explore: santa monica

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I have a soft spot for Santa Monica. In 2011, after the last MLA interview I’ll ever do, Tony and I celebrated his Sunday birthday by getting a bus from downtown LA, where we were staying at the Biltmore, to Santa Monica. The bus, which was beautifully shiny and new, cost about a dollar, and took an hour or so, winding through Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, and past all kinds of shiny monumental buildings, before letting us out by the sea. It was cold then, but not cruelly so, and we walked along the waterfront and the pier – I seem to remember we bumped into one of my former Columbia students, incongruous in his sweatshirt among his childhood friends, who did a double take on seeing me too. One of my favorite photos of T and me, me in a black coat and red lipstick, we took here amid the birds of paradise.

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We walked along the pier and bought tacky Route 66 fridge magnets, and I thought about the end of that road and how unimaginably beautiful this place was, and yet how relatively unassuming, a little faded, unafraid of the places where it was showing its age. Dinner was at the supremely cheesy Mexican restaurant at the end of the pier, sitting outside near the fire pit, serenaded by Mariachis, but of course even the mediocre, tourist-trap Mexican places in LA have cold beer, outstandingly fresh guacamole, and do what they do well.

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On this trip we went back to Santa Monica for only a couple of hours before flying home, and I realized how deeply it had touched me although it was only, again, a brief visit. I insisted we go, instead of lazing around the beach house in Orange County where we’d been staying the weekend, and I couldn’t explain why–just said, trust me. The houses are pink and blue. Continue reading

love: best of 2013

A very brief (well, OK, actually kind of long) review of some of the best things that I read, ate, or otherwise consumed this year. I didn’t bother writing down everything we ate in Paris, but yep, pretty much everything we ate in Paris. Happy 2014, Mardi Gras, and graduation, from Fuzzy Red Jesus:
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love: buvette

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On Friday night, after the very fun Gallatin holiday party at Le Poisson Rouge, T and I walked up Bleecker to Grove, and Buvette, Jody Williams’ tiny French bistro which, in what’s a particularly modern move, has just opened a branch in Paris (a city newly in love with Americans remixing its classics and selling them back, doing French food better than the French—or at least, in a way that appeals more to Americans.) But Buvette, as T might say, comes correct. There’s a long marble bar that’s both a service and a storage area for desserts, crockery, and wine chilling in buckets; we ordered vin brûlé from a silver urn, which was spicy and rich and smelled like Christmas in a Dickens novel, but lighter and fresher; they hold the sugar, in everything, thank god. Continue reading

look: i see a red chair and i want to paint it black

Because why should I be the only one with that song stuck in my head for days? Thanks for nothing, Cousin Mick.*

So, these chairs. I picked them up–back when they were purple–from the street the first year of grad school, horrifying my suburban roommate. I cleaned them up, and my room for years was green and this sort of deep pinkish mauve. Then a few years later I painted them red, using leftover paint from our kitchen, and then yesterday I painted them black. Perhaps this is the inevitable sombering & darkening passage of time, or perhaps we just had too many colors going on in the living room, and much as I love the classic bentwood shape of these chairs, my patchy red-on-purple paint job was beginning to wear. So $17 later, we had a quart of glossy black paint (specially designed for painting over multiple layers of paint – Rustoleum brand, I believe) a brush, a sheet of sandpaper (the sanding was cursory at best) and then, a little later, these:

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Please to excuse crappy iPad photography. But trust me, they are much better, and basically indistinguishable from these hundred-dollar bad boys from Crate & Barrel:

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Thank you, bountiful person of 112th Street. I like “free” much better. And I don’t mind a few brush strokes.

*Cousin Mick = Mick Jagger, my dad’s second cousin. For real!

explore: astoria park

A few shots in the sunset tonight down at Astoria Park and the river, playing with my 50mm/1.8 lens. Happy summer:

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love: engineering prints

Most of the many hours I spend on design-porn websites are totally wasted – I’m only juuust getting the hang of Pinterest to actually store the images I like (follow me? I guess?) and most of the time it’s procrastination, pure & simple. But occasionally something will stick with me, usually if it’s ingenious and crazy cheap. Like engineering prints! These are giant black & white prints for drafting, architectural/engineering plans, etc, but they also work for black & white photos, if they are pretty bold and contrasty. They are available at Staples, and cost less than a pint. I first saw a DIY of these here, via one of the sites I regularly visit (How About Orange) here, I think, then was reminded of them by a post on Jenny Komenda’s interior design site Little Green Notebook. With the added bonus idea of… foam core display board. No frame required! For our dark hallway, it was perfect. Here’s the finished object sitting (stylishly) above our bikes:

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So, I converted one of our wedding photos to b/w and upped the contrast a bit, then uploaded it to the Staples website (there’s an option for “engineering prints” under Copy & Print > Banners & Signs) and chose the biggest option, 36×48 in. It was…. $7.86. A few minutes later (seriously, go Staples) I got an email to say it was ready.

One trip to Staples and a little less than $25 later, we had the print, a 30x40in piece of black foam core for another $7, a roll of double-sided tape and a pack of Command velcro picture-hanging strips. The assistant at the copy center chopped the big white borders off our print for nothing, and they came in at almost exactly the size of our board. We took it home, carefully attached the print to the board with tape, and hung it with the strips – and it looks pretty great. (Now, to do something about the ugly yellow-beige wall paint… baby steps.)

