Friday, March 31, 2006

Random musings on a Friday morning

1. Microplane graters are fantastic but lethal. The fingers on my right hand now have an attractive pattern of raised skin on their sides.

2.10°C is the worst temperature for cycling; you’re both cold and extremely sweaty at the same time.

3. Raspberries and bananas make for a damn fine muffin.

4. American Idiot by Green Day is genius. I realize that I’m coming to it rather late, but it rocks. I could have done with this on my iPod at the gym last night; it would have made it a little easier to get through 35 minutes on the treadmill.

5. David Lodge is also a genius. He nails the ambience of academia, the petty jealousies and rivalries, the self-serving nature of the dons. I worked for a university for three years and the dons -- particularly those at the graduate colleges -- were often deeply miserable people, always bitching about the stressful levels of teaching they had to do (8 hours a week) and the low levels of pay: “My friend in the media earns twice what I do” was a constant refrain, one that always invited the response, "Well, go find a job in the media if you can and stop complaining to me." In fact, universities exist not to educate the young, but to provide a refuge for those who lack social skills and a decent understanding of reality. And have tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows: the horror, the horror!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hello sexy new fridge!

 

It's got a digital display to show the temperature and everything! It's so cool - literally! Posted by Picasa

Goodbye, old friend

 

I'd just like to point out that that's not a dish of Colombia's finest marching powder; it's actually America's finest baking soda, and is there to prevent the fridge from getting too stenchy thanks to my fondness for overly ripe French soft cheeses. However, even Arm & Hammer baking soda couldn't cope with the stenchiest of all stenches -- that of rotting parsley, which was what first tipped us off that the fridge wasn't working anymore.

And if you think the fridge is dirty, you should have seen the layer of black goo sitting under the fridge when it was removed. Eew! It took me 10 minutes with oven cleaner to get rid of it. Gross. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Akihabara -- or, Electric Town

Two years ago, we spent a happy day wandering around the consumer electronics havens of Akihabara, buying Sony headphones, bonkers video-game music, and reissues of classic games like Donkey Kong. Unfortunately, we were unable to bring back the fab toilets that were on offer, useful though a heated seat and white noise generator would be in our somewhat chilly (and small) flat. We also had great tempura in a tiny restaurant when desperation drove us to finally work up the courage to go in and order. Good times.

  Posted by Picasa

Bottom of the class

Another Tuesday evening, another yoga class. In this week’s lesson, I discovered one of the greatest benefits of the headstand position: it makes shoulder stand feel like a piece of cake. I have real difficulty in finding the requisite uplift of my shoulders and lightness of body to make this posture anything other than depressing. Also depressing is my overall lack of flexibility compared with my classmates (I’m discounting the teachers for they are professionally bendy). As I struggle to bend forward more than an inch or two, I glance around the room in the hope that someone else will be as stiff as me – to no avail. No one else seems to have bulging thighs and hips that get in the way of the movement. Everyone else not only touches the floor, but rests their hands flat on it.* I’m stuck, eyes at stomach-level, cursing again the gene that meant I am condemned to remain distant from the ground. It’s not much better with prone positions, as my (ahem) chest tends to get in the way. (I do excel at the supine postures though, particularly the relaxation bit at the beginning and end. I think I’m going to continue practicing that one at home as frequently as possible.) In fact, I usually exit the class feeling happiest when I've managed to avoid falling over, falling asleep, or breaking wind (loudly), rather than through achieving an enlightened mind/body alignment. However, I'm sure it must be doing me more good than harm, and I will therefore persevere.

*Perhaps this has something to do with the way the Dutch ride their bicycles. The men pedal along, legs akimbo and at right angles to their hips, big flappy feet stuck out across the pedals. It doesn’t look like a natural or even comfortable position, but perhaps it guarantees additional rotation in the hips. The women adopt the opposite position, usually cycling with their knees pressed tightly together so that they don’t reveal the colour of the underwear to the whole world. It’s remarkably difficult to avoid doing that if you’re wearing a skirt. My upright cycling position and knees that are in line with the hips is clearly doing me no good whatsoever when it comes to hip flexibility.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?

