Monday, August 30, 2004

Good news in the polls

The Seattle Times reports today that Mark Sidran is gaining on Deborah Senn in the Washington State Attorney General's race, great news for anyone who watched Senn ride roughshod over the state healthcare system during her notorious tenure as the state Insurance Commissioner. Her name recognition is higher than Sidran's, but for all the wrong reasons.

I find that Sidran is a sharp, principled guy who can stand up and take it if (gasp) someone doesn't agree with him. I don't agree with all of his actions as Seattle's city attorney, but I respect them. I could go on at length...but Al Franken says it so much more entertainingly.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Summer's end

Summer means fried clams and chocolate malts. So yesterday I walked down to Gordo's on Seaview for lunch. Seaview Avenue looks like the main street of a small, Northern California coastal town; the sort of town where the private investigator in a 70s movie drives to question an obscure and reluctant witness. Restaurants, boatyards, and marinas line the water side of the shore road, and an assortment of shacks, beach cottages, and 60s-era commerical buildlings (stucco with bulbous brown-tinted windows) line the other side. No cross streets--a railroad runs behind the buildings.
Gordo's take-out is in one of the shacks, with wooden picnic tables on the front and side. Judging from the pop-art font on the signage (listing every item on the menu) Gordo's has been there a good long while. While the food is hardly health food, the portions are modest, and inexpensive. My little bag of clams and a medium-size malted came to under $5, and the clams were as close in taste (though not texture) as you get to Cape Cod style fried clams on the West Coast. The malted had a subtle cocoa taste--not sickeningly sweet like most of the soft ice cream that turns up at more commercial places.
Next to Gordo's parking lot is Abbondanza, an outdoor lot filled with concrete garden art surrounded by a chain-link fence. The art ranges from the tacky to the chic. They have dark gray Japanese lanterns, elegant green leaping fish designed as fountains, cross-legged Hindu gods, huge Buddha faces, elegant Greco-Roman pedestals, elaborate English planters, and New Age wall plaques of suns and moon. I saw bunnies and, I think, some gnomes and gargoyles in there as well. And some statues of the Virgin Mary. And some Grecian nudes. Every September Abbondanza has a huge 50-percent-off sale, advertised on with posters on phone poles all over North Seattle. Otherwise, it's rarely open. It's definitely where the private investigator would be snooping around, looking for the mysterious witness. Then he'd go next door to Gordo's and get some clams.

Blogging fantasy

In the early days of the internet, you'd stumble onto sites that were so esoteric as to be incomprehensible. Today, most sites fall into a readily recognizable pattern. Yawn. Well, here's one that will have you pondering. Check out a couple of blog listings; scroll all the way down to the bottom of a page. Not sure what's behind this, but someone's sure gone to a lot of trouble to create it. And, yes, The Mysterious Traveler Sets Out is listed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Mozilla's new Firefox browser gives me access to more blogger composition features and shortcuts. Very cool. Very very cool. Soon I'll be abusing things like font sizes, bold, italics, and lists. And colors.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Spoiling the kitties

A few new products for our feline friends:

Beastie Bands are ultra-lightweight stretch material cat collars with velcro closures. They are the perfect first collar for kittens. (Kaylee demonstrates.)

You simply cut the collar material to adjust the length (so the poor kitten isn't running around with extra collar flapping). And there's a small grommet so you can attach a little tag. We made "trainer" tags for the kittens on the machine at the pet supply supermarket. These are just tiny metal tags--the big plastic reflector tags the adult cats wear would have been ridiculous.

The Self-Warming Cat Cushion from Petsmart actually requires a cat to supply the power. This faux-fur plush pad has a lining made out of reflective material (a space blanket?) that reflects back the cat's heat. Our cats love it. Completely washable.

The big find was the Berber Deluxe Slumber Ball from Drs. Foster and Smith. The 26" medium size slumber ball is an immense ball of ultra-light fiberfill covered in synthetic berber fleece. A big cat like Sheba climbs on and sinks slowly into the middle, purring furiously. Show 'em, Sheba:

The kittens like it too but since they don't weigh enough to compress the ball, they tend to slide slowly off while sleeping. I'm trying to imagine what the large (32") slumber ball would be like--perhaps if our next cat is a mountain lion...These are completely washable, but you'd have to have a big washing machine.

