Categories are back, and better!

If you've got sharp eyes, you might have noticed that categories have made their way back onto megnut.com entries. As part of my "slow but steady" redesign process, I've recategorized all my entries into topics more manageable than I had before. I haven't set up any category archive pages yet, but will at some point soon. I don't know whether this will be useful or not, but it seemed like a good idea to me.

The NY Times wants fewer links

A couple months ago, I chatted with someone who said the New York Times was considering going to a subscription model for nytimes.com, similar to the Wall Street Journal. I said that would be a foolish and short-sighted decision on the Times' part; to place their content behind a subscription wall would be to remove themselves from online conversations now and in the future.

Adam L. Penenberg, in an article for wired.com on February 24, 2005 about the Wall Street Journal's for-pay approach, Whither The Wall Street Journal? expressed a similar point of view:

Since most people refuse to pay for WSJ stories, most bloggers are reluctant to link to them. It also has an impact on anyone who uses the web for research — and there are a lot of us. As importantly, the next generation of readers is growing up by accessing news over the internet, and one place they are not surfing to is WSJ.com. With their habits being formed now, there is little chance the Journal will become part of their lives, either now or in the future. (emphasis mine)

The Times should remove all barriers to content, from their registration requirement to their for-pay archive access

And yet, yesterday the Times issued a press release, The New York Times Announces TimesSelect – New Online Offering to Launch in September announcing their decision to move more content to an expensive for-pay only section of their site. This is a move in the wrong direction: The Times should remove all barriers to content, from their registration requirement to their for-pay archive access. Such action would enable and increase linking to their broad range of content.

As Jill Walker writes in her paper, Links and Power: The Political Economy of Linking on the Web, "Links have become the currency of the Web. With this economic value they also have power, affecting accessibility and knowledge on the Web."

Enabling more links to the New York Times would:

  • increase the visibility of the Times brand
  • help content reach a larger segment of readers
  • increase traffic to the site

Clearly, increased traffic would drive increased revenue in the form of online advertising. And in the long term, I believe it would generate more income than charging US$49.95 for an annual subscription. Perhaps US$49.95 is, as Martin Nisenholtz (senior vice president of digital operations for the Times) says, a "terrific price point" for what they're offering — if you happen to live in the US or western Europe. But it truly is a world wide web, with English as its de facto language.

As media brands increasingly become more global, it's hard to fathom why the Times wouldn't do everything in its power to ensure it's the world wide web's news leader. By charging for its online content, the Times reduces its number of linkable sources, and thus its reach in the online world. It's their first step towards ensuring they will play a smaller role in it going forward.

39 things I should do

If you're into food, and wondering, "what the heck should I do next?" check out the [UK] Observer's list, The top 50 things every foodie should do.

To celebrate OFM's fiftieth edition, we asked some of our favourite bon viveurs what they considered most essential to do before they died.

Amazingly, I've already done ten of the items they've listed! Is that because I'm a "bon viveur"? Maybe a little, but also I've liked cooking and food for a very long time. Of what they've recommended, I've already completed the following:

3) Dismember a chicken
I learned this last summer when I was working at a restaurant. Our chef said everyone needed to know how to break down a chicken. Now I do. I haven't done it since.

6) Dine at the French Laundry
May 2002. I can't imagine you're reading my site and haven't read my review, but if that's the case get thee to It's All About Finesse immediately! Now start saving your dollar a day!

18) Shuck an oyster
I first learned this in 1994 on Cape Cod, where indeed just as they recommend, I enjoyed 'wild native oysters, from a forgotten oyster bed'. I last shucked two dozen for my family at Christmas.

20) Wolf down a hotdog on Coney Island
July 4, 2003. I ate one. Japanese super-eating legend Takeru Kobayashi ate 44 1/2 in twelve minutes. A photo of Kobayashi in action!

24) Be cooked for by a legend
(See #6)

32) Shop till you drop [at La Boqueria in Barcelona]
When I visited Barcelona in October, 2003 I spent many hours exploring this amazing market, though I never bought anything because I was staying in a hotel and had nowhere to cook.

