Tuesday, December 29, 2009

how I long for the olden days

"In a 2009 paper in the American Journal of Psychology, Revonsuo and a co-writer, Katja Valli, theorized that 'modern humans still posses this ancient defense mechanism [dreaming as a kind of threat simulation],' though it probably no longer fulfills its original biological function, since the modern environment is so different from the one in which the system evolved. (Fewer mastodons, more traffic.)"
             – Margaret Talbot, "Nightmare Scenario," The New Yorker, Nov. 16, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

spoiled for choice

I finally got my hands on a copy of the San Francisco Panorama but I'm not reading it.
I finally got Splendor in the Grass from my Netflix but I'm not watching it.
I finally got the last two Doris Lessing books in the Children of Violence quintet and I'm making a wild mushroom risotto.  And drinking white wine.  And practically purring with contentment.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saint Euell of Wild Foods

Of the Gifts of Saint Euell
Spoken by Adam One

...Today we meditate upon Saint Euell Gibbons, who flourished upon this Earth from 1911 to 1975, so long ago but so close to us in our hearts...He taught us the use of Your many Puffballs, and the other wholesome Fungi; he taught the dangers of the poisonous species, which however can also be of Spiritual value, if taken in judicious quantities.
He sang the virtues of the wild Onion, of the wild Asparagus, of the wild Garlic, that toil not, neither do they spin, nor do they have pesticides sprayed upon them, if they happily grow far enough away from agribusiness crops...He taught us to improvise; for if there is no Sorrel, there may be Cattails; and if there are no Blueberries, the wild Cranberry may perhaps abound.
Saint Euell, may we sit with you in Spirit at your table, that lowly tarpaulin spread upon the ground; and dine with you upon wild Strawberries, and upon spring Fiddleheads, and upon young Milkweed pods, lightly simmered, with a little butter substitute if it can be obtained...

– Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

oh disney

Sure, it was the thirties.  On the other hand, that is a black doll yelling "Mammy!" and mooning the camera in Santa's workshop.   Yeesh. (start at 3:40)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

the Georgian invasion

My extremely awesome 19-year-old cousin is visiting from Atlanta, and we went to Cha-Ya last night.  He so thoroughly charmed our server with his sincere appreciation of the meal that we got free dessert: soy ice cream with a red bean paste and (I think) a seaweed sauce, topped with toasted rice.  Apparently I have not cornered the market on charm, which is probably all for the greater good.  He can come visit me anytime.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

save the doggie

These were parked across the street from my house today and the day before.  I don't know why.  I don't mind, of course; I am perfectly willing to admit having shared in the bizarre, fierce affection for the doggie ever since moving to the city in 2002.  I used to walk from campus to the ocean, and I would pass it in mystified amusement.   

why can't every day be like

Friday morning my boss took us all ice skating at Union Square.  I like this rather too immensely. 

Friday, December 18, 2009


the dream of my life is that someday someone or someones will throw me a party.  It will be a surprise.  It will be nice and fun and well organized.  There won't be anything for me to do, because it will all have been taken care of.  I can just enjoy myself.  Someone else will clean up, and then it will be over.

Needless to say.  This has never happened, and I am not holding my breath.

Monday, December 14, 2009


I am so shocked!  "It was for moments like this, I told myself, that tourism to British is alive and well." I've already written them.  I sincerely hope that by the time you attempt to read this article they will have already corrected the error.  Poor copyediting is such a buzzkill.

update, 7:55am, next day: fixed.  They wrote me a nice email, too.


what is so frustrating about winter is that despite the fact that the butter has been placed, appropriately, in a dish, so that it may achieve room temperature, it nonetheless refuses to spread elegantly on one's toast as desired.  The room temperature is too cold.  This is rank insubordination.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


At the recent Believer release party, Eames Demetrios gave a power point presentation and lecture on (the? I don't know if it takes the definite article) Kcymaerxthere, an "alternative universe largely consistent with our linear world but with different points of contact: different stories, peoples, creatures, laws of physics—just for starters."  In addition to his day job/s, he travels around the world installing plaques and making markers about various events from this other and somehow overlapping world.   I was enjoying myself too much to take proper notes (who else takes notes at art gallery openings and magazine release parties?  Send yourself my way), but I did manage to jot down an aside about "the god of directionality – some people say he's behind wikipedia, the euro, and Starbucks."  I especially love the sites he's commemorated in Germany and Poland.  At the end of his presentation, we all sang a song together.  He liked my singing and I told him to keep me in mind if he ever started a choir.  Then I bought a travel guide.

