entrees. Mmmm. I don't have experience with Moroccan food, but these sound awfully good.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:53 PM

When you're looking for extremely unpleasant foods, nothing beats strange animal parts. BBC NEWS | In pictures | Food for thought | Gastronomic journey ( teaches us that camel hump tastes like spam. Camel hump is probably the least gross thing in this photo gallery. *Warning* scenes of gore abound, though the last photo's caption is quite funny.
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:57 PM

toothpaste for dinner - "the most addictive comic on the web" presents "Nobody Cares How Old You are". Also distressingly relevant: Melon Gaze.
posted by Arlene (Beth)1:48 PM

Saturday, July 15, 2006

street art graffiti in SF

A few web page updates you may or may not have noticed.

I haven't been mentioning it, but I have been updating a few pages other than this one.

I heart books has both additional book reviews from my library AND additional instructions on bookbinding.

Food has updated restaurant recommendations for SF.

Words About Pictures has some additional opinions, including comments about plastic cameras and new descriptions of pet projects.

My home page has a new photo up.

And my lomohome has both a new profile wall and two new galleries: fisheye photos of San Francisco's City Hall and SuperSampler photos of the neighborhood where I work currently, the north side of Potrero Hill.
posted by Arlene (Beth)12:53 PM

We already knew this, but now we have someone who's been on both sides of the experience who can remark upon it. Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist (, 7/12/06) shares the perspective of a male scientist who used to be a female scientist. He's treated much better by his colleagues now that he is male.

Here's a spectacular example of a male scientist assuming that other male scientists must be innately better:
After he underwent a sex change nine years ago at the age of 42, Barres recalled, another scientist who was unaware of it was heard to say, 'Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister's.'
Of course, Ben WAS 'his sister' before the change. Just having a different gender was enough to make his work "much better."

And all the women in the room say: "We knew that."


My response to the friend that forwarded this to me:
Classic! Is there something we can do to Summers to make him wake up as a woman? Not that I want him on our team, but I think the experience would be good for him. Maybe just 5 years could provide him the education he clearly lacks. Also, it would get him off the public stage, since his friends wouldn't listen to him any more, and that would save everyone a lot of trouble! If you ever find a genie bottle with bonus wishes you had no other plans for, give this option some thought.
Though there are many other people who could also use this particular form of educational experience, he just comes to mind quickly, somehow.
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:08 AM

And I thought Holga cameras caused vignetting! Backstory: A burqa's-eye view | (7/11/06) discusses the challenges of being a photographer who tries to photograph through a burqa.

Of course, the women of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) ( made entire videos through burqas, but this article underlines how difficult that must have been. (Yes, I'm making light of something serious. But you know how single minded photographers are, and I'm not afraid to mock myself in this regard.)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:51 AM

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ultraviolet and a brief discussion about cultural xenophobia. We've watched quite a few movies lately, and last night I satisfied a morbid curiosity by renting an action movie that appeared from the previews to have slick production values, lots of CGI, and little plot. My expectations were met.

The film was remarkable in that it had a perfect action movie form/formula, but no other content. (Steven believes that the potential content was lost in cultural translation, as it was largely styled by Europeans for whom U.S.-style action is an imported, translated product.)


The futuristic film was shot in Shanghai, China, which has improbably futuristic architecture in real life, which saved the crew lots of money on set designs. Similarly, the rather clever film Code 46 was set in truly futuristic looking cities in Asia and Saudi Arabia which would be completely new to most Americans, who do not know what the non-European world looks like. Which is surely intentional.


Do you know where the world's tallest building is? I did, when it was in the U.S. It was fussed over quite a bit. Once that title went elsewhere, an organization called the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat came up with more categories for buildings to be in, which conveniently permit a few U.S. buildings to place in some categories. Place, but not top. So I just don't hear about record-height buildings anymore. It's like the World Cup, or the Olympics: if we're not winning, we must not pay it any attention.

There are cities around the world with completely surreal architecture which appear to be super-modern, but we want to define modernity for ourselves as whatever our own stuff looks like right now, and so our media and other cultural modifiers just don't show the outside world at all.

I'm beginning to wonder if trends I've observed in art are a reflection of this. Unable to celebrate some form of faux leadership in some area, much modern art is very inward looking, and glorifies the daily rituals of American life, no matter how trivial or commercialized. Because that's what we're good at now: looking at ourselves exactly as we are right at this moment.

