Megnut

Bryant Park Peeing

Not only does Bryant Park have this amazing free wireless, and tables where you can sit and enjoy it, it also has the most pleasant public bathroom I've *ever* seen anywhere. A huge bouquet of flowers sits at the entrance (huge, like the size you see in hotel lobbies!) in a wonderful raised stand. There was a smaller vase of flowers above the sink in the women's room, and an attendant was cleaning in there as I waited. It smelled nice. It was spotless. And the toilet seats have these cool rotating plastic covers (which I've only ever seen at Chicago's O'Hare airport) which give a fresh sheet to each guest, enabling one to actually sit down without concern. A five-star, two thumbs-up public bathroom experience.

My other thought: if this were San Francisco, the park might have wireless, but it would be so overrun with homeless people that it would be very unpleasant and there's no way the bathroom would be something anyone would dare to enter, unless they too were homeless, or on drugs, or both.

Learning the Mac OS X Terminal Tutorial

There's a really thorough-looking tutorial over at O'Reilly's Mac Dev Center about getting up to speed using the Mac OS X Terminal. For those who are new to the UNIX command line, this looks like a great way to get your feet wet without worrying about doing irreparable damage to your system.

On Rue Tatin

On Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis I just finished reading On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by American cookbook writer Susan Herrmann Loomis. On Rue Tatin explores Ms. Loomis' life living in the Norman town of Louviers as she and her husband fix up their old house and accustom themselves to a life in another culture. It shares several stories with Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon, especially in regards to having children in France. It was delicious reading, filled with tales of food and French markets, and each chapter ends with several recipes. Even thinking about it again makes my stomach grumble. Her writing isn't as strong as Gopnick's but the tasty recipes easily make up for it. For those interested in France, food, or both, this is a refreshing, fun, summer read.

French or Foe

French or Foe by Polly PlattAnother enjoyable read was French or Foe?: Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France by Polly Platt. This book provides valuable advice on French culture and customs and offers recommendations on how to navigate their intricacies. As I read it, I was struck by how much many modes of interaction reminded me of my time spent in Mexico. There must be a Latin cultural connection that I hadn't realized (for example: kissing, hand shaking, cutting in line and waiting at stores, the surprising unavailability of staple items in the store, etc.) Reading it reminded me of all that's exciting about living abroad: you never know what to expect next and everything is always more of an adventure than you planned it to be. The result is that small things like getting keys made successfully, or flagging down the gas truck, can feel like giant victories. And that always made me really happy.

Siamese kittens

This photo of six Siamese kittens (not Siamese as in the breed, Siamese as in the twins, you know, conjoined...) makes me so sad. I just love kittens and seeing them all stuck together this morning almost made me cry. If there were a way to keep kittens from turning into cats, I'd have about a million of them. Easily.

Jury Duty

All week I've been on-call for jury duty, which in San Francisco means you need to keep checking their web site every night after 6 PM to see if you need to go to the courthouse the next morning. Luckily my number never came up, so I escaped having to go in and wait for hours until they called my name. The sad part is, I'd actually like to serve on a jury, especially if the trial were only a few days. Perhaps another time it will work out.

Books by the Bay

If you're looking for something to do in the Bay Area tomorrow, this Books By the Bay, "A Celebration in Independent Bookselling" looks like it could be fun. It's at Yerba Buena Gardens in downtown San Francisco and it's free! What more could you ask for on a summery Saturday? (I supose you could ask that it not be foggy and cold, but that may be asking too much around here.)

The Road to Perdition

I saw Road to Perdition last night and it was almost good, by which I mean in many ways it was very good compared to the usual Hollywood dreck but it misses the mark slightly. It was great to see Paul Newman in a movie and he's still as good as ever, though I wish he'd had a role where he could smile more. There's nothing like a Paul Newman smile to make me melt. Tom Hanks was good but I just have Hanks burn-out and at this point Tom Hanks "the person" seems to transcend any character he plays. Jude Law was excellent -- very creepy. Law is really good at changing his looks to become the character. Who would have thought he could look so unattractive? All in all, I recommend it, but it's no Godfather. Unless of course, you're talking about Godfather III. Then it's close.

Business is business

I've got a new motto, courtesy of Mike, "Business is business, regardless of dogs."

