Tuesday, March 31, 2009

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


You can't feel dispassionately about Neil Labute.

Either you love the guy or you hate him. Labute churns out consistently controversial, complicated, provocative, thoughtful work. His plays have intrigued me since I first saw The Shape of Things some years ago, and I've kept one eye on his writing ever since. Not only does he often lean on a few of my favorite first-rate actors (Paul Rudd and Aaron Eckhart among them), but he engages contemporary and ancient themes that a lot of other writers pussy-foot around.

But, nope, not Labute. He slams into "the ugly" head-on. Which is perhaps why I dig his writing so much. This NYT Magazine profile really only serves to further complicate the enigmatic playwright, but it's intriguing nonetheless. Check out the links included to the audio slideshow from a few years back featuring the beautiful Ed Harris in Wrecks, as well as reviews of Labute's other recent productions. Fascinating dude.

Monday, March 30, 2009

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



All things arise,
Suffer change,
And pass away.
This is their nature.

When you know this ...
... you become still.
It is easy.

~  the Ashtavakra Gita

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



How anyone could read this article and not want to immediately move to Berlin with a typewriter and a paintbrush is beyond me.



(And that's Death Seizes a Woman, 1934, by Kathe Kollwitz.  One of the more moving art experiences I've ever had was at the Kollwitz museum in Berlin.  Some haunting work.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

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



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: still dark
Mood: still asleep
Music: still deciding

It's another marathon workshop/martini weekend, so once again you're getting some Friday morning action passed off as Saturday instead.  Between this insane sunshine (spring has HIT, my friends) and old friends in town from LA (Bob, darling!) and some increasingly urgent writing deadlines breathing down my neck, it's been a wild week.  Not gonna lie; I'll breathe more easily once Monday hits.

We've really hit our March pseudo-summertime stride: 72 degree highs and balmy air and all I want to do is be outside.  So it's been either running or working in the park or sitting in a cafe hugging the open window all week.  Yesterday I wore shorts - not for running - for the first time since approx. July 2003, when I learned 2 days after moving in that you just don't do that here.  Not bad, especially when I see videos of snowed-in Denver on the evening news.  (This is the part where I rub it in.  Move to California, people!)

Spring naturally means light and fruity and healthy.  My fridge is packed with greens and fruits and veg right now.  So I decided to come up with a recipe that could take advantage of what I've already got on hand: several too-ripe pears and a million fresh blackberries.  I pulled out a classic cream cheese recipe, chopped up some fruit, and came up with this light and lovely little

PEAR-BLACKBERRY CREAM BUNDT CAKE

Easy enough, and cute, too.  Just like me.  

Ahem.


INGREDIENTS

1 package yellow cake mix
2 small packages cheesecake pudding
1/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh pears, chopped
1 cup blackberries lightly coated with flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. In a large bowl, stir together cake mix, pudding and sugar. Make a well in the center and pour in eggs, cream cheese, oil and vanilla. Beat on low speed until blended. Scrape bowl, and beat 4 minutes on medium speed. Stir in pears and berries. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

And that's really about it.  We won't mess with any frosting for this guy; a simple dusting of confectioners' sugar will do just fine.  Save back a few of those fresh blackberries, though, and sprinkle them over the finished cake for a nice touch.

Now get out in the sun, please!

(And a happy birthday to HW yesterday, as well.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Random shit I wanted to post that has no feasible connection whatsoever to any definition of "rawness"



Remember that scene in American Beauty where the Wes Bentley character videotapes an empty plastic bag blowing around in the wind and he tells Thora Birch that after seeing that, he wonders how anyone could ever doubt that there's some kind, benevolent force behind the universe?

Yeah, well, that's how I feel about this.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

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


TENDER

Bar-tender.  Tenderloin.  Unexpected tenderness from a newly-married, sentimental Letterman.  "Tenderly" (the Nat King Cole version, please).  A surreptitiously tender glance from across the room.  Copland's "The TenderLand."  Tender calves and splinted shins from running hills again in spite of all the evidence against it.  Tender skin of overripe pears on the kitchen counter.  Garden-tender, heart-tender, extender.  Tending the fold, tending to business, tending to procrastinate. Tender spots on the body, ripe for acupuncture; less tender, post-needles.  Laughingly tender bromance hilarity from Rudd & Segel (see it!).  Tender new shoots fighting their way out of the crumbly spring soil, tender skin sunburned from too much time in this young sun, soft wood of a cafe table tenderized by years of scrawls spills mugs slammed angrily down on its exposed and vulnerable surface.  Tenderizing meat on the deli counter.  F. Scott Fitzgerald's haunting Tender is the Night.  Tender bruise on the hip, tending toward morningtide.  Sternum cracking open in camel, in the wake of a good backbend (ergh, too-tender lower back) and all that anahata energy (unstruck) rushes out

just in time
because 

then there is N sitting across the bar from you in someone else's hair (eyes welling, yours) where she is staring down the barrel of the gun of the heretofore-unknown but creepingly menacing advanced ovarian cancer (there is so much suffering in the world), and the heart tends to swell and the hand instinctively reaches across the bar to clasp the one it shouldn't clasp because of a too-tender immune system weakened by chemo (careful, so fragile), this now-delicate little bird across the great chasm (damn bar) pretending at levity, swimming in tender looks from the man at her side whose physical size belies the softness inside, betrayed by the weary eyes you'd not yet seen before that day

the haunting sorrow of knowing this is how she will die
now it is just when
no longer how

