Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Life in France

Julia Child is all a flutter these days. The new Meryl Streep/Amy Adams movie has everyone finally discovering how amazing Julia is after all of these years. Well, I have read the book "Julie and Julia" by Julie Powell and I HATED it. (How often do you hear me say that?) It was not well written, it wasn't interesting, and the author's voice and attitude bugged me. The entire book experience was extremely unpleasant. I won't say more than that because honestly it doesn't deserve the time. (I will see the movie though. Lets just hope that Amy Adams can spice up Julie Powell. Yeek. Fingers crossed for an enjoyable screening on Monday.)

A book I do love, however, is Julia Child’s memoir, “My Life in France,” written with Alex Prudhomme. It is honest-to-goodness one of my very favorite books I've ever read. I LOVE it. And I've obviously been telling all of you about it (you know who you are... Laura. Alison. Katie. Annie. Karen. Emily.) since I picked it up over a year ago but not a single one of you has given it a chance. It's magic, this book.

The book opens with Julia's move to Paris right after the Second World War. Standing 6’2” with red curly hair (hmmm, sound familiar?), she wandered the open-air food markets, cooked in a lovingly described kitchen with big copper pots, an old gas stove, and more butter and cream and aspic than you imagine. To boot, she didn’t learn how to cook until she was 36 which I find immensely inspiring.

Julia met her husband Paul Child in Sri Lanka while working for the U.S. government AS A SPY during the war. He was much older, much shorter, and her perfect companion in every way. Julia and Paul's marriage is a rarity in respect and generosity. They aren't mushy and they aren't obnoxious. They are partners in humor and in grace. I LOVE hearing her speak of their interactions and their life together. We should all be so lucky.

Paul was an artist and a foodie in his own right. He tasted everything Julia cooked, gained a million pounds, and loved every inch of her (all 74.) He created Valentine's cards to send each year in place of Christmas cards which are delightfully included in the book. Very few things make me as happy as looking at these darling Valentine's cards. Especially the one where they are both in the bathtub.

The book is of course about food as well, something that makes us greedily turn the pages. We learn about marrow and about fish markets, and about the PERFECT (and very secret) method of making beurre blanc (This is where Julia's spy training came in handy. Top secret food documents galore.) We can absolutely taste the food--especially that first meal they eat together in France. Oh, its just all so beautiful. In addition, we can also hear Julia's frustration-- her humanism-- dripping through the pages with each recipe she nails and eventually publishes in the great Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Read this memoir. I am so serious, it will change your perspective on who you are and what you can accomplish. Julia proves wholeheartedly that we needn't fit into any box, and is someone who I think of often. In addition, she is hilarious, a character like no other, and one of my true heroes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hannah Whitaker – White Rabbit

New York is a mess of a storm today. It's lightning and thundering and its humid and dark as sin. Nasty.

But I came across this charming little piece by Hannah Whitaker while waiting out the storm without an umbrella. Its Albrecht Durer meets Lewis Carroll. Both good things.

So does that help? Just a little? And what is it that they say about rainbows after storms? Anyway... it definitely helped me.


Have we talked about Olives yet? About my favorite sandwich place in all of the five boroughs that happens to be two blocks from my work?! Let's do so now.

They have a roasted chicken sandwich with pesto on focaccia that is so amazing that when I dropped a piece of roasted chicken on the sidewalk yesterday I honest-to-goodness considered picking it up and eating it before I remembered that I was in New York City where people are EVERYWHERE and those things aren't really appropriate to do anywhere but in the comfort of your own kitchen. So I didn't eat off the sidewalk. (But if you're interested in tasting the best chicken this side of Houston, its probably still sitting on the corner of Prince and Mercer. Go for it.)

Olives is open for take-away only, they don't have tables, and there is always a line. The food is fresh, the prices are somewhat reasonable (somewhat), and the service is excellent. Seriously, awesome manager lady with short hair and funky glasses, even if you're not very friendly, you rock at your job.

