The joy of a nice knife

One of the things I realized while working at the restaurant on Nantucket was how dull my knives were at home. At Fifty-Six everyone's knives were razor sharp, and it made slicing and dicing nearly effortless, albeit dangerous. When I got home I got a stone and spent about an hour sharpening my two knives: an 8" chef's and a 4" paring, both from Henckels. (I have a few other knives, but I find I never use them. These two do the trick for all my home cooking needs.) Today's New York Times looks at knives and the trend for Japanese knives in, When a Knife Is the Gleam in a Cook's Eye.

There's a whole world of useless kitchen gadgetry out there, junk that will clutter your cabinets and ultimately make little difference in the quality of food you cook. But knives are an exception (another exception: pots/pans). Quality knives make all the prep jobs easier because they provide more control and cleaner cuts, and they're a pleasure to use. While they are expensive, they last forever and are a worthwhile investment. I bought my 8" in 1995 and have used it nearly every day since. My 4" was purchased in 1998.

As the gentleman says at the end of the Times article, "You know you've got the right knife when you're getting as much joy from preparing dinner as you are from eating it."

Pale Male and the City

I missed a great essay yesterday from MUG entitled, Why Pale Male Matters. (For those who aren't aware, Pale Male (and his mate Lola) are red-tailed hawks that have lived for 11 years in a nest they built on the cornice of a Fifth Avenue co-op overlooking Central Park. A week ago, the co-op board removed the nest, leaving the hawks homeless. Protesters have been at the scene ever since, as the hawks float overhead.) Editor Charlie Suisman writes:

'What sort of city shall we be?' isn't a question that most New Yorkers take time to answer in their course of their daily lives. It's a question that gets asked and answered at moments of disruption (blackout? block party!) and deeply, urgently in moments of tragedy...

[Y]ou truly become a New Yorker when the city seems more to you than your workplace and a collection of shops and restaurants, when you start caring about the city itself, beyond your daily route, outside of your neighborhood, about the city we were and the city we might become. You know you're a New Yorker when you know what kind of city we are...

927 Fifth Avenue board president Richard Cohen and his wife, Paula Zahn failed to understand the public, communal, and civic space that is the sine qua non of New York. They failed to understand that they, like all the rest of us, are guardians of this city first and foremost. And when something belongs to the city, as Pale Male and family so manifestly do, and they are treated so cavalierly, as Cohen and Zahn so manifestly did, the arrogance becomes untenable. And untenable arrogance has a way of meeting comeuppance in this city.

The outpouring of support for Pale Male has been incredible and it's moments like these (and essays like Suisman's) that remind and clarify for me why I love New York. And the good news? Today's New York Times reports, Co-op to Help Hawks Rebuild, but the Street Is Still Restless. Yay!

Also, a humorous examination of the price of Pale Male's perch at Curbed.

The best chocolate in Paris

From the Sunday New York Times comes this delicious article, In Paris, Boutiques and Cafes Where Chocolatiers Raise the Bar.

Herewith, then, a guide to Paris for the chocolate aficionado. It is by no means exhaustive; the Paris phone book has several pages of listings for chocolatiers, but I think this represents a selection of those most worthy of your time.

It contains a good listing of the top spots in the city. Closer to home, if your home happens to be New York City, is the Chocolate Bar. Oddly enough, I've never visited this place, even though it's so close to my house. When I first moved to NYC, I assumed I'd go here regularly, and yet it's never happened. Perhaps this afternoon I'll pay them a visit. All this reading and thinking about chocolate has made me hungry!

A sad breakup

I hadn't realized this, but apparently some time ago, Ken and Barbie -- one of the world's most popular couples -- broke up! It seems Barbie has a new boyfriend now, a fellow named Blaine. Here's a photo of the love birds released by their agent Mattel in 2003. Apparently friends and fans are not happy about the end of the nearly 50 year union between Barbie and Ken and have been posting angrily about it over at Amazon, as you can see in the customer reviews at Amazon for Barbie's New Boyfriend Blaine with Boogie Board, Surfer Gear & Exclusive 'Cali-Zine' Magazine. A reviewer named Kris writes:

Don't worry ladies. I'll deal with this Blaine guy for you...Once he's gone, Barbie can get over her little mid-life crises and get back with Ken. Then all will be right in the world again.