Last but not least--we came across tiny round faux-fur throw rugs at Fred Meyers called Faux Katti. Despite the name, these are not in the pet department, but in the rug aisle. They have non-skid backing, so you can put them on the floor or the desk and the cats won't go surfing all over the room on them. We had been putting fleece throws on our desks for the cats to hang out on, but the rugs are much better. The cats think so, too.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Farewell to Fremont

Twenty years ago, the Seattle neighborhood of Fremont was a hillside community of old clapboard houses anchored by a commercial crossroads of cafes, vintage junk stores, and artisans' shops. The inhabitants were aging hippies, youthful artists, and everyone in between. I used to go there to hang out for hours over big breakfasts (late in the morning), cheap teriyaki (late at night), and gooey pastries and coffee (all afternoon).

Flash forward. A behemoth natural foods boutique supermarket now stands at the heart of the Fremont universe, next to a condo/office building encircled with gleaming metal trim that resembles high-end barbed wire. A famous software company inhabits a sprawling complex across the street. Many of the people on the street sport the company's security badges. Vintage is gone; reproduction vintage abounds.

If you are in the low-ceilinged, crowded underground parking garage beneath the natural foods shrine (where I was at noon today) you might get the sense that something is wrong in Fremont. Take a deep breath. The air smells of rotting produce and garbage--organic, I'm sure, but decidely unpleasant. Watch out for the pricey sports cars and immense SUVs circling the garage in a hunt for spaces. They are driven by attractive young women wearing up-to-the millisecond fashion or graying, middle-aged ex-hippies wearing expensive dress casual. Everyone is wearing an expression of impatience and disgust as they wait for you to scurry across the road—or don't wait, and zoom right at you. This is not a friendly place.

I'm here for my first lunch with a group of area professionals who gather once a month at a restaurant in the middle of Fremont. I walk in to a high-ceilinged, wood-paneled quasi-Asian bistro. The noise level there is comparable to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The waitress points out the professional group, crammed together at four tables without a seat to spare. This is not a place I want to be. I walk out and head back to the parking garage, where I patiently extricate myself from the cramped spot, waiting while the driver of the SUV in front of me indulges herself in a meditative trance in the middle of the exit lane. Then I work my way, block by block, out of Fremont, each intersection gridlocked by a truck or a van trying to get into a parking space or around another commercial vehicle. Perhaps a Bostonian could feel at home here.

Eventually, I'm on Leary Way, headed back home to Ballard. I park on Ballard Avenue, go into Burk's Cafe, order a gumbo with tasso and an iced coffee, and sit in the cool restaurant watching people stroll by on the quiet cobblestone street outside. A Beau Jocque zydeco CD plays in the background. I recognize several of the people lunching in the courtyard. One of the kids from my drumming class comes in and we chat about what they covered in the Tuesday class I missed. The restaurant packs up my leftovers for me, and I head back to the car.

On the way home, I stop at Limback Lumber to pick up a piece of plywood I'll be using to winterize Betaille's outdoor cat shelter. The salesman recognizes me; he goes back and cuts the plywood to the exact size I need. I recognize two of the five contractors who come in while I'm there.

Like a few other older businesses on Leary Way, Stone Way, and Elliot Avenue, Limback maintains a large reader board atop their building. On my way out, I look up and check out the latest.

"Ballard's a-changing," it says. "But we aren't."


[FOLLOW-UP NOTE: In summer 2006 Limback took down their reader board, leaving me to wonder if change had caught up with them at last. Fortunately, it was just temporary while the building was re-roofed. -- MT]

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Pears everywhere

It's hard to walk across our patio without being hit on the head by a big, falling pear.

Whomp! Guess I need to get out there and pick them.

I'm never quite sure what to do with pears, other than slice them and eat them with cheese or poach them in wine. You can't really put them on cereal, pear cake isn't as interesting as apple cake, and I'm not into making elaborate tarts and stuff just to get a few pear slices on top. Pear jam? Pear sauce? Brandied pears?

Tonight I researched pear soup and came up with a surprising number of recipes. Some of them date back to European medieval cookery.

Categories include:
• Sweet, chilled pear soup: usually with other fruits, pureed, seasoned with aniseed, and often served for dessert.
• Savory squash and pear soup. All sorts of squashes, sweet potatoes or yams join pears and onions.
• Pear soup with melted brie: involves chicken broth and sounds pretty good.
• The weird ones: pear soup with broccoli, etc...
• My favorite: roasted eggplant, red pepper and pear soup. The recipe, credited to the Mistral Restaurant in California, makes 3-1/2 gallons of the stuff and involves 14 pears.

Turns out you can stuff pears with cheese (blue cheese, cream cheese, ricotta cheese) and bake or grill them.

