with a girl

I couldn’t resist this widget that maps out the 37 states I’ve visited.

My map is a guess, though. In 1989 I drove from Providence RI to Emeryville CA, the long way, with a girl—let’s just call her Paul. From Boyertown PA we ended up a couple nights later in Atlanta GA. How did we get there? I remember complaining about song pollution, John Denver stuck in our heads as we drove through Shenandoah National Park, where we most likely camped. Which means we probably crossed those tiny jigsaw bits of both Maryland & West Virginia on our way into Virginia. Then both Carolinas on the way to Atlanta would make sense, right? (Scary how much I’ve forgotten!)

Likewise, the little Yellowstone corner of Montana is all I’ve seen of that big, tantalizing state, & Delaware I’m assuming I must have passed through asleep on an overnight charter bus from Providence to a big reproductive rights march in DC. (Remember those?! It was like 1985 or something.) That kinda barely counts as “visiting”, but you could say I’ve been there.

Interesting to see which states have so far eluded me, & which I’ve visited more than you’d guess. Some things I do remember: Paul’s friend trying to teach me to play pool in a bar in Atlanta, eating boiled peanuts (hey, that’s Chinese!) somewhere in the hills of Alabama after visiting Paul’s father (who let me drive his pickup truck), & fireflies when we camped in Memphis. I’ve been in Tennessee kind of a lot, considering. You can read that sentence both ways.

The Castle

At last, I have seen it live & in person…

The pool that every swimmer dreams of swimming in… (well, the decadent swimmers anyway—can’t speak for the sporty austere types).

I did not actually jump in, but you better believe it took some self-restraint.

I woulda been glad just for the chance to spend a couple hours staring at it & walking around it, instead of the few minutes I got.

Overhyped? No way.


This year I really got a bee in my bonnet about cherry-picking in Brentwood. I’ve made it to the age I am (ladylike ahem) without ever picking cherries, & this seemed so very wrong that I almost drove out there by myself(!) on Memorial Day(!) because of course everybody else was hiding at home doing deep cleaning & home repairs, which is the only reasonable way to deal with major holidays. Fortunately The Witch talked some sense into me, mostly by offering to give me some of the cherries she had picked just a couple days earlier while suffering a migraine & heinous Memorial weekend traffic. Even though she was very generous with her hard-won Bings, I still had a hankering for more, & especially for that orchard experience.

Fortunately, this (non-holiday) weekend, Dan was traveling through on his way home from China, & agreed to accompany me on my fruity excursion despite his jetlag. He was a good sport even when it turned out the a/c in our car was busted! We tried to make ourselves feel better by talking about humidity & heat in places like Bangladesh. I’m not sure whether it helped or not.

Anyway, we followed the “organic” signs to Enos Farms, where the nice man reminded us to put on sunscreen & explained that the Rainier trees were mixed in randomly among the Lapins—a charming arrangement.

Here is Dan with Rainiers (not the best picture, but it was the only one I took of the orchard):

There were hardly any people there at Enos, just us & an Indian family with very cute little kids, & granny in a sari. We wandered among the lovely trees that were all dripping with bright, fat, beautiful cherries.

I think they give you those giant buckets because even 5 or 6 pounds doesn’t look like very much:

So moderate did this amount look to us that we went to another farm to pick Bings. (I really wanted my Bings!) We got there only 15 minutes from closing. The place had been quite picked over so that you had to climb ladders to the good cherries up high. We were getting very overheated, tired & thirsty, & to judge by their demeanor so were the workers there. It was a whole different scene from the first place. I won’t mention the name of the farm because I suspect that if we had gone there first it would have been satisfying enough. As it was we were still happy with our couple pounds of Bings, & drove away in search of the largest cups of ice & liquid we could find.

Here is a tip for you when negotiating America. By “America” here I mean those ubiquitous, homogenous, monstrous turd-piles of multi malls containing Michael’s craft store, Home Depot, Walmart, OfficeMax, usual assortment of fast-food franchises, all the same stores you have seen in all the places you’ve been in this great country of ours. These turd-piles smear themselves across the outskirts of every town that ever used to be (& sometimes still are) interesting & unique, including Brentwood. Not long after leaving the farm area we passed through a chunk of new-looking residential suburbia, & then into the America we had seen on our way into town. We knew we could get our icy cups of liquid somewhere in America.

