Tag Archives: New York Times

In Which I Allege Prime Meats Has No Clothes…Or is At Least Half-Naked…

I’ve been Yelping.

Mostly because I realized I have opinions about local restaurants and it’s silly not to share them…even though I remain terrified someone is going to call me out, a la the Lucky purse disaster on Consumerist. I guess this proves that despite all the book rejections that have come my way, I still haven’t developed very thick skin.

Nonetheless, I did a bold thing today: I posted a review of Prime Meats in which I alleged the restaurant is completely uninviting. Angry mobs may be assembling as we speak.

I’m not sure whether I’ll become a hard-core reviewer on Yelp — after all, there are so many places on the Internet where you can review things and provide your opinions…like, say, on Epicurious…and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to write it all.

But I also know a little cross-promotion can’t hurt…and am kind of proud of this review. There — I said it. (Which probably means it is terrible as that is usually the case whenever I like something I write.)

Nevertheless…for non-Yelpers, here’s my review:

I am going to make a bold statement. And I’m fairly certain it’s going to ruffle some feathers, but I’m going to say it anyway: I think, to a degree, Prime Meats — like the Emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale — has no clothes. Or it is at least half-naked.

The food is very good, to be sure. Prime Meats wouldn’t have garnered so much attention if that wasn’t the case.

I also think it was a bold move for the owners to focus on German cuisine – although perhaps therein lies their genius.

But somehow Prime Meats, despite its delicious food, doesn’t have the warm, inviting atmosphere of other restaurants of its caliber. That is not to say it is not aesthetically pleasing. But it is permeated by a sense of entitlement that belies the site’s humble history as a dry cleaning business.

On a recent weekday, one of the owners waltzed about with his French bulldog in hand with such an air of confidence, I wondered if he would actually get in trouble if a health inspector dropped by or if he could simply say, “Do you know who I am?” and get away with it.

I’ll repeat: The food is very, very good. You can get a fine steak here – and this is a neighborhood that cannot otherwise boast a good steakhouse.

But I think the fuss over this restaurant is partly psychological. In other words, I think part of the reason people rave about it is the same reason the head cheerleader and the quarterback of the football team are powerful in high school. It’s not necessarily because they’re good people…

Sam Sifton did an excellent job describing diners in his NYT review last May: “…brownstone bohemians, third novelists, people with Web sites, with good art at home.”

They are served by waiters in beards, skinny jeans and suspenders…or, as Sifton described them, “a crew of handsome men and women dressed as if ready to ride horses back home to Bushwick, where they trap beaver and make their own candles.”

I am admittedly a struggling writer with a degree that has so far not justified its pricetag…and perhaps if I had landed a job at the New York Times or Conde Nast, I would feel more welcome here. But I don’t. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a restaurant where I’ve felt so unwelcome.

I could perhaps understand if I was dressed inappropriately or was spewing profanities. But I wasn’t. I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And I live very close. I walk by virtually every day. And yet when I decided to drop by to take advantage of an oyster special and the restaurant was unoccupied with the exception of one other party, it took 15 minutes for our drinks to come and yet another 15 more for the oysters to appear.

“I’m sorry, but the oyster guy is backed up,” our waiter explained as the table next to us received their second platter of oysters and we checked our watches.

We were eventually served and, as noted, the food was good. But at no point did I feel my business was wanted or that I would ever be compelled to return…unless I was suffering from acute hubris and needed my ego cut down to size by a staff eager to imply that I wasn’t good enough to eat there.

It’s not just me. I’ve heard stories from neighbors who were deemed unfit to mingle with the clientele and who were encouraged to sit at the bar or move along.

Take Frank Bruni on Twitter, for example. On January 5, he wrote, “At Prime Meats last nite, didn’t think: I’m in BROOKLYN!”

In his defense, he went on to say, “Didn’t mull geography. Just ate well at super place. The borough has plenty.”

But, at the same time, a Brooklyn prejudice seems terribly outdated and pompous…and somehow completely fitting for this restaurant that calls the borough its home.

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What Makes a Banana Republic?

I’ll be perfectly honest: I wouldn’t have read this Nicholas Kristof Op-Ed if it wasn’t the Most-Emailed story on the Times’ site as of early Monday afternoon and I hadn’t thought, “Boy, what exactly *is* a banana republic?”

According to Wikipedia, it is “a term that refers to a politically unstable country dependent upon limited agriculture (e.g. bananas), and ruled by a small, self-elected, wealthy, and corrupt politico-economic clique.”

Granted, politics are not my territory — that’s T’s turf — but I wonder: Why would a quasi-upscale clothing retailer choose to named itself after this?

The answer lies on the Gap. Inc. (Banana Republic’s parent) website: In 1983, Gap Inc. acquired Banana Republic, “then a two-store safari and traveling company.”

