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Friday, November 21, 2008

I am currently in Kyoto

  ...and have WiFi access for the first time since arriving here, but it isn't yet reliable.

I am beginning to post street photos at - which, because of this keyboard, I cannot currently post a link to.
posted by Arlene (Beth)3:51 PM

Sunday, November 09, 2008


  It is the strangest feeling ever NOT to be writing a novel this month. National Novel Writing Month 2008

It's National Novel Writing Month! (

I've already sent them money and earned a halo for this year!

I have plot ideas!!

I have successfully "won" NaNoWriMo for the last four consecutive years by completing a 50,000 word draft within the month of November!

But... I will not have access to a computer regularly for more than half of this month, so it will simply not be possible to participate. I will have a useful substitute activity, which I will report on as soon as it begins, but... It's not the same.

Best wishes to all of you who are lucky enough to be writing this year: Write On!


posted by Arlene (Beth)6:36 PM

Saturday, November 08, 2008

More iPhone silliness

  I didn't actually plan to install iZen Garden by Random Ideas, LLC (, even though I like the company name (which is almost as good as Made With Bananas, another phone software developer), but I couldn't resist the reviews.

Reviews that begin with, "Out of all the Zen Garden applications, this is clearly the most thorough..."

Out of all the Zen Garden applications??? There has been a world of zen garden applications out there that I simply have been unaware of until now? Gosh.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Fashion Report: Spaghetti Squash Remains Hip

  This is a photograph of a spaghetti squash. No really, it is. Take my word for it.
cooked spaghetti squash

While my winter squash mania continues, I should mention again that humble, plain looking, oblong yellow squash called "spaghetti squash," which so many people have never had.

It is DELICIOUS, especially when you cover it in your favorite sauce. It is a wonderful alternative to wheat pasta: it has more crunch, texture, and fiber. It is especially delicious when baked, mixed with sauce and a ricotta-like mixture (with or without actual cheeses), and baked again as a casserole as in my spaghetti squash casserole recipe.

I'm posting a picture of the baked squash here, after I've made some progress scooping out the cooked squash with a fork. It really looks like this when it is properly cooked: there is no need to process it or do anything fancy to it to make it cleave into spaghetti-like strands.

It remains a very hip, very fun vegetable, one that adults and kids like to play with.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Strangely meditative iPhone pastimes

  The Apple iPhone is good at being a phone. It is good at being a music player. It is good at video games. It makes for a rather fine, low MP camera. It plays movies reasonably well. It is a calculator. It can find your location on a map using cell tower triangulation. Having achieved all of those things, what is the next step?

Weirdness. Weirdness is the next step.

One of the lighthearted, applications-without-business-purposes is Koi Pond from The Blimp Pilots ( It allows you to watch virtual koi in a virtual koi pond. Something which you likely had not realized that your "smart phone" could do for you.

A designer showed it to me at a party, along with a bubble wrap popping simulator. I am running Koi Pond version 2.0 which has such improvements as "refracting koi" and "3d sound."

As someone who mainly uses her phone to track buses, post haiku, photo blog, and check messages, it would never have occurred to me to even look for an app like this. But there is something appealing about the total frivolity of it.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, November 03, 2008

Halloween Redux, part four: jack o' lanterns

  jack o lantern group photo lineup by Steven Pitsenbarger

Thanks to Janet, Ian, Jill, MacKenzie, Donald, Helen, Bryan, and Steven for their creativity!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:24 PM

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Halloween Redux, part three: pumpkin foods!

  fifteen inch long banana squashImage at left: fifteen inch, two dollar banana squash from Alemany farmer's market.

Dinner at my cousin's place was fabulous: he served a kabocha squash (the very dark, blue/green/black squash you see in the market, similar to hubbard but not as lumpy) that had been baked whole, pureed, simmered with coconut milk and mild curry spices, and then had more squash added later, so that the soup was thick and smooth, with chunks of firmer squash resting in it. It was soooo good! Rich, satisfying, and perfect for the cold, wet weather we have been having. (And vegan, which maximizes its perfection!)

I have been on a winter squash bender.

It's not like there is any lack of spring and summer food still available in this strangely warm, dry year. A week ago at the farmer's market, mounds of strawberries and plums confused what would have been an otherwise autumnal theme, with stalls filled with apples, winter squash, and persimmons.

