Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Perfect Day

I've been wanting to tell you for a little while now about the perfect New York day I enjoyed last week but first, an update: my mother just called to tell me that the glass snowman who for the past decade has topped our Christmas tree had committed suicide.

"It was the strangest thing," she said. "It was like he leapt to his death. And I had been thinking lately that I didn't love him, that I wanted to replace him with a pineapple. And it's as if he felt that. And I needed to learn a lesson about taking things for granted."

I said we would not know the full meaning of the sacrifice, or whether it was senseless, until the replacement comes to life. But it's all very Hans Christian Anderson.

So: Sunday. I went to church. I am not, as anyone who's seen my last name might infer, a baptized Christian, but periodically I've gone to services with my mother, and I very much like the idea of living the year by a liturgical calendar. St. Thomas has beautiful music and the best WASPs. This January, I want to finally take the Christian education class - for those interested in the church, or in joining the church - to learn a bit more and also to hopefully tackle some of my real questions about the ideology, as I don't want to have such profound confusion about a big part of my future husband's life, and family.

I'll not say much about the service save that, on the way out, one guy said to the greeting minister, "Father, haven't seen you lately at the New York Health and Racquet Club!" It was a beautiful day, and waking down Fifth Avenue seemed to me the most wonderful thing in the world to be doing, the many tourists the most interesting and finest group of people I'd ever seen. I went down the street with a huge grin on my face, to 55th, and as my mother and I always did, went into La Bonne Soupe. I was alone, but it's a great place to eat alone, and indeed several of the small tables were occupied by dignified solo lunchers, including one elderly gent brandishing a large hardcover. I ordered a croque monsieur and a glass of house white, and opened my book, but I was too interested in the goings-on of the restaurant to do more than read one paragraph over and over. At length, the older couple at the next table engaged me - she, it turned out, was from Quebec and her gentleman friend a New Yorker originally from London - and by the meal's end we were fast friends who'd traded book and restauarnt and life advice and email addresses into the bargain.

When I left, the old gent with the hardcover was standing outside, and he beckoned me over, said I seemed full of life, and would I get a drink with him some time at the same restaurant. I said it depended on his intentions and my liveliness varied with the tides, but that I was always game for a new friend. "I'm old enough to be your grandfather!" he said, reassuringly, and, I suppose to further reassure me, he produced a business card which identified him as a Ph.D, and the hardcover which, it proved, was written by him and with which, one presumes, he travels. Needless to say, we're having a glass of wine at the same restaurant early in the new year.

As to the rest, well, I browsed hats at Bendels and saw the Robert Frank show at the Met. (In the words of Kerouac, "Robert Frank, you got eyes.") I made mac and cheese, with tomatoes and some leftover Christmas ham. And that night, Slim got back and my idyll was over, not that we don't have adventures of another kind.

The Good News

When I was 18 my grandmother gave me a book. It was called Daily Power Thoughts and, although she didn't normally go in for anything like self-help or any demonstration of faith more public than communion at the Episcopal church at the foot of the hill, she'd bought it for my uncle when he was beginning to go through problems as a teenager, and when he cast it aside, unread, she'd picked it up herself and dutifully filled out every list and questionnaire that the authors demanded. So what she gave me was, in fact, many of her private thoughts on faith and life, far more than I'd ever have learned otherwise from such a private woman. Although she was as kind and as good as anyone you'd ever meet, the book was filled with self-recrimination and her struggles to better accept her husband's bouts of temper or be better. There was one part of the book that asked her to list "Nourishing People" in her life. I was shocked and humbled to see my own name written there (along with Billy Graham's) and ashamed, because I knew I wasn't really worthy of such a compliment, and that in her goodness she was seeing only the best in me, too, not all the smallness and selfishness she could not even have comprehended.

I remembered that phrase, though, of "nourishing people" because it's so apt - there are people in one's life who do indeed provide a sort of moral fuel, a reaffirmation of what we can be and what's worth sticking around for. There is one such friend - I'll call her L. - who's very much on my mind because I just saw her, and learned she is engaged to someone as kind and as dear as she. To call her a person without meanness makes her sound like a Beth March, and that's to deny her tremendous sense of the absurd and incredible goofiness and perfectly mordant comments on whatever author's absurdly overblown at the moment. But it's also true: she has a capacity for kindness, for unconditional support, and for spreading joy that I doubt she's even aware of. In short, she deserves happiness, and she's found it, and it's wonderful, and indeed nourishing; congratulations, L. - I wish I could be more articulate but sometimes when really in earnest I have trouble best expressing myself. I know you'll forgive me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009



...someone on YouTube has said it's the Vaselines kissing at the end. Confirmation? (Someone else said, "TWEE AS FUCK." Whatever, I have gifted you with it.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Snuggie with which I gifted my father is a hit!

I went home over the weekend to attend a concert with my mother on that very rainy, blustery day, dressed in my high-waisted social x-ray windowpane check wool trousers circa 1990 and was met at the train station by my dad, who said, "what interesting pants, Sade. They look like something from a 19th Century minstrel show."

The concert in question was part of a free series at a local mansion, endowed by an elderly eccentric. My parents are regulars, but this was my first time. The mansion was liberally sprinkled with Hudson River School landscapes and festively decorated, and filled with old people and the loner who's always shooting hoops at the playground. The pianist, who was quite the consummate entertainer, entered in white tie and tails and played some very bravuro Liszt. Then he exited, returned in a red velveteen jacket, played Christmas carols in a variety of jazzy styles, cracked wise, and incongruously mentioned a wife. ("Hark the Herald Angels Sing" in ha-cha-cha rhythm was particularly bold.)

Afterwards, there was a small bar serving wine, hot cider and eggnog and a few poor waiters who were attacked by the hungry oldsters every time they emerged from the kitchen bearing miniature Yorkshire puddings and latkes and tiny ham biscuits. My mother engaged the pianist in intense conversation about the new organ in Alice Tully Hall, which saga my mother has followed closely and about which he, having inaugurated the original organ, cherishes passionate feelings.

Back home, my father called me into their room, where he was watching football. He pointed to the foot of the bed where, sure enough, the Snuggy was lying in readiness! "It's become a very important part of my lifestyle," he said.
"It's true," concurred my mother, coming in behind me. "It's risen to the top of the Pantheon, with Big Boy." (Big Boy is a large square pillow favored by my father for TV-watching.)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sweet Tastes

I'd been badly craving a simple, buttery sweet taste, so last night I made a pound cake (by no means the ne plus ultra - still too dry for my degraded tastes but with a good flavor and pleasantly crusty top.) Besides, I was in the mood for baking: careful measuring, meticulous buttering-and-flouring, and even little niceties I generally ignore, like bringing the eggs to room temperature in warm water.

On a roll, I decided to clean out the vegetable bin which, with each successive visit to the greenmarket, becomes more impassible. So I roasted parsnips, squash, shallots and turnips with thyme and olive oil; threw in some beets wrapped in foil; steamed leeks and dressed them with a mustardy vinaigrette, and then grated carrots and tossed them with oil and lemon. (A small cabbage could not be saved. I was secretly relieved.) The result was an aggressively healthy dinner saved from veganism only by the excellent cow's milk cheese a friend contributed to Wednesday's Maria Callas Memorial Spaghetti Dinner. And, of course, the pound cake.
Ugh. Have been getting spammed all morning by furious folks accusing me of being "jealous" of the animated Sun-Maid girl's cleavage and body. Downside of the job.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A NY Tip...

From the estimable Lost New York blog:

HIDDEN LUNCHEONETTE: Walk out of Grand Central on the Vanderbilt Avenue side, cross the street and enter 52 Vanderbilt. Halfway through the corridor that leads to Madison Avenue you'll find a vestpocket luncheonette. Once upon a time, all working New Yorkers fed themselves from such anonymous in-house lobby eateries. They are not many of an independent, non-chain variety left. This one has a sweet charm, and the food is cheap and good.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Moviegoer

It is with great excitement that I present one of my very favorite childhood movies, 1948's Bill and Coo!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Language

"Steampunk" barely has a foothold in the lexicon and I'm already sick of it, not least because people are tossing it about with impunity and with utter disregard for its meaning, such as it is. (Not long ago, some business website described the Gawker Media offices thusly, so.) To wit, from today's Times:
Over the next two weeks, The Times published more than two dozen letters on the subject of scrapple, which, taken together, form a sort of steampunk prototype for online food discussion. It’s all there: the pseudonymous “usernames,” the off-topic ranting, the preoccupation with pork fat. In short, it’s a modern-day food thread in very slow motion.


