Sunday, April 30, 2006

san francisco international film festival

The 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) wraps up its 15 day, 100 presentation program this Thursday May 4. There are still a number of interesting showings in the City and in Palo Alto including the somber documentary The Bridge (USA 2005), the avant-garde Perpetual Motion (China 2005), and the challenging The Sun (Russia, Italy, France 2005). However, screenings of many of the best films have past.

Fortunately, a number of featured selections from the SFIFF are already available on DVD. For those like me that missed much of this year’s festival, here are links to create your own home international film festival via Netflix.

(Norway 2005) (netflix)
Bent Hamer brings his offbeat Scandinavian sensibility to the seedy American underbelly in this droll adaptation of writer/barfly Charles Bukowski’s 1975 novel of the same name, starring Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor.

The Giant Buddhas
(Switzerland 2005) (netflix)
Blasphemous idols? Cultural treasures? For 1,500 years the giant Buddhas of Afghanistans Bamiyan Valley stood as colossal stone monuments—until the Taliban blew them up in 2001. Oscar-nominated documentarian Christian Frei meditates on their fate in this haunting, reflective film.

The Heart of the Game
(USA 2005) (netflix)
The politics of race, class and sex arrive center court in Ward Serrill’s entertaining documentary of a high school girls basketball team in Seattle, and the headstrong star player who represents their greatest challenge—and inspiration.

The House Of Sand
(Brazil 2005) (netflix)
Three generations of women abandoned in the stunningly beautiful deserts of northeast Brazil remind us that human existence is a struggle and that living it to the fullest is something to be celebrated. Starring Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres.

(Korea 2005) (netflix)
A deeply rewarding, delicately observant portrait of a modern young woman’s search for happiness and love, featuring an intensely physical performance by South Korea’s finest actress, Moon So-Ri.

Three Times
(Taiwan 2005) (netflix)
Three different time periods, two lead roles and one eternal love: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s romantic new film moves across the history of Taiwan—and the arc of the director’s career—to explore the memory of love in 1966, 1911 and today.

Descriptions are from the SFIFF. Click on each title for more details or the Netflix link to add to your queue.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

a better SD memory card

Paul’s note: Known on the international poker circuit as “the Dapper Californian,” Warren is a man of many nicknames: Brillo, the King, … He is also a frequent traveler, a mountaineer, the proud father of two wonderful little boys and, today, a guest contributor to (at least) one cool thing. Warren writes:

sandisk ultra II plus SD cardSD (Secure Digital) cards have become the de facto memory storage format for digital cameras. They come in a few different formats and a variety of memory capacities (up to 2 GB these days) to satisfy any photographer from amateur to professional. In my opinion, the biggest drawback of these cards has been the inconvenience of transferring the digital photographs from the camera to the computer. Typically, one needs to use an SD card reader, which is a separate peripheral device, in order to affect this transfer operation. While this may not be inconvenient if you're sitting at your computer at home, what do you do if you're traveling and want to send some of your photos to others or edit your photos mid-trip? A number of companies sell mobile SD card readers, but that doesn't eliminate the need for the peripheral device, it simply shrinks the device.

Fortunately, SanDisk recently came out with a novel SD card that eliminates the need for the reader entirely: the SanDisk Ultra II Plus. This creative SD card contains a USB connector built right into the form factor of the memory card. When you're ready to transfer your photos into your computer, you simply remove the SD card from your camera, bend it in half along the hinge line, and insert the revealed USB connector into your computer. Your computer immediately recognizes the SD card as a USB memory device and prompts you to select whether you'd like to view the images or transfer the images on to your computer's hard drive. In fact, the Ultra II Plus even incorporates a small, blue LED that tells you that the USB connection to your computer has been made.

With the SanDisk Ultra II Plus, transferring and viewing my photos is a snap, and, even more importantly, I'll never have to use (or lose) an SD card reader again!

Friday, April 28, 2006

thank you for smoking

Nick Naylor: You know the guy who can pick up any girl? I'm him on crack.

Lisette and I saw Thank You For Smoking (website) (trailer) tonight and it is quite entertaining. It is witty, well-paced and fabulously dark. If you enjoy light political humor, catch it while it is in the theater or be sure to rent it once it is released on DVD.

Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor is a top lobbyist for Big Tobacco. Like fellow Merchant of Death (MOD) members who head the firearm lobby and the alcohol lobby, Nick’s job is to defend an industry in an increasingly hostile scientific, political and public opinion climate. In public Nick is charming and sly, always changing the subject and winning his argument by making the other person lose. In private his conversations are irreverent and refreshingly politically incorrect.

Eckhart is perfect for this role, but his is not the only well cast character. Cameron Bright plays Joey Naylor, Nick’s 3rd grade son, and has several scene-stealing moments. J.K. Simmons is perfect as BR, a tough veteran lobbyist and Nick’s boss. Robert Duval plays “The Captain” (a top tobacco executive) and William H. Macy is their foe as a Senator from Vermont with an anti-smoking agenda. Rob Lowe and Dennis Miller turn in great cameo appearances.

Thank You For Smoking is based on Christopher Buckley’s 1994 novel. Christopher is the 53 year old son of William F. Buckley, Jr. and author of more than 15 fiction and non-fiction books.

Bonus link: The New Yorker’s review of Thank You For Smoking

Thursday, April 27, 2006

high fidelity and mobile movies

Some folks in Berkeley have been organizing mobile movies on Fridays. The concept is genius – pick an abandoned location and converge for an impromptu drive-in experience. With affordable, powerful projectors and pirate radio, it is possible to re-create the drive-in experience that our generation was never able to enjoy.

