The Magicians

If you like Harry Potter, but you don't love it, because you can't really get past the fact that while the story is gripping in an opiates-are-addicting kind of way the writing is, frankly, pretty terrible, what with the paper-thin characterization and the hamfisted retconning and the way that in a world allegedly torn apart by dark and violent magic not a single one of the A- or B-tier central characters bites it (come on, at least Neville or Luna should've gone in for a heroic act of self-sacrifice) — and also if you were one of those kids who devoured all those fantasy novels with literary integrity, like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but also read all the marvelous crap, too, like Tamora Pierce and David Eddings — and then you grew up and never actually stopped reading books about people discovering that magic is real, but it was the forty to a sixty of zeitgeisty literary fiction, through which you wound up discovering that, cliches be damned, your favorite books of the last decade have been A Home at the End of the World and The Corrections — guys, if this is you, get off the computer and go read The Magicians by Lev Grossman right this very fucking second, because the reason I'm writing a stupid blog post at 3:24 in the morning is because I absolutely completely could not put this book down until I finished it, and now that I'm done I don't want to stop thinking about it. I don't know yet if I loved this book, but it definitely ate me alive.


Soap on a Rope

I would think Tom Ford would be kind of in favor of dropping the soap. IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.



The UK Daily Mail writes today about this amazing black-and-white shift dress that comes with markers so you can color it in yourself and isn't that amazing and ... yeah, isn't it? So eight months ago.


Topsy Perfect

Behold, the solution to all my "I will die if I have to wear my hair down, but a ponytail is too sporty-casual" dilemmas (which, shut up, happen way more often than I care to admit, and then go totally unresolved):

GUYS. A SIDE TOPSY-TAIL. Not even kidding. It's brilliant. I'm going to wear it tomorrow.

(No, the photo is not me. It's a model from RueLala.)


Bowled Over

Want of the day: this stacked set combines so many things that I love (okay, three: optical illusions, the color yellow, bowls) into one pretty pretty package. And it is a mere $45, which means if someone doesn't buy it for me (hint), I could reasonably buy it for myself.

Stackable Yellow Bowl Set, The Curiosity Shoppe


Everybody is NOT Fine

We went to the movies last night to celebrate Mr. B's dad's birthday. He picked Everybody's Fine, on the premise that it is a heartwarming holiday movie about a dad and, you know, it was a heartwarming holiday-season day for us, celebrating a dad. Before we left I watched the trailer:

Guys. THIS TRAILER IS A LIE. First of all, and I know this is nitpicky, but this is not a holiday movie. It takes place during August. Second and more importantly, there is absolutely nothing uplifting about this movie whatsoever. It is not a rollicking family comedy about coming together and love conquering all. It is not an adorable movie in which the importance of a good father is reaffirmed.

It does, however, feature (spoiler alert but this doesn't matter because do not go see this movie, it is terrible) lots and lots of lies, lots of silence and loneliness, intensely unsympathetic characters, vague homophobia, way too many telephone voiceovers, a flashback/dream sequence in which narrative loose ends are hamfistedly resolved and — bonus! — one of Robert DeNiro's kids being unable to come home because he is in a Mexican jail. And just when the other kids are about to tell their dad where the fourth sibling is, and I was thinking to myself "how on earth are they going to say 'David is in a Mexican jail' without this sounding completely ridiculous?" it turned out that the screenwriters got around that by making David die. He died in a Mexican jail. Oh also the very last line uttered in the movie is the movie's title. I hate that.


Ira Glass Made of Legos

CubeDude Ira Glass, originally uploaded by MacLane.

I think I just died of happiness in my mouth a little.


Make Your Own Macs

Oh and that book review for which I made the macarons? Is now live on EMD. Go read it and win a free book!


Mac Daddy

I made macarons last night for an upcoming book review, and for a first try they turned out near-perfect. This can't be right. But it is delicious.


Want Your Bad

File under: shirts that will only really matter for about two more weeks. File under: shirts I actually can never wear, ever, because it is too much the torso version of Frank Rossitano's hats. File under: awesome.

Via the aptly named Relevant Now.


Publicists, Journalists, Twitter, Attribution, Blogging, Oh My

For reasons various and stupid, I was reading through the twitter feed this morning of one of my favorite restaurant writers, Julia Kramer, and I noticed this tweet, directed at me, that I had completely missed like three months ago: "@ellit, re: content shortage+lots of blogs=qs about attribution etiquette. <--pls to write a blog post about this?? [really.]" And then later this afternoon, completely out of the blue, came an email from another restaurant writer in my personal A list, asking a related question: Why (on my work blog) do I give credit in certain posts to Ellen Malloy, who's a publicist? It's her job to get the word out about her restaurants. Why do I, asked this writer, "give her double play"?

So then I wrote this epically long email response, in which I started to crystallize all sorts of abstract thoughts that had been swirling around in my head about Twitter, and blog citation, and the blurring line between PR and journalism.

The first question is one of crediting sources. If I get a story from Twitter, no matter who it's from, I'll credit that tweet as my source, because it's public communication. Anyone can see what Ellen tweets, for example, and she does that on purpose: part of her (well-publicized) philosophy of PR is to cut out the journalistic middleman. My post about Dale Levitski taking over at Sprout is a good example: if Ellen had emailed a press release or posted information behind RIA's password-protection, I might not have credited her by name. But Twitter's public, just as public as sourcing my info from the Tribune or TOC, so it gets cited.

For stuff that appears on RIA, Ellen's members-only aggregation of news and information about her restaurant clients, the ethics of attribution is a little cloudier. The stories that are posted there are press releases, yes. But on one hand, they have a public component to them - they're linkable as sources even if you're not a journalist with a password. On the other hand, that public component isn't RSSable and it's unlikely that non-journalists are reading it.

(Still, I feel uncomfortable omitting credit, because it is essentially publicly available information. I wouldn't, for example, upload the PDF of an emailed PR blast, and I get twitchy when I see blogs that just repost release text wholesale. Even when I get a newsy press release I'll often attribute it to [Inbox] or mention that it came over the wire - I think that kind of transparency is important when it comes to creating trust between me and my readers. Off the high horse now.)

