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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

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

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

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


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


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:36 PM

Peaches. When Steven went to pick up his number for Sunday's 5k run (part of the SF Marathon's program), he stopped at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market ( and bought me some peaches.

Heavenly, heavenly yellow peaches. Though they only remind me that late last summer there were incredible, enormous, bright yellow cling peaches available at the farmer's market. The farmer's had a sign up insisting that the peaches taste like mangoes... which I sort of see, but they were primarily dominated by a divine peach-iness, and a fabulously firm texture, even when completely ripe.

I can't wait for those to be available again.

Of course, those peaches aren't carried by my local grocers, who only get produce from distribution companies with a very limited menu of options. Which is such a shame: those cling peaches are better than the "standard" yellow peaches they carry half the year and import from as far as Chile...


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:30 PM

Monday, July 30, 2007

Bees [heart] borage. I grow fresh herbs in my garden for cooking: two kinds of oregano, rosemary, marjoram, lemon thyme... The flavors and aromas are just so much bolder and cleaner-tasting when herbs have been plucked during cooking, it is irresistable. Even here in our damp neighborhood, when the trees are dripping with summer fog, there are plenty of herbs that thrive in my garden.

This year, in addition to adding delicious red lettuces, parsley, cilantro (again - even the flowers smell delicious), garlic chives, and purple beans (which have been overshadowed, sadly), I started a few medicinal plants from seed: rue and borage. Both are lovely plants, and both were very easy to germinate and grow. Most of the delicate rue plants have been eaten by critters, but the borage is taking over the garden. And I have never seen so many bees in the garden at one time. The wasp-shaped striped bees, the black fuzzy bees with just two yellow stripes - they can always be found working the borage, even in the early evening when I'm out choosing herbs at dinner. It's lovely to watch them, moving from flower to flower, rear legs covered with pollen... It's very satisfying to give the bees that pollinate our other plants something that they seem to especially enjoy.

If they were any more excited, I'd be expecting Christmas presents from them...

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 AM

Saturday, July 28, 2007



photogravure by A.E. Graves of the Shell Building, San Francisco, CABack when photography was new, an issue arose right away: photographs were great, but also extremely labor intensive to produce in quantity for things like books. Printing presses were a fabulous way to mass produce text and engravings in a high quality way, but photographs required significantly more labor and time to produce individually, and their archival properties weren't fully understood. As luck would have it, some of the same guys who figured out photography also figured out how to make photographic plates for printing presses in the 1830s, and the photogravure process has been refined over time since. It was a brilliant idea: intaglio printmaking technology had been around since the 1400s (according to Wikipedia's intaglio printmaking page), and so the tools, presses, and inks were all available and well understood - the new technology could easily rely on the old infrastructure and craftspeople.

I have been testing out many of the 1800s processes used for making photographic images, and had wanted to try photogravure for a while - I had always loved the images in Stieglitz's publication Camera Work, which were all hand printed photogravures. If I ever edition sets of prints, gravure would be a GREAT way to produce them. Printmaking is a very practical fine art, and I wanted to know a bit more about how I could use it to make prints with the images I've been shooting for special printing processes in general.

The San Francisco Center for the Book (, a local bookbinding school that offers a range of classes in book-related arts, has offered several tempting classes on printing technologies. Last year I took a class on how to make photopolymer plates for relief printing, but it didn't seem right for me. The resulting raised (relief) plates required a lot of adjustments for printing photographic images, and there were many challenges involved in making continuous tones. (If a print is made by having a raised section covered with ink, how do you indicate lighter and darker sections? You wind up needing to represent lighter sections in raised dots that are far apart from each other...) Once the plates were made, printing presses capable of using raised plates were required, which meant that I'd need training on more specialized (and expensive) equipment, and training on ink handling (and related solvents). After I took the class, the alt process mailing list discussed experiments in plate making with different types of relief plates and their related difficulties at length, and I decided the process wasn't quite what I was after.

A new SFBC catalog arrived, and it contained a different type of photopolymer plate-making class: one that makes intaglio plates (etched valleys in the plates) rather than raised dots and lines. I signed up, and spend 10 hours learning how to use ImagOn film to make plates that can be used in a simple etching press using non-toxic inks.detail of Shell Building photogravure by A.E. GravesThe photo-sensitive film is adhered to metal base plates with water, is exposed to positive film under UV light, then soaked in a non-toxic solution. The unexposed parts of the film dissolve away, while the exposed sections harden to different thicknesses/depths, depending on how much light received (how much light made it through to the film, based on the density of the positive). Those etched sections form little pits which hold varying amounts of ink, which are released onto damp paper in a high-pressure etching press. The entire process is non-toxic to the user, and produces images of fine tone and detail.

