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Monday, December 29, 2008

Holidays, and How They Make Me Fat

  my nuclear family, Christmas Day 2008[Image at left: my family, Christmas Day, 2008]

Ordinarily you would have read several messages from me by now, outlining all of my plans for a vegan (or near-vegan) Christmas/Solstice feast. You may be wondering why I haven't been either boring you or making your mouth water, depending.

Well, this year I was a guest at my Mom's feast, and so all I had to do was show up! Although, since I couldn't imagine NOT making something, I had a baking frenzy on Tuesday night, at which I produced (a) a pumpkin pie (vegan - duh); (b) a cranberry-apple pie to bring to my mother's house, with extra cranberries (also vegan); and (c) eggless tart of spinach, feta, and artichoke hearts (merely lacto-vegetarian). (a) and (c) were instructed to wait for us at home while we were away.

iPhone Maps function indicating that we were in SalidaWednesday after work, S collected me, and we dragged out through central valley traffic to my mother's house. It's been a while since I visited, and there were so many new malls along Highway 99 that I didn't remember seeing that I actually whipped out my phone to be sure we were really hadn't missed our exit. The first generation iPhone has a gps-impersonating function that uses cell phone towers to determine your location, and it did a very good job of finding us, at least until we were in isolated places - and even then, it came pretty close in guessing where we were, it just missed the roads.

My mother plied us with a three-cheese ravioli dinner. I made myself a couple of Cape Cods to shake some of my work stress, but that wasn't really necessary: my father had put his Jacuzzi on high, and let us soak in it until we got too sleepy to stay in it.

Oh, how I slept. Better than babies sleep.

In the morning, I celebrated the arrival of Christmas with ANOTHER long soak in the Jacuzzi, followed by one of my father's fried potato-and-onion breakfasts. Oh, the glories of fried food!! The fries taste great, of course, but they lubricate my insides in a way that takes many days for my body to work through...

Just a few hours later came the feasting at my mother's. My family has never been especially fond of turkey, and my parents both loathe ham, so our family tradition is lasagna (also spelled lasagne, as if you care). My mother made a veggie one for her SF herbivore guests, and a ground beef version for the rest of the family. We also had an enormous green salad (red lettuce, a bit of iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, marinated artichoke hearts, avocado, Italian dressing), garlic bread, sparkling cider, and my cranberry-apple pie.

It was a lot of food. A lot of very tasty food, but a lot of food.

We headed back to the City in the late afternoon, and for once were lucky enough to avoid traffic along the route everywhere but Tracy, where there is always traffic, and not for any obvious reason. Of course, when we were hungry again, we had the spinach and pumpkin pies waiting for us...

I'm getting full just thinking about it. And kind of tired. I'll have to gush about what I ate on my birthday some other time.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas (and all other Solstice Celebrations!)!

  Christmas light abstract image by A.E. GravesBest wishes to you and all those you hold dear throughout the winter solstice celebration season!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:08 PM

Saturday, December 20, 2008

When wildlife pisses you off

  One of the MANY nice things about reading the BART Twitter feeds I had described earlier, is that the people who say witty things about BART often say witty things generally, or find amusement in the sort of humor I do.

So, the tweet about the frog I posted earlier led to a Twitter feed with a reference to Fuck You, Penguin (, which... Okay, how could I NOT go to a blog so named?

Sample entry titles: "Moose are the biggest dorks ever" and "Camels are played out."

The quality of the ranting is high. I recommend this.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:38 PM

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pastry and Cloth

  I don't have a sweet tooth, but I was excited when I was invited to Tartine ( for breakfast. The way people talk about it, especially other foodies, you'd think they'd lost their minds.

I was wise enough to go with my favorite cousin, who invited me to meet him there at a precise time, a time at which he had observed that, for mysterious reasons, the line out the door suddenly becomes a "normal" queue of reasonable length. He nailed it, dead on.

I sampled three things.

The double soy latte was large and delicious. I am a coffee snob, so this was pleasant, though I had expected it to be good anyway. My cousin noted that the omnivorous bakery is run by purists: they refuse to make soy mochas on the grounds that the cocoa contains dairy, and thus isn't vegan anyway, so it offends them to make it nearly vegan. Which is silly, but there you go.

I had half of a "morning roll," which is a cinnamon roll, but good. No no no, you aren't taking this seriously. I mean, REALLY good. Cinnamon rolls are often undercooked rolls of dough drowned in sugar frosting, indistinguishable from doughnuts. Tartine's morning roll is GOOD: it has a firm texture, just enough frosting, great cinnamon flavor... It goes well with coffee, of course. It was the best cinnamon roll I have yet had.