But then there is the question of attributing biased sources. While Ellen's game-changing approach to restaurant public relatinos often blurs the lines between PR and journalism, there is that fundamental thing that separates what Ellen does from what I do (or the Trib or TOC or someone with a Yelp account or whoever): she's being paid by the restaurants. As publicists go, I trust what Ellen sells me - unlike many other PRs, I don't think she tries to pass off non-stories as incredibly important breaking news - but I can't forget that it's her job to make sure that the stories that get out about her clients are positive. The objective measure of her doing her job well, as she's pointed out to me before, is butts in seats.

That's where I (and other journalists, bloggers, and people who get press releases) come in: our goal isn't butts in seats, it's to dig up news and - in some cases - to express our opinions about it. So when Ellen hands me a story (or really, since most of what RIA does is non-exclusive, I should say: when Ellen broadcasts a story and I pick up on it), my job ought to be to look at it with skepticism and then, if it passes muster, to take it beyond the press release: calling chefs for comment, providing broader-picture context (there's an example of a RIA-sourced story I didn't attribute), or - occasionally, if it's warrented - just being like "hey, this is awesome."

When I reblog folks like TOC, the Reader, etc., that additional legwork has often been done already - they start with a news nugget and garnish it with their own editorial perspective - so I don't necessarily feel obligated to embellish, just to point my readers to their insights. But with press releases, Ellen's or otherwise, I do think I've got an obligation to take it a step beyond the information I (and everyone else on the bcc list) am handed. That doesn't always happen (sometimes a release is just facts. Sometimes it's a tiny story and there isn't more to add. Sometimes it's just a painfully busy day and I literally don't have time), but I like to think that I add something to the conversation more often than not.

So then let's go off in another direction: there is, of course, always that bcc list to keep in mind. It's rare that I get my hands on a piece of information - big or small - that half a dozen other people covering my beat don't also have at the same time. Taking a release (or even an exclusive) as just a starting point is, I think, good practice among journalists in order to account for redundancy. I can't count the number of times I've stared at an empty MT input field with no idea what to do, simply because other bloggers who got the same PR blast I did had just gotten the information online faster than I could. (Argh, lunch breaks, so dangerous.)

In those cases, I'm unsure what to do. Do I kill the story completely, and hope my readers pick it up elsewhere? Do I just run the same set of facts that's already been put out there, credit the press release, and pretend I haven't seen that, say, Julia Kramer already put it up on TOC? Do I run the facts but link to TOC as a source? It's not accurate - I didn't get the news from Kramer, after all - but it makes me look like less of a dick. Is the goal here to avoid looking like a dick?

But if I stick to the high-hat tenets of journalistic obligation that I got into above, this "take the facts and then add value" thing, then it alleviates that concern: I've got my own angle to add to the story ("angle" in this case could be as little as a stupid pun or as big as an interview with the chef), so my readers (who probably overlap significantly with TOC's, LTH's, Gaper's Block's, Chicagoist's, the Reader's, the Stew's, and probably Ellen's) don't feel like they're trapped in an echo chamber.

Of course all this depends on news being good and interesting, and sources being compliant, and the internet not failing, and people caring about what I have to say, and my mental bad-pun-generator firing on all cylinders. It's not perfect. It never is.


Decent Enough Hair

Mr. B and I went to see Good Hair last night. It was, well, good. Observations:

1. We were at the Magic Johnson Movie Theater on 125th St, in Harlem. 125th St is mentioned multiple times during the movie, and a number of the salons Chris Rock stopped by are within spitting distance of the theater.

2. And yet, more than half the (admittedly small) audience was white.

3. Even in the darkened theater, I felt self-conscious and strange that I had blow-dried straight my (naturally curly) hair that day.

4. After the movie, four women other from the theater and I were all in the bathroom staring at ourselves in the mirror and touching our own hair in complete silence. It was David Lynchian.


Fewer Clicks

This ad for Windows 7 (a) features a guy I went to summer camp with a million years ago (hi, Jack! Don't unfriend me on Facebook for this!) and (b) uses the mass adjective "less" when it should be the count adjective "fewer."

Because of these two things, I now feel surprisingly connected to Windows 7. Probably not in the way Microsoft wants me to be, but whatever.


Infinitely Recursive Jewelry

For as long as I have been alive I have hated wearing necklaces. Even the lightest, most ephemeral versions make me want to claw at them in a terrifically unladylike way until the damn things are ripped off my neck. Just thinking about it, seriously, just typing this is making me get all agitated and have creepy-crawly feelings growing up from my collarbone. Obviously I have problems. One of them, also necklace-related, is that I don't own this:

This is a diamond and sapphire necklace designed by Mark Newson for Boucheron. It's inspired by fractals, uses a particularly minimal setting "so the stones appear to float on the wearer’s throat," took 1500 hours of labor to craft, and is one of the most expensive pieces Boucheron has ever produced. Some lucky tycoon's wife gets to wear this, and that is all the proof I need that the world is horribly unfair.

[via The Moment]


The Tetris Dress

It's a dress with Tetris on it.

I've really got nothing more to say on the matter except that now that song will be stuck in my head FOREVER.

(via the inimitable A Dress A Day)


Dreamy Dream Computer

I'm home sick today with this epic cold that, last night, led me to stay up until 5am drifting in and out of fever-dreams about David Chang (no joke, and it's less fun than it sounds). After finally caving to a double dose of Nyquil I've spent the rest of the day cocooned in bed feeling sorry for myself and wanting to die.

This all has nothing to do with the fact that the latest in HP's attempts to sexify their netbook (Vivienne Tam, really?) has me completely enraptured. The darn thing is designed by Tord Boontje, which means it's one of the few things in the past day that's warmed my little Moss-obsessing design-snob techie heart enough to cut through the fog of this cold.

It's also delightfully in line with my realization that what I need, computer-wise, is not actually a tricked-out laptop, but instead a serviceable desktop machine and a nice handbag-friendly netbook. And a wee little netbook laser-etched in Boontje's awesome techno-flora graphics, cute enough to get me to abandon the Apple brand-loyalty I've carried for all twenty-seven years of my life? Yes and yes and yes, please.


Helen vs. The Piglet

I wrote a cookbook review-slash-judgment for Food52.com that's up today in their March Madness-style cookbook tournament: Well-Preserved vs. Babycakes.