This version of the process uses the least complex equipment, is the least toxic, and takes full advantage of digital tools in preparation of the film positive - it's the best of all worlds. Inking the plate and handling it is messy, and I will need to rent equipment to do this, but the images resting in their deep indentations (made by the plate) are just so gorgeous... And completely archival, of course.

When I have a chance to do more, I'll post work and links to my instructor's site on my photography site. I plan to post sample images from my first day of printing at my gallery at next month.

Yes, I am a geek. And it's FUN.


posted by Arlene (Beth)3:38 PM

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tour de Fat ( It was fabulous: Speedway Meadow, sunny weather, 6,500+ people attending, 100+ volunteers (like me, carding and tagging people who wanted to enter the biergarten), wacky circus acts, a performance by the Sprockettes, "Portland's Original Minibike Dance Troupe" that left me in tears of laughter... It was a day of fun that benefitted my beloved bike coalition to the tune of $10k+.

All that, and I learned that there is a beer I like. Appropriately enough for me, considering my habits, it is a beer made from an obscure recipe. New Belgium ( (who set up a very well designed, interesting website for their activities like the Tour de Fat, their eco-friendly recycling projects, etc. at have a tasty, dark beer called 1554, a "Brussels style black ale." I don't usually drink beer, and so I'm not sure how to describe it in beer-y (or ale-y) terms. It has a lovely flavor, deep without being too bitter; it has a lovely color, a rich hue that appeals to me the same way good coffee does; it tastes clean in my mouth... It's just plain pleasant, and I plan to buy and drink more of this.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer nights. Last night I walked toward the train station from the north side of Potrero Hill, and it was just GORGEOUS out. The air smelled very fresh and clean; the air was immaculately clear and ground level, so you could see every little city light for miles; it was mildly warm; and there was a glowing ceiling of clouds relatively low in the sky. The clouds were tall, but every so often, there was an enormous, deep, scallop-edged opening in the clouds, and the full depth of the ultramarine blue sky was revealed, going on forever...


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, July 16, 2007


Many hours spent obsessing over photography.

flawed tintype of a bugle on steel beams by A.E. GravesOne of the difficult parts of having a severely broken arm has been a general inability to do much of anything other than rest and recuperate. My movements have been limited; my energy has been limited; an almost complete lack of exercise has left me sluggish and weak (going from an average of biking 7 miles up to 6 days per week down to walking up to 2 miles a day, tops)... It's frustrated me and worn me out.

My vacation refreshed me, and the many good things about the trip put a spark back into me. I've been taking photos again; I've been printing in alternative photographic processes again. And I've been making fabulous progress.


Up until recently, I've been hampered by a long series of technical challenges which sucked. All of the alternative process prints I have been making (until this weekend, at least) are made through direct contact with a negative of the same size: they are not made by enlargement. Most of my early prints lacked perfect contact with the printing paper, due to an imperfect contact printing frame which held the negative and paper together, and so they had blurry or soft spots in each print. I bought some salvage glass (old medicine cabinet doors) at a salvage yard that provide much more reliable contact under clamps. My old inkjet printer, which I used to make digital negatives, refused to accept monochrome mode, and so would print my negatives in inconsistent colors, from yellow to violet, so I couldn't control the density of my negatives, and so couldn't control the density of my prints. I've now purchased a new inkjet printer, and it makes GORGEOUS, fine, completely consistent negatives (and gorgeous photo prints, too). I lacked an archival washing method, and so failed to produce prints that I had confidence would age well; some of the silver nitrate-containing experimental prints displayed stains over time. I now have an archival print washer. And so on.

Between many experiments and new tools, I'm making some of my best prints yet. I'm working up portfolios of them now, and should try to post samples of them soon.

BUT, instead of showing you some of my well-made prints that show off my ever-improving skills, I'm going to wallow in the thrill of discovery, and post a sample of something I've just taken up and appear to suck at: wet plate collodion on metal! The image with this post is a crop of a 4" x 5" ferrotype or tintype. Tintypes were popular during the U.S. civil war, and are a lot of effort to make. A polished sheet of metal is coated with a volatile (read "potentially explosive") collodion mixture, dipped in silver nitrate, slipped into a film holder with a dark slide, exposed in a camera while still wet, developed while still wet, fixed in one of two fixers (the one on this page was fixed in a nasty-smelling potassium cyanide solution), washed, dried, and varnished over an open flame with a flammable mixture of oil of lavender, gum sandarac (dried tree sap), and 190 proof alcohol. The result is a glossy in-camera positive that is grainless, retro-cool, and a bit hard to read.

