February 2018

Stew Note:
Cooking with Mme de St Ange
21 February 2018

For years, I’ve had Paul Aratow’s translation of La Bonne Cuisine, by “Mme E de St Ange” (Evelyn Ebrard), a compendium that it’s probably stupid to think of as the French Joy of Cooking, but I’ve never cooked from it. I find it more forbidding than Mastering the Art of French Cooking, if you want to know the truth. For one thing, it’s really French, not French adapted for American taste. And the measurements are odd. What is “8 grams (1/3 ounce) of salt” in teaspoons? 

For even longer, something called “Dilled Blanquette de Veau” has been my dinner-party staple for gatherings of near and dear. The recipe appears in the first Silver Palate cookbook. I know it by heart. You cook cubes of veal in a lot of butter until they turn grey, and then you cook it some more in some seasoned flour. Heaps of sliced onions and carrots are dumped in, along with broth to cover, plus a good deal of dill, which I learned to leave on the springs, for easy discarding. After a spell in the oven, you strain the stew and create a sauce with the broth, some roux, and heavy cream. When the meat and vegetables are added to the sauce, you sprinkle on plenty of chopped fresh dill that’s nice and green, not having been in the oven for an hour or more. Everybody loves it. 

Everybody but Kathleen, it turns out. Not that she would have told me if I hadn’t tried an alternative recipe. Yes, the one from La Bonne Cuisine. My idea had been to use the recipe in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, except there isn’t one. “[T]o my taste this dish with its creamy white sauce is rather insipid.” (571) The gals at Silver Palate probably thought the same thing. But I like creamy white sauces, so I turned to Mme St Ange.  

At first, it seemed impossible, because it was so unlike what I was used to. You simmer the veal in water, very gently, until all the scum has risen to the top. Then you add a few slices of carrot and an onion studded with a clove. And a bouquet garni, of course. This simmers for even longer. Meanwhile, you prepare mushrooms and pearl onions. I didn’t have any pearl onions, and I didn’t consult Madame’s method for mushrooms, but simply sautéed them. This wasn’t a mistake, exactly, but it would have been better if I’d boiled them, as recommended, because then I would have had some flavorful liquid to add to the broth created by the simmered veal.

I worried that the veal would be boiled to death, but it wasn’t; I really did keep the heat down, and conscientiously swept off the scum. The broth was crystal-clear when the simmering came to an end. But I couldn’t get the sauce to thicken properly, even with the egg yolk that was called for. It is possible that I hadn’t sufficiently reduced it. Nevertheless, the dish was very tasty, and Kathleen said that she liked it much better. So much better, really, that, truth to tell, she never did like the way I made it for years. 

“Make it again, soon!” she urged. So I will. 

Snack Note:
Sandwich Strike
20 February 2018

I’ve gotten terribly tired of sandwiches. Well, most sandwiches. There are a couple of classic sandwiches of which it may be said that the bread is an ingredient, not a structural support. Peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter and bacon, BLT — these on light toast. But ham and cheese? Turkey and lettuce? Can I just have the insides? 

The sandwich is a powerful organizing principal, however. Bread, filling, condiment: assembling these items requires no thought. It’s much harder, at least for me, to pull the ham out of the fridge and then to remember that I’ve got some radishes somewhere, and finally to find a bit of the kind of cheese that you don’t put into sandwiches. The other day, though, this is exactly what I managed to do, and it was grand.

Next time — I also have to get better at stocking radishes — I might even spread the cheese on a piece of toast.

Jazz Note:
Total Mess Situation
19 February 2018

“Don’t you like jazz anymore?” Kathleen asked, in a level voice tinged with anxiety.

What I didn’t like was going to the trouble of playing it, of “picking records,” as we used to say. I had made a mess of our jazz library. I had not completed the project of uploading jazz into iTunes. About half of the CDs remained to be transcribed to MP3 format, and these tended to be the CDs that we didn’t want to play. Or, take Basia. Remember her? I could never figure out how to categorize Basia. So her albums, like the CDs of music that I didn’t care enough about to reformat for the iPod, remain stacked, disorganized, in three of the four CD racks in the apartment. The library had been a mess in the old apartment; the move downstairs  only made it worse. 