Tomorrow the film is High Fidelity mentioned here on (at least) one cool thing and summarized by imbd. The secret location is the Railroad Barrens. With nice weather and the possibility of Zachary’s or Fenton’s after the show, I’m in. Who wants to join me? I think this will be a blast!

Mobmov-Berkeley presents "High Fidelity"
Friday, Apr 28th at 8:00PM Berkeley, CA

4/29 Update: Technical problems prevented last night's show. High Fidelity has been re-scheduled for Friday 5/5

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

fuku wa puku puku

fuku wa puku pukuLisette and I have been watching this season of 24 with Mike and Joy. Apart from the pleasure of sharing snarky comments about technical impossibilities and admiring Jack Bauer’s awesomeness, the best part of watching on Mike’s TIVO is that he and Joy are excellent hosts. They always have tasty snacks.

Tonight’s treats were Japanese sweets from the Mitsuwa Marketplace. We sampled two types of Sakura mochi and then some special daifuku. The daifuku we tried had purple potato and cream inside and mochi on the outside, and it has the best name ever: fuku wa puku puku. It’s name alone is enough to make it the cool thing of the day but it is really tasty too.

Mitsuwa Marketplace: 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA (408) 255-6699

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

pink grapefruit yogurt

emmi pink grapefruit yogurtI’m enchanted by pink grapefruit yogurt from Emmi. Emmi is a Swiss brand owned by the dairy giant Lucerne, and their yogurt is made in Switzerland from Alpine dairy. It is quite luscious (the Swiss know dairy), but what makes pink grapefruit special is the combination of tartness and sweetness that accompanies every spoonful.

Emmi’s yogurt is made with grapefruit juice and pulp, and the result is most unlike any other flavor I have tried. Of course it is also loaded with active yogurt cultures, and you can’t go wrong with other Emmi flavors like strawberry and blueberry, but the pink grapefruit is special.

I buy mine at Andronico’s, but it is also stocked by Piazza’s and other fine markets. (I haven’t seen it at Whole Foods though.) Give it a try and tell me what you think.

Monday, April 24, 2006

interesting music used in tv advertisements

I don’t watch that much TV. It’s not because of superior character; rather, I am a Luddite without cable. After an early-adopter experiment with DirecTV, I’ve toughed it out with my poor over-the-air reception. I mention this because even though I am not seeing many shows I have noticed that TV commercials are employing a wide selection of interesting music to sell their products. In no particular order, here are my 5 current favorites:

the product: Jaguar XK (2006) (google video)
the song:
Spoon – I Turn My Camera On (iTunes)

the product: Sutter Health (2006)
the song: Bill Ricchini – A Cold Wind Blows (

the product: Budwiser Select (2006)
the song:
The Chemical Brothers feat. Q-Tip – Galvanize (iTunes)

the product: Diet Coke (2006)
the song:
Goldfrapp - Ooh La La (iTunes)

the product: Civic Hybrid (2006)
the song: Grandaddy – Nature Anthem (

Of course, any discussion of music and commercial should acknowledge the amazing re-branding that Volkswagen accomplished and the instrumental role that music played in that campaign. Here are my favorites from the past:

the product: Volkswagen Golf (1997)
the music:
Trio – Da Da Da (iTunes)

the product: Volkswagen Beetle (1998)
the music: Orb – Little Fluffy Clouds (

the product: Volkswagen Cabrio (1999)
the song: Nick Drake – Pink Moon (

the prodcut: Volkswagen Jetta (2000)
the song: Master Cylinder – Jung at Heart (

Note: full lengths songs for evaluation can often be found using the Hype Machine's search

Sunday, April 23, 2006

wait wait don't tell me

Paul’s note: Podcasting is changing how we consume radio, and my good friend Mike has agreed to write about how he listens to one of his favorite programs. Mike is a busy father of two energetic boys, an enthusiastic runner, an accomplished gardener and a co- inventor of the world famous Seven Bean Soup. Mike writes:

There are a few good shows on NPR, but I never seemed to be listening at the right time until they started making shows available as podcasts. One of the most entertaining shows is the news quiz, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, which is broadcast in the Bay Area at 11AM Saturdays. My MP3 player now picks up the podcast of this show and many others via the iPodder application, making my MP3 player work like a TiVO.

Last week I was out for a run and heard a piece that made me laugh out loud. There is segment called Bluff The Listener, where show regulars make up 3 stories about the week’s news. The call-in listener has to guess which story is real, but of course all stories usually sound so absurd that that couldn’t possibly be real. I was listening to three crazy stories about the band Kiss resurfacing in various ways. One story concerned two feuding midget kiss tribute bands in Las Vegas. Enough said, you can hear the segment by clicking on “Bluff the Listener.” And yes, its true. (links here and here)

Another funny segment is Not My Job, a game where a celebrity is asked 3 questions about something they should know nothing about. For example, here is Utah resident and Jeopardy 70-time winner Ken Jennings being quizzed on one night stands, NASCAR, and the sexiest man alive.

Bonus links: I echo Mike's endorsement of iPodder and I use iTunes as well for podcasts. As previously mentioned, I subscribe to the Tongcast and various programs from KEXP and KCRW.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

la copa loca

la copa locaAs you might have gathered from a previous post, I like ice cream. So, I was intrigued when Elaine mentioned that there was a gelato place at 22nd and Capp in the Mission. I don’t think that I was the only skeptic last night, but I am very happy we took Elaine’s advice and headed over to La Copa Loca.

La Copa Loca is the perfect neighborhood ice cream store. It’s small, charming, authentic and a wonderful if not surprising addition to the Mission. Mauro Pislor opened it last summer and he has been making his sorbet and gelati fresh every day since. His recipes and base ingredients are imported from his hometown in Italy. His purées are from the freshest fruit he can find.

