Archive for the ‘Culinarion’ Category

Weekend Note:
June into July 2012

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

The other day, the Times published a recipe for potato salad that caught my eye, David Tanis’s “A Summer Salad the French Might Recognize,” and I thought that, instead of going out for dinner that night, as planned, I would make it to have ready whenever Kathleen got home from work. I insisted upon a few changes, of course, and I conducted an experiment that turned out very nicely. There was also a second experiment, but that one flopped, and the results were discarded before they could ruin the salad.

The big change was to add tuna. I bought the smallest chunk that Agata & Valentina had to offer. I researched methods for poaching it online — much easier than going through my cookery books. In a small saucepan, I brought water and wine to the boil, and then I reduced it to a simmer. It took a while to regain the simmer after I’d slipped the tuna into the water, but in ten minutes it was done. I removed the tuna to a bowl, where I flaked it and drizzled it with olive oil.

Then, in the same water, still simmering, I cooked two eggs, for about nine minutes. Would this be a disaster? Would the eggs develop an odd color or, worse, a funny taste? I wouldn’t know until I put the salad together at the last minute. It turned out that they were just fine.

Then, still in the same simmering water, I cooked a handful of haricots, for just a few minutes. As I’d done with the eggs, I transferred the cooked beans to a bowl of ice water.

Meanwhile, I steamed a bag of assorted heirloom potatoes, most of them quite small. When the largest were tender, I quartered the lot and drizzled them with olive oil as well. This is how I always prepare potatoes for salad. So I missed the thyme and bay called for in the recipe. I’m not sure that they would have added much — muuch that was desirable, I mean. Next time I make this dish, I will buy six or eight small potatoes; I could make a real potato salad with what didn’t go into this one.

By now, all the elements of the salad, except for the dressing, were ready. Dinner was hours away. Heaven!

I had thought from the start that I would compose the dressing by poaching garlic in olive oil. I looked into this online as well, but I’m pretty sure that I came up with a bad recipe. It began with dropping the garlic cloves into boiling water for a few seconds in order to make them easier to peel — an extraordinarily unnecessary step in my book. The poaching time seemed unusually long, especially as the cloves turned an unappealing dirt color. Another bright idea of my own — tossing in a few oil-cured anchovy fillets — made things a little worse. This concoction did not pass the sniff test. I salvaged the anchovies, tossing them into the tuna, and threw the rest away. 

The dressing that I did use was made, more conventionally, by combining safflower oil, the juice of a lemon, mustard, parsley, a dozen-odd capers, and cloves of elephant garlic in a small processor and whizzing them into creaminess. The safflower oil was a most welcome relief after the pong of the boiling olive oil, which had stunk up the flat. I suppose I ought to mention salt and pepper. They were added in small amounts as I went along. To the wine and water, for example. Salt and pepper are very important ingredients, salt especially. But they’re also incredibly personal, and part of being a good cook is knowing how much of them will suit you and the people whom you’re feeding. Don’t pay attention to what anyone else says — except of course when baking. (Baking is chemistry; its recipes are formulas.)

When Kathleen called to say that she was heading home, I began to combine things. The remaining capers went into the tuna bowl, and so did the chives. I halved two dozen pitted niçoise olives and threw them in as well, despite the recipe’s instructions to serve them on the side. Thinking that I had far too many potatoes, I reached in for small handfuls, three in all — about a third of what I’d steamed: this is a salad with potatoes, not a potato salad. (Good to know!) I peeled and quartered the eggs; in future, I think that I shall do what I usually do, which is to crumble the yolks and dice the whites. (Maybe I’ll toss in a third egg, cooked and quartered, just for looks.) The beans went in at the last minute, right before the dressing. Because Kathleen doesn’t care for basil, I omitted it, and didn’t miss it myself. I sprinkled bits and pieces of mesclun greenery onto our plates and then spooned the salad atop it, garnishing with the egg quarters.

We were surprised at how light the salad was; we’d both expected it to be somewhat heavy. What with tuna, potatoes, olives, anchovies, capers, and garlic… But those last three ingredients were brighteners, not darkeners. (The whizzed capers, together with the lemon juice, would have given the salad a positively neon finish without the tuna and the potatoes to anchor them.) It was so much more delicious than we thought it would be that we laughed out loud.

I’ve been deliberately shambolic about presenting my amendments to Mr Tanis’s recipe, because I think it wise to oblige you, if you’re thinking of giving this dish a try, to write it all out ahead of time for yourself. (I’d be most grateful if you’d send me a copy.)


On Saturday night, we had dinner at Nice-Matin with a friend from out of town — from out of town now; he and his wife are contemplating a move to Gotham — and we were seated in a tight spot at a table along the wall opposite the windows giving out onto Amsterdam Avenue. (If there is anything “Amsterdam” about Amsterdam Avenue, I have yet to suspect it.) Kathleen and our guest were seated on banquettes, and I had the chair with my back to the room. My back, also, alas, to a table close behind us. At some point before our entrées were served (the place was hopping), I was tapped on the shoulder, and a man’s voice called out, “Hey, big guy, you’re rocking us to sleep here.” My surprise lasted only an instant, but the mortification deepened until I thought that I was going to be unable to breathe. I pulled my chair in and felt my face flush with heat. It was not a pleasant feeling; it contained a lot of anger. Vanity presented a number of alternative ways in which my unwelcome intrusion might have been stopped earlier; it was fairly obvious that I didn’t know that the back of my chair was bouncing against another table. Or perhaps it wasn’t. I’d been the “big guy” in a “tight spot,” something I go to great lengths to avoid but hadn’t, there and then, had the chance to do anything about. Now I had to do something, so I leaned over and whispered to Kathleen that I thought I might have to leave the restaurant, I was so upset. That seemed to do the trick; I felt a little better just for having said it. I felt a lot better when the clown and his girlfriend paid their bill and departed. I was second to none in acknowledging their right to the quiet enjoyment of their dinner. But I’m pretty sure that a sign to Kathleen or our guest, or a word to the waitress, would have managed a less abrasive fix.

At Fairway this afternoon, the presence of a six-pack of Tsing Tao in my groceries occasioned a request for ID. I told the checkout girl that I would rather not buy the beer than prove that I was old enough to buy it; that, in fact, I was insulted by the request. I recalled an earlier round of this nonsense at the Food Emporium, which the bedeviled manager dealt with by instructing the checkout clerks to type in his own birthday. At Fairway, the request was dropped immediately, and I was allowed to buy the beer without showing my driver’s license. All the way home, all I could think of was how deeply gratifying it would be to take a baseball bat to the head of whatever omedhaun dreamed up this totally Stalinist derogation of discretion: no matter how bloody, the battery would entail no loss of brainpower. I think that I was still angry with the good people of Nice-Matin, for pretty thoughtlessly seating me in an impossible situation. I won’t let it happen a second time.