I also ordered the bread pudding. It was covered with stewed fruit in a light syrup, and the fruit drew me in. However, it wasn't the right dish for me, because it had an eggy-pancake sort of texture, and I'm not keen on that. I should have known better, I suppose, but... really, the fruit on top was just too lovely.


Added bonus: just down the block from Tartine is The Language of Cloth (, a small, wholesale shop for gorgeous imported textiles. Those of us with scarf fetishes could easily blow all of our future income there, but luckily it is a cash operation, and so you can't throw yourself into debt there.

This is a seasonal shop: this weekend is the last for the month, so be sure to go now, before I make you jealous over my purchases and you are frustrated that you didn't go yourself.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:10 AM

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Regret: a poem

  I bluffed on virginity
and was rewarded with feasts
plus this exotic leaf dress
in which I danced until dawn
but now we're hiking inland
toward the volcano's hot mouth
and I'm beginning to think
that I gave the wrong answer.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:47 PM

Modern communications technologies, and how they rule

  I was busy sharing links to Bay Area Rapid Transit's various websites and blogs with colleagues, when it was pointed out to me that I was omitting a few links. Namely, is better than for getting real time estimates using your smart phone or other mobile device: the interface is zippy and gives you estimates for trains in all directions from the station of your choice. I have now have a button for this site on my iPhone.

BART also has a blog with pictures at, and different content from the other links I posted previously. This is kind of a magazine-version of the blog: it is relatively fancy.


Best bumper sticker about blogging, as displayed on the rear window of [Mini]'s truck: "How's My Blogging? Call 1-888-STFU."


Steven now has his own Twitter feed at I knew something was up when he asked me what the syllable count for haiku is. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all, but there are other things he could be doing with the feed ASIDE FROM using Twitter precisely the way I use Twitter. I'm just sayin'.

(Larry's Twitter feed ( remains awesome, of course. Favorite recent tweet: "I have an eight-sided die that's older than some of my co-workers.")


Speaking of blogs and tweets, my recent change in relationship status has had an unanticipated impact on the readership levels for both my Facebook page and my Twitter feed. After I removed the statement that I was in a relationship from my Facebook page, Steven, with whom I had been in a relationship, and who previously insisted that there is no point in reading any of my websites, since he speaks with me anyway, actually reviewed all of my tweets and began asking very specific questions about them. As in, reading my haiku from months ago back to me and asking if specific poems were about him.

This was unexpected.

Also, one of his relatives (a mutual Facebook friend) is scrutinizing my interactions with my 130 Facebook friends, seeking suspicious patterns. Steven has had to answer questions about my acquaintances of his acquaintance, and why they might be sending me virtual candy in Facebook.

I do not recommend this as a tactic for increasing readership.


I am in a software test group at work, and one piece of software that I am testing is microsloth's Communicator. It's an IM-type program, in which you can post a status message. The character length of the status message is of decent length.

My current status message reads, "Sorry, could you repeat that? I was having an elaborate fantasy about moving to a parallel universe where that business decision would make sense."

This can only be seen by other members of the test group who have chosen to list me as a contact. Which is a small, reasonably sympathetic universe. When the program is actually rolled out to a wider audience, I will have to decrease the snark level. I think there is a software tool for that, somewhere.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:08 PM

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Showing the fig

  I love I especially love the etymology dictionary entries, which contain some harsh, entertaining content. If you're into language. Which I am.

See the entry for sycophant at and you'll see what I mean.

Yes, today I used the Internet to learn an archaic vulgar gesture. How cool is that?


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Even my transit system uses Twitter

  I spend entirely too much time commuting. My employer moved to the East Bay, at considerable distance from a BART Station, and so I now spend between an hour and an hour and forty-five minutes of my day traveling to and fro.

Much of that time, I spend on BART.

I look at the schedules on my phone, and was amused to notice that BART has a blog. BART - Seen and heard on BART this week: LARP, cable guy, nuns, rats, unicycle ( is more amusing than you would expect a blog by a transit system to be. This is because BART is actually searching Twitter (, the text-message-distribution-list service, for content from riders.

I know what you are thinking: you are thinking, "I search Twitter all the time for content about my transit system, and now someone else is doing that for me? How convenient!" Yes, I know. It really is great. Someone else is out there, looking for gems like:
Sounds like there's a frog on this bart train. If someone's missing a frog w/a working knowledge of public transit, it's the fremont train.
But wait, there is MORE! Bart has its OWN TWITTER FEED, to which you can subscribe or follow more subtly on the web. It Is True!

