Friday, December 30, 2011

Something resembling a pain au chocolat

Chocolate-chip cookies were so terrible as to have to be thrown out. Croissants edible but brioche-like and thus a failure. Cannelés: convincing, if unevenly cooked. Pains au chocolat, however, a success. This, despite my record-breaking, shameless refusal to follow the recipe's directions (from this book), combined with the imprecision inherent in bringing grams and centiliters and Celsius into a NJ kitchen, not to mention having halved it. I most certainly didn't have any "farine de gruau" number 45, or "levure de boulanger." I used all-purpose flour, instant dry yeast, regular sugar not powdered, skim milk not whole, salted butter, and so on. Where the recipe called for the delicate kneading of dough, the careful, ingredient-by-ingredient additions, I tossed everything into a bowl, used the trusty hand mixer, and when the result looked far too pancake-batter-ish to be right, added flour until the consistency struck me as plausible. Dough-chilling happened in the freezer, not the refrigerator, and ended when I deemed the dough sufficiently workable, not when it was in any technical sense ready. I folded... enough. Somehow the end result was flaky (!), utterly convincing, and because I'd made them myself, no doubts about them having been pur beurre. The chocolate I used - semisweet chips from the Belgian gourmet shop - did not do it for the household Belgian, and while I agreed that this wasn't quite what a French bakery would have used, I'm thinking it was as close to that as can be found in Central NJ. The result was not Le Boulanger des Invalides Jocteur, but not as far off as one might expect, and unequivocally better than what the two places in town that sell this sort of thing have on offer.

The first batch were consumed too instantaneously, but looked much like the second, except half the size. This second set are (well, two are, two were) more the size of bakery chocolate croissants. If you're squeamish about realizing that your breakfast included a quarter of a stick of butter, this is not the recipe for you.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"That's why men hunt and women nest."

Amanda Marcotte asks, "Is there any facet of life that can't be filtered through the bizarre belief that men and women are fundamentally opposites in every way?" She proceeds to take apart a Chicago Tribune article about how the sexes approach grocery shopping, but more material might come her way soon: a NYT Styles story (it's not the new year yet!) that goes like so:

Women shop, men stockpile. That’s one theory, anyway, of how men buy clothes differently from women. If women see shopping as an opportunity, a social or even therapeutic activity, the thinking goes, then men see it as a necessary evil, a moment to restock the supply closet. At the risk of perpetuating sex stereotypes, [...]
The piece takes that risk, and goes on to perpetuate sex stereotypes, or something. A bunch of successful if not altogether famous men are asked whether they buy a lot of the same thing, and turns out they do. Absent from the article is any evidence whatsoever that women don't do this. Women, let it be known, totally do this. (Witness the stack of identical white tank tops from the Petit Bateau sales.) Are we really meant to believe that women don't buy things like socks and underwear all from the same place and in large amounts? That women squeal with delight at a chance to go to the mawl every time a sock has a hole? If anything, stockpiling means you like to shop, or at least that you care enough about what you wear that you consider things like, what if the brand stops making this item? (Which, in this age of fast fashion, it will.) Or, at the very least, that you're sufficiently concerned as to want to make sure that when your current clothes wear out, you won't have to just replace them with whatever's around. Stockpiling ala Steve Jobs and the turtlenecks (an example provided) is hardly evidence that someone is unconcerned with self-expression-through-dress.

In a new, gendered twist to the Styles Style norm, here we have a piece that's ostensibly about how hypermasculine the dudes profiled all are, too busy, rugged, and important to give a crap about their clothes. But then you have Paul Sevigny (who has a slight up-to-no-good-Peter-Sarsgaard thing going on, am I right?) telling us that he can only buy his underpants in Frahnce. (Nice underwear, by the way!) There's even a style blogger (!) who explains:
The store Epaulet — there’s one on Orchard and one on Smith Street in Brooklyn — has these pants with a perfect silhouette and fit. They are cut slim, but not skinny. A few years ago I tried on a pair of mohair ones that fit so well that I bought three pairs — in navy, camel and olive — and a pair of gray cords in the same cut.

A couple of the men make a play of insisting that they hate to shop, before casually tossing off a list of their favorite designers, but for the most part, this is a bunch of men who are arguably bigger fans of buying clothes than are most women. But they're super low-maintenance because they don't get special AW 2012 socks, like women do. Or something.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A December to Remember

-Homemade bread. A lovely idea, especially for those of us who live far from supermarkets let alone these mythological establishments called "bakeries." And a fine way to pass time on Christmas day. But, recipe author who shall remain nameless, "at least three hours" doesn't sit right when, if you add up the time of each of the three rises, plus time in the oven, you arrive at "four hours," with the kneading, prep, and so forth surely covering an additional "at least."

-On "Millionaire Matchmaker," one of Patti's "millionaire" clients said he wanted a woman who was a cross between Tina Fey and Anne Hathaway. Hello! (Yes, I'm married, and no, even if I were not, the "millionaire" in question was sort of eh, and didn't even have the decency to be a fallen Austrian aristocrat, a wild-eyed psychopath, or otherwise memorable.) The relevant fact here is that Patti responded to his request for a woman of that type as if he'd expressed an almost unspeakable fetish, something even Dan Savage wouldn't know what to do with, and proceeded to set him up with a Vegas cocktail waitress.

-Contemporary Jewish Demography 101: at the Chinese restaurant on Christmas, everyone else (aside from the usual Chinese-grad-student clientele) was of the Hebraic as well as geriatric persuasion. The only other Jewish festivities I was aware of involved the Israelis on campus assembled for a child-centric Christmas-night-of-Chanukah celebration, presumably with the goal of passing along some of their warm-weather culture to their children who, as it happens, reside in chilly New Jersey. (The Palmer Square tree is huge! And in the wealthy suburbs, people don't just have a Christmas tree. They have at least one big one inside, but also a few outside for good measure, sometimes wrapped in lights that are themselves miniature Christmas trees.) Presumably some Jews were off elsewhere being too observant for Szechuan Park. Vibrant, vibrant secular cultural Diaspora Judaism might thrive somewhere, but not in these woods.

-We saw Cornel West in the Radio Shack! Public intellectuals, they're just like us!

-Car? Yes? No? On the one hand, where we now live is one of those places in America where one needs a car. On the other, we live here because of my husband's work, and they provide a shuttle service to nearby supermarkets, and aside from that there are such options as taxis, car-sharing, and biking, listed in reverse order of how often we avail ourselves of them. So we might live where cars are needed, but we don't need a car. Plus, cars are expensive! Insurance is expensive! Driving lessons are something you're supposed to have your parents pay for when you're 16, and seem especially expensive if you've already paid for a bunch of them and failed two NYC driving tests! Princeton parents can probably afford to pay up, and their kids really want and need to learn to drive, so lessons here probably cost more than anywhere else in the country, no, world! But it's definitively too cold to bike anywhere comfortably. As grating as the "December to Remember Sales Event" commercials and magazine ads and otherwise ubiquitous presence may be, I'm leaning towards "car," but we'll see.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

America, 2011

I decided to trade sleep for a quicker, earlier train into New York. As you might imagine, it’s more popular to spend one hour getting into the city than two, so the train was packed. But more packed than I’d ever seen it – this was rush hour plus Christmas shoppers-and-tourists. Car after car, there were either no seats or families who managed to take up so much space with their stuff and food (who’d have thought fast-food bagels could have such an odor? I guess in a closed space, most food does) that the occasional one seat available would have meant crashing a jovial early Christmas party of perfect strangers with whom one has nothing in common other than living in but wishing to spend time away from New Jersey, and asking them to move their stuff to space that simply wasn’t there. Stuff ought not to take precedence over people when it comes to seats on trains, what with people and not stuff spending $33 on tickets, but it’s one of those things where you can make a fuss, but then you end up at the bottom of the avalanche of American Girl dolls, and standing starts to look like the way to go.

So car after car, same deal. I joined the horde of preppy types looking for seats, figuring that if a horde was looking, I wouldn’t find anything. I then see one prime aisle seat, not one of those no-window spots, facing the right way. I asked the man in the window seat if the aisle was taken, he said no, I sat down.

Now let’s think for a moment. Why was this seat free? No one in the general vicinity smelled or was eating anything. No one was projectile vomiting or visibly struck with a skin-eating bacteria. Yes, the man in the aisle seat was wider than he was narrow, but this is ‘merica, so was almost everyone else on the train. Yes, some of the horde was made up of families who wanted to be seated together and were holding out for a group of empty seats, but others were just the regular businesspeople. So what on earth could it have been?

Any guesses?

I’m going to speculate that the fact that this one seat was available has something to do with the fact that the man in the window seat was, unlike the others on the train, black. Dark-skinned, with dreadlocks in a ponytail. Otherwise utterly unremarkable, maybe 30, maybe 35, and spent the trip playing with his iPhone like all the other yuppies.