I’m in the middle of Colm Tóibín’s second novel, The Heather Blazing, and I’m hooked. It was a hard novel to get into, for a reason wholly extrinsic to the book itself. In alternating chapters, we shift between present and past, between Dublin and the seacoast just north of Wexford — the same terrain, and much of the same autobiographical material, that appears in The Blackwater Lightship, Tóibín’s first “big” book. It’s not the second novel’s fault that I’d read the fourth before, but it did take a while for me to get beyond a sense of theme-and-variations, interesting enough but hardly gripping. Now, though, I’m as taken up by the story of Eamon Redmond as if I’d never read another word of Tóibín. (And the novel that I’m now reminded of is Brooklyn.) The novel addresses a part of me that is usually offline: having grown up Catholic. Having, for example, fasted before Communion, and worried over sins in the confessional. (I was once told by Monsignor Scott that he was thinking of personally seeing to it that I was thrown out of Iona. So much for anonymity.) I remember a certain willingness to get down on my knees and pray aloud, “Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us” — the words running together in a sweet ragù of piety. “After this our exile show unto us” — who spoke like that? Nobody. Veneremur cernui!

What I love about Colm Tóibín as a writer is that while he is frequently quite funny in his criticism, he is never funny in his fiction, even in humorous situations. He may fool with people’s private parts, but he never fools with the English language; it is always as beautiful in his hands as a Benediction.

I’ll get to what that has to do with my distaste for James Joyce some other time.

Gotham Diary:
6 December 2011

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Until the other day, I had never looked at a recipe for garlic bread. It had not occurred to me that garlic bread might be something that I ought to learn how to make. I thought that I already knew. I made it the way they made it at the bar nearest campus on Notre Dame Avenue. Not Louie’s, but somebody-else’s; when I went back to law school, it had been renamed, cynically, The Library. I think. Neither here nor there. That’s where I was first exposed to garlic bread. It was obvious that all you did, to make this garlic bread, was slice a loaf of Italian bread into rounds and then spread garlic butter on one side of each (with, maybe, a dusting of parmesan). A few minutes’ toasting in the oven, and voilà: garlic bread. I didn’t make it often, but I made it for years, despite the fact that it was never really satisfactory.

The other day, I was leafing through Gourmet’s Quick Kitchen, a compendium of recipes for two, for the umpteenth time, looking for inspiration. What I found instead were recipes that I’d tried once, years ago, and not particularly cared for. I ought to know this book, and its equally invaluable companion, In Short Order, by heart, but then cooking is something that I do on the side. Quick Kitchen is the fancier of the two by a hair. It begins with a suite of menus with aspirational titles such as “Lunch By the Fire” and “A Hearty Bachelor’s Dinner” (shouldn’t that be bachelors’?). My eye was drawn to the “Carefree Pasta Lunch.” Because what I wanted to make, the minute I saw it, was carefree. Carefree with a side of pasta sounds like heaven.

But of course pasta is the main event here — Pasta with Prosciutto, Peppers, and Herbs — and what’s on the side is garlic bread. With the idlest curiosity, I looked over the instructions for garlic bread. At some point — it was very quick — idle curiosity was replaced by sense memory. This is how they make garlic bread at Caffè Grazie! The garlic bread that we order the second we sit down, and can never get enough of.

(Caffè Grazie is a pleasant Italian restaurant in a brownstone on East 84th Street, just a few steps from the Museum. Kathleen and I like to eat there after concerts or previews. As long as we’re on the subject, their tiramisù is very much to my taste. They make a veal tortellini dish that is so earthy that I almost gagged the first time I had it, but I couldn’t help myself ordering it again and again. )

Forget slicing the loaf as if you were making sandwiches. Slice the loaf in half the other way, lengthwise, and then cut off six-inch sections. Combine butter, minced garlic, salt and paprika to taste. Spread the butter on the bread and toast it in the oven for about three minutes. Voilà: much better garlic bread.


This is the sort of thing that drives me (quietly) crazy: learning how to do things well at my age. What on earth took so long? A big part of the problem, of course, is that, like the scamps in Molière’s satire, Les Précieuses ridicules, I was born knowing everything that there is to know, and it has taken decades to cure this affliction. But there’s also a social factor. In our world, you’re expected to learn how to do things that will earn income. (There’s really not much to this, if you’re inclined to pay attention and do as you’re told.) If you’re ambitious, you may develop a sought-after expertise in some field or other. But no one expects you to be an expert at living your own life. Beyond table manners and basic hygiene, you’re not taught anything about how to live your life. I’m not talking about higher purposes here, obviously. I’m talking about getting through the day with dispatch and satisfaction.

Daily life has a million moving parts, so getting it right isn’t going to be easy. How do you balance your interest in reading, with a nice glass or two of wine, with the need to be rested? Where do you get the discipline — the courage, even — to do things that feel all wrong, like exercise and diets? Like struggling with Bayes’s Theorem on page 32 of Statistics in a Nutshell? “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is the sort of rule that you can put into practice only if you have a chauffeur. The small stuff — there is no end of it — requires some amount of sweat, or at least concern. How much is too much?

The answer is different for everyone. All the answers are, and all the questions. That’s why self-help books don’t work. A truly useful self-help book would have one, and only one, reader.

For the moment, I’m happy with garlic bread.

Gotham Diary:
The Servant Problem
4 October 2011

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Every dinner party teaches me something. This soup would be improved by a different blend of herbs; that roast might spend a little less time in the oven. Most of these lessons are lost, however, because time passes before I make this soup or that roast again. (I have two almost exclusive culinary repertoires, one for dinners for two or three, served in an “everyday” style, and another for dinner parties.) If I’m very pleased with something that I’ve done, or feeling unusually diligent, I may make a few notes the morning after. I write them down on paper, but I might as well write on the wind, because who knows where those notes go. At least I’ve learned not to keep them in a computer file!

Last Saturday night was different. What it had to teach me had nothing to do with the food, and it cried out for immediate implementation. As Eddie Monsoon put it, “Surfaces, darling.” I needed to clear off the kitchen’s surfaces. Of which there aren’t all that many.

The surfaces in my life, in and out of the kitchen alike, tend to fall victim to a powerful combination of laziness and orderliness. Instead of taking the trouble to put things back where they belong after I’ve used them, I arrange them neatly where they are, out in the open. How handy is that! No need to hunt down the farfalle; the canister holding them is right there on the rolling cart. Along with dozens of other items, just waiting for me to need them — when what I really need is somewhere to put a casserole that I’ve just taken out of a hot oven. Somewhere to place a cutting board so that I can chop up something that I forgot about until late in the game. Somewhere to line up plates for serving. The convenience of having things neatly to hand clashes with the imperative of finding urgently-needed work space.

I feel awfully old for this lesson in domestic entropy; I really ought to know better. But part of me still believes that, once you’ve organized a drawer, you’re done. That’s taken care of. Two years later, the drawer is a mess, and you can’t find anything that you’re looking for; sooner or later, you organize it once again and fall for the same pipe dream: that’s taken care of. Nothing in domestic life is ever taken care of, except maybe for ten minutes — and anything that is taken care of, anything that sits quietly and undisturbed for years at a stretch is undoubtedly something that you don’t really need. (Holding on to things for sentimental reasons is an entirely different pathology.) The trick of household management is to keep things in order before they get too far out of it.

The sad fact of the matter is that I would not hire me as a servant. I would not give me good references. I’m only good at being the master.

