Saturday, July 29, 2006

Did you want ketchup on that?

Police Log
Half Moon Bay Review
Saturday, July 29

Condiments and bathroom essentials left on outside of Half Moon Bay home

On July 24 a Half Moon Bay Police officer responded to a residence on Silver Avenue after a report of vandalism. Sure enough, someone had put ketchup, mustard, shaving cream and toilet paper on the victim's house. There didn't appear to be any permanent damage.

Healthy fast food?

Jamba Juice is California's answer to healthy fast food. It's a colorful fruit bar where you can get fresh juice, juice blends and fruit smoothies that have no artificial colors or preservatives. In typical California style, everything they offer can be made dairy free, gluten free (except for a couple of boosts and blends), vegetarian or vegan.

On the positive side, you have really delicious, filling fruit smoothies. On the negative, the smoothies are very high in calories and sugar. (To be honest, I don't know if sugar is added or if it's naturally occurring. I looked everywhere on their site and couldn't find the answer. My guess is sugar is added, specially when the blend includes sorbets, yogurt or soy milk.)

If I owned Jamba Juice, here is what I would change:
  • Products would contain no added sugar.
  • There would be smaller portion options.
  • I'm extremely skeptical about two of the boosts: energy and burner boost. Increase stamina? fight fatigue? burn fat? c'mon.
  • I'd love it if they offered organic options.
Why is organic better? Because there are less chemicals (both in your body and in the soil), more nutrients and a guarantee that you are not getting genetically modified food. If the products contain dairy, you are using less antibiotics and other medicines too. Finally, people argue that organic tastes better (I emphatically agree).
  • Jamba Juices takes pride in "searching the world to find fruits and vegetables of the highest quality". I'd like for Jamba juice to try to use more local produce.
Why is local better? Because local is fresher. It hasn't been traveling or cold stored for days or weeks. The less time from tree to mouth the better the taste and the higher the nutritional value. Because it gives fruits and vegetables time to become ripe. Because it's better for air quality and pollution. It keeps us in touch with the seasons, when we eat food when it's at the peak of its taste, at its most abundant and at its least expensive.
  • Whenever I go into Jamba Juice I wonder why they don't change their menu more often (to reflect seasonal changes). I understand there is evidence that frozen fruit and vegetables are as healthy as when they are fresh, but isn't it hard to consistently offer (for example) mangoes or pineapple in December? Wouldn't it be easier and healthier to make seasonal adjustments to the menu?
I'm delighted to report that I went into Jamba Juice today to get a blueberry smoothie and found a letter from Paul Clayton, the CEO, that explained that the menu would have to change. "When it comes to passion-fruit - a key ingredient in many of our smoothies - we buy only the best and that means at this time of year we look to Ecuador. Unfortunately, Mother Nature does not always cooperate with our plans. Due to prolonged drought conditions in the region, this year's passion-fruit crop was extremely small, leaving us with a shortage. In order to continue providing you the best possible freshly made smoothies, we have made slight adjustments to two or our recipes".

I applaud Jamba Juice for doing this! I wish they would do it more often. I would be happier to buy whatever is in season over a fruit that was bought months ago from the other side of the world, then frozen and dragged all the way over here.

The bottom line: I thank Jamba Juice for making it easier to get our five servings a day of fruits and vegetables and for giving us a quick, convenient option to getting our food.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Pass it on

It all begins when someone recommends a book, when I read a book review or fall prey to one that tugs at me at the bookstore. Or, someone gives me a book. (I love it when that happens.)

I take it home and put it on my “unread books” bookcase. After a while, it’s promoted to my bedside table or near my comfy chair. An unequivocal indication that I intend to read it in the short term.

Once I’ve finished the book the rule is this: no matter how much I loved it, I have to let it go.

I was born in the midst of a family of serial library creators. This savage dictum - give your books away - is vexing to parents and siblings alike and has been shunned in the past.

I’m sticking to it, people.

Yes. the reason behind this is in part due to my aversion to hoarding things. But more importantly, I believe it's a sad destiny for a book that's meant to be read to sit forlorn on a bookcase, collecting dust, getting old without anyone cracking open its pages.

