Mar 31, 2009

yanobe kenji

not everyone is cool enough to build large metal objects that do neat things. for example, how about this foot soldier, a "Weapon for conquest series, A "teleexistence" type, pants model trabelling weapon"? or this survival system train, "Kenji Yanobe's private train possessing various containers with the necessary functions for survival such as the oxygen generation container, water distillation container,and houseuhold tools"? the best one is the 7.2 meter tall giant torayan, "the ultimate child's weapon, as it sings, dances, breathes fire, and follows only those orders given by children."

yanobe kenji's giant torayan breathing fire, as advertised, at the rocking mammoth. image copyright by the man himself and linked from his own fine website.

Mar 30, 2009


a year and many missed opportunities and assorted cancellations later, i finally met irene winter for lunch. she is an art historian, scholar of the ancient near east and cross-cultural aesthetics, macarthur fellow, great teacher, and undoubtedly one of my favourite and most influential professors--and she's retiring this spring. we spent nearly two hours at pamplona (josefina passed away in 2007 and the restaurant changed hands, but the place and the food remains sort of the same), during which time two jaw-dropping factoids emerged:

first: she and her husband bob are close friends of stanley and rose-mary crawford. stanley crawford is the author of a garlic testament, an unjustly neglected gem of american writing usually filed under gardening*--a semi-philosophical discussion of his family's move to new mexico, the construction (by hand) of their adobe house, and the pound weight of the real. did you know that to testify is to swear with your hands over your testicles? i didn't know that either. the crawfords were recently in cambridge for a book tour and came to dinner; my frustration is a palpable mist.

second: since purchasing the tivoli model one, i have been falling asleep to the well-tempered clavier, played by rosalyn tureck. conversation had meandered onto the subject of a baroque concert hall in munich (which i'm visiting in may) and baroque composers like js bach and how modern interpretations strip out the ornamentation in the scores when she let slip that not only did she enjoy tureck's interpretations, she was also close personal friends with her at oxford and after. i was momentarily incapacitated by this revelation.

* yet another instance of the inadequacy of categories.

automatic translation

compare this and this, two versions of the same article about matthew carter, designer of verdana, who apparently lives just down the street from me.

Mar 28, 2009


last sunday, i got up early to get breakfast with peter in cole valley, then marcela and patrick drove through and picked me up for the artisan cheese festival in petaluma. before showing up, i thought a $45 admission was a little steep but i may have broken even on cheese and assorted beverages within an hour of showing up. five hours later, i'd consumed about 3 pounds of cheese and 6-8 glasses of wine and beer and people distinctly under the influence were swapping cheeses and giving them away to anyone who displayed even a slight interest. the standouts:

golden star's sparkling jasmine tea: i thought this would be unbelievably affected but it was very good. only mildly sweetened with cane sugar, with a gentle scent of jasmine and enough tannin to keep it interesting.

rogue creamery's rogue river blue: powerful, creamy, and spicy at the back of the mouth. at room temperature, it overwhelmed even the glass of consecration (and that's saying something).

tumalo's classico sheep milk gouda: chalk white, dense, with a balanced saltiness. the guy behind the counter was closing down and, seeing me cut another chunk, asked if i wanted to take the entire wedge. i acquiesced with good grace.

russian river brewing company's consecration beer: this is one of the sour beers; i've never enjoyed them before but this is maybe one of my favourite beers. patrick and marcela, not incidentally have introduced me to two of my top beers to date (dogfish's midas touch and, now, consecration)

cici gelato: these people are in mill valley only, which is frustrating. they had a buffalo ricotta gelato made with bubalus bubalis ricotta. i always like the mild-flavoured, cream-based gelatos, but this one was magnificent.

wandering aengus heirloom blend cider: the heirloom blend was crisp, dry, and a little bitter. it's nice to lurk around googlers wearing schwag. the owner had two bottles of their pommeau dessert wine on the counter (a very limited production) but was steadfast in his refusal to open them until patrick looked very unhappy when told that it was available only in oregon. (it was unctuous and autumnal, in case you wonder.)