As I said in my last Jazz Note, my grasp of jazz — a genre that I sometimes suspect of being all frontier and no core — is not strong enough for me to make choices without handling actual CDs in their jewel cases. And even if it weren’t for that, there was no way, in the chaotic conditions prevailing when Kathleen asked the question, for her to find what she might want to listen to. Indeed, once I resolved to get organized, it took days of head scratching and looking in unlikely places to find the Jarrett-Peacock-De Johnette and Manhattan Transfer collections, both of which had been broken down (removed from jewel cases) and filed in bins where they didn’t belong. A total mess situation. 

But I did find them, along with such anthologies as Jazz Giants Play Hoagy Carmichael, also where they didn’t belong. Now I can pull out the CD, from an old BOMC collection, that ends with Red Norvo’s band playing “In a Mellotone” (sic), a sixteen-minute fiesta of solos and reprises. (The cut was my introduction to Slam Stewart.)

All it took was buckling down and getting to it, something that I’d have postponed indefinitely if Kathleen hadn’t asked.

Book Note:
Fun With Granny Lizzy
16 February 2018

What to say about A J Finn’s debut novel, The Woman in the Window? Nothing about the story itself, certainly — and I do mean nothing. That’s because everything in it is significant, however slightly. I can think of one detail that isn’t particularly telling: the setting in Harlem. But maybe I’ve missed something! Maybe there’s a clue, to who knows what, in the Harlem neighborhood that happens to lack black residents. 

I read the book in a day, but it wasn’t what you think. I was able to put it down several times to do other things. I was far more eager to have my own questions answered than I was to find out who did what. These might look like the same thing, but they weren’t. I wasn’t caught up in suspense. I was engaged by a puzzle. And it was a special kind of puzzle, a highly-refined, well-mannered puzzle, like a maze or, as I often thought, a sonata. Sonatas are not thought of as puzzling, but a good one is rather like a hand of expertly-played bridge, opening with bids and then taking tricks to meet them. I did not try to figure out what was really going on. I simply paid attention. 

I paid attention, and, as a result, I was not surprised by the big reveal on page 616 (not its actual location); in fact, finding out that I was right relieved the suspense that gripped me most, and it had nothing to do with — well, never mind. And the villain turned out to be the only character capable of filling the role in a way that satisfied all of the novel’s premises. I identified this perpetrator very early on. But I don’t want to sound clever. I’m usually terrible at this sort of thing. Ordinarily, Kathleen has everything figured out long before she’s halfway through, whereas my mouth is gaping through the past twenty pages. Not this time. Kathleen was totally surprised, and I foresaw almost everything. (The “correspondent,” as such people used to be called in certain cases, did surprise me, and I felt a tremendous fool.) That’s because Kathleen goes at it like a detective, whilst I work things out internally, according to form. It’s usually a waste of time — there is no form. From a formal point of view, a book like The Girl on the Train is a mess, but who cares? I could tell, very early on, that The Woman in the Window, despite its echoing title, was not a mess. 

And I knew, from publicity in the Times, that A J Finn’s gender, so carefully masked by the book’s dust jacket, is male. It seems almost impolite to add, gay male — what difference should that make? But I do, because his heroine, Anna Fox, reminded me constantly of Libby Gelman-Waxner. This fictitious personage, you may recall, ran a column in the old Premiere magazine, ghosted in fact by the very funny playwright, Paul Rudnick. I used to die laughing reading Libby, and I felt horribly used when I discovered that she not only didn’t exist but was really a man. The thing is, I knew a woman just like her, a sort of Bette Midler with the volume turned way up. Sample joke: 

Hubby: You spent $40,000 renovating our kitchen in Fort Lee, and you don’t even know how to cook.

Wife: You spent $35,000 on the master bathroom, and you don’t even know how to shtup!

