Monday, October 31, 2005

presidents & parties & dress-up, oh my!

Chris, Andrew, Chris, Sophia, and I went to the New York Public Library last Thursday night to see Bill Clinton. It was cool, he was cool, and damn does it make me miss having him as my elected leader. I know he wasn't perfect, and he sold a lot of people out, and he failed on a massive scale in Rwanda and other regions, and he just couldn't keep it in his pants, and his nose often bore an unsettling resemblance to Rudolph (the Red-Nosed Reindeer, not Giuliani). But the man was clever, and the man was eloquent, and the man made me proud of this country in a way that's hard to imagine just five years after his departure from Washington.

We hit another party Friday night, this one not so much fun although Mike G., a lovely host if ever there was one, did let me open a delicious bottle of port he'd bought for his girlfriend. I made sure she got some too.

Next weekend we, meaning Chris and his family and myself, have to make an excursion out to the Island, which would be Long Island, which is somewhere I generally have no desire to go (though there are some decent wineries out there). Chris's cousin is getting hitched Saturday evening, and it's apparently what is considered a typical Long Island black tie affair, and the people who know me also know that I don't do black tie. Luckily my friend Jill has a dress that fits, and we went out and bought a pair of silver shoes. And she's dragging me out to get a pedicure, something I've never done in my entire life, this Friday after work. Oh Lord I'm terrified. It's almost enough to make me want to stay at work indefinitely, or at least through the end of the wedding (which, by the way, also involves a big celebratory brunch on Sunday, the day after the wedding--twenty four hours in Huntington, LI!).

P.S. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2005

flying cats & mike doughty's band

We had a crazy busy weekend, at least for us homebodies. First a lovely dinner at Republic after work on Friday, just the two of us and a pair of overly priced but deliciously tasty drinks, and then on to a Friday night party over in the East 30s in a duplex with a really scary, if simultaneously wonderful, spiral stair case. Let's just say it's probably a good thing I wasn't horribly intoxicated, as my stair-navigational skills leave something to be desired in the best of circumstances. Being that this party was in the East 30s, and being that this party was actually fun, we didn't get home from said shindig till around three in the morning. Saturday night saw another lovely dinner, this time at a Thai restaurant in the West Village, and then on to Webster Hall over on East 11th for a Mike Doughty show. Great show, got absolutely soaked on the way to the L train. And Sunday, ohhh Sunday, saw us at the Moscow Cat Circus performance way down at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, and what a truly bizarre thing it was.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

interlude: what i'm reading right now

Michael Cunningham:
I love Michael Cunningham's writing, generally, and have read each of his novels. His style has always been lovely, meticulous, seemingly delicate but with, at its core, a subtle desperation and power and loss.

In A Home at the End of the World he speculates, "I believed, at that moment, that I had never loved anyone but my parents and these two people. Perhaps, in the extravagance of youth, we give away our devotions easily and all but arbitrarily, on the mistaken assumption that we'll always have more to give." And later, "After awhile, we left the cemetery again. It seemed there should have been more to say or do, but the dead are difficult subjects. What's most remarkable about them is their constancy. They will be dead in just this way a thousand years from now. I was still getting used to it with my own father. The whole time he lived I had thought in terms of how we might still change in one another's eyes. Now we could not revise ourselves. He'd taken the possibility with him into the crematorium's fire."

In Flesh and Blood, he circles around the idea of inner- and outer-selves and how so often they don't come together exactly seamlessly at the edges. It is those small, sometimes almost inperceivable, rents in the fabric of our nature, the ordinariness and the outgrowing or escape or fear of that ordinariness, that interest him. Of the housewife, the prim and proper Catholic girl, he writes, "The most terrible beauty came out at night. In daylight the world was full of facts; you could live in a swarm of errands. At night, late, there was only desire or its absence, after the other stories had been pulled in off the streets." And of the housewife's son, "Smallness was over for him. He'd lost all interest in being lithe and clever, a monkey boy. At twenty nine, Will wanted size. He wanted to move with the ease and authority of geography. No more little thin-boy dance. He was tired of making jokes. He was ready to look a little dangerous, to need no apology."

I think part of why I love this writing so much is that, for all its delicacy and simpleness of structure, his characters are so strongly rooted in the real world, in errands and geography and dirt and cemeteries. And now I'm in the middle of Specimen Days, his latest work, and am having trouble getting through it. As with The Hours, he's channeling another writer, but it doesn't work quite as well with Walt Whitman as it did with Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf, with her unquestionable brilliance, was not what you would call a "wild" writer. And for all that I love Cunningham, he can't possibly match Whitman's exuberance and grace, and in a way it seems, in the end, that Cunningham's stories themselves embody the ghosts and emptiness that his characters fear. Specimen Days is lovely and delicate and ethereal, its characters struggling to be grounded, to take root, in a world that has moved beyond them somehow. Yet it's almost like an exercise in form, a meticulously planned wilderness, a beautiful garden that can't quite support its own weight.

