Saturday, October 27, 2007

Currently Reading Meme

This photo shows General Robert E. Lee shortly after the surrender at Appomattox Court House. Photo by Mathew Brody.

This is another one from Caroline at Food for Thought. Here's the rules:
Open the book you’re currently reading to page 161, and post the fifth sentence on the page, then think of 5 bloggers to tag.

Here's my sentence: "They were forced to watch until their turn came." It's from "April 1865: The Month That Saved America" by Jay Winik.

You can tell it's about something unpleasant; in fact, something horrific--war. The sentence refers to the suffering of Union soldiers at the barbaric guerilla warfare conducted throughout the Civil War by a Missouri rebel named Quantrille and his band.

I don't usually read history, but I have been riveted by this book, which the librettist for Philip Glass' new opera, Appomattox, mentioned as one of his sources of inspiration, among others. So I went out to get it at the library. I am extremely ignorant about Civil War history--I must have been asleep in class for days when we studied it--and wanted to get some context for the opera.

(The opera is about the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox Court House, with some flash-forwards to incidents in African-Americans' long struggle for civil rights. I was lucky enough to see it a week ago during its premiere run here in San Francisco. It was wonderful! Philip Glass wove his own pulsing, hypnotic rhythms and melodies with Civil War era ballads and soldier songs, a few of which he wrote himself. And the libretto! Christopher Hampton used nearly all original words spoken or written at the time. I was completely engrossed from the opening note to the last. You can get a glimpse of the opera at San Francisco Opera's website.)

Here is a more momentous quote from the book--actually a letter, from Lee to Grant, responding to Grant's first overture to Lee regarding a surrender. This letter is sung in its entirety in the opera:

I have recd your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinon you express of the hopelessness of further resistance of the Army of N. Va.--I reciprocate your desire to avoid the useless effusion of blood, & therefore before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on the condition of its surrender.
Very respy your obt. servt
R.E. Lee, Genl"

I'm not tagging anyone in particular. If you play, leave me a comment so I can see what you're reading.

Monday, October 22, 2007

In the Garden

I stepped outside this afternoon to take a look at the work the landscaper had done. We're turning a part of our backyard into a patio--the part that hardly gets any sun, is usually dark and dank and grows crops of wild onions and oxalis and not much else. Today they removed several cubic yards of soil so there is room to put down gravel and sand and then pavers. The sun was just brushing the top of our wall of ivy, but the air was warm--unusually warm. We're having one of our last bursts of summer, the ones we get in October and sometimes even November. Payback time for all that fog. Some people call it "earthquake weather," because it was a day like this on October 17, 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. It's also fire weather, here and even worse in Southern California.

As I was gazing up at the ivy, I saw that what I had thought were brown leaves were butterflies, at least a dozen of them. They didn't seem to be feeding, they seemed to be resting, perched with their wings closed but occasionally opening and shutting them. I knew they were not Red Admirals, our usual backyard visitors. So I went and got my binoculars.

So now I'm standing on my deck, peering at the back wall through binoculars, wondering what our retired gentleman neighbor thinks I'm looking at, and I see the upper wings of the butterflies are orange, with black and white spots, and a lacy rim of black around the edges. Thanks to my butterfly book, I learn they are California Tortoiseshells. A new species for me, and for our backyard. As I'm exulting in the Tortoiseshells, I hear the familiar clicks and buzzes of our hummingbirds. One zooms by and hovers around the Cape Honeysuckle at the very top of the wall. Another ducks down into the blossoms and is chased off by Mr. Flashy-Green-I-Own-This-Bush. They fly around my backyard buzzing and clicking angrily. Finally the newcomer gives up and Mr. Flashy-Green goes back to the blooms. Camera time.

Trying to get the Tortoiseshells pushed the limits of my camera. They just looked like brown leaves.

So I used the photo I found on Creative Commons--free to use with attribution--of a California Tortoiseshell. The butterfly book says California Tortoiseshells are mass migrants--even stopping traffic over Donner Summit when millions of them migrate together. I'm glad a million of them didn't stop on my ivy wall; that would have been freaky, especially during earthquake weather. But they also hibernate during the winter, and come out to sun themselves on warm days. Maybe this group has taken up hiberation in our ivy! I'll be out looking for them again with my binoculars. I hope the neighbors will understand.

