Article of the Week

This should be an award.  And this week’s winner would be “Creating Hipsturbia” by Alex Williams.

The article is about people having to leave the Hipster Utopia of Brooklyn for suburbs further away from the city.  The article is hilarious, both intentionally and unintentionally.  For the record, I believe Williams to be intentionally funny, and the people he interviewed accidentally funny.

Some excerpts:

Across the street is the home-décor that purveys monofloral honey produced by nomadic beekeepers in Sicily.  And down the street is a retro-chic bakery, where the red-velvet cupcakes are gluten-free and the windows are decorated with bird silhouettes – the universal symbol for “hipsters welcome.”

Here, beside the gray-suited salarymen and four-door minivans, it is no longer unusual to see a heritage-clad novelist type with ironic mutton chops sipping shade-grown coffee at the patisserie, or hear 30-somethings in statement sneakers discuss their latest film project as they wait for the 9:06 to Grand Central.

…importing the trappings of a twee lifestyle like bearded mixologists, locavore restaurants and antler-laden boutiques.

“I don’t think we need to be in Brooklyn,” said Marie Labropoulos, who recently moved to Westchester County and opened a shop, Kalliste, selling artisanal vegan soap in Dobbs Ferry.

“When we checked towns out,” Ms. Miziolek recalled, “I saw some moms out in Hastings with their kids with tattoos.  A little glimmer of Williamsburg!”

“There is more looking down, less eye contact,” said Mr. Wallach, 38.  “The difference is between the first three days of Burning Man, when everyone is ‘Hey, what’s up?’ to the final three days of Burning Man, when the tent flaps are down.  Brooklyn is turning out to be the last three days of Burning Man.”

While she savors the space and mental calm of the suburbs, she finds herself looking hopefully for signs of creative ferment.  “We’ve found it in pockets,” Ms. Ghiorse said.  “Once in a while, you’ll think, ‘This place gets it,’ because they have a Fernet Branca cocktail on their menu.”

Published in: on February 18, 2013 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sometimes the low-tech method is still the best…

One of my goals for the year was to keep up with the healthy habits that I established in 2012, but I also wanted to get more adventurous in my cooking. For me, 2012 was a lot of plain chicken breasts, plain fish fillets, plain vegetables.  It wasn’t copmpletely joyless, (I did go to Paris, where I ate my weight in cheese), but I wanted to balance my healthy eating with more experimentation, more variety and more flavor.

Yesterday, I was looking at some cherry tomatoes that had seduced me at Thursday’s farmer’s market.  I had to use them or lose them, and the idea of tossing them with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar and feta cheese to make a salad seemed boring.  I thought I had read a recipe, somewhere, combining fish with tomatoes, olives and capers in a kind of Provençal way.  I didn’t want to turn on the computer, so I grabbed the phone and looked up the Epicurious app – which had terrible reviews.  I tried to get on to the Epicurious site from my phone, but the site was down.  So I went old school, and started yanking cookbooks from my shelves.  I started with Barefoot Contessa – with no luck.  My next thought was The Healthy Kictchen by Andrew Weil and Rosie Daley.  I hadn’t cracked that book in years, and after paging through it in search of my recipe, I remembered why.  Dr. Weil makes arguments for tofu and against wine.  That, in my opinion, is just no way to live.  I thought Michael Chiarello might have what I was looking for, but before I turned to him I opened Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist Cooks Dinner, and there I found exactly what I was looking for.  The recipe was actually for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but in his notes, he wrote that the recipe would work just as well for most fish fillets.  Off I ran to the market to pick up a fillet of haibut and some capers.

The preparation actually was simple.  I seared the fish on one side for about two minutes, then turned down the heat and covered the pan for about six minutes.  Then I took out the fish, deglazed the pan with some wine, added the tomatoes, olives, capers and some chopped parsley, let that cook for a few moments and then spooned the sauce over my beautifully browned fish.  It was so lovely, I had to take a photo:

Seared & steamed halibut fillet with tomatoes, olives & capers, served with roasted fingerling potatoes and sauteed spinach.

Seared & steamed halibut fillet with tomatoes, olives & capers, served with roasted fingerling potatoes and sauteed spinach.

(The sauce covers up the beautiful browning of the fish.  Trust me.)

So thank you, Mr. Bittman, for the perfect recipe!  I will try this again with a chicken breast.  And I will always find it amusing that I dove into a pile of cookbooks and found exactly what I was looking for, instead of turning to Google.  For once.

