Jun 26, 2012


How To Spell the Alphabet
Tauba Auerbah

Gilbert Apollinaire
As a  child, one of my favorite things was to open the cedar closet, which stored my mother's seal coat and run my hands up and down the nap; changing the color from espresso to fawn.  I enjoy this same luxurious sensation when I glide my hands over handset type. I know this is weird.  But if you've ever set type, you  know what I mean.  You can feel the letters.

The current show,  Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language at MoMA gave me goosebumps.  I experienced the joy of letters and words and the deconstruction of words taken away from meaning.
The Robert Smithson piece, A Heap of Language composed of 152 words in a pyramidal form collapses language.  "A word outside of the mind is a set of "dead letters".  The mania for literalness related to the breakdown in the rational belief in reality.  Books entomb words in a synthetic rigor mortis, perhaps that is why "print" is thought to have entered obsolescence." 1957 R.Smithson
The artists in this show (those shown for historical reasons and those working today) have taken content and turned it into something visual.  There is wallpaper made of words, constructed photographs of letters, a floor runner by Ferdinand Kriwet and numerous collections of objects called Found Fount by Paul Elliman.  All of these pieces have one thing in a common; an uncommon joyful spirit.  As Smithson pointed out over fifty years ago, print may be dead, but playing around with words is not.

Jun 20, 2012


"I am too busy to care about what other people think."  Tavi Gevinson

"Personal style is curiosity about oneself."  Iris Apfel

My mother crawled into the protective shelf of a girdle almost everyday of her adult life.  When it came to fashion, she was a follower.  Her lack of self-confidence was masked by her innate ability to always appear elegant. She chose her clothes carefully.

High maintenance is a trait I inherited from her, but not elegance.  Early on I was putting outfits together that had an aesthetic appeal to ME, which is not to say I had self-confidence.  Tavi Gevinson, founder and editor-in-chief of RookieMag.com, age 16 and Iris Apfel, style icon, age 90 have self-confidence.  They exude it.

The conversation between these two women was moderated by Judith Thurman: the topic:  Good Taste/Bad Taste:  The Evolution of Contemporary Chic (Metropolitan Museum - Sunday June 17).  You might wonder what kind of dialog a 16 year old and 90 year old can have?  Is it grandmother to granddaughter?  Sage to Innocent? Seniority to inexperience?  No.  These two ladies were talking to each other as respected colleagues.

"I don't live to be trendy - you can't be trendy and have personal style."  Iris Apfel

"Personal style is a chance to create your own fantasy...to have a force field around you"  Tavi Gevinson
I understand that clothes are like performance art.  I often look over my closet and put something together I feel proud of; I put a check next to the self-esteem box.   But sometimes you want to be yourself.  Many years ago, a friend of mine said, what is the first thing you do when you get home?  Take your clothes off and change into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

Apfel "I am freer when I am not dressed up"
and Gevinson agreed, "There is nothing like a good old bathrobe."

And there is nothing like a great conversation.

Iris Apfel may have been the first woman to wear a pair of jeans on a college campus.
"I went to the University of Wisconsin in 1940's.  I had this vision of myself in a pair of jeans, big gingham turban, hoop earrings and a crisp shirt.  I asked around and found an Army/Navy store in the area.  I inquired of the owner where I could find a pair of jeans for myself.  He immediately kicked me out of the shop.  "Woman don't wear jeans."  But, when I want something; I am like a dog with a bone.  I went back time after time; thinking he might take me seriously.  A few months later, I received a call from the owner.  He had ordered a pair of boys jeans for me."

Jun 14, 2012

The Wow Effect

I lost my sense of taste to anesthesia.  When I was offered a cup of coffee before leaving the hospital, I realized that my tongue was no longer picking up on sensory cues.  I could identify the drink as hot, but that was all.  I tried not to worry.  I hoped it was a temporary condition.

A week and half after surgery, still living in a non-flavorful world, I went to hear Eric Ripert, chef at the 4 star restaurant, Le Bernadin and Christina Tosi, pastry chef at Momofuku Milk Bar talk about "Fabulous Flavors:  Sweet, Sour, Savory" at the Alliance Francaise.  The conversation moderated by Christine Muhlke, Executive Editor of Bon Appetit Magazine was advertised as a discussion on how flavors shape our memories.  For someone lacking  taste buds, I thought this conversation might revive my capacity to detect flavor.

