Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Brows: High and Low


Upon discovering that Cablevision had royally plucked me yet again by going haywire during prime DVR time, I ended up watching something unusual: a movie based on a book I loved that I liked. I'm always suspicious when a good book gets turned into a movie because the movie is almost always mediocre and strips away all that was good or charming or challenging about a book (I have the adaptation of Jose Saramago's Blindness in my queue but I'm frankly scared to watch it). But I should have been less wary from the start. You see, Americans did not make this film. Given the population of functional illiterates in my homeland (a homeland I would fight and die for so that my fellow countrymen could continue not reading), it is difficult to take a great work of fiction and render it appropriately on the screen, unless the great work of fiction in question has somehow managed to incorporate flying robots, bared bosoms, and end of days type explosions. I think Hemingway has a book like that.

So the book, I Served the King of England which I suggest you read, and prior to watching the movie, is by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal (say it five times fast). It tells the story of a man in the hospitality industry before and during the German occupation. The man is a bit of a Czech character archetype, a good soldier Svejk kind of guy, simple, earnest, and always getting things wrong, but in a way that endears him to you (and this is coming from someone who generally has no patience for the stupid). Hrabal's work in this and his other books (all of which are totally worth reading) has such charm and whimsy that when I saw there was a movie being made, I was certain these qualities would be lost, but through a surprisingly well-executed series of voice-overs, both shone through so that a person unfamiliar with the book could come away with a feel for its style and not merely its content.

Another interesting, yet depressing, clue that the movie was not made by Americans (yes, the subtitles give it away too) was the casting. There were a fair number of naked women in the movie and all of them looked like actual human beings. There were body flaws you would only ever see in an American documentary on body flaws and I had forgotten how interesting naked women could be when they are demonstrably different from one another. There were also naked men, but I really can't recommend them on aesthetics. The people, naked or dressed, looked like people, whereas even in American movies where the cast is full of "unknowns" the unknowns seem to have gotten their noses fixed and their teeth capped at the same clinic and the only variations are in hair color and height. I am going to endeavor to watch more foreign films (especially if Cablevision continues to mightily suck).


I made fun of Ed when he told me I would want a cellphone with a camera, but he was right: I'm having a lot of trouble unobtrusively taking people's pictures in the train and therefore, sadly, you will have to imagine the guy I sat across from yesterday afternoon who slept with his mouth so wide open...

Ok, I'm not going to be that lowbrow.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tagged. Memed.

It was bound to happen and I'm so unprepared. I've been tagged and now I have to come up with content and other people to pass the ball to. Aidan of Ivy League Insecurities delivered unto my inbox this fun invitation to do a little Honest Scrapping. Aidan and I went to high school together, but in different grades and different circles (though this probably implies vast clique gulfs a la The Breakfast Club, whereas our small school really didn't have the ability to support entirely separate social ecosystems), and we rediscovered one another through the wily evils of Facebook. She has a book getting ready to be released (which is, frankly, a far too awesome accomplishment for me to even be able to muster the tiniest bit of envy; I'm just kinda slack-jawed and 'woah' about it) called BlackBerry Girl, which I have no shame in plugging because people should read more books written by smart people!

But back to the task at hand (do you see how I was able to dissemble for a whole paragraph?). Ok, so there are rules to our game. I am supposed to share 10 honest things about myself and then tag seven other bloggers whose writing I find honest. Ok. I think I can do this, but I'm going to mix it up a little. I'm giving you twenty things, half of which are untrue; you see if you can decide which is which. I'll post the answers at the end of the week. Hmmm, I wonder if that makes me less honest than the other participants. And you should go read Aidan's, cause number 10 is going to blow you away!

  1. I loved barbie and paper dolls as a child, but only for the fashions. I never constructed elaborate stories for them. My favorites were the Carmen Miranda paper dolls (which I found on ebay and repurchased as an adult) and the Oscar de la Renta collection for Barbie.
  2. The reason I don't wear lots of jewelery is that I have an allergic reaction to anything that isn't a precious metal resting on my skin; ergo I wear my earrings which are gold and diamond and nothing else.
  3. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch every day (with rare exceptions) from kindergarten through seventh grade.
  4. I had a pet goldfish that I won at a fair that lived with us for five years.
  5. My first celebrity crush was Ricky Schroeder and I developed several unhealthy fantasies about his indoor train.
  6. I pretend I finished Infinite Jest, but really, thought it was so bad from the start that I gave up after five pages - I judge it harshly as if I had read the whole thing.
  7. I have a subscription to Cosmopolitan Magazine and I hide it like pornography when it arrives at the house.
  8. I don't have a compelling "where were you on September 11th" story because I was watching Beverly Hills, 90210 reruns on F/X.
  9. I was accepted to the vocal program at Juiliard with scholarship and didn't go because I wanted to have sex with boys at college.
  10. My brother got DNA testing that verified that we, like others of Lebanese extraction, are of direct Phoenician descent. Sadly, no Ghengis Khan link yet.
  11. I love Chef Olivier's Foie Gras torchon, the Steak Frites at Balthazar and the chocolate fondant recipe I ganked from Daniel, but the meal I'd eat every day for the rest of my life is two slices of Mimi's Pizza.
  12. I have never seen E.T.
  13. When my parents asked me what I wanted to do for my 25th birthday, I said "Cookie Puss."
  14. When I found out Giuliani was running for president I re-registered as a Republican so I could vote for him in the primaries; I switched back to the democrats when there was no hope he'd be our next president.
  15. I had a short article published in the National Review and never told anyone because I was so embarrassed.
  16. I own stock in exactly one company and the original certificate was a gift.
  17. I haven't done hand laundry in about six months. There is still an unpacked box of dirty unmentionables.
  18. I don't believe in alien visits, ghosts, spirits, god, fairies (whichever way you choose to spell it), but I do believe I am distant cousins with Shakira.
  19. Because Jamie could do it, I spent several weeks teaching myself pi to 40 places.
  20. My dad took me shopping for my first bra.

Have at it, my internet friends. I like to think these are tricky, so let's see how you do. In the meantime, the following seven people are on my honesty hit list:

Jamie because he'll never do it, but is honest to a fault (except when it comes to insignificant anecdotes, in which case, did he tell you about the time he...?)

Sarah whose older brother was my first non-celebrity crush

Jon and Heather who, adorable, apple-eating small child notwithstanding, should update more

Erica whose life seems busy right now what with baby, baby on the way, and remodel, so she should have time for this

Clay who will definitely be more interesting than I am

Ethan who needs no encouragement but should

Marina who also has lots of free time now that her son has turned 1 - I mean they're pretty self-sufficient by that time, right?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Market Share

Once upon a time, I wanted a kickass pair of knee high black leather stiletto boots. Real bad. It is true that my fantasy pair were made by Manolo Blahnik, but the year I was finally able to afford a pair (2000), was a year in which the heel on the Manolo Blahnik boots was not quite right. Having money burning a hole in my pocket, I endeavored to see if the boots I sought could be acquired elsewhere. It was about this time that a certain Jimmy Choo was garnering a lot of positive attention and had opened a boutique off 5th Avenue. I had walked by and seen a pair of knee high boots, so one afternoon I went to check them out.

I walked into the store and was the only customer. This did not seem to influence the employees who waited a good 90 seconds before inquiring if I wanted anything, and with the kind of inflection that implied it was preferable if I didn't want anything. I said I was interested in the black boots. There was a sigh that accompanied the inquiry for a size. When the boots were delivered to me in my size, the sales girl walked off, not offering to help me into the boots, etc. etc. And for those of you who live beneath rocks, these are not 20 dollar boots. These are boots that should only command such a high price if accompanied by the kind of service one more closely associates with Cathay Pacific first class and not the phone company. Sadly the boots were way too narrow. I say sadly because they were quite attractive. I explained this to the salesgirl who looked at me like I had killed her dog. I left the store with a foul taste in my mouth vowing I would never ever buy a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes.

And I've kept that grudge real good.

Sure, I wasn't in a Chanel suit when I stopped by that day, but had the shoes fit, there is a 96% chance I would have parted with the thousand dollars on the spot. And these ladies work on commission. A year later I bought the boots at the Manolo Blahnik store five blocks up and they remain a prized possession.

The point of this story is that I am the person for whom you never get a second chance to make a first impression. There is too much competition for my money for me to waste a moment on a store that demonstrates it doesn't need it. Some people might get off shopping at places that are indifferent, but I am not one of those people and, truth be told, most people aren't.

