I’ve been obsessed with food and fine dining since childhood when I used to pore through my mother’s copy of Gourmet and make horrific messes in the kitchen. Then, like today, I was always way better at cooking than cleaning and then, like today, I found that kitchen experimentation teaches life lessons.
I learned about materials and the joy of Sil-Pat when I stained my mother’s counters with a turmeric pastry dough for Caribbean Meat Pies. I learned why you can’t bake a layer cake in pie pans with a chocolate/banana “vol-cake-o” (so named because I piled the trimmings of the cake on top and let them explode over the sides). Most importantly, I learned that when your mother forbids candy in the house, you can still indulge your sweet tooth if you bake dessert for the whole family.*
When I went on junior year abroad to Paris, I was in food heaven and learned that when you’re in Europe with your dad’s credit card, you should eat up! I had croissant or pain au chocolat every morning from my local pâtisserie. As I was studying at the École du Louvre, I was able to go to Angelina, the famous salon du thé known for its divine, thick, practically perfect chocolat chaud and fancy pastries frequently but absolutely despised their most popular dessert: le Mont Blanc which was a mix of chestnut purée and whipped cream.
Study abroad in general is a time when it’s best to say yes as often as possible. It leads you to amazing wine tastings, South African rugby bars, sketchy men, and strange art galleries. However, for me, it led me to my first opportunity for professionally published work. While flipping through Time Out Paris one day, I saw a small ad that read “do you love to eat?” The ad went on to explain that Time Out needed restaurant critics — something I had done for the Williams College newspaper in spite of the very limited dining options in the Berkshires. While I wasn’t paid, Time Out would reimburse me for my meals and needed someone to write the new reviews for the Salon du Thé chapter.
I suddenly had an excuse to spend more time at Ladurée and Pierre Hermés while also hopping around the city and finding new pastry shops. I said “oui” to every carb, sugar, cake, cookie, sorbet, and chocolat chaud I could find. I ended up trying virtually every macaron flavor on the map as well as pastries flavored with roses and flecked in real gold fit only for a princess. Since Paris is a magical place, I was able to do all of this while still losing 20 pounds.**
In the last few years, macarons have gained popularity in the U.S. especially now that Maison du Chocolat, Pierre Hermés, and Ladurée all have establishments in New York and, moreover, I was able to find delicious ones at ACKC in DC. However, now that I’m in Michigan, what’s a French pastry-lovin’ gal to do?
I thought I found the perfect solution: a macaron making class at Sur La Table . You may recall I’ve shared experiences at cooking classes before, but was hopeful a baking class for a fairly challenging pastry would attract a different crowd.
Today’s lesson in the kitchen is that I have no future as a pastry chef. I found myself thinking way too often: this is way more trouble than it’s worth. You see, I’m an ambitious but lazy cook in that there are some things that are just easier to buy than make. I’m never going to spend a day making fresh pasta and I feel similarly about ice cream. I’m now adding macarons to that list. While not overly complicated, a lot of effort goes into producing a final product that, for what it’s worth is tasty but lacking the sophistication of the originals. The meringue based pastry is actually rather simple to make: egg whites, cream of tarter, and sugar brought to soft peaks, fold in almond flour, pipe into circles, let sit for a bit, then bake.
However, it’s just very finicky material: easy to let sit too long pre-baking, can’t use food coloring drops because that’s too much added liquid so you must buy food coloring gel, etc. Furthermore, the fillings are a reasonable amount of work and if you want any variety at all, you do need to make multiple fillings or multiple shells. The results were tasty, but I know myself well enough to know this is likely not a project I will repeat.
Sadly, more memorable than my below average cookies, were the other women in the group. Out of 14, nine were women who belonged to the same knitting circle led by a tall blonde named Beth. I won’t judge them for their lack of culinary knowledge (although if you don’t know how to fold in flour, you might want to re-think the class), but will judge them for mean girl antics. They insisted on going four and five to a table even though we were supposed to be three and four. Then, when my table produced the only decent trays of lavender cookies, Beth and her comrades seized them and filled them. They commandeered all of the fillings leaving the remaining two tables with one each and walked out of the class with 3x the cookies the rest of us had because one of the women brought her daughter and kept sending her to the back to get the cookies that had just come out of the oven before the teacher brought them to us.
