Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top Ten 2011

I did not think I would make it to liking ten whole rock albums this year, but it turns out I just made it. A somewhat abbreviated list:

10. I'm counting this one as the tenth because I'm not quite sure it counts as rock, even though I really enjoy it. yMusic's debut CD, Beautiful Mechanical, is instrumental--the ensemble encompasses players of the violin (and sometimes guitar), viola, cello, flute, trumpet, and clarinet. These fine folk appear on many a release in this top ten--if you ask me, they're the group to watch for the future of classical/rock hybrids. Beautiful Mechanical has playful tracks like "Proven Badlands," a rogue western by Annie Clark (aka Saint Vincent), a slightly Copland-inflected "Dawn Dance" by Judd Greenstein, and a bit of electric rock guitar composed by Gabriel Kahane. I was pleased to be a Kickstarter supporter of this album and receive a copy in the mail; the record release show at Rockwood was great fun and I only wished the album was longer.

9. I did not love all of Holcombe Waller's Into the Dark Unknown, but it certainly intrigued me. C.--, listening along with me one morning, assumed I'd been changing albums from song to song; indeed, they vary tremendously. There's the catchy "Risk of Change," haunting "Atlas" and hummable "Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan." I think perhaps Mr. Waller has confused unicorns with vampires in his track about one, but since he has a piercing voice and a creative lyric-writing style, I'll forgive him his Twilight-y trespasses. (Apparently he worked with Bryce Dessner in the past, too? Observant readers will sense a theme or two in this post.)

8. Paul Simon's new album, So Beautiful or So What, is not his best but that is an impossibly high bar. I love "Questions for the Angels," with its misty evocation of a walker on the Brooklyn Bridge; I wish I could whistle along to "Rewrite." Seeing him in concert in Philadelphia was incredible; I was pleased also to see Bang on a Can's Mark Stewart in his more famous capacity, and in awe of Simon's talented ensemble generally. I'm glad to see he's still rockin' after all these years.

7. My friend M.-- introduced me to Margot & the Nuclear So and So's (I think because I was so taken by their name). The Dust of Retreat helped fill the National-sized void in my new listening for much of the early year, with their dense instrumentation and deep voiced catchy songs. I found myself thinking, "I'm alive, and that's the best that I can do" on many a morning and musing about skeleton keys and paper kittens.

6. Broken Records, who I found in a Metafilter thread about music similar to The National's, also helped fill this void. Let Me Come Home eerily embodies the substance, if not quite the heart, of my favorite group's aesthetic, and provide a fine soundtrack for traipsing across a quiet botanical garden on an early fall morning. These fine 4AD labelmates of you-know-who caused me to ponder the fine line between similarity and imitation (though I do not really accuse them of copying The National; they've been around for a few years, and their sound is perhaps more High Violet-y than anything else).

5. Apparently I liked Bon Iver's new self-titled album more than I thought I did (or it was a tough year for me, musicwise; or, okay, probably both). I think the record suffered from a summertime release date; the music made me think of cold and rain and snow and in fact resonated more with me as winter (sort of) rolled around. It's all very 80s, but in a mostly not too cheesy way. I often muse on "Holocene"'s "once I knew I was not magnificent" lyric, and there's a nice rockin' out build-up in Calgary. I saw Bon Iver live in Prospect Park this summer and of course part of the highlight was seeing some members of good ol' yMusic violining, guitaring, and trumpeting away.

4. I'm having trouble ranking the next two, but let's put Frightened Rabbit's Year of Mixed Drinks here, if only because I came to it later in the year and I'm less familiar with Frightened Rabbit's output as a whole. If Broken Records embodies the letter of what I love about The National, Frightened Rabbit has the spirit, which I was beginning to suspect I would not see at all this year. The voice is very different but the drums and horns and such are the pure jolt that I get from, say, Bloodbuzz Ohio, and the static is truly a joyous noise. Frightened Rabbit and Broken Records (to say nothing of last-year favorite Belle and Sebastian) are both Scottish. Should The National move to Scotland? More saliently, should I?

3. I am in a somewhat special position to comment on My Brightest Diamond's All Things Will Unwind because I have watched its trajectory from premiere performance to full-fledged album. Shara Worden, labelmate and buddy of Sufjan Stevens and vocalist with Clogs and on The Long Count, has grown on me considerably, despite my natural aversion to operatic female vocalists. She's a talented songwriter as well as a powerful singer, and the tracks on All Things have a really eternal, classic feel. I love the trumpet solo (yes, courtesy of dear yMusic) on "High Low Middle" and the eerie drums of "Be Brave." From the Ecstatic Music Festival to River to River in Battery Park to the CD release party at Littlefield, I watched My Brightest Diamond's ascension from kooky colorful ensemble to full-scale costumed rock star extravaganza. I'm excited to see what they'll do next.

2. I had a song from Metric before (thanks, S.--!) but never appreciated the full-length brilliance of an album until I was sent Grow Up and Blow Away by M.--. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on a groggy morning, frantically trying not to be late, would not be the same without the pulsing backbeat of Metric. I can't choose just one favorite, usually letting most of the album wash over me in a propulsive stream. I love the cockiness of "On the Sly" and the soaring heights of "Soft Rock Star," the cryptic elegance of "The Twist." Even if I sometimes feel like I'm in a trendy Thai restaurant when I listen to "Rock Me Now," I wouldn't change a thing.

1. Surprising no one (certainly not surprising myself, anyway), my number-one album of the year is the long-awaited Where Are the Arms, by Gabriel Kahane. Ever since discovering his self-titled debut last year, I eagerly looked forward to his next album, reminding myself it was coming soon in what turned out to be a disappointing year for me, music-wise. Arms didn't disappoint, in both gorgeous studio recording and amped-up live performance. Opener "Charming Disease" grew from a simple piano piece that didn't really move me that much in a live performance to this year's most chilling, beautiful, and haunting piece. And of course Kahane is backed by a fabulous crew of rock/classical musicians (notice a theme here?) including my beloved yMusic. Nothing not to like, except for the time I went to a concert and forgot that the album has 11 tracks, not 13. I could sure use two more songs like these.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cherry Jones

Every time I go to Paulie Gee's, I muse that it would be a great restaurant for a date night. Though I've yet to take my significant other there, it provides a pleasant experience for a family meal as well. Rushing from Chanticleer's Christmas concert at the Met (the true harbinger of the holiday season), I vaulted up from the Greenpoint Avenue G platform, down the two blocks toward the river that bring Paulie Gee's in view, and into the cozy arms of the restaurant with its long wooden tables (I commented to my mom that the decor feels a bit like you're eating at someone's hunting lodge).

As with so many culinary adventures, I was spurred to try out Paulie Gee's pizza by a Serious Eats article about Paulie's rejection from a pizza job he applied for, followed by the remarkable success of his own restaurant. Throughout the whole story, you're struck by what a nice guy he is, and pleased he got the last laugh on the whole pizza-management thing.

To start with, you don't even need pizza. One of the dense salads--Gates of Eden with dried cherries, perfectly-sweetened walnuts, and little morsels of blue cheese; Chick Corea with chickpeas and tiny rings of pasta--will suit you just fine. Soup from Sea Bean (of "soup shot" fame at various markets around the city) is a perfect autumnal quaff for the end of November, with pumpkin and apple and squash oh my--not too dense and creamy, leaving you with room for the pizza.

The first time I tried a pizza, I split a Gates of Eden and the cleverly-named Anise and Anephew, with anisette cream, fennel, and guanciale, with my mom; I was delighted to have some leftovers which heated up surprisingly well in the toaster oven for lunch the next day. This time, we shared a Cherry Jones, and there was not a morsel of leftover to be had.

Cherry Jones contains, as I informed my parents at the table, all the essential food groups: fruit, pork, and cheese. A fior di latte pie with a hint of gorgonzola is topped with dried cherries (yum, them again) and prosciutto, as well as orange blossom honey, giving it a sweet creamy taste. Paulie himself came by the table to see how we liked things; I trust he was not disappointed by our response.