But I'll have to confirm all these feelings when I actually finish the book.

Tad Williams:
The Otherland series is an over-indulgent look into the world of cyber fantasy, and at four volumes and over 3300 pages, I'm having trouble justifying to myself the amount of time, all the minutes and hours of my life, that I have invested in reading it. I'm getting on towards middle age now (scary thought though that may be, we do have to face reality some time), and with the hundreds, probably thousands, of books that are already cluttering up my apartment, or that haven't even been written yet, that I will fall in love with or be terrified by or merely like, a little voice in the back of my head is whispering, "This is what you want to read before you die?" And yet I'm 2800 pages in and so couldn't possibly stop now.

Friday, October 21, 2005

stuffed chicken with mushrooms

I got home from work pretty early yesterday, circa 5:30, and decided I'd be adventurous and surprise Chris with a new meal on a week night instead of going through our take-out menu collection.

So I chopped up a head of garlic (not too fine, but rather in biggish chunks) and washed and sliced some baby portabella mushrooms. Set aside. In a saute pan, I browned a couple chicken breasts in butter on high for a couple minutes each side, obviously until slightly brown. Removed pan from heat. Cut into the middle of the chicken breasts and stuffed with some goat cheese (I used some leftover stuff from last weekend, with garlic & herbs), a few chunks of garlic, and some rosemary. Buttered the bottom of a glass roasting pan, placed chicken in it, covered with aluminum foil and started baking at 375 degrees. Added garlic to the saute pan and cooked for 5 or so minutes over medium heat, scraping up the chicken bits and stirring in (adding a little more butter as needed). Added the mushrooms and cooked down a bit. Added some white wine (i used about half a cup, maybe a little more) and cooked down. Added a cup of water and a bullion cube, some black pepper, some cayenne pepper, and a spoonful of brown sugar to sweeten it just slightly. I let it simmer away for a little while so the flavors would intensify some more. Then I took the chicken out of the oven, threw the mushroom mixture on top of the chicken breasts along with some extra rosemary, and put back in the oven. I left it in for another 30 minutes or so, which was a little too long.

Serve over white rice, also drink the rest of the white wine especially if, like me, you manage to get raw chicken juice on the cork. I used a bottle of Rhine Riesling Petit Chapeau which has a lovely sweetness to it, worked well with the mushrooms and rosemary. Also it's on sale at Zachys right now for a mere $7. Can't beat that. I think Chris liked it too.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

the headline got it right

Senate Again Fails To Raise Minimum Wage

The beloved members of our dear Senate have, over the past 9 years, managed to vote to raise their own salaries not once but again and again, culminating in an overall annual salary increase of $28,000. And yet somehow these same men and women haven't managed to vote to give poor people a salary increase of any sort, let alone a living wage. We're not even talking about outpacing inflation here, we're talking about people earning $5.15 per hour since 1997. Say, for example, you've got a single mother with two kids working full time at McDonalds. She'll earn a whopping $10,700 this year, just over one third of a Senator's raise. And we choose these people.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

moons over my brooklyn

The MTA (that would be Metropolitan Transit Authority, the be-all-end-all of subway systems) just announced yesterday that it will be offering reduced fares during the holiday season this year, from Thanksgiving through to the New Year. This is unprecedented. Not that I'm complaining, really, but it does seem just a little bit sketchy. Not too long ago the fare was raised from $1.50 to $2.00 because the MTA said the system was broke. A judge threatened to reverse it when it came out that the MTA had been cooking their books, and in fact had "hidden" money. Then the judge backed down, the fare increase remained, and the MTA started complaining that it can't afford sufficient security for the transit system because the Feds haven't given NYC the promised funds after 9/11 four years ago. And now the MTA's boat has apparently come in, as it's got an "unforseen" surplus this year of $928 million. Go figure.

On another note, this picture above is a newly renovated public plaza (Goldman Sachs was kind enough to fork over the funding) on the roof of a building at the southern tip of Manhattan. Pretty snazzy, eh?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

chickpea, yam & pumpkin stew with cous cous

For stew:
First, roast whole pumpkin (but small--the small ones have better flavor) in baking dish with a little water in the oven at about 400 degrees for 40 minutes or so, until very soft. While pumpkin roasts, cheat and empty a can of Goya's "Chickpeas in sauce" into a large pot on the stove. Add a can of whole tomatoes, chopped, along with juice. Throw in some grated ginger, a lot of hot curry powder, quite a bit of cumin, a touch of cayenne pepper, a spoon or two of brown sugar to balance the tomatoes' acidity, maybe a spoonful of honey (preferably buckwheat) if you like things sweet. Peel and dice a couple yams and add to pot. Remember the pumpkin in the oven, let cool until handle-able, and then remove seeds & skin and mash in a bowl with a little of the sauce from the pot. Add to pot, stir. Let simmer for half an hour or so, until the yams are soft but not squishy.