Perhaps that’s the the thing that was ultimately missing from the experience: there’s something about entering a French bakery and seeing macarons displayed like jewelry and needing to respect the food and the venue. Parisian culture is that certain “je ne sais quoi” that takes a macaron from mere cookie to food of the gods.
*Or smuggle in Tootsie Rolls and hide the wrappers under the bed. Guess we now know how I got those 13 cavities…
**I’m typing this and wondering why I came back.
Real World, Thug Kitchens, Modern-Day Eloise, Jon Hamm in the closet of my dreams, Identity Politics, etc: Links I’ve Loved of Late
Well, this is a long one and one with more commentary than usual. But it counts as a post so I am at least still posting regularly!
- In an obviously linkbait-y post, Vulture ranked all the seasons of Real World (hat tip to Sean C for posting on FB and Jackie for wishing she’d shared it before Sean). While not 100% off, here’s my take on the top 5 seasons in order… I’m also sharing this post with a BREAKING REALITY TV ANNOUNCEMENT — I *will* be watching the Portland season marking the first season I’ve committed to watching since Brooklyn (yawn) in 2009:
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
- New York
- Kaitlyn introduced me to Thug Kitchen. I am obsessed.
- GigaOm wrote about what Airbnb learned from Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop what you’re doing — it’s streaming on Netflix and is a must watch. In addition to just being a fantastic movie, it truly makes you rethink what it means to master a craft and what success in a role is. Jiro’s son has held the same title and position for decades, but for that family/culture, true success and professional excellence is ensuring that every single detail of a skill is mastered and done perfectly every day. While I have no desire to learn from Jiro directly and massage octopus for 8 years before being trusted with eggs, I did finish the movie and think that that’s the kind of attitude I’d like to bring to my job. I just love the idea of a business leader bringing it to his team as well.
- Jon Hamm did “7 Minutes in Heaven” putting me just one creepy SNL writer and a camera away from my dream of being trapped in a small space with Jon Hamm.
- Stephen Sondheim turned 83 last month and BuzzFeed provided this list of “15 Unforgettable Sondheim Songs” and because I love Sondheim, I’m sharing with you as well. Personal favorites are: 2, 3, 8, 10, 13, 14, and 15.
- Whether conservative or liberal, if you attended a small liberal arts college, this WSJ article on identity politics at Bowdoin is really interesting.
Published Wednesday, the report demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.
The school’s ideological pillars would likely be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to American higher education lately. There’s the obsession with race, class, gender and sexuality as the essential forces of history and markers of political identity. There’s the dedication to “sustainability,” or saving the planet from its imminent destruction by the forces of capitalism. And there are the paeans to “global citizenship,” or loving all countries except one’s own.
The Klingenstein report nicely captures the illiberal or fallacious aspects of this campus doctrine, but the paper’s true contribution is in recording some of its absurd manifestations at Bowdoin. For example, the college has “no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.” Even history majors aren’t required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.
One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a yearlong freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: “Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,” “Fictions of Freedom,” “Racism,” “Queer Gardens” (which “examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces”), “Sexual Life of Colonialism” and “Modern Western Prostitutes.”
- DIY ALCOHOLIC DIPPIN’ DOTS!!! (If you have some liquid nitrogen handy…)
- An all-male version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and it’s pretty fabulous!
- I’m obsessed with the Lift app for iPhone for tracking daily habits. Since adopting, I’ve gotten better about flossing, drinking 8 glasses of water daily, exercising and more.
I was reminded recently of Adam Richman’s “20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die,” an article from GQ in 2006. You see, despite all my food snobbery, I believe that the cheeseburger is still the perfect sandwich and absolutely nothing tops a really really good one.