So this weekend I went to two stores in Greenwich for the first and last times. The first, and yeah, I'm naming names because if the owners of these places ever google themselves, they should find this instructive, is a shop on the Post Road called Plum. I drove by it and was entranced by the words "cheese shop." Yes, it's true, the nice kids at Whole Foods have a whole bunch of cheese, but I do, in theory, enjoy supporting local business and am willing to pay a premium to do so. I think small businesses are important for a community so I'll do my part to make sure we keep them. Plum did have a nice, if small selection of cheeses. Nice because they stocked a number of my favorites. I was perusing the wares and trying to decide what I wanted when a salesgirl asked if she could help me. I responded by saying I wasn't sure yet because they had several of my favorite cheeses. She then started in on a slightly unintelligble rant about how she had lots of stuff to do downstairs and how she wasn't going to be able to get to it all because there had been a party they had to cater etc. etc. I didn't quite understand her motivation. Was it going to be too much trouble to cut me a hunk of friggin' cheese? Did she think complaining about her work was going to make my buy more cheese? Did she think, frankly, that I gave a shit? I came for cheese, I wanted cheese, and unless she was prepared to make cheese-positive conversation, I didn't anticipate conversational interaction - certainly not of the griping variety. It absolutely turned me off because I didn't understand what could possibly possess her to make it seem like my entering the store to buy something was an inconvenience to her.

I'll be buying my cheese at Whole Foods from now on.

Then I went to the yarn store. String, which has an outpost in New York, just opened on Mason Street in Greenwich in the selfsame location that had been occupied by a previous yarn store. I am back to knitting these days and am determined to actually assemble the pieces I knit this year as opposed to packing assorted sleeves and panels in boxes and forgetting the shame I feel that I am too chickenshit to try to sew them together for fear it will look bad. As such, I would benefit greatly from a knitting circle, or stitch 'n bitch, something for which my new local yarn store might be a great resource.

Now, I know, crafters are a breed apart. Generally women of a certain age who like cats and caftans, they fear outsiders, shoes with heels, and solid, patternless dress. However, a cursory census of the Greenwich market would reveal that the crafters in Greenwich will tend more towards Martha Stewart and less towards The Crazy Cat Lady, so perhaps the brand of crazy being sold needs to be tweaked. The store just opened this week so one would assume the employees would be interested in meeting and retaining new customers - the fact that the store is not the first of its kind in that location would suggest to the savvy capitalist that success is not assured - but instead, after greeting me and asking what I wanted (to which I replied that I knew the store in New York and was eager to see their new branch), I was completely ignored by all staff members who, upon discovering sister crazies tended more towards banter and gossip and less towards making an honest buck off me.

I had, in fact, come to shop. I had bought a hank of yarn for a quick project at the Manhattan branch and had decided to make a scarf instead of a hat necessitating more yarn. Getting this for me proved to be a heavy imposition. When I had been given the yarn and I went to pay, the woman at the counter, who may well be the friggin' owner, continued to type away as I waited - no eye contact, no voice contact, nothing. I audibly plunked my credit card on the counter next to the yarn and walked off. I returned twice to the counter and neither time was there any acknowledgment. The third time I just stood there until caftan-lady deigned to look up and ask if I was ready. I smiled my best shit-eating grin while answering in the affirmative.

So now for the instructive part of today's lesson. There is an invention known as the internet. Perhaps you are using it right now. The internet permitted people to buy merchandise and sell it to others without the headache and hassles of a physical location; as such, these people were able to undercut the prices of what we refer to as "brick and mortar" businesses since they had no overhead. Additionally, the customer never would discover what kind of anti-social, smelly, hideously disfigured, serial killer ran the internet business because buyer and seller never met. It was win/win all around. Perhaps you've heard of some success stories. Like

To the nice people at String, allow me to give a good example. While you had no time for me in person, you have put me on your email list and have sent me information about your current special: 40% off a kind of yarn. Guess what? If I type that yarn into the magic google, I find a wealth of other stores that want to sell me that yarn for $8 less per hank. So, given your personalities were so far less than sparkly, please explain to me why I would pay a 33% premium to shop at your store? A place where, as is my understanding, I will have to put on pants to attend. The internet is a pants-optional place. I can save money and not wear pants. This is the very definition of the value-add!

So, in summation, thanks, but no thanks Plum and String. I can find your wares elsewhere. If you would, however, like to see how it's done (and because A.B. bitched at my short post on Friday - bet you wish you'd kept your mouth shut now), visit the nice people at Patricia Gouley on the Post Road around the corner from Greenwich Avenue. The only lingerie store in town, the nice folks there welcomed me, asked me what I wanted and, upon learning I was new to the neighborhood and just seeing what was on offer, proceeded to speak to me in a kind and friendly manner about the store, its wares, and the inventory that would be stocked in the coming months. I didn't buy a single thing, but I will choose to purchase the same bra or panty at the store as opposed to the internet when the option presents itself because the experience didn't suck. Yes, I might pay 10% more, but I'll be supporting a local business - something that matters to me. But it only matters to me if it matters to the business itself, something I'm sorry, Plum and String, that doesn't seem to matter at all to you.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Upstairs Downstairs

A successful relationship is one where each person is able to tell the other to go the hell away before violence happens. Or at least, this is the dictum by which devoted partner and I have happily outlasted most marriages. I remember, vaguely, lying on the two twin mattresses I had put on the floor to simulate a king bed in my junior year college dormitory with devoted partner as we mused about the future:

"We'd need separate rooms, though."

It doesn't much matter who said it first, we both were thinking of it. Ah, those halcyon days.

Fast forward to assorted concerned parents, "you're going to live WHERE?!?"

"But mom, dad, mom, dad, if we don't each have a private room, we'll probably kill each other, and the only place where we can afford a place that has private rooms is in this post-apocalyptic nightmare of a neighborhood."

When we started speaking to real estate agents about the new suburban manse, there was a note of concern: "you need (pause) three bedrooms? Do you have kids?"

"No, we just each like having a home office."

"Do you work from home?"


Awkward pause.

Our two-level modified ranch house (with the Swiss Chalet interior influences) was a little non-traditional in the home office layout. There was a "rumpus" room on the lower level with a door through to the laundry room, a door to the garage, and a door to the backyard; there was a clearly delineated second bedroom; there was a dining room. I wanted the second bedroom - I don't know why, but it felt like my place. Even though I'd eventually end up spending lots of time in the laundry room thereby potentially impinging upon devoted partner's alone time. I sold him the room as close to the grass that he liked so much and close to the garage woodshop area where he could spend countless hours building things. I don't know if he capitulated because it was what he wanted or because he could sense I was about to make jokes about his constructing battle bots. Either way, I got the upstairs.

Now, of course, I can't resist the urge to make fun of this arrangement.

"Honey, are you having fun with the other morlocks?" I yell downstairs from my snuggly perch on the couch.

"What?" Aw crap, he thinks it's something important and is coming upstairs. "Did you just ask me if I was feeding Moloch?"

"No. I. Nevermind."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

If You Have A Y-Chromosome You Should Stop Reading Now

I do not consider myself a follower of trends. My wardrobe primarily consists of whatever was on sale at The Gap, augmented in the past several years by disposable H&M clothing. The closest I think I've come to trendy was purchasing a pair of those slip-on Converses. As a lass, money was tight and clothing tended towards functional, reliable and versatile, rather than a la mode. This is not to say we dressed in ugly crap, rather that I dressed in a lot of classic solids. And, in retrospect, I did not have the figure to pull off the black Betsey Johnson dress with the many rainbow bows that several of the girls had in junior high.

One thing my dad did frequently repurchase for me as I outgrew the old one was a denim jacket. My dad loves his denim jackets and thought I should have one too. When last denim jacket was banished from my closet in high school, I remembered thinking, at the time, that I was through. Denim jackets (and likewise denim skirts) were fashionable for exactly 5 months every 8 years and I was tired at looking at the damned thing(s) in the interim. My father, to my occasional horror, trots his out year after year regardless of the current fashion (of course he has also been sporting some very very light jeans this year so perhaps not so much of a casualwear role model). Sure, on the latest cute starlet, both items might seem kicky, but on me, they were just silly, never fit properly, and kept getting more expensive.

Well this morning as I through on an on-sale dress from last year's Old Navy offering and went searching for an ill-matching shawl in case the train was cold, I realized that a denim jacket would have been perfect with what I was wearing and, I daresay, a little cute. The dress is one of those jersey numbers that can be either dressed up or down, in a flattering shade of burgundy, and a darkish washed denim jacket would have covered my shoulders, matched nicely in the color department, and would have seemed kicky whether I was wearing the Gucci alligator peep toes or the CVS flip flops.

