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March 27, 2009

Salt House

Let me tell you, it's pretty awesome when you're friends with the sous-chef at a fancy restaurant. Make that guy the second in command, the day-to-day leader of the kitchen in a fabulous local focused organic restaurant in San Francisco and you've got a feast staring you in the face.

After tantalizing with food descriptions that took two and three minutes to unspool "well first, I make three of my own marmalades from scratch. Then I mix two of them with a rhubarb/anchiote simple syrup reduction, and then blend quinoa, red barley and teff grains into a pilaf with steamed nibs of asparagus..." Darryl tossed off that he might have a "few things up his sleeve," and boy should we have paid attention.

Tonight I dined with friend S-E and her husband S at the Salt House, a lovely little restaurant in the SOuth of MArket District in San Francisco.  I was peckish but not ravenous and was planning to order a soup and an appetizer and a dessert and call it a meal.  Oh no. no no. That is most definitely not what happened.

My dining companions, one of whom I had never met and the other whom I hadn't seen in 17 years, turned out to be super-foodies.  They had cocktails and a gorgeous sounding Pinot Noir. We split 4 appetizers including two servings of the "Fois" (gras) [which I haven't eaten in more than a decade], and a smoked trout salad and pork belly (which basically melted off the fork). But prior to getting the food we had actually ordered, "the kitchen" sent out little green salads made with shaved radishes, shaved asparagus, new peas, and a light meyer lemon dressing. It was a revelation of spring in every crunchy green lemony bite. The kitchen also sent us the consomme - a new menu addition with fresh and crisp local onions and a ricotta dumpling floating in the housemade broth.

We hadn't even gotten to the main courses yet - I had ordered the seared tuna lightly crusted in north african spices along with the marmalade sauce and the three grain asaparagus pilaf - and while the portions weren't huge and the tuna lovely, I would have been fine if I stopped with appetizers.

But did we stop? Of course not? I ordered a cookie plate and tea for dessert, while my companions ordered cookies and a strawberry dish. When it came time for them to bring out the desserts, once again the kitchen sent something else - the cheese plate - which I had eyed, but rejected as too rich for my poor lactose intolerant stomach.  So what did I do, I ate cheese. Gorgeous, amazing cheese (Cowgirl Creameries famous Mt. Tam cheese, a soft brie like cheese from Washington and a pungent and delicious cheese whose name I did not learn. All of this was accompanied by a thinly sliced and stacked pear and similar sliced apple, with the slices arranged in narrow rows to create a skinny apple "fence" between one of the cheeses and the candied hazelenuts that also accompanied the cheese, along with the spoonful of fresh local honey.  The cookies, the parts I could choke down, were also delightful and the remainder now reside in my bag to serve as tomorrow's mid-morning snack, assuming I'm ever actually hungry again.

All in all, an amazing (and amazingly expensive) meal, but well worth it. It was nice to meet someone (Darryl) who obviously took such pride and delight in his food and his creative development of dishes as well as to reconnect with S-E.

March 27, 2009 at 01:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 25, 2009


I'm currently attending a conference in San Francisco. It's the Game Developers Conference, a 5 day, 16,000 person video game related extravaganza.

I couldn't be more out of place.
I'm not male (though I am white). I'm not given to wearing black tshirts and black leather jackets. Converse lowtops also predominate, though mainly among North Americans. I don't have hair that is dyed or shaved and I haven't braided my (nonexistent) facial hair. I'm not interested in buying books of Anime erotica, though I could at the conference book store. [Aside: does anyone actually buy books of erotica or porn anymore? isn't the web just a whole lot easier?]

There's also a whole hierarchy here - mostly indicated by the color of your enormous conference badge (though also suggested by the expensiveness of the suit jacket you happen to be wearing over your black tshirt.) This conference badge is so large its almost like a Scottish sporran and bristles with ribbons that also indicate status. Are you an exhibitor? volunteer? or better yet, a speaker? Do you have the all-access orange badge holder, or are you just a tutorials and summits blue? Or a black "expo only?" In the anonymous world of a giant convention, where everyone looks pretty much the same, we (or the conference organizers) are reimposing a new hierarchy, and new sets of statuses on the attendees - using the language of color, ribbon and badges to give us glanceable ways to decide whether someone is important, worth talking to, and deserving of respect. Of course this doesn't even begin to signify any of those things with any semblance of accuracy - the most interesting conversations I've had at the conference so far have been with three volunteers, all in college or fresh out, and brimming with thoughts on telecom and broadband policy and social networking. But we use these cues nonetheless when wading through the throngs in the cavernous convention center.

