Archive for January 2006

How to plan a meal

A little late with this one, it would have been a better link before all the holiday entertaining, but still useful for those that like to invite guests over for dinner. Le plan de repas, or "[H]ow to plan a meal from start to finish and then stick to the plan."

My guests often accuse me of having worked too hard to prepare their meal, and I have a hard time convincing them that the whole process was very relaxing and not particularly difficult. Although they may want to think it, I really didn‰Ûªt stress over their meal. I learned many years ago how to plan a meal from start to finish and then stick to the plan.

Great advice there, and it's pretty much what I do whenever I have people over for dinner, even if it's just another couple. A few years ago when I did Thanksgiving at my apartment in San Francisco, I had 3/4th of everything done before guests even arrived. It was great, I was totally able to hang out and enjoy the day.

Looking to eat out in New York City

Then you need this list from New York magazine: 101 Best Restaurants. A list by stars (of course) but that goes from one star ("Good") to five stars ("Ethereal; almost perfect"). So what's the #1 according to New York? Le Bernardin. I can't comment because I've never eaten there, nor at #2, Masa. That's it for five stars. Thomas Keller's Per Se is #3 and comes in with four stars. And there's lots more great stuff on the list. Aside from the top ten (which has many yummy places), there are some of my favorite places to eat in the city in the second ten (Blue Hill!) and lots of stand-bys both old and new listed throughout. A handy reference, more so than Zagat (which I find "annoying" and "unreliable") or Michelin (which I'm not so sure about for its first NY edition). Read to the very end, as there are standouts at the very bottom like #98, Grand Sichuan Eastern (Second Avenue) and #100 Café Sabarsky. Good eating!

What to do with your old tree

Hey New Yorkers, wondering what to do with your Christmas tree now that the holidays are passed and it's dropping needles all over your apartment? According to this press release, Sanitation Announces Christmas Tree Recycling Schedule, you can just put your tree out on the curb!

Residents should remove all tree stands, tinsel, lights, and ornaments from holiday trees before they are put out for removal. Trees must not be put into plastic bags. Clean, non-bagged Christmas trees that are left at the curb between Wednesday, January 4th and Saturday, January 14th will be collected, chipped, and then mixed with leaves to make compost. The compost will be processed and subsequently spread upon parks, ball fields, and community gardens throughout the city.

It always makes me sad to take down the Christmas tree, but I guess it's about time for it to go. Godspeed little tree, and happy mulching!

New York's diabetes problem

There's an astounding article about diabetes over at the New York Times Diabetes and Its Awful Toll Quietly Emerge as a Crisis. I was unaware not just of the amount of people being diagnosed with diabetes, but also its damaging effects. More than one in eight (!) adult New Yorkers now has diabetes.

New York, with its ambitious and highly praised public health system, has just three people and a $950,000 budget to outwit diabetes, a disease soon expected to afflict more than a million people in the city.

Tuberculosis, which infected about 1,000 New Yorkers last year, gets $27 million and a staff of almost 400.

Well worth a read, as the article says, "There is an underappreciated truth about disease: it will harm you even if you never get it. Disease reverberates outward, and if the illness gets big enough, it brushes everyone. Diabetes is big enough."

My year in travel

Following Jason's example and call to action with his The year in cities, I present my Year in Cities. Not surprisingly, it's a lot like his!

Etna, NH*
New York, NY*
Boston, MA*
Munich, Germany
San Diego, CA
Paris, France
San Francisco, CA
Orange, MA*
Blarney, Ireland
Ballylickey, Ireland
Waterville, Ireland
Dingle, Ireland
Ennis, Ireland
Nantucket, MA*
Woodstock, VT
Middlebury, VT
Rochester, VT
Las Vegas, NV
Waitsfield, VT*
Hong Kong*
Bangkok, Thailand
Saigon, Vietnam

Wow! Six countries, not including the US, and six states. Of the countries, four I'd never visited before (Ireland and the Asian countries). Of the states, I'd been to all before. Here's to even more countries and states in 2007!

