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Sunday, August 27, 2006


Supermarkets: *yawn*

Earlier this summer, I had a really funny conversation with a younger person. He was talking about food shopping trends, and how there was an amazing new trend occurring and being observed by researchers: people were going to multiple stores to do their shopping. They might go to TJ's for packaged things, another chain grocery story for dairy products and veggies, another for dry goods, and so one. It was quite a phenomenon.

I laughed, and pointed out that when I was a kid (famous slogan of old people everywhere), my mother would go shopping at several venues: the bakery for bread and baked goods; the green grocer for vegetables and fruit; a butcher for meat; and so on. Thinking quickly, the young person admitted that it was an older shopping pattern, but that it had been less prevalent in the age of supermarkets. Even in my family's case, this was true: my mother's butcher wound up going to work for a chain store, and my mother took her business to that store as a result. When he left, she switched to another chain store for meat, but not for other things - she thought that store was too expensive. So she still wound up going to multiple stores for whatever their strengths were.


The premise behind supermarkets is that it's "one stop shopping" - you can get everything you want in one place, efficiently, by the cart-full. But ever since moving out of my parents' home, I haven't been a regular supermarket shopper. As a serious food lover & a vegetarian with a desire for unprocessed, natural foods, supermarkets just haven't been the place to go, and are only now catching up on "health" food purchasing trends that have been making headlines.



The main area where supermarkets have been lagging is in selection. They're a lot like chain electronics stores: they have aisles full of merchandise, but it's all basically the same, and sometimes literally is the same product with different labels on it. Have you tried to buy cereal in a supermarket? There is usually an entire row devoted to cereal, but most of it is heavily processed, high in white sugar or high fructose corn syrup, and some of it contains GMOs. A lot of it is unhealthy; the healthy products often taste the same as each other, or are even produced by one manufacturer under several brand names at different price points, so you THINK you have a choice between corn flakes, but you actually only have a choice between packages. Health food stores carry a very wide range of naturally sweetened, whole grain cereals that taste better, are healthier for you, and cost less. (There is a reason that health-food gourmands are teased about granola: we have lots of cereal options, and they are surprisingly good.)

How about tomatoes? Year round, the supermarket tomato selection is limited to red round (beefsteak-style) and now roma (pear-shaped red), both of which are slightly pink. If you're lucky, you'll have the option of small red cherry tomatoes at some point during the year. One local health food chain here in the City stocks about 6 varieties of tomatoes throughout the summer, from green grapes (small, round, green, sweet) to yellow pear (vivid, yellow, intense), to zebra (several kinds, including the red with yellow stripes), and ruffled (yellow, red, purple-red, or green with a wildly ribbed shape near the top and very intense flavor). ALL of those tomatoes taste and look better than the uniform, bland-to-mild, round tomatoes in the supermarket. And the serious gourmet specialty stores carry even more kinds.

Potatoes? Supermarkets have russet, and sometimes red. Health food stores have russet, red, Yukon gold, fingerling, Peruvian purple, blue, white... Oh, and the interchangeably labeled yams and sweet potatoes, like Japanese sweet potato, gold sweet potato, ruby yams...

Pesticides, genetically modified organisms, and hormones

Within that selection, there is also a winder range of options regarding the use of chemicals and technology that doesn't benefit me.

Pesticides. When given a choice, most people would prefer to buy produce that does not contain residues of insecticide; those who are concerned with the state of the environment would also prefer that their food not be grown with pesticides, since the chemicals can contaminate land and water, be consumed by other animals, and have a variety of adverse health consequences for many living things. Consumers are willing to pay higher prices for produce that is free of pesticides, and the organic (pesticide free) market has been growing phenomenally in recent years. Organic, pesticide-free veggies are abundant at health food stores, but are still in a little organic ghetto in the produce section of supermarkets. This is largely because big factory farms, which enjoy both certain subsidies and economies of scale, produce cheap "conventional" crops grown with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and the supermarkets want to keep their costs low. Since supermarkets don't try to specialize in organic produce, they generally do not succeed in selling much of it.