And I did manage to come up with a recipe for brandied pears:

Scald and peel the fruit; make a syrup of half a pound of sugar to each pound of fruit; drop in the pears, and, when done, put in jars. Boil syrup a little longer, and allow it to cool; then add one pint of brandy to each quart of syrup, and pour over the pears.

Bon apetit!


Monday, August 16, 2004

Bad beginnings

I work up around 7:45 this morning to see the white cat slinking guilty off the bed. Sure enough, she had barfed on the blanket. I whisked the blanket onto the floor, rolled over, and tried to sleep for 15 more minutes while the kittens rocketed around the bedroom in pursuit of the white cat. The white cat took refuge on a high shelf, then began moving items on the shelf off the edge and onto the floor to alert me to her predicament. As she worked her way over to a glass candle holder, I got up and got her off the shelf. Confident I was ready to get up and feed them, the three felines thundered downstairs.

I showered, dressed and sat down to work at the computer. At 11:30 I remembered I'd invited someone to lunch. It was not someone I wanted to have lunch with, so the cooking (Mark Bittman's version of salad Nicoise, from How to Cook Everything) was more fun than the actual meal. After the guest left, I remembered the blanket upstairs, took that down to the laundry room, and ran a load of wash before sitting back down to work. At 3:45 I went for a walk. My neighbor Henry was out working in his yard, as usual, and I remarked on his ancient metal trash cans--they really have attained collectible status! As I got back from my walk, my husband called with his daily report and we discussed how to keep the more enterprising kitten from flying, leaping, and slithering out the door at every opportunity. Then it was back to work, which is pretty much tying up lots of odds and ends this week while my boss is on vacation.

This evening I wind up the final phase of our anti-flea campaign, spraying cat tree Number 4 (which is outdoors drying off from being carpet shampooed yesterday) with Adams Inverted Carpet Spray. I haven't found any fleas on the cats for several days, but I want to be vigilant while the weather is still good and I can take the cat trees outdoors to be sprayed.

The kittens are now taking Frontline (the genuine veterinary version), but before they were old enough for that treatment, they managed to infest the house. Fortunately, we have hardwood floors and leather furniture, so I've been able to address the flea problem by washing the cat beds every couple of days and taking each of the cat trees outdoors for washing and spraying. Adams Inverted Carpet Spray (I just love that name) is supposed to be effective for more than 200 days, so we should be safe until next spring.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Adieu, Julia

ABC News has a wonderful obituary for Julia Child.

I met her in 1980 when the Meriden Record-Journal assigned me to write about a local chef (from Wallingford, Connecticut) who'd been asked to cook lunch for Julia Child while she rehearsed for a show at Long Wharf Theater in New Haven. I arrived at the theater and was given the brush-off by a snotty young theater employee who left me to cool my heels in the darkened lobby. Suddenly a door flew open and very tall woman peered into the lobby--it could only be Julia Child. I identified myself and explained I was there not to bother her but to write about the local chef. "Marvelous!" she whooped, putting her arm around me and ushering me into the theater. She had a kitchen set up on-stage, and her husband was sitting on a stool, reading the newspaper. Child hustled me backstage to a corner where the local guy and his assistant were freneticly attempting to prepare an elaborate lunch for America's most famous chef on a small table using a couple of electric frying pans.

"Oh, it's going to be wonderful," Child assured all of us. And it was.

Here's a story about all the folks visiting the Julia Child kitchen exhibit (her actual Cambridge, Mass., kitchen) at the Smithsonian to pay tribute to her.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

San Jose airport, revisited

Stuck in the San Jose airport tonight and not sure when the plane, scheduled to take off 11 minutes ago, will arrive. I'm connected to the internet using the Wayport WiFi service ($6.95 a day), and wondering why airline terminals are filled with people with laptops but pretty much devoid of electrical outlets for recharging them. I remember writing about this problem 12 years ago for my Mac user group newsletter; it's appalling there's been no noticeable improvement in the interim. I suspect that people who commute more often than I do simply carry a spare battery (about $100 for most laptops) with them.

The 5 p.m. to Phoenix is now boarding (more than 2 hours late) so that doesn't bode well for our flight.

Now they moved us to another gate....

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Yet more alarms at night

When I babysit, my favorite story to read to kids is James Thurber's "The Night the Bed Fell," in which the visit of hypochondriacal cousin Briggs sets off a chain reaction of nocturnal disasters in the already volatile Thurber household.