Thinking about sweet yummy scallops

Yesterday in the New York Times Mark Bittman has a little article about scallops, In Winter, It's Scallops. Scallops are one of my favorite foods of all time. Before I liked any seafood or fish whatsoever, I loved scallops. I missed them so much when I lived in San Francisco that, one time when I came home to Boston for Thanksgiving, I ate scallops every night for dinner for a week!! Of course, those were mostly sea scallops, not bay scallops.

FANS of seasonal, regional foods have little to celebrate in the depths of winter, especially those of us in the Northeast. Among the notable exceptions is the bay scallop, often called the Nantucket bay scallop because one of the last significant fisheries for this gem, once found from the Maritimes to the Carolinas, centers on that island.

There is no doubt that the Nantucket bay scallop is the best scallop ever, and inspired by reading this yesterday, I headed straight to the greenmarket to see if the Long Island fishmongers had any. Talk about nothing to celebrate! The greenmarket was nearly deserted (I guess because of the horrible rain) and those who were there seemed to be only selling apples and squash. Lots and lots of apples and squash. I had to settle for sea scallops from Whole Foods instead.

The trouble with Whole Foods

One of the things that makes New York -- or at least Manhattan -- workable, given its density, is that people know what they're doing. If you walk along any crowded Manhattan street, people are moving at a brisk clip, swerving left and right as necessary. No one has any tolerance for lollygaggers or fools. And that makes NY work -- it can be crowded and you can still get through a busy subway station and make your train. Everyone wants the same thing, everyone moves towards the same goal -- except at the Union Square Whole Foods supermarket.

It dawned on me today as I tried to maneuver through the stalled crowds in the produce section, when I attempted to pass the woman just gazing at the row of Dungeness crabs at the fish counter. At Whole Foods, people turn into, well, something else, something like non New Yorkers! They move slowly! They stop short and then just turn 180° back the other direction. They just stand around, not moving, only looking at the mountainous displays of organic produce, like a tourist in Times Square. And it's excruciating if you go into the store as a New Yorker, knowing where you're going and what you want to do. It's nearly impossible (if you go at any point in the afternoon/early evening) to zip in and get what you need because you're stymied by gawkers overwhelmed by the cheese selection.

It's a good store people, but come on! Remember yourselves! You're New Yorkers! You're brusque. You hurry. You Get. Things. Done. And that includes shopping at the Union Square Whole Foods! I know I'm fast and focused and aggressive. That's one of the reasons I *like* living in NYC, I feel like I'm surrounded my people -- except when I go to the Union Square Whole Foods!

Examining thirty-three years of Roe

Usually I can't read any article about abortion because no matter what side it supports or stance it takes, I get angry about something. But today, on the thirty-third anniversary of Roe v. Wade, there's an op-ed in the New York Times, Three Decades After Roe, a War We Can All Support that frames the debate in a way I can get behind. The premise: everyone acknowledges abortions are bad and that we'd like to reduce the number of abortions, the real issue is how to do that.

The problem with using restrictions to reduce the number of abortions isn't that the restrictions are judgmental. It's that they're crude. They leap too easily from judgment to legislation and criminalization. They drag police officers, prosecutors and politicians into personal tragedies. Most people don't want such intrusion. But you lose them up front by refusing to concede that there's anything wrong with abortion. You have to offer them anti-abortion results (fewer abortions) without anti-abortion laws.

The pro-choice path to those results is simple. Help every woman when she doesn't want an abortion: before she's pregnant. That means abstinence for those who can practice it, and contraception for everybody else. Nearly half of the unintended pregnancies in this country result in abortions, and at least half of our unintended pregnancies are attributable to women who didn't use contraception.

It seems like a fitting time to reexamine this issue and discuss better ways to address it. For too long both sides have been polarized and unable to even discuss the topic of abortion in any reasonable manner.

Casual high end fare in Paris

Oh yummy Paris and your yummy restaurants. Mark Bittman takes a look at France's famous three-star chefs going bistro for the New York Times in Restaurants of the Year: In Paris, Star Chefs Take a Casual Turn. Alain Ducasse has two Paris bistros now, and Pierre Gagnaire is now running an old fish bistro called Gaya where it sounds like he's up to his usual crazy tricks (fish and chips without any chips, reports Bittman). Makes me long for a return to Paris!