In the photo you see about 15 of their 30 or so flavors as well as our friendly server who gave us many samples. Front and center are kiwi and mango sorbets, and on top of the case are my two scoops of mango sorbet and banana gelato and Brad’s yogurt gelato. And yes, the yogurt tastes exactly like a fine plain yogurt.

The sorbets are intensely flavored and unusual like the blood orange sorbet that Lisette enjoyed. The gelati are rich and ultra-smooth as one might expect from flavors made fresh that morning in the traditional style. If you happen to be near the Mission, especially one of the warm afternoons that I am hoping we will have more of soon, head over to La Copa Loca.

La Copa Loca: 3150 22nd Street, San Francisco, CA (415) 401-7424

Other ice cream places I want to try in the City:
Gelateria Naia, 451 Castro St., San Francisco; (415) 864-6670
Belgano, 3901 24th St., San Francisco; (415) 647-4266
Polly Ann Ice Cream, 3138 Noriega, San Francisco; (415) 664-2472

Friday, April 21, 2006

dosa southern indian restaurant

Dosa is a new Southern Indian restaurant in the Mission. It opened in December and Elaine discovered it shortly thereafter. She told Brad and Christie about it and they have been proclaiming its excellence ever since. I was delighted to be able to join the three of them for dinner this evening.

dosa Dosa is hip, crowded and noisy. At 21st and Valencia, it is in a neighborhood that is tight on weekend parking. However, the food more than makes up for the locational inconvenience.

We started our meal with the Dahi Vada, two large lentil dumplings covered with spiced yogurt, tamarind and mint, a delightful combination. We also had the Chennai Chicken - very lightly fried chicken strips spiced with coriander, cumin and curry leaves.

After the starters we sampled the entrees for which the restaurant is named. Dosas are savory crepes served with tomato chutney, coconut chutney and a lentil soup for dipping called Sambar.

The first entree we had was Channa Bhatura (top left), large puffy wheat bread served with a bowl of wonderful lentils, garbanzos and stewed vegetables. This might have been my favorite dish. Next was the Paneer (2nd photo), a rolled dosa filled with vegetables and farmer’s cheese. Then we tried the Masala (3rd from the top), a large thin dosa containing spiced, creamy potatoes, onions and cashews. This is their signature dish. And, we rounded out the meal with the Tamil Lamb curry (bottom photo), succulent lamb served in a sauce of fennel, tomato, poppy seeds and onions.

This was the first time that I had tried Southern Indian cuisine, but I can’t wait for my next trip to Dosa. In the interim I will have to explore the popular Southern Indian restaurants here on the peninsula, and I encourage you to do the same.

Bonus link: Michael Bauer’s SF Chronicle Review

Dosa: 995 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA (415) 642-3672

Thursday, April 20, 2006

john cusack

I don't remember why (I was drinking Fiesta del Mar margaritas), but at some point during tonight’s Guys Night Out the conversation turned to early John Cusack films.

Cusack is a very talented actor who began his career playing an uber-geek in the seminal Sixteen Candles. From there he starred in a number of well-written romantic comedies like Say Anything and One Crazy Summer where he mastered the portrayal teen angst before progressing to excellent art house films (Being John Malcovich) and big Hollywood features (Runaway Jury). Cusack is a GNO favorite and here are our top 5 John Cusack films:

The Grifters (Miramax Collector's Series)5. The Grifters (1991) Cusack is a confidence man in this slick Scorsese-produced film. Annette Bening, Angelica Huston and John’s older sister Joan Cusack all turn in excellent performances

Grosse Pointe Blank4. Grosse Point Blank (1997) Cusack plays a hitman returning to Michigan for his 10 year high school reunion in this black comedy. The highlight is the phenomenal soundtrack with cuts from the Violent Femmes, the Clash, Queen and the Jam

3. High Fidelity (2000) Cusack is a record store owner with an encyclopedic knowledge of music in this dark movie about relationships and breakups. Its soundtrack plays a prominent role, but the highlights are the discussions about album organization systems

The Sure Thing2. The Sure Thing (1985) A classic coming of age film directed by Rob Reiner. It popularized shot-gunning beers and immortalized the roadtrip. A disappointing ending keeps it out of the top spot but it is still up there with the all-time greats. Look for appearances by Tim Robbins, Anthony Edwards and Daphne Zuniga

Better Off Dead1. Better Off Dead (1985) Unquestionably Cusack's finest work and the best movie in this list. It has the paperboy (“I want my $2"), the hot foreign exchange student and the Japanese race-car drivers who speak just like Howard Cosell

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

80's covers

Cover songs frustrate me. Most times when a band re-records another's song it is a mistake. Sometimes the selection is iconic and difficult to improve upon (like the 10,000 Maniacs - More Than This) or the remake can be so similar in style of the original that it is rendered pointless (My Chemical Romance – Under Pressure). More often, the band’s lack of talent makes it a complete disaster (T.A.T.U. – How Soon is Now or anything from William Hung).

However, occasionally covers can delight me. Sometimes bands will make the song their own like Love and Rocket’s Ball of Confusion or the English Beat’s Tears of a Clown. None of the tracks below are quite that good, but like Iron & Wine’s Love Vigilantes they offer interesting interpretations on music I heard quite often in the 80’s. In most cases I really liked the original and in all cases I enjoy the cover.

