Wednesday, September 27, 2006

style issue, discount edition

Was it just me, or was this a very discount style issue? Or was the New Yorker taking the advice of Patricia Marx's little subject, Eliza. I swear I didn't read that whole thing, but this jumped out at me, because I used to do this too . . .

"'You play it cool the first five days of school and wear something bland,' Eliza said. 'Then you break out your outrageous stuff.'" (79) By October, however, I looked like a drunken fifties housewife. Or so they told me.

Since we're still brainstorming obsolete mores and manners, I'll just say that this reminds me of something from, I think, Age of Innocence (book not movie, love them both, and the adaptation of psychological interiority to sensory materialism). Where the up and comers wore their Paris fashions right away. Now that I look it up on google, it's the opening of chapter 26. And it's a bit longer than I'd remembered. All I'd remembered was,

"It was Beaufort who started the new fashion by
making his wife clap her new clothes on her back as
soon as they arrived: I must say at times it takes all
Regina's distinction not to look like . . . like . . ."

"Clap her new clothes on her back?" Clunk, smack, trip, whack. That stuck in my head.

And then there was Calvin Trillin on something called Guy's Frenchy's. This was a little long, and way too precious, but kind of fun and my partner in crime read it too and we are always calling each other "swayve" now - we've been doing a lot of thrifting ourselves in places that smell like a thrift store.

But Larissa MacFarquhar on Diane von Furstenberg and QVC. I think this might mark the first appearance of QVC in the New Yorker. I liked the "once upon a time" opening and the fact that it's a biographical piece, but one which recognizes that's is a biography of woman who is a brand, who has been too free with her license, who as a brand has not had unmixed success. And all the stuff about the story of her life and it's standard version and "this story is not a cynical production: it is the way that she conceives herself" (117).

Also, MacFarquhar gets to quote someone who says, "'American fashion still revolves around Jackie O., and there was no one prissier.'" (119) Ha!

And, looking forward to the upcoming issue, Bill Buford will go slumming with Food TV.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

question for the book hungry

Alright those who eat and read and cook, does anyone know where the following thought comes from? Roughly,

"At least she no longer is always asking how the soup is made . . . "

I know the grammar isn't exactly right, but the thought comes in a kind of free indirect discourse (if I remember correctly) and so it's informal like thought, and not grammatically correct. But the actual line flows a little better than that.

And it's an older woman, maybe, passing judgement on a younger woman who is maybe a kind of social climber, or at least just on her way up, maybe not strategically, but has at least learned not ask what's in the food all the time. And the book itself is sort of making fun of this older woman's snobbery, but it's not exactly sympathetic to the she who is learning either.

Now this is fascinating for a number of reasons: It implies that it is (or once upon a time was) rude to ask about what is in a dish, or even discuss it. Particularly at the table, this "at the table" thing I remember getting from context. Is it still impolite to ask what's in the food? I think we've done a 180 on this, no? People are always asking and telling their recipes nowadays, often over the food in question. Or guessing at restaurants. And people with food habits and preferences and allergies and aversions are always asking and sometimes, I know, I know, they really must.

Is this about pleasure, like in MFK Fisher, how she wasn't allowed to enjoy food when she was little? Is it proprietary? Or about propriety? Is it about genius? Or about leisure? Or about how food is supposed to remain unspoken/silent like a muse and other things/conversations are supposed to be inspired by it?

And don't tell me it's from The Group; I could swear it's not. I know that book like the back of my hand. Of course, if you say so, I guess I could read the book this weekend and find the page number.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

the all nostalgia diet

Since it's a day for culinary metaphors of the New Yorker, I had to chime in and structure this post just so.

Note the boys at Reverseshot on the films Hollywoodland and Black Dahlia, respectively, "Consider it the iceberg-lettuce-and-thousand-island-dressing salad preceding De Palma’s filet mignon."

And then David Denby in the Sept 18 issue of the New Yorker, also on Black Dahlia, "The picture is a kind of fattened goose that's been stuffed with goose-liver pate." And, he explains, in case you don't get his ever-so-subtle-point, "It's overrich and fundamentally unsatsifying." (90)

Basically, neither of these appealed to us. Our best option for the movie theater, we thought, was Idlewild. If you have a culinary metaphor for that film, please let me know.

But we didn't get to see it because we went hiking over near Fallingwater and we were standing rather innocently in a field and Ben Greenfields was just saying that when HE grew up he wanted to live in the woods and eat berries when suddenly I gave a loud gasp. Because there, at the edge of the field was . . .

. . . a black bear cub, standing on it's hind legs, foraging through the bushes. It looked at us and we walked quickly in the other direction and took an alternate trail.

Then we were talking all weekend about how cute it was, and how great omnivores are, and looking up photos on google. I can't tell how old it was, but it looked pretty much like this one.