The image on this page is the first plate I made that APPEARED to come out well exposed and with good contrast (for this process - when you're working in silver on a black background, this is a relative thing), but which revealed that it had been scraped by the film holder after the image dried. The round circle on the bugle and on the beam behind it isn't spray paint, it's a flaw in the surface of the exposed collodion. I'm posting it here anyway, with the edges of the plate cropped out. I'm doing this because I am sentimentally attached to this flawed plate, and so that you'll be impressed when I show you the better ones. :-)

I plan to make more tintypes in the near future (despite a variety of barriers, only some of which involve common sense), and also some wet plate collodion images on glass, which are called ambrotypes.

I'll also be trying yet another process that is completely new to me later this week... But I'll write about that after it happens.

Yes, alternative process fetishism is a strange thing. And a helluva lotta fun.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:53 PM

Thursday, July 12, 2007

It must be summer: the tomatoes are FABULOUS. At my favorite co-op grocery store, there were no fewer than SIX varieties of heirloom tomatoes on display. Green striped, red ruffled, yellow round, yellow ruffled with red stripes, red, and red-green (which sort of look black from a distance, but up close you can see that they really are a deep red and green combined).

Oh oh oh oh oh.

Dinner tonight: locally made onion and red chard ravioli topped with a fresh sauce of minced garlic sauteed in extra virgin olive oil with shredded fresh basil leaves, added to diced yellow heirloom tomatoes (round, lemon-colored) and heated gently, so the tomatoes just release their juices.


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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:44 PM

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Food-related conversations on the Emery-Go-Round. Unable to bike to work from the BART train stations, I have been taking the clean (inside), free Emery-Go-Round shuttle to bridge the two and a half mile gap between the train and the office. Morning and evening, it is a strange, sensory experience: all of the shuttles have those small, tree-shaped air fresheners scenting them strongly (some shuttles have four or so of those little trees hanging from the dashboard!), and each shuttle is usually tuned to the local "lite rock" easy-listening station. The strange 'lite' songs have a way of sticking in my head throughout the day, and become the official soundtrack of my time in E-ville.

"Feels So Good" by Chuck Mangione is probably _the_ song I associate with Emeryville now. Though there are other songs, which I like far less, which appear to be in heavy rotation.


The shuttle is pretty quiet, in that most of the riders chat with the friendly drivers, but not with each other unless they are already acquainted. There are exceptions, and two of those recent exceptions related to food.

One was a conversation in which a young woman was talking about how concerned she is about her parents, who are at least 70 pounds overweight and who eat nothing but meat, white bread, and butter, and do not want tips about healthy eating from their adult daughter. She was conversing with a slightly older woman who had once been 80 pounds overweight, and who lost it all through better choices and portion control: she asked the younger woman to tell of her successes to the wayward parents, to let them know that it IS possible to change as an adult. It was nice to see the woman who had succeeded spreading her enthusiasm for change.

Yesterday, there was an entertaining discussion about the history of meat markets and barbecue joints in Oakland between one of the drivers and a passenger. It was especially entertaining because our driver was so enthused about pork chops, and after speaking on the topic at length, his passenger revealed that she won't have anything to do with pork; there was also extensive discussion about whether or not canned greens (collard, radish, and mixed, all including garlic and ham) could really be taken seriously by the passenger, who insists on fresh, home-cooked greens.

The funny/sad part to me was that our driver revealed that (canned) greens (containing salt and ham) are the only vegetables he eats, and that he finds the vegetarianism of a colleague's child to be implausible, and perhaps dangerous.

Can you imagine a vegetarian diet based entirely on canned greens? I can't. He couldn't. But that's not what vegetarianism is about.

Both conversations to me were about culture's heavy influence on our diets. Why did the first woman's parents insist on an all meat-and-white-bread diet? Why did the bus driver think that canned greens (with ham) are the only veggies out there? Why did one of my ex-roommates always put sour cream on his chili? Why does my mother put butter on white rice? Why do Eastern Europeans eat rye bread instead of wheat or white?