In other, less depressing, news from the world beyond the woods, my mother and I met a dog that was like a tiny Bisou - a dark gray toy, whose tininess really drove home that Bisou's on the gigantic side of miniature, the "medium" size poodles come in. As inevitably happens when dog owners connect, the question of provenance arose. No doubt because of this dog's similarity to Bisou, my mother asked if it came from a breeder. "We wanted to get a rescue dog," the owner began, and I figured, here it comes. Instead, what came was a "but." But, she and her family live in a very small apartment, and were not approved for one. Instead, they went with a "reputable pet store," and we learned what that means, and no, I'm not convinced it means anything in particular, but she seemed to have her story straight. I am convinced, however, that there are rescue promoters who take their work so seriously that they're going around telling people their apartments are too small for a toy poodle, a breed it's hard to picture existing anywhere but a small apartment.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Case closed

Perhaps in an effort to win over the Unsolicited Character Witness To Glamorous Person award from a certain Ivy League prof, Garance Doré has decided to take a stand and defend a young model against charges of anorexia. That anorexia is a mental illness or, in the modeling world, an occupational hazard, and not a crime, might be worth pointing out. But anyway, Doré, who does not appear know the model in question except as someone who's photographed her, and is a fashion blogger, which last I checked is not a kind of medical professional, has this to say to the accusers:

That just doesn’t match the image I have of Karlie Kloss at all. She’s one of the healthiest, happiest models I know – this photo I took of her on her bike* on her way from one show to another during Fashion Week in September is much more in sync with what I see as the real Karlie.
Well that's certainly definitive. A model projects a wholesome image (the American ones always must), and is not the absolute most emaciated of the bunch, so health clearance here! (Never mind that plenty of girls and women with anorexia are a whole lot larger than this model, or that "orthorexia" - basically anorexia plus working out too much - is by now women's-mag old news.)

But it gets more absurd. According to Doré, Kloss can't possibly be anorexic because she reminds one "of a ballet dancer." And she even is a dancer. Case closed! Ballet dancers are famously immune to eating disorders, as we all know, if not from growing up with girls who did ballet, then at least from "The Black Swan." In other words, Doré somehow manages to make claiming that this model doesn't have an eating disorder more ridiculous than the also-ridiculous claims from strangers who couldn't possibly know that the model does indeed suffer from one.

Meanwhile, the question of whether a model has an eating disorder is a) unknowable to outside observers, and b) hardly the main issue. If it turns out that 0.00002% of girls and women between the ages of 14 and 22 have a certain build naturally (whatever that means), that's still the one build the fashion industry promotes as acceptable, a build that the rest of the population could only obtain through dangerous means. What's ick about Doré's response is that it's wrong to claim this model is anorexic, not because it's wrong to diagnose strangers, but because rather than looking skeptically at these images, we should be celebrating them. 

All of which brings up yet another issue, which is whether a celebration of the appearance of "health" is actually such an unequivocal improvement. Counterarguments being, a) health is not necessarily visible externally - e.g., on some, pale skin and eye circles are a skin type, not signs of illness, and b) do we really want to be telling those who are and look ill that they're also not beautiful, and telling those who look less than robust but are in fact healthy that they are unattractive? But I digress.

*I reacted to the photo as someone who has a lot of near misses getting hit by cars while biking in traffic, and was thinking headphones plus no helmet, living on the edge. But if Kloss is a dancer, and able to walk the runways, she's probably someone a bit better-coordinated than I am.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gifts that keep on giving

The latest in the NYT do-gooder-gifts series is from Mark Bittman. While it's closer to reasonable than the last installment, it has its own problems. Removing obstacles to home cooking sounds good in theory, but are "gifts" the way to approach this? As with all self-improvement-type gifts, there's a certain awkwardness. The famous luxury-anti-wrinkle-cream conundrum.

In terms of Bittman's list, it's hard to picture anyone responding well if you told them that not only are you going to take them to the supermarket and show them how to buy groceries, but this is your "big gift" for them for the holidays. If this is unsolicited - and of course if it's solicited, it's a lovely gesture - it's just a teensy bit patronizing. And the "Rice and Beans Pack," again, how would it not be offensive to receive this? It's a gift that says, 'not only do I suspect you're too inept to figure out how to cook really basic foods, and perhaps overweight from all that fast food you eat, but I also think you're too poor to make anything less feed-ish on a regular basis.'

And the CSA membership, that would be a gift that keeps on giving. It's entirely possible to like to cook, to go to farmers' markets, but not to want to be stuck with turnips for months because that's all there is. What if the crop the CSA has in great bounty is a food you don't even like? Wouldn't the end result be food waste or, if the recipient found a way to donate or otherwise pass along the turnips, massive inefficiency and likely resentment? Adults who don't cook don't want to cook. Adults who are not members of CSAs don't want to be members of CSAs. 

Then there's the elephant in the room: gender. Under what circumstances is it not problematic to give these "gifts" - unsolicited - to a woman? A woman who's expressed no interest whatsoever in putting on an apron?

Bittman introduces the column in a way that makes it seem - and I'm sure this isn't true - that he never considered where gender enters into it:

Americans spend less time cooking than anyone, and the amount we “cook” — some people count microwaving a pizza — has been on a long, slow decline. The reasons for this decline are varied and complex, but an increase in the average of both hours worked and television watched, coupled with the marketing of “convenience” foods, have turned cooking from a sometimes-pleasurable necessity into, for many people, an ominous-seeming choice.
Gar! It's not that Americans are cooking less than we used to. It's that American women aren't cooking so much these days. No one ever expected this of American men. It's just like when we hear about how these days, "people" are premarital sex like it's no big deal. When it's really that these days women are doing so - men have always done so, without this being much of an issue.

Potatoes big and small

The academia story of the moment is about the professor who may or may not have been fired for giving an actor and known academic Renaissance Man a D for a class that the student-actor-writer-"Freaks-and-Geeks"-heartthrob may or may not have skipped for most of the semester. Let it be known, before I go any further, that I've never had JF in any of my classes, never so much as glimpsed him on the street, nor, to my knowledge, did he ever take a course in my department, or even in my school. I would estimate that maybe five of NYC's eight-plus million are in some way affiliated with the university in question, so it's not so surprising that our paths never crossed.

When I first read the story, in the Daily Mail of all places, I figured missed class is missed class, students who miss too much get bad grades, often according to departmental policy and independent of an individual instructor's feelings on the matter, and it seemed like there was more to the story that we weren't hearing. Again, I know as little about how the school in question operates as anyone, but... yes, it seemed like there's more going on, things of a small-potatoes-except-for-those-involved academic-politics nature, and the star's name has brought it all into the public eye. I couldn't begin to guess what's going on behind the scenes, let alone who's in the right.

The angle of this that interests me is that now another former professor of the actor in question is weighing in on Slate, in a way that kind of makes me lose faith in the entire enterprise. But, but, the second professor interjects, JF is so a good student! Now, as anyone who's ever been a student knows, sometimes you do well in one class but not another. Maybe some classes you find more engaging than others, for whatever reason, and in the others you're relatively zoned out. Maybe one class's requirements you find much simpler to meet than another's. Maybe you've been unfairly maligned by one instructor and unfairly lauded by another, who knows. The end result is that one instructor would say about you isn't what another would, which is why, come letter-of-recommendation time, you ask the instructors you impressed. It's not that individual students become radically different people in different classes, but it's also not as if there's this constant Student X, with identical performance across all courses. It would seem, then, that one instructor couldn't say much about how a student comes across in another instructor's class, in a different department, at a different institution. Yet that's precisely what Slate has published.

Isn't there supposed to be something like student-instructor confidentiality? Or is it totally OK to use a big-name student to garner sympathy for yourself, whether casting yourself as the adjunct crushed by the star-struck big-city university (when, if there is a larger story, there's no way that too will be brought to light), or the serious (if also pre-tenure) professor so devoted to his students that he dares take a stand and defend an especially famous one, and if this ends with his own name in a big mainstream publication, that's the price he must pay?

Rhoda scholarship: a staycation post

Hulu provides only the first three seasons of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show," and the volume on my computer doesn't get very loud, so I've missed a lot, even of the part I've ostensibly seen. The show continues for a couple more seasons, I think, but I'd already lost interest. Mary had begun to evolve into less of a pushover, but the overall strangeness of the show doesn't go away, an ambiguity that doesn't make the show more interesting so much as less-thought-through-seeming. Is Mary this feminist, modern heroine for choosing to be single? Is she really choosing to be single if half the episodes are about her futile quest for a husband? So I let Hulu be my guide and moved along to spinoff "Rhoda," with low expectations.

Contrary to what I'd have expected, Rhoda is almost... pleasant in "Rhoda." This is because the Rhoda persona gets shifted over to Rhoda's younger sister, Brenda, so Rhoda can't be the show's Rhoda anymore. In Brenda's hands, the self-deprecation is at least coming from an actress who actually looks (or is made up convincingly to look) how MTM's Rhoda is described (and endlessly describes herself) as looking: slightly overweight by 2011 standards so no doubt strikingly so in the 1970s, and frumpy. There isn't that same frustrating disconnect that usually comes up in these situations (see also: Liz Lemon, Grace Adler).