I heard this, and many other zingers, with my own ears, not in a theatre but over glasses of Sauvignon blanc. You don’t have to be a gay man to think them up. Sad as Anna’s fate was, with her miserable traumatic experience and resulting agoraphobia (no spoiler), and desperate as she was to persuade somebody that she was not “seeing things,” despite a diet of Merlot and psychotropic medication (not to mention a history of denial), I found her to be an appealing comic figure. Her sense of humor — that she still had one was amazing — was dark and mordant. It also struck me as belonging to a woman older and more worldly-wise than Anna. But these are not even minor quibbles. I liked the book as much as anybody. I just read it sitting, not on the edge of my seat, but stretched out comfortably in my chair. It was fun. 

And what was that that Chekhov said about skylights in the first act? 

Jazz Note:
Jewel Cases Redux
15 February 2018

We are reorganizing our Jazz CD library. There are at least 200 discs, plus many more in the frontier between “jazz” and “pop” and “the American Songbook.”

(“Pop,” needless to say, is not to be confused with rock ‘n’ roll, or country; it is much less demotic than either of those genres. When I think of pop, I think of Acker Bilk and “Stranger by the Shore.”)

A few years ago, I made a mistake. I treated jazz like any other genre in my library, and subjected it to the space-saving protocols that have enabled me to manage a vastly larger classical-music library in a small space. Sparing you the boring details, I’ll just say that getting rid of the jewel case is the first step in fitting my CDs, liner notes and so on into my slim spatial allowance. The result was less a library and more a vault. The CDs could molder in peace while I accessed the music from my computer, for iPod playlists. This worked just so well with serious music that it took years to discover how inapt it is for jazz. 

More than any other genre, jazz is recorded in albums. The tracks are laid out by professionals with a fine sense of balancing the loud against the soft, the thoughtful against the hectic, the busy against the straightforward. Jazz cuts are not intended to be listened to in random sequence, which works pretty well for pop and song and almost as well for rock. Random jazz will give you a terrible headache, but you won’t know why. Not for a while. 

Like everything else, my jazz was uploaded onto a massive iTunes library. It would have been easy to transfer iTunes albums into playlists and thence onto iPods, and in fact it was. The difficulty was this: it was hard to tell which albums to transfer. I don’t begin to know jazz (much less jazz albums as such) as well as I know classical music. For six years, I made a living deciding which symphony ought to follow which concerto. I can’t do that with jazz. With jazz, I have to have the CDs, in their jewel cases, in hand. 

So we have bought empty jewel cases — Kathleen found a good deal on eBay — and put the downsized jazz CDs into them. Whether we have the room to house this move remains to be seen, but at the moment there are only a few unseemly piles, mostly of displaced rock. 

Why we’re going to all this trouble will be explained next week. 

More anon.

Reading Note:
Old Enough for Liebling
14 February 2018

I was only fifteen when A J Liebling died, at the age of 59, a martyr to his gourmandise. It would be years before I’d outgrow the priggishness that for so long made it impossible for me to consider reading the work of a boxing fan, tant pis pour moi. A few years ago, David Remnick published a Liebling miscellany, Just Enough Liebling. It contains “The Jollity Building,” a tour of vanished New York that features the famous Brill Building. It could be called Dickensian if it were not so much better than Dickens. It is interesting to compare Liebling with the New Yorker colleague to whom he left his library, Joseph Mitchell. There is no Paris in Mitchell, and Paris in every paragraph of Liebling. 

Just Enough Liebling also includes three of the gastronomic memoirs that were also published as Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris, where I have read them in the past couple of days. How I wish that I were re-reading them. Between Meals is that kind of treasure, full of what seem like tall tales even though, alarmingly, they might be true. 

I have to wonder, though, if Liebling is still intelligible to readers, without the encumbrance of annotations. It’s always deadening to research the reference in a joke.

If an actress had a dish named after her now, the recipe would be four phenobarbital tablets and a jigger of Metrecal.

I remember Metrecal, and so does Kathleen, but who under sixty?

Rialto Note:
Jan Maxwell
13 February 2018

Jan Maxwell died. What a loss to the theatre!

