Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in DisguiseIf you've been reading this site for a while (or checked my reading page) you know that I'm a fan of former New York Times restaurant critic and current Gourmet editor in cheif Ruth Reichl's memoirs. I recently read her newest, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, which covers her stint at the Times. Both funny and touching, Ms. Reichl details the various disguises she employed to avoid detection as she dined at some of the great, and not so great, restaurants of New York City. Also included are the eventual reviews she wrote after the meals. A very hunger-inducing and enjoyable read.

Working with rose hips

Did you know you can Eat Your Roses? Last summer and this summer I've spent time on Nantucket trying to learn about native plants and trying to use them in various recipes (so far in the very experimental phase!). There are tons of rosa rugosa on the island and so rose hips are plentiful. My memories of them dodging and throwing them with/at my cousins. Rose hips leave big welts, so dodging is key. Now that I'm more mature, I've turned my attention toward rose hip jam and rose hip tarts (and the many recipes listed here A Patchwork of Rose Hip Recipes). Alas, it's recommend you wait until the first frost before harvesting them, but that's too long for me. I think I'll give them another couple of weeks and see how they taste. I bet a rose hip reduction could be pretty tasty, on something!

I scream for ice cream

Ever since I worked at Herrell's Ice Cream in Harvard Square during college, I've longed to make my own ice cream. At Herrell's I was an "ICM", or ice cream maker, and spent my shifts making malted vanilla, pumpkin, and chocolate pudding ice creams. So yummy! So today's New York Times article, Ice Dreams, Crystallizing, about making ice cream and sorbet from scratch, rekindled my interest. I've been planning to buy an ice cream maker someday when I have a bigger kitchen but man oh man is this tempting me now!

This summer a pint of overripe raspberries (and memories of the old Tommy's Lunch diner in Cambridge, Mass.) inspired a raspberry lime rickey sorbet, which had all the zesty flavor and pucker of the beverage it was modeled on.

But great ice cream need not be high-concept (if a lime rickey could be considered that). Often a wallflower flavor of a single dimension, like strawberry, takes the slate. In that spirit we set out to create a subtle ice cream from commercial crème fraîche (sour-cultured heavy cream), whisking it with simple syrup to create the base. The flavor was phenomenal, but it left a waxy feel in the mouth.

We then substituted two parts regular sour cream, which is lower in butterfat, to one part yogurt and produced a velvety, tart ice cream that is fun to swap for vanilla, as in a fruit parfait. (Its drier flavor is ideal for treacly grilled peaches and apricots.) We've never had much luck with fig ice cream, which flatters neither figs nor cream, but a simple stewed fig topping with lemon juice and sugar, spooned over sour cream ice cream, tastes divine.

In addition to the lime rickey sorbet, the authors talk about making ginger ice cream and various flavors based on herbs and spices. Right now I have a garden full of lavender, mint (mint sorbets!), and basil . The blackberries are coming into season (and I've already got a quart picked towards jelly) and the rose hips are rippening too. Imagine all the ice cream possibilities! If you are less able to resist than I, you can get the very ice cream maker mentioned in the article, a Cuisinart ICE-20 1-1/2-Quart Automatic Ice Cream, Frozen Yogurt, and Sorbet Maker, from Amazon this minute for $49.95. Must not one click...must not one click...

A good beach book about France

Almost French: Love And A New Life In ParisI recently read Almost French: Love And A New Life In Paris by Sarah Turnbull, a delightful memoir of a young Australian woman who falls in love with a Frenchman and moves to Paris. It has all the requisite examples of screwing up in a foreign culture, and really captures a lot of the essence of not only being an outsider in a new land but real slices of Parisian life as well. It's a good beach read -- nothing too strenuous -- just the thing as you sit on the sand to make you day-dream of heading to Paris.

Yummy grilled salmon

I've been grilling salmon a lot lately (wild salmon only, not farmed, because farmed has lots of chemicals and is bad for you and you shouldn't be eating it) and we always end up with a little bit left over. So I've been making salmon cakes for dinner with the remains, and boy if it isn't as good (ok, nearly) the next day. I've tried to re-create my recipe here for you: Grilled salmon & sweet potato cakes. I substituted sweet potatoes on my most recent batch of cakes and it was a nice change from the traditional potato in fish cakes. Pretty yummy!

Another autism report

Reader Josh sent a link to the Immunization Safety Review Committee's 2004 Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism whose description reads in part:

This eighth and final report of the Immunization Safety Review Committee examines the hypothesis that vaccines, specifically the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines, are causally associated with autism. The committee reviewed the extant published and unpublished epidemiological studies regarding causality and studies of potential biologic mechanisms by which these immunizations might cause autism. Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism finds that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. The book further finds that potential biological mechanisms for vaccine-induced autism that have been generated to date are only theoretical.

