Monday, September 28, 2009

This Is It (This Is It)

Can we talk about MacKenzie Phillips for a second?

Remember when you thought the last you'd see of MacKenzie Phillips was on a One Day At A Time reunion special.  You know... some trumped up hour-long special airing during sweeps week about Anne Romano getting Alzheimer's and Julie and Barbara coming back to Indianapolis to encourage her to fight, to dig deep and find the feistiness she showed as a divorce in the late 70s.  Or some group grope with Barbara Walters where you know all the questions will be about Valerie Bertinelli's weight loss and work with Jenny Craig, and her marriage to Eddie Van Halen, and her Lifetime TV movies.  And MacKenzie Phillips gets - like - 4 minutes to talk about all the crazy drugs she did and how she rehabilitated herself doing children's television. And Bonnie Franklin gets exactly 45 seconds so you can see she still has a full head of red hair cut in that same bowl shape that Brian Bonsall had on Family Ties, and which makes her look like a Shriner clown.

But, Noooooo - first, Miss MacKenzie had to blow that whole recovery narrative by getting caught with a bunch of coke in the Los Angeles Airport.

We need to pause here.

What kind of experienced addict brings drugs to a f***ing airport? *&#$@!

Anyone with an IQ above 14 knows that there are only three places you do drugs: your house, a friend's house, and a New York City restaurant bathroom (why do you think half of them have shelves in the stalls?)  There are also several places you do not do drugs and you do not bring drugs.  The only place that ranks higher on this list than an airport is a police station.

Airports are pretty much designed to find your drugs - especially international airports with lots of traffic to Mexico, Central America and South America, like JFK, Miami International and LAX.  The lesson here - generally - is: Don't Do Drugs; but since most people won't follow this advice, let's try: Don't Bring Drugs to an AIRPORT.

Is there something that happens to famous people where their presence in the spotlight - or the absence of that presence as their star fades - makes them irredeemably stupid?

Remember Lindsay Lohan?  She was a precocious child actress who grew into an extremely talented young adult actress, who grew into a bottle-blond possibly anorectic coke addict who wasn't a lesbian but had a girlfriend.  Well somewhere along the trajectory from "actress" to "bold-faced name" to "train wreck" to "punchline," Lindsay got arrested a couple of times and went back and forth to rehab like is was a weekend home.

But here's what I don't get.  After the second or third trip, she was supposed to be recovering nicely.  And you'd think, if you're Lindsay Lohan, and you actually are still blowing coke up your nose, you might want to do it at home in the company of close friends and an absence of cell phone cameras, instead of in an SUV while you chase a photographer halfway across L.A.

New rule: you lose the right to complain about harassment from the paparazzi when you get high and involve them in a high-speed chase across town.

But celebrities can be a little unstable, so it should have come as no surprise, last week, when MacKenzie Phillips announced she committed consensual incest with her father.

The English language is currently absent two adjectives, one for how gross this is, and another for how inappropriate it is to inform the general public.

Let me be clear - MacKenzie Phillips, while a talented enough actress of light comedy and perhaps a little vocal work, is not Proust.  She isn't even Penny Marshall.  Her impact on our culture is somewhere between Tina Brown and Tina Yothers.  While I can understand how speaking out about drugs would have made a good cautionary tale (had she stayed sober and NOT BROUGHT DRUGS TO AN AIRPORT, transforming it to a cautionary tale about stupidity.) I can't understand why the world needs to know about this latest revelation.

It's a cruel irony folks...supporting actress from long-dead sitcom attempts to take on serious issues; meanwhile, Tom DeLay - a leading player in a right-wing propaganda machine that destroyed the economy, extended individual rights to corporations while diluting individual constitutional privacy rights, and may have committed a series of felonies which are now being prosecuted - gets to redeem himself on network television while wearing sparkly spandex.

Why - in the canon of public redemption - do the serious have to get silly and the silly have to get serious (and confessional and, often, inappropriate?)

It's kind of amazing, folks.  We lived through nearly seven years of an expanding economy that generated little to no wage growth for 95% of our populace.  For many of us, rising home prices and health care costs resulted in a net loss and - for the first time ever - the middle class lost ground during a period of economic expansion.  And their was relatively little anger and relatively little outcry as corporations and their executives made fortunes at our expense.  Then, when the entire unsustainable system came crashing down, there was anger and frustration, but no real outrage or action.

I'm not talking about tea parties and ill-informed protests; I'm talking about taking our collective purchasing power and our collective productivity and refusing to invest it in a system that isn't returning the spoils of our labor.  It isn't communism, it's insisting that the benefits of wealth expansion be used to provide the fundamentals of a free society - affordable health care, quality family and child services, outcome- and merit-based education that enables our kids to compete in today's society.

