August 2006 Archives

The Greening of Ballard

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Went to this NetGreen thing today at Bergen Park in Ballard. Took the bus, even. A dozen or so "electeds" on hand (city, county, federal) with their attendant staffers. Lots of bikes. An electric Zapcar. Lots of self-congratulatory speeches.


Did you know Seattle has an Office of Sustainability & Environment? Dude who runs it, Steve Nicholas, holds Master's from Harvard, no less. He's all up for this project, whatever it is. So's city councilman Richard Conlin, who quotes Al Gore that global warming's a moral issue. Similar sentiments expressed by all the other electeds, including Jim McDermott. But I still don't get it.

Can't fault the environmental credentials of Tracy Carroll, the guy behind it all. Co-founder of Flexcar, after all.

Can't fault the notion of a "carbon footprint"--shorthand for our individual, personal contributions to global warming.

But now it gets hazy. Offsets? Pollution credits? Going "carbon neutral"? And how does this get applied to a single neighborhood like Ballard? Why Ballard, for that matter? Why should Ballard get to be "cooled down" and "carbon neutral"? How about the clubs in Pioneer Square and Belltown?

Whole thing looks like a terribly complicated way to raise money for environmental projects. And money's what it comes down to, make no mistake: you have to buy your way out of the mess you've made by sending cash to somebody else, who spends it on a far-away project that "offsets" your messy greenhouse-gas-emitting, global-warming lifestyle. A check for 50 bucks ought to cover it, buy you a year's absolution.

Worthwhile? Maybe. Practical? Doubtful. Yet another example of elitist navel-gazing? Sure looks like it. No wonder "liberal environmentalists" have such a lousy reputation. And I are one!

Buy a latte at Starbucks (legit! No coupon!) and wait for bus. Transfer still valid.

Now look what you've done

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So ya tighten border controls and make it tougher for farmworkers to sneak into the country, and what happens? Duh: not enough Meskins to pick the lettuce.

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Not just any lettuce, mind you. Organic lettuce. High-margin, climate-sensitive, no-pesticide organic lettuce sold by Wal-Mart. Lettuce some of you asked for because it's healthier. Lettuce some of us want because it's better for the environment. The industrial food complex listened, and the corporate food giants like General Mills begat natural food giants like Cascadian Farm to plant organic vegetables...that are now rotting in California because they can't pick them (not enough Meskins anymore) so now the big boys'll buy their supply of organic lettuce in Mexico (still plenty of Meskins) or Asia (lots & lots of peasants in China) and ship it to the produce section in Laurelhurst and Bellevue where you'll be thrilled to pay the "organic" premium because it's so much healthier and ecologically sound. Right?

Pesky issue. has an article today that tars Whole Foods, a leading supporter of local agriculture, with the same "industrial organic" brush. Unfairly, I'd say.

And no, this doesn't mean I'm siding with the enemy. "Supply and demand" requires both supply ("organic" lettuce that happens to be picked by ill-paid, often illegal migrant workers) and demand (ditsy shoppers convinced by the rhetoric that "organic" is worth twice the price). There's really only one kind of lettuce worth buying: locally grown, period. If meat or produce has to travel more than 200 miles, the environmental costs of transportation alone negate any "organic" benefit; if it's boxed, canned or frozen, forget it. Class dismissed.

Listen to this post (1:48)

Pet Neutrality

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If Sen. Ted Stevens is right and the Interpet is a series of tubes, then I don't see what the fuss is about. The biggest, fattest cat is always going to win, period.


But wait, there's more.

Neutralized or not, Persians and Siamese shouldn't be eligible for Friskies. And alley cats should be required to work, dammit, before they can apply for welfare...or Fancy Feast. Riding around in Cadillacs, who do they think they are? I say let 'em eat Purina Cat Chow. And they're still a lot better off than dogs in China.

Listen to the podcast :48

Eatin' Good Outside the Hood

Not that there's anything wrong with Belltown, but it's good to get out. Reaching back into the hard drive, by-now month-old photos of dinner at Union Bay Café in Laurelhurst. The restaurant is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer with $25, three-course dinners like this one: capelli with fresh peas, sweetbreads with capers, shortcake with berries and crème fraîche. Savory food, appropriately modest portions, and every bite a sheer delight. Kudos to exec chef Mark Manley!