Searching for a new bank

I'm looking for recommendations for a new bank that offers free or cheap online access via Quicken and the Web, and won't make me pay a ton of fees, and won't ding me for local ATM transactions at other machines (though this is lower priority). I currently use Wells Fargo. And I'm crazy for Quicken and always run reports on how I'm spending my money. It turns out I've spent $136.65 in bank fees in the past SIX months with Wells Fargo. Give me a break! 78% of that is online bill pay service fees and monthly service fees. So I'm looking to reduce this. If you've got a good bank to recommend, please do so using the comments. Yes, finally I've implemented comments. Improvements to follow.

The Strokes Rock

I've been enjoying listening to The Strokes' Is This It a lot lately. I know I'm late to the game on this one, but it's amazingly catchy and I find myself humming along as I work. I wish I were more on top of music these days but somehow (maybe this is a sign of getting old?) I'm not. I'm not in the know at all. In fact, I first heard about The Strokes from the New Yorker. I guess these are things that happen when one turns 30. I'd expected more aches and pains, but I suspect this is par for the course.

All quiet on the blogging front

Who would have thought when I said I'd be quiet that I'd be quiet for so long? Certainly not me. I think this is the longest I've ever gone without posting here. First I went to Boston, and I expected to post from there but strangely found I had nothing to say. Then I returned home, and still had nothing much to say. Then the server that hosts this site was replaced. At that point I found I had a lot to say, but I couldn't. So now after nearly 48 hours of waiting, it's back up and I can post. Part of the slow-down was Movable Type related since I'm now using that to publish this site (so that had to be migrated to the new server as well). Anyway, enough excuses.

Air Force One at Banff

air force one and angel force one on the tarmac at calgary international airport, june 27, 2002

My trip to Banff overlapped with the G8 summit in Kananaskis so during my travels I was treated to stronger security, travel delays as the roads closed for motorcades to path through, and the amazing sight of Air Force One and Angel Force One (I always thought it was called 'Air Force Two' but they made an announcement and called it Angel Force One) sitting on the tarmac right beyond our gate. We actually taxied right past them both. It's weird to see something like that in real life after getting so much exposure via TV and the movies. It took a moment for it to actually sink in and realize what I was looking at.

Banff was great -- a beautiful location and incredible people, I only wish I could have stayed longer. But I'm exhausted, more tired than I've been after a conference in a long time. I've been going a million miles an hour for months now and all I want to do is sleep, for days. Write-ups about what I learned will have to wait until I can think clearly again. For now, I am happy to just be quiet.

It's All About Finesse

my authographed menu from the French LaundryI've always loved cooking, for as long as I can remember. And now that I live in San Francisco, I've gotten more into cooking than ever. There's so much great quality produce available year-round, so many farmer's markets, and so many wonderful, inspirational, restaurants to try out. But I don't care about going to the best restaurants simply because they're the best, or because the chef is famous or trendy. So though I'd heard about The French Laundry for ages, I hadn't been much interested in fighting to procure a reservation or shelling out the big bucks for a meal which I assumed couldn't live up to expectations.

All that changed last fall when I read The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection by Michael Ruhlman. Nearly a third of this amazing book was focused on The French Laundry's chef and owner, Thomas Keller -- from his cooking career and his struggles to open The French Laundry to his philosophies on cooking (he stores fish on ice in the direction they swim in the ocean!) and his approach to preparing the best food possible. I was hooked on Keller from this point forward. I couldn't stop talking about him, and thinking about him when I was in the kitchen preparing food. There was something in his approach that resonated with me -- I knew if I were a chef, I'd approach things in a similarly obsessive and perfectionistic, yet Zen-like, manner.

I started dreaming of eating at The French Laundry. Then for Christmas Jason gave me The French Laundry Cookbook (where Thomas himself explains how he prepares food and why) and I decided: I simply must eat there. So I took a tin can with a plastic top, cut a slit in it, typed a label that said, "The French Laundry Fund" and started sticking a dollar in the can every day, back in early January. In late March, I called and got a reservation. And last night, I had dinner at the French Laundry.

After a wonderful afternoon exploring Napa, we arrived early so we could enjoy a glass of Champagne in the lovely gardens. It was still broiling hot, as it had been all day, but sitting in the shade surrounded by flowers, sipping chilled bubbly Champagne cooled us a bit. Aperitifed, we headed inside to be seated. We were led upstairs, where there were only five tables, and we were seated by french doors that were later opened onto an upper-level deck, ushering in a wonderful breeze as the air cooled down.