I'll note here that there are environmental tradeoffs associated with City people like me eating some organic products that are made far away. It may be better for me to eat an organic ice cream from Maine, but the pollution associated with delivering that ice cream to the west coast probably means it isn't better for the planet. Ideally, we should all have local suppliers of great organic products - I'm lucky enough to have several California-based options. Of course, conventional, pesticide-grown products also suffer from this same challenge, and that means that local products are better for the environment than produce grown in South America or cereal boxed up a thousand miles away. Sometimes, local beats out organic because of the shared costs of shipping, but that isn't really a limiting factor, considering the options available in my region.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals which have been modified by scientists at a genetic level to change their characteristics. Many of the early GMO products were designed to make food more likely to be purchased by consumers, without offering any advantages: tomatoes that looked red when unripe and which remained hard (so they wouldn't bruise in transport) were one of the first, much-hyped GMO products to reach consumers. They failed in the marketplace, where it turned out consumers didn't WANT tomatoes that looked red before they were ripe - consumers actually wanted ripe tomatoes! Who knew?

GMOs have interesting scientific potential, but the media tends to represent GMOs as a solution to real problems that could be solved other ways. Scientists are trying to make corn produce medicines, for example, so that someone can grow the corn in an area where the medicine is needed, rather than providing medicines to people who need them. Or to make grains more nutritious in areas where people are suffering from malnutrition because of economic or military crises which prevent people from eating a wide-enough variety of food, rather than support the international community's efforts to manage the overall humanitarian situation. The proposals all sound like band-aid fixes to treat symptoms, rather than the larger problems. Also, many efforts along these lines that were attempted in my childhood - "super" rice and extra-nutritious beans come to mind - failed to live up to their promises. The beans were especially funny - they took more energy (burning wood) to cook, and so were inefficient and rejected by the women who had to cook them, who couldn't justify the additional fuel costs/work.

Pros and Cons of GMOs ( are available from a variety of sources. (Do a search with your favorite search engine for "genetically modified organism" and you'll have many pages of results to choose from.) The list of cons is still rather long. In particular, there have been some nasty instances of contamination of regular crops by GMO crops because of a complete failure of industry to regulate themselves.

In addition to the mismanagement by the GMO industry that resulted in, among other instances, widespread contamination of the US corn supply, I also have ethical issues with the use of animal genes in plants. And frankly, most of the changes being proposed don't benefit me at all. My fresh veggies are doing exactly what they should be doing; my organic veggies are doing so without either genetic engineering or pesticide. GMOs are a solution looking for a problem, or more specifically, looking to solve the problems of the industrial agricultural system, which is a system that sacrifices the environment and common sense for extra yields. I prefer not to support that system, and cannot see GMOs solving the flaws that the system currently has.

Health food stores currently stock a wide range of GMO-free products.

Hormones. Health food stores offer dairy products that are either bovine growth hormone-free (bgh is a hormonal treatment given to lactating cows to get them to produce more milk at a cost to the cow's health) or organic (neither hormones nor pesticides were ingested by the cow). Supermarkets NOW carry some products like this, but often just one of each product, whereas health food stores carry multiple brands, so you have a choice.

One of the reasons I limit my dairy intake is that I don't want to absorb pesticides and hormones from dairy products. There are few that I trust; the sources I do trust certify that their cows weren't treated with hormones and/or are completely organic.

Industry doesn't want me to have this option, and there have been nasty legal battles to prevent the products I buy from being labeled honestly. That's another sign that the food industry does not want me to have any options, and is not looking out for my best interests.

Artificial & "natural" colors, flavors, and preservatives

Throughout supermarkets, the processed, boxed products that occupy the majority of the store space contain a variety of mystery ingredients, including "artificial flavor," "artificial color," and "natural flavors" which may or may not be things that I would like to put in my body.
One of the most widely used color additives -- whose presence is often hidden by the phrase "color added" -- violates a number of religious dietary restrictions, may cause allergic reactions in susceptible people, and comes from an unusual source. Cochineal extract (also known as carmine or carminic acid) is made from the desiccated bodies of female Dactylopius coccus Costa, a small insect harvested mainly in Peru and the Canary Islands. The bug feeds on red cactus berries, and color from the berries accumulates in the females and their unhatched larvae. The insects are collected, dried, and ground into a pigment. It takes about 70,000 of them to produce a pound of carmine, which is used to make processed foods look pink, red, or purple. Dannon strawberry yogurt gets its color from carmine, and so do many frozen fruit bars, candies, and fruit fillings, and Ocean Spray pink-grapefruit juice drink.

