Who Read MacroChef in 2012?

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I guess I am old enough to still be amazed at what a wondrous tool is this marvel we call the internet. You write a blog post, publish it, and it can be read by people all over the globe. Every year WordPress, the blogging platform I use, gives me a year-end summary telling me who read what on MacroChef. Even though I was less active in writing new posts in 2012, my blog received more than 110,000 views, an all-time high. Viewers are largely from the U.S., but readers came from 148 other countries as well, including 6,000 from Canada, 188 from Saudi Arabia, 3 from Myanmar, 2 from Uruguay, and one each from Zambia, Kazakhstan and China. And while my blog typically gets 250-300 views per day, on October 2nd, it received 11,861.  How did that happen?  It turns out the popular site Reddit linked to a post I’d put up in 2011 in which I published color photographs my father took in Southern California in the 1940’s. In all, about 25,000 viewers came to take a look! The second most popular post this past year was my recipe for sweet potato latkes.  Who knew that latkes would prove so popular? An so, it is you, dear readers, who make blogging fun. That you continue to read, even though my posting has been sporadic, I owe you my thanks. And special thanks to those of you who comment. Bloggers live for comments, and to you I say, muchas gracias!  May 2013 be an insightful and prosperous year for us all!

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Photo: Venice Beach, one of many color photographs my father, Edward Alinder, took in Southern California in the 1940’s. Note the two little kids in the foreground. That’s me on the left and my cousin Joan on the right.  So long ago! Because these photos proved so popular, I plan to publish another collection of them soon.

Monday Night Dinners: After 25 Years, Could This Really Be The End?

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As many of you know, this blog grew out of my work as chef for the Monday Night Gourmet Vegetarian Dinners in Palo Alto.  Eons ago, when I was asked to be chef for a new community group, I was skeptical that it would be a long-lasting gig, but it seemed like too interesting an opportunity to pass up. Twenty-five years later, I’m still cooking on Monday nights. But unless a miracle happens, this amazing event could soon end.

What precipitated this possibility was the announcement a couple of months ago by Ilona Pollak, our longtime dinner manager, that she didn’t wish to continue. Ilona has been manager for a decade and a half, and is one of the main reasons our dinners have been such an enduring success.  She has given valiantly of her energy, time and financial resources, and it’s completely understandable that she needs to move on.

Perhaps I should say something about how crucial the dinner manager is. She (and so far, all the managers have been women) is the nexus which makes it all work.  She takes reservations, greets the diners, makes take-outs, creates publicity, finds and supervises volunteers, and attends to the finances by collecting money, paying expenses  (which include pay to the chef and sous chef, rent to the church and take out supplies). If income is greater than expenses, the manager keeps that as her pay, and as you can imagine, on nights when attendance is low, the manager makes little or nothing, and may even lose money. It’s true that during cycles of good times, when our hall is consistently full, the manager does reasonably well, but, largely it is a labor of love, a service to our community (one of the ongoing conundrums is that although food costs have tripled in 25 years, we’ve only dared to raise the price 50 per cent).

In the past when a manager needed to move on, someone else stepped forward to train for the role and we were able to make an almost seamless transition. This time, that hasn’t happened. So far, no one has come forward to say they will take on this necessary role. If you think you might be able to do so and you’d like to learn more about the dinner manager’s job, click here. If you wish to apply, send an email to: pmcdinnermanager@aol.com.

And so, that leaves us uncertain as to what is next. It seems to me there are three possibilities: 1) having run out of steam, the dinners will end (after all, that which has a beginning, has an end), 2) the dinners will take a break during August, and during that time our community will find a manager or a team of managers to somehow keep things going, 3) we’ll hurriedly put together a plan for the dinners to continue in August and beyond. I could make a logical case for any of these possibilities, but let me simply state that I hope the dinners continue.

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Who Reads MacroChef? (You May Be Surprised!)

