Thursday, December 31, 2009

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Ella Fitz, "Blue Moon." Rodgers and Hart. (Did you know it was theirs? Me neither.)

Blue moon tonight, amidst the revelry. Last day of the aughts. Most people are keeping it mellow. Where were you ten years ago? And what?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Raw, idiom: b. Informal. in the nude; naked: sunbathing in the raw

This week's New Yorker is really rich. Not only does it feature a revealing piece on controversial Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, but there's also an intriguing write-up of the latest Grace Kelly bio.

Donald Spoto's "High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly" explores those untold grey spaces wherein this coolly beautiful film icon trod the complicated pathways between stardom and enigma. The result is a picture of an arguably "conniving," masterfully deliberate woman who used her beauty to secure a stable, if bland, future with Prince Rainier.

I kind of love that this purported Ice Queen was really a sexpot whore. Right on, sister.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Oh wow. Is it wrong that I'm kind of turned on by this?

Mark Slouka offers a killer defense of the humanities in the September '09 Harper's. I sat and read it this morning and nodded like a bobblehead doll. Slouka writes about the marginalization of the humanities in the wake of what he calls the increasing "relentless vocational bent in American education," and he's dead-on in his naming of the commodification of reason and sentiment, the overwhelming product-oriented shift toward the easy-to-quantify capital benefits of math and science-based educations.

Slouka - himself a Ph.D. in Literature - writes that
It’s a play I’ve been following for some time now. It’s about the increasing dominance—scratch that, the unqualified triumph—of a certain way of seeing, of reckoning value. It’s about the victory of whatever can be quantified over everything that can’t. It’s about the quiet retooling of American education into an adjunct of business, an instrument of production.
Be still my beating heart. So true. Read the piece for an impassioned defense of the steady push toward mindfulness buried deep in the humanities. Anyone whose heart and soul grew out of the fertile soil that we call "the arts" has to relate to the ongoing relegation of all things creative to the margins, the edges, the "free time," the "on the side," the "so, how are you going to USE a sociology degree?" kind of bullshit.

It's a zeitgeist increasingly evident in a world that values MBAs over, well, pretty much anything else. And yet, Slouka argues that encouraging the humanities is an inherently political move,
Because they complicate our vision, pull our most cherished notions out by the roots, flay our pieties. Because they grow uncertainty. Because they expand the reach of our understanding (and therefore our compassion), even as they force us to draw and redraw the borders of tolerance. Because out of all this work of self-building might emerge an individual capable of humility in the face of complexity; an individual formed through questioning and therefore unlikely to cede that right; an individual resistant to coercion, to manipulation and demagoguery in all their forms.
Um, yes, and again, yes. Read the article. Then read a book. Or twelve. And buy a few for the small children in your life, too, who are more likely than not being taught that Scantrons and algebra equations are where it's at. Because, oh god, is there so much more.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

You know you're in Nebraska when...

* A take-no-prisoners prairie blizzard wallops you, trapping your pansy NorCal ass in your childhood home. For three days. With your mother. And no hard liquor. 'Nuff said.

* The airport shuttle driver boasts that "the heater's up so high we could hatch chickens in here!" Not ironically.

* You eat more starch in three days than you have in the last year.

* 90% of the bodies at the snowed-in Omaha airport are sporting red and white football paraphernalia

* The local news headlines are dominated by a college bowl game that is FIVE. DAYS. AWAY.

* There are conservative letters to the editor in the Op-Ed section (what?!)

* Letterman comes on at 10:30 (weird!)

* You don't walk anywhere (other than up and down the stairs) for days on end

* People speak... soooo... slooooooowlyyyyy.... but, then, they're all so goddamned nice...

Never been so glad to get my feet on hallowed SF ground as I was on landing circa 2 am today. (Almost as glad as I was when that bartender at O'Hare brought over my hard-earned dirty martini between flights.) Blessed Bay Area bubble. Sushi? Sunshine? Sweet.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor.

Don and I send our love for the merriest of holiday seasons. (By now, Mr. Draper and I should've appeared in many of your mailboxes. Kisses.) We're snowed-in for Christmas here in the frozen Corn Belt, blustered by winter winds and buffered by lots of coffee.

Sibs in town from St. Paul, Madison and Montreal mean little wireless time and much reminiscing. It's strange to be here, bundled in sweaters from dusty drawers untouched since approximately 1997. Ergh. My fashion sense has changed a bit since then.

(God/dess bless the travel yoga mat. And the free wifi in the OMA airport.)

See you in a few. Stay warm.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Solstice today. Shortest day of the year. It all lengthens from here.

The faces across the bar are harried and tired. They carry Macy's shopping bags and sport overeager red sweaters. I feel secretly tender every time I see a 30-something ex-frat-boy roll up in his Christmas sweater, earnest, committed to the season, in spite of his hair-gelled, dry-martini'd attempts at bravado.

