i never did get back to talking about our wanderings at lesley's cocktail classic a few weekends ago, and that's a damn shame, as it was an especially good weekend for mezcal. in case i haven't bored you to death with my mezcal speech lately, let me summarize by saying we don't drink the kitschy, face-melty stuff packaged with a worm; i refuse beverages with pickled creatures in them, for one thing, and i'm also not a fan of cheap agave spirits. i'm actually not a fan of most fancy agave spirits (sorry, tequila), but single village mezcal is a thing of beauty: it's smoky, robust, and wonderfully phenolic. gives you a fine spreading chest-warmth, like a good scotch will. it's the ultimate slow beverage (in many villages, both the palenqueros and the horses turning their agave-heart-grinding wheels were born nearby), but it's affable and unpretentious. i feel strongly about it.

our cocktail classic weekend began with a three-thousand-person gala at the public library and ended upstairs at mayahuel in the east village. it was a long afternoon: andy seymour greeted us with glasses as we walked in, and we were served three more cocktails and five wee clay cups of mezcal in the course of the presentation (joe and i were the only civilians present, i think: everyone else was a bartender, importer, or restauranteur of some sort, and i now have a small, impressive collection of acutely festive business cards). far be it from me to go all creepy evangelist on you - i have zero stake in the rest of the world appreciating mezcal, unless it's to lay the groundwork for me to discover it in friends' liquor cabinets at parties in years to come - but internet, seek it on drink menus and shell out for some if you discover it near you (del maguey is unimpeachable, and los danzantes is also good). it's excellent neat, and the four cocktails we had at mayahuel (below) were all good; the very last one, the oaxacan punch, is the best damn cocktail i've had in years. it wins THUNDERTIPPLE hands down.

salsa verde (by andy seymour, aka wine geek)

1-3/4 oz. del maguey vida mezcal
1-1/4 oz. fresh cucumber juice
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. agave nectar
fresh cilantro

put 6 cilantro leaves in a mixing glass; add remaining ingredients and fill with ice. shake hard and strain over crushed ice in a highball glass. garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

el zachilla (by john lermayer, the florida room at the delano, miami)

1-1/4 oz. el tesoro reposado
3/4 oz. del maguey chichicapa mezcal
3/4 oz. benedictine
4 dashes grapefruit bitters
squeeze of lime juice

combine all ingredients in a mixing glass over ice. stir to chill and strain into a coupe cocktail glass.

division bell (by phil ward, mayahuel)

1 oz. del maguey chichicapa mezcal
3/4 oz. aperol
3/4 oz. luxardo maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz. lime juice

combine all ingredients in a mixing glass; fill with ice and shake. strain into a coupe cocktail glass and garnish with a grapefruit peel.

oaxacan milk punch (by danny valdez, cocktailian nola, new orleans)

1-1/4 oz. del maguey crema de mezcal
1 oz. vsop cognac
2 oz. handmade horchata
fresh grated nutmeg

combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. shake vigorously and strain over crushed ice in a rocks glass. garnish with fresh nutmeg.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 had any fantastically good (or fantastically awful) cocktails lately?

02 what'd you drink over the long weekend, alcoholic or otherwise?

03 if you were to teach the world to drink, what sort of booze would you promote?


i already love you, apartment tent.

apartment tent! (b/w)

$13 (25% of which went to charity) at h&m. lurid color photos of tent and steve here.



let the great world spin (colum mccann)*
CHALLENGER: nobody move (denis johnson)

denis johnson is that guy you met at someone's roof party like four summers ago: his face and the way he holds his beer are familiar and you vaguely remember something about his working with your friend's old boyfriend, but it takes you another conversation to realize you've almost completely forgotten the conversation you already had with him. already dead is the conversation johnson and i seem to have had; the roof party in this scenario is my shelf either in san francisco in the careless early aughts or my senior year of college (i know i've got a copy of that book somewhere, but the summary in that salon review i just linked is only familiar in the loosest possible sense of the word), and nobody move is our more lucid reconnection. i'm glad i was paying attention this time: at 196 pages, nobody move doesn't pause to breathe too often. it pauses exactly three times, actually: johnson wrote it in four parts for playboy, where it was published in 2008. this, kids, is how a modern serial should look.