For couscous:
Saute a couple yellow onions in butter or olive oil with some cinnamon and maybe some cardomom if you've got any, over medium heat until very soft and starting to caramelize, circa 20 minutes or so. Add appropriate amount of chicken or vegetable broth for amount of grain and bring to a boil. Throw in some chopped dried fruit (i.e. cranberries, apricots, dates, figs, what ever you've got lying around). Let the fruit soak up the flavor for a few minutes, then add appropriate amount of couscous, remove from heat, stir, and leave covered for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with fork before serving.

Serve stew over couscous.

We drank a Robert Mondavi 2002 Cab with this, provided by Jen, and it was lovely. Despite being stuffed to the gills afterwards, we did manage to take on the challenge of eating a little bit of the afore-mentioned banana bread with chocolate chips for dessert.

autumn in the heights (redux)

It's getting cold, finally, here in New York. After eight solid days of rain and gray skies, the weather doesn't quite know what it wants to be doing today. Beautiful crisp blue sky, clouds, and heavy winds threatening to blow all of my plants off the windowsills despite the windows being mostly closed. Our friends Jen & Jon, also from the neighborhood, came up for dinner yesterday evening. And finally, finally, the weather suits my entertaining inclinations. It's all in the name of feeling cozy, with lots of candles, free-flowing wine, and the smells of banana-chocolate-chip-bread baking in the oven mixing aromatically with onions sauteing in butter & cinnamon with just a touch of cardamom on the stove. And the blanket. The blanket, pictured above, has been a work in progress for over three years now (with, of course, various long hiatuses scattered throughout). My brother, Nathan, left New York recently after living here in my 'hood for two years, and I was feeling pretty sad about that. And the morning that he left, 5 a.m. to catch the A-train all the way out to JFK to make his 9 a.m. flight, after seeing him out the door, I decided it was time to get the thing done. Maybe it was a way of trying to warm myself and not feel his leaving so deeply, or maybe it was a way of trying to pull all the threads together, both metaphorically and practically, tidy up the loose ends and prepare for winter. At any rate, the blanket is done, Nathan is safely on his way to foreign realms, hopefully filled with adventure and excitement and joy, and I am still here, in Washington Heights, keeping warm and feeding anyone who shows up at my door. And now I can even provide a blanket, should those "anyones" end up crashing on my couch, that covers both their feet and their shoulders at the same time.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

and then there was nova

This is my cat. She's very large and not overly friendly, but she's got the softest belly fur you'll ever feel. She will sometimes sit just close enough that she's almost touching you, but not quite. She has a box full of tissue paper where she spends much of her time. She sleeps every night on my pillow, squished up between my head and the wall. And she loves ice cubes.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

my friend ben

My friend Ben is a prince among men, a Jesus- and TheArtist FormerlyKnownAs-loving force of nature to the Nth degree, and he's getting his family back. The saga, in a nutshell, is that Ben, being one of the most altruistic people I know, was, several years back, in a small village in Costa Rica with his church group helping to rebuild houses after a large hurricane. During his month there he met a lovely young Costa Rican woman and fell in love. After going through the entire bureaucratic process of having her move to New York and become his wife, and after adopting her daughter and buying an apartment and creating a warm and loving home, and after doing this all completely legally and honestly, he's been through hell trying to get them back. Over a month ago the three of them traveled to Costa Rica to visit her family, and while they were there, their passports were stolen. To make a long story short, the United States seems incapable of helping families navigate the immigration system, and I imagine to most people that comes as no surprise. It's taken Ben until today to get a guarantee that his wife and daughter would be able to come home to him at all, and that was only after somehow gaining the personal attention and help of Senator Clinton's office. And even now, he has to wait for another interminable week before he can welcome their plane with open arms and tears of joy. God Bless America, and these incompetent federal bureaucracies that are supposed to be keeping us safe but can't even manage to fax a copy of someone's permanent residency card and marriage certificate to a US Embassy on foreign soil.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

autumn in washington heights

The season turned this week and somehow it caught me by surprise. Again. You'd think after living through this twenty nine times before I'd be in the know, but no.

It's easy to mock us city folk sometimes, and our concrete lack of nature, and our lack of understanding of the natural world, but even just looking out my living room window at the New Jersey cliffs across the river, at the vast blue sky arching over the little plaza in front of my building, at the tiny fragment of the George Washington Bridge peeking out between buildings across the way, you can tell. The sky is a different shade of blue today, somehow, than it was this time last Sunday morning, and more beautiful, and more sad.

Today is the Medieval Festival in Fort Tyron Park, a few blocks north of my apartment, home to the Cloisters in all it's medievalish glory. I'll be traipsing up there this afternoon with my brother, my boyfriend, and a random assortment of friends congregating to wish my brother farewell & good luck. He's leaving tomorrow, you see, after living here for the last two years or so, almost to the day, bookended by this Festival that descends on us every fall. And I'll miss him.