Archive for the 'thoughts' Category

bits of conversation

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Does life swallow you whole? Or do you make it what you want it to be?

Sometimes it does swallow you whole.

When shit happens, it’s not like someone is out to get you, to make you suffer. It just happens. It simply is. To say that life is sad is to say that time itself is sad.

How can that be? A life is the distance from the time you are born to the time you die. To pin it down to one emotion seems awfully small and limiting.

But if you are sad, then yes, life is sad, because that is your view of the world.

on writing: to what end?

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

— T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The cold, white gaze of the virtual page can be crippling. The rattling chaos of thoughts and ideas make a racket in your head, clamoring to come out. Your fingers are their conduit, and your eyes are the witness for the prosecution. The same brain that thought up all this stuff to begin with is your judge, jury and prison warden. How should I begin? What is it you’re even trying to say? If you’re writing in the English language, god knows it’s been written before, and better, too. And how should I presume?

You can’t move forward, you can’t go back. Ideas cannot be un-thought. They must be nurtured, or left to rot. But there’s a tiny little marble of a being inside you that says “Look. There’s something I need to say.” Anyone who has ever knitted a sweater, written a poem, penned a song, painted a painting, snapped a photo, has felt that stubborn little marble in their gut. It won’t go away. It persists. If you push it down too much, it comes back up, sometimes all the way up to your throat. It says “Look. There’s something I need to say and I’m going to say it.” And you brace yourself, because that little marble means business. You can push it down with callousness, fear, laziness, self-deprecation, alcohol, but it will emerge, in serenity or violence.

And when it does, there it is–a hairball, an alien, a strange mutant child with no mouth, no arms nor legs. You must mold it into something sensible, something useful, something that justifies its own existence.

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?

Do you have the arrogance, the cojones to presume your progeny deserves to live? Whatever this thing is that you need to say, to whom are you saying it? Do they care to hear it? Should they? Or are you talking to yourself?

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

You write a sentence and erase it. You write another and erase that. Paragraphs appear and disappear. But for the cacophony in your head, they might never have existed. The words slow to a trickle–a thin, polluted stream. You stop and start, hesitate, begin again, turn away, come back, walk the dog, write a bit, read a bit, rot your brain a bit, turn away in disgust, come back again. Create and murder, murder create.

And then the judgment begins.

You are, in fact, Prince Hamlet. To be, not to be, you dither about debating yourself, uselessly fretting and agonizing. Hamlet did little more than procrastinate.

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

What is this stuff you’ve written? Is it true to what you’re trying to say? Do the words fit the sentiment, or are they full of bombast and pretense? Has your little mutant child become a porcelain doll? Politic, cautious, and meticulous. Are you dressing her up for the public?


You know that purse is just a sow’s ear.





There are no muses.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

There is no supernatural voice whispering in your ear, no inspiration for which you thank god you’ve been blessed. You are not in thrall to a siren call.

The universe is far too vast to roll into a ball.

There is always an overwhelming question.

What can you do but ask?

How can you help but write your own answer?

yomuledet (birthday)

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Today’s my day. Here’s a clip of Israeli musician Berry Sakharof and Infected Mushroom singing Berry’s song “Yomuledet” (birthday). English translation below.

(The frackin’ embedded YouTube thingy doesn’t seem to work with my template. Here’s a link to the video clip instead.)


Today’s your birthday
Look here’s a secret, old and new
Slice the bread
Touch something a little perfect

It’s the middle of the night
I thought we might sleep
But something’s catching
Catching deep in my throat

True you know
You’re so amazing
Before you run away
Come without fear
Take me just like this

Today’s your birthday
I thought almost all the details through
Got you a room
Blue sky with stars

True you know
You’re so amazing
Before you run away
Come without fear
Take me just like this

oh fer auld lang syne!

Thursday, July 10th, 2008


I’m not really a competitive person. No, really, I’m not. I hate competitive sports. Kids would always pick me last for softball because I tended to daydream. I’d sit on the warm grass in the outfield and daydream, often wishing I had a book to read. I yawn at the thought of watching grown men wear extensive padding and skin-tight uniforms as they fight over a pigskin ball. And, um, well… the drama and excitement of the world cup is completely lost on me (sorry Euro-readers, nothing personal). I’d much rather compete against myself, which is why I’m more of a karate/yoga/tai chi person than a football/soccer(er, football)/racquetball person.