Published in: on February 17, 2013 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I think I went to Amsterdam…

…and no, I did not spend so much in the city’s famed cafés that I lost track of time.  My time in Amsterdam was hijacked by an overbearing Dutchman.

Amsterdam has long been on my list of cities to visit, mostly for the Anne Frank house, but also to see the city’s beautiful canals and architecture, the Van Gogh museum and those damn Stroopwaffels that I love so much.  Even though my trip was planned for January, (cold, snow), I was excited to tick some items off my bucket list.

The first hitch in the plan was lost luggage.  While our flight from SFO to Munich was smooth and on time, bad weather in Amsterdam forced the cancellation of our connecting flight.  After hours of uncertainty, we ended up on a flight to Dusseldorf, (and just barely – we were among the last to board), and from Dusseldorf, we took a bus to Amsterdam.  (Stuck behind a snow plow, so a two-hour ride turned into a three-hour ride.)  We arrived at the hotel at 4:00 am, exhausted, dirty, cold and with no suitcases.  If lost luggage had been the only thing to contend with, we would have been fine.  When you add one very pushy relative to lost luggage and snow, it’s difficult, (though not impossible), to keep one’s sense of humor.

The relative in question is a distant one, a man I had never met before.  We’ll call him Willem.  Willem took the week off of work in order to show us around…the countryside.  In his opinion, Amsterdam is an overrated city and he thought our time was better spent seeing fortified cities and windmills.  When he asked me on that first day what I wanted to do in Amsterdam, I replied that I couldn’t leave without seeing the Anne Frank house, and his response was, “I don’t know why you’d want to do that.  It’s depressing.”

So I went to Gouda.  And I went to Deflt.  And I went to some other towns to look at city walls and windmills and snow and I don’t even remember the names of those towns.  Willem is a student of Dutch history, and he shared his knowledge with us in the form of lectures while we were stuck in the back of the car.  I will say that I believe Willem did all of this because he thought he was being nice.  He drove everywhere, and we had some nice meals, and he wanted us to know exactly what we were seeing and how it fit in with Dutch history.  But when he said, “Next time you come to Amsterdam, you don’t have to stay in a hotel. You’re always welcome to stay with us,” I thought, “Not in a million years.”

So there are no photos of Amsterdam – camera was in the suitcase.  And barely any memories.  I did get to see the Anne Frank house, on my last day.  And while the Van Gogh museum was closed for renovation, I got to see the temporary exhibit of his work at the Hermitage. I had one lovely lunch on my own, on the one day I was allowed to explore the city without my tour guide.  (It was a simple lunch of soup and a coffee, but the coffee was served with a scrumptious little sweet thing.  I asked the server what it was, and he told me it was Butter Cake.  When I left, he handed me another piece wrapped in a napkin.)

So I have to go back.  I just can’t tell Willem.

Published in: on February 3, 2013 at 6:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Paris First

I’ve been to Paris seven times.  I’ve been to the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Orangerie, the Picasso museum, the Rodin museum.  I’ve seen the Catacombs and Napoleon’s tomb.  I’ve eaten at fine dining restaurants and munched a crêpe on a street corner.  I’ve stayed at luxury hotels and youth hostels.  About everything I’ve ever wanted to do in Paris, I’ve done.  (I haven’t taken a river cruise one of the many bateaux-mouches, but I don’t have a burning desire to do that.  My dad loved it, though, so maybe one day.)

The one thing I hadn’t done was shop for clothes.  (I’m not counting the time I ran into the BHV to buy a white T-shirt, because I had run out of clean clothes.)  Up until last year, I was, shall we say, chubbier than your average French woman, by a lot.  I knew, just knew that the clothes wouldn’t fit me, so why bother?  I had bought socks – that was it.

Last year, I managed to take control of my health and my eating habits, and lost over 50 pounds.  As the day of my departure to Paris approached, my mom gave me the name and address of a cashmere store in Paris, and told me if I went and bought myself a sweater, she would give it to me for Christmas.  I thought it was a great idea.  I needed some new sweaters, as most of mine were too large, and I knew that a cashmere sweater from Eric Bompard would last forever.