I propose, by way of alternative, "whale-oil dystopian." I mean, really. For goodness' sake. Remind me to tell you a few recent thoughts on the subject of love.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Most Depressing Sentence I've Ever Uttered

Wednesday, I happened to pop into one of my favorite clothing stores to purchase a long-considered pair of black tap shorts. "That's a big bag," said the girl who works there. "What's in it?"

"Oh," I said, "some antidepressants and a Snuggie."

Now, the fact that this was true doesn't change the utter desolation of the words. The Snuggie in question was a birthday gift for my dad; the antidepressants were, of course, for me.

The next morning - Thanksgiving day - was one of those occasions where I could have used a full-length mirror. I hadn't thought that the new shorts, with opaque tights and a pair of high-heeled booties, would look anything but decorous. And it didn't occur to me that, in combination with the short fur-collared coat I found at that thrift store in Baltimore and which I judged a good weight for the day, it would look distinctly like I was wearing no pants. And I speak as a strong proponent of the "tights-are-not-pants" movement!


(You see the problem.)


Anyway, I set out bright and early with a rather lopsided pumpkin pie for the Bowery Mission. The first hints that something was amiss came from some side-eyes on the subway. And then I reached the Bowery, and walked the gauntlet of hundreds of hungry lechers and the chorus of whistles, leers, and catcalls. The fact that my pie bag was leopard-printed may not have helped. I was deeply shamed, and as a Samaritan, an abject failure.

However, the snuggie was a big hit.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christmas List

- Membership to the Film Forum There are two reasons a membership here's a good thing: first, if I'm going so often that it would make better economic sense and, second, if it's a series I wouldn't necessarily see on my own steam but should see for my film education and will see if I feel I need to justify the membership!

- Roald Dahl's Cookbook Roald Dahl, as one might gather from his writings, was a keen and idiosyncratic cook. But I didn't think seriously about acquiring this book until I tried the butter cookies reprinted in Simon Hopkinson's "Butter" chapter. It was, indeed, both excellent and bizarre. And because it's not printed in this country, strictly wish-list department!

- Many Are Called by Walker Evans. This book is beautiful


-Tam cocktail hat Anyone who knows me knows of my enthusiasm for a) tam o'shanters and b) cocktail hats. Et voila!


-Subscription to Gentlewoman This is beautiful and exorbitant and would be an act of rank extravagance if I were to buy it for myself.

-Goodbye, Babylon There was a terrific New Yorker profile on the making of this and I've wanted it for ages, but it's so pricey that it's more in the realm of fantasy gifts. Not that I begrudge the company the price! It's a husband-and-wife pair of music nuts who stick a cotton ball in each box. The wild kind, I mean, not the drugstore kind. A pod?

I have coveted a miniature orange tree since, at the age of 10 or so, I entered the apartment of my aunt's upstairs neighbor and fell in love. She was -and is, I daresay - an elegant single lady whose apartment seemed to me the apotheosis of sophisticated adulthood. Several things made an indelible impression: the rattan matting on the floor; the light flooding the place; the green satin comforter on the bed; and, of course, that orange tree, heavy with dainty fruit. The ripe oranges, in turn, had been transformed into a bowl of tiny pomanders.



The New York Review of Books
Classics Collection
is gluttonous, and rank folly even for those of us who don't have piles of books on the floor and plenty of these editions to boot, and who feel there's something of "books-by-the-yard" about it and suspect in any case that some classics are "minor" and "undiscovered" for a reason. Nevertheless, if wishes were trees and genies existed.

Weekend Thoughts


It is so so so good to be back to my old self. My old self, of course, is a bit on the frenetic side: everything thrills me, from getting a seat on the subway, to not getting a seat on the subway, to the surprisingly delicious Entemann's madeleines, to the light hitting the leaves outside the window...basically, a constant state of euphoria. I'm perhaps more aware of that when I've just come out of a bad patch; I'm forever thinking "I'm happy!" to cement a moment in my mind. Yesterday it was going over the river on the J train at sundown.

Last night I made a mental list of the more intriguing moments of the weekend. Here were a few hilights:

-Exploring a suspiciously cheap little house in the neighborhood that we may or may not buy even though it's a terrible idea and has no pipes. Inside, I found old schoolbooks from the 1930s, and a little toy toaster, which the agent - or whoever he was - let me keep.

-The very intense nerd at the 4th Street Co-op talking about Kennedy assassination theories in a vintage suit with an old hippie.

-Singing a duet of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" with the butcher at Fairway.

-Leaving Slim for five minutes outside a Yorkville bar watching the Steelers game, only to find him doing tequila shots with the creative director of Louis Vuitton (who can only watch football when his boyfriend's out of town.)

-And, of course, my very favorite subway performer in the whole world, Professor Eduardo Alvarado.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Moviegoer

As you all know, I am always on the lookout for a good, creepy Gothic horror film. I'd not heard of 1995's Haunted, which went straight to video in the U.S., but having stumbled upon it tonight, I can recommend it highly. There are similiarities and disappointments, to be sure, but it's genuinely creepy, involves a stunning mansion, is set in the 1928 English countryside, and stars Anthony "Sebastien Flyte" Andrews (well, okay, it actually stars Aidan Quinn and Kate Beckinsale, but AA is in there, plus a producer.) It's definitely one of the better modern horror flicks I've run across.

Was reminded to revisit "The Uninvited" after a number of commenters mentioned it, and while "Stella's" blatantly Californian accent still bothered me, it's good! (The same night, I watched "Dragonwyck," and while goofy, it definitely made for an atmospheric double-feature for a rainy evening.)

But please do look up Haunted if you have any taste for these sorts of things, and then tell me what you think! (Incidentally, it's available on surfthechanne...)
So my longer-but-not-commercial project comes along apace. I have also started making a doll spin yarns in front of the computer's video camera, but that's just for my own pleasure.

Do suspect I'll make a meatloaf tonight provided the requisite mix is available at the Key Food, by no means guaranteed. Slim has been taking probiotics like nobody's business in an effort to digest beef, and this is a part of the scheme.

How come nobody ever comments here and just lurks? It's very voyeuristic, not that I blame you. I never comment on anyone's blog either.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

No no, not mine! Although anyone treated to the recent blow-by-blow accounts of a troubled mind would be forgiven for thinking so. (Scratch that, it would be far too eventful for this blog.)

The death in question is my grandfather's. He's preoccupied with it. I was up there Monday evening and he mentioned his funeral (2x) and various things he'd never see again (namely Paris, East Hampton.) He said he wanted his funeral to be funny, so I suggested we find the strange aging hippie who crashed my great-aunt's funeral at Riverside Memorial and broke into an a cappella version of "The Water is Wide."

Now, this sort of talk (somewhere between raging against the dying of the light and just talking about the dying of the light a lot) is less random than it might be in some people: the gentleman in question did live through WWI, not that he'd thank me for mentioning it. Also, after a life of unimpeachable health, has in recent months suffered a bad fall and a series of resultant malfunctions that have depressed him mightily. Nevertheless, I can't remember ever laughing more than we did on Monday. He's a testament to positive thinking, humor and optimism, that's for sure. And if he ever heard me say anything so trite, he'd have a particularly cutting one-liner at the ready, so there you go.

So I'll profit by his example and tell you about some of the things I've been doing. Well, after seeing them, I went downtown and decided I'd go to the bar that's been called the "New Beatrice Inn" based on its alleged exclusivity and absurdity. So I went there, because why not. It proved disappointingly easy to get into and not full pf beautiful people at all, maybe because it was 10 pm on a Monday and I understand that beautiful people keep late hours. So I went to Corner Bistro with Slim and had a bacon cheeseburger.

Then, last night (after a dinner at the Pearl Oyster Bar with my brother, POB being one of the few food-related things that seems to interest him) saw, with Sylvia, La Danse the 172-minute documentary on the Paris Opera Ballet so engrossing that by the end I felt like I, personally, had been dancing with muscular grace for more than two hours and was mildly surprised to find myself completely out of shape and decidedly...corporeal. The week before, Sylvia and I had been to see The Red Shoes and agreed that between the two we felt we'd learned all there was to know about ballet and understood it to be hard. Sylvia, with whom I used to work, is a young woman of unfailing poise and serenity who is one of the few people in the world who loves both Rumer Godden and Powell-Pressberger as much as I, lurid as both can be.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

First things first: Emma Fletcher (she of Lyell)'s diffusion line for Urban Outfitters is very, very good and all I can say is that if I had a proper office job, I'd drink deep.

