Useless Culinary Extravagances

I can understand tools like peelers (using a knife to peel is inefficient), zesters (peeling then using a knife to cut peels finely is a bit of a pain), and even melon ballers (the spheres look cool and they're difficult to make with a standard spoon). But mango slicers? Apple splitters? Both of these cut its fruit into six or eight segments at once. Do people really buy these when a simple three or four quick slices with a chefs knife would do the same work? And do the people who buy them actually use them or only buy them to show them off?

Chinese Food Safety Issues Color Other Chinese Culinary Products

After my former roommate moved out and I moved to San Mateo, I lost easy access to a loaf pan. I used to bake some form of breakfast/dessert bread every month or two. I've missed it for the last half a year and hence, on a recent trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I looked for one.

I spotted a number of loaf pans. All were non-stick. And all were made in China.

I thought about the studies that hint that non-stick coatings may leech chemicals into the food (or at least reports indicating products made by some manufacturers may do so at times). That alone makes me a little nervous about buying non-stick. Then, given the recent Chinese contaminated food scare, I thought about whether I could trust Chinese manufacturers to even use the proper chemical mix to make the non-stick coating, or whether some manufacturers would substitute something more dangerous.

Needless to say, I went home without a loaf pan. Apparently we've returned to the 1980s/early 1990s nationalistic sentiment "buy American."

Carnaval (Mission District, SF)

San Francisco's Carnaval, occurring in a part of the Mission district to which I had never previously been, was a sharp contrast to the last festival I attended, the upscale Mountain View festival. I went to Carnaval on Saturday, May 26, 2007. Carnaval clearly targeted a different culture and socioeconomic class. While the Mountain View festival had many booths selling artwork, often at prices above a hundred dollars, no booths at Carnaval sold artwork and nothing I saw was priced that high. Many booths sold cheap goods like cell phone cases. Many businesses like banks and radio stations also had booths. There were even some booths that felt like they were presenting an infomercial in person. Nothing in any of the booths intrigued me enough to stop my moseying.

I took a smattering of photos and movies during my trip, including videos of music groups I liked, photos of neat sights not mentioned below, and pictures of the food I ate.

Still, there was enough to see to prevent me from quickly getting bored. The festival was eight blocks long, so it look a while to walk from one end to the other, during which time I counted ten stages!

The musicians and other entertainers generally only spoke Spanish so I missed a little of what was going on. Sometimes I could figure it out. People on one stage played musical chairs without the chairs. Instead, when the music stopped, everyone hugged each other. Awww. Whoever joined the hug last -is on the outside- is out.

Later, I watched a game on that stage. Take a married couple from the audience. Blindfold the husband. Make him touch the back of various women's calves or get a peck on the check from various women and see if he can identify his spouse. Oddly, they started the game speaking in Spanish and having it translated into English as well, but later they just stopped the translation. I guess they realized most of the crowd didn't need it.

The festival had a very visible police presence. It even had metal detectors at the entrance, at which time they also screened bags for outside food or drink. Although entry was supposed to be free/suggested donation, given all the interaction at the entrance, it felt like the donation was practically enforced.

Although I photographed one unwelcoming alcohol area, I spotted a few other areas reserved for alcohol drinkers that were substantially more approachable. One, at the "African marketplace," had its own musical stage along with a few regular booths. I wonder if the must be greater than twenty-one to enter the area rule makes for less foot traffic for the booths or more. I guess the latter, as I didn't see many kids at the festival so the rule probably didn't exclude many people.

Or at least, I didn't see many kids outside the kids area. As with most festivals, this had one, filled with many bouncy structures, a train, and other rides.

Nearby was a rock climbing wall. I wanted to climb it but my shoes are too old -they have no soles- and the staff won't let people climb shoe-less.

The NBA set up a large complex in a parking lot adjacent to the festival street. As I entered, I noticed a sign that bothers me anytime I see it: a sign that says by entering I give the company (in this case, the NBA) a right to use my picture in advertising. Why do I need some legalese shoved in my face to give someone the right to take my picture in a public space? Also, the sign prohibited photography. The complex took over a traditional public parking lot. Can they prohibit it? Anyway, I listened and that's why I don't have any pictures of anything in the complex.

The NBA complex included an assortment of booths for "NBA partners" and two courts, one of which was used for a shooting competition and the other used for people to show off. The partners were companies like lenovo and t-mobile?! There was also a stage, partially used for the contests, and partially set up so everyone can play NBA video games, watch flat screen televisions showing currently playing games, and examine some exhibits about NBA players (e.g., compare shoe sizes with some famous players). I'm impressed by how nice the installed equipment looked and how much money the NBA spent for such a professional installation for a temporary festival.