Late summer is running especially late this year. My haul last weekend included: raspberries (three baskets for $8), red kuri squash (pictured below), banana squash (above), butternut squash, green beans, young red onions, cucumbers, pomegranates and fresh pomegranate juice, mixed sweet and hot peppers, sweet bell peppers, pluots (including the locally popular "flavor grenade"), guavas (!!), avocados, plums, limes, garlic, and a range of tomatoes, including some very intensely flavored, DEEP red dry-farmed tomatoes that make a heavenly, heavenly salsa.

For pumpkin carving at home, I had a simpler menu of pumpkin foods this year, to reflect the highly informal, spontaneous nature of the event. I still managed to serve four kinds of squash: long, yellow, orange-striped, ovoid delicata; kiss-shaped red kuri; pear-shaped, beige butternut; and yellow-orange banana. I baked all of these, halved and seeded, in casserole dishes with a bit of water in the oven for about an hour at 400 degrees Fahrenheit prior to adding them to the dishes below:

-Kopan pumpkin soup: a sweet and mildly hot soup of baked and pureed butternut squash, onions, chilies, cinnamon, and ginger root. It is an unusual way to have pumpkin, and is warming in several gentle, pleasant ways.

-pumpkin quesadillas: flour and corn tortillas filled with a sauté of sweet-hot peppers, onions, chunks of baked red kuri squash, cumin, cayenne, and basil. Served with homemade guacamole (this time just avocados, garlic, lime and lime juice), a salsa fresca (a chunky puree of dry-farmed tomatoes, onions, sweet-hot peppers, and red onions), and tortilla chips.

red kuri squash-pumpkin pie: a puree of delicata or butternut (one of each) with tofu, four pumpkin pie spices, succanat, and vanilla extract, served with whipped cream. This was an experiment: I usually make this pie according to this recipe, using a combination of honey and brown sugar. Succanat is basically evaporated cane juice, which hasn't been bleached or processed the way white and brown sugar have, and it has a lot more flavor of its own. It worked very well, and came out just as good as the honey/brown sugar combination usually does: the only catch was that the pies made with this recipe don't really have full flavor until they've had a chance to chill for a day, and I made these in the morning. They were okay that day, but have been fabulous ever since the day AFTER I had people over...

The delicata squash make a lighter colored, more delicately sweet pie; the butternut makes for a slightly redder, more classic "pumpkin" pie. I rarely use the classically round, orange "sugar pumpkins," just because these other squash are so insanely good.

As I am typing this, there is a spaghetti squash in the oven. Feign surprise...

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:14 AM

Halloween Redux, part two

  strangely lobed winter squashIt's been a very long week! In more ways than I can tell you... The festivities included not one but TWO pumpkin (jack o' lantern) carving parties, costume making, Halloween celebrations at work, Halloween wanders after work, dinners with friends, greeting a friend flying in from abroad, an All Souls Day party, and, coming up, a wedding reception.

I am so tired. But I am also very well fed.

Jack o' lantern: blow-by-blow.

first face of jack o lantern carved into strangely lobed winter squashsecond face of jack o lantern carved into strangely lobed winter squashthird face of jack o lantern carved into strangely lobed winter squashThe photos I am attaching here are of a three-faced jack o' lantern that I carved at my cousin's home. I had run out of pumpkins by the time I was supposed to go over to his house, and asked him to pick up something "strange" for me to carve. He and his friends found this enormous, irregular squash, which I suspect is a combination of blue Hokkaido and... an alien.

If you do a lot of cooking with squash, you know that some of these are just plain solid: you cannot actually get the stem center out, let alone hollow out much of the rest of the squash. Also, these types of green-to-white fleshed squash often have a lovely, sweet, melon-like scent, which is really pleasant.

I am a skilled pumpkin carver, but even I had a heck of a time getting the stem piece out of this squash. I had to carve out one of the mouths on a lobe and work my hand into the hollow of the lobe, and then work the stem out from beneath. (With my hand up past the wrist in the mouth of the lobed squash, I had to make jokes about obstetrics, were generally moaned over.) The clearance in the center of the squash was very limited, but each of the lobes had a hollow beyond the very thick walls of flesh that I was able to clear out enough so that a single candle could light all three lobes. (One of the nice things about making multiple faces on a single squash is that, if you happen to be a photographer who can take long exposures on your camera, you can have one or more of the faces pointed at your camera, and the rear faces pointing toward a nearby wall, where the rear faces will be projected in candlelight. It's a great effect!) Note that these whitish squash bruise easily: those aren't pen outlines around the cuts, but are bruises that the knife made by piercing the skin.