I was inspired this morning when I saw a woman on the morning news who had posted a YouTube video condemning Bank of America for raising her credit card interest rate to 30% APR.  Her video went viral and her rate was reduced to a more reasonable - and market-competitive - 12.99% APR.  We need more of this...or are we all just sitting around watching Dancing with the Stars?

Remember: this is life, the one you get...this is it.


DO THIS, New York:

Stand up for what's right.  We still live in a democracy.

DON'T DO THIS, New York:

Please don't vote for Tom DeLay on Dancing with the Stars.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why I Write About Food

I've been asked why I write about food, and this seems as good a time as any to answer that question.

The truth is that so many of my memories are, in some way, about food.  From the dinners my mother made as a child and the restaurants my grandparents took us to in Florida, to the places we celebrated birthdays and occasions.  I remember the old pot my mother used to make meatballs and gravy, and a Chinese restaurant in Miami that my grandmother called the best she ever ate at - and it was.

Through college and law school I remember my early experiments in the kitchen, often having friends to dinner or throwing dinner parties as a way to socialize while improving my skills in the kitchen.  I used to throw an annual Valentine's Day party for anyone who was single, and served big trays of homemade lasagna.  Once I threw one of those murder mystery parties, where you buy that box and it has invitations and instructions for all the guests to play a specific part.  The only mystery I recall from that day was wondering how my turkey managed to cook in only two hours.  And my friend Stephanie and I still laugh about how I didn't have a decent carving knife - which wouldn't have mattered since no one knew how to carve a turkey - so we distracted the guests while ripping the flesh off that bird with our bare hands.

When I moved back to New York in 2004, my ability to re-connect with New York - a place I had left 15 years previously - was experienced through restaurants.  I worked my way through virtually everything that was covered in the back of New York magazine in the spring of 2004.

And so much of my relationship with Neil is a story told through food.  I remember the first restaurant we went to (Bar 89 in SoHo).  Shortly after we began dating, I threw a dinner party and realized I didn't have enough china.  I had always used my grandmother's everyday stoneware but each plate weighed, like, 50 pounds, and I had moved so many times that I got tired of carting it from state to state.  Since New York City kitchens were small, and - really - how often did I need a service for twelve, I gave half of it away.  I ordered a whole new set on two days before the dinner party. (Be careful ordering plates online.  These are pretty, but the color looked different on the website and it was impossible to discern that the plates were slightly concave - resulting in all sauces or other liquids pooling toward the center of the dish.  They can really only be used for relatively dry entrees.)

Food doesn't only track the celebratory occasions of my life, but the darker ones as well.  The trays of bagels and "appetizing" that marked the funerals of my grandparents.  The secret eating of my youth - all those hidden candy wrappers and pints of ice cream that helped me balloon to 265 pounds.  The secret resistance of food in my twenties - a plagued and dysfunctional relationship of desire and denial - caught between my love of food and hatred of my body.  And all the hard work involved in re-examining that relationship and establishing a much more positive approach that enabled me to embrace eating and myself, much more positively.

It's an inseparable story of my life, and I tell my stories through food, because I see eating - at it's core - as a social activity.  Eating alone is associated with so many of the painful memories of my life - but eating in the company of others is a story about making new friends or becoming closer to existing ones or falling in love or celebrating happy milestones.  It's the way I experience my life that enables me to share it.  I believe food should be accessible, and when I dine in a restaurant my fundamental evaluation criteria is accessibility; the food you order should be joyful and pleasurable and your response should be primal and come from the soul.  In the kitchen (and the recipes I offer) I aim for simplicity - allowing you to derive pleasure from the process of cooking and the act of sharing it with others.

That said, I want to tell you about a cute new cafe I had lunch at on Friday: Petit Cafe on Greenwich Ave between Seventh Ave South and W10th St.  It's funny: we often look for a place to eat lunch in that neighborhood.  Something inexpensive, something with variety, (something really fresh (hee).)  Petit Cafe has sandwiches and salads and soups, but decor, the experience and the quality of the food rises above the delis and bodegas that dot the landscape of Manhattan.  Further, they specialize in offering gluten free choices, making a great choice for anyone with Celiac's disease.

The owner was working in the cafe late on Friday afternoon when I stopped by, and was friendly and accommodating.  I ordered turkey, avocado and turkey bacon which he recommended serving on a whole grain roll (he was right).  Since I don't really love mayonnaise on sandwiches, he recommended a chipotle sauce that was perfect, and the sandwich was out of this world.  For less than $8 I had a terrific meal.