Only once while exploring the complex did I wish I could take a picture. The photograph would display the funny fact that the NBA installed its own hoops while the lot which held the complex already had some.

As for food, the festival seemed to have the usual assortment of fried food and meat on a stick vendors, along with some more distinctive joints like Caribbean, Mexican (including some taco trucks!), and Salvadorian. When I arrived, I quickly grabbed some papusas to tide me over while I looked. Both papusas, one pork-and-cheese and one cheese-and-beans, were decent. I preferred the former. The accompanying cabbage coleslaw was bad on its own and also didn't match the papusas well. The salsa, a typical red sauce, wasn't exciting but still helped liven up the papusas. The fried plantains served on the side were decent. The main flaw of all this was that nothing tasted newly fried. I saw them frying papusas and plantains but it turned out that the cook runs a dozen or two papusas ahead for the line. The cashier grabs papusas and plantains from an already finished batch to give to customers.

As I walked, I found more food in the middle of the festival and at the opposite end -- more evidence of how big the festival was. Even I was surprised by the number of booths. Perhaps the quantity is partially because this part of town has few restaurants, an unusual situation for a festival. Incidentally, the few lucky restaurants that exist in this neighborhood such as Cafe Gratitude offered special menus and appeared to do very good business.

I got a free sample of linguica: good, though skimpy (for good reason, as they wanted me to buy some). Still hungry in mid-afternoon, I passed up a taco truck to get a bbq chicken skewer. It was a lot of meat and exactly what I wanted.

Right before I left, I noticed a booth selling signs: "Parking for X only: all others will be towed." At this fair, the signs had X as one of: Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Peutro Ricans, Brazilians, Guatemalans, or Peruvians. I usually only see these signs at ethnic fairs (e.g., Greek festivals). The signs are an example of Carnaval's Latin American twist.

By the time I left, I'd picked up a little Spanish again. And I'm sharp enough to learn some words from context -- from hearing a sentence involving Bush, I learned fuera means impeach.

Pickles Are Colored

During my ongoing pickle explorations, I again found myself reading labels of pickle jars. Did you know all pickles have food coloring (yellow #5)? I wonder if it's to dye the pickles or color the pickling juice?

I would certainly buy and try uncolored pickles, regardless of how they look. But a survey of all the jars at a major supermarket revealed every one contained yellow #5. I guess it's a Nash equilibrium. Few people will buy ugly pickles when pretty ones exist. If enough producers deviated, perhaps they could make an issue of selling undyed pickles, thus changing consumer's preferences and establishing a new, possibly more efficient, equilibrium.

Mountain View Festival and Farmers Market

On Sunday, May 20, 2007, I went to the Mountain View "a la carte" Festival. As I explored, I quickly realized it was one of the coolest and ritziest street fairs to which I've gone. Its main appeal was countless booths displaying sophisticated, quality artwork. For a reference point, many pieces had price tags in the hundreds of dollars, and more than a few booths had items labeled with prices over a thousand dollars. I enjoyed browsing here more than I have at many museums.

Feeling lazy, I took the Caltrain to Mountain View. Upon arriving, I remembered that the Mountain View farmers market is on Sunday. Having not been to it in years, I explored. It's just the right size, enough that there's a few purveyors of everything but not so large as to be intimidating. Aside from food, it has a small Acme bakery outpost as well as a few other bakeries, many selling desserts. Some booths sold Indian foods. Others sold Russian foods (e.g., piroshki). Some horticultural booths sold flowers, plants, and herbs. Top it off with a blues musician and you've got a very pleasant experience.

As I was anxious to get to the festival (and its prepared food) and didn't want to carry something around all day, I didn't buy anything.

I spent a good four or five hours exploring the festival, more than at nearly any other festival I've attended. Of course, part of the reason for the length could be that it was a nice day, certainly warmer than at the previous day's festival in Berkeley. The festival included lots of art: paintings pottery, handbags, jewelry, wind chimes, photography, glasswork, sculptures, pewter figurines, hats, clothing, ... There was so much stuff to see that I got faired out before I'd seen everything. I occasionally took pictures and videos of sights that I found particularly remarkable. But for many booths I didn't feel comfortable taking a picture or felt a picture couldn't represent what I wanted to capture; hence here's a list, in no particular order, of the other cool sights:

