Tuesday, November 30, 2010


It started late last Monday night with an abrupt and horrible sore throat followed by several days of mad vitamin consumption (including but not limited to vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, and my mother's old standby, Airborne*).

I made it through Thanksgiving:  an exhaustingly long day full of cooking and talking and imbibing and eating and entertaining late into the night.  It was fun for sure, but by the end dear friend Patrick was ridiculing the gravelly ancient smoker's quality of my words.  Just ask him about carcass.  Or not.

Friday morning it was whispers only, or painfully forced squawks, and text messages where most mortals place calls. (Also much self-pity and endless cups of tea and hours-long naps.)

It's mostly back now, this voice of mine, though still hoarse and, on the odd syllable, prone to giving out completely or emitting strange guttural sounds not unlike almost pubescent boys.

Nick met me outside the post office at noon today and we walked to our lunch spot together, talking animatedly the whole way.  When we got to the restaurant he paused and looked sideways at me and finally said, "So it's really you."

I gave him a quizzical look (as I often do with him, it seems), so he explained.  That it was strange to hear my voice the way it is.  That it was particularly disconcerting to be walking and talking and listening to this disembodied voice next to him; this voice that was not the voice he knows, the voice that is me, someone he loves.

I've been thinking about this on and off ever since.  The way that the voices we hear (our own, our friends' and relatives' and lovers') are so intrinsically connected to the people we know (our selves, our friends and relatives and lovers).

I've been thinking about how we never sound in a recording the way we imagine we sound in real life, but how to others our recorded voices sound like us.  When my partner leaves me a message I know who it is without him saying so.  But when I hear a message I've left for him I inevitably want to ask him, "Is that me?"**

This distance, this disconnection, between the voices that we are and the voices that we hear, has always been intriguing.  Perhaps to be further discussed at next Tuesday's rendezvous.

*Yes, I know about the class action lawsuit against the makers of Airborne. But my mother never travels without it and each time she comes to visit she inevitably leaves some behind.  I've finally been using it.  There's something strangely pleasing about its citrusy effervescent self in the face of an impending cold.

**Am I the only person for whom this is true?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

mom's marbled cranberry mousse

This is one of those recipes that regularly put in an appearance on Thanksgiving, and one that we kids (us McNeil kids and the Crow girls) looked forward to every year.  Thanksgiving just wouldn't have been right without it.  Now it seems like such an odd, old-fashioned recipe.  Jellied cranberry sauce from a can? Jell-o?? Seriously?  And yet it is SO good.  Trust me.

Mom's Marbled Cranberry Mousse:

1 3/4 cups cranberry juice cocktail
1 package (3 oz.) raspberry jello
1 can (16 oz) jellied cranberry sauce
1 cup whipping cream

In medium saucepan, bring juice to a boil.  Remove from heat and stir in jello.

In large bowl, beat cranberry sauce on high for 1 minute or until smooth.  Stir in gelatin mixture.  Chill about 2 hours until mixture mounds when dropped from spoon.

Whip the whipping cream.

Spoon half of cranberry mixture into bowl, then half of whipped cream.  Add remaining cranberry mixture, then add rest of whipped cream in dollops.  Run long knife blade zigzag through mixture to create marbleized effect.  Cover.  Chill for 4 hours until set, or overnight.

Eat with great gusto alongside all the other Thanksgiving necessities.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

bon appetit & shrimp, or, wishing bygone eras adieu

It's pretty ridiculous sometimes, the things that can make you sad, the things that cause a certain fleeting pain somewhere at the core of your self.  I got my December issue of Bon Appetit in the mail yesterday.

I have been getting Bon Appetit since Christmas of 2002, the first Christmas I spent with ex-boyfriend Chris's family.  They exchange wish lists in his family, and gifts are purchased accordingly.  There is a certain logic in this.  As an outsider whose family doesn't partake in such logic but rather enjoys (usually) the unexpectedness of the unrequested gift, I both appreciated this tradition and felt intimidated by it.  And as an outsider, I never knew quite what to ask for:  something inexpensive, something easy, nothing to make waves or cause anyone any trouble.  Later I settled on Amazon-available book titles, but that first year I asked for a Bon Appetit subscription.