So this morning I’m schvitzing away on the treadmill at the gym. I hate the gym. The treadmill makes me feel like a giant hamster. But it’s right downstairs, and the machines there tell me things like how many calories I’ve burned off, which the lake, pretty as it is, does not. I’m up to level six, thirty minutes a pop. I’ve been gradually working ny way up from level two or so. I figure I’ll slowly work my way up to the highest level—with the biggest gradients and fastest speeds—and then extend my work out to a cool 45 minutes. But that’s a way off… at level six, I feel like my spleen is about to burst.

To keep my mind off the tedium of it all, I’ve got my MP3 player on, surfing the radio stations. Oh yeah! Vintage Janet, now I’m cooking! I pick up the pace and start miming “What have you done for me lately?” Just as I hit the “oooooh oooh ooooh yeah,” in walks this 18 year old on his summer vacation. He’s a skinny little tyke. Aw… he’s probably tiring himself out getting in shape for the ladies. How cute.

He gets on the treadmill next to mine and, without so much as stretching a hamstring, begins to run. And I mean really run. His sneakers are pounding the rubber faster than my lungs can remember to breathe. Holy running shoes, Batman. If this little pisher ran any faster his shoes would be smoking.

Suddenly my thighs feel heavier, my butt feels like jelly, and I could swear I’m developing auntie arms. You know, like when your aging aunt lifts up her great big arms to hug you and thirty inches of flab dangle from what used to be her triceps. Or biceps. Or something. I pretend that the 15 minutes remaining on my treadmill timer are my cooldown period. Yeah, that’s it. That’s why I’m moving slower than a tortoise in comparison. Maybe I’ve actually been running for 45 minutes already. At lightning speed. I’m just slowing it down a bit now, yeah. To the tune of Janet.

Jeez. I’ll bet this kid’s never even heard of Janet Jackson. He probably thinks Rhythm Nation is a Native American tribe that reaaaaaaaally likes to party, dude.

Aw Christ. I’m old.

I do my real cool down, slow as molasses.

My birthday is next week. I’ll be thirty three (a less scary number when it’s spelled out, n’est-ce pas?). I’m in—gulp—“my thirties.” When did my twenties recede into the distance like the dusty horizon in a road trip movie? How did I get here, running a mental race with a boy nearly half my age?

Thirty three.



At least the college kids in the elevator still hit on me. “Hey gorgeous,” says my young coffee-complexioned neighbor. Me? Is he talking to me? Shucks. I grin like an idiot and laugh nervously. I’m nearly old enough to be his mother. Doesn’t he know? Maybe he likes older women. Still, how cute. This little pisher made my day.

33. As they say in Yiddish: “wear it in good health.” Yeah, I think I will.

commuter train

Monday, June 16th, 2008

There’s nothing so annoying as missing your train. Usually this means waiting for the next one, which in many US cities is no small feat. The schedule is erratic, the trains infrequent. You could wait twenty minutes for the next train. Twenty minutes too late for a meeting? Too bad.

The train arteries themselves are haphazard, as though designed to inconvenience. The streetcar that connects one train system with another is notoriously inefficient. A ten minute ride can take twenty, depending on whether a driver took a day off and forgot to tell the boss or a branch has fallen on the tracks somewhere in the system. Once you disembark from the southbound train system, good luck finding a bus, shuttle, or taxi to bring you to your final destination. Buses run even less frequently than trains, and often in no relation to where you need to go.

What sort of red-blooded, do-it-yourself American rides a train anyway? Americans have historically cherished their right to do as they please with minimal government interference. Formerly the pride of the United States, trains are now viewed as an abdication of that right. Driving a car, you are the captain of your own destiny. Riding a train, you’re at the mercy of arbitrary schedules and the egalitarian nature of public transportation. The guy sitting next to you might conduct noisy business meetings on his cellphone or emit the musty sharp odor of someone who hasn’t bathed in a very long time. But driving a car could mean getting rear-ended, or worse, and more likely, stuck in the molasses flow of traffic that drains the life force drip… by… i n t e r m i n a b l e … drip.

Fifteen minutes to the next train. I scan the magazine stand, a shrine to celebrity. The Economist peeks out from the bottom rack. Scratch that, a shrine to money in all its forms. I queue up instead at the little take-out coffee shop: coffee, scones, sandwiches, bagels all ready to go in time for the train. I get a croissant and line up for the train.