Get the sandwich of the day (especially on Thursdays and every other Wednesday), get a cowgirl cookie, and try the soups (but not until fall). And if you're in Soho during the lunch hour on a weekday, please call me and we can chat in line and happily eat our sandwiches together on the sidewalk. I can't wait.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jonatha Brooke: Mad Sq Music

Jonatha Brooke performed a nice little concert last night in Madison Square Park. Al, Lizbug, and I attended and it was lovely.

Its my second favorite type of summer event --the "free outdoor concert on a lawn with blankets and food and wine"-- next to my number one favorite event which is the same thing but with a movie, not a singer.

And I would be at a perfect summer outdoor movie situation tonight-- Paper Moon playing in Brooklyn Bridge Park-- if it weren't for the stupid rain and the stupid tickets that I have to a Broadway show this evening. Ugh.

My life is so hard.


Monday, July 20, 2009

sugar Sweet sunshine

Oh, cupcakes. I have such a strained relationship with you. It's complicated verging on awkward.

On one hand, you taste amazing. ('Ted, your hair looks amazing!')*** And you are the perfect size. And you're so damn cute-- with the sprinkles and the pastel icing and the high potential of a birthday candle. Your presence really does make the day a little better. You're a little pocket sized party. And I do appreciate that. I do.

However. While I used to be obsessed with your cute little sweetness I, like all New Yorkers, became completely disenchanted when hundreds of overweight tourists began forming lines down Bleeker and 10th, annoying the crap out of me. You quickly became nothing more than a taxicab key chain, a statue of liberty foam crown, or a empire state building snow globe. You became a symbol of non-New Yorker New York and my love for you transferred to new food obsessions. Like bacon.

Luckily... a little bakery down on Essex and Rivington on the LES brought you back into my life this weekend. A little place called sugar Sweet sunshine (named for an etching of sugar Sweet sunshine, Love found in the cement nearby. If THAT isn't cute New York, what is?) served up the best, cutest, most fresh lemon cupcake I've had in a long time. You tasted like heaven. And you KNOW how much I love lemon.

There weren't any annoying lines. There weren't any 'cupcake bouncers'. There wasn't any reaching, any pushing, any embarrassment for being there so close to the fancy Marc Jacobs stores. Just cute 1960's retro furniture, vintage wallpaper, and plenty of seating.

So thank you, sSs for bringing the cupcake back into my life and into my heart. I do love you still, dear cupcakes. And I always will.

***that was for you, Katie. And John. And Alex. And anyone else who I've made watch the Britney Spears scenes of How I Met Your Mother over and over again on YouTube.

Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman

"I never wanted to be a girl. The way girls were supposed to be. I wanted to be like my father. I wanted to be free."

Flying is the autobiographical-documentary-mini-series by Jennifer Fox about-- to put it simply-- women. Alison and I have been watching weekly Sunday night installments at her place for the past month or so out of both interest and fear.

At the age of 45 Jennifer, a constantly traveling New Yorker who only wanted to be 'single and free' woke up to discover that she might want a baby. That she might need a commitment. That she might have misjudged what would actually make her happy all of these years.

She suddenly became deeply conflicted about marriage, about babies and about the affairs she was having with a married South African (Kai) and a Swiss cinematographer (Patrick).

Fox is a celebrated independent documentary filmmaker but for this project she quite bravely (and a bit indulgently?) turned the camera on herself and women around the world. She interviewed countless women about the experiences of being female, wherever they happened to be. Most of her own narratives involve lots of tears and sadness. They show her sitting at home or in a hotel room crying over Kai or crying over her potentially failed life. Its depressing, of course it is. But its also extremely enlightening.

Her subjects include Cambodian women forced into the sex trade, social activists in India and Pakistan, film making friends in Berlin and London, a darling Russian babushka, and her own family members. It's fascinating. Troubling, heartbreaking, and fascinating.