The 214 page report is available for download as a .pdf for ~$35. And to be fair, I haven't been following this issue closely, so I don't know what's "right." I'm just interested in the issue, especially these days as more and more of my friends are starting families.

Grilled salmon & sweet potato cakes

Grilled salmon fillet*
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes**
1 scallion, thinly sliced, white and light green parts
1 egg
fresh lemon juice
capers and caper juice
salt and pepper

* I usually have about 1 1/2 cups or so, it's not the whole fillet but just a few inches left after dinner.

** You can of course use a regular potato

Searching for autism's causes

There seems to be a lot of discussion lately about what causes autism (see, for example, this recent column by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Vaccines and Autism: Looking for the Truth? Study the Amish). Most of what I've read focuses on preservatives in childhood vaccinations as the cause. But an interesting op-ed in yesterday's New York Times, The Male Condition, by Simon Baron-Cohen (the director of the autism research center at Cambridge University) hypothesizes that genetics, rather than environmental factors, may be the cause of autism:

One needs to be extremely careful in advancing a cause for autism, because this field is rife with theories that have collapsed under empirical scrutiny. Nonetheless, my hypothesis is that autism is the genetic result of "assortative mating" between parents who are both strong systemizers. Assortative mating is the term we use when like is attracted to like, and there are four significant reasons to believe it is happening here.

The reasons he outlines sound pretty compelling to me, and I look forward to seeing further research that could support his assertions.

The joy of the outdoor shower

Outdoor ShowerA common feature at beach houses in New England is the outdoor shower. (It may be common at other beach houses in other places too, but I don't have experience with that.) It's supposed to keep people from getting the inside of the house all sandy after a day at the beach, make it easy for a quick rinse off of salt, etc., and probably also handle the extra bathing requirements of a house full of guests. But beach day or not, hot day or cool, I use the outdoor shower whenever I possibly can! Because there's something so pleasant about taking a shower outside -- watching the trees bend in the wind and the clouds move across the sky and listening to the birds twitter and squeak. Unlike the indoor shower, which is dark and cramped, outdoors the feeling is expansive, almost wild. I feel it lends itself to the best shower thinking and day dreaming. It's just such a nice start or end to the day. The true end of summer for me is marked by the day when I have to return to the indoor shower.

Yay Discovery!

STS 114 mission patchI just finished watching the lift-off of the Discovery and it was so cool, especially because they have a new camera now mounted on the external fuel tank (the big orange thing) so you could see the Shuttle roll over and then you could see it separate. The fuel tank falls off and burns up in the atmosphere on re-entry, and you could watch the Shuttle just float away above it. It's pretty incredible after so many Shuttle launches to get a never-before-seen view of the process.

I love watching the Shuttle and it's always held a special place in my heart, as I saw two lift-offs when I was younger in Florida. I thought I'd written about my experiences here, but I realized that I posted about it ages ago over on Metafilter, in a thread about the launch of Atlantis (STS 98) back in February, 2001. I've reposted it below:

I actually attending two launches in the 80's, a Challenger lift-off in 1985 (STS 51-A) and the first lift-off, of Discovery (STS-26), after the Challenger explosion. A family friend was on both missions, and was actually the commander (Rick Hauck) of the Discovery. Far and away, it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life.

The first time we sat in the astronaut VIP seats, about 3 miles from the pad. After Challenger they moved all the viewing stands back to about 7 miles. Still, an astronaut's family and guests sit closer than anyone else, so the view is unobstructed, and there's a loud speaker right next to the stands. The ground shakes and the flame when the engines fire up is as bright as the sun, you can't even look at it.

My adrenaline rushed as they said, T-3! 2! 1! And after lift-off, as the count went up, and edged towards 73 seconds (the time when Challenger exploded), everyone went totally silent. All you could hear was the mic, saying "t plus 68 seconds, t plus 69 seconds, t plus seventy seconds.) As soon as Discovery went to full throttle up at t + 73, and the boosters fell off, everyone burst into tears and cheers. (I'm not kidding, it was really that emotional.) There was this little trail of white and off it went into the heavens.

It still is the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life.

Watching today, it still brings tears to my eyes. I'm so hopeful that today marks our return not just to the International Space Station, but to Space with a capital S -- to the moon, to Mars, and eventually beyond! Godspeed Discovery, I only wish I were onboard too!