  • Hang Five sells wood carved to look like miniature surfboards, designed to hold towels, hang aprons, act as a clock, etc. Cute. The about page has links to pictures of their products.
  • One booth sold kaleidoscopes as well as candles mounted in wine glasses.
  • Seashell Fine Art Collections mounts shells in frames. I didn't take a picture because the beauty of these is in their depth. Given the frame setting, it feels like the contents should be flat; seeing 3-d is a surprise. The portfolio section of her (ugly) web page has pictures of her art, but these pictures have the same flaw that worried me. They're all taken from the perpendicular and hence don't display any depth. Incidentally, I asked and learned that the woman doesn't find the shells herself -that would be cool- but rather imports them from Asia.
  • Jim Guthrie does incredible panoramic photography. I especially liked his photograph of Mossbrae Falls. Of course, it's much more impressive when you see the picture printed so it's five feet across ($1,550). I learned he uses a special panoramic camera with negatives that are the relatively enormous size of 2.25 x 6.75 inches and thus can make such large prints. I noticed an unusual feature of his booth: most of the photographs he had displayed were taken in California. Considering most booths selling photographs involve shots taken in exotic, far off continents, seeing such local photography reminded me of the beauty there is in California. Incidentally, if you browse his web site, you'll see he also has photographs from remote locations as well. Flip through his image gallery: you'll be glad you did. Even his thumbnail images are incredibly vivid.
  • Bill Wehner also does good photography. When I visited his booth, my first impression was that it wasn't as impressive as Guthrie's (but then, what could be?). After browsing the pictures on his web site, I think he's equally impressive. I attribute my initial reaction to be a simple consequence that Guthrie had larger prints on display than Wehner. Incidentally, I enjoy Wehner's comments on each of his pictures explaining its content, the emotions it evokes, or the technique by which he made it. Also, one of the cameras he uses seems like an antique, but, like Guthrie, he uses it to capture images on large negatives.
  • Butterfly Gallery mounts dead butterflies. The colors are so fantastic I think they're unreal, but I believe I heard the artist say everything is natural. Prices range from $49 to $6,500!
  • Anne Xu has stunning photographs of China. Browse her web site.
  • Art Anvil makes funky spirals cut out of metal, as seen in this and this picture.
  • Someone named Michael Wood had nice photographs of San Francisco taken from the air. Sadly, I can't find a web page for him.
  • At every festival, the local police department has a booth for community relations, eduction, and recruiting. Mountain View's Police Department's booth had the nicest exhibits I've seen from any police department, including displays of items for different ways of securing one's home or business (e.g., locks, signs) and a variety of goggles that give the feeling of being drunk (daytime, night-time, blood alcohol content 0.07, 0.1, 0.2, ...). It's all very hands-on.
  • I saw a booth selling hand-made wooden pens and thought it unique. Then I found another such booth.
  • Bob Bowman has a number of pictures and paintings from Paris.
  • One booth specialized in soaps that look like desserts: creme bars, pineapple cakes, etc. It's a bit of a contrast to the soap that look like sushi I spotted at fairs last year.
  • From my experience in a glass class, I decided as a general rule opaque and transparent glass often don't look good together. B Sharp Accessories, especially with plates that combined the two, disproves my theory.
  • One booth sold pretty hanging pieces of glass in shapes like a four leaf clover, a star, a five leaf clover, and a sliver of a waning moon.
  • Someone makes wool sculptures!
  • One guy cuts shapes out of coins by hand with a saw. For instance, he cut the deer out of an Irish one pound piece to get a coin with a deer silhouette. That requires a lot of precision.
  • Incredible Edibles had a booth of fruit photography.
  • I walked by Metal Souls. As you can tell from their web site, they make small metal sculptures of everything from sci-fi characters to sports players to musicians to animals. I'm sure I would've stopped and photographed some had I not already gotten tired of viewing art.
While walking up and down Castro, I saw some places that were new to me. Seascapes, a fish and aquarium store, appeared to have colorful tanks -- so colorful, it felt comfortable charging admission on this day ($1). I also spotted a lock museum that I'd like to explore.

The kid's zone, filled with rides, a bouncy castle, and a big slide, was at one end of the fair.

Regarding musical entertainment, the festival had only one stage. The first time I walked by the stage, it was occupied by a rock band, Full Throttle, that didn't appeal to me. Happily, I found more and better music played on the street throughout the fair; some recordings are at the photos and videos link above. Still, the music was more limited than at other festivals but I didn't mind given all the cool art.

Of course, while at the festival, I had to eat. The selection included the usual booths of grilled meats, teriyaki, sausages, kebabs, and garlic fries. I bought a combination plate at the only interesting place, Sophie's Island BBQ. I liked my bbq rib. My chicken drumsticks had a good exterior flavor but the insides were a bit dry. My plate also had some pickled daikon, a decent potato salad (effectively a traditional potato salad to which black olives were added), a scoop of (orange!) sushi rice, and a scoop of red rice. The latter had flavor. I'm sorry I can't find a more descriptive word; it's entirely my fault. Was it flavored with vinegar? Wasabi? Something pickled? Egg? I'm really not sure.