-from, quoting from Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation.
(See also, the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Volume 2, Ch. 1, Part 101 - FOOD LABELING, especially section 101.22.)

In a supermarket, I have no way of knowing that one brand of juice has bugs added for color, and another does not, even if I read the label, because those bugs could be considered a natural coloring. Meanwhile, at the health food store, I can get grapefruit juice whose only ingredient is "grapefruit juice." Or even "certified organic grapefruit juice." Or "certified organic grapefruit juice, with added beet extract for color." Given a choice between beet extract and the possible addition of ground tropical insects, which would you prefer made your juice pink? I thought so.


Fresh, natural food is best for me. While there are a few specialty supermarkets that are trying to capture portions of the health-conscious public's food dollar (and doing a decent job of it), mainstream supermarkets, with their shelves filled with processed foods and artificial ingredients, currently have little to offer me.
posted by Arlene (Beth)5:44 PM

Does it feel like fall? What about now? Or now? Our foggy, wet summer weather pattern is in full swing, but the leaves on my neighbor's plum tree are already turning yellow.

It's in the air. You can feel it. The equinox isn't even until September 23rd, but our garden is behaving as if summer is over. A few days of surprisingly cold weather put them all in a mood...


It's been a low energy weekend, but I managed to have a very informal dinner party last night. There were going to be seven of us, and it was planned as a very informal event, so it wasn't too hard to prepare. The menu:

-pinto bean soup with cilantro and chipotle chili (loosely based on Deborah Madison's black bean soup for six recipe in the Savory Way)
-tortilla chips
-fresh guacamole
-fresh green salsa (purchased)
-a veggie plate of sliced red peppers, green peppers, cucumbers, and jalapeños
-a bowl of fresh cherry tomatoes
-lightly toasted corn tortillas

My guests brought more wine, more chips, a spinach salad, a blueberry pie, vanilla ice cream, a bottle of scotch, and the movie around which we'd planned the evening: Blazing Saddles.

It was a good time, and I didn't have to work very hard at it. Which is the best kind of good time.
posted by Arlene (Beth)3:48 PM

PostSecret ( is a site I visit every week, though I don't think I've mentioned it often here. It's a mailart/confession project that's really well done. The second book compiling selections from the project is coming out soon, and I am struggling over whether or not to put it on my way, way, way too long list of books to buy (where would I put them all?).
posted by Arlene (Beth)3:41 PM

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs ( is a riot. It isn't really Steve Jobs, of course - Steve doesn't have that kind of time. But the California-stereotypes are all well rendered and the business comments are funny.

(The comments on photos of other people aren't really consistent with the overall tone: ignore those entries, and read the business ones. They're a riot.)
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:08 PM

Sunday, August 20, 2006

image of marbled paper pattern on handmade card

Low Key Weekend

I missed out on the farmers' markets this weekend: yesterday, I chose instead to take photographs despite the fog and clouds, and was mildly disappointed in the results; today I wasn't feeling very well in the morning, and a brief nap to recover wound up dragging me unproductively into the late afternoon.

Weekends aren't supposed to be this way. Sure, I ran some errands and caught up at least part way on my massive e-mail backlog, but I was supposed to be REALLY productive, writing witty blog entries, cranking out amazing new vandyke brown photographic prints, making pretty cards with marbled paper like the one you see here, dealing with my mail, cleaning house, planning fabulous weekend adventures, and all that other stuff.

But no.


Food the past week has been a bit leisurely. Having gone on a cooking spree last weekend made dinners easy, and the nights I was inspired we had something more elaborate. Pinto bean chili with fresh jalapeños; curried yellow crookneck squash and tofu with rice; eggplant stewed with garlic, olive oil, capers, tomatoes, onions, and fresh basil on fresh sliced bread; pasta with a simple sauce (or with heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil); and then TWO dinners out. Our dinners out were at Dosa, the fabulous southern Indian restaurant on Valencia on Friday, and Naan & Curry, the cheap Indian/Pakistani place on Irving near 8th on Saturday. Indian food two nights in a row may sound overzealous, but they are totally different STYLES of Indian food, so I don't think it counts.


