Apr 30, 2007

A Tantrum

Last night's show was good fun, and didn't go as late as I thought it would. And when M. offered to buy me a glass of million-dollar concert whiskey, I declined because Sober Month isn't over yet. "Sure it's over, I already sent in the May rent check," he said. "I follow the spirit of the law, you follow the letter of the law. I'm more of a Christian, you're a Jew."

"Fine. But I'm not drinking."

The lead singer of the band was a spastic, 'fro-sporting, incredibly entertaining performer who reminded me of a cross between Jim Morrison and Mickey Aval0n, if that makes any sense. Or even if it doesn't. I think it was the first time since my freshman year of college that I danced without the aid of alcohol.

Then we returned home at midnight to a rather unfortunate incident. Sam's new girlfriend yelled at M., something about a burrito. M. yelled back. Apparently this was enough to awaken and utterly infuriate our French flatmate, who advertised her displeasure by slamming her door a number of times, hitting cushions as loudly as she could on the couch downstairs, and then stalking upstairs to do a load of laundry and make as much noise as was humanly possible in the process.

There's probably nothing in the world that M. disrespects more than passive aggression, and causing him to disrespect you is the best way to ensure that he makes your life miserable. So his response to our flatmate's temper tantrum was first to laugh, then to (drunkenly) talk about how babyish he finds her, and then to desire to keep her up later by watching South Park until 1am in our room next door.

I hate this crap, and should have nothing to do with it, but I'm sure I'm already presumed guilty through association. Because M. and I are the same, or something. Coming home tonight will doubtless be interesting.

Apr 29, 2007


Some guy yelled at me on the street because I didn't respond to him the first time. Charming.

We're going to a show tonight. This will be a bad idea.

Apr 28, 2007

Awkward Social Gathering, Version 49012.5

My boyfriend takes party-planning very seriously, so when they don't go as planned, he tends to stew. He distracts himself for days analyzing what went wrong, pinning blame accordingly. For instance, few people danced at our last one because Sam brought in a third DJ who played nothing but un-danceable music-snob techno fare. M. considers this a disaster.

"Disaster" is too strong, but I do prefer dance parties. This is half because I like to dance, and half because dancing gives me an excuse to avoid awkward conversation. If someone tries to talk to me, I can say, "I can't talk, I'm dancing." If the room is littered with acquaintances with whom I ought to make small-talk, I can get away with a quick "hi" without seeming completely rude.

At the party last Saturday, I tried to dance, but felt a little awkward when everyone else chose instead to hover around at a six-foot radius and gawk. Later in the evening, a couple of jaw-droppingly intoxicated second-rate hipsters with questionable hygeine gyrated forth, asking me to dance with/kiss/date them. When I pointed out my boyfriend behind the turntables, two of these guys actually brought me their own girlfriends as some kind of evidence in their favor. Wha? This actually happens to me often. Do I systematically attract swingers, or do they systematically swing at everybody?

As the clock struck four I longed for bed, but was instead held hostage by one of the two hipster-swingers and his meandering, utterly nonsensical, yet weirdly insistent attempts at drunken conversation. Could I please sit down and talk to him, since he was having such a bad day? Reluctantly, I stayed and tried to make sense of his bizarre ravings about the "cuteness" of my boyfriend's name, an obscure indie band I'd never heard of, his girlfriend, and, you know, life. The zenith/nadir came when he decided to coo me a "free form" love poem to the tune of a song M. was playing a few feet away. After hearing three clumsy similes for my eyes I'd had more than enough, so I stood up and hid behind the DJ table.

On another note, I am proud of myself for not having vomited, passed out, or otherwise truly hurt myself with alcohol since 2007 began. Moreover, I have succeeded in keeping April a sober month (with the planned exception of the party). Self, hurrah!

I took pictures.

Here is our fridge stocked with cheap hipster-scum beer:

Here is Sam playing a pre-party game of ghost pool:

M. plays ghost pool with Sam, watched by creepy Chinese propaganda:

I don't know any of the people in this picture. The guy in black with the mysterious facial trauma was one of the swingers, but not the "free-form poetry" guy:

And here's a pile of random hipsters I don't know.

M. thinks we ought to slap a cover charge on all these goddamned strangers next time.

In case you were wondering, today was a beautiful Saturday and I spent it doing work.

Apr 27, 2007

Gender and Writing

Via Andrew Sullivan, this website uses an algorithm to predict whether text was written by a man or a woman.

I fed it three blog entries. The first was deemed overwhelmingly female, the second overwhelmingly male, and the third just barely female.