This is the kind of nonsense – delivered in utmost earnestness and beautiful seriousness – that I could really get behind.


in San Francisco is a strange make-believe season.  Still, in the rain and the cold I find myself longing for some wino grzane.  Sure, I can make it myself and I have, but it's just not the same as being able to stop into any bar and warm your freezing hands with a glass of hot mulled wine.  There's something missing in my recipe, and I fear it may be Poland; snow, isolation, ambiguity, unsettlement, yearning, wonder.  Medicine isn't the same when there's nothing for it to cure.

 (photo courtesy of the internet.  yay.)

Tata Jesus is bängala!

I liked the Poisonwood Bible in large part because it is so openly and thoroughly critical of USAmerica in a way that so few other American authors dare to be.  It's kind of an exposé in fictional form.  Also, this:
"All human odes are essentially one.  'My life: what I stole from history, and how I live with it.' "

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

recent acquisition

I bought it used for $25!

I think the game just changed.

so refined

incredibly buttery cookies.  I barely helped – all credit goes to Kristin and Natanya, the true bakers.  These cookies were fabulous; I continue to find their shape utterly nonsensical.

strawberry and olallieberry jam, raspberry jam, and marmelade

Why the long spoon?  Well may you ask.  It seems to have become our go-to piece of whimsy. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

let the seasons begin

the leaves have finally decided to change color.  Almost overnight, San Francisco has decided it's fall.  Never mind that it's December; the calendar's just a construct and it's not much use in this town, anyway.  I get ready for my first snowless winter in a few years.  I still have all the accessories, but really these hats, scarves, and mittens, they're decorative in this town.  A comforting reminder of how cold it isn't.  But to see my breath.  To blow air on my dry and reddened fingers, waiting for the light to change.  My cold ears unprotected by my bike helmet.  Singing down the street, dark and echoing.  It's it's own kind of winter.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

my goodness

Mister Foe is arguably the worst and creepiest bildungsroman film I've ever seen.  An extra sincere hats-off to Jamie Bell (once Billy Elliot), then, for extraordinary charisma.  I wouldn't have finished watching it, otherwise, as it was kind of unapologetically hideous.  Hope his projects get better.

Friday, December 4, 2009

things about which Zoë Heller and I disagree

At City Arts and Lectures Wednesday evening, Zoë Heller said she wasn't bothered by film adaptations of books which were quite different from the text upon which they were ostensibly based because the film was "a related but separate artifact and that's fine."  Well and good I suppose but I could never imagine having such an attitude towards my own work.  She later remarked that "It has never occurred to me to read books in search of potential pals."
She was funny and interesting.  Still.  Perhaps she has an easier time with people than I do.  Some of my best friends are books. 

Monday, November 30, 2009

people dream up

the darndest things

the proposed 38 States, by C. Etzel Pearcy, mid 1970s; it follows natural borders and makes the states more equal in size

Sunday, November 29, 2009

home away from

I hadn't had an American Thanksgiving in two years.  Last year in Munich, I succeeded in putting on a pretty decent dinner, turkey and all.  Sure, I mucked up the gravy, but everything else was good, and I introduced some Germans to the wonders of stuffing. Easily one of the more grown-up and adult accomplishments of my life to date.  Much more preferable, however, to throw it all out the window and down the drain and revert wonderfully to childhood where my mother cooks fiendishly and won't let anyone step in the kitchen.  (I've extracted a promise that I'll be allowed to help out next year).  I got fed endlessly for four days and was reminded of all I loathe and dread about the suburbs.  At about 11pm, with my dad in the living room watching Fox, the dog snoring on the floor, the rest of the house in bed and me lying on the couch in the front room, reading a novel and day-dreaming with the other half of my brain I thought this could have happened a decade ago.  And did. 