We discovered this morning that if you knock over PJ's alarm clock while it's beeping, it increases the volume and speed at which it's issuing its dulcet tones. And when I say this morning, I mean 5.44 -- when PJ had to get up to take a call with the Far East.

It's probably just as well he's going to London for a few days; I'll be in a foul, sleep-deprived mood this evening.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Spooky!

Just as I posted my last entry, the piledriving stopped. From my keyboard to God's ears, apparently. Now, if You could just see your way clear to improving the Dutch housing market, I'd be very grateful.

Knock it off -- please!

The piledrivers on the site across the canal have been hard at it all day -- for the past three years! Please stop. It's stopping me from sleeping.

Bubbling below the surface

After nearly 30 years of refusing to put my face down into the water when swimming -- the result of an accident at my local pool when someone dived in on top of me, pushing me to the bottom of the pool -- I have finally learnt to do breaststroke properly and wear goggles over my contact lenses. What a revelation! I can now see all the lumpy, wobbly bits of my fellow swimmers, dangling down into the nether regions of the pool. I can also see when the men decide to "adjust" themselves at the end of a lane, which is particularly unpleasant at 8.10 on a Monday morning.

Just a few more minutes, Mum

I'm exhausted. The frustration of receiving an incomprehensible -- and clearly incorrect -- demand from the tax office combined with my shock at finding out how much built-in fridges cost, plus a quick check on the real estate market in London left me feeling financially fragile and semi-suicidal. Not conducive to sleep. After wandering round the flat at 2 a.m., listening to the rain, appreciating anew the size of our living room and all the lovely work surfaces in my kitchen, and envisioning being trapped in a London studio with not enough room to swing a baby hamster, I finally found sleep the old-fashioned way: Tylenol Night Caps.

However, a new day dawns and things start to brighten up a little -- although not the weather. Our surprisingly efficient accountant actually called the tax office on our behalf to find out what was going on, and they (the tax office) admitted that they'd made a mistake. That doesn't mean we won't have to pay the 10,000 euros, but it does mean we're more likely to get it back. The new fridge will be fitted on Thursday. As for London, well that still remains a black hole of suck, but I'm sure we'll be able to sort something out. And I've booked extremely cheap tickets from Norwich to Amsterdam for Easter Monday. The Dumpling is going home.

In the meantime, I'm just going to put my head down on my keyboard and rest my eyes for a little while. Zzzzzz...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A few of my least favorite things

I'm taking a hint from best mate and fellow blogger, Clive, for this one. However, as regular readers know, my heart is made from blackest coal and there is little joy in my life, so I thought I'd list some of the things that make me want to scream. Of course, I'm excluding the biggies -- global warming/poverty, war, animal abuse etc -- and those that I've ranted about in the past.

20. Pickwick's "English" teabags: for pretending that their foul brew is tea and damning the reputation of the English around the world.
19. The water that periodically leaks in from upstairs: for not doing it often enough to be a real problem, but waiting for when we're away from home.
18. Dutch dog owners: for not picking up their pets' little deposits on the streets -- hey, if the German tourists we passed today can pick it up, so can you.
17. Net5: for being incapable of showing a full season of a drama series in the correct order and in one go.
16. Frat boys in coffee shops: for thinking that they're the first people to get stoned and that it's a really cool thing to do.
15. Poorly signposted public transport systems: for making it impossible to find your way to the Paris metro system when arriving at Gare du Nord.
14. Pot plants: for dying as soon as I get them home.
13. Albert Heijn: for not paying people to restock shelves overnight but making them do it in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.
12. People who stand in the middle of the road: for not realizing that if you're not moving, you stand on the pavement.
11. The construction workers who replaced 2 windows in my office earlier this week: for being rude, spending 3 hours drilling, then buggering off leaving shards of glass all over the floor and my desk.
10. Tall Dutch people: for not looking down when they step out of houses/shops and barrelling over me.
9. Taxi drivers: for introducing immigrants into any conversation with the phrase "Of course, they're not like us." Nope, they've got a damn work ethic, you workshy fops.
8. The bath: for getting dirty and requiring cleaning.
7. Old men: for spitting in the street and sniffing loudly and phlegmily whenever possible. And not using deodorant.
6. The Dutch health insurance system, for charging a fortune and giving very little in return.
5. People who smoke in restaurants -- for giving my taste buds a working over instead of allowing me to appreciate my meal.
4. My first Dutch doctor: for declaring that cervical cancer was not an interesting cancer and I therefore couldn't have a smear test.
3. The Gap: for changing the cut of their low-rise bootcut jeans -- the only jeans I'd ever found that fitted me properly.
2. 24 hour news services: for spreading misery and fear around the world and making airport lounges even more depressing.
1. The Dutch tax office: For operating the most inefficient, tortuous system known to mankind. For employing officials who give new meaning to the words "officious" and "jobsworth". For demanding 10k to be paid in the next 10 days after a "preliminary" assessment -- and before we've even submitted our tax return. For not revising our mortgage relief even though we submitted the paperwork 9 months ago.
Bastards.