I gave it a piece on Sputnik and DARPA that I wrote for work, for which I was determined to be very male. Then I gave it a paragraph on the health risks of trans fats, which was apparently very female. A term paper on neoconservatism was slightly female. Another term paper, on intelligence reform, was way, way male.

Looking at the keywords, it seems that the algorithm is designed to detect gendered topics rather than the sex of the writer. Or perhaps to detect the sex of the writer through the gender of the topic. Pronouns like I, me, your, she, hers, we, and myself are supposedly female--so if you're writing mostly about yourself and other people, you're a girl. (Livejournal is overwhelmingly female, I hear.) So is "was," which might be used to talk about recent events. Prepositions like "with," "where" and "when" are female, too. (E.g., "I was with so-and-so when we ran into so-and-so in the bar where I met so-and-so.")

The male keywords contain more spatial prepositions (below, above, at, to, around) and present forms of be (are, is). Non-gendered and indefinite pronouns--like it, what, who, these, and many--are male as well. Articles (a, the) too. So if you write about objects and the concrete realities of the world as it is now, you're a guy.

I may be completely wrong, but suspect that if this algorithm works on most people, it's because of topics. You're not going to find much room for "I" "me," "hers," or "myself" in a paper about intelligence reform.


I think that something profoundly stupid will happen this weekend. Maybe several somethings.

Apr 26, 2007

These Kids Will Need Prozac

They have me writing kids' stuff at work these days, and I'm just plain deplorable at it. I mean really, really bad. When left alone I tend toward long, complex sentences with too many clauses; I have to force myself in order to write otherwise. Having to write in a cutesy, punny manner does not come naturally to me at all, so everything I type comes out sounding stilted and utterly insincere.

And my mood's been dark, so most of the topics I can come up with are frightfully dreary. For instance--AIDS in Africa, mercury poisoning, the disappearance of girls in China, pollution in Mexico City, genocide, droughts, skin cancer, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, polio, Huntington's disease, the Great Depression. Some rather heavy stuff. The few topics that aren't dreary are probably just plain boring for any half-normal kid. What ten year old is interested in William Wilberforce or erosion mechanisms? Certainly no ten year old I would have wanted to be seen with at that age, and I was a total dork.

Since I'm slow at kid-writing I've had to work on it at home, too. Doubleplusuncool.

I promise to blog about work every day so that within a month no one reads this at all.

Apr 25, 2007

I Hate Fun

I am a social fuck-up, no doubt at all. My boyfriend invited a bunch of people over, people I've known for years, and they're all out on the porch barbeque-ing and drinking and smoking and so on, and I just can't tolerate going out there. I'm not drinking and I want no part in this "social" stuff. When they were eating outside I stood awkwardly inside by myself and ate everything with my hands and then scuttled right back to the computer. I've been among people for almost twenty-four years and I still have no idea how to deal with them. It's awesome. Almost unrelatedly, I think I really hate fun.

My new idea is to write small posts every day instead of long ones sporadically. Let's see how that goes.

Apr 24, 2007

Epiphany of the Week

Evidently, I am being paid to work, not to screw around on the Internet.

Apr 20, 2007

Crazy Sarcastic Rant

Why won't they heat my office? It's cold in here, at least as cold as it is outside, hovering in the low 50s. Thanks, bureaucratic powers-that-be, for an office where it is possible to shiver in a down jacket and a scratchy scarf wrapped several times around the neck. My feet are cold through my shoes; as for my hands, I have to take breaks from typing every few minutes to sit on them lest I get the hypothermy.

Since I am currently in the business of insincerely thanking faceless entities, I thank "fate," "Them," "the Man," etc, for this job I need in order to pay the bills, and for a few reasons besides; and which, I am fake-happy to report, I believe has actively made me dumber, gutted my formerly active imagination, and turned me into a crap writer. And thank you, job, for recently requiring my attentions during my already meager "free" time, which ought to be spent learning calculus.

Thanks, genes + environment = predetermination, or whatever you are, for my being somebody who cannot stomach risk, whose mind goes blank in the company of conspecifics, someone avoidant almost to the point of total crazy.

Thanks, whatever-you-are, for my few friends. I had dinner with Annika, her mom, and her stepdad yesterday. It was the first time we'd seen each other since her wedding last year. She would hardly eat because her husband wouldn't be "proud" of her if she did. His name is Tyler, and I've known him for years, but she insisted on calling him "my husband," ad nauseam. Unsolicited, she talked on and on about how she didn't need friends, didn't I understand? She needed only her husband, his family, and his friends. She exists only in his [enlightened] penumbra and is perfectly happy about it, so what sort of bigot wouldn't respect this? I was her only friend, the only one, whom she had invited to her wedding. She brought this up, with no provocation, no bridge. The rest of them were simply not worth her time.