This description makes it sound a lot like the J. Peterman Company, which I did not actually realize was a real thing until right this second.

So I guess “banana” is supposed to equal “travel and adventure” rather than “political instability.” And, heck, I’ve never really thought about it until now, so I can’t get self-righteous about it. I just think it’s interesting.

I also kinda like this Embroidered Velvet Blazer…and the accompanying description instantly makes me think of Elaine Benes:

On the moors.

Hair blowing in the wind.

Perfectly.

(Remember, no humidity in dreams.)

You were enrobed in a long, velvet blazer, walking, walking, seemingly lost, but not afraid.

Almost as if you were there for a purpose.

And then… on the horizon, your purpose.

On a silver steed your Lochinvar coming to rescue you.

Turns out you’re beautifully adorned for the Duke of Aston’s holiday party where you’ll dine on venison, plum pudding, mincemeat pie, and fine medieval wine. Embroidered Velvet Blazer (No. 2889) is made from pure cotton velvet. Silver embroidered leafy pattern subtly beckons. Further eye-catchers: peaked lapel, two-button front closure, modified princess seams at front and back. Slightly padded shoulders for shaping. Center back vent. Mid-thigh length. Enough grace to attend any event in any century.

Perfect for looking resplendent while walking Arthur, your Scottish Deer Hound. Or wearing it with leggings and just going to party. Imported.

Women’s sizes: 2 through 18.

Color: Garnet with Silver Embroidery.

Image via *clairity*/Flickr

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In Which I Underestimated McRib’s Cultural Relevance…

I thought liking the McRib in 1994 was my embarrassing childhood secret, but everyone on earth seems to be on the McRib bandwagon now.

McDonald’s has a “Legends of McRib” ad campaign in which, if I understand correctly, you can make up a back story for the McRib and potentially win a trip to Germany. Which makes perfect sense! (And part of me is actually tempted to enter. What the heck? That’s what less-than-full-time-employment is for, right?)

Speaking of which: Gothamist mentioned it in an ad for a job I want so badly I might actually die. (ZOMG, Gothamist, if I have to break out into Abba’s Take a Chance on Me like they do at the end of Mamma Mia!, I will.)

Former New York Times reporter and forever-cooler-than-you-because-her-middle-name-is-a-number writer Jenny 8. Lee said it is one of her five favorite foods.

Even Stephen Colbert had a McRib monologue.

Re: Colbert’s point on bones, presumably (or quite obviously) a satiric jab at mass food production: Yes, as noted before, it’s a little weird if you think about why it doesn’t have bones. But, at the same time, even nice places have boneless ribs! Case in point: Brooklyn BBQ/whiskey joint Char No. 4 has spare ribs on its menu that, as T would say, are “banging.” (In other words, I liked them.) Although, then again, they were not actually on the menu when I dined there (the dish was a nightly special) and so, together, the McRib and Char No. 4’s spare ribs may prove that boneless ribs the world over are a fleeting phenomenon…

Although, sadly, I was not as nuts about Char No. 4’s bacon-jalapeno cornbread as I thought I would be. The flaw was perhaps with the cornbread itself: Too dry. Although more bacon and/or jalapenos would have helped. (It did, however, inspire me to add bacon and/or jalapenos to *my* cornbread next time…

Image via McDonald’s. (Thanks.)

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Who Cares What Nation’s Restaurant News Thinks? Here’s My Top 10.

On the same day the New York Times wrote about Pop-Tarts World, the Huffington Post added this blurb from a Nation’s Restaurant News report on America’s favorite restaurant chains.

Cheesecake Factory topped the list. And while some of my favorite restaurant chains were on the list, they missed some good’uns. So…if I ruled the world (or at least Nation’s Restaurant News), the list would have looked like this:

10. Quiznos/Subway — I like toasted sandwiches and LOVE QUIZNOS’ CATS. I could also go for a sandwich from Subway with everything in it — even the peppers — just about any day of the week. But only if it has everything.

9. In-N-Out — While I think In-N-Out is somewhat overrated — YES, I JUST SAID THAT — it’s a classic burger joint and it does things right, which earns it a spot at #9.

8. Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s — They clearly won me over with the ads featuring scantily clad Paris, Padma and Audrina + that French-talking mouth app. (Why, yes, I *did* write about it for ClickZ…)

7. Swensen’s — I have found memories of getting ice cream here as a child. Unfortunately, all I can remember is that it was good.

6. Coco’s — I used to go with my grandmother (who hid in a booth in a corner). I have fond memories of Coco’s southwestern melt (see? Told you I like toasted sandwiches….) and boysenberry pie.

5. Panera — This joint has one hell of a muffin…and was also the focal point of my first (…and admittedly only…) story in the Wall Street Journal.