My mom, having scoped out the menu online, informed us there was an array of ice cream sundaes to be had; dutifully we contemplated the options and decided on a dark chocolate baconmarmalade (yup, it's what it sounds like) concoction, and put in for a Nutella and pear pizza as well. The sundae was tasty but not my favorite (Van Leeuwen's ice cream rarely fails to underwhelm, unfortunately); the pizza, a work of art, cut into 8 neat rectangles with a slice or two of pear lined up across each. My parents praised the pizza's lightness, suggesting it contained Nutella-based sauce, or a thin layer of the stuff; me, I felt it as the gut bomb it surely was, mouth thickened by hazelnut, but I could not complain.

Near the end of our meal, we had a nice chat with the pizza maker (I should mention we had a front-row seat on the assembly line of dough shaping, topping sprinkling, and massive wood-burning oven--exciting if a bit overly warm). It seems that many tourists from out of town come in to visit; and indeed the place was quite crowded for a Wednesday night. But we're neighbors, more or less, and my dad was pleased to finally drive down the Brooklyn end of the Greenpoint Avenue he's passed in Queens for decades. I trust we will make the journey again soon.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Two (more) tales of a city

I recently had the serendipitous good (?) fortune to read two tales of a future downtown New York back-to-back. You may not be surprised if I tell you that neither of them--Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story and Colson Whitehead's Zone One--is particularly optimistic about what's coming down the pipeline to us.

I have taken to describing Super Sad, which I read first, as Woody Allen meets the future. It is the story of mostly-endearing middle-aged Lenny, a Jewish guy terrified of death, living on the edge of the Lower East Side (quite a feat--most of the hip young folk had to migrate over to Staten Island), and Eunice, the much younger Asian lady he falls in love with. In Lenny and Eunice's world, technology and corporations rule the day. Everyone has an äppärät, a sort of glorified iPhone which will do fun things like tell you the entire life story of whoever it's pointed at and rank the people in a bar according to attractiveness. Just about every other character is scandalized by Lenny's love for "printed, bound media artifacts" with their funny smell and overly long stories that can't fit on a GlobalTeens screenshot. Meanwhile, as everyone frantically thumbs through their social media profiles, a sinister future is rising in the form of increased checkpoints, riots in public parks, and a shadowy security force. Oh, and China is the world financial leader as the US struggles to stay afloat. Sound vaguely familiar?

Zone One is more of a straightforward apocalypse story, where zombies ("skels," in Whitehead's world) have taken over--the country? the world?--while protagonist Mark Spitz and the other survivors try to maintain Zone One, carved out of lower Manhattan. Spitz and his comrades are sweepers, searching once-prime real estate for rabid skels and the somewhat less violent but no less disturbing stragglers, who remain caught in reveries of their everyday routines--the guy at the photocopier, the woman staring entranced at a television that hasn't switched on in a long, long time. Total meltdown skel-immersion is never far away.

Though I am generally not a fan of zombies (even if I once proofread a book about The Walking Dead), I wound up liking Zone One more than Super Sad. The breezy pace and charmingly oblivious and quixotic protagonist of Super Sad won me over for a while, but eventually his story dragged. Zone One, in contrast, never really picked up speed--but the beauty of Whitehead's sentences (which I've applauded before) is truly awe-inspiring, rendering any type of event rich and complex. It was almost too much for me--I was reminded of my college assertion that reading Nietzsche is like eating chocolate cake and reading the entire Genealogy of Morals at once is like eating a whole chocolate cake in one sitting--but I prevailed and grew to care for PASD (the A's for "Apocalyptic") survivor Spitz and his thoughtful, if at times confusing, interweaving of past and present events.

Writing style is certainly one reason for my preference (and one that shows off my winning erudite side, right, right?) but I suspect it's not the whole story for why Zone One sat easier with me. Shteyngart's no slouch in the writing department either, of course (I felt that the seven pages of rave reviews in the front of the book were a bit excessive, but I guess you should take advantage of what you got) but rather than imbuing me with the beauty of the city, no matter how tenuous, he gave me a jolt of visceral fear. Skels are scary but I don't really think they're coming for me. An äppärät, though, even for an avowed anti-smartphonist such as me? A security force ruling over the country while protesters holed up in parks fall prey to violence? It's only a matter of time.

Monday, November 7, 2011


I am fairly certain that in upcoming weeks Sons of Essex will become too crowded and trendy for the likes of me, but I will enjoy its relative obscurity until that time comes. After a three-hour bus ride from Philadelphia, it was a relief to sink into one of SoE's mismatched chairs and gobble up some complimentary cornbread and Lower-East-Side-born pickles. The aptly titled "Bowery Mission" with its Maker's Mark and honey peppercorn syrup further eased the way into a relaxing, speakeasy sort of end to a stressful ride.

The real star of the menu is probably the grilled cheese, a concoction so dense and buttery that the menu recommends it "for the table," rather than as a one-person meal. We had the truffle variety, and I never met a mushroom I didn't like; on other days, there's apple, Cuban, a whole promising array. The grilled cheese comes with a little cast-iron pot of tomato soup for dipping (Brussels sprouts and caraway-flavored cabbage also come in these nice compact vessels)--perfect comfort food. The ambiance, too, is comforting, hidden behind a deli storefront and full of wood, books, and portraits that look imbued with historical significance. I can imagine settling in here on a snowy winter day and being reluctant to enter the outdoors again.

My "entree" (technically an appetizer, but we ordered so many things to share that a real main seemed daunting) was less sensational than the grilled cheese but tasty in its own right. Regular readers of this blog will know I can never turn down chicken and waffles, a technique that can occasionally backfire but usually works out just fine, as it did at SoE. The hen in my hen and waffles was perhaps no Riverpark fried chicken, but the skin was flavorful and the meat moist. I liked the way the three pieces nested, Russian-doll-like, on top of the waffle. And the waffle itself wasn't your usual overdone giant monstrosity (or an Eggo like the winsome Queens Comfort's) but instead a sweet bite, gaufre liegeois-style. A nice dense twist on a perennial favorite of mine.

The dessert menu looked tasty, but we were too full. Never too full to pick up a cupcake, though--in fact, I'm ashamed to say that cupcakes are how I heard of SoE in the first place--and I look forward to eating the chocolate graham cracker cake later today, but for now it is nestled in a perfect little cupcake-sized container, a perfect analogue to the cozy space of the restaurant itself, if you will.

Friday, October 28, 2011

How 'bout them apples?

Perhaps you're not crazy enough to detour to Midtown in the middle of the lunch rush. Luckily, you know someone who is, and I will be your guide to what turned out to be a more or less successful gambit. Despite a long wait for a 4 train and not one but two poundingly loud pandhandling drummers, I made it to the 41st St. branch of Cambodian sandwich shop Num Pang just in time to grab lunch, wolf it down, and make it back to the office.

I was not wild about Num Pang's 12th St. location, which I tried twice, but the Midtown one had some special sandwiches that sounded intriguing. Plus ginger apple cider with bourbon-soaked apple chunks. Perfect for a crisp fall excursion. I did not pick the fig and bacon sandwich (shame on me?) but instead opted for the roast chicken. I liked that you can place your order at a window outside; waiting in a long crowded not-well-demarcated line just to get my order in fills me with an nameless existential dread. Inside, it was crowded, and the order numbers weren't exactly called out sequentially, but I got my cider instantly--the ginger burning a bit while the soft apple chunks glide gently down--and leaned on the counter with Zone One (demi-subject of a new post soon) in hand.

When the sandwich arrived, I removed the fresh-looking-yet-vile cucumbers (sorry, cuke fans) and awkwardly maneuvered to eat (sure wish Num Pang had some seating). The roast chicken was just right, clean on the inside and a little bit crispy on the skin. The standard cilantro and carrots mixed with it pretty well, somewhat to my surprise; I couldn't really sense anything special about the chili yogurt mayo. The pickled apple slices sure were tasty. Next time I don't have any company for lunch, I may well had back into the lunchtime hordes of the 40s and see if there's a fig or a turkey sandwich with my name on it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Warm me up, buttercup

If you are feeling chilly and a bit under the weather early on an October morning, you could do worse than hop the train to Iris Cafe. Several blocks and a world away from the bustle of Borough Hall (and the kerfuffle that ensues on all green trains when a 6 derails), it's a quiet little shop with a Brooklyn Bridge-shaped bench in front. They're out of blackcurrant apple cider, unfortunately, and the cappuccino has maybe a bit of a medicinal aftertaste (something about trendy Stumptown never quite does it for me). But stir a packet of brown sugar into your caramel apple oatmeal and sense the sun rising ever higher over the Heights, and you'll feel better already.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

All things will unwind

A last minute change of plans...and a perfect fall day for a walk. Check it out!