There are many forms of resistance. You can be well-prepared & bring enough ice & drinks with you so that you never have to set foot in America. You can drive around searching for the last little local store in town. You can just go ahead & be hot & thirsty until you get home, it’s only an hour, it won’t kill you. You can go big-picture, decide it’s not worth wasting energy on resistance over something so small as a drink, & just go to whatever bit of America is most convenient & then get out of there & return to your life in which you are hopefully doing something constructive & revolutionary on a daily basis.

Or you can do what I have learned to do: drive into one of those malls & look for the little food franchise that you’ve never heard of. In this case it was Bagel Something. Bagel Street? Bagel Avenue? Bagel Town? You know, something utterly bland & forgettable having to do with bagels. We went in & saw obvious Asian influence: taro & honeydew smoothies, a good selection of tea.

While I was in the bathroom running cold water over my wrists, Dan talked to the proprietor, a 30something Asian guy, probably Chinese, who turned out to be from Oakland & had moved out there in the past couple years for this business opportunity. He said that whole mall was only three years old. When we sat down we noticed Chinese art on the wall & a trippy print Dan described as “future-primitive Hawaiian fantasia” (at least I think that’s what he said)! With dolphins!

Back home I got out our most enormous salad bowl & filled it, I mean filled it, with all the cherries. Now that’s a lot of cherries!

Loni Ding

This year’s Asian American Film Festival was bittersweet for me, knowing that Loni Ding’s funeral was happening smackdab in the middle of it. CAAM has a nice post here about her.

I was a student of Loni’s in her video documentary class at Cal in the late 80s. I can’t begin to tell all the things she taught us, so I’ll stick with one that has made the most impact upon me (or at least, what I am most aware of, because when you have a great teacher, some stuff gets absorbed into your molecules so thoroughly that you forget where it came from).

At 20 I had a decent idea of how to listen to my friends, but Loni taught me how to listen to strangers: she gave me a key to the world. You have to listen with complete open acceptance & patience, in order to draw out someone’s true story. It’s not that different from listening to friends, actually; it comes close to what you might call unconditional love. Loni taught about listening as an active practice of asking for, waiting for, recognizing & capturing exactly what each person can best give: their own truth. She taught me the difference between truth & dogma, that human reality is always more compelling & important than preconceived political agenda; that it doesn’t work to want people to say what you want them to say. You have to want them to say what they want to say.

I leaned on her teaching so hard when I was in the South for the Chinese Restaurant Project. I’m sorry I never told her how much she had helped me. Here is my humble tribute to her, a short sound piece I made from a visit with Van Tran, proprietor of a gas station/Chinese takeout counter in Flora, Mississippi. (It’s better on headphones, if you have em handy. The clicky sounds are my Holga.)

Door County

I went on a getaway with my pal the Triathlete to Door County, Wisconsin, where her mother-in-law has an old house. Behind the house is the sweetest meadow you ever did see.

Their neighbor mows these perfect walking paths through the meadow & a nearby grove of trees… I don’t know if he is some kind of landscaping design genius or what, but the paths are completely satisfying in every way: where they go, how they branch off from one another, how they are curved or straight in different places. Some of the coarser cut-off grasses make a truly excellent, quiet crunching sound under your shoes when you walk on them. I took the wildflower book out there one morning & identified at least three different asters.

When we weren’t hanging out in the meadow, the Triathlete was giving me a grand tour of awesome swimming spots. I swam in a warm little lake, & in wavy, windy Lake Michigan proper, & that tiny little shape is me swimming in Ellison Bay:

Plus I made a cherry pie, because Door County is famous for its pie-perfect sour cherries. We got the last of the season’s cherries. I’m pretty dang proud, because I’ve always relied on a food processor to make my piecrusts, but this one was all by hand & it actually turned out just fine. Didn’t know I had it in me! We bought local cherry honey to sweeten this pie. (Don’t mind all the cherry goo, we had only enough butter to make a top crust, no bottom.) It was delicious!