Not that I'm cynical or anything.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:34 PM

The answer is: buttermilk, chocolate, and vodka. The question was: what are the three, essential products that the Richmond District TJ's must stock, or their customers will be irate?

Observant checkers are wonderful.

I'm sure there's a cocktail recipe in that list, but not one I think I'd want to deal with.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:26 PM

The consequences of not thinking about food enough. So yesterday, the local paper had a rather peculiar article about how people who have no time to cook go to dinner-buffets to assemble meals to freeze for their families. Because washing and chopping fresh food is hard? Some assembly required / Pre-prepared meal companies entice time-starved families (, 7/12/06) seems fairly harmless, though the idea that going to a special venue to assemble your buffet meal is a great family bonding experience while cooking in your own home with your family is not a bonding experience fails to be consistent with my values.

The article reminded me of something, and I finally figured out what: I'd read that early instant cake mix, as developed by American packaged food companies, didn't require the addition of anything other than water. Home cooks were offended at the idea of JUST adding water - it didn't seem like they could really take credit for the cake, and so wouldn't use the mixes. So the companies modified the mixes so that they require an egg. 'The market' approved, and cake mix users embraced the cakes as their own because of the one fresh ingredient they added.

This article is kind of like that: the idea that you're reviving the idea of a family dinner by shopping for prepared food and then heating take out at home. Next up: the glories of choosing and renting DVDs creates strong, traditional family bonds!

Whatever. It's nice that people who care little about what they eat are moving away from fast food; it's nice that they are finding other, generally healthier options. It's sad that people should have little or no relationship with the foods they eat, to the point of not even being capable of making food they like. At least the caterers who thought this up are also hoping to offer cooking classes...
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:04 PM

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pure, glorious, glorious satire. The Online Photographer: Great Photographers on the Internet. (This is a page on which famous photographs by famous photographers are picked apart by a grammar-challenged, self-styled expert who dispenses advice typical of self-styled experts, which usually missed the mark hugely. One comment (below the article) provides a link to a flickr site, where users who don't recognize famous photographs posted without credits pick them apart as trash, and react poorly when the ruse is revealed to them.)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:15 PM

Sunday, July 09, 2006

fireworks light up the sky over the Marina Green, San Francisco, Jully 4, 2006

Independence Day

I hope you all had a safe and happy Fourth of July.

[I advised my colleagues to remember to let go of the fireworks after lighting them, but most of us planned to remain in SF, where most airborne fireworks have been illegal since my youth, and so they didn't need the advice. Many fireworks are completely legal in adjacent counties, however, and even sold by Police-sponsored, youth sports organizations, so those who are interested can easily find them.]

I enjoyed a fun and productive day of vandyke printing, having a huge breakfast with friends, hiking in the Presidio and on the Golden Gate Bridge, drinking coffee drinks, having people pose for baseball card photos, watching a friend's favorite episodes of Battlestar Galactica (the new one), and enjoying a 21-minute fireworks show from the edge of the Marina Green.

I have just posted a photo gallery from this year's show here.
posted by Arlene (Beth)11:43 AM

Friday, July 07, 2006


Random kitchen snapshot: 1996

I was looking through my notes so I could do a feature on what I ate during a trip in Japan in 1992, when I came across a list of what I had in my pantry and what I planned to eat in some week in the first half of 1996.

You have notebooks with things like this lying around, don't you? Of course you do.

Anyway, it's an interesting snapshot. I had a lot of cheese at the time, because I was dating an omnivore who loved cheese (and mildly objected to vegetarian meals, though he wound up converting for a time after we broke up). He also liked very salty things, which explains the can of cream of mushroom soup in my cupboard, which was likely intended to make mushroom stroganoff, a version of that old-fashioned, high fat, high salt, generally unhealthy dish without the ground beef that usually defines it as a 'classic' Midwestern-style meal. Which wasn't my style, but we do funny things for love, and my mother had made the meaty version of the dish in the past.

