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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Forbidden Tomato Love!

  It is one thing to make a film of the Oedious myth. It is another to cast it entirely with... animated vegetables. Oedipus The Movie ( is one of those things that, even with my vivid imagination, I am unlikely to have come up with. For this, I am thrilled... and strangely relieved.

It must be seen. To be believed, or otherwise.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:40 PM

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of strange tomatoes

  the moonscape of an heirloom tomato by A.E. Graves Image at left: the scarred, festively colored moonscape of a tomato I bought at the Farmer's Market today. Isn't it awesome? Answer: YES.

Summer has come to San Francisco, in the form of cold, cold days. We had a high today of 56. I put on a sweater AND turned my heat on today!

Happily, however, this also means that summer crops are arriving at the farmer's markets. Today, after sleeping most of the morning away to pay my body back for many nights of marginal rest, I talked myself out of going all the way to the Ferry Building, and instead went to the small Parkmerced Farmer's Market (, which is just west of me, out near SF State's campus. It opened for the season on May 16th, and runs from 10 to 2 on Saturdays until sometime in fall.

The campus, and adjacent Parkmerced, were hopping: graduations were in progress, and families were wandering around in fancy clothes, parking badly, making illegal turns, and strapping couches to the tops of small compact cars...

There were about 20 vendors braving the chilly, windy, gray weather. But that isn't limiting: unlike at some other markets, where a farmer may grow just one thing (onions, or maybe mushrooms) nearly everyone at this market had a wide range of offerings. There were beets, chard, peaches, apricots, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, spinach, lettuces, a wide range of potatoes, hot coffee, prepared Afghan specialties, prepared Italian specialties, soaps, a crepe stand with crepes made to order (using vegan batter), several types of onions, peas, a bread and pastry vendor, a dining area, a dessert table, cheese, fish (happily shrink-wrapped, and so unscented), Asian greens, herbs such as dill and basil, several types of tomatoes (heirloom, yellow, several types of cherry, round red), green beans, eggplant (!!), blueberries.... There is a wide variety for such a small market, and some vendors sell more than a dozen types of produce.

This time around I chose:

-golden chard (to saute in olive oil with garlic)
-lettuce, spring sweet mix (lots of purple! for salad)
-strawberries (which I started eating while waiting for the bus - HEAVENLY)
-bok choy, baby (forever good with ginger and tofu)
-cherries, the red-and-gold type that are sometimes called Ranier
-peaches, white and yellow (these bruised to the touch - literally)
-Swiss three-seed bread (a mixed white/whole wheat bread with sunflower, sesame, and poppy seeds, from Beckman's in Santa Cruz)
-tomatoes, round red, still on the vine (which looked generic, but the samples were so full of tomato goodness that I caved)
-tomatoes, yellow round
-tomatoes, freakazoid, scarred, multi-color - one, for photography. The image at the top of this entry is the rear of this tomato. You can see more of this particular tomato at my gallery entitled tomato porn (, no login required). There were several other interesting, "ruffled" or strangely scarred tomatoes I considered buying to photograph, but... I was pretending to be reasonable, and my bag was full.


One interesting thing about the strawberries was that there was a choice at multiple stands between conventional and organic: some growers grow and sell both, to hit both price ranges of shopper. While this makes sense economically, it puts the farmer into an interesting bind when it comes to selling them. A potential customer asked what the difference was between the strawberries at opposite ends of a display table: the farmer pointed out which set was organic. The customer asked what the the difference was, helpfully offering that perhaps one of them was sweeter, which inspired a noticeable pause before the farmer suggested that the customer just taste them. Ordinarily, he'd want to talk up the fact that one set had no pesticide residues... but having the conventional (pesticide residue) set on the same table made that something that would be awkward to bring up.


The prices seemed comparable to other certified organic markets ($3.50 a pound is a common price for most things), and the selection is good. Everything looked delicious. It's also not a total mob scene, and has its own dining area. Unlike the Alemany Market, this one is really easy to get to: the 17 Parkmerced stops just across the street, and it's within walking distance of the 28, 29, and M.

Parkmerced's farmer's market is a worthwhile, high quality little market!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:19 PM

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sucking on camellias

  I'm a tea enthusiast. Camellia sinensis, the particular camellia whose leaves are used to make tea, is a stellar plant in a plant family I have always been very fond of.

Yet, I've always been rather skeptical about one of the main tea-origin myths: that a few camellia leaves fell into someone's hot cup of water, and they were immediately inspired to make a habit of drinking their hot water in this fashion. It just didn't make much sense: it takes a lot of (processed) tea leaves to make a good cup of tea, and if multiple handfuls of a random plant fell into MY cup of boiling water, I doubt I'd drink it. (If you're someone who is undeterred by random objects falling into YOUR beverage, just bear with me.)