Nada Surf – If You Leave (buy from iTunes)
OMD – If You Leave (
buy from iTunes)

Makena – Only You (
buy from iTunes)
Yaz - Only You (
buy from iTunes)

Flunk – Blue Monday (
buy from iTunes)
New Order – Blue Monday (
buy from iTunes)

Mixologia – Oh L’Amour (Broken Corazon Remix) (
buy from iTunes)
Erasure – Oh L’Amour (
buy from iTunes)

Veruca Salt – Somebody (
buy from iTunes)
Depeche Mode – Somebody (
buy from iTunes)

Susanna Hoffs – We Close Our Eyes (
buy from iTunes)
Oingo Boingo – We Close Our Eyes (
buy from iTunes)

The Get Up Kids – Close to Me (
buy from iTunes)
The Cure – Close to Me (
buy from iTunes)

Bowling for Soup – I Ran (
buy from iTunes)
Flock of Seagulls – I Ran (
buy from iTunes)

The Ataris – The Boys of Summer (
buy from iTunes)
Don Henley – The Boys of Summer (
buy from iTunes)

David Wilcox – Missing You (
buy from iTunes)
John Waite – Missing You (
buy from iTunes)

A note for my young readers: the original recording is listed second.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

the jerker desk

jerker desk from IkeaI'm often asked what it's like being part of a super-secret, super-cool startup. Well, it is very hip, but we don’t live the rock star lifestyle all the time. Take today, for example. This morning we moved in to our new corporate offices and our first task was to build our own desks. Now tonight, having assembled 6 of them, I can say that the Jerker workstation from Ikea is both well-designed and, at $99, an exceptional value.

We opted for the Jerker for its clean lines and, being budget conscious, its price. The Jerker has a generous workspace (the top is 63" x 31") but it doesn’t seem large or clunky. Its frame is steel, its top is laminated particleboard, and when it is assembled it is very sturdy.

drawers for jerker deskWe added drawers for $50 a desk. These take a bit longer to assemble but they attach (and un-attach) easily. We haven’t decided yet, but we may splurge and add the $3 Signum pen tray, a $15 Summera computer holder and the stylish $25 Antifoni work lamp (although the $9 Tertial lamp will likely be our choice).

Not surprisingly, the Jerker is a popular home office choice and it also comes in a taller version with a shelf. Surprisingly, the desk has a cult following on the web. Designer Nicolas Cortolezzis has done a wonderful job, and if you are looking for a simple, modern workspace I encourage you to consider the Jerker. Stop by your local Ikea, or come visit us in Redwood City. We are very near the Old Port Lobster Shack.

Note: For offices with bigger budgets, check out the Galant series.

Monday, April 17, 2006

love vigilantes

new order low life Love Vigilantes is my favorite New Order song. Released on the 1985 Low-Life, the band’s third album, it was over-shadowed by the singles Perfect Kiss and Sub-Culture. Love Vigilantes was never remixed and it is absent from all of the many best of compliations, but it was far from ignored by fans.

New Order – Love Vigilantes (buy from iTunes)

iron & wine live epIron & Wine (more correctly Sam Beam, normally the only musician in Iron & Wine) must be among those fans as they have just covered Love Vigilantes. Their version transforms New Order’s guitar and synth driven mid-tempo track into a quiet, acoustic arrangement appropriate for its melancholy lyrics.

I think the result is sad and beautiful, and it is one of the best songs I have heard in a while. Iron & Wine’s cover is available on an EP produced exclusively for iTunes. Sam is joined by his sister Sarah for harmonies on this special recording.

Iron & Wine – Love Vigilantes (buy from iTunes)

You can also download the mp3 for Iron & Wine – Love Vigilantes from In House with Jeremy Peterson (it’s song 7).

Sunday, April 16, 2006


I miss Higashi West. I miss the quality and size of the nigiri and the certainty that every Tuesday and Friday my friend Mike W. would be dining at the sushi bar. Sadly, Higashi West self-destructed, but like a phoenix rising a wonderful new restaurant has taken its place.

Mantra opened last month, and it features Indian-influenced California cuisine in a very swanky (for Palo Alto) atmosphere. The Daru Lounge is a perfect setting for cocktails, and the artwork in the main dining room is a great compliment to the presentations of the food.

mantra quicheThe kitchen at Mantra is shockingly experienced. Chef Robert Cibrowski was locally trained at the CIA and worked at French Laundry before pursuing lucrative Executive Chef positions for the Ritz Carlton and then Atlantis. Thomas Horton was at Aqua, Fifth Floor, and most recently, Executive Chef for Left Bank. And, Ashwani Kumar, a chef with more than 40 years in the kitchen has worked at top restaurants in India and with Gaylords here on the Peninsula.

My first trip to Mantra was at Lisette's suggestion for brunch this afternoon, but I can’t wait to go again. Our meal began with a basket of warm, Mantra-made pastry. 2 small blueberry croissants, 2 plain croissants and 1 chocolate croissant were served with French butter and 1 oz. jars of Bonne Maman preserves: blueberry, apricot and strawberry. What a wonderful start!

mantra crepeBrunch continued with our entrees, a quiche and the Moroccan crepe. The quiche (above) was made with leek, pancetta and goat cheese and accompanied by a tomato coulis – a lovely match. The crust on the quiche was perfect: light, sweet and flaky. More unusual was the crisp Moroccan crepe (right) served with 2 eggs (lightly scrambled), baby spinach, bacon lardoons and balsamic vinegar. Delicious!

For dinner, the basket of pasty is replaced by Indian breaks and the sophistication of the entrees increases. I can’t wait to sample dishes photographed for their website like the sake-baked sea bass or the seared Tasmanian salmon, and the tasting menu’s seem irresistible. Anyone want to join me?

6/24 update: I returned to Mantra last night with Joy and Mike. I had enjoyed brunch so much that despite a very mixed review from my friends Brian and Jennifer, I had to sample the dinner menu. Sadly, dinner was a disappointment. It was that our food was bad; more that our $25 entrees were unexceptional, a grave sin at that price point. I do want to go back for brunch, and the bar seems like a reasonable choice for a late night snack, but I am unexcited about dinner. Perhaps the reason for the decline since my first visit is that Chef Robert Cibrowski left Mantra last month. Thomas Horton is running the kitchen while a search for a new chef is underway.