I am, however, resisting the urge to regress. Banishing the denim jacket was the right move at 16, and keeping it in exile is the right move now. I'm sure in the right circumstances, Lucite heels and leopard print blouses make sense too, but I'm not going to be picking those up any time soon.

Nopropos: So I watched two episodes of Glee last night to see if it was going to make the DVR schedule (it just might), but I can't really give it my full-throated (no pun intended) support because the actors are not the people singing. Which makes me wonder why bother? Was it really so difficult to find actors who could sing? When the kids open their mouths and someone entirely different sounding comes out, I find it jarring. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why Television Is Bad For Parents

I can malign her all I want, she's not really good at navigating the interwebs.

My mom took the opportunity this morning to tell me that she had heard on the news last night that the town of Rye, New York has experienced a rash of burglaries. Apparently, the burglars steal garage door openers from cars parked in the driveways, but not garages, of homes and use them to gain access to the homes themselves.

Ergo, I should no longer keep my garage door opener in my car.

But mom, I say, my car stays in the garage, not the driveway. A burglar would have to break into the garage to break into my car (thereby obviating the need to break into the car at all since he would already have gained access to the house).

Mom reminds me that the burglar could steal my garage door opener while my car is parked at the train station.

I remind her that, while what she says is technically true, the burglar in that scenario wouldn't have any idea what house my garage door opener was for - since I was parked in a public parking lot.

Mother says, with an alarming measure of seriousness, that the burglar could have been stalking me.

I posit that the same could hold true of her house keys. She goes to yoga and presumably leaves her house keys in a locker. A burglar, who stalks her from the moment she leaves her apartment building, could follow her to yoga, steal her keys, return to the apartment building, and gain entry to her apartment, finally robbing her.

Mother did not find this scenario at all likely.

I may have mentioned that her scenario was equally unlikely.

We agreed to disagree.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Success(es) and Failure

Before we proceed, I need to acknowledge two individuals who helped make dinner such a success. The first is Dan, and by extension, all the folks at Grazin' Angus Acres who practice some sick ass voodoo to make their chickens come out that way - the chicken is so good that, try as I might, I cannot curse Dan et al for making them so damned expensive. If that's what it costs to have chicken that good, well, I guess I've been suckered in. Locals, this chicken can be yours as well on Friday and Saturday at the USQ Greenmarket and Sundays at either Carroll Gardens or the Museum of Natural History. I will not receive a kickback, there is no ulterior motive save the fact that this is the best goddamned chicken I have ever eaten in my life! The second is Adam of The Amateur Gourmet who provided me (and the rest of the internet - we're not actually acquainted) with this recipe for roasting a chicken. So easy, a one-armed blind man could do it with finesse. If you've never roasted a chicken, I swear to you, I was once just like you, and then I discovered the two gentlemen just mentioned and now I roast chickens and devoted partner thinks I am the one with the sick ass voodoo.

My clothes are becoming pinker by the day. I now know, as in know for certain, that there are no items in the wash that have never been washed before. I know this for true. Yet, this morning, I removed more pink clothing that had not been pink before. Where does the pink come from? I am now resorting to the clusterf*ck that is the internet to get remedies from the masses for arresting this horrible development and, I fervently hope, salvaging the already pink clothing - I mean two white button downs, people - I need those shirts so that I can look not crappy. Bleach and Cascade. Lemon juice and bleach. Bleach and bleach. Some people are claiming that the one actual bleed from the first time I used this washer is lurking within and that I will need to perform some kind of washer exorcism involving bleach and empty loads. I am running an empty load right now sans bleach because I don't have bleach. I now know where I'm going after work, though. The bleach store.

But, on the bright side, something that should be pink (well, purple really, but I'm trying to wordsmith here!) is definitely pink and tastes fantabulous: the concord grape sorbet part 1. It just finished churning and is now hardening in the freezer. I'm feeling quite good about how it looks and tastes, so much so that I see a quenelle photography session in my future.

Monday, September 21, 2009

And Now I'm On That Watchlist For Nothing

If the number of Edward Said books and things called "The Persian Puzzle" purchased by me on Amazon hadn't already warranted a multi-paged file in the halls of big government, my online sign-up for Arabic classes through Greenwich Continuing Education probably sealed the deal. As one friend asked, "are you planning on joining the CIA?"

I enjoyed musing about my fellow future classmates. Who would schlep to Greenwich High School every Tuesday night to learn Arabic from an Armenian woman? Now, it's true, I could have taken Italian or Spanish instead, but both of those languages seem like they would be easy to pick up on one's own - or certainly easier than Arabic and, before some of you ask, Greenwich Continuing Education did not offer Portuguese. So, the people who signed up to take Arabic might be vastly different from the people who signed up to take Italian or Spanish. Perhaps, like me, they'd turn out to be just a trifle eccentric.

And, truth be told, I don't have a very good reason for choosing Arabic. Yes, my grandfather spoke it, and all his grandfathers before him, and a number of my cousins speak it, but my grandfather is dead and I see those cousins perhaps once every five years, so there's no pressing family reason to start conversing in a foreign tongue with them now. And, yes, I hope to visit quite a few more countries where Arabic is the language, but having seen Egypt and Morocco and a sliver of Jordan, I'm rapidly using up my stable Arabic-speaking destinations. I just know I've wanted to learn a little bit for a fair number of years. When I saw that for a piddling amount and a small investment of time, I could at least, maybe, start to decipher words on menus, I was excited.

Of course I knew somewhere deep down that it wasn't meant to be. Without being able to kindly put my finger on it, I had a good suspicion that the hausfraus of Greenwich were not clamoring for a good Arabic class, nor were the HedgieHusbands going to sneak out of work early to spend an hour and a half phlegming their ways through a truly non-essential tongue. I knew, without really knowing, that I was the only person who would sign up for that class - that the class wasn't going to happen - which is why I was only the tiniest bit surprised when the message on the answering machine told me precisely that.

So I'll have to spend my Tuesdays doing something else. I thought, very briefly about calling back and asking if I could simply register for Spanish or Italian instead, but I decided against it for the simple reason that my heart wasn't into it. Which is not to say I wouldn't like to know how to speak Spanish or Italian, because I would, I just get the sneaking suspicion that, given the relative simplicity of both of those languages, I might find learning them in such an informal setting to be kind of a letdown - something the difficulty of Arabic would have counteracted. So I'll refer to the little bit of Arabic I did learn in Egypt and say to this situation, ma feesh mushkeleh - "no problem."

Friday, September 18, 2009

What A Difference A Day Makes

Standing in the Dining Car on the 9:56

I stepped onto the train and into past that may or may not have existed. Maybe it's that we've finally started watching Mad Men, or maybe it's more personal: that I've always wished that trains were more Orient Express and less Metroliner, but this was exciting.

The first car of the train was the dining car. I've been taking this train every day, always in the first car, but this was the first time there had been a dining car in the train, and what a delightfully romantic and retro moment it was to board that first car.

At first, I considered threading my way to the next car where a more traditional seat could be found, but I saw there was clearly room for me in the seated area, and that this might not be an opportunity I wanted to turn down.

Growing up, we took Amtrak quite a bit to Baltimore and Washington to visit our relatives. I remember my mom was often solo with the two of us, and we were not the best behaved of children, nor, in all fairness, was there anything to do on the train.

Seated in the Dining Car on the 9:56

If we were lucky, we cold get the conductor to give us a stack of the multi-colored tickets he used to denote which passengers were going where and then we;d, I have no idea what we did with them, but I remember they were important.

The train took a long time, it stopped at nonsense places like Trenton, and there was no TV, no radio, and no chance to convince a parent that we needed to stop at the next rest area. So I had no strongly fond memories of train travel.

Not to fear, I assured myself as time went on, in Europe they still travel well by train. It doesn't smell like pee in European trains. So, it was with great excitement that I boarded my first European train as a 17-year old on vacation in Italy. The excitement lasted no time at all. The train didn't look like it had just come from the set of a Hercule Poirot mystery, it looked like Amtrak. In theory I enjoyed being pressed up against dozens of Italian men while we all jostled for space in the smoking car and smoking hallway, but in reality, these were Roberto Benigni Italians, not Marcello Mastroianni Italians.

By the time I was paying my own way in Europe, I was oh so over train travel. While our friends bought their Eurail passes, we leased a car - I wasn't going to spend money to have to worry about being drugged and having my luggage stolen and not having enough space to smoke.