I did, however, clear off the kitchen surfaces yesterday. It didn’t take as long as I feared, although, technically, the job isn’t done yet; I’ve still got six clean and empty apothecary jars, one tall and five short, that I’ve got to store somewhere. Maybe I should just toss them. Apothecary jars are a problem for me, as are canisters generally; it has taken years to distinguish what I can store in them for reasonable amounts of time from what I can only entomb. Into the former class fall common baking ingredients, such as flour and sugar, and four or five kinds of pasta that I cook all the time. Into the latter fall nuts and dried fruit and crystallized ginger unusual pasta shapes that I don’t know why I bought. Strange crackers. Chocolate chips.

(A “universal truth” along the lines of “the check is in the mail”: “This will come in handy someday.” Let me tell you what will come in handy someday — each and every day: having Fairway across the street.)

In any case, I’m ready for my next, as yet unscheduled, dinner party. My surfaces are clear. Now they are. Can I keep them that way?

Gotham Diary:
9 September 2011

Friday, September 9th, 2011

In the middle of the afternoon, yesterday, a wave of sleepiness nearly knocked me down. Nothing odd about that, given that I’d been up early as usual and had an unusual amount of wine to drink the night before. Instead of napping, though, I read the Times, which I hadn’t read, for the first time ever, first thing in the morning. (By “first time ever,” I mean that I’ve either read the newspaper upon getting out of bed or I haven’t read it at all.) Reading it in the middle of the afternoon was certainly odd, but it was also easier to tell the interesting stories from the Pravda ones. (The Times is as pigheadedly uninformative about Washington as The Economist is about corporations.) I particularly liked the story about Sheila and Peter Potter, a well-born couple possessed of more paraphernalia than moolah. The Potters set up house in various Charleston properties in order to enhance their curb appeal, moving out when their magic has been wrought, having inhabited the premises for as little as ten days. They’re called “stagers,” and if I had known about their line of life when I was a young man I would have set out to follow it. (I certainly have the stuff.)

Kathleen suggested that I take a walk. I was totally disinclined to take a walk but i took her advice anyway. I went down the street to Carl Schurz Park, which I saw with new eyes now that I knew that much of its charm could be attributed to the fact that Robert Moses, who used to live on Gracie Square (the bit of 84th Street east of East End Avenue), would begin his day by walking through it on his way to Gracie Mansion, four blocks to the north, for morning conferences with the mayor of the moment. I’m far more embarrassed about not having known that, for all of the years that I’ve been visiting the park, than I am about my persistent uncertainty about exactly who Carl Schurz was. No wonder the park is so tightly packed with promenades and grottoes!

On my way home, I stopped at Fairway to pick up things for dinner. My first stop was the vast downstairs island where meat is offered on one side and fish on the other. I didn’t want beef; I didn’t want chicken; I didn’t want pork. Shrimp, perhaps? But before I got to the shrimp, I saw a mound of bay scallops, and I thought to myself, “I think that I know how to cook those now.” Back in the Eighties, I wasted a lot of money trying to reproduce the sautéed bay scallops that made up one of the signature dishes at Christ Cella, a late lamented midtown steakhouse. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the recipe so much as that I didn’t understand the fundamentals, which may be put in a few words: hot pan and clarified butter. Also, I thought, it wouldn’t hurt to toss the scallops in oil and chopped herbs a few hours ahead of time.

When I dumped the scallops into the hot sauté pan, they didn’t stick, which was gratifying, but they did release a lot of liquid, which had to steam off before they could begin to brown; and to brown the scallops properly I found that I had to shake, rattle and roll the pan in high sauté style. Afraid of toughening them with overcooking, I passed up the richer flavor that would have come from more browning on the stove, but the result was still very much a success. At the last minute, I poured in a tablespoon of white wine to deglaze the pan and robe the scallops in all the brown bits that they had cast off in the cooking. Kathleen was thrilled. She loves bay scallops, but she loathes sea scallops, which are a lot more common (although no longer much cheaper). She hates sea scallops so much that she was sure, when I told her what we’d be having for dinner, that I’d made a mistake and bought the larger shellfish. I make many kinds of mistakes, but that isn’t one of them.


Instead of all this culinary chitchat, I was going to write about an interesting blog entry that I read yesterday, tipped off by my good friend JRParis. The Web log is called Steelweaver, and I don’t know a thing about it. As I read the entry, though, I felt that it was clarifying an insight that has struck me ever since 9/11, which is that deeply conservative Americans and deeply conservative Muslims have a lot more in common with each other than either of them does with me.

The point, for the climate denier, is not that the truth should be sought with open-minded sincerity – it is that he has declared the independence of his corner of reality from control by the overarching, techno-scientific consensus reality. He has withdrawn from the reality forced upon him and has retreated to a more comfortable, human-sized bubble.

In these terms, the denier’s retreat from consensus reality approximates the role of the cellular insurgents in Afghanistan vis-a-vis the American occupying force: this overarching behemoth I rebel against may well represent something larger, more free, more wealthy, more democratic, or more in touch with objective reality, but it has been imposed upon me (or I feel it has), so I am going to withdraw from it into illogic, emotion and superstition and from there I am going to declare war upon it.

So, from this point of view, we can meaningfully refer to deniers, birthers, Tea Partiers and so forth as “reality insurgents”, and thus usefully apply the principles of 4GW to their activities – notably, they are clearly operating on a faster OODA loop than the defenders of mainstream reality, and thus able to respond more quickly, with greater innovation, than the sclerotic bureaucracy of institutionalised reality. the

Even before 9/11, I had decided that the only surviving casus belli in modern life is foreign occupation. Foreign occupation is doomed to fail in the long term, at least so long as the occupiers are felt to be foreign. It is a problem of personal intimacy, really; we find it intractably unacceptable to live in forced proximity to hostile strangers. A better way of putting it might be to say that having to live with people who despise us is a good definition of prison. What Steelweaver showed me was that just as the Arabs and the Persians of the Middle East have struggled against imperial oppression dating back to the Eighteenth Century, so Christianists and libertarians have struggled against what they perceive to be an intellectual oppression of roughly the same vintage.

I wish that there were a way of setting these people free, not because I support or sympathize with them but because their captivity isn’t working; they very nearly wrecked the American government in July. I wish that we could draw a few new frontiers in this big, largely empty country of ours. I would happily abandon the Appalachians and the Rockies to lawless vagabonds, in order to insulate the cosmopolitan coasts from the self-absorbed heartland.

Veal Tenderloin (almost) Leaves Me Speechless
Thursday, 26 May 2011

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

At Eli’s Market yesterday, I saw something that I’m pretty sure I’d never seen before: veal tenderloin. I have no idea why I haven’t seen it; presumably, every animal that has yielded up the ingredients for saltimbocca and jarrets de veau bore a tenderloin cut as well, but even though I shop at some pretty grand provisioners, I’ve never seen it. Nor have I seen it on a menu, to the best of my knowledge. But there it was, yesterday; or, rather, there they were, slices of veal just as fat-free as beef tenderloin, but smaller and — veal-toned. They were also, each slice, wrapped in prosciutto. I asked butcher about cooking times, and something in the enthusiasm of his reply suggested that veal tenderloin was new to him as well. Then again, selling anything at $44.95 per pound would make anyone enthusiastic. My two slices weighed in at very slightly more than half a pound.