Also important: Because Rhoda and Brenda are sisters, there's less of a sense that Brenda is the way she is because she's Jewish and speaks with a New York accent. By default, on account of there's the two of them plus their mothah, the show presents more than one way of being a Jewish woman.

Rhoda doesn't become Mary, so much as she becomes... a non-grating version of Rhoda, appealing to men, but because they like her sassy tell-it-like-it is quality and exotic-lite good looks, not because she's like this free-floating potential wife who has yet to affix her stereotypically-feminine (crying easily, afraid to assert herself) self to any one man. So eager to please, so passive, Mary allows a man who's stalking her after one failed blind date to handcuff her to him at her office and leave with her for a restaurant where, the man claims, someone has the key. Was sexual violence not yet invented in the 1970s? Abduction? And this was meant to be a cute plotline? Oh, Mary... Rhoda's still self-deprecating, but she doesn't lay it on so thick. The way to look at it is, the MTM Rhoda gets split between Rhoda and Brenda, and each half, on its own, makes sense as a character in a way that the original sad-sack Rhoda did not.


It's not necessary to see further seasons of MTM to catch on to the startling fact that Rhoda gets married before Mary. If indeed Mary ever marries in this evidently extensive spinoff universe.

Earlyish in MTM, haughty neighbor (and, in my view, best character) Phyllis expresses, to Rhoda, her bafflement that Mary isn't married. Rhoda asks her if she's also surprised that she, Rhoda, is single, and she says no. Rhoda responds that Phyllis should go explain why Rhoda's still single to Rhoda's mother.

That Rhoda is single is treated as so inevitable as to be almost scientific fact. How could a Rhoda ever snag a man? Whereas with Mary, being single is a tentative (I say tentative, because she still ostensibly wants nothing more than marriage, but to the right man) feminist step. It means something - it speaks to Mary's own "agency" - that she's not married. Rhoda's just like that. The one time (thus far) a man - scandalously, Phyllis's brother - who's set up with Mary ends up meeting and preferring Rhoda, he's gay. Phyllis is delighted to learn that her brother likes men, because this means he's not going to marry Rhoda, her greatest fear. But what concerns us here is that Rhoda is, in MTM, the "fag hag" cliché, even long before this episode, so by the time the big (and no doubt shocking in 1970-whatever) reveal is made, it's not all that mind-blowing. We know, from her non-stop ogling of good-looking men, that Rhoda isn't single because she's gay.

So on her own spinoff, Rhoda gets married, but she doesn't go about it in a passive, Mary-like way. She asks out and, a few episodes later, proposes to her husband who, far from being a pushover, is this super-assertive, hyper-masculine dude with a ton of chest hair, as 1970s fashions don't hide. Everything, I mean everything, is dealt with in what I suppose is a pre-Reagan America way that comes across as modern and progressive to me, in 2011, more so than anything on TV lately. Birth control and premarital sex? Not non-issues, but not danced around nervously. Rhoda's dude isn't Jewish, and this kind of matters but kind of doesn't to her parents, in a way that seems totally true to life. (Although if he isn't Jewish, what are we to believe he is instead? He looks like 80% of the youngish men on the beach in Tel Aviv.)

Most of all, when Rhoda tells her dude she wants to marry him, rather than just live with him, she's both determined and, well, frank. There's no neurosis, there's no ultimatum, there are no tears. There isn't even quite fauxbivalence. She explains that she doesn't see herself as someone who'd care about this (not because she's a snowflake, but because it's the 1970s and she's in her early 30s, which in her world makes her very much feminist career woman or, depending who's asked, "old maid"), but she's discovered about herself that she does.

That Rhoda, not Mary, gets married makes me think of the Man Repeller personal-style blogger's recent announcement that she's engaged. Leandra Medine, also discussed here, blogs using a persona that's oh so Rhoda-then-Brenda. Medine is Jewish, young but well over 18, and lives in New York with her family. The ostensible point of the blog is that Medine embraces fashion not despite trendy outfits' lack of overlap with what straight men find sexy, but in full celebration of that, which is still, of course, defining dress in terms of, well, the male gaze, but which is a fun response to the irritating sort of straight man who asks why on earth women would wear things that men don't like.

On that blog, there's a great deal of Jewish-humor-inflected self-deprecation, even though Medine is, to phrase this as an understatement, conventionally attractive. If that stance makes sense coming from Brenda, some sense but not much when coming from Rhoda or Liz Lemon (not a Jewish character or actress, but what difference does it make?), it makes approximately zilch when coming from Medine. But presumably that stance alone, the choice of self-identification as hag, is enough to repel.

Competing theory: do coy self-deprecators get men not despite being like that, but because this behavior is appealing to heterosexual men? Or at least more appealing than women who are a) indifferent to their physical appearance (something men might think would be their preference, but that in practice amounts to indifference to dating men or women), or b) openly confident about their looks? Is a veneer of half-faked insecurity, ala Rhoda, ala Liz Lemon, a trait that signals a woman isn't too confident and thus threatening/universally-sought-after, but also that she isn't too pathetic, because she is amused, rather than in a funk, about her imperfections? Is this persona, assuming the right note is hit, basically the personality version of the sexy woman in a men's dress shirt and nothing else?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Teacup violins

I think the NYT heard me claim that I wasn't going to read any more of its lifestyle articles beginning Jan. 1, and decided to do whatever the newspaper equivalent is of when tobacco companies increase the dose of nicotine to keep addicts from abandoning ship. They are providing these bloggable delights that I mustmustmust read and respond to. Resolutions, alas. I have until the 31st.

First, there is the couple that decided to turn its wedding into a celebration of every trendy do-gooder variant of smug. My mind, it explodes. They hate stuff! They sell t-shirts! Sample quote: "During the reception, Mr. Friedlander asked his guests to please recycle their cups, 'because we’re really in a serious situation with climate change.'" Those writing novels set in present-day yuppie NY milieus are now kicking themselves because they did not come up with this line. It's also a "Styles Style" first, in that the journalist actually lets on what she thinks of the people she's covering.

Next, the paper actually asked readers to provide their thoughts on issues at the intersection of dog breeds and Manhattan real estate. Maybe readers would have opinions on this? Maybe! Opinions such as:

-It's imprisonment to have a dog in any apartment of any size, any breed.
-Dogs experience "horror and humiliation" if forced to defecate on cement.
-It's dog abuse to have dogs without 300 acres for them to roam on.
-It's wrong to ask which breed goes best in an apartment, because rescue! (Never mind that there are breed-specific rescues.)
-It's wrong to ask which breed goes best in an apartment, because there are so many wonderful pit bulls in NY shelters.
-Dog breeds are like races, and to make distinctions among them is racist.
-If you have a preference re: dog breed, you should instead get a cat.

My own take is that, while I still don't understand the logistics of initially housebreaking a dog in a high-rise (everything we read explained that you need to scoop your puppy up and outside quickly in that initially stage, which we did, and now she's housebroken), I'm not sure how living outside the city would be better for a dog. Yes, it's a problem to leave a dog alone all day in an apartment, but are dogs left alone all day in a house or yard so much happier? The yard solves the "bathroom" question, but doesn't mean there are other dogs to play with, or that there's anything much to do, or that the owner's around.

If anything, suburban owners probably feel that because their dogs get enough "outside" time, they don't need specific exercise or socialization. Dogs in the city can go to dog runs, meet lots of dogs and people, have quick and easy access to emergency (and routine) vets, dog sitters/walkers/day care/grooming, etc. And yes, I'm aware that actually owning/leasing/something a car would make the suburbs more manageable, and if all goes according to plan, soon, but the convenience of city life seems like a good thing for dogs as well as for people. I know that the muck through which I walk Bisou is meant to be "good for dogs," but I kind of think she'd prefer things in the city, with better access to croissants and Uniqlo. Or am I projecting?

Finally, there's the requisite cue-the-tiny-violins discussion of privilege. What, in this "Occupy" age, should rich parents tell their kids? This from, of course, the parenting blog. And just as every post with the word "dog" in it leads to scolding about rescues, here it's a predictable enough response about how rich people should really be giving to charity, as if there's some reason to believe that the rich people in question are not already doing so.

The official WWPD assessment: It would seem the answer depends on the age of the kid, etc., but that what would need to be explained is that "rich" means two separate things. One is intangible, cultural, educational, etc. privilege, which is there for rich kids virtually whichever choices their parents make, simply by virtue of raising kids in wealthy surroundings. The other is the question of whether the child is wealthy, as in whether the child has much of the freedom that comes from having money to spend. For adults, one big perk of having lots of money is, it can be spent on this, that, the other. A child from a super-rich home, with a minimal allowance or (in less quaint terms) no credit card might have all the cultural privilege, but doesn't have the independence that comes from actually, personally, having access to money.