4. Sizzler — A popular joint with my maternal grandmother. I loved the cheese toast and was once a bit of a smartass when the manager asked if everything was okay and ended up with an entire platter of it.

3. Baja Fresh — I perhaps love nothing more than Mexican food. And I think this place does a fine job. I don’t care if Wendy’s owns it.

2. Chevy’s — Annnd…I don’t care what Jonathan R. Duke says either. I love this place. Always have, always will. And I have the birthday sombreros in my closet to prove it. The cookbook proved to be a little overly complicated, but that’s just fine — gives me a more powerful excuse to go there in person.

1. Waffle House — I also have fond memories of the Waffle House, which I will forever associate with my brief stint in Mississippi and Georgia. Plus, their menu development team was genius — who doesn’t like saying, “Scattered, smothered, covered…”?

Image via Stevie Rocco/Flickr

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Filed under books, cheesecake, entrees, grilled cheese, ice cream, Mississippi, pie, UCLA

Pop-Tarts World Beckons…But Guess Who Still Hasn’t Gotten Frosted.

As thankful as I am to have new freelance gigs, blogging for CafeMom’s The Stir has not left me with a whole lotta energy to write about even *more* food topics here.

Plus, I may or may not be gainfully employed for a bit…making it even less likely that I will have the oomph to write about food (or food-ish topics) when I get home.

Thus, my blog has been neglected. (And after conning my friends into supporting me on Facebook no less. Sheesh.) Now it’s practically September…which means Labor Day and Back to School and Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and I AM ALMOST 30.

So. A lot on my mind…but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking of you, my dear blog/readers…

I read this story about Pop-Tarts World when it was published on August 8 (!) and I thought it would make a great blog post. In a perfect world, I would have visited the Times Square location by now and would have the inside scoop on Pop-Tarts sushi, vending machines that enable you to create your own variety packs and how you can get “frosted.” But, sadly, the best I can do is tell you that it exists. And that I think the idea is pretty great (…and I applaud the Pop-Tarts marketing team…)…even though I’d probably pick Pillsbury Toaster Strudel over Pop-Tarts any day of the week.

Image via oskay/Flickr

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Filed under appliances, birthdays, blogs

Sam Sifton Says…

There are SO many good lines in Sam Sifton’s review of Prime Meats…which, conveniently, is *extremely* close to where I live:

  • “You can see these people standing on Court Street nightly, staring through the plate-glass windows at a dining room packed with brownstone bohemians, third novelists, people with Web sites, with good art at home. They look slightly pained, these visitors from afar wondering about the life choices they made that put them in Chelsea or Park Slope or Montclair, and not down here in Carroll Gardens, this little Italian village off New York Harbor where life is obviously perfect.”
  • “But forget to line your pockets in the manner of a Biggie Smalls impersonator and you’re going to need to leave your guests before the end of it all, and walk to a bodega A.T.M. to rustle up enough cash to pay your bill.”
  • “The staff is exceptionally well trained and efficient, a crew of handsome men and women dressed as if ready to ride horses back home to Bushwick, where they trap beaver and make their own candles.”
  • “And a meal in the restaurant proceeds with all the jollity and good manners of something scripted by Laura Ingalls Wilder and scored by the Grateful Dead.”
  • “Also: soft weisswurst like a hot dog from a parallel and slightly more enjoyable universe.”

I still haven’t eaten there. I met a guy at a local watering hole who bartended there for the summer (waiting for the Gowanus Yacht Club to open…and who apparently lives around the corner from me and knows my next-door neighbor, Rocco, who he called the “mayor” of our neighborhood…which is really pretty accurate…and *he* said he couldn’t stand to work there much longer because it was “full of people with ironic mustaches”).

Now perhaps it’s too late to get *in* — isn’t there a line in a movie to the effect of, “Go there before the Times ruins it with a good review!”? I want to say When Harry Met Sally or something? Or am I totally nuts? — although I do, as noted, live close enough to wander in any ol’ time…

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Roman Holiday

My latest Big Thought? Rome. I want to go to Rome.

It sounds like maybe Japan isn’t in the cards anymore…and I was happy as a little clam going all over creation last year. I’ve been in New York now for FOUR STRAIGHT MONTHS. It’s time to plan an escape.

And then yesterday, as I was finishing Frank Bruni’s Born Round (which isn’t about Rome outright…but there *is* a brief section on his tenure as the Rome Bureau Chief and he *does* hail from a large Italian family…), it hit me: I should go to Rome.