Sondheim's "Johanna" on repeat (the tenderest of songs sung by the tenderest of tenors written by the tenderest of composers) here in this quiet catch of silence

tender chamomile and valerian steeping, slowing the restless heart at eventide
tender hours spent in darkness
sans sleep
remembering
(the fallacy is in believing there is ever any separation in the world)
feeling her premature loss
his
her wounds still open, those tender hollow spaces that once held the potential for new life 
now 
riddled absent sick removed 
emptiness
remaining

same grief echoed the other day
Plath family suicides repeated (repeated, repeated) once again
fisheries, Alaska, a son, this time
(what fools to think we are separate from one another!)
the aching sorrow of the last remaining
still putting one foot in front of the other

tending toward solitude
tending toward sunset
tending toward late afternoon sunshine flaming out in the south bay window

tending the plants
tending the weeds
tending the aphids
tending the heart
[tenderheart ~ karuna ~ compassion]

Tender is the Night, fiction but not ("Night the beloved").  March, tender like a lamb, rolling out like a lion?  Tender twilight, soft cerulean sky.  Tending the prana, tending to grace.  Tending the tendency to tend too much.

tenderize the meat
soften the heart
smooth the edges
explode the center

open it up crack it there break the lobster shells scrape out the sweet tender meat roll it around on your tongue

fracture the sternum

tenderly
tending
the spaces
in between

read a line the other day that has not yet left the mind; the author writes that she rejoices she has a heart big enough to break over and over and over again, and i think of that, and break and fill and break again, and tenderness swoons inside

~

ten·der [ten-der] adjective, -er, -est, verb

–adjective
1. soft or delicate in substance; not hard or tough: a tender steak.
2. weak or delicate in constitution; not strong or hardy.
3. (of plants) unable to withstand freezing temperatures.
4. young or immature: children of tender age.
5. delicate or soft in quality: tender blue.
6. delicate, soft, or gentle: the tender touch of her hand.
7. easily moved to sympathy or compassion; kind: a tender heart.
8. affectionate or loving; sentimental or amatory: a tender glance.
9. considerate or careful; chary or reluctant (usually fol. by of).
10. acutely or painfully sensitive: a tender bruise.
11. easily distressed; readily made uneasy: a tender conscience.
12. yielding readily to force or pressure; easily broken; fragile.
13. of a delicate or ticklish nature; requiring careful or tactful handling: a tender subject.
14. Nautical. crank2 (def. 1).

–verb (used with object)
15. to make tender.
16. Archaic. to regard or treat tenderly.

Origin: 1175–1225; ME, var. of tendre

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

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


When the time comes to pop out a few children, I'll need to have a garden, too, just for the mere fact that eating fresh dirty produce straight off the vine standing barefoot in the prairie sun is one of the best memories of my own childhood.*  Every time I eat a snap pea or a strawberry, I'm whooshed back to age 5 and dirty knees and whipping wind in my hair.

So lately I've been carrying around sugar snap peas wherever I go.  They're easy to transport, low-maintenance, won't spoil after a few hours of being unrefrigerated, and taste crispy-crunchy-delicious.  Totally recommend this easy raw snack as a simple alternative to Doritos and their ilk.  Mann's features a clever little recipe on the back of their pre-washed snap pea package.  They're pretty perfect as they are, but if you want to shake things up, check it out these easy Taco Snap Peas:

8 oz sugar snap peas
1 tbsp taco flavoring
1 spray garlic or butter flavored cooking spray

Open bag and spray cooking spray on the peas.  Sprinkle with 1 tbsp taco seasoning.  Hold the bag shut and shake it until the peas are well-coated.  Serve plain or with your favorite salsa dip.

*Molly, I love that you and Tim are making this happen for Zoe in B'more as I write.

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


One of the first things you learn living in this city is how to weave along the flat blocks.  No fool climbs Nob Hill after learning which alternate blocks will take her around it instead.  The result is that you often end up walking the same route every day.  There are whole chunks of city you never see because you get stuck in your efficient (less-cardio) grooves.

But every Monday night for the last few months I've rolled down the hill on my way to my Sutras class, and walked one block over from the usual path.  And every Monday night I stop dead in my tracks, in spite of how late I'm running, and notice this old rusted sign hanging like a forgotten set piece from some wartime film set that the art director neglected to remove in the process of hastily erasing the evidence.