Now, followers of this space know that my genetic gifts include manic depression which, along with migraines, I inherited from my mom's side. (Family bromides, unconvincingly, have always had it that they went along with keen intelligence, but there's family bromides for you.) In prior generations, this meant periodic stints in various southern mental institutions and, ultimately, suicide, but given that my mother thought to thin the strain with a dose of New York Jewry, in my case we've substituted weekly visits to an Upper West Side psychiatrist and antidepressants which only make me gain some weight and so are, apparently, better than they might be.


Nevertheless, there are a few dark days every month. You'd think this would have something to do with hormones, but I can't remember a time when it wasn't so and I was stubbornly ahormonal for the bulk of my youth. Now it's a bit more predictable, is all, so I can batten down the hatches, as it were. I filled this past week with friends and activity. I reread all of Betsy-Tacy. I laid in canned tomatoes. The first bout hit on Friday night, so I absented myself from the company, took a sleeping pill so I could sleep through the desolation, and rode it out. (While other people snap you out of it a little, this is risky: an impatient remark from another shopper at the Fairway can lead to spontaneous sobbing, which is very embarrassing for everyone involved.) This morning, Slim and I took one of our long walks around the neighborhood, in which we explore new streets (because, you know, otherwise they won't be discovered by the people who inhabit them) and made as our goal a new French bakery which proved to not be anything special (except that its location, under the el, was strange); had enormous, puffy croissants; was possessed of a highly sophisticated computer ordering system despite having only one employee and three seats; and is apparently something of a beacon to young Caucasians. Indeed, it was lousy with them. And you could buy Camel lites at the bodega next door, which just goes to show. (Like a tourist, I did.)

Maybe that set off the next bout, because it was a bad one. (The fellow at the next table had very low pants and no underpants if you know what I mean, which helped exactly nothing.) When low times hit, and going to bed is not an option, there are a few things I must do, and primary amongst these is walking. (Everyone has his own coping mechanisms, I imagine.) If I can walk enough to exhaust myself, it's usually okay. I try to avoid talking to people or going into stores to avoid accumulating what today's NYT puzzle might call 7 Down, although I still found myself in Murray's Cheese and bought lots of strange, expensive things. (Also, I cried a little, but not because anyone was unkind.) Then I wandered into a Barnes and Noble and bought a copy of John Thorne's book, which proved to be the very best thing I could have done. John Thorne, for the uninitiated, is a food writer, highly eccentric and lacking in all preciousness and beloved by professionals. He is the sort who, while he's game for fine food and any unusual ingredient, is equally passionate about idiosyncratic midnight snacks and the charms of Budget Gourmet Swedish meatballs, which is very refreshing to those of us who enjoy the occasional jar of Ragu, straight from the bodega, with a healthy glug of good olive oil on top, and eaten with a spoon. I read all the way home, and then some. I read and read, and dog-eared pages, and by the end felt much more myself and hungry too, both good things. In other words, and to make a long story short, I recommend it highly.

(In frustrating news, the pumpkin ravioli from Murray's Cheese was as sweet and pumpkin-pie-like as it is everywhere else, and NYC-area Chowhounds have been spectacularly unhelpful in answering my query for "Great, SAVORY Pumpkin Ravioli" even though I posted it on the "What's My Craving," "Manhattan," and "Outer Boroughs" boards.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Super-manic lately! I wouldn't mind except that you know a crash is coming. For me, it's just like amphetamines: restlessness, tingling hands and feet, racing thoughts, inability to sleep and loss of appetite. (During these periods I stock up on Ronnybrook yogurt drinks, the thinking manic's Ensure.) It starts with wild bouts of cooking and baking, segues into weird sassiness to strangers and then settles into a week or so of furious activity. This morning when the alarm went off, I popped up grinning like a jack o' lantern. "Oh, no, The Mania!" said Slim.

I call the mania Rolly Quicklegs, after a small lizard Charlie and I cornered in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1988.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Strong Words

Here's an exchange between me and a reader:

Sadie,
What an interesting article from an interesting website - taking on psychologically rich and complex material like Project Runway! Chelsea Handler! wow, the depth gives one pause. So, reading your armchair therapist moment about Joyce Maynard was especially powerful in its earnest critique of one mother's self-disclosing style and her daughter having a feelings about it.

Clearly, you have strong feelings. About something... Mad Men plotlines? A line skirts? I do hope you continue your cutting edge journalism. What a talent! Your mother must be so proud!

Thanks for sharing!


I responded,

Hi,

I don't know what you've gained by such a personal criticism of me. If you have some more specific issue to discuss, I'd be interested to hear it, but this seems nothing but nasty and unpleasant. I'm sorry if I or the site has offended you, but I don't know what you hope to achieve by being abusive. Again, if you'd really like to address anything, I'd be more than glad.

As ever,

Sadie

She didn't respond! So I wrote again:

Happy Halloween. I must confess, I'm surprised not to have heard from you again. Just as I understand that by writing in a public forum I leave myself open to criticism, I think you probably recognize that in writing me as you did you welcomed further dialogue. I thought about your letter a lot today - not because it was thought-provoking (cruelty rarely is) but because it amazed me that you would feel angry enough to send it. When one receives a note such as yours, there's a sort of Kubler-Ross process. At first it's just a punch in the gut, a physical hurt. Then there is sadness, and you'll be glad to know that you made me cry. Then anger and the urge to lash out. People say to ignore emails like yours, the thinking being that they're not worth dignifying. I can't do that; for one thing, I think anyone who takes the time to write me deserves the courtesy of a personal response. And more than that: it's so important that you realize that when you write like that, diminish a person's livelihood, make cracks about their talent, their parents, diminish them in every way you know how - there are consequences. Even if having a bad day, week, or year, you simply don't, even in this age of the internet, have the right to write cruel and personal things to another person, at her personal email address, and think there's not an actual, feeling person on the other end. I just can't wrap my mind around why an obviously intelligent and thoughtful woman would do so. I hope if ever you have that impulse again, you'll remember that there's a real person out there. And sometimes, we're a little crazy.

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Sadie

She responded:

Dear Sadie,



I guess we both are standing in wonder. Mainly, I am amazed by your language. Did you know what article I was commenting on? I’m cruel and abusive? Your letters sound like they couldn’t have been written by someone as insensitive as the writer of “Holy underlying tension Batman!” and “an act of veiled aggression”. I wrote to you because I found your article so typical of what I don’t like about the internet media spinning around right now. I , unlike you, didn’t choose to make my grumbling public. You wrote what I found to be a snarky, condescending critique about a writer. Not her work, but her. My reaction is to this type of trashing which seems to be on the rise. Ms. Maynard has her way of writing that some will love and some will hate. Our opinions about that are fair game, as you say, because we choose to put it in the public forum. But you didn’t comment on a writer’s work other than multiple snide references to “oversharing”. You passed judgment on a person, and made your own interpretations about a mother and a daughter. Did you ever consider that they were real people?



You may be shocked that your presumption that I wanted you to cry is not true. Like the subjects of your article, you don’t actually know me. I’m not cruel, and I don’t want to make you cry. I did presume you’d have a thicker skin if you’re wielding the kind of pen you seem very comfortable with on your website. I didn’t notice any concern for your subjects feelings, any concern for consequences to real people you write about publicly. Since you seem game for a dialogue, instead of telling me how sadistic I am, where is your moral compass when you pick apart and read into other people? Not their work, but the people themselves. The only thought I had was that you feel they are fair game for anything you want to say, consequences be damned. You said it best :



It's so important that you realize that when you write like that, diminish a person's livelihood, make cracks about their talent, their parents, diminish them in every way you know how - there are consequences.



I’d like more honesty in these cute little articles, not the bee-bee shots from a high horse. Your letters made clear to me that I inadvertently sent you a dose of what I saw you distributing, mean-spirited commentary. In equal amounts of sincerity, I apologize for offending you.


Here is the so-offensive post.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fun Fun Fun

Going to Poland on Friday so I got The Street of Crocodiles. Also, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. Also, The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman. Also, A Concise History of Poland. Also, The Journey (the H.G. Adler one.) And a Lonely Planet.

Starting to wish I had something lighter for the plane, also a striped tee shirt.

I have a lot to relate. Too exhausted, just now.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

When I was in college I was in a writing group with a very smart young woman whose work I liked and who was, besides, considerably more conscientious than I. But there was something in her writing that bothered me: she had written this one character who was supposed to be "quirky." And to indicate that she was quirky, she had a cute quirk: she ate peanut butter out of the jar all the time. And this was a source of bemusement and hilarity to other, less-quirky characters. After a few weeks, I could take it no more.

"Here's the problem, B ----" I said. "This eating peanut butter thing? It's not interesting. It's not quirky. It's not unconventional. Make it Miracle Wip. Make it fluff. Make it tomato paste (my vice -ed.) If you wanna be cute, make it Gentleman's Relish. But this simply isn't working."