At Dosa Steven had the version of the marsala dosa with eggplant in it, which is fabulously good. I had a green chili and cilantro uthappam (also spelled uttapam and variations thereof), which was wonderfully spicy: it's a soft dosa (which had a texture like a potato pancake) with very fresh flavorings. I was actually "glistening" with sweat on my face from the chilies, which amazed Steven, because that rarely happens when I eat spicy foods. Both of our dishes came with sambar (a spicy and delicious lentil soup made with uniquely flavored toor dal), a tomato chutney, and a yogurt raita. This time we had room for dessert, which was mango kulfi for Steven, and a cardamom gelato for me. It was great, and we were very satisfied - and energized to look at books at Modern Times Book Store (, where (as usual) I found a few items I couldn't resist. (I have an alarming long 'wish list' of books at any given time. It alarms me, at least.)


This week's planned menu looks like this:
-cultured soy "yogurt" and cereal (breakfast)
-bagels with various soy spreads (in testing for likeability) ("second breakfast")
-ginger cabbage stir fry with soba (dinner)
-heirloom tomatoes with whole milk mozzarella, olive oil, and fresh herbs (dinner)
-polenta with fontina and tomato sauce (dinner)
-broccoli with tofu in black bean sauce over rice (dinner)
-eggplant stewed with fresh basil and garlic over fresh bread (dinner)
-Swiss chard with garlic over rice (dinner or lunch)
-any dinner leftovers (lunch).

There's nothing too ambitious on the list. Steven nixed some heavier possible meals (feta-based, eggless quiches); we've been having more completely vegan days since the return from our backpacking trip, and that's been going well.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:28 PM

Yes yes yes yes yes! Wikipedia (English version), my favorite web encyclopedia and all around fun-to-read reference source, has a Cuisine series of reference pages. Oooooh, yes.

I already knew they were great, because of the Wikipedia's Dosa page. But ooooh, this has potential.
posted by Arlene (Beth)6:03 PM

Friday, August 18, 2006

Lovely, improbable cloudscapes. Spectacular Mammatus Clouds over Hastings, Nebraska: photos by Jorn Olsen (
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Note: Tea tree oil flavored floss just tastes WRONG. Not just medicinal, but also distracting.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:23 PM

Monday, August 14, 2006

The sort of captions that make you like totally random people who find things in the street. See the text below FOUND Magazine | Man and Mule (
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:18 PM

And we thought there was a lot of snow in Desolation Wilderness! It turns out that in the high passes of Yosemite, which are higher in elevation, some of the passes are nearly, well, impassable. Trail Conditions - August 2006 ( reports as follows:
High Passes: Donohue, Red Peak, Vogelsang and Benson Passes as well as other high passes crossing into Yosemite.

100% snow coverage still exists on all these passes, some for miles. The trails over the passes are completely obscured by snow. Use caution when crossing a large snow field. The snow is hard packed and you will generally not fall through, though the possibility remains. The snow is sun-cupped making travel difficult and treacherous at times. Furthermore route finding is extremely difficult as the trails are not marked for winter travel.
It is AUGUST. Yes! Seriously. August.

I have been through this same areas in August and July when it is lush and warm, and was amazed at the time to know that the valleys I walked through could fill up with more than 20 feet of snow. This year, the snow never really left.

(Yes, actually, I DO check trail conditions in places I want to be at, but cannot. Yes, I live vicariously through the Tuolumne Meadows winter ranges in winter from the comfort of my temperate SF home. No, it's not really a sickness - just an obsession.)
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:17 PM

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Late Summer Farmer's Market

It's been such a peculiar year: things aren't really popping up in the market when I'd expect them to. One of the farmer's explained that everything on her father's farm was coming to market late this year, and that's just the way the year has been. The odd weather in the spring surely didn't help, but it's so bizarre to have to wait for great tomatoes until August, when the fall pears are coming in.


Although I've been going to the big farmer's market on Alemany in it's beautiful, mural-decorated space, there are many other farmer's markets in the City. (Alemany wins the City's praises: see the City's history of the market here.) The ones I'm familiar with:

Saturday: Alemany, Ferry Building Plaza (and one on Fillmore that I haven't yet tried)
Sunday: Civic Center Plaza
Tuesday: Ferry Building Plaza
Wednesday: Civic Center Plaza
Thursday: evening Ferry Building Plaza.