A very new subway megnut

After years of procrastination and crappy redesign mock-ups in Photoshop, I've done the impossible and actually launched a new design for this site. Yes, it's still an homage to New York City's subways, but now it's 20/21st century NYC subway. Before it was 19th century NYC subway (no, that wasn't pool tiling). It's been somewhat tested. Shoot me an email if something looks amiss to you. Now I just need to keep the old girl updated!

Also, I forgot to add: for those who aren't familiar with New York's subway system, the M, E, G and N are all real lines. The U and T are really the V and L, with some Photoshop trickery involved. I like that there are enough to spell "Meg" without faking it.

The glories of the grill

Many of you readers will respond -- and rightly so -- to the following post with the simple statement: Duh! But that's because you are much smarter than I, and therefore, have known about the glories of grilling for a long time. I have only really understood the glories of the grill for 17 days, for it was on July 3, 2005 that my grilling life was changed forevermore.

The event? A simple large fillet of salmon grilled on a nice round Weber over 100% hardwood charcoal. The result? The flavor! The perfection of the fish! The texture! Everything conspired that evening to change me profoundly, and for all time. Going forward the idea of "grill" means charcoal only, no more gas. And 100% hardwood, no briquettes.

Late last week, we ventured out and bought our own grill: a 22 1/2" Weber One-Touch® Silver. The first night we started simply (and with guidance) by preparing a grilled t-bone steak featured in the June 2005 Gourmet. Success! The next night: grilled corn and portabella mushrooms. Again we were met with success! Who knew grilling could be not only so good, but so easy? A few nights later, we reproduced the salmon that started it all. And yum! Last night we grilled lamb rib chops and made a (grilled) bread salad to accompany it. And because I can't stop, I grilled a nectarine for dessert. Topped with a nice chiffonade of basil and some heavy cream, mmm, mmmm, it was grillicious!

Anyway, all this crazy grilling has led to a bet in the household: whether one can actually taste the difference between an item grilled over gas or charcoal. My money is on Yes, you can. Someone else's money is on No, you can't. Stay tuned as we put the grills to the test and learn even more about the glories of the grill.

The wonders of a digital memory

Today Jason wrote about memory and digital lifestyle, and then this afternoon I found a half-written entry I'd begun about the same topic earlier this year, which I shall now post as if I'd never forgotten about it and had it saved in my digital scrapbook, aka computer:

The amazing thing (OK one of the amazing things) about living a digital media life is the way all kinds of stuff is recorded, even when you don't think about it or mean it to be. For example, I have a lot of ICQ chats saved from 2000, back before I switch to AIM. I would regularly save them, and tonight I was reading through an old one when I stumbled across this message:

Meg 3/27/00 10:42 PM i was laughing hysterically for a bit and had tears coming out of my eyes.

jason 3/27/00 10:42 PM why were you laughing hysterically?

Meg 3/27/00 10:44 PM oh because i had headphones on an ev came over to talk, so i put them around my neck and while he was gabbing away, my brain took over and said, "ugh, these headphones are choking me, i'll move them...hmmm...but where? hmmm...why not over my ears, that'd be the perfect spot" so while ev was talking to me, i just put my headphones back on without even realizing what i was doing...he was pissed...

It's funny because I don't remember that at all, yet it's here in this textual "memory" of mine, and I have MBs and MBs of those memories. Rarely do I revisit them, and when I do, it sure is a trip. I bet there are so many Pyra stories that I've forgotten that would seem so much more interesting now.

From phone numbers to daily office happenings, it's handy to have technology record this stuff we simply don't have the capacity to keep track of ourselves. And in my case, even when we do, I forget about it again.

The end of the jeans police

It has come to our attention here at NYC Jeans Police HQ that imminent layoffs may be required! According to this article from, The tide is high, "[m]idriff-exposing, thong-baring, low-riding jeans are finally finished." Though we here at HQ are shocked by the changing jeans current, and are certainly saddened by the prospect of releasing our highly-trained, devoted unit of officers, we must acknowledge fashion's fickle flow. The days of issuing tickets for exposed thongs may be over.

Is there any hope? What about our cadets in training? Fear not! We have spotted legions of women donning gaucho pants in the streets of Manhattan. It appears the estilo sudamericano (South American style, last seen in 1978) is in full swing in our fair borough. First panchos, then peasant skirts, now gauchos. What's next, the urban sombrero? Fear not, citizens of fashion, our forces will re-group to combat this newest clothing menance. And once again, the streets and subways will be safe.

Looking at fonts underground

A neat article on Underground Typography compares the navigation of three major subway systems: London, New York, and Paris. I've ridden all three systems (though not London in ages) and I love that Paris and London tell you when the next train is due. Both those systems exhibit an orderliness that's apparent on the streets above. And the Paris metro font is amazing. But New York's subway, for all its grime and confusion, is my favorite because it's the embodiment of the city it serves: diverse, fast-paced, surprising, confusing, and awe-inspiring when you think of how it actually all works.