Here's what I planned to cook that week:

-minestrone soup
-chili [likely red bean]
-sauteed Chinese cabbage
-oatmeal cookies
-eggplant pasta sauce [from a recipe I got from the Chronicle, now long lost, involving eggplant, olive oil, garlic, onions, green olives, and stewed or canned tomatoes - it can be quite satisfying]
-curried cabbage [a simple steamed cabbage, which is then simmered in a milk/flour/butter roux with curry powder added]
-zucchini and pepper tamales [Not enchiladas! I had masa flour, and tried making tamales several times, but never thought the results of my efforts were quite worth the effort I put into them. In retrospect, I should have added veggie oil or shortening to the dough to improve the texture.]
-sesame broccoli [broccoli stir-fried with sesame oil, garlic, sesame seeds]
-Tibetan vegetable curry [from the Kopan cookbook]
-Miso oden [from a vegetarian Japanese cookbook I have, which describes a very wide range of very mild, at-home dishes that you never see in restaurants]
-spaghetti squash casserole [from one of Mollie Katzen's books: baked or steamed spaghetti squash, pulled from the shell and separated into strings, then baked with tomato sauce, veggies, and cheese].

Yes, just two of the dishes on the list aren't vegan. And I was working on ways to make the oatmeal cookies vegan, but hadn't mastered the use of egg replacer yet.


A friend of mine from college had been asking about how to set up a pantry, since he'd never lived alone and cooked for himself before, which is what I believe inspired me to make this list of what I often had in my tiny apartment's cupboards:

In the freezer:
-Japanese mixed vegetables [great for spontaneous stir fries or to add to rahmen]
-ice cream
-won ton wrappers
-ravioli wrappers
-pesto (homemade)
-ravioli (store bought)

In cans:
-tomato sauce
-stewed tomatoes
-vegetarian refried beans
-marinara sauce
-cream of mushroom soup
-sometimes a Progresso vegetarian soup

On the grain shelf:
-dried pasta
-dried black beans
-sourdough bread
-rice stick [a 2-minute, thin noodle]
-egg noodles [probably for that mushroom stroganoff dish]
-instant bean soups [Fantastic Foods, most likely]
-tofu [aseptic, shelf stable]

Veggies in the fridge or root basket:
-peppers (sweet)
-butternut squash
-leeks or scallions
-spaghetti squash

Dairy products [largely for the boyfriend]:
-milk (!)
-jack cheese
-mozzarella [yes, I made lasagna then, too, and it worked in the spaghetti squash casserole]
-butter (!)
-rarely: eggs (!) [likely for the oatmeal cookies]

Condiments and flavorings:
-veggie bouillon
-soy sauce
-hot chilies
-salsa (fresh or in a jar)
-sesame oil
-chili oil
-peanut or olive oil
-rice vinegar
-fresh basil
-dried spices
-Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce
-sesame seeds

It looks like a pared down version of what I have in the cupboards now. Seeing milk on the list still makes me laugh, since I know it wasn't for me, but for my boyfriend to drink with his coffee. (Even as a child, my mother had a hard time getting me to drink milk...)

I suppose I'll have to look elsewhere for those notes on the snacks I had in Japan.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:08 PM

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Sour leaf.

There are a variety of herbs sold at the farmer's market that I've never used, and one of them is a green, pointy leaf (shaped kind of like a bay leaf) with reddish veins and stems. For the first time at the market, I saw a sign over the greens. The sign said: sour leaf.

I did some web searches, and the sour leaf described sounds more like sorrel. So I asked around. Alex, who originally hailed from Burma, provided a very detailed response, which I'll share here:
Is it like an elongated oak leave with dark green leaves with red tint? (A native small plant from Burma) Or, is it Spinach or one of the family? (i.e. Chinese Spinach, that grows in small bushes like mini-fern/large bladed grass).

There are a couple of Burmese dishes which use sour leaves (either the Burmese plant or the Chinese Spinach). I remember a soup and a fried/sauteed versions. The soup would leave the shape of the leaves in tact while imbuing the liquid with the sourness, like the way lemon grass does to Tom Yung Kung or Tom Gha Gai. Of course, my parents would add spices and chili[es] for added flavor. And, meat or bones for strength.

The other dish (after stir-frying in a wok) would dissolve the leaves into a mush. Quite disgusting in appearance, but it goes smoothly down your throat. And, it tastes quite sour. Again, my parents add whole small chili for spicy flavor and ground meat for contrasting texture.

Uhm, I recommend going to my Dad's house to see what the plant look like or one of the Burmese restaurant to see what the dishes look like.

BTW, both dishes require steam rice as complement. What did you expect?
Mmmm. Chilies!
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:57 PM

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Farmer's Market Joy

While I don't understand how people can shop for personal goods as a hobby, I have to admit that going to the farmer's market is nearly a hobby for me. A happy hobby. I need to buy food anyway: why not interact with the people who grow it, get a much bigger selection than my local greengrocer provides, and get food that was picked fresh within a day of my purchase?