So despite the fact that my relatively straightlaced, colorful, female self looks entirely out of place, I have the ace in status hole in my all-access badge with the speaker ribbon. This proves to be my saving grace, otherwise I fear that no one would talk to me, though they might stare.

Another odd thing I've noticed; Among the few women at the conference, a relatively large percentage of them wear skirts or dresses. It's almost as if they're adopting an aggressively feminine look in defiance of the masculinity of the conference and the industry. Or another read suggests that maybe they've bought into some of the stereotyping of women that runs through many of the industries most popular offerings - where women have barbie curves and skimpy clothes, though notably few of the skirt wearers are showing much in the way of skin.

It's an uncomfortable place, this conference, though not much worse than the anti-woman vibes I picked up at last years South by Southwest Interactive conference. Nevertheless, tomorrow I'll put on my trousers, grab my bright green coat and even brighter scarf and head back into the hordes.

March 25, 2009 at 12:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 23, 2009


I often have a quiet soundtrack playing in the back of my life. Certain moments in my life seem to be accompanied by music; runs are heavy on the drums, walks to work can have a hip-hop back beat, or a slow mournful Iron and Wine melody behind them. Sometimes these are literally provided by my iPod, or car stereo, other times by the throbbing bass of passing cars and sometimes the songs ring and mutter in my head.

Soundtracks can be both a function of the mood of a moment, or set it. This weekend, S. and I headed to California, as a pleasant prelude to a longer and less pleasant work trip of mine. We rented a zippy cherry red Pontiac Vibe that was equipped with XM satellite radio. The XM proved a key feature of the weekend as we headed to the Point Reyes National Seashore, a place firmly off the radio and cellphone grid.  After some experimentation, we hit upon a particular XM station called the CoffeeHouse - which we eventually realized played only acoustic versions of songs by singer songwriters.

The CoffeeHouse proved to be the perfect soundtrack to the weekend - mellow, charming, sing-along-able at times, the music melted the world away and snuggled up into the alternately sunny and misty but always windswept green landscape. It propelled us smiling along California Route 1 as it hugged the coast to Stinson Beach, and soothed us as we limped into Point Reyes Station looking for dinner, exhausted, hungry and sore after a 15 mile hike.

One small sad point - unlike if we were listening to an album (or two) of songs, or a concrete mix of music that we could replay and use to recapture the feeling of the trip, XM is fleeting. The weekend has been marked by a genre of music in a way that will be hard to recapture even as it means that we'll also be able to lightly reconnect with it when ever we listen to music in a particular style.


March 23, 2009 at 10:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 17, 2009

This time, I tried flowers

About eight years ago, I became embroiled in a needless, monthlong health scare foisted upon me by a crappy primary care doctor. Suffice to say, I had a random symptom on a frequently administered test and had had it in various forms for years. At this particular moment 8 years ago, my PCD decided that it might be something and that she was going to withhold another much need Rx from me until I went and got it checked out. Once she got the test results, she'd write the scrip.

After cursing her, I made an appointment with the specialist, who looked at the test results and said its probably nothing, but we'll check it out. We booked a couple of appointments for a series of tests a month in the future. And then I went home. And checked the internet. Where upon I learned what all those other things might be that my random symptom suggested - not the least of which was some horrendous invasive cancers.

I spent the month lumping around in varying degrees of panic - sometimes subdued, low grade panic, sometimes, active "Oh My Freaking God What if I Actually Die" panic. I wore the nagging fear like a lead jacket. And I started to see the world differently. Why should I put off that purchase/thing? What if I'm dying? then I'd better start enjoying what I've got!

Mostly, this manifest itself in odd purchases, most notably the I Might Die Shoes. They were a pair of chunky two-tone Nine West loafers. I loved them, would walk past them in the window at Nine West at lunch time and gaze at them longingly. I hadn't purchased them however, because I had plenty of other shoes in my closet that fit that loafer niche. But after two weeks of oppression under the fear of the unknown and worry about what might be going on with my health, I pulled the trigger and bought them.