There was an allure to train travel that persists long after actual train travel became antithetical to its mythos. While devoted partner claims the TGV from Dijon to Paris was awesome, he means that it got him from point A to point B in comfort and swiftly, not that riding on it was an "experience."

So, it was with a soupcon of joy that I spent 30 minutes yesterday in this train car of time's past. From the horrible orange and yellow accents to the faux wood paneling to the other passengers, for the most part, putting away their phones and reading their papers, there was something different about riding in that dining car, and I almost feel that we, its passengers, were in silent agreement about that.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

You Make My Stalking So Easy

Dear Sir,

It was a crowded train, but your interesting accent made me take notice. I am pleased to discover that you are a world traveler, seeing as how you will be in Mexico City this Saturday and Sunday before flying to Brazil for Monday and Tuesday. I, too, like to travel and, what with your knowledge of Central and South America, two areas I have sadly overlooked thus far, this was highly gratifying information to receive.

I am further pleased to note that your business, oblique though it still is to me, is going well, and that the Middle Eastern bank might want to invest. However, this did give me pause. Was it a Jordanian bank? Perhaps an Emirates bank? These would demonstrate the kind of straight and narrowness I look for in my stalkees. However, I should warn you that, due to the current political climate, if the interested "Middle Eastern bank" is of the Syrian, Iranian, or, god forbid, Iraqi variety, my own interest wanes. If I think about it further, I must admit that I am a little concerned that you referred to it as a Middle Eastern bank as it makes me wonder if your geography isn't all it could be and that you might not be able to distinguish among Middle Eastern countries.

Also, you could have been more precise about what exactly you are trying to get people to invest in. Who knows, I might have been interested. You never know where fortune will find you. You referred to cable a number of times, but I couldn't quite distinguish whether you were discussing it in reference to the fiber optic kind of cable or the CNN kind of cable. No matter - both are interesting.

You're looking to rent your house in Old Greenwich! Wise move. In these troubling economic times, rentals are slightly more attractive than purchases due to the fluctuations of market values and the inability of many credit-worthy individuals to secure mortgages. This seems a sound business investment for you. I, personally, would hesitate to admit to people that while they will be renting your house, you will be living in a studio "because you travel so much." This information isn't important to your potential renters and, as a renter myself, this would lead me to smell blood in the water. You would prefer to live in your house, but you can't afford to, so you will rent me your house while you live in your car. See how this could create an unfavorable impression and yield a lower return? I would say that, having just recently rented in this general vicinity, your price of $2,650 sounds soft. After all, it's a 2-bedroom and you yourself admitted that the attic "needed work." Whether that means there are bats or a crazy first wife, it would give me pause. Also, it's more than I paid for my 2-bedroom and I have 1/3 of an acre as well.

All in all, I feel my introduction to you was a thorough one. I know generally what you do, that you're a comer, that things might be looking up if certain unspecified Arabs give you money, and that you own a 2-bedroom in Old Greenwich that, should these deals come through, you might not need to rent out while you live in a studio somewhere. I also know what you look like. Sadly, after listening to you make no fewer than four separate lengthy phone calls within a roughly 35 minute period, I still can't tell where you are from. My instinct says the Netherlands because the accent was vaguely Germanic, but sadly, I wouldn't put money on it. Perhaps the next time our paths cross you could find a way to work that into one of your many conversations.

Yours most sincerely,

aka the girl who was trying to read

P.S. I am well aware that at present this might be a little beyond your means, but they have invented a mode of transportation that allows the important businessman or woman to conduct important business while in transit. You sit in a plush backseat with lots of legroom and an employee drives your large car while you cheerfully merge and acquire, obsoleting thousands of employees with a wave of your hand while toppling the Yuan. It has been my experience that if you cannot afford that luxury, your business is not that important. Just an observation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Project Charlie: The Legacy

See, some of you are laughing and smiling knowingly and others of you not so much. Project Charlie was the "kids should not do drugs" class we all took in school. Spearheaded by Katie, my best friend's mom (a best friend who isn't bestest enough to read this daily - I hate you Ed, see you at dinner tonight), Project Charlie attempted to convince us that drugs are bad mmmkay. I don't know how successful that part of the class was, but the part I'm pretty sure hit it out of the park was Project Charlie on drunk driving.

Yeah, we were a bunch of city kids for whom the idea of getting behind the wheel of an actual automobile was likely only if our dads lost sight of reality long enough to let us take their 911s out for a spin in East Hampton. It wasn't like any of us had access to a car that in a few short years we would need to drive regularly, but the lesson was imparted nonetheless. Don't Drive Drunk. Ever.

Driving drunk, in my memory, was akin to clubbing seals. It was something good people never ever did, but something we would encounter time and again. When senior year rolled around, the only reason I signed up for driver's ed was that I knew I'd be going off to college where everyone else was going to be driving drunk so I figured I should know how to drive myself home if I was the only sober person in a sea of drunks.

So I had a license long before I had a car, or even access to a car. Coincidentally, the weekend after my 21st birthday when a rental company would deign to rent me one of their fleet, I took the opportunity to drive to best friend Ed's house in Massachusetts for the weekend. I can't be positive, but it might be truth that until we moved to Greenwich, I had never had so much as a single drink in my system prior to getting behind the wheel.

Of course, this is, apparently, an untenable position to hold while living extra-urbanly. My mother-in-law and I once got into a multi-hour fight about our competing positions (I'm right by the way, just because calling a cab if you want to down two bottles of wine with dinner is inconvenient, it's still the right thing to do). So it was with trepidation, dear Jeff, that I asked you last night if you wanted another round. You had debonairly offered to pick up the first round and I didn't want you to think I was the kind of girl who tapes up your mild groin injury in 1994 and then expects free drinks for life, it was that we had enjoyed a beer with dinner, and I was certainly enjoying the bourbon I had just finished and... well, and in less than 90 minutes, I was going to be at the parking lot in Port Chester getting my car.

I don't know what it feels like to drive while mildly intoxicated. Based on what I had drank and how long it would be before I needed to drive I was fairly certain I would be on the right side of the law, but is DUI something I want to play the de jure de facto game with? I fervently believe in zero tolerance for DUI, and by zero tolerance I mean like zero for reals for serious. My intransigence probably contributes to mother-in-law fights as well as devoted partner fights, but considering that DUI kills completely innocent people, I don't mind being Giuliani-esque on the enforcement end of things. So this is an issue where I don't want to slide by on a technicality.

Whilst in the burbs, it's easier: 1 drink. 1 drink because when the drink is finished, I have to get in my car and drive home. I guess if I wanted to be a pill about it, I could make sure that I had 1 drink per hour and left more than an hour after the last drink, etc. etc., but we're getting back to letter and spirit of the law with that nonsense. 1 drink is easier. But if I'm having dinner or drinks in Manhattan, it becomes a little different. The hour on the end is built in - it's the time it takes for me to get home. I allowed myself a second drink based on that. And, truth be told, I felt 100% normal when I got into my car with or without the knowledge that home was fewer than 2 miles away.

But it made me consider, with anger in my heart, the following: upon entering the track at Grand Central I saw the beverage cart: the cart that sells beer to commuters for their train ride. WHY IS THIS NOT ILLEGAL? You are selling beer to people to drink while they wait to drive from the station to their homes. But Yelena, you say, drinking and driving is against the law, why would it be permissible to sell these drivers booze? I cannot answer that question, dear friends, because frankly I feel like the only passenger on the Logic Boat here. Putting aside my utter and complete disdain for the jackholes who can't wait until they get home to have a frosty Bud Light (someone help me out here - is it "cool" to drink while Metro Northing? do these guys, and they're always guys, have serious drinking problems? what on earth is the deal with needing, or frankly wanting, a watered down beer while you shuffle homewards?), don't these beer stands downplay the severity of drinking while under the influence? I mean, hey, if you're going to sell me a beer before I get in my car, that's tacit approval right there. I know some of you are more inured to this than I, but last night, as I wrestled with the issue of how much is too much, seeing people buy beer to keep them company during their harrowing 45 minute train ride, chafed me real good. Thank god one of them wasn't sitting next to me or the train ride might well have turned harrowing.