So one day I was wandering around in St. Germain, and I ran across the store.  Looking through the window, I saw a sparse, modern space.  The kind of space that one doesn’t walk into and start looking through racks of clothes.  One has to ask one of the perfectly dressed, perfectly coiffed sales people for help.  My heart sank.  My French is so rusty, both speaking and understanding, that most conversations with the French, even if they end with me eventually getting what I need or want, leave me feeling stupid and embarrassed.  That night, I emailed my mom, telling her, essentially, that store is scary.  My mom is too nice to say this outright, but I read her carefully worded response as, “Pull yourself together and stop being a baby.”

I checked the offerings on the Eric Bompard website, so I would know what I wanted and the words for it ahead of time: a fitted v-neck sweater in navy blue.  My last day, I made that my first stop so I wouldn’t chicken out.  I stood outside for a few moments, muttering to myself, “Don’t be a coward.  Don’t be a coward.  Don’t be a coward.”  I walked in, trying to look casual.  I wandered for a few moments before a sales woman approached me and asked if I needed help.  I said yes – I nearly hugged her I was so grateful I had understood.  I told her what I was looking for, (pull V cintré?), and the color, (marine), but then we got to the question of size.  I told her that in the United States, I wore large, sometimes medium, but I had no idea what size I would be in France.  She looked me up and down, pulled a large from the shelf and sent me into the dressing room.  I put it on, looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Not bad.”  I knew she was waiting for me, so I took a deep breath and opened the door.  She circled me, again, looking me up and down.  That might have been one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life, having a slim, chic Parisian woman study my figure.  She gave her approval.  Success!

She escorted me to the counter, where another gentleman would be ringing up my purchase while she wrapped it in tissue paper.  He asked me if I wanted to be on the mailing list, and I politely declined, telling him that I live in the US.  He asked me where.  I told him San Francisco.  He switched to English and said, “I spent a semester at UC Irvine!”  I was so shocked that when I tried to tell him how good his English was, I used the familiar tu instead of the formal vous.  Rookie mistake that I’d never made before.

I left the store with a gorgeous sweater and some of my dignity.  I have no doubt that the next time in Paris, I’ll go back to pick up another color.

Published in: on January 27, 2013 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Best Week Ever

I’ve fallen behind on my Lost and Found listening, so in an effort to catch up, I loaded a bunch onto my iPod to listen to at work.  As it turns out, I’ve just been listening to one, over and over again, because it’s that good.  It’s Week 32:

Even the Rain, Gabe Dixon: Luke says Gabe is playing an upright, honky tonk piano and I love the sound. And I love the lyric, “Even the rain is falling for you.”

Please Forgive Me, David Gray: Love this song, loved this album and hadn’t thought about it in years. Such a unique voice – Luke calls it “inimitable.” So true, and such a great word.

Bottom of the Sea, Matt Nathanson: It’s no secret that I love Matt Nathanson’s music. I’ve seen him in concert three times in the last year. I’m so glad that Luke and I agree on just how good his music is. Can’t wait for his next album.

This is the Stuff, Francesca Battistelli: It’s hard to be in a bad mood during this song, even thought she’s singing about the stuff that puts here in a bad mood.

Call Someone, Thirteen Senses: This song is OK.

Makambo, Geoffrey Oryema: beautiful, dreamy – I don’t have to know what he’s saying to love the way this sounds.

Here He Comes, Brian Eno: This song is OK.

Promenade, U2: A U2 song I didn’t remember!

Driving In My Car, Madness: Sounds like a cartoon!

The Beginning of the End, Steve Moakler: The combination of this man’s beautiful voice and the piano just knocks me out.

Just a Little, Leigh Nash: Glad she’s more than just a “Kiss Me” one-hit wonder. I like that the music sounds…vintage. But her voice sounds modern. If that’s possible.

Say It Ain’t So Joe, Murray Head: Just OK. But hard to believe that this is the same guy who sang “One Night in Bangkok.”

The Man I Love, Kate Bush: This is so good. SO good. Must download immediately. I can just see her in a slinky dress belting this out in a smokey jazz club.

Atlantic, Midway State: I gravitate toward acoustic singer-songwriter type music, but every once in a while, I enjoy some electronic based stuff. And I liked this. At first, I thought I imagined the “sailboat” line in the background.

I Don’t Worry, Bess Rogers: Again, hard to be in a bad news. Or sit still.

Different Roads, Joe Cocker: Why don’t I have more of his music? I grew up with “Up Where We Belong,” and when I lived in France, I heard “You Can Leave Your Hat On” for the first time. This song is a sad one about the breakup we all hope to have. Must download immediately.