the consensus among critics seems to be that johnson approached nobody move as a palate cleanser after his mighty national-book-award-winning vietnam novel, tree of smoke, a work that's reported to have been knocking about in his head for twenty years. he does seem to be enjoying himself with the genre (modern crime) and the audience (degenerates**): his main character (jimmy luntz, an especially shitty gambler) starts out in a white tux, for example, because he's taking part in a barbershop chorus competition in bakersfield. johnson's down-and-out dame, the lovely and equally luckless anita desilvera, gets a playboy (or perhaps a letters-to-penthouse) intro - jimmy's punching way above his weight with her, and we hear about it at length - but she's steely and funny and vengeful, and johnson gives her room to be more than a pair of tits. she reminds me a bit of frances mcdormand in blood simple, actually: she's considerably meaner (she's got the most vicious set piece in the book, actually), but her scenes have a crunch-and-thump physicality i associate with coen brothers heroines. nobody move has a galloping inevitability i associate with the coen brothers as a general proposition, actually; it disappoints me that this has been noted elsewhere (o, to be a beautiful and unique reviewer-snowflake!), but the point's a solid one. this is a mirthless northern california, moreover, that i can get behind: bakersfield aside, most of the story crawls around in grotty rest stops and bars north of sacramento along highway that looks best after nightfall. as settings go, i prefer these unlovable inland towns to armistead maupin's san francisco and the misty coastal scree in johnson's already dead (hey, i remembered something else about it!); they're brief and brutal, and they suit johnson's language. superfluous blow jobs aside (oh, playboy), this could be the best book i've read since let the great world spin; i'd ask you to keep that from raymond chandler,*** but i suspect he'd approve.

VICTOR: let the great world spin,**** though the crowd was behind nobody move - i was re-reading it on the way in to work this morning and managed to miss my subway stop. that never happens (re-reading, that is).

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you encountered denis johnson? how'd you get along?

02 have you seen blood simple? if you're a coen brothers fan, how does it rank among their movies for you?

03 did you know that shel silverstein drew cartoons and wrote travel stories for playboy back in the day? that scandalized me when i was a tween.

04 did you know that silverstein also wrote "a boy named sue"?

05 ...and that he wrote a sequel about sue's father?! sorry, i'll stop talking about shel silverstein.

06 what character or plot device in jj abrams's television work would you most like to see in a film adaptation of Big-Time Literature like let the great world spin?

*previous battle here.

**kidding, mostly. i once purchased a playboy, actually - the "women of the pac-10" issue. long story.

***speaking of chandler, i read a marvelous review of nobody move in which the writer noted that johnson had studied with raymond chandler at the iowa writers' workshop in the seventies. with, like, a ouija board? (they meant carver.)

****which jj abrams is apparently interested in filming - hmm.



SURVIVOR: let the great world spin (colum mccann)*
CHALLENGER: further tales of the city (armistead maupin)

now that i've finished my third volume, these things of the city...are making my soul tired. my emotional commitment to armistead maupin follows a sine wave, i think: tales of the city's dishy jokes left me cold, more tales of the city won me over with its weird coming-out-and-cannibalism (different characters, mind you) two-fer, and further tales of the city - the last collection for which there's a corresponding showtime movie - squanders the goodwill of the international community, or the outgoing administration's surplus, or...it's tired and confused, my soul. this imagery, for one thing.

i tiptoed around most of the big plot points in tales of the city and more tales of the city, but it's hard to talk about this book without going ahead and saying that it's mostly about jim jones (not the rapper, the cult leader). maupin has been praised for incorporating local happenings in his series, and he could hardly ignore the subject: jones's temple moved its headquarters to san francisco for a number of years, mayor george moscone named jones chairman of the san francisco housing commission(!), and, well, the jonestown massacre happened just four years before the further tales columns were collected and released. that said, i feel distinctly strange about an alternate reality jim jones story line (in further tales, he doesn't die in guyana with 900 of his followers; after a double dies in his place, he has plastic surgery, moves into a shack in a rhododendron dell in golden gate park, and trains chipmunks**) being part of a story that's occasionally packaged with a condom (that's the showtime movie and it's a french dvd, but still). too weird.

VICTOR: let the great world spin. your three-volume zerg rush was ineffective, maupin! the irish are defended!

