Saturday, October 31, 2009

Brklyn Larder

Yesterday my husband and I were out in Brooklyn celebrating (my birthday and our anniversary, both of which are today) with lunch at the fantastic Al Di La. (If you're not in New York but maybe will visit and have a chance to go to Brooklyn and eat there, do.) In fact, I was going to write just about lunch for which I had a raw Tuscan kale salad (shared) followed by polenta with mushrooms and some kind of green (thinking about it makes my knees a little weak--it was so rich I couldn't finish it) and coffee/caramel custard with chocolate cookies. (Also shared and kind of heavenly in its smoothness and flavor sensations; we had to stop ourselves from licking the little pot it came in.)

But I'm not blogging about polenta and pudding because on our way to the subway we stopped at Brklyn Larder, the store whose granola inspired this recipe that's now a staple in our house (I'm going to make some now in fact), but whose Almond Butter is the best ever. It's smooth, it's nutty, it's somehow, I don't know, better than any other almond butter I've had -- and it doesn't get clumpy! It's so special and lasts so long and tastes so good with orange marmalade I don't even mind paying an amount that makes me cough. Really, a jar of the stuff was the perfect present at the end of a lovely lunching afternoon.

Friday, October 30, 2009


When I was 7 my parents took my brother (then 10) and me to France for six weeks. We spent two weeks in Paris and a month on the idyllic island of Corsica. It was an amazing experience in so many ways and just one thing that was amazing about it is the trip introduced us to Asterix and Obelix, with whom we both became immediately obsessed. The scrappy Asterix, the ridiculous Obelix, it was all too fantastic. Now it turns out that today Asterix turns 50! I feel, I don't know, like buying a cupcake and a comic book and lying on my belly with my knees up in the air. Of course if I lay like that for too long I wouldn't be able to get up, but that's besides the point. Happy Birthday Asterix!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Truth or Dare

Flipping through the channels the other night right before I was set to go to bed, we happened upon Truth or Dare. You know? Truth or Dare! It was so thrilling, and ridiculous, and Warren Beatty was in it because apparently they were a couple, Warren and Madonna. Of all things. I remember when Truth or Dare came out I didn't want to see it because I'd seen the concert. Yes, it's true. My brother got free tickets through an old family friend and he gave them to me and they were on the floor and we had back stage passes and it was amazing. Really, it changed my life. I'd just graduated from college, I didn't have a job, I had no idea what I was going to do next (the more things change....), but there were these tickets and that night there was this concert and it blew my mind and carried me through the rest of that long hot summer. In it's very own way, it was a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Grim Day

Last night I finally finished Jane Mayer's sobering piece in last week's New Yorker on drone warfare in Afghanistan and Pakistan. War may never be the answer to anything, but the piece demands we ask, if we do wage war, what kind of war do we wage and what are the costs of robot bombs? Even if you don't read the whole thing the answer is this: They're high. Just look at these pictures from today's bombing in Pakistan, because, as they say, what goes around....

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cautionary Matrons? Really?

This morning I stumbled to the couch with my half awake children to find the New York Observer opened to an article titled "Cautionary Matrons." My husband had thoughtfully left it there for me. "It's about 40-something writers who are unhappy with their lives!" he shouted cheerfully as he bounced into his shower.

Always on the lookout for joy and satisfaction, I turned my attention away from Arthur and took a look at the piece. What I found was yet another rehashing of how women were told one thing and found another. As in: "They told 'our generation' of now 40-somethings that we could have it all and we couldn't because we have careers but we don't have husbands or children or happy marriages so 20- and 30-year-olds, don't make the mistakes we made."

The writer, 25-year-old Irina Aleksander, not only talks to the matrons of the title but also to her friends in their late twenties and early thirties and it turns out they're scared of ending up alone and these articles about single motherhood, being single in one's 40s and mid-life divorce freak them out. Apparently, it's news to these kids that life is full of choices and compromises. Apparently, people are not only rehashing 80s fashion choices but the maxim that a woman can "have it all!" Did anyone ever really believe that? I mean believe believe believe? Really? When are these so-called articles about generational expectations going to stop? I guess my blogging about one won't help stop them, but, really, if I could petition culture editors, I would. It's enough already.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rememer When....