Ooookay, I didn't walk from Crown and New York to Fulton and Nostrand the first time 'round, but I did walk everyplace else. Shara Worden is a good walking companion; I like All Things Will Unwind and it's suitably autumnal, but I'm not intimidated to play it the way I am when faced with Gabriel Kahane's Where Are the Arms, the way I vaguely feel about all music I love. Last night at a party someone told me they listened to High Violet while writing papers. Yikes! I can put on a trouper like All Things as a sort of graceful background hum, but The National requires some attention.

On my walk, I had some food woes but whoever invented the almond chocolate croissant is a genius. The cafe with the five different flavors of apple cider is promising, too. It is good to walk down Eastern Parkway to the library in the fall with a warm cider in your hand and a song in your ears.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's a nuclear show and the stars are gone

I've never broken into Broken Social Scene, but I do like some of its associated acts including Stars, introduced to me by the lovely S.--. I got a ticket to see them at the Music Hall of Williamsburg tonight and I was ultimately glad that I did, though it took me a while to warm up to the show.

Part of the difficulty stemmed from technical issues. Last time I went to MHW, to see the Hold Steady with I.--, I was nearly deafened. I have been to plenty of loud concerts but no others where my ears were still ringing the next morning. So I picked up a pair of the handy-dandy earplugs that MHW sells at the bar, which did the trick...sort of. They dampened the sound effectively but did not, of course, account for the woeful bass thump. I am not sure if all shows, or all MHW shows, are like this, but I couldn't hear a damned thing over the rattling in my bones from the amps. So I suffered--grantedly, in a non-deaf manner--through the opening band and some Stars songs I didn't know so well.

But when the ones I did know came on, I wound up ditching the earplugs for the rest of the show (which was not remotely as loud as the Hold Steady's in any event). Stars is one of those bands where I don't love or even like every song, but a few are really stunning. In particular, two of them run the full range of emotion for me. "Dead Hearts" always makes me want to cry; tonight's version, midway through the show, was no exception. Other songs--"We Don't Want Your Body," "One More Night" in the encore--were fun to rock out to. Amy Millan's voice can be truly eerie, which must help when you've most recently released an album about ghosts, including the haunting "Changes." And Torquil Campbell can hold a note with the best of them; his performance had me thinking of Stephin Merritt's glorious crescendoing conclusion to "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side."

"Changes," several songs into an encore, seemed like a high note to end on, but then Stars launched into "Elevator Love Letter," which has got to be one of the songs that fills me with the most joy--a perfect counterpoint to "Dead Hearts." I walked to the L humming the tune, not even minding the crush of hipsters and the latening hour.

Friday, October 7, 2011

And an Elvis redux

Last week I had some time to kill before seeing The (very impressive) Lion King on Broadway with a friend, and found myself wandering the East Village in search of a good dinner. I quickly remembered that 7th Street and St. Marks Place are really exemplary for this sort of mission. Caracas Arepas Bar, site of my main course, unfortunately did not live up to my hopes and dreams. I've had this experience there before, but I'm always hoping it'll turn around, because, hey, a restaurant devoted to one of my favorite foodstuffs can't be all bad, right? Alas, my reina pepiada was not so good as the one I got at another (lamentably closed) arepa joint in Williamsburg; the chicken and avocado were mixed together in a scoop of tuna-salad-like texture, cold and with a bite of some aftertaste I couldn't quite place but didn't like.

Upon leaving to peer in the window of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck's new shop, I realized I should've gone to Porchetta, of course--no doubt that sublime perfection of a sandwich deserves its own point--but just as well, because I couldn't bring myself to tell C.-- I'd gone there without him.

Instead of Big Gay Ice Cream I opted for a People's Pop from the stand they set up near the corner of 7th and 1st; I got the apple pie flavor, with whipped cream swirled within its boundaries; it was a refreshing take on a usually warm and comforting dessert.

But I didn't even realize my best luck until Monday morning, when I ate a final confection I'd kept aside for breakfast. Jane's Sweet Buns is an East Village newcomer featuring cinnamon buns inspired by cocktails. A blueberry bun would not disappoint; but for the true decadent sublime you really need a bun sandwich. Which I consumed with relish at my desk during the post-weekend blues, letting the peanut butter and bacon drip out into the spilled milk bowl R.-- got me for my birthday. Like the leftover fried chicken from Riverpark I was lucky enough to make my lunch on Friday, this Elvissy bun rendered all other breakfast options woefully obsolete.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Hidden between 1st Avenue and the FDR on a hospital-filled stretch is a secret I can just about bring myself to share with you. Part of Tom Colicchio's restaurant empire ('Wichcraft sandwiches in the Lincoln Center atrium, anyone?), Riverpark looks out on the East River at the end of an elegant stone-paved street. It's housed within a glass office building, abutting a farm patch that grows vegetables for the restaurant on a long-stalled construction site. Entering the vestibule with my parents, I feel like a millionaire--it seems like all the hostesses and waiters know them, make excited conversation, eagerly bring us our menus as we settle in beneath the tiny ceiling lights like stars.

Riverpark has a main menu that reminds me of my neighborhood class act The Farm on Adderley, full of chicken and pork and fish and steak with seasonal veggie accompaniments. It also boasts an exciting cocktail menu and a separate bar menu of food. Someone, and I won't name any names, perfidiously informed me that the bar menu items are small and so I should order an appetizer; I chose a consommé salad, a delicate bed of greens over which the waiter poured a dark fragrant mushroom broth. The bread rolls were crisp, warm, and delicious, especially with a dab of butter. In honor of C.-- I ordered Riverpark's take on a Manhattan, the (West of), studded with apple brandy and cocoa and chile bitters. Waiting for the main course to unfold, we chatted with my parents' many fans (my mom suspects they have mistaken her for a princess) and took in the dark but still commanding view of the Long Island City skyline.

And then the main course arrived--what I'm told were delicious burgers, with certainly delicious fries; and my own perfect fried chicken and biscuits. The chicken was moist and its fried covering perfectly seasoned and flavorful; the biscuits fluffy and perfect with a coating of fresh butter and honey enhanced by black pepper flecks. A messy and even more fulfilling option was to join their forces, open-faced sandwich style; I was glad of my napkins.

More bread was offered; alas, I had to decline. I could barely finish my plate, even after giving one of the three chicken pieces and a smattering of biscuit to my parents; but I somehow found the strength to soldier on. Dishes cleared, a waiter proffered the dessert menu--sounded divine, but I couldn't possib--and they brought out the
pièce de résistance, three free desserts for us to share. My father didn't lie; the vanilla cream for the beignets was probably the airiest, tastiest part of the ensemble. The lemon steamed pudding with blueberry ice cream was tart and delicate. A couple of tiny homemade oreos on the side of the pot de crème didn't hurt either.

I left so full of food and thanks I swore I would never eat again. Those who raised me expressed their doubts, however.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


While a friend's friend once apparently called me "bubbly," that's hardly an adjective I'd use to describe myself. But there is certainly a place for bubbles, and that place is bubble tea. I've sampled many over the years, mostly in Chinatown, and just wanted to bring to your attention a nice new place I've been to a few times called Bubbly Tea. While I've not yet tried the eponymous effervescent beverage, I have tasted a few others, including a pretty good strawberry iced tea with actual strawberry pieces and, today, an Oreo milk tea. I got it since I was craving an Oreo drink (somehow the cookies are so much better blended than on their own) and, after my previous experience with a taro milk, was pretty sure it'd taste like straight up cookies and milk.