Friday night Neil and I went down to the Lower East Side and had dinner with Brette and her sister, who was visiting from Boston.  We ate at a Mexican restaurant called Mole, and the food was just fair.  Brette and Meredith really enjoyed their burritos, but Neil and I were disappointed in our entrees.  His cochinita pibil was covered in a very thick sauce that resembled ketchup.  The flavors were too pungent and aggressive, and the technique showed no subtelty or nuance.  My bistec a la Mexicana was kind of a train wreck: a huge plate of onions and tomatoes and meat that was totally wet.  The flavors were really muddles and the effect was one of fat and spiciness. Even the guacamole was disappointing, the tomatoes were a little mealy and the chips tasted like they came from a bag bought at the convenience store next door.

Adios, Mole, we won't be back.  For better Mexican food, check out Dos Caminos (the Soho location is better than the Park Avenue one, and has fewer annoying 27 year old drunk girls from Long Island) or Centrico in TriBeCa.  If you're uptown, check out Maya on the UES and Cafe Frida on the UWS.

Nevertheless, we had a great time.  Meredith is really cool - she writes the relationship advice column for the Boston Globe - and together, she and Brette are a riot.  One of the high points of the evening was a discussion about Shiitake mushrooms, during which I realized that the reason I don't care for them is the resemblance their texture bears to the female sex organ.  I haven't eaten either since I was 19.

Afterwards we went to Mercury Lounge on Houston St to see a band.  A band!!!  So excited!!!  We never do this - it was like being transported to a scene from Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (cute movie - check it out.)  We were in the back of a small bar in a young neighborhood, and still have enough elasticity in our skin that - in the dark - we didn't look too old to be there.  Actually, there were several people over 50 in the room, whom we can only assume were related to band members.

People were drinking beer out of large plastic cups, and there was a little kiosk selling CDs and glow-in-the-dark frisbees with the band's logo.  I would have felt 25 again, if I still had hair and weighed 20 pounds more.

The band - the Adam Ezra Group - wasn't bad.  They had one or two original songs that seemed pretty good.  I mean, the music was fine, but you couldn't hear a lot of the lyrics because the lead singer either has terrible diction or was doing some serious drugs (we all voted for the latter.)  They did a cover of Pearl Jam's "Better Man" (told you I felt like it was 1995) and it took us three verses before we could figure out what it was.  By the time they got to an arrangement of (wait for it) "She Shook Me All Night Long" which began as a folk song and then turned into funk, I was ready to go.

You know, when it comes to new music, or stuff that's edgy, I feel the same way as I do about hallucinogenic mushrooms: everybody else seems to be having fun but I just don't get it.  I end up in the corner feeling a little lost and sort of nauseated (which could have been the meal.)

After a long run on Saturday, I stopped by Baoguette on Christopher Street.  I don't know how I feel about Christopher Street.  When I moved here, it was sort of a rundown relic of the Village circa 1983; the old leather bars and porn shops.  Now it has an Energy Kitchen and the gay coffee house is a Rag and Bone showroom.  It's cleaner, but there was something nice about that window into New York's past.  With the gentrification of Hell's Kitchen and the Lower East Side, and SoHo having been relocated to the Paramus Park Mall, there's so little left of what New York used to look like.

Still, I can't deny I love Baoguette.  An abbreviated menu featuring a handful of vietnamese sandwiches and pho (noodle soup), you can get an enormous tasty lunch for $5.  I ordered the barbecue chicken baoguette - chicken, jalapeno, cilantro, daikon, carrots - all served on a crusty roll with spicy sauce.  Mmmm. Slurp! If you are anywhere in New York - GO!  You'll thank me.  Five thousand times better than Subway - at the same price.

On my way home, I passed one of those psychic tarot card readers - you know what I'm talking about; those little storefronts with the card table outside and the woman who charges $10 to read your future.  So I'm walking by and there's a newspaper on the card table.  And I'm like - why would a psychic need the newspaper?  Wouldn't she know everything that happened before it made it to the paper?

Maybe she was doing Sudoku.

For dinner on Saturday night, Neil and I went out to dinner with another couple - David and Jason.  We've known them for a while but this was the first time we've gotten together socially.  We went to Eighty-One on 81st St (duh) on the Upper West Side.  The restaurant is beautiful - one of the nicest spaces I've seen on the UWS - lushly decorated with red banquettes and cream colored walls and espresso colored woods.  The look is spacious and lush and modern.

The menu is largely New American, and provides opportunities for virtually every taste and price point.  In addition to the chef's appetizers and entrees, there's a section of items in a minimalistic preparation (entitled "Simply" and covering chicken, steak, and salmon) and a prix fixe menu offering a selection of appetizers and entrees for $30.81.  There's even a cafe next door serving burgers and sandwiches, hovering around the $10 price point.