We've had a couple nights like that here this week. Monday night someone exploded fireworks on a barge anchored in Shilshole Bay a few blocks below our house, terrifying the cat who sleeps at the head of our bed so that she pounced, snarling, across my pillow on her way out of the bedroom.

Last night I was awoken by the crash of pottery down in the living room. Sheba, the deaf white cat, spends the night racing between various first floor windows, "guarding" the house from racoons, possums, and neighborhood cats. Something on the front porch scared her badly enough that she leaped onto the fireplace mantel, displacing a Mission-style yellow vase that shattered on the hearth below. I went downstairs and found Sheba, purring in terror, under the coffee table. All the racket had awoken the kittens, who sleep in the basement, and they were meowing and scratching at the door of their room. Betaille, the cat from the head of the bed (who had been hiding under the bed in case of more fireworks) came tearing down the stairs to be let out the front door. By the time I got Betaille out and Sheba comforted, and went back to bed, the fun had just started. Alaska Airlines, which has a flight path directly over our street, seemed to be staging an invasion of Sea-Tac airport. Then the seagulls started up, and the train went by, and the newspaper delivery person, who must be earning money to afford a new muffler, roared down the street thwacking newspapers onto the porches. My husband began snoring softly, with overtones that sounded like a phone ringing far, far away, though not quite far enough.

I knew better than to complain. A bleary sleeper is no match for those who are abroad in the night. In the Thurber essay "A Succession of Maids," Mrs. Thurber wakes in the wee hours to hear Gertie, the family's housekeeper, coming in from a night on the town, crashing into chairs and tables as she makes her way to her room. "What are you doing?" Mrs. Thurber shouts inanely. "Dusting," replies Gertie.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Geek lifestyle

Popular Science writer Larry Smith spent the first 10 days of 2004 using no technology less than 50 years old. Ironically, much of his article is still about chasing technology. Only instead of checking out the latest iPod, he's visiting old technology shops buying typewriters and black and white TVs. I think he missed the point that there weren't enough geeks around for there to be a geek lifestyle in 1954. Had he been a genuine 1954 geek, he'd have been putting together a ham radio operation, or building a Heathkit stereo or television.

Smith's article holds few surprises--quite the opposite of "And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon," Paul Di Filippo's mind-blowing, and wildly amusing SF story about quasi-sentient 21st-century household objects that gang up on their owners. You can find this gem online (, and in The Year's Best Science Fiction, 21st Annual Collection.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Life with kittens: Insect phase

The kittens have entered their insect phase: They have long legs, spring like spiders, and are definitely pests. This morning I opened the front door to let Sheba out and, like most adult cats, she paused on the threshold to ruminate about life. Meanwhile Kaylee, the smaller kitten, launched from the staircase, crossed the livingroom in three sproiings and flew right over Sheba out onto the porch. Kaylee was temporarily stunned when she landed, enabling me to grab her--which is why I'm writing this rather than crawling around in the neighbors' shrubbery cooing "here, kitty, kitty, kitty."

Zoe is still busy collecting and shredding credit card receipts. MBNA called this morning, trying to upgrade me to something, and asked if I was "the primary card user." Zoe trotted by with a receipt and I considered letting the sales rep talk with her.

I set up the Panic Mouse and let them play with that while I was working. But eventually Kaylee came in and got interested in the cursor on the screen. I decided to amuse her by playing a QuickTime movie, and Googled "kitten movie." To my surprise, the third result I clicked on was the kitten movie I'd made of Kaylee and Zoe, so Kaylee ended up watching her younger self rip apart our diningroom curtains and wrestle with Zoe. I grabbed the new digital video camera and quickly taped her pawing at her own screen image...yes, this is getting ridiculous.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Cats' past lives

On my bulletin board is a copy of the famous New Yorker cartoon showing a couple and their horrified guest as they come upon the family cat savagely attacking an upholstered chair. The resigned owner explains cheerfully "We believe that in a former life she was an editor."

I'm sitting here watching our kitten Zoe as she selects a credit card receipt from the bowl on my file cabinet and carries it off to the livingroom to be shredded. When she finishes with a receipt, the ink is invisible and the paper is perforated to limpness with thousands of tiny pinpoints of claw marks. Then she comes back and carefully selects another. I check the name of the store as she goes by to make sure it's nothing I need to save.

Her sister Kaylee cares nothing for finances, but appears to be planning an assault on the bookcase. Lightweight and powerful, Kaylee is able to go halfway up the flat surface of a door before losing momentum.