I showed a friend of mine the gorgeous "japonica" rice I'm eating, which is purple, brown, and black. He expressed disinterest right away, explaining that Chinese culture insists that white rice is the rice, and that his tastes are based on what he was taught - he was convinced that other rices must have an unpleasant texture.

This probably isn't news to you, but this is part of the point of my interviews with friends about what they eat: I'm trying to figure out why some people stick to what they had at home, or what was normal in their area, and others don't.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:03 AM

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Steven's gallery of anthotypes is up at!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:52 PM

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Tuolumne Meadows and Environs

landscape near Parker Pass, Yosemite WildernessSo, to break my recently established, injured-person's lifestyle and actually leave the house for something other than work, I took a long overdue vacation with Steven, and we went up to Tuolumne Meadows.

I have 'a thing' about Tuolumne Meadows, which is funny, because I've spent so little time there. TM was the end point of the backpacking trip up the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in 2000 (caution, one-way link), the trip that started at the Hetch Hetchy dam and reservoir and gradually, over more than 10,000 feet of climbing mountains adjacent to the river, ended at TM. That was a SPECTACULAR trip: it took place in my favorite river canyon in the world, was my first back packing trip with Steven, and was the trip that inspired him to invite me to live with him. (All together now: awwwww.)

Tuolumne Meadows was a one-night stopover during our 2002 Yosemite High Country trip, which was really two, smaller trips: a short stay in the Valley, with a day hike down from Glacier Point; and a backpacking trip from TM down to the Valley over several days via the Rafferty Creek trailhead. (Both mini-trips were made possible by the bus services provided from the valley: there's a Glacier Point hiker's bus, and a Tuolumne Meadows backpackers' bus. The schedules are limited, so plan ahead.)

Dana Meadows and TM were what made us feel like we returned home after our 2004 sabbatical travels in the Southwest's national parks: I nearly cried just smelling the air as soon as we entered Yosemite through the Tioga Pass entrance. And TM was where we took my dad for his first camping trip in many years in September of 2004, which was a lovely, chilly fall trip. (No, I've never posted any photos from the many rolls of film I shot. Ah, well.)

Considering how many times I've visited Hetch Hetchy in any season, or how often Steven and I have visited the Valley in winter, it doesn't seem like I should have much of a connection to TM. But you don't know that all winter, I read the weekly dispatches from the winter TM rangers at the Tuolumne Meadows winter conditions page, where I watch the snow pile up, week by week, and then read about avalanche conditions, wildlife sightings, long nights, and then the long, long effort to get the Tioga road cleared of snow (and boulders, and downed trees) by July of each year. All the places I love to hike share similar conditions to TM, and so I live vicariously through the rangers (who, unlike me, can cross country ski) until the road to the high country is open, and backpacking season is REALLY here.

I LOVE backpacking season.

Anyway, the lowest snowfall we've had in 28 years or so meant that TM opened unseasonably early (May 11th!!), and the campground opened mid June, after I'd been checking the Yosemite campgrounds page every day...

Nameless lake near Parker Pass, Yosemite WildernessWe went to camp in the regular campgrounds at Tuolumne Meadows from June 20th through the 24th, before word really got out that the campgrounds were open. We scored a site near the river in the "A" section, far from the few motorhomes, generators, and other nature-avoidance-devices that populate other sections of the camp. This was my first trip away from home since I broke my arm. As you've seen in the contraption photo, I was terrified of doing something stupid, or having my brace grab passing trees / rocks / bears / random-bone-breaking-video-game-obstacles, and so I got an elbow pad, and looked 5% more ridiculous than I already did. (My lack of hair control accounted for the final 20% of additional ridiculousness that pushed me over into clown territory: luckily, the brace distracted most people from that.)

On our first afternoon, after blowing a hose on the way into the park, being trapped in a turnout until the car cooled down, and having to take a side trip to the garage in the valley to procure replacement hose for Steven to install, we made it to camp, and milled around the meadows themselves for a while. That was pleasant.

The second day, we hiked from the Mono Lake trail head up to Spillway Lake, Parker Pass, and Mono Pass. (The two photos posted here are from that trip: the top one is a view of the peaks on the way toward Parker, and the lake is a small, nameless lake very close to Parker Pass, and quite close to Helen and Spillway lakes.) The air was stunningly fresh, the birds were singing, snow was melting into creeks, marmots were posing on rocks, and the landscape was stunning. The high elevations are stark, with sparse vegetation, desert-like hills, small icy lakes, and lush meadows full of corn lilies. From just above Mono Pass we had views of the southern shore of Mono Lake and parts of the lake's basin.

