New IFC series starring David Cross and Will Arnett coming this month? Why wasn’t I notified?
Archive for September, 2010
I was a bit skeptical about all the hype surrounding Hill Country Chicken, which opened while I was in London — but I went today for lunch, and the hype is deserved. The chicken is moist and flavorful and not too greasy, the crust is well-seasoned (I prefer the Mama Els’), the sides I tried were fresh. And they have 8 kinds of pie! And they have pie happy hour every afternoon!
Remember I lived in the South, but most of the fried chicken I was served was a disappointment in one way or another. The most consistently good fried chicken in Atlanta — the boneless breast at Agnes & Muriel’s — was also way too heavy to have more than occasionally. As everyday stuff, I preferred the chicken at Mary Mac’s or the Dillard House, which was obviously homemade but otherwise nothing special. I never got around to trying Scott Peacock’s award-winning fried chicken at Watershed, although I did really like the restaurant itself. But with Hill Country five blocks from work, now I don’t have to.
You can’t eat this stuff every day, but I could definitely imagine eating it once a month. And did I say “pie”?
I haven’t written anything here in quite a long while, chiefly because I’ve been busy living (which I think is the point of all this, isn’t it?), but I have been feeling the urge to get back into the swing of things. So I’ll start small, with this short post about my weeklong visit to London earlier this month.
It was a business trip, so many of my expenses were paid, and I was there for seven full days and nights, which gave me the sort of opportunity to experience the city that I’d never had on any of my previous half-dozen or so visits. Indeed, I went into the week with a very, very sketchy mental map of London, and now have a very clear one — at least of the central and eastern parts where I spent the most time, Mayfair to Hackney or thereabouts.
I vastly preferred the bus to the Tube — the Oyster card works the same on both, maps and signage at the stops are exceedingly clear, every stop is clearly announced, and from the top of a London bus you can actually see what you’re passing through. (Only once in the week did I see a single bus stop without a full complement of maps; entertainingly, it was when waiting for the night bus with a group of logic-impaired drunks, who took forever to decide whether to walk in the direction of Old Street or Shoreditch High Street. Shortly after they left, their bus arrived.) And London is proof that clearly marked bus lanes (separated or not), enforced with lane cameras, make the bus an efficient choice even in heavy traffic. Londoners complain about
Most of the week I was at our office, in Clerkenwell, with some limited tourist time in the evenings — which I mostly spent shopping and orienting myself with regard to the central landmarks, though I didn’t do much in the way of touristy things — but I spent the Sunday and the Saturday roaming from Soho to Islington to Brixton trying to see things a bit off the tourist path. I spent a lovely afternoon in Stoke Newington with my new friends Graham and Keri, eating gourmet fish and chips and sipping espresso beside a neighborhood high street. And I took myself to Brixton, expecting — well, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but what I got felt more or less like Flatbush, only with a well-stocked Marks & Spencer and vastly better transit connections. Here’s a map of my Saturday adventures.
If you want more of this (God help you), including dozens of photos, take a look at my Twitter feed for the week of 13 September.
In a stroke of great good fortune, I get to go back to London next month, so I’m sure I’ll have more to say.
Just saw this work with my own eyes — Broadway, along with the north side of Union Square, is in the process of being reconfigured as planned. And some new motorist signage has gone up in the last couple of days, too — in Clearview, my favorite signage typeface. This will be a great safety improvement, especially right at the corner of Broadway and 17th, where I personally have been almost run over at least three times.
The judge in the Log Cabin Republicans’ “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” suit in California ruled for the plaintiffs tonight, concluding that the policy of dismissing gay and lesbian members of the military is unconstitutional on both First and Fifth Amendment grounds. She says she will issue a permanent injunction against its enforcement within a week. Not clear yet whether DOJ will appeal.
Associated Press story here; opinion itself is here. The opinion is worth leafing through; among other things, the judge finds that the Government’s claims about unit cohesion are directly contradicted by the evidence, including evidence that the Government has delayed the discharge of gay and lesbian servicemembers until after their combat tours are over.