Of course how much money a family has available matters, but among the population not experiencing genuine need, it doesn't matter as much as one might think. There are plenty of kids with the "wrong" jeans because their well-off parents don't want to be buying $100 jeans for their kids (b/c of the values that promotes, b/c it seems like a waste, etc.), and plenty of kids in the "right" ones as a result of their parents' sacrifices with that particular goal in mind. (Growing up, the kid in my class who had the toughest time of it, clothing-wise, was from a very wealthy family, and her parents no doubt spent gobs on her clothes, but made her wear those little-girl smocked dresses when everyone else was wearing flannel in emulation of Kurt Cobain. What "privilege" that must have been for her.)

And, unless a family is so rich, and is 100% confident about passing along that wealth to the kids, it would seem that there's a danger in passing along an idea of noblesse oblige, "we" are so very very lucky, let's give thanks, blah blah, when the kid could perfectly well grow up and not have these advantages, and needing to do such radical things as clean his own bathroom and check what things cost at the supermarket. Nothing will change the fact that a kid grew up rich, but any number of things can happen later in life. I mean, when a kid from a wealthy home gets a typical teenager job, this is in part to "build character" and to make him less of an ass to food-service workers in the future, but it's also giving him life skills should he need to be at the mercy of bosses in not-glamorous situations in the future. Social mobility isn't the well-oiled machine it ought to be, but it's not entirely non-existent, and cuts both ways.

So I suppose I don't think it's being refreshingly honest to tell a child how rich "he" is, when the relevant fact is how rich his parents are. Which is still a very relevant fact in terms of his life experience, but which isn't the same as his being rich.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Early New Year's Resolutions*

-Write The Small Dog Workout Book. Inspired by this NYT reader comment; socialite, reality TV star, and incredibly tall woman Kelly Bensimon's choice of tiny maltese as workout partner; and my own half-hour jogs with Bisou, the ones that tire her out for a couple minutes and me for the whole day. The jogs are really for her, and for me only insofar as it means maybe she'll require less chasing around the apartment afterwards. But I'm sure that as with any exercise, poodle-jogging makes a person fit and Gwyneth-like. This book would sell in the States, I think, but could even become a hit in Frahnce, where it would be marketed as a way of combatting cellulite. Either way, Bisou goes on the cover.

-Or, co-write the satirical cookbook my friend and fellow woods "housewife" and I have been discussing, based on our non-existent café serving the woodsy academics. Think Bravo meets Alice Waters. Think "Big Bang Theory" from the perspective of Penny crossed with Daria. But those are all the clues you're getting for now.

-Stop reading the NYT, NYMag, or anything else with NY in the title, except for hard news and op-eds. No Styles, no Well, no lifestyle commentary, no restaurant reviews. No reports on shoe sample sales where the shoes look like ones I might potentially be able to walk in. Nothing about how one simply must go to the Greenmarket fishmonger for the latest catch. Yes, it was nice being able to get good fish, as opposed to whatever's shrink-wrapped at Wegman's, or displayed in a fishmongery way but often foul-smelling at Whole Foods. Yes, there's a boutique fish store on Nassau St., but it's at the far end of Nassau St., and days when it's cold enough to take fish that far by bike are days it's too cold to bike there. And my guess would be that if it's anything like the boutique everything stores on and near Nassau St. (like the cheese shop without prices on most of the items! like my recent $14-plus-tax-and-tip hamburger!), if you have to ask... No! I must tear myself away, away from fish stew recipes and the even more delicious comment about how wrong the recipe author is to suggest using canned tomatoes, when in this day and age, with all we know about BPA...

-Pitch some kind of earth-shattering "how we live now" article to the Atlantic. Something about the food movement or rescue culture. Something about how "we" only feed our dogs local and sustainable kibble.

-With husband, purchase car. Learn to drive car. Wean self from shuttle.

-Maybe I could have my own talk show? I like horses.

*Academic goals not included, because they're what they are for every other humanities PhD student, namely finish it, publish part of it, and graduate already.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Some ID

This was, all told, a crummy day in non-tragic but still-frustrating respects. But one particular highlight was that at Wegman's - remember how pro-Wegman's I was? - I got carded for a bottle of wine. For context, this was one bottle of wine, amidst groceries adding up to just over $100, and no individual pricey items, but a bunch of really mundane stuff, not quite the makings for a rager. A week's worth of meals, give or take, plus dish detergent. Also for context: the wedding and engagement rings. The weary, 28-year-old face that says, "My husband's at a conference, so this week groceries are all me."

Ah, but getting carded is so flattering! It's like the opposite of being called "madame"! Except not really. It's store policy, they take it very seriously, and you could be in the Guinness Book of World Records as oldest person alive and you'd need to show ID.

But I'd come prepared. Because my new learners' permit has no photo ID, but is just this piece of paper with a barcode or something, I brought along my shiny new passport. I mention that it's new because that means a) a current photo, and b) the name matches up with the one on my credit card.

"Can I see some ID?"

I take out the passport and open it to the photo page.

"I can't accept this."

And so we went back and forth for a while. In a bid to make the two hours the shuttle drops you off at the strip mall go by more quickly, I'd already gone in and out of, oh, everything on that side of Route 1? Not Chuck E. Cheese, so no, not everything. I went to Target without needing or wanting anything in the entire store, but overheard an older woman telling a young child that she should stop talking about football because she's a girl and football isn't for girls. I saw a pair of Converse at Famous Footwear that had been $45 but were reduced to $49, and yes, you read that right. 

I'd tried my best to make Wegman's itself take the hour and a half or so I had left once I got there. I stared at the olive oil section, thinking of the Terry Gross interview I just listed to while walking Bisou with the latest author of some book about how olive oil labeling is all BS, except that you need to get the good stuff. Is Wegman's brand the good stuff? The Greek one? There are problems, it seems, with Italian, yet another case of dubious "made in Italy." How low am I on sugar? Enough to merit adding a five-pound bag to an already-packed cart? Domino's or Wegman's brand? I wonder what shampoos are sold at Wegman's? And so on. By the time I was at the register, I had under ten minutes to make the shuttle. 

It was only as I was pleading that this was a US government-issued ID that I realized that, due to incompatible missing pieces of cultural capital, the cashier had never seen a passport before, just as I did not possess the only form of identification any adult who has it together enough to make it to Wegman's might possibly own. I'd never had this happen before, in part because in NY carding is strictly for those who look underage, and even then kind of lax, but also because those doing the carding, if they didn't have passports themselves (often enough, on account of having come from another country), had at least encountered them when carding an international and largely non-driving population. I explained that I don't know how to drive, thus no license, thus the thing I was showing. (And shouldn't the not driving make me the ideal purchaser of wine?) I didn't explain what it was, because what if she did know perfectly well what it was, but was giving me a hard time? 

Eventually, the cashier summoned a higher-up, who, without looking at the part of the passport that has my date of birth on it, saw what kind of document it was, saw that I'm a bit of an ancient vintage myself, and told her that it was fine. What he meant, though, was that the document was fine, but she still needed to check my birthdate on it. I had no idea what she was doing with it, inspecting it so closely that an El Al security guard might want to learn from her, but eventually she said something along the lines of, "Oh, there it is," and moved on to the eggs, milk, bananas, and so forth.

I feel as though this story ought to end with my drinking that wine, but ever since becoming ancient, I find that I get hungover but not tipsy from even small amounts of alcohol. This bottle is basically for, next time we have people over, now we'll also be able to offer them red.

Two before their time

Sad news. Re: Christopher Hitchens, I assume readers of WWPD have read at least as much by him as I have, and judging by Twitter perhaps gone carousing with him as well, whereas I'd only ever heard him talk, so I won't make specific recommendations. But I'll remind everyone again to check out Paula Hyman's Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History. Also, of course, The Jews of Modern France.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"[A] commercialized selfish jewess"

The Christmas thing. As I've explained before, and will need to do each year, there are a whole lot of Jews in this country (hi!) who were raised, perhaps inadvertently, with the understanding that non-celebration of Christmas is the central tenet of Judaism. You can explain to such individuals that Christmas is pagan/secular/commercial, or that there are far more important facets of Official Judaism than not celebrating Christmas, if that even ranks at all, or that there are far more positive ways of promoting being Jewish than making it about not having fun when everyone else is. But it's useless. If this is where you're coming from, if this is your experience, you can be neck-deep in Clams Casino on Yom Kippur and aghast at the idea of your halls being decked come December.

The seemingly bizarre notion that Judaism=non-celebration-of-Christmas isn't that strange, really, and is rooted in childhood. Because you're not engaged in theological discussions with your classmates, the way you know their religion, assuming a secular-ish, mixed-faith environment, comes down to one question: Christmas or Chanukah, or more essentially, Christmas or not. If this has always been your identity, it will not strike you as odd.

