Tag Archives: Valentine’s day

Julie & “Damian” & “D” & Julia

In the past several weeks, I have encouraged not one but TWO friends to start blogs…and these friends eventually created Making Miami Mine and The Tombudsman. Both have clear objectives and I’m really excited for them.

I, meanwhile, feel like I’ve totally run out of things to say. I hardly bake any more…and even when I *did* make cupcakes for a recent fake-gambling birthday, I used a MIX and the most intriguing topic I thought of was the dearth of appropriate sprinkles in my home. (I have red hearts and pink dots for Valentine’s Day and green dots for St. Patrick’s Day…but, after March 17, I’m can’t sprinkle anything again until the following February. And this is the most interesting thing I’ve had to say since April 19.)

So…I think it’s safe to say I’ve been in a bit of a writing rut. (Sounds like some sort of verbal exercise, doesn’t it? Like, say it five times fast? “WritingRutWritingRutWritingRutWritingRutWritingRut.”?)

So…I had this professor at Columbia I’ll call D. And D is a busy guy…but I am stubborn and I have hounded him for weeks (if not months?).

(Little sidenote: I have this wonderful high school buddy who has listened to me during many a panic attack and who has talked me down from many a ledge…and who even offered to be my date to my cousin’s wedding when there wasn’t a straight boy in sight…and I called him the other day because I love him and wanted to talk to him because there had been a little dramz, but he was super-busy and said, “Can I call you back?” and I said, “Sure…” and he said, “You’re not having a Lisa Moment, are you?” See how well he knows me?? [He also introduced me to this.])

So I guess we could say I had a Lisa Moment the other day. But, I mean, c’mon — my life was not supposed to turn out like this. I was not supposed to be staring 30 in the face and fake-gambling to support myself. And, sure, I wrote a book…but no one wants to publish it (spun another way: I haven’t found the right publisher yet…!) and my entire life plan at this point is that I’m going to get a book deal and it’s going to be huge and then I’ll pay off J-school and buy an apartment and winter in Turks and Caicos or whatever. But is this really a sound plan? I think the smart money is on no…but, I mean, I can totally make my peace with the Lean Times if I get to go on Oprah someday and laugh about the odd jobs I’ve sustained to support myself (…or Ellen, I suppose, if this doesn’t happen before 2011…)…but what if that never happens?? And that’s where I get myself into trouble…

So…once I snapped out of it and remembered Mama Slocum’s “one day at a time”-advice, I sent several emails…and one of them was to D…and, as luck would have it, the 2010 Columbians were graduating last Tuesday and he did not have plans afterward. So…after six hours of baccarat, I schlepped waaay up north…and he made me actually go *into* the J-school building (I had joked that I might be so embarrassed by my failed career that I’d have to hide in the bushes…)…and I don’t know if it was actually strange per se — just felt like a million years ago. And it was (only?) two.

So…D and I went to a local pub and ordered some grub (got that, bub?) and he settled in to make me feel better about my faltering career and to regale me with stories of what it’s like at the top. And I guess that’s really what I needed — someone to boost my ego a little bit and remind me what a really horrible publishing environment it is right now and that maybe it’s not me — it’s them! — and that many, many writers are plagued by self-doubt…so I’m hardly unique…and that it’s important to “take it to the mat” (read: never give up!).

And D gave me some really good things to think about in terms of what to do next with my 110,000 words. (I got a little burned out and had to set it aside for awhile…) And in doing so, he asked for the elevator pitch…and, among other things, I told him to think of it as David Sedaris meets Julie & Julia meets The Devil Wears Prada meets Bridget Jones meets I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti. And then we started talking about Julie & Julia…(I tried to get The Tombudsman to watch Julie & Julia — which I actually think is maybe not as girlie as everyone assumes…especially considering the scene in which Julia pulls a cannelloni shell or something out of boiling water and exclaims, “This is hotter than a stiff cock!” — but he adamantly refused, saying it was a gateway drug to Lifetime. Oy.)