It sounded like pre-emptive defensiveness. A part of me wanted to suggest that maybe her ex-friends were "flaky" because she had already made clear to them that they were extraneous. But that part of me never learned to talk, so I kept quiet. M. would call me a traitor for doing so, and maybe I am.

So thank you, frontal lobe, for enabling my treason. And thanks, Femininity Imperative, genes + upbringing, or whatever-you-may-be, for convincing one of my last remaining friends that she ought to function as her husband's appendage.

Why stop at thanking abstractions? Thank you, M., for [censored] and [censored] and [censored] and [censored].

(And thank Google for making this censorship necessary.)

I won't limit this rant to petty, personal complaints, so let us not forget to thank the world for things like this and this and this and, well, you get the idea.

You're welcome for all the negativity. I think the cold is freezing my brain.

Apr 14, 2007

I Live in Venezuela?

Photo 1, through a shop window in my neighborhood:

Photo two, from a BBC report on "Venezuela's informal economy," which I stumbled upon by chance the following day:

The last few days at work have been a banal hell of endless typing, staring at Excel documents until the contact lenses fuse to the eyeballs, shivering in an inexplicably air-conditioned room when the ambient air is damn well cold enough, explaining simple processes step-by-step to well-meaning but cripplingly unimaginitive middle management, slouching in a hard seat hour upon hour until the back aches, and a few of the other things that make office work so rapturously sweet that I wish I could keep doing it for ever and ever. I'm off to a good start---

Apr 6, 2007

The Greatest Dinner of All

Welcome to the Greatest Dinner of All: March 29, 2007.

M.'s dad and stepmom collected us at work a few hours early, and from there we drove for almost two and a half hours across two and a half counties. It was a beautiful, temperate spring day.

Here we are, driving across the bridge:

Here is a view of the city from the north of the bay:

A field of mustard grass:

M.'s stepmom talking about the punk-rock aesthetic, whilst M. and I try to listen instead of drooling stupidly like cavepeople and fantasizing about dinner:

Napa vineyards:

Finally, we arrived in Y-ville, drove down a quaint, unassuming road, and parked in front of this rather modest-looking restaurant. Across from it there was this field, which contains a small vegetable garden. We were theorizing that the F.L. people grow some ingredients there; I suppose it's possible.

Here three of us are, grinning like idiots.

The sign is pretty much the only way you can tell what kind of establishment you're walking into. Otherwise, I would have guessed it was a Mexican-American War Re-enactment Society or something of the kind.

We walked around to the side of the restaurant, where there was a small courtyard and a cluster of small buildings--the restaurant itself, the kitchen (or was that an extension of the main building?), and the wine cellar. I wanted to walk around the courtyard for a few moments, but one of the staff must have been peeping through the window and waiting for people to arrive, because the hostess opened the door and invited us inside right away.

We followed the hostess upstairs, past a very small, very classy anteroom, and to our table. Our table was in a small side-room containing one table of four (ours) and two tables of two.

Here is the fancy napkin with its napkin-holder (I'm sure there's some kind of pretentious French name for it). This was for keeping. The restaurant's phone number is helpfully printed in back, you know, for last-minute reservations or something.

And here's the unspoilt bread-plate with a bread/butter knife:

This flower arrangement was on our table.

Here's the menu, or, more accurately, the chef's tasting menu. There was also a lighter, more vegetable-based menu, but I didn't take a picture of it and didn't order it. We had to choose one or the other. From there what we ate was basically fixed, except where there was a pair of dishes between the line breaks and we had to choose between them. If you look at the bigger version of the photo, you'll notice how whoever writes the menu (Keller?) is seriously infatuated with quotation marks.

This ridiculous, imported water was "complimentary." I do admit it tasted unusually refreshing.

First, the waiter--a friendly, extremely professional, grey-haired man--served us two "amuse-bouches" to begin our meal. I didn't get any pictures of these, but I'll link to other pictures on the web. The first was a small bowl (one each) of gruyere "gougères." Not bad. The second was a "cornet" of salmon tartare. Tragically, the cornets were filled with red onion-infused freme fraiche, so I reluctantly donated mine to M.