Also, we did a lot of shopping and I got a brown wool suit (the kind with a skirt that hits below the knee, oh yes) at the Red White and Blue thrift store, arguably Pittsburgh's best thrift store, though somewhat inaccessible.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

after the fall

I recently had reason to watch the silent film Our Dancing Daughters from 1928. I watched it after reading lots of synopses and reviews and things, so I knew [spoiler! as they say] the villainess plummeted down a flight of steps to her death. Allowing the heroine to conveniently reunite with her beloved, who had been snared by the aforementioned villainess. I also knew the scenario had been nominated for an early Academy Award for writing this story and that even the reviews of the day thought the plot a bit contrived. You might remember, I love watching things after much description and anticipation.

So I wondered, how did someone get nominated for a writing award with a plot like that?

But after I saw the film it made perfect sense. It was a truly brilliant plummet down a flight of stairs and the writing and performance really "put it over" as the old reviews say.

For one thing, there's three "dancing daughters" as it were, the money hungry Ann (Anita Page), who poses as an old fashioned innocent to catch her man, the "frank" and "modern" and somewhat intimidating Diana, and Bea, the girl with a past whose fiancee wants to believe he can accept her as she is (but he can't). So it's not just a bad girl and good girl; those characters are more complicated than that and there's a third role too. And the film actually emphasizes these three young women's' relationships with their mothers and draws some pretty visual contrasts. And every now and then it takes some sort of visual risks with the cinematography and editing (which were described in the scenario, I was able to check) to make its point.

Finally, the role of Diana, who drinks and smokes and dances and flirts but also falls deeply, passionately and honestly in love (kind of an Ilse character, if you follow my intense devotion to the lesser works of LM Montgomery), is played by none other than young Joan Crawford. When that sneaky priss Ann steals her boy, she gets to mouth the line, hopelessly, in bitter realization, "You can't be honest - frank - Men want flattery - trickery - lies - lies - lies" and she wonders, "What is wrong with me?" Oh, it's pretty touching.

And this is where it gets complicated. Everything about Joan Crawford as Diana is tough and modern and "honest" and "frank" and beautiful. The line of her jaw, the shape of eyes, the movements of her shoulders. Am I just retrospectating (not my term, but stay with me), given that I'm more familiar with Crawford in something like Mildred Pierce? I don't think so. I think she uses her body to make this physical contrast; Diana as a "modern" with Ann (Anita Page) as a dated gold-digger. The costumes (Diana in a man's buttondown, Ann in a fussy hat and scarf combo) definitely back me up on this one. But what's so great IS the retrospectatorship - as a spectator I know that Joan/Diana wins in the end. That her version of tough self-reliant femininity triumphed and became the model for Hollywood glam. (Or maybe just for the next 50 years, I think she might be losing now. Are baby-faced helpless blondes in again?)

All this, plus Bea and Diana get to roll around on the floor together and the sets are, as reported, amazing deco monstrosities and Ann's final (slurred and drunken) speech includes "Women - women - working! Hey - why are you working? Haven't you any pretty daughters?" And you are never told who it was the Bea was fooling around with.

As for that convenient fall down the stairs, does anyone fault Nella Larsen's writerly abilities just because she pushes her villainess out a window in a timely manner?

If anyone ever needed more 1920s film recommendations, I'd say this one is both representative and outstanding for flapper pictures. Though I'm glad Mantooth enjoyed teaching Anita Loos and I totally agree, she's like a real modernist. What with her use of dialect as kind of primitivism, but in the city, and what have you.

Would you be reading The New Yorker on a day like today?

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sad, brief love

My supermarket sometimes has a table of odd discount items. And I'm not above making a cake from a mix, if its a good mix.

So when I found a box of

Giant Eagle
Premium Quick Bread Mix
Moist and Full of Harvest Spices

I looked at the ingredients:

unbleached wheat flour,
dried pumpkin,
(sodium acid pyrophosphate,
baking soda,
monocalcium phosphate),
corn starch,

Nothing too awful shocking.

And all you have to add is 3 tbs oil, 2 eggs and a cup of water. I added a handful of pine nuts to the top. While the end result was a little too sweet, it was easy and came out a perfect texture and froze well and tasted wonderful with cream cheese and everything.

However, this item had been sitting on the discount table, I think, because Giant Eagle is getting out of the cake mix business. Local cooks, does your Giant Eagle still carry this nice little item? Others, have you found reliable and not so very chemical brands of bready cake mix?