33) Catch your own dinner
They recommend deep-sea fishing for tuna in Barbados. I went fishing for bluefish off Nantucket in August, 2003 and cooked up the riches for dinner with my family. Bluefish is my favorite, and I think one of the best meals you can eat (but only if you're in the northeast of the United States in July or August) is bluefish baked with breadcrumbs, butter, and lemon; steamed sweet corn, with butter and salt; and boiled red potatoes. If you don't have strawberry shortcake for dessert, with real whipped cream and homemade shortcake, you haven't gone all out.

39) Visit Pierre Gagnaire in Paris
I did this in June 2003. For some reason, I never wrote about it. Drat, I wish I had.

40) Bake a loaf of bread
I can't even remember the first time I baked a loaf of bread, but it must have been around 1986. I started my culinary adventures in the baking arena (cakes and sweets) before moving into the savory world of cooking. Of course, the Guardian says, "If your loaf is a true San Francisco-style sourdough then all the better." And I say, "No!" Yuck. I don't like sourdough. I had enough "San Francisco-style sourdough" when I lived in San Francisco to last my whole life.

47) Kill a pig
The last on the list, I did this over the 4th of July weekend, 1994. Some folks I knew in college had a little tradition of doing this. At a farm in New Hampshire, we (by which I mean a friend named Danny) killed the pig and bled it. Then we all took part in gutting and skinning it (writing now, it sounds more "Lord of the Flies" than it was). We roasted it in a pit for a very long time, and the result was the best thing I'd ever tasted. I had never liked pork before that, and I didn't for a very long time after. But everything we ate that day was incredible.

They also recommend that you:

9) Pick your own [mushrooms]
But I've never done this. I had a class in college called Plants and Humanity and we learned from our biology professor never to pick mushrooms in the wild. He said it was too dangerous, even with books and training, because the possibility of making a mistake was too great. I learned a lot from Prof. Ellmore, and to this day I still recall much of what he taught, so I'm going to trust my gut and skip the picking of wild mushrooms. The 39 remaining items could easily take the rest of my life as it is, I don't want to end it prematurely by eating a Death Cap!

Studying French in Paris

As many of you know, while I was in Paris last month I took French classes. I searched online for a schools and was overwhelmed by the Google results. Then the first day I was in Paris, I was reading an ex-pat's blog (he too was in Paris) and he mentioned studying at the Alliance Française. The next day, I headed over there, took a placement test, paid my fee, and got my student id. Sure, I could have done more research, but somehow, this just felt right, so I went with it.

I signed up for two hours a day, four days a week. The off day (which is the same for all courses), the Alliance offers cultural outings for students. From the very first day, I loved my class. Our teacher (Madame was what I called her, as her last name was complicated to pronounce and using her first name seemed too casual) was wonderful. Fluent in French, English, and Spanish, she also seemed to speak Chinese and Russian when the moment arose. She spent time talking about French culture and history in addition to grammar and vocabulary.

The class size was about twenty people, but it didn't present too much of a problem, and Madame made sure we all had opportunities to speak aloud (during which time she'd correct our pronunciation) both within small groups and to the whole class.

I really enjoyed it, and my classmates, and was very sad on the last day, especially since the rest of my group was continuing together with our teacher in Paris, and I was returning to the States. I learned a lot and felt that my French really improved a great deal, to the point that I could understand a lot of what was said to me, and could (in most situations at least) make myself understood.

Based on my limited experience, I'd definitely recommend taking classes at the Paris Alliance Française. I certainly plan to return to Paris, and when I do, I'll sign up for more classes there again.

The miracle of life in a dead garden

With all my travel, my fire escape garden has been sorely neglected. In fact, nearly everything out there is dead. Most stuff did not survive last summer/fall, and what managed to hang on died this spring. Everything that is except my pinks, which are growing well and on the verge of exploding with blossoms.

So yesterday I leaned out the window to clean some dried dead stuff out of the container (old dried pinks from last summer) and as I did so, I moved a dead rose plant out of the way. All of the sudden, there was a huge fluttering of wings and lots of cooing, and right there, nestled between two containers was a momma dove and her nest of eggs!! I hadn't noticed the nest because it wasn't visible from my window, but there it was once I moved a pot. I quickly replaced it, and momma dove settled back onto her nest.