Nonpropos: I'm about to channel my father when I say I can't believe I paid $70 for a pair of jeans. I realize that every woman reading this now thinks I'm insane because the jeans they buy all cost at least double that, but I find jeans, like t-shirts, to be a utilitarian item of clothing and not a fashion statement; ergo, $8 t-shirts and jeans from The Gap. But it seems that jeans from The Gap are now $70. In point of fact I'm not complaining because I'm so flipping happy The Gap has decided to stock jeans again - it's been about 18 months of jeans that are only available in size Ethiopia and size Jerry Springer guest. I was so excited, the thought never crossed my mind to wait for them to go on sale. The jeans I currently wear have gotten so bad that devoted partner, a man who has commented negatively on my clothing maybe three times in twelve years, came out and told me my jeans were unflattering over the weekend - something I couldn't even begin to get bent out of shape about because he is absolutely right. I am wearing stretched out jeans a size too big ultimately becoming the poster girl for saggy baggy elephant ass; but as I mentioned, The Gap has not been selling jeans recently. So thank you, The Gap, I may have felt like an idiot buying something called Curvy Low Rise Boot Cut Stretch jeans while being simultaneously flabbergasted by your new sizes where you list a waist measurement (note to The Gap: your jeans come nowhere near my natural waist - the area they do fall near has not been 31 inches since elementary school so this number is, essentially meaningless; nowhere on these pants is there a diameter of 31 inches), but at least I am now wearing jeans that fit, that do not have holes in the buttocks, and that are destined to ruin an entire load of laundry when I forget to wash them separately.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Post in Three Parts

The phone rings at 9:00pm. From our position on the couch I am closer to the nearest handset. As I get up I remember that I've spoken to both of my parents within the past three hours and that devoted partner's sister was spoken to the evening before meaning, "my bet's on your mom." I was wrong. It was his dad.

Now devoted partner's father and I have had our ups and downs, but for the past two or so years we've been in an ups phase. Still, and with no malice, whenever he's on the phone there's something strange. Like he still can't believe that telephonic technology works. He is always calling from in transit - and much like my father believes that other people really really want to talk to you while you're driving your car and cursing at traffic - and always seems a little confused that, after dialing our number, a person picks up on the other end.

So his mild discombobulation is normal. Last night, however, there was a fever pitched-ness about it: he was, obviously, calling from a moving vehicle, but the scenario he described was reminiscent of a Thelma & Louise scene from the cutting room floor. He was in the car with devoted partner's aunt (it was her car); they had wrangled a large rug out of his apartment, stuffed it into the Audi convertible, and were on their way over to give it to us. One might inquire why this was being done in the middle of the night, but I know better than to ask. I myself have a younger brother and I loved this imagery.

Surprisingly, given the slightly bizarre location of our house, they arrived about fifteen minutes later in one piece and yes, with a rug hanging out of the convertible. Devoted partner and dad wrestled it out of the car and into our house while I refreshed Aunty's drink and gave her the grand tour. I could sell neither of them on a slice of nectarine cake, but was able to pass around some freshly picked Honeycrisp apples - my role as hostess preserved.

Now we need another rug pad.

Yesterday morning I stopped off at my parent's apartment to pick up some black cherry tomatoes my mother had kindly purchased for me at the market. As I was getting ready to leave, I calculated the number of blocks to work and realized it was the perfect number for a leisurely morning cigarette.

And then I remembered I'm not smoking.

I think New York smokers all calculate distance by number of cigarettes needed. For example: my best friend's house was 2 cigarettes away from mine - 11 blocks. From my house to school was 1 - and what a good 1 it was; our old apartment to the subway wasn't long enough for even one cigarette which never seemed ton stop devoted partner (and which always perplexed/vexed me) - and while our old apartment to my old job was also a little short for a full cigarette, given how I didn't want to rush to my desk, I didn't mind spending the extra minute or so outside finishing my cigarette.

I mention this because even though I have not had a pack of cigarettes within grasping distance in over a month, the habit is still in there. In fact, I think one of the reasons the quitting has been so easy for me is that I think of myself on vacation from smoking rather than on permanent holiday. This has the potential to be very dangerous - mostly because I already catch myself thinking that I could become one of those rare birds for whom a cigarette every once in a while is an easily accomplishable thing; the kind of person who, when out for the evening sipping bourbon obviously also smokes a quarter or a half pack, but then doesn't smoke again for a month. I can almost see myself as that person. But, I'm not going to test that theory quite yet.

I may have mentioned that built into my quitting plan was the escape plan: smoking is permitted on international vacation. If you've ever been a smoker, and you've ever been to Europe, you'll know that this makes lots of sense (even now as those damn Europeans are smoking less). Still, walking across Paris from south to north without a cigarette in your mouth seems somehow wrong. This was a fairly easy caveat to squeeze in, mostly because I knew there was probably not going to be international travel for at least six months (the islands don't count - no one had her enjoyment of the tropics diminished by a lack of cigarettes). So I gave myself an opportunity to outlast the craving. If six-twelve months from now I still think I'd want a cigarette while driving from the Geneva airport to Dijon, I guess I'll see what happens; but I simultaneously allow for the possibility that I'll become one of those horrid ex-smokers who wrinkles her nose at the smell of smoke. If I can last 6-12 months, I can try a cigarette and rely on my sheer force of will, that same force that made quitting a breeze, to prevent a slide back to habitual smoking.

That's the theory, anyway.


It strikes me that I could, from time to time, encourage you to cook. I liked this cake I made Sunday. It was easy. It needed only a little tweaking. I think some of you should make this cake because making cake is good for the soul.

Nectarine (or any fruit, really) Cake
adapted from Gourmet Magazine, September 2009

  • flour........................125 grams
  • baking powder........10 grams
  • salt..........................good pinch
  • butter.....................115 grams
  • eggs.............................2 whole
  • sugar #1.................170 grams
  • sugar #2...................20 grams
  • vanilla extract............5 grams
  • almond extract...........2 grams
  • taste

Combine dry ingredients. Beat butter and sugar #1 until light and fluffy; add eggs one at a time; add extracts; add dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Slice/segment/ensmallenate fruit. Pour batter into greased springform pan (9") and spread evenly; stud with ensmallenated fruit (next time I make this I will be pushing fruit under the surface of the batter as well as piling it on top); sprinkle sugar #2 on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes.

Some ideas I've been toying with:

Use pears and add some star anise;
Use figs and add some chopped pistachios;
Add vanilla bean;
Add candied almonds.

Play around with it, the recipe is a cinch!

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Nesting. It Begins.

There have been murmurs, rustlings even. It was around the time pillow cases for the couch were purchased that suspicions should have aroused. Also when mother-in-law was invited over "just because." It is true, I baked for the neighbors, but that could have been a fluke, a one-off. After all, the excuses are legit: there is no prep table and the counter space in upstairs kitchen is limited. Still, now that there is a 32qt. stockpot on the stove with water in it ready for boiling, and now that the pantry has been stocked with 6 jars of jam, it is probably time to admit that I have nested.

Devoted partner is not necessarily a devoted picker of his own fruits. I am. I know that there is no true cost benefit and that instead of simply buying fruit I now have to pick it myself, but as anyone who has ever seen me spend 10 minutes going through the cherry bin at Union Square picking out the individual cherries I want could guess, I like having the kind of quality control that pick your own fruit provides. I tried a brand new farm because they had Honeycrisp apples (which are really really good) and because they also offered raspberry and blueberry picking as well as pears. It was like one stop shopping for all my in season fruit needs. I had not done much raspberry consuming all summer and knew I wanted to have some jam, so I beseeched devoted partner and he charmingly acquiesced (devoted partner likes picking apples which are easy and fun and he likes to eat them - devoted partner does not like eating raspberries and finds picking them from tiny low to the ground thorny bushes a pain). It was a rainy crappy day so we had the farm essentially to ourselves and 4 pounds of raspberries and about 35 pounds of apples later, we were returning home in a very sweet smelling Subaru. I made the jam Saturday night. Please note how cool the golden raspberry jam looks.

Saturday was also a big deal because we made some progress towards being able to see one another after sunset. Having been utterly failed by traditional home decor stores, we stopped at, no joke, Goodwill, to get temporary lights. I find it disturbing that for $5 we could get lights that didn't offend us any more, stylistically, than those we could have gotten at Crate and Ethan Barn for $150. So, now we have tide us over lights with the added hipster cache of having gotten them at goodwill (sadly there was very little in the leopard print clothing department).

Much as I adore summer and wonder at how I'm going to be able to make my tan last until winter vacation, the cool weather is finding me snuggled into a leather chair with my feet tucked beneath me knitting and watching DVRed episodes of Top Chef as I spread homemade jam on bread. The last bite of that nectarine cake will be my personal symbol of the changing seasons. I'll probably make the next one with pears.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

First Day of School

I think I will always pause on the first Thursday after Labor Day to remember that it's the first day of school. My school, that is. After 13 years of first Thursdays, it feels natural to have a lasting memory, an imprint. For reasons I'm not quite certain of, the second Thursday in June, also known as the last day of school, doesn't have quite the same resonance, possibly because once high school came along, the vagaries of exam schedules made the last couple weeks of the school year less uniform. First days, though, everyone was the same.