The festival had wine, beer, and margaritas. Wine was the only item I was in the mood for. Sadly, I had to pass because they wouldn't serve anyone wine without a commemorative glass and I didn't want to buy a commemorative glass.

The long list of cooking demonstrations on the festival's web site was one of my primary reasons for attending the festival. But I got so distracted by the artwork that I didn't get to see many demos. As my pictures show, I watched part of a demo on how to make edible centerpieces. I also watched a sushi "cooking" demonstration during which I learned how to shred daikon and a little about what types of fish can be frozen and defrosted acceptably. (Tuna is fine frozen; whitefish should never be frozen.) Finally, I saw an unofficial demonstration: Byetta, a prescription drug to treat type 2 diabetes, had a booth in which Chris Smith, The Diabetic Chef, talked about making healthy meals. He was quite an entertainer. I learned his way to check whether meat is done: if the meat has the same feel as your cheek when poked, it's rare; if it feels like your chin, it's medium; if it feels like your forehead, it's well done.

In the amusing t-shirt category, I spotted people wearing:
  • "I Make Stuff"
  • "I HEART Asian Girls" (worn by a white male)
  • "Save Water, Drink Beer"

Himalayan Fair (Berkeley)

On Saturday, May 19, 2007, I went to Berkeley to attend the Himalayan Fair. I'm glad I went -- it turned out to be one of the most consistently themed festivals I've attended. Not only were the half a dozen food booths all themed (Indian, Tibetan, Himalayan, etc.), but so were the booths, hawking items as diverse as rugs and tapestries, to jewelery, incense, scarves, clothes, wood carvings, religious statues, mortar and pestle, and metal bowls. There were even a non-trivial number of people in appropriate garb (not many but a few).

I imagine a major reason why the festival managed to have so much stuff so well themed was because Berkeley has so many people interested in that part of the world. Indeed, it felt like a Berkeley crowd. It felt like the alternative medicine and yoga people were there, and, as such, the festival had an older tilt to it and had many more women than men. (Proof of the presence of some Berkeley kooks: a booth selling stones that "generate healthy negative ions.")

These pictures and movies do a reasonable job capturing the atmosphere.

To get there, I took the BART back to my old neighborhood and had a nice stroll up Shattuck to Live Oak Park. It gave me an opportunity to see what's changed and what's still the same. Incidentally, last year I attended a fair at this park.

Just outside the fair, it being Berkeley, I wasn't surprised to be handed a glossy page promoting the Revolutionary Communist Party. Only weeks later did I realize the irony of handing out such propaganda outside a festival devoted to people who live in the Himalayan region, some of whom are being oppressed by one such political party.

Asides from retailers, other booths dealt with tourism, culture, or economics. For example, there were booths promoting touring or trekking in the region, booths promoting visiting and donating to preserve sacred sites, and booths asking for charity to improve economic conditions.

Incidentally, the items I originally thought were unconventional mortars and pestles were actually singing bowls, in effect inverted bells.

I chose to get lunch from the Tibetan Association of Northern California booth. I got two types of momos (Tibetan dumplings). My meat ones were quite tasty ("mmmm"), containing (as near as I could tell) cabbage, onion, cilantro (?), meat, green onion, and celery, all wrapped in a nice, soft pasta skin. Especially in comparison but even on their own, my veggie ones were only okay: quite bland and hence nowhere near as good. They were vaguely cheesy, which is odd given the ingredients: cabbage, spinach, carrot, tofu, garlic, potato, and onion. (It's odd that they listed the ingredients for the veggie momos but not the meat ones.) Accompanying these momos were a salad (eh) with a few tomatoes.

Later, I wanted a snack, and so I grabbed one from the Nepal Association of Northern California booth. I had a sel roti, a pastry that's supposed to be like a doughnut or funnel cake. Ick. The one I bought was dried out. It had no flavor. It was just dough, fried, but without even the fried flavor. I threw it out. I guess the one they sold me had simply been fried too long in the past.

While at the fair, I saw a number of hanging plaques with quotes from the Dalai Lama, including this one that struck me:

We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgment;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines but less healthiness.
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble in crossing the street to meet our new neighbour.
We built more computers to hold more copies than ever,
But have less real communication;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;
Tall men but short characters;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window
But nothing in the room.
-the 14th Dalai Lama
When I was ready to leave, rather than return down the path I previously took, down Shattuck to the Downtown Berkeley BART station, I decided to walk west through residential areas to the North Berkeley BART station. The two stations are equidistant from the park so it didn't cost me any time. Further, as you can tell from the photos, I spotted many lovely flowers on this walk. It was definitely a change of pace from my noon walk through Shattuck's commercial district.