time is on my side

the day before i left san francisco, i saw a sign in the noe valley stained glass store asking for packing peanuts, two giant boxes of which were sitting in the garage trash area (the packing stuff from john's drum set). i told the owner to come over and pick them up. this year, he returned the favour by letting me tape up a box filled with a wagnerware skillet with dutch oven lid and the complete edward tufte which is now making its way slowly across the country toward cambridge, mass.

but more bizarre yet: i stayed with mervin and magali at irving street in the summer of 2005. when i moved out west, i left a wheel-less bike frame (a reynolds 531) in the basement. having a vague recollection that it had a horizontal drop-out ideal for conversion to a fixed gear, i'd been trying desultorily to retrieve it since moving back to cambridge last year. i finally bit the bullet and called the landlord yesterday; we arranged to meet at the apartment this morning and lo! was the frame not hanging in the corner, obscured by a stack of moving blankets? i walked with it over my shoulder back over the river and into cambridge.


in pursuit of a cheap air ticket, i took a two-hour layover in LAX. the wing operated by american airlines--which continues to be, purely by negligence, the second-worst airline i've had the misfortune of flying (the worst, by far, being aeroflot)--has two places for travel-stained and weary travellers to purchase beverages. at neither of these establishments can be purchased a cup of tea made only of tea. if your heart's desire is a venti cup of a refreshing blend of tarragon and green tea, or green tea and lemongrass, or berry blossoms and white tea, you're in luck. otherwise, be prepared to lurk like i did, unhappy and beverage-less, until boarding time.

Mar 26, 2009

strange days

i'm on caffeinated beverage #4 in blue bottle cafe (17-foot ceilings, ash counters) and have just purchased a flat-panel monitor online, piggybacking on wifi from the gbus parked across the street--reading these innumerable AJS and ASR articles will never be the same again.

after breakfast with nat, celia, and dan, i visited liz at cca and saw her stuff (she was at the ranch last summer, then at emma lake after, which was cause for much envy), then went to the galleries at 49 geary to check out the hopper/eggleston/frank exhibition at fraenkel (full of illustrious things but disappointing nevertheless). much of the building was full of white, high-ceilinged galleries full of forgettable art. fortunately, there were highlights, chief among which were the amazing michael david monochromatic oils at room for painting, room for paper. the photographs really don't do these pieces justice--oil thinly applied on gesso, then removed selectively to achieve shade and tone; apparently all imagery from memory and imagination.

michael david's july, 2005. image from room for painting, room for paper.
(i want this one. someone should donate $6000 to my art fund. i look at this and think immediately of "fern hill")

ulrike palmbach's hounds (2006). image from iconoduel's marvellous flickr set.

there were also hand-stitched life-size dogs made of stuffed stockings by ulrike palmbach at stephen wirtz gallery, a great tom killion steamroller print at john windle antiquarian bookseller, large-format photographs of abandoned landscapes by shai kremer at robert koch (also featuring edward burtynsky's shipbreaking #9 diptych, half of which is visible here), and marvellous mixed media pieces by hadi tabatabai at brian gross.

Mar 25, 2009


So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for everything one has a mind to do.

benjamin franklin

Mar 22, 2009

why i miss san francisco #1

ami thought i'd left early this morning but i was actually still snoring gently under a pile of sheets. so, around 11.30, we went to brunch at fattoush (a reliable standby) and then to the farmer's market where i tried a preserve made of nectarines and green almonds that was truly spectacular--it was just like saturdays used to be. it was misting gently, and raining, so i had no qualms about spending the afternoon sorting through email and listening to glenn gould playing the goldberg variations. around 4, i left for mission beach cafe to meet jon, by way of bi-rite (meyer lemon, brown sugar ginger caramel, ritual toffee). by the time he made it up from the peninsula, it was late enough that we deferred pie to try and snag a table early at minako.