Lost Cause, Beck: Sounds like something I would have listened to in college during one heartbreak or another. (“Loser” was in heavy rotation in college.)

Oh, The Divorces, Tracey Thorn: how she manages to take the mundane details of divorce, like lost text messages and custody, sound so poetic, I’ll never know. And it sounds like a symphony behind her. Beautiful.

Give Me What I Cry For, Chris Rainbow: An 80′s flashback with a dash of the Carpenters.

Congratulations, Blue October & Imogen Heap: I have one song by Blue October, and now I need this one, too. The lead singer’s voice is rich, and paired with Imogen’s – it’s great.

Baby I, Amy Milan: Just enough country twang to make me nostalgic for my childhood.

The Luckiest, Ben Folds: Yet again, he plays piano, which I love, so why don’t I have any of his music. Beautifully written love song by a man who, says Luke, has been married four times.

Pink Moon, Nick Drake: Hard to believe that this song was released in 1972, (before I was born), and yet it sounds so current. What a loss for music that he died so young.

My Mistakes, Eleanor Friedberger: Makes me dance around in my chair.

Love Action, Human League: Oh, how I loved their song “Human!”

Burning in the Sun, Blue Merle: This is what he would sound like if Chris Martin was raised in Nashville instead of England.

Believe Again, Delta Goodrem: Sounds like a girl-band anthem. But a good one.

Pump It Up, Elvis Costello: The one, the only.

Paperweight, Joshua Radin & Schuyler Fisk: Are these two married? They should be. They should sing all their songs as duets. I love the mildly racy lyrics about messing up a bed.

Farewell, Rosie Thomas: A simple song – just a girl and her piano, conveying her heartbreak.

Love Love Love, Avalanche City: Is that a banjo? No matter. A jangly song that’s fun to listen to on a long walk.

When I’m Small, Phantogram: So glad that Luke plays all the good electronica I need to hear so I don’t have to go searching for it.

It Goes Like It Goes, Jennifer Warnes: Luke is not a fan of her song from “Dirty Dancing,” but I’m not sorry. I love that song more than this one.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Family, Max and Simon: Another antidote for a foul mood.

Natural Tune, Efterklang: Good song. That is all.

No Other Love, Chuck Prophet: KFOG plays his songs on occasion, and he’s had some songs on Live From The Archives. Must download everything he has ever done. Now.

Chasing Down The Rain, John Stewart: Don’t love this one.

Let The Love Back In, Orange Lights: Don’t love it.

After The Fire, Amy Grant: I do love her voice. Glad she moved away from the religious music.

Ghost In You, Gina Villalobos/Psychedelic Furs: You have to hear this to believe it.

Go download this podcast. Right now. Best ever.

Published in: on January 16, 2013 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Morning in Paris

If Paris is the world’s center of luxury, then the Place Vendôme could be the center of Paris’s luxury.  I stayed just a few blocks from the famous place, only because I scored a deal at a great hotel.  Every morning, I would walk past the world’s finest jewelers: Van Cleef & Arpel, Cartier, Boucheron, Bulgari…and the famous Hotel Ritz.

Each morning of my stay, I had breakfast at a quintessential Parisian café just a block away from all the diamonds in the Place Vendôme.  A tiny dog greeted customers at the door, not with a bark, but with a sniff and a wag of his tail.  A long bar, behind which Madame presided in her classic French twist and scarf.  The posted list of offerings, with two prices for each item, (one for those standing at the counter and one for those sitting at tables),was just over her left shoulder.

I chose a table and ordered a grand crème, (essentially a latte, made properly with whole milk), and a tartine, (a segment of baguette, sliced open, slathered with butter and served with preserves).  Madame repeated my order with a nod, then sauntered out from behind the bar and out the door, leaving me alone with her dog in her café.  Two minutes later, she returned with a baguette from the boulangerie next door.  I sat at my table, enjoying my breakfast and watching the neighbors troop in and out as part of their morning rituals.  The woman who dropped her coat at the bar, ordered an espresso, then stepped back outside in the cold to smoke a quick cigarette before returning to gulp her coffee.  Two young men, both dark haired and carrying black leather briefcases, stood at the bar and continued a debate that evidently started many blocks ago.  (About what, I didn’t understand.)  The older man, bent over his cane, whose hand shook each time he lifted his cup to his lips to take a sip.  He didn’t read Le Monde or chat with Madame, or even acknowledge the dog sitting quietly at his feet.  He simply drank his coffee.