And…I’ve totally already written about this before, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that in hindsight I’m not totally surprised everyone seems annoyed by the Julie half of Julie & Julia…but I still find her story heartening — it gives me hope that I can be a nobody in Brooklyn…but as long as I find a project that I am passionate about and embrace it completely, amazing things can happen. But…I *will* admit that I thought she was a little whiny in Cleaving. I do sort of admire her for not writing the same book again — I think it would have been really tempting to write Julie & Julia II with the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking — but…after awhile, it got hard to listen to her go on and on about how she couldn’t imagine life without her husband because they had known each other for so long that they were the same person but that she really, really, really was hankering for this guy she called, “D,” for most of the book (what a magical coincidence, huh?) and who she later IDed as Damian and who she happened to be schtupping and who she really, really wanted to schtup again and again…and her husband who was basically herself *knew* this and he was having his *own* affair and, oh, things were awful and messy…but no one was willing to *actually* do anything. So, in reading it, it’s hard not to think, “Change is hard! But, come on! It’s been 200 pages! Make a decision one way or the other and go with it!”

So…I was sort of telling Professor D all of this, he said, “You know, I know that guy she was having the affair with. He was in a really bad spot in his life then — he was sleeping with everyone.”

And that’s when it hit me that D is kind of a big deal. And I forget because, you know, he’s this brilliant hippie I can have veggie burgers with at a bar on the Upper West Side…but he’s *also* writing his eighth book and making a movie out of one of the predecessors…and he won a Pulitzer. So I shouldn’t be surprised — of *course* he knows the guy with whom Julie Powell was having an affair. (And my awe of D grew…)

And as if *that* wasn’t enough, I mentioned that no one really seems to like the Julie Powell half of the movie and D — who was also a Neiman Fellow, once upon a time — told me that he used to see Julia Child at the grocery store in Cambridge all the time. She was just there, doing her shopping…at the same time *he* was shopping.

And then, like, my proverbial eyes got huge and I couldn’t have thought of him more as a superstar. That’s right, folks — it wasn’t the Pulitzer, it wasn’t the upcoming film adaptation with the $6 million budget…it was running into Julia Child at a grocery store in Cambridge, Mass.

But THEN he added, “But I didn’t sleep with her.”

And that’s when he took it a little too far…

D was a Neiman Fellow in 1988. Paul Child died in 1994.

And the fact that Julia did not marry Paul until she was 34 is one of the things I cling to (I also used to cling to Sandra Bullock and Jesse James…but obvs do not do *that* anymore) as proof that maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world to be my age and still playing the proverbial field. And that perhaps if I am patient, the Love of my Life will fall from the sky and we will be deliriously happy for 48 years.

And so…if D had had some torrid affair with Julia Child in the late 80s, *that* would all fly out the window…and I would be left with my single-girl life…and nothing but fake-gambling (and an unpublished manuscript…and a cat that flushes the toilet when he is mad at me…) to comfort me. And that just can’t happen. So…I guess it’s too early to joke about stuff like that? Maybe after Mr. Wonderfulpants falls from the sky? Then I’ll be ready? Although…I *am* excited that D is my six degrees of separation from both Julia Child and Julie Powell…and I am relieved he did not sleep with either of them. But…if I had to choose (and Julia Child wasn’t already dead and/or 40 years his senior), I would *definitely* pair him up with Julie Powell.

(Remember that If They Mated feature on Late Night with Conan O’Brien? This may be an example of *me* taking it too far, but I actually wanted to maybe illustrate this post with an image of D’s face combined with Meryl Streep as Julia Child…but, alas, I cannot find an If They Mated generator…)

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Valentine’s Day a la Frank Sinatra

(As in, “My Way…”)

I’ve written about Valentine’s Day a lot in the past week. No matter what your relationship status/budget, I’m pretty sure I’ve covered it: From clueless guys — http://snurl.com/uczq9 — to open-minded folks of either gender — http://snurl.com/uczqt — and cheap women — http://snurl.com/uczrt — to the Nerdy: http://snurl.com/uczsh and…the Neurotic — http://snurl.com/uczjn.