Still, it's not all housing developments and quiet desperation.  On Saturday I went for an outing with my Mom; we started at  Snow's Citrus Court, a small family orchard in Newcastle (a neighboring suburb to the one I was raised in, Orangevale, no longer a vale particularly noted for its oranges) where we bought Satsuma mandarins and some mandarin-based marinades.

persimmons out to dry 

Then, we went for a stroll through some recently reclaimed open space. 

We ended with wine tasting at Mt. Vernon Winery, which had been wildly successful (especially relative to it size) at the most recent California State Fair, and makes, among other whimsical blends, a "Girly Man" Syrah.  I'm not a fan of the governator but it's a tasty red.  You can keep your Napa and your Sonoma.  At the little wineries in Placer and Amador counties, tasting is free and refreshingly devoid of snobbery. 

I returned to my apartment to find my housemate John making pizzas from scratch.  I know, you're sick of hearing it: I love my home.


"When a newspaper dies in America, it is not simply that a commercial enterprise has failed.  If the San Francisco Chronicle is near death – and why else would the editors celebrate it 144th anniversary? and why else would editors devote a week to feature articles on fog? – it is because San Francisco's sense of itself as a city is perishing...
We will end up with one and a half cities in America – Washington, D.C., and American Idol.  We will all live in Washington, D.C., where the conversation is a droning, never advancing, debate between 'conservatives' and 'liberals.'  We will not read about newlyweds.  We will not read about the deaths of salesmen.  We will not read about prize Holsteins or new novels.  We are a nation dismantling the structure of intellectual property and all critical apparatus."
               - Richard Rodriguez, "Final Edition: Twilight of the American newspaper," Harper's, Nov. 2009

In this same article, I learned that the word "hoodlum" was coined in San Francisco.  Neat!  Of course (of course), I'm hoping he's wrong.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Cha-Ya kind of blew my mind Saturday night.  Then on Sunday there was

(beet and apple pizza with ricotta)


and a really gorgeous pumpkin pie that I stupidly forgot to take a picture of. 
And that's only the food.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Barbara Kingsolver is Dr. Frankenstein

according to her (but then, aren't all authors?).  That's a direct quote.  As is:
"My country does not encourage me to view it as a work in progress, but as a perfect, finished product, and if you criticize it, you are called 'unAmerican.' "
"When I'm reading a novel – and I try, I do, I give it a chance, at least fifty pages – I ask myself: Do I care what happens to these people? And if not, why keep reading?  Because they're not real!"
"The greatest virtue of fiction, in my opinion, is that it creates empathy for the theoretical stranger...By reading novels, we're participating in a profoundly political act."
She also referred to writing as a "barely controlled lunacy."  I like that. 

In other notes, I wish I didn't like my job so that I could call in sick for the rest of the week and finish reading this Doris Lessing quintet.  I wouldn't even come up for air.

better than a cartouche

At the touring King Tut exhibition currently at the De Young, I fell in love with the Magical Brick of Thutmosis IV.  According to the display tag, "An image on a magical brick was placed in hall niches of burial chambers to ward off dangers from the north, south, east, or west.  This northern example warned:
'You who come to pull [my hair], I will not allow you to pull [my hair].' "
Sure, it had nothing on Egypt.  But the labeling was worlds and galaxies better than in the Cairo museum.  

Monday, November 16, 2009

I think that I shall never see

a poem as lovely as a stuffed bell pepper.  Oh Kristin, you could convert the most hardened of carnivores.

topped with mashed sweet potatoes and beets.  Not homemade but definitely worthy of mention: a parmesan-cream-cheese-garlic dip.  Where've you been all my life? 