Apollo 11 at the Smithsonian

If I lived in Washington DC I'd totally be doing this on Saturday: it's a family day at the Smithsonian about Apollo 11!!

Touch a moon rock and then find out how it got to Earth! See the command module Columbia from the Apollo 11 mission, the first to land a man on the moon. Learn how the astronauts from this and other Apollo missions ate, played, and slept in space. Programs will be available in English and Spanish.

Here are the details:

Milestones of Flight: Apollo 11
Saturday, January 28
10:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Milestones of Flight - Gallery 100
National Air & Space Museum
6th & Independence Ave., SW
Washington DC

Sounds like fun for anyone interested in the space program.

American Experience on John Adams

I caught the premier of American Experience's John & Abigail Adams the other night and really enjoyed it, though the program's tagline ("Meet the original power couple") is discouraging. President Adams was a very interesting fellow, and I've been intrigued by him since I read Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis a few years ago.

An examination of Adams is especially timely now with so many issues arising with regard to executive power in the US. John Adams wrote the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which established three branches of government. It was largely the basis for the Federal Constitution when it was later drafted. He believed the separation of powers in government was critical to maintain democracy, and that left unchecked (esp. by the judiciary), the executive branch could move towards despotism.

I highly recommend watching the program if you've got two free hours. It's not just informative but also entertaining, and has catapulted John Adams to the top of my list of favorite founding fathers.

Inside the restaurant experience

New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni goes undercover at the East Coast Grill in Cambridge with My Week as a Waiter. Totally worth reading so you have some idea how much work goes into "just" being a waiter. Servers work hard, very hard. I saw it first-hand when I worked at Fifty-Six Union in 2004. Pretty much every job in a restaurant is harder than you imagine, even hostessing. I worked a handful of busy nights as hostess in August, and let me tell you, if you think you just read that list and take people to a table, you've got no idea. Just like Bruni as server, I was flummoxed doing what seemed like simple tasks.

My favorite memory was when it was pretty busy and things were hopping. I had no idea what time it was, people just flowed in, I seated them, menued them, and returned to do it again, while also ushering folks to the bar, taking people from the bar to their tables, and answering the phone. At some point, the phone rang and I picked it up,

"Good evening, Fifty-Six Union. How may I help you?"

The man on the other end wanted a reservation for that evening. I quickly scanned the book and spotted only two openings.

"We could do 6:45 or 9," I tell him in my most helpful, cordial voice.

"It's 7:15," he replied with a tone that pretty much also included the words, "You stupid idiot reservation girl."

"Well then, we could do 9," I say again, smilingly but now seething inside for being so stupid. Why didn't I look at the small clock mounted on my reservation stand? How hard would that have been? Oh the agony and the shame!!!

I don't remember if he took the reservation or not. What I remember is being humbled by the experience of hostessing. Over time, I improved, and would have gotten much better had I continued to do it. But even in just a few days, I learned the lesson that nothing is as easy as it looks, especially when it's new to you. Soon I moved to the back of the house and made many more stupid mistakes in the kitchen (like burning some little turnovers in the oven because I didn't check the temperature before I put them in, and it was at 500°!) Still though, it was great fun -- even the hostessing.

The source of our literacy woes

I keep reading articles saying things about college graduates possessing poor reading skills (see the Guardian's 12m workers have reading age of children, apparently the UK has a similar problem.) Well today I think I stumbled upon the cause! It's TV! I was at the gym on the treadmill when I looked up at the TVs. One was tuned to MSNBC, and they displayed one of those static banners across the bottom of the screen as they cycled through clips of various people talking. It said, "World Reax to Hamas Victory." I must have looked at it five times, making sure there was no sweat in my eyes. But every time, it was still there. Reax. It was enough to make an English major cry on the spot.

Remembering Challenger at 20

It's hard to believe that it's twenty years since Challenger, twenty years since our confidence (we'll send a civilian!) and optimism (we'll send a teacher!) was shattered. I still remember everything about that morning so clearly.