Go read it and help me put up a feeble defense against the crushingly massive pageviews that will no doubt ensue from the tournament's later judges, who include folks like Grant Achatz, Gwyneth Paltrow, Nora Ephron, and Harold McGee. I know, right — how did I get invited to this party?


Pump It Up

The Lo Res pump from United Nude is the result of a pump being digitally scanned into 3D modeling sofware and then adjusted to (get it?) a lower resolution. Translated: The Lo Res pump from United Nude is what your shoes would look like if you lived in a 1980s computer.

Obviously I want them.


The King Of Consumer Rights

My friend Paul bought a Kindle from Amazon, and he dropped it one day, and it sort of broke but not entirely, and Amazon wanted $200 to replace it. Paul is generally speaking a very smart cookie, plus he went to law school, so he sent them a very strongly worded letter noting that Amazon falsely indicated the device's durability, and he would be willing to settle the matter for a payment of $400 ($200 to cover his replacement fee and $200 for incidental mucketymuck). He told Amazon they had 30 days to agree to his settlement offer, after which point he would file suit. Twenty days later, Amazon sent him a $400 check.

I am so impressed right now.


The Rainbow Cake In Real Life

The intrepid Nadarine has done what I have only dreamed of doing, where by "dreamed of doing" I mean "saw a picture on Flickr, emailed the photographer for instructions, he said he was just the photographer and didn't know how it was done, googled like a mofo, looked into buying industrial-grade food coloring, talked about it incessantly with various friends, and never actually got off my ass to do." Specifically, she has made the rainbow cake, and she has done a kick-ass job:
Plus her post is headed with a Raffi lyric, which is win.


Grokking Grok

It's not so much that I'm gleeful when I catch a typo in the New York Times. It's a big paper, it publishes daily, spelling errors are bound to slip through the cracks. But if you are verbally in-the-know enough to be familiar with the verb to grok (a sci-fi neologism coined by author Robert Heinlein to mean something on the order of "comprehending something so intimately that it is a part of you," here used quite aptly in Cintra Wilson's critical shopper review of Comme des Garçons, a label requiring sci-fi verbs if there ever was one) then I would imagine you should realize that its past tense formation is grokked.

It's not as if the Times doesn't know what it's doing. If you double-click on any word in any article you are directed to a definition page, and "grocked" turns up nothing. Grok, meanwhile, is defined as "To understand profoundly through intuition or empathy," and we are given its tense-dependent variants: "grok·ked, grok·king, groks." If you're going to use grok, Times, please attempt to grok it first.


Floaty Dresses

Adding this inflatable kayak dress (okay, it's a skirt, inspired by Hurricane Katrina blah blah blah) by Yael Mer to my fantasy dress closet, where it will hang alongside the balloon dress and the 3D bird dress and the bleeding markers dress and the color-it-in dress. In fact now that I think of it, I should mash them all together in a new category I am calling fantasy closet. Done! Poof!


The Thought Process

I should get a shirt that says the name of my college on it.
Everything Smith College officially sells is hideous.
I should design my own Smith shirt.
I should design my shirt to say "Smif"! Thus killing the college-allegiance and webcomic-reader-nerd birds with one stone!
Oh no, if I get a shirt that says SMIF in large block letters, everyone will think it stands for "single mom I'd fuck."
Never mind, I will not get a shirt that says the name of my college on it.


Diners Anonymous

My post from a few months ago about being treated poorly at Le Bernardin has, not entirely unsurprisingly, become the most-viewed page on this site. (Everyone loves a good healthy round of indignance.)

But it is one thing when you get cruddy service from a better-than-that restaurant for reasons that could, plausibly, be chalked up to your youth, and you are a food writer with a blogspot account. It's quite another thing entirely when you get the same inexplicably bad treatment and you are a restaurant reviewer for a major publication. Time Out Chicago's Julia Kramer (erudite, brilliant, encyclopedic in her food knowledge, and as it happens quite youthful) takes her subpar experience at Naha and spins it into an object lesson in the importance of anonymity in criticism.


We Care A Lot

Oh em eff gee, it's leggings with Care Bears on them.

Except these are not the Care Bears I knew and loved as a child, obsessively watching The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation over and over. These Care Bears have naughty body parts and are drinking straight from the bottle and are smoking something that appears likely to make the Care Bear Stare a heavy-lidded one. This profanes my childhood and is a pair of leggings worn as pants at the same time. This article of clothing is the Beast.



Look, Commencement author J. Courtney Sullivan and publishers Knopf — the fact that I went to Smith does not actually make me more likely to want to read this Smith-located novel that you're pushing on me via a Facebook targeted ad. A pandering quote from Entertainment Weekly is certainly not the praise that's going to push me to the other side. Sealing that fate is the goddamn hyphen that you have used in place of an em-dash within the quote. You fail.


Voldemort and Michael Jackson

I've been re-reading the Harry Potter books and have come to a startling conclusion: Voldemort and Michael Jackson have a lot in common.

- both had troubled childhood marked by an absence of normal parenting.
- both were identified as "special" at a young age.
- both sought immortality, and the pursuit thereof turned their skin pale and eliminated their noses.

[too soon? nah.]


Dear 98% of Married Couples, Here Is Why I Hate Your Wedding Song

Fools Rush In
"I barely know you, but I'm in love with you anyway. I'm moving forward with this rash emotion despite the fact that there is a common proverb warning against this."

At Last
"After a period of loneliness so longstanding that I had basically given up on love completely, you arrived, and I am no longer desperate."


Collar and Cuffs

Dying just the littlest bit over this man's-shirt-collar-inspired bangle from Etsy seller yellowgoat. Just a smidge of death. Nothing to worry about.


McNuggetGate 2009: Yawn

The New York Daily News wastes precious, precious internet space today calling out McDonald's for unfair McNugget pricing.

Come on people, this is not news. I covered this back in 2005. It's not a "scam," it's merely a system by which the smart may benefit over the idiotic. If you're too dumb to notice that you can get 8 nuggets for $2 by ordering two 4-pieces, rather than paying $2.89 or whatever for a 6-piecer, you freaking deserve to be taken advantage of.


Diner, My Shiny Shiny Love

Mia G. just came up with the best idea I might have ever heard in my life: Propose to your loved one by buying ad space on one of those local-ad-filled diner placemats that reads "Loved one, will you marry me?"