Our fridge is NOT pinin' for the fjords

Our fridge is no more. It's expired and gone to meet its maker (NEFF). Of course, this would happen at the very moment that the external temperature soared from a chilly 3C to a balmy 10C, making it impossible for us to leave our dairy produce sitting on the windowsill, as per my university days. (Although, that would probably also violate our building facade's listed status -- I don't think we're even supposed to put window boxes on it.)

So, it's off white goods shopping this afternoon. While PJ, of course, would like something in brushed aluminium to match his PSP travelling case, I just want something that's cheap, energy efficient, and in stock -- although if it came in pale blue aluminium to match my phone and Game Boy Advanced DS, I wouldn't say no. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Spring: not yet sprung

Two years ago, we were in Tokyo -- and foolishly decided to head to Ueno Park on Sunday to see the cherry blossom. Foolish because hundreds of thousands of Tokyo residents had the same idea; it was mayhem! However, we did get to take some snaps of the trees in full flower.



Two years on, and the bright, icy weather we've been enjoying since we returned from San Francisco ended at lunchtime today -- to be replaced by glowering grey skies and heavy drizzle. As yet, the trees have no buds on them, let alone flowers. Spring is officially late.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I am currently eating



Maple-vanilla roasted apples with pralines & cream Haagen-Dazs. Yes, I know it isn't sugar- or fat-free (far from it), but it tastes fantastic.

Menace to society

Perhaps it's something to do with the longer, lighter evenings, but I've witnessed a spate of accidents involving mopeds recently -- or rather, the aftermath of them. There you are, cycling up to a junction, when you realize the traffic's not moving, a car is parked at an odd angle, and a bunch of people are standing around chatting. Moving carefully past, you spot a moped on its side and, if you're unlucky, a thin trickle of blood. Not nice. But also not particularly surprising. As in most major cities, the moped drivers here are maniacs -- weaving in and out of traffic, hopping up onto cycle lanes to cut up mothers with 3 kids on their (push)bikes, before diving back in front of lorries and up into tram lanes, and taking corners with their knees near to the ground, as if they're Barry Sheen (does that date me?). The worst accident I saw happened as a rider undertook a car, cutting close to its side and not realizing that it was slowing down to turn left -- BAM! Straight into the side mirror he went and onto the floor. Impressively, he sat up and started cursing the driver, failing as always to recognize his own stupidity.

The professional takeout delivery guys (and yes, it's always men) have a large box on the back and have removed their mufflers (or is it spoilers?) so that their customers can tell from 3 streets away that their food is en route -- although I don't get why they're in such a hurry, given that no delivery places here offer guarantees of "Your food in 30 minutes, or your money back!" Far more common is the hour-long wait with subsequent follow-up phone call to establish that they've forgotten to take your order/couldn't hear your order because of the loud radio they had on in the background/have substituted meat for tofu in the sate.

Where was I?

If they're not delivery drivers, they are usually young men with a mate on the back -- neither of them wearing helmets and the passenger pumping his arms in the air and shouting at the girls they pass. I doubt they'll have much luck, although probably a little more than the oafish 20-year-olds who tool around on their mini-bikes, knees up around their ears as they peddle, lollipop and iPods plugged in. You don't look like you're on a boulevard in Venice Beach, moron; you look like an overgrown toddler with bumfluff! Gosh, I didn't realize that I disliked them so much. At least they're just irritating, rather than life-threatening.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Un oeuf is never enough

What shall I make for dinner? Something quick and easy, perhaps. Let's flick through the pages of Fresh Everyday and see what catches my fancy. Oooh, eggs benedict with smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce, with a side of lemon roasted sugar snaps -- the original recipe says asparagus but asparagus is one of those detestable vegetables beginning with a (see also avocado and artichoke) and I refuse to touch it. And it says here that the hollandaise sauce is a foolproof blender version: even better! Love eggs benedict!