I had already picked up a packet of morels. The prices at Agata & Valentina are much lower, but it cannot be denied that Eli’s treats the morels better. The plastic box contained a clutch of perfectly firm mushrooms. I bought a nice fat shallot and a tub of veal broth. And a packet of snap peas as well.

At home, I simmered the chopped and butter-wilted shallot in the veal stock. I sliced the morels and sautéed them in a bit of butter. When it was time to eat, I browned the veal slices in clarified butter for about ninety seconds on each side; then I slid the meat into a 350º oven while I cooked everything else. The strained veal stock went into the sauté pan with a dollop of cream and the mushrooms, and when this sauce reached the right thickness, I placed the veal slices on the dinner plates, together with a handful of boiled tortellini and some snap peas. Then I spooned the sauce over the veal, dribbling it onto some of the pasta as well.

I can think of a few improvements. I might have flavored the stock with mirepoix instead of shallot. I might have gotten the sauce reduction going before cooking the veal. And I never gave a thought to herbs. But as it was, I have only two or three times in my life surprised myself with a more complexly delicious dish, and I haven’t eaten a dozen like it anywhere. Veal tenderloin isn’t by any means gamy, but it sends up a bundle of notes rather than the robust unison of beef. The morels add parts to the harmony. The result is a dish that tastes magnificent and, what’s more, lodges an extraordinary aftertaste that, last night, seemed to deepen with the passing hours. The sense of having just now eaten well lasted for hours. 

Where has veal tenderloin been all my life?  

Smoked Trout Salad (With Preamble)

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

The easiest thing about cooking is the actual cooking. You find a recipe and follow it; you learn, from experience or from teachers, how to navigate the difficult bits; you figure out how to get a complete meal on the table, with everything served as hot or cold as it ought to be, and at the right time, too. You put in a lot of hours acquiring all this experience, and then, voilà, cooking is no big deal. The cooking itself, I mean. 

The hard part is finding out where cooking fits in your life. Perhaps you’re a professional — that’s one simple answer. Here are some others: Perhaps you’re a weekend chef, or someone who does the occasional feast, whether a carefully-planned dégustation involving days of planning before a single egg is cracked, or a groaning board assemblage of hearty dishes that you can prepare without opening a cookbook. Maybe you’re a housewife who’s got the time, energy, and skill to feed your family interesting fare every day. Maybe you’re a bachelor who only cooks for girlfriends, with a repertoire of recipes for two that involve expensive ingredients. (Word to the wise, guys: this works.) 

Maybe you’re none of the above. 

Maybe you’re the husband of a securities lawyer whose hours are wildly unpredictable — hers, that is. Your own hours are yours to do with as you see fit, which is great except for the cooking part. When cooking is not conditional — when it is not the invariable response to a certain signal (showing up for work at a restaurant, seeing that it’s five o’clock in the afternoon, planning a special night) — it’s often difficult to get going. And of all the things that we do, eating is probably the least forgiving if you’re one of those spirits who likes to wait until you’re in the mood. Wait until you’re in the mood to cook, and you’re probably already too hungry to wait for anything to cook. 

All I have to say today is that I haven’t found where cooking fits in my life. I know only that I have to find a place for it. I’ve tried giving it up, and I’ve tried making it regular. Neither campaign was successful. 

One thing that helps, though, is having a thick sheaf of varied recipes, and I’m happy to have just added a new one to mine. Let me tell you about it. 

The other day, seeking to offset the richness of a richly-sauced chicken sauté, I worked up a simple salad of six ingredients, all but five of which are staples. I cut up half of a smoked, fileted trout into bite-size pieces, and tossed them with cut up sun-dried tomatoes, pitted and halved niçoise olives, and steamed haricots verts that I’d cut into short lengths. I drizzled olive oil over these ingredients and then tossed them all in the juice of a half lemon.Served shortly thereafter, the salad was a vivid array of vibrant flavors, harmonious but distinct. A few days later, the flavors had melded, and the salad had developed a pleasant taste that didn’t betray its constituents. So the same recipe yields two results, or more, depending entirely on timing. 

The next time I make this smoked trout salad, I’m going to combine the olives, the tomatoes, and the olive oil a day ahead of time, throwing in the fish about an hour or two before serving, and the beans and the lemon juice at the last minute. I seasoned the salad very lightly with salt and pepper, but gave dried herbs a pass. I might sprinkle some fresh tarragon, or perhaps some snipped chives, if I had them on hand.  I expect that the dish could be plumped up with white beans or some other canned variety.— always, however, bearing in mind that the simplicity of this salad is an illusion: three of its ingredients — the trout, the olives, and the sun-dried tomatoes — have complex flavors. (The smoked fish is doubly complex.) That’s why I think the haricots are essential: they’re green, they’re crunchy, and they’re bland. (And they’re green only if you’ve just steamed them; after a day in the fridge, they turn rather drab.) 

Last night, when we had the leftovers, I hit upon the perfect complement, a cheese soufflé. The light pillowy texture of the soufflé, with its understated backing of gruyère and parmesan, made a perfect contrast to the salad. It’s curious, but an equivalent omelette would be much, much heavier in this combination, even though you’d of course omit the cup of béchamel. 

Altogether, it was a meal that was easy to prepare, and comprised of a small number of ingredients (most of them, as I say, things that I had on hand); but it packed a lot of interest, and it left us feeling satisfied but not stuffed. 

You may be wondering where the recipe is. It’s in your head: you know better than I do what the ratio of fish to tomatoes to olives to beans out to be. You do! That much I do know.

Gotham Diary:
Party Planner

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Tomorrow, we are going to have a party. It will begin in the middle of the afternoon, as a tea party, with just that: tea and coffee and lots of sweets. Later, a plate of cheeses will appear, along with carafes of white wine. Later still, I’ll bring out a roast tenderloin of beef, accompanied by oversized dinner rolls (or undersized hamburger rolls, if you prefer) and appropriate condiments. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Now that it’s too late to make any real changes, I’m sorry that I didn’t “make more of an effort.”

For example, I could have made my own cheesecake, and bought two fewer  cakes from William Greenberg. (My own cheesecake is to die for, although strangely it hasn’t killed me yet. It is really a custard composed of quarts of cream, tubs of cream cheese, and — well, not dozens of eggs, but it feels like it. (Somewhere in there is a little sugar and vanilla.) How about a plate of deviled eggs? And those ham rolls, stuffed with (yet more) cream cheese. Why didn’t I go through my records, such as they are, and concoct a sentimental journey through parties past?

You’re reading the reason why I didn’t. The site, I mean. I wasn’t about to turn my back on it for a few days while I fooled around in the kitchen. Since the beginning of the new year, I’ve juggled two priorities: writing as much as I can here, with three entries a day on weekdays and the Grand Hours on the weekend; and spending time with my grandson and his parents. Plus all the everyday stuff (it pains me that women who read this will have such a clear and distinct idea of what this means, while to men it will be a vague business, not to be looked at too closely). Now, in order to have something to write about, I have to do a few more or less interesting things, not to mention a lot of reading. Add a few hours a week for managing the music library, take note of the fact that, at 63, I’ve slowed down a bit, and bear in mind that Kathleen and I talk with one another more every day than the average married couple does in a week (and then double that), and you’ll see why I have no time for party planning. Not yet, anyway.