Mantra: 632 Emerson Street Palo Alto, CA

Saturday, April 15, 2006


There is fantastic free software available for non-commercial use, but it can be hard sorting through the clutter to find the right application. Google searches often lead to trail ware with crippling restrictions or strange sites with popups and .ru domains. Download clearinghouses like cnet’s are more helpful but they can provide too many choices. Fortunately, the eConsulatants have built a compendium of 300 common computer tasks and their freeware solutions.

I just discovered the list today, and I am impressed by its recommendations. It includes excellent software I have already reviewed: Skype, Picasa, Yahoo! Widgets, and VLC Media Player. Also listed are utilities that I use but haven’t had an opportunity to mention, like:

Foobar2000 – an excellent multi-format audio file player. I also use WinAmp
MediaMonkey – a very powerful music library organizer. I also use iTunes
Exact Audio Copy – the most accurate way to rip a CD
mpTrim and mp3DirectCut – edit mp3 files without recompressing
7-Zip – zip archive compression and expansion. Also unpacks tar, gzip, rar, etc
Lupas Rename – bulk file renaming
MWSnap - a versatile screen capture program
Pixie by NattyWare – HTML, RGB and Hex color values for any pixel
Google Earth – detailed satellite imagery for the US and beyond
ISO Recorder – a handy powertoy for ISO creation
SpeedFan – an essential monitor for hard disk and CPU temperatures

There are some omissions. I’m not sure why AdAware isn’t included in the spyware section and TrueCrypt is absent from the encryption section. Similarly, I’ve found MP3 Tag Studio to be the best tag manipulation program, and Bloglines is certainly a popular RSS reader. However, the list is filled with great programs that I can’t wait to try. I have found it helpful and I think that you will too.

I want a Freeware Utility to ... 300+ common problems solved.

Friday, April 14, 2006


I had a late breakfast today with my friends Bill and Mark at the Millbrae Pancake House. Bill shared one of his favorite spots with us and I wanted to share it with you.

For the past 50 years the folks at the MPH have been serving all-day breakfast for their many devoted customers (at 11a on a Friday the place was packed). They offer more traditional lunch items as well as eggs and omelets, but according to Bill the reason to drive to Millbrae is for the pancakes.

I ordered banana, Bill ordered blueberry, and we both received plates overflowing with 6 gigantic buttermilk pancakes topped with lots of fresh fruit. They were light, fluffy and perfectly golden brown, rivaling the best I have had. I am a big fan of the Original Pancake House in Los Altos, but these are at least as good.

Despite the fact that Bill always makes great restaurant recommendations, I wasn’t prepared to be as impressed with breakfast as I was. I didn’t study the menu so I can’t report with confidence on the large variety of pancakes they make (there are a lot of choices). And, I didn’t bring a camera to photograph the big stacks of cakes that arrived. But, trust me and, more plausibly, trust Bill: the MPH is the real deal.

Millbrae Pancake House: 1301 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA (650) 589-2080
Original Pancake House: 420 S San Antonio Rd, Los Altos, CA (650) 559-9197

Thursday, April 13, 2006

a decadent breakfast

Lisette’s company had lots of left over bagels, so she got creative and made one of my favorite desserts. I love bread pudding, and using Epicurious, a wonderful site for online recipes from Bon Appétit and Gourmet magazine, she adapted this classic:


2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 slices crustless white bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2/3 cup raisins
Additional ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 11x7-inch glass baking dish. Whisk first 6 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Fold in bread, apple, and raisins. Pour batter into prepared dish. Bake pudding 30 minutes. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon. Bake pudding until top is golden and center is set, about 35 minutes longer.

I like using a batard, but the cinnamon raisin bagel proved to be an innovative twist. The bagel does not combine as well with the custard, but the added spice and texture are nice additions. The recipe makes a fantastic dessert and an even more decadent breakfast.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

crab cakes

crab cakesLike the lobster roll, the crab cake is a simple but elusive creation. Often it suffers from too much filler and too little crab. Breading and the wrong spices can ruin a crab cake too, but fortunately, none of these flaws afflict the $3.99 Andronico’s crab cake.

Available at the seafood counter, these pre-made crab cakes are large and flavorful. Each is 2 ½ to 3” in diameter and approximately 1” thick. That’s almost 5 cubic inches of fresh delicious crab per cake. They are made the traditional way: big chunks of crab meat, finely chopped green onions, a bit pepper for some kick and a little egg to hold things together. And, they couldn’t be easier to prepare. Saute them for 3 minutes a side over medium high heat.

Of all of the items I order regularly at restaurants, none disappoints more frequently than the crab cake. Their typical high cost sets expectations at a level few recipes meet. That’s why I am glad I discovered a pre-made crab cake that rivals Maryland’s best. It is so good that I might have to stay home and cook more often.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

a great deal on turbotax

My wealthy friends with accountants and my organized friends who filed weeks ago should scroll to the bottom half of this post for some sites for finding deals. For the procrastinators like me who have not yet started their tax returns, read on.

TurboTax Deluxe with State, the default program for preparing your own taxes, is half price at Office Depot. The online cost still shows as $39.99, the same price as Staples and Fry’s, but when you purchase in-store it rings up as $19.99.

I’m not sure why it is $20 off. I didn’t see it advertised and I haven’t read about it on any of the deal sites (links below), so it was a pleasant surprise. Click here for a scan of my receipt and bring it with you in case your copy rings up differently. Office Depot has a price-matching policy.