People really don't deal with break-ups well, do they? Even when the 'people' doing the breaking up are 11" plastic dolls.

Book giving ideas

Not from me this time, though if I read more new books I would recommend some too you. This one comes from the New York Times: 100 Notable Books of the Year.

This year the [New York Times] Book Review has selected 100 Notable Books from those reviewed since the Holiday Books issue of Dec. 7, 2003.

Sadly I've only read one on the entire list, The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America, which was great. 2004 has been my most pathetic year for reading. I used to read the number of books I've read this year in a week back in the day. Hopefully 2005 will be different.

Holiday present for an aspiring cook

Think Like a ChefOver the next few weeks, I may or may not continue to recommend things I love for your holiday gift consideration. But today I offer Tom Colicchio's Think Like a Chef. Mr. Colicchio is chef/owner of both (the amazing and yummy!) Gramercy Tavern and Craft, in New York City. This cookbook is less about recipes -- though it certainly has them -- and more about cooking technique and philosophy, enabling the reader to actually learn by doing rather than simply follow a list and instructions. I've found it very useful and informative and it's quickly become one of my favorites on my cookbook shelf. When I started working in the kitchen this past fall, I was surprised to find how much I already knew. This book contributed to my knowledge and made my transition from aspiring amateur to aspiring professional that much easier. A great gift for someone who really does want to learn how to, "think like a chef."

You do learn something new every day

And today I learned it's Brussels sprouts, not brussel sprouts. I guess I kinda of knew in the way back of my mind that there was some connection with Belgium, but not enough to realize it was Brussels sprouts. From Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters:

Brussels sprouts are a variety, gemmifera, of the cabbage species Brassica oleracea. Because of selective breeding done in the thirteenth century in Belgium, [B]russels sprouts do indeed look like tiny, perfectly formed cabbages. They grow on a heavy stock, several feet tall, with a few large leaves at the top. As with cabbage, there are both red and green varieties.

I guess the 's' is silent? I've never heard anyone say anything but, "brussel sprouts." Or maybe it's just me? Regardless, now's the season for these yummy sweet mini cabbages, and there's so many ways to prepare them. Tonight I'm just going slowly cook mine in some brown butter. But you could also make Martha Stewart's Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apples. I'm hungry!

Good Bye Lenin

The other evening I finally got around to watching Good Bye Lenin!, a German film from 2003. Set in East Berlin prior to and following the fall of the Berlin Wall, it's the story of a boy (Alex) who's mother revives from a coma and can't be told about what's happened while she slept: that her beloved East Germany is no more. It was surprisingly funny, and very touching at times, as Alex and his sister struggle to recreate a quickly disappearing world in their mother's bedroom. It was definitely one of the better movies I've seen this year and I recommend it.

Late to the moblogging game

After nearly a day's worth of fiddling (and two years worth of delay in getting a mobile with a camera), I've got my phone posting photos to both Flickr and my new sidebar section Photographing. Right now the pictures are just junk shots from around the apartment as I trouble-shot many issues. And here's a weird one for those of you contemplating the Nokia 6600: I was unable to send my photos (as multimedia messages) to anyone until I'd first sent one to myself. Wha? Yup. That's what T-Mobile support told me.

I said to the woman, "Well it's good I called. How on earth was I supposed to figure that out? Why's it like that?"

And she said, "That's the way the system is designed."

Of course that's the way the system's designed. [Insert requisite rant about retarded systems design here.] Aside from that, I'm psyched for more moblogging about town. Now I just need to get out of my bathrobe and actually go "about town."

I'm looking for a good new mobile phone

It's that time again, time to upgrade the mobile phone, and though I've pored over reviews, and talked to sales people at the shops, and read friends' weblogs, I'm still not sure how to proceed. So once again, I'm turning to you dear readers, to hear your thoughts about the latest and greatest in mobile technology. Here are my requirements:

- Reasonably decent camera on phone (doesn't have to be 1 MB pictures, but something decent that I can post to Flickr, etc. and have things be recognizable)

- GSM so I can use it abroad

- Works on T-Mobile

- Decent form factor and interface, if possible. I'd rather it weren't a giant phone too large for my pants pocket, or one with some annoying interface like my current Ericsson T68 (which seems to require an inordinate amount of inputs just to add a contact)

Any suggestions? Do you love your phone? Or hate it? And why? Thanks so much for your help!