Remember when you were a kid and suddenly in what seemed like an endless stream of school days there was a day off for no reason at all? Remember how much fun that was? Now, not so much.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Week

It's been one long, intense week and I've hadn't had much of a chance to do much of anything -- I apologize for my absence and promise more blogging next week.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Run a Cold

I have a cold, a niggly, iggly little cold that woke me up with a dry gummy mouth last night and continues to annoy me today. It's the kind of cold that doesn't make you (me) feel so bad, just very badly for myself. But, it's a beautiful day and I haven't been for a run since Friday and I'm supposed to run three times a week and even if I get loosey goosey with that I can't get too loosey goosey because after finally establishing some kind of running routine, through the winter no less, I don't want to give it up, even if that's what I fell like doing, giving it up, I mean. If my run is as long as that last sentence, I'll feel like I did what I have to do. Which I should just go do. Or something.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Zero Waste Challenge

The good news: There are ways to cut way down on garbage. The bad news: Food waste is really bad. You can read all about it in this New York Times article about the zero waste movement that's afoot nationwide. I'd write more but I feel like I have to go do some research about how to compost in an apartment.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Party!

We had a birthday party for the kids today. In our apartment. Seventeen, eighteen kids. Something like that. It was great. Toys everywhere, art projects galore, and, the cakes. I have to say, I loved making these cakes. A huge thank you to Lauren Deen for her book Kitchen Playdates. Really, the recipe is so easy anyone can make one of these Bob Mackie meets Martha Stewart babies. Really.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sea of Poppies

I just finished the Amitav Ghosh novel Sea of Poppies about the opium trade in India in 1837. When I started it, I was practically elated to find myself so securely in the hands of such a wonderful writer and storyteller. As the book wore on some of it felt a little too race conscious, a little anachronistically so, but by that time I was in deep and actually wanted to know what happened. And by the end, well, I read the last section with baited breath, on pins and needles, at the edge of my seat. Plus, there was some perfect sentences. If I were any kind of blogger I'd pluck some out for you, but I've got to set the table. Before I go, though, I'd also recommend In an Antique Land, also by Ghosh, which I read a million years ago and remember simply loving. As for the weekend, there will be birthday parties, so there won't be much reading. So it goes.

You Can Pick Your Friends, But....

People have families. They come in all shapes and sizes. And sure you get to choose your partner, but when it comes to kids, you take what you get or whom you adopt. Sort of. I don't want to get into the whole thing about using reproductive technology to engineer specific traits into or out of our kids, but I do want to say this about gender selection done purely for the psychological needs of the parents: It Sucks.

I try not to be judgmental when it comes to how people make their families, but women going bananas because they have three healthy boys and no girls? Nuh-uh. I'm judging. But you can decide for yourself and by reading a story by Ruth Shalit Barrett about "Gender Disappointment" in this month's Elle.

Me, I've made my decisions about "GD." Not only, as XX blogger KJ Dell'Antonia points out, does the whole thing cross the line of a parent saying about a child, "I didn't want you," but a driving desire for a girl is a about a fantasy. It's not about raising an actual person who arrives in this world with a personality. It's about the dream of a very specific kind of companionship where the mother gets to call all the shots. The women who try to come off as thoughtful in the article say things like: “My desire for a daughter is not about pink or shopping. I don’t get manicures and pedicures. All that stuff isn’t important to me. Relationships are. As a woman, I have so much I want to share.” What, and she can't share any of what she has with her sons? And if she can only share with girls, then girlfriend, go out and get some girlfriends and leave your kids out of it. Seriously. It's bad.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No Comment

Michael Pollan asked for food rules. Michael Pollan got food rules. Try as I might to come up with something new on this front, I think I've said all I have to say about it.

Plucking the Middlebrow

On my husband's recommendation, I read the essay Confessions of a Middlebrow Professor by W.A. Pannapacker in The Chronicle review. In it, Pannapacker tells us he bought a copy of the Great Books series, originally published in 1952, for $10 at a church sale. S/He writes:

"There was something awe-inspiring about that series for me, even if I acquired it a generation late. The Great Books seemed so serious. They had small type printed in two columns; there were no annotations, no concessions to the beginner. They emphasized classical writers: Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, and Aristotle, among others, like Galen and Marcus Aurelius, who are still remembered but rarely read. Their readings also included Bacon, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Gibbon, Mill, and Melville; the series functioned like a reference collection of influential texts. I'd hear someone say, "I think, therefore I am," find out that it came from Descartes, and then I'd read the first few chapters of his Meditations on First Philosophy."