It hangs in this alien space near City Hall, on the edge of the Tenderloin, on the cement walls of a once-hospital that has long since been turned into one government building or another, in between various tall condos and city buildings.  It's rusted and tired and completely juxtaposed with the contemporary architecture surrounding it, and I'm not even sure whether it's WWI or WWII, but I wonder why it's stayed as long as it has.  Did someone forget to knock it out?  Or just not have the heart to remove it? 

Whatever the reason, it's a jarring and welcome reminder to stop, stand still, and pay attention to the living history above and under and around us.  I wonder about the other young women over the last century who've walked under that sign and looked up and seen it standing out against the clear cold twilight sky.  Who then hurried on in the bustle of traffic and streetcars and drug deals to make it to dinner, to class, to work on time, like I do now, in this century, on this particular evening in spring.

Monday, March 23, 2009

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


On the urging of a friend in-the-know, over the weekend I spent a breathless two hours with Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn, circa 1967, in Two For the Road.

What a smart, stylish, sophisticated, unsentimental piece of art.  The film tracks the 12-year history of Finney and Hepburn's Mark and Joanna Wallace, a successful couple living in Europe whose relationship blooms and wilts on the beaches and roads of the South of France.

Watch it for Hepburn in some crackingly-Mod Riviera fashions and the most fabulous sunglasses this side of 1965.  Watch it for Finney's dashingly snarky golden young Redford vibe.  Watch it for the screenplay's trenchant analysis of annoying American ex-girlfriends, hyper-organized fastidious husband-types, and several young 60s beauties singing and strumming a guitar in a VW bus.  Watch it for the sharpest and most subversive social commentary on sex, marriage and infidelity that I've seen in years.  Watch it and realize how shitty and superficial and bland and boring anything approaching romantic comedy these days really is.  Watch it and know you'll never be able to stomach another contrived Aniston/Affleck or Hudson/McConaughey pairing again.  

Watch it for the refreshing portrait of a couple who laughs and curses and takes the piss out of each other, from the very start.  Watch it and realize that the possibility for thoughtful and many-layered reflection on the nature of love and sex and relationships and intimacy is greater than you remembered.  And then go back to 1967 to find all of this, lovingly accompanied by more of Henry Mancini's meandering melodies.  Finally, watch it for the complicated love story that ends with two very loaded words, when Hepburn and Finney alternately turn to one another as they cross into Italy and say, making eyes at one another through their fabulous 60s sunglasses:

"Bitch."
"Bastard."

Ain't love grand?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

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


Speaking of gentrification, did you see this cover story about Polk St. in last week's SF Bay Guardian?

It's not every day that you can read the living history of your 'hood deconstructed along class and sexuality lines.  Even living here circa Polk just short of six years, I've really watched the neighborhood transform.  The long-gone used bookstores (three disappeared, and counting) and the tranny dive bars have been gutted and transformed into condos and Curves franchises.  It's pretty wild - and disappointing - and confusing.

I don't know where I stand.  This article make it pretty clear what a harsh and sorrowful life can come from being mixed up in the hustling, drugs and sex trades that characterized the Polk St. of the '70s and '80s, before the scene really shifted to the Castro.  It's hard to argue for the old ways when you read the narrative of Corey Longseeker's roller-coaster trajectory.  And yet, there's really something to be said for preserving a relatively safe, affordable space for marginalized peoples in a city that prides itself on supposedly being a haven for the restless nomads who've fled their stifling corn-fed origins for the anonymity and edge of the city.  How do you do that without spiraling into danger and exploitation?  (And how great is the minister profiled who's really taken Longseeker under her wing?)

Class, drugs, sex, gentrification, government, social responsibility, religious praxis.  Heavy stuff for a Saturday afternoon.  Phew.

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



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: auspicious
Mood: renewed
Music: Silversun Pickups

And good morning.  This would be the first official one in spring, by the way.  I feel very ready for the world to unfold into spring right now.  Buds opening, days lengthening, hems shrinking, that sort of thing.  The sunshine of late has only helped that mood.

So in honor of St. Patty's Day earlier this week, I figured I should find some green-ish novelty recipe.  We're getting on in this little baking project - some 9 months in - which means I've exhausted most of the basic recipes you're going to run across.  Last summer we did pistachio, which seems like the obvious choice for a green cake; this week I found a few recipes for a creme de menthe, but their absurd not-of-nature green colors kind of turned me off.  Finally I stumbled across a recipe awash in liqueur, a tactic that thus far has served me well.  So in honor of St. Patty's Day (as well as Toni and Jim's fifth - fifth! - anniversary today, as well as M & M's twin birthdays earlier this week), let's dig into a 

BAILEY'S IRISH CREAM BUNDT CAKE

Mmm, Bailey's.  I wrote a few killer grad school papers one semester a few years back fueled solely by Bailey's on the rocks and trail mix in the wee hours of the morning.  Needless to say, they were brilliant (obvs!).  So I'm convinced that Bailey's and I have a nice symbiotic relationship, notwithstanding the whole disgusting nasty-cream-dairy-liqueur factor.