I find it especially surreal this morning that I get out of the subway on the corner where I grew up. I take my subway to work each day. If I took the northwest exit instead of the southwest one, I would be fewer than 50 feet from my house. Where my parents would be awake and preparing for their days. The house from which I left on each of those first Thursdays after Labor Day to walk the five, and then three, blocks to school. Much of the neighborhood is different from when I walked those blocks. On the route to school, not a single store remains in its originally remembered incarnation, but the number of steps it takes from my front door to school are unchanged. I guess I'm rather pleased that my walk to work takes me in the opposite direction - too much familiarity might breed contempt.

The last first Thursday after Labor Day on which I went to school was the last first day of school I enjoyed, so my happy memories are tinged bittersweet by what came after - a fairly unremarkable four years of college. There was an excitement borne of the order of first days unreplicable at college, where every man is for himself and the campus is a disparate web of unrelated classrooms; where books aren't waiting for you at class, but rather waiting for you at the end of a very long line at the town bookshop; where a week could go by before you reconnect with a friend because he's a polisci major and you're a math major and your paths never cross; where teachers have private closed-door offices and going to see one doesn't necessitate seeing the others.

A former teacher of mine from high school passed away this week. In all fairness and honesty, he was not a favorite teacher. We came to loggerheads during the only class of his I took as it was apparent I had taken the class knowing how easy the subject matter was going to be for me and, due to the structure of the class, with students working in teams, my expertise brought up the grades of my team as well. We just never connected. But, and perhaps rose colored glasses are at work here, since his office was the communal office for all members of faculty in that discipline, when I came to see another teacher, I saw him too, and there was always a pleasant greeting - something that literally never happened at college: once you were out of a professor's class you had to go out of your way to find and speak with him again. I found that the camaraderie of the shared office space actually created better relationships among students and teachers; I have several distinct memories of teachers whose classes were not among my favorites but with whom I bantered productively while waiting in the departmental office.

High school, and by extension middle and elementary school, are a far more distant memory than I like to admit and, frankly, than I feel. I saw the students walking this morning and realized that while I may still relate to myself at 16, I clearly have no shared experiences with actual 16-year olds. I have yet to run into a teacher on my commute, but now that the school year has started, I know it's only a matter of time - I think, in reality, though I too am now an adult, my shared experiences with them are more of a hypothetical.

Memories are finicky and I know I have downplayed many of my less sympathetic ones to arrive at a more or less uniformly positive set for my schooling. But I knew when I woke up this morning that it was the first day of school, and I'm pretty sure I'll know that for a good many years to come.

for cf

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ah Desks

I'm not that picky when it comes to furniture, honestly I'm not. I've never given much thought to furniture, so I'm not wedded to a specific style or color. What I would like is something I'm not embarrassed by. I don't want to go to IKEA, and I don't want the 50 dollar desk from Staples. I'd like something that looks, sort of, nice. Sadly, even if I wanted to go to Crate and Barrel/Pottery Barn/Restoration Hardware/West Elm, I'd end up with something that, to my untrained eye, looks like the IKEA desk but is more expensive. So I've embarked, yet again, on a magical mystery tour of craigslist only to discover that lots of people are getting rid of their used IKEA desks for the bargain price of 70% of retail. Because I'm sure the desk you've been using for two years has only lost 30% of its value, considering the high quality of the merchandise in the first place. Perhaps I'm biased, but if you're selling your IKEA furniture and it's in mint condition, you can have the gall to ask for 40% of retail, but everyone else should be satisfied if he can get $5. This is IKEA furniture people. It's like trying to sell your used clothing that you bought at Target for 70% of retail. Anyone in his right mind would simply GO TO TARGET AND BUY IT NEW!!!!!

But craigslist has, true to its nature, turned up a number of puzzling listings, many of which have made me consult a dictionary for the definition of antique, and others making me scratch my head wondering if the person who penned the ad is altogether sane.

Not bad, right? It's not what I'm looking for, but it seems to be a desk. It's being sold for $325. That's right. Someone's old desk from West Elm is being sold for $325. It was a limited edition color, though, that should mean something; similarly the poster assures me it's easy to 'essemble.' I'll try to over look the fact that it is a slab of metal on legs, and a used slab of metal on legs that someone wants $325 for. Is it me?!?

Again, we have something that looks perfectly serviceable. Not my style, but it's someone's, and it looks to be in good condition. $600. Want to know why? Because the poster claims he/she spent $2000 on it when it was new. If this is the case, that person should be committed. $2000 for this? It's just some wood. It's decent looking wood, but wood nonetheless, and I'm pretty positive it doesn't bear the imprimateur of a famous designer. If you paid $600 for it when new, I would be more convinced. That you want me to give you $600 while simultaneously believing you once paid someone else $2000, well, I would like to introduce you to my handmade artisan 8th grade pottery; it can be yours for only $300 and will bring you years of delight!

No no no no no! I'm sorry. This is not a salable item. This is trash. If it isn't, you've done a piss poor job of photographing this item to its best advantage. Right now this looks like something destined for the curb. In hell. That you want $90 for this is a joke. If someone would give you $5 you should take it gladly. That someone will not be me, however.

As if to illustrate my point here comes this. $350. The poster states that when he bought it a "few years ago" he paid $500. So what the poster is telling me is that if I, too, want to spend another $150 I can have a brand new one of these that no one ever spilled diet coke on, a chair no one ever farted into. Or I could give him more than half the purchase price for his. I just bought a car. It had 8 miles on it when I took possession. By the time I had gotten it from Queens to Connecticut, it was already worth about $3000 less than its new value. But your table and chair has only depreciated $150 in the unspecified "few" years you've owned it? I must be missing something because these listings are not aberrations, they're everywhere. Please buy my used crap for nearly new prices. After all, I once paid for it, so you should too, but you won't get the new version, you'll get my old version. This is why when I buy used books from Amazon I only buy ones that are a dollar. You see if the new book costs 15 dollars and someone is selling a used copy for 11, I'D RATHER HAVE THE NEW ONE FOR 4 MORE DOLLARS. This should hold true across the board. New things are better than old things with a few notable exceptions, but those exceptions are generally for valuable things (amphorae and the like - no one wants to pay top dollar for a brand new amphora), not a couch you and your family have sweat on for five years.

Now, to be fair, there are a couple of desks that passed the Yelena test, things made out of non-IKEA wood for the friendly price of $100-$150, and I'll be following up on those, but the rest of the stuff just flummoxes me. I think we, as a society, should all get together and agree that IKEA furniture is disposable. You buy it and that's it, it doesn't get a second owner, it gets a one-way ticket to the dump. Selling cheap furniture, even for sub-$50 prices is embarrassing, because the furniture wasn't worth anything to begin with. I have owned and loved IKEA furniture, but I have never had the balls to try to sell my IKEA furniture to someone else. Because it's from IKEA. Used things should never be sold for more than half of new things because new things frequently go on sale for half the price of themselves. See how this all makes sense? Ok, I see my crazy is emerging and it should be returned to its cage.

Nopropos: I finished reading 2666: A Novel last week and while I can't tell you what it was about because I'm still trying to decide that, I can tell you it was the best book I've read in years. It is a book I think everyone I know should read (and likely people I don't know). Yeah, it's long. But it's broken up into 5 easily digestible pieces, made easier by the fact that it's now in paperback whereas I was toting the hardcover around with me. This book = good. Read this book.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rewarding Ourselves

[Before I start, I have added a little something so that I don't have to join twitter. I am calling them nopropos so I don't have to write "apropos of nothing." If a posting is tagged with nopropos, it means I added a non sequitur that wasn't deserving of it's own separate post. I would like to have the tags visible at the top of the posting, but so far blogger is being wildly uncooperative vis a vis the amount of format editing I can do without actually digging into the code (which I don't want to do).]

Yes, we still live in the dark, but until you lamp designers out there provide us with something we like, the dark it shall be. Notwithstanding our cave-like existence, in the four weeks since moving in we have accomplished enough that we would not be embarrassed to have you over. We finally assembled the dining room table (having discovered the hardware for it at long last) and, as of yesterday, framed Ed's art, refinished 90% of the lawn furniture - I ran out of paint, - and put down the rug pad in the living room. So Friday, as crazy people do, devoted partner said, "let's drive to Maine," and in a move that I think highlights our suitability for one another, I said, "cool."