Of course, aggressive quirks are lazy anyway. But when they're not even quirky, it's deeply embarrassing for all involved. And this was my biggest problem with 500 Days of Summer, which I finally forced myself to see last night at Cobble Hill Cinema's cheap(ish) night. Yes, it was precious and sophomoric and loaded with the brand of Amazing Girl only Deschanel can sing. Maybe because I was braced for this, it didn't bother me as much as I'd feared. But. Here are the "quirky," "weird" smart-sensitive things they bond over and I kid you not, kid:

1. The Smiths, specifically "There is a Light that Never Goes Out." I actually scrawled on the fly-leaf of my book "ONLY like their biggest radio hit!!!" (Yes, I was alone.)

2. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."

3. Magritte. And Hopper.

Look, people can have the tastes of high school freshmen for all I care - and who doesn't love The Queen is Dead? - but to hold these things up as obscure indicators of a cultured sensibility had me blushing with shame in my seat.

I had, obviously, other quibbles: the hackneyed "we sell a lie!" tell-off of all the unenlightened suits at the greeting card co. (which, sorry, looked like the best job ever); the straw-man premise that, in fact, cheeky and ironic greeting cards don't make up a big hunk of the business plus about a village's worth of small-press cottage industries; the wise/precocious kid sister; the fact that this flick did for "Sugartown" what Lost in Translation did for "More Than This", that is, instantly removed them from karaoke acceptability forever.

But, I was at least entertained, and not even in a Last Kiss 3-car-pileup way. Deschanel had some good getups, the dude reminded me of my boyfriend, and I laughed once. I'd even go so far as to call it "inoffensive," which I never would have anticipated.

In other news: the bike ride to the theatre was pleasant, and I bought the niftiest, goofiest pair of (maybe 1990) high-waist plaid wool trousers. The shop's owner told me that they were a recent acquisition; she'd bought up the closet of an older lady who was going into a nursing home, the widow of a Madison Avenue advertising executive whose Park Avenue wardrobe was an impeccable archive of 60's-90s UES chic. The lady must have been quite the social X-Ray, as they'll need a deal of hemming. But I hope she knows, somewhere, that her absurd trousers will be treasured. My joy was somewhat punctured when I saw that A) Zooey was wearing similar trousers in the film and B) I'd inadvertently shoplifted a velvet beret from the store. After debating the merits of having Slim plant it, I bit the bullet and sent off a somewhat incoherent email confessing to the unintentional crime. Now I'm wondering if I was framed. But by whom?!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Compare/Contrast

September Issue was disappointing and rather lazy. Breakfast at Shopsin's, wasn't.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

There are occasions, it must be admitted, when I wear nothing but a leotard. Indeed, some would say I'm doing so right now.
When I got back from California, Slim asked me what my cousin's wedding was like, and I could do no better than to say, "think the exact opposite of your cousin's wedding" which we attended in Buffalo last month.

"Meaning?"

"It was during the day, in the woods, very small, not religious, vegetarian food that the groom's mother prepared. Oh, and no booze."

In short, it was very very very lovely. (Not to say that the Buffalo one wasn't.)

My cousin, E., had a Princess cake wedding cake: for those of us mired in the northeast, a Princess cake is of Swedish extraction and can't be begged, borrowed or stolen outside of California. It's genoise, brushed with syrup, layered with jam and Bavarian cream, topped with a mountain of whipped cream, and iced with marzipan. As if it needs saying, it was a revelation. After the wedding everyone went to Nepenthe, in Big Sur.

It was funny being back. I don’t like to read a catalogue of smells. It’s an exercise in futility. But there’s no other way to talk about that house, my grandparents' house which is, now, I guess, my uncle's. The smells were always easy to remember. The outside was dust and nasturtiums. By the door, you were assaulted by generic detergent and the greenhouse smell of many house plants. The addition was the smell of plumbing, from home-installed pipes, and years of damp, and the never-cleaned deep freeze. The kitchen was rot and mildew and ancient sponges and the filthy dishpan and a dirty refrigerator, fetid meat on a rotisserie, baked-on food in a microwave, decaying paper, old deep frying, and rotten potatoes – all of it overlaid by a thick later of Comet.

It wasn’t just the house, it was the people, who’d been allowed, or forced, to develop their distinctive human smells in a way few people do nowadays. I won’t try to describe the individual smells – which were very different from body odor and not at all bad – save that they permeated everything, blankets and pillows and the walls of whole rooms, and they continued to long after my grandparents had died.

Well, I don’t know about “long;” my grandfather died four years ago. Some of the smells are the same – the dust and the decay of the yard, and the old bath mat, and parts of the kitchen. I don’t know about the bad pipes or the damp addition because now there’s a lodger who occupies the back bedroom for $200 a month. He’s supposed to spend time with my uncle, but he doesn’t. Since he doesn’t ask questions or make demands or use the washing machine, though, everyone’s decided not to make an issue of it. I've never seen him but his truck says "Yoda" instead of "Toyota" and he plays the bongos.

This trip, I stayed in my grandmother’s room, which I’d never done, and where I’d say she died except that they restarted her heart and she actually lost brain function in the hospital two days later. (As opposed to the room next door, where my grandfather actually died. For a house built in 1950, it’s managed to acquire an anachronistically Gothic history.)

The room is as she left it, except where it’s not: they threw out her clothes and her smell – which was always the faintest, since she managed a bath every week or so, and wore talcum powder – is gone. I hung up my dress on the outside of the closet door so it wouldn’t pick up the smell of the house. In New York, the dress’s print looked deliberately vintage and bold; here, it looked like a part of things. And then I tried to read the book I’d bought – a modern piece of literary fiction with the usual ration of gratuitous simile and suggestions of incest, short on storytelling and pleasure. It made no sense in a house full of the genuinely Gothic.

And yes, there were donuts, lots of them: 2 maple bars and a glazed old-fashioned. I took a red-eye back. Brought back loads of bronze animals - sure, a Brass Menagerie - which were a particular obsession of my grandfather's (he was a human magpie.) We brought back Siamese cats, a mouse, a whale, two birds, a bear, and a crab. Left a set of three herons, or cranes, because who has room for three even if they're graceful; and someone took the scorpion.

Friday, August 21, 2009

To Combat Depression...

I have crafted a playlist that, Red Shoes-style, will force me to dance at even the lowest moments.

What I'm Listening To, Since No One Asked

Occasionally, no one will ask what I listen to while I work. Here's their answer!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Gotta Give My Brother This...

"Living Thing" by ELO is a truly rad tune.

There's a new horseman of the gentrification apolocalypse in the hood: this artisanal pizzeria with seemingly imported staff. Yes, I have been three times.


I am absolutely loathing The Golden Notebook. Reads like bad Murdoch; so glad we're past the time when women had to prove their objectivity at every turn.

A friend thought he was having a heart attack this weekend. Wasn't, but I still visited him and we took a boat out and sang.

I have a new bike: Excelsior, the Sophisticate. She's purple. George who sold her said she's a honey also that the "helmet-wearing orthodoxy" is "self-undermining" the bike community by marginalizing the Euro-style cruiser. I couldn't say, really, but I'm inclined to agree.

In fact, this is a good blog altogether.

Let's see: music, lit...so far as art goes, I'm in phili-stein territory, as my mom would have had it. And, yes, it always got old.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Favorite Movies

I like lists. In no particular order:

I Know Where I'm Going!

Black Narcissus

Don't Look Now

Best Years of Our Lives

Stolen Kisses

Bonjour, Tristesse

Manhattan

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Grey Gardens

Rebecca

Rear Window

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Several neat friends mentioned in this write-up. I love the aesthetic! (Slim, alas, is a beatnik, so by necessity we cleave to a bit more minimalism.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Slim and I just looked at an old convent that's for sale in our area. We can't afford it, and realistically, when it takes us six months to get up bookshelves, there's no way we're remodeling a 20-room mansion, much as I like the fantasy. But, wow! I guess the order didn't have the money to remodel, so the place still has a ton of detailing, albeit with some depresssingly crummy fixtures etc. to say nothing of the tons of debris scattered all over the back yard and the basement where the two elderly caretakers lived. Oh, and the water damage. But. Parquet, stained glass, tile work, moldings galore...to say nothing of the general wonderful haunted air and the sheer embarrassment of rooms. By the fourth floor I'd long since run out of imaginary uses for all of them and had decided to run a boarding house, instead. Dream, a girl can do it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Our local library is not good. Yes, they have Jim McGreevey's The Confession, and for some reason a lot of the Criterion Collection, but of the paltry selection of books (half in Spanish, although at this point there aren't many Spanish-speakers in the area) there's next to nothing one would want to read. Certainly not the biography of Richard Wagner I foolishly hoped to find on my first visit. By chance, though, they had one book I've always wanted to read: the recent book of a certain beauty editor who's long been a bete noir of mine on grounds of smug preciousness.