Neil ordered the scallop ravioli - a luxurious preparation in lobster broth - that delivered a substantial portion without being heavy.  I selected the Roasted Corn Soup, a creamy chowder with smoky corn flavor that was absolutely delicious.  For dinner, Neil had a hanger steak that was exquisitely prepared and served with creamy cracked wheat, preserved tomato and parmesan.  The flavors were terrifically balanced and avoided being overly salty.  I ordered the slow-roasted chicken with baby basmati rice and tomato confit.  The chicken was excellent, though the rice was a little too watery and the flavors were too subdued.

For dessert, we shared the sugared chocolate ganache donuts and the pastry of bittersweet chocolate, peanut creme and salted caramel.  Slurp, slurp, slurp!!!  Neither was too heavy or too sweet, and both were served with homemade ice cream which, to me, is a requirement at dessert.

It's raining today, which portends a trip to the gym, a trip to the (wretched Fairway) market, and several hours on the couch trying to work on my book and watching old episodes of House.  (He's such a scamp, I love that Hugh Laurie.  I'd totally be into him if he were, like, 70 years younger.  And circumsized.  It's that whole shiitake mushroom texture again.  What?  I'm just saying.)


DO THIS, New York:

Go to Petit Cafe.  It's really cute, and a perfect[place to grab a sandwich, sit outside, and people-watch.

Have a Baoguette.  If you don't want chicken, try the pork.  Mmm. Slurp!

Eat at Eighty-One: a luxury experience at a value price.

Make up your own mind about the whole shiitake mushroom thing; to each his or her own.

Watch House.  That show is good.  Did you see the season premiere?  Really fantastic work, and Andre Braugher and Franka Potente are always welcome additions.

DON'T DO THIS, New York:

Skip Mole.  Yuck.

Skip the porn shops on Christopher Street.  There are still a few - but they make for nostalgic ambience, not destinations.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Dinner Party and A Hot Mess

I strongly advise pouring a drink.

Ready?  Ok.

We need to start with the dinner party Neil and I threw on Tuesday evening.  We invited our friends Todd and Mark (from the cruise...remember?) over for dinner and, though I was fully prepared to do the cooking, Neil - surprisingly - asked to cook.  This isn't strange because Neil can't cook.  Quite the opposite, actually.  He's a fantastic cook.

It's strange because we only had a week and a half to prepare.

Neil and I have often talked about having a party - as a matter of fact - I approached him with the idea of having one for his birthday, which is next week.  He agreed.

It will be a holiday party.

And the holiday could well be Easter.

I love my husband dearly.  However, 90% of the company I have over for dinner gets whatever I feel like cooking and a ten minute period where I clean the bathroom and spray enough Pledge to make the house smell like a citrus grove.  This is how I ended up with Ghetto Birthday, serving ground turkey and eating cupcakes.

Neil's idea of prepping for company is something a little more involved.  Like moving to a new house.

(I think where we live is just fine - it's a perfectly nice 6 story co-op on the Upper West Side, and it must be nice because it's the only co-op I've ever heard of where the super drives a Mercedes.  So does his wife actually, which makes me wonder where our maintenance payment is going since the elevator breaks every other week and they can't seem to keep a trash can by the mailboxes.)

Sorry.  Damn tangent.  Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Anyway, with only 10 days to throw something together, Neil is off and running.  When this happens (I'd use the word dervish, but home would be a chilly place this evening), I'm generally instructed to remain on the couch and stay out of the way.  This is a main reason our marriage works, folks.

In this instance, Neil was bound to be more torqued up than usual, since Mark is an interior designer.  To his credit, the preparations did not - as I feared - include painting or heavy construction, and he was content to wipe every surface down with Fantastik and re-locate 90% of the crap I leave laying around.

For dinner we had Sicilian Style Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and toasted baguette with onions, black olives and anchovy.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 T raisins
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 t salt
1 t ground black pepper
1/3 c flour
4 T olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t oregano
2 t sugar
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 small vine ripened tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 T capers
2 green olives, pitted and chopped
1 c low sodium chicken broth
chopped parsley

Place raisins in a small dish. Add wine and set aside. 

Between 2 sheets plastic wrap, pound the chicken breasts to about 1/4 inch thickness. Sprinkle chicken with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper; dredge in flour. 

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add chicken and cook about 10 minutes to brown on both sides. Remove chicken and add onion and garlic to pan. Saute about 2 minutes; then add oregano, remaining salt and pepper, sugar and vinegar. Stir in tomatoes, capers and olives. Add raisins to sauce and stir in chicken broth; cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Return chicken to pan and heat through.


