March, 2009


Frankly, I thought it was common knowledge that a lot of the food consumed in the United States every day is made from petroleum, but given the reaction of my readers to my article last month on this subject, it looks like I was wrong. Last month, I said that most of the Italian salad dressing sold in the U.S. is made with vinegar distilled from petroleum. Since then, several people have asked me where they can find a complete list of foods made from petroleum. Unfortunately, that's impossible. First of all, Federal law does not require that food processors include petroleum in their list of ingredients, so none of them do. For example, the principal ingredient in most major brands of chewing gum is synthetic rubber made from petroleum (the same stuff that your car's tires are made from), but none of them mention petroleum on the label. Second, there are petrochemicals in thousands of food products. For starters, most artificial food coloring is made out of coal tar or petroleum. Many artificial flavors are also made from petroleum. Most food preservatives are made from petroleum as well. Last year, over one million pounds of BHA and BHT were added to processed foods sold in the U.S. If you want to know more about this subject, go to the web site of the Feingold Association. Getting petroleum out of children's food is one of their main goals. The Feingold Association is especially critical of fruit punch served in public schools, much of which is made entirely from petrochemicals, sugar, and water.


Scharffenberger to leave Berkeley. I had been expecting this ever since Hershey bought Scharffenberger in 2005. The Scharffenberger factory is small, and they have no room to expand. Berkeley city government is hostile to factory expansions, and the cost of doing business here is very high. Berkeley had a large manufacturing district at one time, but those factories are almost all gone now. I am sorry to see Scharffenberger go, but this was inevitable. Most Scharffenberger products are now being made in Illinois. I never felt safe in the Scharffenberger factory. The building is over 100 years old and is made entirely of brick, including the ceiling. You very rarely see brick ceilings anywhere in California, and with good reason! Brick ceilings are extremely dangerous in earthquake country. I can't think of another building in Berkeley with a brick ceiling. I have taken the Scharffenberger factory tour several times, and I've noticed that everyone on the tour at some point looks up at the ceiling suspiciously. The company tour guides have to reassure people that the ceiling is safe. Nevertheless, most people look relieved when their tour moves on to the new part of the building.

New Bay Area chocolate bar makers. Several new premium chocolate bar makers have popped up in our area recently. In San Francisco: Recchiuti. Internationally famous chocolatier Michael Recchiuti makes chocolate bars that can be purchased at his store in the Ferry Building. Tcho. This bean-to-bar factory and retail store is located on Pier 17. Original Beans. I knew these chocolate bars would be pricey when I heard that each bar is individually numbered! Yes, numbered, so you can trace the history of the cocoa beans that went into the bar you are eating. A 3.5 ounce chocolate bar costs $13.00. In the East Bay: Michael Mischer Oakland. Michael is a very nice guy and a excellent chocolatier. The fruits and nuts on his chocolate bars are hand placed, and each bar comes in a clear plastic box. Charles Chocolates Emeryville. Charles is located 6 blocks from the Scharffenberger factory. You can watch their products being made, they have tours, they give away free samples, and they have an attractive, well stocked factory store. Chocolate bars made by the companies above range in price from $40 to $60 a pound. My Berkeley Nut Co. chocolate bars weigh 5.5 ounces, so if I charged $50 a pound, then my bars would sell for $17 each! Wow!


I have a copy of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) Stylebook. It has an interesting section on "Americanisms," which contains a list of advice on how to "speak proper English" and thus avoid sounding like an American. Below are some tips from the BBC.

  • Some American words add expression to the English language, such as: teenager, babysitter, know-how, gimmick, stunt, commuter, editorial, nervous, & peanut. These words are acceptable for use. Other Americanisms add no expression to the language, but simply replace one word with another, such as: diaper for nappy, drug store for chemist, Autumn for Fall, sidewalk for pavement, stroller for pushchair, entree for main course, Santa Claus for Father Christmas, and pre-owned for secondhand. These Americanisms should be avoided.
  • The American tendency to add unnecessary prepositions drives people here to distraction. British people "keep" a promise rather than "deliver on" it. Problems that are "faced" here are "faced up to" in America. Don't say "meet with" when you mean "meet." Other examples of frustrating Americanisms include "deliver on," "check out," "free up," "consult with," "check up on," "divide up," and "outside of."
  • Americans throw rocks. We throw stones. In Britain, a rock is too large to pick up.
  • Use standard English definitions of words. In America, a "mean" man is nasty. In Britain, he is stingy. In America, a man who is "mad" is angry. Here, he is insane.
  • The American word "gubernatorial" is an awkward word that can always be avoided. (Mark's note: I have to agree with them on this one. Gubernatorial is also a tongue twister for me.)
  • Avoid the American tabloid practice of referring to members of the royal family by abbreviated names, such as Princess Di, Fergie, Camilla, or Charles.
  • KAISER WILHELM'S JOKE. Speaking of the British royal family....