My contribution: Then the song "Diner" by Martin Sexton can be Your Song.

Someone out there needs to do this. Please, please please please please.


My Trip to Jordan: Falsetto

At Petra, in the glaring early afternoon sun, we were booking it from the base of the 700 steps to the monastery back to the treasury. Amid the sea of dusty, perky German and Australian tourists and American girls stupidly wearing sundresses and flipflops (it's a 4km hike through sand, guys, come on), there was this knot of a dozen American-accented fresh-faced young men in tucked-in collared shirts and nicely combed hair, breezily wandering with a somewhat aristocratic cameraderie. Not uniformly dressed enough to be Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses, not old enough to be Rotarians, not ass-slappy enough to be a frat.

I turned to Mr. B and Mo: "Twenty bucks says they're an a capella group from an Ivy League school."

So Mr. B went up to one who was straggling behind the others: blond curls, a pink polo shirt, boat shoes.

"Who are you guys?" Mr. B asked.
"We're an a capella group," the guy said.
"Where from?"

It's a good school but it's no Ivy. No points, thanks for playing, try again.

Update: An extraordinarly astute reader points out that they were almost certainly the Virginia Gentlemen.

Cady Heron

From the UK Guardian's recent article about the Vogue documentary "The September Issue":

According to Cady Heron, a blogger at the online entertainment news site Collider.com who attended one of the few screenings, after refusing to take part in the film's early stages Grace soon becomes the 'heart' of the documentary.
Dear reputable newspaper The Guardian: you do realize Cady Heron is the name of the main character in "Mean Girls," and thus is obvs a pseudonym, right? Just checking. xoxoH


My Trip to Jordan: Whoops

We were there for a wedding and, completely by mistake, I caught the bouquet.


My Trip To Jordan: Golddigga

Let's say you're a lady visiting Jordan. Sure, the capital city of Amman might be modern and forward-thinking, but leave the city and you're pretty sternly reminded that you're in a conservative, predominantly Muslim nation, and while everyone is very nice there's a reason the guidebooks recommend that in order to avoid "unpleasant attention" from men on the street you should probably wear loose-fitting clothes that cover more than they reveal. Given all that, what do you wear?

If you are a particular Australian tourist standing in front of me at Petra, you wear this:

It's worth noting here that while Mr. B has in the past threatened to leave me for my habit of taking pictures of people's horrible clothing choices, in this instance he threatened to leave me if I didn't. See also: True Love Waits.


My Trip to Jordan: Makeup Endorsement

If you are the sort of girl who goes on hikes through canyons in the Jordanian desert in order to see ancient Nabatean ruins, but you are also all "I would like to wear a full face of makeup while doing this," you could do worse than Blinc mascara and Revlon Colorstay somethingsomething Sport foundation. They are mindblowingly resistant to midday desert temperatures and hiking-induced sweat, which is great in and of itself but is doubly great when you consider that it avoids the drippy-raccoon-eye look that would, in photos, preserve for all eternity your status as the girl who wore mascara on the hike to Petra. With these products you can be that girl, but no one need know about it unless you are so foolish as to write about it on your publicly readable blog.


The Unbearably Glamorous Daily Lunches of a Real-Life Food Blogger

Monday: Coffee with powdered creamer. 10am and 3pm.
Tuesday: Peanut M&Ms, Diet Coke. 4pm.
Wednesday: Maruchan Instant Lunch, chicken flavor, found on the free stuff table. 2:45pm.


Literary Chairs

Eric sent me a link to these Penguin Classics deck chairs (available from Bloomsbury UK) and immediately started feeling sorry for myself for not having a deck on which to place them. And then I was like, come on, Helen. You have a deck! But they're all on backorder, and I am poor, and really I have so many books anyway that if I start buying furniture modeled on books it'll be impossible to tell what is what in my apartment.

It's true. I was so blinded by the awesomeness of these chairs that I actually forgot the layout of my own home. They are that great.


The Difference

An actual email I sent today:

leggings are sort of between tights and jeans. they are more coverage (in terms of opacity) and they allow you to wear a greater range of footwear (i.e. sandals). It's important to distinguish between leggings (which have a heavy fabric weight and often will have side seams, think the kind of stretch pants you'd wear to the gym) and footless tights (which are, um, footless tights) when making a pants/no pants decision.
Sometimes I don't even know who I am.


Dressing Within The Lines

If only I owned the balloon dress and the bleeding markers dress, I'd basically be morally compelled to acquire the color-it-in-yourself dress in order to round out the Awesome Dress Trifecta.


Support Midwestern Culinary Literacy

My friend Paula is awesome, talented, ravenously hungry, and planning to spend a month traveling around Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to compile what I imagine is going to be The Hipster Midwestern Cookbook, except without the sucky parts implied by the word "hipster."

You should give her a little money to help it happen. Howsaboutit?


It's the S


Dr. James Morgan

Kind of loving the spam I just got:

My name dr. James Morgan.
I do study the anti depressants. And wish to introduce to you the new drug called zoloft.
If you want to feel good, look at these links.
Oh honey. When I want to feel good, I look at these links.

Aretha Franklin sings 'The Weight'

I am so effing obsessed with this mp3 of Aretha Franklin singing "The Weight," accompanied by Duane Allman, that I have probably listened to it literally 23 times in a row between first hearing it earlier this morning and rtfn. Life plan: Be a stripper in the 1970s, dancing to this song.

Click here for sonic awesomeness.

(No jokes about Aretha and "the weight," plzkthx. Jokes about The Hat are a-ok tho.)


The Internet Is Helpful

Here's a thing that I'm doing right now: In deciding what to wear on my upcoming trip to Jordan, I'm using Flickr to check out strangers' snapshots to see what they wore on their visits. Surprise, surprise, it's just normal clothes, but still — I am inordinately proud of myself for coming up with this extension of sartorial obsessiveness.


The Spectrum of Online Friendship

The only thing that would make this totally fantastic chart better would be if it had some element of sarcasm or snark incorporated into it. Like "Indirect Dialogue: I only publicly compare you to Hitler when I am using one of my many internet pseudonyms."

click for full size



Comparative Value

This is what seventeen dollars buys you at The Spotted Pig: some celery, fennel, and shaved bottarga.

In contrast, for a dollar less, you can get a burger that is so good it makes you want to smear it all over your face.