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Monday, September 11, 2006

my mind is like carrot soup

Bubble, bubble, bubble. For those of you plauged by a virtual (ha ha) avalanche of comments from me on your blogs today, I'm making carrot soup. Not exactly this one, at the newly intriguing Pittsburgh cooking, provisioning and dissertating blog Food and Paper, but rather more like this one:

"Carrot Soup With Dill Pesto: Saute 4 large carrots, 1 onion and and 1 tsp dill seeds in 2 tbs butter until tender, about 10 minutes. Add 4 cups broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 35 minutes. Transfer soup to blender in batches and puree. Thin with more broth if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Combine 1 c. fresh dill and 2 tbs pine nuts or sunflower seeds in processor and chop finely using on/off turns. Then slowly add 2 tbs olive oil and process until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls. Swirl pesto into soupbowls."

Which came in the Kretschmann's Produce email and seems to be more or less (sunflower seeds are a Kretschmann touch) from epicurious/Bon Appetit . . . Because the Kretschmann's sent lots of dill and my partner in crime has, suddenly, stopped eating carrots at the tremendous rate he used to. Thank god. Because carrots never used to be around long enough for me to cook them. And I have to cook them because if I don't they get stuck in my nose.

I added crushed red pepper and garlic to the saute step. And I might add a tiny smidge of dried ginger and/or yogurt later, depending on how things go.

And that dill pesto is way more remarkable than it sounds. Sometimes I love it when things don't have garlic in them. I'd eat this on gnocchi or spaetzl or those very dense twisted pastas from Barilla. Oh wait, the cups of dill are packed and I added 3 tbs nuts and 1 tbs oil.

So making this soup is conducive to posting comments and updating links (there's been a little action down around the film blogs area) and things. But not to writing full scale posts about the education issue or mass observation or film. Actually, I get so absorbed in reading and making comments that suddenly I ask myself, "What is that tantalizing odor?" and then I realize, "Shit, zp, you are making carrot soup. Go check it now."



Saturday, September 09, 2006

lady in the water

I'm sure we remember my nostalgic anticipation of this film. Well, yes, it's corny and yes it's got some very fucked up bits and pieces but I would like to say that I really loved it. It kicks hobbit ass. I'll probably write more later, but for now just bear in mind that . . .

. . . I was extra-nervous about seeing it (at the Carmike Maxi-Saver Theater $2 on a Friday night, the crowd loved it) after having spent the day getting all anxious over save the girl's princessly virginity issues, see my comments at the chutry experiment on LG15. But it engages this kind of fairy tale plot and does something quite interesting with it. Die, critics, die!

I promise I'll do everything I promise: education digest, mass observation, then more on this film. I'm taking the education and 9/11 issues with me on a short trip to Dullsville this weekend, for careful review.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

mass observation

and some personal regrets and recriminations. coming soon.

by mass observation, i mean this article from the sept. 11 issue.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

two more pittsburgh favorites

I've been working like the dickens lately and that takes me to two places (1) The University of Pittsburgh's Hillman Library and (2) Filene's Basement at the Waterfront.

The first has a great collection of film studies books (is it just a great library? or is it because of the strong film studies program at Pitt?) and right at the end of the stacks where they keep these books is a large bank of computers where one can word process and easily use all the library databases and so on . . . Say what you will about document delivery systems or full-text articles available on the internet, sometimes one needs to be able to pick up and discard a large number of books on a particular topic rather quickly. The summer was divinely quiet, but school has started and still very few students have found their way that deep into the library. Experience tells me they never will. I'm not sure they still use books at Pitt; the excellent collection never seem to leave the library and the books are almost always there when I need them.

Even when we didn't have a car (we've got one again) Filene's Basement was worth the bus trip to the Waterfront. I always find something (usually I find 3-4 things and spend about $60) and better still, I am always still wearing the clothes and shoes 3 months later. I kind of suspect this is the best shopping in Pittsburgh - better than the usual department stores, better than Marshalls and better than the Saks downtown, even with a sale on. And I'd be happy to add new destinations to the list if you have any suggestions . . .

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

yum, socks: sept 4 issue

Although I enjoyed reading the Talk of the Town "Poached" I think it's, of course, totally lame the point of view it was written from. It's written from the point of view of the lunch buyer, which includes the author, the assumed reader and the Paul Stuart folks but not even the Paul Stuart cashiers and certainly not the Dishes cashiers. While this kind of allows for some fun little shifts in sympathy and suspense (possible, but not guaranteed and only assuming a certain readership) it leaves me wondering where and if a Paul Stuart cashier can get a quick, cheap, nutritious lunch because they must be very busy because to make ends meet they have to work two jobs.

As for the appeal of working at Dishes, maybe it's that they give you enough hours to make a decent wage? And when and where do they eat?

I puzzled this and then I was putting on a pair of hand me down socks someone gave me and I realized they were from Paul Stuart. More on my footwear later.


And this Tad Friend who writes for the New Yorker (aka Mr. Latte - you can look it up) did he write an article about living in Torrance in Details Magazine in the early-mid nineties? A sort of slums of Beverly Hills type thing? Involving girls in wheelchairs? I've been wrestling with Lexis-Nexis and can't find an answer.

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