    In 1917, during World War I, the British Parliament passed a law requiring all members of the royal family to Anglicize their last names, They all had German names. Parliament changed the name of the King of England from George von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to George Windsor. When Kaiser Wilhelm heard about this, he said: "When we defeat England, I will go to London and order the Royal Shakespeare Company to perform "The Merry Wives of von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha." I think that was a good joke, although Kaiser Wilhelm was not generally noted for his sense of humor.


    It's In The Stars. It is not unusual for people to give me Tenant Resumes along with their Rental Application forms. In 2002, I received a Tenant Resume from a woman named Sheila. In the section headed "What I'm Looking For", it said:

    "Ideally, I would like to find a landlord who is either a Gemini like myself or a Sagittarius. Sagittarius is 180 degrees from Gemini, so we would get along very well. I would consider renting an apartment from a Taurus or a Cancer, but obviously they would not be my first choices. The owner of the building where I am living now is a Virgo, and I'm a Gemini. Our signs are at a 90-degree angle, so we don't get along. I can't rent an apartment from a Virgo or Pisces. Their signs are at right angles to mine, so their Sun is in a Sign which is square to mine. Landlords born very close to 91 days apart will have their Sun square the other, which would be a real challenge for me! Moon square Sun is also difficult, but I am willing to risk that. For example, a Leo would irritate me at times, but with patience, we could deal with each other."

    I don't know what any of this means. I know nothing about astrology.

    At the bottom of this Tenant Resume, in the "References" section, it said: "Madam Lastardo is my astrologer. She will have to do a chart on my new landlord before I can sign a lease." Several days later, I received an astrological questionnaire in the mail from Madam Lastrado, but did not fill it out or return it, so Shiela did not get my apartment.


    There are a lot of raccoons in this area. I sometimes see them in my neighborhood at night. Raccoons are fascinating animals.

  • Raccoons are extremely intelligent. Raccoons can turn doorknobs, unlatch gates, and pick locks. In a famous experiment conducted in 1908, raccoons were able to open 11 of 13 complex locks (locks with multiple tumblers) using their claws as lock picks and had no difficulty repeating their actions when the locks were rekeyed or turned upside down. Sounds unbelievable, doesn't it?
  • Raccoons are the best adapted of all wild animals for living in urban areas. They make nests in chimneys and crawl spaces. They create trails through storm drains to avoid crossing busy streets. They can remove lids off garbage cans, unscrew jars, and open refrigerator doors to get to food inside.
  • Raccoons can multiply rapidly. There were no wild raccoons in Europe before World War II. In 1945, 25 raccoons escaped from a fur farm near Berlin after Allied bombing damaged their cages. There are now an estimated 500,000 raccoons in Germany. Ach du lieber!
  • Raccoons keep themselves clean. I have never seen a dirty raccoon. In Germany, raccoons are called Waschbaeren ("wash bears") because they wash their food before eating it if water is available.
  • Never feed or touch raccoons! Yes, raccoons are cute, but they can bite and sometimes carry rabies. If you feed a raccoon, even once, it will probably return, and with its entire family.
  • Raccoons do not make good pets.


    Hamantashen. I've got hand-made raspberry and apricot hamantashen half dipped in dark couverture chocolate. This is a seasonal item and will only be available for a few weeks. They're mighty tasty.


    Cocoa Bean Shell Mulch. Cocoa beans have thin hard shells. After cocoa beans are roasted, the shells are removed and discarded. Cocoa bean shells makes excellent mulch! It lasts longer than most other mulch, it gets darker with age, it provides many nutrients to plants and the soil, it retains moisture better than most other materials, and it smells great! For a few weeks, your yard or potted house plants will smell like cocoa, but that odor will dissipate within a month. I have cocoa bean shells in 2 cubic foot bags. One bag will cover 24 square feet of yard 1" deep, the recommended thickness for cocoa bean shell mulch. This stuff won't blow away after you spray it down with water. Cocoa bean shells curl and interlock when they get wet, creating a carpertlike mulch bed.

    Mark Tarses

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