Sorry to be gone so long. Sometimes I just don’t have much to say. Been doing some hard work pretty much sums it up. Not the kind that pays in dollars (well, there was a wee bit of that), but still I needed a bit of vacation afterward.

Herewith, the Art of the Staycation:

NO computers! We bent this rule only to look up information about Approved Staycation Activities: ferry schedules, concert ticket availability, maps to get to labyrinths, that sort of thing. Remember to turn the computer OFF when you’ve completed your mission, otherwise you’ll find yourself checking email after you get home from the delicious concert. Ask me how I know. Talk about a buzzkill.

Set specific starting & ending times for the staycation. We said ours would start at 7pm on Monday night. Ring a bell & leave the house to go out to dinner!

When you come back from dinner, walk around the house saying things like:

“Look at the nice place we’re staying!”

“I’m so glad I brought ALL of our books!”

“Hey, they sure have a nicely stocked kitchen for us!”

“Isn’t this bed comfy?”

In other words, really work the fantasy. If you are a couple & have usual sides of the bed you each sleep on, switch sides!

Themes are helpful. Our theme was labyrinths.

Sibley’s Mazzariello Labyrinth

If you go, note that they have changed things a little bit in the preserve & the labyrinth is now at marker #2, not #4.

Use alternate modes of transportation—all the less-efficient, more-expensive ways of getting about that you wouldn’t use in your normal life. We took the ferry & cable car(!) to get to the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral, stopping for some clam chowder & oysters on the way.

I didn’t get a photo of the labyrinth. When we were done walking it, we realized that we had like 10 minutes to make the last ferry, so in true staycation spirit, we grabbed a cab(!) & made it to the dock with just a minute to spare. It was dusk & the full moon was rising as we crossed the bay. (Sorry no moon photos. You had to be there.)

Next day, the labyrinth with the spectacular view at Land’s End...

... followed by The Infamous Stringdusters. Deep Elem Blues! Those boys tore it up. I want to see them again.

Even though our staycation officially ended when eyes opened this morning, we couldn’t resist capping it off with Charlie Haden at Yoshi’s SF tonight.

So decadent! Yet all still incredibly cheap compared to flying (or even driving) someplace where you have to pay for a room. I highly recommend it. Bay Area folks, there’s a reason why all those people come here from all over the dang world for their vacations! Go out & enjoy it!


Did I mention I got me one of those Census jobs? It’s kicking my ass! I’ve been enjoying my walking tour of North Oakland mezuzahs, dogs, & rosebushes, but still, I’m tired! So please forgive my laziness if I just link to Dan’s post about my Chicago gig instead of telling you all about it myself. Click on it if you wanna come to my slide lecture this Thursday night in Chicago. Otherwise, feel free to ignore, & just imagine me trudging from door to door in various parts of Alameda County, trying to build up Census stamina.


I’m still all disoriented from the election. Eggbeater comes closest to capturing how I’ve been feeling, though I’ve been perhaps a tad less weepy. Weirder still, then, to fly to Arizona—McCain country!—for the weekend to visit my dear old granny.

Fortunately, it’s pretty much all about food from the moment you set foot in her house.

Beauteous fresh turnip cake:

Even better, fried the next day:

Her real obsession is what our family calls rice buddies, aka Chinese tamales. She cranks them out at a fearsome rate, & we schlep home mass quantities of them every trip.

That blur is her hands wrapping up a bottle of chicken juice. No, not soup or broth or stock. It’s essence of chicken, what you get when you shut two chickens (cut up, skinned & de-fatted) in an enclosed ceramic pot, put that pot inside another pot full of water, & simmer it for 12 hours(!) until all the chicken liquid is released into the bottom of the inner pot & the bones crumble between your fingers.

Granny speaks about a hundred words of English & I speak even less Chinese, so our communication is 90% psychic & contextual—not so hard when the main topic is food! But when she saw Obama on the TV, she asked me, “Is he good?”

