29 April 2009

Use of Space

Recently on a visit to my local coffee hole, I went to use the ladies' room and found they'd recently painted the walls. If memory serves, they went from being dark, black maybe, to now being starkly white. While black walls might be attempting to deter graffiti from accumulating, white walls almost certainly invite it and certainly the transition from black to white sends some sort of message.

Added to this, they've attached a whole slew of paint markers to the walls, strung up by chains to make marking territory that much easier. As I was sitting in there the other day, I got to thinking about spaces like this, truly bowing to destiny by encouraging what is probably inevitable.

I wonder how the same idea would carry in less contained spaces, that is more public spaces. Surrendering control intentionally, allowing use to shape the form of a place and watching as (human) nature unfolds.

28 April 2009


My last day at Fort Mason doing Rigoletto on Sunday, I wanted to be sure to catch some of the very marine textures of the piers and what for me, seemed quite the juxtaposition implied by the Cowell Theater. The theater sits at the very end of one of the piers, inside of course, but surrounded on all sides by the historic center of embarkation, the rough waters of the bay and the rugged materials of the marina landscape.

And then the old-fashioned detailing of that button. Something about that is very satisfying, hard to say why.

27 April 2009

Anchor Brews

Today I took the Anchor Brewery tour with lady Lauren, thanks to my new pal Andy. Andy's got a sweet job as their tour guide and though normally you need reservations three weeks in advance, he squeezed us into yesterday's tour. He did a great job illuminating the finer points of their historic brew process, all while donning a very Willy Wonka jumpsuit and talking over the bells and whistles of the brewery's copper kettles.

It was my first time seeing whole hop flowers up close. Anchor has large quantities of them in trough-like wooden bins, so the whole room is pungently scented.

The amazingly powerful bottling line, manned (literally) by guys in those jumpsuits and the laboratory for testing and experimenting were really impressive, but the brewery's tasting room almost stole the show. It's a small museum of ephemera showcasing California brewing history and general beer enthusiasm presenting quite a bit to take in, let me tell you. Some of my favorites included a Chez Panisse-esque hop homage, an old tray from the original Philadelphia Brewing Co. encouraging you to "Drink Old Stock: finest beer in town" and an old photograph of a bar serving Anchor Steam Beer on Draught. I wanted you to see the amazing old counter with neon sign, but also the expression on the bartenders' faces. What happened to facial expression like this? I contend it's got Depth you just don't see in faces today.

With their detailed touring and generous tasting, I've wondered more than once what is the incentive for the brewery to host such events free of charge? But as soon as you're on a tour like this one, it's pretty clear: easy marketing. Tours like these make stewards out of each tour-goer, sending out champions of the Anchor label into the many corners of the earth. Looking at the guest list, most of my fellow tourists were in fact, Tourists from Chicago, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, cities with thriving beer cultures all their own. So it's probably helpful to go ahead and show a handful of beer enthusiasts from each of those cities a good time here in San Francisco. It's a pretty good bet they'll buy Anchor more often at home.

22 April 2009


I hit 5 estate sales and a thrift town on Saturday with Marianne and Chad. Last weekend's scores were almost unanimously kitchen oriented, are you shocked? These were the brightest stars by far:

A good old can that still smells faintly of laurel leaves. Very orientalist, as you can see faintly from the illustrations on the side panels.

And this little book, published 1960 by Harcourt Brace & World. The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken, drawings by Hilary Knight. Though written with sly sincerity, this book is chuckle-worthy from cover to cover and features such classics as "Bisque Quick", a bulked up version of the Campbell's original and "Homebody Beans" which boasts a handwritten notation deeming it fabulous! An excerpt for your dessert:
A parenthetical note here. It is understood that when you hate to cook, you buy already-prepared foods as often as you can. You buy frozen things and ready-mix things, as well as pizza from the pizza man and chicken pies from the chicken pie lady.

But let us amend that statement. Let us say, instead, that you buy these things as often as you dare, for right here you usually run into a problem with the basic male. The average man doesn't care much for the frozen-food department, nor for the pizza man, nor for the chicken-pie lady. He wants to see you knead that bread and tote that bale, before you go down cellar to make the soap. This is known as Woman's Burden.

But sometimes you can get around it. Say, for instance, that you are serving some good dinner rolls that you bought frozen and then merely put into the oven for a few minutes, as the directions said to. At dinner, you taste them critically. Then you say, "Darn it, I simply can't make decent rolls, and that's all there is to it!"

If you are lucky, and have been able to keep him out of the kitchen while you were removing the wrapping, he will probably say, "What's the matter with you? These taste swell."

Then you say, in a finicky sort of female voice, "I don't know--they just don't seem as light as they ought to, or something..." And the more stoutly he affirms that they're okay, the tighter the box you've got him in. Admittedly, this is underhanded, but, then, marriage is sometimes a rough game.

That Peg, sure knows how to tell it.

20 April 2009


Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

Great video. Good information, but even more impressive I think is the brilliantly simple and effective animation. And it's true! Rolling stops are usually very safe and this law makes a ton of sense. Way to go, Idaho.

Already made.

Though my new issue of ReadyMade Magazine arrived almost three weeks ago, I had sort of forgotten about it. I'd been reading some trashy Judy Blume adult fiction and then I was busy and then I was enjoying the weather and anyways I just sort of forgot about it.

I finally cracked the thin spine of April/May 2009 on Sunday and all I have to say is....blech. I mean, you all know I can be sort of a stickler for these sorts of things. Just like as soon as you know there's high fructose corn syrup in something, it's a little harder to enjoy it. Now that Readymade's getting crafted in some megamagazinal factory in Des Moines, right alongside the issues of Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens, I'm just feeling more critical. You can taste the corporate conglomeration, I'm thinking as I read the projects and even if that is wholly psychosomatic, it's also no less real.

Beginning with the first Editor's Letter from new Editorial Director, Kitty Morgan. She weaves some tall tale about the post-modern nature of design these days and the diversity of place which informs DIY culture. It's a lengthy excuse for ditching Berkeley, the magazine's birthplace and home of the former editorial staff, in a consolidation move and a half-hearted case for the national landscape of the do-it-yourself scene. Though the scene is certainly alive all over the place, the letter read as an obligatory nod to the magazine's former self and disingenuous explanation for moving the magazine's HQ, especially as several of the issue's features are California specific: "Tilling Our City Soil" (p. 56) and "Tao of Pie" (p. 62). If the magazine's "roots" are no longer California, the content should showcase this, no?

I heard from a little bird that hardly any of the regular contributors stuck with the magazine in the move. Indeed, superstar Todd Oldham is absent, but there were a few people who were listed on the Contributor's page as 'veterans', to use the term loosely. Overall, it definitely had a tired feel. I took issue with (no pun intended) Big Screen Debut (p. 24), a piece about a small screen printing studio started by a UPenn grad in Des Moines that makes kitschy t-shirts. I'm not sure which is less impressive, the fact that they are showcasing a screen printing studio, of which there are thousands of more original, more interesting concepts or the fact that the guy's t-shirts look like gen-x urban outfitters-type, complete with faux patina. Also, The Back Story (p. 32), which suggests taking photos of the back of your own head and blowing them up to life size for hanging on the wall in lieu of real art; Cheap Frills (p. 36) suggests ways to trim an old denim skirt to make it look new again, yielding results that invoke the fashions you might find in the junior's section of Walmart, one in a yellow and blue gingham palette and another with applique tie dye; Home Worked (p. 46), instructions for a bright home office that belongs on the pages of Martha Stewart Living; and worst of all, Plastic Surgery (p. 38) which suggests turning plastic bottles into papier mache vases.

The result looks cruddy even in their fancy professional photos. And one of those aforementioned features, Tilling Our City Soil, discusses urban farming as though it hasn't been covered To Death over the last year in every news source from the NYTimes to independent weeklies across the land and even an issue of RM last spring. RM old school would have featured urban & rural foraging projects, a true cutting edge in sustainable food.

A year ago, Berger stands out from the bunch.

A year ago, in the April/May 2008 Green Design Issue, former editor Shoshana Berger titled her opening letter "The Greenwashing Issue: What happens when what you've always believed in becomes a fad?" It was RM's way of saying, we know it's getting a little crazy out there with eco-friendly everything, repurposed whatnots and recycled whozits, and we're still trying to stay innovative without latching on to the trend that continues now in 2009, as Payless announces a "green" line of their shoes. I really respected Shoshana's candid acknowledgment and the April/May 2008 issue's attempt to dig into the heart of Green by documenting the corporate co-opting of the environmental movement and other lesser mentioned aspects of environmentalisms. It was a great way to set RM apart from the chorus of other magazines only now catching on and I thought of that letter when reading this year's "Sustainability Issue." A fact that I only noticed when on their website just now, because there is nothing particularly sustainable about this issue.

Morgan writes in her letter Does place matter? Not entirely...Readymade is no longer exclusively anywhere. She may be right about that. But ReadyMade has always seemed to come from people, who were very specifically located on the cultural arteries of DIY activity. I have no issue with Des Moines. But those people pulling strings from a corporate campus, taking time out of working on Ladies' Home Journal, are simply not capable of putting together a magazine for the demographic that chooses to make and not buy, that chooses small over large impact, and that wants to be surprised by the pages of their favorite magazine. It seems like such an experiment to me. Can a corporate office complex really pull off the manufacturing of an underdog magazine, historically connected to the indie music, design, craft scene, and hide their seams? I remain skeptical. I don't think credibility can be forged or that connectivity can be improvised.

In the end, I don't need to subscribe to a journal of ideas, companies, and projects I've already heard of. And I'm up to renew in July...

17 April 2009

Such sun.

Today's 80 degree weather got me, even scratch-throated and tea guzzling, out of doors. We took a trip together to buy vegetables and other short term non perishables because then we hit the park on the way back to read and do other relaxing sort of sunny-day things. Like picnic.

This little park we go to is really charming, Colby Park, at the center of a hidden cul de sac in Oakland, with a little playground and lots of grass and benches and very little else. Surrounded by modest bungalows, it's the perfect setting for sitting in the sun, more inviting than the gated communities up in the hills and less distracting than the hectic population over at Mosswood.

About half way through our sit in, an opportunity for eavesdropping presented itself and though our eyes stayed fixed on the books in our laps, our ears pricked up and caught some things that were mellow-harshing to say the least. A realtor, showing one of those aforementioned bungalows (turned out they were less modest than they first seemed, weighing in at 600k) was telling a prospective buyer that his 375k price range wouldn't get him what he wanted.

You can see the house in question over my shoulder in this picture, it was an adorable shade of green and white but certainly no bachelor pad.

They went back and forth for a little while like this. The realtor talking about some other properties in other tree-lined quiet neighborhoods near coffee shops to his 30-something buyer, who responded by explaining that he wasn't starting a family and didn't need something quite so quiet. After a few more exchanges, the buyer suggests looking in West Oakland, where he's heard its more affordable. And then the realtor pretty much loses it. "You don't want to be in West Oakland in the long term, it's no investment. Look, I've been chased out of some parts of West Oakland before. You're not going to want to stay there 15 years from now." Ultimately the buyer convinced him to show a place on 25th street (the horror!...8 blocks from our house) after much consternation on the realtor's part. And here they are peeling away in their fancy cars:

There are so many levels happening with this conversation, from the upselling, to the 'bro to bro' tone to the repetition of "You know what I mean?" but the real show stopper was that last bit about getting chased out of West Oakland. I've always found it to be remarkable how people who feel uncomfortable in a place seem to blame the people who live in the place for making them feel that way. They never consider that perhaps, they project their discomfort in the way of racial stereotyping and that the people living there have every right to defend their space against such visitors of a particular attitude. I'm pretty sure that I would chase that creep out of my neighborhood too if given the chance, especially if he called the place I call home a terrible investment. On that note we packed up and headed home.

And then since our picnicking was only halfhearted, scones and strawberries and tea, we made a big salad for lunch with a fried egg on top for each of us.

And then I ate some jelly beans.

Unemployment could be worse...

16 April 2009


I caught something out of thin air on Monday, a prickly throat and now stuffy nose. I'd gone jogging, you see, to the post office that morning to mail my taxes. A sure sign, I'm convinced, that I'm not put on this earth to run anywhere.

Then the next two days I was up at Fort Mason doing some more costuming. The gig includes a moderate bike ride up there from Embarcadero and with a tickle in my throat, nothing probably was worse. So today I've taken to mending and have little else to report.

Besides of course this big ceramic vessel. I bought it two years ago at Renegade in Brooklyn and I always use it when I need something bottomless. Say, for drinking lots of tea. It's perfect for cupping between two hands and soaking in steam.

13 April 2009


I went to take some pictures of the fava bean flowers today, they are really perfect right now. Deep purple centers and tender white petals, they look a little like a snap dragon with a downturned bottom lip and a rounded little head. If I were a planning a wedding, in a truly alternate universe, I'd work them into the floral arrangement somehow. They speak so gracefully of spring and promise.

Of course, while I was out there I couldn't help catching some of the other progress underway. The fancy beans still dragging their heels in opening up, dwarfed for now by the eager peas.

Baby kales,

And the arugula...

Pickled Me This

What to do with a large quantity of seedless green grapes procured from the Berkeley Bowl Dent Shelf? I can never remember to eat grapes for snacking, but they are so cold and tasty when I do, that I couldn't very well leave them at the store. Especially because in truth, there was nothing very dented about this bundle of grapes. Sifting through the bunch and plucking each one from its stem, I found most to be perfectly in tact and deliciously sweet, too.

Seeing as how I had this new book of recipes just lying around, I figured I may as well go ahead and pickle the grapes with peppercorns and brown mustard seeds and cinnamon sticks as per Molly's instruction. I'm not sorry I did.

They made a nice little host gift yesterday at the Easter day party I attended. They stay nice and crisp, and pretty sweet, like little nuggets of high quality wine vinegar (even when you didn't start with any). I plan on eating my own jar with cheese and crackers and dumping generous spoonfuls into spinach salads.

You should definitely get your own copy of this book, but just to whet your whistle:

Pickled Grapes With Cinnamon and Black Pepper
Adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

This rendition of the recipe reflects what I had on hand...

1 lb. red or black or green grapes, seedless
1 cup white vinegar
splash of white cooking wine
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 t brown mustard seeds
1 t whole black peppercorns
1 (2 1/2 inch) cinnamon stick
1/4 t salt.

Rinse and dry grapes and pull them carefully from their stems. Ideally, some of the skin comes away when you do this to expose some of the flesh. If your stemming seems to leave the "belly button" too intact, use a sharp knife to remove the very end of the grape. You just want the brine to come into contact with the inner flesh of the grape. Put finished grapes into a medium bowl and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then pour over the grapes waiting in the bowl. Stir to evenly combine. Set aside and cool to room temperature.

In the meantime, wash 2 pint-sized canning jars and their lids in warm soapy water. When the grapes have cooled, ladle them into the jars. Store in the refrigerator and allow to chill at least 8 hours or overnight. Serve cold. Use within one month.

11 April 2009

Escape to Wisconsin

A while ago, I think I alluded to my having taken more old fashioned photos and that I'd be putting them up here. In fact, I shot 4 rolls back in December while I was home at the holiday. Until a week ago, they'd been sitting on top of my dresser, waiting until my checking account could sign off on the cost of processing. I took them to the photo store amidst my slurry of sewing work and just a few days ago picked up the prints.

Mostly, I really can't use a camera. But it wasn't as important in this case for the pictures to be great. The purpose for me was just to make a record of a place where I spent most of my childhood, the workshop in my grandparents' basement.

Since Bumpa (Jack, to most) died four years ago, I've hardly been home to visit and even more seldom am I back at my grandmother's house. The basement has been left mostly in tact, preserved in time. Someday, it will be a terrific job to clear out. Every possible surface has become a drawer or a shelf or a storage mechanism for keeping tools and glues and paint and glass and wood and screws and nails and machinery. We used to joke that he could make anything in that basement. And he did. An elaborate dollhouse when I was young. And then a white writing desk when I was twelve. And in between he made little locomotives, paperweights, his kitchen table, a swing set and countless other things people wished aloud and that he would figure out and make. It was one of the first ways that I defined kindness.

He was a maker of things. Jack of all trades, literally. And you might say that I get my streak of inventiveness from him.

Yes, that's a gun. And yes, that's an NRA sticker above it.

I took these photos so that in the case that someday his workshop is dismantled, I'll be able to remember what exactly it was like. The calendar girls half-clothed beside power tools on the inside of the storeroom door. The drawer in his office filled with gumdrops and peanut M&M's. The can full of wax scraps leftover from the holly candles he made every Christmas. And what the shapes of his handwriting look like.

The four prints in the Bakerex frames in my previous post are also from this set.