San Mateo Asian American Heritage Celebration (Festival)

On Saturday, May 12, 2007, I visited the San Mateo Asian American Heritage Celebration. Why did I choose this festival? Well, the festival schedule this weekend was light in the types of festivals I tend to attend. To pick among the festivals that marginally interested me, I decided it'd be refreshing to pick one in my own neck of the woods, so close I could walk to it.

It was a small festival, clearly meant to just attract people from one town. In contrast, most of the other festivals I attend are intended to be destinations for either a city or the whole bay area. There were ten or so vendors, mostly selling Asian art (paintings, drawings) or crafts (jewelry, clothes). There were a couple of historical booths, one promoting the San Mateo County Museum and another promoting the National Archive's Pacific Region office with interesting displays discussing the history of immigration into the area.

I grabbed lunch at the festival's one food vendor, Takahashi Market, which mostly sold Hawaiian food. I had the combo plate (picture): kalua pork, baby back ribs (good but quite fatty in places), teriyaki chicken (fairly standard), and macaroni salad (standard as well). I was pretty pleased with the meal.

While eating, I sat barefoot in the park, watched the tail end of a magic/juggling/acrobatics show (that was performed to music from Yanni -- scary that I could identify that), and listened to the large group, J-Town Hui, play some folksy Hawaiian music on ukuleles. While exploring the festivals (yes, festival*s* -- see below) and the park throughout the rest of the day, I returned often to sit in the grass and catch other shows. Charlie Chin's storytelling was the best show I caught. He used his both his voice and his one prop, a fan, well. The fan at times represented a letter, a boat, a mountain range, and even the darkness of night. I also watched Filipino folk dancing: a fairly flamboyant, energetic, colorful affair. Chopsticks are often used to keep the beat. Women dance with glasses of water balanced on their heads. And men sometimes do as well.

Oddly, as I entered Central Park, I noticed another festival: Scout-O-Rama. It was a gathering for boy and girl scouts and was larger than the Asian American Festival. I spent a good fraction of my time exploring this festival as well. Scout-O-Rama was fun because it was filled with many activities: climbing walls, obstacle courses, a rope bridge, a rappelling wall, a catapult that launches water bottles, a barrel kids could get in and be rolled, ... It also had a display of Native American dancing, which I thought was odd until I recalled that Native Americans are in some sense the first scouts. Scout-O-Rama had food as well. It was the typical American stuff: hot dogs, burgers, corn dogs, sausages, churros, popcorn, cotton candy, ice cream. I wouldn't have bought anything there even if I'd noticed the food before I ate lunch.

One feature of Scout-O-Rama bothered me a little. There were some booths promoting organizations such as the army, the marines, and something called "scouts in Iraq." Getting people to think about the military when they're still quite young... Perhaps oddly, I was fine with the SWAT team's booth.

In between exploring the two festivals, I wandered around Central Park. Although I live a mere half a dozen blocks away, I found I had never previously explored it fully. (I thought I had, but apparently I was wrong.) I discovered a nice rose garden and took a picture. All the roses were in bloom! So many colors. And some roses were bigger than my hand! I don't recall ever seeing roses that big.

I also discovered a large playground, a picnic area with grills (I can have a barbecue now), and an arboretum.

Norway Day (Festival) and the Long Now Museum

On a warm Sunday, May 6, 2007, I drove to Fort Mason for Norway Day. I'd never been to the convention hall before, and, although I'd been to the area, I'd forgotten what a pain it is to park there. There is pay parking but it's hard to locate the entrance and harder still to find an unoccupied space.

As you'll see from the various performers, products, and foods, the festival seemed more designed for Norwegian expatriates than for anyone else.

I went a little light on pictures and movies this trip, so this post should serve as the primary point of reference for the things I saw.

A spent an hour or so watching the very good multimedia artistic performance Terje Vigen. Terje Vigen is a 150-year-old epic Norwegian poem about Norwegian men who rowed across a sea, passing a naval blockade, to Denmark in order to get food for their families. By multimedia performance, I mean an actor on a stage (with set and all) sings operatically, accompanied by music, behind whom is a screen onto which is projected a video of another actor going through similar motions (just not on a stage but rather in the real world: e.g., rowing on a tossing sea). Although the poem is in Norwegian, this performance used an English translation that I liked. I have no idea if the translation was good or bad, but the combination of music, video, setting, and poem made one coherent package so it couldn't have been entirely wrong. This was the first performance of the musical production of Terje Vigen outside of Norway.