Books should be held, opened, their sentences traced, passages bookmarked. So, in order to fulfill its destiny, once I’m done reading a book, I give it to a pre-designated recipient. In turn, they have to pass it on.

Take what happened with my book by Wislawa Szymborska.

The first time I heard of her was from my father, who placed an urgent long distance call and said I absolutely needed to read her poems. “Must” is one of his favorite words. You certainly don’t want someone you love missing out on something you loved.

He in turn learned about Szymborska through my brother Pedro.

Wait. I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong impression. We are not like a book club, which would be too forced, too stale for our fiercely independent sensitivities. We are, instead, accidentally inclusive. Every recommendation in our family is unintentionally elliptical.

And so it was that Szymborska found its way into my evergreen “list of books to buy”. In time, I dutifully bought one of her books, brought it home, took it out of its crinkly brown bag, and left it on you know which bookcase in my room, where it sat, waiting patiently for its turn, for several months.

About six weeks ago, I noticed it, thin, pale, unassuming, sandwiched between other more flashy things that had caught my eye. I took it, patted it, felt its reassuring weight, and set it down near my favorite chair.

I intended to start it that very evening, but other more insistent books got in the way.

On a recent Sunday morning I finally opened it up and read one poem chosen at random. And, well, I just wasn’t taken in.

Never underestimate the sneaky, smoldering kind of love that grows on you slowly.

The very next day I saw a poem my sister Isabel had generously posted on her blog. I felt a new brand of indignance - indignant kinship - towards whoever had dared write it. Each sentence I wanted to say “Heeey! I’ve felt that! I wanted to write that!”

I looked for the author down at the bottom. You guessed it. Wislawa Szymborska.

I’ve finished her book (incidentally, I’m giving it to a friend tomorrow. I sent him a couple of poems via email to test if he’d be a worthwhile recipient. He passed.)

Now I’ve become somewhat of a Wislawa Szymborska groupie. I've gone online to find out more about her. To my surprise, she was born in 1923. It grates on me that I’m reading poems that have been translated, from Polish to English. (Part of what initially turned me off.) Less surprising is that she won the Nobel Prize of literature in 1996.

I present you with a sample, so you can see for yourself. Granted: disturbed as I am by recent world events, I gravitated towards something appropriately chilling. But make no mistake. She makes light of nothing, and you need to be prepared.

Wislawa – I apologize to you for leaving you on the shelf, unattended.

The End and the Beginning

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons
can pass.
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.
Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.
Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
Again we'll need bridges
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls how it was.
Someone listens
and nods with an unsevered head.
Yet others milling about
already find it dull.
From behind the bush
sometimes someone still unearths
rust-eaten arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.
Those who knew
what was going on here
must give way to
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass which has overgrown
reasons and causes,
someone must be stretched out,
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sisyphus has a secret

You know the story, right? Sisyphus is a character of Greek mythology, whose punishment in hell (Hades) is to push a giant rock up a mountain to the top. Whenever he reaches the summit, it rolls back down, forcing him to start over and push it back up again, for all eternity.

Camus, in his definition of the “absurd man”, uses this story as a sort of “Exhibit A” and compares it to our jobs - people who work in offices or factories. We realize, he says, only in instants of tragic lucidity, that our lives are pointless.

We all have a Sisyphusean element to our daily grind. Take my dishwasher. I fill it up, run it, and find myself emptying it, over and over. I smooth a kitchen towel on the countertop above it, stack the clean, white dishes on it, and place the silverware back in the appropriate compartment in the drawer.

What about making our beds morning after morning? Fluffing the pillows, lightly spraying linen water on them, making sure the duvet is squared and smooth, that the soft, fitted sheet is wrinkle free?

And, doing the laundry? Sorting dirty clothes by color, pouring detergent into its designated place, taking everything out to put it in the dryer, pulling a pile of warm, fresh smelling clothes out, folding them and placing them into neat stacks?

How many times do we cook the same thing for dinner? In this world brimming full of cookbooks and recipes in every magazine, how often do you see yourself in front of that same luscious pasta dish, using the same bowl, your favorite?