Capelli at Union Bay Cafe.JPG Sweetbreads.JPG
Berry shortcake.JPG Tre Fanciulli at Union Bay Cafe.JPG

And, yes, a bottle of Tre Fanciulli, a luscious blend of cab sauv, merlot and syrah from JM Cellars, whose owners, John and Peggy Bigelow, live just down the street.

Union Bay Café, 3515 NE 45th, 206-527-8364
Union Bay Cafe on Urbanspoon

Land of plenty


Consider two of the "ten most emailed" articles from yesterday's NY Times (registration required):

* A eight-year-old Scarsdale tot who obsesses over outrageously expensive fashionable jeans
* A nine-year-old African boy who spends his days breaking up rocks that his mother sells for pennies to a cement contractor

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New York Times photos: boy in Zambia, girl in Westchester County.

How can we, as Americans, put up with this kind of disparity? The only explanation I can come up with is mind control: they're putting something in the food and drink that keeps us from shrieking with moral outrage.

Roman emperors kept the plebes happy with bread & circuses. Marie-Antoinette told the peasants to eat cake. America's industrial food complex feeds us amalgamated, irradiated bar-coded fecal spam.

Well, Rome fell to the barbarians and the French aristocracy went to the guillotine, but we've become so sedated by all that high-fructose corn syrup that we're too fat and happy to rise up in anger.

Wake up, guys! Somebody has to tell Merkins to stop drinking the sweet, deadly Koolaid!

But who? Should it be up us, to the floggers? (New word, short for food bloggers.) Are we the only ones paying attention, or does our vision stop at the edge of the plate? Are we too numbed by nebbiolo and sated by soufflés?

My manifesto: Floggers of the world, unite! We've got nothing to lose but our food chains. Let's stop playing "Rhapsody in Blue Cheese" and switch to something fierce: "Food, Glorious Food!" perhaps. More suggestions, please!

You gonna eat that?


Friday morning update from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here concerns red tide, not vibrio.

Out-of-town friend writes that he loved slurping half-shell oysters at The Brooklyn on a visit last week. But wait, aren't the oyster beds closed because of the dreaded vibrio parahaemoliticus outbreak?

The answer is yes and no. Says Kim Zabel-Lincoln of the state Dep't of Health, it's the worst outbreak they've seen, but it hasn't closed all the beds. Hood Canal, Dabob and Quilcene bays, Totten and Skookum inlets, yup, they're shut down. But plenty of others remain open. Best to check the official website because the rules are different for recreational and commercial oyster-harvesting.

At the Pike Place Market today, some vendors were selling only Oregon and BC oysters; others posted warning signs. Health Dep't thinks things will get better as the water temperature cools; vibrio bacteria don't like cold water...or, as we reported last month, white wine.

Shellfish warning sign.JPG Oysters for sale.JPG Mussels and Mashers at Bell St Diner.JPG

An alternative to oysters: mussels. The NY Times was extolling mussels grown off the west coast of France and phoned the chef at Maximilien in the Market--a native of La Rochelle, where they eat mussels like Seattle eats salmon--for a quote. We've enjoyed mussels at almost every café in or around the Market, as recently as lunch today at the Bell Street Diner: a reasonably French mouclade of steamed mussels in a light curry sauce over garlicky mashed potatoes. (Could have used a bit more saffron and a bit more salt, but, hey, $8.95; at Maximilien, the real mouclade is $15.)

Meantime, it's D-for-Duck-Liver-Day in Chicago, the day the ordnance against foie gras was supposed to go into effect. Did it? Hah! In the best tradition of Windy City speakeasies, restaurants served it anyway. Can imagine tomorrow's headline: "Duck Liver on the D-L."

Apocalypse Now

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A lot of Wagner makes you wonder: what's the point? And then a performance comes along that makes your spine tingle, your flesh crawl, your hair stand on end. James Rutherford delivered it on Saturday night at McCaw Hall, culminating the phantom mariner's dramatic monologue from Der fliegende Holländer with an invocation for apocalypse, ordering the very planets to stand still. By Jupiter, had I been Jupiter, Rutherford's commanding baritone would have stopped me cold and brought the universe to a halt.