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 had you ever heard of jim jones the rapper?

02 could you approve of a quasi-comic novel about jim jones?

03 have you ever been to golden gate park? what did you do there?

*previous battle here.

**not the animated musical group, the rodents.


basement chandelier


joe, squinched


patty's tacos (b/w)

work has demanded a lot of head space lately, and i've done my best for the past week or so to shove it out of the way by overpreparing for our friend lesley's cocktail classic (particularly the gala on friday night). call me a girly girl and i'll punch you in the kisser, but it felt good to think about shoes and dresses for a change. for the record, a vintage scarf used for several years as a christmas tree skirt makes a fine shawl, prohibition chic has more to do with one's stance than one's fripperies, absinthe cocktails eventually love you back, and philip marlowe lives somewhere in the new york public library (my money's on the basement).

oh, and the flinty dame with the floor-length satin gown and the bag of tacos on the f train at one was me.

{full set here}



let the great world spin (colum mccann)*
CHALLENGER: more tales of the city (armistead maupin)

we meet again, maupin! i tried to relax and give this series a chance to take hold, and it worked: much as i pawed through the twilight series in the course of something like a fortnight (ten days of which were spent waiting for breaking dawn to come out), i've gone all junior high on the second collection of maupin's columns, the city after next more tales of the city. maupin's writing reads a bit like stephenie meyer's, in a sense; he doesn't stuff paragraphs with adjectives as enthusiastically she does, thank goodness (a meyer passage at its best/worst is like those hickory farms sausages that bleed cheese), but he knows his way around a cliffhanger, and his plots are propulsive in a similar way.

more tales of the city is both soapier than its predecessor - its twists include a quasi-secret scandinavian sex change operation, the acapulco debut of an amnesia victim named burke** who vomits every time he sees a rose, and the improper use of medical waste*** - and more serious: the chapter in which michael tolliver comes out to his conservative parents is really lovely, and the relationship that develops between him and jon the gynecologist is, in all seriousness, quite affecting. following it in a mainstream daily newspaper must have been incredibly meaningful for gay (and straight) readers, even though its fellow plots are rather silly. an unexpected development, that: the flourishes and coincidences that have endeared maupin to me also problematize his serious content's emotional impact. i should be cutting him some slack there, maybe: it seems that most people don't let dickensian coincidences, for example, spoil their appreciation of dickensian pathos. at the end of the day, my only real beef with the flourishes is that in the very best one, when mary ann vomits from the catwalk eight stories above the congregation at grace cathedral, she's still able to get out of the building without being stopped ("[t]he people below hardly knew what hit them.") reader, the barfed-upon know exactly what hits them.

VICTOR: let the great world spin. much as i love episcopalian cannibal cults, mccann remains the emotional heavy.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 are you a fan of sudsy drama?

02 do dickensian coincidences bother you?

03 has anyone ever barfed on you? come, let's heal together.

*previous battle here.

**burke is one of modern melodrama's most distinguished names, you see.

***that one's especially majestic.



SURVIVOR: let the great world spin (colum mccann)*
CHALLENGER: tales of the city (armistead maupin)

like the hound of the baskervilles (which appeared monthly in the strand beginning in 1901) and the pickwick papers (produced in installments, like all of dickens's subsequent novels, with advertisements and illustrations), maupin's "tales of the city" crept into the world bit by bit; first published in the san francisco chronicle, it seems to have appeared there daily for a few years before hopping over to the san francisco examiner. unlike those stories (and more like sex and the city, apartment 3-G, or three's company), it follows a handful of twenty- and thirtysomethings (and their eccentric landlady) as they collide with each other, various bay area types, and illicit substances.** the main characters live at 28 barbary lane, a leafy corner of san francisco's russian hill based on macondray lane (a five minute walk up the hill from our old place on green street c. 2000-2003, as it happens). they are fond of one-liners and steam baths. they have a lot of polyester and a lot of sex. their adventures are unapologetically soapy and usually about four pages long, which makes sense, given that they were published daily in a newspaper.

i'm told that maupin's stories and characters are wildly popular; they became a celebrated miniseries,*** are in the process of becoming a musical, and tend to be covered with breathless quotes (michael tolliver, one of maupin's main characters, "is arguably one of the most widely loved characters in contemporary fiction," per a number of reviewers). how did i miss this? is it that i'm of another generation? comparatively prudish? a big old SF hater?