Chris's parents kept renewing my subscription, year after year, even after we broke up four Christmases later.  But this year they didn't renew it, and yesterday's issue, this year's Christmas issue, marks the termination of this rather strange ongoing relationship.  Chris is married now and I am quite happily partnered with a new man, and yet pulling this magazine out of my mailbox last night brought a momentary collapse, a momentary indrawn breath and yearning for Christmases past.

The holidays are hard in general, sometimes, and of course not just for me.  So idealized by our culture, and yet so much a reminder of people and places and times we've lost.  I get indescribably excited by the holidays, and want so much to live them in the perfect way I imagine them, but of course the real world inevitably intrudes on that imaginary perfection.

Evan and I are hosting Thanksgiving this year and I asked Susie Crow recently for her mother's shrimp recipe.  The one she made every year as a pre-dinner snack at our families' combined Thanksgiving celebration.

I am not going to make them for Thanksgiving but Mom & Nate, equally excited by the shrimp re-emergence, have requested them for Christmas.  I am pleased by this idea, this re-appropriation of a beloved old recipe in a different and new context.  Those shrimp won't bring back Thanksgivings or Christmases past, of course, but they will be delicious, and really what more can you ask of shrimp anyway?

And what the hell, maybe I'll subscribe to Bon Appetit myself.  It is, after all, only about $15/year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

tentatively talking turkey

Evan and I are hosting a Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday for a motley crew of neighbors, relatives, dear city friends looking for a welcoming place to go, a pair of upstaters, and a pitbull pup thrown in to the mix for good measure (much to the Llama-monster's dismay -- she does NOT like dogs, to put it mildly).

Theoretical menu:

cranberry polenta cakes (#27)
cheese plate courtesy of the Chelsea & Inwood Farmers Markets
Zabars olives courtesy of Nate & Shanna
Evan's full-sour pickles (currently fermenting next to the fridge)
roasted rosemary cashews
Update: Also Andrew's famous deviled eggs!

Main course:
Alton Brown's roast turkey
cornbread stuffing
flax rolls
Thomas Jefferson's sweet potato biscuits (thanks to Andrew!)
raw sweet potato salad, though probably with butternut squash instead (#66/67)
garlicky chard with olives, pine nuts, & brown rice (Food Matters)
roasted sweet potatoes with garlic & rosemary & buckwheat honey (my own dreaded concoction)
mashed potatoes (thanks to Andrew!)
fresh cranberry sauce (thanks to Jessica!)
Mom's famous cranberry mousse

Pumpkin & apple pies (thanks to Andrew!)
chocolate chip meringue cookies

Home-fermented apple cider (currently fermenting on top of the fridge, because really, what's more American than that?)
Various wines
After-dinner port

Saturday, November 20, 2010

city noises (Fort Tryon Park)

to the farmers market & back

Saturday, in a nutshell:

Got out favorite orange pumpkin hat to brave the chill.  

Gorgeous walk up to the farmers' market and back through both 
Inwood & Fort Tryon Parks, bags full of butternut squash 
& sweet potatoes & kale.  

Discovered glass pie dishes really can explode quite 
spectacularly if left on a hot burner, particularly when 
full of melted (then burned) butter.  

Hair now a pleasingly firey bright red.  
And not even 4 o'clock.


bridge, 11.20.10

Friday, November 19, 2010

in which i begin to come to terms with the fact i am a crank

Last night it was poor Evan flailing in reaction to my action (barbed words, hands flung upward, dinner nowhere in sight), eventually settling on chocolate milk ("You are such a kid!" he said as it became apparent that it was this, and only this, that would appease: a green glass, fresh milk, a heaping spoon of Nestle Quick) to steer us through.

Today it was coworker Karen ensnared to my harangue:  half-empty yogurt containers left at the circulation desk, staplers mysteriously disappearing, the misuse of library work spaces (not as dirty as that might imply), the inherent unreliability of relying on a student workforce.

There is no escaping it: I am just not as jolly as one, as some, as I might like.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

'she said how long have i been sleeping...'

When I was a wee freshman at Barnard the housing gods saw fit to pair me with an Andover-educated bleached-blonde soccer player by the name of Nicole with a heart over the 'i.' (And they say the gods have no sense of humor.)

Nicole moved out over winter break and I spent a fair amount of time that spring semester trying to not get a new roommate.  Mostly this involved smoking a lot of cigarettes and drinking a lot of Jack Daniels and leaving the remnants of said binges scattered around the room.