I really liked Bruni’s latest book — and not just because I once went to a party at the apartment he talks about in the final chapters. I totally get his relationship with food — from the late-night binges as a means of self-healing and escape to the cherished articles of clothing that allow you to hide your imperfections (my beloved cardigan was at the dry cleaner for four days and I almost died. And it didn’t help that I had a claim ticket that said it would be ready on Wednesday…and when I arrived on Wednesday to pick up aforementioned-blogged-about-beloved cardigan, the woman was on the phone forever and then gave me serious attitude — “This says Wednesday!” — which made me panic for a moment and think, “OhmygodisitTuesday?” but then I remembered that I had fake-gambled that morning for the first time that week, so it was definitely Wednesday and said as much and she said, “This means Wednesday NIGHT.” And so I waited another day…). And, I mean, Dude was the restaurant critic at Times, so I suppose he has a way with food words…but, man — his descriptions of meals in and around Rome seriously made me want to go (in some parallel universe in which I have unlimited cash and speak flawless Italian…[which reminds me of an old roommate’s friend from Rome who once taught me to say, “Stai fuori come una Jacuzzi in giardino!” which, if memory serves, translates to, “You’re out like a Jacuzzi in the garden!” and basically means, “You’re crazy!”]).

Missing Italy (and, frankly, Greece…and Ireland…and Norway…) is one of my big regrets from my two years in England. (But, at the same time, I was a poor student…so it’s not like I never got around to it…[again, it’s unfortunate we don’t live in that world in which I have lots of money and speak lots of languages]). And it’s crazy to think that’s been eight years since I’ve been back (which is all beginning to sound a lot like “New York, We Have to Talk,” isn’t it?)…

I’ve also heard a lot of talk lately about Eat, Pray, Love (once from a fake-gambler who vowed to punch the next middle-aged lady he sees on the train reading it…but also from a J-school colleague). And…gotta say: I was totally with Elizabeth Gilbert when she was in Italy. Gorging yourself on pasta and practicing Italian with a charming young man are two things that make absolute sense to me. (But, alas, I found I identified with her less and less as her journey went on…and, honestly, I thought she was kind of a jerk to the guru in Bali. I know he *expected* her to abandon him and move on…but, still…seemed a little mean to me to drop him like a bad habit as soon as she met the Old Guy…)

And…so, minus the Praying and the Loving, I wanna do it, too — I want to go to Italy and eat pasta and bread and cheese and gelato until I weigh twice as much as I did before. And I want to sit on the Spanish Steps. And I want to throw a coin in Trevi Fountain. And I want smarmy men with slick hair to tell me I’m beautiful even if they don’t mean it and I want to say, “Ciao!” and “Grazie!” and to ride on the back of a Vespa with Gregory Peck. And I want to marvel at old things.

So…perhaps the Big Birthday is a reasonable goal. What better way/place to usher in the next decade of my life than in the Eternal City?

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“Attagirl, Sandra!” v. “Stupid Jerk!”

I am sad about Sandra Bullock. And I know — at least on some level — it’s a ridiculous thing to say…but, at the same time, I’ve sorta felt a certain affinity with her…at least as far as relationships are concerned. And I find these revelations about Jesse James incredibly disheartening.

In the Barbara Walters Oscar Special this year, Babs showed a clip of an interview with Bullock from, like, ’94 when she was filming A Time to Kill in Mississippi (the same time I was there!) and Walters asked why she wasn’t married or whether she ever wanted to get married or something like that. And Bullock’s response was that she was afraid that getting married meant giving up her identity and she said she wasn’t ready. And…I totally get that. After working so long on forging a career and figuring out what you want and what makes you tick, who in their right mind would want to just become somebody’s wife? (Which is not to say that you can’t have a successful marriage and a career or whatever…I just mean that I understand once you have a career of your own that is fulfilling and that makes you happy, you’d be reluctant to give it up for a ring and you’d want to be careful about the partnership you choose…)

And, I mean, anyone who has read anything I’ve written over the past year or so — maybe longer? — knows that these are issues I’ve struggled with…and, heck, I don’t even have a real career to cling to — I merely *aspire* to have a career to cling to…and to be the kind of person who at, say, 39 (or whatever) is totally comfortable saying, “I’m happy with me and my life,” and who doesn’t feel at all incomplete for not having a better half. Sandra Bullock didn’t get married until she was 40! Which is, like, unheard of, isn’t it? (My Sunday morning ritual has become checking out the Wedding announcements in the NYT and seeing how many of the brides are younger than me. [I’d say it’s about 50/50.] But there was one bride in Brooklyn a few weeks ago who was 42 and who had a procession from her apartment to the church with all her bridesmaids dancing and singing and the quote was something like, “When you get married at 42, it’s something to celebrate.” And I guess the point is I really admire any woman who doesn’t succumb to fear or pressure or whatever and grab the next schlub that comes along so she can say, “Hey — look! I have a husband!” […which reminds me of When Harry Met Sally when Carrie Fisher tells Meg Ryan that she shouldn’t wait too long to get back in the game because one guy they knew said he needed more time before dating again and then he died and Meg Ryan says, “What are you saying? That I should grab on to somebody in case he’s about to die?” and that nameless redhead says, “At least you could say you were married!”])