I board early and take a seat near the window. It’s a grey day for June. The sky is dour and frumpy, scowling like a Victorian school teacher. I bite into my croissant, its paper wrapping crinkles. The croissant is buttery with an airy texture, but the dough is a little too dense. It’s not quite as flaky as it ought to be, and it isn’t at all warm. I wonder if some Parisienne across the world eats hastily purchased croissants on the train. Do they sell croissants at the gare? Do people still take the time to sit down for their croissant and café au lait? Looking out the window at the dreary skies, I think of warm, buttery croissant and café au lait as the mid-summer sun rises from its dewy slumber.

two years old

Monday, April 28th, 2008

apple cardamom yogurt cake

A slice of cake for you, dear reader, in honor of an open cupboard‘s second birthday.

Two years ago today I posted an ironic ode to the high cost of organic food in the form of a silly riff on a famous poem by Robert Frost. Nothing much has changed since then. The price of rice has spawned riots and my relatives tease me for spending seven dollars on an occasional bottle of organic milk (but it’s from grassfed cows who listen to classical music and read poems by Robert Frost!). I’m still fascinated by the San Francisco local, organic food scene with its bounty of decently produced high quality food—the freshest, most beautiful, delicious vegetables and fruit it has been my pleasure to consume.

I owe the farmers’ markets my gratitude for opening up my taste buds to the earthy sweetness of heirloom tomatoes. Having eaten store-bought hothouse tomatoes back when I lived in Israel, I never much liked the fruit, except the exceptionally fresh ones I used to buy at the shuk (open market) . Similarly, bell peppers were a sort of tasteless filler in stir fries until I tried the peppers grown by Happy Quail Farms. I’ve also discovered foods that have quickly become my favorites: pimientos de padrón, stinging nettles, chocolate mint, mountain spinach. Thank the gods for all the dedicated farmers who produce such excellent food that is so much fun to eat.

I only wish that more people could enjoy the beautiful bounty of the farmers’ markets. Most of the consumers I see at the various farmers’ markets near my home tend to be middle class and upper middle class Americans. On occasion, I’ll see a poor student buy a few dollars’ worth of vegetables.

True, programs such as the Chez Panisse Foundation’s Edible Schoolyard and the People’s Grocery do a lot to bring people closer to good, sustainably raised food. But there are still so many others who simply cannot afford to eat well. In an area where average families drive two SUVs and live in half-million dollar homes, this boggles the mind.

In the coming months the gulf between those who eat well and those who cannot will swell, affecting many middle income as well as lower income people. The question is, what are we going to do about it? As “we” is usually an elected official (insert quip about political ineptitude here), let us instead ask ourselves “what am I going to do about it?” If every one of us asked ourselves that question, maybe we could get closer to an answer. Wouldn’t that be great? And what will our collective cupboard look like in another two years?

Thank you for your curiosity, and your stick-to-itiveness for coming back here even when I was slow to post. Thank you for putting up with my sometimes bumbling photos and the occasional silly lark. Thank you for spurring me on (even if you didn’t know you did). An extra special thank you to my friend Sylvia, for urging me to write about food in the first place (and to Jerry, for having such an insatiable appetite for dining out). And to my husband A for reading and eating and, when prompted, providing honest constructive criticism.

L’chaim! To another two years!

– shelly –

memories, a postcard

Monday, March 10th, 2008

last night in my dream
i was a child again
in self-made pigtails
and ill-fitting clothes
awkward and ashamed.

you smiled at me
I like your braids!
you said
you look nice in green!

and i was happy

now you can eat and pay rent

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

When riding public transportation in the US, you often find yourself staring at huge advertisements. Almost anywhere you look, the walls of the train you ride in, the walls of the station platform, the floor and escalator, even the underground tunnels are covered with flickering ads. Cellular phone service, condos in fancy neighborhoods starting in the low 600s, exhortations from the Catholic church urging you to rethink abortion, almost anything can be hocked on the walls of the BART.

This morning, my eye is drawn to a simple fast food ad. I can’t stop looking at this advert. It annoys me in particular, and I’m not sure why. The bottom of the ad features a stylized San Francisco skyline in dark blue—replete with the Golden Gate Bridge and a trolley car. The background is a soft yellow that gradually brightens to a sunny gold towards the top of the ad. There, floating like an ethereal vision, is the product: a biscuit breakfast patty sandwich, a bun stuffed with what appears to be ham and American cheese, and three small cinnamon rolls, partially splattered in sugar icing that looks like glue. Golden rays of sunlight emanate from the foods like a Byzantine icon. The large caption below reads:

Now you can eat and pay rent.
The Fast Food Franchise breakfast menu starting at $1 each.
Fast Food Franchise Logo

I get it. Rent is so high in San Francisco, you barely have enough cash left over to buy food. How ironic, how wry, how… horrible. This is no joke—it’s true. There are people in this city who do not have enough money to both pay the rent and eat much more than cheap fast food. There are people in the city of peace and love who must choose between a place to live and a bite to eat—witness the many citizens living on the sidewalk and in the parks and alleyways of this city.

