Yesterday, Clotilde over at Chocolate & Zucchini posted a link to this thoroughly fascinating photo essay. I found myself clicking through it several times and thinking about how absolutely scruffy I always look at breakfast. This morning I balanced a bowl of grapefruit segments on my knees before scrambling to apply my makeup, try on a new pair of jeans and do the dishes before heading out for the day. A breakfast not nearly as decadent as the aquamarine plate of what looks like avocado and toast.
Prior to reading D.V., my knowledge of Diana Vreeland and her personal history was extremely limited. I had an idea as to the scope of her career and influence at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, but knew nothing of her life. Furthermore, I never even realized Vreeland had penned a autobiography until my friend Alyssa loaned me a copy.
“You’ll love this,” she said, sliding the slim book across the table.
I have to say that I truly did. From chapter one, Vreeland all but reaches out to grab the reader by the lapels and firmly yanks him or her into the world of fashion and “the chic.” Vreeland is so assured and blithe that one can’t help but be carried along, absolutely powerless to resist. Here’s an excerpt from the very beginning which I think perfectly describes precisely that:
…I punched [Swifty] in the nose. He was quite startled. He picked up a china plate and put it under his dinner jacket to protect his heart. So I took a punch at the china plate!
I can certainly see how Vreeland’s voice could be off-putting to some, but sincerely: there is no point trying to struggle against Vreeland’s intoxicating personality. D.V. is two hundred and sixteen pages of whirlwind narrative, and deciding to read it is choosing to step into a gale-force wind.
One point that I feel must be made is that while D.V. was utterly compelling to me, it is by no means a literary sort of read. It’s pure puff, the written equivalent of a cloud of perfume — fun, fanciful and ephemeral. It is lovely for being that exactly, and nothing more.
Here’s a photo of the books I’ve currently got waiting in the wings, in no particular order. They are all for pleasure, except for The Poet and the Murderer, which is for book club. That’s not say, of course, that the books my friends and I pick to read together aren’t pleasurable — the difference is that I chose the six others for myself, and for no reason other than just plain wanting to read them.
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
- The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
- Messenger by Lois Lowry
- The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
- Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh
- The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall
- Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal
Excluding The Omnivore’s Dilemma and, again, The Poet and the Murderer, I purchased these books this past weekend at the Muse and the Marketplace. I attended a lectures by both Jennifer Haigh and Lois Lowry (big surprise, that), chatted with Michael Lowenthal at lunch on Saturday and attended the keynote brunch the following day with Jonathan Franzen. There were several books to be purchased at conference, but I went with these not only because these were the writers who impressed me the most, but also because I had a very limited amount of room in my bag.
- Do I really need to say anything more about my great affection for Lois Lowry?
- Jonathan Franzen read excerpts from his most recent book, The Discomfort Zone, and answered many questions on what I can’t help but think of as The Oprah Incident. He also discussed the German language, his unsuccessful pursuit of girls and the contemporary North American writers whose work he enjoys reading. I should also mention that Mr. Franzen’s voice is absolutely lovely to listen to. Immediately afterwards, I went to a seminar with John Sedgwick, who wondered how a voice like that could be attained. Nicotine, he concluded.
- Jennifer Haigh’s workshop on how to get a novel started was undoubtedly one of the most helpful, and not to mention exciting. In clear, concise words, Ms. Haigh spoke about some of her writing tricks; I know that I’m going to use them myself from here on in, with the hopes of being even a quarter as successful.
- Michael Lowenthal was a funny and friendly lunch companion — though our eating together was pure happenstance. I nervously sat down at a table, and found myself with published, acclaimed writers and a charming, witty agent. I’ve never felt like such a fraud before in my life. Mr. Lowenthal was easy to talk to, and had so many fascinating things to say about his recent time at the Instituto Sacatar, an artists’ colony in Brazil.
I’ve been embarrassingly absent these past few days and I have no good excuse aside from a mild case of ennui and an unabashed sense of anxiety about tomorrow. I promise to write much much more as soon as possible, perhaps starting even tonight. I’m far too worked up to do anything that involves wearing shoes.
Please allow this deliciousness to make up for my ineptitude.
I received my itinerary for Grub Street‘s Muse and the Marketplace conference the other day; I’ve been getting more and more worked up about it ever since. Don’t misunderstand — I’m very excited about attending this weekend, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s stressing me out.