For the Brussels Sprouts (Adapted from Epicurious:)

8 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 - 2 pounds brussels sprouts, stemmed and cut in half (lengthwise)
4-6 garlic cloves
1 c low sodium chicken broth
1 can (15 oz) cannellini beans, drained
2 T butter 
1 cup grated Pecorino (Neil uses Pecorino Toscano)

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the brussels sprouts (you may want to divide them and cook one half at a time to avoid crowding the pan.)  Cook until brown, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. 
Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to skillet ( I generally skip this - there's usually plenty of oil already in there.) Add garlic; sauté until brown, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add broth and brussels sprouts. Cook until brussels sprouts are crisp-tender, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. Add beans and butter; stir until butter melts and broth is reduced to glaze, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in cheese.
We had a really wonderful evening and the meal was delicious.  Neil did it without taking three days off from work and we ate by 9pm, so - by all accounts - this gets two thumbs up!
Yesterday I spent the morning working for one of my clients, then headed out to Brooklyn to finish the reel we're producing.  Once complete, it'll go to agents, as well as directors and production companies, so I can try and get my career developing and hosting television shows off the ground.  It was a long afternoon of editing footage and recording voiceovers - when it's done, I'll post a link so you can all see it.  All of the concepts we're developing are about food, fitness, and lifestyle issues, so you may be seeing this blogger on a remote cable channel some insomnia-addled night soon.  

I was a little tired when I got home, and there was some freak on the subway, snorting and clicking like an asthmatic chicken all the way from Borough Hall to midtown.  Plus, it was hotter yesterday (September 23!) than it was in most of June, so I wasn't really up for cooking anything extravagant last night.  
I decided to make a very simple baked pasta and, in a Sandra Lee moment, used jarred sauce.
I have not opened a can of jarred sauce in years.  To my mind, using jarred spaghetti sauce is the equivalent of faking an orgasm.  It's just a cruel lie, no matter how you slice it, and nowhere near as good as the real thing.  
However, we had a jar in the house from the shoot, and - since we finished post-production yesterday, it seemed appropriate to use it.

Faux Italian Style Ghetto-roni and Cheese:
1 box pasta - anything that can hold ricotta will do: ziti, penne, rigatoni, elbows, small shells.  Last night I used a mix of small shells and orecchiette, finishing up every open box of pasta in the house.
1 jar sauce
1 medium onion
1/4 green pepper, diced
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb. Ricotta (part-skim)
1 egg
4-8oz shredded mozzarella
salt and pepper and dried parsley

Preheat the oven to 375.
Boil water.  While it's boiling, dice and saute the onion in a little olive oil (just a dash), add the garlic and green pepper.  Add the jarred sauce.  
Cook the pasta - make sure you cook it very al dente - it will keep cooking in the oven and can get very mushy if you cook it too much now.  You don't want a meal with the consistency of oatmeal. 
Mix the ricotta and egg.  Add salt, pepper and parsley.
Dump the pasta, ricotta mixture and sauce into a casserole dish.  Mix it up.  Cover with mozzarella cheese.  Bake until the mozzarella is brown and looks crunchalicious.  This is a technical term.
Serve with warm bread.
Do not eat carbs for a month afterwards.

Today I went to my trainer in the morning, then worked from home for a while before going to a business lunch at Haru on Park Ave South.  
Please do not ever go there.  
It was awful.  Unspeakably bad.  I ordered the Chicken Teriyaki (Chicken Very-yucky) lunch box, which came with broccoli, some weird tempura thing that may have had carrots or may have had shrimp,  a California roll (trying to pass that stuff off as sushi is a crime) and rice.
Everything on the plate tasted like fish.
You want good sushi?  Go to Gari on the Upper West Side or Nobu (midtown or TriBeCa) - it became iconic for a reason.  It's good.
I'm working from a client site the rest of the day, and there's a guy here who literally must be the inspiration for the term "Hot Mess."
He's actually kind of cute, but he's always so unkempt.  His shirt is perpetually half tucked-in and half flying about, his glasses are always crooked, and there's generally a remnant of something he's eaten clinging desperately to his person.  It's like the classic film scene of the librarian who whips of the glasses and lets down her hair and is totally hot.  Except in his case it's more like a lint brush and some personal grooming.
Maybe I'll send Neil after him with the Fantastik.

The Last Word:

DO THIS, New York:
Keep your fingers crossed I get representation and a hosting gig.  I could come unglued at any moment.  And wouldn't that be fun on live television.
Throw a dinner party.  Do not throw one that requires heavy construction or re-location.
Make a ghetto dinner every once in a while.  It can be comforting to eat an entire meal with a spoon.  Look what it's done for cereal!
Eat sushi (If you are Jeremy Piven, do NOT eat sushi).  

DON'T DO THIS, New York:
Don't eat at Haru.  If you are Jeremy Piven, do not eat sushi at all.  Clearly, this bears repeating.
Don't come to work like a hot mess.  Just come looking hot.  We'll thank you for it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You Probably Shouldn't Do That With Your Dog

We have several things to cover today, so we should probably get started.