Well, I read it. I expected to be filled with self-righteous, enjoyable rage the whole time, but in the end I was just depressed and bored. It's a memoir of working as a beauty editor, with tips and such interspersed throughout. And I guess I should have known what I was getting. But the unthinking veneration of skinny as god, of youth, of conventional beauty, was for some reason surprising to me; this woman works for a magazine that's known for having a bit more of a "common touch" than the average fashion-mag, and I guess working where I do sometimes you forget that it's supposed to be tacitly understood that everyone wants to drop ten pounds and look like a model, which attitudes I'd understood to be so hopelessly recherche that no thinking lady would ever admit to them, even if her thoughts tended in that direction. This writer's column always bothered me because I found it tone-deaf; reading the book, that didn't make me mad anymore, just sort of depressed. And what was I doing getting worked up over such silliness, anyway? I now understand that she and I are such wholly different people with such a wholly different set of values and assumptions that there's really no point wasting the equilibrium. Probably should have realized this some twenty years ago, but narcissism runs deeper than we like to admit! (Mine, anyway - I don't want to fall into that pernicious "we all feel this way but I'm honest enough to say it" brand of irrefutable smugness than so bedevils first-person essays.)

On Clothes etc.

After a few bad experiences, it's occurred to me that the best reason to get one's hair "done" is the wealth of hairpins that results. I was going to have to buy some, and now I have at least two packages' worth in the tray on my dresser. The other night, I went to a fashion event. As I was getting my hair cut, I figured I'd have them put it up for me too, as I have no skill in these matters and I figured having groomed hair would make me feel a bit more confident. Fool me once: both times, the hairdresser has ended up making me look like either Kate Winslet in Titanic or some kind of pre-Raphaelite trailing romantic ringlets. I always smile through my horror so as not to dent their evident delight, and then, as soon as I go, end up trying to pin up the various curlicues and strands, and looking slightly worse than usual.

I've long since determined, since no one asked, that in dressing for a fashion event there's no point trying to be really chic: you can't compete and you'll only feel self-conscious. Unless you're some sort of wildly creative exhibitionist. much better in my opinion to try to get away with as little as possible. No knockoffs, no carefully hoarded splurges: vintage is the name of the game. Or, in this case, fake vintage: a 30's secretary dress from "Stop Staring" purchased at a shop in Richmond, and so odd and nifty as to confound all. (Indeed, Lynn Yaeger admired it.) I wrote about the party here, so I won't say too much except that, fun as the people-watching was, at the end of the day you're at a party where you know no one and, more to the point, no one is interested in getting to know you. I learned quickly, too, that it's apparently not comme il faut to compliment another lady's dress, as I received a very cold snubbing. I asked the security guard if he wanted me to bring him some water or an hors d'oeuvre and he looked at me like I was crazy. After that, there was nothing for it but to stand around looking alternately insolent and roguish.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fruits of Victory



Just went, (in full business costume) to that library on the alley in SoHo across from Old Saint Patrick's to hear a talk on the Woman's Land Army by author Elaine Weiss, who besides giving a very fascinating presentation, was one of the nicest people I've ever met. As inquiring minds know, and thanks to Ms. Weiss, the WLA was a highly progressive institution and involved some of the most prominent suffrage and temperance activists of the day. Then too, it was highly fashionable among a certain subset of society girls to slum it patriotically for a summer or so, and it's no coincidence that their uniforms were designed by the finest couturiers of the day - and were they ever spiffy! Bloomer overalls, no less! They were the subject of any number of songs and poems - both light and serious - including one with lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse and music by Victor Herbert. (Ended up expressing my devotion to MacDonald-Eddy scores to a woman from the Victor Herbert foundation, but then of course I did.)

Here is a sample menu from the Wellesley Training Camp:

Sunday

Breakfast:

Boiled rice with dates
Top milk
Buttered toast
Coffee with cream

Dinner:

Roast Beef, brown gravy
Pittsburgh potatoes
Buttered green beans
Grape tapioca
Lace Cookies

Supper:

Creamed corn
Graham bread
Cheese
Prune ginger bread
Russian tea



(On the 'way home, a guy was playing some kung-fu handheld game so loudly that I switched seats. And then my new seat-mate was playing some game loudly too. The blood, it boiled.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Couple Months Ago

...a guy on the street took my pic. for a Williamsburg street blog. I ran across his card recently, and here I am! I think I was buying Slim some undershirts (what we used to call wife-beaters before Cosmo eradicated the term from the lexicon. Kowalskis, then. Or did he wear a tee-shirt?)

Dear friends,

Have you spent much time in the garden at MoMA lately? Some friends and I had an (exorbitant!) iced coffee there this afternoon, and it was really lovely...Physically pretty, well laid-out, all that stuff, but more to the point filled with a neato range of New Yorkers, many of whom seem to have come, mit reading matter, just to take the air and spend time with themselves. I speak, as if it needs saying, of an older generation of art patrons, whom one imagines live somewhere nearby, itself unthinkable.

(Along similar lines, the class of '49 was the highlight of last night's ten-year high school reunion. Gowns by Yumi Kim, since you didn't ask.)

El. hit town for the occasion, among other things, and I celebrated with a taste of Tangier Island - yeast rolls and potato salad from the Hilda Crockett Chesapeake Inn recipe pamphlet, plus Cook's Illustrated extremely labor-intensive and frankly ludicrous oven spare ribs. I'd rate the meal a 6.

We hit the "Renegade Craft Fair" in Williamsburg, which was not remotely renegade but did involve hundreds of whimsical items with "villain mustachio" motifs.

Then today we saw GK4 Former Fiance for brunch and he had villain mustachios.

Ended last night at the home of some bohemian acquaintances. There was a lot of dancing to African music and some whiskey drink with muddled orange and a delightful upstairs neighbor and Waugh enthusiast with whom I hit it off, but then it was high time we left, so that's just what we did.


As ever,

SS

Monday, June 1, 2009

Recipes

As of this writing, I have found my favorite versions of chocolate chip cookies,* lemon squares, and bran muffins **, but pound cake still eludes me. And obsesses me. Because the pernicious thing about pound cake is it's a lot of work, and ingredients, and cake if you're not happy with the results. I have an inkling that cream cheese pound cake, while far from classic, may be the horizon I've been looking for. Unlike Cook's, I make no pretense towards objective perfection - I like things too moist and creamy for many tastes - but like everyone I am seeking my personal grails.

Other things I seek to replicate pre-death:
Orange syrup sponge from Le Loir Dans La Theiere (a moist orange cake soaked in fresh orange syrup, with a butter icing)
Date-walnut brownie from Murray's cheese (even if it does require a convection)
Applesauce cake from 2nd Floor Coffee Shop, U of C, actually made by the maddeningly expensive and closed-mouth S&S Dessert Bakery. (Impossibly moist appleasuce bundt - no nuts or raisins - with a hardish penuche glaze, which component I've actually sort of replicated.)

If you have any leads, you know where to find me.


*Double the salt and halve baking time for my idea of perfection.
**I like the ones from Beat This!

Mixology

Drink-mixing, like free jazz (counterintuitively) and the prose of Henry Greene, is something that eludes me. I like Lillet. And I like to be given something based on the specifications "gin, strawberries and cucumber" at a fancy bar, if I must go to one. An email I received claims this drink is "the Megan Fox" of cocktails.

First Class Punch:

1 1/4 oz Three-O Vodka

1 oz Domaine Canton Liquor

1/2 oz agave nectar

1/2 oz fresh lime juice

1 strawberry

4 basil leaves

In a mixing tin, muddle the strawberry, basil, and Agave nectar. Add the rest of the ingredients, shake very well with ice and strain into a glass. Garnish with a strawberry

Make of this what you will.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stroking the back of my little brass whale and very soothing it is, too.

Since I got back Monday night, much later than planned, I've been wishing I'd brought the camera. El got a disposable near our motel in Richmond, but as she messaged me tonight, 'who knows how they'll turn out.' She also said she'd finished up the last of the cheese pennies, rich with chopped pecan, that we got at the Mixing Bowl, with a glass of rose.

For my part, I read through the little recipe book I bought after the family-style lunch we weren't able to do justice to on Tangier Island. I arranged the postcards I got on the mantel in the bedroom. And I washed the shells I found on the beach while El was swimming. I wrote up a little description of the island for a friend's travel site in the hope that a few people will go.

