Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sapporo ramen

Last week, some friends and I with our noodle brains went to fill our noodle stomachs at Sapporo in midtown. We came in from the cold-winded, coldhearted outsides to the steamy ramen fumes. Two of us got the "special" ramen, which has all sorts of things, almost none of which I remember (pork and corn and.. stuff) and others split a veggie ramen with extra noodles. The bowls were big enough to swim in, especially if you are a very small, champion-broth swimmer person. Look at the not-small hand which seems to be conjuring ramen by miso magic. Dwarfed by bowl! It's created a monster!

My ramen was okay. Friend Who Had Been There Before said their broth was off that night so maybe it's usually better. The ingredients and noodles were fine but the soup was pretty blah, especially compared to the richness of Rai Rai Ken's broth. But they had a pretty varied selection of ramens and other japanese foodstuffs like katsu and curry rices and donburi, so noodle brains can return to try more things. (Return of the Noodle Brains!! DUNDUNDUN!!!!)

But these fried gyoza were fantabulous. The way to my heart, in more ways than one, is fried foods. They tasted like my mom's, which is very high praise. Cuz you know korean moms are the best cooks, a label which they like to play with by force-feeding you delicious feasts and then commenting on how fat you are. How cutting-edge!!!

I had no snarky retort ready...

... for my friend's reaction when I remarked that my gmail search for a cookie recipe that Other Friend had sent me came up with 50 results. "Chocolate" was even worse, with over 100 results. "Having a life" or "do I talk about anything else besides food?" would have probably number zero, or zed, as they like to call it else-wheres.

Friend shut up after having some cookies. That's right.

allrecipes recipe for Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies – Other Friend also recommends cinnamon, 1/2 cup less oats and 1/2 teaspoon less of salt. I forgot these kind words. But the batch came out alright anyway. They're a bit heavy though, with the oatmeal, so if a horde of militant cats invaded your kitchen, you'd be able to drive them away throwing cookies at them. But then, who wants to eat cat-hair cookies? Blaugh.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Cookie quest continues

cookie or tasty rock?

The cookie quest continues. I was going to try the chocolate chip at Arte Around the Corner, a tiny shop of baked goods and italian foodstuffs, but they looked pancake flat and crunchy and I wasn't in cookie crisp mood. So I opted for an almond meringue cookie, which I've enjoyed before.

When I was in Rome this past summer, I tasted my first amaretti, which are almond macaroon cookies and I thought they were diviiiine. Crispy AND chewy outside and soft inner almondy goodness, rrrrrr the bestrrrr!! See, I even lose my limited powers of speech just thinking about them.

I'm not sure if Arte's almond meringues are supposed to be like sibling cookies or what, but they are very reminiscent of them (such good memories, those smart cookies). With similar texture combinations of crust/chewy/soft, and more subtle almond-ness, these are flatter (obviously) and crunchier while amaretti seem smaller and more domey.

This cookie is, thanks to the power of egg whites, one of the lightest foods on earth. It's a nice change from the traditional cookies you find everywhere else, chocolate or otherwise. So these are worth a try if you like almondy things. Plus Arte has tons of other yummy Italian things going on, including the best espresso in a part of town that's otherwise a good coffee wasteland.

I wish my belly had the power ... of ... errr... egg whites......

Thursday, February 16, 2006

500 books in 52 weeks: #2 <i>The Accidental</i>

At SAT tutoring this past weekend, we ran into some trouble with the term "allusion" in our course of studying confusing word pairs – in this case, Allusion v. Illusion. It's like the Marbury v. Madison of vocabulary review! Ohhhh no sense, no sense. Anyways, my kids are a tad fobby so I had some trouble coming up with examples of specific literary allusions.

Allusions, they're kinda neat; they're sort of like literary (hyper)links 'cept uhhh ... harder. Instead of the easy clicking, you have to be knowledgeable enough to make those smrt neurons a synaps-in'.

Here's where we get to the meat of the burger: #2 of 500, Ali Smith's The Accidental, finalist for the 2005 Booker (and we love the bookers, not the hookers), because this book is dizzying with allusions. The neurons will tire and say, please! We need a hot chocolate break! Everything from Plato's allegory of the cave to the Little House on the Prairie TV show and toothy Melissa Gilbert to old movies and the Sound of Music and literary theory and Beyoncé and beyond is referenced. In fact, this novel feels startingly contemporary, with a vague backdrop of the Iraq war and an overall ADD-addled postmodern (is that term passé? whatever) treatment. It's strange because we are (I am) so used to literature inhabiting either or both a timeless and historical context and this sort of 'here and now'-ness plus the improvisational style brought blogs and the internet and ritalin to mind, not necessarily (but sometimes) in a negative light.

