Friday, August 29, 2008


a few hours, 100 cupcakes freezer is all cupcakes, all the time. Don't try this at home, kids, unless you have a big ol' stand-up mixer. And, preferably, some non-dark muffin pans. Dark pans, it seems, make the bottoms of your cupcakes burn faster, or so said my pal Shar, of Shar's Babycakes, when we were baking 20 dozen cupcakes for a wedding a few weeks ago.

How will these little suckers get iced? Who knows. They're baked, and that's one mountain (of butter & sugar) climbed.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Feed me, Seymour!

My tomatoes love Miracle-Gro! This feels a little like saying "My kids love Big Macs!" (if, you know, I had kids.) But what can I say? I have two tomato plants--Stupice and some kind of cold-loving Russian heirloom cherry--stuck in a couple of pots on the back patio, bought in a fit of farm-longing outside Cole Hardware on Mission Street. There was a big bag of potting soil under the steps behind my house, so I filled up a couple of containers and stuck my little plants in. And there they stayed, stunted and unhappy, doing absolutely nothing. I knew they were sadly in need of some NPK (no new growth, curled-looking yellowish-purple leaves, general ennui), but what to do? The soil was in place, and you can't really amend junky potting soil once it's already in the pot around the plant. So, yes, I copped a quick cheap fix: a spoonful of the blue stuff, dissolved in water, poured over the leaves (foliar feeding!) and into the soil.

Better living through petrochemical byproducts! Just like cake-mix cakes always rise and look perfect, damned if my tomatoes aren't 10x healthier looking just a few days later. They're green, they're growing, they look fat and sassy and they actually have tomatoes on them. And they're looking at me as if they just got a hamburger after two months of olives and soy milk. What were you thinking, they seem to be saying. We needed food! Bad enough you put us out here, with the cold and fog and whiteflies. Then you put us on some no-nitrogen starvation diet?

Of course, they're supposed to get their food from the soil,if it were any good, which clearly it wasn't. I can't blame them; soil is a living thing, and if you leave it in a plastic bag under the porch for years on end, it's not going to be worth much more than the plastic it came in. If I had a real garden, I'd be composting and fish-emulsioning and mulching til the cows came home (yoo-hooo! Bessieeee!!). But for two pots on the concrete, the M-G will have to do.

There are all kinds of metaphors in here, but I'm too written-out to delve into them. Plus, there's the Cupcake Dilemma: in a whimsical moment, I promised my pals M.& D. that I'd make them a wedding cake when they could finally get married legally here (They're longtime gay-marriage activists, and already been been married several times to each other, but we're hoping this time will stay on the books). Now, this promise has morphed into a request for cupcakes for 150. Especially tricky since I'm going to be at Slow Food on Sat and down in Santa Cruz with P. and her family, watching Shakespeare, on Sunday. Which leaves today, tomorrow, and the freezer. I have absolutely no idea how this is going to happen. I'm actually thinking...minicupcakes? Very cute, and well, small! So they could each just get a little dab of icing and sprinkles and be done. We'll see if I can find a million mini-cupcake liners at Safeway.

Also, Arkansas! I'm longing to go back to Eureka Springs, as I've promised to do for a few weeks this sept, but there remains the difficult cash issue. As in, plane tickets=really f'ing expensive these days! Especially going NY-Arkansas, Arkansas-SF. Not sure if I can swing the $700 or so for the plane fare, on top of the $300 or so it will take to stay at the writer's colony for 10 days after my workshops. Seems like a better deal to just come back in a week from NYC on a cheap jetblue fare...ah, what to do.

Monday, August 25, 2008

dancing in abundance

Or, in another word, blackberries! Finally walked up to the other side of Bernal Hill, empty yogurt containers in hand, and picked, picked, picked. Many berries were still at the red/sour stage, but I did come home, over 2 days, with a little less than 2 quarts, about enough to make 3 half-pints of jam. This is some high-octane, high-berry-content stuff. And easy--easier!--as pie.

OK, I guess I have to cop to my recent pie-contest experience. I baked, I went, I didn't win. Maybe it was because I chickened out at the last minute, fearing my lard dough was too soft and crumbly, and made a regular all-butter crust instead. Yes, the apples--a mix of gingergolds and gravensteins--were a little soft, but that's early-season apples for you--it's just how they are. Paige and I took the rest of the pie home (after the judges had taken a slice) and I can say, honestly, that it was a really, really nice pie. Not spectacular, but certainly better than the ones I tasted at that same fair, back when I was a judge in 2002. Oh well. We had a lovely time at the fair nonetheless, and I got to chat with the very nice farm manager from Nana Mae, the orchard where I got my gravensteins.