A few years later, Pannapacker went to college:

"By the end of the 1980s—when I was an undergraduate—it had become clear to seemingly everyone in authority that the notion of "Greatness" was a tool of illegitimate power; Adler and Hutchins were racist and sexist in their choices of texts; their valorization of the "Western World" made them complicit with imperialism and worse. "This is more than a set of books, and more than a liberal education," said Hutchins. "Great Books of the Western World is an act of piety. Here are the sources of our being. Here is our heritage. This is the West. This is its meaning for mankind.""

One can say a lot of things about a cannon but however you feel about a cannon's content or purpose, Pannapacker argues and I agree, the fact of the Great Book series, its emergence in post-war America, shows a kind of intellectual striving that at one point those in the know might have found quaint but still had the potential to be transformational, a potential that's lost in our world of non-stop, easy info-tainment. Pannapacker writes:

"For all their shortcomings, the Great Books—along with many other varieties of middlebrow culture—reflected a time when the liberal arts commanded more respect. They were thought to have practical value as a remedy for parochialism, bigotry, social isolation, fanaticism, and political and economic exploitation. The Great Books had a narrower conception of "greatness" than we might like today, but their foundational ideals were radically egalitarian and proudly intellectual."

I know, I know this all can be taken apart, but I can't help adding my own "Here, here!" to this lament for intellectual eagerness in the face of the damningly practical.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What They're Wearing

Some of you might know that I'm the kind of girl that doesn't mind watching a football game. If I have some knitting, or a laptop with wireless, I think sitting on the couch taking in a Monday night game is kind of pleasant. Plus it keeps me in the loop with my dad and brother, which is why I started watching football in the first place. Sunday, I caught a glimpse of what the Denver Broncos were wearing as part of this whole old school uniform thing going on this season. Those uniforms were shocking. Shocking. And since my friend Stefan Fatsis wrote a book about suiting up for the Broncos (A Few Seconds of Panic), I asked him about the uniform situation. He directed me here, to Paul Lucas' blog. I recommend it for the sheer pleasure of spending a little time in someone else's obsession.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Family Vacation

There are some days off from school that our just days off: the kids sleep late, they watch too much TV, I clean or bake something, Playmobil worlds are constructed and destroyed on land and in water. Then there are days off, like today's in honor of Columbus Day, that are like mini-family vacations. Back in the day when I worked at, Dennis Roddy, columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, described family vacations as days spent "driving down the highway throwing twenty dollar bills out the window." Substitute riding the subway, take away the husband (who didn't have the day off), and you've got my day.

It didn't start out that way. I managed to get out the door with lunches packed, water bottles filled, extra snacks stowed. I even had a toy or two in my Mary Poppin tote. Then Elliot ate his lunch on the subway ride down to the Intrepid. Then I decided to join the Intrepid. After the Intrepid, we decided to go on a pedi-cab ride around Central Park. This is where things got hairy. I mean, paying for a pedi-cab ride when you actually live in New York City and aren't interested in trotting out to Strawberry Field or taking a picture by Bethesda Fountain, well, it's kind of a shocking thing to do, shocking not only because the pedi-cab ride has a steep price tag, but also because you kind of become a tourist when you're riding in the back of an overgrown tricycle pedaled by a nice young man from Russia. The park itself was a completely different place than the one I've known for the past twenty years. The pedi-cabs weren't simply large vehicles around which we had to maneuver but a confederation of riders united against the horse-drawn carriages. The carriages, meanwhile, seemed hell bent on pushing the pedi-cabs out of the way, no matter the size of its passengers. A woman on a horse drawn carriage gave me a look a terror and upset as her carriage driver tried to elbow our pedi-cab with its small children out of the way. But it wasn't only fear in her eyes, it was a search for solidarity, a desire to confirm what her face said: "Do you believe what happens here in New York City!"

Anyway, after the pedi-cab ride, which, in spite of the carriages, was pretty fun on the down hills, there was more -- snack at Whole Foods, a trip to Sephora during which Elliot picked up pots of eye shadow and smeared them on his eyelids (it was raucous), and finally the long trip home. Then, our mini-vacation was done and all that was left was dinner and recovery. I'm so excited for school!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

For Vegetables

I know a guy, a well-known guy in his field, who refuses to recycle anything. "I never recycle. I'm protesting," he told me once when I refused to throw a bottle into a regular trash can. "All this recycling talk makes people think what they do matters and it doesn't." Putting aside the not so implicit insult to me an my would-be recycled bottle, all I could think was, "Well, isn't that convenient. But what if everyone actually did nothing?"