This recipe is actually really easy, leaving the Bailey's in the spotlight as main attraction.  I did have to take a stroll down Polk St. yesterday to pick up another bottle; luckily, there's plenty left over for sipping after actually making the cake.  (I can't say Fred and Ginger above have anything at all to do with this recipe; I actually just love that dancing action shot, and the creamy black-white aesthetic of the whole thing.  So there's your "cream" reference.  And as for the flower at right, it's a gardenia. My favorite. Preferably in water. Dig it.)  Ok, moving right along:

INGREDIENTS

1 Pkg. Yellow cake mix
4 oz. chocolate pudding mix, instant
3/4 cup Oil
1/8 cup water
1/4 cup Vodka
3/8 cup Bailey's Irish Cream
4 eggs
1/2 bag Nestle mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease and flour your bundt pan.  Combine cake mix, pudding mix, oil, water, vodka, liqueur and eggs in bowl.  Beat until smooth.  Fold in a cup or so of mini chocolate chips.  Pour into pan. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until done.  Let cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes; then remove from pan and cool completely.

Easy, huh?  The kitchen smelled delish as the cake baked.  I pulled the finished bundt out of the oven and ran to yoga.  By the time I'd returned, it was cool and ready to glaze.  Make a simple glaze out of Bailey's and 1+ cups of confectioner's sugar; whisk and thicken until it reaches your favored consistency, and then drizzle over the cake.  I finished it off by sprinkling a few mini chocolate chips over the top.

Next time I might add a little water to this recipe; the outside feels a little dry, but I think the inside is probably moist and fine.  Make sure to refill your rocks glass every 15 minutes for an extra dreamy Saturday morning baking extravaganza.  (And then go to yoga for a really, uh, "loose" class.  Good luck with the balancing.)

And then raise a toast to all the people you love spread out over this wide country celebrating special birthdays and anniversaries this week.  Xoxo.

Recipe courtesy azcakerecipes.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

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


Did you catch this clever excerpt in Salon today?

Kevin Roose, a student at Brown University, went undercover for a semester at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell's training ground for rabid Christofascists (um, I mean, "Christians").  Salon has published an excerpt from his new book, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University.  It's pretty killer - and cringe-inducingly familiar for those of us who've been surrounded by the evangelical subculture at one time or another.

This particular blurb chronicles Roose's spring break missions trip to convert the doomed hell-raising masses at Daytona Beach.  It's strangely sad, in a misguided and heart-breaking kind of way.  I had a hard time not cluck-clucking my way through the article, so was pleasantly surprised to find a touch of genuine empathy and compassion toward the end.  

Definitely a book you'll want to check out, whether you're on the Falwell team or its secular liberal rival.  There's something to be said for intimately knowing what the other guy's doing behind closed doors.  Roose's conceit is a clever one, and I'm looking forward to digging into the rest of his story.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

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


One of the 62 books I'd like to write someday would be a photography collection of all the beautiful entryways of old San Francisco.  Walking around Pac Heights and Nob/Russian Hill is like a stroll through a living, breathing art gallery; a highlight of city life, for sure.

Most of the entryways that catch me tend toward the Art Deco; however, there's one particular Art Nouveau gate that has had me taking the long way home down California Street for five years now, just for a fleeting glimpse on my way past.  It's on the down-slope from Grace Cathedral, painted in that classic blue-green hue, and it makes me smile every time.  Dreamy.

This quick camera-phone shot doesn't do it justice.  But rest assured that when that coffee-table book finally comes out, this long-time favorite will certainly be included.

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






"All of human unhappiness is due to the 
inability to sit still in a room alone."

~~ Blaise Pascal


Monday, March 16, 2009

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


ripe
 [rahyp]
–adjective, rip⋅er, rip⋅est.

1. having arrived at such a stage of growth or development as to be ready for reaping, gathering, eating, or use, as grain or fruit; completely matured.
2. resembling such fruit, as in ruddiness and fullness: ripe, red lips.
3. advanced to the point of being in the best condition for use, as cheese or beer.
4. fully grown or developed, as animals when ready to be killed and used for food.
5. arrived at the highest or a high point of development or excellence; mature.
6. of mature judgment or knowledge: ripe scholars; a ripe mind.
7. characterized by full development of body or mind: of ripe years.
8. (of time) advanced: a ripe old age.
9. (of ideas, plans, etc.) ready for action, execution, etc.
10. (of people) fully prepared or ready to do or undergo something: He was ripe for a change in jobs.
11. fully or sufficiently advanced; ready enough; auspicious: The time is ripe for a new foreign policy.
12. ready for some operation or process: a ripe abscess.
13. Archaic. drunk: reeling ripe.