My only disappointment with the market that we go to is that relatively little of the produce is organic (pesticide free). There is organic produce there, which we buy, but it would be great if it all were. There is also an organic farmer's market at the Ferry Building, which is rather far from us, and I periodically go to that market also, but the selection there tends to be more limited. (I should go there to make a "special report" and take photos!)


This week, prices seemed a bit higher for many of the fruits and veggies, by 50 cents or more per pound. Strawberries have gone up in nearly double in price at some booths: now they are $5 for three baskets, rather than six (half a flat). Avocados are 4/$6, rather than 5/5. Cherries went up slightly, and were largely overripe: Ranier cherries weren't available this week at all, leaving bing and regina (which are red-black). People spent more time picking over what was left than filling bags: they were terribly soft. One of the farmers said that this is his last week for both cherries and pluots (plum-apricots), which seemed impossible, because there have been so few pluots I'd assumed they were starting later.

For unknown reasons, the nectarines and peaches available to sample weren't as sweet as last week, and it took a while to find some that compared.


I never really describe the ENTIRE set of seasonal offerings at the Alemany Farmer's Market. I'll do that now.

Veggies in season now: carrots, beets, daikon radishes (in reasonable sizes; sometimes they're all 2 feet long), potatoes (blue, red, pink, yellow Finn, russet), mushrooms (about a dozen kinds), jalapeños, crinkly green long chilies, sweet bell peppers (red, yellow, green, pale purple, dark green), small hot straight chilies, summer squash (pattypan, crookneck, zucchini in round and long shapes), corn, bitter melon (fruit and vines), green beans, yellow beans, peas (pod and snow), lemons, oranges, eggplant, okra, basil, sour leaf (which is everywhere: I'll need to figure out what it's good for), plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines, a few pluots, blueberries, strawberries, onions (green, yellow, red, white), garlic (all dried, no fresh with greens, boo hoo), tomatoes (red, red-green ruffled, red cherry, yellow pear cherry), avocado, eggplant (small round, large round, long thing, all purple), lettuces and chards, a few bok choy-type greens, walnuts, bitter almonds, figs, dates, sour champagne grapes (the tiny little ones), a few winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and watermelon.

Animals: There are also the usual non-veggie vendors, including the fish and live bird section across the street at the southwest end, which was unfortunately upwind of part of the veggie market today. The live chicken truck is sad, but does not smell all that bad. The fish section, however, does not smell like fresh fish: it smells more like a fishing dock at the end of a hot day after many successful fisherpeople have cleaned their catch. It's just can't be far enough away not to stink up a large area. There is an egg booth mid market, which not only sells eggs, but also the very unfortunate balut (cooked, unhatched ducks, still in the eggs).

Prepared foods and a few non-foods. Scattered throughout the market are live plant sellers, for vegetable seedlings and orchids; dried fruits (mostly stone fruit); apple cider; there is a wide selection of honey, made from bees pollinating different sorts of flowers. (There are subtle, subtle differences in taste from clover honey, which are lovely. Blue curls honey is very nice...) At the northeast end are bakers (loaves of sliced and unsliced breads, ciabattas, focaccias, Danish-style pastries and twists), Sukhi's Indian specialties (samosas, thick naans, parathas, about 8 kinds of fresh sauces, half a dozen kinds of pickles and chutneys in jars, jars of spices, papadam), a middle eastern specialty booth (unleavened breads, fresh spreads, baklava), cured olives, olive oil, and cheeses (sometimes, they were done before we arrived today). There are usually at least two booths of cut flowers. Kettle corn scents the air midmarket. There is a tamale truck with a range of tamales, including a few vegan ones; their salsas, available in their small dining area, are very tasty as well.

I think that's everything that's usually their, food wise. There's also the cool older woman who plays saw and slide guitar, who has a wooden, dancing cat that she operates with her foot. She's REALLY GOOD at the instruments she plays, and the wooden cat completely mesmerizes passing kids.


This week we could not resist:

-large red tomatoes
-red cherry tomatoes
-yellow pear cherry tomatoes
-peaches (white)
-red lettuce
-cheddar garlic bread (mmmmmmmmmmm....)
-multigrain, sliced, sesame-seed topped multigrain bread
-regina cherries (very dark, very ripe)
-blueberries (!!!)
-crinkly green peppers
-and from Sukhi's: 3 samosas, papadam, mango pickle, and green chili chutney.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:00 PM

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