Note: TurboTax is available for PC and Mac. The Deluxe with State edition contains Federal forms on a CD and a download for the state of your choice. Unlike last year, it installed for me without difficulty. There is one substantial negative, however. There are no rebates available when e-filing this year using TurboTax. To save the IRS the cost of data entry you must pay. Makes a lot of sense to me.

Sites for great deals

Pricewatch: The original price comparison engine. Great for online electronics purchases. Enter a model number and Pricewatch finds the best deals.

PriceGrabber: The most comprehensive comparison engine. Use it for all your online purchase. Their best feature is Bottom Line Price which calculates tax and shipping. Both Pricewatch and PriceGrabber are much better than Froogle

Slickdeals: Browse the homepage for great bargains (like Dell’s newest 19” LCD for $236) or search the forums if you know what you are looking for. Their links for free magazines have worked well for me

FatWallet: The largest deal site. Like Slickdeals, it is worth the effort to search if you know what you want

Monday, April 10, 2006

Bonne Maman Peach Preserves

Bonne Maman Peach Preserves Many of you are familiar with the distinctly shaped jar and checkered red and white lid of Bonne Maman. However if you are like me, you’ve enjoyed their excellent strawberry jam (it’s a classic!) but haven’t sampled their other flavors.

I was shopping at Andronico’s yesterday and stumbled upon a giant Bonne Maman display. Stacked at the end of the aisle were blackberry, cherry, apricot, raspberry, blueberry and peach preserves. So many more varieties than I knew existed. I selected peach, and after two fine PB&J’s I proclaim peach delicious. The Bonne Maman peach has nice chunks of fruit and a sweet, but not too sweet, flavor. It is hard to beat strawberry for a sandwich, but peach has earned a regular spot in the rotation.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

All the President’s Men

We stand by our story - Ben Bradlee

I watched All the President’s Men last night on KQED. I’ve read the book, seen the film several times before, and I vaguely remember watching it in the theater with my parents when it was released. But, that’s what happens when you grow up in Washington, D.C.

For those unfamiliar with the excellent 1976 film, it chronicles the investigative reporting on the Watergate burglary of Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. As the movie unfolds, we watch the young Metro reporters trace a hidden money trail from the bungled break-in in June of 1972 back to the Committee to Re-Elect the President using aggressive reporting techniques and anonymous sources like the famous Deep Throat. Filled with intrigue, suspense and excellent acting, All the President’s Men provides a timely reminder of the initial events that would lead to the imprisonment of the Attorney General, the White House Counsel and the Chief of Staff, and the resignation of the President of the United States.

Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman portray “Woodstein,” with Jason Robards as Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee. All the President’s Men was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and it won in 4 categories, including Art Direction for the incredibly detailed recreation of the Post newsroom. In February of this year, Warner issued a 2-DVD version with new commentary from Bob Woodward and a featurette on Deep Throat.

The screenplay is adapted from the 1974 Woodward and Bernstein book of the same name, and it does a wonderful job of recreating the intricacies of the initial stories. With any movie, compromises are made, and in this case the last 18 months of the Watergate story are omitted. The movie stops on Inauguration Day in January 1973 and relies on wire headlines for mentions of the Senate hearings, the Saturday Night Massacre, the secret tapes and Nixon's resignation. It is dramatic but not nearly as satisfying as the recounting of these events in the book.

All the President’s Men is among my favorite films, and, not surprisingly the book is even better. I recommend (re-)reading and (re-)watching both. (Amazon links for the DVD and the book)

Bonus links:
An archive of the Washington Post’s Watergate stories
Wikipedia summary of the Watergate scandal
The Woodward and Bernstein Papers

Saturday, April 08, 2006

On-demand web video from PBS

I recently discovered that many shows produced for the Public Broadcasting Service have extensive, web-accessible video archives. Most interesting are:

NOVA, the most watched science series in the world. Produced by WGBH, NOVA’s subjects include biology, history, space and technology. View a list of all programs available for download, or watch The Great Robot Race, a documentary on the DARPA challenge.

The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, a 60-minute review of national news with an in-depth focus on the top 3 stories of the day produced by WETA. View their complete archives.

Frontline, award-winning investigative reporting that covers controversial topics in politics, ethics and business. View a list of all programs available for download, or watch their recent report on the growing methamphetamine epidemic.

In addition to these national shows, KQED has placed many of their locally produced programs online. These include:

Spark!, a weekly introduction to innovative artists in the Bay Area and art they create. View the complete list of segments, or accompany Trevor Paglen to the military bases of Tonopah, NV.

Check, Please! a 30-minute review show hosted by Leslie Sbrocco that features 3 restaurant and the 3 people who nominated them. Each dines at the others’ picks and the opinions are sophisticated, honest and sometimes controversial. View complete episode list, or watch the first Check, Please! and its segment on Incanto.

I hope you find something you enjoy and support your local public television station.

Friday, April 07, 2006

more mellow songs for a rainy night

Last Friday I assembled a soundtrack for a stormy evening. Our weather hasn't changed, but I have found some new downloads for you to enjoy.

As a bonus, here are some links to excellent in-studio performances recorded at the legendary KEXP.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


honeyPaul’s note: Joy is a foodie’s foodie. Even among my gourmet friends, her knowledge and culinary skills standout, so I am honored to have her as a guest author. Joy occasionally publishes to her own blog, where the prose and pictures can create intense cravings. She has graciously agreed to write for us about honey, a subject where her passion for collection will soon outstrip her pantry’s storage capacity. Joy writes:

It’s time to face the facts: somewhere along the road between occasional curiosity and constant coveting, I have become a honey hoarder. I stash honey like a bee hunkering down for winter, compulsively buying it at a rate that greatly exceeds even the most optimistic projections of consumption. The sad reality is that my purchases are oft-neglected, left on most days to collect dust and crystallize. And yet, on occasion, I’ll remember to open a jar and share its contents with friends. We swirl it into yogurt, slather it on scones, churn it into ice cream, and drizzle it atop cheese. Best of all, we eat it straight from the jar, the slow, steady trickle of honey from the spoon a sweet seduction as it pools in a glowing puddle on our tongues.