patrick and marcela showed up 15 minutes after, and 45 minutes after that, we were seated--by now i know better than to ask why tables remain empty within while people stand hungrily without. lotus root kinpira, green beans in a sesame and miso sauce, fried eggplant cubes, miso paste marinated grilled mackerel, the spicy green roll, the fake eel and cucumber roll, hamachi sashimi with three mints (spearmint, peppermint, and yanagi tade, in a rice bran oil suspension), mackerel sashimi. and i still haven't had the 1969 plum wine that is in back, so clearly i have to return. after, we went back to patrick and marcela's to check on the caltrain schedule for jon and had some allagash barrel-aged musette, the schloss eggenberg brewery's dunkel doppelbock, and a bottle of year-old, bottle-conditioned mead that they'd brewed. this last was remarkable and head and shoulders above the other meads i've had: they made it out of cranberry, honey, pomegranate juice, tarweed and buckwheat honeys, and cardamom.

tomorrow, the sonoma artisanal cheese festival, followed by aziza.

Mar 20, 2009

the bay

i got into sfo early in the afternoon and emerged into bright sunlight at the 24th st mission bart. i write from ritual roasters, accompanied by my first good cup of coffee in 8 months. next up, tacos at pancho villa and a quick browse at dog-eared books.

Mar 11, 2009

i'm in love

but it's not what you think. see for yourself.

(and for context, see this, this, and this)

Mar 8, 2009

i would like

one of these in cambridge.

sunlight and wintry mix

some of us got lunch at casablanca, where the bread and meat are good and the grillperson is a pearl of great price. i had a slab of perfectly medium-rare skirt steak, charred on the edges and with a layer of charmoula on top (heavy on the parsley), a correctly soft-scrambled egg, and a small heap of fried polenta--a superb deal at 1.5x the price. after, we tried to get bread at the hi-rise just down the street but were foiled.

today is another 60F day, so i'm writing this at the top of the front steps with a large mug of tea and assorted readings on sociological methodology, much of which appears to be concerned with the ethics of field research. it is always a red-letter day when environmental context makes taking out the camp chair a moral imperative. the sky is full of stratocirrus clouds and it will be sleet and slush all day tomorrow.

public service announcement: today is the last day of the million year picnic 35th anniversary sale. 30% off everything in the store.

Mar 7, 2009


60F today and sunny. for reasons unclear, we went into dorchester for lunch with dave. after winding slowly through the fenway, guided by a flawed GPS unit--every minute in a car confirms the wisdom of selling the trusty saturn--we showed up at an amazing house (painted somewhere between slate and federal blue). dave's apartment in it is replete with quartersawn oak trim, original stained glass, custom cast iron radiators, enormous old glass casement windows, and the rest. tracey managed to conceal it well but i had a major case of apartment envy that became more pronounced after i noted a vestibular space into which at least 60 linear feet of books could easily be tucked, plus an enormous yard in back and a deck overlooking the street and a large, mature maple. we got lunch at nikisha's roti shop down the street: a trinidadian-style flatbread stuffed with chickpea meal and fried on a griddle, then wrapped around curried chicken, potatoes, and chickpeas laced with hot and jerk sauces. not the same thing at all, but 3am prata at the shop on clementi road came to mind and would not be dismissed. on the way back, we detoured by way of the tropical market and the edges of the ashmont hill neighbourhood. many of the houses on the hill are well-built woodframe, set back from the street on double and triple lots. a large proportion had carriage houses attached or close by, ideal for a woodshop. i had plenty of time to ponder this while nursing a glass of water on the deck and talking about japanese denim weavers.