Culinary Determinism

Over at the blog I get paid to write, I spill some ink on the idea of free will as it relates to fine dining. Bonus: I tell Tyler Cowen he's an idiot.

Thumbs Down

Screw you, Facebook targeted advertising. Every philosophy major I know has a job, including me.

Stop making me freak out about my future, while simultaneously indirectly implying via your color scheme that I could be qualified to work for Google, because that would be kind of awesome actually.

Also it would have been nice if you had spelled "philosophy" correctly, as Nadarine has pointed out.


Thank You, Mario

One of the many Adams in my life just sent me this music video, and I've played it maybe nine billion times in the last half-hour. It's the perfect visual accompaniment to the only the best indie-emo song sung from the perspective of Toad, the Super Mario Brothers character, "Thank You Mario! But Our Princess Is In Another Castle!" by The Mountain Goats.

No, seriously, the song is actually called that. And is actually sung from Toad's perspective. As Mountain Goat John Darnielle said: "On this one, I played piano and sang; Kaki played drums and glockenspiel, and also sang harmony. The song is sung from the point of view of Toad. If you know who Toad is, that's all I'll need to tell you. If you don't who Toad is, you better recognize.""

Worlds Collide

It's recently come to my attention that one of my favorite fashion blogs is written by the niece of the guy who played Commander Riker on ST:TNG. And somehow I feel like this justifies my intense love of both individuals.


Rainbow Foodstuffs

I don't care if this stuff makes me poop the rainbow 12 hours later, I am a complete sucker for edible ROYGBIV.




Freud + Proust

The weird thing about being at my parents' new apartment (besides the fact that it basically looks like a castle) is that it's in the same building that my piano teacher lived in from 1987-1991, so every time I get in the elevator and there's that particular elevator smell, I feel suddenly like I'm five years old and really, really unprepared for the next half-hour.


Last Night

Last night I met three of my culinary heroes. One of them kissed me!(Okay, it was on the cheek.) One of them chatted with me like an old friend. One of them told me this fantastic story about her early life as a writer.

The question we should be asking ourselves is this: How much of last night's awesomeness was due to me being a competent journalist who knows where the stories are, and how much was due to the fact that I was wearing a dress that was, essentially, a picture frame for some gazunga cleavage?


The Death of Print Media is Basically the Protestant Reformation

A few weeks ago, journalist Ken Davis convened the Chicago Journalism Town Hall, which was supposed to be a thoughtful gathering of journo-types, and instead became something of a point-avoiding Twittering clusterfuck about whether or not to save print media, and a tone-deaf discussion of milking money out of blogs. (I was invited, but didn't go.)

In the endless recapping and recapping of recapping that followed, something Mike Gebert said about something Whet Moser said stuck with me (forgive the Franken-quote):

The first [reason that "traditional journalism, in 2009 AD, is boring and kind of uninformative"] is because sometimes, [the bloggers and other writers working for free] are the very experts who, in past days, journalists would have called for a quote. In that case journalism is just another middleman displaced by the internet.
Whenever the notion of middlemen comes up, I look fondly to one of my pet factoids. It's the etymology of the word "vicar," the common term for the presiding clergyman in an Anglican church: the word originates in the Latin vicarius (which also give us "vicarious"), meaning "representative," or one who acts on the behalf of another. A go-between, a literal lieutenant, between God and the masses.

This always struck me as an attractively literal job description, and while it's generally applied only to Anglicanism, it's a term I much prefer to the Catholic "priest" ("elder"). As soon as you start thinking of a priest as a go-between, a lot opens up: his role is to access God's word and prepare it for his congregants, pulling out the important bits, synthesizing disparate elements, interpreting and contextualizing, and spoon-feeding if necessary.

With that in mind, what Mike and Whet discuss about journalists being rendered redundant (say that 3 times fast) by sources taking the press into their own hands makes the ecclesiastic analogy fall on your head like a ton of bricks: After a millennium and a half of relying on the vicarious function of the priesthood, who lived set-apart lives and spoke their own language, in 1517 the Protestant Reformation sprang up with a mighty force. It was, essentially, a revolt against the very notion of the church as a go-between, it was the common person demanding his own direct line to God.

(An interesting little sidenote here is that much of the unrest that preceded Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door and setting off the whole fireworks show was The Papal Schism, in which three men simultaneously claimed to be the true Pope, and in the wake of which the Church as an institution was seen as horrifically corrupt, user-unfriendly, and more concerned with its own hierarchy than with the transmission of the word of God to the people. Cough, cough. In the face of unreliable authority, is it any wonder that people wanted to take the pursuit of religious truth into their own hands?)

It's a sly little coincidence that much of the effectiveness of the Protestant Reformation can be traced to the advent of, wait for it, movable type. It's not just a blogging platform, folks: Gutenberg printed his famous bibles in 1455, and the resulting explosion in literacy (both biblical and common) was instrumental in undermining the necessity of the priesthood — when every man owns his own bible, printed not in Latin but in his own tongue, he can do his own textual analysis, he can draw his own synthesis. Why rely on a rarefied cadre of specially trained go-betweens to tell us exactly what the takeaway is — why not have access to the entire story yourself, and come up with your own opinions?

So we all know how the Protestant Reformation turned out. The Catholic Church's monopoly on Western European religion was completely undone, and after the Thirty Years' War the Treaty of Westphalia laid down the groundwork for what would eventually become the modern notion of Freedom of Religion. The Pope was not happy about this, and called the treaty "null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all times," which sounds a lot like what some old dead-tree journalists say about the internet. (But then there's the next line in the Wikipedia entry: "European sovereigns, Catholic and Protestant alike, ignored his verdict." Heh.)

If it's not abundantly clear here, dead-tree journalism is the Catholic Church, readership is The People (later The Protestants), and bloggers are, well, God. (Okay, okay, to be more specific, "bloggers who are the people who dead-tree journalists would use as sources, i.e. celebrities, experts, politicians, and others" are God.) I can keep drawing analogies, here: The move to tabloid formats and popcult subject matter? Vatican II, a concentrated effort to re-attract former Catholics via such lures as dropping the inaccessible Latin liturgy, i.e. taking a page from Protestantism. Newspapers poaching stories from internet sources without acknowledgment or attribution? Priests molesting little boys. Etc, etc.