Which is maybe a little funny or ironic or something…as I don’t really even like Valentine’s Day all that much. As noted in my Luxury Spot post (and reprinted below for your convenience!), I think it’s a holiday that gets it right in elementary school with that spirit of inclusion…although, truth be told, I sort of had a little Valentine’s Day Miracle this morning when I received an e-card from a man I’ve never met…but who has always been really supportive of my blog. It’s been about 8 years (but who’s counting?) since I’ve received any sort of valentine from someone who isn’t my mother or a girlfriend I’ve had since elementary school. So. It was a nice surprise…and made me sort of feel like I’m not some sort of heinous beast on the fringes of society today. (Although, truth be told again, I was thinking that I don’t really know him at all…and he could very well be a real-life Dexter or something [I’m totally in love with that show now and super-sad that I have run out of episodes to watch online]…and then — lo and behold — he tweeted about a gun show and said that there was one firearm in particular that he really coveted. So…hmm…food for thought?)

Speaking of food! If I was in love today, there are plenty of things I would make for my special someone. And if you really are in love and panicking about what to whip up as Mr./Ms. Wonderfulpants is en route, fret no more:

I think you have a lot of leeway and can get away with making anything that your Valentine loves. But if your Valentine isn’t specific, you can keep up a red/pink theme with red velvet cake or heart-shaped sugar cookies (that you can then decorate however you please…and make them really super-personal and sweet and s/he will swoon…)…and then, of course, there’s always Sex in a Pan…which one of my mother’s coworkers brought for a wedding shower or something a million years ago and that somehow ended up in our family cookbook…and that was a big hit with my friends in high school. (I was actually just thinking about a time I visited some folks in Georgia and was absolutely insistent — to the point of belligerency — that we needed Cook and Serve pudding…and it wasn’t until we got home and started assembling it that I realized I was wrong and my friend was right and we totally needed Instant.)

If these ideas sound like too much trouble, I suggest Duncan Hines. I have a friend who used to do PR for Duncan and who needed some photos of some Valentine’s Day recipes last year…which I made and then photographed…and I actually thought most of them were pretty good (except for the giant frosted two-layer, heart-shaped brownies with cherry fluff in the middle. I thought those were a little overkill…).

This year, like most years in the past decade, I have no one to feed but myself. Which is basically fine. After all, it’s the Year of Lisa. Although…I *did* find a Grow-A-Date figurine that I’ve had for years and years and years…that I think my mother (or my aunt) sent me while I was living in England. It is *supposed* to be “the incredible expanding date that grows in water” and says it can be used over and over again…but I tried it out once before and — if memory serves — it didn’t do much. But…for old times’ sake, I have immersed him in a large container of room-temperature water again…and we’ll see what happens. (I am documenting it with photos every hour on the hour…so tomorrow I should have definitive proof either way…)

So, I mean, here we are with Valentine’s Day over halfway over and I have not had one single bout of jealous rage. I think it is because of my Valentine’s Day card…which I wrote about — as noted — for the Luxury Spot.

So…without further ado, my post:

Oh, Valentine’s Day…wingéd harbinger of bitterness…

The past several years, I’ve tried to anticipate you and come up with a sensible way to counteract you, thereby maybe enjoying – or at least enduring — the Day of Love…but, sadly, nothing has proven particularly effective – not sending cards to my nieces and nephew; not “going out with the girls…”; not baking heart-shaped treats for my coworkers.

But I think this year I have finally cracked it! And, I mean, I may be getting cocky again and Monday morning will find me curled up in a ball on my bathroom floor after drinking an entire bottle of pink champagne by myself…but…with 48 hours to go, I’m feeling pretty good about my 2010 Valentine’s Day Plan.