I was able to put this to the test. Steven is a gardener, and he had occasion to prune a Camellia sinensis and bring some leafy branches over to taste.

We tried treating the fresh leaves like they were treated in the story: I put about half a cup of them into a tea basket, poured boiling water over them, and let them steep for several minutes.

The resulting drink barely tasted like anything. It was definitely hot water with a hint of... green. Not like clipped grass. Not like citrus. Not especially like tea. Just... green.

I let the remaining leaves sit on my counter for several weeks to dry out. For the next effort, I decided to boil them for about 5 minutes, and to use twice as many leaves (which was hard to estimate, because they were small and dried up this time, but when they rehydrated, it looked close). This time around it tasted like... something green, with a hint of weak green tea. But just a hint! Perhaps even just a rumor. A rumor of tea. Also, this time, the water turned more yellow-green. It did not become as yellow-green as processed tea would have under the same circumstances.

So my evaluation of the myth: perhaps the myth has been altered. Perhaps someone was cooking outdoors, an entire branch of a tea bush fell into their pot of boiling water, they permitted it to boil there for some length of time, and THEN they tasted it and found it pleasant.

Maybe. But I'm sticking to roasted, dried tea leaves.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Next up: robots recommend a barbecue sauce that will smell GREAT on you

  Robot Identifies Human Flesh As Bacon | Table Of Malcontents (, from waaay back in 11/2006).

I don't really need to say much about this: it is perfect as it is.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:53 PM

Monday, May 18, 2009

All wrong

  He refused to leave.
I slept fully clothed
(if I slept at all)...
He entered my bed
so I ran away
and slept on a couch
in another town.
But now I am home
(in my home of years,
a home we once shared)
and nothing feels safe.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:43 PM

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Paper patterns of Japan

  You would be frightened if you knew how well my November 2008 trip to Japan was documented. You might not be quite as frightened if I show these many types of documents to you in small, manageable pieces over long periods of time, however. So that is my approach.

My Japanese Paper Fetish (, no login required) is the latest installment of my encyclopedia of experiences, showing you another aspect of the visual artistry that I enjoyed there.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:32 PM

Recipe: white bean and garlic soup

  As part of my recent fit of Italian menu fantasies, I craved a white bean soup. I didn't have a perfect recipe for one, though there is apparently a FABULOUS one in Vegan with a Vengeance that I will need to check out, which includes two complete heads of oven-roasted garlic. (Added bonus from reading about that soup at Vegan.Chicks.Rock ( the link to the distressing entry on jaeger bomb cupcakes (!?!?).) I am certain that soup rules.

I was impatient, and did not want to wait to roast two heads of garlic. So here is my own, ultra-simple version of white bean soup. VERY simple. You can really taste the beans. Which is a good thing.

-1.5 cups of dried white beans (I used navy)
-7 cloves of garlic, sliced
-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
-lots and lots of fresh water.

Carefully pick over the beans, eliminating the gravel and any "bad" beans that the machines failed to notice, and put them in a pot with about 5 cups of hot water. Bring to a boil, and simmer partly covered for about 45 minutes, checking the water level periodically to be sure the beans remain submerged as they expand during cooking. You can keep a kettle of hot water going to top them off.

At the 45 minute mark, add the garlic and oregano, and stir well. Return to a simmer. Check the water level every 15 minutes or so, keeping the beans submerged. At the hour and 15 minutes mark, start checking the beans for tenderness: if you want a partially blended soup with SOME whole beans, you will want to be able to smash them easily with a wooden spoon, but still allow them to hold their shape. It takes about 1.5 hours of simmering for navy beans to be soft enough for my tastes, but firm enough to retain their structural integrity.

When you are happy with the tenderness of the beans, puree half or more of the soup with a hand or beverage blender. Return to the pot and stir well. The pureed beans will make the soup significantly thicker: add water, if necessary, to achieve the thickness you want.

Serve with fresh bread and herb spreads.

(If you are organized, you can soak the beans in a bowl of warm water all day, while you are at work, to shorten the cooking time. If you do that, add the garlic and oregano earlier.)

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:01 PM

Monday, May 11, 2009

Love your heart

  When I was growing up, the deaths of so many of my relatives (and most Americans) to cardiovascular disease was always presented to me as a random, unpredictable, unpreventable phenomenon that struck down my family members without warning or known cause. Like being hit by a meteor or being abducted by aliens, it was considered to be completely unrelated to lifestyle, which was a convenient fiction that the part of my family that loves deep-fried, fatty, meat-laden foods (especially Southern specialty variations of same).

Funny, that.