What did I learn from tonight's culinary adventure?

Trying to toast 4 slices of bread while poaching 4 eggs, trying to plate up some salad and sugar snaps, opening a packet of salmon, and making hollandaise sauce, foolproof or not, is NOT easy. It is therefore something to make on a lazy Sunday morning, not when you've just come in from a yoga class where you did lots of inverted postures and thus are depressed because you've spent lots of time with all your flabby bits rushing unattractively towards your face.

Foolproof blender hollandaise needs a small blender with an access funnel. I have a large blender with an access funnel and a small blender without. Result? Most of the egg yolk sits under the blades of the blender, giving a very thin sauce.

The way to make poached eggs is to put them into gently boiling water and then ignore them while you run around the kitchen like a headless chicken trying to finish off everything else and prevent the toast from burning (see above). When you remember them, cut round the thickest part of the white and ignore the floaty tentacles; they'll look just fine.

Foolproof blender hollandaise thickens up on cooling and is delicious as a dip for toast. Note to self: make sure the butter is not so hot next time when blending.

Roasted sugar snaps are wonderful. In fact, it's hard to think of a green vegetable that wouldn't be improved by roasted with oil and lemon.

One poached egg is plenty -- I'm stuffed.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Ignore this post if you want bitching and moaning

Unable to bake sweet things, I turned my attention Saturday night to savoury -- the trip has inspired me to tackle new dishes and increase my salad content. The excellent Orangette provided the perfect recipe -- bouchons au thon, a sort of flourless tuna muffin/quiche. My new favorite supermarket, Super de Boer, provided a great box of salad leaves that weren't damp or slimy, but crisp and dry.

One of the things that I found appealing about this recipe was that it used everyday ingredients that I normally have in stock -- tinned tuna, eggs, cheese, and onions.



Tinned tuna really does smell like cat food. My much-loved and much-missed kitties Plato and Aristotle would have loved these.

And they take only 30 seconds to mix together, Jackson Pollock style ...



... before scooping into muffin tins. God, I love my ice-cream scoop.



20 minutes in the oven, and voila! Bouchons au thon.



Actually, I was expecting these to be a little lighter -- more souffle-like. Maybe I got the proportions wrong when I cut the recipe down to make six or perhaps my otherwise fabulous silicon muffin pans were too deep. These still tasted good -- definitely kitten-friendly -- but next time I might try whisking the egg whites separately and folding them in. However, they will still be a staple after-work meal, and one that is pretty much Atkins-compliant (if you ignore the large chunk of garlic bread that I served alongside).

Good food, a Smirnoff ice, and the opening episode of Season 3 of Footballers Wives -- how could Saturday nights be any better?

Summertime,. and the living is . . . frustrating

It’s shaping up to be a fun-packed Sunday here at Dumpling Towers, what with the post-holiday washing and ironing, a bit of light vacuuming, my attempts to not bake anything (fat- and sugar-free, remember), and some paperwork filing. I might take a trip to the library as it stops opening on Sundays shortly; apparently, we’re in the “summer” season now, despite it being a numbing 4 degrees outside.

I know I should be grateful that the library ever opens on a Sunday, but I don’t get why it closes on that day over the summer. It’s not as if we experience Mediterranean temperatures that require people to take siestas. Trips to the beach are a hellish experience, complete with thousands of Amsterdammers, packed beach cafes, and Siberian winds blowing off the North Sea. And yet the Dutch relish every opportunity to get a little bit of sunshine. When I lived in Spain, my Dutch and Belgian flatmates would head down to the riverbank from mid-February, slather themselves in olive oil, and catch what rays they could. Most of the young women at the gym have deep tans, acquired at the vast number of tanning salons around the city. (And these aren’t beauty salons coating customers with St Tropez and sending them out, streaky and biscuit-scented, into the world. No, these have ye olde tanning machines, but cranked up to cancer-inducing levels.) And come the “summer”, people start taking time off “sick” or get “stressed”, and shopkeepers and restaurant owners close on sunny days or for weeks in August. I guess I should applaud this placing of pleasure over money, but it’s bloody irritating when you need a pint of milk at 8 pm and the local deli owner has decided to shut up shop for 3 weeks, rather than hiring someone to run it in his absence.