Photo by Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service,

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Book Meme

Thanks for the tag, Marmee. Her post is here. I enjoyed reading others' answers to this meme--and I think I was tagged before but never got to it. So I will give it a whirl:

1. Hardcover or paperback, and why?
I will buy a hardcover if it's an author I love or a book I just have to read and I just can't wait for the paperback or the other 42 requests in front of mine at the library. Some books I really just want to own. I often buy remaindered hardcovers when I find them. Some books I have bought full price in hardcover are A Handbook to Luck by Cristina Garcia (I was at her reading), The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (I got about halfway through this book in Spanish and gave up, then went to his reading of the English translation and gratefully finished it in English), and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (for our book club). I am about to RUN out and buy Ann Patchett's Run in hardcover. Other than that, I buy paperback.

2. If I were to own a book shop I would call it…
Bluestockings. A writer I know has a column of that name, but I don't think she'd mind.

3. My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is…
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

4. The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be ….
Although I would have answered differently at different times in my life (as a child, E. L. Konigsburg; in college, Emily Dickinson or Virginia Woolf), right now I would choose Irene Nemirovsky, author of the incomplete Suite Francaise. I would make it a long lunch, and bring my laptop, so she could write the remaining three sections.

5. If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except from the SAS survival guide, it would be…
Remembrance of Things Past (or, In Search of of Lost Time, an alternate translation) by Marcel Proust. I have never read it and finally I would have the time.

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that….
is a kind of helmet with attached headlight and reading glasses that would stay in place even when I read lying down on my side. I can manage to hold the book up myself, but those darn reading glasses! I have just recently graduated (?) to reading glasses and find it impossible to wear them and read lying down, which is truly the most comfortable way to read.

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of….
The hours of my life I have spent in used bookshops. And this reminds me of a show a few years ago at Adobe Book Shop on 16th Street in San Francisco, where an artist named Chris Cobb rearranged all the books in the store by color, rather than by subject. He and volunteers spent hours beforehand putting little slips in each book so that afterward, they could spend more hours putting all the books back where they belonged. It was an extraordinarily beautiful, and made for some odd and inspired juxtapositions of titles. NPR did a feature on it.

8. If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be….
Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables.

9. The most overestimated book of all times is….
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. It is supposed to be inspiring, and is so to many people, but I didn't find inspiration there.

10. I hate it when a book….

I tag anyone reading this who would like to play. Post a comment with a link to your post if you do.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Red Enchilada Recipe

How exciting! Due to reader demand, I am posting the recipe for enchiladas. Enjoy.

Red Enchiladas
(modified from Jacqueline Higuera McMahan’s California Rancho Cooking, Sasquatch Books, 2001)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken or turkey breast
salt and pepper
1 tsp. oregano
3-1/2 cups Red Chile Sauce (below)
12 flour tortillas
2 cups (about ½ lb.) cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup pitted black olives (optional)

Oil two rectangular baking dishes. I use one 13x9 dish and one 9x9 dish.

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion and sauté slowly over low heat until softened, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and oregano.

Pour 1 cup of sauce on a dinner plate, then dip both sides of tortilla in the sauce. Place 2-3 tablespoons each of cheddar cheese and cooked meat, and about 1 tablespoon of sautéed onion, down the middle of the tortilla. (I like to roughly divide up my starting quantity of cooked meat into 12 portions so I don’t run out of meat.) Add two olives, if desired. Roll up the tortilla and place seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, adding more sauce to the plate as needed. Pour ½ cup more sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle the remaining cheese down a strip in the middle. Decorate with any remaining olives. Cover the pans and refrigerate until ready to bake (I have kept them for 24 hours this way).

When ready to bake, preheat the over to 350 degrees F. Bake for 18 minutes. As soon as they puff up, they are ready. Makes 12 enchiladas.

Quick Red Chile Sauce

1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. cumin
1 can (28 oz.) Las Palmas Red Chile Sauce (not the Enchilada sauce)
2 Tbsp. masa harina
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. red chile powder
1 Tbsp. brown sugar

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute but do not burn. Add the oregano, cumin and canned red chile sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook for ten minutes. Blend the masa harina flour with ½ cup water to make a paste, then whisk in the rest of the water. Add that and the chile powder and brown sugar to the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Makes about 4 cups.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Everyone's Pumpkin Bread

This is the other thing I was cooking today. I bought all the ingredients for this last week to make and bring to our middle school music fundraising carwash bake sale, but didn't manage to make it until today. I enjoy thinking about this bread almost as much as I do making it, giving it away, and eating it. The recipe is my mom's. She makes it every October and gives a loaf to her friend Liz for her birthday. I hear that Liz starts salivating for her pumpkin bread on Oct. 1. The recipe makes three loaves so I believe my mom keeps one and freezes the other. It freezes well. She used to make it a lot when we were kids and I loved having it in my lunch. I loved how it got even moister and greasier wrapped in plastic in my lunch box. I really savored every bite.