In the past, Emily "Prudence" Yoffe has sympathized with Jewish partners who aren't so into the Christmas thing. So the following letter-writer might be forgiven for thinking - mistakenly, it turns out - that Yoffe would find her approach to the holiday something other than insane:

I am Jewish, my husband is not. We were married by a rabbi, attend synagogue, and have a Jewish home. Our son, born this year, had a bris. My husband's parents live in a rural town across the country and know no other Jews. They have been open and welcoming and traveled at great expense and difficulty to our son's bris. But we have run into a problem with the upcoming Christmas, which we will spend with them. We intend to explain to our son that Christmas is Grandma and Papa's holiday, and accordingly we asked my mother-in-law to wrap any gifts for him in Hanukkah paper. My mother-in-law insists that Christmas has become a secular holiday and cannot understand why our son should not enjoy Christmas as her own son did. We see them rarely, so I do not want to taint the holiday with a stern message to them. I think our suggestion is a good compromise that allows their grandson to celebrate the holiday with them with minimal confusion and is consistent with the decisions we reached. How can I help my mother-in-law respect our wishes?
Mom, in other words, has a touch of the nuts. If you marry someone who isn't Jewish and hasn't become Jewish, you relinquish your right to raise your children in full non-celebration-of-Christmas. Mom could explain to the in-laws about Judaism-as-non-celebration-of-Christmas, but who's to say a) that she could articulate it as precisely as I have on this here blog (and her wrapping-paper idea suggests not), or b) that they'd know what on earth she was on about if she did. But she is now a part of a family that is not entirely Jewish. This is different from being a citizen of a country that is not entirely Jewish. These rural folk who've never seen another Jew are her relatives, and what she needs to respect isn't any "Christmas is a secular holiday" nonsense, but that Christmas is a holiday celebrated, for whatever reason, by some of her relatives. She doesn't get to pretend that the entire family is Jewish when it isn't, especially when some of the relatives expected to join the masquerade have only the faintest notion of what "Jewish" is.

The Slate commenter responses to the nutty mom, however, are just as off as she is. Oh how cruel, that the Jewish mom isn't embracing diversity! When this is a pretty clear-cut case of a tiny minority's ways up against the mainstream culture. If the in-laws celebrated something that was also unusual and particular, but not Jewish, if Kwanzaa or the Chinese New Year were at stake, that would be its own matter. (One can read, in another recent Slate "Life" column, about some of the Christmastime traditions I married into but have not, alas, embraced as my own. A meta-diversity-issue if there ever was one.) But here, between Real American Christmas and its Jewish shadow holiday, there's a whopper of a power imbalance. To the commenters who thinks it's the same as a Christian kid being exposed to Chanukah, that is, to put it mildly, missing the point. It's all well and good, if your culture is that of the majority, to "tolerate" others. It poses no particular threat to your way of life. (The absurdity of the "war on Christmas" being, of course, that Christmas isn't going anywhere, but is in fact beginning earlier and earlier each year.)

It's not that minorities shouldn't tolerate the majority, but that what ends up being asked is that they thank and thank and thank the majority for tolerating them, and hold forth at any opportunity on how lovely they find the majority's traditions. Mom should, for the reasons mentioned above, accept that her in-laws celebrate Christmas, but her reaction, if nutty, is rooted in something sane.

But the responses that interest me most are the ones that latch onto the gender of the Jewish parent:
You come across as a control freak as I read over your letter. How very sad for your son. I know a few people who left the Jewish faith because they had mothers like this and of course had little to do with their mothers once they became of age. Is that what you want? 
Reread the letter in the voice of Howard Wolowitz's (sp?) mom from Big Bang Theory. Can anyone else imagine how much of a pain the LW will become if her kid grows up and ends up dating or marrying outside of the Jewish faith?
It's paper and that LW sounds just like a commercialized selfish jewess...putting such restrictions on paper and confusing the holiday...her husband is spineless.
Got that straight? The problem here isn't this woman, it's Jewish women, as a "type." Pushy, castrating, insane.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Truffles Quarterly

Jennifer Steinhauer is appalled that other moms in her well-to-do West Coast milieu are not bringing home-baked goods to bakesales. She mentions that "moms" are the culprits, with wording that might suggest she'll have a more egalitarian approach, but then doesn't question that moms and moms alone need to step it up. Not once are "fathers," "dads," or "men" brought up. It's strikingly unapologetic wimmin, kitchen, argument, with the notable caveat that this particular wommin is a journalist for the NYT, and thus not a housewife.

As someone too old to be bakeselling (or is that how to fund humanities departments?), too young (in my academic milieu, if not biologically) to have school-age children, this isn't an issue I give much thought to. If I didn't reflect on it, I'd probably agree with Steinhauer that "bakesale" implies something that was, you know, baked by the person (or a parent of the person) bringing it in.

I'm blogging the article in part because in one part of one of the sentences, the principle flaw of the food-movement approach is (inadvertently) as clearly laid-out as I've ever seen it: 

"Some pull out the 'lack of time' card when it comes to baking (though in truth, Rice Krispie treats take less time to make than going to Safeway for cookies) [.]"

Unless you have a marshmallow tree in your backyard, you're going to the store. Either on a special trip, or picking up bakesale goods while doing the rest of your shopping. If you have to do something with what you bought at the store, i.e. if you must then cook, like with ingredients, this is in addition to the time you spent shopping. Cooking takes more time and energy than not cooking. This may seem obvious, but rather than pointing to the other factors that compensate for this (i.e. home-cooked is often tastier, healthier, cheaper), food-movement sorts feel compelled to claim that from-scratch is effortless. Those who think cooking is exhausting, that there are better uses of free time, are, they want you to know, mistaken. 

Writers like Steinhauer completely misconstrue what the "'lack of time' card" is about. It's not that there is literally no time, that in "times like these" everyone's working from literally when they wake up to when they go to sleep. It's that the time is, as determined by those whose time it is, better-spent doing something else. Yes, that "something else" might be recuperating from a long day of work in front of the TV for three hours. But that doesn't mean those are three hours that could perfectly well be spent whipping up a meal. I mean, they could and they couldn't. It might mean being more exhausted at work, or (because guess what, the person being asked to make this tradeoff is a laydee) this sentiment known as resentment. After a long day, I have to work more?

Note also the arbitrary divide between prepackaged (bad!) and homemade (good!). The dessert in question - which I myself have never been known to turn down - is made from ingredients that are about as food-industry as it gets: a Kellogg's cereal (if one of the least-offensive ones) and marshmallows. This is super-revelatory, as it shows is that the key "ingredient" for food-movement types is kitchen labor. Were you just on your feet in the kitchen when you might have been reclining on the couch? Then there you go.

Much of the article might have come from a food-movement-piece generator. From-scratch is better! Let's emulate our grandmothers! It also hits the usual notes regarding socioeconomic class. There's the usual food-movement scorn for those whose reason for not cooking is something other than the most abject poverty. As always, there must be a disclaimer about how some families are so poor that they can't afford a baking tin, a nod of sympathy for those families, and then a quick switch over to romanticization of those who are not quite as poor, but still too poor (or, in this case, too gloriously Old Country) to buy premade treats:
No question, some people cannot afford the equipment needed to bake, even if they wish to, though flour and sugar are cheaper than Chips Ahoy. And in my observation in the four American cities where I have lived, income does seem to be the underpinning of the problem. 
Indeed, I have witnessed the reverse: the more upscale the community for the bake sale, the fancier the store-bought cookies. (Sprinkles Cupcakes may be the single biggest supplier of bake-sale goods in West Los Angeles.) Lower-income parents, especially first-generation immigrants, often turn up at school parties with the best-tasting homemade treats.
Bad yuppie women! You correctly assessed that your time and energy have significant value in your society, and chose an extra hour at the firm over one over the stove! Meanwhile, note also the YPIS-worthy conflation of those not rich enough to spend $3.25 each (say) for cupcakes for an entire class of kids, and those so poor they can't afford the raw materials to bake from and don't have access to an oven. Speaking on behalf of those who buy flour without a second thought, but who often gasp at the price of  upscale pastry (and imagine buying enough for 20-30 kids!), we're out there, and we're not "lower-income" except insofar as our incomes are lower than... I don't want to resort to OWS lingo, but you see where I'm going with this.

Then things get baffling. Steinhauer also conflates a host of foodie concerns that are rarely found in the same individuals:
It strikes me that all this bake sale corner cutting and potluck shrugging-off are odd anomalies in our ingredient-obsessed, locally sourced lima bean eating, organic milk swilling culture. We objectify food with our smartphones at restaurants, sticking photos with sauces slithering off the plate onto our blogs, and with fancy journals devoted to a single ingredient on our nightstands. 
We stick up our noses at out-of-season blackberries, and compete over the brands of our stoves and dishwashers. We moralize about the family dinner, outdo one another by killing and plucking our own turkeys and plan vacations around a dinner reservation.
Are "we" food-movement post-hippies? Jet-setting gourmands? Yuppies whose high-end, pristine kitchens as good as announce that we don't cook? These may all be well-off predominately-white coastal sorts with some proclaimed interest in food, but they're not the same people, not at all. The fancy-cupcake-bringers aren't an anomaly. They're merely the fancy-unused-oven-owners.