Never mind that they didn't really fit, and gave me horrendous blisters and could not be made to stay comfortably on my foot even with the addition of footbeds, stretching and heel attachments. I maybe wore them a total of four times before eventually giving them away 3 years later.

And obviously, nothing was actually seriously wrong with me, though I suffered through two painful and uncomfortable tests and a month of punishing worry.

I find myself thinking about this again after going through a mini-version of this over the past 5 days. Mysterious symptom was initially dismissed by a primary care doctor, but a month later, a random pre-planned visit to a specialist reignited the concern over said symptom, resulting in a fire drill of doctors visits and tests and a weekend of waiting for test results in Dr. Google's waiting room. This time, though, the internet proved to be as much a comfort as a fear-monger, and once again, all the scariest scenarios have been ruled out. But still, gnawing fear and worry add an extra weight on to the daily grind of life that makes each day a bit more exhausting.

And mindful of the shoe debacle, this time, I turned to a vaseful of tulips for comfort rather than footwear.

March 17, 2009 at 04:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 16, 2009


I'm about to head out for a spate of travel again - some for fun, but mostly for work and mostly places I've already been and visit a lot (big East Coast cities, for example). But I was inspired to finally add in some of my photos from one of my more recent and more photogenic trips - my Baja kayaking trip with my sister, which was now almost two years ago (yikes!)

Typepad isn't letting me surface those images at the top of my photo album (grr) but if you click through the Vancouver shots, a few lovely, spiny, hot and dry images have been added in the middle.

And hopefully, next week's California trip will yield some additional photographic blog fodder.

March 16, 2009 at 05:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 12, 2009

'Not in any particular order'

ABL1996Goals The funny thing is, that even though I wrote these in 1996, I have managed to accomplish some of them in the last few years. I learned to knit (though not, sadly, how to purl and I have since put knitting aside). I did learn about photography and SLR cameras. I did take cardio kickboxing for a year post college, though whether that could be called 'learning boxing' is entirely debatable. I have on a few vacations in the past 10 years, done some landscape painting.  Not sure whether I read more, but I think I definitely read more for pleasure than I did in college when I wrote this, when every waking moment was devoted to rowing, studying, eating, writing and radio and certainly not to the reading of fun novels that I chose myself.

PJM1996Goals So, P. did you ever do that hangliding?

March 12, 2009 at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Why I can't throw things away

There's a lot of purging going on in my life - we're having construction done in our offices, meaning that I'm being moved two doors down in an attempt to minimize the impact on my work life of 8 weeks of demolition and rebuilding 20 (now 25) feet from my office door.  As part of the construction, we've lost our conference room, which most importantly was where we stowed our overflow "library" of books and research binders. I've been with my employer for more than 9 years now, and the work I do (and admittedly, the way I do it) generates ALOT of paper.

So I've been trying to get into the paper purging mindset as I box up files and send them away for offsite storage.

But its hard for me. I worry about needing things later, not being able to find them again or get them again easily. I worry about being challenged about something I did back in 2003 and needing the documentation to back up my choices or reveal and allow for the correcting of errors.

In general throwing things away that could be reused, recycled, accessed later is extremely difficult for me - I'll go to great lengths to see something repurposed. I don't like landfills or waste.

But I was getting into a groove at the office so I thought I'd see if I could keep the recycle & purge mindset going at home. I did a big purge of my files around the first of year, and took 3 full boxes to be shredded at the weekly shredding event at the city dump transfer station.  Still  haven't gotten my filing situation sorted out, since I realized that part of the dishevelment of my files was because my largest file box was defective and wouldn't hold the hanging files straight.

To add to the chaos, this weekend I thought I'd attack my dreaded Front Closet. It's my only significant inside storage in my apartment, and so the thing is crammed with every thing I kept from my childhood when my parents sold the family home 5 years ago - boxes of letters, diaries and old journals and photos. Holy cow do I have a lot of photos. Also, left over materials from undergrad, grad school and my hideous semester of teaching in 2005.