Rutherford was one of eight contestants in Seattle Opera's inaugural International Wagner Competition, an event designed to identify and reward the best of that rare breed of singers able to stand and deliver the most difficult roles in opera: Wagner's outsize, mythic, troubled, spellbound, betrayed, accursed, doomed (and occasionally redeemed) heroes and heroines.

Seattle's been a Wagner town since the days of Seattle Opera's founder, Glynn Ross, who'd apprenticed at Bayreuth and produced the first Ring cycle in Seattle 30 years ago. When Speight Jenkins came along in 1983, he raised the stakes by incorporating all 10 Wagner operas into the company's repertoire. By now, Wagner's a staple of Seattle's culture, as entrenched and unquestioned as the Blue Angels, almost a civic religion and appropriately so: Wagner's mythology incorporates themes of pilgrimage and penance, shame and atonement, trust and treason, loyalty and loss, suicide and salvation, the divine gift of earthly love and the redeeming power of music. Not just music, Song.

Wagnerian singers, though, don't grow on trees, so Speight set out to find a new crop. Over the past year, underwritten by the Simonyi Fund for Arts & Sciences, he held auditions in Vienna, Berlin, London, Paris, Seattle, and New York. Candidates had to be under 40 and not have sung more than one major Wagner role in an opera house. The 8 finalists were brought to Seattle, where they faced a jury of 5 international Wagner experts and an eager audience.

What might have been "Opera Idol" with the Richard Wagner High School Marching Band, with 16 pieces from 9 operas, was, instead, remarkable.

At the end of the night, soprano Miriam Murphy was named the best female voice; in her two arias, she promised loyalty to Siegfieid, then vengeance and death to Tristan. But it was Rutherford who swept the field, taking home a $15,000 prize from the jury, the audience-choice plaque, and a surprise award from the orchestra (who played their hearts out under Israeli conducter Asher Fisch).

Rutherford onstage.jpg Wagner contestants.jpg
Seattle Opera photos by Rosarii Lynch.

Rutherford, a Brit whose previous Wagner role was in a Chicago production of Das Rheingold, sings in Meistersinger von Nürnberg next month in Edinburgh while Murphy goes to Covent Garden. Mazel Tov!

For those who missed the live event, KING FM will rebroadcast the competition in full next Saturday at 7 PM and stream it on as well.

Meantime, listen to excerpts here.

Now you see it


Ya live in the 'hood, ya take care of the 'hood; it's no harder than making your bed or wiping the stovetop. Unlike, say, mowing the lawn. And today was The Day: Seattle Paint Out.

Wagons ready.JPG Belltown Paintout crew.JPG Offending graffiti.JPG Sara and Sarah paint out.JPG

Greenlake roomies Sara and Sarah (a political consultant and a software marketer, respectively) don't live in the nabe; they were recruited through Craigslist. (Good way to meet cute boys.) Hand them a map of Belltown and bucket of paint, they track down trash, stickers and graffiti as if hunting renegade dust-bunnies. "Love to clean the bathroom," says Sarah. "Instant gratification," says Sara. Me? I pull the wagon and admire their energy.

Note to serial offending sticker-er Katzenhof, wherever you may be: the difference between graffiti and art is permission. More about controlling graffiti in Seattle here.

The Sellen of Hempfest 2006


No thanks to the Seattle Art Museum or their contractor, Sellen Construction, for making it easy to attend Hempfest this weekend. Their obstinacy in complying with terms of a Parks Department permit wasn't resolved until midweek. Finally, like a petulant kid deigning to clean his room, they reluctantly cleared a 10-foot dirt path around heavy equipment and through construction debris at the site of the new Olympic Sculpture Park thereby allowing tens of thousands of local folks (in shorts, tees and halters) access to Myrtle Edwards Park.