What struck me as the most odd in this film was that Fox doesn't shy away from her own issues even when talking with, say, sex slaves in Cambodian war zones. She keeps coming back to her lovers, her sexuality, her sudden need to have a child, her verbally abusive grandmother, her parents' marriage. It's beautiful in that she doesn't see a division between herself and these young girls dying of malnutrition and STD's, but at the same time... come on, Jennifer.

Al and I found ourselves screaming at the television as she repeatedly went back to her 'lover Kai' who was married with children at the time. For being such a strong, independent, awesome woman she was still flawed, still vulnerable, still had an INTENSE need to be loved. We wanted to shake her, but at the same time, we understood her.

Jennifer repeatedly came back to the same conclusion. All women fall into two categories: mothers and whores. It is a terrible realization to come to, especially for a woman who doesn't necessarily believe in marriage and who has been sexually active for over 20 years. But as each episode introduced a different culture of different women, the statement became all the more relevant.

In the most extreme situations, like in Pakistan, the label 'whore' could mean a death sentence without any hope for a husband and therefore income and food and basic needs. In the LEAST extreme, like our girl Jennifer here in New York, it means feeling like a failure. It means having to question your capabilities as a woman.

Alison made homemade pasta with red pepper sauce last night for the final installment. We watched Jennifer's very elderly Grandmother die. We watched her attempt IVF only to see a single line. We watched her cry some more. She told herself that she was going to stop crying and try to be happy. She made a commitment to PATRICK, thank goodness (we were rooting for him.) She moved to Switzerland for a while, which is awesome. She started smiling again.

The film ultimately made us talk about our own lives, as I'm sure it was meant to. Al and I along with all of our other girlfriends have had ongoing conversations since our first viewing about Jennifer and her 45 year old New York predicament-- being super successful professionally yet unmarried without children and suddenly feeling inadequate. I will graciously spare you the details of THOSE conversations, but I can tell you that this film was eye opening to say the least.

In a great Times article about this series, Fox says that life is like a layer cake: nonlinear, potentially messy and occasionally gravity-defying. It's a nice little metaphor for the film too-- a messy pastiche of different ingredients coming together for an indulgent common purpose. And it makes me crave cake.

Also: A special thank you to Annie Llewellyn who gave us these films. THANKS ANNALICIOUS!!!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

500 Days of Summer

500 Days of Summer. Hmmm. You would have thought that I would be obsessed. I would have thought that I would be obsessed. And I did like it. I really enjoyed the entire movie. And I liked that the boy didn't get the girl. I did. But something about this movie annoyed me.

Maybe it was the too-cute indie soundtrack. Maybe it was the painful ending. Maybe it was that I am insanely jealous of Zooey Deschanel and her innate sense of cool.

But the best part of my night (the highlight of my day, if you will) was sitting on an old couch at 119 Bar off Union Square, recapping on the movie and recapping on life. Because, in the end, real life is better than movies. It is. :)

Monday, July 13, 2009

67 Burger

I am happy to say that yesterday was spent entirely at the beach. Yes sirry. As a Nebraskan-turned-New Yorker I often forget how close the ocean is to dear Brooklyn. We live an honest to goodness twenty miles from the seashore which completely blows my mind, considering that I didn't even see the ocean until I was seventeen years old on a high school band trip to Florida.

Alison and I packed books (I'm reading the best book right now, blog to come), beach towels and sunscreen but didn't really plan our beverages all that well. We took turns exclaiming every 10 minutes or so that we wished we would have made some punch or margaritas or at least packed a few Coronas. The cute family next to us had some sort of pink party punch that they happily poured into cups of ice and enjoyed with a side of fresh mango. All we had was warm (hot) diet coke and some near boiling water. Ew.