First and foremost, I need to use this space to apologize.  In the original entry my hurt feelings and poor editing resulted in unprofessional behavior, manifested as name-calling.  What appeared here was unkind and uncalled for, and has been removed.  I was wrong, and it won't happen again.

The experience has made me think a little bit about what happens when the past and the present collide; what happens when a reltionship tht is, effectively, over, comes rushing back into your life with full force and presence.

My grandfather lost his first wife before I was born, and his second wife was the only paternal grandmother I ever knew.  Grandma Jo was my favorite of all my grandparents - she used to play cards with me and knew exactly how to make me laugh.  She was a funny-looking old bird - reminiscent of Brett Somers from the old game show Match Game, and I loved her a lot.

However, my parents' divorce pretty much destroyed that relationship.  Even the smoothest of divorces can be divisive and difficult, particularly when there are children involved, and friends and relatives of the couple often take sides.  Only the children, really, try to remain neutral, but they lose something anyway because of all the people who don't.

By the time she passed away, so much time and distance separated us from those card games and all that laughter.  How do you grieve for someone you've already lost?  How do you say good-bye to someone you really didn't know anymore?

More recently, a friend of my mother's passed away.  Stuart was a funny guy with lots of friends and a house that was always welcoming and open to company.  He and his wife, Arlene, had two kids the same ages as my sister and I.  I see their older son at the gym regularly, but I never say hello.  I don't know if he even recognizes me; it's easily been twenty years since we last knew each other.

Regardless, the next time I see him I resolve to say hello, and tell him how sorry I was to hear about his dad - a wonderful guy who loved to be surrounded by people (he would never dream of resorting to name-calling) - whom I remember very fondly.

(For an entertaining trope about divorce, by the way, follow Saving Face, the intelligent novel being written in real time by Dahlia Lithwick on Slate.  Ordinarily a Supreme Court reporter, Dahlia's uncovering a hidden knack for fiction and bringing intellect and wit to this endeavor.  As part of a "vacation" from her regular responsibilities at Slate, she's writing a "mommy lit" novel on Slate, one chapter at a time, over thirty days.  In it, she tells the story of Erica, a stay-at-home mom-nee-corporate lawyer, her divorce lawyer husband, Cole, and their friends Marina and Bob - themselves going through a split.)

Tonight we're getting together with Todd and Mark, the couple we became friendly with during our cruise.  Neil's making his famous sicilian chicken, and I'll try and pry the recipe out of him for posting here later this week.  We'll also be serving wine purchased at a local shop with a great selection.  Nancy's wines on Columbus Ave (between 74th and 75th Streets) boasts a selection of wines form around the world, many under $20.  The staff is quite knowledgeable - they're all very friendly and helpful - and Nancy recommended a Sangiovese that we tried last night to superb effect.

Also, I should mention that yesterday's mail included a post card from the restaurant Blue Hill, reviewed in my Birthday Blog.  It was hand-written, signed (ostensibly) by "Dan" - who I take to be Dan Barber, the owner - and is a completely fantastic way to thank someone for their business.  This is how you sell a luxury product in difficult economic times - and how you treat a customer in any economic time.  Classy - and we'll make it our business to go back.  You should go, too.

Finally, am I the only one who has been seeing a lot of stories on the local news about Doga - those classes where people can do Yoga with their dogs?  Am I wrong, or is this totally weird and creepy and seems to border on bestiality?  Is this something only indulgent New Yorkers with too much time or too much money or both would do?  You just know these are the same people who can't bear to leave their pets at home that they wind up bringing them to restaurants and tie them up outside the outdoor seating.  Because what the rest of us want to see is a mewling house pet while we dive into a $14 appetizer salad.


DO THIS, New York:

Be nice.  It's easier than being mean - and it feels better.  Trust me.  Snarky and sarcastic can be fine, but know where the line is and don't cross it.

Check out Nancy's - she's totally cool and her staff is really well-informed.

Eat at Blue Hill.

DON'T DO THIS, New York:

Don't do Doga.  It's just so creepy.

Please don't bring your pet to a restaurant unless it's intended as an entree.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Happy Jew Year

I’m so going to Hell.

This, actually, isn’t news.  I’ve been fairly certain – for some time now – that I’m holding a boarding pass for a ride in a hand-basket across the river Styx. But – if my mother has a vote – then I’ve just been upgraded to a first-class seat.

I blew off Rosh Hashanah.

For my non-Jewish readers (who’ve never met a Jew, know nothing about them, and haven’t seen a single episode of Seinfeld), Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year.  If you’re familiar with the Chinese New Year it’s sort of the same, except instead of fun parties and parades led by gorgeous red silk dragons, you usually end up seated around a beige dining room set from Levitz, eating an entirely beige meal that will give you constipation and heartburn, in the company of entirely beige people to whom you happen to be related.  Oh, and instead of having years named after animals, we just give them ridiculously high numbers that no one keeps track of, so it could be 5770, but it could also be, like, 24735 and no one would know.