In a world of coffee addicts, where you can freely order a “short, nonfat, half caff, white chocolate mocha, no whip, with sprinkles” without anyone batting an eye, how many of us have a standard order that never changes? (And how many times have you wished it were tomorrow morning so you could hold the hot, yummy smelling cup in your hands?)

Do you find yourself making a concerted effort to do something different, go to another restaurant for dinner, to widen your circle of friends, only to find you can’t help but get your favorite salad, again?

And this is my point – are we not animals of habit? Is that infinite punishment for Sisyphus really that horrific?

I love to swim. Whenever I have access to a pool I dive in, kick my way over to the closest side, lean my elbows against a wall, push my feet against it, and paddle back and forth, back and forth, for about an hour. At first, I try to switch styles, perfect my stroke, stretch. After a while, it all goes on automatic, and I am free to daydream. Ahhhh. Repetition. There is a comfort in doing things over and over again. A familiarity, a rhythm, a cadence, that is precisely what we call life.

Sisyphus has a secret. He has come to appreciate his predictable schedule. He is in great shape by now, strong and proud. He has worn down a side of that huge rock, and fits it snugly between his shoulder and his neck. His tread has created a path, and he enjoys the hike, loves the fiery views. Shhhhhh. He knows it’s not pointless if you are deriving pleasure from it.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Stuck with me

Here are the things I do that irritate me the most:
  • I repeat myself. I know that I do it. I try to stop it. But I can’t. I don’t do it because I feel the other person didn’t understand. I do it because I want to make it clear for myself. Or because I think that what I said was rather smart so I need to hear it again.
  • I check to make sure doors are locked when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are.
  • I have bouts of a crippling anxiety. I don’t know why sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not. All I know is that for a few days I’m in its grip and I’m sure something awful is going to happen. I look over my shoulder constantly, check the news for earthquakes in Mexico and stay up all night, convinced someone is going to break into my house. My friend Amy says that when she stays in a hotel room alone, she barricades the door with a chair. This made me feel a bit better. Paranoia loves company.
  • I’m the opposite of a pack rat. I need to not have too many things. Every couple of months I want to give everything away, including our furniture and anything that’s not nailed down to the floor. This is the only time Luca puts his foot down (well, and when I drive from the passenger seat.)
  • I count the items I carry in my purse (seven.) Then, I count them again. Luca knows that I do it. When I think he isn’t looking, I sneak a peak. Once, I confessed to my friend Stephanie that I counted everything in my purse and as a result she makes fun of me regularly. She has three boys. If I had three kids, I’d be counting them all the time.
  • Items on surfaces have to be as few as possible, and they have to be squared (as opposed to crooked or at an angle.) If I had a dime for every time I straighten things out, I’d travel the world for seven years.
  • I plan what I’m going to eat. Then, I go over everything I ate. At first, it’s extremely enjoyable, like when you’re little and you lose a tooth and you flick your tongue in the hole where the tooth used to be. After a while I get sick of thinking about food but I can’t shut it off. (Hence the creation of this blog, so I could get it out of my system.)
  • I look at Luca while he’s sleeping to see if the power of my gaze can wake him up. Sometimes it does and he just smiles and goes back to sleep. I mean, really. I’d kick me if I were him!
There is more. So much more. This, however, is all I’m willing to share. The next time someone you love is making you crazy, think about this: I make myself crazy, and I’m stuck with me.

Out of the Office

My good friend Bob Berger is out of the office. Do you want to know why? Because he is climbing Mt. Elbrus in Russia to help raise money for research and awareness for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Is this not the coolest thing?

You can find out more at You can also follow the climb by reading his blog,

Sunday, July 16, 2006

My Island

On my island, the weather would always be perfect. I’d take a nap every afternoon and would be able to hear the waves lapping against the sand from where I’d lie on the bed. If I lifted my head just a tiny bit I’d see the ocean, shimmering; clouds unthreatening, dispersed in a gray blue sky.

On my island, traveling would be more like a movie than real life. Adventure and discovery, yes. But no pesky suitcases, anxiety about schedules, or not knowing which way to go. Luca would never have to drive.

On my island, strangers would become friends fast. Italy would win the world cup. Luca would call his family and all his buddies, balancing the phone with one hand while steering his bike with the other.