I'll give you some time to calm down and absorb all of this now.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:36 AM

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Someone else's recipe: curried cauliflower soup

  Last Friday I had gone out with my lunch posse to eat at 900 Grayson (, which is one of our favorite "special" day lunch places. They have a vegetarian (sometimes vegan) soup of the day, and I am always impressed by them - they are always delicious and satisfying. On Friday last, the soup was curried cauliflower, and it was HEAVENLY and vegan. It had a gorgeous color, a lovely smell, and a very satisfying flavor and texture. It was everything good about curry and cauliflower, together in a satisfying winter soup!

I don't really prepare cauliflower in many ways: my favorite way is to cook it in a walk without any added water, covered, with shredded ginger root, cumin, and garam masala until it is tender. It's heavenly, but it's nearly the only way I eat that veggie now, and I could use some more techniques, especially since it is now winter and very available.

I did a search for curried cauliflower soup, and one of my earliest results was dead on: Vegan Fitness :: View topic - Curried Cauliflower Soup (

This is SO GOOD.

I didn't have a potato on carrot on hand when I made it, and should have cut down on the water/broth accordingly, but the flavor was fabulous. Just for science, on the second day, a potato and carrot each joined the soup, which gave it a heartier, fuller texture, but it cost the cauliflower a bit of its lovely flavor dominance.

This may wind up being one of my favorite soups this winter. I recommend it highly. (Feel free to cut back on the cayenne if you are likely to hear whining about it. :-))

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A photo of me in glasses that I can actually tolerate!

  OF COURSE I staffed the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's annual Winterfest fundraiser and party. How could I not?

No, I didn't wear a corset this year. It's just been too cold, and I don't have any new ones to show off. But, despite this, there is a photo of me from the event that I can bear, among the other many fun photos from the event: The CrackBerry Chronicles: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's Winterfest | Fog City Journal ( (Scroll down. You will notice that Phaedra is working hard, while Sue and I mug for the camera.)

Thanks for finding this, Larry!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:35 PM

Sunday, December 07, 2008

It really is December, isn't it?

  photograph of freshly made parasols drying in a temple hallway, Kyoto, Japan by A.E. GravesI have been back from Japan for a week as of today, but it is taking me a long time to adjust. My body seems more or less to believe that the Pacific Standard Time means something, but my urgent need for naps each midday suggests something remains awry.

At night, I am still dreaming of reading signs in hirigana neon, surrounded by decisively moving crowds, thinking carefully before I speak in hopes of being understood.

When I am awake, I still find it odd that the air near restaurants does not smell like tsukemono (Japanese pickles, which we often passed display barrels of on the street). Even the deep frying smells that are so abundant there are different from those here, likely because of the difference in what is being fried.


I have finally started to review my "real camera" photographs from the trip. I have more than 6 GB of files to look at, which will take a while even though most of that bulk is just big TIFFs, but I've started posting images from the lovely first night in Kyoto. Japan - First Night in Kyoto is a Facebook gallery which you can access without being a Facebook participant. It has shots taken after dinner on a stunningly warm autumn evening, from an experience that was a lovely re-introduction to Kyoto.


At this moment, I am saving up my energy for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's WINTERFEST party, which is happening tonight!!! It is my favorite holiday party, and one of my favorite fundraisers for the SFBC. (My other favorite fundraisers are also for the SFBC, just so you know.)

If you're free this evening and want to shop for art and bike merchandise for yourself or your loved ones while benefiting a fabulous local advocacy group, click the link and get details! I hope to see you there.


It may take me a while to post more images from the Japan trip. There is a lot going on in my life right now, much of which doesn't really belong on the web. But December is a complex month, full of creative projects, communications with people I've lost track of, unusually formal meals, family drama, schedule drama... Ordinarily I would have my holiday cards designed (and hand made!) by now, I would have ordered photo calendars... Projects I would have gotten a jump on during November are still waiting for me to act like I recovered from traveling in Japan. I was just in an art show in New York, and I haven't even mentioned it on my own photography website! It's that kind of time. I'll get (t)here. Soon, I hope.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)3:40 PM

Saturday, December 06, 2008

December Farmer's Market

  Arlene with enormous daikon radishIt is what passes for winter here now, which was the subject of some discussion at our table at All Star Tamales at the Alemany Farmer's Market today. It was sunny, and warm in the sun, to the avowed surprise of nearly everyone. One diner finally concluded that local winter is just January through March at most, while acknowledging the novelty of sitting at an uncovered table outdoors to eat despite this.

It was LOVELY out.

[Photo: Arlene cuddling with a daikon radish longer than her shoulders are wide.]

We showed up at the market after 1 p.m. for the first time ever, and expected the place to be deserted, but found hordes of shoppers - just mellower, less dense hordes than we are used to. Some of the booths were empty, - not everyone farms for year round market sales - and a few farmers were packing up such December oddities as strawberries or guavas.