But, first…a brief history:

I feel like this is the one holiday that really gets it right in elementary school and everyone has to bring in cards for everyone else. No one is left out. No one feels unloved or unwanted. Everyone goes home with a heart-shaped envelope full of cards and candy. (I can remember carefully scrutinizing my valentines while addressing them to ensure the boys in my class got the least sentimental ones…lest they get the wrong impression and think I harbored any genuine feelings for them…)

But then I grew up and got a job and started going to work on February 14 (or thereabouts)…and walked into offices that looked like veritable florists…and knew, year after year, that the only sign of life on *my* desk would be the countless knickknacks and office supplies that were there 365 days a year…and as much as I’d like to be a big person and to be happy for everyone else, let’s face it – after X goddamn years, it’s hard to grit your teeth and smile and think, “That’s so nice for you! I am happy that you are having a happy Valentine’s Day!” and actually mean it…and not, you know, shoot laserbeams out of your eyes at her while you’re doing it.

So…this clearly promulgated my Overtly Anti-Valentine’s Day Phase…in which any canoodling couple was subject to my wrath. But…let’s face it – it’s not fun to be angry at the whole entire world…and, truth be told, I really like holidays. (My aunt bought me a decorative plate that says, “Happy Everything!” and includes a montage of every Christian holiday from Valentine’s Day to Christmas…and it is prominently displayed on a bookcase in my apartment…)

And I admit that I *did* enjoy learning that Valentine’s Day is rooted in a pagan ceremony that involved slapping young women with strips of animal flesh after a ritual sacrifice while I was researching a story for another Web site…but I honestly don’t want to be the Valentine’s Day Grinch. (Plus, I was really excited about busting out my Valentine’s Day spatula and my Valentine’s Day dishtowels and my Valentine’s Day potholder this year. So any grinchiness on my part would be disingenuous.)

Nevertheless…

I will never forget the Valentine’s Day I worked for a popular lifestyle magazine in Midtown. I was carefully hidden away in an area adjacent to the conference rooms that was affectionately (…or not so much…) labeled “Intern Alley.” But…it was also remarkably close to the Editor-in-Chief’s office (and, therefore, her assistant). And I found her assistant incredibly intimidating because she was one of those women who was drop-dead gorgeous and had amazing clothes and was super-confident…and, you know, I feel like there’s some justice in the world when women like that are really dumb or trapped in loveless marriages or whatever…but this woman – we’ll call her Genevieve – could speak French. Flawless French. Her phone would ring and she would pick up and fire away en francais as if we were working in Paris or something.

So…it was no surprise to me on Valentine’s Day that year when a mail room guy appeared at her desk with a giant box of flowers.

“Oh, look! My boyfriend sent me flowers!” Genevieve cooed.

And then…merely an hour or two later, another box appeared.

“Oh, look! My ex-boyfriend sent me flowers!” she trilled again.

I began to quietly seethe in Intern Alley.

And then…the coup de grace – the Editor-in-Chief returned from lunch with a huge spread of peach roses (which, according to various Web sites, mean anything from appreciation and desire to modesty) that she bestowed upon Genevieve, declaring, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Gen! These are for you…because you are my Valentine!”

(For a brief period, I thought this meant she was unmarried…and I had this enormous amount of respect for her […and even a tiny girlcrush…] because I thought it meant she had scaled the masthead solo and found herself with huge editorial prowess at the head of magazine with millions of monthly readers. But then June rolled along and she featured a Father’s Day spread with her husband and daughter…and I realized she’s just another wife…and was frankly kind of disappointed…)

So, I mean, the moral of this story is that I understand that beautiful, perfect, well-dressed, well-spoken women inspire flowers on Valentine’s Day. It makes perfect sense. But what I don’t understand is how one of these beautiful, perfect, well-dressed, well-spoken women can inspire three dozen flowers…and I can’t conjure up the inspiration for a single measly bud. Am I really that ugly and imperfect and ill-clothed and tongue-tied? Or, if not, is the universe really just that mean? (I used to also quietly seethe when walking by delis in my neighborhood that had flowers out front…and it was kind of a big moment in my coming-of-age or whatever when I realized that if I wanted flowers, I didn’t have to wait around for Mr. Wonderfulpants…but could rather buy them for myself…which was maybe even better as I could pick out the precise bouquet I wanted…)