One of the images that has stayed with me all these years from that embarrassingly blurry time, one of those magical indelible moments, is Deepa (gorgeous sultry self-assured Deepa) dancing on my windowsill to Sarah McLachlan's Mary, Charlie-grubbed strawberry clove cigarette in hand, long dark hair outlined by the glow of Broadway streetlights.

Deepa tracked me down recently (not hard to do, really, given that I've had the same email address since, oh, October of 1994), and we've spent a bit of time together.  Crisp autumn hours spent drinking coffee and munching lunches and sharing stories of the last few years.  She's all grown up now, married and newly mothered to a beautiful curly-headed baby boy, and as grounded as she ever was, even back in those days of windowsill dancing to sad, sad songs.

Friday, November 12, 2010

more adrienne

"how we are burning up our lives
              the subway
              hurtling to Brooklyn
              her head on her knees
              asleep or drugged

la via del tren subterraneo 
es peligrosa

             many sleep
             the whole way
             others sit
             staring holes of fire into the air
             others plan rebellion:

             night after night
             awake in prison, my mind
             licked at the mattress like a flame
             till the cellblock went up roaring

      Thoreau setting fire to the woods

Every act of becoming conscious
(it says here in this book)
is an unnatural act."

(Adrienne Rich, from The Phenomenology of Anger, 1972)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

ta-nehisi coates is giving adrienne rich another chance

Ta-Nehisi Coates is giving Adrienne Rich another chance. Funny to me, and foreign, this notion of having to give Adrienne Rich another chance. (Writes the suburban white chick). Adrienne Rich shaped words into language, turned language into power, opened the space-time continuum and shoved this adolescent girl right on through. On the far side of adolescence now by a decade and then some, re-reading snippets from The Fact of a Doorframe still sends shivers up my spine.

'I am composing on the typewriter late at night, thinking of today. How well we all spoke. A language is a map of our failures. Frederick Douglass wrote an English purer than Milton's. People suffer highly in poverty. There are methods but we do not use them. Joan, who could not read, spoke some peasant form of French. Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor's language.
(from The Burning of Paper Instead of Children, 1968)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

'poor professor pynchon had only good intentions...'

(Andrew Bird, Imitosis; also this kick-ass remix)

This song reminds me, for some strange sad reason, of my favorite high school teacher, my dear and adored Mr. Nauman.  From what I heard through the grapevine in the years since I left that town, he went a little bit off the deep end in the end.  This got me to thinking of him, wondering what ever actually became of him, and hoping with all my heart he's not as bitter as I've been imagining.

"He's keeping busy, yeah, he's bleeding stones
With his machinations and his palindromes
It was anything but hear the voice
Anything but hear the voice
It was anything but hear the voice that says that we're all basically alone

Poor Professor Pynchon had only good intentions when he
Put his Bunsen burners all away
And turning to a playground in a Petri dish
Where single cells would swing their fists at anything that looks like easy prey

In this nature show that rages every day
It was then he heard his intuition say
We were all basically alone

And despite what all his studies had shown
That what's mistaken for closeness is just a case of mitosis
And why do some show no mercy while others are painfully shy?
Tell me doctor, can you quantify?
He just wants to know the reaso
The reason why

Why do they congregate in groups of four,
Scatter like a billion spores and let the wind just carry them away?
How can kids be so mean?
Our famous doctor tried to glean as he went home at the end of the day

In this nature show that rages every day
It was then he heard his intuition say
We were all basically alone

Despite what all his studies had shown
That what's mistaken for closeness is just a case of mitosis
Sure fatal doses of malcontent through osmosis
And why do some show no mercy while others are painfully shy?
Tell me doctor, can you quantify
The reason why?"

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

'nobody ever called it an eternal city...'

I spent much of my childhood thinking about the end times.  End times of all kinds:  gods-induced apocalypses, man-made armageddons, natural disasters, Judgment Day.  What to do when the bombs fell, or plagues swept the earth, or the aliens came to suck the marrow from our bones, or the seas rose up to swallow us, or machines of our own invention rose up to enslave us all.