And the part that *really* makes me sad for Sandra Bullock (…and if I was to be a real drama queen, I could perhaps say all of womankind…) is that she said she couldn’t have played her Oscar-winning role in The Blind Side a few years ago — that it was having a family and someone who had her back in real life that enabled her to play Leigh Anne Tuohy. And even Oprah mentioned how sweet it was when the camera panned to a teary-eyed Jesse James in Bullock’s Oscar acceptance speech…and it just seemed like one of those situations that proved it was all totally worth the wait. She spent her 20s and 30s working on her career and herself…and then in her 40s, she found love. And it was a good love — one that gave her family and support and real happiness. And that’s where it’s supposed to end happily ever after! There shouldn’t be any tattooed chicks or text messages or eleven-month-long trysts! How can that be? How could he possibly stand next to her on the red carpet and listen to her laud him for his support and get teary-eyed and look like he was proud of her and that he was happy he was the guy who got to be in her life…and then go home and text some broad that he’d been thinking about her? It, in a word, sucks.

And it frankly makes me wonder whether there is any hope at all. It seems like sometimes men make it so easy to throw up our hands and declare them all pigs. (I was watching an episode of The Golden Girls in which Blanche was upset because a man — who actually later went on to play the husband of the lady who killed herself and now does voiceovers on Wisteria Lane — appeared looking for George Devereaux because he was his father. And Blanche was upset by this revelation that her husband knocked up some chick in Dallas in the ’60s. So…as she was sitting at the kitchen table with Dorothy and Rose, she asked something like, “Why do men cheat?” and Dorothy said there were two explanations: One, that men are victims of an evolutionary process that deems it impossible for them to control their natural proclivities; and, Two: Men are scum.)

But, seriously — just look at all of them in the news recently: (as if I even need to mention this first one…) Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Dave Letterman, Eliot Spitzer, and (maybe) David Patterson…, just to name a few. And it’s certainly not limited to famous people. I can easily peruse the Hall of Fame o’ Bad Men in *my* life for plenty of real world examples: take the Penis-Revealer with the Long-Term Girlfriend Who I Really Genuinely Cared About…or Mr. I’m-Getting-A-New-Roommate-Oh-Wait-Did-I-Forget-To-Mention-I’m-Sleeping-With-Her-And-Eventually-Plan-To-Marry-Her-?. And, sure, there are subtle nuances in both cases…and, depending how you define “cheating,” maybe it’s not “cheating” at all. But, at the very least, they both suck in their own special ways.

And then there’s the example of my married guy friend. And he’s, like, the most doting husband I’ve ever seen — flowers, dinners, jewelry, trips, the whole nine yards. And, for a long time, I held him up as, like, the example of the perfect husband. And then not too long ago, I was out with him and excused myself for a moment and, when I came back, he was in the middle of a flirtatious exchange with a female bartender. And, I mean, it’s not like he *did* anything — he was merely cooing things like, “Will you be here next time to take such good care of me? I sure hope so…” and no one was overtly hurt by his sweet nothings, so what does it matter? But, at the same time, I am absolutely 100% certain that he would not have behaved this way had his wife been present…which makes me feel like something was not quite right. And, sure, I suppose we all do it to a certain degree — sort of like Mo’Nique’s explanation to Babs about her open marriage — but if *this* guy — arguably the World’s Most Doting Husband — can’t be trusted not to have his brain turn to jelly in the presence of a moderately attractive female, can *any* of them be trusted? Or, deep down inside, are they all Jesses, Tigers, Johns, Marks, Daves or Eliots?

Perhaps we’re all destined to be — I’m borrowing from the New York Post’s headline — Blind-Sided. It’s depressing. (I started to read Why Men Cheat in Esquire, but got upset…men cheat because they must? Really? So…I didn’t get very far…)

And…brief aside: I did a lot of flying in the last couple of months of 2009. And flying sometimes makes me nervous…so my deal with myself is that I can buy lots of trashy celebrity magazines to read on the plane. And…in one issue of Us Weekly, there was a Sandra Bullock quote that I liked so much I ended up cutting it out and taping it to my bathroom mirror (…it was, if you recall, sort of a tough time for me…and I sorely needed inspiration): “I complete me. I’m just lucky that after I completed myself, I met someone who could tolerate me.” And the magazine explained that it was in reference to her “strong marriage.” And I just can’t keep it up there anymore, can I? Every time I look at it now instead of, “Attagirl, Sandra!” I think, “Stupid jerk!”