The first course was probably the most perfect of them all:

"Oysters and Pearls": "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

It's pretty much impossible to describe how awesome this dish was. I'd never tasted sturgeon caviar before, but I can see why it's so expensive. The oysters were about a zillion times tastier than any I'd ever eaten, small and delicate and almost buttery. The tapioca was a perfect pairing. Pure genius. This dish was so good, in fact, that I scraped every last bit from the bowl, even though the tapioca had chives in it. Chives and onions are typically deal-breakers for me, so this pretty much constitutes objective proof of the appetizer's flawlessness.

I think this bread arrived after the oysters. Once again, the bread was perfect. It came along with two kinds of butter (you can see one in the background): one was a fatty, unsalted, French butter; the other was a salted variety produced on a farm in Vermont that has only seven cows. (We definitely appreciated the over-the-top storytelling that accompanied the food.)

Beginning about now, I started taking pictures on a camera setting that produced speckled and discolored images. I tried to fix them in photoshop, but some of them are just crap photos that no amount of editing can save. Just to warn you.

The second course of the evening was foie gras terrine with cashew butter and brioche. We had to pay a hefty supplement for it, but given where we were, why the hell not. Along with it, we also ordered a half-bottle of dry Hungarian Tokaji (upper right of photo below), which was, unsurprisingly, delicious. The brioche was thick but airy as hell, and after I'd consumed half of it, the waiter whisked it away and replaced it with another because it was "getting cold."

The foie portion was actually quite large, and the terrine went along well with the cashews. Again, this was not shocking.

Moulard Duck "Foie Gras en Terrine": Cara Cara Orange "Supremes," Roasted Cashew Butter, Celery Branch and Toasted "Brioche"

Here is a closer, but still discolored shot of the foie gras:

The foie came along with a platter of three salts, so we could try all of them and choose whichever best "suited our palates." The one on the upper right was a coarse salt mined in Brittany. The one on the upper left was found at the depths of a copper mine in Montana. The one on the bottom was extracted from the waters of the Sea of Japan. A+ for storytelling!

The third course was a raw hamachi (yellowtail) dish with dungeness crab and vegetables. Very, very good. Soft, buttery hamachi; great crab; great rice; the "yuzu emulsion" sauce was tasty, too. Of everything on there, though, I thought the asparagus was the most perfect. This picture came out particularly discolored:

"Sashimi" of Japanese "Hamachi": Dungeness Crab, Sacramento Delta Green Asparagus, "Akita Komachi" Rice and Yuzu Emulsion

M.'s stepmom ordered the halibut instead; I didn't taste it, so I can't say anything about it. My guess is that it was good.

Fillet of Atlantic Halibut "Poche au Lait": Steelhead Trout Roe, Crispy Potatoes, Dill "Creme Fraiche," Pickled Red Onions and Watercress Puree

More is coming later; there's no way I'm finishing this today.

After the foie gras came the lobster with bacon, pureed truffle, and black truffle medallions. I don't think I need to convince anyone how delicious this was, so just look at it:

Sweet Butter-poached Maine Lobster Tail: Applewood-smoked Bacon, Black Truffle Puree and "Coulis de Pimente d'Espelette"

And here's the wine we drank with most of the meal, a Californian pinot produced on a tiny vineyard of only a few acres:

The next course was the least outstanding, which is not to say that it would not have been the most outstanding at almost any other restaurant. It was a rabbit dish, and the rabbit itself was drier and less flavorful than I would have liked. However, the gravy and accompanying vegetables were fantastic.

Surloin of Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit: Baby Globe Artichokes, Spring Garlic, Sweet Carrots and "Sauce Barigoule"

Next came the primary (or so I think) main course, beef (or, rather, "boeuf") with chanterelles. I've posted two pictures of this because each is inadequate in its own special way.

Snake River Farm "Calotte de Boeuf Grillee": Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms, Swiss Chard and Dijon Mustard "Croutons"

My two criticisms of this dish are matters of personal taste. First, the croutons contained chives so I had to donate them to M. Second, mustard is not my favorite flavor and I found that if I put too much on the beef (and especially the mushrooms and chard) it was overpowering. However, these criticisms are minor beside the perfection of the beef. The cows that it came from were hybrids of American Angus and Japanese Kobe animals; the treatment of the cows and, later, of the meat, was likewise a hybrid between those of Angus and Kobe beefs. The result was a slice of meat that was delicately marbled, tender yet slightly gamey at the same time.