What else? $2/lb heirlooms at the Civic Center farmers' market! Also there: MacDonald Orchards, with $2/lb Pink Pearls, my favorite obscure apple. Cream-colored on the outside, hot candy pink inside, bright and tart. these have a season of about 5 minutes, and make fabulous pink tarts and pink applesauce, so git 'em while you can.

Even better were the jumbo tomatoes and Summer Lady peaches fresh picked (and free!) from the Moraga Farm, a sweet, incredibly productive one-acre farm/garden in, yes, Moraga that's part commercial farm, part community garden. Tomatoes and squash are the farm's cash crops, sold to local fancy restaurants and markets to pay the garden's bills. The rest of the produce goes to everyone--to the locals who help to plant and harvest, to an assisted-living senior facility in the area, an AIDS hospice, a local elementary school, and more. Bartering is the way of the garden. The guy who runs a tree-trimming biz in town came out to the prune the trees earlier this year. His requested payment? Tomatoes. Same with the guys from the nursery. The firefighters who put out a fire at the farm got flats of tomatoes in thanks, too.

Wine works, too. Farmer Al of Frog Hollow Farm donated dozens of peach and nectarine trees, plus the manpower and expertise to get them planted a few years ago. Each spring, he brings a crew of his workers over to help shape the season's vegetable beds. His payment? Some of the (very good) homemade wine that David and the other Moraga farmers make each fall. It's an economy of abundance, especially during this peak of the harvest. Around the full moon each month, friends of the farm come together for a moonlight potluck, anchored around the wood-fired cob pizza oven in one corner of the farm. Pizzas are made, wine is drunk, a farm update is presented, there are dogs and babies, even a campfire.

This time, I got the bright idea to try to bake some peach galettes--with farm peaches!--in the pizza oven. Not such a hot idea, as it turned out, since the oven, heated from below, was just too smokin' hot for this kind of baking. The galettes burned on the bottom before they browned on the top. And the one galette I put aside, for baking later when the oven had cooled off, mysteriously disappeared, seemingly the victim of dough-loving space aliens or a very tidy, intrepid dog, who managed to eat all the raw crust while leaving most of the peaches intact. (Is it too gross to report that I made another galette, using those same possibly dog-licked peaches? And that everyone ate it? Like I said, really hot oven.) But it was (mostly) fun to bake on the fly, even if the disappearing galette did throw me for a loop. Best moment: taking a just-after-dark spin through the tomato plants, candlelit lantern in hand, to smell the roses and tomato leaves, listen to the crickets, and look up at the stars overhead. Abundance, indeed.

**with thanks to Lauren, pastry chef and soon-to-be cookbook author, who introduced me to the farm and all very nice people there**

Foraged Blackberry Jam
I've only ever made this with foraged berries, which usually include a fair number of not-quite-ripe berries, the ones highest in natural pectin. So my jam tends to jell up very easily without lots of extra sugar. If you're using very ripe, sweet berries, you might need a spritz of fresh lemon juice (half a lemon) or a little more sugar for a firm set.

4 cups blackberries
1 cup sugar

Mix berries and sugar, and let sit, stirring occasionally, for a couple of hours. Sterilize a couple of 8 oz jars. Pour berries and liquid (sugar should be dissolved) into a heavy pot. Bring to a foaming simmer and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until berries break down and it looks almost like jam (it should still be a little runny, since it will thicken as it cools, and you don't want it over-thickened and rubbery). Spoon into jars, put on lids, and put in a deep pot with hot water to cover. Simmer 8 minutes, then remove and let cool. Test for seal when completely cool.

Need to Know

Saturday, August 30 in San Francisco

The French-American queer connection presents:


A night of lascivious and scintillating readings, screenings and performances at the Center for Sex and Culture

Featuring hot local stars and sexy imported babes:

Michelle Tea
Madison Young
Kentucky Fried Woman
Ms. Cherry Galette
Billie Sweet
Lynn Breedlove
Sadie Lune
Wendy Delorme
T.R. Moss
... and surprise guests!

Hosted by Carol Queen
Curated by Wendy Delorme and Corrie Bennett

Show starts at 7pm

1519 Mission St.
San Francisco (Between 11th and South Van Ness)

Tix $8-$15 (sliding scale, natch).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Osento, 1980-2008

So, the much-loved women's bathhouse on Valencia St is no more. Osento, I just found out, closed on July 31st, after a 28-year run.