I've been meaning to get to this for some time.  I saw it at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.  It's also pure Monty Python.  Clearly, what we have on our hands here is a classic chicken/egg problem.

ain't too proud to beg

ain't too modest to boast.  I figured out some tricky html stuff at work today and boy oh boy do I feel like a genius.  Sure, if you know what you're doing, it's quick and easy, but I didn't so it was slow and difficult.  Nonetheless, victory is mine!  Next up: 
1) latin
2) the mighty wurlitzer
3) surfing
4) alchemy

Sunday, November 15, 2009

lately in the kitchen

A somewhat off-the-cuff dinner party on Tuesday mushroomed rapidly from five to fifteen people.  Luckily, they brought food.  I love it when people bring things that I've always been too intimidated to try making myself:

or when our fantastic downstairs neighbors bring up something tasty:

or when food starts moving towards the absurd, such as the jar-within-a-jar chutney:

Not pictured here but worthy of special mention: the people who brought wine.  You are essential.

The group ultimately was too big for the kitchen and we all spilled out into the backyard.  I finished up my beet gnocchi (tasty but not up to my aesthetic standards.  So, sorry, no photo) and joined the party.

Last night found an equally charming and motley group in the kitchen again, again more or less equally improvised.  Many lovely things, but far and away my top prize goes to this soup, whose creator insisted on dubbing "carrot carrot."

Monday, November 9, 2009

how to do

"...it's not the notes.  It's the spaces between the notes that make the music."
                  - Masimo Vignelli, Helvetica

Sunday, November 8, 2009

pumpkins after the rain

Our jack-o'-lanterns have decayed rather spectacularly:

If there is an apocalypse for pumpkins, I think it must look a lot like this.

My poor pumpkin: its snaggle-teeth now like sad dentures, an octogenarian vampire that has to suck blood through a straw.

pejoratives and purgatory

A funny series of things culminated in me sitting in at the Make-Out Room Friday night, having just watched Mortified - for free!  I love my job! - and generally feeling good about the world but also talking to a man whose ideas of gender were so normative it was as if he were a paper doll cut out of the Normal America magazine.  Don't call me a jerk; he told me he thought of himself as "normal," that he felt like "most men."  These were labels he chose for himself.  Actually, I am being inaccurate.  He told me he felt like "most dudes."  These are the words he chose: "dudes" for men and "chicks" for women.  He, easily in his thirties, collared shirt, job at eBay, apartment in SOMA*.  Kristin told me the only bar he knew in the Mission was Medjool's* but at first I thought she was joking.  Hard to believe that anyone so entirely and willingly signs themselves up for a stereotype.

After about five consecutive uses in our first ten or fifteen minutes of conversation, I said I thought he should reconsider his use of the word "chick," that it was pejorative.  This is progress for me, who would have once said flatly "Stop saying that word, it's ridiculous."  To his credit, he thought about it.  He went on to tell me how men feel when they see a beautiful woman.  You don't need to tell me about it, I said, you don't know me.  I like women sometimes, did you know that?  Well, he replied, I assumed.  This was veryvery funny to me.  Perhaps only the second or third time (that I know about) in my life when someone's assumed I'm a lesbian.  Because I have short hair? I asked through the laughter.  What if I told you that I like men sometimes, too?  Did you know that also?  No, he said.  I didn't.  Right, I replied.  Because you don't know me.  Again on the topic of personal progress, I managed to say (and feel) this not-antagonistically.

Although it goes against years of training and toughness and being ready to fight the world with teeth bared and balled fists, I have for some years now been making an effort to practice more enfoldment-like techniques (thank you, Sally Gearhart) with, let us be honest, mixed success.  It is hard for me to overcome my combativeness.  But shouting, insulting, and even out-talking are not effective methods of persuasion**, of stimulating discussion, or creating an atmosphere where people might begin to reconsider or at least consider reconsidering something which is to many as fundamental and unneeding of questioning as gender roles.  I, however, am damn interested in having people question.