Origin:
bef. 900; ME; OE rīpe; c. D rijp, G reif; akin to OE ripan to reap

Sunday, March 15, 2009

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


Did you catch the NYT preview of the new West Side Story revival opening on B'way this week?

Excellent little peek at the changes Laurents has made in his latest version of this musical theater classic.  I'm glad to hear they've recreated Jerome Robbins's original choreography, glad to see that Karen Olivo's going to be rocking it as Anita, and even gladder to be reminded that Lin-Manuel Miranda has translated much of the Sharks' material into Spanish so that we now have a bilingual musical theater experience.  And I love Stephen Sondheim's perspective on the question of whether the original piece is dated or not: "It's relevant if it moves you."  Yes.

But just one thing bothers me: SS has poodles??

Oh, Stevie.  You've let me down.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

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



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: brisk
Mood: crisp
Music: The Killers

And here we are again.  A quickie this morning - not much to pontificate on.  My kitchen is cold.  And the radiator's not kicking on.  So let's make this efficient.

Tito and Jemma brought this recipe in for me several months ago, and I've had it on the fridge waiting for the right weekend to give it a shot.  It's been awhile since we've done a chocolate-based cake, so I figured this was a good time for it.  Also, let's be honest; in these 3+ gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free weeks, I've been trying to choose a few recipes that aren't exactly my style.  Less interest that way, you know?  Which brings me to a

ROOT BEER DEVIL'S FOOD BUNDT CAKE

Gulp.  Yep.  You and I probably both grew up with root beer floats for treats on languid summer afternoons.  I've long since grown out of root beer, but the fond memories linger.  This recipe seems to have originally come out of a recent cookbook from some hip bakery in Brooklyn.  (Ironic, much?  I guess so.  Why else would you bake with, um, root beer?)

Since it was a late night last night (and I'm lazy), I decided to work a variation on the original "from scratch" recipe to make things a little easier this morning.  This little guy ended up being a painless and pretty recipe.  It'll do just fine.

INGREDIENTS

1 box devil's food cake mix
1 box chocolate instant pudding
1 1/4 cups root beer (not diet)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 cup Yoplait chocolate mousse-style yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour your bundt pan. Blend all ingredients in a large bowl until moistened. Beat on medium speed until well blended, about 3 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pan, bake 50-55 minutes or until cake tester inserted into middle comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack.

The cake turned out easily, solid yet moist.  I ran to yoga while it cooled and came back to frost it this afternoon.  Again, I whipped up a slight variation on the original frosting recipe provided for the finished cake.  I had about half a can of Duncan Hines chocolate frosting in the fridge already; so, using it as a base, I softened that, mixed it with a cup or so of confectioner's sugar, 1/4 cup of baking cocoa, and 1/4 cup root beer to make a smooth root beer/chocolate sauce.  Blend it well with your electric mixer to get a decent, non-grainy consistency.

Drizzle that over your cooled cake.  And there you go.  Root beer chocolate action for your cold March morning.  

Enjoy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

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


The sun has finally settled in for a long stay here in the City, and accordingly I've found a home at a well-lit, high-ceilinged, airy wannabe-Parisian cafe most afternoons this week.  Tucked into a window there, I can go swimming in a big soupbowl of strong coffee and get lost in the primo late-afternoon sunshine (and actually get some work done, too). 

But my ears perked up and my breath caught in my chest the other day when, overhead, Jane Monheit started warbling one of my favorite jazz standards in her cool clear soprano.  "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" has long been required playing on my "Best Of" lists; it's kind of a sleeper compared to some of the other classic jazz charts you hear covered all the time.  I have a decent piano version that I plunk out on a regular basis, but I haven't heard it performed much.  So I was mesmerized to hear Monheit's still, melancholy version fill the air in the cafe.

I first discovered Jane Monheit on one of those long cross-country drives circa 2000, when the old white Reliant's windows were rolled down, the radio was cranked up and the gas station crappuccino cup was always full.  She was being profiled on NPR, a new rising star at the time, and I dug her loose lyrical soprano immediately.  (Now, I know some of yous aren't so much fans, for one intimate reason or another; that's cool, no worries; but I can't help but enjoy Monheit's work nonetheless.) 

Go to rhapsody.com for a listen.  "Spring" comes from Monheit's 2001 "Come Dream With Me" album, which also includes stellar standards like "I'll Be Seeing You" and "Blame It On My Youth."  Just click on "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," sit back, close your eyes and check out for about six minutes.  You won't regret it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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


Interesting article on sub/urbanity and carbon footprints by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, the gist of it being that
"If you want to be good to the environment, stay away from it. Move to high-rise apartments surrounded by plenty of concrete. Americans who settle in leafy, low-density suburbs will leave a significantly deeper carbon footprint, it turns out, than Americans who live cheek by jowl in urban towers."
The research behind Glaeser's thesis seems pretty legit.  Check out his full article in City Journal, along with his parallel commentary over at the NYT Economix blog.  I couldn't help but stick my chin in the air when I read his assertion that "the environmental ideal should be an apartment in downtown San Francisco, not a ranch in Marin County."  Yessiree.