I loved Osento. My very first lesbian date took place there, when a girl I'd met at a Queer Nation bar takeover (where a bunch of queers swarmed a het hook-up joint in North Beach) called and asked if I wanted to join her, her sister, and a bunch of their friends for a steam and soak. They were on their way there after dinner, and she thought I might want to come along. I was a little nervous--after all, we'd only talked once, and here she was inviting me to get naked and meet her family and friends. But I was 22, and game, and so I went. And I fell in love--not with her, although we did end up dating for the next 3 months, mostly to drive around Berkeley listening to the Indigo Girls--but with Osento.

It was a funky old Victorian that had been refashioned into a bath house. What had been the parlor now had lockers and a sink with a counter full of water glasses alongside a bowl of lemons, plus a little cutting board and knife so you could make your own glass of lemon water to sip on while you soaked. Behind one door was a tiled shower stocked with Dr. Bronner's liquid peppermint soap; behind the other was a blue-tiled room with a big, deep soaking pool. At night, the lights were soft and hazy, making everyone look straight out of an Ingres painting. And unlike the men's bathhouses, it really was a place for bathing. Although I heard stories of late-night sauna nookie, I never witnessed any; the rules were no sex ("not even with yourself"), and privacy was respected. But if you couldn't touch, you could look: it was a place to experience the myriad beauty of real women.

Whatever your orientation, the sheer variety was reassuring: everyone was different, and there was beauty to be found in every curve. Forget those dopey Dove soap ads; this was a place to see the tattooed rings of a double-women's-symbol inked as a pair of linked handcuffs; to see dreads, scars, huge breasts, no breasts, every kind of variation of taut skin, wrinkled skin, flared hips, skinny legs, women with extravagant curves and spare women straight up and down.

Outside in the garden, there was, originally, a rain barrel full of chilly water for post-sauna plunges (later replaced by a cold plunge pool). There were two round cedar saunas, one with a wooden bucket and ladle inside, for steam, the other dry. The wet sauna was the good one, hot and steamy, with an astringent san francisco smell of eucalyptus going deep into your lungs. Over the saunas was a wooden deck. At one point, an avocado tree grew right up through a hole in the deck, and I would stretch out naked in the sunshine and look up at the ripening avocados hanging down between the leaves, still amazed that I'd found a place in a city where something as exotic as avocados just grew on the trees.

Osento was open every day, from noon to midnight. Anytime you needed relaxation, solace, hot water up to your neck to fight the summer or winter chill, or just a peaceful place to be surrounded by naked women, it was there. The Valentine's Day I locked out of the house by mistake without a coat, feeling sad and sorry and single while everyone else was dining a deux, it was to Osento that I went to warm up my self-pitying self until my roommates got home. When P. and I lived in the same building across the street, we soaked there all the time. I've been with friends, with girlfriends, and by myself, and I always came out softer, cleaner, and happier than when I went in.

Owner Summer is giving up the business so she can retire upstate, to Clearlake, turning the building back into residential units so she can pay the mortgage. According to the Osento website, this is her only option; were another person to take over the business, they'd have to bring it up to current code. This, which would take many, many thousands of dollars in renovations, would by necessity mean turning it into a more upscale, expensive, pampering type of spa in order to make the money back.

During Osento's early days, Valencia St was full of women's businesses. There was Amelia's, a dyke bar where the Elbo Room is now. Artemis Cafe (which became Radio Valencia, now Beretta) and Valencia Rose had open mics, comedy and performances. Womyncrafts West, women's bookstore Old Wives' Tales, and more...the street, run down as it was, was a welcoming place for lesbians and feminists and women with and without a "y". Now, with the closing of Osento, the last of the old lesbian-feminist vibe of the street will finally fade.

Moving to SF in 1990, I didn't experience too much of the old Valencia St. Sure, Old Wives' Tales and Womyncrafts West were still there. My then-girlfriend Anne and I snuck out of a party at her house on Guerrero to go to the closing night of Amelia's. I felt way too young, and femme, to fit in with the old-school bardyke crowd there, but we felt we had to honor it, somehow, in acknowledgment of the days when bars like Maud's, Peg's Place, and Amelia's were the only places a lesbian could be out, and where butches weren't "mannish" but sexy women in their own right. I heard about Artemis from another girlfriend, who'd helped to run shows there.