I haven’t gone out much in the past couple of years, but I’d begun to notice that Ms Maxwell wasn’t showing up in any listings. I think that I’d have made an effort to see almost anything that she was in. 

Kathleen and I were unaware of Jan Maxwell when a law school classmate who grew up in Fargo, her home town, mentioned her to us. Our classmate never knew her, but two of her best friends did. At that time, I believe, Ms Maxwell was appearing in My Old Lady, the play by Israel Horovitz. So we went to see that, more enthusiastically than we might have done, because her costar, Siân Phillips, was already a fave. We became fans on the spot. Jan Maxwell had the presence, the élan, and the witchcraft of a great stage actor, and, if she wasn’t as famous as others in her class, it was become she was sometimes better than the show she was in. She was almost always more dangerous.  

Ben Brantley’s appreciation is a fine memorial. 

Pizza Note:
In the Dark
12 February 2018

¶ The other night, I made pizza for the first time in ages.

I took up home-made pizza a couple of years ago, after being amazed and delighted by what my daughter could do in her Outer Sunset kitchen. When we visit, I seem to spend all of my indoor time at the kitchen table, and when, at some point before dinner, Megan would announce that she was making pizzas, I’d wonder when they’d ever reach the table; I thought that it must take a long time to make the dough, let it rise, &c &c. But no. Within ninety minutes, out of her oven would come simple, delicious pizzas. I decided I must really give it a try, if only to have something familiar to serve when she visited us. 

But while pizza a simple dish, “pizza” is strangely complicated. It is essentially downmarket, even rustic. It is not meant to thrill the tastebuds. What’s wanted instead is a straightforward, undiscriminating satisfaction. I remained stubbornly unsatisfied by my attempts at pizza. They weren’t failures. I could tell that Kathleen wasn’t crazy to praise them. But they rarely came close to what I had in mind. I began to think that what I liked about Megan’s pizzas was Megan’s making them in her kitchen. I stopped making pizza. 

There are four elements to pizza: the crust, the sauce, the topping, and the cheese. Because that’s all there is to it, the handling of each element alters the balance of the other three. With regard to the topping, the only important point is quantity. It doesn’t matter what you use, just how much. And, I find, how cooked: I have never quite solved the sausage problem. Sausage has to be cooked to some point before it goes into the oven, because the pizza doesn’t spend enough time in the oven to cook sausage. But it’s awfully easy to overcook the sausage ahead of time. Mushrooms, in contrast, do not seem to suffer in this way. 

Nevertheless, the topping is nothing compared with the sauce. My own preference is for pizza bianca — no tomatoes at all. But I haven’t really attempted that yet, because I’m still working on the crust, and I’m also learning to use less shredded whole-milk mozzarella, which I buy fresh at Agata & Valentina. Sauce remains the big problem. The other night, I took out a tub of Marcella Hazan’s “butter sauce,” as I call it, that astonishingly complex blend of tomato purée, onion and butter. I had tried on pizza before, once or twice, but only the other night did it finally seem to work. More or less. 

As to crust, I’ve become obsessed with rolling it out very thin. This may be the next thing to work on. Too much diameter means too much of everything else, not to mention a really brittle crust that tastes too much like crackers. 

Sometimes I just want my pizza to taste exactly like something from a neighborhood pizza parlor. That would be a completely different kind of satisfaction from the one that I get in my daughter’s kitchen. I’m still in the dark as to what pizza from my own oven ought to taste like.  

 

Gotham Note:
Venture No More
9 February 2018

I need an Apica 8X11 spiral-bound notebook right now. I’ve got one on order at Amazon, but it’s coming from Japan and won’t get here until the end of the month. Unacceptable! So I climbed the lower slopes of Carnegie Hill in numbing weather this afternoon to buy one at Venture Stationery, which moved a few years ago from its immemorial location on Madison Avenue between 85th and 86th to much smaller premises on Lexington somewhere between 80th and 83rd — I was never really sure. I found it, between 80th and 81st. The awning is still there, but the shop is empty.