The more I think about the food-movement issue, the more I think its flaws come primarily from the near-unspoken assumption that the "we" who aren't cooking as much as we ought to (and thereby causing the downfall of Western civilization) are women. A movement that's ostensibly progressive, and that's spearheaded largely by men who do in fact cook (Bittman, Pollan, Oliver...) and women who've become so rich and famous from food that they're about as far from housewives as they come (Waters), in theory addresses men and women alike, but in practice, not so much. The question, then, is whether we should ask that these articles at least claim to be addressing men and women alike, or whether when they do just that, they're covering their bases but ignoring the reality of who, precisely, is being told to feel bad about not spending more time in the kitchen.

Inadvertent outdoorsiness

I'm going to take the opportunity to brag-complain (bragplain?) about having biked to Wegman's over the weekend, which is to say very far from where I live, to a shopping center that is definitively intended for cars, a shopping center where if you arrive in a regular car and not an SUV, you're already an eccentric. (The only others who'd arrived via bike were my husband, whom I'd biked with, and a colleague of his we ran into at the nearby Target.)

Wegman's is at least not across Route 1, but that's like saying that California's totally bikeable because at least I wouldn't have to cross an ocean to get there. We took the lovely canal path, which meant not risking getting run over for most of the trip, but also very nearly swerving in mud or gravel and into the canal. That much was averted, but I'm still not sure how to get the mud off my coat (specifically, the... seat of my coat, it isn't pretty), because it's one of those coats that doesn't go in the wash, but isn't dressy enough to dry-clean, and there's be no way to get it to a dry-cleaners' without getting yet another coat muddy in just the same way. (Seinfeldians, this is a "the very pants I was returning" situation.)

Then, because this wasn't inefficient enough, and nor was spending three hours on Wednesday afternoon getting groceries at Whole Foods via shuttle, I went allll the way into New York and somehow ended up not with a haircut, as I'd imagined I might, but with a bag full of Zabarsness (they have Camembert that tastes like the real deal in France, for less than $7 a container! I had to stock up! and Amora mustard! I'm starting to wonder about my sanity! or was, when I arrived at Penn Station at 5:18 for the 5:17 train...).

Yes, yes, a car, I am aware, I'm on the case, or as much as I can be without yet being able to drive one unaccompanied. A car would not turn Princeton into Tokyo (and I've never been to Tokyo, but merely imagine it as the anti-Princeton, at least the anti-woods-outside-Princeton, thus the many Japanese tourists taking pictures of exotic Nassau Street), but it would solve the dilemma that is grocery shopping. Lucky, lucky Bisou, content with cans and kibble.

Her little den

Took Bisou to the Dinky station to see Jo off (the astrophysicists are conferring). Walked her back. This is a half-hour each way. Does Bisou walk in a straight line? Hardly. And she even had the added excitement of running into not one but two of the other "housewives" (i.e. women who typically do have careers of their own, but who have moved to the woods with their husbands) and managed to get cooed at in Hebrew and French, respectively. (And I even got to use my French! Hebrew-wise, I understood the cooing...) This was, finally, sufficient exercise for the world's most energetic dog that looks like it would be a lap dog. There's hope for the day!

And where is she asleep right now, you ask? In her crate. I did not lock the crate, nor did I lead her into it. It is finally, as the dog books assured it would be, her den. The secret? We have not put her in the crate in ages. If she's not with us, she's in the (fenced) kitchen. How anyone gets a dog to voluntarily enter a crate while still crate-training that dog remains a mystery.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Where Nice Guys meet That Guys meet PUAs

Found this gem via Facebook: "A Girl You Should Date," advice, presumably, to the young man who fancies himself an intellectual. To a sort of Nice Guy crossed with That Guy. And the author's a woman (or so the name Rosemarie Urquico implies)! And it's possibly a response to a mildly misogynistic essay! It's intended as kind of... feminist, and has been interpreted that way by various Facebook friends-and-acquaintances, but "girl" is used where "woman" might have sufficed! Where have we seen this before?

"A Girl You Should Date" contains so much wrong that I'm not sure where to begin, so I'll begin with the beginning:

"Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books."

It is of course mutually exclusive to care about clothes and to read books. That's why students in literature PhD programs, male and female alike, tend to be so badly/carelessly dressed. Except, wait a moment... This is, as WWPD readers know, a case of too-brilliant-to-bathe, but with a slight twist. It's about penalizing women for having stereotypically feminine interests. Meanwhile, is dude going to notice the woman, reading or otherwise, if she's not good-looking? Dude may think he's noticing the Nabokov, but it's really the carefully applied highlighter makeup. Regardless, it gets irritating how "clothes" are this stand-in for materialism, when the same men who take such pride in their indifference to matters sartorial almost inevitably turn out to be interested in something just as pointless (expensive wine, food, electronics, sports...). The problem with "clothes" isn't that they're not books, but that this is a non-book interest associated with women and gay men.

Then there's the fetishization of books-as-objects: 

"You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow." 

I know the love of books' smell is meant to be this great big stand-in for an interest in books' content, but it always strikes me as one step away from being one of those people who buy books by the foot at Strand. I'm like way into texts, and that's the case whether it's a PDF, a microfilm, a crisp new hardcover, or one of those yellowed tomes that Bisou likes to munch on when she runs behind that one chair. (And I do wish she'd leave Les eaux mêlées well enough alone, and not mix them further still with whichever mix of wet and dry feed is passing through her digestive tract.) 

But the main ick factor comes from the premise, which is that until proven otherwise, women are vapid airheads. Vapid, money-grubbing airheads: "It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries." No need to go to Zales!

The whole thing reeks of male entitlement, of this idea too many men have of themselves (like dude on NJ Transit recently who wouldn't shut up from the moment he got on, telling his friends what a great intellectual he is, how he loves curling up with a good book, how he hopes to read "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" sometime soon, and held forth so continuously and at such high volume that those of us trying to, you know, read books on the trip were out of luck.) that they are Great Minds. Minds brought down by the horrid, moronic females they're forced to interact with on account of their sexual orientation being what it is. 

So they look for women who are exceptions or, rather, who give off the vibe of "different." They feel special if they hit on the (conventionally-attractive) brunette, not the blonde, the skinny, flat-chested young woman rather than the D-cup. (Fact: having large breasts makes it physically impossible to read great literature.) The "manic pixieretort is apt. This is about many things, none of which is finding an intellectually-compatible mate. 

Friday, December 09, 2011

Give a dog a cone

Thanks to Isabel Archer (the blogger, not the protagonist), I have yet another reason to feel dog-guilt: after Bisou was spayed, she wore for nearly two weeks straight the regular vet-issued plastic cone. I had not even realized that a superior alternative existed, but seems it does.

In my defense, Bisou seemed for the most part indifferent to the cone, same as after she turns our living room into a gymnasium in ways that inevitably culminate in banging her head against corners of furniture or slipping off the couch and onto her back from a not-insubstantial height, it's as if nothing happened. Same as how she apparently spent the time her paws were being trimmed licking the groomer's hand. Same as how she demands that the vet - the great source of needles and surgery in her life - give her belly rubs. I'm not sure our dog has any conception of pain. I mean, some conception (she's not keen on being brushed, and on the rare occasions we've so much as begun to step where she had, unbeknownst to us, put a paw, she's squeaked in agony), but not human-level.

But I totally get what Isabel means when she mentions trying to figure out her dog's "inner ethnicity." Bisou is a pet of intermarriage in the Jewish sense as well as international marriage, so ethno-culturally she could be either a New York Jew or a Flemish Catholic. She's been cooed at in (Flemish) Dutch, (Canadian) French, Russian, and Hebrew. Going by her taste in food, she's from a cold part of Europe, what with her willingness to do anything for smoked salmon, which could be my background or Jo's. But she may have origins on a different continent altogether. Her "Afro" has been admired twice in such terms by black and interracial families, and when we've taken her to New York, her biggest fans have been Japanese tourists. But the poodle is a German dog with French connotations.

The only conclusion I can come to is that Bisou is a cosmopolitan. Unfortunately, unlike the cosmopolitans of turn-of-the-century French literature, she isn't also a financier, in which case she could have bought herself a more comfortable cone and, more importantly, paid the associated vet bill.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Cannelazy UPDATED

In the spirit of pro-kitchen-gadgetry, I might mention the great success that was finally making cannelés, months after my mother got me a silicone cannelé-mold-thingy and... fewer months, but still months, after buying the mini-bottle of rum, equally one-purpose as far as I was concerned, as I don't like to drink rum.

I first tried one of the little baked-custard cakes in class, when Lauren Shockey, a college friend, former French major, and now celebrity, brought them in. And it was like, one does not find the likes of this in Hyde Park. And I kicked myself for not being on the path to a career in anything (officially) food-related.