So upon our return to the Atlantic Terminal-- sunburned and sandy-- we both agreed that we needed a beer. And a burger. A burger and a beer. We found both at 67 Burger on Fulton and Lafayette. I hadn't been since the epic Paul Simon concert at BAM with Keenster and Jilly, and it was just as wonderful as I remembered. I got the plain ol' cheeseburger (with lots of ketchup) and Al had the Greek. Or maybe the Italian. I don't remember. At any rate, NY mag says this about the establishment and I couldn't agree more...

The meat-to-bun ratio is spot on (no leftover bready remnants), the buns stay sturdy to the last bite, and the layering process is fastidious (an illustrative compositional diagram decorates the menu).

Next time, though, I'm getting the Oreo milkshake that I kept seeing walk by. YUM.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mad Sq Reads: The New York Novel

Thursdays in the summertime easily test my decision making skills. It's like suddenly finding yourself in the front of a long and impatient line at Starbucks with no idea if you want a tall skinny vanilla latte, a grande peppermint tea, or an extra hot regular Colombian blend. 'Tall! Decaf! Cappuccino!' (Name that movie.)

Brooklyn Bridge began its free summer outdoor film series tonight (shhh, don't tell anyone, I want the crowds to stay small and non-touristy), Chelsea offers its final group shows before closing down in August, and the great Alison Hughes hosts a summer reading series in Madison Square Park.

I chose the later this evening, in favor of a night outdoors celebrating the 'New York Novel'. I hadn't read either of the evening's novels, and to be quite honest, haven't been reading any novels as of late. I've been stuck in the memoir and biography category, which has proven mighty interesting.

I ditched the novel after the 'best novel of 2008' (Edgar Sawtelle, I will never understand your selling power) made me nod off on the subway and miss my stop this past December. In addition to a few lovely books by people like Molly Wiezenberg, Isabel Gillies, Ruth Reichl, and Julia Child, most of my chosen memoirs are actually really embarrassing. Sandra Lee, anyone? Kristen Chenoweth? ummm... Hugh Hefner? (His family is from Nebraska, don't judge.) Yes, I could probably stand to read a novel or two.

The readings are held at the North end of the park, each week is themed, and the crowd a group of namely uptight intellectuals, a famous ballet dancer or two (maybe that was just last night?), and me. I have been to three this summer, but this was the first without a rainstorm. Thank goodness.

The readers, Elinor Lipman and Laura Jacobs, seemed so shy and proud of their New York novels, reading each word with care and visible love. We could tell they were excited to share their created worlds with those in attendance and wanted so badly for us to like them. It was refreshing, it was dear.

But as the reading concluded, I felt that pang of deep empathy when the crowd once again sat silent during question and answer time. They looked out expectantly but were met with nothing more than the noise of honking cabs, screaming children, dogs in heat. So as is becoming custom at these things, I searched my brain for something to relieve these two sweet women from their awkward babbling about whether or not they should leave the stage. (Painful, I tell you!) I stood up, marched to the microphone, asked the authors about the city itself.

New York is a city of secrets. It's all insider knowledge, its a big secret society, and we can't help but judge those who don't speak the language. When writing a New York novel, how does one keep the rest of the world interested? Can someone from, say, Minnesota read a book about the Upper West Side without knowing what Zabars is?

I often wonder this when watching old reruns of Sex and the City, Seinfeld, and Gossip Girl. The references are SO very site specific. The language isn't dumbed down and the characters never explain themselves. I honestly still don't quite understand how it works.

I watched Sex and the City for years before I moved here, yet felt like I was watching them for the first time as soon as I started recognizing street corners, as soon as I knew what Duane Read, Sushi Samba, and the Meatpacking district were. As soon as I started picking up on these things I really didn't understand how it could ever be interesting to someone who doesn't live here.

The funny thing is... the authors didn't quite know how to explain it either. Both of them have lived in New York long enough that they too have forgotten what its like to not belong to the club. It's like when John and Michael entered Neverland and forgot what it was like to not be a Lost Boy, to not spend their days chasing mermaids and fighting pirates.