Lately I've been rereading some of the books that got me going down this path.  Victoria Strauss' The Lady of Rhuddesmere (almost untraceable these days: Columbia's Interlibrary Loan Office took over three months to track it down) and its religious conjecture that mankind must completely and wholly succumb to evil before rising up again into the light.  Orson Scott Card's The Folk of the Fringe and its tale of survival on the outskirts of what was once modern America.*  O. T. Nelson's The Girl Who Owned a City and its story of feisty little Lisa who organizes the child survivors of a disease that wiped out everyone who reached puberty.

But most of all it was Warday that scared the hell out of me.  Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka's Warday, written in the first person as if it were real, as if it were true, and dedicated to October 27th, 1988, "the last full day of the old world."

I was eleven years old when I read this book, a year or so before October 27th, 1988, the day before the book begins: the day before the USSR finally and seemingly inevitably went nuclear on our collective ass.

I was eleven years old and probably should have been able to understand, and yet I was confused about the chronology of things; about how something so real could not have happened yet, and how it might not ever happen, and yet again how it might. (It was another two years before the Wall came down and the world as we knew it began to crumble, began to become a little more human again.)

Moments from this book have stayed with me all these years.  I requested it, too, through the Columbia Interlibrary Loan Office recently, and it's been a strange experience re-reading it more than two decades later (and, perhaps more importantly, more than two decades after the the initial events of the book).

I read the opening pages a couple weeks ago while Evan and I were taking the A-train downtown, and I was hit with a wave of near overwhelming anxiety: the same anticipatory doom that I felt as a child magnified by the fact that I live now in the place described.  My stomach twisted and my teeth clenched and my jaw ached as I read Strieber's visceral description of being on the M5 bus heading down 5th Avenue here in Manhattan (here in my beloved Manhattan) as the bombs exploded over Brooklyn and Queens (the Soviets' aim was off, or the trigger mechanisms failed by mere milliseconds, and as a result only a million New Yorkers died in that instant when the bombs hit).

There is an almost lyrical terror in this man.  It is an emotional state, perhaps, beyond guilt.  I do not think it has a name.**

When I was eleven I sometimes wished we lived in the city instead of fifty miles north so that when the end of the world came we would be amongst the first to die.  This felt safer somehow. Less fraught, less filled with despair.  When I was eleven I also knew that a local nursery had chickens and I harbored plans to steal them as soon as the bombs hit so that my family wouldn't be amongst those to starve.  (Logic and, you know, reality, were not necessarily my strong points.)

Spring Rain Instructions:  If it rains get inside right away.  And if you get wet you have to go to the office for geiger, then showers and get rid of your clothes.  If you don't have any more you have to be in your underpants.  You have to be careful, but spring rain is also nice. (Essay on spring, Miss Wilson's 3rd grade , Shawnee Elementary School)

It's strange to be reading this novel from the perspective of having outlived the Cold War.  We no longer think in terms of MAD.  We no longer keep in the backs of our minds the location of the nearest fallout shelter (though I was relived, upon first arriving on campus as a wee freshman, to learn that Barnard Hall has those ubiquitous signs prominently posted). Nuclear annihilation makes for pretty and nostalgic song lyrics*** but has little bearing on our day to day.

I know all of this in my head, have known this for many years. And yet.  There is a part of my heart that still cringes, still sobs, still fights that eleven-year-old too-big-to-do-such-things urge to crawl into my mother's bed, to demand to hear that everything is alright.

Nineveh, Babylon, and Rome each bustled a time in the sun. So also, New York.  Nobody ever called it an eternal city, it was too immediate for that.  But we all thought it was one.

*Somehow the Mormon redemption aspect escaped me then, I suppose because at the time I hadn't thought much about Mormonism  -- it has only been in the years since, after witnessing Mitt Romney's idiocy and reading Under the Banner of Heaven and watching the train wreck that was Proposition 8 that I have come to resent the Mormon Church, however unfair that might be.  It's not a comfortable feeling, having the fact of one's own increasing narrow-mindedness thrown in one's face in such abrupt fashion.

**Italicized bits from Streiber, Whitley; Warday and the Journey Onward; New York; Warner Books, 1984.

***"If we wait for the time till all souls get it right / Then at least I know there'll be no nuclear annihilation / In my lifetime I'm still not right..."  (Indigo Girls, Galileo)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

'all i want...'

"Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous (and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable list!), but one of these days there’ll be nothing left with which to venture forth.

Why should I share you? Why don’t you get rid of someone else for a change?

I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love."

(Frank O'Hara, from Meditations in an Emergency)