So the one-purpose device that is a silicone muffin-tin-type thing for cannelés sat in a drawer as these things do, until Jo asked me, half-sarcastically because of the time not long ago when we had brownies and shtetl apple cake at the ready, why I didn't make cannelés. And I thought, that's a really good question!

But there were two reasons. One, the recipe called for leaving batter in the refrigerator overnight, and I have a rule about this: I will not make anything that needs to be started the day before, because that's going down a road I'd rather avoid. Two, the recipe (in here) calls for whole milk, which, as someone who prefers skim and is not accustomed to buying two types of milk, I'd forget to pick up. Oh, and Reason 3: after a failed attempt at from-scratch croissants, I was thinking this notoriously challenging dessert would be beyond my capabilities.

Not so!

Not so, because not so challenging, after all, thanks to our good friend the electric hand-mixer. A few simple ingredients, a few minor improvisations (the recipe called for a vanilla bean pod, so I tossed in some vanilla extract, and "blond" sugar, so I mixed some brown sugar in with white... and rather than breaking out the food scale I brought back from Paris for this purpose - recipes generally, not cannelés specifically! - I went to those measurement-conversion sites and approximated), and completely ignoring the recipe's advice about gently folding in whichever ingredients, instead electromixing away (but staying true to all the waiting-related instructions), I ended up last night with a bowl full of what looked like pancake batter but smelled distinctly like cannelé.

After the requisite at least 12 hours in the fridge, plus one of returning to room temperature on the counter, I risked the possibility of the silicone thing sticking to the metal baking sheet it, for lack of a better option, was propped up on in the oven, and it worked. The great thing about making your own cannelés is that if you prefer yours medium rare, that's an option, so if the one pictured strikes you as underdone, let it be known that this is intentional, and that if you don't hear from me for a while, it was the undercooked egg.

In any case, the result was absolute, straight-up, this-could-be-Paris. Taste and texture alike were flawless. (The shape, as Jo pointed out, would be right whatever I'd poured in, what with the molds. So the photo doesn't tell you much.) Which suggests that there's no need to wax copper molds, to weigh ingredients, to have extra-fresh eggs (not for taste, at least) or to purchase a vanilla bean or special sugar for the occasion. (Or "farine T.55," which I don't think is sold at the Wawa.)

Adapted from Magnier-Moreno, Mon Cours de Cuisine: La Pâtisserie:

Makes 15 cannelés plus some extra cannelé batter.

2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
just under 1/2 cup flour
2 eggs and 2 egg yolks
just under 2 oz butter, in pieces
4 teaspoons rum

Day 1:

1. In a saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla.
2. Put the sugars, flour, and eggs into a bowl, and mix (here, the hand mixer is perfection) till it's mixed.
3. While still mixing, slowly pour in the heated vanilla-milk.
4. Add the butter while still mixing.
5. Once the mixture reaches room temperature (or just after a little bit), pour in the rum.
6. Cover and refrigerate over night.

Day 2:

7. An hour before you're going to bake them, preheat the over to 520F and take the mixture out of the fridge.
8. Just before pouring, mix a bit once more, but this can be done with a spoon.
9. Put the silicone wobbly "tin" on a baking sheet (not non-stick, I'd think) before you begin pouring, or be an idiot (oops) and pour first.
10. Ideally, you're pouring from one of those Pyrex things with a spout, but ours is holding the 1/2-cup scoop for Bisou's dry feed (don't ask), so you can make a mess with a ladle. What matters is that you don't fill the cups up all the way, but very close is fine. You just don't want it spilling everywhere (oops).
11. They stay in the oven for 11-12 minutes at 520, then, without removing them, switch the temperature down to 350, and wait an hour, or more if you prefer "well done."


So the ones on the edge came out just right, but the middle ones are kinda on the raw side, so much so that they stick to the mold. Not sure about making breakfast (don't judge) out of a pastry with what tastes like not-cooked-off rum, not to mention near-raw egg that's been sitting on the kitchen counter overnight. So I put them in at 350 for a while more (15 mins?) and we'll see...

"Pluck your own chickens."

Via Nick Troester, I see that Megan McArdle and I are on the same page when it comes to kitchen gadgets. I also now see that McArdle came up in the post in which I provided a glimpse at the not-so-romantic realities of communal-kitchen, saucepan-for-everything-yes-including-coffee life in Paris. Back then she was more like guiltily admitting to liking and owning gadgets. I think she's moved in the right direction. Her checklist for how to decide if a gadget is worth it strikes me as sound. If it's something you'll actually use, and it doesn't break the bank, and it may well mean cheaper and healthier meals in the long run, why not? It's not as if not owning gadgets means you automatically spend the necessary five hours of nightly food preparation a slower method requires. If I didn't have a food processor or dishwasher, I'd... not eat at home so much, or now that I live in the woods, would switch over to the all-frozen-tortellini diet.

But what McArdle misses, and what I failed to hit upon precisely when first writing this, is that this isn't about rational calculations of which gadgets make sense for you. It's that the obsession with authenticity is more than just aesthetic romanticization of great-grandmother cuisine. It's intricately linked to the idea of inclusivity. Advocates of home cooking, from-scratch cooking, and so on are not merely miffed but obsessed with the fact that they're often accused of speaking only to the rich and well-educated. No, no, no! they reply, what they advocate is accessible to all, because not only does it not require expensive gadgets, but those would be counterproductive.

The list McArdle offers as an example of "ridiculous" - "Buy whole nuts and crack them by hand, picking out the meats and hoping you don't accidentally get a bit of shell. Throw out the powdered gelatin and use calf's foot jelly. Make your own confectioner's sugar with a food grinder or a rolling pin. Pluck your own chickens. Render your own lard." - sounds not at all extreme by the standards of articles and recipes with less than two degrees of separation from Alice Waters / Chez Panisse. That more or less is what they suggest. (But don't just pluck your own chickens, breed and raise them first! In Brooklyn!) They suggest the sort of endeavors McArdle correctly labels "ridiculous" not because they want to make home cooking more of a snooty or fringe pursuit, but because they think - and I think they really do think this - that if what they advocate worked for our impoverished great-grandmothers, surely it's accessible to even the poorest folks today. They haven't, in other words, entirely thought things through.

"A little misogynist"

"Girl" or "girls" appears five times in this groundbreaking Styles piece about socialites who are also beauty-industry entrepreneurs, or who consent to having their names and images stamped on the marketing materials in exchange for profit, same difference. This is not, however, a story about how Spence and Chapin sophomores are really making a go of it. The "girls" mentioned specifically are (or claim to be) 27, 34, 34, and 36 (making them 37, 44, 44, and 46, respectively).

And there I was, claiming that "girls" only ever referred to adult women in the case of sex workers or fashion models. Seems if you're rich enough, spending enough on anti-wrinkle creams that claim to target not only lines but also rides, your girlhood lasts forever, across however many well-calculated marriages.

All of this would be standard Styles fare (note that "girl" and "girls" are appearing in quotes, leaving open the possibility that the reporter finds this preposterous), except that it gets a touch meta, with one of the "girls" preemptively defending herself:

She is bothered by the title “socialite.”  
“I always find the term somewhat funny, and in this day and age, a misnomer,” she said. “I just think of myself as a girl who works and who likes to go out. Especially in New York, most of the women I know from that scene also work. Sometimes it’s a little misogynist.”
Let's get this straight. The "girl" in question is (or claims to be) 34, married to a man who's been divorced, and has a 12-year career in finance behind her. "Socialite" is "misogynist," but "girl" is not?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Second attempts

-Sometimes I write a whopper of a post, and it will then occur to me a few days later that what I'd meant to convey could have been done far more efficiently. Case in point: what I was getting at here, without realizing it, was that the food movement is fundamentally about romanticizing poverty. Which is why, on a superficial level, its goals can often seem entirely compatible with having nothing. They romanticize not having a dishwasher, so it can seem as though of course what they're advocating is universally accessible. After all, they're not demanding that you go out and buy heaps of yuppie kitchen equipment. Meanwhile, what they are asking is plenty inaccessible - not just to the proverbial single mother barely making ends meet with her three full-time jobs, but also to run-of-the-mill middle and upper-middle class Americans who have been given no compelling reason to give up TV (tsk tsk!) or reading or staring at a friggin' wall in exchange for time with mortar and pestle.

-Case in point, II: The typical reaction to the anti-Israeli-American-Jewish-marriage (or anti-Israeli-emigration) ads has been a diasporic nuh-uh, asserting that there are vibrant Jewish (and culturally Israeli!) families and communities in 'merica. This is on the one hand true, and on the other hand missing the point. The point, that is, of Zionism. (I am, of course, especially curious to see David Schraub's response, so David, if you have a moment...)

All along, the point of Zionism (and the reason I consider myself a Zionist) was to make the world better for a) Jews, and b) the Jews. Which is to say, it's on the one hand about making life more pleasant (or, circa the 1930s and early 1940s, feasible) for those who happen to have been born Jewish, and on the other, about Jewish continuity, which is to say, the perpetuation over generations of Judaism and of individuals who consider themselves Jewish.