At the time, I vowed to eat all 20 in short order, but apparently stopped after making sure I hit all of the NYC locales and, sadly, had to admit to a friend that JG Melon’s was probably the superior NYC burger. (The Peter Luger burger, while delicious, was almost too much to handle).
This week, however, I’ve been in major cheeseburger-craving mode. I thought this would be satisfied with a slider from Green Dot Stables (which is, actually, a surprisingly good burger, but due to its slider size doesn’t really handle my fix). In my cheeseburger daydreaming, I came back to Adam’s list and discovered with great shock that I was a) only at 40% completion and b) one of my bucket list burgers was located just 30 minutes away at Sidetrack in Ypsilanti!
Friends, this is a great pub cheeseburger. Perfectly hand-formed 1/3 lb patty, soft simple sesame seed bun with a great meat to bread ratio, great melt on the cheese and cooked to a perfect medium rare.
And, because I am disappointed in myself for taking way too long with this challenge, I vow to hit the remaining 11 in the next three years. Prepare for trips to Seattle, Newport, New Haven, Miami, New Mexico (x2), Dallas, Napa, Hackensack, San Fran, and Chicago. I am accepting elastic waist-banded volunteers to join me!
Jeff: you’re an elitist snobit’s one of the things I love about youme: i am not a snobi am elitistJeff: A snob believes that some people are inherently inferior to him or her for any one of a variety of reasons, including real or supposed intellect, wealth, education, ancestry, power, physical strength, class, taste, beauty, nationality, et cetera.me: ohby that definition, i am a snobwhat’s your source?Jeff: wikipediame: not a trusted source… maybe BP wrote thatJeff: ha
This is a long one:
- It was very tough to say goodbye to 30 Rock, but I will save this list of the best 30 jokes forever. I remember when I heard this one for the first time, I realized I’d found a soulmate comedy:
- Nora Ephron’s son wrote this lovely, moving, and (depending on your personal experiences with sick relatives) difficult to read tribute to his mother.
- So… I still love Derek, but I might be transitioning into a Tigers fan. This season is going to be rough for my beloved Yankees.
- I thought this was a great read from Silicon Alley Insider on the importance of working at the office for 20-somethings:
Never underestimate the value there is in showing up.
When starting a job, the best way to prove yourself is to be present and dependable. Working from home on a regular basis sends a message to your boss that your first priority is not always your job. It’s tending to your cold. Or recovering from a big weekend. Or simply taking a morning off from your daily subway commute.
The people who come to work every day at the same time?
They become rocks.
- I’m pretty jazzed by this program we’re doing with Jalopnik. It’s incredible social advertising and I can’t wait to see upcoming videos:
- Based on this aggregated list, I may secretly be Hannah Horvath. In the last two years, I’m positive I’ve said numbers 4, 5, 13, 15, 19, 20, 21, and 22… but especially 10.
- Special thanks to Susannah for sharing this amazing Barbershop performance of “Sexyback” from JT & Jimmy Fallon:
- This is old, but Andy Greenwald’s writing on the state of food television and follow up on the brutal things producers did to the Top Chef finale were both brilliant pieces.
Today I learned that Google has decided to kill Google Reader. I knew it was coming, but find it heartbreaking none the less.
I’ve been an avid Reader user since 2006 and am better about going through my entire Reader feed than any inbox I’ve ever had (I will not include voicemail inboxes though because that would be a joke)*. I currently subscribe to 121 blogs through Reader with categories for People I Know, favorite food blogs, top news outlets, and obviously much much more. I can’t imagine too many good friends of mine haven’t received an article I sent straight from Reader to them (afterall, email is the original form of digital social sharing…) What I fail to understand is why Google has put little effort into improving Reader in all this time.
Digital content consumption is increasing; mobile content consumption is increasing exponentially, and Google never once created an app or made it easier to check one’s Reader feed on the fly. You have a platform where people are committed to reading and sharing their favorite content regularly, but it’s not integrated with any social network other than Google+. In a blog post for my previous job, I suggested pulling Reader into Google+ as I’m confident that would have actually turned a committed base of passionate Reader users into Google+ users.