And this isn’t to say that Sandra doesn’t still complete herself…and that she won’t have a happy ending after all. She may stick with James and remain blissfully happy after he does a stint in sex rehab or whatever; or she may leave him and end up with one of Hollywood’s most eligible 40-something bachelors…and her new hubby will be the Angelina to James’ Aniston and he’ll spend the rest of his life as the posterchild for the Lonely Man; or she may adopt a kiddo and start her own family and swear off men forever. It’s a terrible, awful thing that happened…but, at the same time, she’ll go on, blah, blah, blah. And the thing that I really loved about The Blind Side was its message that family is whoever you love — not necessarily those you were born into… — which I suppose would make it even more poignant if she ends up telling James to take a hike and adopts a million babies. (But I can’t see how this *couldn’t* still be an enormous blow to your ego…and I was *just* saying to a friend — before any of this happened — that it seems to me like it would be really hard not to have a certain complex, knowing that your husband’s ex-wife was a porn star. And now…? Sheesh. Poor Sandra…)

Bottom line: As an unmarried woman of a certain age, I found her story hopeful — like, I’m going to continue to work on me…and I’m going to have faith that when it’s right, Mr. Wonderfulpants will fall from the sky… — and I guess her story still *is* hopeful, in a way. But…not in the way I thought it was…

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Filed under Brooklyn, feminism, Mississippi, Ole Miss

If I hadn’t been writing about Frank Bruni, I wouldn’t have known it’s Ann Coulter’s birthday…

So…I got home last night around 8:00ish and all I had consumed was coffee and water on the planes (I had, like, the perfect amount of time to get from Terminal A to Terminal C in Dallas…without a ridiculous amount of waiting time *or* having to run with my cat-in-a-bag…but it *also* meant I didn’t have a chance to procure sustenance). So. All of this is to say that I was pretty hungry by the time I got back to my apartment…but I obviously didn’t have anything on hand. (Except milk that didn’t spoil! Like magic! Coffee was SO GOOD this morning!) So…SeamlessWeb! (And, like silver white winters that melt into springs, it is one of my favorite things…)

And, you know what? I really wanted Thai food, so I ordered Thai food…and the Thai place near me is one that the Bartender liked a lot, but ordering from there didn’t make me sad *at* *all* (See?? Progress!)…*and* I saw this thing with peanut sauce on the menu that I *had* to order because I was reading Frank Bruni’s latest book on the plane(s) — Born Round…in which he discusses what it’s like to be the proverbial fat kid with an endless appetite who grows up to be the restaurant critic at the New York Times…and I’m only up to his stint at the Detroit Free Press, so I certainly don’t know how it ends yet…but he *did* have a torrid relationship with cold noodles and a peanut-y sauce that he discovered during one of two internships at Newsweek…and so when I saw the peanut thing on the menu, I couldn’t not get it.

And…Frank Bruni is fun to bring up because…I had a coworker once who knew a guy who works at the Times…and who was being relocated to a bureau outside of New York and so Frank Bruni threw a going away party for said coworker’s friend at his apartment. And…I was lucky because my coworker said I could come with him…(as if, after meeting me, Bruni would be instantly enchanted and ask me to be his #2. Or something.) So…what a strange moment it was to be in Frank Bruni’s apartment…and marveling at, you know, the framed photos of him with George W. Bush and whatnot…and my coworker and I were in his living room because there were fewer people in there (read: none. I am nothing if not antisocial…)…and Frank came in to talk to us for a little bit and that Lisa Kudrow show — The Comeback — was on in the background and I remember Bruni talking about how he thought it was an underrated show…and then his phone rang and he excused himself…and he came back and said something like, “I have this friend and I’m not sure if she’s going to show up, but I really hope she comes…and if she does, you’ll all know who she is.” And so we said, “Who is it?” and he said, “Oh, I can’t tell you that! But you’ll know as soon as you see her.”

So…fast forward a little bit. Doorbell rings. And who do you suppose it was? Why, none other than Ann Coulter! (Ack! I just Googled her and it turns out that today is her birthday! Weird, right??) And, folks, she was the most freakishly skinny blond woman I have ever seen in my life…

My old coworker *swears* that Ann Coulter proceeded to hit on him…but *my* memory of the exchange is merely that she said, “You look familiar,” or the like. And — who am I to judge? — perhaps in old, skinny, blond, conservative ladyspeak it’s the equivalent of, “What’s your sign?” (And, who am I kidding? If Glenn Beck said something comparable to me, I’d be tweeting all over the place.)

And, I mean, sadly, that’s basically the end of my story: I went to a party at Frank Bruni’s place once and Ann Coulter showed up. And peanut sauce makes me think of him now…which made me think of her. Which turned out to be on her birthday, of all days. That’s it.

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Julie and Meat/Infidelity

I had hoped to actually post this before Cleaving’s December 1 publication date as I have friends in high places (…sorta…) and got an early copy of Julie Powell’s second book…and wanted to rub it in your collective faces a little bit. (But in the nicest way possible.)