Holidays near, there seems so little need for "stress," and yet, this psychological state of our own creation tightens lips and furrows brows when the short days lend themselves to what we often call "not enough time." One of my favorite writers, David Loy, touches on this chosen timelessness in his sharp essay, "Consuming Time." Loy and co-author Linda Goodhew describe time commodified and time objectified, writing that
Because our life and death, like spring and summer, are not in time, they are timeless. .... Instead, there is "just this!" - tada in Japanese. Shakyamuni Buddha is sometimes called the tathagata, literally "the one who just comes/just goes." Or we may say that there is birth-and-death in every moment, with the arising and passing away of each thought and act. Then there is nothing lacking in the present that needs to be fulfilled in the future, and spring is not an anticipation of summer. Each moment, each event, is whole and compete in itself.
Remember that when you're sitting on the tarmac for three hours waiting for the plane to de-ice. Remember that when you're antsy at having to sit through another long Christmas Eve service featuring 4-year-old shepherds acting out the nativity. Remember that when you're wishing your blowhard Uncle Frank would shut the hell up about health care.

Be there, live and die in that moment, realize the impermanence of it all, and look up to see the sun hanging longer in the sky as we cycle once more toward lengthening days. Again, it begins.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

A study in contrasts:

Herein, one product with which I very much like sharing a name: Mrs. Meyer's badass Clean Day home supplies. Earth-friendly, charmingly retro, minimalist in a Berkeley kind of way, and smelling suspiciously of gardenias on my kitchen countertop.

Herein, one with which I'd very much like to disassociate forever: filmmaker Nancy Meyers, she of the sexless bourgeois middle-aged lady architectural porn films wherein bland Aryan archetypes "meet cute," wear beige turtlenecks, fall in generically-scripted love, and shack up in expensively boring mansions in the Hamptons. I believe I fondly referred to her as a "schlockmeister" the last time I so lovingly touched on her latest piece of cinema shit.

(Breathe, Rach; breathe.)

So without getting into all that again - it's such a nice morning, you know? - let me direct you to Daphne Merkin's recent NYT Magazine profile of Meyers. I suspect that Merkin shares my distaste for Meyers' generally artificial and contrived productions, but she manages to retain a faux-balanced reporter's stance while still touching on all the reasons that Meyers' work is so frustrating to anyone outside her aspirational-white-upper-class-divorced-bitter-sexless-middle-aged-lady demographic.

Read the article, promise you'll never waste another ten bucks on any Meyers production (including this latest variation featuring Streep, Baldwin and my lovey Steve Martin), and go rent something good and dirty and edgy (LaBute?) and grimy (Soderbergh?) and maybe the slightest bit criminal from your local mom-and-pop video store. You'll feel cleaner than you ever would after rolling around in 90 minutes of anesthetized Pottery Barn suburban porn.

Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women? (NYT Mag)

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

Bundt Cake Saturday! (Late.)

Morning: fresh
Mood: absurd
Music: Leonard Cohen

Ok, folks! Friday morning back at the ranch, and we are in business. After a week of doldrums, the sun finally made an appearance again yesterday, and I'll be damned if it didn't make all the difference. Two vinyasa classes and some seriously sore quads later, your highly-caffeinated hostess has dialed up some new tunes, finished addressing the last of this year's bizarro photo-shopped Christmas cards, wrapped the East Coast presents to be shipped off in a few, and started in on the second pot.

I love coffee. And mornings.

SO let's get in on some of this belated bundt action. Last year I kind of hit the seasonal recipes hard, all egg nog and streusel and whatnot, so this year it's felt a little "been there, done that," which is why I was so pleasantly surprised to run across this delicious


Um, hello, yes. One of my recent favorites, and easy to manipulate if you want to make it more/less interesting, too. I found the recipe here and modified it a bit to suit my liking:


2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups packed light brown sugar
1 small pkg instant vanilla pudding
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups brewed chai tea, cooled
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup honey
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease and flour your bundt pan. Combine flour, brown sugar, pudding, baking soda, salt, tea, buttermilk, honey, butter, vanilla and eggs in a large bowl. Using a mixer at low speed, beat 1 minute or until just blended. (Add raisins or nuts at this point if you'd like.) Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in a pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then invert and cool completely.

Not hard, right? Feel free to fold in raisins, nuts, or even crystallized ginger (new favorite ingredient) if you'd like. I kept it fairly simple and the cake still turned out so nicely. Don't hesitate to make your tea strong; I brewed three bags of chai and added a dash of nutmeg and ginger and the spice balance was just right.

Also: throw a few pecans in the oven on a baking sheet for just 5 minutes or so to toast them while the cake cools. You can use them later as a garnish.