To my pleasant surprise, it tastes not only of Oreos but also distinctly of black tea. Perfect thing to comfort and revitalize in the midst of this cranky weather we've been having.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oh what a beautiful morning

As I've stated elsewhere, it enrages me that major news outlets have begun harping on the MTA for not reimbursing unlimited-ride MetroCard users for the, oh, 40 hours or so of suspended service this weekend. What would that refund constitute exactly? $4.50 at most? Generally I am all in favor of commuters/New Yorkers/people in general not being ripped off by the services they pay for, but I can't imagine that $4.50 (or perhaps $9 at the absolute most, if you're commuting to and from work both Saturday and Sunday, and that is a carefully calculated exactly-used portion of your $104/month MetroCard) is really going to put that much of a dent in people's finances. I would rather have the MTA work toward keeping the system maintained, not kicking off a new spate of fare hikes or service reductions, completing the 2nd Avenue line, possibly restoring old lines, yadda yadda yadda, than figure out how to repay many of its commuters a small sum which they probably didn't spend anyway, since nobody was getting out much in the middle of a hurricane alert. Even my You with me, anyone?

But I digress. I was going to tell you about waking up accidentally extra early this morning, taking a look at the blue blue sky, and deciding to hit up Brooklyn Roasting Company in DUMBO, which I'd been meaning to try for a while. Alas, I had my own MetroCard woes, attempting to board the shortcut bus to Prospect Park West and its convenient F station, only to discover my monthly card had expired. One MetroCard gripe I do have--which is not the fault of the MTA--is that we formerly had yearly cards at work; now, we have a sort of special-use debit card with which we have to buy cards every 30 days. I am forever forgetting when exactly my previous card will run out, and it's a small yet bothersome environmental tic of the system that you have to replace your card each month, rather than refill it. So, booted off the bus in ignominy, I walked to the F at Church, worrying all the while that I'd be late for work but trying to focus on the trees and houses in all their morning glory.

Of course, once I purchased my card, I'd just missed an F, but hopped on the next train, a G, and luxuriated in the symphony of open seats around me. A quick hop skip and a jump to the incoming F at Bergen, down a few streets, and I reached Brooklyn Roasting Company. To my pleasant surprise (and these things should be givens, but they're shocks these days), the guy behind the counter was extremely friendly and helpful (surely more so than any real human can be around 8 in the morning) and my iced coffee was a mouthwatering $2 for 16 ounces. Of course, I am mostly off coffee these days because of the headaches, but have discovered through slow experimentation that half a cup every once in a while isn't going to kill me.

To my delight, it was only just rounding 8:15 by the time I left the Roasting Co, so I got to walk across the bridge to work, something I have not done for some time. Just like I remembered, Metric provides the right propulsive rhythm for purposeful walking (thanks again, M.--!), and so I found myself at work 15 minutes early, ready to take on this beautiful Wednesday.

I will also add, as the last third of this haphazard post, that I've been thinking a lot about how all too soon it will be dark once I leave work, and also about a variety of life-bettering things I really would like to be doing. So my tentative goal is to take five of them and do one each weekday, starting when the clocks change if not before. This will include biking, jogging, cooking, and picking up the piano again, as well as the above-mentioned bridge walks. Let's hope that telling you about it will give me extra incentive to follow through.

Monday, August 29, 2011

To infinity and beyond

I've finally thrown myself into reading Rebecca Solnit's Infinite City, a "San Francisco atlas" that contains maps and their accompanying cultural histories of every juxtaposition from gay men and butterflies to gourmet stores and toxic waste. It's a beautiful and thought-provoking book--some of the historical anecdotes, and the way they map onto the larger city, are truly unexpected and remarkable. Something that's always on my mind, though, is the evolution of reading from page to screen. In a recent development, a publisher I work for has launched a sort of digital extras program, where purchasing a physical book grants you access to a range of additional material on your computer (essays about historical context and the like). I have nothing but respect for the way my employer is constantly redefining the face of literary publishing, and I hope they succeed in this venture. But when my mother told me she'd read about it in the paper, my first response was, I don't want my book to come with digital extras.

That this is my perspective will come as no surprise to any of you who've read this blog, or talked to me, before. But I see it coming up again and again. Take Paul La Farge, who I just heard about through McSweeney's and whose novels I'd like to read. But his newest is set to contain all sorts of hypertextual branchings and careenings. As with my employer, I think it's admirable to pursue new literary directions, but when I sit down with a book, I just want to READ it.

And so I have a bit of trouble with Infinite City, even though I understand that what I'm calling a drawback is also a selling point. Solnit and her contributors refer to so many places, people, and historical events that I feel like I can't fully enjoy the atlas without a search engine at my beck and call. It's a book I'll read by the computer, not one I will carry around and love on the subway, in a crowded cafe, or walking down the street. I think it's great that my eyes have been opened to so many new things. But--and you can tell me I'm just being lazy here--I wish the book itself provided a little bit of background for me. For every allusion I delved into deep (like Clover Stornetta's brilliant labels), five others could've been cleared up with a quick biographical aside, which would enable me to enjoy the book in its own right, not as a portal to filling my head with wikipediaed information about San Francisco.

Of course, that's what I deserve for picking a book with a name like Infinite City.

What do you think, reader? Do you like your books to be integrated with a set of material not contained within them, or with the wider world?

As a postscript, I should add that two recent examples of interwoven works that I do feel were worth the investment of page sifting and computer access (though they daunted me for a long time) are David Foster Wallace's befootnoted Infinite Jest and Alex Ross's 20th-century musical history The Rest Is Noise with its invaluable listening excerpts on the author's website. But this isn't what I look for in most of my (escapist?) reading material.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Usually I don't think much about marshmallows. I can't even remember the last time I had one in hot chocolate. (I prefer the excessively-cream-filled Italian version at Max Brenner, and the marshmallow at City Bakery costs $1 extra or something like that and is a bit overly rich anyway. Have I mentioned that when I got a hot chocolate there, I didn't want to eat anything else for the next 24 hours?) But yesterday I had a banana fluffernut from Kitty Lee Thomas Sweets, via Robicellis' store in the oh-so-conveniently-located Dekalb Market, and I was forced to reconceptualize my view of the dessert I'd previously disdained.

I was definitely skeptical about paying $2 for a marshmallow, but I've had peanut butter on the brain lately for some reason (as you may've noticed in the Elvis sequence of posts), and it looked so enticing there in the case, next to its larger cupcake brethren, all covered in banana flakes and chocolate. And $2 is costly for a marshmallow but would not exactly break the bank if I only did it once...

And what a marshmallow it was! It was great in stature and took just as much time to eat and appreciate as a cupcake, if not even more, no doubt eliciting grumpy looks from my fellow train waiters. The combination of the crunchy peanut buttery outside and the squishy marshmallow interior was a refreshing blend of textures. The banana chips especially enhanced the overall experience. This isn't something you'd toss into a hot chocolate as an afterthought; it's a dessert in its own right, like a tiny cake, maybe one of the round ones from Black Hound Bakery that I enjoyed so much in high school. I'm sure I don't need to be adding any more sweets to my diet (there's not enough time and stomach space as it is) but it sure is tempting to walk myself across the Brooklyn Bridge and get another...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Triple play

And let's not forget the third Elvis, from Stellina--a gelato joint just close enough to make a round trip on lunch break. This Elvis isn't as banana-bacony; instead, it's a honey-based gelato with peanut brittle. Probably the most refreshing of the bunch. Doesn't go half bad with the chunky Stellina (raspberry ice cream, raspberry jam, and white-chocolate-covered waffle cone pieces) either.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The world is alive with the taste of...Elvis?

I'm not a big fan of the music of the King like my dad. But I have enjoyed the proliferation of Elvis flavors at sweet spots boroughwide. This week I in fact partook of two Elvissy treats, in the form of cupcake and ice cream. The first, from perennial favorite Robicellis, is a banana cupcake with peanut butter icing and little bits of bacon on top. Robicellis' peanut butter icing is divine, melting and delicious--probably my favorite flavor, despite the fact that I don't usually like peanut butter baked goods. The banana cake is good, too, dense and muffinlike, more complex than mere vanilla or chocolate. The bacon is just a hint, and mixes well with the more sweet components--whoever said bacon is the candy of meats is right on the money.