It's been a while since I posted an scientific propaganda which would suggest that eating right and exercising can make you healthier, so it is time for me to apply some pixels to that purpose. This time around, for novelty, I'll cite a British source, which emphasizes heart disease rate differences between omnivores and vegetarians. The Vegetarian Society - Health and Vegetarians part 2 - Information Sheet ( has some good stuff. After pointing out that cardiovascular disease is responsible for about 50% of deaths in Britain, it begins to wallow in research. I will quote selectively:
...a 12 year study of 6000 vegetarians and 5000 meat-eater[s] found that the incidence of coronary heart disease mortality was 28% lower in vegetarians compared with matched omnivores, after all non dietary factors had been taken into consideration....Burr & Butland (1988) found vegetarians to suffer significantly lower mortality from heart disease than health conscious non-vegetarians. Mortality from ischaemic heart disease was 57% lower in vegetarians than the general population.... An eleven-year study of 1,900 German vegetarians has found mortality from cardiovascular disease to be 61% lower in male vegetarians and 44% lower in female vegetarians than the general population. For ischaemic heart disease, mortality was reduced still further, to only one-third of that expected (Claude-Chang, 1992)...
And on and on.

These aren't isolated, cherry-picked results: visit any good health advocacy site, and you'll see warnings against eating foods that are high in cholesterol (which is something only produced by animals) and saturated fats. By which they mean meat. But they don't want to say meat, because there is a meat lobby. Which is not a room with a high ceiling in which the couches are all made of raw beef, and the chandeliers are made of dangling sausages, either.

I know very few people who contest the harm that smoking causes to health. (Those people are smokers, and are pretending.) With figures on this magnitude, knowing that heart disease is the number one killer of Americans (per the American Heart Association ( and just about any other health-concerned website, though cancer is beginning to overtake it), what would it take for you accept these figures the same way?

I mean, beside the idea of sitting on a raw beef couch, and being all greasy and smelly.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Peaches? Peaches!

  Christmas lima beansPhoto at left: Christmas lima beans, the sort of beans that photographers cannot resist.

It has been a lovely weekend, with cherry blossom petals blowing down the streets, and hummingbirds hovering in the garden. The kind of weekend that lets me know it really is spring.

I love spring: I love how the garden turns purple with lilacs and cineraria, the way the calla lilies (still my favorite flower) aggressively colonize all available space with their giant leaves and long stems, how the azaleas and rhodies become a riot of color... And how I cannot stop fantasizing about the summer foods I will soon enjoy. Nectarines, plums, eggplant, tomatoes... Especially tomatoes.


I have been trying to keep my meal fantasies under control. Recent fantasies have been winter-vegetable-friendly:

-white bean soup with fresh olive bread and artichoke spread
-black olive and pesto polenta with a marinated three bean salad, a cold glass of pinot grigio, and a bowl of vanilla bean sorbet
-linguini in sun dried tomato sauce, with a cucumber and marinated artichoke salad. Perhaps with a nice glass of sauvignon blanc.

I fantasize about menus like other people fantasize about... whatever it is other people fantasize about. If their fantasies are as interesting as late winter/early spring Italian-inspired menus. Which I hope they are.

Anyway, it looks like I can expand my fantasies closer into summer territory now, because the farmer's markets are beginning to look "summery." The Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market ( was a madhouse, as it so often is, but worth it for the amazing produce. Except perhaps for snow peas, because no one in their right mind should pay $6 a pound for those. Come on, now.

I couldn't list all of the summer squash, herbs, lettuces, root veggies, types of peas, flowers (sweet peas!), and other items on offer, but I can say that the white peaches are incredible. INCREDIBLE. And that there were TWO booths offering heirloom tomatoes! But I can ramble about my own selections easily enough, and so I will:

-Acme olive bread. Does anyone else put as many amazingly good green olives in their bread? (Hint: NO.) I was the third or fourth consecutive customer to get this.
-heirloom tomatoes. They look like "Cherokee Purple," and several people asked the exhausted woman at the stand, but she had no idea. Even though she was in a booth that ONLY sold tomatoes, and only was selling about three kinds. The less exhausted woman had gone to get something, so I'm going out on a limb and saying Cherokee Purple. Overripe (I went late), but perfect for use within 48 hours. I diced these, deseeded them, drained them in a strainer, and mixed them with shredded basil and fresh minced garlic for use as a raw sauce for vegan ravioli. Because I know how to live.
-rainbow chard. These will wind up in miso soup, and in stir fries with black bean sauce and tofu over quinoa.
-French breakfast radishes. For looks and for salads. I need a recipe for using the greens, which are crisp and tall.
-mesclun mix. It looks expensive by the pound, but a pound must be something like three cubic yards.
-white peaches. The sample was sweeter than the peaches I bought, but I didn't feel too cheated. I somehow bruised many of these on the way home, and wound up slicing the uncrushed parts up and tossing them with lemon juice and Triple Sec, then leaving them to chill in the fridge. Chilled, Triple Sec-marinated peaches are a heavenly dessert.
-fresh chevre from Cowgirl Creamery. Having eliminated most dairy products from my diet, I'm kind of fussy when I bother to consume dairy: this stuff is AMAZING. And organic. And it will take me a long time to consume it, and then I won't crave other dairy products for many weeks.
-Stockton red onions. While $2 an onion shows that there is some degree of hysteria that breaks out at the Ferry Plaza, these are some of the most beautiful onions I have seen in ages. And they are enormous. And a lovely shade of purple. Photographers like me go weak for this sort of thing.
-carrots. For cole slaw and a curried cauliflower soup I fancy.
-basil. For pesto and brushetta toppings for vegan ravioli.
-parsley. Also for pesto.
-torpedo onions, oblong green onions. For salads, miso soup, and gingery stir fries.
-green onions/scallions (same)
-flageolet beans (dried, pale green, recommended in several recipes in the Greens Cookbook)
-Christmas lima beans. This is another item I bought for primarily photographic purposes. How could I resist? Look at those patterns! While I know most gorgeous beans cook down to a dull purple-brown, these look so good dry, I hardly care. It will be all I can do not to thread them and wear them as a necklace.