Elinor commented that her New England readers assume that she's making up places like Gracious Home and H&H Bagels, and giggled at the thought. Laura said that she likes her characters to leave New York every once in a while to give us all a break from the city. (Well, that didn't really answer my question, now did it, Laura?)

The truth is that one you're in you're in. Once you know the language you can't imagine not speaking it. This is why we raise the volume of our voice when speaking with someone who doesn't understand English, and why we think that talking slower will somehow help.

I could have asked many more questions on the topic, as well as questions about how to write a novel and how to create a world and a dialogue that doesn't yet exist. It would be fun, wouldn't it? To create a New York all your own? Maybe I'll try one of these days. We'll see. :)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Twelfth Night

It's almost embarrassing to write this post. It seems a bit too New Yorky and romantic even for me. Its about free outdoor theater in Central Park under the stars on a lovely evening in the summertime. I'm just a a big fat cliche of myself. I know.

At any rate-- Alex and I all but stumbled across the Public Theater's production of Twelfth Night on Sunday of last week. We planned to spend Sunday in the park, no particular 'plans' other than being outside, so sitting in a line for four hours didn't sound so bad. And it wasn't. Quite pleasant, actually. (Six degrees of Kevin Bacon was played more than once and we both kind of rock at it.)

If you know anything about Shakespeare in the Park you know that getting tickets is a bit of a nightmare. Although free, the tickets are very valuable in that there aren't enough to go around, not even close. We were told to wait in the 'cancellation line' which was about four steps removed from actually receiving the tickets. But we did get tickets (God knows how) and we were two of the three hundred or so lucky New Yorkers to see Anne Hathaway perform Twelfth Night under stars in Central Park that night.

The play itself wasn't much the point at all, to be honest. It was Shakespeare proper, unabridged and unaltered. We laughed at the jokes not because they were necessarily all that funny, but because that's what you do when you watch Shakespeare. You play too. We were all there for the spectacle. We were there for Anne Hathaway and for Audra McDonald and for the romance of it all.

The set was well thought and the costumes intentional. The actors were having fun and the bluegrass band edged sixteenth century England into twenty first century New York. The moon was almost full and temperature bobbing around 75 degrees. All in all--I'm going to apologize in advance for saying this-- it might have been the perfect New York night.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Yinka Shonibare MBE

The Yinka Shonibare retrospective opening at the Brooklyn Museum last week proved to be one of the most prolific Brooklyn events this summer thus far for Sarah and the Holograms (no one really calls my friends that but I've always secretly wanted to be Jem when I grow up and thought that maybe if I start referring to them as Holograms on my blog the trend will soon follow.)

Between Alison, Laura, Michael and I, we scored four VIP tickets to the opening and then four VIP tickets to the Femi Kuti concert in Prospect Park afterwards (post to follow.) I know we sound important, but its just because Cynthia didn't want to go and Alison joined the museum. Whatever, we're also Very Important People in our our right.

We arrived on the first real summer evening we've felt here in NY-- it was sunny and not humid but still warm and not rainy. Finally. We sipped cocktails in the atrium before being ushered to the special conference room for an intimate conversation with Yinka himself. (Intimate= him plus about 200 other people but whatev.)

He is quite pompous in person-- sorry, but he is. Two men in nineteenth century bustled drag ushered him onstage where he answered questions in slight exasperation and an air of 'you should know the answer to this question already' with a subtle eye roll. (Although ALL of the questions about 'why the mannequins didn't have heads' DESERVED eye rolls. Holy cow, people. Don't be dumb.)

It works, though. His attitude, his air... it is part of his art. He demands the 'MBE' after his name (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) not because he is actually proud of it, but because he finds it slightly ridiculous. He holds the African part of his work nose to nose with the British portion. He mocks society yet he also yields to it.