Kathleen said that she wasn’t surprised; the new store had so much less stock; it wasn’t at all the cornucopia of pens and pads and strange glues and — Apica notebooks — that the Madison Avenue place had been. To me, it was the move itself that did the store in. The new location simply wasn’t in the right neighborhood; it was too far down Carnegie Hill. Madison Avenue between 79th and 96th Streets is the Upper East Side’s High Street, where people who live here full time do their shopping. Lexington is where their caterers do their shopping.  

Dotage Note:
Bug Not a Feature
8 February 2018

¶ Here’s hoping that by the time you younger readers reach my time of life, the reacher actually picks up an iPhone when you drop it. 

I have several different makes of “pick-up tool,” and not one of them can do it. The iPhone is too heavy for the limited purchase that it offers the tool. Needless to say, if you try a fore-and-aft lift, those suction cups forget what they’re for. Now that I think of it, while I’m sure that the cups’ flexibility helps the tool get a grip on things, I have never known the suction feature to work as such. 

If anyone knows the trick of it — if there is a trick — I’d be most grateful to know it. 

Glamour Note:
Sans French and Stench
7 February 2018

¶ Hats off to Jennifer Finney Boylan for her Pepé le Pew piece, the most amusing assessment of the President that I’ve ever seen. 

It is fair to say these cartoons have not aged well (not a rare quality; see also Disney’s “Song of the South”). But in the #MeToo era, Pepé Le Pew’s antics make you want to cover your face with your paws. Virtually his whole oeuvre is a series of jokes about males who — no matter how clearly the point is made — cannot possibly comprehend the magnitude of their own disgustingness.

Which leads us back to the president, who is kind of like Pepé Le Pew with neither French nor stench. 

Boylan strikes a more somber note toward the end, after describing the famous Bugs Bunny-Daffy Duck competittion which climaxes with Daffy’s explosion. 

Is there a better metaphor for the election of 2016? There we were, mouths agape, as the most craven soul ever to aim at the White House ran, and won. Ratings went through the roof as everything we ever thought we knew about our country’s decency exploded.

Televisions don’t destroy minds; people watching television destroy minds.

¶ Kathleen was on television today, some Yahoo business show at lunchtime. When she came home, she said, “I’ve got my war paint on.” If she hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have noticed, not then, but later, while she was sitting in the lamplight reading the Times, I saw that she was looking pretty special, and yet there wasn’t anything that I could point to, except, finally, her eyebrows, which, she acknowledged, had been darkened. She told me that it took the makeup artist about twenty minutes to work this magic, which didn’t look like war paint at all, even if it did put some color in Kathleen’s face, and take out some fatigue. Aside from a very occasional dab of blush, and more regular use of light lipsticks, Kathleen doesn’t do the makeup thing at all, and I’m pretty sure that she doesn’t have the patience (even if she has the knowledge) to put on the “layers” of whatever it was that were so sparingly but effectively applied.  

Vapors Note:
Journée de Collapse
6 February 2018

¶ Nothing to report. After yesterday’s adventures, it’s no wonder that I was a basket case for most of the day. My one Tuesday task, gathering up the laundry to take it downstairs — I do some things myself in the laundry room down the hall, but the bulk is sent out for wash-and-fold — seemed way too demanding, and then I screwed up my alternate Tuesday task, changing the sheets, by making the bed instead. But what threatened to be a washout on the household front was redeemed when Kathleen called to say that she had a bad headache and wanted to climb into bed the moment she got home. As long as I was going to unmake the bed, by folding up the quilt and distributing the pillows for use — two for Kathleen, six for me — I thought I might as well keep going, so the sheets got changed after all. And the laundry bag, which is always heavier when I carry it down than when I bring it home — dirt? — got to where it was supposed to go. Also, the old thermal blanket, which had a bad tear (from wear) was replaced by a new one.