That I’m sitting down doodling, the night before anywhere up to fifty people fill our apartment, about this and that, instead of panicking — well, it’s partly old age, and the loss of ambition that comes with experience. But it’s also the really extraordinary amount of time that I’ve put into putting the house in order. Well-arranged closets don’t have any direct bearing on the success of a party, but they do conduce to a well-arranged host, one whose mind is not cluttered with half-forgotten details about where things are. Not where things having anything to do with a party are. Just things. Stuff. I’ve been de-Collyerizing the apartment, seriously and methodically, for eighteen months now.

Even so, I can’t find the apple-green cake stand that I’d completely forgotten about until I came across it a week or so ago — but where? It would come in handy with all the cakes that I’ll be serving. But it doesn’t matter, because in the end the party won’t be about the cakes that I bought and the hors d’oeuvres that I didn’t make. It’ll be about the friends who show up, some of whom, in the classic New York manner, we won’t have seen since our last party. I trust that we haven’t mislaid any of them.  

Gotham Diary:
Birthday Slacking

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

For a few years, we had the custom of celebrating the year’s three anniversaries at La Grenouille, and I hope to revert to it later this year, but it appears that we’ve taken a break through a full cycle. We missed Kathleen’s birthday in April and our anniversary in October. The arrival of Will had something to do with this; certainly Kathleen’s onerous workload in the Fall made the prospect of dressing up for a lavish dinner more burdensome than delightful. And now we are on the eve of my birthday, and, what do you know, I’m cooking myself. If everything goes as planned, we will be eight at table tomorrow night, from Fossil, the oldest, to Will, who of course just turned one.

Last Friday (New Year’s Eve), I prepared a lunch for four to welcome friends from Geneva, and I put a fair amount of thought and effort into it, such that I wasn’t in the mood, when I woke up this morning, to be taking pains in the kitchen. So I settled on the easy and royal route of beef tenderloin. I’ll roast the thing in the oven and serve it with a sauce of chanterelles in cream. We’ll start with a vegetable risotto — leeks, corn, and poivron. As long as I was at Agata & Valentina for the tenderloin, I picked up one of their opera cakes.

Oh, and asparagus — always asparagus. With one of the egg sauces that ends in “aise.”

The thing is, I watched Julie & Julia twice. In the kitchen. I’d worked my way through a series of pictures about anglophones in Italy — Up at the Villa, My House in Umbria, and Under the Tuscan Sun. That’s when I got my hands on As Always, Julia; so the next movie had to be Julie & Julia. I watch kitchen movies while I’m in the kitchen, pausing them when my work is done. I’m talking about movies that I’ve seen tens of times. I didn’t really mean to watch Julie & Julia twice, but when I went into the kitchen to fix dinner and hit the “play” button, what came up were the closing credits. I couldn’t think of anything else that I wanted to watch, so I just played it again.

Watching Nora Ephron’s movie once might inspire anybody to whip up an interesting meal or two, but watching it twice has the opposite effect. The ladies are almost always hard at work at something, and Julia, of course, is always well turned-out. Julie actually claims to make her aspic with a calf’s foot, a stunt that at my most wildly ambitious (twenty-odd years ago) I never attempted. Who knows what we’d have had for lunch last Friday if the double-single-feature had played out last week! Here’s what we did have: salmon mousse. A very old-fashioned salmon mousse, made from a recipe that I got from a friend who insists that she is not a cook — a recipe that calls for a blender. And a can of salmon. I bought a pound of arctic char and poached it, and dissolved the gelatin in a ladle of the bouillon, but I followed the recipe with regard to the mayonnaise — it called for Hellmann’s — instead of making my own. If I’d watched Julie & Julia first, I’d have been ashamed to cut so many corners. No calf’s foot? You call Knox gelatin cooking?

The chanterelle sauce is an outgrowth of one of my favorite dishes, a sauté of chicken with mushrooms. At some point last year, I had the idea of thickening the sauce with cream, and there was no going back. Bubbly thickened cream and sautéed mushrooms combine to produce the compleat savoriness of umami.

There are readers who will no doubt insist that any meal involving hollandaise or béarnaise sauce is not simple, but there are a few clever things that I’ve done so many times that I don’t have to think about them, so that fuss is not involved. Call it recklessness, rather: whisking eggs and butter over direct heat is asking for trouble. I go into a mad sort of trance, moving the little saucepan to and from the heat as if it were on a bungee cord and throwing in dice of frozen butter (that’s the trick of it) until there’s no more butter, and the sauce is perfect.

One of the treats of watching Julie & Julia twice while reading As Always, Julia is piling up instances of anachronism in the Julia parts. Almost every mention of Avis DeVoto in the movie is contradicted by letters, at least as regards when things happened. (This is not a problem; the alterations all make for a better movie.) And of course Avis DeVoto plays a much bigger role in the book! Julia Child’s epistolary style will be familiar to anyone who has actually read her cookbooks (and not just followed the recipes), but Avis DeVoto’s voice is quite different, racier somehow, and enthusiastic in a way that makes Child seem ladylike by comparison.

Your news about your transfer to the south is staggering. I didn’t even know that Paul was in public service. Is it State Department? Of course I share your regrets about leaving Paris — but I am certain that you can work out the details of the cooking research, and as you point out, there’s all that wonderful Provençale cooking. Frogs legs, Provençale — ah me. Until the old Lafayette Hotel in New York folded up, every New York trip took me straight to that ugly dining room to eat frogs’ legs dripping in garlic and butter, and their gratinéed potatoes which were the best in the world.

I’d much rather be reading Avis DeVoto than struggling with the book that she brought into being.

Mostest Note: Perfect

Sunday, January 17th, 2010


Yesterday’s brunch was perfect, simply because it was exactly what I intended it to be. I’m talking about the food part, the part for which I, and I alone, was responsible. Because it was exactly what I wanted it to be, I had a great time talking with my friends. Indeed, I was at the table, without more than momentary interruption, for seven hours. And so were most of them.  

Because Quatorze was sick [sicker than he dreamed, he found out in the morning, when he went to the doctor — although still ambulatory] there were only five of us at the table. In these early days of adult entertainment, I aim no higher than for six, but I do look forward to planning for eight. This evening’s five, though, was very jolly. Kathleen, although exhausted, was in great spirits. As was everyone else. That was the aspect of the occasion that I can’t really plan for. In addition to Fossil, we had an old friend of his who is rapidly becoming an old friend of ours, and, vice versa, a law school classmate of ours whom Fossil wishes he were young enough to run off with. These two old friends became good friends on the spot, or so it seemed. As I say, I can’t plan for that; I can  but hope. For me, the ideal dinner party makes fast friends of at least two complete strangers. All I do is set the stage.

The menu was, for the most part, startlingly unabitious:

Tomato Soup
Lobster Salad
Dilled Blanquette de Veau
Pots de Crème au chocolat.