Its the time of year for hardy greens like the kales, chards, gai lon, the various Chinese broccoli and bok choy relatives, spinach, cabbages; many orange foods like pumpkins, persimmons, tangerines, and oranges; and a host of root vegetables. [Beyond the turnips, potatoes, and what I suspect were beets, there were the root veggies I have seen the most often while in Japan: daikon radishes. They were everywhere - growing in suburban lots, on farmer's market tables, and even in souvenir stores -- radishes are specialty of Kyoto (and a required condiment in nearly every Japanese meal), and huge displays of both freshly pickled and recently packaged pickles appeared in every major tourist area. The smell of daikon pickles followed us everywhere, even more than cigarette smoke!] There were a few stray sweet and hot peppers, a surprising number of pluots, some weathered looking cherry tomatoes, and (finally!) an abundance of kiwi fruit.

The items I could not resist:
-a single, enormous daikon radish (pictured above). I'm going to try to pickle much of it simply (hot vinegar, salt, a little sugar), though I know there are fancy ways to it from web sites like's tsukemono page, which I'll need to visit when I have some rice bran handy.
-ordinary radishes, in three colors (for salads)
-jicama. It is very crisp and fresh. (S will snack on this, and I might grate it for salads or sweetened oatmeal.)
-cilantro (for use in guacamole and east Asian soups)
-sweet, small, green bell peppers (for stir fries with tofu)
-broccoli (for stir fries over rice noodles or couscous)
-onions (I use these in nearly everything)
-red lettuce (so tender, I'm worried that it won't survive in the refrigerator over night)
-kiwi fruit (which, mysteriously, S won't eat unless I peel and slice them for him)
-cauliflower (for a curried soup in imitation of one I had in Berkeley this week)
-sweet potatoes (an impulse buy because they were so cheap as the farmer packed up; I'll either put them in a coconut milk curry or toss them in canola and sesame oil and bake them as garlic fries)
-a green patterned, ruffled pumpkin (to bake with tomatoes, garlic, onions and rosemary and puree into soup)
-two butternut squashes (for pie)
-persimmons (who can resist that color!).

We also ate tamales at All Star's stand, and despite myself I wound up with two (not my idea) containing cheese: the black bean and the spinach & cheese. All Star often uses mozzarella, which gives the tamales a novel flavor and dense center. Their salsas are also excellent.


I'm looking for good carrot, "potage," and cauliflower soup recipes if you've got them: I prefer my soups to be rather spicy, and pureed to near smoothness. Let me know if you've found one to share with me!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:32 PM

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The sort of thing that makes me love McSweeney's Internet Tendency

  McSweeney's Internet Tendency: So You've Been Buried Alive by Jim Stallard ( This sort of familiar, even-toned writing is so stellar on subjects like these. Here is a sample, to lure you to the page to read the complete item:
"On the other hand, if you're not inside a coffin and someone is shoveling dirt on you, they're probably burying you alive on purpose. (This is especially true if you're moving around and making noise.) Moments like this can seem like the worst kind of betrayal, and you'll be tempted to fixate on the act itself. But think back: What could have motivated them to do something like this? In the end, the real issue isn't that you're being buried alive. It's that the relationship has serious problems that should be confronted."
This brightened my very dim, dark, gloomy evening more than I can say. In part, because I am not being buried alive.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:33 PM

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I have returned from Japan

  iPhone photo of dry garden at Zuiho-en in the Daitokuji temple complex, Kyoto, Japan
...and am still feeling the effects of the 17 hour time difference. Well, that and the three drinks I had this evening with my co-workers. Ahem.

[Photo: dry garden at Zuiho-en in the Daitokuji temple complex, Kyoto, Japan.]

Everything smells different here. Waaaay different.

My first 150 or so iPhone photos from Japan are up at You can work backward in time from the splash page (in sets of 6 medium images), or you can visit the November archive to see the bulk of the photos on one very long page: the trip photos start on November 17th.

I have a just few more phone photos to post. (I learned a lot about the sort of high volume activities that distress Blogger, which was useful, though periodically frustrating.)

It was a remarkable trip.

I kept extensive notes (especially about food), and took a vast number of "real" digital camera photos which I haven't even downloaded from the memory cards yet. I haven't even unpacked anything but my dirty laundry, so I could wash it before it got any ideas about functioning independently. I'll post an illustrated travelogue when I actually believe that I am in this time zone, which should happen in a week or so.

I have also posted Kyoto Bikes, a Facebook photo album of the bicycle infrastructure and activities I observed during the trip.

At "night" in this time zone, I dream that I am still in Japan, and see neon signs written in Hiragana...

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:21 PM

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