So, The Accidental is a book that requires patience. Smith riffs on various writerly formats, mixing and matching, and generally mashing it all up. We're introduced to one of the characters in an insouciant Q&A. We whiz by clichés and self-reflexive comment on said clichés. We try not to skim through the section told through variation/disintegration of the formal sonnet. And I have no idea why I'm lapsing into the royal "we".
Despite this grabbag of literary tricks, I just had to tell myself a couple times to be patient. I did want to see more 'regular' prose or more judicious use of all those references and frankly, a little less tidy-ness of plot, a little less writerly self-consciousness, because some of the writing is just so, so good by itself, with convincing points of view and narration and scattered spikes of humor, the kind that's actually funny.
This is a story of a family. Two kids (Smith writes these particularly well), Astrid and Magnus, and their parents, Eve and Michael offer us windows into their lives. Individually and as a family, they are not floating along but in some unhealthy stasis. They are becoming stuck in the mud: Astrid has some serious growing pains, Magnus some dangerous self loathing, Eve is a frustrated writer and Michael is yet another professor who has affairs with his female students (is that all professors, always male, in literature do?). Brother-sister-mother-father-daughter-son combinations all not so close, not so good.
This begins to change with the unexplained arrival of the character of our mysterious 'accidental' – Amber (who has many other names) who claims her car has broken down. Nobody, including the reader, really knows or will get to know who she is, but she remains at the house, and her radical interactions with everybody (surprise, surprise) slowly start the family boat bobbing along the river again and these family members start to finally WAKE UP and grow into, for lack of a better description, palatable people.
Amber is supposed to be a strange character but we're left in a bog of questions, flailing arms and synapses and asking, well geez, who is she? Why is she staying there? Why aren't all the characters more curious and asking the same questions? Amber is the precipitate of all the action without providing much self or substance of her own. (Did I use 'precipitate' right there?) Is she a collective hallucination (I hate this explanation for plots)? Am I taking the character too realistically? Cuz that question sounds ridiculous. This is actually the kind of character might work better in a movie, because we see less explicitly into people's heads. Or maybe my brain's fizzling.
But the conceit, or whatever, of Amber and her role as the title - accidental - is kind of neat. The excellent Michael Shaub (from bookslut offers an explanation of 'accidental', the noun, in a SF Chronicle review: a bird who somehow doesn't belong in a place, from winds or whatever weather, is called a vagrant or accidental. But actually, what makes more sense to me is the musical term, "accidental" – a note that doesn't belong in the key of a piece, but changes the whole tone/nature/character of the sound. Amber's the brightening, enrichening accidental of this book's key but we don't know whether she's a c-sharp or e-flat or what. But the resulting music's kinda nice.

Meet me at the Met

Reuters uncovers the goings-on of Singles Night at the Metropolitan Opera (for the "under 40" whippersnapper set): non-opera fans, lawyers, bores, and snobbish people with questionable amounts of game look for the sophisticated and educated, with green the color of their true loves purses. Because you know, "This isn't some bar, this is a nice place with chandeliers."

A 34-year-old law student adds this nugget of chandelier wisdom: "I find it exceedingly difficult to meet women of quality," he said. "Everybody is so busy in New York. You're either hard-working or you're living in the East Village doing drugs."

Well, I can't understand why women of quality are not running to you. Your keen reasoning skills must match your debonair good looks and charm with the promise of top-notch quality, yes quality, lawyering clearly ahead of you. But what do I know? But maybe I'm just too busy living in the clouds of dust that are left behind by everyone's busyness and desperate drug use.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

burning bridges, breaking hearts

Sooooo happy valentines day! I don't know anybody who actually professes enjoyment for this supposed holiday. Maybe this says something about the people I know. We stick together in our otherwise lonely linty balls of fuzz. Wha?

Anyhow, let's call it a chocoliday and leave it at that. Milk chocolate, today I choo-choo-choose you!

Since I can't give you chocolate over the internet, here are some songs to play on your heart-strings for the day:
devics - secret message to you. I like this song for 3:13 and beyond, when it does this luxurious floating thing. Float on, I say!
feist - intuition (kcrw live session with bss) cuz I love me some feist singin'

Sunday, February 12, 2006

c is for cookie quest

I found myself a little horrified a few days ago after I started blathering to someone about my quest for the best cookie in manhattan. I just went on a bit toooo long and the she's-not-so-sane-let's-edge-away-slowly bells might have started to go off in my patient listener's head.