The lobster salad was the exception. It was an invention, and it was the only dish that wasn’t prepared well in advance. I wanted something light and lobster-sweet. I murdered and cut up a two-pound lobster, wrapped it up, and slipped it into the fridge. Then, when it was time to compose, I sliced the tail into medallions and cut up the claws. I shucked three ears of corn and sautéed the kernels in butter. I minced a seedless cucumber. These ingredients got tossed in one bowl. In another, I combined three small heads of frisée, two Belgian endives, and one medium head of radicchio, all cut up nicely. Then I made a dressing of fresh tarragon (bushels, it seemed), raspberry vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and safflower oil (with a dollop of walnut oil). Oh, and a jolt of honey.  I didn’t measure anything, but I thought very hard about each ingredient as I added it to the bowl of the small food processor, and because I am a very old man who has been doing this sort of thing since before you were born, it came out just right. At the last minute, the greens were tossed with a sparing amount of dressing, and tonged to plates; the lobster-corn-cucumber mixture was dressed rather more substantially, and scooped atop the cabbages; and, finally, a lobster medallion was placed atop each pile, spooned over with a bit of dressing and a dash of retro paprika. At wash-up time, I was gratified by the generally clean plates.

The old friend of Fossil’s who is becoming an old friend of ours brought a tin of home-made chocolate-chip meringue cookies, and I tucked two at the base of each pot de crème. I was so collected that I even made a pot of coffee without feeling fussed.

I was ready for my guests to arrive a full forty minutes before anybody showed up. That is as it should be. That is how it used to be with me. I’d spend at least twenty minutes wallowing in the certitude that nobody liked me and that nobody would come to my party. Then I got to be rather a slob, occasionally waiting to dress until after everyone had arrived. Those days are over.

Weekend Update: No More Microwave

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010


Somewhere between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, I realized that I was using the microwave oven for three things: reheating mugs of tea, scalding milk for béchamel, and I forget the third thing. This realization came at about the same time as my decision to stop zapping tea. There’s nothing wrong with reheating tea in a microwave, I suppose; but (long story short) I was tired of having to turn off the dishwasher every time I refilled my mug. Since the dishwasher is almost always on (its cycle can run for as long as two hours), and I am almost always refilling my mug — and because it wasn’t exactly unusual for me to forget to turn the dishwasher back on — you can see how the conflict got to be tiresome.

I bought a stainless steel kettle at Feldman’s and kept it on a flame tamer over the stove’s lowest setting. (Now I pour steeped tea directly into it, without troubling a fréquentable teapot.) As for the milk-scalding, I also bought, and also at Feldman’s, a stainless steel pan that is really an overgrown measuring cup. It holds a pint, but although it is honest it is not substantial: scalding milk is what it seems to have been designed to do.

Now that I didn’t need the microwave oven for anything (except that third thing, which I couldn’t remember), I woke up to the fact that there are toaster ovens so big that they are not toaster ovens anymore, but real ovens. And I really needed a second conventional oven. I was probably never going to have a second wall-mounted oven in this kitchen, but now I saw my way around that. 

Why doI need a second oven? To serve dinner rolls alongside a roast chicken. To serve a savory soufflé before a roast chicken. To bake frozen croissants for breakfast, at 350º, while cooking bacon in the best of all possible ways, in a 400º oven. The list is not endless, or even particularly long, but if I was tired of forgetting to turn the dishwasher back on after reheating a mug of tea, I was a hundred times more tired of not being able to plan certain menus because I had only one oven.

Early in life, I was told that gas ovens (such as the one built into my kitchen wall) are best for roasting meat, and that electric ovens are preferred for baking breads and cakes. Whether this is true or not, I think it’s true. Even so, I’ll probably continue to bake banana bread in the gas oven. It’s cheaper, for one thing; we pay for electricity but not for gas. And even if we paid for gas, it would probably still be cheaper. But after I’d replaced the microwave with the unit shown above, yesterday afternoon, a loaf of banana bread seemed to be the perfect choice for a shakedown cruise. Truth to tell, I was quite a bit more surprised that the oven worked, and that the banana bread tasted as good as it did, than I was that my grandson was born with all his fingers and toes &c the day before. Thjs may be because I was far more directly involved with the installation of the new oven.

The microwave oven turned out to be a never-entirely-satisfactory convenience. Like many cooks of my vintage, I gave Barbara Kafka’s Microwave Gourmet a college try, going so far as to buy one of those peculiar porcelain platters with metal studs that were supposed to facilitate the browning of meat (wasn’t that what they were for?). For six months or so, I had a crush on the idea of baking potatoes in eleven minutes. Most seriously, I made extensive use, over several years, of Bread in Half the Time.

But now that I don’t spend so much time in the kitchen, I’m less interested in saving time when I do. The mircrowave oven may be an appliance with a great future, but for the moment I’m going to store it in the past, to be pulled out now and then only for the odd comparison to Twitter, which sometimes seems also to be an appliance that I can’t find a place for.

I would never have gotten rid of the microwave oven just for the sake of it. But I’m pleased by the residual buzz of having disposed of the object of Julia Child’s sweetly disingenuous dismissal:

Microwaving. I wouldn’t be without my microwave oven, but I rarely use it for real cooking. I like having complete control over my food — I want to turn it, smell it, poke it, stir it about, and hover over its every state. Although the microwave does not let me participate fully, I do love it for rewarming, defrosting, and sometimes for starting up or finishing off. However, I know how popular microwave ovens have become and that many people adore them. I’m delighted to see, therefore, a growing number of excellent books on the subject available in supermarkets and bookstores.

The third thing was nachos. Which I need like a hole in the head. Something tells me that the new oven is going to make much better ones.

Weekend Update: Brunch

Sunday, December 13th, 2009


Here’s how I knew that it was good brunch: I did not ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Instead, I was thinking of ways in which I could have managed better. A very good sign.

There were seven of us at the table, and only Kathleen and I knew everybody beforehand. I have come to see that, ideally, this would always be the case. When I was young, and reading Proust for the first time, I thought that it would be the coolest thing in the world to have a salon. On a certain day of the week, or (more realistically) the month, one’s coterie would drop by en masse. This despite Proust’s consistently unflatting portrait of Mme Verdurin and her circle. But what did I know of “entertaining”? I knew my parents’ cocktail parties, that’s what. The same people showed up at them for years, yet I still yearned for a salon of regulars. I must have thought that, by substituting tea for whiskey, my shindigs would inspire the kind of lofty conversation that would have made my parents’ friends take flight.

At the end of dessert — we would continue sitting at table for another hour — I thanked the friend to my left for having been such a lovely guinea pig. I rather regret this now; it seems an ungracious thing to say to anyone. But in almost every detail the brunch was a mission. I wanted to know how to fit giving a weekend luncheon party into the texture of regular life, more or less as I make dinner for Kathleen and myself on school nights. A lot remains to be learned, but even though I’m tired and somewhat afflicted by Sunday night blahs, I don’t look back on this afternoon’s meal as a big deal that completely disrupted the weekend.

The important thing is to try to make friends happy to be in my home. This involves good company and good food, served with as little fuss as possible. It may have seemed like fussing when I asked everyone to leave the table after the main dish, so that I could tidy it up for coffee and cake, but everybody went right on talking, which, at least among my friends, never gets in the way of eating.

The entrée was a chicken dish from Gourmet, circa 1993. I haven’t written it up at Portico but will try to change that. It’s an “oven-friend” dish — a  genre that excites skepticism as a rule — that is in fact far more suitable for a winter luncheon, at a properly-set table, than the real thing would be. It’s quite piquant; there’s a lot of cayenne pepper.