C'mon, Sellen! Hempfest ain't no flash-in-the-pan, hippy fringe festival; at age 15, it's the largest marijuana rally in the nation by far, not to mention one of Seattle's most popular free music weekends. Might not be what the white-wine-&-brie museum crowd goes for, but, hey, this is America, dammit!

Access to Hempfest.JPG Hempfest shirt.JPG Jesus freaks at Hempfest.JPG

2:15: Inside at last. Jesus freaks and potheads mingle amiably on the broad lawn.
2:30: At the "Hemposium" tent, marijuana policymeister Dominic Holden moderates a panel on future political strategies.
3:00 Bands like Death-and-Taxes, Pyrx and Silas tune up on the music stages.
4:00: Munch a politically correct Mighty-O donut and wait for music to subside.
4:20: All better now.

Sunset supper


Doctor Joe, the West Seattle wine collector whose cellar we described a while back, sautées some veal, steams some broccoli, slices a tomato, then scatters shredded basil over the plate. The star: a bottle of 1990 Romanée St. Vivant, one of those wondrous, silky-smooth Burgundies that leaves grown men speechless. The setting: a spectacular Seattle sunset.

West Seattle sunset.JPG Romanee St Vivant w veal.JPG

Civilized sensory overload, I call it. Please, sir, I want some more...

The Immigrant's Table


Mary Lou Sanelli's book of poems and Italian family recipes gets a heartfelt "staged reading" at the Market Theater Friday at 8 PM. As Sanelli's Sicilian mother, Jackie Leone creates a complex and sympathetic character. Sanelli herself is a graceful performer (she also teaches ballet).

Immigrant Table displayed.JPG Leone and Sanelli.JPG
The Immigrant's Table: Poems and Heirloom Recipes; author Sanelli (R) with Leone

The message is universal: we are what we eat, and we eat what we are. While it's not Chekhov, it's a lot more satisfying than whatever might be on TV. Afterwards, take your program next door to Il Bistro for a free plate of amazing calamari.

NOTE: Friday is also "Sunset Supper at the Market," so it's likely to be crowded.

Market Theater, 1428 Post Alley, 206-781-9273
Il Bistro on Urbanspoon

What's for dinner?


Literally at the last minute, Chicago chefs are looking up from their sauté pans and asking, "Hey, why you guys picking on me?"

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Foie gras on the hoof at a farm in the Dordogne.

The Windy City's fatwah against foie gras is slated to go into effect next week, but it's taken months for restaurant owners to take matters into their own hands. The Artisan Farmers Association and a new group called Chicago Chefs for Choice announce they'll challenge the ban. The local restaurant association weighs in as well, saying, "We believe the City Council does not have a right to tell people what to have for dinner."

If we believe in keeping the government out of our bedrooms, we shouldn't let them inspect our dinner plates, either.

Gimme 5 liters of the hi-test

Did you see the headline? Wine Ratings Might Not Pass The Sobriety Test.

Wow, I think, at last someone's gonna confess that they got a little snockered at the last Burgundy tasting! But no, the reporter, from the NY Times business staff, is shocked, shocked to learn that those 100-point scales are, like, totally bogus.

Wine spigot.jpg Fillup in Vacqueyras.jpg
Misleading graphic accompanies NY Times column; the real thing in Vacqueyras

When are the gurus (Parker, Expectorator, etc.) and their disciples gonna learn? The only people who care about numbers are either ignorant wholesalers who wouldn't know grand cru from crude oil, or insufferable snobs whose palates need valet parking?

As for the Times, one wonders if the Business editors are even aware of the paper's food & wine coverage, let alone Eric Asimov's excellent blog, The Pour.


Erotic horns, sensuous strings


Some people got a kick out of watching loud boats race in circles this past weekend; they got jonesed when fighter jets did noisy strafing runs over Lake Washington. For me, that visceral thrill came with the maestro's downbeat and the opening arpeggios of Strauss's Rosenkavalier.

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Sophie falls for the Rosenkavalier. Seattle Opera photo © Rosarii Lynch. A toast!