One observation that's more a comment on the festival than the musical is that all the advertisements in the big booklet they handed out about the musical are in Norwegian.

The festival also screened a snowboarding movie about the quest to set the world record for quarter pipe height. I watched a bit of it before wandering away. They showed it because some of the main events happened in Scandinavia.

Near the end of the festival I observed some Norwegian folk dancing, which turns out to look fairly similar to American folk dancing.

There were two main types of booths: retailers selling Norwegian products difficult to acquire in the states, and social clubs.

Regarding the former, items for sale included Norwegian books, packaged food stuffs (some of which I saw prepared during the cooking demonstration), shoes, jewelry, travel planning (to Scandinavia, of course), sleds (!), and paintings of flowers (rosemaling is a traditional Norwegian art of flower painting). A meadery located in far Northern California also had a booth. A few Norwegian artists (photographers, painters, sewers, and potters) were there; I don't know if that's their ancestry or if they actually live or have lived in Norway.

Regarding social clubs, there were many for Norwegians or Scandinavians represented, often segregated by gender (e.g., Sons of Norway). There were also a few schools represented, seemingly targeting children of expats who are likely to want to return to Scandinavia. To enroll, students must be fluent in at least one of Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian.

It's unusual for a ethnic festival to make a nod to minorities related to the ethnicity, but this festival did, with an exhibit devoted to the Sami, an indigenous people who lived in the Nordic region.

Food and Cooking
Food was a substantial part of my experience at this festival. For lunch, I had an unexciting open-faced sandwich (smørbrød) with unremarkable shrimp and tartar sauce. For dessert, I had a lefse, a sweet folded bread that I liked so much I bought another right before I left the festival. The festival also served other types of open-faced sandwiches along with cream cake (blotkake), Norwegian waffles (vafler), and rolls with cheese.

Happily, lunch wasn't all the food at the festival. I attended a cooking class. The head cook wore a shirt that said "kiss the cook, he is Norwegian." I've seen analogous shirts at Greek festivals and feel it somehow gives support for the authenticity of the fair. The cook, a good speaker, treated us like members of his family, explaining everything about everything, whether dishes prepared by him personally or by someone else. (Grandmother-types made some dishes.) It's definitely one of the best cooking demonstrations to which I've been. Many more details are available in the picture captions.

Long Now
In order to enjoy the sunshine after a day indoors, I took a long route to my car. On the way, I spotted the Long Now Museum, a foundation and museum devoted to building structures and processes that will survive eons, including earthquakes, nuclear war, language shifts, and technology data format changes. Although the museum was a tiny two or three rooms, enough cool stuff was on display that I didn't have time to see everything before the museum closed for the day. (I want to return.)

Two exhibits struck me. One was a clock designed to last and stay accurate for ten thousand years. As the display explained, after much thought, they decided the best strategy would be a pendulum. After further thought, they concluded that tungsten was the best material for the bob. Not many people think that deeply about what the world could be like in ten thousand years. Here's a preliminary list of some issues they considered. (The display better described their decisions and the reasons for them.)

The foundation is also trying to make a "rosetta disk" -- basically, a decoder that will preserve all we know about languages, partially to maintain culture and knowledge, and partially to help archaeologists in the distant future read and understand other documents from our time.

Cinco de Mayo Festival

On Saturday, May 5, 2007, I (surprise!) went to San Francisco's Cinco de Mayo festival, located in Dolores Park. Because I was going to see a movie in the city after the festival, I contemplated driving. Then I realized that was nuts. Parking in the Mission is hell even when there isn't a festival. I decided to head to a BART station, BART to the festival, and play it by ear to figure out how to get from the festival to the movie and back to the BART.

Sunny and nice and with a mild breeze, it was perfect park and outdoor festival weather. In another part of Dolores Park, on the way to the festival, I noticed some people playing at capoeira, and countless others gathered in groups around cell phones playing a Go Game, a quirky, performance-art-type scavenger hunt. Many others engaged in typical park activities such as running with dogs, playing catch, or tossing a frisbee.

My image of Cinco de Mayo is a rambunctious, raucous party. My image may be wrong in general. It's certainly wrong in this instance. This festival was not like that; rather, it was fairly sedate. I didn't spot any alcohol, not even the wine that people often sneak into concerts in the park.

The number of booths was small but they were mostly culturally themed and varied widely in type, from real estate in Mexico to citizenship services to awareness about domestic violence (in Spanish). One booth had a game I'd never previously seen (picture). On a table about 3x5 feet, people place little figures of soccer players. On a player's turn, that player can move any of his/her figurines. Then he/she whacks a ball with a popsicle stick, trying to get it, possibly by bouncing off the sides of the table or of the figures, into the opponent's goal. Cute. (I think the education organization that provided the tables charged a normal fee to play in order to raise money.)