I discovered that the fish poacher is an ideal vessel for marinating two cut-up chickens.

The side dishes were seriously retro: a German potato salad, made according to a recipe from the original New York Times Cookbook (1961), and an aspic of bouillon and V-8, with minced green onions floating obscurely in the ring. We began with a fruit salad and muffins, and ended with a mocha-rum cake (I make it with Jack Daniels) that also came from an Early-Nineties issue of Gourmet. The fruit salad came from Gristedes, but in chunks too large to serve without a knife; it took ten minutes to render them bite-sized. The muffins were flavored, dimly, by the Calvados in which I plumped some raisins. I had wanted to make cinnamon rolls, but yeast bread would have taken more time than I had allotted.

There would have been more time to play with if I’d really known what I was doing, the way I know how to prepare a roast chicken dinner. I knew how to cook each dish on the menu, but not how to cook them all on the same menu, which is really the final lesson of giving dinners, including as it does knowing where to put the special plates that you want to use for dessert until it’s time to use them. All in all, I did pretty well, but I want to get better. I want to have it down to the sweet spot of habit. I know that I’ll never be bored so long as friends old and new are kind enough to venture into darkest Yorkville for a seat at my table.   

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009


¶ Matins: We stand at the dawn of the Age of Chrome, and  Bob Cringely advises us to expect something of a tussle between Palo Alto and Redmond. (I, Cringely)

¶ Lauds: The bad news — brain damage — once again yields good news about how the brain works. Jonah Lehrer discusses the artistry of confabulation; doctors call it “lying.” (Frontal Cortex)

¶ Prime: Rumors of the demise of Borders, long burbled, have intensified with the news that Borders UK’s Web site is no longer accepting orders. (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

¶ Tierce: What could be more curious than learning that American Ivy League styles took root in Japan among gangs? (Ivy Style)

¶ Sext: Could you do worse than give the Awl diet a try? As long as you’re up, Fernet Branca and stir-fried Romaine sounds great to us.

¶ Nones: We’re rather tired of cataloguing what’s wrong with the United States, but Ahmed Rashid makes things easy: it’s basically everything.

OMG! We meant “Pakistan”! (BBC News)

¶ Vespers: Gordon Wood hopes that historians will wake up and tell stories. (Washington Post)

¶ Compline: Some things are forever, more or less. Complaints written and sent to the Mayor of New York of the moment, at Letters of Note.

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, November 20th, 2009


¶ Matins: Is Bob Cringely mad? His vision of the future, “Pictures in Our Heads” — well you can see where he’s going. (“And the way we’ll shortly communicate with our devices, I predict, will be through our thoughts.”) But it’s the beginning of the entry that caught our eye. The power of Mr Cringely’s assumption (with which we’re ever more inclined to agree), that the iPhone/iTouch is today’s seminal device, from which everything in the future will somehow flow, seems to mark a moment.

¶ Lauds: Isaac Butler outlines just how very hard it is to apportion praise and blame in the highly collaborative atmosphere of the theatre. Mr Butler winds up by pointing out how much easier it is to judge the performance of a classic play, because one of the variables — the text, usually unfamiliar to premiere audiences — is taken out of the problem. (Parabasis; via Arts Journal and the Guardian)

¶ Prime: Jeffrey Pfeffer discusses the “Sad State of CEO Replacement.” His remarks prompt a question: Is the typical board of directors a band of masochists in search of a dominator? The minute a self-assertive bully walks in, they tend to submit with rapture. (The Corner Office)

¶ Tierce: Dave Bry is delighted to learn that the Milwaukee M12 2410-20 won a Popular Mechanics rating for Best Small Cordless Drill (or somesuch). Not that he’s ever going to use one. (The Awl)

¶ Sext: Adam Gopnik addresses the evolution of cookbooks, from aides-mémoire intended for professionals to encyclopedias for novices, and beyond. Oakeshott and gender differences are dragged in. The recent fetish for exotic salts is explained. (The New Yorker)

¶ Nones: Another winter of discontent for Europe? Yulia Tymoshenko is cooking with gas. The new tariff will “ensure  stable supplies of gas,” quoth the prime minister. Really? (NYT)

¶ Vespers: Our favorite literary couples, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, sits for an interview with the Wall Street Journal. We knew the basics. But it’s nice to have a bit of detail. (Who knew that Pasternak’s style is “studied”?) (via The Second Pass)

¶ Compline: At NewScientist, a slideshow taken from Christopher Payne’s Asylum: Inside the closed World of State Mental Hospitals. The show, presumably like Mr Payne’s book, ends on a guardedly positive note. (via  The Morning News)

Bon weekend à tous!

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, November 19th, 2009


¶ Matins: Driving while intoxicated, and with a child in the car, will be made a felony, according to a law that has passed the New York State Assembly. Interlock devices, which block ignition when the driver’s breath carries faint amounts of alcohol, will be required for drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated. (NYT)

¶ Lauds: Lucy Lu recently celebrated the first anniversary of Met Everyday, her online report of visits to the Museum. Her list of ten things that you must see (or wings that you must visit) is personable but not surprising — with the exception of the modern-art item.

¶ Prime: Tom Bajarin’s discussion, at PCMag Mobile, of the impact of Vooks on publishing suggests to us that the author of a plain old book could do as well as a Vook developer, delivering a formatted text as an “app,” and collecting 70% of the price. (via The Tomorrow Museum)

¶ Tierce: We’ve heard of the Ithaca Hours, an alternative local currency, but we can’t imagine how anything like it would work in Manhattan. But who cares: it would be gorgeous, if these bills designed by students at the School for Visual Arts were in circulation. (via The Best Part)

¶ Sext: Will Sam Sifton be the next editor of the New York Times? It’s a very interesting rumor, considering that the gent has just been assigned to reviewing restaurants for the newspaper. We’ll say this: he has certainly dusted off the genre.

¶ Nones: For a quick and snappy resume of Palestinian politics at the moment, you probably can’t beat the Beeb’s summary. (BBC News)

¶ Vespers: V L Hartmann bumps into Joan Didion in the street — almost — and observes that in her carriage as in her prose, the author of The Year of Magical Thinking is not like “the old ladies you see up here on the East Side that are all stooped over.” (The Morning News)

¶ Compline: Conserving Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, an earthwork at the edge, and sometimes beneath the surface, of The Great Salt Lake. (NYT)

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009


¶ Matins: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals is eaten alive by John Williams, at The Second Pass, in a piece that begins with the surprised observation that Mr Foer does not mention Peter Singer in his book.

¶ Lauds: Michael Williams writes about the amazing Zildjian family, and shares some terrific clips. (A Continuous Lean)

¶ Prime: James Surowiecki addresses the debt bias in this week’s New Yorker, and in a background piece at the magazine’s blog.

¶ Tierce: While Choire Sicha rails against the “Swiss Drug Pushers” who run the United States government (at The Awl), Jonah Lehrer (at The Frontal Cortex) reminds us how L-Dopa really works.

¶ Sext: Unknown to Downing Street or the Palace, Margaret Thatcher dies. Meanwhile, Thatcher scholar Claire Berlinksi writes an article for Penthouse.