So at 8:30pm Friday night, I was asleep, and at 2:30am, I was awake; at 3:00am we were on the road. Nota bene: my engine break-in period is over, I will now be experimenting with revs. Devoted partner had not gone to bed at 8:30pm, though he did do a fair bit of packing, so I took the wheel. He took over at the first Maine rest stop at 6:45am - I made good time without being felonious (misdemeanorish, yes).

Why, one might reasonably ask, did we do this at all. After all, originally we had planned on spending the weekend at the beach. Yeah, but, see, Maine beckoned. It had a lot going for it. We spent four days there in July and had a really really good time. So we thought we might like to use the beautiful Saturday weather promised us on a boat on Sebago Lake. This was worth being kinda sleep deprived and kinda crazy. Furthermore, we got to have breakfast at Chute's.

I know people of the non-slender variety shouldn't spend a lot of time waxing rhapsodic about fattening food, but I can't help it from time to time. Devoted partner took me to Chute's for the first time in 1998. At that time Chute's was in a woman's house. She lived upstairs and served people food downstairs. Regulars had mugs inscribed with their names. There was a single item on the menu that drew us there: the Egg Nate. I will be honest, it is nothing more than an egg mcmuffin, but it's made with real ingredients and they make the english muffin. I only had two Egg Nates on that first trip to Maine, but they made an indelible impression on me - the kind of indelible impression that lasted the 11 years until my subsequent Egg Nate, in July of this year. Original Chute's was gone, burned down intentionally by a very very bad person for no apparent reason. In it's place is slightly less homey Chute's but with all the same Egg Nate. It was our first stop on this impromptu getaway and we were there by 8:00am. I am a Bacon Nate kinda girl, devoted partner inexplicably opts for the Ham Nate. We both enjoy the hot chocolate.

The next stop was the pontoon boat rental. Yes, I suppose people of the non-slender variety should probably not rent boats that accentuate the non-slender human's similarity to the walrus, but I like to think of the pontoon boat less like a boat and more like a floating tanning deck - the motor for me is purely optional. And so, by 9:00am, we were in Brandy Pond heading towards the Songo Locks. If you have never been in a large motor boat and herded into locks before, I highly recommend it. It's really funny and, in my experience, other boats frequently have dogs in them that you can play with while the water changes levels.

Please note dog in the far boat. After this, my memory gets fuzzy. I recall it being a breathtakingly gorgeous day, and I recall napping in the sun. I also recall being blissfully blissfully content. Devoted partner shares similar memories. Sadly, the "tubing" section of the day, while photographed, has been censored by devoted partner - we have differing opinions on the laughter of others. I don't care if you laugh at me or with me, I think it's nice you're laughing. Devoted partner disagrees. Ergo, no photographs of tubing.

But the fun was just beginning. After checking into the very reasonable bed and breakfast I found at approximately 6:30pm Friday, we turned right back around, got some Dairy Bar (ok, I see what you're thinking about the non-slender people and perhaps some of the reasons behind their being non-slender, but it's vacation and if it cheers you up, I am eating grapes and bananas today) where I got an inspired banana ice cream with butterscotch syrup. You might notice there are no pictures of any of the food. There's a good reason for this: I always mean to photograph my food, but then forget and remember about two fork/spoonfuls before the food is gone (please see previous parenthetical remark).

And then it was off to the Bridgton Drive-In.

Maine has drive-ins and they rock! Other people at the drive-in were pros with station wagons and sleeping bags, whereas we had to content ourselves with the dizzying array of seat configurations offered by the nice volks at Volkswagen. It was a triple feature special for Labor Day Weekend, but we only intended to see the first two movies: Inglorious Basterds and District 9. I'd like to say we watched the films, and I'd like you to get your heads out of the collective gutters when you read that. I made it through most of the Basterds before falling asleep prior to finding out what happened in the end, and saw the closing credits of District 9, but what I did see made me happy - especially as I was seeing it from my car while listening to the sound through the radio. Drive-ins are awesome!

Sunday was bizarrely cold and slightly less fun because of it. We tried the beach but it was far more suited for walking than lying down. But while tootling along local roads we found ourselves witness to Lenny, the 1700 pound chocolate moose.

After that, and taking advantage of a brief window of warmth, it was off to Old Orchard Beach, the Coney Island of Maine, but less diverse (unless you consider Quebecois diverse), for a nap on the beach. Old Orchard Beach has a special distinction for me in that it is the only place in the world in which I have ever written my initials in a bathroom stall. And I have done that twice. Because when we were there in July, I discovered, with horror, that the doors in the ladies room were new and that my old signing was therefore lost to history. I resigned. In pink pen.

So the Maine season is probably over for 2009 (since it's about to get really really cold there), but it was a great sendoff for the summer and we got home at an eminently reasonable time on Sunday night leading to a most productive Monday (lawn chairs, framed art, rug pads, not to mention I made strawberry vanilla preserves). I am now actively in the mode whereby I determine how best to extend my tan throughout the winter - New Year's in Bonnaire is looking mighty good!

Nopropos: Now that summer is over, I need to re-learn how to drive in shoes. I have been driving barefoot for so long that I'm having serious difficulty in shoes of any kind (though less difficulty paradoxically in spiky heeled shoes). The cowboy boots I wore today in honor of the unofficial start of fall just weren't cutting it, but winter is hardly the time to drive barefoot. It's just that the shoes create an unbreachable barrier between me and the feel of the pedals. I can feel when the clutch engages barefoot; I can't when wearing shoes. Sigh.

Friday, September 4, 2009

At Least It's A Beautiful Day For A Drive

Alongside our traditional bathroom reading of National Geographic is a book devoted partner got, half in jest, called something like: Great Things About Living in Greenwich; essentially a compendium of things the resident should know about. I have eagerly perused its pages searching for the hidden nuggets that will make me excited about living in a white glove community, and have jotted down a couple of items here and there for more investigation.

Having been given today off, then, I decided to head to a neighboring town, back in New York in fact, whose butcher got high marks from the guide. It is true that Greenwich has a perfectly adequate in-town butcher, but his offerings, while they have been tasty, have also been predictable, and my guide to great Greenwich told me this other butcher was worth a 20 minute drive because he had more exotic fare. I like exotic. I had already conjured up visions of squab and ostrich and wild boar and was composing recipes in my head on the drive over.

The butcher in the neighboring town (and since I have nothing against the butcher, I'm not going to mention it by name or town) had, literally, the exact same meat my Greenwich butcher has: filet mignon, sirloin, ribeye, pork chops, lamp chops, chicken. I asked about duck (not exotic in my mind at all); they can special order me frozen. What about duck fat? Also a special order. I didn't bother asking about boar or squab. I didn't whine like a priss and mention that the great Greenwich guide to good grub told me they'd have a better selection and that I drove here expressly to be wowed, because it's not the butcher's fault. He, like the Greenwich butcher, stocks what people buy. Just because I'm super snot-tacular about food does not obligate these butchers to stock things I, and I alone, will purchase when the mood strikes me.

I had a similar experience on the drive back home. I had passed a farmstand and told myself I would investigate on the return trip. The farmstand certainly looked like a farmstand and some of the produce looked like it may have come from a nearby farm, but most of the product was the same stuff you get in the grocery store: apples from New Zealand, grapes from Chile, figs from California; at prices higher than the supermarket. I know these nice folks are trying to make a living and I also noted that people lined up to buy their wares - I just wondered if I was the only one who noticed that the peaches and nectarines had stickers on them betraying far-off provenance.

And then something struck me which will take a little getting used to: the customers don't care. Not that they're bad or gauche or ignorant, just that this isn't a priority. Making the duck with blackberries recipe from Food & Wine isn't what any of them was planning on doing this weekend. When I remarked to my best friend that I had been surprised that the Whole Foods in Greenwich was actually smaller than those in New York, he didn't bat an eye when he said people out here didn't cook like that and thought that the good local strawberries would be good if only they were big and pretty and uniform like the Driscoll's. Sure, the Whole Foods is always packed, but I've been noticing that what the other shoppers are putting into their baskets are the prepared foods, organic snacks, and occasionally coffees, and not the raw materials with which they would cook their own food. So why would the butchers stock anything that couldn't be immediately thrown on a grill Saturday? Why would the independent grocers spend the time and money to amass local ingredients that wouldn't sell?