They may be very, very insignificant choices, but I've always felt that by choosing to live in a small-ish city flat, using public transport and/or walking instead of driving a car, and keeping our heating and energy costs down, I'm able to do a little something to shrink my carbon footprint.  This study reaffirms that.  Although it may spell bad prospects for getting that Vespa that I've been eyeing in the store windows over on Pine Street...

Monday, March 9, 2009

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


Exciting new raw discovery, courtesy of Real Foods and a sun-soaked stroll down Polk yesterday afternoon.

Nearly 3 weeks into the gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free experiment, I continue to feel increasingly remarkable.  I totally credit all the greens and dates and almonds and whatnot with having the energy to get through some of these 20-hour days of late.  My yoga practice has deepened considerably, and my aching joints are gone.  Something is working here.  And I can quickly see how this will become a more permanent lifestyle kind of choice.  There's simply no comparison.

So I'm continually on the search for new and curious products to toss into the mix.  Real Foods on Polk has a fairly extensive supply of intriguing alternative products, at prices a little lower than those at Whole Foods.  Yesterday I picked up a bag of - get this! - Sea Tangle kelp noodles.  Totally fascinating little wheat-free, carb-free sea urchin noodles, full of iodine and trace minerals.  These kelp noodles are super low-calorie and high water-content, and they soak up whatever flavors you might be preparing them alongside.  Last night I threw them into a big bowl of baby spinach and rainbow swiss chard lightly sauteed in olive oil.  And they killed.

Here's a blurb from the Sea Tangle website:
Kelp Noodles are a sea vegetable in the form of an easy to eat raw noodle. Made of only kelp (a sea vegetable), sodium alginate (sodium salt extracted from a brown seaweed), and water, Kelp Noodles are fat-free, gluten-free, and very low in carbohydrates and calories. Their noodle form and neutral taste allow for a variety of uses including salads, stir-fries, hot broths, and casseroles, while their healthful content provides a rich source of trace minerals including iodine, which kelp is well known for. Their unique texture completes the package, making Kelp Noodles a one-of-a-kind healthful and tasty alternative to pasta and rice noodles. Best of all, no cooking is required. Just rinse and add the noodles to any dish and they are ready to eat!
The website has a great recipe for a Simple Sea Vegetable Salad.  Check it:

1 clove garlic, grated
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
½ avocado
Bragg's to taste, tamari, or soy sauce
2 cups greens (spring mix, buckwheat, spinach, lettuce)
3 ounces sea vegetable mix
Salt and pepper, to taste

Grate the ginger and garlic. In a small bowl, mash the avocado, ginger, garlic, and Bragg's together. Toss all ingredients thoroughly.

You can order these online if you're not so lucky as to live a short traipse away from Polk St. The little guys have a six-month shelf life, so why not buy a case and throw them into your stir-fries and pad Thais instead of the usual blood-sugar-wrecking wheat alternatives? I'm looking forward to trying them with a strong pour of Bragg's amino acids, myself.

Sea Tangle Kelp Noodles

Saturday, March 7, 2009

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



Bundt Cake Saturday!

Morning: still dark
Mood: half-asleep
Music: that pre-dawn hush

Good morning.  And I mean that, especially today; it's still dark and cold and quiet outside, and the world has yet to wake up.  I usually love this time of day, except on mornings like this when I've come home in the AM only to wake early in the AM.  Luckily my trusty sidekick - a.k.a. Coffee - sits here at my right, so all will be well in the course of a few minutes.

Spent seven hours yesterday studying the second yoga sutra.  That's seven hours contemplating the metaphysics of cittavrttinirodhah, Patanjali's central definition of yoga, which declares that "Yoga is the cessation of [the misidentification with] the modifications of the mind."  That's seven hours of good dirty sweaty thinking and talking and postulating, followed by seven hours of headache.  How good it then felt to run around all night and spin and flirt and lift and shake and pour martinis.  I've never been more glad for my yin-yang life and its easy balance of the mental and the physical. 

This morning we're gearing up for Round 2 of the same in the three-ring circus that is this weekend.  So let's abandon the metaphysics for a refreshing few minutes and venture into that most non-yogic of bundt cake worlds.  I baked on Thursday, knowing there wouldn't be time today, so we'll slap up the recipe this morning and get you and me both on our respective ways for this Saturday in early March.