Frosting is easy: either make your own cream cheese frosting (adding a little honey this time around and heating it on the stovetop to make it spreadable), or if you're feeling less "overachiever" and more "let's get this shit done," pick up a container at the grocery, heat it a bit to soften it, add some honey, and pretend you made it. Drizzle the warm-ish frosting over the cake and add a few chopped toasted pecans to finish if you'd like. I added some chopped crystallized ginger along with the pecans and clipped the last few surviving orchids from my table to decorate.

Really quite good. And now I've got a helluva lot of honey sitting in my cabinet waiting to be loved. So you might see more where this came from.

Recipe courtesy American Profile (!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Hannah had the most delicious homemade Wassail last night at her holiday shindig, and it's got me thinking about alcoholic variations on the Christmas theme. (Well, that and the fact that the atmospheric gloom doesn't seem to want to lift, and the cold has set in, and the cable cars are decorated with fake white partridges, and the white lights on Polk St. last night were so goddamned cute.)

So I found this recipe for a Spiced Pumpkin cocktail the other day, and not only is it tequila-based, but it relies on agave nectar for sweetening. Given that I'm a huge agave fan lately, I'll forgive it for lacking the requisite seasonal bourbon and roll with it. Sprinkled with a little cinnamon on top, I think this libation could get me through the middle-American adventures around the corner and land me safely back in my lefty disneyland without too much permanent damage.

Spiced Pumpkin Cocktail

1 1/2 oz Corzo Reposado (mmm)
3/4 oz pumpkin spice liqueur
3/4 oz orange juice
1/2 oz agave nectar
1 orange and 1 lemon wedge
1 tsp egg whites (if you dig the froth)

Muddle the orange and the lemon. Add ingredients; shake well and strain (or serve on the rocks if you'd rather). Sprinkle with cinnamon or garnish with a cinnamon stick. Drink several in quick succession, pull your cloche low over your eyes, and you'll never know you've left PST.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

art is resistance.

"art changes hearts without breaking bodies."

(sometimes we so desperately need to be reminded.)

especially on a monday in advent, in the wake of rain, in the echo of the cable car, in the honey-colored silence that is a step away from the clutter and clatter and clank of christmas crap and impending travel and prepackaged excess and manufactured wonder and certain uncertainty. especially then.

that the world's not all soft vanilla unthinking auto-pilot drones. that there are creators, co-creators, thinkers do-ers be-ers, too; breathers; people who live in their bodies and put one foot in front of the other, questioning, striving for some measure of awakeness in spite of the ongoing downward spiral toward mindlessness that somehow feels so amplified in this season of commodified hope sold as plasma TVs and iPhones and tinsel.

resistance is fertile.
lotuses bloom, in the thick and the mire and the mud.
that's the whole point.

(we've got plenty of mud.)

grow some.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.

~ Zen proverb

(And that's Rothko, of course; 1956)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Director Katie Mitchell has another spare, bleak literary/musical adaptation onstage this weekend at Lincoln Center, and ohhh, am I cursing that cross-continental commute.

You'll remember Mitchell as the technologically-savvy artistic mind behind last autumn's similarly literary adaptation of Virginia Woolf's The Waves. She's done it again, albeit sans video, this time in "One Evening," which the NYT calls a "Schubert-Beckett mash-up." Those of you in Manhattan, you've got one more chance to catch the austere soundscape poetry-slash-music production wrapping up tonight.

It's a piece of theater described in so many of my favorite words: "melancholy, bleak, haunting, naturalistic, wrenchingly beautiful." Read the Arts preview from earlier this week, which fleshes out the production vision a bit; Mitchell describes her lyrical motivations there:
The idea in ‘One Evening’ is for the audience to imagine a young man walking through the snow across a changing landscape. That’s the basic aural experience. You literally hear footsteps, breathing. The songs and the poems are the thoughts in his head.” (This scenario is precisely that of Schubert’s song cycle.)
You'll find details there about the performers (solo tenor, solo upright piano, and actor Stephan Dillane reciting Beckett's poetry), as well as several audio clips of the haunting tenor and piano duets. Then click on over to Anthony Tommasini's mostly-positive review, which emphasizes the realistic immediacy of the natural sound effects and the poetic English translations.

It's not exactly the Nutcracker, but who wants tumbling bon-bons and Clara and the Rat King hopping around all the time, anyway? This austere, melancholy production seems much more suited to the feel of the world these days. See it.

Schubert and Beckett: Footsteps in Snow (NYT)
Music Review: A Duet of Schubert and Beckett (NYT)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Did you happen to catch the latest issue of Outside magazine? Pick it up the next time you're cruising by the newsstand; as you can see from the cover shot, the December issue features another great profile of David de Rothschild and his Plastiki (recycled-bottle-boat) project, which is quickly nearing completion down at Pier 31.