*cheat-sheet for non-Sanfranciscans: these are kind of gross trendy places for yuppies
**I know, I know, if I were really interested in enfoldment (more here) I wouldn't be talking about persuasion at all.  Oh well.  I tend to think of my minimal goal as seed-planting. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

noche de los muertos vivientes

I've been wanting to check this out since Spanish 1 in the 8th grade.  Finally!   Several of my housemates and I wandered out into the Día de lo Muertos parade, joined up, drifted around, caught up with it again, and eventually circled back home. A warm night and burning incense and herbs made for air so thick you could swim in it.  Some shops in the neighborhood had alters out front or even inside:

I offer you a rather clumsy montage I put together:
And today, I popped into Panaderia La Mejor on 24th and Mission and my undying optimism was rewarded. Por fin: ¡Pan de Muerto!

un sabor simple y exquisito

My only regret?  I wasn't able to get my hands on a candy skull.  Until next year, festival!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

tying the knot

Tonight was the first in what I predict will be a series of pretzel experiments.  The results were tasty and enjoyable, but not quite the Bavarian delicacy of my dreams.  I'll keep trying.

pre-boiling.  note: I used this pretzel recipe

post-boiling, salted

baked!  with a yummy and totally unbayerisch cheddar-mustard sauce, recipe here

all hallowed out

My feet ache, my ears are ringing, and my fingertips are covered in superglue.  Yesterday must have been Halloween.  
Last week I made a truly excellent kite costume:

but by the time Halloween rolled around I'd worn it twice and was bored with it.  So I decided to be a dead princess.  I bought a child's princess dress at a thrift store, cut it up, and gave myself sunken-in dead eyes, black lips, and  judiciously applied pink glitter.  I tried to make myself a tiara but it wouldn't stay, so I improvised one out of headbands and a fake pearl hair clip.  Before that, though, we carved pumpkins:

and in the evening, we went to Zambaleta's Halloween Hullabaloo.  Such a fabulous party!  Zambaleta is a new project conceived and run by my downstairs neighbor, he whose wonderful friends created the fabulous music in my backyard a bit back, so my expectations were high.  I was not disappointed.  I was on the dance floor all night, or at least until they turned all the lights on and made everybody go home.  At one point I was in a can-can line and someone kicked one of my shoes off and I had to go chase after it.  I danced so much I tore up my shoes, look:

I always did have a Cinderella complex.  Mostly because I have such hard-to-fit feet.  I was never going to be the glass slipper girl.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

the end of an era

It's sad to think that my good friend is leaving.  Selfish, of course, but there it is.  So much so that I almost understand the allure of a small town, the continuity,  the familiarity: here are your friends.  This is your home.  Whereas we, who had no common home, made one here for a while, but no longer.   Home of course being not just a place but the people in it.  A city is big and doesn't notice that it's changed but it has, all the same.  No home lasts forever, I suppose, and how wonderful that I got to have this one.  Still.  Sometimes.  To slow things down.  The kind of overlap that exists and is allowed in life is not always satisfactory. 

I wish him such good luck.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

the female quixote

"It was with a bleak and puzzled look that she stared at a sunlit and glittering bush which stood at her feet; for she did not see it, she was seeing herself, and in the only way she was equipped to do this - through literature."
                  - Doris Lessing, Martha Quest

  Oh, Doris Lessing, how I love you.  Tell me more about myself.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

bread (not alone)

We got so much free bread that we had to give some of it away.  There was also a cheddar jalapeño sourdough loaf.  That got et up fast.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I made a pin!  And then I scanned it badly!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Amtrak in four conversations

8:15am Sunday morning, San Francisco 

Because they rearranged the bus stop, I almost missed my shuttle to Emeryville, which would have caused me to miss my train to Sacramento.  "Didn't you see the signs?" the Amtrak employee asked me as he gave me directions to the new, temporary bus stop, "They're everywhere."  I had not.  I looked around.  I did not see the signs which were everywhere.  I expressed my fear that I would miss the train to Sacramento.  "Don't worry," he told me "there's another train right after it going to Sacramento, back to back."  But I've read well and I said "You mean the one that gets in over half an hour later?" (this is a quintessential Amtrak paradox: two trains leave the same stop at almost exactly the same time, they arrive at the same destination but one arrives a half an hour later and both cost $26) 
"Yeah," he responded, "you don't want that one?"
"No," I affirmed, "I do not."
I walked to the temporary bus stop.  I continued to not see the signs.