Thing is, despite it all, the Catholic Church still exists. If newspapers want that kind of longevity, they can't make the mistakes that the Church did when presented with the downfall of their monopoly. Newspapers won't ever again be the only game in town, and their current tactic of ignoring that fact and pretending that no, actually, yes they are, isn't sustainable. They'll have to change their tune. Their survival as an institution isn't about the feel of paper in your hands, or the fact that your daddy and your daddy's daddy were newspapermen and they ran the presses with their sweat and blood. It's now about playing fair with the blogs, the web journals, and the publicly-accessible primary sources. It's a numbers game — believers or readers, same difference.


Fashion Crowdsourcing: Hats

Let's say you will be visiting a desert nation sometime in late May, and also let us assume that you are the sort of person who really likes to plan ahead. What sort of hat do you wear?


The Measure of Success

You know, it's one thing when you throw down a culinary gauntlet.

It's another thing when a real chef actually takes on the challenge.

It's yet another thing entirely when a critic calls the dish that you inspired "a revelation in terms of taste, delicacy, and balance."

Screw my bat mitzvah. This might be the most awesome day of my life.



I hate arugula.


Dinner at Le Bernardin: In Which I am Discriminated Against

(Sorry, this is long.)

I've been sitting on this for a while, not quite sure how to write about it without sounding one part dickish, one part whiny, and one part wrong. But the SF Chronicle's Michael Bauer blogs about it today, so now I feel socially sanctioned.

I read Eric Ripert's cookbook/restaurant-day-in-the-life On the Line a few months ago, and it completely blew my mind. I was obsessed with this book. It's engaging, it's interesting, it's educational, it's joyful — the recipes are beautiful, the photography is beautiful, it paints this very honest picture of real people working at a restaurant. It might be one of my favorite food books of all time, and considering my fleeting attention span, my hyperjudgmental attitude, and my massive collection of culinary literaria, that's definitely saying something. I did not shut up about this book for, like, many weeks, so for Valentine's Day, the inimitable Mr. B decided to take me to Ripert's restaurant, Le Bernardin, for dinner.

It wasn't, of course, actual Valentine's Day. It was the Friday after, safe from the horrible V-Day crowds. I raced home after work and changed from my usual cubicle attire of jeans and ratty t-shirt into a total slickness cocktail dress, high heels, teeny tiny clutch purse. Fancy, dig? So I walk in, Mr. B's not there yet, and present myself to the Maitre d'. "Hi, I'm a few minutes early for a 7:30 reservation." He looks me up and down, sneers, dismisses. "Yes. Well. You may check your coat." A flick of the hand in the general direction of the coat check and he turns back to his reservation book.

On my coat-checkward pivot, an older gentleman comes in, and presents an identical introduction. "Hi, I'm a few minutes early for a 7:30 reservation." It's like a parallel universe: "Of course, sir. May I take your coat? Please make yourself comfortable in the lounge. May I have the bartender make you a drink?

(It was at this point in the night-of telling of the story that my roommate interjected "Seriously? At that point I would have just walked out.")

It didn't get better. When Mr. B arrived, we were led to a crappy table next to the kitchen door. Okay, overlookable, all restaurants have crappy tables and someone needs to sit in them. But then the captain comes over and hands us our menus, opened to the dinner menu, which he explains. Then he walks away.

So we call after him — actually, we explain, we were planning on ordering the tasting menu. Is that available? So yes, actually, it turns out it is, and he flips the page and shows it to us. "The tasting menus are $135 and $185 dollars," he takes care to note. Thanks, dude, the price is printed on the page. He starts to walk away again. One more call after his turned back — the sommelier? Could you send him over?

The sommelier, who turns out to be a her, is the only bright spot in our meal. She's delightful, friendly, solicitous, and leads us to two brilliant half-bottles that go perfectly with our eight courses apiece. Each time she returns to check up on us she's smiling, asks us if we're enjoying how the pairings meld with the tuna & foie gras, or the lobster and salsify.

In contrast, upon each return to our table to present a new course, the captain gives a cursory explanation of each dish (one time he actually forgot to tell me what I was about to eat, until I stopped him from walking away [strike three!] and asked for a refresher course on the sauce accompanying the escolar). At no point did he ask how we had enjoyed a previous course, whether everything was to our liking, or — as we rose to go, having been presented with the (ridiculously pricey) check and attended to on that matter by a busboy — thanked us for coming.

I have enough multi-course tasting menus at enough super-fancy restaurants (I know, pity me) to know that sometimes even the best service has an off-day, and I'm forgiving of it. But just as the maitre d' was welcoming and warm to the middle-aged man who walked in thirty seconds after I did, the service captain's back was always being hastily turned to us so that he could attend, friendly and with notable graciousness, to the table to our left. And in front of us. And diagonally to the right. It wasn't an off-day. We were, apparently, off-customers.

Don't get me wrong, the food was good. I'm glad I ate it, though it didn't blow my mind. But it's been a few weeks since this dinner and I'm still finding myself fill up with indignance about the astonishingly dismissive service. To put it in crass terms, we walked in with the intention of spending lots of money — I ordered a $38 drink while waiting for Mr. B, for chrissakes — and tipping like kings. We did, of course (the sommelier and the busboy deserved it, if the maitre d' and captin eminently did not), but in exchange for our patronage and intended largesse we got rewarded with some plates of fish and the sucker treatment.

Look, I don't want to say that it was because we're young that we got such bad service, but oh my god, it was totally because we are young. I'm not really the type to march into a restaurant and declare "Hello, I am a former cookbook editor* who is now a food blogger, i.e. I know my shit, and my dining companion works in finance, i.e. we are not going to cheap out on you. Treat us accordingly." If I did that, I would be an asshole. Because there shouldn't be any "accordingly" treatment for a food pro and a rich dude.

At a restaurant of the caliber and reputation of Le Bernardin there is one of two scenarios for a table: One, they're the kind of person for whom this isn't a break-the-bank experience. They're the "you know, I've really been craving that mackerel at Le B, let's go next week" table. They should get excellent service, because they're the backbone of the restuarant's business.