Sadly, there were only half a dozen food stands, mostly Mexican or Salvadorian, and all had tremendous lines. I selected one and, thirty minutes later, had my dishes (picture):
* Huaraches con nopales. (Hurache actually means sandal in Spanish.) In this context, however, it denotes a large ovoid fried tortilla (hence the name), not unlike a very thick tortilla, not quite crispy. I got mine topped with nopales (cactus leaves) and the standard queso fresco and anejo (fresh and aged cheese), cilantro, tomato, and onions. It was decent.
* Taco con carne asada. Topped with onions, cilantro, and a too sweet almost-barbecue-type salsa that overpowered everything. Not even good enough to be called decent. Still, I finished it after attempting to remove some sauce.

I sat down and ate and listened more to the mariachi bands. (The festival didn't seem to have much variety of music.) (I listened in line as well.) This photograph captures the band and the setting, taken from where I sat and ate. After eating, I would've loved to stay and sit in the sun -it was such a nice day-, but I had a movie to attend. I might've even skipped the movie had the music appealed more to me.

As I left the festival, I reflected on San Francisco's amazing diversity. It's not simply the wide variety of ethnicities I saw represented at the park but also the variety of styles (as expressed through clothing) and socioeconomic classes that were present.

I thought I'd have to take a taxi to Japantown for the movie. However, I happily learned that a muni ran close to Dolores Park and up Fillmore, passing through Japantown. It was overfull, but I managed to push my way on board. I rode for some time while standing on the step in the front of the bus. The muni was slow, taking half an hour to get to Japantown. This surprised me, since the route was direct. It wouldn't take anywhere near that long driving! I arrived right when the film was starting.

Incidentally, to get back to a BART station after the movie, I took a muni on an express line. That was much faster.

Car Camping in Yosemite

Some friends, friends of friends, and I went car camping in Yosemite from Sunday, April 29, 2007, to Tuesday, May 1, 2007. Aside from one long hike, it was a nice, leisurely trip, as we spent much time preparing food, waiting for water to boil, and stoking a campfire. As usual, I enjoyed the stunning, expansive Yosemite wilderness, especially as seen from the top of mountain we climbed and from the winding, high roads when entering and leaving the valley.

I took my camera knowing the batteries were low but not minding. I shot a few pictures on the first day and on the second day until the batteries ran out.

Random Observations
When talking about what to bring and disagreeing with other campers about the weather forecast, I realized when one types Yosemite into, one gets a forecast for Yoesemite, whereas when one types Yosemite into Yahoo Weather, one gets the forecast for a nearby town (El Portal). The Yosemite forecast seems to be for a much higher elevation than El Portal and hence predictions ran more than ten degrees cooler. I guess Yosemite is a big place and the weathermen didn't choose to forecast at the valley floor. (The valley floor is at roughly the elevation of El Portal.) If one asks for the El Portal forecast directly, it agrees with Yahoo Weather.

I learned there actually is a marshmallow plant!

We learned the first evening that skewers placed above a campfire get hot. Someone got burned. A little while later, we apparently hadn't learned our lesson yet and someone else got burned. After the skewered food was done cooking, we moved the skewers onto the picnic table. Minutes later, I forgot they'd recently been removed from the fire and were still hot. I got burned. I'm just not very bright. Although it didn't hurt that much, I had a nice burn line on one finger for the next week.

Campfires are cozy.

As people are want to do while camping, we told stories. During the day, we talked about identifying trees by their shape and identifying birds by when they chip. In the evening, we told tales about drug deals, hacking, prison adventures, ... And Bollywood was discussed both day and night.

I won money by knowing who Aaron Burr killed.

Arriving in the afternoon on Sunday, we decided to do a short hike to the Vernal Falls footbridge. (It was really more like a ninety minute walk.) At the end, we were rewarded by a decent view of the falls.

On Monday, we hiked Upper Yosemite Falls. I've done this hike two or three times; it's always nice. It's also pretty much the only serious hike I've done in Yosemite. Every trip I come, people look for a hike of the right length. With the exception of Half Dome, Upper Yosemite is the longest hike convenient to the main village / camping locations in Yosemite Valley. It's a short enough hike to allow most everyone in my age group to be in good enough shape to do it (or at least think they can). Hence, I end up doing it repeatedly. On Tuesday, I'd hoped to get a chance to do a serious hike that was new to me. No dice -- we had to leave early.