The Union Square greenmarket has spoiled me a little, as has seeing my fellow New Yorkers, a group of people who traditionally order Chinese as a way of life, shop for food they will ultimately cook. I'm not saying that none of my new neighbors cooks for her family, I am merely getting the feeling that what that cooking entails might be a little simpler than what I have in mind, and that the market supports that simpler, more traditional cookery.

This has not deterred me, however. I will now convince myself that, with a little leg work, I can buy directly from farms in the greater Fairfield area. I'll find the small farmer with his horde of ostriches, and the 4th generation family of heritage nectarine growers. This bucolic paradise exists if only I'm willing to drive, oh, 150 miles to amass the perfect ingredients for a single meal. Which would be really environmentally conscientious.

Or I could continue to make a once a week trip to Union Square to stock up.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Oh God, We're About To Be Those People

We've had my parents over, we've had his mom and dad over, we've met a friend for pizza, we've over-frequented the local Carvel. What we haven't done yet, what I was hoping to avoid a little while longer, was pull the, "sorry, we've got to go, but we have to drive back to Connecticut" move that we're going to pull tonight when the friends we're having dinner with ask us if we'd like a nightcap, or a coffee, or Shake Shack custard.

It's a school night, after all, and we need to get back to our house. Even though it will probably take about the same amount of time to drive from lower Manhattan home as it used to take by subway to upper Harlem, it FEELS as though it takes longer (nota bene, I realized this morning that even though devoted partner is driving into the city and driving us both back out, he's going to have to drop me at the mall parking lot so I can retrieve my car which I parked this morning before hopping the train - let's hope I remember this at 11pm). And I don't want to be one of those people who is always running back to the burbs (even though, since I now live there, I'm always going to be going back).

The train provides a natural 2am barrier (or thereabouts) and allows one to, sort of, drink. One can either start sobering up so that by the time one exits the train one can drive one's self the 1.7 miles home or one can (maybe, I haven't tested this) take a cab from the station and at some later date retrieve one's car (which one can hope has not been violated in one's absence). And, when I think about it, I'm rarely out so late that 2am is going to cramp my social style, but I don't like the idea that I could be having the time of my life (where? how?) and need to rush to Grand Central like all of devoted partner's friends did in high school (we made fun of you, we snarky city brats, and I know that not all that deep within me, the snarky city brat remains).

Now, it is true. I have another option (or two id I'm pushing it). Mom and dad do live here. They do have a spare bed. I can always (am I saying this) stumble back to their house at four in the morning and hope my entrance doesn't give them twin heart attacks. Theoretically, I could stop by brother's house and hope that it isn't the night he's successfully seduced a Brazilian supermodel (but brother would not be happy to see me at 4am on any occasion).

It's almost as though, by moving to the suburbs, we're practically parents (those parents always leave parties early), but without the hassle of braces. I didn't sign up for that. People looking at me sympathetically, "ah, poor Yelena, she has to get back to her non-urban responsibilities - perhaps there's a lawn that needs mowing or some gutters that need cleaning." It's also equally possible that I'm putting this on myself and that the people I know really could a) care less that I've opted out of post-dinner drinks and/or b) don't spend any time whatsoever thinking about my commute and how it affects my social schedule and/or c) have long considered me a deadbeat who's no fun.

So, to salve my own conscience, I'm going to try to not say, "Sorry, devoted partner and I must be going, we have a long drive home," and say, instead, "great to see you, we're going to head home now." It makes no substantive difference, but emotionally it's a little easier to bear.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The List

I am still typing this from a computer keyboard perched atop my dresser.

In the dark.

All the books have a home but cd spindles, pens, checkbooks, and documents do not.

We eat off tv trays.

In the dark.

And there's a really ratty piece of torn carpet that serves as a runner.

With so much work completed, it's hard to believe what remains. In my notebook I wrote down all the things we would need and how urgent those things were: the runner was a least important, a desk was the most important. Most of the things on those lists have been crossed off, I swear. But I still don't have a garbage can for the kitchen.

And as I've mentioned there's a little bit of a light issue all around. Lamps are definitely our nemeses.

Then there's the little matter of my desk. As those who know me well can attest, I have a little bit of an orange thing i.e. I love orange things. Six months or so ago CB2 had a bright orange desk. When I mention I don't have a desk yet, many well-meaning friends suggest this bright orange desk they remember seeing in the CB2 catalog. They don't have it any more. Now the options are chartreuse and black. And it's not so much a desk as it is a piece of metal on casters. Which may have been easy to overlook had the metal been orange, but without that sweetener, it's a $150 metal piece on wheels. The trouble is, I haven't seen a desk at any price that I like. It is true, I want a cheap desk, but at this point, the right desk would be worth some money. Considering, as I mentioned before, that my current desk is a dresser. I sit sideways on my chair because there's no room for my legs - there are drawers there. It is true, when we were at United Housewreckers, I gave some thought to the old-timey desk; something with a roll-top or a banker's feel, but those things are heavy and I have a feeling I would get tired of one sooner rather than later. On the other hand, the monstrosities that pass for modern efficiency desks are little more than tinker toys writ large. I'm considering saving the money on a desk and buying a laptop instead that I can rest on one of the tv trays (though I still have one monster of a printer that would need a home - it's one of the other things that hasn't been unpacked because there's nowhere for it to live). Also, while a laptop would solve the surface area problem of desks, it wouldn't solve the drawer problem: the drawers I intend to use for cd spindles, checkbooks, and pens.

I've tried to downplay the desk problem because it is so far less interesting than the prep kitchen table problem. After all, I can currently use my computer, and if I wanted to, I could simply unpack the pens and cd spindles into one of the dresser drawers; whereas I have no room anywhere to make ravioli or puff pastry. Still, as the days turn into weeks and the cooling weather reminds me of the passage of time, prosaically, I realize this desk thing too is a problem that needs attention. So if you see something that doesn't suck and doesn't cost more than a laptop, please send it my way. My thighs are cramping!

Apropos of nothing, I'm preserving for posterity examples of people on Metro North attempting to hog seats. This one was a special favorite though, in gross foot man's defense, when two legitimately elderly frail looking people got on the train he did let them have his seat - that smelled of feet. I wish I had a picture of the seat I took yesterday afternoon - I had it picked out as the train was still rolling into the station: a woman in a three-across seat sitting in the middle seat with her shit on either side of her. She was not pleased I thought to take one of the THREE seats she had selected for herself. Remember, fellow commuters, I am on the lookout for the most selfish among you to be my seatmate. Prepare to be maliciously inconvenienced and, I hope, chagrined by your own truly laudable spatial parsimony!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

This Crap Weather

I only wait for summer all year. Not just because of the weather, the tan, the excuse for frozen drinks, but because, for a few short months, my kitchen comes alive with bounty. Many delightful things are created and enjoyed, and the long long long winter months of cabbage and turnip seem but a distant memory. This summer had some problems not associated with the weather:

The fruit fly consortium in my old apartment kitchen did sort of turn me off cooking for a while - or getting anywhere near the kitchen or bathroom; one was avoidable, the other, sadly, less avoidable.

Perhaps you'd heard, but we moved. In between tossing everything out from the old kitchen and barely stocking the new, and not having the same kind of space, and not having a prep table, well, cooking elaborate things was not really going to happen.

But now it's September 1, and by my count I have at least 3 good weeks left of peaches, tomatoes, raspberries, peppers, corn, blueberries, plums, beans, well pretty much everything. And you know what? It all sucks.

Perhaps that's being a little too harsh, it doesn't suck, it's just not great. My longed for apricots from Red Jacket Orchards? I'm not even sure they're good enough to make preserves. The peaches? Had to be sugared on the peach cheesecake I made for my new neighbors. The cherries? Forget it, they tasted like, well, a month of rain. The tomatoes? Mealy. It is sort of breaking my heart because I know that it's about to be all apples and potatoes all the time before I know it, and I won't even have pleasant memories to guide me through the winter.

And while I could blame this predicament on my attempts to be local and seasonal, it's not as though those Driscoll berries taste like anything no matter what time of year it is. I just wanted a couple of good tarts, something visually appealing that I could enjoy while sitting in my backyard with a cold glass of something. I want to make and jar tomato sauce for the winter, but if the tomatoes don't taste like much now, I hardly think three months in a jar will improve them.

So, while today is beautiful, I think it's too late for this season of food (which makes me a little glad, actually, that we missed making reservations at Blue Hill at Stone Barns for, I don't know, the 4th year in a row, because as much as I think he's the cat's meow, I don't think even Dan Barber could turn this crap harvest around). I'm trying to look ahead to roasted chickens and apple pies.