I told myself that I'd break it into smaller chunks - that I'd attack one box a night. But I also declared that I could not put a box back into the closet until I'd at least looked through it. This seemed like a good idea, but in practice it means that my living room is now partly consigned to stacks of shoeboxes (and some larger) of old photos, papers and mementos. And part of the problem is that as soon as I start going through these old things, I get bogged down in reminiscences and discovery.  Tonight, I just cleaned out one folder of images, postcards, letters, drawings and photos from college. In process I uncovered an albums worth of college pictures, including some crazy ones I never knew I had. I found letters from freshman year where friends manfully praise their awesome new female friends, while wishing they had a boyfriend in the tiny print at the bottom, even if they're simultaneously glad that they're no longer "physical" with whatshisname. I found piles of what might be termed "black and white romantic college girl postcards" with high contrast, yet soft focus scenes of attractive people kissing in intriguing places (under a bridge! in a field of wheat! at the train station!) Also, these postcards apparently feature lots of blond braids. And boats. Also there is an entire subcategory of postcards of French Impressionists.

I also learned that I was just as obsessed (though in a less hands on way) with ceramic glazing then as now, as I found cut outs from the catalog of my favorite pottery that I had taped together to use as backgrounds on my corkboards. I found a tea bag stub that says "the worst thing that can happen to a poet is a misprint" which someone gave me after one of my poems had one letter misprinted (which happened to change the whole meaning of the line in which it occurred and was indeed the literary equivalent of being stabbed.) I found quotes that I liked, and two lists of Goals, one in my handwriting, one in Ps.

Of course, these 13 plus year old delights kept me occupied with one folder for hours. At this rate, it will take me literally years to sort through all of this material. Not to mention that my heart ached when I thought of throwing any of this stuff away. I managed to skim off a small portion, but really its barely enough to make a dent.

I have come to believe that philosophically, or perhaps even by birth, some people are Keepers and some people are Chuckers. Chuckers rarely become keepers, because, well, why? But Keepers like me who love the memories and things that objects represent yet who never the less feel oppressed by their lack of simplicity, diligently and painfully work against type to get rid of stuff.

March 12, 2009 at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 11, 2009

competitive reading

Lately there's been a meme going around Facebook that asks an individual to quantify how many books they've read on a list compiled by the BBC. According to the meme, the BBC says that most people have only read 6 of the 100 books on the list.

I looked at the list, and copied it to my hard drive to figure out how many of the books I'd actually read. Do I count books I started but didn't finish? How far did I have to get before I'd "read" it.  Anyway, I'm not going to post the results of that exercise, because while I enjoy seeing what other people are reading - the quantification of it takes the pleasure of reading and turns it into a competitive event.  And while I've read plenty of them (a number I consider on the high side of respectable), I have no desire to join the fray to be judged on my reading choices.

But there has been one positive outcome from this list - it's inspired me to actually go and read books that have been on my life list for a while, but which I had never gotten around to reading. I went through my bookshelf and plucked out a few - The Kite Runner, and my current read, Animal Farm. I've read about Animal Farm, but never read the actual book, and I figured it'd be a nice short one to start with - kind of like paying off the smallest loan first, so you feel you've accomplished something quickly.

Even if the list is arbitrary, and a tad British - Enid Blyton?- its nice to have a listed out reminder of all those books you've been meaning to read, and a little bit of inspiration to finally go and pick them up.

March 11, 2009 at 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 10, 2009

remarkably unphotogenic

We're redesigning our website at work and as a part of that, they're adding photos of us (though oddly blued-out) to the site. Our need for these photos coincided with a larger push with in our larger organization to have headshots on file of the "public facing" staff, of which I am most certainly one.  My last work headshot was 8 years ago and was so bad I never used, and never sent it to anyone, substituting cropped reasonable-looking snapshots.

As I've gotten older, I'm less keen on doing a headshot without having someone professionally manage hair and makeup. I looked into getting professional headshot for my theater work last year, and no photographer will photograph anyone (at least women) without professional makeup. And having seen good headshots of actors I know, wow does it make a difference.

But work wasn't going to pay for any of this, so I was going to have to figure out how to manage it on my own.  So I went to my usual hair guy, who does great cuts and had him blow dry and style my hair. I left the salon with Big Hair (and was assured that it would "fall to a more reasonable place") but after then running around to have my makeup done, getting in and out of the car, running, the wind, by the time I got to the office, not only had it fallen, it had collapsed into a frizzy odd looking heap.