At the coffee shop in the Emeryville Station, a sign:
Now Available
Different Flavors

8:50am Sunday, Emeryville

A small boy, I'd guess about five years old, sat down across from me, stared, smiled, and launched.  "Hello," he said.  "Hello," I answered. 
"Some of the kids in my class, they're bad."
"Yeah.  They don't listen to the teacher."
"Why not?"
"I don't know."
"Do you listen to the teacher?"
"Good for you."
"I get a sticker everyday."
"You must have a lot of stickers."
This child spoke quickly and with energy but he was focused.  He was watching me.  He asked permission, then took my picture with his cell phone.  My train arrived first.  "I've got to go," I said.
"Goodbye!  My name's Javier."
"Goodbye Javier.  My name's Margaret."
"Goodbye Margaret!"

7:40am, Monday

The conductor makes the usual announcements about seating, the location of the snack car, etc., then: "Ladies and gentlemen," she said "if you look out your window in the direction we're moving, there's a huge, beautiful rainbow."  There was.  It lasted all the way to Richmond, which is almost an hour and a half of rainbow.  Forward in hope.

9:30am, Monday
I was the first person to get on the shuttle from Emeryville to San Francisco and so I moved partway back.  No one else got on.  "Looks like you're my only passenger," said the driver.  "You're a princess today!"
"In that case, I'm going to move up and keep you company."
We nattered all the way to San Francico.  He told me about when he met Michelle Obama at a fundraiser, and we both admired her for awhile and agreed that the White House mattresses must be getting a better workout since god only knows when.  We talked about education and communication and tourists and being a stranger in a strange land.  The driver's name, I found out eventually, was Rufus.  He used to operate a cable car.  "You must have met all kinds of people doing that," I said.  "Yes," he remarked, "but of all the people I've met, you're the most interesting."

I bet he says that to everybody.  Still.  I'll take what I can get.

the white sickness

"...she had the same smile even as a toddler...when her future was a closed book and the curiosity of opening it had not yet been born."
"...for the first time she asked herself if she had some good reason for wanting to go on living.  She could find no reply, replies do not always come when needed, and it often happens that the only possible reply is to wait for them."
                 - José Saramago, Blindness

O, Tannenbaum

When I was in the third grade I went on a field trip to North Star Tree Farm, a Christmas tree farm in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Every year since then my family has there to get our Christmas tree.  It's a charmingly low-key place.  In October they invite their regular customers to come early and 'reserve' a tree.  This, quite simply, is fun.  You tramp around the forest until you find a tree you like and then you get one of the employees to put a special tag on it.  The best part, however, is in December, when you have to come back and scratch your head over where the heck you found that perfect tree (luckily, the employees write it down for you, so if you really can't do it on your own, they can locate it quickly).

Some highlights from tramping around:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friday in the park with Kim Epifano

Going for my usual jog around Dolores Park Friday morning, I saw a small crowd of people gathered on the park side of the bridge over the train tracks, near the statue.  I stopped to see what they were seeing and that was how I stumbled onto part of the Trolley Dances performance.  Amazingly, even though this is something I saw in a public place, it is not yet on youtube, although you can watch this clip to get an idea:

What you absolutely cannot get from this clip is how lovely it was to just encounter this for the space of about three or four minutes, with a group of strangers and school children, silent, at the top of a hill, the city spread out behind us.

Monday, October 12, 2009

further updates from the kitchen

On Saturday, I came home to find people making pasta.  

No complaints here.

specifically, they were making ravioli

stuffed with squash and goat cheese

they were boiled

then gleefully consumed.

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