I ran across this recipe some time ago, and have been looking for an excuse to make it ever since.  It's a weird one, not something I'd honestly really expect to even like, but it's also so kitschy and fun that it definitely deserves a shot.  When I read a few weeks ago that the Fairmont's bizarro Tonga Room would most likely be closing in the coming months due to renovations, I knew I'd found an excuse to make this strange cake.  The Tonga Room - the ultimate tiki tourist trap, a weird little (literal) dive of a bar tucked into the bowels of the Fairmont Hotel up on Nob Hill - is a great place to take visitors who have yet to appreciate the wonders of an indoor pool-turned-lagoon where a band floats on the water and regular thundershowers rain down on the hour and umbrellas appear by default in every drink.  It's classic 1950s beach-bunny kitsch.  

So in honor of the impending demise of the iconic SF Tonga Room, kick off your shoes, throw on your best Hawaiian shirt, and put an umbrella in that morning cocktail, because we're going to make a 

PINA COLADA BUNDT CAKE

Ew, I know.  Rum, and pineapple, and coconut.  Erghh.  Believe it or not, the thing didn't smell so bad when all was said and done, though my kitchen did reek of a strange burnt rum smell for a few hours after baking.  (Thanks to Derek's bundt cake cookbook for this particular version.)

INGREDIENTS

1 package (7 oz) coconut flakes
1 can (20 oz) crushed pineapple in juice (not syrup)
1 package pineapple cake mix
1 package instant vanilla pudding
1/2 cup oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/8 cup light rum

Preheat oven to 325 degrees; grease and flour your bundt pan.  Sprinkle 1/4-1/2 cup coconut flakes into the bottom of the pan.  Drain juice from crushed pineapple into a glass or small bowl.  Measure out 1/8 cup, reserve the rest and set aside.  In a large bowl, combine cake mix, pudding, reserved pineapple juice (not the 1/8 cup) pineapple, oil and eggs.  Beat until well combined.  Measure out 1/4 cup coconut flakes and set aside.  Fold the remainder of the coconut flakes into the cake batter.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 55-60 minutes.  The cake is done when it springs back after being touched in the center.

10 minutes before the cake is done, combine sugar, butter, rum and 1/8 cup pineapple juice in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat and boil for 2-3 minutes.  Remove cake from the oven, but not the pan.  Poke deep holes into the cake with a fork or a chopstick.  Pour the stil-bubbling sauce directly onto the cake.  You'll probably have to do this a little at a time, letting the sauce soak in before adding more.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 45 minutes.  Turn the cake over onto a serving platter.  Sprinkle remaining coconut onto moist cake surface and let cool completely before serving.

And there's your pina colada cake. Perfect memorial for the wheezing Tonga Room.  Or for when your favorite Saturday co-worker returns from Hawaii.  Or for when you need to use up that can of crushed pineapple that's been sitting in the back of your pantry for 2 years next to the bottle of Captain Morgan that you'll never drink.

Enjoy.  (And don't forget to set your clocks forward tonight!)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

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



"All good writing is swimming under water 
and holding your breath."

~~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, 
letter to daughter c. 1940, 
The Crack-Up, 1945



(I like this pic.  It feels true.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

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


Have you had a chance to read this piece on David Foster Wallace in the latest New Yorker?

It's long, and it's dreary, and it's difficult, but it's also touching, and shattering, and worth your time.  It's only been six months since DFW committed suicide, but some of the truths behind his last few years seem to be beginning to emerge.  D.T. Max writes that
"The sadness over Wallace’s death was also connected to a feeling that, for all his outpouring of words, he died with his work incomplete. Wallace, at least, never felt that he had hit his target. His goal had been to show readers how to live a fulfilled, meaningful life. 'Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being,' he once said.  Good writing should help readers to 'become less alone inside.'"
Isn't that the truth?  Just like music or dance or any of the arts help assuage that loneliness that is such an endemic part of the human condition, so should writing stir some sense of connection, however fleeting that might be.

Read the piece for a dissection of DFW's youth, his evolving po-mo writing style, his struggles with addiction, and his relentless inner self-critic.  But then please pause for a minute and just roll around in this blurb from an old letter to Jonathan Franzen, describing DFW's memory of what it feels like to finish a piece of stellar writing.  It's one of the best renderings of this exhausted pleasure that I've come across:
“I think back with much saliva to times in 1984, 85, 86, 87 when I’d sit down and look up and it would be hours later and there’d be this mess of filled up notebook paper and I just felt wrung out and well fucked and well blessed.”
Um, yes.  But, by all accounts, it sounds like he struggled to recover that feeling as the years went by.  So take a few minutes to traverse the narrative of DFW's difficult and brilliant life. Somehow these post-mortems make it seem superficially easier to paint a life in a certain trajectory; I'm not sure that I wholeheartedly embrace such a contrived linearity, but I enjoyed stumbling along with the story of this writer's too-short 46-year struggle with what it meant to be alive.

The Unfinished: David Foster Wallace's struggle to surpass "Infinite Jest" (New Yorker)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

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






Where there are humans
you will find flies,
and Buddhas.

~~ Issa

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


Tonight, I'm wondering if it will ever stop raining.  