Kathleen wanted a light dinner, of course; in fact, she wanted breakfast: scrambled eggs, toast, and tea. I couldn’t decide what to make for myself. I’ve been reading all these books about food writers, Elizabeth David mostly, and the effect, not unlike that of serious cooking itself, is appetite-suppressing. Then I remembered a can of soup that I had bought at Agata & Valentina, deluxe stuff, $4.99 for 10.5 ounces. A “semi-condensed” lobster bisque. I thought that I would eat that and then write it up. But it was too bland to write up. If I’d had a steamed lobster in the fridge, along with some cooked marble potatoes — aptly named little things that A&V has from time to time — I could have made a really tasty lobster bisque in the time that it took to heat the contents of the can. The canner will go nameless. While sipping the soup, I was reading Richard Olney’s memoir, Reflexions, about which more anon. 

Meanwhile, I wish I could remember where I first got wind of M F K Fisher. It was in Houston in the Seventies, I know; I don’t remember not having a copy of the omnibus Art of Eating. And I’ve never forgotten reading her recipe for financière sauce, with the revolting-sounding coxcombs. But was it a woman who recommended Fisher, or did I read about her somewhere? Of course I haven’t read Fisher in years; I long ago saw her writing for the blend of flummery and uselessness that it is, running like hot treacle beneath her romantic fogs. More about her, anon, too. But not tonight. 

AI Note:
Updates
5 February 2018

¶ Let’s not talk about updates. Remember my ha-ha mention, the other day, of “aborting” a Windows update? On Saturday, I let the update run its course, and the result was a machine, my already beloved little Surface, that didn’t work. At all. Hours of highest-quality tech guidance were required to bring it back to life — and then to make sure that the update was successful. HOURS. (To get from “92%” to “94%” took forty minutes.) Meanwhile, where was Kathleen? Kathleen had lost her phone. Any doubts that she lost her phone were quashed when she went to the phone store and they told her that her number had been canceled! So she has a new number as well as a new phone. She left work early, and was out of reach for two hours. “It took forever.” Between waiting to get from “94%” to “96%,” wondering if it really made a difference in the end, and agonizing over Kathleen’s whereabouts — all calls, I only later knew why, went straight to voicemail — I was reduced from planning a nice dinner to calling in. 

One of the nice thing about the old days that we were unaware of at the time: no updates. 

The Surface crashed on Saturday night. Instead of a nice dinner, we had spaghetti with ragù bolognese. Not too shabby really; I follow Marcella Hazan’s recipe, as passed down by her son in his DK pasta book, and I’ve learned not to freeze it . Still agitated last night (Sunday), I couldn’t decide what to do, so I made a risotto. Making a risotto has become the thing that I do when I am so stressed out that the very idea of following a recipe is hateful. It’s not that I’m feeling creative or imaginative but rather the reverse: I know that there is a really high basement, mere inches below ground level, into which I will fall if fall I must. It doesn’t matter how relatively uninspired my ideas might be, for the result is sure to be edible as long as 

  • I use arborio rice, which I stock anyway instead of the usual American stuff; it makes a perfectly nice ordinary side dish,
  • The chicken broth is good, and there’s plenty of it, and
  • I have at least one interesting vegetable. 

Last night, I had two. I had a leek, and I had an ear of corn. I’ve used corn in risotto plenty of times, but I’d never substituted leek for shallot before. I was rather alarmed at first because, once the diced leek had softened and I’d tossed in the rice, I began to see little brown bits — little, but very brown, verging on burned. Meanwhile, the rice wasn’t cooperating, it wasn’t doing that thing where it turns translucent but for the kernel at the core. I almost threw the leek and rice away at that point. But I was too tired for fussing, so I forged on, and, somehow, the brown bits disappeared. Whether they dissolved into grains or evaporated into thin air I cannot say, but there was nothing scorched about the dish as served forth. The rice, meanwhile, plumped up nicely as per.

Being tired, I couldn’t decide what to do with the corn. Sauté it first, as I often do for a side dish, in butter and oil, seasoned with salt and oregano? Or just toss it in raw? I went with the second option, not because it was easier but because something told me that what I really wanted from the corn was its freshness. Its virginity, really. That’s what I wanted last night, anyway. At another time, perhaps it would have been more agreeable to sex up the corn just as the rice had been sexed up with the leek and Agata & Valentina’s truly fabulous chicken stock (clear as bouillon, by the way). But not last night. 

