Archive for December, 2009

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen Shalom

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

It’s holiday time, peeps.

And you know what that means.

John and I are headed east on our annual holiday tour. We’ll be seeing some of you! And sorry to miss others.

In the meantime, you’ll have to live without my life-sustaining opinions and anecdotes.

Try to be strong.

I’d like to give thanks for a fantastic 2009. Thanks, Universe. And family and friends. And my gorgeous-in-every-way husband. I invite 2010 to be equally as excellent.

Love,

Melissa

Two Pippas

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

I read a book with a protagonist named Pippa (a nickname, it would seem, for Philippa). Now I’m reading The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, by Rebecca Miller, and it’s beautiful. I wasn’t too fond of the movie made of Miller’s first book, Personal Velocity, so I skipped that book; now I want to go back and read it.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying Miller’s precise language, wisdom about feelings, and central character (Pippa, obvy), someone who feels simultaneously familiar and new. There’s a film coming out of Pippa Lee, too. I’m worried it’ll be maudlin and self-important, like the first movie but unlike the second book.

Side note: Miller is apparently both the daughter of Arthur Miller and the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis. Whoah, Nelly.

I think I won’t name the title of the first “Pippa” book I read last week, because me no likey. And the author seems like a lovely person in her promotional material and website, etc. So why draw her book to your attention, only to non-recommend it? Especially considering that my sphere of influence is second only to Oprah’s.

Oprah’s TOENAIL.

Twovies

Monday, December 14th, 2009

The fantastic Fantastic Mr. Fox. Is there any director more stylish than Wes Anderson? Oh, how I love him and nearly everything he does. I loved Bottle Rocket. I loved Rushmore. I loved The Royal Tennenbaums. And I love, love, loved Darjeeling Limited. Why was that movie not universally acclaimed?

(I did not love The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, but you can’t win ‘em all.)

Did you read the New Yorker profile in which it was revealed that Anderson had his tailor make him an exact replica of the corduroy suit that Mr. Fox wears, right down to the buttons and stitching? (This in the year in which I convinced John to embrace corduroy! To excellent effect!)

Obvious observation #1: Anderson loves a heist. He loves staging a heist, filming a heist, and sound-tracking a heist. Obvious observation #2: Anderson likes ‘em long, lean, and balletic. Adrien Brody. Cate Blanchett. Angelica Houston. And now, Mr. and Mrs. Fox. It’s ’cause, I think, dude is a beanpole.

As John pointed out the other night, Anderson’s work is both highly stylized and intimately real. He manages to capture important and authentic human moments in the middle of gorgeously crafted mises en scene. Mise en scenes? How does one pluralize French terms d’art? (Heh.)

Funny People, on the other hand, is a slog. A 2.3-hr. slog. I would say I’m glad we waited until it hit DVD, but I wish we had missed it entirely. Editing? Hello? Plus, I’m done with Adam Sandler’s mumbling baby-talk. Can we have something else from him, please? Or someone else?

Monkeys

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Remember the snow monkeys?

Well, this year at Calistoga, John and I both knew that venturing into that particular breach once again wouldn’t yield any new insights. So instead, I just kept referring to all of the people soaking in the tubs as monkeys. Which made for some pretty hilarious imagery.

M: Look, the monkeys are very chatty this morning.

M: Did you see the monkeys? They were playing with pool noodles.

M: Somebody gave the monkeys alcohol! They’re going crazy in there!

And, later, this:

M: Check it out. The monkeys are watching the hotel-worker monkey string Christmas lights.

J: So are we.

M: Yeah, well. We’re monkeys, too. Plus, it’s kind of the Main Event in the monkey house right now.

J: We’re just a bunch of monkeys.

M: Soaking in the pools.

J: I love you, Monkey.

M: No, you’re Monkey.

J: I love you, Chicken.

M: Heh-heh. I’m a chicken in a tub.

J: Heh-heh.

M: I’m a hot chicken!

J: You are a hot chicken.

M: Why, thank you. You’re quite a hot monkey.

J: Thank you.

[Pause.]

M: Okay, but I also am a monkey. I’m not just a chicken.

J: Definitely not.

M: I love you, Monkey.

[Snorgle.]

Oops, I Did It Again

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

I read another Lionel Shriver book. This time, I was reminded why her work, though frustrating, can also be rewarding: She digs into feelings. Shriver can spend an entire page, and sometimes two, deconstructing a single moment of emotion within a character—every twinge within a twinge, contradictory urge, rationale, spiteful riposte to the rationale, etc. Of course, Shriver’s feeling of choice is rage, and in Double Fault she plays it (together with misery) like a piano, traveling up and down its scales in a dark and brooding music. Mostly, I enjoy that.

Double Fault does commit one error that, at least for me, it can’t redeem: It mistakes infatuation for love. I can’t believe I left this off my list of prohibitions, because I see it everywhere (though most often in film).

DF‘s protagonist is a professional tennis player. She meets another pro; they play tennis; they joust verbally for a couple of hours, over dinner; and then they have sex. After that, the couple argue and have sex in equal measure, marrying after five months, despite never having exhibited anything approaching emotional intimacy. So when, in the following 250 pages, Shriver proceeds to painstakingly drive their relationship into the ground, I can’t be bothered to care. Because how sad is the destruction of a non-relationship? Not very.

Second book of the week: Slow Motion, by Dani Shapiro. I had heard the excerpt on This American Life a while back, and when they aired it again recently I decided it was time to read the book. And . . . I don’t know. Riveting, riveting plot. Surely someone has bought the movie rights? The writing is clean and simple, but sometimes I wished for a little less simplicity. And I remain anti-present tense.

