Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Revelations and Resolutions

Things I have discovered just before the new year:

(1) There is one honestly good reason to go to Ikea:

(2) My digital camera is dying and is starting to turn every picture pink (see edges of above photo).

(3) My beloved laptop is making very alarming dying animal noises. Take the camera, but spare the laptop!

(4) My New Year's resolution of riding my bike to work is currently being thwarted by the fact that I do not own a bike.

(5) My New Year's resolution to stop buying things from overseas that can easily be made locally (e.g. sparkling water, which really does not need to be shipped from Italy and cost more than gasoline) is being partially thwarted by the fact that the only local sparkling water I can find is Calistoga, which is gross and ridiculously over-carbonated (Maggie gets mist on her glasses). This is also thwarting my attempt to make elderflower soda using the above syrup from Ikea.

(6) Readers of this blog seem to do so only while they are supposed to be working, which explains why we have only a disappointing handful of responses to the Raisin Survey so far. If I had a sad raisin emoticon, I would paste it here. While I would love to reward the diligent readers who took the survey right away with the results now, I'm going to wait until people get back to work and give them a chance to take the survey - after all, it is absolutely essential that we get statistical significance right?

(7) Maggie got me a membership to iGourmet's Cheese-of-the-Month club, which is both exciting (I love cheese, and I've never been a member of an "of-the-Month" club), but also slightly worrisome. I'm going to have to pedal extra hard on that non-existent bike to work off all that cheese.

All right, now go take that Raisin Survey if you haven't already, and have a happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Raisin Hell: A Survey

Apparently some people despise raisins. I know, I couldn't believe it either, but I've met two of them in the past week. Okay, so they get your fingers kind of sticky when you eat them, and sometimes they have that little leftover stem that pokes you when you chomp down on it, and those things they call raisins in Raisin Bran are closer to pebbles than fruit, but otherwise raisins are all good.

In fact, I feel a position statement coming on. I should have used an official position statement for the caper survey, but I'm certain that my position (i.e., I have no time for capers) was quite clear. But this time I feel the need to make this an official DSRB Position Statement™:

Grapes are delicious. Haters should back off.

That's really all there is to it. In fact, nearly all things made from grapes are good — juice, wine, cognac, raisins, sherry, grappa, jelly, sorbet, verjus, hell I'll even throw in cream of tartar for good measure. I'll admit to not being a big fan of champagne, cava, prosecco, and their sparkly pals, but I occasionally enjoy them and I do at least understand why people love them. On the other end of the spectrum, purple is without question the best flavor of most multi-flavored fruit candies (don't argue, it's a verifiable fact); although purple flavoring contains roughly as much real grape as blue raspberry flavoring contains actual blue raspberries. Plus, other than raisins, what other dried fruit has sung on stage with Ray Charles and Michael Jackson?

So it comes as something of a surprise to find out that there is a percentage of the population that wants absolutely nothing to do with raisins. It's just a dried grape; it's sweet, it's tasty, so what's not to like? And prunes, poor sad delicious prunes. Prunes get an even worse rap, so much so that Sunkist has tried marketing them as dried plums to make them sound more appealing.

This seems like a natural time to go right into our latest survey designed to delve deeper into the complexities of the human-raisin relationship. [SURVEY IS NOW CLOSED]

Thanks for completing the survey, raisin' awareness to this complex and sticky issue, and listening to me whine. Hopefully we can work together to stem the seeds of raisin hatred and prune away the pernicious tendrils that have penetrated deep into the brix and mortar of our society. Results soon.

Given the season, I'll leave you with a stirring rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wide Open Spaces

When we first moved back to the Bay Area, the adjustment seemed totally straightforward. After all, we had both lived in the area for most of our lives, so we didn't have to figure out where to get groceries, how to open a bank account, where to look for rental listings, and all of that stuff that took a lot of effort when we moved to London. So in many ways we hardly noticed the change — it just felt very familiar and normal, almost like we had just returned from a long vacation, except we didn't have a house to come home to and we were distinctly more on the anxious side of things than we tend to be after a nice long holiday.

It has taken a while for it to sink in how much has changed while we were gone: some friends ve moved away, favorite restaurants have closed or changed, and, despite my best efforts to maintain my American-ness in the UK, I occasionally hear myself unintentionally saying things in semi-British ways (like "nice long holiday"). I guess it takes some time to really comprehend any major life change such as an intercontinental move; it certainly took some time to fully appreciate just how different life in London is from life in the Bay Area.

Things are definitely different here

For one, while there are lots of things on the ground in San Francisco, I have yet to find a single banana peel. I know if I keep looking I'll find one, but SF doesn't have banana-mania like London. I took a brief survey of things on the ground in San Francisco, but it was mostly burrito wrappers, cans and broken bottles, the occasional person, a single black sock, and at least one corn husk from a tamale (I was in the Mission, so the sample may have been slightly skewed).

Sock not banana. How do you lose one sock?

In a recent post The Miss List, I listed a few things that we were surprised to find upon moving back, but there were two major omissions: space and light. San Francisco itself is fairly dense, mostly because it's physically constrained by the geography of the peninsula, but because of the setting with water on three sides, it generally feels very open and airy. The rest of the Bay Area is quite a bit less dense and there are countless open spaces, including miles of beaches, mountains for hiking, and parks of every description, all within easy access no matter where you live. The difference in light is tricky to describe — I'm sure it has to do with the latitude and angle of incidence and all that physics jazz, but beyond that there's a lot more blue sky and the air always seems cleaner and clearer because of smog control measures and the influence of the Pacific coast weather patterns.

Late November on Mount Diablo

Above Mitchell Canyon, Mount Diablo

And the space isn't limited to the outdoors. You can certainly find shoebox-sized apartments in San Francisco, although not to the degree of London or New York, but most are considerably more roomy. We loved our little Wapping flat, but the tiny kitchen got so claustrophobic we had to initiate a "one person at a time" rule, particularly when there were sharp and hot things being used. Our new flat in the East Bay, where to things tend to be even more spacious than in SF proper, is quite a bit bigger.

Hard at work in my new kitchen

Hard at work in our London kitchen

Okay, it really looked like this

It occurs to me now that I spent over a year feeling vaguely claustrophobic, although I never really thought about it in those terms at the time (except when crammed into Northern Line like a kipper in a tin). I think, without really knowing it, that among all the things I missed about home, the sense of space was one of the factors I missed the most, and probably why I loved to be by the river in London.

I'm sure there's more revelations to come, probably some of those deep meaningful existential things that tend to get dredged up by big transitions, especially when we start really delving into the boxes of stuff we put in storage and never really thought about for the past year or so (a task I'm not exactly looking forward to eagerly). We're both looking forward to the day that it feels like the move is over, everything is out of boxes, we find a coffee table so we don't have to use an upside-down cardboard box, we know where to find the TV remote, etc. It all seems insurmountable still, but luckily there's Christmas to distract us coming up really soon — although I still haven't bought a single Christmas gift yet...