I made pumpkin bread for one of our parent coop nursery school potlucks and it was such a hit I ended up giving away the recipe to a lot of people. One friend of mine serves it for dessert with dulce de leche ice cream--a great innovation. Another now runs her own nursery school and she makes the pumpkin bread every fall and gives it away to her families. She adds chocolate chips (uck to me, but...) and her son demands it as his birthday cake every year. This fall she called me in a panic.
"We remodeled our house...I lost my recipe box...I can't find the pumpkin bread recipe!!!" she said breathlessly. I emailed it to her again. Here's the recipe. I decreased the sugar from my mom's original 4 cups because I prefer it less sweet.

Betsy’s Pumpkin Bread
Makes 3 loaves.

3-1/2 cups sugar
¾ tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. baking soda
2-1/4 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. each ground cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg
5 cups unbleached flour
6 eggs
1-1/2 cups canola oil
3-1/2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin

Line 3 loaf pans with waxed paper. Combine all ingredients and mix just until blended. Bake at 300 degrees F for 1-1/2 hours. Cool for 10 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a rack to cool to room temperature. Wrap in plastic to keep fresh.

You can also make smaller gift loaves and muffins, even a round cake. How will you make yours?

Shoppin' Trip Meme

This is the perfect meme for me today. I shopped and cooked today for a couple of hours since it was raining. Very cozy. Thanks for the tag, Caroline. Check hers out at food for thought.

Here are the rules for the meme:
Pick a recent shopping trip -- for clothes, shoes, groceries, doesn't matter. The only guideline is that it will be easier to play if you purchased at least a few things. Now tell us, about your purchases:

1. What are you proud of?
2. What are you embarrassed by?
3. What do think you couldn't live without?
4. What did you most enjoy purchasing?
5. What were you most tempted by? (This last one may or may not be an actual purchase!)

I went to Tower Market, which is now owned by Mollie Stone's but for 63 years was an independent grocery store owned by a Greek immigrant with a deep connection to the neighborhood. Mollie Stone is kind of trying to keep the "neighborhood" aspect of it--at least the sign outside still says "Tower Market"--and did a much-needed reorganization of the store, but the place has lost some of its quirky charm. It always catered to the carriage trade, but now some of the prices are just outrageous. I have to watch myself and always bring a list. Today, after the checker ran up my purchases and said "That's $106.88," the woman bagging said, "Hey, that's pretty good!" I told her when I get out of there for under $100, that's good.

1. I am proud of the four cans of Progresso soup--two of chicken and wild rice and two of black bean. October is earthquake supplies replenishment month so I have been half-heartedly picking up cans of soup here and there. I just don't like canned soup. It's hard to find things that last for at least a year that I really think I'm going to want to eat. And things like pasta and rice and dried beans don't count because you have to use water to cook them.

2. I am embarassed about two cans of sardines in olive oil, for the earthquake supplies. Is that what we're really going to want to eat when the big one hits?

3. We could not live without our jugs of milk. I have to maintain at least a full gallon of milk in the refrigerator at all times. I'd say we go through a half-gallon a day. The sight of all those milk jugs nestled in the door makes me feel prepared, if not for an earthquake, then at least for the next few days.

4. I enjoyed buying the Las Palmas red chile sauce! I add some ingredients to it to make my enchilada sauce. It is good enough that I don't think I will ever make homemade chili puree again since it is so time-consuming. Here's the enchiladas, in a modified recipe from Jacqueline Higuera McMahan's California Rancho Cooking. They are filled with chopped cooked chicken, sauteed onions and cheddar cheese. The ones with olives on them have olives inside. There's a whole other baking dish of them besides this one. You know you've done right when your son opens the refrigerator, sees the dishes, and gives out a cheer.

5. I was tempted by the beautiful delicatta squash and bought it, although it wasn't on my list and my sons don't like it. They look great sitting on top of my pears. I guess I'll cook them...or maybe they'll just be a table decoration. I was also tempted by the Cafe Fanny granola which I love but the price brings me to my senses and I think, "I'll just make my own." I didn't get to that today. There are many many wonderful cheeses and chocolates and organic berries to be tempted by at Tower Market but today I was a woman with a mission--enchiladas--and a list.