Instead, as part of spring cleaning, Google has killed the service that is my lifeline to my favorite sites and writers. It was, in particular, a friend to sites like mine — where a writer posts erratically as my (few but committed) readers didn’t have to remember to check back.
The cold-blooded murder of Google Reader combined with an email from WordPress that my domain mapping expired did, however, trigger a reminder that much as Google is doing “spring cleaning” of services so they’re not spread too thin, I should do the same. If I’m going to keep this site attached to my name, I need to write on it.
I used to love blogging because it was a space where I could share the things I loved, my random and scattered thoughts, and had an opportunity for more creative expression than I get in my day job. I loved the feedback from friends, family, and strangers; I’m still flattered that just in the last month three or four people have asked me why I’m not blogging more.
The truth is: this (formerly) safe space has felt less safe to me. While putting yourself out there publicly immediately opens you up to criticism, it’s hurtful to know that there are people who are sitting, searching my name, and sharing the things I write or say with mean commentary and chalking my posts up to “Gen Y Ramblings.” It made me question what was worthy of posting if it was going to be read a thousand times by people and over-critiqued for secret meanings.
How silly though — to let someone who devotes energy to unkind thoughts ruin a place where I was able to share my well-intentioned ones! My extended family has an amazing saying: “not my pig, not my farm” and I’ve chosen to apply it here: the hateful words and feelings of others are their problem… as is their wasted energy.
I am, technically, a Millennial and I do ramble and overuse ellipses and cheat and use bullets when I can’t handle real sentences. With that in mind, I hereby pledge to not let fear of others’ stop me from using a space that has maintained friendships, annoyed my mother, and kept me sane.
*Seriously, please don’t leave me voicemails. I will reply to your email. Promise.
UPDATE: This post on Google Reader is amazing. And should be reason enough for Google to keep the service.
After two people in the last week have reminded me what a terrible blogger I am, I realized it only right to, at the very least, share some things that have been entertaining me recently:
- Les Mean Girls combines images from Les Mis with quotes from Mean Girls and is 100% worth your time.
- With the Super Bowl tomorrow, Susannah reminded me of the greatest halftime show of all time:
- I totally agree with Grantland (what’s new?), you need to binge watch Parenthood stat!
- You should also be watching Nashville for the music, Connie Britton, the delicious soapy plotlines, and the handsome men. Thanks to BuzzFeed for helping us tell them apart. It took three episodes for me to tell Deacon from Gunnar from Teddy.
- Apparently Hanson gets better with age:
- And I adored this accoustic rendition of Ignition… taking me back to freshman year at Williams
- 10 & 2 is so last century, apparently we’re all supposed to switch to 8 & 4:
- I also love this elementary school in Buffalo for using tweets from NFL players to help teach grammar. Brilliant!
Yesterday, I finally had the good fortune to see Les Miserables the movie in theaters. Like many lovers of the musical, I could not possibly have had higher expectations.
You see, Les Mis played a key role in my childhood. I practically wore out the soundtrack (Broadway, not London cast) throughout elementary school. And then my oldest brother (now El Paso Brother) STOLE the soundtrack and took it to college with him. Over various school holidays, we began to steal the set from each other back and forth until Tokyo Brother gifted me my own copy freshman year of college. By that point, I’d seen the show on Broadway (thanks to a generous graduation present from Liz). Since that time, I’ve seen the show live three more times, listen to the soundtrack constantly, and get my fixes from the 25th Anniversary Concert (which has also single-handedly changed my perception of Nick Jonas).
I can hardly believe I waited six days from release to see the movie and offer up my humble opinions below.
- So many of the greatest dramatic moments aren’t able to be as big as they could be on stage: it’s the French Revolution after all! Watching Valjean climb through the gutters, following soldiers through the streets, watching prisoners pull in ships — the big screen brought much larger visual impact.