I turned to her & beamed, “Grandma, he’s very good.”

Satisfied, she nodded, “ok good” & settled back to watch some more. I sat there in baffled wonderment at being able to give her such strange, hopeful news.

Road Trip at San Jose Museum of Art

I’ve been so distracted—by various foods, effin Republicans, & little sewing projects—that I almost forgot to mention the Road Trip show at San Jose Museum of Art, on view now through 25 January 09. I’m tickled & humbled to have my Chinese restaurants included alongside some really great artists’ work. If you’re a museum member, maybe I’ll see you at the reception later in October.


One of these things is not like the others, but sometimes I just gotta brag about my fabulous bro—how I love this little skirt!

Now back to our regular programming.

Blackberry nectarine plum pie, made with wild blackberries from the Eel River…

...& piecrust cookies, because I always have leftover pie dough (but of course, never enough to make a whole nother pie).

Spotted in Willits en route to the river:

salad dressing manifesto

When is it a good idea to overdress your salad?

Answer: almost never. (If you want to skip the rant & cut to the exception, scroll down to the last paragraph.) Friends know that my already-opinionated tendencies get cranked up to 11 when it comes to the topic of dressing salad. To me, excess salad dressing speaks of an underlying contempt for the vegetables in the salad… & for all vegetables as a class. I’m not saying that every individual saladmaker who overdresses his salad holds vegetables in contempt; ignorance, inexperience or lack of attention are probably more often the true culprits. But even the most hapless newbie cook guessing wildly at how to dress a salad for the first time bases her guess on something, & this is where pernicious cultural tendencies come in to play.

I think we can agree that there is a strong meat & potatoes streak running through this country we call America, & many an American has been heard saying that they’d really rather not eat any veggies at all if they could help it. If they must, well, it’s better if they’re as un-veggie-like as possible: remember ketchup? (Okay, perhaps not the fairest example.) Add fat! Add protein! Add anything to mask, to distract from, to overwhelm the veggie nature of the veggies! How many times out there on the road have I ordered “salad” & ended up with a woeful handful of iceberg crushed under the weight of almost-solid dollops of thick dressing?


A good salad should be all about the vegetables. If you don’t like greens, go eat them fried in bacon fat or something; veggies shrink when they’re cooked, so you can get more of those annoyingly necessary vitamins in fewer bites. Also, a veggie that is not quite fresh enough to become (good) salad may often be very acceptable for (good) cooking; so then you should go ahead & cook the dang thing! (Don’t come crying to me that lettuce can’t be cooked. I’m Chinese.) All of this being the case, then, isn’t salad nothing more or less than a perfect opportunity to eat many, many wonderful mouthfuls of fresh raw veggies, thus prolonging & indulging the ecstatic enjoyment of same?

If so, why would you drown this good stuff in too much dressing? In a perfectly-dressed salad, the dressing should merely lubricate the lettuce. Visually it should appear not so much as a salad ingredient itself, but mainly as a shine on the surfaces of all the other ingredients. When you put lotion on your hands, do you leave drops & clumps of white opaque stuff visible all over your skin? I hope not. Use a small enough amount of dressing so that it barely films the leaves.

In order to accomplish this, you must be willing to toss your salad. I cannot emphasize this enough. Use a large bowl so that you have room to turn your salad over without dropping half of it outside the bowl. Put all your lettuce & stuff in this large bowl, then take a wee tiny bit of dressing & pour it over the top. It will look like it can’t possibly be enough. Have faith! Start lifting up big batches of salad from the sides of the bowl, dropping them in the middle. Pull salad from the bottom & put it on top. Move more-dressed stuff into contact with undressed stuff. The more lightly you want to dress your salad, the more tossing you have to do. It will be worth it. When the dressing is no longer discernable as a separate thing, & all parts of the salad are subtly glistening, you’re done.

Eat your salad!

If you get to the bottom of the salad bowl & there is a puddle of dressing there, you used too much dressing.

Except. There is always an exception, right?