So, I tag anyone who is reading this. Please post a comment back here with a link to your blog if you play.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Literary Pub Crawl

Last night my friend Lisa and I went to Litcrawl, the culminating event of Litquake. It's a free, three-hour hop through the Mission District from bar to cafe to bookstore and more, each hosting a reading a different theme. Lisa and I knew we had to strategize, so we chose "Real Life: Memoir Authors Tell It Like It Is," "Girls Tell All," and the MacAdam/Cage publisher's panel, the last one because we both know Susan Ito (also my wonderful writing teacher), who was reading. Other events beckoned--the one featuring SF Chronicle columnists, the TWO/LINES bilingual English-Spanish reading, Mommy Lit, food and wine--but we didn't want to stretch ourselves too thin.

At Double Dutch on 16th Street, the venue for "Memoir," we heard Clayne Hayward on her chaotic hippie childhood, Alan Kauffman on his disturbed Jewish mother, Scott Keneally on being a man who cried at Dove commercials, Brigit Kinsella on falling in love with man behind bars, Rachel Sarah on single motherhood, and Max Velario on experiencing the rush of testosterone as a transsexual. Wow. Six new books added to my "Books to Read" list in 45 minutes.

From there we cruised to the Beauty Bar on Mission Street, for "Girls Tell All," but I guess others wanted to hear what the girls had to tell, too, because it was overflowing out the door. I glimpsed some pink sparkly wallpaper and vowed to return some other time. The Litquake door monitor told us to just go to our next venue and get a good seat. But we decided to peek in at Modern Times bookstore where Seal Press was exploring "...the F Stop: Female Authors Take On Fashion, Fucking, Feminism, Felines, Freestyling, and Felonies." I couldn't keep my attention on Daphne Gottlieb's rant about discovering herself as a thinly disguised character in someone else's writing, and how others kiss and tell but she doesn't and how there is another person living in England with--gasp!--her same name. Maybe it was the result of the glass of white wine I drank at "Memoir." So I looked at the books on the table in the back, and bought two anthologies while Samara Halperin read about craving an Izod shirt. We left before hearing the last reader and hopped over to the Make-Out Room on 22nd Street.

Snowflakes of light danced around on the walls and bounced off strips of silver hanging from the ceiling. We found Susan and shared a booth with her and two friends. She read an excerpt from her essay in the anthology "Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception, Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, and Abortion" coming out next week. Hers was about a pregnancy she had to terminate--either that, or lose her life. She read calmly and didn't seem nervous, although her excerpt was the most wrenching anbd took the most courage to read. Angela Mi Young Hur read from her book about girls in Koreatown, Sheldon Siegel read a description of the Mission District, and Janice Cooke Newman read from her historical novel, "Mary," about Mary Todd Lincoln--another book to add to my "Books to Read" list. We also heard from Clive Clevenger and Eric Martin in short pieces they had written to be performed at Litcrawl--from what they read, I'm less sure what those writers were about.

Besides the literary stimulation, we ran into other people we knew, and gazed unabashedly at other people. And an added bonus for me: now I know about three cool Mission District bars! Maybe I'll even make it to one of them before I go bar-hopping again at next year's Litcrawl.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I volunteered at Kidquake today, the childrens' event of the Litquake literary festival here in San Francisco. I did it last year, too, and got to help out at two workshops--but this year I helped at the authors' assembly and got introduced to ten different childrens' authors. What a treat! Here are the authors I heard: Belle Yang, Yuyi Morales, Oliver Chin, Annie Barrows, Bob Barner, Marissa Moss, Lynn Hazen, Henry Neff, Maya Gonzalez, and Susan Taylor Brown.

Most are from the Bay Area, and each of them had something unique to express in their allotted eight minutes (I was the timekeeper so I had to hold up signs saying "Two Minutes Left" and "30 seconds left!" and "Your Time Is Up!"). I enjoyed hearing all of them, but I was struck by a few particular comments.

Illustrator and author Maya Gonzalez wore a bright pink skirt and blouse and talked about her bilingual book, "My Colors, My World" ("Mis colores, mi mundo"). She wore her paint-spattered apron over her beautiful clothes because she wanted everyone to see how she looks in her studio. She also made a point of saying that she loved pink, and that pink used to be a boy's color, but girls decided it was awesome so we took it for ourselves! She said she has three rules: 1) Everyone is an artist, 2) There is no right or wrong in art, and 3) It is always a courageous act to face a blank piece of paper and create art. She said it so clearly and simply I'm sure everyone in the audience--children and adults--understood what she meant, even though it is a profound and even radical trio of rules.

Illustrator and author Yuyi Morales read from her luminous "Little Night," but before that she mentioned that she grew up in Mexico and that was why she has an accent when she speaks English. She said, "I am still learning English, and I will probably always have an accent in English. But that is okay, that is part of who I am." I loved that she said that.