The worst example of this was the utterly appalling, landlord-mandated cleaner we had foisted upon us in our previous apartment. If a Tuesday morning dawned sunny, we’d wait for the phone call informing us that her mother was sick and she couldn’t make it in. In many ways, her absences were a blessed relief: we were spared her wiping down the radiators with bleach – ruining the clothes that were drying on them – or smoking in the flat and then stubbing out her cigarettes into my Chinese crackle-glazed dishes. Apparently, it’s impossible to get nicotine stains off them. Four years later, this still rankles, as does the fact that we couldn’t get the deposit back until we’d paid her an additional 200 guilders she claimed we owed. Who needs a cleaner for a 70m-square flat? Although, it would be nice to have someone to clean the bath – my all-time No. 1 most hated cleaning activity.

< rant over/ >

I really need to bake – I get far too cross and fidgety when I can’t. Maybe I could just make some cookie dough to put in the freezer and use at a later date. Or is that cheating?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

On the beach at Carmel at sunset





Told you it was beautiful.

"Rosebud!"





Actually, there were no references to Citizen Kane, Xanadu, Orson Welles, or even Marion Davies on our tour of Hearst Castle -- the one exception was Marion's autobiography in the gift shop, with a foreword by Orson Welles in which he, yet again, claimed that Hearst wasn't the inspiration for Kane. But he would say that, wouldn't he.

The Madonna Inn

This is your motel room.



This is your motel room on drugs.



Amazingly, neither of us woke up screaming during the night. Thanks Charlie.

Friday, March 17, 2006

My favorite four-letter word

No, not that one, you filthy-minded beasts. I’m talking about food. Our American expedition provided us with a fantastic set of meals, ranging from eggs benedict at Lori’s diner to Greek treats like smelt (?) at Kokkari Estiatorio (thanks Charlie!). top-notch wood-fired pizzas at Lulu’s (thanks Cathleen!), and yummy shrimp dumplings at Forge in the Forest (thanks, erm, Lonely Planet!). We drank wickedly potent cocktails at the afore-mentioned Lulu’s, in the View Bar at the Marriott, and at Jack London’s in Carmel. We attempted to clear our overflowing plates at Margie’s Diner on Highway 101. I gave thanks for real English tea at a cafĂ© in Richmond and scoffed fortune cookies and rice crackers in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. But the foodie highlight of the trip for me was the happy hour I spent in the Whole Foods near the hotel in San Francisco. Bliss! Aisle after aisle of top-quality organic and vegetarian fare! Huge bins of perky lettuce leaves, rather than the miserable little pillow packs of damp frisee that dissolve into mush upon opening! Multiple varieties of melon, eggplant, and tomatoes! And I finally got to see a jicama! While dazed with delight, I was also hugely frustrated: So much food, so little luggage space. I wanted to buy everything – olive oil, clam juice, chevre, honeys and mustards. Reluctantly, I had to settle for light items in paper packets – cocoa nibs, sourdough starter, and veggie gravy mix – thanks to the three hefty cookbooks PJ had ordered for me from Amazon.com (Sara Foster’s Fresh From The Market, Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, and Sherry Yard’s The Secret of Baking, in case you were wondering).

Oh well, I doubt the lettuce would have lasted the journey back. I’m still feeling the effects – definitely damp and mulchy rather than green and perky. And I’ve also porked up, despite trying to avoid the temptations of Krispy Kreme and Cheetos. I blame the empty calories in my cocktails. Time for a frugal, fat- and sugar-free few weeks.