But, alas, it is now December 5, and for all you know, I could have spent the last four days feverishly reading it and composing dark lies.

But *that*, I suppose, is sort of beside the point.

I had *heard* Cleaving got bad reviews…and I understand why. I hadn’t actually read any of the critics until I sat down to write *this.* But as I was reading the book, I definitely thought, “People are not going to like this…”

And because of the kinship I felt with Julie in Julie and Julia (and that I still felt — albeit to a lesser degree — in Cleaving), I’m going to go out on a limb and play a little devil’s advocate here. Which is not to say I liked the entire book. I initially thought it was hard to get into — the text really just goes back and forth between Knives/Meat and Marriage Falling Apart/Affair over and over again. Neither topic is really pleasant to encounter…(especially for those of us who saw Chris Messina valiantly play the role of Eric in this summer’s movie…)

But first I’ll tackle the meat: I’m hardly a vegetarian (those vegan blog posts last year were really just a buddy at HuffPo hooking an unemployed girl up…), but, put lightly, some of those butchering passages were really hard to read. (It was sort of like when I was watching something on TV with my parents about bison that mysteriously died in a national park..and it turned out that they were already sick…and because of the cold weather, they got trapped in some sort of gassy something-or-rather out on the plains…so, it was unfortunate, but they would have died anyway. And the national parks guys proved this by cracking open one of the bones and showing this really gooey bone marrow…and my mother and I saw it and immediately exclaimed, “EWW!” and my dad just said, “What? It’s bone marrow.”) So…Point #1: I may eat steak, but that doesn’t make it easy to read about how a cow *becomes* steak. Which maybe means I *should* be a vegetarian…but that’s a topic for another post.

Point #2: After such phenomenal success with her first book, I sort of have to give Powell props for not following a similar pattern and writing the same thing again, but with Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two. I would imagine the temptation would totally be there with something that has already been established as a successful model…*especially* when that model has been turned into a Nora Ephron movie and you KNOW that plenty of people will buy the second book on name recognition alone.

I think London’s Sunday Times put it best, actually, in this review that asked how Powell could possibly top herself after Julie and Julia…and then answers itself: “The answer is, of course, that she couldn’t. But she has had a jolly good stab at it — literally.”

I like that — “a jolly good stab.” We should all be so lucky…

But…it *is* gross. And disconcerting. And, as noted, I basically agreed with everyone who didn’t like it…until D — the man with whom she is having the torrid affair that threatens her marriage — disappears. That was the moment Julie became a sympathetic character to me…and I started to identify with her more and more…and even recognized some of my own behavioral patterns in the things she does for him…even though she knows she’ll never hear from him. This may officially make me a crazy person, but…1. Who among you didn’t think that anyway? And…2. I totally understand that compulsion…and that desire to maintain a connection with someone no longer in your life. Small case in point: There is perhaps no one (aside from myself) who loved my cat more than the Bartender. And so, for example, when I finally got the cat fixed and the vet told me that he was the most well-endowed feline she had ever neutered, I *knew* the Bartender would appreciate the story…perhaps more than anyone else. And so I emailed him about it…even though I knew he wouldn’t respond. I guess part of me is stubborn enough and/or hopeful enough that somewhere out there, he read my message and it made him happy and he remembered that we had good times together. (But when I read Christine Muhlke’s review in the NYT, I felt really bad about myself. I can’t help but feel she’s calling me pathetic, too: “Powell’s not kidding about the ‘obsession’ part: she pathetically texts and e-mails into the ether for almost a year, then fleshes her longing into a book that doesn’t spare the reader a single full-frontal flashback.” [For the record though, I spared y’all plenty of full-frontal flashbacks. So count your blessings.])

However, when I told my friend J that I sort of got Julie’s sadness about D, she said, “But you don’t have a husband!!” which is a fair point. And, Julie, as much as I’d like to defend you (you’re the one, after all, who gave me hope that it *is* possible to be at a point in life in which you feel absolutely nothing is going right, but you can still suck it up and make positive changes and turn everything around…), I gotta say that it *is* hard to have real, total, complete sympathy for you knowing that you have Eric at home. And, sure, he goes out and has his own affair, too…but…I found myself asking, “Why not just get a divorce?” repeatedly. And, sure, he’s been a part of your life for a super-long time and you know each other so well that you’re basically the same person and you always know what the other one is thinking…which is why you can’t hide the affair from him in the first place, but also why you can’t bear to part with him, and…well…I don’t know. It just sort of gets to a point where it seems like a tough decision needs to be made…but nobody is willing to make it and it kinda feels like you guys are making your own beds. Either get divorced or don’t, but, for the love of god, stop complaining about the uncertainty. (Which, ultimately, she does.) (And all of this, “But I love/know him more than I love/know myself…”-business sort of makes me think of the fourth book in the Twilight series and that half-vampire baby that resulted from Bella and Edward’s union. UGH. But, again, another post for another day.)