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When I began this blog two and a half years ago, I really had little idea what I was getting into. From time to time, it’s been a steep learning curve, but one I’ve been happy to engage. The feedback I get from you makes it rewarding, and the people at WordPress who host this and thousands of other blogs give marvelous technical support. I’m not here to promote WordPress, but I especially appreciate that they provide a great spam filter and easy-to-access statistics on MacroChef’s readership. One drawback up to now has been that it was difficult to determine where, geographically, all of you are located. Last week they pretty much fixed that. They now provide minute-by-minute updates to let me know, by country, where my readers are.

And that’s been a revelation. Of the eighteen hundred or so views this past week, well over half were located in the U.S., but many others view MacroChef from other prominent English-language countries such as Canada, Australia and the U.K. What’s been surprising to me, however, is that the remainder of MacroChef’s readership is spread out among more than fifty countries.  Would you believe that the country with the sixth most views this past week was Saudi Arabia? The Netherlands, Hungary, Italy, India, the Czech Republic and the Russian Federation also provided dozens more readers, while countries such as Uganda, Macedonia, Bengladesh and Bolivia accounted for one view each. Of course, I recognize that these statistics represent views, many of them generated from search engines such as Google, and not full-time readers. Never-the-less, it is gratifying to know that a diversity of people can find their way here, helped by the fact that English is such an international language.

While writing this blog is for me something between a hobby and a part time job, I do take MacroChef’s mission seriously. Among other improvements on my agenda, I hope to make the many recipes easier to find. In any case, whether you read this blog regularly or only once, it’s great to know you’re out there. Please feel free to let us know who you are, and where you are. Welcome to MacroChef, and come back again soon!

Update: If you click on “comments” (upper left side of the post), you will find out who some of the other MacroChef readers are, and where they live.  Thanks to everyone for commenting!

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Illustration: World map first published in Antwerp in 1570, from the Library of Congress (via Wikipedia)

Fingers Crossed, But Apparently I’m Buying This House!

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It hasn’t entirely sunk in yet, but it seems I’m about to become a home owner. Judy, my realtor, called yesterday to tell me my offer on this 1045-square foot house built in 1932 has been accepted. After loosing out on two others, I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever find my house.  It seems that the houses I’m drawn to, a lot of other people like as well (there were six offers on this house). Still, at just over $100,000, and with interest rates as low as they are, it will be much less costly to buy than to continue to rent. So, knock on wood, if everything goes well, we are scheduled to close escrow on February 17th.

Like most things in life, this house has its upside and its down. The exterior could use sprucing up; the house needs a new roof, and the garage, roofless, is possibly a tear down. On the other hand, the interior is  freshly-painted and move-in ready. There are great hard word floors throughout, and the home’s original character is very much intact. Also, there’s a new foundation, and unusual for California, a walk-out basement. The kitchen, did I mention the kitchen?  It’s more than I need, but I’ll take it–beautifully remodeled with spacious granite-topped counters, prodigious Ikea storage, and sunny windows facing east and south. Interesting isn’t it, that the house which has by far the best kitchen of all the houses I’ve seen is the one I’m able to buy? Best of all is the location, location and location.  While it doesn’t have water views, it is on a hill near the marina and waterfront.  From my street, there are views of Mare Island, San Pablo Bay and the hills of Marin. With a little help from my friends, this could be the cosy-est and cutest house in all Vallejo!

What am I feeling?  Amazement and gratitude mostly, and once in a while a little bit of dread at the responsibilities of home ownership. With housing as expensive as it is in the Bay Area, I never thought I could be a home owner. Well into my sixties, this property virgin is about to be a virgin no more. And truthfully, I recognize that I’m not alone in this. To family members who stepped forward to help with the down payment, and to friends who offered advice, encouragement, who said prayers and lite candles, I say a sincere “thank you.” And because my kitchen is also my MacroChef laboratory, I hope to share with all of you what we create there for many years to come. Again I say, “thanks.”

Click here to see more photos of what will be, if all goes well, my new home. I previously posted about my home buying journey here.

Update: I’ve posted more photos that I took during the home inspection, after the jump.

The kitchen, all new and pristine with it's marble tile floor and granite counters, is a bit over the top for a house this modest. However, with tons of counter space and storage, I'm not complaining (need to change the hardware on those cupboards, though). Update: More photos, after the jump.