It was one of those hikes that made us wonder why the trail wasn't packed, because it was relentlessly beautiful. (Of course, it wasn't crowded because it is beautiful the way the desert can be: grand, harsh, and off the beaten path. Also, the air is very thin there.) We wound up at 11,100 feet at Parker Pass; since I didn't take a side trip to the shoulder of Mt. Lewis as Steven did, my hike was a 12 mile round trip, the farthest I'd traveled under my own power at any elevation since breaking my arm.

Day 3, we had a day of rest, which meant that we milled around Tenaya Lake. The trail that goes around the lake was barely in use, with people primarily lounging at the eastern-most beach and picnic area. There are many lovely spots to sit on a rock and soak your feet in the cold, crystal-clear water.

Day 4, we went on a 14 mile hike from a trail head on 120 to the Cathedral Lakes, Sunrise High Sierra Camp (not open for the season), over a ridge, and back down to Tenaya. Until the big descent to Tenaya, it was mostly climbing, and we lounged around quite a bit at my suggestion. We missed the last pre-dinner shuttle, and had to wait 90 minutes for the last shuttle of the day to collect us at the western Tenaya shuttle stop: I have never been so happy to see a shuttle bus as I was when the driver zipped past toward the last stop in the loop before coming to us.

It was a good trip: I really needed the rest, the fresh (thin) air, the exercise, and the scenes of stark grandeur.


By the way, according to Blogger, This is post 1,200 since I started this blog in 2002. Wow. Happily, Blogger is not also quantifying my posts in terms of coherence or interesting content.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:48 PM

When weight doesn't matter: the luxury of 'car camping.' At last week's four night camping trip, it was SO EASY to choose foods to bring along, because we only had to carry our supplies a few yards away from the trunk of the car to our bear locker, where our foods could be safely stored (for us and for the bears). We still opted for foods that cooked quickly and didn't involve many cooking implements, but it was still a breeze.

We had:

-instant oatmeal with cranberries and other dried fruit. We also take this backpacking, of course, but it's good enough to eat even when you don't need to limit the weight of your supplies.
-two types of instant rice noodle soups that came in their own bowls. These were from TJ's, in garlic and mushroom flavors, and were tasty. They came in moulded bowls, and we only needed to add boiling water to the ingredients and then let the noodles absorb the water for a few minutes. It was nice not to need to do dishes afterward, but it was annoying that there were about 5 layers of packaging that came with these soups.
-cookies! TJ's makes a great "vegan trail mix cookie," plus we got one of their oatmeal cookies. These are full of nuts, and quite filling.
-vanilla and chocolate soy milks.
-fruit juice. Because we could!

lunches we had on the trail, and so kept things light. We had:
-multi-grain sourdough bread with sliced fontina and a chunky, roasted mixed veggie spread with garlic and olive oil
-salted cashews
-honey roasted peanuts
-candied ginger
-dried mixed fruit (bananas, cranberries, pineapple, apricots, raisins, etc.)
-energy bars
-more cookies

dinners were relaxed and large. We had:
-fresh artichoke ravioli with a mild tomato sauce.
-TJ's instant Indian entrees (the kind that come in sealed foil pouches which you cook by setting them into boiling water, along with TJ's precooked wild rice (now available in similar pouches!)
-spaghetti, in the rest of the tomato sauce with multi-grain sourdough bread.

We brought a lot more food than we needed (mixed olive tapenade, cans of very tasty split pea soup, additional snacks), but I messed things up by not wanting dinner the first night, and not having much of an appetite during the trip generally.

All of you non-backpackers are confused by my enthusiasm, but you really have NO IDEA how nice it is to have cranberry juice with breakfast, or a big mug of chocolate soymilk before bed...


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:28 PM

Jay Kullman has a book out! He never mentioned to me that he was even working on a book, and then Jay sends a last-minute e-mail about how he's giving a reading at Modern Times Books, one of my favorite bookstores. Go figure.

Jay is one of five co-authors of The Ten Minute Activist (, just published by Nation Books ( It's a compilation of little things you can do that are quick and easy which make a positive difference in the world if they are done cumulatively. There are many habits that Americans have that add up to a big impact, and this book provides easy behavioral modifications you can make.

I'll ramble about individual versus collective action (and combined with collective action) some other time.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:12 PM

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