Go ahead, Dumpling, make my day

Unfortunately, we didn't get to see Clint during our two-day stay in Carmel, although he featured prominently in the town’s glossy magazine and there’s an Eastman building that houses KRML jazz radio, so his influence lingers on. I can see why he moved there – it's gorgeous! Quaint houses, beautiful beach, attractive yet impossible to read signposts, and lots of top-quality restaurants. There was also a high preponderance of upmarket grockle shops, but they didn’t sell the always-appealing clocks made out of bits of crab or seashells, just very expensive (and bad!) oil paintings of trees and bronzes of ballerinas and puppies. There was just one grocery store, hidden away at the back of the town, and even the petrol stations were cutesy and shingled.

And you know what? I loved it. I’d happily live there, working at the Aveda spa during the day and eating at the Forge in the Forest at night. Hell yes.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Lost in transit

I realized on holiday that I’m horrible while in transit. As a natural-born extreme worrier, I get all worked up about the long list of things that could go wrong and get snippy with PJ. The usual approach is as follows:

Worry about sleeping through the alarm clock.
Worry about having packed too little.
Attempt to lift suitcase – worry about having packed too much.
Worry about not having passport (hah!)/tickets/contact lenses/comb.
Worry about the taxi not turning up.
Worry about the taxi getting stuck in traffic en route to the airport and missing check-in/flight.
Worry about having left the heating on/not put the rubbish out.
Worry about the plane crashing.
Etc.

I also loathe having to lug a suitcase and, more specifically, my laptop around. The damn thing weighs a ton, and gets heavier as the day goes on. This explains my hatred of Heathrow, an airport that makes you walk for miles to get anywhere, and my love of Norwich – it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from the plane to the car. My shoulder is still feeling out of sorts after Tuesday’s marathon schlep between terminals.

However, after 4 years of hating flying, I’ve got over my fear of that once I’m actually on the plane. And I don’t mind the actual travel itself, be it by plane, train, or automobile – largely due to having a very high boredom threshold (seriously, I can play the same video game for 6 months without getting bored). But all the stuff leading up to the travel just renders me a little stress bunny – which is strange, given that I’m normally such a calm, Zen-like Dumpling. My apologies to all those who find themselves copping the flack, particularly PJ: I’d love to say that it won’t happen again, but we both know that it will.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It's nice to go out . . .

. . . but it's nice to come home. Particularly when you've been travelling for the best part of 18 hours. Both flights were fine, but the four-hour wait in Heathrow was a killer. My body protested at the lack of sleep and mile-long hike between terminals via a dank subterranean maze by both emitting and attracting that special Heathrow grime -- a sticky, slimy blackness that can't be removed with soap alone, or at least not the soap on offer in the toilets. PJ had headed off to face passport application hell, so I had no company (or lounge access) for the interminable wait. Definitely a reminder not to do connecting flights again. Or lose a passport.

Anyway, I'm home now. I have a strong cup of tea besides me, Philip Glass is playing Metamorphosis 1-4 (it's like being back on Caprica, BG fans!), and I can run a bath and make a hot water bottle and then fall into bed for some blessed sleep -- but only when the apartment's warmed up. It's freezing here! At this moment, I find it hard to believe that only 36 hours ago I was standing on the beach at Carmel, watching the sun set over the Pacific. And when I figure out how to get the photos off the standards-defying Sony camera, I'll show you just how beautiful that was.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

God bless free Wi-Fi

We're currently sitting in the Trailside Cafe & Coffee House on Cannery Row in Monterey, using their free Wi-Fi service. PJ's just managed to spill vast quantities of icing sugar down his front while eating hot beignet. The sun is shining, we're staying in a lovely hotel in Carmel, and I've ticked two long-time ambitions off my list -- visiting Hearst Castle and driving California's Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo through Big Sur to Carmel. Just gorgeous. Here's a photo to keep you going until I can get a faster upload speed.



They say that the weather on the Monterey Peninsula changes quickly, and they're right. In the time it took me to upload that photo, it's clouded over and started raining. Heavily. Maybe we'll visit the aquarium after all.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Speaking of bridges

Isn't this just adorable!

  Posted by Picasa

San Francisco by night

 

The view from the hotel bar on the 39th floor was pretty spectacular -- the Bay Bridge was particularly lovely. What you can't see from this snap, however, is that it was snowing very lightly. No wonder I'm sick!