Two, they're not that type. They're tourists splurging on a special dinner. They're a young couple who've saved up for a couple months to spare no expense on a birthday celebration. Heck, they're a young couple who haven't saved up for a couple months, and will frugally and perhaps embarrassedly order the precisely cheapest things on the menu, because it is a special occasion and they have decided that, credit card debt be damned, they would like to spend that occassion at Le Bernardin. They should get excellent service, because they fucking deserve it.

On the Line deals primarily with back-of-house matters; as its title implies, it doesn't really stray much from the kitchen. And it's entirely possible that the kitchen is the magical (rigorous, regimented, terrifying) place it's painted as in the volume. But the front of house disappointed me so deeply, so emotionally, that I don't ever want to go back. I don't want to recommend it to a friend. I don't even want to open the book again.

*Who worked for the company that publishes Eric Ripert's cookbooks, no less!



This is what it looks like when you log into your bank account after spending a long weekend in Las Vegas behaving like someone you are not, and also your payroll department still hasn't fixed that glitch in their direct deposit.




Hello, I want you.

Sadly, since you are $258, I will never have you. Ah, life.


Nail Polish Transcends Class

I'm watching tonight's new episode of SVU and when Finn asks to see a stripper's fingernails, she holds them out and says "ballet slipper with a top coat of marshmallow."

Which, hey, is the exact shade combination that the faux-Vogue-employed daughter of a prominent New York restaurateur chirps is "the perfect pink!" before flitting off into secondary characterland in the book version of The Devil Wears Prada.

So why do these facts live in my brain? Couldn't tell you. But that kind of popcult ephemera-connection ability is why they pay me the big bucks, people.


Happy SVUalentines Day

Valentine's Day can suck it, but I would happily declare a federal holiday just for these cards by Brandon Bird. Swoon, Stabler.


YouTube Has Me, and I Have YouTube, Too

Two things I really love: Showtunes and the internet.

A third thing I really love: Rewriting showtunes in my head so that they are about the internet.

For example, a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ditty about the joys of single fatherhood very easily is convertible to a paean to a certain behemothic video uploading site:

Someone to care for — to be there for — I have YouTube!

This has been stuck in my head for nigh on two months now. Time to share it with the rest of the world.

(I won't even get into my intense baritone rendition of "Old Man Twitter.")


Leaving People

My friend had a dream last night in which someone said "Tell me about leaving people," and I replied with "About leaving. Well, you can buy the hippest glasses you want, but if you spend your life hiding in London nobody will ever see them."

That, of course, is why I don't live in London — so everyone can see my super-hip glasses. (Want to bask in their glory? They're up there at the top of the page.)


Soul Mates

In this dreamy Saturday evening pre-going-out downtime I am browsing Etsy for the perfect dress and oh my god I basically have a serious covet going for every single thing that Emily Ryan makes. I mean come on - ten billion unique variations on dark gray and black dresses? Artsy-architectural details? APPLIQUED PUFFY BIRDS? Get out of my head, designer lady, you're creeping me out. (PS. Send me your dresses!)



Two back-to-back user reviews that I couldn't approve, for different restaurants:

I'm no longer going to this place due to the fact that while walking to work one night I pass by the restaraunt to find the cook having sex with the girl at the front counter, right in the kitchen. Huge store window and they were right there. Thats nasty and i wouldnt recommend this place to anyone.
I have been to [redacted]. since 1977. I was a teenage locksmith working across the street and now a Doctor in Alabama. I knew Harold personally who came into our lockshop often and recall his White Cadillac with the chicken on top. Ironically, his younger brother is a patient of mine here in Mobile, Alabama of all things. What a small world we live. I should have been killed there many-a-times (being a white kid in a tough black neighborhood). They were some of the best days of my life and enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard was my ticket out of there and the beginning of my educational foundation to where I am at today. Go White Sox and Go President Barack Obama!!
I love my job.

Oh My God Slashfood, Shut Up

This is very Inside Baseball, but evs. Over on the blog I get paid to write, we don't have what one might generously call a photography budget. In lieu of logging into Getty Images or sending my on-call staff photog off on assignment, I click on the advanced search button on Flickr and scroll through the Creative Commons-licensed images that are okay for commercial use.

There's often not a ton to choose from, so I'll have to get a little creative in my keywording to try to find something that's both attractive and relevant, but the one thing I try very very hard not to do (and it's not flawless, but it's a habit) is to choose a picture that isn't, like, one of the very first freaking pictures that come up for a presumably common-among-foodbloggers search like, oh I don't know, oysters. Or wine. I will use, oh gosh, the sixth picture. Or go to the third or fourth page and pick an image from there. Or something.

Anyway, maybe I am the only person in the entire world who looked at this Slashfood post from last week and thought "oh hey, they picked that very first picture of oysters that's okay for commercial use on Flickr!" Why do I know that? Because when I put up this post a few weeks ago, I passed right over that image because I was all "nah, it's the very first clean image in the queue, everyone is gonna use that one."


I mean, fuck it all, you're already twelve days behind the meme cycle and entirely devoid of original content that doesn't involve your head being up your ass and the few original photos you do upload look exactly like vomit but whatever. Don't bother clicking over to page 2 of your Flickr search results. Do it the lazy way. You think no one notices? I AM NOTICING. And the six people who read my blog? Now they know about it too. That's right. A grand total of SEVEN ENTIRE PEOPLE now know that you are complete Flickr weaksauce. Suck on it.


New York Guilt

I've written before about the particular breed of angst and guilt that is engendered by one's awareness of the growing backlog of New Yorker issues that one has not yet gotten around to reading. Cartoons-only doesn't count. Though to be fair, I think I'm ready to modify the rules to allow for cartoons only plus a read of Shouts & Murmurs, because now that the back page is taken up by the Cartoon Caption Contest, getting to Shouts & Murmurs requires actually flipping through the magazine in such a way that you might osmose some highbrow content and have a dinner party anecdote.

It's also probably worth noting that my relaxing of that rule really drives home to me that even though the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest is, like, multiple years old, old enough to have a book even, I still think of it as this seriously jarring, upstarty whippersnapper element of change that is going to go away if I close my eyes and wish it hard enough. If you don't think it's problematic that I feel that way, may I remind you that I was born in the eighties, and that the aforementioned opinion is one of an old lady with arthritic elbows and a hearing trumpet.