Brooding at my kitchen table, cigarette in hand, blond hair flowing, cheekbones sucked in.  (Wishful thinking?)

We need the rain desperately, I know, and I tell myself over and over to practice patience, but I'll be damned if I'm not so sick of being wet.  My yoga mat hangs over the back patio to air out after class, and it's been rain-soaked most days of the last few weeks.  I ventured out and about this morning and finally stumbled home circa 5 soaked to the skin.  So plans for the night were scrapped, I wrapped myself in 16 scarves, the radiators kicked in, NPR turned into Feist turned into Joni Mitchell on the kitchen stereo, and four hours later, the rain continues to fall.  And I'm not going anywhere.

There are so many millions of things I want to write about lately: David Foster Wallace and cashews and Ash Wednesday and Shiva and Patanjali and cabbage and Kathleen Sebelius and dehydrators and Jimmy Fallon (really?) and gluten and ACLs and octuplets and the gender politics of "The Bachelor" and why "A Case of You" still gets me every time.  But I'm not sure that those posts will write themselves while I hammer away at more pressing projects in the meantime.

Today was "Bodywork Tuesday," a weekend tradition I try to uphold every few months, if not more often: acupuncture for breakfast, Bikram yoga for lunch, and a traditional Thai massage for dinner, followed by a serious jug of carrot juice.  So now my skin's orange, my back's unknotted, my knees are mad-flexible, and the chi's flowing freely, man.  A suitable tonic for this don't know why/there's no sun up in the sky/stormy weather kind of wintery week.

A friend turned me on to the junkiest of raw vegan junk food the other day.  Let me introduce you to "Kale in a Krunch," "Quite Cheesey" dehydrated kale chips.  These puppies are insane. They're put out by a little outfit on San Pablo in Berkeley called "Blessings Alive & Radiant" Raw Foods (same purveyors of the very delish Raweo, if you've ever had the pleasure of downing one or twelve).  Yes, more wank.  But even better: more deliciousness.  

Check out these ingredients:  Kale, Cashews, Red Bell Pepper, Lemon, Nutritional Yeast, Himalayan Crystal Salt*

This time of year is terrific for dark greens like kale and chard anyway, but throw in some nacho-like flavor (while still raw vegan), and you've got it made.  Just, um, ask this empty bag.  Head over to the website if you're feeling extra-equipped to handle the Berserkley hippie vibes.  You can order online there.  (I bought these at Whole Foods myself.)


*I guess in this recipe - unlike in the Chocolate Goji Treats - the "Pure Love" is just assumed?

Now, go wrap yourselves in Joni Mitchell and Himalayan crystal salt and stay warm in this wet, ok, doves?

Monday, March 2, 2009

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


There's a line of yogic teaching that argues that laughter is the highest form of meditation.  The idea is that laughter offers an unconscious stilling of the mind and a return to the embodied breath.

Think about it; when you're in the middle of a gasping belly laugh, you're momentarily not thinking about the taxes you need to file or the groceries you need to pick up.  Your mind shuts off and your body and breath and instinctive physiological reactions take over.  And in that moment, you are lost in what is most certainly a meditative state, even though there may not be cushions or chanting involved.

Life these days looks a lot like Sanskrit and om shanti and yoga mats and ancient texts.  It's easy to get lost in the seriousness of these ancient teachings on the meaning of life, easy to float off on theoretical cruise ships, lost in seas of mumbo-jumbo that don't feel much related to the Real World.  As I mentioned the other day, one of the qualities I'm most appreciating in many of the master teachers who've meandered in and out of my life these days has been their humility and self-deprecation.  Several of them were monks in India for decades, or started out practicing in somebody's garage back in the day; they bear a certain lightness that I find supremely aspirational, and completely disarming.  

My colleagues and I sat yesterday over a shared feast of hippie delights, lots of raw foods and Bragg's Amino Acids and whatnot, and I found myself listening to conversations about practice and meditation and gurus and retreats.  In that context, it's easy to get lost in the hippie-speak and lose your sense of perspective.

That's why I've always appreciated this rip-roaring video spoof featuring Ogden, the Inappropriate Yoga Guy.  I've laughed over it with countless friends over the last few years, we were laughing about it yesterday, and I'm laughing about it still after revisiting it again this morning.  I've mentioned it before, but I'm going to paste it here again, because it's such a good reminder how foolish it is to take ourselves too seriously.  Namaste, Ogden:



One of my friends in the program works for YJ, and she shared a few sneak peek links with us this morning.  Apparently "Ogden" was in the SF offices last fall filming a few new clips, which are, of course, hilarious.  I don't think they're public material just yet, but as soon as I find out that they are, I'll share them here.  So look forward to more Ogden, more blue spandex, and more bad hippie headbands.  

In the meantime, keep laughing.  It's good for your body, and better for your mind, and exactly what you need in this economic situation, especially.