The launch (originally scheduled for January 22) had been pushed back for days, until it was scheduled for the 27th. By that time, I was in exams at school, so we didn't have our regular schedule, only three exam periods a day. Since I had no exams at the time, I was home watching the countdown and hoping to see the lift-off. This was during my "I want to be an astronaut" phase (a phase I'll note that's never really ended for me) and I watched as many shuttle launches as I could, and this one especially because teacher Christa McAuliffe was aboard. In 1985, I'd been to Florida and seen the Challenger lift-off, so of all the shuttles, Challenger was the "best" in my adolescent mind.

The launch was scrubbed that day, I don’t remember why. Maybe winds? Maybe the cold? (Ah, "ground servicing equipment hatch closing fixture could not be removed from orbiter hatch" says NASA) I remember being disappointed. The next morning, I was up and the TV was on again, but again the launch was delayed, this time as they waited for it to warm up. And finally, I had to leave to head to school and take a math exam. I was walking from the T stop next to my high school towards the main building when my friend Kevin stopped me in front of the gym.

"Did you hear about the space shuttle?! It blew up!"

"No, that's impossible." I told him. I'd been there! I'd seen the thing! I had mounds of packets from NASA at home, all about the space program! I even knew an astronaut! But then I noticed everyone around me was talking about. I hurried into the building, trying not to think about it. As we got settled in our seats for the exam, the headmaster came on the loudspeaker and announced the accident to everyone. Then Mrs. Young handed out our exam, which I promptly flunked.

It's hard to believe it's been twenty years, and that during that time, human space travel has become no more routine. In fact, we've lost a second shuttle, and the whole necessity of manned space travel continues to be called into question. But there's no doubt in my mind that we'll continue to explore the final frontier. Eventually we'll return to the moon and head to Mars, and hopefully farther. We'll continue to explore the worlds beyond our own, and when we do, we'll carry the memory not just of the Challenger crew, but all those who've lost their lives doing something amazing: heading into outer space.

Placing Sept 11 in historical context

Over the weekend there was an interesting op-ed in the New York Times by Joseph J. Ellis, Finding a Place for 9/11 in American History. First he questions the threat of September 11 to national security, "in the grand sweep of American history" and finds, "it does not make the top tier of the list." And as such, he questions whether the broad changes to domestic and foreign made in its name are justified. Second, he examines when such changes have been made (e.g. 1789's Alien and Sedition Acts and the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII) and finds:

In retrospect, none of these domestic responses to perceived national security threats looks justifiable. Every history textbook I know describes them as lamentable, excessive, even embarrassing.

It's ridiculous that in the effort to "win" the war on terror, we're scraping the constitutional protections that make America the great country that it is. And as Professor Ellis writes, history will likely show that once again, we've overreacted.

My four things

Ok, this has been going around for a while now, and Jason's tagged me, so I'll go:

Four jobs I've had:
1. Pie baker
2. Ice cream maker
3. Management consultant
4. Canoeing counselor at girls summer camp in VT (I worked very hard on my tan that summer)

Four movies I can watch over and over:
1. Old School
2. Office Space
3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (KAHN!!!!!!)
4. Ocean's Eleven

Four places I've lived:
1. Buffalo NY
2. San Francisco
3. Cuernavaca Mexico
4. Nearly every neighborhood in "Boston", including Somerville, Medford, the Back Bay, JP, Brookline...

Four Two TV shows I love:
1. American Experience (PBS)
2. Six Feet Under

I really don't watch that much TV. I used to like Seinfeld, but that was a long time ago...

Four places I've vacationed:
1. Kauai Hawaii
2. Nantucket MA
3. Winter Park CO
4. Zipolite Mexico

Five of my favorite dishes:
1. Bread pudding
2. Potato pancakes
3. Lasagne (no meat, no veggies, just cheese, noodles, and sauce)
4. Thomas Keller's torchon of foie gras
5. Nantucket bay scallops

This list is ridiculously short! Five dishes? I could go on to twenty-five, np!

Four sites I visit daily:
2. Yahoo! most popular

Five places I would rather be right now:
1. Someplace I've never been, like Italy or New Zealand
2. Jogging through Sanford Farm and Ram Pasture on Nantucket
3. Paris (of course!)
4. Vermont, skiing at Mad River
5. The moon

Four bloggers I am tagging:
1. My running amigo DJ
2. My mom
3. G-Trap
4. You! If you feel like doing this, go for it!

Take that Kottke! "too old school" my ass!