Now I just need to figure out a way to view the nest and watch the family's progress without disturbing them. Perhaps a small camera mounted on the railing of the fire escape? Last spring a dove family created a home in my neighbor's window box. I wonder if it's the same family, this time relocated to have a nest with more of a view? I can't wait to watch and see when the babies are born!

A total French spazz!

If you've met me in person, you know I'm quite the gesticulator when I speak. And I also have a strange tendency — which my brother has as well, so I can only imagine it's something we developed as children — to make sound effects to accompany my actions. For example, if you and I are walking towards each other in a narrow hallway, and I skirt to the side to avoid a collision, I will also utter, "yurreeek," or some sound to approximate a skid and/or close call.

While in Paris, I added a whistle to my communication style to indicate something that I didn't have the vocabulary to express in French. For example, I'd be saying, "And then I went…" and with my hand I'll make an up-and-down-and-over-the-hill motion, and I'd make a long whistle sound to accompany it. Or if I wanted to say, "He had to go," I'd simply say, "He" and then shoot my hand out to the right and make a short whistle sound.

While this was very effective in making myself understood when French failed me, I've discovered it's permeated my English interactions as well! So now I'm eeking and whistling not matter who I'm talking to or what I'm saying. Truly I'm becoming a human beat box. Or a crazy lunatic. You decide.

Remembrance of the French Laundry Fund

I received an email recently from Maurice Graham Henry, proprietor of Dining In France who'd had dinner at Per Se recently and wrote to share some incredible news.

I had dinner at Per Se last night, and I had the good fortune to see Thomas Keller again.

He asked me anout my website DininginFrance.com, and I told him that I was recentlay able to recover a write up on The French Laundry (listed on my French Laundry page) on archive.org from 2002….written by 'the woman with the French Laundry Fund can'. Thomas remembered immediately, but he never knew that either of you had ever written about the experience. FYI Michael has been working at Per Se since it was opened, and I told him also. He (saying to me, "I tell people about that story all the time!) also never knew about your web postings.

How amazing that they remember! And how cool that Michael is at Per Se. I'm hoping to go there later this year, and perhaps I'll get to have him as my waiter again!

The confusion of the restrooms

New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni has a funny article today entitled, Forget the Specials, Explain the Restroom. He talks about the confusion taking place in many restaurant bathrooms in New York City, including those at such high-end spots as Per Se and The Modern (the new restaurant at the MoMA). I can concur with many of his observations.

…I couldn't figure out how to trigger the electronic-eye sensors above the commodes, motion-detecting flushing mechanisms with enough of a delay that you were sometimes asked simply to trust in a cleansing aftermath to your departure. I've encountered religions with less daunting leaps of faith.

I couldn't figure out how to tell whether commodes were occupied. Neither, apparently, could anyone else, because whenever I was using one, someone in the communal area would rattle the door, not to mention my composure.

And I couldn't figure out why, in restaurant after restaurant, the attempt to relieve oneself turned out to be anything but a relief.

I always panic when, instead of simple labels like "Ladies" and "Gentlemen" or pictures of a man and a woman, they put those gender symbols on the door. I have to stop and think, "Which one does Austin Powers wear around his neck?" and then when I get the answer, I open the opposite door.

In the various parts of Europe I've visited, I've noticed two great things about the restrooms: 1. They put pictures on the door, which are easy to comprehend no matter what language you speak, 2. When you lock the door to your stall (which is really your own private compartment! Nice!), it rotates a little colored panel on the outside of the door to red. So when you enter a restroom, you look at the doors and see either red or green, and voila, you know which are occupied. New York restaurant designers, please take note!

Other memories of Paris

Remembrance of Things ParisLike a lover who, after the affair has ended, desperately revisits old letters and photos to hold onto the magic, I cannot stop reading about Paris! I ordered Remembrance of Things Paris: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet, edited by Ruth Reichl, while I was in Paris so it would await me upon my return. I've been reading the short articles whenever I have a few minutes break, and it's bringing it all back. What's even more amazing is how many of the spots I know — and the articles I'm reading were written shortly after WWII! But the streets, cafés, restaurants, and hangouts are all still the same. At least it assures me that when I do return, I'll be able to enjoy many of the same things. As this enjoyable book demonstrates, Paris sure has continuity going for it!