Vivien asked me after the show why I liked it. She asked why I thought he was important. The most I could come up with in my champagne haze was his specific link to artists past and his intentional reference to not only history but political statement. He is a THINKER, a fully aware mind who crafts his art with such an incredible attention to detail that I'm sure his workshop growls in resentment each time he leaves the room.

The composition is flawless and the message obvious. We want to look at his work and we immediately understand what it's saying. He holds more in common with Lawrence Weiner than he does with Fragonard but his graceful lines and triangle poses trick us into admiration via beauty. It's his point and his humor.

The show itself was completely enjoyable, although perhaps done before. I did hear very audible gasps as we entered the Gallantry and Criminal Conversation room, proving that his one-two punch still works its determined magic. The installation is based on the Grand Tour and its underlying mischief. It's overtly sexual yet entirely playful. It isn't offensive and its politics reach the equivalent of Marilyn Monroe's version of Happy Birthday. It suggests (okay, screams) indiscretion but isn't quite pointing fingers.

The exhibition reached far beyond the famed Gallantry piece, it extended into his photography, painting, and orininal work for the decorative arts galleries that will BLOW YOUR MIND. Think Where's Waldo.

It was a pleasant night with pleasant art. All just blocks from my little apartment and the big park that we call home. AND there were free cocktails and chicken skewers. Awesome.

Monday, July 6, 2009

King Triton and the Dolphins

(There are only two people out there who will find this post humorous, but just the thought of hearing their laughter makes it worth it.)

You may have noticed that its been a while since I last posted. Well, I've been away. I've been on a boat on a lake in The Middle of Nowhere Missouri with my family and best friends-- far away from computers and blogs and emails and twitters. It was amazing.

You know that feeling of laughing so hard that you can't speak? That point when just the thought of the words that you're about to say coming out of your mouth makes it completely impossible to say the words and share the thoughts with anyone else in attendance? Well, I got there this weekend on the back of a boat on a tube with Meggie Sue and Larn.

The words were 'King Triton and the dolphins' and the feeling was a high that you get only from that specific form of laughter (we really should have more than one word for 'laughter.' I'll bet the Greeks do. Like, 'happy is to laughter as euphoric is to _____.') It took me about five minutes to spit those words out and when I finally did we all fell down laughing at the realization that we might be pseudo-adults in our mid twenties but underneath our veneer of patent leather pumps, fancy careers, engagement rings, and house payments, we are still the girls we've always been with crazy dreams and huge imaginations.

In that moment we all reverted back to our 5-year old selves and talked about what it was like to see The Little Mermaid for the first time. It might have been the first movie I'd seen at the movie theater, I don't know. Is that possible? Well, its the first one I remember.

I was in the first grade and my Grandpa Timmerman (who turned 79 this weekend!) took me to see The Little Mermaid in Omaha. I remember that he let me pick out a candy bar--which was a really big deal-- and I chose a 3 Musketeers, most likely because it had a shiny wrapper (I loved all things metallic, even then.) I sat in that theater and watched a redheaded mermaid fall in love with a gorgeous prince under a magic spell and never wanted that movie to end.

Ariel sang songs with fishes, she brushed her hair with a fork, she twirled around in that gorgeous blue dress and (almost) kissed her prince under a weeping willow and a firefly filled night sky. It was back when Disney made movies for little girls without considering updated humor for their parents and before they complicated them with grown-up plots and special features. It was simple, it was lovely, and it was the first movie I fell in love with. I remember holding my grandpa's hand as we left under my own spell of sugar and contentment.

I left the Ozark mountains this weekend with a similar feeling. Lots of sugar, lots of laughter, and the utmost of contentment. I flew into LaGuardia from Springfield rested and happy. I crossed the BQE with a view of Manhattan at dusk out one window and a full moon with a sapphire sky out the other. It's not playing all day in the water, being the five-year-old version of ourselves, but it is summer and in this city we still get to play. We aren't adults, not yet at least. And I'm in no rush to get there.