Moon Over Palo Alto

Facebook ads alert me to the fact that the Mid-Autumn Festival is fast coming — mooncakes! mooncakes! time to get your mooncakes! —  and that it’s on the early side this year — Saturday 9/10 (with the holiday extending over the next two days) — so comes just a few days after my 82nd birthday, Tuesday 9/6, which this year is the day after the American end-of-summer holiday Labor Day (also a MascMeatHol, that is, masculine meat holiday, though this posting will be meatless).

I have decided to more or less wrap most of  these things together into a Moon Over Palo Alto event, with red bean mooncakes (no yolk) that I have already ordered, on a day during the 9/3-9/10 period (day, time, and place still to be determined) in honor of 1982, which has lots of good associations, including red bean mooncakes (acquired in San Francisco’s Chinatown that spring for Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky’s 17th birthday, Valentine’s Day regularly coming close to Lunar New Year — another mooncake holiday).

What I’m about to acquire:

(#1) A box of 4 Imperial Palace red bean mooncakes (no yolk); the red beans in question (here, in the form of a sweetened paste filling the mooncakes) are not the red beans of the New Orleans dish called red beans and rice, and the objects called mooncakes are (full-)moon-shaped but are not in the CAKE category of foodstuffs (instead, they’re in the PIE category)

Background: the Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncakes. From Wikipedia:

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, is a traditional festival celebrated in Chinese culture. Similar holidays are celebrated in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other countries in East and Southeast Asia.

It is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture; its popularity is on par with that of Chinese New Year.

… The festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar with a full moon at night, corresponding to mid-September to early October of the Gregorian calendar. On this day, the Chinese believe that the moon is at its brightest and fullest size, coinciding with harvest time in the middle of Autumn.

Lanterns of all size and shapes, are carried and displayed – symbolic beacons that light people’s path to prosperity and good fortune. Mooncakes, a rich pastry typically filled with sweet-bean, egg yolk, meat or lotus-seed paste, are traditionally eaten during this festival.

Red beans. First, the red beans in the mooncakes. From NOAD, with an illustration from the Goya Foods company:

(#2) [the company’s puffery, from its website:] The premier source for authentic Latino cuisine, Goya Foods is the largest, Hispanic-owned food company in the United States. Founded in 1936 by Don Prudencio Unanue and his wife Carolina, both from Spain, the Goya story is as much about the importance of family as it is about achieving the American dream.

noun adzuki (also adzuki bean): 1 a small, round dark-red edible bean. 2 the bushy leguminous Asian plant that produces the adzuki bean. Vigna angularis, family Leguminosae [AZ: now Fabaceae].

Then, red beans and rice, from Wikipedia, with an illustrative can of red kidney beans (again from Goya Foods):


Red beans and rice is an emblematic dish of Louisiana Creole cuisine (not originally of Cajun cuisine) traditionally made on Mondays with red beans [AZ: the red kidney bean is a variety of the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris], vegetables (bell pepper, onion, and celery), spices (thyme, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf) and pork bones as left over from Sunday dinner, cooked together slowly in a pot and served over rice. Meats such as ham, sausage (most commonly andouille), and tasso ham are also frequently used in the dish. … The dish is now fairly common throughout the Southeast. Similar dishes are common in Latin American cuisine, including moros y cristianos, gallo pinto and feijoada.

[Bonus note. On the cartoonist Wayno of the Wayno / Piraro Bizarro strips that I frequently post about here: Wayno provides vocals / harmonica / ukulele to The Red Beans & Rice Combo (a “trio serving up New Orleans R&B, rock & roll nuggets, with a jazzy dash of Tin Pan Alley and humor” in the Pittsburgh PA area).]

Mooncakes. Lexicographic background from NOAD:

noun cake: [a] an item of soft, sweet food made from a mixture of flour, shortening, eggs, sugar, and other ingredients, baked and often decorated: a carrot cake | [as modifier]: cake pans | a mouthful of cake. [b] an item of savory food formed into a flat, round shape, and typically baked or fried: crab cakes | buckwheat cakes. [c] a flattish, compact mass of something, especially soap: a cake of soap.

Mooncakes are cake-shaped things (NOAD sense c), but they are, in the world of CAKE-PIE foodstuffs, clearly among the PIE foodstuffs (pastry shell and top, with filling, in this case a sweet filling). See my 5/3/18 posting “CAKE-PIE II” on the categories CAKE and PIE (as distinct from things called in English cakes and pies).

82. About 1982, 40 years ago.

In my life. I spent the academic year 1981-82 as a Fellow at CASBS, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, on the foothills above Stanford, during which time (among other things) I became a great fan of red bean mooncakes, so easily available in San Francisco’s Chinatown. About that year at CASBS, from my 2/23/08 Language Log posting “In memoriam Gardner Lindzey” (director of CASBS from 1975-89):

I was a fellow at CASBS in 1981-82 [I was 41 at the time, young for such a fellowship], a year in which there was a “special project” on Meaning and Cognition, whose core members were Jon Barwise, Manfred Bierwisch, Robin Cooper, Hans Kamp, Lauri Karttunen, and Stanley Peters. There were also colleagues and research assistants who were not fellows but participated regularly in project meetings; in addition to me, these included Edit Doron, Elisabet Engdahl, Rich Larson, John Perry (who had been a fellow in 1980-81), Ivan Sag, and Hans Uszkoreit (this is far from a complete listing). Semantics was clearly the center of the project (Barwise and Perry’s Situations and Attitudes came out of CASBS activities), but the participants ranged over syntax, philosophy, mathematics, and computer science as well, and the project was followed by the founding of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford (which in the summer of 1984 sponsored research by, among others, Gerald Gazdar, Ewan Klein, Geoff Pullum, Ivan Sag, and me) and then [in 1985] by the creation of the undergraduate interdisciplinary program in Symbolic Systems (roughly, cognitive science) at Stanford.