There was one aspect of my late morning and early afternoon at the market which left an odd taste in my mouth, literally. I had arrived with a very serious tamale craving, and was initially discouraged that there was no tamale stand out front to sell me a vegan or chili-and-cheese tamale smothered in salsa. But then I went to the information booth and spotted Primavera's location. Primavera makes my FAVORITE vegan tamales: pumpkin and corn. Oh, they are so good!

My wait in the long line for their lunch plates paid off quickly with two "Yucatecan" tamales, refried black beans, and cabbage salad. The tamales were described as "tamales with Swiss chard, pumpkin pesto, hard pumpkin seed pesto, habañero salsa." I was so there! I asked for the "vegetarian" tamales, though the ingredients made them look potentially vegan, and I know this company is good at vegan tamales.

They smelled WONDERFUL. The salsa was fabulous. I was loving them. Until I found the quartered hard boiled eggs.

When was the last time you were eating a tamale, and thought "wow, this tamale is so good. If only it had quartered hard boiled eggs in it, it would be perfect!" Let's see, that would be... never? Am I right? Even if you like hard boiled eggs, which I do not? Would it be fair to say
hard boiled eggs : tamales :: sauerkraut : berry sorbet?
I think so. So I had to spend some time picking these out, and applying more salsa to cover any weird, eggy flavor residues they left behind. This made me want to avoid tamales for... the indefinite future. Despite my otherwise profound vegetarian tamale love. I'm sure I'll get over it. Once I forget how weird that was.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:47 PM

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Americans want cheap, fat-free, deep-fried cigarettes they can feel good about

  It is awkward find yourself eating with a group of people who are complaining about their health and weight while eating things they really shouldn't be eating.

It impedes conversation to drink cocktails with people who seek sympathy for their completely preventable medical conditions.

It is also very difficult to formulate encouraging comments to leave on the websites of fundraising pages for charities which raise money for new organs for drug abusing rock stars, but we can leave that topic for another time.

How do these things happen? I blame culture.

I think it often works like this:
If I was raised as a Polish Catholic (like my mother was), I believe that Iím in the one true religion, and that my national Polish foods are the best foods to eat Ė because otherwise, why would my mother have made them for me, and why would my family eat them? Questioning the health benefits of that diet raises questions of fundamental identity issues, which are inviolable. It is impossible that my mother would feed me unhealthy foods (she is a good person!), it is impossible that Poles arenít making the best sausages on earth (we are a great people!), and while most of my relatives died young, I have a few that lived to be 100, which proves that it is a good diet! (If it was really that bad, they ALL would have died young!) Nutritional information from (non-Polish) scientists conflicts with what I (want to) believe, and must be discarded.

You, and all studies that say things I like are bad for me, are dissing my culture.

All that research showing the epidemics of heart disease and cancer among people who eat like me is irrelevant. I will choose to believe that "everyone" gets these diseases, that they cannot be prevented. In a pinch, I will believe that cultures that have better health statistics than mine have some (inscrutable?) genetic advantage, and that their much leaner traditional diets have no impact at all.

Studies that say that things I like are GOOD for me, however, are a completely different story, and I will clip those and carry them around with me to show you while we are drinking (some other cultural heritage's) beer.

Pass the ketchup.
This clearly isnít true for everyone, but it explains some of the blank looks the person who is eating a deep fried traditional food while complaining about heartburn and clogged arteries gives you Ė facts about health simply donít fit into this line of thinking, and so must be discarded quickly.

People who actually process this information may be more open, to a point, but you are asking them to criticize the deep-fried part of their heritage, and that may be the only part of their heritage they are really attached to.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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