The pairing of these two chefs was brilliant:  cornflakes meet black truffles.

Ripert grew up in the South of France in a cooking family. With French and Italian grandmothers, a mother devoted to the nouvelle French cuisine of the day (Paul Bocuse), Ripert was surrounded by rustic and elaborate cooking that depended on local ingredients.  His home was an ocean of flavor and smells.

Tosi's childhood was packaged. A picky eater,  her childhood diet consisted of Whatchamacallits, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Barbecued Potato Chips. "I did not taste a raw tomato until I was 18 and ordered a BLT. My early food memories are those of the American Midwest.  It's low-brow, casual and has provided me with a flavor palette that inspires me as a pastry chef".

Just like a good dish, the contrast in texture made for a great conversation, which never became bitter or sour.  Each chef was passionate about putting their voice into food; tapping into emotions and memories.  The evening turned on one word:  UMAMI.

Tosi was talking about depth of flavor.  "It's something you feel in the pit of your stomach; it's umami." 

Ripert brigthened at this remark.  "What does umami mean to you? We've been researching it.  What does it mean in Japanese?... delicious flavor.  It's the WOW effect.  A state of mind.  A combination of ingredients...vibrant, powerful.  It's pure harmony.  It's earthiness."

As I left the Alliance Francaise, I felt reassured that my sense of taste would return.  As Tosi said, eating creates emotions in your mind.  I am waiting for those emotions to infuse my tongue.  In the meantime, I am planning a trip to Milk Bar to taste a compost cookie (pretzels, potato chips, chocolate and Rice Krispies).  A dinner at Le Bernadin will have to wait until a few more pesos accumulate in my bank account.

From le Bernandin dinner menu:
Lacquered Striped Bass; Chayote Squash, Sofrito Broth
Sauted Sole;"Almond-Pisctachio-Barberry" Golden Basmati, Brown-Butter Tamarind Vinaigrette
Grilled Baby Sepia; Sweet Pepper jam, Red-Wine-Squid Ink Sauce

From Milk Bar menu:
Blueberry miso soft serve
Compost Cookie
Crack Pie
Pretzel Milk

Jun 3, 2012

A Political Act

For gardeners, there is nothing new to learn in American Grown, The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America by Michelle Obama.  But it doesn't matter.

Before I downloaded American Grown, I had to consider if buying it was a political act.  I spend a great deal of my time at work in a 15,000 sq. ft. organic vegetable garden that exists solely for the purpose of educating New York City School children about where food comes from.  I am already a convert to the current gardening movement.  I am not interested in the White House garden as a garden and I am already familiar with gardening movement around the country, so?

Gardening is a safe topic.  It comes with none of the baggage of abortion or gay marriage.   I admire Michelle Obama for her efforts on behalf of healthy eating, nutritional food and war on couch potatoes is needed,.  For those who need the validation of a First Lady to open their eyes to the food movement, this is a good start.

The guy who has more to say about the politics of food than anyone I know of:  Wendell Berry

"I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act.  Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth.  Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true.  They think food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as "consumers."  If they think beyond that, they recognize that they are passive consumers.  They buy what they want - or what they have been persuaded to want - within the limits of what they can get.  They pay, mostly, without protect, what they are charged.  And they mostly ignore certain critical questions about the quality and the cost of what they are sold:  How fresh is it?  How pure or clean is it, how free of dangerous chemicals? How far was it transported, and what did transportation add to the cost? How much did manufacturing of packaging or advertising add to the cost?  When the food product has been manufactured or "processed" or "precooked," how has that affected its quality or price or nutritional value?..."

"When I think of the meaning of food, I always remember these lines by the poet William Carlos Williams, which seems to me merely honest:
There is nothing to eat,
seek it where you will,
but the body of the Lord,
The blessed plants
and the sea, yield it
to the imagination intact.

Wendell Berry, The Pleasures of Eating