Anyway this is all a very roundabout way of getting to the point that I just realized, just this second, that I haven't been getting my weekly bound volume of guilt New Yorker delivery for a while. And it turns out my subscription lapsed about two months ago. AND IT TOOK ME THAT LONG TO NOTICE.


That Time of the Month

When I get PMSy I crave meaty flavors like nobody's business. I have actually considered, with excitement, the notion of pureeing a steak and drinking it down.

Given that, here is what I had for dinner tonight:

Green beans.
Sauteed in olive oil with 6 cloves of garlic.
Then steamed in a half-cup of demi-glace.
With some truffle salt.
Finished, at the end, with a quarter-cup of freshly grated parmigiano.
Let's play Spot The Umami! I inhaled the entire thing within the time it took my phone to email this picture to my computer.

I know it looks gross but YOU DO NOT EVEN UNDERSTAND how that was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten in my life. I actually licked the bowl once I was done, and then I felt embarrassed about that, and then I wrote about it on the internet.

Thanks, Julie

I try to be responsible. Really I do. So when I got the W2s for both of the jobs I held in 2008, I fired up my web browser and went to TurboTax and clicked "Free File" and BAM, the site was down. KHAAAAAAAAAAN! So, as I do with my rage these days, I channeled it into Twitter:

What happened next literally made all my anger and frustration magically melt away. Here is what it was:

All is forgiven. Literally. All of it. That's all it took — give one employee clearance to run a Twitter account and send out cut-n-paste mollification jobs, and you save yourself a rageful blog post (raaarrr everyone boycott TurboTax rarrrr) and instead you will get this: TurboTax, I love you. Right now, right here, I love you.


Economies of Scale

Mr. B and I are thinking about going to a very foreign country for a week or so this spring, so we can watch one of his friends get married. This is very exciting.

Also exciting is that one of the perks of one of Mr. B's credit cards is that if you buy a full-price business or first-class ticket, you get a free companion fare. Score! 17-hour flight in a fully horizontal position!

Except, keyword: "Full-price." While my wizardly cheap-fare-finding skills found a roundtrip business class ticket for $3600 (only $800 more than the cost of two coach tickets), apparently the only options for a full price ticket is a heart-stopping $9391. Plus an additional $379 for the companion, so it comes to $9,770. THAT IS ALMOST TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. It is three times the cost of the business-class ticket I found on Kayak. It is FREAKING RIDICULOUS.*

Anyway we're going to fly coach.

*it is also, admittedly, fully refundable, cancelable, and changeable. and unlike the coach flight, it is a non-stop.


Sandwich Gestalt

Call it an ego, but I am really into this paragraph I just wrote. It's proof that my undergrad major in philosophy wasn't a total waste.

The banh mi is truly an exercise in gestalt. Its collection of individual components are all delicious on their own — thin slices of ham or roast pork, a generous layer of pork pate, a veritable salad of carrots, cilantro, jalapeno, and pickled radish, all topped with a healthy smear of (preferably kewpie) mayo and a shot of hot sauce — but they come together on a warm, crusty baguette in such harmonious concord that your very Platonic notion of "sandwich" is altered forever.


'Twilight': A Textural Analysis of the Sub-Altern

My brother is in college. One of the courses his school is offering this semester? On Vampires and Violent Vixens: Making the Monster through Discourses of Gender and Sexuality.

It is my understanding that there is no prerequisite of having a purple-and-glitter themed livejournal account, though extra credit might be offered. One of the required readings is Twilight, which makes me keel over with laughter and an absence of hope for the youth of tomorrow.

On the other hand, the main textbook is City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London, which I kind of want to be reading right this second.


The Blogger at her Toilette

Why do I wake up early each morning in order to spend an hour blow-drying my hair, painting on makeup, agonizing over what to wear, tottering around my bedroom to test out whether my heels are too high — only to sit down at a desk in a cubicle in a corner and stare at a monitor all day, only getting up to pee?

Answer: It is because I want to look pretty for you.


Betsy, Tacy, and Me

I really don't mean to be getting all Dooce on you people, throwing up pictures of stuff I own rather than actually providing you with the brilliant insight into food math and grammatical tidbits and supermodel breasts that you're used to getting from me. I blame Twitter, it's been getting all my really A+ passing thoughts lately.

But anyway, not the point. For the past few years I've been doing this very lovely ritual wherein I buy myself a birthday present, because while I do buy myself nice things fairly regularly, they fit to a particular inscrutable code of nice-but-not-too-nice, because after all I am (in the words of an ex-boyfriend) a povert.

So anyway this year, my birthday present to myself was a complete set of some of my favorite books as a child: the Betsy-Tacy series. This is an ongoing gift, though, because I have further declared that I must only have them with the exact covers as the copies I owned back in the late 80s. They're illustrated by Lois Lenski, and they are just the perfect vehicle for a 6-year-old girl to declare that she needs to wear a giant bow in her hair.

Anyway because I have declared that I can only have the ones with the right covers, this is kind of an arduous self-gift. Thus far the first one has come in the mail, and I'm adding it to my rapidly-growing library of Books I Owned As A Kid That I Am Now Spending A Lot Of Energy To Track Down The Original Copies Of, Because Goddamnit I Got Rid Of All Of Them Like An Idiot Back When I Was A Teenager. (Anyone else out there ever read Amy's Eyes? Shoutout!) And anyway blah blah blah I am very psyched about all of it.

[kudos due to owl and the glass cat for the image and info. hurrah!]


New Media Douchebags

Here's what I do for a living the essence of who I am, succinctly expressed in video form!

Particularly jarring, in that run-into-yourself-coming-the-opposite-direction-down-the-corridor way, was this bit:

1. My parents would probably agree with this point.

2. Hey, check out my Twitter! Also my Flickr! Also any of my many many blogs!

3. See here.


[via the brilliant Our Man in Chicago]


Your Mother and I Are Gay, Too

I can't for the life of me remember where I found this cartoon — I thought it was the New Yorker but Cartoonbank doesn't have it online, so who knows. What I do know is that when I saw it I nearly fell over with joy, I cut it out, and I taped it to my wall where I could see it every day as I left for the morning. It's kind of my equivalent of Lincoln's "this too shall pass."

Over the years it's yellowed and torn, and I finally got myself together enough to scan it in to preserve for posterity. I hope it affects your parenting plans as much as it's affected my own.