Update: I've closed the thread because I've gotten enough recommendations and I've decided on the Nokia 6600. More to follow once I've had time to play with it.

Don't buy that new TV just yet!

According to this New York Times article, Signs of a Glut and Lower Prices on Thin TV's, prices are due to drop on flat panel TV's over the next twelve months due to increases in production capacity by manufacturers.

According to several manufacturers and analysts, the prices for L.C.D. flat-panel TV's will drop in the new year, falling by as much as 30 percent by the end of 2005. The prices of plasma flat-panel TV's are also expected to fall significantly.

That is not a message that the electronics retailers want to be heard during the holiday shopping season. They are hoping that the price cuts that have already occurred will spur more people to buy flat-panel sets, and many are already offering discounts to increase traffic in their stores.

"We do not want to talk about predictions of price drops," said Lee Simonson, the director of Best Buy's television division. "We want people to buy now."

Of course they do. But according to people quoted in this article, a $4,500 set could be going for $3,100 next year (and ~$2,200 in 2006). So maybe instead of buying that TV for this holiday season, you should give an IOU, or something else, and save the TV purchase for next year -- even if the Consumer Electronics Association says, "a plasma television is the most desired holiday gift this season."

Buying a new car?

You might want to check out, the NHTSA's site for all car-related safety information, including NHTSA Safety Standards and Regulations and online access to Five Star Crash Test and Rollover Ratings.

Welcome to the web, Modern Pooch

If you're dog crazy, or even just someone who like dogs, you'll want to check out the recently launched Modern Pooch. My friend Andrea and her dog Sparky, the founders, have big plans for the site:

We publish the cutest dog pictures, the most outrageous dog stories, and links to essential information you need to take care of your own pooch.

It sure is the spot for your daily doggy fix!

Megnut's Two Rules For Blogging

On a mailing list I'm on, someone pointed out the difficulty of starting a blog because he didn't know the audience he would be writing for. That got me thinking about getting started blogging, and I realized two "rules" I have for I thought I'd share them here as well:

1. I write about things I feel passionate about

This ensures that I'll take the time to get facts right, that (hopefully) the excitement will show through the writing and make the posts engaging to readers, and I always have topics to write about because I have lots of passions. It doesn't ensure lots of readers (a la Glenn Reynolds) but that's OK, because I'm not interested in mass audience. I'm interested in someone who'll email me with the story of their first marathon, or with a pointer to a great recipe they enjoyed. It ensures I connect with readers who share my passions, and those are people I want to meet.

2. I won't write something I wouldn't want my parents/grandparents to read

This doesn't mean I won't write about some annoying XHTML compliance issue, it just means I'll do it in a way that might make it comprehensible to them if they choose to read it. I've heard through the family grapevine though they, "just skip those posts." More importantly, it means I don't write about something I wouldn't tell them in person, and in a way I'd tell it in person. So I rarely swear. And I don't talk about intimate issues. And I try very hard not to whine or complain, because my Yankee family has very little tolerance for that.

I don't know if those two rules are useful for anyone else, but in looking back over 5+ years of blogging, those seem to be two constants I can identify.

Can you name this song?

This is a favor for a friend of mine who heard a song at a bar the other night. We've searched on Google with the lyric snippet to no avail. So we're turning to the wisdom of the web, and hoping you readers may know the artist and/or the song. Do you know a song that's new and probably released within the past few years? He might have heard something about this band on MTV and this may have been the lead single off their major labor release. It's, "really good 'generic' funk." It's also, "The closest thing I've heard to Prince since Outkast." The lyric snippet that can be recalled is, "I'm gonna do it. Take your body out all night." He thinks. Do you know? Can you help?

Update: The mystery is solved! Reader's report it's, "Take Your Mama" by the Scissor Sisters. Well done readers, my friend thanks you.

Crossing the finish line

In what will hopefully be last NYC Marathon-related post for a while, here's a photo of me finishing the race. Unfortunately at the end there I got jammed up with that older gentleman in blue, so they didn't get a very clear shot of my triumphant completion of the course. I look very serious. I think that's because I didn't see that words "FINISH" on the banner and wasn't 100% the thing was finally, really, actually, over!