Stuff like this is obvious to gay people, in the same way that mixed-race couples in 1940 found it obvious that prohibitions against their marriage are inherently unconstitutional. But it’s a relief to see the culture as a whole acknowledging it. As Martin Luther King said, the arc of history bends toward justice — I believe that that is true fundamentally, and not just contingently or locally, among a human race that is wired for communitarian living — and we’ve seen a lot of positive social change for gay people in just a few short years.
Last night’s dinner (and this night’s too): an asparagus risotto that’s SO EASY that even you can make it. Lots of people have a terror of risotto, but it is very difficult to screw up, and beginning to end, it takes only about 40 minutes. Adapted from Mark Bittman.
What to do:
- Wash about half a bunch of asparagus, break off the woody ends, chop into roughly 3/4-inch pieces, and nuke them in the microwave in a covered bowl for about 2 minutes.
- Take an ordinary saucepan, pour in a quart (32 ounces) of stock (I used a Tetra-Pak of chicken stock), and turn the heat on low. You want it to be hot, but not boiling.
- Chop a medium onion — minced if you’re a good chopper, or just rough small pieces, it doesn’t really matter.
- Put a second (heavy, if you have it) saucepan on the stove. Melt about 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, and when it’s sizzling, drop in the onion. Cook for a few minutes until the onion has started to get soft (but not brown).
- Measure about 1 1/2 cups of Arborio rice, pour it into the buttery onion, and stir it around.
- Add some salt and pepper.
- Pour about 1/2 cup of white wine (whatever you have handy) into the rice-onion mixture, and stir it over medium heat for a few minutes until most of the liquid bubbles away.
- Add about half a cup of stock to the rice mixture. (I just dip a mug into one pot and pour it into the other.) Keep the heat medium-high on the rice mixture and stir/scrape intermittently with a wide spatula, to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides.
- As the stock bubbles away from the rice mixture, add another half-cup of stock and stir. As it cooks, the mixture should be neither soupy nor dried out.
- Keep repeating this. It will take between 20 and 30 minutes for all the stock to be absorbed into the rice. Stop adding stock when the rice tastes cooked but still a little chewy. You may have a little stock left over, which you can feed to the cat.
- In between dealing with the rice, grate about 1/2 cup of good Parmesan and set it aside.
- When the rice is done, fold in the grated Parmesan and adjust the seasonings. Then fold in the asparagus you cooked in the microwave. Then serve with a crusty bread.
Today was Yellow Pages Day in Manhattan — that public holiday of long standing in which elves scurry about throughout the night and into the wee hours of the morning, depositing identical yellow books, shrinkwrapped in groups of six, on doorsteps throughout the land.
I passed several of these parcels, unwanted and unloved, on my walk from the subway to work this morning. I even momentarily fingered a copy of the 2010-2011 Yellow Book, thinking “I should take this home, maybe I’ll need it.” Then I stopped myself. For what? What could possibly be in that book that I can’t find more quickly, search for more effectively, evaluate more usefully online? I set it down, walked into the office… and found a copy of the 2010-2011 Yellow Book already sitting in the office recycling bin.
Like the landline that it once existed to serve, the Yellow Pages is on its way out. Even nine years ago (!), when I was trying to promote my fledgling bookstore, the ad salespeople were already desperate. (I didn’t bite. What they were charging was ridiculous, and even in 2002 the Yellow Pages already felt “over.”) Now they must be apoplectic from the stench of their own imminent obsolescence. This is a business that still exists only because certain parties (ad salespeople, printing companies, certain types of traditional businesses and conservative businesspeople) are locked in a cycle of mutual addiction and denial, reinforced by a dollop of voodoo and magical thinking. Of all the types of advertising your small business could possibly pay for in the current environment, the Yellow Pages must be one of the least trackable, and it’s certainly one of the least nimble.