Now Slim's gone out to see a friend's band play. I pled fatigue, and am only still up because I'm between books and I hate going to bed without a book. Today I strained and bottled the rhubarb liqueur I made, and of course should have waited until I had a funnel. The floor got so sticky that Matt mopped after dinner. I made lemon squares too, and even though we made a friend take some, there are too many, as they don't keep well. I guess I'll give some to the landlords and maybe the bohemians down the street, although they despise me, and rightly so.

Last night, my friend Marija played some really wonderful music; I must find out the name for you when she burns it for me. Just by chance she met the band in her building and they turned out to all be from the same town in Croatia. She also said in Paris men are always passing her very polite, gallant notes requesting assignations on public transport. She is someone who attracts romance, and as such is somewhat downcast at having to move to D.C. next month. But we'll sort it out, as some of my favorite New York expats live in the capital, to say nothing of all my dead ancestors. El, after all, is in Baltimore, and has managed to make that very magical - she has a way of ferreting out the specialness of a place, be it a bakery or a thrift shop or a neat bit of architecture, and as such is just the person to know in a new city.

I'm cold-brewing coffee, like a fool. Good night, now.

Words to Live By


"The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things, she decided, wondering how many writers and philosophers had said this before her, the trivial pleasures like cooking, one's home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard." - Barbara Pym, Less Than Angels

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ugh. Roughish week at the office, if you know what I mean. Prompted me to add my optimistic Morrissey subhead!

You know, I have had struggles with my job, blessing though it is, simply because I'm not very tough and it's a tough man's game. I often get down on myself for the caliber of my own work, which is too often not what it should be, but I think the site as a whole does a tremendous job of providing entertainment, humor and forum for discussion, they'd say "without airbrushing," but I'd say "without meanness," which is even harder. I was reading through some archives this evening and found myself crying while reading the words of one commenter, a former sex worker, and the incredibly supportive tone of the other readers. She was new to the site and couldn't believe how generous and empathetic a group of strangers on the internet can be; I sure can. It's a kind group. And at the end of the day, there is so much to be said for this: it's easy to mock earnestness, but pretty hard to live it. Ideally with humor, but hey, let's not ask for the moon, we have the stars.

That's what I have to say.


Oh, and I'm running something sort of embarrassing tomorrow which, in any case, hopefully no one will care about.

I made some fish tonight which was truly awful, almost gratifyingly so, like the baby from Eraserhead, but in horrible dinner form. And speaking of ungoverned sentiment, I've been crying a lot at the green market lately, as the produce and flowers becomes more bountiful and beautiful. I couldn't say, but I think it has something to do with a)beauty, color etc. b)knowledge of the impermanence of all things and c)probably some very American impulse towards thwarted ownership. Or I'm just nuts. I remind myself sometimes of Misabel, the lugubrious Moomin. Well, her or Mrs. Gummidge.


If you haven't heard Brownbird Rudy Relic, do yourself a favor and look him up (he's on iTunes.) And given a chance, catch him live: he's truly bravura. This and Karl Lagerfeld's Twitter are two very worthwhile additions to any life.

Went to mass at St. Joseph's (granted on Saturday) and there were only ten congregants, and of course I don't take the Eucharist. I hated to think of all those wafers going to waste, or having to be put back, untouched - again. Although I suppose they have a pretty good feel for the turnout by this time. A parishoner had died, apparently an occasional lector with a wonderful talent for calligraphy. Maybe things are more happening on Sundays. Hoping so; it's a beautiful church, one of the area's oldest Catholic ones, and played an important role in the conversions of both Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, back when the area was a bohemian stronghold (and, by extension, the congregation was still pretty thin!)


I was briefly considering becoming fantastic, but don't know that I have the energy.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I'd Rather Have A Paper Doll to Call My Own...

I recently received the single best gift a girl can have: a paper doll of herself.

She has a New York Post...

Rain gear...

Bear suit...

Island of the Blue Dolphins costume for day...

Prairie gear...

...and superhero guise!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Desk

We have finally set up the office. I thought I'd take a moment to describe my desk, now that I've set it up and have all my comforting things around me, simply because I myself love a description of domestic details. Right now the desk itself is an old, scratched-up drafting table, only so-so convenient as the cross-bar between the legs prevents one from pushing a chair underneath. But the top is nice and spacious and I like the scratches and the finish, even if it's kind of cheap.

The lamp is an old brass flexible one with a battered, yellowish shade that I retrieved from my parents' attic long ago. Then there are a few notebooks between a pair of carved wooden bear bookends - also from 10 Euclid - a silver cup (from Grandpa Moe) full of pens, a little glass boat to hold matches and tacks and other things. My paperweight is a little brass whale (probably also from Grandpa Moe) that I gave to my old boyfriend years ago, but stole back when I was feeding the cats once and saw it just sitting there over his bed and couldn't bear his owning it.

Pictures: well, framed letters, actually. These are from my dad; he picked them up at an auction house in the 70's and gives them to me as Christmas and birthday gifts. This Christmas he gave me a framed, type-written and signed Marianne Moore translation of one of her LaFontaine fables ("The Crow and the Fox") because he knows how I like her, although lord knows what possessed him to buy it, given his disinterest in poetry. A few years ago he gave me the remarkably sour and ungenerous H.L. Mencken letter, typed on American Mercury stationery. Into the Marianne Moore frame I've tucked a little postcard of an "A. Sisley" painting, "Le Loing a Moret," which the card says is from the Louvre, but which I got for a few cents with a bunch of other ephemera from a Bookiniste back when I lived there. Then there's a picture, no more than 2" high, of my grandmother in her wedding veil. (It's actually a xerox I cut to fit.) I bought that little frame when I was about 12, from a store called Flowers and Co. in Hastings, which was, I suppose, terribly precious, carrying as it did flowers and then Crabtree and Evelyn toiletries and various other gift items that seemed to me really beautiful. My latest addition is a little woman made out of scallop shells, probably made as some kind of cheap souvenir in the 40s or earlier, which I picked up at the Flea Market in DUMBO. If I have the energy, I'll add some pictures, although they'll make for pretty dull viewing!

Recipe Alert!

I just made something delicious for the first time and I had to share it with you!

Vidalia Onion Casserole

(I halved Sarah Leah Chase's Nantucket Open-House recipe; these are my amounts)

Preheat oven to 325. Chop 4 cups (about 3 large) Vidalia onions. Saute in a large pan in 3 T butter until soft and transluscent, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, boil 1/3 cup rice for 5 minutes. Stir together rice, onions, 3/4 cup grated Swiss cheese, 1/2 cup half-and-half, 1.5 T Vermouth (I used wine with no ill effects), and plenty of salt and pepper. Tip the mixture into a buttered casserole dish and bake until crusty and brown, 1 hour to 1 hour and fifteen minutes.

I served this (to myself) with some oven-roasted tomatoes and an acidic green salad to temper the richness. And, well, I wouldn't be recommending it if it hadn't been a roaring success!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Notes: let's not forget to address issues of sex & experience. Also: YSL, Lagerfeld and the willful pursuit of narcissism via tea leaves. It's quite possible I'll change my mind about discussing any of it and there's Nyquil at work here.

Against the clock/barbiturates: yesterday I said to my dad re: my brother/life goals or lack thereof, that it's not strictly speaking necessary to have a specific ambition nowadays as it was previously understood. Due (in terms he'd cotton to) to some collision of California, Warhol, and the Conventional Specialness that was a boomer special, parenting-wise.

Good night.
Slim's gotten me slightly, not unpleasantly, sick: skipped the throat part altogether and now there's the periodic excitement of sneezing and just enough congestion to keep things interesting.

How's that for mindfulness?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Birthday, Take 2

This evening, Slim and I went to dinner at a newish seafood place in a part of town I normally avoid, but which provided superb people-watching. (It made for a funny change from the Brooklynski crowd at last night's Found Magazine reading, and performance of the main Squeeze Accordian Orchestra!) Everyone seemed shipped in from either the West Coast or, at the closest, Murray Hill. We were seated next to a super-L.A.-looking, Sally Hershberger-esque lesbian couple and at one point one said, loudly, "So, would you like to watch me with another girl?"

The place felt a touch scene-y for my blood - and I never cotton to the Miami high-concept look - but I liked the open kitchen and was struck by the number of female cooks: 4. The chef is a woman,and very well-known for her Italian-accented gastro-pub shenanigans, but it's rare to see that many females working side by side in a restaurant. Food was terrific. We shared a bottle of Sancerre and some oysters, then I had a little cup of the richest imaginable oyster pan roast. Slim had a fennel soup, plush with crab meat, and then some charred octopus, served with a sharp, Spanish-inflected relish. We shared the "steamed treacle pudding for 2," which proved easily big enough for four and came swimming in custard. We won't be able to dine out for a year or so, but we agreed it was worth it, as the meal was truly special, and nothing at all we could replicate within our own kitchen.