I threw my non-dairy vegetarianism to the wind and ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu (see photo) and even chose the foie gras option. We ordered a half-bottle of 1999 Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc (which was excellent, highly recommended) to begin and the food started flowing. First, little cornets with salmon tartare and red onion crème fraîche. These looked like tiny ice cream cones and were so delightful. Then I had "Oysters and Pearls": oysters and caviar in tapioca. No words can adequately describe this dish. It was simply one of the most delicious, sweet, creamy, briny, amazing things I've ever tasted. I almost licked the bowl it was so good. (Oh and I got to eat it with a beautiful mother-of-pearl caviar spoon.) That was followed by the foie gras.

Foie gras. I'd only had it once before, didn't like it one bit. But I knew I had to try again. It was my favorite course of them all: a big round disc of poached foie gras, so smooth it spread like butter. I spread it on toasted brioche and topped it with pickled field rhubarb, greens, and some balsamic glaze. Accompanied by a glass of Château Reynon Cadillac (so smooth and sweet, almost like a glass of honey), this dish was the most amazing thing I've ever eaten in my life. No words can describe the combination of crispy toasted buttery brioche, creamy foie gras, and the tang of the pickled rhubarb. Phenomenal.

Our bottle of 1998 Château de Fonsalette syrah arrived and the food kept coming: sautéed sea bass and sweet New Zealand langoustine tails, "pork and beans" and delicate slices of rib-eye (My God, writing all this is making me hungry again!) accompanied by morels and a fried piece of bone marrow (which looked like a tater tot but tasted rich and creamy).

Our waiter, Michael, used to work as a chef at the restaurant but was now working the front of the house so he could get more experience, as he's hoping to open his own restaurant one day and thinks chefs need to know what it's like to be a waiter. He'd seen the French Laundry Fund can sitting on our table, and I told him about my interest in Thomas Keller. He suggested we take a break after the meat course to go outside and peer into the kitchen. The kitchen is off the back of the building, surrounded by windows, so you can look in and watch the chefs in action. So at this point, we went outside to look through the open windows into the bustling kitchen.

Then we were back for more: a cheese course of "Brie de Nangis" with poached dried pears, a superb Watsonville strawberry sorbet (you have no idea -- sorbet isn't even close, imagine the full flavor of strawberry but creamy and cold, icy but not watery), and a chocolate concoction with chocolate sauce topped with "Chibouse à la vanille". At this point, I was so full, I couldn't eat another thing. Not one more bite. Until they brought out this baby crème brûlée (for the ladies, gentlemen received a pot de crème) which was so cute and tiny, and amazing.

Sated, I was happily enjoy a cup of coffee when a final round of treats arrived: meringues and baby little tartlets. I managed to squeeze in one. And then, sadly, that was it. I asked Michael if I could get a copy of the evening's menu and we paid the bill (oy! luckily my savings covered all but $50). Then we thanked our waiters and headed downstairs.

In the lobby I stopped to sign the guest book when Michael appeared behind me.

"Would you like to meet Thomas?" he asked.

(With my eyes bulging out of my head) "Uh, yeah!" I replied, dumbfounded.

He led me down a long sloping hallway towards the kitchen, and there he was: Thomas Keller, standing behind a work bench, plating eight orders of "Pan Roasted Rib-Eye of Prime Beef" as people swirled all around him.

"He's a little busy right now, but don't worry. He'll get to you eventually," Michael said.

He pointed out the different kitchen stations and the names of the people operating them: the poissionier, the sous chef, etc. Then he stepped back, leaving me pressed against the doorway to the kitchen, as wait staff and chefs rushed back and forth with food and plates. I stood and watched everything: Thomas moving the order tickets along a little rack, someone wiping the edge of a pure white plate so that not a speck of sauce was out of place. Thomas plated another set of dishes and I just stood, mesmerized by all the action, by the smoothness of it all. I think I was grinning from ear to ear. And then, the next set of dishes was whisked away and he looked up towards me, extending his hand.