Here’s a closer look. It helps that the photo, taken by Sarah, is so great.

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taste: cold poached salmon & pimm’s

Pimm’s is the taste of a British summer, and any pub will serve it by the jug once the weather heats up. Every end-of-term summer party at Cambridge was a shameless Pimm’s-fest, usually mixed strong and sweet with garden of fruit in it, strawberries, citrus, and herbs. The one non-negotiable, in my book, is cucumber, which brings out the grassiness of the drink, and I like it less sweet now. Since what Americans call lemonade (tart, still, strong) is quite different from its British cousin (sweet, sparkling, weak), and because the minimalist recipe on the back of the bottle calls for it, I made us Pimm’s with a  weak  ginger ale (homemade ginger syrup + sparkling water). With ice, cucumber, and lemon, it was vegetal and refreshing.

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It was a fine accompaniment to cold poached salmon, insanely easy and perfect for a day when you can’t bear to turn a burner on for longer than five minutes. Continue reading

taste: on oysters

Before I met my husband, who basically has a second stomach just for oysters, I’d eaten them once in my life. I might have tried them when I was younger, but I’m pretty sure I’d been overwhelmed by the smell, the texture, and the general all-or-nothing, down-in-one commitment that they took. You can’t nibble the corner of an oyster to see if you like it. The first time I remember eating oysters and enjoying them couldn’t have been more absurd, and perfect. It was at a friend’s extremely fancy Cape Cod wedding, where there was a raw bar and champagne after the ceremony, and what could I do but pretend like I belonged there? As a handsome waiter watched, I did my best impression of a WASP to the manor born, and learned the value of a squeeze of lemon on hand.

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I’ve gone from cautious to obsessive at warp speed. Oysters make anything an occasion, and now, for us, it’s not really an occasion without them. Luckily New York is in the midst of a full-on bivalve infatuation, and there are dollar-oyster happy hours all over the city (and of course, a website devoted to them.) And Astoria, I’m happy to report, is getting a dedicated oyster bar. Mar’s isn’t fully open yet, but it has a raw bar and fabulous cocktails (my friend had a Martinez with Dorothy Parker gin, which she–no martini novice–pronounced perfectly dry and balanced, and I tried the Negrosecco, a dangerously delicious Negroni variation with Prosecco). It made for the most decadent of midweek happy hours, with deep, creamy little west coast oysters and flat, briny east coast ones, served with a house-made horseradish, a deconstructed mignonette (vinegar separate from spices) and lemon. They’re certainly among the best I’ve had.

explore: wine tasting in greenport, li

I got to go out to the North Fork of Long Island this weekend, to celebrate a friend’s upcoming wedding with wine, a gang of fabulous ladies, more wine, an amazing dinner, and a reasonable dose of terrible dancing.  We toured four wineries (Corey Creek, Lenz, Jamesport, and Sherwood House) in the most ridiculous white stretch…vehicle…thing… (Escalade? Hummer? I didn’t arrange this, nor do I drive) which was hands down the silliest and awesomest way I have ever been picked up from a small town train station. Here are a few pictures of the wineries and their amazing gardens.

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In-your-face Bedell rosé at Corey Creek

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The weather was hot, grey and rainy, but cleared up enough later in the afternoon for us to sit outside at Jamesport.

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The wineries were all beautifully landscaped, with all the Adirondack chairs you could want. Although there are lots of people passing through on tours, they’d also be lovely places to spend an afternoon (or a wedding, which they all host, if you happen to have one meeeeellion dollars.)

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There was live music at both Lenz and Jamesport. That can be good and bad news.

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Lenz hosted us in their warehouse space, and because we actually seemed interested in the wine (I guess expectations are low when you roll up in a white stretch…thing) they were nice enough to share their limited edition Old Vines merlot, which was smoky, dry, and delicious. I can’t describe wine.

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Jamesport, our third stop, had an even better treat: a wood-fired pizza oven and fresh oysters. The weather obliged so that we could sit outside.

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We sat inside at Sherwood House’s Jamesport Tasting House (apparently North Fork winery of the year) in a beautifully decorated private dining room.

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read: July list

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Here’s a sampling of my reading list for the next few days/weeks. A novel by the author of “Winter’s Bone,” a book on single women in NYC (research for my book), a memoir about working in humanitarian aid, a history of surfing, a book about the aftermath of Katrina, a biography of Huguette Clark, and Edna O’Brien’s memoir, which I’m halfway through and adore. Not pictured (it’s on my iPad, no pretty spine) – Reza Aslan’s “Zealot,” a biography of Jesus, which I am *loving* and desperate to finish. I’m going out to Greenport, Long Island tomorrow morning for a bachelorette party, so in theory the long train ride will give me plenty of time to read–but in reality, I’ll probably gossip with Grace and read magazines.

It’s also possible I might have to be off the blog for a couple of days, so in the meantime, loyal reader, my review of Anthony Pagden’s “The Enlightenment and Why it Still Matters” is up at WaPo, one of the hardest I’ve ever had to write, as there was so much to get my head around and condense into 900 words. Enjoy?