We walked the meal off south and east. We ended up at Inven.Tory, whose owners we know and who carry a beautifully-edited collection of small designers at a sharp discount; the Century21 concept gone boutique. And then: I found one of the best pairs of jeans I've ever worn in my life, and I don't often get excited about jeans. But. Grey Ant, high-waisted, modestly flared...I have never felt better in a pair of pants, and the fact that they were over $100 off and seemed to run a size large hurt absolutely nothing, principles aside. I guess I ought to have given that some sort of "frivolity alert."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Birthday Lemon Cake

I sort of winged this - the cake was adapted from the Orange Sour Cream Cake in Marion Cunningham's The Supper Book, while I got the syrup idea from Barefoot Contessa - but it worked out nicely! If you should try it, let me know!

Cake:
-Preheat oven to 325. Grease and lightly flour a loaf pan.

-Cream 1 stick butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light.
-Add 2 eggs, the zest of 1 lemon, and the juice of half a lemon and 1/4 t salt.
-Stir together 1 cup flour, 1/2 t baking powder, 1/2 t baking soda.
-Mix in drys alternately with 1/2 cup plus 2 T sour cream.
-Bake 40-50 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. I err on the side of less.

-Once baked, cool in the pan 10 minutes or so. Poke with a skewer and drizzle with syrup. After that's absorbed, turn out onto rack, and poke/drizzle the bottom.
-When cool, ice. I guess that's optional.

Syrup:
-Heat together 1/3 cup lemon juice and 1/3 cup sugar until melted and clear.

Frosting:
I beat together about 2 T soft butter, some lemon zest, about a cup of powdered sugar with enough lemon juice and cream to thin it.

-Top with small doll or flower sprig. Happy birthday. Also, I have found, delicious for breakfast. Also, with tea.
Here I am, a year older. Somewhat more employed, a bit more engaged, definitely better housed, and altogether glad to be here. As a friend with a nearby birthday says, a wonderful time to take stock and make resolutions, far less arbitrary than New Year's. For my part, I plan to up my volunteer work, look a lot more deeply into the various religions that interest me, and, regardless of what I find, start going to church again regularly (if only for the wonderful rhythms of the liturgical calendar and the music), take up running or something I can do safely in my neighborhood. Keep up with friends' birthdays and cultivate the conscientious attention to detail I appreciate in others (no excuse not to with Facebook!) And then of course, there's always learning to drive.

Birthday itself was a tad gloomy, as Slim was awfully sick so all celebrating had to be put on hold. His fever seems to have broken. But I received a few lovely gifts - a cocktail hat, an antique "Jennie Wade: Killed at Gettysburg" pin, and a book on YSL and Lagerfeld that I've been wanting to read, as I'm interested in creative "scenes" whatever they be.

Speaking of: went on business (with the necklace thing to prove it) to a lecture series on Sunday, and saw two panels, one tedious and one, starring Marc Jacobs, pretty interesting. He was willfully frivolous but very smart, and said some things which made one forget he was sporting a kilt and several million dollars' worth of diamonds. There were questions, which are always my favorite part, although in this case they were all too obsequious or silly - "what advice would you give someone who wants to go into fashion?" - to be worth much. I asked how one goes about firing a muse, but he didn't answer it to my satisfaction, which I suppose I ought to have expected. That same morning, I ran into a couple of friends who live the adult dream - they're currently in the process of buying a brownstone. When I told them where I was going she said, "Do you care about Marc Jacobs and Narciso Rodriguez?" - no question whether she did, or what she thought of those who do - and I said, "Well, I care about the people who care." And it's true, although I could have just explained I cared about everything which is more to the point. Some things I don't understand, but that's different.

Slim and I sometimes joke about which of my collection of inherited tote bags - "Wesleyan University," "Dobbs Ferry Democrats," "Friends of the Seaside Branch of the Montery County Library" - is least likely to get one's ass kicked. It's a tough call. Usually I resort to an almost-worse one I got for free when the Brooklyn Urban Outfitters opened, which not only says "Brooklyn" on it, but then has pictures of Ebbetts Field, Biggie Smalls and Jackie Robinson. At Target the other day, a middle-aged fella stopped me to ask where he'd gotten it - I'm guessing he liked the stadium image - and he seemed so downcast at my answer that naturally I emptied it out and gave it to him, not without misgivings regarding his safety should he carry it in public. I am on the lookout for a tote bag that is neither precious nor irritating. I enjoy these vague ongoing challenges; I was without a key chain for months until I found just the right one - a miniature suede moccasin from Montreal.

Saturday, I actually found myself at the Green Market holding a "Wesleyan" tote full of ramps, rhubarb and organic bread - feeling like the walking cliche I was. Did some good people-watching, though; we couldn't decide if the #1 slot went to the old man in the zoot suit or the hippie complacently munching on a stalk of raw rhubarb.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It hasn't all been storm clouds! Saturday, we took advantage of the unseasonable warmth to take a drive, with our friend Jim, to Staten Island, where I had every intention of listening to nothing but Wu-Tang Clan, finding a 20's-vintage beach village of charming bungalows that an old bohemian had just been waiting to sell for $100 to the right young people, and eat at Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn and Beer Garden. Of these, we did exactly one. Unfortunately, Staten Island seems to be a bit short on 20's beach villages nowadays; my biography of Dorothy Day was somewhat misleading on this point.

We didn't get as early a start as I'd hoped, and, as Slim told Jim on the phone, "Sadie's in a vintage girl scout uniform and raring to go!" We did have a picnic at Fort Wadsworth, which is truly lovely, listen to a lot of "Grime" rap, which Jim is very into right now, and try to find this abandoned monastery which I'd read was haunted but which apparently got torn down last year. This search brought us to the campus of a small Catholic college, where we kind of stood out, due to my uniform, Slim's wife-beater and work boots, and Jim's tee shirt, on which he'd tie-dyed the sweat stains. I also did a dramatic reading of The Man Who Was Thursday.

Killmeyer's did not disappoint, however, in age (150 years), ambiance (dirndls and an oom-pa band called "The Happy Tunes") or food. In fact, I ate so much wurst, mashed potato, red cabbage, spaetzl, German potato salad, schnitzel and pretzel, to say nothing of whatever Spring beer we were quaffing, that I felt really sick afterwards, fell asleep in the car, was too ill to go out to a party, groaned all night long, and had one of the worst food hangovers ever the next morning. I highly recommend it. And the food kinda reminded me of the late, lamented Berghoff's, which is reason enough for some of us.

On My Shelf


I just finished Tamasin Day-Lewis' Where Shall We Go For Dinner? A Food Romance which I had to get specially from Murray's Cheese because it's not actually out in the States and which I'm afraid I can't loan you as it's saturated with olive oil from an errant lid on a picnic tuppeware of mixed olives.

I liked it.

But, with some serious reservations. It was a typical foodie romp in which T and her beau, the proprietor of Murray's Cheese (appropriately enough) seem to spend half their time traipsing around gorgeous landscapes during white truffle season and stumbling upon undiscovered geniuses toiling in regional obscurity who ply them with local delicacies the like of which we mere mortals will never know. And some of the prose were so boozily purple I nearly blushed! Take this:
I am reminded of the mid-September sun over the hills last autumn, high above Santo Stefano Belbo in the Langhe, and of how Rob and I came to be sitting at the tiny cafe table at La Christina in Valdivilla, the village at the top of the hill...We have come for the cinghiale, the wild boar, for it is that time of year, and Mario has promised he will cook it for us tonight, but he has implores us to try some of his fresh porcini first, crisped in egg and breadcrumbs. We'll start with a glass of Moscato d'Asti to get the gustatory juices flowing and, if we can get that far, we'll finish with a late-ripening peach from a bough a few paces away from where we are sitting on the tiny Strada del Moscato d'Asti that runs through the Asti vineyards. They'll serve it the local way, in slices in a wine glass with a libation of beaded Asti bubbles winking at the brim.


I presume you get the idea? As a rule, though, I liked the gusto with which she describes her picturesque diet, and the greedy, unfettered enthusiasm she and other British writers like Nigel Slater and Simon Hopkinson and Nigella (another stunning anglo-Jewish Oxbridge grad from the wealthy and distinguished clan!) talk about food. It's genuinely inspiring, as is the passion for produce, for seasonal rhythm, for simplicity. I found myself moved to go out and buy a huge sack of sorrel and green garlic and lord knows what I'll do with it all.