I finally understand podcasting

When the first podcasts started, I was on sabbatical on Nantucket and not paying much attention to what was happening online. Towards the end of last year, when I began to re-engage with the web, I tried to grok the whole podcast thing but just couldn't. As much as I love to express myself on this site, I couldn't picture myself making audio posts available for download. And as much as I enjoy reading many other sites, I couldn't imagine listening to people talk about breakfast or parking their cars. I've never been able to test my podcast assumptions because I've been using a dial-up internet connection for a large chunk of this year, but now I think I finally get it.

Podcasting isn't (just) about listening to your friends talk about their day on your iPod. It's about time-shifting: being able to download and listen to programs when you want, e.g. four episodes of Fresh Air while you're cleaning your house. And also time-travel: imagine when the BBC or PBS release their archives and you can listen to a BBC interview with the Beatles from 1965, or something to that effect. It's about mobility: loading those episodes on your iPod (or player of choice) and listening while you're driving or out jogging. It's about ease of production: you can produce a podcast now with existing publishing tools, and it's going to get a whole lot easier as more tool makers add this functionality, and new tools like Odeo are released. And finally, it's about that old chestnut: the democratization of media. The old barriers to entry are being demolished, and it's easy to produce and distribute not only text but audio and video as well. And as we've seen with blogging, that can lead to some pretty exciting new content.

It's taken me a while to get my head around this podcasting (perhaps because I needed to take it out of the sand first) but I'm pretty excited about it now that I'm finally paying attention.

Annoying things about giant sunglasses

Several things struck me in this New York Times article, Sophia? Is That You Behind the Shades?, about giant sunglasses, none having to do with the weaing of giant sunglasses themselves.

First it was the discovery that the house style at the Times is to spell New York's Nolita neighborhood, "NoLIta" which I guess makes sense (North of Little Italy) but sure looks ugly in print. Then it was the realization that "crème brûlée" was being used as an adjective to describe the color of someone's giant sunglasses. I object. Crème brûlée is a yummy dessert, and sounds far too affected when used as a color -- unless you're a French chef with a limited command of the English language.

The final blow was the quote from a woman in the business who said, "People are loving theses shades because they make you look hoboish in a rich way[.]" You've got to be kidding, that sounds just like Derelicte to me! And what the hell is, "hoboish in a rich way"? I spent five hundred dollars on giant sunglasses and a peasant skirt but look like I slept on the street? Is that it? Sounds hoboish in a stupid way to me.

Barefoot in Central Park

A really interesting article in today's New York Times, Kick Off Your Shoes and Run Awhile, discusses a developing trend: running barefoot.

During the past decade two barefoot-style training methods for runners have been developed based on the same principle: that legs, not shoes, are the best shock absorbers. That is, you land on your forefoot, instead of your heel, and paw back.

Many people now think that structured running shoes are leading to "lazy feet", that is feet that have under-developed muscles and are therefore more prone to injury. Running barefoot, or with new less structured shoes, may help strengthen feet and eventually lead to less injury. I'm curious about the claim, though not entirely convinced. The article says a lot of things that make sense to me.

Have you taken the MIT weblog survey yet?

Take the MIT Weblog Survey Cameron Marlow (creator of Blogdex and a friend) is running a survey about weblogs. If you're a weblog author, it will take you about 15 minutes to complete and asks some straight-forward questions about when you started blogging, what you link to and why, etc. Don't worry, no essays are involved, you just check some boxes and click some buttons. Please consider taking a moment to participate if you're a blogger. With surveys, like parties, the more the merrier! And diverser!

The magical Venus razor

I am not a fan of disposable razors, they always seemed wasteful to me, and never very good. So a long time ago -- before they made fancy razors for women -- I started using Gillette men's razors. Over the years, I slowly upgraded until I was using the Gillette Mach 3. And I was happy. Until I left it in the shower on Nantucket last week. So I headed to Duane Reade for a new razor and for some reason decided now was the time to try a ladies' razor. The Gillette Venus looked nice and the handle appeared ergonomic and easy to manoveur, so without much thought I bought it. Then I shaved my legs with it.


What was I thinking using that crappy old Mach 3 for all those years? The Venus is AMAZING! Easy to control, nimble around the ankles, slick and fast up the calf, and above all, smooth! My legs haven't ever felt so smooth after a shave ever! I'm counting the minutes until I can shave again, that's how much I love this razor. It's a triple-mint, double-plus-good, two-thumbs up, five stars and diamonds razor. For sure.

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