Illustrator and author Belle Yang bravely passed around an in-progress piece of artwork for the children to examine. Illustrator and author Bob Barner played a tape recording of "Dem Bones" while drawing a cartoon skeleton on a large sheet of paper.

And yes, there were a few just plain word people: Annie Barrows (the Ivy and Bean series), Lynn Hazen, and Susan Taylor Brown.

All the classrooms that came (more than 15 of them) received books for their classrooms from the Childrens' Book Project and First Book Project. And what an attentive and appreciative audience they were. They read aloud with the authors when asked, raised their hands, and cheerfully shouted out answers. On the way out, a teacher was clutching the drawing Bob Barner had done. "Look what we scored for the library!" he said excitedly to one of his students. It seemed like several hundred book lovers had just been born.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Getting a Handle on High School

My oldest son is through the first six weeks of high school, and I've been trying to get a handle on it. Most of the time, he seems to have it firmly in hand, and yet I can see that he is still trying to get a handle on it, too. The thing is, we're not partners in the process like we were in elementary school and middle school. He's in charge. Or, as the wonderful Michael Riera puts it in his books about teenagers, I am no longer my son's manager but his consultant, available to listen and sometimes offer suggestions and advice, but only when asked.

A huge part of his experience is that he made the cuts for the soccer team, so he is practicing every day after school until 5 pm or has a game until 5:30. Like the rest of the team, he wears his jersey to school on soccer game days--a little PR and display of pride for the team--even if, as a freshman, he doesn't always play. He listens to the banter of the older boys, and gets a ride home sometimes with a senior who drives. When he does talk about the team, it's usually about what one of the older boys said or did. One of them, a junior, was the object of my son's hero worship when they were both in the same class in elementary school, a mixed class of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders. I see this older boy now on the field, man-sized and with sideburns, and have to search hard to see the charismatic 3rd grader my son admired. But I can still see him.

My son begins school at 7:30 am, and sometimes when he comes home after soccer he falls asleep on the couch. Then he has to get up to eat dinner and do his homework. He's working on getting a handle on that, too. Other than asking "How's the homework?" and "How was the biology test?" I've been trying not to breathe down his neck, but it's hard. The other day he brought up the impending report card for the first grading period. "I don't think I'm going to have a very good GPA," he warned. I blinked. "Well, that wouldn't totally surprise me," I told him. "You're still figuring out how to manage everything." (Now I'm wondering just how bad it's going to be.) But he went on to tell me how he's figured out that he needs to study more for tests, and not focus mostly on homework like he did in middle school, since in high school tests are a much bigger part of his grade. And so that strategizing that I've heard so much about begins. But that's what he's supposed to be learning.

Now if I can figure out how to keep being available for that kind of talk--really him doing the talking and me doing the listening without giving in to the temptation to give advice--then I think I'll do okay in high school.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tennis, Anyone?

I just had my third tennis lesson ever today. At the first one, we learned forehand. The second, backhand. After these two I practiced a bit on my own and even once with the only other person in the class, my friend Barbara. (The class is supposed to have more people in it but since it's in the middle of the day on a's not an easy time to make for most people. So Barbara and I lucked out with a semi-private lesson with our instructor, L the Tennis God.) I was on a roll, I thought. Not that I could control my shots much, but I could hit the ball forehand and backhand and could even see some miniscule improvement.

Then today we did serves. I could throw the ball up in the air but only rarely did my racquet make contact with it. I could see the ball, and see the racquet, but somehow the two did not intersect. In fact, my racquet making contact with the ball is still the main obstacle for me in tennis at the moment. I can do the mechanics of the strokes, especially as they are broken down by L the TG, and get my body in the right position, but there is often a disconnect between my racquet and the ball. Barbara seems to have a little more hand-eye coordination going for her!

I have always been particularly bad at ball sports. This puts me right back to being picked last for kickball in elementary school, and evening after evening of my father patiently pitching gentle pitch after gentle pitch while I tried to make the bat connect with the ball. I think I gave up on ball sports after that. Does badmiton count as a ball sport? I was okay at that, but that doesn't necessarily help you in learning to play tennis.

Barbara and I discussed the peculiar feeling of doing something that you know you are not good at. She pointed out that kids are asked (forced) to do lots of things they aren't good at--or things they haven't learned whether they are good at or not--both physical and mental. But we adults usually don't put ourselves in the position of doing something we know we're not good at. I feel humble. But especially when L the TG says tennis is more a mental sport than anything else, then I think there is a possibility that I could learn it enough to actually play.

There have been a few moments here and there where my body knew where the ball was going and I put the racquet in the right place and hit it right. What a good feeling. I'm hopeful I will have more of them as I go on.