Today (Saturday), in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, I read with great interest Jonathan Safran Foer's essay Against Meat. I liked it for all kinds of reasons: because Safran Foer is a very fluid writer; because he framed the story with stories of his grandmother which I found poignant; because he admitted that he'd tried to be a vegetarian on and of since he was a child but most of the time started eating meat again; because he didn't try to argue that a vegetarian diet is as tasty as a omnivorous one. I also liked it because after reading it I feel like the gauntlet has been realistically thrown down. Putting sentiment about carcasses aside (which is a big putting aside, but takes away the case for sentimentality) if I'm someone who won't buy a plastic bottle of water; who worries every time I run alongside the West Side Highway because all the traffic reminds me of all the traffic everywhere and how much exhaust is getting spewed into the atmosphere every second from all the cars; if I'm someone who gives my brother serious grief about his SUV and runs around my house unplugging all the plugs I can, then how can I not act after reading this:

"According to reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. and others, factory farming has made animal agriculture the No. 1 contributor to global warming (it is significantly more destructive than transportation alone), and one of the Top 2 or 3 causes of all of the most serious environmental problems, both global and local: air and water pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity. . . . Eating factory-farmed animals — which is to say virtually every piece of meat sold in supermarkets and prepared in restaurants — is almost certainly the single worst thing that humans do to the environment."

Granted, everything is a little fuzzy fact-wise here and the writing gives a big emotional punch, but no matter the numbers, there's no doubt that factory farming isn't good for anyone. And while I rarely buy red meat and only by organic or free range chicken, it's not like those labels all that meaningful. I know that even if I don't like to know that I know that.

So what's next for me and my kitchen? Well, lets just say that right now in my freezer there are three quarts of soup, all vegetarian. There's also sausage, lamb patties, and chicken legs (the meat's from Whole Foods and nicely labeled, but still. It'll probably all get eaten at some point. Whether or not it will all be replaced, I can't say for sure mostly because I'm not one for absolutes. It would be more convenient if I did replace all the food in there -- cooking up sausages and tossing a salad makes a quick a easy and tasty dinner and avoids take out which has its own plastic disaster -- but I think it may be just about time to let go of a convenience or two.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Current Recession

There's been a lot of talk that this recession has been harder on men with jobs than women with jobs, meaning men have lost more jobs. Lisa Belkin recently wrote that men losing high powered jobs in finance and the like does not mean advancement for women. Advancement would mean women losing jobs at the same rate as men (as they're doing in high levels of finance). But, apparently, in all recent recessions men have lost more jobs than women because they hold more of the manufacturing jobs. Here's the link with the proof (via Sullivan). I'm not sure why this is relevant -- which gender is losing more jobs. If you've lost a job, if your partner loses a job, things are hard, if you're a man or a woman, they're hard. I suspect all this talk about men losing jobs has something to do with a general sense of disenfranchisement after the long binge of the last decade. Like, men are sobering up, this is going to be harder for men, women will be fine because women always take low-paying jobs and muddle through and marry but men lose all their sense of manliness if they lose their jobs. I'm not going to poo-poo the lost sense of manliness that I imagine accompanies a lots job, not at all. The gendered expectations of this culture run too deep. I just wonder if all this talk of a man-cession is laying the groundwork for another round of cultural hand-wringing on the demise of men in general, and white men in particular. I hope not. I'm really not up for it.

The Prize

Our President won the Nobel Peace Prize? My first thought was, "Gosh what must Hillary Clinton think? Like all this guy has to do is show up?

Of course, I'm a huge Obama supporter (still) and I'm hugely nostalgic for the intensity and sheer competitive joy of the election, not to mention the euphoria of Obama's victory, but, can I just say? Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize is, like, So Last Year.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Israel, Gaza, and Commentary

Here's a long post by Andrew Sullivan about a Michael Oren piece (that I haven't read) in The New Republic. Sullivan's is passionate (as usual) and sobering.


Hungry, by model Crystal Renn and Marjorie Ingall is out. Here's a little media love via Marjorie herself. (Please read what she has to say about school testing here.)