Except when it’s high tomato season & there are dry-farmed Early Girls from Dirty Girl. Then, then you make yourself a salad that is mostly tomatoes (hold each tomato over the bowl as you cut it into chunks, so as to catch every drop of juice), a little bit o’ lettuce, a little bit o’ basil, & you pour on just a little too much dressing (olive oil, balsamic, salt & pepper). Why? Because as you eat your salad, the tomatoes will juice themselves all into the bottom of the bowl, & when you get down there, you will find the most divine puddle of tomato juice, seasoned with that bit of extra dressing, & you can plop a piece of sourdough toast in it & go swooning off to heaven. That’s why.


Here are the Japan food photos I promised!

It was ume season & we saw this little ume giveaway on the street. Note the perfectly knotted plastic bags so thoughtfully provided:

It was also hydrangea season. Cherry blossoms get all the press, but I thought the hydrangea enthusiasm was pretty dang intense too:

More pretty sweets:

King of Nosh took us to a cute French-Italian place that was tucked away on a quiet lane in Shibuya. When it was time for dessert they brought us this adorable little corkboard:

He also showed me a very good okonomiyaki time in Shimokitazawa. I don’t understand why okonomiyaki isn’t everywhere, all over the world, especially in breakfast places in the USA. Pancakes, homefries, eggs, okonomiyaki… why not?

Four variations on the matcha donut theme:

They like their bread tall:

I always thought I didn’t like eggplant, but apparently when you slather it with miso & grill (broil?) it to perfection, I fuckin love it.

I also fuckin love ice cream, but that’s not exactly news. Gelato from the very-mobbed Pariya in the Foodshow basement of Tokyu Dept. Store, also in Shibuya: lychee, plum, jasmine chocolate cake(!), & coconut banana maple. Then we went back & had green tea tiramisu, apricot, & cherry.


Japan is a country of many graces: grace in manners, grace in design, grace in seasonality, to name just a few. So could it perhaps be a form of rebellion that the young women of Tokyo (well, not all, but a critical mass of them) render themselves so completely graceless by choosing the most ill-fitting footwear possible? Never have I seen so many women stumbling, shambling, hobbling, shuffling, limping & clomping in deliberately-oversized, too-high, beyond-uncomfortable shoes. They simply cannot walk. They are clearly in pain. To my outsider’s eye, they look utterly ridiculous. Obviously there is some cultural value operating there that is beyond my ability to grasp.

Back home now, on my habitual walk to neighborhood post office & bank, I felt a great sense of relief at seeing women of all ages, sizes & shapes walking gracefully, comfortably, in a huge variety of shoes—including some that would render me personally quite ungraceful, but the women wearing them had learned to walk in them gracefully, or at least effectively. As an American woman, I always understood “learning to walk in high heels” as a prerequisite for wearing same. (Which explains why I never wear them.) I remember a friend describing a pair of stilettos as “shoes you only wear from the limo to the bed” (not something I would ever put on my feet!) but she must have made sure she could walk at least that far in them without looking like she was going to fall on her face any second.

Not so in Tokyo. My cousin Travelin’ Fool goes to Japan quite a lot, so I turned to him for an explanation of these self-imposed gait problems. He said that it actually is considered sexy there. We began to speculate why: the Helpless Female taken to an absurd extreme? You look more like a little girl if your shoes are a whole size too big? Ew. Maybe it’s enough for me to feel grateful that I live in Berkeley, the Comfortable Shoe Capital of the nation, if not the entire world.

Here we are in comfy Berkeley shoes, admiring the cute chicken-motif floor tile at a yummy chicken restaurant (chicken cartilage on a stick! deep fried chicken skin! zow!) with our personal curator of Tokyo eats, the King of Nosh.

Now isn’t it just like me to come back from the most fabulous trip & start off by ranting & complaining about something? I once heard of a Norwegian motto that translated “Away good, home best.” That’s definitely me, & that’s what you’re hearing now, but never fear, the next post will be a rave.

snack stash

Chocolate lovers love bargains! Wandering the dazzling, decadent aisles of Whole Foods yesterday, I discovered that the baking aisle contains a hunky 9.7 oz. slab of Scharffen Berger Semisweet for $7.99. Whereas, in the candy bar aisle on the other side of the store, 1 oz. bars of Scharffen Berger are almost $2, and 3 oz. bars go for $3-something. Do the math.