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During a Busy Summer of Cooking, Life Rushes On

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Ever since I began posting on this blog nearly two years ago, you, my readers, have been a high priority for my time and creative energy.  While that remains true, sometimes life, with all its demands, rushes in. Lately that’s been true, in spades. The past couple weeks have been filled with cooking for 50 guys on a five-day retreat at Saratoga Springs Retreat Center, helping my friend Bob move from San Francisco to Santa Rosa, a brief visit from my sister and brother-in-law, writing menus for the next two months in Palo Alto, and now I’m up here again for three days cooking for 130 men. Added to that, for the first time in my life, at age 67, I’m contemplating buying a house. I’m still in the early stages: looking at houses on line, investigating neighborhoods, wondering how in the world I’ll get together the money for a down payment. More about this in another post, but it’s relevant to MacroChef because my hope is to turn my potential house and garden into a sort of research project which I’ll report on here. While all this is gratifying, it hasn’t left me much energy for this blog, but be assured, I miss you, and miss hearing from you. I have at least a half dozen posts in various stages of development, and I’ll be back on line with postings in a few days. Meanwhile, I hope you are having a relaxing time–let me know how your summer is unfolding. And stay cool!

Photos: Above–Celia, one of my terrific co-workers at the Saratoga Springs Retreat Center, preps corn on the cob. Below–Peach cobbler for 50. My recipe for a dairy-free cobbler topping is here.

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Julia and Carl Ferré of Macrobiotics Today Magazine Interview The MacroChef

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I know that this blog sometimes feels like it’s just one recipe after the next, but my hope is that you will sense that these posts are grounded in a rich and inclusive way of thinking about food and energy and life.  If you’re curious to know more about all this, you may want to take a look at Macrobiotics Today, a 51-year-old bi-monthly magazine that goes into depth on topics which I only allude to in my brief posts. Editors and publishers Carl and Julia Ferré do a remarkable job, on a no-frills budget. Among the articles in the current issue (May/June) are an explanation of the properties of various natural sweeteners, a discussion of radiation, and how to minimize its consequences, a celebration of the special energy we experience in summer, and a story about our 24-year-old weekly vegetarian dinners in  Palo Alto. But the reason I mention this now is that a couple of months ago I sat down with Julia and Carl for an in-depth interview, which is published in the current issue. It turned out well, and I’ve included excerpts after the jump. To read the entire interview, go to their website (you will need to subscribe). While there, you can also download back issues and find out more about the French Meadows Summer Camp, which they sponsor. Their foundation is well worth supporting, even if you’re not deeply connected to macrobiotics.

Above photo: The May/June Macrobiotics Today cover features a photo by Gerard Lum of Alex and Beatrice Zorzella about to enjoy one of our Monday night dinners in Palo Alto.

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Some Thoughts on The Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami

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Minutes ago, I put up a post featuring a Japanese menu celebrating spring, and I wondered to myself if that was even appropriate. As we are all aware, at the moment there is little celebrating of spring or anything else in Japan. As someone who has long had a love affair with many aspects of Japanese culture, and who has known many Japanese and Japanese-American people, and as someone who once lived in Japan, I can’t help but be alarmed and horrified at the images of what is happening to a country which feels so familiar. I can’t fully imagine the trauma of living through an earthquake hundreds of times stronger than the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California, which was plenty frightening enough.  Add to that the tsunami and the nuclear power threats, and the Japanese people must be feeling that a curse has fallen upon them. And yet as we know, the Japanese are nothing if not resilient, and will recover from this.  But it is too soon for those thoughts.  For now, it is time to acknowledge their great suffering, and to offer whatever aid and sympathy we can. And yet, I think it is always appropriate to celebrate Japan’s great gifts, culinary and otherwise, to humankind, and personally I am reminded of the many kindnesses Japanese people have shown to me, and for those I will always be grateful. And yet, compared to what is happening in Japan, these words and my little blog seem insignificant indeed.  We humans may imagine that we control what happens on earth, and once again we are reminded that we most decidedly do not.  –Gary Alinder, March 14, 2011.