And then it hits me. I realize why this ad annoys me so much. Those who can eat and pay their rent are privileged. We can afford to buy local, organic, fresh fruits and vegetables and brick-oven baked bread and grass-fed meat and pastured eggs. We perceive it as our right to eat healthful food that nourishes and heals. Those who can’t afford the luxury of pesticide-free, GMO-free, nutrient-dense food must eat food that will eventually kill them, or risk homelessness. This fast food ad is, perhaps unwittingly, playing on the notion that cheap, harmful food is the only choice for the poor while healthful, nutritious food is for those who can afford it. Assuming that advertising reflects the beliefs of its audience, this is a sad state of affairs.

If there were any truth in advertising, here’s what this ad would look like:

Now you can eat government subsidized, artificial, toxic, artery-clogging food, and pay your exorbitant rent on a mildewed hovel in a slightly scary neighborhood.

Breakfast menu starting at $1, ending in sky-high health care bills.

moving house: kitchen tips

Friday, February 29th, 2008

tangelo slices on a tupperware lid

We’re moving (yay!). Our tiny little junior 1 bedroom apartment is currently decorated in moving box brown. Everywhere you look there are stacks of cardboard boxes, most of which contain kitchen items. But the tedium of packing our possessions is alleviated by the pleasure of throwing out things we no longer need, and imagining how our new space will look once everything is in place. Never underestimate the value of cabinet space, especially when you’ve got nine boxes labeled “KITCHEN.”

As I’ve been packing up our dry goods and kitchenware, I’ve come up with a few ideas about how to make packing up your kitchen that much easier:

  • Spice racks with bars on the front—to keep the spices from falling out—can probably be packed “as is.” Take the fully stocked spice rack off the wall and place it standing up in a box. If you place other items around it tightly, it probably won’t move much and nothing will fall out or break.
  • If possible, keep one frying pan unpacked so you can fry an egg or cook some sausages. If you’re driving to your new location, you can take the pan with you to use in the new kitchen before everything’s unpacked. Takeout is certainly an option, but it’s always nice to be able to reheat leftovers or fry an egg in the morning. Sometimes eating out of a box can get a little old.
  • Speaking of leftovers, if you have any stoneware dishes or plates, these are perfect for reheating food under the broiler and then serving. There’s always the microwave, but eh… somehow to me, microwaved food never tastes quite right.
  • To minimize the need for restaurant takeout, cook a little extra food for dinner and reserve the leftovers for tomorrow’s breakfast or lunch. You can even do this a week in advance, assuming you have sufficient freezer space. When the move is a few days away and you’ve packed up all your kitchenware, you can defrost the frozen meals under the broiler or in the microwave.
  • A small tin baking pan—the kind that comes with an oven or toaster oven—can be used as a makeshift pan cover. This comes in handy if you want to quickly defrost some food (without using the microwave), or cook dinner just a little bit faster.
  • If you have any old plastic food storage containers, the tops can be used as makeshift plates. I discovered this when I prepared an afternoon snack of tangelo slices and nuts, forgetting that our two remaining dishes were dirty. The little round Tupperware top I found made a decent small plate when used upside down.
  • Milk bottles with caps can be used to store all manner of items. I used them in the kitchen to store grains and beans, and in the bathroom to store ear swabs and cotton balls. I think they look kind of cute, in a retro, Donna Reed kind of way. You can wrap them in newspaper and pack them, or put a bunch of them in a box, placing yogurt container tops between them so they don’t knock against each other.
  • If you buy your yogurt in ceramic crocks, keep the crocks and use them as glasses. This way you can pack your proper glasses and use the crocks instead without worrying if they’ll break. (To be honest, I use them as drinking glasses even when we aren’t packing. They work well for both hot and cold liquids and again, I think they’re cute.)

For tips on organizing your new kitchen, check out the video wisdom of the fabulous Brini Maxwell.

opus is a foodie

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Why I love the farmers market…

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Creative Commons License