What I did know was the second wave of dyke businesses that opened along the street, like the Lexington Club, a punky dyke bar just off Valencia, at 17th St, and Red Dora's Bearded Lady, a closet-sized cafe and performance space near the notoriously sketchy Valencia Gardens housing projects. Red Dora's was where Michelle Tea and Sini Anderson started Sister Spit, with their weekly writers squeezed up against the muffin counter reading to sweaty overflow crowds. It would get so hot in there that I remember asking the crowd one night if they'd mind if I stripped off my shirt and read just wearing a bra. And Leathertongue Video at 18th St (now denim store Self Edge), which got started at the kitchen table of a house I lived in on 22nd Street. It carried all kinds of kooky videos--the sort of place to have entire shelves dedicated to both Jodie Foster and Bruce LaBruce.

Things are different now, of course. Ellen and Portia's wedding at their $35-mil Beverly Hills mansion is People-magazine fodder (The outfits! The rings! The cake!). My friends are getting a little tired of getting married, in fact. Once-It Girl punkettes have partners, kids, and careers as midwives or yoga teachers. The stores on the street sell fancy coffee and $120 sneakers. I wish I could still go get wet and naked in the middle of day behind an ordinary door on Valencia Street, but times change.

Thank you, Summer, and all the ladies of Osento. It was a good time.

Friday, August 08, 2008

pie, and more pie!

Countdown to the pie contest! Got my flour, got my Sonoma Gravensteins (thanks, Bi-Rite!), got my butter, got MY LAAAAAARDDDDDDD....(anyone else singing Porgy & Bess here?). Off to the wilds of San Rafael tonight, jam and pink wine in hand. Keep your fingers crossed for PQ!

And speaking of pie, as we so often are here, you can do a pie class with PQ in September, if you happen to find yourself in Eureka Springs, Arkansas on Sept. 11. I'll be teaching a hands-on pie workshop in the beautiful kitchen at the Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow, followed by a brunch workshop on Sunday, Sept. 14. Will post more info about these soon...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

love you like lard, here on the hill

The kind folks at Avedano's on Cortland Street are rendering me some fresh lard for my contest that's some neighborly service! They also do a nice meatloaf sandwich, kind of a Cali version of a classic Brooklyn meatball-parm sub. Soft, mildly flavored meatloaf, swished with marinara sauce and a slice of provolone, sandwiched in ciabatta bread and grilled in a panini press. Mmmmm. And for dessert, a tiny Fiat square, smooth, creamy-good chocolate with a hazelnut filling. These come from Bologna, and were a fave of mine when I lived there. Almost never seen outside of Italy, so a fun treat...

Hey, it's one-dollar ice cream day at Maggie Moo's! rocky road, here I come...that is, until I can get up to Picco Pizzeria, in Larkspur, for their supposedly awesome soft-serve.

What else? Free wild plums from the share-the-love garden-freebie box outside of Heartfelt, also on Cortland. Unapologetically rich and wonderful oyster stew, perfumed with pernod, at Hog Island Oyster Bar in the Ferry Bldg. Way more vegetables (carrots, onions, and celery, mostly) than would ever be allowed to mingle at Grand Central's Oyster Bar, but v. tasty nonetheless, and they keep you from feeling like you're downing a straight half-pint of cream. Alas, just as I sat down, they ran out of the bitchin'-looking, spicy grilled octopus and padron pepper appetizer. Watermelon agua fresca from La Taqueria, and a carne asada taco with avocado...always, always delish. Ollalieberry pie and seafood chowder (with a stock base, and rice, rather than cream and potatoes) at Duarte's in Pescadero, then ollalieberry picking at Phipps, home of white peacocks and every kind of dried bean ever.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Pie Contest!

OK, pie bakers, prove your mettle! The annual Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Fair is coming up this weekend, and you know what that means: Apple Pie Contest!! Getting me some Sonoma county apples (as required, in a completely un-enforcible but honorable rule) and some happy-pig lard, and keeping a close eye on the kitchen scale, so I don't screw up this time. P., who lives out near Novato, just where the subdivisions give way to cows, will be my escort to the land of country twang and apple fritters. And hey, no pressure, just because I won the Grand Champion ribbon upon my first entry a few years ago. But really, this is an awesomely fun little country event, definitely worth a visit, especially for families. Pies have to be turned in by 11am, judging takes place around 2pm, on Saturday, Aug. 9. See you there!