More distinctive, if slightly less sublime in my opinion, is Ample Hills' Elvis ice cream. At a Sufjan Stevens concert in Prospect Park, between waving my venue-offered glowstick around and watching the bewinged, beneoned Mr. Stevens and his array of musician, dancer, and blow-up-balloon friends, I made my way over to the AH ice cream cart. I had been to their store twice before (the first for strangely bitter salted caramel ice cream; the second to discover with dismay that they were sold clean out) and was pleased to see the cart in the park alongside hometown favorite The Farm on Adderley's savory options. The Elvis ice cream is intense--the richness of peanut butter followed instantaneously by the creamy banana with (perhaps too large) a heap of bacon bits layered in for crunch.

I don't know about ghosts and Graceland but I'm pretty sure the spirit of Elvis is alive and well in Brooklyn.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pork! aaaand

David Ives Foreplay (or the Art of the Fugue) reference in the title aside, it's hardly weather for miniature golf. Probably not weather for walking many blocks on your lunch hour to get a sandwich either, especially a heavy one. But Oxley's British-style pork sandwich is delicious. The bun looks small and hamburgerish, but winds up with a nice crisp texture except for when the pork begins to sink in. The pork itself is freshly carved and surely dripping with enough fat to keep you full for days; it's finished off with some spicy slaw (not too spicy but hits the spot, even for those of us who aren't really into coleslaw) and apple chutney. Alas, they have no seating area but you can relocate to the benches in front of McNally Jackson and admire some new book titles as you eat. Or, y'know, contemplate the idea of getting Oxley's to deliver next time, so you can stay in your office and avoid the 95+ degree heat.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A spot of tea

Today I'll talk about Steve's Ice Cream. I first tried a diminutive "mini" scoop of strawberry ricotta from Steve's at New Amsterdam Market. For an early Sunday morning, that was about as much ice cream as I wanted, and it was creamy and maybe not outstanding, but pretty darn good. So I kept in mind that Steve's was opening a store in midtown, and then, apprised by R.-- that it had opened, determined to set my sights on it.

When I arrived at the 42nd Street shop, most of the flavors were sold out. I decided to go with Tea Time, with black tea and orange, which sounded like the most interesting of the remaining options. I was a bit wary because it has a coconut cream base, and I'd had some dreadful coconutty concoctions in the past. But my fears came to naught, and it was smoky and spicy and orangey and refreshing for a 90-whatever-degree day, particularly when paired with a chocolate-hazelnut Ovenly cookie. Did I mention Steve's is one of those places that sells a whole host of trendy Brooklyn-local items?

All in all, a great success, especially since I dropped in between work and work-softball, and at the softball game I had my first run of the season. I'll have to go to Steve's to pregame again soon.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Just peachy

You may know (particularly if you are A.--) how much I love Robicelli's cupcakes, which change on a weekly and seasonal basis and are purely delicious. They're sold at a variety of fancyfood shops around Brooklyn and Manhattan and yesterday, since I was heading for Battery Park to see a concert (the strange charismatic Shara Worden with my-favorite yMusic), I thought I'd check out Battery Place Market...

Where I wrongly accused the guy behind the counter of giving me the wrong cupcake, only to find out that he had given me an extra! The tastes of peach cobbler and peach bellini nicely bookended the concert, even if I missed the Goldilocks moment of cupcake eating--the one I ate immediately's buttercream was a bit chilly, and the latter's, melted. Still and all, what better taste to accompany a temperate summer night looking out across the harbor?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Vroom (a belated post about July 4th)

There's no better way to celebrate America than to head over to Hill Country Chicken for a Texas wrap. Fried and decadent, it's filled with chicken and avocado. Normally I don't like the whole coleslaw business but HC ameliorates it with slivered almonds. The whole sandwich is drippy and juicy and Southern-good.

As another all-American accompaniment there's my read of the day, Earl Swift's The Big Roads. What's more American than a giant system of highways? Seriously, can't think of anything. Though as you will know I don't drive or like cars or or or...I find the book an interesting counterpoint to reading along the rails. Plus it can be a fun read--example tidbit: Upon having to retire, Thomas MacDonald, former driving force (har har) behind much of the system of interstate highways, allegedly tells his secretary, "I've just been fired, so we might as well get married." And then of course there's daredevil Carl Fisher, creator of the Indy track and stuntrider of bikes and cars galore.

Fried chicken, entrepreneurship, the thrill of the open road. It's all as American as appl--well, let's say double cherry pie, the perfect end to a perfect Fourth dinner.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Say cheese

An out-of work-early Friday is a good time to make your way out to Astoria and hipster-new Queens Kickshaw. Last, and first, time I came here I took my parents and had the curious gouda sandwich complete with guava and black bean—pretty good!—as well as a iced matcha tea. Now they’re apparently equipped with a full beer-and-cider menu, and open ’til 1 AM, so I am looking forward to coming back for that.

Today is simpler though—just a blueberry shrub for me. I hadn’t heard of shrubs before but apparently they are a sort of sparkling juice drink with vinegar. Pale pink and refreshing, it’s just the thing to accompany you at a copper table at the back of a countertopped wooden room while you reread the next installment in your old favorite Bad Girls. Oh, the drama of middle school. Much better to witness it from this cozy corner.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Feast of (Regularly) Kings

So I decided I'd like to get back into writing a little bit more, and what better way to do it than to write about food? I said to C.-- yesterday that I'd call this section of the blog Feast of Kings because the eats would come from Brooklyn, but of course the inaugural post isn't going to come from Brooklyn at all, so I present to you:

Feast of (Regularly) Kings or FoRK.

Last week on Serious Eats, where I no doubt will get many of my future inspirations, I read about the breakfast sandwich from Cheeky's on the Lower East Side. I'd first been to this Louisiana-style sandwich place with M.--, who told me about it last year. We met for lunch and I had a tasty fried chicken biscuit. But it's a little bit of a trek for lunchtime so I was glad to realize there was a breakfast option as well. If I actually got out of bed when I tend to wake up in the morning (about 45 minutes before my alarm goes off), then there'd be plenty of time to pick up a sandwich before work. Which is exactly what I did this fine morning, walking at the blue beginning of an early summer day from the B train to Orchard Street to friendly blue and white Cheeky's. While waiting for my sandwich, I read (appropriately enough) Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, a detective novel I'm enjoying set in, yep, New Orleans. Though I've never visited that city (I would like to), I felt I could almost imagine myself there, amidst Claire's talk with wheelers and dealers and the warm smell of freshly cooked bacon.

At my desk I unwrapped the sandwich. It's on a nice dense biscuit, and the bacon, as Serious Eats reported, is of a good consistency. There is a bit higher of an eggs-to-rest-of-sandwich ratio than I'd like, but then, I haven't been a huge fan of scrambled egg sandwiches ever since I ate one while I was sick a couple years ago. (Not that it made me sick, mind, but the association is still there somehow.) The layer of muenster cheese at the bottom of the sandwich goes a ways toward making up for the eggs--glorious flashbacks to the muenster bagel lunch days of high school past. Overall, the sandwich is salty and peppery and would probably be washed down better with the chicoried very creamy coffee that Cheeky's sells than the diet orange soda I've got in the fridge here...but I've given up coffee because of the headaches. But that's a story for another feast...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sunrise Park

On 37th Street there’s no sidewalk next to the cemetery, so you walk alongside the railyard. The windowless train car—“not in service” where a letter bubble ought to be—approaches, dragging its chain of flatbeds, and a man steps out like it’s the front door of his house. He climbs down, picks up something from the tracks I can’t quite see, and gets back on board, easing up to the end of the line. More “not in service” cars proliferate, then the yellow-and-black striped work cars, some red-and-white ones. Notices on the sides warn that no crew member is to get on a crane car while in motion. A crane car! The cranes are slumbering, though, in the early morning heat, alongside the warren of trailer cars and mysterious little boxy buildings. A D train emerges out of the greenery on the other side of the yard, heading for the elevated tracks of New Utrecht Road. Not so delightful as my favorite Old New Utrecht Road, but not half bad.

Heading downslope, the railyard expands until you reach the open gates. An orange security guard sits idle near the entrance. So many people are out sitting on stoops and ledges this morning, and it’s not even 8. What do they do all day? The headstones sit, too, awash in foliage, neat wrought-iron signs denoting idyllic lanes. Not to be outdone, the railyard has a sign too: Burma Road, it announces, black letters on white.