Point #3 is that when you write something like this, you have to be honest. (Or at least that’s what Dale Maharidge taught me…) And, sure, some of Cleaving is a little saucy and/or, you know, what kids these days (or kids from days of yore) might call TMI…but, at the same time, I also think it’s kind of brave. She wrote about a topic that clearly does not paint her in a positive light…but she doesn’t gloss over any of it. She sort of offers herself up — flaws and all. And that takes guts. And to touch on Point #2 again briefly, all the saucy stuff takes her further out of her Julie and Julia Comfort Zone…and I gotta give her props for being brave enough to do that, too. (But, then again, I don’t know how much of it was actually flexing writing muscles and how much of it was, “See?? I can write naughty words! And lots of ’em!”)

I also think confidence plays a big role in all of this…and it is where, again, I feel a certain kinship with Ms. Powell. I was just at a little J-school classmate reunion-y thing, in fact, when I was talking about making slow progress on my book and one of my classmates grabbed me by the arms and shook me a little and said, “You’re so talented! Do you know that? You have to know that and acknowledge it and understand that someday you’re going to do great things!” and it was sort of like, “Yes! Sure. Okay!”

I like the way the NYT put the confidence issue best: Muhlke writes that D’s enduring power over Julie exists, in part, because his presence in her life “instills the confidence that being played by Amy Adams in the movie apparently did not.” And…I don’t know. But I get that, too. And, heck, I can only assume money is no object for her now and I don’t really see anything wrong with looking around and saying, “Hey! I have a lot of freedom!” and then trying butchering on for size and going to Argentina, Ukraine and Tanzania…in order to clear her head or spark something within her or simply to delay the inevitable. Obviously she’s still a person trying to figure out who she is and what makes her tick…and I’m not sure we should all be so quick to judge. She has an amazing opportunity sans financial pressures to actually figure out all that stuff on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs…that a lot of people never get to do. I have no idea what I’d do with myself if I didn’t have to worry about paying rent or bills or anything (aside from blogging for all of you, natch). While visiting my parents for Thanksgiving, I went to a thrift shop with my mother and found a giant silver clock that was lined with velvet and contained a hologram of the Last Supper and some fake flowers. And it was just the most amazing clock ever…but there was a slight imperfection in the velvet lining…so I bought some additional fake flowers and glued them on the inside and then I decided I might as well touch up the silver paint while I was at it, too…and I pretty much had the time of my life. So…perhaps I would fix up old clocks. But would I really be fulfilled by that forever and ever? I have no idea. (See? Creating a fulfilling life for oneself is a toughie.)

Bottom line: I think there’s a lot of be said about pursuing your passion no matter what. And I hate to get up on a feminist soapbox, but…I don’t think it’s totally unreasonable to point out that women face this tinge of selfishness when they want to do something purely for themselves that men never do. A man can pursue whatever career/passions he wants and he can still be a model family man. But a woman who puts her career and/or other passions at the forefront at the expense of family and/or children isn’t such a sympathetic figure. And that’s not really fair. (I am tempted to ask the “What if Julie was a man?”-question and bring up powerful men and *their* affairs and follow *that* thread for awhile…but I think Access Hollywood quite thoroughly beat me to that punch last week.)

And, I mean, I totally understand Julie’s excitement in having her own apartment. (Did Virginia Woolf not write that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”?) I’m really not good at sharing spaces. In fact, I think my own apartment may be the ONE thing I’ve done right in my life to date. So…yet another thing that makes me get Julie. If only Eric didn’t exist at all, she might be one of my favorite people ever…(or perhaps I should say, “The idea of her…” I just Googled and found an interivew on YumSugar and realized that she *is*, in fact, a real person and thought, “Yikes! What if she reads this?” Which she won’t…but, still…)

My final plus: It’s hard to travel on your own. Heck, I have trouble eating or going to movies by myself. (That’s one of the good things about working from home — I can go see movies in the middle of the day in the middle of the week and absolutely no one is in the theater…) So — even though I agree with the reviewers that her post-apprenticeship jaunts around the world *do* seem to have been tacked on without a firm idea about how they contribute to the book as a whole — I also think it’s really great she was brave enough to fly all over the world on her own.

The NYT felt otherwise — “She travels to Argentina, Ukraine and Tanzania, a 100-page exercise in self-indulgent writing, in which she dwells on how attractive the locals find her and how much Malbec, Cognac or goat’s blood she can drink…” — but, I mean, c’mon. What is memoir (or foodoir) if not an exercise in self-indulgence?

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