Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lions and cookies and ornaments, oh my!

Last week at World Market, I spotted this little paper lion ornament who had only one eye. I brought him home (well, to the office) and made him a beaded eye patch. I'm not a person who thinks "The more, the better" when it comes to beads, but I wanted Leo to have some holiday spirit. I may leave him to hang out with my lucky bamboo; otherwise, I'll give him a place of honor on the tree.

I love Christmas. Not for the gifts, though I'm not opposed to gifts. I love ornaments, especially candy canes, lollipops, cupcakes, and fruit — especially in retro colors like purple, hot pink, and teal. I love decorating my tree and greeting the ornaments like old friends: "Crocheted Oreo, I've missed you!" or "Angry Gingerbread Girl, why do you keep turning your back?" I love watching Ginger try to squeeze behind the tree, even though it's in the corner and she's not a small dog.

The holidays are a time I reflect on the abundance in my life. Sometimes that means overeating cookies and picking out the odd ones, to be overeaten at a later time. Or, sending handmade Christmas cards (not handmade by me but by talented artisans). I've been absent from my blog for a couple weeks — busier living than writing, I suppose — but it's good to be back. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and are easing into the holiday season, one ornament at a time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

My favorite restaurants in San Francisco

The experience of dining at a restaurant isn't just about the food, service, or ambiance. For me, it's also about the intangibles — about whether I feel relaxed or energetic, how the conversation flows, what relationship gets built (or broken) over a shared table. Also, trying a new place requires trusting someone else's opinion, whether that of a food critic or a friend. That said, here is my purely subjective list of the best places to eat in San Francisco, with old and new favorites. (If it makes you feel any better, I've been both a resident and a tourist in the city.)

Farmer Brown: On a busy Tuesday night, I came here with sorority sisters Linda and Yvonne. All of us ordered fried chicken with mac and cheese and southern greens. And we shared a baked apple pastry for dessert. The chef uses organic meats and produce from local African American farmers, and the food is tasty and unfussy. I didn't love the drinks served out of jars (unwieldy), but did love the chairs upholstered in fabric with the Declaration of Independence written on it.

Kate O' Brien's: We were tempted to order shepherd's pie, but instead Linda and I opted for a blackened chicken quesadilla, thick-cut garlic parsley fries, house-made potato chips with malt vinegar, and a spinach salad with goat cheese and apples. And how can you not love a place where your server greets regulars by name? Hearty food and friendly service — the quintissential Irish pub.

Mifune (1737 Post St., 415.922.0337): In 1993, I worked at Benihana in Japantown; that's how I discovered Mifune (its neighbor in the Kintetsu Mall). The clientele is primarily Asian — always a good sign at a Japanese restaurant. You can get a huge bowl of udon, soba, or ramen for $10. On the Sunday night we were there, the line was out the door, so we entertained ourselves by checking out the displays of plastic food (just like being in Japan).

Yank Sing: I've been going to dim sum since I was a kid. It made me feel grown-up, accepting and rejecting dishes as they were wheeled by. Here, I could've filled up on the dumplings alone, particularly the house special — a steamed ginger pork number that was delicate, translucent, and slightly chewy. I ate it with a spoon to keep the broth from escaping. Rejected: sea bass, chicken skewers, deep-fried crab claws. For dessert: sesame balls and a big pot of jasmine chrysanthemum tea. If you still need convincing, check out their photo gallery.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuesdays with Lizzie

Yesterday I had lunch with Liz, my college roommate. Fifteen years ago, we lived in the Gamma Phi Beta sorority house. Those were heady times: we'd spend every Tuesday night at Raleigh's, collecting glasses etched with beer logos and eating cheese fries. I still have indestructible pint glasses that've survived cross-country moves.

Even though we lost touch in the post- grad-school and law-school years, Liz is one of those old friends who welcomes you back after a hiatus. This Tuesday, we reconnected at Rose's Cafe in Cow Hollow. Instead of cheese fries, we ordered a turkey, avocado, and cranberry sandwich and polenta with gorgonzola. We graduated (regressed?) from microbrews to raspberry soda and chamomile tea. It was a very grownup lunch: we talked about careers instead of classes, family as well as friends, and men rather than boys. But we still had time to cover the old standby: dumb college antics. Who knew that those Tuesday nights would provide fodder for lasting friendship? Cheers, Liz, and I'll see you in a year or two.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cool Jewels at The Bead Shop

On Saturday, I signed copies of Cool Jewels at The Bead Shop in Palo Alto. Big thanks to Janice, Ally, Denise, Susan, and Jenny, who promoted the event and made it fun. I also loved the cookies and sparkling water; snacks always make a place feel like home.