Mar 5, 2009

robert irwin redux

the revised and expanded edition of seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees arrived today, together with trickster makes this world and the gift (both by lewis hyde). the new edition of seeing is printed on cheesy coated paper and has a cheesy cover that makes it look like a tourist guidebook (minus) but has the benefit of more colour plates of the fabled irwin experimental paintings which were, hitherto, never photographed (distinct plus). it remains one of the best books i've ever read about the cyclic nature of research and development.

in other news, spice tonight restored my faith in pad thai when i asked for it slightly spicier and with more ground peanuts than usual. by all accounts, it is totally inauthentic (is it possible to be totally inauthentic? is authenticity a binary state? anyway.) but it presses all the right buttons nonetheless--slightly sticky, sweet, sour, salty, crunchy, soft, chewy, smooth, spicy all at the same time.

also, for the first time here, the boston (but really mostly cambridge) companion to the san francisco map of good eats:

Mar 2, 2009

starving student food program

i got an email last night summoning me to somerville to collect the latest instalment in love+butter's starving student food program--i hadn't even got through the ham i got from them 3 weeks ago, despite frying thin slices of it up in every pan of sauteed greens since. having found, somewhere, a german cookbook from 1907, 2 pig livers, a pig belly, and a (small) pig heart, they decided to make many little pots of leberwurst over the weekend, two of which are now in the fridge. i had some tonight, spread thickly on toasted rye with crushed grain mustard, and it was great.


finally, after 7 years, i found someone willing to go to oleana with me last saturday night. (and it's quite nice, by the way, to find another eater in cambridge. i thought they'd all left for the west coast, but someone new showed up--thx hrt). service, though a distinctly secondary consideration, was competent, brisk, cheerful, and not servile, and the bread on the table was excellent and warm (sweet baguette and another one, za'atar-dusted, olive-oily, focaccia-like)--so oleana was already way ahead of the game. the order:

  • goat cheese beignets with beet and orange carpaccio and beet sorbet. freshly fried and deflating gently on the plate. i tried to cut the first one and caused it to collapse completely. the second one expired whole in my mouth. the red beet sorbet was surprisingly good.
  • swordfish steak with syrian lentils, fried pita, and tahini. the fish was good, but the lentils were remarkable. there was a slightly musky sweetness (we think it comes from pomegranate molasses) and onions sauteed to the point of liquidity (but not quite).
  • lamb steak with fava bean moussaka. the lamb was good and perfectly-cooked, but the moussaka was, again, remarkable. instead of the usual slab cut from a tray, this moussaka was made as a single portion with not much bechamel, then wrapped in a layer of grilled eggplant.
  • toffee date pudding, with dates, tangerine sections, orange cardamom ice-cream, and orange peel confit. (there's no way, in my mind, this combination of flavours can go wrong.)
obviously, the moussaka and the lentils stole the show. oleana reminds me of boulevard, a great restaurant in san francisco where also the accoutrements outshone the main dishes.

Mar 1, 2009


more tasty treats! our housemate eliminated refined sugar from her diet a month ago, so the birthday cake tradition had to be slightly revised. instead of something similar to the 10-layer ice-cream, brownie, and cake construction The Women Of The House made for one of their number last weekend, we made a minimally-sweetened platter of sticky rice and mangoes. after washing almost 2 pounds of glutinous rice in many waters, we soaked it for 24 hours, wrapped it all in a cheesecloth bag and steamed it in the biggest steamer we had in the house, then turned it out into a baking dish. we cut an improbable quantity of hot, sugared and salted coconut milk into the still-steaming rice and let it cool and absorb the milk. in the meantime, a teaspoon of cornstarch thickened the last cup of sweetened coconut milk into a light sauce.

the rice absorbed a remarkable amount of liquid--i was sure we'd overdone it on the coconut milk but was, as usual, incorrect. fortunately the consistency was precisely right. covered with thin slices of ripened mango and a big spoonful of the sauce, it was exactly the kind of thing you shouldn't encounter after coming back from a run and before having dinner.