We're heading south today, so I'm hoping it will warm up and I can finally shake this wretched cold. San Luis Obispo, here we come! Posted by Picasa

But is it art?



This is one of a number of stones displayed outside the de Young Museum, each with fault line running through and between them. I "think" it's meant to be symbolic.

For your viewing pleasure





Today's fortune cookie

"You will enjoy good health for a long time to come."

I'd rather be enjoying good health now. The cold continues to linger, rendering me snuffly and sneezy. I enjoyed a respite from my walking tour of San Francisco yesterday at the Kabuki Springs and Spa in Japantown. First up was a private green tea bath -- I'm used to having to wash myself before entering a Japanese bath, but this was the first time that I've had someone else wash me. I tried not to let my English reserve show through and gamely stripped and sat on a small stool while Marcia tipped bowls of warm water over me and scrubbed my back, but couldn't help feeling relieved when she discreetly retreated so that I could wash other bits before returning to rinse me down. The subsequent 15 minutes in my green tea bath were fabulous and nicely loosened up all the phlegm in my sinuses. Which meant that when I spent the next 80 minutes face down getting an intensive working over from my shiatsu masseuse, said phlegm proceeded to drip from my nose onto the floor, narrowly avoiding my massuese's feet. Charming. I therefore tipped particularly well for the session.

Weary, but not wet


I've walked my little socks off today. First, a hike up hill to a bus stop to catch the No.2 (heh) to Richmond, followed by a pleasant hour browsing the used book shelves of Green Apple Books (thanks Bill!). I then chanced upon a cafe run by a couple of Gen Y slackers, complete with bad hair and slow service, but that offered real tea -- none of this chai soy latte rubbish but PG Tips! My first cup of tea for a week, and a blessed relief it was, too. Then a hike over to the Golden Gate Park and an extremely pleasant wander around the Japanese tea garden.

A brisk walk back to the bus stop, a long bus ride back into the center, and a brief yet soul-destroying jaunt into H&M -- apparently, mirrors in US changing rooms are also designed to render one flabby and foul-tempered. After a gloriously sunny, if windy, day, it's now clouded over and is raining. Just like home . . .

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The dumpling who came in from the cold

 

Determined not to let my cold stop me from enjoying San Francisco, I set off on foot this morning. First stop: Citizen Cupcake on Market for a welcome bowl of hot chocolate and a dainty vanilla cupcake. Thus fortified, I made my way up Powell, ignoring the burning sensation in my calves and trying not to feel miserably unfit. My destination was the cable car museum for a fascinating look at the powerhouse for the cars that run up and down these hills. (Note to self: take one next time.) On then to Chinatown and City Lights, a fabulous "leftie" bookstore (no romance section though -- boo!). Back down Grant, past enticing dim sum restaurants and gaudy jewellery shops, to the 7-11 on Sutter for tissues, milk, chips, and a trashy mag, and then along Market, stopping briefly to buy a couple of cheap novels in an "Everything Must Go!" book store and some Girl Scout cookies. The rest of my afternoon will be spent under the duvet in my hotel room, catching up on Britney's exploits while eating cold-friendly foods. Nice. Posted by Picasa

A bad start to the day

"Where's my passport?"
[sniffle, cough] "Isn't it in your bag?"
"No."

Shit.

So, this means:
1. A trip to the police station to get a loss notification form.
2. A visit to the British Consulate here to get an emergency temporary form that will get PJ back to the UK -- and only the UK.
3. Several nights in the UK while he sorts out a new passport at the UK Passport Office. Of course, they need various forms of ID with a UK address . . . which we don't have. And photos signed by a doctor or lawyer . . . which we don't have in the UK.

And my cold is getting worse -- my PC is surrounded by a sea of discarded tissues and I can't open my eyes wide enough to put my lenses in.

I love vacations.

(Not at all) poky in Stokey

I have been very remiss in not thanking the charming Clive, Pippa, and Emmie for allowing us to stay in their delightful new home in Stoke Newington on Thursday. They have chosen, admirably, to live conveniently close to my sister and her fiance, as well as a number of very good pubs and restaurants. On this occasion, we visited The Prince -- great bruschetta and veggie burger. We also discovered that everyone who lives in Stoke N plays in a band; our extremely chatty waiter apparently is a member of The Mysterious Benefactors.