Because, you see…other than the bouquets my mother bought me when I graduated high school and college (and a bouquet I sent to myself at work once to make a coworker jealous), I have gotten flowers exactly two times before: Once at work after giving my business card to a weird little man at a bar in Jersey City…who sent them with a note that read, “From, Patrick…” and I had no idea who they were from until he began calling my work number obsessively to see if I got them…and while I thought that if I ignored him long enough, he would eventually give up…I had to finally give in and answer the phone and tell him I had a boyfriend to make him go away.

The other time I received flowers from someone not related to me by blood was when I actually *did* have a boyfriend…but I had to sit him down ahead of time and say, “Valentine’s Day is coming up. You need to buy me flowers…or I am going to get mad.”

I was so excited to actually be in love that year…that I sort of pulled out all the stops with the card that I made for him. I had loved Javier Lopez – the former catcher for the Atlanta Braves (…I lived in Atlanta in the mid-to-late ‘90s…) – for years and years…and the Boyfriend sort of took issue with my obsession…and so for Valentine’s Day, I took an image of Javy and turned him into Cupid and then wrote something about how, you know, I had loved Javy for years and years…but now that I had the Boyfriend, I didn’t really need Javy anymore because I had another person in my life to love. I thought it was poignant and sweet and I couldn’t think of a better way to say, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

But…sadly, the Boyfriend read it and took it in for a moment and then looked at me totally bewildered and said, “You think I’m good at baseball?”

(In his defense, he was English. So…perhaps there was some sort of cultural disconnect?)

Nevertheless, making cards still makes me happy. I sent out one with my cat for the holidays – one of those photo cards that people usually send out with their significant other and/or their children. I decided it would be funny if I embraced my Lonely Girl image and sent a “From Our House to Yours…”-card with my cat. (One friend called it “hilariously empowering…” which I realized is really the only thing I have ever aspired to be in my life…so I was pretty thrilled.)

So…since the holiday card went over so well, I really wanted to do another one for Valentine’s Day. And while I could get away with using the cat for the holidays, I really didn’t want to firmly establish a precedent. Plus, I mean, it’s Valentine’s Day. I like my cat, but…c’mon.

So…a proverbial seed was planted and I began thinking about what I could for Valentine’s Day. And then I don’t know how or when I remembered it, but…at some point last year, I read Julia Child’s “My Life in France.” And…I guess Julia and Paul liked sending out Valentine’s Day cards as there was a whole section in the middle of the book with images of the various valentines they sent out over the years…and there was one in particular in a bathtub that I just loved. And when I remembered it, I really, really, really wanted to use it. The problem, however, is that Paul Child is in the photo. And while I could easily superimpose my head on Julia’s body, I didn’t know how to deal with Paul. So…I started thinking about which men I could use in Paul’s place. In theory, there was Javy…but that seemed a little old and tired. And…I also thought that I could pick a girlfriend and glue *her* face on Paul’s body…but, while potentially empowering again, it seemed a little weird.

So…I was stuck…until I remembered Tucker Max. And I don’t really know where it came from in my head as I’ve never read the book or seen the movie…but, seemingly from nowhere, I recalled the movie poster for “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” and the “YOUR FACE HERE,” on the girl’s body. Et, voila. My Valentine’s Day card was born.

I wish I knew Photoshop and/or had access to it as I feel it would have turned out better with, you know, seamless integration and whatnot…but, as it stands, I’m pretty pleased with the end result. (And…looking handmade = love? Maybe?)