¶ Nones: Joshua Kurlantzick discusses President Obama’s trip to Asia, regretting that Indonesia was left off the itinerary and noting the dispiriting realism of Asian diplomacy today. (London Review Blog)

¶ Vespers: Grant Risk Hallberg’s long piece on myth and backlash in Bolaño studies serves as a toolkit to bring you completely up-to-date on a writer who, from beyond the grave, has excited a pungent array of macho responses. (The Millions)

¶ Compline: A story that we never thought we’d see: “Money Trickles North as Mexicans Help Relatives.” (NYT)

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, November 12th, 2009


¶ Matins:  Matins: Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist and the health-care columnist at Slate, writes lucidly about medical-malpractice litigation. The tort-based system is broken, but it works, sort of. Dr Sanghavi likens it to a casino — terrifying doctors as a class while overcompensating a handful of plaintiffs — but he also attributes significant drops in patient injuries to lessons learned. (via The Morning News)

¶ Lauds: Two public spaces that people will know better from photographs than from visits: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum (when and if) and the White House. The latter, which is indeed a house, requires periodic replacement therapy, in the form of “redecoration,” a word that, Martin Filler tells us, Jacqueline Kennedy didn’t like. (via Felix Salmon and The Morning News)

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon reminds us that nothing is riskier than a market in which everyone shuns risk.

¶ Tierce: Muscato remembers his family’s observance of Veteran’s Day.

¶ Sext: Two pieces that were printed side-by-side in the Times, and ought to have appeared in the same fashion online. Food colleagues Kim Severson and Julia Moskin are Jack Sprat and his wife about Thanksgiving. For Ms Severson, it is all about turkey. For Ms Moskin, the turkey is a turkey. The bitchery is quite amiable.

¶ Nones: We’re not quite sure why the offer would help negotiations along, but the UK will return 45 square miles of sovereign territory on Cyprus to — to whom? We can remember when Cyprus was in the news every day. Remember Archbishop Makarios?  (BBC News)

¶ Vespers: Dan Hill’s review of Alain de Botton’s Heathrow book, A Week at the Airport, is long and serious but hugely compelling, inspired to be challenging where the book under review leaves off. For example, after quoting the passage about an interview with an airline CEO that stressed the fact that neither the CEO nor Mr de Botton works in a profit-making industry, Mr Hill cocks an eyebrow. (City of Sound; via The Tomorrow Museum)

¶ Compline: David Dobbs argues for replacing the “vulnerability” model of genetic variation with an “orchid” model. The older thinking holds that variants increase their carriers’ vulnerability to disorder. The new idea acknowledges vulnerability but also inverts it, seeing heightened access to special skills. (The Atlantic)

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009


¶ Matins: The editors of The Awl analyze today’s NYC ballot, and render a nice distinction between “douchebaggery” and “dickslappery.” By Frank Rich’s account, things were much more exciting upstate — until just before his column went to press. (NYT)

¶ Lauds: Two sensationally (if unintentionally) amusing write-ups for coming art shows downtown: Avant-Guide to NYC: Discovering Absence and Crotalus Atrox (Or Fat Over Lean).  (ArtCat)

¶ Prime: The economics of Swedish meat balls — which we share for the woo-hoo fun of being in completely over our heads! (Marginal Revolution)

¶ Tierce: Eric Patton sighs over the beauty of Italian, while collecting a nice armload of local street signs for you to puzzle out. (SORE AFRAID)

¶ Sext: In case David Drzal’s Book Review rave didn’t convince you that William Grimes’s Appetite City is an absolute must-read, we’re sure that Jonathan Taylor’s more expansive review at Emdashes will do the job.

¶ Nones: Did they settle that thing in Honduras? Maybe yes, maybe no. But one thing is certain: the Micheletti coup did a number on Honduran business. (NYT)

(At first, we believed that ousted president Manuel Zelaya was an idiot. Over time, we came to appreciate the fact that Roberto Micheletti used to be his mentor.)

¶ Vespers: Daniel Menaker considers Tim Page’s Parallel Play, an expansion of the New Yorker piece in which Mr Page shared his relief at finally having been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome. (Barnes & Noble Review; via  The Second Pass)

¶ Compline: Being a terrible driver may mean that you’re not going to develop Parkinson’s! (Wired Science; via The Morning News)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009


¶ Matins: Confidence in the once-almighty dollar is eroding. This could be a very good thing, in many ways, if it weren’t for those pesky Treasury Bills.

¶ Lauds: On the strength of Ken Tanaka’s write-up, we’ve just ordered a copy of On City Streets: Chicago, 1964-2004, by “unknown” photographer Gary Stochl.

¶ Prime: The subprime movie crisis: surprise, surprise, easy money left Hollywood unprepared for a very dry season. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Tierce: Jason Dean’s very snazzy ABCs of Branding.

¶ Sext: Box wines: nothing to sniff at.  (via Felix Salmon)

¶ Nones: The Honduran attempt at a bloodless coup is getting bloody — thanks to the return of the coupé.

¶ Vespers: Patrick Kurp waits, along with Phyllis McGinley, for “The 5:32.”

¶ Compline: Coming soon to the Internet: FTC disclosure rules.


Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009


¶ Matins: Truckers engage with communications devices — cell phones, on-baord computers — up to “90%” of their driving time. Efforts to curb that distraction are likely to meet with frustration.  

¶ Lauds: Textile designer Ilisha Helfman, in Portland, Oregon, fashions outfits for her antique paper dolls from the covers of the Sunday Times Magazine.

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon comments on the economics of the Urban Diet.

¶ Tierce: The cheeky devils at Improv Everywhere had some fun on the subway: the Class of ’09, Lexington Avenue Laughing Academy. (via

¶ Sext: This time, the descent into the Dark Ages will be recorded — at craigslist.

¶ Nones: President Obama will campaign on behalf of his wife’s hometown, seeking the 2016 Olympics for Chicago.

¶ Vespers: Richard Crary gets round to Civilization and Its Discontents, enjoying the read for the most part but pricking his ears at Freud’s anthropology.

¶ Compline: Don’t expect that famous writer sitting across the table to be a gifted conversationalist, critic Arthur Krystal warns.


Daily Office: Friday

Friday, September 18th, 2009


¶ Matins: An attempt to “urbanize” Tyson’s Corner, Virginia appears to have spooked the planners: they don’t want anything too urban!

¶ Lauds: With Julie & Julia about to open in France, a number of critics are echoing Mme Brassart.

¶ Prime: A word about arbitrage from Felix Salmon. Actually, two words:

  • Picking up nickels in front of a steamroller
  • Don’t try this at home.

¶ Tierce: As if it had been waiting for rifts within the Anglican Communion to threatens its future, Canterbury Cathedral has begun to fall down in earnest. (via The Morning News)

¶ Sext: Fast Food: The DeStyling.

¶ Nones: Has or has not fighting broken out between China and India? Officially, not. But the media on both sides pipe a different tune. Amit Baruah reports from the BBC.

¶ Vespers: A nice, long, faux-depressing, genuinely funny look at the publishing biz, by former Random House editor Daniel Menaker.

¶ Compline: Paul Graham on The List of N Things: sometimes a simple list fits the case exactly, but, too often, it’s “a degenerate case of essay.” (via  Mnémoglyphes)

Bon weekend à tous!