Makeup was also a challenge. the first place I tried was a high end salon owned by a friend of a coworker, where the makeup person was going to charge me $120 and I would have to bring my own makeup because "she didn't have the right colors for redheads." duwah? I pay you a $120 bucks and I still have to bring my own product? I don't think so.  Eventually I settled on the MAC store that's about half way between my home and office.

MAC seemed like a good compromise, as they promised to make up my face if I bought $50 worth of products from them. So for 50 bucks, I get a photo ready face and stuff to take home. I do worry a bit about "makeup people" though. I mean, think about it - who works in a makeup store or behind a makeup counter? People who really like makeup, who have bought into the idea that to go out without cosmetics is to be a kind of naked. This is why I generally avoid department store makeup counters and dedicated cosmetic shops instead preferring the aisles of the drugstore where I can walk unmolested by people who think that blue eye shadow is THE THING and that I should really buy some in the bejeweled Hello Kitty compact that's on special.

In past, I've had a MAC lipstick that I liked, and I know their products (along with Bobbi Brown) are used by TV people a lot, so I figured I'd use my obligatory $50 to restock my office "oh crap I have to go do a tv interview in 20 minutes" makeup bag.

And was I ever done up. My colleagues were shocked - we even nearly had a sexual harassment moment as a male senior staff member in the larger org within which I work (who I've worked with for nearly 10 years) stumbled over himself trying not to comment on the madeup faces that I and my coworker (who was blessedly standing next me at at the time) were sporting.

I was primed (lash primer? eyeshadow primer), color corrected, lined, shadowed, heavily mascaraed (3 coats on top of the primer), blushed, lip penciled, lipsticked and lip glossed. It all looked great, except the lipstick was too pink. But I didn't feel like fussing about it, so I left it on and went and took the photos.

And after all that - trying for a natural, but better look, I still ended up with terrible photos. Some of it is the forced-looking smile, the brittle expression, and my dislike of the titled headed pose written across my face. Some of it is the unruly hair and the too-bold make up that makes me look all painted up. But together, it's all cringe-worthy, and definitely not what I was hoping for after all that time and effort. I know I'm hard on myself, but I do think that I'm at a point in my life where I can admit when I do take a good photo. But I also know when I've taken bad ones, and I've got 12 shots ready for nothing but the delete key.

March 10, 2009 at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 09, 2009

A death in the family

A little more than two weeks ago, my uncle passed away. It was unexpected and it wasn't; at the beginning of the month he had collapsed at home and was rushed to the hospital where he almost died. Once he pulled through, a battery of tests revealed inoperable stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Plans were being made for a last few months, hospice.  But two Sundays ago, he took a turn for the worse, still hospitalized, and died just a few hours after a wry phone conversation with my father, his oldest son and wife by his side.

So it was a shock and it wasn't. My cousins took it hard, but well.

This was the first time in my adult life that I really had to deal with a death in the family like this, and I spent a lot of time not being sure what to do. Do I call? Do I write? Do I sit with my aunt and cousins, or help in the kitchen? Do I stay or make myself scarce?

And then there's the small voice of guilt that arises at a moment of death - the mental brillo pad excoriating myself for not being in better touch when my uncle was alive, for not being more forgiving and accepting, for not being a better person.

This whole process has been a learning experience. I learned that reaching out, even if you don't have the right words, is the most important thing. That being there, going to the memorial service, sitting, talking, laughing, crying together is what makes the people closest to the deceased feel loved and supported, and has the added benefit of reconnecting you with family and other loved ones. If you're ever in doubt about whether to go to a memorial service for someone you have known - go. Just go.

I think I also finally appreciated the role of the memorial service or funeral as a delimited space set aside exclusively for mourning. And that by having a space set aside to individually and collectively express these otherwise difficult emotions, that we free ourselves to begin the process of moving on. The anthropologist in me sees how the memorial service is our particular ritual of death that helps ease everyone involved through the last of life's many transitions.

And I was particularly impressed with my Dad through this experience. His ministerial training and now few years of experience, have given him an ease with these sort of rituals that I certainly lack. His remembrances of my uncle were wonderful, taking a crowded church packed with mourners from tears to laughter and back with his lifetime of memories.

March 9, 2009 at 10:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack