Thursday, July 31, 2008

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal.

Barbara Ehrenreich's got a new book.

You know her from the best-seller, "Nickel and Dimed," or if you've got any interest in the sociology of labor or the politics of work and gender, you've heard her name repeatedly. Ehrenreich's one of the most well-known public intellectuals out there, a social critic with a real following. Her sharp, satirical perspective is infused with a heavy Marxian legacy. Which is, of course, why I love her.

So read her new work. It's quick but biting. "This Land is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation" hits on everything from BushCo to the religious right to social welfare to Home Depot to university administrators' salaries. Richard Horan reviewed it in Sunday's Chron. Check it out.

'This Land is Their Land' - a wake-up scream (SF Chron)

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

You saw this NYT preview of the new Little House musical, yeah?

Includes some choice quotes from star Melissa Gilbert and director Francesca Zambello, who automatically earned points in my book for this zinger:

“The story goes to core American values, the search for the American soul, and I think that will resonate at a time when the religious right and the current administration are still trying to kidnap those values."

Love it. (And while we're on the subject of musicals, I had the misfortune to lose a few hours of my life the other day to the new film version of Mamma Mia! (yes, exclamation mark included). Dear god. It was awful. In every possible way: sophomoric choreography, cliched book, hammy acting, the works. But especially the way that, when poor Pierce Brosnan opened his mouth to sing for the first time, the entire audience burst out laughing. Don't waste your time on this shamble of a jukebox musical, no matter how pretty the Greek scenery might be.)

Ma, Pa, and Half Pint Now Sing on That Prairie (NYT)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

The summer smiles, the summer knows,
and unashamed, she sheds her clothes.
The summer smoothes the restless sky,
And lovingly she warms the sand on which you lie.
The summer knows, the summer's wise,
she sees the doubts within your eyes,
And so she takes her summertime,
tells the moon to wait and the sun to linger,
Twist the world around her summer finger.
Lets you see the wonder of it all,
And if you learned your lesson well,
There's little more for her to tell,
One last caress, it's time to dress for fall.

You know how there are certain songs that haunt you, melodies that, when they pop up unexpectedly in your life, make the rest of the world stop for a few thick moments as your cells soak them up? You remember where you were when you first heard them, you remember how your breath caught in your throat, you remember the revelation on turning a corner and finding it wailing out of a solo saxophone in a narrow alley or thumping out of an upright bass in a dingy bar with an aging jazz trio tucked in the corner? And a part of you almost doesn't want to find it or buy it or play it or know it too well, because that would take away that heart-stopping experience of it slipping in and out of your life when you least expect it?

Yeah, well that's The Summer Knows. Theme from Summer of '42.  Sixteen years old the first time I heard it. And I've finally dug up a dusty copy of the sheet music from the innards of the music library down at the SFPL, an arrangement that's just a little too difficult for my clunky fingers, but then it's morning and it's foggy and the streets are quiet and your fingers slowly get used to playing in 4 flats. And you've got Barbra sailing away on the melancholy minor melody of the whole thing from her ancient 1971 album and August is around the corner and your life looks like pinot and plums and fog and farmers' markets, and "so she takes her summertime..."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit

Have you heard of Rolph Scarlett? Yeah, me neither.

That is, until I stopped right in my tracks before his work hanging in the window at the Weinstein Gallery down in Union Square last night. Striking stuff, mid-century abstractions, mostly geometric in style. The less-geometric stuff reminds me a lot of Kandinsky. Dude seems pretty obscure; he doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry. Apparently was a Canadian-born American artist, 1889-1984. Did a lot of theater set work, too.

Check it.

(This is Untitled, 1945)

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

This morning I was weaving through the fog on my way to a meeting downtown when I found myself adjacent to a big backyard garden in the shadow of City Hall. There were hay bushels and cornstalks and meandering tomato vines. I thought to myself, "What is this, Nebraska?!?"

Slow Food Nation, a national movement due to gather in SF over Labor Day weekend, has planted what they refer to as a "Victory Garden" in the public space in front of City Hall that is more frequently used as a sprawling plaza for anti-war protests and homeless camping. It's on the fringe of the Tenderloin, the heart of SF's most gritty and drug-saturated neighborhood, and the locus for much of the poverty and homelessness that the city continues to struggle with.

The NYT ran a piece on the Slow Food movement and this garden itself last week. Standing there taking in the seedlings and little starter plants and young corn and tomatoes and whatnot, I felt a mixture of fond excitement and jaded cynicism about the whole project. Yesterday the Chronicle highlighted the ongoing lack of a real grocery store in the Tenderloin, and that in mind, I felt proud to find a grassroots attempt to build urban sustainability in a public space in the heart of the most poorly-fed population in this affluent city. But I couldn't help but wonder how long it would be until these idealistic little sprouts were ripped up, urinated on, or slept in. Will the plants ever even get a chance to produce? Is it delusional to try to plant a community garden on the corner of Crack Ave. and Homeless Lane?

The whole thing brought home to me once more what I think is the most consistently pressing issue of these efforts to build a sustainable and healthy food system amongst the poorest of this country's residents. Like the Slow Food movement in general, it's an effort hopelessly bound up in class and privilege. When I write things about raw foods and eating fresh local produce and organic veggies and whatnot, a little voice in my head always chides me for not being more articulate about the privilege implicit in my (our) being able to make those choices in the first place. Why should my relative affluence grant me the power to live well and take such conscious care of my health? Is there any hope for idealistic urban gardening projects like this one? Or will the movement remain, as the NYT article questions, a white liberal affluent little club?

The other thought swirling around me, standing there in the fog, was of the privilege and the politics of space. Again, I think this is related to the privilege of growing up in the middle of the country with so much land, land - meaning capital, natural resources, power - that I was not even aware of at the time. I will always be grateful to my parents for insisting on living on sprawling acreages instead of "postage-stamp sized lots" (as Pops used to say). Only now, living in the City where green space is such a rare treat, do I realize how important that is for the body AND the spirit, and especially, especially, for chidren, who may not otherwise even make the connection between how a potato or a tomato grows and the food on their plates (or in the silver cellophane bag on their laps in front of the TV).

Ay dios mio. Land, food, class. Some things remain the source of conflict and consternation across the ages.

Slow Food Savors Its Big Moment (NYT)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

The City's buzzing with matrimonial afterglow today. San Francisco's strapping young divorced-caught cheating-rehabbed-gay marrying-gubernatorially aspiring mayor got married over the weekend to his pretty blond girlfriend, and all the gossip columnists are digging for details from the swanky "Out of Africa"-themed soiree thrown at the bride's parents' ranch in Montana.

It's a dishy story that I'm not particularly interested in plumbing, other than the fact that I'm glad Gavin's found a chicky who'll stand by his side after his ugly personal drama of the last few years, and she seems nice enough, if quite bland and possibly driven by ulterior motives, and their little Ralph Lauren styles will serve just fine as a photogenic face for the City. Sounds like all the Google movers and shakers, along with Willie B and the other Democratic glitterati were up for the wedding. Cheers. Hope this one sticks.

I'm more interested in a rather more messy corollary to the whole wedding hubbub, the flip-side of which I find far more rich and fascinating. The other day someone sent me this smart little piece from the New English Review by Christopher Orlet on "Bachelorhood and Its Discontents."

I've always been interested in that destabilizing state, that delicious and dangerous bachelor status that carries such a more interesting cultural cache than its parallel "spinster" or "old maid" equivalent. Sex, solitude, the social functions of marriage: obviously I dig this stuff!

But it's the bachelorhood aspect that interests me most, perhaps because I've always been more of a stereotypical dude than a chick in terms of independence and relationships and what-have-you. It's a conversation I've been having for nearly a decade now, the question of creativity and productivity as an artist as related to being solitary vs. being in a relationship. And now that SF's most eligible bachelor is no longer on the prowl, the topic seems particularly relevant.

Orlet points out that most important writers, artists and philosophers - practically "a roll call of the architects of Western Civilization" - have been bachelors (or, as he writes, "effectively single"), kept that way by "the bachelor's great intellect and creativity." Is that it? Sometimes I'm tempted to think so. Checking out Orlet's long list of brilliant men only reinforces that idea: we're talking Brahms, Descartes, Flaubert, Van Gogh, Hume, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Locke, Newton, Pascal, Sartre, Thoreau, da Vinci, etc.

Orlet cites studies that show that scientists' productivity peaked in their 20s, then spiraled downward after they'd been married and taken on the usual responsibilities of a family and being the bread-winner.  Presumptively they then lacked the "prerequisite time and solitude" to be as productive as they'd been before.

I wish he'd have explored this whole idea more, particularly as related to history's presumptive gay men like Michelangelo, in which case their sexual preference allowed them more time to be creative because of the lack of needing to play a functional provider role for women or children. But Orlet turns more to an exploration of economic and psychological aspects of bachelorhood vs. marriage, looking at marriage "as a job to be treated as such," wondering if men "need marriage for psychological stability," (seriously!?!? geez) and considering the "selfish luxury of solitary living" that might, dramatically, end in "obscurity" coming "soonest of all."

Whew. Lots to get started with here. My interest is in a few bits Orlet points out about the bachelor being historically perceived as a "menace to society," this "destabilizing influence" who should be feared for his lack of connections, pitied for his solitude, and simultaneously envied for his freedom. It's a Catch-22, it seems; married men envy his independence and ability to roam free; at the same time they pity his lack of place in the social structure.

It's different for women, yes, blah blah blah, and that's a whole other post, but at the same time I think it's maybe not so different after all. I think a single woman with more bachelor-esque tendencies, e.g. not Bridget Jones, but more of an independent sexual free-agent, is perceived as equally destabilizing and dangerous. I overheard the most interesting conversation yesterday while I was shaking martinis from a beautiful recently-divorced woman who was talking about how women treat her so differently now that she is unattached, a free agent, a "threat."  That when she walks onto the soccer field to pick up her kids, heads turn and women whisper like they did not do when she was married and thus not a sexual threat to their own marriages.

It's funny; at this point in my life, nearing 30, it seems like most of my good friends are in one of three states: either longing for partnership and not finding it, finally settling into the mundanities of married life and realizing it's not the clear-cut Cinderella cure-all they'd always imagined it would be, or moving on after a difficult divorce or the end of a "starter marriage" and wondering what the hell happens next.   And none of them is quite satisfied, or feels fulfilled, and all of them are a little bit jealous of the others. The grass is always greener, yes.  

And I do have to think Chekhov found some truth in his biting barb, "If you are afraid of loneliness, don't marry." And I am glad he pointed out how easy it is to feel lonely in what is ostensibly the ultimate state of connection. But at the same time I do see the great power and life burbling out of some of the vibrant tight-knit marriages of those dear to me. And again at the same time I think it impossible to create and be a writer-artist-composer-creator while saddled by expectations for lawn-mowing and honey-do-lists and diaper-changing and increasingly rare solo time.

So what do you do, if you want to be a creator, an artist, a thinker, and care for someone, and yet remain that destabilizing force, which is actually a thrilling state to be in, as far as I'm concerned (read some queer theory, it's all about deliberate destabilization as potentially sexy and life-giving and revolutionary)? Be a bach? Live in sin? Keep a mistress across the hall? Date the mailman so you see him regularly and then can send him on his way while you write in peace? Have a kid and teach him to wash dishes so you can get some quiet time to play your harp? Or do you just strap him on your back and sit down at the piano while he snoozes on your shoulder?

Thoughts, all. Read the article. It's interesting from any point of view, whether you read it as a swinging single or a hungry bachelor or as a satisfied husband or a caged cuckold or some combination therein. Politics of marriage and solitude, my friends. Fascinating shit.

Bachelorhood and Its Discontents (New English Review)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

I opened up my new issue of Yoga Journal this morning to find a fortuitously-timed article on baking and meditation. Lavinia Spalding writes about her entry into the world of bread-baking and how it drew her more deeply into her meditation practice:

"Always eager to incorporate more mindfulness into my daily life, I fancied the art of baking becoming a natural extension of my formal sitting practice. Even without having made bread before, I could easily intuit why people the world over regard the activity as meditation. Baking not only demands concentration and presence but also offers a bit of sanctuary. After all, who'd expect you to answer email, elbow deep in dough? Baking bread comes with its own "push, fold, turn, push, fold, turn" kneading mantra, and the undertaking itself - turning a sticky, formless gob of flour and water into a supple ball of dough - evokes the transformation of the mind from messy to manageable."

It's a sweet, almost poetic little rumination on the connections between body and breath, mind and spirit as found in the very embodied process of kneading bread, watching it rise, letting it rest in the "slow rises" and the "fundamental in-betweens" that are so necessary to making a loaf happen. Spalding goes on to quote several noted Zen priests and cookbook authors, who reiterate the intuitive connections between the breath and creating a product to which you can have little attachment to outcome, only patience and presence and good intentions.

A nice articulation of some of the thoughts I've been having these recent mornings spent elbow deep in bundts. The article's not yet online, so pick up a copy of the September issue at your nearest independent bookstore. Or just borrow mine.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Aaaaaand it's Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: Cool, clear, sleepy
Mood: Contemplative
Music: Feist

So this morning we've got a delicious combo of classic, chocolate, and alcoholic. The cake's in the oven, with twenty minutes or so to go, so let's jot down the recipe while it's baking.


1 (18.25 oz.) box red velvet cake mix
1 (3.9-oz.) box instant chocolate fudge
pudding and pie filling mix
1 1/4 C. water
1/2 C. creme de cacao or raspberry liqueur or brandy
1/2 C. cooking oil
4 large eggs
1 (12 oz.) jar seedless raspberry jam
Vanilla buttercream frosting, old-fashioned 7-min.
icing or chocolate fudge frosting
1/2 C. chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-in. Bundt or tube pan or wax paper-line two greased 9-in. heart-shape layer pans. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, water, creme de cacao or raspberry liqueur or brandy, and oil; add eggs and beat, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Spoon into prepared pan(s). Bake for 30 to 35 min. (heart-shaped layer pans) or 45 min. (tube or Bundt pan), or until a cake tester inserted into the cake layers or cake comes out clean. Let cake or cake layers cool for 10 min. in pan(s), top side up for tube cake and upside down for Bundt cake. For heart-shaped cake, arrange one layer on a cake serving plate. Evenly spread raspberry jam over cake layer. Top with second layer. Evenly spread top and sides with frosting of choice. For tube or Bundt cake, spread frosting of choice over top and sides of cake.

As you can see, this would be a great choice for Valentine's Day. I decided to cut the recipe and add 1/4 C. each of chambord AND creme de cacao, to make things a little more interesting. Thanks to the nice old dude down the street, I found this teeny 3 oz. bottle of chambord perfect for my purposes: this is a great alternative to dropping $28 on a bottle of syrupy raspberry liqueur I'll never touch again. I balanced that with creme de cacao from this bottle that's been in our liquor cabinet since roughly 1957. So here's hoping it turns out ok.

The batter is the most gorgeous deep red color. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with the raspberry jam; since it's not a layer cake, I can't fold it in, but I may decide to put some in the middle of the bundt for people who like that additional fruitiness. (I'm not so much a fan myself).

I decided chocolate frosting would be too much, so chose vanilla butter cream instead. Finish it off with a sprinkling of pecans for effect. Delish!

P.S. That 1/4 cup of chambord filled my house with the scent of raspberry all day long...

Recipe courtesy

Friday, July 25, 2008

Raw, idiom: 14a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Yoga? Check.
Fresh air? Check.
Sunny Sunday afternoon? Check.
Benefits cancer non-profits? Check.

Get thee to Golden Gate Park on Sunday afternoon for Yogapalooza '08. Afternoon-long yoga retreat under the sun, all proceeds benefitting several local cancer non-profits. Sounds amazing.

I've been doing a lot of research this summer on the potential uses of yoga therapy with cancer patients. It's pretty incredible. There are some huge connections between exercises with the breath (pranayama), oxygenation of the cells, and calming the kind of anxiety that comes along with this often immobilizing and demoralizing disease.

The tight buns are just a bonus.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

Are you as excited about what's happening tomorrow as I am? Tell me you know what I'm talking about.

What with all the press about this summer's long-awaited return of Mulder and Scully, the secret X-Philes in my life are coming out of the woodwork. I had no idea there were so many of us ostensibly normal and intelligent people who went loopy for David Duchovny in an ill-fitting suit carrying an FBI badge. The Truth is Out There, indeed, and it looks like a new X-Files movie ten whole years after the last one debuted.

David D was my regular Sunday night date for several big years in the late 90s. I'll always owe a piece of my heart to Mulder and Scully and their bizarre and bloody adventures with the Cigarette Smoking Man. It's been a long time and I honestly don't know if I'll remember much of anything from the series - black oil and aliens and implanted chips and what again about mythology? (Time for a DVD marathon, Heidi.) But I'm looking forward to catching the new flick nonetheless.

Rebecca Traister has a great ode to Scully over at Salon today. Though I'll always rest firmly in the Mulder camp, I've gotta agree with Traister's little love song. Especially the part about how she still has a little moment when the clock reads 10:13. Hilarious.

B, wish you were here to drool over David D together! Maybe in August, just for old times' sake.

Scully have I loved (Salon)

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Over at Slate, the Green Lantern has a quick little answer to the question: Which is better for the environment, soy milk or cow's milk?

It's a potentially loaded question in natural health circles. Soy, originally the wonder food among tofu-eating granolas, has gained a pretty bad rap in the last several years. (If you're curious, just google "soy bad" and you'll get the idea.) I'm pretty torn over it myself. I don't drink a ton of the stuff, as it is definitely highly-processed, far from natural and often genetically modified, but when it comes to the question of what I'll pour into my morning coffee, vanilla soy just seems like the lesser of two evils when compared to the free hormones and antibiotics you're going to get from a glass of cow's milk. When I see parents give their children a nice cold glass of milk, it triggers my gag reflex. Ew. Free drugs! Free growth hormones! And lactose-induced mucus! Mmm.

It's a good quick read if you're on the fence between soy and cow's. I've not really looked into substituting soy products much when I bake, but it's something to check into, for sure.

**Also, if you have time, click over to Green Lantern's discussion of whether being vegan or just veg is better for the environment. He points out - as a meat eater, notice - that making the choice to go veg "has the same effect on carbon dioxide emissions as switching from a Chevrolet Suburban to a Toyota Camry." Wow. That's no small potatoes.

Cows or Beans: Which is the Better Source for Milk? (Slate)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

Well, then. I have some exciting news.

Turns out the amaretto cake went over so well last week, and I had such a good time baking it and force-feeding all my friends and pets and lovers and co-workers, that I'm going to make it a weekly thing. Yes, that's right: from now on, every Saturday at the Rach household will be Bundt Cake Saturday! Get ready for fabulosity on a heretofore unseen scale.

On a practical level, it makes sense. I have this random Bundt pan that needs to be used. And believe it or not, there are hundreds on hundreds of bizarro Bundt cake recipes out there waiting to be made. We're talking pistachio, beet, asparagus, "tunnel of fudge," pumpkin spice, pear, you name it. More than enough to fill the next 52 Saturday mornings. You may not get the same play-by-play pics, but I'll at least jot down the recipe and post a photo of the finished product.

And on a not-so-practical level, it makes even more sense. With bartending Friday and Saturday nights being so crazy and draining, I generally lay low on Saturdays to refuel. Baking is the perfect embodied moving meditation, a mellow mix of stirring and pouring and measuring and waiting that is all about being in the moment. And, well, it makes me really happy to bake for people.

So hopefully as the next few months progress, I'll learn gobs of obscure recipes, and my friends will be fat and happy. I've already got this week's recipe all lined up and ingredients set aside on the countertop for Saturday. And this week we've got not ONE weird liqueur, but TWO in the recipe! Great balls of fire!

I figure if the yogi-writer-singer-intellectual-porn star-gardener-bookslut potential careers don't work out, I'll fall back on the Bundts and be my own little Maggie Gyllenhaal radical baker. You've seen this clip from Stranger Than Fiction, right? When she talks about dropping out of Harvard Law to bake cookies, because it's such a more real way of making the world a better place? Yeah. Well, I feel the same way.

So bring on the Bundts!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor.

It's such a good time to be a musical theater fan in SF.

Not only do both The Drowsy Chaperone and Spring Awakening open in the next few weeks (Drowsy today, Spring next month), but this week alone, Bernadette Peters is singing with the SF Symphony and Mitzi Gaynor (you know her as Nellie Forbush in the original film version of South Pacific) is at the Castro for an event in her honor. My nights are booked up for the next month! I can't handle it.

So the really exciting part of all this is that not only do we have 3rd row tickets next week for Drowsy, but guess who's starring? None other than Jonathan Crombie, he of old-school Anne of Green Gables fame. That's right: Gilbert Blythe himself! Now do you see why I need to be in the 3rd row?? Do you think it's inappropriate if I throw lingerie?*

With all of this, the Pink section this week was a veritable treasure chest of musical theater deliciousness. Interviews with each of these big names below.

Drowsy Chaperone was a surprise hit (SF Chron)
Bernadette Peters at SF Symphony (SF Chron)
Some Enchanted Evening (SF Chron)

*B, I know you're all "been there, done that," but at least I can share in the excitement now.

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

Oh, man. Mancini is rocking my world right now.

Been playing a lot of piano these foggy July mornings while the world wakes up. In my ongoing quest to not suck, that is. And Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini are right up there with the Muses for inspiration of late. I've been plunking out a decent bare-bones arrangement of "Days of Wine and Roses" and was feeling so proud of myself for mixing it up with a little jazz improv.

And then I watched this insane rendition by the Bill Evans Trio from back in 1980 (less than a month before he died). Holy shnikes. Please overlook the general Unabomber aesthetic and listen to these guys play it the way it's supposed to be done.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Quick but stimulating read over at Salon today featuring an interview with James P. Carse, author of the new book, "The Religious Case Against Belief." Carse knows his shit, after directing the Religious Studies Program at NYU for 30 years, and he doesn't shy away from controversy.

Looks like a fiery piece of work. In the course of the interview, Carse compares religions like Hinduism and Christianity to belief systems like Nazism and Marxism, questions the notion of transcendence, and argues that religion is defined not by a search for meaning or some-such, but merely by longevity.

But before you think he's a cold hard stone, Carse veers in praise of liturgy, waxing poetic about the beauty and grace of ancient liturgies and calling the true prophets "poets." He warns of the danger of marrying religion to national or ethnic identity - an apt fear these days especially, I believe - and speaks of his ultimate fascination with the notion of mystery - that "question of an unnameable mystery" that keeps him interested in this whole project of religion.

Really interesting perspectives applicable to all of the five major world religions, from a guy who seems to at once occupy the center and the margins. Give it a read.

Religion is Poetry (Salon)

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Like I've mentioned before, I'm an unabashed introvert, a confirmed quirkyalone. And as such, I'm really good at flying solo. Prefer it, really. I'd rather travel alone, I'd rather go to the symphony alone, I'd rather breakfast alone. But the one solo activity I've never been able to tackle has been the whole drinking-alone thing.

It just doesn't do it for me. I'll pour a glass of wine while I'm cooking, and barely take a sip. Or set a glass of pinot at my desk while I'm writing, and it'll go untouched. When I first moved to the City and didn't know anyone, one of my favorite rituals was to wander downtown after work and discover hole-in-the-wall bars for happy hour, where I'd settle in with the newspaper and a pint and people-watch. And though I'd always finish the paper, the beer was inevitably left half-full.

I guess I just lose interest. Drinking for me is a social thing at best, and while a heavily-lubricated dinner party is always a blast, outside of that social context I have very little use for it.

In spite of that, I really love this little piece by Tom Chiarella (in Esquire, of all places) on How To Drink Alone. It's pretty great in a low-key, real kind of way. Especially as a bartender, I find so much of his advice to be spot on. Among other things, Chiarella recommends:

* Forget bar chatter, since it’s about drifting, forgetting, passing time without noticing. Instead, quietly pay attention.

* Drink liquor - whiskey.

* Ignore the television.

* Listen a little. Enjoy the muffled aural measures of a bar waking up. Watch the door or the window instead. Draw connections to the world outside, even as it recedes slightly from perception. Notice the angles of light, the pulse of the traffic, even the evolution of customers who drift in as the day twists down to its nub.

* Read a paper, sure. A book is good too. Crack the spine and lay it flat on the bar. Read, don’t pretend to read.

Go here to read the full list. I've gotta agree about the forgoing bar chatter bit, and the drinking whiskey, too - but a glass of red is always a solid choice, as well. And as that chick on the inside of the bar, I have to concur that one of the hottest things a dude can do is sit down, order Glenlivet on the rocks, and crack open a book right there. Immediate aphrodisiac. Projects such an ease, a comfort with oneself - you have no idea. Not that needy "talk to me talk to me" vibe you so often get from patrons. (The other day there was a couple at the bar for hours drinking a bottle of pinot grigio, lost in their own respective novels, speaking just a few words to one another over the course of the afternoon, and it was so beyond cute, I wanted to go over there and hug them.)

It's not surprising to me that this wound up in a men's magazine. Men are so much more commonly solo at bars. I find, at least at my bar, that women rarely sit down to stay without meeting someone or being hit on. My girlfriends and I often lament the fact that when we're traveling or out somewhere at a bar on our own, enjoying a nice glass of bubbly or a beer with a book, men somehow still see that as an invitation to be chatted up. It's not. Even if we're wearing red lipstick.

Anyway, read the list, and the next time you're in a foreign country alone or have a nice solo afternoon, sidle up to a decent dimly-lit bar, order a Scotch rocks and crack open your book. It's one of the simplest pleasures of being a grown-up.

People Like Us: The Quirkyalones
How to Drink Alone (Esquire)

(And that's "Evening Lounge," by Brent Lynch)

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

You know this photograph, of course. You saw it in your 10th-grade American History book illustrating the chapter about the Great Depression, or maybe you saw it hanging on a wall somewhere, or in some National Geographic collection of important photographs of the century.

NPR has a moving excerpt from a new book about photographer Dorothea Lange, Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange's Photographs and Reports from the Field. Lange is of course responsible for 1936's "Migrant Mother," to the left, but her body of work beyond that iconic photo is equally heart-rending and extensive.

Read the excerpt; I found myself breathless as the history of Lange's work and personal life unfolded. I had no idea she'd been based here in San Francisco (right down on Montgomery Street!) as a portrait photographer to the wealthy before moving on to work for FDR's New Deal government as a "field observer" and photographer. Lange hung out with the artistic rockstars of the era, of course, including Ansel Adams and her estranged husband Maynard Dixon. And all of this as a mother to two young sons, as well.

Not to get all wonky on you, but I'm so struck by the confluence of postmodern and Buddhist themes in this little article. One of the hallmarks of postmodernism is of course the rejection of grand metanarratives and the reliance upon personal experience and individual narrative as harbingers of truth and sources of revelation. Lange's remarks here, about sitting quietly and watching and listening to people open up, and her photographs as sources of economic and social information for the government, seem to me a perfect reflection of this mindset (some fifty years before postmodernism became hip).

Lange said:
Often it's just sticking around and being there, remaining there, not swooping in and swooping out in a cloud of dust; sitting down on the ground with people, letting the children look at your camera with their dirty, grimy, little hands, and putting their fingers on the lens, and you let them, because you know that if you will behave in a generous manner, you're very apt to receive it.…I have asked for a drink of water and taken a long time to drink it, and I have told everything about myself long before I asked any question. "What are you doing here?" they'd say. "Why with your camera? What do you want to take pictures of us for? Why don't you go down and do this, that, and the other?" I've taken a long time, patiently, to explain, and as truthfully as I could.

I've been thinking a lot in the last year or so about listening, about active listening, about how important it is and how much we can learn and see just by being still and letting other people speak and opening up to what they say and letting that easily guide our own responses. And Lange's approach really speaks to that. This, to me, is equally Buddhist; the sitting there in that grimy moment, being present and still in that most meditative and open and clear-headed kind of way, not obstructed by rushing thoughts or presumptions, but just opening up to what presents itself to you, and then taking it in as you will (in Lange's case, capturing it via photo and handwritten caption), and letting that be the source of your art.

Don't know why but I kept tearing up reading this one. Again I'm reminded of the power of art (and photography, a la Leibowitz) to articulate the experience of being alive. At the same time, I keep thinking about the fact that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were using their art in the same era (and in San Francisco, too) to speak some of the same realities about labor, workers' rights, poverty, and solidarity.

Art is powerful. Art is useful. Art is relevant. We should not underestimate its potential.

Dorothea Lange: 'Daring to Look' (NPR)

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

Oh my gato! There's so much good reading to catch up on this morning.

I'm really excited to discover that Marion Nestle, expert extraordinaire on the politics of food and nutrition, is starting a regular column for the SF Chron. This is great. Nestle's a serious badass. You might recognize her from Morgan Spurlock's fast-food documentary from a few years ago, "Super Size-Me."

The first weekly column is here. Nestle manages a succinct yet thorough look at the many issues re: supply/demand, obesity/starvation, etc. that are simultaneously plaguing first- and third-world economies. Bookmark it for future goodness.

And if you want more on Nestle, read this 2006 Salon feature on her book, "What to Eat."

Global food crisis comes back to calories (SFGate)
Supermarket Sleuth (Salon)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Please find herein the hard-hitting photojournalism expose, "Waiting for the Amaretto Cake to Bake." Also known as, "This is me after rolling out of bed this morning after bartending late last night to make a cake for my people." Watch out, Diane Arbus; here I come.

Yeah, so anyway, I've got a couple of stellar friends with birthdays this weekend, both of whom happen to share an ironic predilection for amaretto. And something that those nearest and dearest to me know - a shadow side up there with the parts of me that secretly really really love to clean - is that I am approximately 9% Betty Crocker. It's a strange balance when you factor in the rest of me that is roughly 27% Gloria Steinem, 19% Julie Andrews, 18% Marla Singer, 15% Tibetan monk, 7% Vince Vaughn, and 5% Jack LaLanne. But somehow the Betty Crocker always comes out. Usually it's around the holidays, when I am officially the Cupcake Queen, but over the years I have slowly amassed a decent collection of bakeware and cookie cutters just for times like this, when I have people who desperately NEED to be baked for and happen to have run across a recipe that is beyond perfect for them.

So this morning I rolled out after a late one shaking martinis last night and headed to Big Apple around the corner, where my purchase of (1) bigass bottle of Disaronno and (1) Pistachio Lara Bar probably had to be the weirdest thing a strange chick has bought at 9am on a Saturday, but anyway, yeah. I cranked Jeff Buckley up in the kitchen and tooled up the coffee pot and got my Betty Crocker on. There are few ways I'd rather be spending a Saturday morning than with a yellow cake mix, a bizarro ghetto-fabulous recipe, and Jeff wailing "Lilac Wine" on repeat in the background.

So now we'll let the cake cool (amaretto glaze drizzled and set), run to yoga, and hopefully when I get back it'll actually come out of the Bundt pan I picked up yesterday at Brownie's Hardware. Also, I now have a ridiculous bottle of amaretto that will sit untouched in my liquor cabinet for the next 7 years, so if any of you are fans, let me know and we'll whip up a few more of these puppies. Or you can just come over for some Disaronno on the rocks.

UPDATE, 2:45pm:
Cake came out of the pan! Kitchen smells delish. I whipped up a quick amaretto icing with confectioners' sugar and amaretto and added a little almond extract for flavor, and drizzled that over the top to make it a little more aesthetically pleasing. Check it.

1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
4 eggs
1 (5.1 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup amaretto liqueur
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, instant vanilla pudding, water, oil, almond extract, and 2 tablespoons of the amaretto; blend together well. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of cake comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and while it is still warm, poke holes in the surface. Drizzle with the Amaretto Glaze, ensuring that some of the glaze fills the holes. Let the cake cool for at least 2 hours before removing from the pan. To make Amaretto Glaze: Sift the confectioners' sugar, and combine it with the remaining 1/2 cup amaretto. Blend until smooth. Add more amaretto as needed.

Recipe courtesy

Friday, July 18, 2008

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Spent a toasty day in Napa yesterday for my good friend Llama's birthday. Apparently Dubya decided to come along too, because as we settled in to our first tasting, we found out they'd be closing all the main drags in a few minutes since he was due to meet with The Governator for a photo op at Sutter Home or some such. Erghh.

I always forget how the weather changes when you drive the short 30 or 40 miles north. It was 80 and sunny and I'll be damned if rolling by row after row of grapes ripening along the highway didn't just make me want to move there immediately, what with the sun and the front porches and the vines and the trellises and all.

We ended up with not enough time at Darioush. There's a good story there if you're not familiar with the winery. The owner's only been in the biz since '97, and after beginning with a double-wide trailer on his property there in Napa, they've now built a gorgeous Persepolis-inspired winery complete with lily pads and pillars and more green grass than I've seen in awhile. I was prepared to pitch a tent in that front yard and just spend the night.

It was a good reminder that so much of Napa's big wine industry began as an earthy, homespun love for the grape itself. And that at the end of the day, all of these sparkling, grandiose commercial wineries are just a front for what really goes on in the fields.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Raw, adjective: 4. painfully open, as a sore or wound.

I got spanked by a small Thai lady today. And it felt great.

Which leads me to another edition of Cool Hippie Shit You Should Really Know About. That being:


Yeah, yeah, not that kind of Thai massage. Though you could certainly find that a few blocks in any direction if you're looking for a happy ending. What I'm talking about here is the hardcore Ayurveda- and Buddhism-rooted tradition commonly known as Thai yoga massage that involves you and, in this case, the 4-foot-tall 90-pound Thai woman named Jum who walked on my back and yanked at my feet and rubbed the knots out of my right shoulder.

I've done Thai massage some in the past, but it's been a long time, and the ol' bod was not in good shape on waking this morning. My calf was still tight and fucked up, my head felt cloudy, and everything in general ached from the BBQ food over the weekend and too much cheese yesterday. Potato salad, feta, lots of pasta and grains, none of which will make you feel good, my friends.

So crabby-Rach hit acupuncture this morning and ended up looking quite like a voodoo doll, with lots of auricular points and four needles targeting my calf alone. And it helped, for sure, but I still felt like shit. And I had a couple of spare hours this afternoon, so I rolled down to La Biang Thai, a real-deal neighborhood Thai massage place that I'd heard consistent raves about, and booked an hour with Jum. And Jum pretty much saved the day. I walked out of there peaced-out, man.

Thai massage weaves in many of the same themes you'll find in traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and yoga, in terms of identifying certain energy channels (sens) in the body and working to release blocked energy (prana, chi, etc.) so that the body and spirit can be better in balance. It restores alignment not unlike a chiropractor while simultaneously giving a deep, often-painful massage to the muscles and organs as the masseuse uses her feet, palms, thumbs, knees, etc. to open up your body. Among other things, Jum kneed my ass for a long time, walked on my back to release my spine, massaged my head and neck, and used her feet to open up my thighs and hamstrings. Cool shit. Seriously. And not pricey, especially when you go to the source like I did instead of some frou-frou parlor on Union or Chestnut that will charge you twice just for ambiance and expensive tea.

You're clothed in loose pants and a shirt, and the massage hits on literally everything from your head to your toes. I found out I have a tense abdomen beneath my sternum (who knew?) and flexible legs (knew that). But Jum & crew will also massage your feet, extend your fingers and toes, and circle your knees and hips. Now that I know more about the physiology of yoga than I did in the past, I could really see as Jum went along all the ways in which the massage flushes the lymphatic system, compresses and releases the blood, and improves circulation. There's a reason it's called "yoga for the lazy man." Really great shit. And I feel a million times better than I did 12 hours ago. (Although my face is somewhat puffy and swollen, which for some reason always happens to me after massage work. Lactic acid released and swimming around in there, methinks.) Bodywork Tuesday to the rescue.

For more info, the best resource I've found so far is here at Saul David Raye's site. Check it for photos and detailed historical info. And if you want to see a little in action, watch this clip:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit

Just found this excellent Sanskrit glossary over at YJ that I'll definitely be bookmarking.

My goal this summer is to stop relying on the English versions of asana names and to get up on the Sanskrit originals instead. I really dig single words with big meanings (like "raw"). Or "hatha" yoga, which means, roughly, the union of sun and moon. But this Sanskrit isn't easy. We're talking, like, 5- and 6-syllable words here. Anyway, so here's a killer glossary for most any and every Sanskrit term you run across, whether it's from yoga philosophy, Hinduism, or the asanas themselves.

Check out Mikelle Terson's efficient little asana deck, too, at left. I've never been a flashcard kind of girl, but names like "Eka Pada Rajakapotasana" might just take me there.

200 Key Sanskrit Yoga Terms (YJ)
Yoga Stick Figure Vocab Deck (Amazon)

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

Another foggy and cool Monday morning, and I'm curled up with a blanket trying to stay warm while thumbing recklessly through the Sunday papers. Now that the world's begun spinning again on news of Brangelina's double arrival, we can get on with our lives.

But I'm frustrated. After a week of coddling and extra-careful yoga and walking at half-pace up the hills, my torn calf muscle was just about back to normal, and then yesterday afternoon at Golden Gate Park, too consumed with being fabulous-frisbee-star Rach, I jumped up only to feel the audible rip of tearing the goddamned thing up again. And haven't been able to walk since. I'm so sick of hobbling. And I just want to go running!!!

So back to square one. Heat and ice and elevation and all that shit. Thank god for the Sunday papers. And gin.

Did you read Campbell Robertson's rumination on disappearing bohemia and gentrification in NYC, bracketed by thoughts on a decade-old "Rent" about to close at the Nederlander? I love when writers can manage to capture the feel of a social shift via the framing device of something ostensibly popular and, well, politically irrelevant, like a Broadway musical. Robertson's reverie manages to pull together thoughts on aging and cultural shifts and commodification and the bourgeoisie all through the lens of a musical theater-goer, watching the once-edgy and subversive "Rent" morph from an off-Broadway fluke success into a middle-American juggernaut. Who would've thought 12 or 13 years ago that this AIDS-ridden, anti-corporate screed would be a behemoth on the par of Les Mis or Phantom, drawing tourist crowds more accustomed to cul de sacs and suburban mega-churches?

Something about Robertson's article feels sad to me, bittersweet, and others of it feel kind of triumphant, in that the supposed markers of la vie boheme - yoga, yogurt, Sondheim, Sontag - are now quite "establishment." So is that bohemia lost or bohemia co-opted or bohemia reclaimed or bohemia commodified? I dunno.

But read the article. "Rent's" trajectory seems to reflect a great deal more than just a musical's popularity. More like cultural shifts.