My island would not be just one island. It would be a network of islands, and I’d move from one to the other and see seals sunning on rocks and a school of orcas. Multiple islands, after all, would provide the most diverse scenery. False bays with low, low tide; wide grassy fields, a horizon of yellow flowers, picture perfect barns framed by rolls of hay. Pine forests and lakes of fresh water I could swim in. An island covered with ferns and moss.

I’d do things I didn’t think I could do, on my island. I’d ride a bike on a slick, winding uphill road. I’d think my limit was 10 miles and would then do twice as much the next day.

I’d need tall mountains, to make for challenging hikes and sweeping scenic views. On top of the tallest one I’d build a rock tower to see right up to the next country through the clouds.

There would have to be tide pools, too. We’d look into them and discover a different world in each puddle left behind by the tide. There would be rabbit on my island, fluffy brown ones with long ears, and deer with tall antlers, and I’d want a camel, too. A camel I’d call Mona.

Food, of course, would be plentiful. After a breakfast of fresh baked scones and home made granola, I’d walk over to a snack table. I’d take my pick: bars and chocolate, peanuts, raisins. This would hold me over until lunch.

At lunchtime, sometimes I’d go on a picnic. It would never be a soggy sandwich packed in haste but rather a long table with different types of salad, sun dried tomatoes, a selection of cheeses, olives and lavender walnuts. I’d eat it stretched out in a field, barefoot; or on the boat between orca sightings.

My island would have an award winning bakery, maybe two. The specialty would be chewy coconut macaroons with chocolate chips; and almond croissants.

For dinner there would be so much to choose from. Salmon with a caper sauce or lightly breaded halibut; crab-cakes with a spicy aioli sauce. A steaming plate of mussels, oysters or clams. On my island, I’d have dinner with friends every night, and all of them would order dessert. We’d each try our own and then pass it on – counterclockwise – so I’d get eight tastes of eight different deserts rather than eight bites that are all the same.

This is what life would be like, if I had an island.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

It must’ve been something I ate

I’m reading a highly entertaining book by Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue’s food critic. I’d like to share some of the points he’s made so far (I just started it.)

- What he calls the “calamari index”. In the 60’s, calamari consumption in the US was the lowest in the world. Now, almost every restaurant offers calamari as an appetizer. This is his indicator of how far we’ve come as a nation of eaters over the past 30 years. I agree! Menus offer so many things not available in the US even recently. And I don’t mean just creatures with tentacles. Balsamic vinegar is an example Luca and I were discussing over dinner the other night.

- Steingarten read in a medical journal that “profound interest in good food may be caused by a lesion in the anterior portion of the right cerebral hemisphere of the brain.” Gulp.

- He notes that people are extremely unlikely to utter the following: “I feel light as a feather this morning. My mind is clear as a bell. I’ve got a smile on my face for the whole human race. It must have been something I ate.”

The book is “about the primordial glee we feel every time we’re called to dinner” which made me think “I DO feel a primordial glee every time I’m called to dinner!”

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

To be or not to be (vegan)

A few days ago, I was standing in line at one of my favorite restaurants waiting for my lunch order so I could take it back to my desk. (I was at Medicine, waiting for my tofu rice bowl.)

I saw a brochure about vegan food on the table next to me and flipped through it. I shouldn't have. The photographs I saw ruined my appetite.

I know we should all be more responsible about the choices that we make. What we eat can change the world (that's no exaggeration - you can read “Fast Food Nation” if you want to know more.)

Fact: eating lower on the food chain is better for the planet.
Fact: animals suffer tremendously before being slaughtered. The conditions they live in are horrific. (I'll spare you the details.)

I know being a vegan is the right thing to do.

So, why don't I do it?

I have three (admittedly lame) answers:
  1. I really like certain non vegan foods such as cheese, milk, eggs and prosciutto. (You can see why this would be a problem.)
  2. I don't want to be too much of a picky eater. Being a vegan is such a huge commitment.
  3. I'm not sure it's good for my health. Do humans need animal protein?
And here are my reasons to give it a whirl:

Shouldn't we be consistent with our behavior and our beliefs?
Shouldn't I put my food where my mouth is?