i think that last part is the clincher, actually. i've never been in love with san francisco, but seven considerably happier years elsewhere have gotten me to the point where i very nearly wish it ill. maupin's "tales of the city" is a love letter to the bay area in the same way people say carrie bradshaw's real love affair is with new york city (blech),**** and loving maupin's san francisco seems to entail loving marijuana, dancing, and free love. reader, i have no patience for any of those things - and it would be safest for all of us for me to skip speaking of hippies. little bits of maupin's city are also part of mine - the marina safeway, bless it, is still a weird pickup scene, and there will always be something magical about the rooftops in russian hill and the swensen's at hyde and union (it's the only one that still makes its own ice cream, you know) - but i have trouble loving its denizens (though i should note that i agree completely with their sexual politics). i'm giving this maupin experiment time to take, mind you - i picked up the first three novels in a single thrift store visit, so michael tolliver might still end up meaning something to me. for now, let's call tales of the city high-spirited sudsiness.

VICTOR: let the great world spin. mccann has reach, and tales isn't nimble these days.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how do you feel about san francisco?

02 are you able to appreciate art which celebrates things you don't especially like?

03 what's the druggiest book you've ever read?

04 can you recommend a good free standing air conditioner? that's not especially literary, but since you're here and all.

*previous battle here.

**emphasis on the substances; it's been a few years since i last read burroughs, but i think these kids might out-drug him.

***which, full disclosure, starred my beloved ex-boss's sister.

****i was helping drive a carful of bread across the city for a friend's event last year when my co-volunteer spied the public library and went, "oh, those stairs always make me think of when carrie and big got married!" no context, just carrie and big. weird.

05.07.10: barhah

day 275: bram and oscar

bram (at left) and oscar (at right). amanda presented them to me at enid's; steve, in turn, rummaged around in my purse and presented bram to me when i got home last night. am i the girl who gets zombies? that would be outstanding.


paella: saffron

101 in 1001 {II}: 038 cook with 12 ingredients I’ve never used before [ongoing]

09: saffron. i eat very little spanish food; i'm vegetarian, i have a blood feud with roasted red peppers, and i'm also secretly turning into akiko, the iron chef judge who thinks everything is too oily. i'm developing a fondness for pimentón, however, and when consulted on my spice-shopping list joe promoted saffron with great gusto. alors: it was time to attempt paella. i'd had the vegetarian version at jaleo on our trip to washington a few months ago; it was decent but a bit olive-heavy and (ahem) oily. mind you, that was the first paella i'd ever had; maybe it's a dish i'm just not meant to love. i considered that for a bit, and then i found mark bittman's paean to a simple version. no nasty meat and fish presented with flourishes and foolishness; just pimentón and saffron, good tomatoes and a handful of chopped parsley (that's not the whole recipe, but it's the elements that matter). lovely.

paella: tomatoes, raw

the recipe called for cored tomatoes in thick wedges, but alas, the summer crop is months away; the bigger vine tomatoes were despondent. these little fellows looked fantastic (that reptilian green!), though, and i thought smaller tomatoes would be more likely to roast to joe's satisfaction (he doesn't deal well with raw tomatoes).

paella: fin

hot damn, folks. i had to extend oven time by about fifteen minutes - our sole ovenproof skillet was way too small, and i ended up pouring the paella-to-be into a big old brownie pan - but i couldn't have been more pleased with the final product. the little halved tomatoes retained their juices and split only when eaten, so every bite was moist. i ignored joe when he told me to add extra oil, and the resultant rice was fluffy rather than slimy. this recipe is fabulous as is (i can't wait to try it with greenmarket tomatoes later this year), and it'd be a great base for any number of paellas. wild mushroom? fresh herb? mysterious urban park-things i'll hunt down with my foraging team? yes.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 whose hand is that?

02 do you hear what i'm saying about oily food?

03 do you like paella?

04 is paella this decade's answer to fondue (trendy, presented with ceremony)? if not, what is?