Kathleen liked it. She said, “You’ve seasoned it with something? What is it? Oh, it’s the leek!” When we sat down, I tossed a baggie of grated parmesan into a bowl, and into the bowl I stuck a spoon, but neither of us made use of it or the cheese. 

Museum Note:
Hockney at MMA
2 February 2018

¶ I made it. I got myself to the Museum this afternoon, and took in the Hockney show. It had been a while since my last visit — to the Museum, I mean. According to the little Field Notes book that I keep in my bag, the last time I went to the Museum was in April of last year. The point is not that I finally made myself go, but that I finally felt free to go, and explaining that will have to wait for another time, because I still don’t understand it. In fact, I felt free to go yesterday, and almost did, but there were things, especially things pertaining to this Web log, that I knew I had to see to and didn’t want to postpone, so I stayed home. I wasn’t worried that the feeling of freedom would pass — again, I don’t know why —  and right after lunch, I hailed a taxi. 

It’s true that the Museum lies well within walking distance, for someone accustomed to walking. I don’t want to get into why I’ve become unaccustomed to walking; it’s enough say that I’ve been getting back in the groove, slowly but surely. It seemed prudent to save my steps for the Museum itself, not for getting there. At our last meeting, my rheumatologist actually laughed, and then immediately blanched with embarrassment, when I complained (in an amusing way, I like to think) that all I see when I go for a walk is dull grey sidewalk. In order to see anything else, I have to come to a complete standstill, as the doctor perfectly well knows. Walking around the Upper East Side has become an extremely same-old, same-old proposition, something that I hope my gentle readers never experience. However, since I’m not in fact obliged to walk to the Museum, alleviating the boredom of walking there has nothing to do with that odd sense of freedom that befell me yesterday. 

I didn’t go to the Museum with the intention of seeing the Hockney show. I might easily have taken in the show next door, the Michelangelo. I do hope to see the Michelangelo show before it leaves, but it wasn’t the right show for today. For one thing, it’s necessarily dark — all those five hundred year-old drawings! Hockney’s big, bright and colorful canvases were the thing for today. Oh, that portrait of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy! I’d never seen it in person before. Nor had I seen Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, an even more famous picture; but the Isherwood/Bachardy panel was worth a pilgrimage. It really does have to be seen at full size. Isherwood’s head, turned toward his companion’s, is entirely acquiline, more a glare or a stare than a glance. Bachardy looks genial and pleased about something, and totally unaware that Isherwood is being an impocerous. And at the same time, I couldn’t take my eye off the white, white sock on the writer’s right foot. 

On my way out, I stopped in the gift shop to by an engagement calendar. I have been keeping track of appointments — all of my engagements are with doctors — on the iPhone, which is super, except that I’m too old to learn how to consult the calendar app while I’m actually on the phone. No can do. Realizing that I would have to buy a book, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, this far into the New Year, they’re 70% off! What better reason to hibernate all the way through January and make no appointments until February! I’ll try to bear that in mind next year. 

Doodad Note:
Philately
1 February 2018

¶ My stamp collector kit arrived today. It’s not really for me, though. I gave the very same one to my grandson for Christmas. Only later did it occur to me that the only way I could inspire him to open it, long distance, was by writing to him about it, and for that I would need the same kit. 

Now I can finish the monthly letter in which I enclose cash that I know is much appreciated by the recipient. 

We’ll see how this experiment works. My grandfather collected stamps, and he got my mother into it for a while. For me, philately is the foundation of everything that I know about the world. 

January 2018

Anticipation:
Mayonnaise
31 January 2018

¶ Waiting for Windows 10 updates — a process that I appear to have aborted — I leafed through the chapter on sauces in Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking, and discovered (for I’d never heard of it) mayonnaise mousseuse. You blend into the mayonnaise either a bit of whipped cream or a beaten egg white. “Good for cold salmon, and for asparagus.” What a happy thing to look forward to on the last day of January! I’m going to go with the egg white, I think.