That may be the greatest luxury in Paris.  Among the glittering jewels and fine clothing and breathtaking art is a small space to sit and enjoy a finely pulled espresso.

Published in: on January 13, 2013 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Time For New Years Resolutions

1.  Continue on the healthy path I established in 2012.  Eat and drink well.  And walk.

2.  Be inspired by the world.  Read good books.  Listen to good music.  Seek out good art.  Take classes and continue learning.

3.  Be a better friend.  Call more.  Write more.  Be present for their ups and downs.

4.  Write.  My journal, my novel, and this long-neglected blog.

5.  Make my home a sanctuary, and a welcoming place to friends & family.  Make it clean & tidy, with a pantry full of good things to eat & drink, and filled only with beautiful things that I love.

Happy 2013!

Published in: on January 6, 2013 at 9:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Need a new soundtrack

I have a love-hate relationship with gift cards.  Hate them when I give them, but love them when I receive them.  And for Christmas, I received some good ones.  One, from Barnes & Noble, from my boss, and another for Green Apple Books from a family friend.  My cousin gave me one from Peet’s, and I was so happy it wasn’t that other coffee chain.  But I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t receive an iTunes card, since I have such a long list of things I need:

  • Amos Lee has a new album out.  I think I need it.
  • Mat Kearney also has a new album out.  I need that one.
  • Cold Play, I hear, has a new album out.  I don’t love or hate them, but I’ve been liking the songs I’ve been hearing on radio.
  • Ryan Adams has a new album out.  I definitely need that one.
  • I saw Scars on 45 when they opened for Matt Nathanson a few months ago.  I was ambivalent about their music before I saw them live, but I liked their set, and they seem like nice kids.  I’d like to support them.
  • Gavin DeGraw has a new album out.  A while back I bought the “stripped” version of Chariot – acoustic versions of every song on the album.  I love it. And the poor guy got the snot kicked out of him.  Would like to support him, too.
  • I think Snow Patrol has something new?  Need that.
  • Doesn’t Rachel Yamagata have a new album?  Need that.
  • The Fray has a new album.  Need that.
  • What’s Keb’ Mo’ been up to?  I used to listen to him all the time.  Need to find out what’s new from him.
  • And, a guilty pleasure.  I used to love Richard Marx.  Back in the 80s.  And I happen to know that he has a greatest hits collection available.  What a fun trip down memory lane that would be.

I do have an iTunes card I won in an office raffle.  And today, at the suggest of a friend, I hauled what felt like a ton of pennies to Safeway to run through the Coinstar machine, and got $16 worth of credit.  That won’t cover my list, though.  How to choose>

Published in: on January 8, 2012 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Happy New Year!

Well, it’s 2012.  And looking back, I stuck to just one resolution, and that was to post every week.  I did not complete the manuscript of my novel, I did not read The Divine Comedy, and I did not even hang my artwork.  But I posted at least once a week.  And I’m going to recommit to the same thing in 2012.

All the best to you and yours for the new year.

Published in: on January 1, 2012 at 9:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sigh…the French…

When I was in France, I bought sheets.  A ridiculous purchase to make, but we were in the Souleiado store in St. Paul to pick up some napkins for my aunt.  The napkins that had been set aside for her were entirely wrong, and while my mom and the shop girl were figuring that out, I was upstairs, falling in love with a set of blue and white sheets.  I didn’t need sheets, and I certainly didn’t need such expensive sheets.  But there were there, and they were beautiful, and my mom and I worked out a deal that I would buy the pillow cases, she would buy the flat sheet and, since the store didn’t have the fitted sheet, we would try to find it online.

 Fast forward about a month, and we did find the fitted sheet through an online third party.  We ordered it, (to the tune of US$120 – ouch), and it arrived with a stack of paperwork and beautifully wrapped in brown paper with a sachet attached with ribbon.  We checked the paperwork – FedEx airbills and customs forms and invoices – and all looked correct.  My mom said that she would leave the sheet wrapped as it was for Christmas, since it was wrapped the way only the French can do it.

 This morning, I opened the brown paper and the first thing I saw was a glimpse of red.  My fitted sheet was red.  Red!  The correct pattern, but the wrong color.  The invoice said blue, (actually, indigo), but the sheet was red.

 Sigh.

 So we can either go through the rigamarole of trying to send it back.  Or, I can keep it and learn to live with contrasting sheets.  That would be easier than trying to explain this to a French company, non?

Published in: on December 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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