Aside: Yes, there are more photos from the carving at our place, but those haven't been shared with me yet.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:40 AM

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween Redux, part one

  Halloween Critical Mass, San Francisco, 2008So many rainstorms! Waves of rain are rolling in even now, soaking the garden. You can nearly hear the plants sighing happily. The storms posed quite a threat for Halloween - they put quite a damper on people's plans (ha ha - ouch! Sorry!). But there was a big, strangely warm and still break between storms, and it lasted just long enough in San Francisco for Halloween revelers to enjoy the gorgeous night for a few, relatively dry hours.

Halloween group of Antarctic researchers with local penguinsI had been working on a very warm, soft costume for a while, and managed to come up with an extraordinarily simple design which I was able to hand-sew in just two evenings. To coincide with a silly story I'm telling in the office (about my new space being as isolated as Antarctica), I decorated my office to look, well, Antarctic, and encouraged my colleagues to wear appropriate parkas. I came as a gentoo penguin. (I'll post more about the costume design some other time, if only so I can use the same principles in future costumes.)

Yes, I did write BART as a penguin. (Playing the commute straight while in costume is one of the more subversive joys in life.) Yes, I did walk to BART as a penguin. Yes, the group of school children waiting for their school bus did let me know that my costume was easy to figure out, especially the little boy who followed me half way down the block on the other side of the street, singing a song I didn't recognize and shouting "ba da da da da da da - PENGUIN!!!" with his fist in the air.

I was also impressed with the costumed turnout at work - much higher than I had feared - and the overall excellence of holiday-themed desserts that were entered into our office competition. (Your office didn't have a Halloween dessert competition? Well, it sucks to be you, doesn't it?)

While my train ride to the east bay had been devoid of decorå†ed adults, the BART ride back into the City was filled with costumed adults, many of whom were heading toward Critical Mass. Which I was also heading for.
Steven Pitsenbarger as Robot, San Francisco, Halloween 2008, photo by A.E. GravesI had gone out of my way to design a costume that was bike-friendly so I could ride in Critical Mass. I did this because of the clarity of the design that came to me, and not merely in rejection of the 'couples costume' which had been proposed to me by my partner: namely, that I be a large, cartoony hammer with a mean face, and that he be a nail with a sad/frightened face. [Insert your interpretations of our relationship here.] Once I made it clear that I was not going to participate in his suggestion, he was maniacally inspired to come up with a remarkable, nearly all metal robot costume. It took many days of looking for parts, and many more of assembling and testing. But his robot costume is a wild success. A stellar photo of Steven's Robot is featured here on, and made it onto the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle today.

We had a lovely time milling around and seeing all of the Massers in costume (and yes, I longed to ride); went on a long, gorgeous walk around the Ferry Building and Embarcadero; met up with Peter for dinner; waited for Alex, flying in from Okinawa, to escape the airport and catch up with us; hung out at Peter's place; scoped out some of the costumes in Peter's neighborhood... May I say here that any costume that can be described as "Sexy __________" or "Slutty __________" is painfully, painfully conformist and boring? I'm not saying it's not hot; I'm just saying it is BORING. For those of us who are not 'into' women especially. DULL. Please.

San Francisco Ferry Building and Skyline at night, Halloween 2008It was an absolutely gorgeous evening - everything was wet, reflective and shiny; people were merry; the air was fresh; the City lights were gorgeous; and it was possible for me to be comfortable in my very plush costume, but also warm enough for the folks in skimpy wear to avoid goosebumps as they rolled through town with their blinkies on "fast."

We skipped one party, failed to reach the host of another to be buzzed in, and headed home to be met by enthusiastic rainclouds. They had held off just long enough!

Special thanks to Peter, who provided us with refreshments, his restroom, a chance to freshen up, and space to engage in minor robot repair.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)5:50 PM

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