Which is why you saw things like this on the street today in Manhattan:
The first three photos above were taken about 7pm, roughly 15 hours after the elves made the last of their deliveries. That last photo was taken at midnight (approaching 24 hours after dropoff) in the lobby of an apartment building. I repeat: in almost 24 hours, nobody in this 10-unit apartment building took a copy. To the constituency allegedly intended to consume it (whose consumption of it is the product being sold to advertisers), this product is literally worth nothing. Why is this thing still being produced again?
…or, obviously, not exactly like this person, but with the same desire to nail a precise stylistic look and the same determination to carry it off. And I don’t think she was on her way to, like, her waitress job at Medieval Times, she appeared to be just going to class like a normal person, only dressed like that. And she was perfect. My raggedy-ass surreptitious iPhone pic doesn’t do justice to her painstakingly conceived outfit and her numerous accessories, including a coordinating two-fingered ring on her left hand. (Not pictured: her coordinating bejeweled sandals.)
There are only a couple cities in America in which you can get away with a look like this and not seem absolutely ridiculous (or worse), and New York is the only one where you can do it at any time of the day, any time of year. She was too put-together to get away with it in San Francisco (although, to be fair, nobody in San Francisco would say so to her face), and in L.A. she’d just look ridiculous unless she was on her way to an audition. But in the New York subway, at 9:15 in the morning, she looked terrific!
…namely, that “if your aim is to attract people, food and drink are the main attractions,” in the words of Philip Myrick of the Project for Public Spaces.
The occasion is this story about cafe life in Portland — you can read it. Myrick’s point is that if you want people to organically gather on the streets of your neighborhood, you need food and drink, suitable for all ages and stages in the community, sold and served in a way that lets people consume them in an organic fashion outdoors or visible from the street.
All true. But argh!
I don’t disagree with any of this, it’s all true, and I mean no disrespect to the exceptionally committed people at PPS — my reaction is more a sense of frustration and missed opportunity that this isn’t intuitively obvious, that it has to be said, and re-said, and re-re-said every decade or so, to every generation. If you, dear reader, are just figuring this out now, what have you been doing to your own downtown for the past 25 years? And how many young people have you driven away, how many working-age people have you effectively locked in their office buildings all day for how many days/weeks/years, how many old people have you consigned to spend their waning days sitting in their apartments (or, worse, sitting on a bench in the mall) because there’s nowhere worth going to?
Let’s get with it, America!
Anyone older than about 60 who grew up in a healthy community probably already knows that food is at the center of everything social. Nevermind community events like church socials and picnics — every town over a thousand people had a drugstore, with big plate-glass windows and a soda fountain or lunch counter, once upon a time, where you could see people going about the private business of eating in a semi-public way. And even younger people know it, if we’ve lived part of our lives in a healthy big city. I was living in the newly minted municipality of West Hollywood when the first round of modern artisanal coffehouses appeared in the early 1990s; the moment cafes started to appear, whole new populations began to use the street. Nothing has driven the sidewalk re-revitalization of Santa Monica Boulevard over the past decade more than streetfront dining.
Closer to home, think of New York: the most transformational change to the streetscape in the five years I’ve been here has been the simple addition of lots of chairs and tables all over the place, including in what used to be traffic lanes in the middle of Times Square. People want to sit down and, very often, eat and drink, in public. What are the healthiest public spaces in Lower Manhattan? One of them is Stone Street, which today is given over almost entirely to street dining. (Photo above: the pop-up cafe thrown up by the DOT on nearby Pearl Street last month.)
Or look at the opposite case. I was on a message-board thread this week about Fulton Mall, the tattered retail strip in downtown Brooklyn that (due to the volume of people passing through, and the lack of local alternatives) commands among the highest retail rents in New York City, despite the fact that nobody can stand it. Sure, Fulton Mall is filthy and disorderly and way too crowded, but if you’ve ever been to, say, the Venice boardwalk in Los Angeles, you know that filth and disorder and crowds are not sufficient to make a place unlovable. There’s something else. And something landscape designer Gil Lopez said on the list reminded me that one of the reasons everyone hates Fulton Mall is also one of the most obvious: there’s nothing to eat except junk, and there’s nowhere to sit down and eat it!