A search for "San Francisco Farmers' Markets" turns up additional neighborhood listings, and a few peculiar ones (a mall downtown that I can't imagine ever hosted such a thing during the 10 years I worked nearby, for example...)

Of these that I've attended, they're each a bit different. Alemany is the largest, has the most prepared foods, and has the widest selection; it seems to be preferred by large families. Civic Center is smaller, but has more veggies and herbs for Asian cooks on average. The prices are great, and it is favored by central city folks, including lots of retirees. The Ferry Building's is organic, more expensive, and fancier - the presentation is different, and the veggies tend to be unusually attractive, with many exotic varieties of everything, especially gorgeous tomatoes. If you're looking for veggies to photograph and have lots of cash, the Ferry Building is probably the place to go. It also happens to be at the opposite end of town from where I live, though I used to be able to walk there when I worked downtown (if I were willing to spend my whole lunch hour there, which I was).


This weekend, the Alemany market smelled gloriously of tomatoes, basil, melon, and onions. We couldn't resist:

-blueberries. The farmer advised us that this is our last weekend for them - they are BEAUTIFUL.
-green grapes
-plums, two kinds, one of which may be part pluot (plum-apricot)
-cilantro (for a pesto-like sauce for veggies or for salsas)
-leeks (to bake with a butternut squash and garlic OR for an eggless quiche-like dish)
-basil (to eat with fresh tomatoes, garlic, pasta, olive oil, and just a few capers)
-green onions (for salads and stir fries)
-lettuce (for salads)
-heirloom tomatoes (to eat with pasta and fresh)
-cling peaches (HEAVEN! The farmer had a sign up saying these were like mangos, and he was right: they're juicy, very firm, and wonderfully sweet. They're also the size of grapefruits - it's rather shocking. We're eating these fresh, though one of them found its way into the peach pie I made last night)
-yellow pear tomatoes (salads)
-crookneck squash (curries)
-crinkly green peppers (curries, stir fries, possibly a chili)
-enormous red jalapeños (definitely for a chili, possibly also for a salsa)
-globe eggplant (most likely for a pasta sauce or an intermediate layer in a baked pasta dish)
-yellow and purple onions (for everything!).

The first few times I took Steven to the market, he looked put upon, but he's so good at choosing fruit now that it's difficult to imagine he hadn't done this for years. (Of course, he LOVES the samples!) He confided in me yesterday that he enjoys going - the produce is far fresher and more varied than at our local shops (Rainbow excepted), and even the people-watching is spectacular.

And we love the woman who plays slide guitar and several saws with the dancing cat. She just ROCKS.


One of the side effects of all the options we had - many varieties of plums, of melons, of tomatoes - was that Steven wanted to know why ordinary markets don't carry produce that is either this fresh or that comes in this many varieties. I explained that the economies of scale of industrial agriculture work based on standardization - that they choose one variety of tomato, one of lettuce, one of cucumber, up to two of melon - and that is what everyone is contracted to grow, in certain sizes, for distribution everywhere, cheaply, with the goal of having them year round from different far-flung sources if possible. This is why I can get fabulous melons at the market, but am lucky if my local green grocer carries two kinds in the peak of their season: his distributor doesn't buy locally. My local green grocer has nectarines from Chile in spring, rather than new strawberries from just a few hours away.

This is why the tomatoes at the store are never very tomato-y: they come from far away, where they are picked before they are ripe, and spend long periods of time in a truck.

It doesn't have to be this way. Which is why specialty markets (like Rainbow) do a booming business - because they choose quality over uniformity.


What's that? Rainbow can be expensive? Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no - it depends on what's in season.

I once paid $5 for a nearly 2 lb, red and yellow striped tomato at Rainbow in late fall: the weather had made the production of that tomato so late in the season possible, and it turned out to be one of the best tomatoes I'd had in weeks. It was worth every cent. But it wasn't a rate I'd pay for tomato perfection each week. Think of that more as a premium I paid for end-of-season perfection.


I had roommates years ago who believed that they, as Americans, were entitled to have fresh strawberries all year, regardless of the season, regardless of the cost of transport subsidies, so long as they price they paid directly was low. They ate crappy strawberries that had been flown in from afar, rather then enjoying the great local strawberries at their peak. They were not very bright: entitlement to bad fruit isn't really a reward.