Which is to say that it's entirely in keeping with Zionism - just ask Herzl! - that some Jews won't want in on the Jewish state, and will make use of the freedom that the existence of a Jewish state in the world helps provide them to not care an ounce about their Jewish identities, and to blend unnoticed into whichever mainstream or not-mainstream population they see fit. Why is that fundamental to Zionism? Because one of the problems Zionism was and is (or ought to be) about resolving is the idea that Jewishness is a) externally-defined, and b) fate. Jewish? That's going to be the central fact of your life. Zionism's about letting it be that if you want, and really making something of it in that case, and if not, not. Others who do care can certainly do their caring in the diaspora, but if their principle interest is continuity, they might want to head on over to Israel, where "Jewish" is the default. Given this dynamic, it's not so surprising that one would see a great deal of back-and-forth migration between Israel and the Jewish diaspora.

The point here, though, is that Zionism ideally isn't about forcing anyone to be more Jewishly-involved than they'd like. So things like these ads, that use negativity as a tool, don't fit with its mission. Israel either offers something positive for you, in which case great, live in Israel, or you wish to embrace your freedom as a human being (without being in any way impeded by being a Jew) to be a fashion blogger in L.A., a taxi driver in NY, a receptionist in Mississippi, etc.

On looking as stylish as possible while writing a dissertation in the woods with a poodle and some scientists

Need a change of hairstyle, and considering a return to one of the old standbies: bangs or ombré. Bangs have the advantages of, I could still look conservative if need be, and I'm fond enough of my natural hair color and 28 enough to have a sense that time with it without gray is finite. Disadvantages: they're a hassle to maintain, a potentially expensive hassle, so I'd end up trimming them myself and looking less than professionally (glances over at Bisou) groomed. And then there's the day-to-day maintenance of them - even for the most "natural" of looks, they need to be styled (think hair dryer and flatiron), whereas my hair in its current state does not. Ombré, meanwhile, would be all kinds of crazy expensive to have done professionally, but why would I do such a thing? After the initial investment of $11.50, there's no particular maintenance involved, other than going through a bit more conditioner.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

In defense of mannequins

As I've mentioned on this blog before, it's eerie, if you stop and think about it, that in this day and age, there's a profession called "model," one in which under the best of circumstances, even after whichever theoretical but never-to-happen industry reforms that would open up the field to the less-white and less-skeletal, the ideal, the point, is to be judged on the basis of one's looks. It's perhaps because of that fundamental aberration from that which would be OK in any other (licit) profession that models, of any age (even if they tend to be 17 or so) are referred to as "girls."

Yet as long as things need to be sold, and, more specifically, as long as fashion needs to be marketed, what other choice is there but the human form, and on what basis are we to be selecting these humans, if not their ability to get others to buy stuff?

I don't think the answer is to take a religious-fundamentalist approach and ban female images. Nor is it practical to expect "models" to be selected at random from the population. What interests me is that the usual (feminist, right-thinking) approach is to condemn artificiality, specifically digital alteration of the human image. Photoshop and, as friend-of-WWPD Ned Resnikoff alerts us, human forms that are entirely fictitious, but with real heads attached, because H&M is apparently that particular about how its bikini models appear.

My own take is a bit different. (Contrarian, dare I suggest, but I argue in all sincerity.) I say bring on the Photoshop, bring on the plastic-like computer-generated torsos. The closer "models" are to mannequins, to literal clotheshangers, the less personally anyone could possibly take it that they don't measure up. Isn't it better for the preposterousness of the whole thing to be upfront, than to have to look at an authentic image of a lithe 15-year-old and hear the self-righteous fools' refrain of how totally unfair it is that it's not OK to mock the obese, yet it's OK to be mean to the poor models - all of whom are, let's remember, naturally thin - by suggesting they need to eat a cheeseburger? (Paired, of course, with the simpler fools' refrain that involves suggesting a young woman who gets paid for being thin go eat a cheeseburger.)

I mean, I get that the point is that people (specifically adolescent girls) don't know what's real and what's fake, and thus strive to look like women in photos whom the women photographed don't much resemble. And I'm all for awareness campaigns that make it public knowledge how artificial these images tend to be. But rather than including in these awareness campaigns a call for an end to artifice, why don't we ask for more of it? If we're going to look at these images, better that we imagine the entire thing to be made up than that a few key zits and leg stubble are left to remind us that the 15-year-old in question really does look that way in clothes.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Forage for your porridge

I can't seem to get that "food" issue of the New Yorker our of my head. Growing one's own tomatoes on Cape Cod. Shucking scallops in Nova Scotia. Beginning the summer at one's summer writing abode in Umbria and then moving on to forage across Europe, culminating in Denmark to forage with a chef the author admits has been forage-profiled already to the point of cliché.

I mean, it's great to know that the wild asparagus that one can jauntily pluck in Italy is as far from what one gets at the store as a truffle is from a normal mushroom. And I'm sure that a tomato lovingly grown at a summer home tastes better than the ones I purchase year-round - fresh and spray-painted red by exploited workers, or packed in BPA-lined cans, after being spray-painted red and bearing text that misleads re: country of origin stamped on them by, one can assume, modern-day slave labor. I don't doubt that the great trough from which I ladle out my weekly feed is less succulent than what's being described.

But this move towards food so slow that it takes a New Yorker writer with a work-vacation home in a charming part of Europe (and I promise I'm endlessly charmed that this part of Italy is so local that oregano is considered foreign - how fun and variety-packed that must be for the residents who don't spend the rest of the year in New York) approximately a decade to forage across "bleak" Scandinavian beaches, not for the non-plot of a movie with the yellow subtitles to be shown at Cinema Village, but for the contents of a small salad.

The food movement has this way of veering off to its extremes. (And I'm not convinced this "Noma" isn't a parody endeavor.) Either you have to fly to one of your many homes where you are a free-range, pesticide-free intellectual and pluck individual wild asparagi from distant corners of your property... or you're being gently chastised about lentils. Being informed that you can totally abide by food-movement rules on any budget, as long as you devote your every waking minute to eating like a yuppie. Being preachily preached the virtues of great-grandmother-emulation, without regard for the tradeoffs this entails in terms of quality of life. In other words, the problem is that the food-movement retort to accusations of snobbery that things like the sound of Alice Waters pronouncing "Frahnce" or that issue of the New Yorker elicit is to swing far the other way, and earnestly discuss the plight of those for whom lentils stretch the budget.

It's nice that food-movement sorts are concerned with inclusivity, and understandable that they approach this by reaching to the opposite end of the spectrum from themselves. But the movement ignores - or maybe just rolls its collective eyes at - the vast swath of not-impoverished, not-undereducated America that has yet to be converted. People who could afford daily arugula and have the cultural capital necessary for knowing about Michael Pollan, but aren't interested. The movement pretends that the only possible reason someone wouldn't be eating slow-roasted garlic scapes is that they're too needy to have access.

This leads to odd choices. Such as, it's very food-movement to speak ill of newfangled kitchen gadgets. And not just the silly one-purpose ones (a pear-slicer!), but even things like food processors. All you need is a good knife and a hot-plate! Try a mortar and pestle, it worked for your ancestors! As I've said before, that's technically true but misleading. Some newfangled devices save time and, in doing so, vastly increase what's feasible to make from scratch. (E.g., were it not for the food processor, I'd never make pizza dough.) There's no hard-and-fast rule for which are sensible, because it of course depends what you cook. But the fetishization of the premodern kitchen marches on, because it seems like a way of killing two birds with one stone, of returning to "real" food while at the same time making cooking more accessible. Don't have the money for a kitchen remodeling? Don't have enough for a knife and fork? Fear not, you can still make a ten-course meal!

Also such as: if you can cook, you're in on this cool secret: you can turn unexciting ingredients into feasts. Food-movement sorts kind of get this, but also kind of don't. They're not insisting on truffles or caviar, but they waver between wanting a return to home-cooking and "real food," even if that means canned or subpar ingredients, and celebrating heirloom produce, farm-to-table, and so on. Eat your vegetables, they insist, but be sure to write a letter to your representative if you see asparagus from Peru in New Jersey in November. Eat whole foods, but anything not-local, not-seasonal doesn't count. No market nearby, or the only one there is just has turnips? Deal.

If this issue gets me riled up, it's because I'm basically a food-movement supporter. Better produce ought to be available, and more meals should be produced at home. It's only the approach I find troubling. Perhaps, rather than focusing on getting consumers to "know where their food comes from" as a way of knowing where/how to shop, they should focus on having this come "from above," and on having individual home cooks shop from what's available and devote their limited time and energy for food to cooking, not research. And perhaps, in their quest to make it clear that you don't need to have a summer home in Nice to eat right, they could more respectfully address not just the poor, but also those who know about what they're advocating, but shun it for not-unreasonable reasons.