05 have you made anything especially tasty lately?



let the great world spin (colum mccann)*
CHALLENGER: manhood for amateurs (michael chabon)

childless readers of so-called parenting blogs and lit, particularly childless readers who intend to stay that way, are a strange bunch. on the web side of things, for some of us, the mommy and daddy blogs are species-specific versions of cute overload; for others, they're reassurance that we've chosen the right adventure (oh man, if i'd turned to page 25 after college we'd be mopping up vomit instead of jumping around at a concert right now!). me, i'm just a design and storytelling groupie; i discovered sweet juniper ("just two more yuppies raising their kids" - ha!), for example, when jim and wood's beautiful detroit home popped up at design*sponge a few years ago, and i kept reading because their writing and projects are amazing (and, okay, their son and daughter are goddamn adorable). i have a professional interest, in turn, in the lit, given that i work with parenting content; i've also read and liked a number of michael chabon's novels (the mysteries of pittsburgh, the amazing adventures of kavalier & clay, the final solution, and the yiddish policemen's union), and i'll at least audition almost any book on my desk as a personal read if it happens to land there when i'm at the wrong end of a long subway ride.

so here we are, me and chabon's manhood for amateurs: the pleasures and regrets of a husband, father, and son. it's thirty-nine short essays, most of which were originally published in details (a handful appeared in other magazines; "the wilderness of childhood," of which many reviewers are especially fond, debuts in the book). i've read a hell of a lot of first-person parenting and relationship essays, and i'm a fairly tough audience; most of the parenting pieces feel like especially deft versions of old saws. "the wilderness of childhood" does include a few eloquent observations about overprotected children and the future of imagination (that link above will take you to the whole essay, and it's worth a read); many of its fellows, on watching a daughter come of age, talking to your children about pot, losing one's soul to hermetic pixar movies - are kind of forgettable.

on relationships, now: there's that fresh feeling. it could be that ayelet waldman's notorious "modern love" essay on how she loves chabon more than she loves her children** has made his love life much more interesting to me than it would naturally be, but i quite liked how he spoke of his first wife:
She had an eye for furniture and flowers, a rich history of weird sex, weird jobs, and weird scenes, an ear for quirky pop tunes. I found that you could make her intensely happy for a little while with a handful of sweet peas or by putting her in a dinghy and handing her a pair of good binoculars and sending her out very early to row softly among the coots and the buffleheads. Most important for me, she had expectations of how a man ought to act and speak and shoulder his obligations, and in the three years of our marriage, I learned how to be a husband.
what a surprisingly pleasant way to be remembered. chabon also makes me feel better about having had a facial piercing in my wedding photos:
If we are conducting our lives in the usual fashion, each of us serves as a constant source of embarrassment to his or her future self, and by the same formula, all "eras" can be made to look ridiculous in retrospect. But the seventies have always been more prone to more ridicule than their twentieth century cousin-decades, without anyone giving sufficient notice to the fact that it was the seventies themselves that originated the teasing (Annie Hall, Nashville, "You're So Vain").
what i like best, though, is how he speaks of eternity (and growing out of being "a little shit").
We are accustomed to repeating the cliché, and to believing, that "our most precious resource is our children." But we have plenty of children to go around, God knows, and as with Doritos, we can always make more. The true scarcity we face is of practicing adults, of people who know how marginal, how fragile, how finite their lives and their stories and their ambitions really are but who find value in this knowledge, even a sense of strange comfort, because they know their condition is universal, is shared. You bring your little story to the workshop, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't; and then you're gone, and it's time for somebody else to have the floor.
and he learned these things from wiser older women in his graduate work at UCI! who doesn't love a guy who tips his hat to women who return to writing?

i am not a fan of nuggets of writing - even while using public transportation, i prefer to lug great, ponderous stories about with me - but i liked many of these nuggets. borrow this book with gusto, internets.

VICTOR: let the great world spin, for it never asks me to think about chabon, waldman, and cunnilingus.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 do you read parenting blogs and/or literature? why or why not?

02 would your romantic background yield an interesting "modern love" column? would you be willing to have it fact checked with your current or former loved ones?

03 does it weird you out that chabon and waldman's children will one day read that mom loves dad more than she loves them?

*previous battle here.

**we know it's true, for "modern love" pieces are fact checked rather rigorously. a woman i know wrote one a few years ago, and the verification process involved contacting an ex-lover she'd deceived, which changed the post-script of the narrative itself in a rather interesting way.