One of my favorite uses for honey is in Madeleines au Miel: little golden cookies (cakelets, really), scalloped on one face and smooth, save the characteristic hump, on the other. I’m not sure whether they are “authentic”—Proust’s madeleine was reportedly a dry affair that disintegrated upon being dunked in hot tea—but I like them anyway, particularly just-baked, when they are still slightly crisp with a tight, tender crumb. The recipe I usually follow is from Paris Sweets, by Dorie Greenspan, and is an adaptation of one from Boulangerie-Patisserie Poujauran in Paris.

Honey Madeleines (Madeleines au Miel)
Makes about 12 large or 36 small madeleines

3/4 c (105 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 c (66 g) sugar
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
2 t pure vanilla extract
1 T honey
5 T (70 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. Sift together the flour and baking powder and keep close at hand. Working in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until they thicken and lighten in color, 2-4 minutes. Beat in the lemon zest, vanilla, and honey. Switch to a large rubber spatula and gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Cover the batter with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal, and chill for at least 3 hours, preferably longer -- chilling helps the batter develop its characteristic crown. The batter can be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
2. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400F (200C). If your madeleine pan is not nonstick, generously butter it, dust the insides with flour, and tap out the excess.
3. Divide the batter among the molds, filling them almost to the top. Don't worry about smoothing the batter, it will even out as it bakes.
4. Bake large madeleines for 11-13 minutes, small ones for 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and golden and spring back when touched. Pull the pan from the oven and remove the cookies by either rapping the pan against the counter or gently running a butter knife around the edges of the cookies. Allow the madeleines to cool on a cooling rack. They can be served ever so slightly warm or at room temperature.

Any type of honey will work in the recipe above, but the madeleines come out particularly well with a strongly flavored honey. Floral honeys work well too: favorites of mine include a jar of Bonny Doon’s lavender-infused honey, with a lavender sprig suspended in its amber depths, and the miel de lavande that Elaine hand-selected and brought back for me from Provence.

Where to buy honey

If you happen to find yourself in Japan, L’Abeille is a honey-lover’s haven. But if not, there are plenty of stores that stock a wide range of honeys right in the Bay Area. Upscale supermarkets like Andronico’s, Draeger’s, and Whole Foods often carry a good selection, and you can usually find local honey at the farmer’s market. Two other sources are worthy of special mention as well:

Marshall’s Farm 159 Lombard Road, American Canyon, CA (707) 556-8088

There’s no need to go all the way out to their farm, unless you’re interested in taking a tour. They have a regular spot at the SF Ferry Market, where you can taste honey to your heart’s content—or, as in my case, until you’re dizzy from the sugar! Helene Marshall, the beekeeper’s wife, is incredibly friendly and willing to tell you anything you’d like to know about the varieties of honey that they offer. My favorite Marshall’s Farm honeys include the complex, slightly bitter Almond Blossom, the uniquely-flavored Five-Star Sage, and the pale, intensely floral Orange Blossom. It’s also worth seeking out their Pumpkin Blossom honey. Many renowned Bay Area chefs use Marshall’s Farm honey at their restaurants, from Alice Waters at Chez Panisse to Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.

The Pasta Shop 1786 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710 (510) 528-1786

This well-stocked little shop is crammed with mouth-watering gourmet items, including several shelves of honey. I recently purchased some Italian chestnut honey there, a deep, rich mahogany elixir in a squat round jar. They also sell white truffle honey, whose heady earthiness is a perfect complement for a silky Brillat-Savarin.
Madeleines au Miel

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Jungle - a must-watch BBC documentary

Rescued Infant Bornean Orangutans, Photo credit: Cockroach Productions.
Rainforests are as rich in bio-diversity as they are in mystery. They are home to more than two-thirds of the known plant and animal species and an estimated hundreds of millions yet-to-be-discovered plants, insects and micro-organisms.

Most mysterious of all is life in the forest canopy. The habit 100 to 200ft above the forest floor is teeming with a surprising variety of life that we are just starting to learn about, and it is the subject of the first in the 3-part BBC documentary Jungle that aired this evening on PBS. (view preview)

Jungle is narrated by Charlotte Uhlenbroek, a charming zoologist and adventurer. In Jungle: Canopyworld, Dr. Uhlenbroek uses ropes, platforms and hot-air balloons to bring the canopy of the Borneo forest to us. We are introduced to species of snakes, frogs and crabs that spend their entire life in the canopy, and the gibbons and orangutans that can fly through the trees. Most fascinating are the nesting habits of the hornbill and the parasitic properties of the strangler fig.

The series continues with Jungle: Underworld from the Congo and Jungle: Waterworld from the Amazon, and all three episodes are must-watch. The photography is amazing and the narrative is engaging and informative. The series is a marvelous introduction to this tragically endangered habitat.

Jungle re-airs at these times, and I strongly suggest you set your TIVO.

Bonus link: Watching the climbing techniques in Jungle reminded me of a fantastic article on California’s temperate rainforests published in last year’s New Yorker. Read Climbing the Redwoods, Richard Preston’s 14,000 word essay of the Redwood canopy, or download an audio recording of it for mobile listening:

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

the top 100 restuarants

ame, photo credit: John LeeThis week Michael Bauer released his Top 100 Bay Area Restaurant list. It’s funny, growing up everyone I knew had a family subscription to a newspaper. Now that we all rely on Yahoo, Google, Topix and the newspapers' own web pages rather than the print edition for news I thought you might have missed the story.