Good food, great company, and an incredibly affectionate dog -- what more could one ask for?

Shopped out

As promised, yesterday was shopping day. After another hearty breakfast -- eggs benedict sans ham at Lori's diner -- I walked down to the Ferry Building to find the farmer's market I'd read so much about in various food blogs. I was somewhat taken aback to find nothing so much as an upmarket food mall, with expensively nice stores selling hand-stamped Ligurian pasta and milk expressed from happy organic goats, rather than stalls selling vegetables. (Of course, when I returned to my hotel and checked out the Ferry Building site, it turned out that the Sunday market is closed until spring -- which doesn't start until May. Guess I should have checked that before I went along.)

Anyhoo, I made the best of a bad job and forked over huge amounts of cash for the following: an excellent 3-cheese sampler from the Cowgirl Creamery; chocolate and a t-shirt (extra bitter) from Scharffen Berger; a sour baguette and a rosemary/potato bread from Acme Bakery; wine, sourdough starter kits, olive oil biscuits, and frou-frou smellies from a "general stores" type of a place; and a bento box. This last one was a serious disappointment when I got round to tackling it for lunch today; what I thought were shrimp patties turned out to be pork -- what was it doing under a shrimp bento box label? Incompetent fools!

Just as I got back to the hotel, the much-anticipated SF rain kicked in and kept going for the rest of the day. We got soaked as we made our way around upscale stores like Origins, Sanrio, Old Navy, and, erm, Rite-Aid. Then it was back to the hotel to watch the Oscars, marvel at the incompetence of the ABC post-Oscar interviewers, and, apparently, nuture a stinking cold.

And so to bed.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A poffertje by any other name?

 

Our first morning in San Francisco and time for a hearty, pre-sight-seeing breakfast. We took the advice of Lonely Planet and headed to Sears Fine Food just off Union Square. The 18 Swedish pancakes were great, larger than poffertjes and not quite as fluffy, but an excellent conduit for whipped butter and lashings of syrup. And I finished every last one of them. I didn't need to eat again until 4.30 in the afternoon. Posted by Picasa

If you're going to San Francisco

Be sure to check out the cable cars. We spent a busy day riding the F line in a 1950s trolley car up to the Mission and Castro and then back down to Fisherman's Wharf. After some reviving seafood, we queued for about an hour to get the cable car up (and more scarily down) some impressively steep hills and back to Union Square.

 

So, today was tourism; tomorrow is shopping! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 04, 2006

In-flight entertainment

Another day, another 11-hour flight, this time to SF. Premium economy was its usual peaceful state, apart from the cackling loons who were very chummy with the flight attendants – presumably Virgin employees or family/friends. I’ve finally given up pretending that I’m going to read on the flight, so picked up a copy of Vogue in the lounge (pretty pictures!) and focused on the movies. While PJ opted for the sci-fi/action adventure movies, I tapped into my deeply buried sensitive inner core and opted for:

1. Aeon Flux. This was beautiful to look at: Charlize Theron with fabulous hair and great costumes, fighting her way through a series of gorgeous sets and against a somewhat flimsy cloning plot. It was rather like an extended perfume commercial, but with better architecture and interior decoration. Nice poured concrete prison cell with underlit Perspex bed!
2. The Family Stone. God damn you, movie! You made me feel sorry for Sarah Jessica Parker and that’s just not right! This wasn’t the comedy I was expecting and was much better for it.
3. The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Filthy, funny, and surprisingly touching. And Paul Rudd needs to be in more films.
4. Pride & Prejudice. Having come of age during the Colin Firth BBC version (phwoar, wet shirt!), I didn’t think I would enjoy this. But, it was excellent. Keira Knightley has a slightly distracting lower jaw but was a feisty, sprightly Lizzie, and Matthew MacFayden was a great Darcy, despite the lack of a lake scene. And Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennett made me cry. I am such a girl.

On arriving at our hotel and after a brief tour of Union Square and the Tenderloin (chock full o' nutters) and a stop at Subway to pick up food, we turned on HBO and caught the end of the ludicrously atrocious Catwoman. Aeon Flux suddenly seemed a lot better.