Say what you want about Jesus, but because of him at least I know what year it is.  No one ever actually uses the numbers of the Jewish year, except during Rosh Hashanah and when they want to prove that the religious right is crazy when they say the Earth is only six thousand years old, when scientists have found things much older than that.  Like Betty White.

To return to my point (I do this often, don’t I?), this weekend was the last weekend we had our rented house at the beach. Since we can no longer afford to spend thousands of dollars with the same nonchalance that some people reserve for dropping a penny down a sewer grate, and since we missed two weekends while we were cavorting across the Mediterranean with 2,500 homos, we decide we should probably go out to the beach house. 

Besides, we have to pick up all our stuff.

My mother did not react well to this news. 

In her defense (which really should be insanity, since that’s the one any jury would believe) we’ve already disappointed her this year when we told her we’d be going to Neil’s parents’ home in Houston for Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is something of a holy day to my mother – she spends weeks getting ready, often cooking and freezing several items more than a week in advance (giving them a reheated quality that really isn’t worth being thankful for, though surviving the digestive process often is.)  She loves Thanksgiving – it’s the only time she can manage to get the entire family to show up at her house where she can gaze upon them lovingly and tell them not to touch anything.

So she was already in a delicate condition when we bowed out of Rosh Hashanah.

Inevitably, this news was met with an all-expenses paid guilt trip, though I could tell she was mulling over the destination.  I could literally hear the wheels turning as chose among “Obligations and Priorities” and “The Importance of Family,” finally resting on “What It Means to be A Jew.” 

Game over.

She gave it a good try, but she might have had better luck with another line of argument.  I can’t recall seeing the inside of a temple since puberty (and spent a two-year stint in college going to an Episcopal Church, so it’s not like I was working off a rock solid foundation to begin with.)  Besides, while Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest days of the year, it’s also a festive one and – at the moment – my idea of festive includes cocktails and barbecue.

Like they did in Bible times.

I have a troubled relationship with religion.  I believe in God, but I think spirituality is a deeply personal pursuit.  I think organized religions have done more to separate people from each other than to bring them together, routinely identifying outside groups as oppressors or immoral and condemning them therefore.  If you were to ask me my religion, I’d say Jewish, but the response feels driven more from looking Jewish and sounding Jewish and growing up Jewish than anything else.  I don’t know that I feel too much of an attachment to it, otherwise.  I married a Catholic, I celebrate Christmas, and I enjoy a spectrum of pork products.  I’m kind of Jewish in the same way Monica was, on Friends.

So that’s how I found myself celebrating the Jew Year on Fire Island.

Friday night we grilled cheeseburgers (I’ve already posted this recipe) and grilled corn (Recipe: put corn on the grill.  Add butter and salt.  Or be creative and coat with olive oil and dill before you grill.) Things got a little ugly after dinner, when all of sudden a friend decided to interrogate me about what I was doing with my life and what I was looking for and what do I expect to happen and what insecurities I’m addressing.  Under the only circumstance where I don’t like being the center of attention, I make a mental note to poison his breakfast. 

I’m being glib, but my feelings actually were hurt – I felt attacked for pursuing a career in television hosting and program development, and I’m pretty protective of that right now.  I know I’m just at the beginning of this journey, but I waited fifteen years to start it, working countless hours in furtherance of other people’s happiness.  For someone who has a tendency to behave entitled under many circumstances, this is actually something I can justify feeling entitled to try.  The bonus to enjoying it is that I’m finding I have something of a talent for it.

Saturday dawned much brighter; literally and figuratively, and provided some of the nicest weather of the summer.  The reports may only have been in the low to mid 70s, but it was plenty hot in the sun and we laid around the pool deck most of the day.  No better start to a sweet year than a stack of entertainment and fashion magazines, the New York Times editorial pages, and a late summer tan.  I’m convinced there’s a reason the Jewish high holidays occur around mid-September: everyone can show off a new fall outfit and a summer tan.  If the holidays were in March, we’d have to completely re-configure the fashion calendar and everyone would have to fake bake or hope for decent winter weather in Boca.  When you look at it this way, you begin to wonder if the fasting is less about repentance and more about fitting into Dolce.  Those Italian cuts can be unforgiving on wide eastern European hips.