I’m not going to lie – it would make me pretty happy to wake up on Sunday and find one of these on my doorstep (…but not from a weird little man who lives with his parents in Bayonne and calls obsessively for weeks…)…but, bar that, I think it makes me happy to send these images out into the world and spread a little Valentine’s Day joy. So…see? Maybe I’m not such a bitter Betty after all.

I’ll even say it: Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Little Cream Cheese Blobs, Airy Cherry Filling, Brownie-on-Brownie Action & Amateur Photography

After a brief post-Pie Day baking hiatus, I got back into it with a vengeance last week.

I have a friend who does PR for a prominent provider of baked-good mixes and she needed help with photos, so I whipped up some Valentine’s Day-themed recipes and tried my hand at amateur photography.

This, of course, meant stocking up on cake mix…and when I was at the store, I was holding the basket down by my side and a little girl — who was maybe 3 or 4? — walked by and saw all the cake stuff at about eye level and said, “WOW!”

I didn’t get to the baking until Friday morning though…leaving it right up to the deadline. (Funny how that always seems to happen, right?)

First on the list was red velvet cupcakes. And I have say they were tasty, indeed…but it was a little disconcerting because the mix looked like any other chocolate mix until I added water and then — BOOM! — RED! (The first time I heard of red velvet cake was in Steel Magnolias with the armadillo groom’s cake…and even though the quality is bad here, I love this scene with Shirley MacLaine and and Tom Skerritt.)

It also required making a cream cheese mixture that I initially thought I’d have to swirl into each individual cupcake…but when I read the directions again, it said to just dollop it on top. I wasn’t quite sure what would happen (and I only have two muffin tins and didn’t have time to bake batch after batch after batch, so I made the 16 cupcakes that I had pretty darn huge to use up all the batter in one go…and then thought I had really screwed things up by dolloping cream cheese on top and that they’d overflow and set fire in my oven. Or something.). But…I was happy to discover that the little cream cheese blobs instead sunk down into the middle of the cupcakes…and even though they were a tad big (a friend came over on Saturday en route to a birthday party and I offered her one and she looked at it and said, “I can’t eat THAT! It’s HUGE!”), I think they were pretty. (It was *really* hard to photograph though because my apartment is dark — funny that I didn’t think of that when I volunteered to bake them…and my friend suggested a white background, so I had to fashion a little mini studio on top of my kitchen cart and then monkey around with a lamp and different camera settings).

Next up were some brownie clouds that required an airy cherry filling. I’m not a big fan of maraschino cherries, so suggestions are welcome on how to use up the rest of the jar as I really only needed three (and some juice). (Bonus points if you can pull in Jim Beam because I still have a bottle of that, too.) I also had to add food coloring to a tub of vanilla frosting…and now have a tub of pink *and* a tub of chocolate frosting (which sorta makes me think of Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. [I also have a cat. Sigh.]).

I also wasn’t sure whether to make the brownies cakey or chewy…in the end, I went for cakey because it seemed like having more to work with would be better than less…but, in the end I’m sure if it made much difference.

I admit these cherry clouds were pretty (once I got the tops to stop sliding around because I used too much filling), but this recipe yields one intense baked good. It’s brownie-on-brownie. *With* creamy goop *and* frosting. I readily admit I am a pig. And yet I think this one would be too much for even me.

The last Valentine’s Day treat was similar — heart-shaped brownies cut from a pan — but this time it was a single layer *and* I got to showcase my cake decorating skills. I stuck to the phrases offered in the press release — Love, XOXO, I Love You and Hugs — and because I am stupid and weird I got all embarrassed on the train when folks peeked over and read them (I covered a Pyrex dish with clingwrap, so there they were, wide out in the open…because I think I lost my precious Pyrex lid on Pie Day!) as well as at the Super Bowl party where they spent their final hours. I felt kind of silly bringing them…but sure as heck didn’t know what else to do with them…and, like I’ve said before, I live alone and I’m freelancing, so I have no coworkers/roommate/boy wonder to eat them all.

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