Eating fruit in season, locally grown, and organic whenever possible brings you the best available, freshest foods at the lowest environmental cost and the highest enjoyment quotient. I'm so lucky to live here, where so many wonderful foods are grown by small farmers who really produce great food!
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:51 AM

Shomei Tomatsu. The Tomatsu photographic exhibit at SFMoMA closes on Sunday. The museum's website has some interactive features, images, and commentary about it at SFMOMA | Exhibitions | Exhibition Overview: Shomei Tomatsu (

We saw it Thursday night, and were quite impressed by it. It's a very serious body of work, with heavy subject matter and a great deal of harshness in the lighting and bold compositions. It is informative on many levels, educating about the photographer's priorities, the hard life of street performers, the protests against American military bases in the 1970s, and the slums surrounding those bases. It's biographical, without being about any one person: there is an intimacy to the work that makes it feel very immediate. There's an absence of nostalgia that makes Japan (which I have studied and visited) more substantive and real as a place where people have authentic lives, in contrast to popular culture's current depictions of the nation.

The curator's approach was somewhat distracting to us: he broke up several sets of Tomatsu's thematically organized work, which had been published in thematically organized books, and distributed those items through the exhibit to force each piece to stand on its own. The most unified segment that appeared to remain intact was about Americans, which seemed self-centered in an American museum. There were also a variety of comments about Tomatsu's apparent disapproval of the American bases, but how he MUST have LOVED the Americans, because... Well, what? He photographed people protesting them? I'd really have appreciated some quotes from the artist to support such statements, since there wasn't really any fond sentiment in the images themselves. At the end of the exhibit, the curator explains that he wants us to see the work apart from its themes as independent images (my interpretation of his text), and we can do that, but the scrambling didn't seem necessary for that to happen.

I'm sure the curator is fully capable: I'm just saying that we were asking why the work wasn't organized as the artist had organized it in books by the time we were in the second room, and discussing whether or not artists have any SAY in the way their work is shown, because it concerned us.
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:23 AM

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Schadenfreude over slumping SUV sales. It can't be helped: SUVs are a blight upon the world, and it's glorious when the companies that make them suffer for the evil they have wrought.

AND this is food related! The golden arches has been hard up for toys to put in its not-quite-happy meals, and so has turned to Hummer to supply promotional toys for it. It's nearly appropriate: if one eats lots of fast food, one needs a vehicle capable of carrying enormously round people, and Hummers appear to serve this purpose. But I digress: the fast food chain spokesman tried to say that the toys represented the excitement of the Hummer brand. But in the NYTimes article Would You Like a Gas Guzzler With That? (8/10/06), they talk about exactly how much excitement the brand is currently inspiring:
Charlie Miller, a spokesman for Environmental Defense, said he thought that McDonald's might be trying to help an ailing General Motors win some future customers. Sales of the H2, which currently costs about $96 to fill up at the pump, are down 34 percent for the first seven months of this year versus the same period in 2005, and General Motors has sold only 229 H1's this year, according to Autodata, an auto industry statistics firm in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.
Ninety six dollars to fill at the pump! Ninety six dollars to fill at the pump! Whenever some dope drives one of these anti-social vehicles down the street, smile at this thought.
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:58 PM

Friday, August 11, 2006

A parody of my old field. There are two related parodies on the web that have provided me with a lot of entertainment.

The first is, which is a strikingly realistic web page for a parody firm. It's very similar to the current content of websites for firms I've worked out... but with things just slightly out of wack. The empty statements are MORE empty; the page on the firm's commitment to diversity says "coming soon," which is alarmingly accurate; and the discussion of the firm's attitudes - putting themselves before clients, being adversarial, trying to appeal to firms that don't know much about their firm's reputation - is pure, carefully worded hilarity.

That page is related to a blog, which is now available as a book: The parody blog is filled with rants by a bitter partner who enjoys tormenting those around him relentlessly - making the managers cancel other people's holidays so he can look like a good guy when he grants people permission to go home; giving horrid assignments late Friday and then gloating about his weekend plans; being arbitrary to see how far he can push the envelope... I'm sure it's funniest to those of us who have worked in law firms for years - there's a little bit of each of these gestures that brings to mind a name or a face of someone who came close, or of many someones who came close.