There are 16 restaurants making their debut, including two I recently reviewed: Ame and Tres Agaves. There are also 17 spots that have made the list each year for the past 10 years since its debut in 1996, including dim sum favorites Ton Kiang and Yank Sing.

I’ve dined at 36 of the Top 100. As a service to my readers I will sacrifice and try to visit more before the year is out ;)

Monday, April 03, 2006

parmigiano reggiano

Parmigiano aged 24 monthsAs my partners and I continue to incubate our super-cool, super-secret new venture from our home offices I find myself making my own lunch more often. While it is unlikely that the peanut butter and jelly sandwich will become a cool thing of the day, I did want to remind you how good freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano tastes with pasta or a salad.

Parmigiano Reggiano is a whole milk cheese produced in Italy where they have really happy cows. Although many cheeses are labeled parmesan, real Parmigiano is produced provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua using traditional techniques refined over the last 8 centuries.

Taste varies subtly by dairy and type of cow, but all Parmigiano is aged at least 18 months, and more typically 2-3 years. It has a wonderful texture and sharp, rich flavor, and it stores very well. Parmigiano compliments many simple dishes and is a little luxury that no kitchen should be without.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

the guggenheim grotto

When I was assembling music for Friday’s Soundtrack for a Stormy Evening I stumbled upon The Guggenheim Grotto. The Guggenheim Grotto is a new trio from Ireland who released their debut album, Waltzing Alone, in September. Since they’re an independent band signed to an obscure label, they haven’t been the recipients of a big promotional push, but their appearance two weeks ago at the SXSW (South by Southwest) Festival has created some buzz.

Guggenheim Grotto’s music is quiet, clever and not dissimilar from that of countrymen David Grey or Damien Rice. It is acoustic and great for our continuing stormy weather. Last night I was trading messages with Scott and we started discussing Guggenheim Grotto. Scott used the Yahoo Music Engine to download Waltzing Alone and here was Scott's reaction:

1. Philosophia - great vocal balance, simple melodies, reminiscent of american folk songs of years past, with just a hint of irish twist. my favorite
2. Portmarmarnock Beach Boy Blue - clannad goes modern, kicks it out
3. Told You So – carina digs it. wants to see the music video. sadly nothing to show, but makes good background music while i video her drying her hair
4. Wonderful Wizard - a little odd. this lyric is a little disturbing: "like a tiger with no taste for bone"
5. Rosanna - decent, a little soft
6. I Think I Love You - reminds me too much of my redneck past. fast forwarding
7. Ozymandias – a kings-of-convenience-wannabe, which of course is simon/garfunkle-wannabe
8. A Lifetime In Heat - life in heat depresses me, like a rainy day. but pretty song
9. Koan – no comment
10. Vertigo - good change of pace. nice retro feel
11. Cold Truth - again with the depression. cold cold. need some heat on the green isle. solid vocals keep us tuned in
12. Tromboner - what's with the bones? tigers with no taste for tromboners. a song about trombones with only vocals and synth. strange way to wrap.

paul: can I quote you?
scott: if you're that desperate ;)

Well, I am that desperate and I am also delighted that The Guggenheim Grotto has generously made a number of mp3 from their Waltzing Alone available for download from their website. These include:

They also have added download links for two non-album tracks from the A Lifetime in Heat EP:

My favorite tracks are "A Lifetime in Heat" and "Cold Truth."

I've ordered their CD from CD Baby, an excellent online store with unusual inventory and awesome customer service, and I can't wait for it to arrive. For those with less patience or less interest in phsical media, Waltzing Alone is available as a download from eMusic, iTunes and Yahoo Music.

Bonus link: The Guggenheim Grotto did a fantastic live set for KCRW from the BBC's Maida Vale Studios in January. The setlist was And a Tear, A Lifetime in Heat, I Think I Love You, Told You So, Wonderful Wizard and a new song, Beautiful Idea. Listen here

Saturday, April 01, 2006

bbq ribs at lozano’s car wash

today's lunch - Harold's ribsIt is a funny title, but by now you have learned that I take my food seriously. And Harold Willis, the lifetime Palo Alto resident who BBQs each Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the corner of Lozano’s Car Wash, makes some seriously good ribs.

I do admit that baby back ribs and a coupon wash is an odd combination, but when you learn a little more about Harold it all makes sense. As a teenager, Harold worked for the Lozano family. After a stint in the military, he managed Lozano’s car wash for 16 years before running the meat department at the mid-town Safeway for another 20. Now retired, Harold can be found at his shoeshine stand at Lozano’s weekdays or working for his church. But, a constant all these years has been Harold’s pursuit of the perfect BBQ.

When he was at Safeway, his ribs developed quite a reputation. I remember having them more than a decade ago and being disappointed a few years back when Harold retired. So, I was delighted to stop by for a car wash one weekend afternoon and see Harold cooking in front of his grills.

Harold’s BBQ is a dry, Kansas City style. There is no dripping sauce to get on your shirt or overwhelm the flavor of the pork. However, his masterful technique insures that there is plenty of sweet, juicy goodness locked in.

He sells his ribs hot off the grill in full ($20) or half ($11) slab quantities, and he is happy to slice them for immediate consumption. Harold cooks each Friday, Saturday and Sunday it isn’t raining, and he usually sells out by early afternoon. Go early on big sporting event days, and buy a little more than you think you will need. Everybody loves Harold’s ribs!

Harold’s Ribs at Lozano’s Car Wash: 2690 El Camino Real, Mountain View,CA (650) 941-0590