Last week, filming for Men in Black III rendered downtown Brooklyn years younger, proliferating vintage subway signs and the borough’s old blue-and-white street markers. Stepping off the bus and noticing the first green subway entrance, still dazed with sleep, I did a double-take, half-believing I’d entered another world. The railyard too is another world, less artificial but just as unusual. Coming out onto Fourth Avenue—oh, okay—I reenter reality: crush of the N train, tunnel, Brooklyn Bridge. The day’s already heating up but somewhere work trains still rest within the shade.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Go cars go

I generally feel that it is a positive life choice that I've been spending less time writing here and more time reading up on relevant issues, but sometimes the reading makes me want to bang my head against a wall.

My feelings about cars are surely nothing new, but my knowledge of laws about them has increased. Ah well, I don't know about you guys and your gas holidays, but I hope to take my bike out for a spin this Memorial Day weekend (in which Governor's Island, site of my rediscovered love for cycling, reopens).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Like, totally epic, dude

Greetings, gentle blogging public!

Spring is here, and you know what that means. Epic bike rides of danger! Now that the weather is nice, as is wont to occur for about two weeks before you hit the DOOM period of summer, I am excited to see how I can travel my adopted lands of Brooklyn faster and more wide-rangingly than ever before. (No voyages to my more-fraught ancestral Manhattan yet--I'm working on it.) It's fun to go all the way around Prospect Park in a tiny fraction of the time it'd take to walk. It's less fun to p-u-s-h the wheeled contraption, pedaling pathetically, up the steep stretch to Grand Army Plaza...but then how glorious to sail clear down all of Prospect Park Southwest. The newfound weather means I have to adjust to many other (much more talented) bikers competing for space with me--believe me, this didn't happen on Christmas morning. They can imbue the whole enterprise with a whole new set of hazards. On the plus side, I don't clutch the brakes as much on the downstretch anymore, noticing that even when I push poor Bikesilver down the hill as fast as its little wheels can toddle, the Real Cyclists effortlessly pass us by.

And then there are the adventures of leaving the park. On Friday, in search of a mint julep cupcake (I know, I know), I took my old tutoring route down to 9th Street, pausing to rage at a school bus parked in the bike lane. I did not find the grail at creperia Crespella so I decided to go to Tazza in Brooklyn Heights. Next time I tell you, "Oh, hey, I think I'll ride down 5th Avenue because there's a bike lane!" kindly kidnap my bike and refuse to return it until I rethink my folly. Cutting across Park Slope and Cobble Hill in Friday rush traffic is no joke. Luckily, I arrived in Brooklyn Heights not too much the worse for wear (other than having to get out and walk the bike because of a traffic jam, nearly causing my own bike jam with a sudden stop, and almost running over two snarky girls who refused to move out of my lane). I ate my prize cupcake--delicious candied mint leaf!--and steeled myself for the uphill battle of return.

Luckily, the way back was less fraught with danger (except for the car that wanted to pass me on Henry Street and couldn't). I even made it up most of the Park Slope slope without stopping. Back home I picked up an enormous tube of goat cheese and some fresh blueberries, matched them with my leftover spinach, and ate a dinner of champions.

Over the weekend, taking a rest from bikes, I hit up the New York Botanical Garden in all its azalea glory, saw a couple of shows with my parents (a Shostakovich/Stoppard bill at Carnegie Hall and the hilarious David-Ives-adaptation-of-The-Misanthrope School for Lies). The rest of that goat cheese wound up in what I've taken to calling my Passover cheesecake because it failed to rise as anticipated.

Yesterday, more or less recovered from Friday's travels, I took a half-hour spin around the neighborhood. I hope to attempt another epic ride soon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Waffling back and forth

Isn’t there something delicious about the idea of chicken and waffles? Redolent of delicious baked goods, pure maple syrup, perfectly spiced and crisped and tender chicken…but that’s just the idea. In practice, chicken and waffles are a much drier affair. From Harlem to the stands of the Pennsylvania Dutch, I’ve always been disappointed with the results. Doughy waffles, overfried chicken with the bones left in, and the most dreadful woe of woes, fake maple syrup. But I keep wishing and hoping, finding myself lured into ordering this most promisingly decadent of dishes from brunch menus.

So thank goodness I’ve found Astoria’s Queens Comfort. I hope you will not think less of me if I tell you I first heard of the restaurant because they serve Robicellis’ delicious cupcakes. I took the Queens-resident R.—’s there a couple weeks ago for dinner and really enjoyed the crispy pork with my namesake grits, as well as the couple of blueberry sourcream biscuits we all split and the bubbly soda Iron Brew (not to be confused with Irn-Bru). So imagine my joy to find that brunch tasted even better. Raving to C.—, my gracious companion in the multiborough trek, I declared that it was the best brunch I’ve ever tasted. Half a week out, I still believe it. In any event, it embodied all of my chickeny, wafflish dreams.

In an unexpectedly successful move, QC sandwiches the chicken in Eggo waffles. Rather than detracting from my expectation of homemade goodness, I found that the lighter, crispier nature of Eggos enhanced the experience, thin enough to actually eat with a bite of chicken, but still able to soak up the melting maple butter (maple butter!!) without collapsing into a soggy mess. A large piece of fried chicken comprises the sandwich meat (though good luck eating this maple-dripping concoction with your hands), gently crispy, not overdone, full of fresh white meat. And underneath the chicken was the true genius of the thing.

You might call me a heretic for asking, but aren’t some brunch foods just too sweet? French toast buried in syrup, compote, and powdered sugar. Pancakes drowning in chocolate chips, waffles awash in fresh fruit. In dazzling contrast, enter the light note of—that’s right—Tabasco sauce undercutting the sweetness of the waffles, mixing with the maple butter for a whole new sensation. It made me want to run to the kitchen and start feverishly experimenting with sweet and spicy concoctions of my own.

I’ll say that the dish wasn’t as much of a gut bomb as I expected, but I have to admit I didn’t eat the whole thing, delicious as it was. There was plenty to share with C.—, even for a greedy foodie such as me. I had been afraid that the $8 price meant it would be a tiny delicate sandwich, but I was gloriously proven wrong. My only disappointment with QC is that it's located so far away from my cozy Brooklyn home. Then again, the weather is ripe for exploring and I think it's time to learn more about Queens, don't you?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Om nom nom

O dear reading public, would you be interested in restaurant reviews/recommendations if I posted them here? It has come to my attention that this may be interesting to some. Please let me know if you would read such an endeavor and I will get on it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Patchwork homecoming in early spring

I. F train climbing the viaduct:

(from Maggie Nelson's "Subway in March, 5:45 PM)

I take the long way home, knowing
I am free to choose happiness

or wander off into the tunnel...

... all I want is to stay focused on everyday life

What other kind of life is there?
All the world knows it, it's a miracle

The blue womb of evening
The nimble sparrow, the smug duck in the pond

The eruption of flowering quince
O shackle us to the rock of it

we will try to love each other
though there's wind on our heads

and we cannot read minds
The train jumps above ground

and stripes the car in gold light
It's the light of early spring

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I should've really called that post "A pilgrim on a pilgrimage walked across the Brooklyn Bridge."

A new Paul Simon album!