I loved, too, the descriptions of her grandparents' sumptuous, old-fashioned household, filled with traditional and rich English puddings, as well as her parents' intellectual milieu, the Kingsley Amis household, and, later, the circle of fashionable bohemians with whom she lives as a teenager. Everyone is beautiful and rich and generous and seem to have an endless supply of immense copper pots and le Creuset vessels and vegetable gardens and orchards enough to feed whatever army of hungry famous people descend at a moment's notice. Her brother is, of course, Daniel D-L, which is neither here nor there. Quite unnecessary, though, were the vignettes in which she eats with Julia Roberts, which were manifold. They may well be good friends, but "Julia" gets rather more screen-time than her other cronies.

The main problem, for me, was the "romance" bit. You see, while the author herself is warm and likable, Rob, "the American," never comes to life. While she talks about his lust for life and food - and lord knows he runs a great store - he comes across as grouchy, charmless, obsessed with health and aging, and preoccupied with every American fear of germs and dirt. What's meant, I guess, to come across as the lovable kvetching of a New York Jew just translates as sour and didactic. The fact that she, or her eds, translate half of his dialogue into a British idiom that, for one reading his American voice in one's head comes off as pretty jarring, doesn't help. Sometimes I think a person's charm is so obvious to their loved ones that they don't realize that their quirks aren't automatically charming to others who don't know what's behind them.

The recipes are all metric, so I'll have to break out the calculator (actually, the only kind of math I enjoy) as I really do trust her taste and love all the prepared dishes she's designed for the Murray's store.
Sometimes I get embarrassed when I look back a bit later and see how unhappy my posting was; not because it isn't true but because it's wrong, not to mention boring, to burden other people with mental struggles. I hope if anyone should stumble upon it who's experienced anything similar, they'll derive some comfort...even if these things are, ultimately, pretty solitary. I guess I don't want to talk about this stuff to my family, or even most of my friends - who get scared - so this becomes an outlet.

It's funny: there are times when responses to my work have been critical enough (which isn't even saying much; the stuff I write's pretty uncontroversial, conflict-averse as I am) that I really do feel like I'm pretty worthless, and it really is enough, in a low mood, to put me over the edge. But! There have quite literally been moments when I've been contemplating ending things when the thought of the same strangers kept me afloat. Because I realize that, in some small way, you have become a familiar part of peoples' worlds, and it would upset and sadden them in a way I can't ignore. So it works both ways, in the way any "relationship" does. I guess what I mean is, I feel strongly that I owe people in my life, whether I know them or not, the best I've got. Feeling I've failed them (which my shrink says is a madness in my head) - and I don't think in a meaningful way, but to the small extent they have to live with my work or my thoughts or my actions - is horrible. I feel that like a sharp pain in my gut.

Anyway, I took a pill and a little walk and both helped. I'll be okay, I always am.
I must stop reading comments. I feel so often there's no point because folks ignore one's larger points and are so insulting, and gosh, I quite literally feel like I can't stand it sometimes. It's no job for those of us who are fragile, and who take things so much to heart. I feel at times like this that one callous remark could just put me over the edge, like I'm made of an egg yolk's membrane. I know that makes no sense.

That's no one's fault but my brain chemistry's, I guess. I am awfully frightened about it all, not well at all. I just need to get through today and wipe my eyes and keep going. And then maybe take a walk or distract myself some other way.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Early to be in on a Friday, especially such a beautiful one, but here I am in my night gown. I was out like a normal 20-something, but got felled by a persistent migraine and am only now in the delicate detente stages, which may be fleeting.

The weather's been wonderful. Last night, Slim and I went to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was being screened downtown in concert for some reason with the Tribeca Film Festival. (The turtles lit the Empire State Building yesterday, too (green.)) Before the film started there was face painting for kids, free pizza and a Tae Kwan Do presentation, which was strange only because then the film's director and producers got up and made speeches and the kids, for whom all the other events were staged, were bored silly. The movie was, of course, terrific, and it seems like the guy who played Danny, the disaffected teen,, may have been in the crowd, judging by the delighted whoops that came from one section whenever he appeared onscreen being sullen. Afterwards Slim and I stopped into a Financial District pub called Seamus McShea's or something, which was playing host to a very intense Irish cover band and an equally intense group of middle-aged fans, all of whom seemed to have come in from Jersey. At one point I timed a 5-minute drum solo. This one guy came up to us, very excited, to explain that the guitarist had, maybe, at some point played with a late incarnation of Vanilla Fudge.
"You know the part in Die Hard I where Bruce Willis throws the guy out the window?" he asked Slim. "Well, welcome to the party, Pal. This is it!"

Prior to the headache, I went for a walk in Williamsburg; some street style blogger took my picture (I had on a good sort of "artistic grandma" look), a guy whom I didn't recognize addressed me by name (I think he and Slim went to college together; I hope so, since I gave him S's number), I found Slim a shirt, and got an iced tea at the bakery with the terribly surly staff. Later, saw Sugar with Charlie and Sam; then the headache got too bad - can you tell it still is? - and I hightailed it to sweat it out. The walk back was nice, the neighborhood much quiter than I'd expected. I glanced into the bohemians' apartment - last night they seemed to be projecting a film onto the wall - but they were out and I could just make out the drums and the ethnic hangings they have up. I want to get to know them, but I also recognize that if I ever did, they'd just bang up against all my hard edges and I'd hold myself aloof from their soft ones, and while Slim might be able to bond with them over music or weed or the language of artistically-inclined nonjudgmental good people, I never could.

Overheard a peculiar exchange between a mother who was one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen in real life and her equally stunning, maybe 12-year-old daughter.

"The last time I went to the Hamptons, I dropped a watermelon in a pool," said the girl.

"Well, what's your tradition: dropping watermelons in pools, or having a good time?" demanded her mother.

"I have a good time in New York," said the child sullenly.

Anyway. Someone apparently killed just a few blocks over earlier this week. Not too worrisome as apparently they knew each other and one guy shot the other in the face in a building's entryway. As I told Slim when he cautioned me about it, "if someone shoots me in the face, I'll know he means business." Not funny, but there you go. I have a headache. Sometimes when I was little I used to fantasize about chopping off my afflicted head with a guillotine or a samurai sword; now I'll settle for bed, thanks.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Watch this. Be warned, I can't stop saying "put a donk on it!" in v poor northern accent...

Just had friends for dinner (just spaghetti - that kind with the onions and bacon - and, somewhat grossly, Toll House cookies, since it was only boys) and now am feeling like a martyr, since I told everyone I didn't want help with cleaning, when obviously I did and do. I am by no means one of these people who finds cleaning of any kind contemplative or therapeutic.

We talked about the new Neil Strauss book; now I have borrowed it. I made them watch the Donk documentary, obviously. My brother was talking in a very nihilistic way about going to L.A. in a Winnebago, which one can only hope will pass. Slim, not helping matters, seemed to think this was a fine plan. He, by the way, is at this vacant lot he likes, where he's been spending a lot of time. Last night he devoted several hours to drawing a hypothetical building that would meet the zoning requirements, having once taken a drafting class in San Francisco.

As they left, I said,

"Charlie, did you see my new doll?!" I indicated the stockingette 60s girl, who's now positiioned just at the top of the stairs.

"Yeah," he said.

Monday, April 20, 2009

As I've mentioned on Twitter (of which this marks the start of my second week; I'm lousy at it) I watched Grey Gardens last night. (And does one self-reference? Is this breaking the fourth wall? It's all the same wall, surely, and the mason is narcissism and so is the mortar!) Well, here's what my friend Raha and I had to say: Why? Why bother at all? Not shockingly, the best bits were the to-the-letter recreations of the doc anyway. If one needs a reason, well, the 1930s-50s costumes in the flashbacks are very good. The performances are fine in that impression sort of way that can't erase physical differences, but it only serves to point up the superiority of the Maysles film and make you thank goodness for Real Life where people don't feel the need to screech about their motivations every five minutes.

Everyone feeling duly chastened by Jack Frost, I'm guessing; the tip of my nose has been chilled all day. The bone-cold calls for British spinster-wear.

Yesterday, we undertook the Brooklyn Flea and were sort of underwhelmed, even if I did come away with a dear little lady made of scallop shells and looking awfully good for 70 or so. Slim spent about ten years comparing two WWII-era Swiss navy jackets before buying the smaller (although I like his inconsistent dandyism when it rears its head), three different women were wearing vintage parachute pants, and we saw a baby who looked exactly like our friend Jim, even though he was French and wearing little knickers.

I want to recommend again Clive James's Cultural Amnesia, even if I'm not sure why the sales lady pointed me towards it when I asked for something "fun, borderline trashy and Secret History-esque."