Recently there was a food and wine related quote, which actually seemed more truth than parody. Here's a sample from the entry at Anonymous Lawyer on why it's ridiculous that the legal research services are offering articles on knowing wines to impress clients:
Nonsense. Associates appear totally ignorant not because they don't know anything about wine but because they don't know anything about practicing law. I don't care if my associates can tell the difference between a cabernet and a chardonnay. I need them to be able to tell the difference between a judicial holding and the dicta. Between a set of facts we can distinguish and a set of facts we can't. Not about soave versus pinot grigio. Give me a break.
You should really go read several entries at a time - the tribute to Ken Lay is funny enough that you should not try to drink coffee while reading it, or you'll risk the well being of your computer and monitor.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:10 PM

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Radio silence.

I haven't been writing about food with my usual zeal since our return from backpacking. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first, is that one of the few new restaurants I visited made me sick. (There are three grades of sick for me when it comes to food: lower body sick (unpleasant restroom experiences and abdominal sound effects that sound like my intestines crying for help), upper body sick (the food exits the same way it entered), and full body sick (both). In this instance, I am referring only to lower body sick.)

It was a Thai place, and I love Thai food with a great passion, but it turned out to be the wrong Thai place on several levels. I had been told there was a great Thai place in the general vicinity of the one I was visiting: I have now been told by the person who made this vague recommendation that this restaurant is definitely NOT the one he was speaking of. It is one of only two Thai restaurants I have ever eaten at that did not have a specifically vegetarian menu section: instead, each dish had an option of chicken, shrimp, or veggie, which I tried to make more specific by ordering "the vegetarian version" of two dishes, to no avail. (The other Thai restaurant without a vegetarian menu section ALSO made me ill.) And, despite ordering a dish that should have been absolutely, positively vegetarian (a tofu dish without a wet sauce), I STILL got sick.

As I've mentioned in the past, this doesn't mean the place wasn't clean: it just means it wasn't capable of producing vegetarian food.

Another, is that an old, familiar place that I've eaten at before made me sick. Just today I bought a sesame bagel, toasted, with cream cheese from a restaurant near my job. Strangely, they burned it on the cut side, which is rare, and it smelled faintly of burnt sausage, but I figured it couldn't REALLY have any burned sausage on it, because how would that get into the toaster? After becoming lower body sick about 5 hours later, I figured out that the toaster wasn't working and they put my bagel on the grill with the breakfast meat they were cooking.

Ick. Ick. Ick.

Also, my relationship with food has been peculiar since my backpacking trip.


I'd mentioned in previous entries that it was challenging to haul 2,000 calories of food per person per day on this most recent backpacking adventure, because of the naturally lower calorie vegetarian foods we eat, which make our food supply quite bulky. I hadn't mentioned that we didn't actually eat all the food we'd brought along. That was a surprise. Partly because of the abundant mosquitoes, we didn't spend much time at breakfast or "lunch" eating, preferring to snack lightly and continue fleeing the insects.

I also hadn't mentioned that in the 4th or 5th day of every backpacking trip, I lose my appetite almost completely. I have to force myself to eat to keep up the calorie level I need to match my activity level, but I really have little interest in food. (It took longer to get to this point in Nepal, for whatever reason. But I lost a lot of weight on that trek, so my calorie load had been low for a while before I reached that point.) This occurred on this trip, as usual. I was very eager to drink juice, but other foods couldn't hold my attention.

It's the strangest thing, not having an appetite.

Upon returning to so-called civilization, I found that I really didn't have the capacity to eat large meals. I just couldn't. There was no room.

I gave my backpacker eating habits greater retroactive scrutiny, and conclude that I should eat like I do while backpacking all the time. Namely, I should have several small meals each day, rather than a few large ones; that I should have small servings; and that, if I can backpack at high elevations with a 32+ pound backpack on less than 2,000 calories per day, I should be able to get by with less than that during my comfortable, day-to-day life.

Overeating, which is often "normal" here, makes me uncomfortable, and I'd like to downwardly adjust my intake so that it happens much less often. So, I'm working on that. I still take enormous pleasure in food, but now I take it more frequently, and in smaller doses.

I haven't quite mastered the swing of this new pattern, but I'm starting to figure it out.