I don't remember exactly what he said, I think he asked my name. We shook hands and chatted, I told him the meal was amazing, wonderful, beyond expectations. I told him I'd been saving a dollar a day to experience his food. Jason stepped forward to show him the French Laundry Fund can and he got a kick out of it. He smiled and said he never heard of anyone doing that before. Then he looked at the menu I had clutched against my chest and asked if I'd like him to sign it.

Meg + Jason
It's all about finesse
Thomas Keller

My cheeks were beginning to hurt from the giant smile. I don't think my eyes have ever been open so wide. We thanked him again, shook hands, and said good-bye and then Michael led us back down the hall to the lobby and out the door. We stepped out into the warm scented garden and looked up at the sky filled with stars, the kind of stars you see out in the country away from all the bright lights of the city. I looked at the stars as we walked back to the car, holding my menu, still tasting all the food on my tongue. It was the most amazing night of my life.

Headed to the French Laundry

You may recall that I began a French Laundry Fund at the end of last year. It has been growing steadily (with $1 deposits nearly every day) and has reached the point where I was ready to call to attempt to procure a reservation. After twenty-five minutes of furious double-fisted phone dialing (cell phone in the left hand, land line in the right, hitting redial over and over and over), miracle of miracles, I got through! I was so panicked when I heard the ringing tone rather than the busy signal that I couldn't move for fear my cell phone would drop the call. More patience was required as I waited on hold for another six or so minutes, but now I am the very proud possessor of a dinner reservation at The French Laundry in May.

I'm so addled by the excitement of it all, I can't concentrate. I don't know how I'll get anything done today and I don't know how I'll be able to stand the wait!

Bathroom self-portraits

megnut self-portrait, [february 28, 2002]I was ready to assemble a photo exhibit for posting here entitled, "SXSW Badge Photo Self-Portraits, Non-Qualifying Entries" but then several things happened. 1) I went to upload a photo and discovered that, "We are no longer accepting electronically-submitted photographs." 2) The series of photos looked too naked, posed, ego-y and conceited, or something along those lines to post. 3) Well that was about it, just those two things.

So instead I added some of the photos to my About page, since there aren't many current photos of me online (poor old webcam, when the software starts working again, or I reinstall it, I'll turn you back on.) My eyes are blue in real life, but they appear kind of green in these pictures due to the low light in my bathroom (scene of the portraits) and Photoshop auto level correction. And that's totally cool because I've always wanted green eyes, green being my favorite color and all.

A clothing dream

Here's what I'd like: a blanket with sleeves. Do such things exist? I enjoy reading in bed and on the sofa, and I always go beneath the covers to do so, but the top part of my body is exposed, and I get cold. Ideally I'd like to stay beneath the covers, but then it's hard to hold my book. So I thought, why not a blanket with sleeves? It would sort of be like wearing your jacket backwards, the blanket would rest on top and your arms could stick out and hold on to your book while you stay snug underneath. It'd be just the thing for a cold drafty San Francisco apartment, don't you think?

More blogging put-downs

Of course, my piece from Monday wouldn't be complete without a look-back at My Ass is a Weblog, the first pooh-poohing of the fad of weblogging from 11/99:

But how can you not boggle at the level of self-delusion, of self-infatuation, it takes to declare that weblogs are going kill off traditional journalism? That the concept will be alive and well a decade from now? That weblog readership will increase a hundred-fold in that time? That they're an art form?

The strange thing about that piece, upon re-reading, is that Greg mentions some of the same fads I mentioned, and he even refers to "the fireworks" that surrounded them. Odd. I didn't read his article (again) until after I wrote mine. I wonder if somehow those ideas were buried in the recesses of my mind from when I first read it in 1999? Maybe that's how plagiarism happens, you just lose track of where all the bits come from and the thoughts seem original when they're not. Or maybe we're both just brilliant and great minds think alike [note for the humor impaired: that's a joke.]? I did think my fireworks analogy was a bit cheesy though, it was just the only thing I could come up with at the time.

Search terms on this site

One from the It Must Have Been Valentine's Day Dept. Last week's most popular search term here on megnut: 26 searches for "i love you meg". Finally! For once, sex was beaten. Take that, sex!

Mullet humor

Perhaps the funniest description of a mullet I have ever read is to be found in The Birthday Mullet essay: "sporting the business in the front, party in the back." It's still cracking me up.

What is real? 415.564.1347

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