While hiking Upper Yosemite Falls, we observed some techniques used in trail building. For instance, occasionally we saw a line of thin rocks planted vertically across the trail used to direct water flows away from the trail. As we sometimes had to trod carefully over damp paths and slick stones near the falls, we appreciated this feature when it occurred and as we found ourselves again walking easily on dry ground.

Also, a couple of times, we spotted a metal rod laying across the trail, mostly covered with dirt. We couldn't figure out what these were for. They didn't appear to be anchoring anything. I couldn't find the answer with a few simple web searches.

Obviously since we were car camping, we could and did bring way too much food. I'm going to quickly list everything we ate over the course of the weekend, not for the reader of this post but rather for my later use when brainstorming what I could bring on future camping trips. We had:

  • Kebabs of zucchini, onions, and yellow, orange, and red peppers.
  • Chicken marinated with fajita spices, served in whole wheat tortillas with Trader Joe's (awesome) guacamole, salsa, and diced onions.
  • Fried tempeh.
  • Marinated grilled portobello mushrooms.
  • Smores (with regular marshmallows or vegan marshmallow fluff). (As I'm much more patient now than I was as a kid and as I have more experience knowing how to cook, I made my smore very precisely, a perfect balance of graham cracker, semi-melted chocolate, and roasted marshmallow.)
  • Breakfast burritos with beans, refried beans, corn, onions, salsa, and guacamole.
  • Tasty Bite Indian food. (We had Madras Lentils, Bengal Lentils, and Punjab Eggplant, all served with pita, though rice or couscous shouldn't be hard to make either.)
  • Chopped tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers. (Each refreshing on its own.)
  • Fruits: the usual assortment, mostly oranges, apples, and bananas.
  • Messy sandwiches of zucchini, roasted red pepper hummus, and tomato.
  • Fire-cooked sweet potatoes. (We wrapped these in foil and stuck them in the fire. I had one that evening and one a few days later as leftovers. Quite good -- the heat somehow further brings out the sweetness of a sweet potato.)
  • Instant oatmeal. (Yes, this is what I brought. :> Though satisfying, you can see how it doesn't compare to everything else.)
  • Liquids: water, wine (including a great bottle of viognier), beer (1554 and Fat Tire), vodka, and tequila.
Food While In Transit
On the way to Yosemite, we stopped at a random strip mall to eat. Most of us ate at the Mexican place, Taqueria Al Pastor (at least that's what the sign advertised). It was good: better than we expected. I had a chicken super taco and a bbq pork taco. The joint gets points for making its own chips. It loses points, however, for making them too oily for my taste. The salsa -different kinds on the tacos and for the chips- was good. Sorry I can't be more specific about the flavors or even the location: I don't recall the details of my food, and I never knew what town it was that we stopped in, other than that there was a subway sandwich place and an exercise joint in the same mall. Driving east, the strip mall was the one of the first (if not the first) thing in the town after passing miles of fields. I believe it was on the left side, just past a railroad crossing.

On the way home, our car stopped at In-N-Out. I had a single patty animal style. I think that was the first time I didn't order a double-double. It's been a while since I've had In-N-Out but it was as great as I remember.

Foiled by Overconfidence

On Saturday, April 28, 2007, I was in the city after having watched a movie at the SF International Film Festival. After a brief stop by the Safeway on Market, I got in my car with an hour to spare before the next festival movie I planned to see.

The next movie was playing at the Kabuki in Japantown. I knew it was north-west of me. I knew I knew how to get there by heading east on Market, up Van Ness, and then down Geary. It's a simple ten minute route but a bit roundabout.

Instead, I decided to head west on Market, presuming I'd be able to turn North soon and get to the theater fairly directly.

I was wrong. It's very hard to turn north in that vicinity of Market. I found myself driving further west on Market as Market started winding through the hills -- hills that contain many dead end streets. I took some turns in the general direction of where I wanted to go but soon found myself lost. After forty minutes attempting to find roads that go in the direction I desired, I emerged in the vicinity of the theater.

After parking, I got in the line for tickets.

The person in front of me was the last person they let into the theater before running out of tickets.

Thus, I missed the movie I wanted to see (Jindabyne) because I thought I could easily save myself a few minutes of driving by trying a new route. Even if I drove west, I still could've made it had I swallowed my pride, U-turned, and took my default route as soon as I realized heading north from that part of Market was hard.

Happily, from poking around some online reviews, I no longer feel as bad as I originally did for missing the movie. Critics' reactions are mixed.

Addendum: A week after this incident, I almost had the opposite adventure while heading to another movie in the city. Because the movie I was going to see wasn't sold out the previous day, I left work late and drove to the city slowly, in no particular hurry. But it turned out the movie was sold out. I got in the rush line and was one of the last people admitted into the theater. And this movie was good. I guess things do balance out somehow.