Then, a cheese dish:Jasper Hill "Winnemere": "Choucroute," Granny Smith Apples and Blis Maple Syrup

Here is a link to a blog post whose author thinks this cheese is the "best [s/he's] tasted in years." I think the so-called Choucroute is the fancy sauerkraut above the cheese. The Winnemere was indeed very good, reminding me perhaps of a high-end Camembert (with the caveat that I've only eaten Camembert a couple of times, so I may be completely off). The maple syrup, so our waiter informed us, was aged in whiskey barrels somewhere in New England. The best single item on this plate, though, was the slice of Granny Smith apple, which was about twice as tasty as I'd ever expected an apple to be capable of.

Here is some French bread that arrived between courses:

Now, for the first of several desserts--not a sorbet or a sherbert, but a sherbet.

Field Rhubarb Sherbet: Cardamom-scented "Frangipane" and Cream Yogurt

The sherbet was the second-best dessert, and considering the absolute best (which I'll get to soon), that's high praise. It was both tangy, in a sweet-and-sour sort of way, and creamy-thick.

After the sherbet, the waiter asked if we wanted any coffee or tea. I thought it was odd that they offered us coffee before bringing out the bulk of the desserts; maybe it's a high-end thing. Anyway, I asked for espresso. Thus I violated two of my personal taboos: no caffeine at night, since I'm kind of an insomniac without the help of stimulants; and no plain coffee, because I find the taste so strong that I need to temper it with milk and sugar (i.e., I'm a huge pussy who orders hazelnut lattes). But once again, I reminded myself of where I was. So I ordered the espresso anyway.

It came in a dainty white cup that sat atop a "floating" saucer.

As I never drink espresso plain, I can't really compare this one with other espressos. But since I was capable of drinking it, and even enjoying it, I would guess that it compares quite favorably.

Next came the final dessert that is listed on the menu, a creative chocolate-white chocolate-pistachio-passion fruit thingamajig:

"Pave de Chocolat Blanc au the Vert": Pistachio "Pain de Genes," Passion Fruit Jelly and Bitter Chocolate Sauce

I confess that by now, I was utterly full. As a result, I probably appreciated dishes this late in the dinner a little less than I should have. That said, I still think this dessert tasted less exciting than it looked. Which is not to say that it did not taste exciting, or that my taste buds didn't enjoy it in defiance of my stomach, which was growing increasingly uncomfortable.

I think I was also plagued by a grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-table mentality, given that everyone else had chosen something else (a substitution off the vegetarian menu) that involved far more chocolate. Real, not white, chocolate. And chocolate cake cooked in Cabernet. I tasted a bit, too, and indeed I preferred it to my own dish. Here's an oblique picture of M.'s dessert, but I won't write its bequestionmarked name underneath since I don't have a photo of the vegetarian menu:

But that wasn't all! At this point a few servers whisked away our plates and brought us a new round of sex-segregated desserts. The "ladies" each got a small lavender-infused creme brulee:

And the "gentlemen" each got this Meyer lemon pot de creme:

Of course M. and I switched at mid-dessert so we could try both. And holy shit, the creme brulee was good, but it paled in comparison to the pot de creme. This was the second undeniably perfect dish of the evening. Desserts aren't supposed to be this good, certainly not desserts as plain-looking as this one. I'm not even going to write any more about it, lest I tarnish its perfection with my words.

Yes, there's more.

In spite of my fullness, I bravely kept eating as the waiters brought out what seemed like an endless line of small desserts. First, chocolate-and-caramel-covered macadamia nuts:

These were great, but sadly I only ate one before the waiter took them away. Second, a tower of candies:

And here's M.'s dad looking amused that I'm taking a picture of him eating candies.

While at the restaurant I had a chance to eat only one of these candies, a chocolate bonbon from the bottom "level." Don't worry, though--for a moment I gave my inner tackiness free rein and dumped all of the uneaten (as opposed to the eaten?) wrapped candies into my purse. I ate them the following day. The lemon candy, in the center "level," was pleasantly reminiscent of the pot de creme. Which is to say, it was phenomenal.

Here was another tidbit; I want to say it was called tulle:

Finally, the waiter came around with a platter of chocolates arranged in rows according to type. As full as I was, I did the right thing and made sure to take one of each. Was this undecorous? Probably, and both the waiter and M.'s dad laughed at me. M. then emulated me, however, not wanting to miss out.

If I remember correctly, the flavors of the chocolates were: caramel, dark chocolate, peanut butter, banana, coffee, white chocolate, and praline. I can't recall which was which, though. I remember only that the banana and the caramel were the best.