I've had the unexpected pleasure of getting to know the crew over the last year or so, and it's been fascinating to watch the highs and lows of this awesomely creative eco-adventure project unfold. Late last night, we watched as they rolled the catamaran out to test it in the water for the very first time, a complicated wee-hours undertaking involving one very large crane and a lot of crossed fingers. So exciting to see all these guys' time and labor coming together in what should be a globally-watched adventure on the high seas.

By this point, you've probably seen coverage of the voyage anywhere from CNN to Saturday Night Live to the New Yorker; the media roll-out has been impressive. Take a few minutes to leaf through this latest article. DDR really knows his stuff, in a humbly irreverent kind of way, and the team is across-the-board lovely; they work harder than anyone I've met in some time. Most importantly, the ethical spirit driving the whole project is really grounded in genuine passion and activism. So head on over to the official site, read up, and look forward to some exciting updates as the ship sets sail in the weeks to come.

Plastics Jesus: David de Rothschild (Outside)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

And somehow, unbeknownst to me, it turned into winter, because here we are on a Wednesday with faraway talk of snowblowers and shovels and snow days and my oh my, am I glad to have moved westward from that frozen heart of the country that many of you still call home.

The low here last night was a brisk 32 degrees, practically unheard of in these parts, and as I walked through the quiet Financial District coming on to dinnertime, the air was new and cold and different. December is my favorite time for late-night walks through the deserted downtown streets; everything's white lights and sparkling sidewalks and unexpected red-wrapped pillars around unpatrolled corners, and I wrapped myself more tightly in my fluffy winter white and pulled up my Audrey gloves and felt awake and alive on tucking in to a secret side street en route to another more secret speakeasy. Vodka tastes better when wrapped in shearling and sporting rosy cheeks, accompanied by an old man tapping out "Sleigh Ride" on a baby grand behind you.

In the midst of all the glitter and defrosting, though, it's easy to feel some guilty kind of obligatory cheer here in this more obligatorily-cheery time of the year. And for those of us in search of some measure of holiday authenticity, well, eh, let's be honest: we're not always feeling it. Garrison Keillor speaks to that sense in his classic only-Garrison-Keillor kind of way in this morning's Salon column. His paean to New York at Christmastime celebrates the fact that "Christmas is a joyful time, or so we're told, but a person gets tired of enforced joyfulness, especially when it's WalMart and Amazon doing the prompting, and you sort of appreciate a little anger to season the season." Amen.

I love it. Read the piece. And then stick around for Mary Elizabeth Williams's equally adroit takedown of the ubiquitous emoticon. Her essay on "Why Emoticons Need to Die" made me laugh, and nod, and growl. She asks: " I feel all stabby when I get a message that ends with three short marks: a colon, a hyphen and a parenthesis?"

The smiley challenges my own attempts at holiday cheer, stifling any urges toward magnanimity. Seeing one in correspondence, I wince, I cringe, I inhale with that most silent of judgmental inhales. Williams puts it best:
Whether they're humble punctuation marks or shape-shifting, animated gifs matters not -- I loathe them in all their forms. I see a face at the end of a sentence, I start lopping off IQ and attractiveness points for the person who wrote it.
Hilarious. Pointedly observant. Check it out. (And stay warm, all yous Midwestern types.)

Tis the Season to Be Grumpy (Salon)
Death to Smiley: Why Emoticons Need to Die (Salon)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

Excellent article on the class politics of Slow Food in this week's SF Bay Guardian. Always reliable for a populist barn-burner of a story now and then, the alterna-weekly tackles the ongoing labor rights, social justice and elitism concerns wrapped up with the artisan cheeses, free-range chickens and locally-grown veggies that characterize the movement. Get this:

"The average salary of the estimated 900,000 farm workers in California — the birthplace of the organic and farm labor movements in the U.S. — is around $8,500, more than $2,000 below the federal poverty line."

Ergh. $8,500. How's that for some serious perspective?

Give it a read. The piece is a good reminder that it's not enough to engage the politics of food on a superficial "I shop at Whole Foods and buy taquitos at the Farmer's Market" level. We've gotta delve deeper into the labor and class issues behind this whole thing. And that means drawing the connections between poverty, obesity, and the lack of access to fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables. Calling ourselves "progressive" seems presumptuously self-congratulatory when stories like these come to light.

Out of Reach: How the Sustainable Local Food Movement Neglects Poor Workers and Eaters (SFBG)

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

"On any given day, something claims our attention [literally 'grabs our hearts': kokoro o toraeru]. Anything at all, inconsequential things. A rosebud, a misplaced hat, that sweater we liked as a child, an old Gene Pitney record. A parade of trivia with no place to go. Things that bump around in our consciousness for two or three days then go back to wherever they came from... to darkness. We've got all these wells dug in our hearts. While above the wells, birds flit back and forth."

~ Haruki Mirakami, Pinball, 1973