Reflections on the marathon

It's a little less than 72 hours since the marathon ended and my body is close to recovered. My legs are still a little sore, but nothing that keeps me from zipping up and down the stairs -- unlike Monday and yesterday. I'm planning on going for my first post-marathon run tomorrow, and can't wait. The excitement and high of the marathon has yet to abate. In fact, I'd venture to say a sort of "marathon insanity" has set in. Evidence to support my diagnosis:

1. When I think back to the actual running of the marathon, it wasn't that hard. My pace for nearly 21 miles was slower than I'd actually trained because I ran with friends. It was great to share the experience with others, and it was only around the 14 mile mark that I started to feel some tightness in my legs. I think that was due to the slower than usual pace, which affected my stride. Once I sped up, the tightness dissipated. That was in the Bronx, where I sped up and ran the last five miles alone. I felt strong and fast those last five miles, managed to hold my form together, and because I had so much gas in my tank, I passed people left and right. I have to say, there's something awesome about heading past the mile 24 marker, weaving through the crowd, and speeding towards the finish. There was no point during the race where I really thought, "I can't do this!" Towards the end I felt tired, but it was just a matter of perseverance. I'd actually thought it would be harder and I'd have to battle myself to complete the race.

2. Now I'm all hopped up and ready to run another marathon, and to try and run faster! My net time was 5:09:04, and I know I can go quite a bit faster, so my goal for my next marathon is 4:30. Which leads to further proof of my marathon insanity: I've signed up for the 2005 Paris Marathon next spring! Check out the course map, doesn't that look great? What a tour of the city! So my training begins in early December.

3. Further evidence of my marathon mania is my hope to run the NYC Marathon again next fall. If I can get in a few more NYC Road Runner races before the end of the year, I'll automatically qualify for next year's race. I'd love to run it again, the experience of seeing all those various parts of the city, and all the crowds, was unforgettable. The NYC Marathon is something I'd recommend everyone do once in their life. I'm sure you're thinking, "Ha! There's no way I could ever run a marathon" but you'd be surprised. With some training and dedication, anyone can run a marathon. The course was filled with people walking, with people of all sizes and shapes and ages, people just out there to enjoy the day and the experience and the challenge. I highly recommend it. Honest.

So I think those three points make it official: I am marathon crazy. Running crazy. Or maybe just plain crazy!

Highlights from the Marathon

photo by Jason Kottke
photo by Jason Kottke,

It was a bit weird this morning to wake up and not have to worry about the marathon. It was also a bit weird to wake up and not be able to bend my knees. I'm sure they'll recover with time though. Jason snapped the above photo early in the race in Brooklyn, around mile 4. You can still see the Verrazano Bridge in the distance. I had lots of energy at this point and you can see all of us smiling as we spotted our first cheering friends.

Additional marathon photos can be found all over. Gina, who waited for us in Brooklyn at Fourth Avenue and 14th Street, captured a lot of nice shots of the day, and also my favorite photo of us racing. So artsy!

You can peruse all the Flickr photos with the tag "nycmarathon" and see the few I managed to snap before I gave up trying. The sun was too bright to see the screen and after a while I just wanted to run.

Photographer Rion Nakaya captured Faces of the Marathon for the Morning News. And there are plenty more photos of Marathon finishers on her site that are worth checking out.

All in all, it was a glorious day for running. Thanks to everyone for coming out and cheering us on.

Done and done!

I've survived the NYC Marathon and actually had a pretty smooth time running it. More later, now I'm just recovering on the sofa. Also later a photo of my medal.

Look for me on the streets of NYC

my marathon outfit

So if you're going to be cheering tomorrow, here's what I'll be wearing. I'm in the orange start group, which means I'll be running up the left side of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. I'm going to stick on the left-hand side of the street (my left) and try and stay out of the middle, so if you're looking for me, that's where I hope to be. I'm going to run something between a 10 - 11 minute/mile, so I should be coming into Manhattan around 1 PM or so, depending on how long it takes to get across the start.

My bib number is 31139 so if you're watching from home, you should be able to track my progress online. I don't have the link, but check the ING New York City Marathon site for tracking information. Also, I am going to try and post some photos from my phone as I run. If I do, you'll be able to see them on here in my Flickr photo album.

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