But I bottom-line enjoyed reading it, and I’m grateful to Shapiro for sharing such a juicy story. Also sorry she had to suffer so much. The book makes clear a) how conventional beauty can be a problem, and b) how utterly alone and rudderless it is possible to be, when parental values are superficial, when parents are distracted and addicted (here in culturally acceptable ways), and when an alternative support network is nowhere to be found.

Transcription Fail

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Just came across the following in an interview I’m using for a marketing piece:

Q: Okay, so let’s paint a scenario where—

A: Penis scenario?

Q: Yeah, let’s penis scenario where you often meet with your Creative Director—

A: I met with Greg this morning.

Huh.

Let me think kinda hard.

Okay, I don’t think anyone in this corporate interview said “penis scenario.”

Just a hunch.

Let Us Now Praise Perfect Brownies

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Yes, observant reader. I have added a new blog category. And that category is food.

For a while now I’ve been wanting to write about Adult Brownies, a.k.a. The Brownies We Served at our Rehearsal Dinner, a.k.a. The Finest Brownies in the History of Brownies, Unqualified, despite being produced by Andronico’s and despite having a very close competitor in the award-winning brownies from Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland.

When I introduced my friend Judy to ABs, she unearthed two gems: 1) the official AB website, a poorly designed and, if I may say, irksome attempt to brand a foodstuff that deserves far better branding (call me!), and 2) a Serious Eats endeavor to recreate ABs, which, judging by the photo, did not succeed. (The crust is too light in color and heft. Plus, I don’t see the appropriate strata: killer crust, fudgy center, somewhat gritty bottom. And are those cake-like crumbs? We have none of that in the AB.)

So here’s the thing about Adult Brownies. They are not fudge. They are brownies, shone through a prism of fudge. The crust is almost crunchable. The flavor is super-dark and rich, very chocolatey, with a big hit of alcohol at the top. The texture is heavy and dense, very fudgy, but without the buttery and too-sweet notes of fudge. You do not want to use the word “moist,” because “moist” implies cake, and this brownie does not truck with cake. It’s more like a brick of dark, alcoholic fudge.

Bittersweet has a very similar brownie, with many of the same qualities, including the crust, texture, and flavor. But Bittersweet’s brownie is far more balanced than the AB. It opens and closes with the same flavors, floating in harmonic suspension. Sounds like a good thing, right? That’s where it gets interesting for me. I find that without the mega-hit of alcohol at the top, the moment of sheer, eye-rolling brownie madness, the bite loses the wow. Bittersweet’s brownie is still great, and I’d never turn one down. But my preference is the AB.

Usually, I wait for my friend Vicky to visit, and we gorge on potato puffs at Gregoire before mainlining AB. But as Vicky has had a stressful semester in library school (sorry, Vick!) and has therefore had to cancel several visits, I am now experiencing an AB deficit. Looks like I’ll have to make the precarious journey, to the store .5 miles from here, by myself.

FU, Herve Mons Laguiole

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

You’re familiar with FU Penguin? In which blogger Matthew Gasteier tells cute animals what’s what?

I will now do the same with Herve Mons Laguiole, a cheese I encountered in Napa.

The scene: Route 129, heading north through lush, sweet-smelling vineyards, passing under a canopy of changing leaves. We turn off just south of the too-gorgeous-and-tasteful-to-be-twee-but-it-would-be-twee-if-it-were-any-less-gorgeous-and-tasteful main street of St. Helena, into the Dean & Deluca parking lot, where we’ve set our sights on lunch. Or at least snacks. (John’s vegan status will soon stymie this attempt, but stay with me.)

We enter the store. To the right, the cheese counter, chock-a-block with wedges of every imaginable provenance and an employee dressed in a crisp white chef’s coat. To the left: the pastry counter, with tophat cupcakes so huge that their gravitational pull overwhelms us, and we veer immediately pastry-ward, cheese ignored. Before I can properly focus on the confections, I am chanting, “WANT! WANT! WANT” at decibels loud enough to turn heads. People look at us and smile. We are popular.

It takes some time to a) make our pastry selections, and b) determine that there aren’t appropriate lunchables for John. Our hunger stoked and beginning to gnaw, we turn toward the exit. On the way out, I sample a few cheeses that have been micro-cubed and placed into baskets at paw-grabbing height. Then I continue on my way.

But no.

I must stop.

Something is happening in my mouth.

Something totally, radically, life-changingly insane.

Something so salty-creamy-fatty in such perfect proportions, so melty and buttery and rich and cheddary but way, waaaaay beyond the cheddar I have known, with all kinds of killingly consumate bready and earthy and tangy notes, that I stop dead in my tracks.

And cry.

Yes, reader. This cheese made me cry.

It opened up my chest and spread throughout my body like love. Like something so immensely alive, so full of cosmic life-force, that I melted into a conduit for harmony and light.

It was a cheese with great wisdom and depth. A cheese that knew something—knew many, many things—that I didn’t know. Teach me, cheese, I wanted to say. Teach me everything.

So. Fuck you, Herve Mons Laguiole. You will not make me quit my job and move to France just so I can learn how you are made. I refuse to abandon my happy life to personally meet, stroke, and kiss each and every French Simmental or Aubrac cow (above 800m altitude), between May and October, when their milk is collected for laguiole. I cannot be forced to track down the fetchingly attractive Herve Mons (second from left) and smother him with passionate kisses, no matter how fervidly you impel me to do so. And I will most definitely not continue to purchase you, at $34/lb., and consume you with crusty cranberry-and-currant bread, as I did every day of our Thanksgiving vacation.

Take that, Herve Mons Laguiole. You deserve it.