It's kind of overwhelming being back here in the Land of Organic Plenty after 24 days in the South. The Whole Foods in New Orleans was mini & cute; its scale reminded me (ironically) of Manhattan stores, with narrow aisles, vertical space carefully exploited, & many items only available in the smallest sizes. In Birmingham, we wrote up a full grocery list for our trip to Golden Temple, only to find that it was about the size of a corner store, with a produce section to match: maybe a dozen kinds of organic veggies, only a few specimens of each, pre-bagged & stored inside glass-doored refrigerators, along with a few baskets of apples, pears & bananas. To their credit, most of it looked in pretty good shape, & some of it was not too expensive. We bought a head of lettuce, some bananas & apples, & sheepishly asked for directions to the nearest supermarket. Gotta hand it to those folks for keeping the faith. In Tupelo, while checking out we asked the motel clerk for a brunch recommendation. She said, Shoney's across the street. (Shoney's is ubiquitous in the South, as is Waffle House, Applebee's, McDonald's, Burger King, &c. &c.) I clarified my request: is there anything local? She shook her head & said, all the mom & pop places are gone. We got in the car & fled, nibbling rye crackers & dried apricots from our snack stash.

Pearl River Delta

These beautiful red flowers were everywhere in the South, but I never found out what they were until now. Lycoris radiata, hurricane lilies. Turns out they're native to China & Japan. Which reminds me that I was going to comment on the striking similarities between the Mississippi Delta & the Pearl River Delta, where a lot of the older Mississippi Chinese families originally came from. The weather is basically the same. Both places are in the southeast part of their respective countries & continents. I think there are some cultural similarities too, but that part is more of a gut feeling, not so easy to pin down or explain. Basically it seems to make sense that someone from a Guangdong farming village could feel comfortable in Mississippi. In Greenville we heard about someone's grandmother who used to farm an enormous garden full of Chinese vegetables & hand them out to all the Chinese families in the area. I bet those veggies grew there just fine.

Red states

It's quite validating to see that I'm not the only person who's been wondering how the whole Red States / Blue States designation became so (seemingly) entrenched. People have been asking me if Mississippi & Alabama are red or blue states. The answer is red, meaning Republican. I hadn't actually been sure until I checked, because I kept thinking about all the African American voters, who usually tend to be Democrats. However, my gut feeling was that we were in very red territory, especially one night at dinner when the old Chinese dude I was talking to said, somewhat accusatorily, "You're from Berkeley? You're probably a Democrat!"

Also one pollen-filled evening in Birmingham, Donna bought some Sudafed, which is like, a controlled substance down there because people are using it as an ingredient in their speed recipes or something. So Donna had to get it from the pharmacist, who joked, "I can't sell it to you if you're a registered Democrat." Verrry funny.

Do I need to remind y'all to get out & vote? Blue! Blue! Blue! So there!

You know, it's nice to be home. I turned on the radio & instead of "Redneck Woman" there was all this beautifully melodramatic fado, a slew of smokin salsa, & good bluegrass, & also some really old (I mean 1980!) Cindy Kallet, which I hadn't heard in ages & was the perfect Music To Roast Vegetables By.

Trey Yuen & the Sheriff

Fear not, the blogging won't stop just cause I'm not on the road anymore. Although it might pause for a few days while I recover from this massive exhaustion. I don't even know why I'm awake right now, except to say it's a shame that Frank Wong's fierce gumbo isn't on the official menu at his restaurant, Trey Yuen. Frank & his 4 brothers all run this restaurant together & apparently have a fine old time in the process. They each get a whole week off every 5 weeks. How's that for a vacation schedule?! Talk about some serious contrast to all the struggling restaurant owners we met who slave away 24/7. Dinner with these cheerful guys (plus their pal the famous Sheriff Harry Lee, who'd caught 45 fish that day & shared one with us) was a nice upbeat way to end the trip. More later when I'm not so tired.