Blogging or Life, An Update

I'm a little between things now. That is, I think my kids have finally settled into some kind of a routine, but, unfortunately, I have not. There was a time when I sat down to this very computer every day and before I got to work, I blogged. I liked that. Now, I don't sit down to the computer every day. Honestly, I'm not sure what I do every day, but I know it involves a lot of time on the subway. And three days a week it involves running. I have a short but very intense list of things I need to do in the apartment: for example, return items, recycle clothing at the Friday Farm Market which I haven't gotten to in four weeks, put up paint samples, clear out files, stuff like that. I get to maybe one a week. I did make banana bread the other day when my son was home sick from school. I couldn't do much else. It's always good to get stuff done when you can't do much. As for blogging, I'll keep looking out for that routine for me. I should stumble upon it any minute now.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Flipping the Company

Of course the New York Times article that led today's paper about private equity firms that buy companies that make things like mattresses and borrow against them to pay themselves loads of money was tipped editorially to leave us sympathetic to the mattress maker (Simmons) now in bankruptcy and the workers who lost their jobs and the company they once loved working for. (Check out the photographs in the print edition after the jump - one of a laid off worker, the other of the former CEO on the porch of "one of his homes" in Jackson Hole with his wife, two wine glasses and a bottle of wine-- they say it all.) But, truthfully, there was no way to write that article that wouldn't have left me furious at the fat cat money guys and their entitled buy in, sell out, fee payments and debt whatevers. I know it's kind of quaint and old fashioned of me, but where's the respect for things made with these guys? Do the people who work at private equity firms just think that those who make a living by making things and not generating paper on which to move meaningless numbers across spread sheets and into their own bank accounts are just chumps?

I know, I don't have to answer that.

Adieu, Gourmet

I'm trying to feel sad about the news that Gourmet is shutting down. There was a time when I really enjoyed that magazine, but, truth be told, that time ended a long time ago. I subscribed up until a year ago and when my subscription lapsed, I didn't really feel too badly. The magazine was, what's the word, boring. Sure there were usually one or two recipes that interested me -- a ten minute meal or something to bake -- but I never read anything in it. And, the fancy stuff was all too fancy and the everyday stuff almost too everyday. Maybe it's just that the damn thing was so, you know, tasteful. To me it felt like the magazine lost its heart and found nothing to replace it. And now, nothing will.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vegetarian Times

After reading this article in today's New York Times about e-coli in ground meat, I'm ready for the first issue of my new subscription. I bet I'm not the only one.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Lucky is So Not Domino

When Domino folded, the brilliant minds at Conde Nast redirected my subscription to Lucky. Can I just say? Lucky is not a magazine. I don't know what it is, but to call it a magazine is too great a compliment. Seriously. The captions are awful (if I see "well-edited" used to describe clothes or a store one more time I think I might just die), the beauty page indistinguishable from paid promotions, and the clothes? Ugly. The shoes? Uglier. It might be I'm trending too old for this particular beauty book, but all I can say is I want my Domino back.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rational Irrationality: This Week's New Yorker

In this week's The New Yorker John Cassidy has an article about the financial crisis and the rational -if reprehensible --decisions that drove it. At first I was all, "Do I have to read another article about this?" And then reading it, I was like, "There's nothing RATIONAL about making loans to people who can't afford to pay them back and that's the base of the whole pyramid." But of course Cassidy's point is that it's not nice, but it's rational if you plan to sell those loans to eager Wall Street buyers at a nice fat profit. And that's just what happened; Cassidy himself explains here. If everyone looks the other way no one has to see a thing. Of course the same thing can be said about climate change. Here Elizabeth Kolbert begs our leadership to start looking.

Bread Baking, In Theory

A friend, I won't say who, told me that bread baking was No Big Deal. Not that hard. No reason for the fuss. This, however, has not been my experience. When I've tried to make a basic white loaf, the only thing to recommend it is that it's been fresh from the oven. Once it cools, though, it's just been a yeasty rock. I made challah for Rosh Hashannah two weeks ago. It turned out pretty well and I made them with my daughter who was so excited about the whole thing, which was pretty much the point, but still, they were fine. Fine, but probably not worth it outside of the holiday context. And still, even though I live where very good bread can be bought for not so much money and even though my kids like to eat not very good bread, I want to make it. And so, I'm excited about this on Chocolate & Zucchini about how to make Sour Dough English muffins and a whole web making bread thing. Maybe I'll make some, or maybe I'll just read about it, but just knowing it can be done makes me glad.