Anyways, it's not even like I've been very diligent about this quest. Mainly, it's an excuse to visit new bakeries/cookie places that I haven't been to. Plus, I have come to the realization that I'm a tad picky about the sorts of cookie that I want to buy. Or that I am picky about cookies in general? Some great bakeries won't have good cookies. Even some great cookie places won't have my kind of good cookie. See? The blather is starting already! It's inevitable.

But seriously. They're cookies. I can make them at home. I'm not Miss Baker Extraordinaire, so it is sad if cookies I buy are worse than those that I can make. So the cookies I buy, they can't be rocks or heavy or über-mediocre (that doesn't make much sense does it) or simply gross. Maybe it's the heaviness factor that I am most against. It's a cookie; you shouldn't feel as if you've just eaten a brick of dessert, no matter how chocolatey and yummy it might be. Like the whole foods cookies. They taste good but eating them is kind of like work. Texture counts! ... at least for me.

Levain might be an exception to this because while they have some amazing cookies, they are the size of small baby heads (mm, appetizing). And even if they are heavy, it's not that the cookie-ness itself is heavy. It's just their sheer size. STILL, to me, this is not really a cookie. Cookies are flat-ish. Not like champagne.

In my course of tasting here and there, but decided it was time to visit Ruby et Violette during a lunch hour, after finding about the establishment on nycnosh and roboppy, whose better photo-taking skillz are shown below.

This very cozy pink place is just lovely and the size of a very small elephant who gets picked on all the time but shows the rest of them how cool he is when Santa picks him to lead his sleigh. In the back is the bakery where all the cookie magic is magicked and up front, the cookies, baked every morning, are laid out in the display, beckoning in that sweet way they have, and I was Indiana Jones on the quest for the holy grail of cookies.. err... except I didn't have to go through snakes or Nazis or anything. All I had to do was walk a little bit.
Ruby et Violette is named thusly in honor of the owner's daughters. Though when I went into the store, there was a very pleasant Japanese woman at the helm who metaphorically walked me through the crazy amount of flavors, including espresso, lemon white chocolate, strawberry champagne (!!). I asked what her favorite was cuz I couldn't decide. She apparently couldn't either because she ended up going through all the flavors. I picked "Perfect", your basic chocolate chunk (plus that's why I was there). The name comes from the owner's opinion that the ratio of sugar, flour, and butter (I think) is perfect. And then I picked Rose. Because I wanted something out of the ordinary but not ker-azy.
"Perfect" is like chewy homemade cookies made with love, only better. Could have eaten like twenty. Rose was very nice. The rose flavor was strong without being too overpowering and was well balanced by the chocolate chunks. I definitely would not want to eat a whole bag of these though. You can find a recipe for the perfect cookies in the nyt archives from October 27, 2002. Overnight refrigeration!
Ummmm okay! Maybe r&v are #1! Who knows!!!
Aren't you glad I have such constructive projects?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

500 books in 52 weeks: #1 In a Free State

Man, I've got a lot of catching up to do. I'm on book #4 (weak, weak I know) but I'm too busy attending to my wicked stepsisters and crying amid the cinders and grinding old glass slippers into stepsisters' food to write on a website. Chuh. Please. The internet is not where fairy tales are made.

If I were clever witty and wise, I'd attempt to do something like the Guardian's Digested Read which goes over books in 400 words, usually snarkily, amusingly, and trippingly. I'm in a trio of words kind of mood. How very Catholic. Anyways, I'm lazy, tired, and sleepy.

So here's looking back at what started the year off:

#1: In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul (1971)
"In a Free State," winner of the Booker, is actually the title of a novella and it comes with two short stories and the prologue and epilogue from Naipaul's travel journals. Let's reduce his work, shall we? Conradian, postcolonialism, and outsiders. The actual piece "In a Free State" is basically a car trip by two Britishers through some part of Africa. It cuts to the politically incorrect until you're unsure what, if anything, is correct. Heart of darkness does that to ya. Here, you are not quite sure who to side with. Not that you should have to choose, but it's still an uncomfortable place for a reader to be. I found his tense prose and his characters rather unsettling, no one very sympathetic in particular, suggesting that we stop kidding ourselves in asking "why can't we get along?"

Perhaps it was merely the subject matter but maybe also the atmospheres evoked that reminded me of Claire Denis's 1988 movie Chocolat. In any case, this is prose that is challenging, not in style, but in the questions it poses of us now, most generally, in our treatment of others, and how this plays in human histories.

devics - push the heart

New review over at kevchino of Devics's upcoming release, Push the Heart. Very pretty.

Sorry I've been away. I'm too busy listening to pledge drives on the radio. Back soon.