Bohemia Takes Its Final Bows (NYT)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

Erghh, cancer on the brain, what with today's news of Tony Snow's death to colon cancer at the young, young age of 53, and then on top of that this unbelievable story about the 24-year-old Olympic swimmer Eric Shanteau who found out just a week before the Omaha trials that he was sick with testicular cancer. Two men who were/are far too young to be fighting such an ugly disease.

Reminds me of a good feature the Sunday Chron had a couple of weeks ago that I've been carrying around in my stack of notebooks. Dr. Daphne Miller, a local SF M.D. who's studied under Dr. Andrew Weil in the past, has a new book out called "The Jungle Effect: A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World - Why They Work and How to Bring Them Home." Miller traveled the world and studied the diets of indigenous peoples with surprisingly high life expectancies. Her findings won't be shocking to anyone who's followed the work of, say, Michael Pollan or Dean Ornish; she repeats the growing wisdom that we should eat close to the earth, consuming fresh local foods, lightly processed and not in excess.

I appreciate that Miller's an allopathic doctor who recognizes that food is medicine and that a poor diet is really the source of so many of the primary health problems in affluent Western societies like ours, where over-consumption is really the issue anymore in terms of heart disease, diabetes, etc. My frustrations with Western medicine continue to lie in the fact that doctors are so quick to recommend pills or invasive procedures to "solve" health problems without even trying radical diet and lifestyle changes first.

Good on you, Daphne.

Dr. Daphne Miller's Jungle Diet (SF Chron)
Cancer claims ex-Bush press secretary Tony Snow (AP)
Olympic swimmer Shanteau has testicular cancer (AP)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor.

As if we needed another reason to make the trek to NYC for a serious theater week - between Sunday in the Park with George, South Pacific, Gypsy and In the Heights - here's yet another one: Damn Yankees.

Faust on Third, Lost Soul at Bat (NYT review)

Can't say I'm a huge fan of Sean Hayes as Applegate, but Jane Krakowski's solid and they've recreated Bob Fosse's choreography (made famous by Gwen Verdon, of course). Oh man. Booking that flight now.

Check out this audio slide show from the NYT. Good pics and charming commentary from Cheyenne Jackson (Joe Hardy).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Raw, idiom: 14a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

I wish you could smell my living room right now.

Raw, adjective: 4. painfully open, as a sore or wound.

Whoa, dude. Check out my new favorite pose.

It's called Guillotine - a part of the advanced Bikram series I've been doing. (I totally stole this picture from somewhere so we'll see how long it stays up.) But I can't seem to find much info on this particular asana; maybe that's because it's so frickin weird.

The upside of how strange it looks is that holy shit, this thing feels amazing. I've been practicing it regularly as the very last asana in my daily routine, and it opens up the spine and cools the head like nothing else. Among other benefits, Guillotine lengthens the hamstrings, opens up the shoulders, and compresses and tones the abdominal organs and muscles. And as with other inversions, it rushes freshly oxygenated blood to the brain, resulting in a calming and cooling effect. Whenever you've got your heart above your head, good things happen. And after compressing your spine for a few hours with deep backbends, you really feel your intervertebral spaces opening up again with this one.

Also, great party trick.

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

Babies on the brain this morning, as it seems like everyone I love is due to pop one out in the next few months. Aunt Rach has so many good children's books to buy!! I just spent far too long on Bambino Durbano's wishlist. Definitely missed my calling as a children's librarian.

So, speaking of kids' lit, ran across this piece in Slate yesterday that made me smile. Anne Shirley turns 100 this year - can you believe it? Our favorite smart sassy soulful redhead seems much more of this century than last, which is why it's all the more remarkable that L.M. Montgomery's iconic literary creation has weathered a whole century without aging a bit.

Check out Meghan O'Rourke's paean to Anne of Green Gables, her "radical alertness" and her "sensual," "almost pagan" relationship to nature. This spirited, iconoclastic, brilliant, unapologetic little redhead was (and is) so responsible for so much of who I am today. I can't begin to overestimate her influence on my own life. And I'll definitely be throwing the Anne books at every little girl who crosses my path in the years to come.

Also: Gilbert Blythe! 'Nuff said.

100 Candles (Slate)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Raw, idiom: b. Informal. in the nude; naked: sunbathing in the raw

So I ripped up my calf running today in spite of the fact that I am supposed to be "resting it" after straining it two weeks ago (it was 85 and sunny, I had no choice) and now I am pretty sure it will have to be amputated so I am here at my favorite rustic cafe in Russian Hill for my last two-legged jaunt up Polk Street before losing the leg. And luckily there is this dreamy hot dude sitting across from me at this very moment in his golden locks and smart-guy tortoise shell glasses and tattooed bicep reading John Locke and generally being sexy-beautiful RIGHT THERE and I am drinking an iced coffee and hiding under what I fondly refer to as my pink lotus hat while pretending that I am not surreptitiously checking him out.

Point of all that is, I can't focus on a goddamned thing, especially the three chapters I was planning to write this afternoon, since I am highly caffeinated and my future ex-husband is sitting across from me and also my leg is about to fall off. So hello, blog!

Anyway, good shit going on at Salon again. Check out Louis Bayard's review of Dagmar Herzog's new book on the fucked-up evangelical response to sex and sex education in Bush-era America. Abstinence-only crap and "hot monogamy" and homophobia up the wazoo. Ugh, shoot me in the face. This all feels particularly blasphemous to me right now because lately I've been re-reading all of my amazing Systematics shit from grad school on queer theology and radical sexuality and sacred destabilization and bringing the margins to the center and all of this delicious life-giving subversive shit rooted in the Christian tradition. And then I read this shit about fundamentalists and I want to shake someone upside down. Preferably James Dobson, but anyone might do at this point. Though I guess I'd better do it before I lose the leg.

Jesus Loves You - and Your Orgasm (