Saturday evening brought us to a house party on the east end of the island.  This was hard; we went to the home of new acquaintances, friends of our friend Brian, who redid their beach house in the style of 1960s contemporaries (very horizontal; flat roof, low ceiling, front wall of vertical windows) appointed with luxurious finishes in brushed nickel, espresso wood, and gray slate.  Outside they had that simulated wicker (is it plastic?) furniture with the white cushions that always reminds me of pool decks and outdoor restaurants in Los Angeles. 

Immediate jealousy.  I knew the second we walked in that Neil loved it – the style, the décor, the proportions – and I could see, just momentarily, a look of longing in his eyes; a reminder of all the things we wanted, still want, all the dreams and desires we discussed that – right now – I can’t provide.

My friend Mike always said, “They call them golden handcuffs for a reason.”

After the party we head over to Low Tea for a cocktail, then home for dinner: baby arugula with grilled balsamic nectarines and red onion, baby back ribs in a peach barbecue glaze, ratatouille and biscuits. (Recipes below.)

And that’s pretty much it.  We woke this morning to another bright, warm day.  We took a walk over to the house we rented for next summer to store our beach chairs under the house.  As we approached the house, a buck blocked the entrance (Deer are native to Fire Island, and have long grown acclimated to the humans – and humanoids.)  Neil, Robert, Alec and I all hesitated to approach when the buck bowed his head and angled a full rack of antlers at us.  After staying frozen for several minutes, trapped like Dee Wallace Stone in Cujo, we finally shoed the deer away with our beach chairs.  If they ever do a gay circus, we’ve got four potential lion tamers, provided they swap out the lion for a skittish deer.

I have to go now.  A bird flew into our house and couldn’t find it’s way out.  It just flew into the window and dropped to the floor dead.  I need to go dispose of it.

God, I hope this isn’t a metaphor.


DO THIS, New York:

Listen to your mother. (Do as I say, not as I do.)

Go to Fire Island – it’s a lot of fun.  I love it in September.

Watch Cujo.  I like that movie.  Dee Wallace grows a pair about 90 minutes in, and it’s awesome.  Keep an eye open for fey pre-Jonathan Bower (Who’s The Boss?) future gay Danny Pintauro as the asthmatic kid.

            Two large racks of ribs cut into three pieces, each.

            One jar of “Bone Suckin’ Sauce” (Interactive fun: insert your own bone sucking joke here.)  Yes, I used a jarred sauce – so what?  Sandr Lee does it on the Food Network and she’s got her own show.

            Four peaches, chopped and pureed.

            (Alternative sauce: 1 cup ketchup, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, 1 Tbsp Horseradish, ½ medium onion (diced), 2 cloves garlic (pressed), 3 peaches.  Put everything in a blender.)

Put it all in a bowl. Leave it there for at least four hours.  Grill until cooked.


1 medium eggplant
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1 yellow pepper
1 orange pepper
1 large onion
4 plum tomatoes
olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven.  Chop the shallot and garlic and sauté.  Slice all the vegetables.  Add the eggplant to the pot.  Wait.   Add the zucchini and squash.  Wait.  Add the peppers.  Wait.  Add the onion.  Wait.  Add the tomatoes.  Wait.  Season with salt, pepper, some chopped parsley and a little cayenne. Wait.

HINT:  Ratatouille is a blending and building of flavors.  The order you add the vegetables is important.  Let them cook through before adding the next round. 

HINT:  Salt the eggplant and pat it down with paper towels before you add it to the pot.  Eggplant tends to have a lot of water and the salt will draw it out.  While ratatouille is supposed to be soft, too much water will make it bland and overly mushy.

HINT:  You can treat this like a Sunday gravy.  At the right temperature, without the right amount of patience, you can let this cook for hours and really develop the flavors.  Don’t overly salt the dish, but use it regularly – it will help blend the flavors.


Pour some balsamic vinegar into a pot.  Heat over medium-high flame and rapidly bring to a boil.  Reduce.  The better quality vinegar, the better the results. (You can also add a little sugar to this process, though I don’t.)

Chop one medium red onion – trim the ends, cut in half by length and width.  Cut the four chunks in half.  Don’t cut the onion any smaller than that.

Quarter four nectarines.

Add the nectarines and onion to the boiling vinegar.  Stir.  After 2-3 minutes, remove from heat.

Remove the nectarines and onion to aluminum foil.  Add some remaining balsamic if you like. Fold the aluminum into a packet.

Put it on the grill for 5-10 minutes.  Remove.  Cool to about room temperature.  Toss with the arugula.

DON’T DO THIS, New York:

Don’t guilt someone into religion.  Using guilt for sex or presents, however, is fine.

Don’t serve Planter’s Punch at a party – no one really likes Rum unless they’re an 18th century Caribbean pirate.

Don’t make biscuits the way I did – a box of Jiffy biscuit mix.  They tasted like paste.  Next time I’m using that weird Pillsbury cylinder that pops open the second you touch it.