While I was there, I designed a clustered pearl ring, gold hoop earrings, and drop earrings with diamond-shaped vermeil components. All of these share one technique in common: wrapped loops, which can be challenging for beginners. Janice (the owner) and I have different approaches to how we teach loops, both in how we make the loop and in completing the wraps. At the end of the day, I'm happy if the loops are round and the wraps parallel. But I liked seeing a different way of doing things, especially because she's been making jewelry for 48 years. Yes, almost a half decade.

Anyway, I really enjoy working with beginners because they're so focused on learning. In less than an hour, Sandi (one of the customers) made a gemstone-and-crystal ring (instructions in Cool Jewels, p. 87). And Emily, who's 10, got an ambitious start on her Bubbly Baubles necklace (p. 36). Let me know if you've found inspiration in the book. I'd be happy to post photos, too.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My vacation in San Francisco, Day One

Friday was a whirlwind. I woke up at 4 a.m., flew to Kansas City, got delayed on the SF flight, and waited an hour in the BART line. I finally arrived at my friend Linda's condo south of Market, then had time for a quick nap before coffee with Steven James. Maybe you know him: he has lots of jewelry and home decor projects in BeadStyle. He also designs gorgeous Christmas ornaments. (My favorite: a metal frame encasing a note that reads, "To have love, you must give yours away.") Steven and I talk only a couple of times a year, but our conversations always come back to the theme of creativity and how to find an outlet for it. Deep stuff. On my next visit, I hope to see him for longer than 40 minutes.

I went to Craft Gym for my Cool Jewels book signing. Jackie, Leah, and Kay were incredibly welcoming and had a spread of appetizers from Leland Tea. It was a quiet night, so we made earrings and noshed on tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, veggie hummus, edamame, and bread with Brie and figs. We chatted about the craft scene in general and their studio in particular. Sewing and knitting are especially popular, but Craft Gym also offers workshops in soap making, graphic tees, and glass etching.

To cap off the world's longest day, Linda and I grabbed Mexican food in the Mission. Now we're heading out to get breakfast and do a little shopping before my signing this afternoon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cool Jewels book signings in the Bay Area

If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, stop by and say hi. On Friday, November 9, I'll be doing a demo of mismatched chain earrings at Craft Gym in San Francisco, 6–8 p.m.

And on Saturday, November 10, I'll be at The Bead Shop in Palo Alto, 3–5 p.m. I haven't yet decided what I'll be demo-ing, but The Bead Shop has so many findings, I might put together some chandelier earrings. Pop in to get your book signed or to work on your wrapped loops. See you there!

Monday, November 5, 2007


My mom is in Japan for her annual trip home, so I invited my dad over for dinner. After meat loaf and mashed potatoes, we played Scrabble. I like the deluxe board that rotates and has grooves for the letters, but it's at Kalmbach. (A couple of years ago, four of us had a Friday lunchtime league. I keep the game there hoping for a revival.) Dad and I played with the old-school version in the burgundy box.

Scrabble is an awesome game. As in, it truly evokes awe. It's not really a game about creativity or spelling, but about seeing possibilities and taking risks. Not hoarding letters, but playing smart to maximize your shot at a bingo (using all seven tiles). Making words that your opponent wouldn't think of. Building multiple words by adding an "s" or a "d" or making "liver" into "livery." I tried to play a few questionable words, but Dad challenged me. (Incidentally, according to my traditional dictionary, "flim" and "yi" are not words, but "flam" and "li" are.) It was thrilling and exhausting to play a competitive, I'm-in-it-to-win-it game with Dad. Two games, actually. When Yukie comes home for Thanksgiving, she and my parents and I will probably play something like Apples to Apples — one of those fun, family-friendly games where we laugh a lot and everyone wins. It's just not the same.

If you are crazy about Scrabble or like to read about people who are crazy about Scrabble, pick up Stefan Fatsis' Word Freak, about the subculture of competitive players. It's almost as interesting as actually playing the game. And, if you get a chance, check out Wordplay, an Independent Lens documentary about people who create and solve crossword puzzles. The highlight is hearing Bill Clinton talk about how his approach to solving crossword puzzles mirrors his approach to solving other problems.