Israeli conductor Asher Fisch coaxes more sound from the pit at McCaw Hall than the rooster-tailed drivers at Stan Sayres could ever imagine: a lush, erotic cascade of horns intertwined with strings, brass masculine calls and sinuous feminine responses that don't let up all evening. It's music of heart-stopping intensity and it underscores a great moment of theater: Octavian's presentation of a symbolic silver rose to the young Sophie at the beginning of Act II, the stage brilliant with strobe lights and resplendent satin.

Sadly, the rest of the show disappoints. The wise and noble Marschallin, Carol Vaness, seems overwhelmed by the orchestra and by the unfamiliar language, German, of the libretto. Alice Coote makes a convincing enough Octavian; it's a pants role (Strauss loved writing for sopranos) that would do better, dramatically, with a strapping tenor. As Sophie's boorish fiancé Baron Ochs;, bass Peter Rose founders on the reefs of farce. Only Julianne Gearhart--originally hired as an understudy--escapes unscathed; her sweet Sophie eventually wins everyone's heart.

What went wrong? It's a recycled production to begin with; sets and costumes dusted off from Seattle Opera's 1997 staging, which featured an incomprehensibly gloomy vision of what constitutes elegant Viennese drawing rooms. Worse, the decision to bring back the original stage director, Dieter Kaegi, whose idea of wit makes the Three Stooges look sophisticated. (There's literally a guy whose head pops up through a hollow tree.) The tension between the idealistic sentiments of youth (Octavian and Sophie) and the mature wisdom of the Marschallin is fatally undercut by the awkward staging and by supratitles, borrowed from San Francisco Opera that lack Jonathan Dean's sensitivity and humor.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go. By all means, open your ears and listen to the glorious music. Open your eyes and read the convoluted supratitles. And, except for that one dazzling moment at the top of Act II, just ignore everything happening onstage.

Der Rosenkavalier, through August 26 at Seattle Opera. 206-789-7676

Cocktail cred

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What a workload, what a record! For close to ten years, 3,500 nights in a row, the barkeeps at Tini Bigs have been shaking, stirring & pouring. Not to mention researching, developing & testing, testing, testing. (Who can say as much? 13 Coins and Denny's, those always-open stalwarts, don't have the same reputation for innovative drinks, to say the least.) To celebrate, owner Keith Robbins dropped the price of libations to $3.50...for a couple of hours.

Burning Man Tini.jpg Birthday cake.JPG Tini Bigs martinis.JPG
Burning-Man Tini; birthday cake; $3.50 tinis

Meantime, lead bartender Aaron Marshall was named Seattle's Best in a poll of Seattle Weekly readers, and the drink given its name by Cornichon, the Burning-Man Tini, was voted Best Specialty Cocktail. Recipe: Mazama chili-pepper vodka mixed with chocolate liqueur, topped with sweetened cream; glass rimmed with cocoa powder and cayenne; garnished with dried Thai chili.

Footnote: The Burning Man's original moniker was Vulcan. Concern was that Paul Allen, developer of nearby South Lake Union, would not have been amused. Good call.

Tini Bigs, 100 Denny Way, 206-284-0931
Tini Biggs Lounge on Urbanspoon

Chipping away at freedom


Brits call them chips, we 'Merkins call them fries, those potato sticks cooked in oil. Cooked twice, in fact. They used to be called French fries, until three years ago, when the perfidious, cheese-eating French surrender monkeys refused to line up for our scrimmage against Saddam, the much-derided "Coalition of the Willing." The French honorific was purged, Stalin-style, from the cafeteria menu at the House of Representatives and the potatoes rechristened Freedom Fries. Orwell himself could not have imagined a better outcome.

Alas. That was then, this is now. Without fanfare, Freedom Fries have been replaced. The latest menu, according to an item in today's Washington Times, once again allows our hungry congressional delegations to speak the word "French" if they want a side of America's favorite vegetable with their hamburger or frankfurter. (We don't have anything against the Germans, do we?) No comment from Rep. Bob Ney, the Ohio Republican in charge of the cafeteria, who no longer supports the war in Iraq. That, as we said, was then, and times have changed.

Or have they? Associated Press reports that obese people claim to exercise vigorously and to have healthy eating habits. Denial, it seems, is turning into a national pastime.

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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