¶ I may even make my own mayonnaise. Like most New Yorkers, I grew up on Hellman’s, which, unlike other commercial preparations, is really good enough to insist that it has the true mayonnaise flavor. I’m also not crazy about olive oil at the best of times, preferring extremely neutral peanut oil or, for flavor, walnut oil. I stock a very expensive Spanish olive oil that is super in preparations, such as tapenade, that are so far out of the Northeast Corridor orbit that the olive oil isn’t stranger than anything else,  but when it comes to mayonnaise I don’t want anything getting in the way of the egg yolks.

In honor of E D, however, I will give olive another try when I make mayonnaise mousseuse.

Home Video:
The Beguiled
30 January 2018

¶ As Kathleen had a dinner date — strictly business — and I had a spot of ironing to do, I stopped by the Video Room after getting a haircut and rented The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle. I never saw the old movie, and I still don’t know why I wanted to see the new one, which I didn’t much enjoy. But I find that it has haunted me. What surprised me was the power of Colin Farrell’s performance. For the first half of the movie (roughly; more than that in fact), he does his cute little Irishman act, an untrustworthy rogue but nothing to worry about. Sometimes, especially in In Bruges, this works very well, but sometimes he just seems dim. 

But there’s nothing dim about the violent renegade who erupts at the climax, bellowing and crashing about his room, and then threatening the women, mostly girls, who have harbored him at the boarding school at which they’ve been marooned by the Civil War. Farrell’s corporal is as dangerous as a zizzing high-tension power line. Rage has scoured away every vestige of yes ma’am politeness, and notwithstanding his altered condition — he has lost a leg — he is not diminished. There is nothing remotely pitiful about him. I always think of Colin Farrell as a small-knit man; in The Beguiled, he demonstrates that size doesn’t matter. 

The oddest thing about this transformation is how it changes the weather around Nicole Kidman’s headmistress. Like the other two sexually mature woman in the house (played by Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning), she is unsettled by the wounded soldier’s masculine presence, but in her case this never leads to anything beyond badinage. Then the accident happens, and she finally makes her mind up about what to do about her unwonted guest. From that moment on, she reminded me of the delightfully but ruthlessly singleminded Ava at the end of Ex Machina

To top it all off — this strong residual memory — there’s the final shot, inspired by so many period photographs: the ladies and the girls assembled, most of them sitting, on the old mansion’s front porch, framed by fluted pillars. In their white muslin, they almost disappear into the woodwork, far most ghostly than the shrouded corpse stretched out in front of their gate. 

I said to Kathleen afterward, “Well, I won’t be buying that [on DVD].” Now, I’m not so sure.

 

Cookery Books:
Hollywood Baking
29 January 2018

¶ New to me: Paul Hollywood. A colleague of Kathleen’s asked for his book, Bread, at Christmas, and was given two copies. So he kindly passed one of them on to me. I’ve been reading it for weeks, but without making anything. Finally, this weekend, I gave something a try — but it wasn’t a recipe for bread. Hollywood’s gimmick is to pair every bread recipe with one for a dish, generally savory, to compose a satisfying meal. Aside from a very interesting-looking grilled lamb, served on a trencher (bread designed to serve as a plate), there isn’t much other meat, although bacon pops up now and again. There’s a brioche crown in which mozzarella and prosciutto are rolled up together, and the recommended accompaniment is a salad of roast butternut squash. 

I was curious about the squash, so I made that. Just the squash, not the salad. The recipe called for lots of cumin and red-pepper flakes, which I put in, and hot chilis, which I didn’t. The cubes of squash took about ten minutes longer to roast than Hollywood said they would, which was good to know in case I ever make the salad, which also involves sautéed bok choi. I heaped a few bits of the roast squash on our dinner plates on Saturday night, along with buttered tortellini and perfectly grilled London broil. The squash was tasty, but disappointing, because I had let it cool, so that was another lesson: the squash is meant to be hot. I was going to pitch the remainder — I had intended an experiment, after all — but I ended up putting it in a baggie. I’ll purée it with some broth and heat it up. 

What I plan to tackle next is Hollywood’s recipe for Stilton and bacon rolls. That comes with a celery soup that I also hope to make.