And I walk through the streets I love

Yesterday: the kind of day that’s an imperative to keep moving. Heeding it, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to drop off my manuscript, then walked right back again over the Manhattan. I feel a bit like Benjamin Braddock in these moments; traveling one way to the strains of “Parsley, Sage” and then—cut—back again, same tune as ever. Perfect bridge weather, low fifties. I see a fast-moving woman and follow along behind her, glad to hand over the decision work of bobbing and weaving. I pass one guy, lone parade, carrying a placard for n+1. And then get near-about trampled by a march of union workers. Ah, Brooklyn. please let me skip a line?For my return route, I hit the Manhattan Bridge, the Brooklyn’s secret cousin. Here, the foot traffic’s minimal, commuter rather than tourist. I wonder why more of the tourists don’t hit up this walkway, what with the Brooklyn’s current cover of construction boards. Maybe the sway and rumble of the trains has something to do with it. I strain to hear Belle and Sebastian over the power surge of the Q. c'mon, please? why won't you let me skip a line?Then back in lower Manhattan, the neighborhood embodying spring. The rock sculptures on the median a saluki, a nativity, a symphony. Old men doze on benches or chatter into cell phones while the young overspill the cafes, trendy Atlas overflowing onto the sidewalk. I pick up a cupcake for my mother who’s sick in bed; I pick up a copy of my friend’s zine from Bluestockings. I wander into a deli to get a coconut water; by the time I step out, the sky’s darkened. These things always happen suddenly. c'mon already, why won't you let me skip a line? I like paragraphs. This morning, I step out the door, note the spooky sky, and immediately it opens on me. There are cherry trees again; the ones by Columbus Park are already working up a bloom.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A lot of tripartite sentences

I'm sorry not to be the digital correspondent I once was. It doesn't mean I've vanished off the face of the earth; instead, I think I'm spending more time reading and less time writing. There is a lot to read—and think—about. Lately this includes transportation issues, trainy and bicycular; various work-related concerns; a whole boatload of library books I want to read before their due dates (I recommend Teju Cole's Open City for an interesting, if not particularly fast-paced, read, at least for the 160 pages I have encountered so far; ditto for Andre Aciman's Call Me By Your Name; for a bit of a breather, there's always wacky Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next), and am I ever going to catch up with that backlog of restaurants I want to try. It's hard to tell whether to cram in some more proofreading, catch another chapter or two of Open City, or trawl Metafilter for some more answers I didn't know I needed. Or maybe just turn in for the night so I can wake up sufficiently early to get some muesli from Peels or a honey espresso drink at Jack. Sometimes, at moments like these, I think, as I rarely do otherwise, of something I was told in philosophy class. So many parts of life are constantly in flux (am I ever going to get back out on my bike? have I quit caffeine for real after those pounding headaches? will I ever stay up past midnight on a weeknight again?). Oh well. At least I can say that books, food, and trains provide some consistency.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Still no bloggy. But click on this if you are interested in a thought-provoking read. (I am not an expert in the area of bottled water, but would generally say I agree with the author of the post.)

Also, it's SoHo, folks. Or is it? Are midword capitals going the way of the dinoSaur? Ack.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


What would you call the neighborhood in NYC that is immediately below Houston Street? This is likely an obvious answer, but I am curious about one thing so if you'd write in a reply I'd be much obliged.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

In your philosophy

What is the purpose of writing and reading? You might well wonder that as you contemplate whether to continue writing a blog. It's an unavoidable question, too, when you have decided at last to tackle Infinite Jest, full of impossible length, fronted by Dave Eggers's introductory assertion that reading it will make you a better person. And you'll ask it some more when you get about 60 pages in and lose heart--the characters seem soulless, the words an exercise in form; you feel you are secretly not intellectual enough to even read this stuff, let alone craft some words of your own.

Luckily, fortuitously, there's Zadie Smith, whose Changing My Mind's been providing you with a little light reading (har, har) in counterpoint to IJ. And damned if her last essay isn't an exploration of the very author whose book you have been struggling with, and damned if that essay doesn't make you see his work in a more comprehensible light. Which is lucky for you, because you have grown to suspect that reading is fundamentally an act of comprehension. Reading, you feel like you have to get at the very marrow of every sentence, to not only parse the words so they scan but also find the deep philosophical reasonance of it all. Not so with music--your feet tread deliberately on the ice, in rhythm to "Karen"--you realize you love these songs despite? because? you cannot understand a damn word their singer croons. But books, yes, you want to understand.

And Smith helps you do that, explains some ways of looking at the work (even though she is not talking about IJ in particular but Brief Interviews with Hideous Men). Wallace, she suggests, was not doing what came naturally to him when he wrote fiction, his mind more philosophical, mathematical. His sentences are propositions to unpack, thought experiments to put yourself through. Seeing with new words means seeing a new world. This way of reading's not primarily intended to be fun (though there's humor there); it's work. But through that work you grow to understand others a little better, and maybe yourself. Smith says--and I'd pull the quote for you if I had the book here--that Wallace's stories don't so much interview the hideous men as they interrogate us. What does it mean if we let our own minds course the circuit of the depressive woman's thoughts, understand the disorientation of the skeptic, realize that our ability to analyze ourselves to death doesn't absolve us? Who exactly are we anyway?

And so I realize that Wallace's words aren't characterless and heartless. To read them as I usually read a novel is to do them a disservice. I keep on tackling each set piece, unpack the propositions. I'm trying to learn what it is to be an addict, to envision a tennis that is pure mind, to recognize the benefits of the past in the onslaught of technology. It's overwhelming--if I cruise along at my usual slapdash pace I miss the nuance and fail to really put myself into the situations; if I read too slow I lose the overarching sense of structure, how tightly everything packs together despite its sprawling frame. But I'm trying.

This may not fully explain what I want to say. I started to entertain these ideas last week walking home from the laundromat. I felt I needed to instantly patterpattertype up all these infinitely precious thoughts--for the adoring public--before doing anything else. And then I drew up short at the solipsism of that. The arrogance. Is self-expression so important that you should blow off folding the laundry or calling your grandmother or taking a shower and heed your creative voice? Is your need for attention so great that you must immediately broadcast your half-baked Deep Thoughts for all the world (all your three and a half blog readers) to see? An idea of Wallace's that Smith alludes to, and that I will probably not do justice to here, is that a meaningful act of writing involves showing love not receiving it. Instead of writing to get something--pick me! like me!--your words should confer a gift to the reader. With this in mind, I suspect I will write more thoughtfully less frequently here, trying to only bring you gifts.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Take the fifth

Since I'm feeling a bit burned out from work, I'm going to take a (temporary?) break from my regular posting schedule, and post only when I feel like I have something to say. Today is not really that day, except that the trees look full of cherry blossoms but then you remember it's ice and you haven't seen the ground in more than a month and it is better weather to curl up with a book but go into work but go you must, a la Godot. Perhaps the end of this weather is in sight, though...

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I think I could make a habit out one truly decadent meal a year. Last year there was Chez Panisse; this year there's WD-50. In the haphazard way of the internet, I first read about the place from Nico Muhly's music blog, rather than Serious Eats or something like that (much like I've learned about books from Vanishing New York or musicals from Infrastructurist lately). This year, already overwhelmed by the material riches of Hanukkah (thanks for the bike, Mom and Dad!) I wanted a more intangible birthday gift so I suggested we go to WD-50...

Where we arrived yesterday at 6, the start of the evening. I have said it before about Chez Panisse and I'll say it here about WD-50: when you go to a fancy restaurant, you worry that they'll judge you. (My sister, half-joking, bowed out of this one, saying she thought she wasn't cool enough for them.) Luckily, just like the staff at Chez Panisse, the people at WD-50 are friendly and accommodating. The place itself is pretty laid-back and minimalist in decor--like a trendy diner, as my mom said. The bartender enticed us to have some water ("nice! ice-fresh! water!") while we waited for the table to be ready; the waitstaff described the components of our meals in a way that was informative and not at all condescending.

And what components they were! There are more technical words ("molecular gastronomy," anyone?) but I will just say here that everything at WD-50 looks like one thing but tastes like something else. Like my mom's appetizer of shrimp noodles, which look like noodles but are in fact composed of shrimp. Or the tasty dehydrated bayleaf cake that came with my dad's monkfish entree. And then there are the signature eggs--funny little dense delicious yolks, wisp-thin crispy Canadian bacon, and Hollandaise sauce in little crispy cubes which melt when you open them. My entree, pork loin, was somewhat less exciting to look at but still pretty tasty; I liked the paprika spaetzle and the crispy greens (I think they were chard) that visually resembled nothing so much as the little flags on cocktail toothpicks. My mom's cod was covered in nori, giving it a cryptic aspect; underneath lurked the cod and a delicious coconut peasoup type broth. It is the broths and sauces that really stood out; flavors that I wouldn't expect to love (celery mayonnaise!) were remarkable. Also worth noting is that the food was surprisingly filling; we'd joked about making a run to Katz's, but that was definitely unnecessary.