I rented a small apartment over the garage in a larger faculty house on the Stanford land (in the “faculty ghetto”). The main part of the house was rented by another CASBS fellow, the urban sociologist William Julius Wilson (see his Wikipedia entry here) and his family. Thus affording me an opportunity for a personal and academic friendship that affected my own thinking deeply. I also developed such friendships with social historian Tamara Hareven (her Wikipedia entry here) and psychiatrist Isaac Marks (specializing in the treatment of obsessions and phobias) (his Wikipedia entry here). And was considerably affected by presentations by and conversations with the philosopher Philippa Foot, psychologists of vision Dorothea James and Leo Hurvich, sociologist Charles Perrow, biologist George Williams, anthropologist Patty Jo Watson, philosopher (and novelist) Richard Watson, psychologist of text comprehension Walter Kintsch, psychiatrist Robert Wallerstein, mathematical biologist Joel E. Cohen, and social constructionist Thomas Luckmann. Plus of course all those Meaning and Cognition folks. Wow.

In the summer of 1982, I was Associate Director and Visiting Professor in the Linguistic Institute of the Linguistic Society of America (a big summer school), at the University of Maryland, College Park, where I taught the two courses Phonological Analysis and Analysis of Speech Errors.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky was at that Institute as a student (in the summer between graduating from high school and starting college at Ohio State), where she was able to officially take the Introduction to Linguistics (not taught by one of her parents), as part of a cognitive science program she was constructing for herself at Ohio State (combining philosophy, linguistics, computer science, and psychology). She and I had rooms in a co-op co-ed dorm that was a UMCP sorority rented for Institute participants that summer.

In the greater world. Among the events of 1982: Michael Jackson’s album (and video) Thriller; the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial; the Falklands / Malvinas War between Argentina and the UK; the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC.

But back to the Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncakes. Postings on this blog, with visuals:

— in my 9/24/18 posting “Sleep on, harvest moon”, on these two things, with the illustration:

(#4) Mooncakes (with yolk — of a salted duck egg) and tea

— in my 9/13/20 posting “Mid-autumn memento mori for the times”, Stephanie Shih’s digital still life combining elements from Western and Eastern (especially Chinese) painting traditions, both located in mid-autumn times:

(#5) In the middle of the foreground, a plate of mooncakes

And, finally, back to Moon Over Palo Alto. My mooncakes arrive tomorrow (they’ll certainly keep until actual Mid-Autumn Festival; I ordered them right away because stocks vanish as the holiday approaches).

My original inclination was to order from Kee Wah bakery, a reputable Hong Kong company that has a US subsidiary in Monterey Park, Los Angeles, but they were already out of the kind of mooncake I wanted: red bean filling, no yolk. Amazon pointed me to the Imperial Palace brand, for its variety, quality, and price; only after I’d ordered did I wonder about the brand: who made this stuff, and where?

Searching is hell, because Imperial Palace is the name of restaurants all over the world (including one on Washington St. in San Francisco’s Chinatown — a place I’ve eaten at, with considerable enjoyment). But of the brand name Imperial Palace, I find nothing. Stores, including some on the SF Peninsula, carry the mooncakes, but it seems to be just a brand name, not an actual company. I’ll scrutinize the box when it comes, for information about its source.

But then, the Moon Over Palo Alto event. My fantasy would be to enjoy mooncakes and tea with three friends in a lush late-summer garden, at, roughly, teatime. Trying to arrange such an event in the midst of all these holidays, plus people’s work schedules, looks just impossible. But I contemplate a much scaled-back version, involving Elizabeth’s and my standing Saturday breakfast date, 8 am at the Palo Alto Creamery (at High and Emerson), which I can get to using my walker, and which supplies several breakfasts I am very fond of (huevos rancheros con carnitas; three-egg scrambles with sausage, spinach, and cheese; the Northwest Scramble, with smoked salmon and cream cheese) and serviceable black coffee, to which a mooncake could be added as a multi-cultural dessert.

For breakfast on a Saturday (9/3 or 9/10), I might actually be able to find two friends to join Elizabeth and me. But: though I have lots of friends (from all parts of my life) in the Bay Area, only a few of them live within a reasonable distance  of the Palo Alto Creamery, and only a few of those are close-enough friends to invite to an intimate celebration of my 82nd birthday. I am musing.

2 Responses to “Moon Over Palo Alto”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    On Facebook:

    Mike Pope: Is John Perry of the 1981-82 cohort the John Perry of “Structured Procrastination”?

    AZ > MP: Yes, a Stanford colleague and (unlike most of the people in my list) still alive; well, he’s 3 years younger than I am. He’s very sharp, wonderfully funny, and a really nice guy.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    The mooncakes have arrived. Product of China (no surprise); they have a North American marketing agent in Union City CA.

    The mooncakes come with plastic forks utterly inadequate for carving the pastries, but that’s ok; we have real knives, after all.

    The company suggests they’re best before 11/5/22, but we will consume them next Saturday, 9/3/22, so no worries there.

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