- Samantha Barks is a brilliant Eponine and brought me to tears during “A Little Fall of Rain.”
- Colm Wilkinson’s cameo as the Bishop.
- Anne Hathaway was as good as everyone said.
- I even loved Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers, but can understand those who thought they overplayed the roles (disagree as they were always meant to be the comedic relief).
- The big screen made a number of the smaller moments so much more powerful. I can’t remember ever being as grossed out by the “Lovely Ladies” or as moved by “A Heart Full of Love.”
- While it made the smaller moments more powerful, I felt like some of the big moments were lacking something. To hear “One Day More” and have the theater not erupt in applause after was heartbreaking.
- Similarly, Hugh Jackman acted Valjean beautifully but wasn’t quite strong enough when singing the part. Although as Rembert Browne of Grantland said: “I didn’t have any problems with his voice, Emily, but maybe that’s because I was just doing the natural thing of comparing him to Javert/Crowe, which, in turn, made Jackman sound like all Three Tenors combined.”
- Oh my, Russell Crowe. You might look like Javert and you might act like Javert, but you do not sing like Javert.
I think it’s a must-see. Although you may leave it wishing there was any single male vocal performance that approached this:
I take TV very seriously and always have — even when my well-meaning parents had their “no TV at all on school nights” policy (which I still equate with child abuse).
Those who know me well know that the Entertainment Weekly Fall TV Preview is the highlight of my September and leads to the annual creation of a color-coded spreadsheet planning my viewing schedule. (Those who know me *really* well are lucky enough to get access to this chart as a Google Doc. I debated posting the link to the spreadsheet, but I don’t think we’re close enough for that yet).
Anyway, we’re well in to the fall season and I figured I’d offer up what I’m watching now (and what you should be too):
Must See TV
- Homeland. I shouldn’t even have to tell you why.
- Nashville. Connie Britton + country music = dedicated viewer. Praying Coach Taylor shows up.
- New Girl. I would dump most of my friends to hang out with Schmidt.
- Happy Endings. Not as good this season as last, but hasn’t moved down a category yet either. Frankly, I’m just hoping for another round of whores’ baths.
- Start Ups: Silicon Valley. The whole cast is full of absolutely awful terrible people and I love it.
- Real World/Road Rules: The Challenge. There was an actual challenge that involved beating someone else with a large fish. Even Japanese game shows wouldn’t stoop that low.
- Parks & Rec. Perfection. Also slowly coming to terms with the fact that Leslie Knope and I have a surprising number of similarities.
- Elementary. I’m biased because I love justifiably arrogant men, but I’ve found this to be one of the most enjoyable crime dramas I’ve seen in ages.
- Blue Bloods. I can’t believe I’m enjoying this more than the Good Wife this season.
- Next Iron Chef. This succeeds where Top Chef: Masters fails – likely because being an Iron Chef means more than a made up Bravo title when you’ve already made it. Also, Alton Brown is like the Jeff Probst of the culinary world and I love Alex Guarnaschelli.
Still Watching but… Meh
- The Good Wife. Not really sure what’s going on here, but I’m with it as long as Josh Charles is.
- Parenthood. Rough this season given how close to home the “mom with cancer” plot plays, but compelling stories and great portrayal of family. Also, same show runner as Friday Night Lights so I’m sticking around.
- The Mindy Project. Overrated but I’ll give Mindy a full half a season.
- 30 Rock. I still laugh, but…
We Broke Up
- How I Met Your Mother. Much as I feel about Facebook friends, babies make everything less interesting.
- Last Resort. Grantland’s Andy Greenwald told me to watch this and I trusted him. Big mistake.
- Real Housewives of Anything. I tried Beverly Hills and Atlanta again. And I stopped watching.
- Made in Jersey. WTF CBS? You canceled after one episode? It wasn’t that bad, I swear!
- Partners. WTF CBS? This is on the air and Made in Jersey isn’t? How low is the bar for comedy?!