Food consumed, we were on to dessert, also a feast for the stomach and the eyes. My aerated coffee ice cream was dotted with two textures of chocolate, crunchy pecans, and argan oil foam (who knew?). I am not normally a grapefruit fan but my dad's grapefruit curd struck just the right texture and sour-sweet note. My mom's milk chocolate cream came with malted milk ball halves that were airy and flavorful like nothing you have ever tried. And, while we were working on all these riches, a waiter came up quietly bearing a lit candle. "You have to make a wish," he said, "so I can tell you what it is." I duly did, and then he explained that the top of the candleholder is made out of some kind of coconut sorbet--which tasted hot and cold and light all at the same time--the bottom, a mousse.

I appreciated the discretion as well as the deliciousness of the moment--if you've ever witnessed a cowbelling birthday at Cowgirl Hall of Fame, another delicious favorite restaurant of mine, you've probably grown a bit wary of spectacle. And all the service was discreet and courteous in this way, with several of the staff asking how we'd enjoyed our meal. At the end, one of the waiters came up at the end of the evening and complimented my boots (thanks for the replacement pair, C.--!). He asked if that day was my birthday and I explained it was actually on Monday. His was on Tuesday; we exchanged birthday wishes and then I went home, wafting on a wave of complimentary rice krispy treat (meringue ice cream coated in rice krispy--probably my favorite part of the whole meal).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Papertown writer

For some reason, I didn't read John Green's Paper Towns for a long time, despite really enjoying his two previous novels. Somehow I got it into my head to try it now, and I'm glad I did. I can't remember the last time I found a story so enjoyable and moving. Quentin, the main character, is an immensely-likeable high school senior, and his quest to locate his neighbor Margo is a hybrid of detective story and soul searching.

The book is quick-moving and absorbing. I saved it for an epic trip to the laundromat, and for a Friday-night ride on the Boltbus. Caught up in the epic road trip near-finale, I almost believed my slowcrawling southbound bus was an overcrowded minivan speeding from Florida to upstate New York.

I talked to J.-- recently about how satisfying young adult fiction can be because of how easy it is to get swept up in the plot. But in this case, it's not only the plot that's moving but also the characters. It's refreshing to find a group of individuals that are are so easy to relate to, at least for me. (Donna Leon's Brunetti and Sheila Heti's Ticknor, two recent acquaintances, are great in their own way but not too much like me. Neither are the schoolgirls in Joshua Gaylord's Hummingbirds, though I am very familiar with their setting.) They think about literature, listen to the Mountain Goats, and make terrible jokes to one another. Quentin's narrative voice is thoughtful and funny and worried in an all-too-easy-to-sympathize-with way. What's not to ilke?

In short, I'd recommend Paper Towns to anyone who wants a quick, fun, yet genuinely emotionally affecting read. Now, onto Infinite Jest...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


No posts this week owing to a confluence of factors including no home internet, an emergency proofreading job, and various other savory and less-savory prospects.

Thanks due to Qathra for caramel apple cider with homemade whipped cream, and for wireless with which to doublecheck proper names for the proofing in question. (Orin Hatch? C'mon.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My little town

When I was growing up, Greenwich Village was just about my favorite place in the world. In fact, the very Hudson Street that Jane Jacobs immortalizes in The Death and Life of Great American Cities was probably my favorite street. Guess even my ten-year-old self could tell that they were doing something right.

Later on in my teenage years, I acquainted myself with Brooklyn, and Park Slope took over the place that the Village had held in my heart (not the hippest choice, sorry, but it was mine). The Slope is sort of like a Village minus the river--the beautiful row houses, cute little coffee shops, funny little shops (I miss the Village's Tah Poozie so much), even the same proximity to a more warehousey district (though I bet Gowanus smells worse than the far west side). And, unfortunately, it exhibits some of the same qualities I don't like so much about the Village anymore--the encroachment of Starbucks, the superexpensiveness, the hoity-toity inhabitants (though Park Slope veers more to the childraisers than the fashion models among them). In fact, I have read so much about the Village, through various grumpy blogs (mentioned here) and books--and have observed so much for myself that Mrs. Jacobs's lovely neighborhood didn't remain the hotbed of socioeconomic diversity it was in her time (all those blog posts about Jane vs. Marc don't lie)--that my affection for the place has fallen of late.

So it was to my pleasant surprise that yesterday I was able to take a walk that reminded me of my old love for the Village. I was meeting S.-- on West 14th at 6, so I decided that walking up from work was as worthwhile a use of that hour as any. I went pretty far west, coming up Varick as it blurred into Seventh Avenue South and then cutting along the little windy side streets that eventually open up onto Eighth. Back in my Village-walking days I did pay some attention to architecture--a friend and I plotted for years that we wanted to buy a beautiful, ivy-covered townhouse on Commerce Street--but nowhere near what I do now. So I was taken aback by once again encountering the beauty of the place (particularly with its coating of snow). The streets are so cozy and the townhouses so pretty, but part of what really struck me on this go-round was the beautiful way that people had modernized their houses--the skylights, the improbable tiny windows, the connecting passageways between little house and littler house and backyard. Let's put aside the outrageous pricetags for a moment and appreciate a house like this or these. And check out the funny curved house in the background of the more charming corner building in the second link. What's up with that one? I must've walked by it 50 times in the past but never noticed it 'til yesterday.

I suspect the reason I left the Village (and Manhattan) was that eventually it seemed too small and self-contained. And Park Slope(/Brooklyn), broadly construed, is definitely larger, even if it's missing some of the narrow winding charm of the Village. And the smallness is probably the same reason I left Park Slope and ventured ever farther into Brooklyn. Sometimes I wonder if I will run out of new wandering grounds. But a return to Bedford Street on a snowy evening reminds me that there will always be a place for me.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Should add that Ways of Seeing also contains a provocative section about gender relations, which is probably what set me thinking about my recent reading along gendered lines...

Books, books

I was excited this weekend to finally pick up The Finkler Question from the library, after rising to number one in the holds queue (I believe I was at 157 when I started). Already, just 20 or so pages in, it's markedly different from so much of what I have been reading lately--mystery novels and what (wince, wince) I can't help but call chicklit, or women's literature, or something like that. I worry that the difference is that the tone of Finkler is so, well, male in its descriptions of the meeting of a trio of friends from the perspective of a more-or-less perpetual bachelor. This is not to say that the women's lit is bad (Dreaming in French was pretty moving) or even that it's all for and by women (the author of Hummingbirds, a novel about NYC private school politics which I enjoyed more than I'd expected to, is male) but Finkler definitely has a different feel to it. It seems, at this early stage, as crudely stereotypically as I can put it, like a novel of Ideas rather than one of Relationships. We'll see how that bears out.


Another recent read that I found different in an eye-opening way was John Berger's Ways of Seeing, which I'd been wanting to read ever since I saw it on a display table at Williamsburg's always-chic Spoonbill & Sugartown. I first experienced a jolt of recognition about Berger when I realized the song "And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos" by The Story, a favorite of my high school years, was in fact a title of his. A while went by and I proofed a novel of his, but I suspect the real weightiness lies in the critical pieces (maybe I'll give Our Faces a try one day). Ways of Seeing made me contemplate art--especially oil painting--and its relationship to advertising in a whole new, and not terribly positive, light. (In short, art as commodity, as a demonstration of wealth, as a way to manipulate consumers into consuming.) I will remember what I've learned but try not to let it get between me and my anticipated enjoyment of the Barnes Collection in a couple of weeks...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Another poem, without formatting issues


Housecats catch birds

one eye to the sky

prowling the wilderness

of their everyday lives.

A stroll in the garden—pounce!—

then the parade of proud remains

past the back porch light

and into the kitchen. Cats slink

through impossibly tiny doors

only to lay fresh kills at your feet

for your delectation. Look

at me. This is what it’s like

out there. Go on, make a meal

of my travels. Roast

my enemies on a spit and taste

the savor of my triumph. Season

the tale with onions and don’t

forget the rosemary. Breathe

deep. This is my best

and only offer.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

City Hall

Various ideas percolating, but how about just: wow.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Poetry month?

I wrote a poem but I can't get seem to format it here. If you want to read it, comment, and I will work something out. Cheers!