Rest assured that I'll be writing more about food soon: heirloom tomatoes are now in season, and we're dining on things like heirloom tomatoes with olive oil and fresh mozzarella, or enchiladas with queso blanca/fresca with pasilla chilies and a smooth, sweet black chili sauce. And avocados are GOOD. So there are more food-words in me - they're just coming in smaller doses.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:32 PM

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Classes for book fetishists. After much obsessing, I've started taking classes at the San Francisco Center for the Book (

Some of you know that I bind books by hand, and find that process to be very pleasant. Knowing that there is an entire school devoted to book arts - not just making books, but using the book form as a basis for all sorts of art projects - I have been quietly stewing over the idea for many months. So I finally took the plunge, and took some introductory lab classes.

The first class was just about how to use equipment in the bindery. An ideal cutter (an unusually clever, unusually accurate, unusually safe paper cutter), a board cutter (a dangerous, heavy, 3' long blade that cleanly shears through board), an antique rounder with a curved blade (cuts round corners), an antique perforator (that makes the holes that separate postage stamps, one row at a time), and a guillotine (a large paper cutter capable of cutting clean through your book and leaving an immaculate, perfect edge) were all introduced to me, and I had a chance to use all of them.

They are GREAT. I brought a few unfinished projects from home, and experimented - they are delightful pieces of equipment, and I will surely rent them in the future.

I also took a class on photopolymer plate making. Photopolymer plates are used in various kinds of presses to make large runs of printed images; thanks to the era of computers you can turn any image or document you can convert to PDF into high density film (from a service bureau), and then use that to make a precise printing plate for a press. THAT is an incredible, incredible thing, and I wanted to learn more.

And now I've been through the process, using a premade negative to make a small plate, and realized that the process could be very useful for me in the future, but doesn't solve any immediate problems I'm facing. This could change, and I'm happy that I'm now qualified to run the platemaker. But I'll need to take some classes on running the presses first, and figure out whether or not the kinds of images I want to reproduce will look good this way.

So, as always, I learned something new, and discovered that there is much more I want to learn.

P.S. 8/10/06: I was interested in the photopolymer plate for a historical research reason: the modern plates can be used to print photogravures. Gravures are a way of reproducing photos on a printing press: it's a historic way of mass producing photographic images. Stieglitz, the photography pioneer, reproduced many of the images for his famous magazine Camera Work with this process. There are artists working in gravure currently, often with etched metal plates, to make some very moody, rich, fascinating prints. Some of those prints are what raised my interest. The photopolymer plates in class weren't designed for variable depth etching, the way copper plates are, and so are likely to require different adjustments to negatives (half tones rather than full tones) and give different results (likely are best for different sorts of images which are more black or white rather than those with many gradations of gray). There's more for me to learn on this, so don't be surprised if this comes up here again.
posted by Arlene (Beth)7:59 PM

Friday, August 04, 2006

Dick's Peak, Desolation Wilderness, Lake Tahoe area, CaliforniaYes, I finally have my 220 film back from the lab, and have posted an entire gallery of photographs from our Desolation Wilderness backpacking adventure (just last week!) in my web gallery.

I used one of Kodak's "vivid" professional color films and took the film to my favorite pro lab. I have to say that the colors from the lab aren't quite what I expected. Steven describes them as "retro-cool," because there is something peculiar about the blues. I think they have unusual amounts of turquoise in them, which is the sort of thing I used to attribute to Fuji chemistry on Kodak film. I don't shoot much color 120mm film, mostly because of my general preference for black and white, so I'm always amazed by the quirks of the labs I use. (I used the blue-biased lab because of the skies and lakes in this series; my other lab was yellow-biased, but recently changed chemistry brands, so I'm not sure what their current bias is. My preference is usually red.)

These images were all taken with a 1970s-era Yashica twin lens reflex camera (the kind with two eyes, one above the other) on 220 film (120mm film with 24 exposures per roll). It was a big, bulky camera, but didn't weight much, had few moving parts, was recently refurbished (and thus reliable)... and who can resist making the equivalent of 50 megapixel images which can be blow up to any size? Not me.

I'll write in more detail about the trails and lakes in some future entry. For now, enjoy the photos.
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:10 PM


So it turned out the French were right, so we can stop renaming our potatoes in a really idiotic effort to spite them.

Au Revoir, Freedom Fries (, 8/04/06).
posted by Arlene (Beth)8:30 PM

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