Here’s my itinerary below; more details once I’ve attended…
Saturday, April 26th
8.00 am – 9.45 am: Registration, breakfast, meet and greet
9.45 am – 11.00 am: “Breaking Into Writing” with Paul Yoon, Bret Anthony Johnston, Susan Richards Shreve, Michelle Hoover and Ethan Gilsdorf.
11.15 am – 12.30 pm: “The Phases of a Story” with Kate Wheeler
12.45 pm – 2.00 pm: Lunch.
2.00 pm – 3.15 pm: “Get Your Novel Started: The Commando Plan to Get the *#%! Thing Off the Ground” with Jennifer Haigh
3.30 pm – 4.30 pm: Hour of Power Seminars, meet and greet, book signings and my Manuscript Mart session
Sunday, April 27th
8.00 am – 9.45 am: Registration, breakfast, meet and greet
9.45 am – 11.00 am: “Bring on the Rhino!” with Lois Lowry
11.15 am – 12.30 pm: “The Writing Life” with Chuck Hogan
12.45 pm – 2.30 pm: Keynote Lunch with Jonathan Franzen
2.30 pm – 3.45 pm: “Take Self, Add Facts, Make Story: The Art of the “Blended” Memoir” with John Sedgwick
4.00 pm – 5.00 pm: Hour of Power Seminars
Generally, when my friend Darlington and I get together, we hang out in the same areas: Havard Square, Back Bay and the South End. This past Thursday we thought it was time to mix things up a bit, so we headed down to the waterfront; we knew the ICA was open not only late but also for free after five.
Once we decided on the museum, I wanted to make sure there was someplace in the vicinity where we could drop in afterwards for a bite. For almost a year now, I’d been hearing whispers about a new place opening in nearby Fort Port Channel that would ultimately be part boutique, part eatery; recently articles started popping up detailing The Achilles Project, so I knew that the time had come to see if anything could live up to twelve months worth of hype.
The restaurant at Achilles is called Persephone, but before we even approached the hostess to be seated, we had to slide our hands up and down each and every garment hanging up inside the glass-and-steel clothing cases. I’m neither going to lie about nor defend my practically fatal weakness for clothes, but I will say that I was absolutely drawn to a gorgeous tuxedo-style blazer from Alexander McQueen‘s McQ line. I could barely keep my grabby little fingers away from it. And to think, for just under six hundred dollars, it could be mine…
Even though it was difficult, we made ourselves move past the apparel and into Persephone, where we settled into the pair of Emeco chairs at our slatted wood table. The menu is meant to have a Mediterranean twist, but I felt it leaned more toward the Spanish and the French — unsurprising, considering chef Michael Leviton‘s resume includes Le Bernardin, Le Cirque and his own Lumière in Newton.
In a sort of cute spin on the fashion-meets-food concept, the dishes at Persephone are divided not into the normal categories of appetizer and entrée, but rather into small, medium, large and extra-large — just like the sizes of, say, a T-shirt. Our waitress — I didn’t see any waiters — explained that the smalls were literally bite-sized, and that the extra-larges were meant as generous portions for two.
“We can give you a doggie bag though!” she said.
Darlington and I both chose to order from the mediums, then split a side dish. I went with the Roasted Northeast Family Farms Beef Marrow Bone ($12.00), which was served with a parsley and caper salad and grilled bread; in the covered container was a coarse-grained mustard.
Now, before I start in on describing the marrow, is it just me, or is it almost precious, attributing an ingredient to a specific farm? The entire listing at Persephone — and at Lumière as well — is full of such references, and I always feel as though these sorts of descriptives bog a menu down.
Onto the marrow… Darlington is a vegetarian, so I asked her if she would be terribly disgusted if I were to order it; though she said she would be fine, we were both surprised to see the huge bone that was placed in front of me. I felt like a kid in a butcher’s shop; I love marrow. My mother makes an amazing osso bucco, and when I was growing up we used to fight over who would get to suck the marrow out of the veal shanks’ bones. I had, however, never had a quantity of marrow such as this, nor had I ever spread it over a piece of toast like so much butter. As I ate, I kicked myself for have never eaten it like this before, because it was fantastic: salty, meaty and soft.
The parsley and caper combination was equally tasty. Why does parsley so frequently get looked over as nothing more than garnish? This salad was simple, green and crisp, and the perfect companion to the rich and fatty marrow. I’m sorry I can’t say the same of the mustard, which I found to be shot through with such an amount of horseradish that I couldn’t really get any pleasure out of eating it.
“So many kinds,” she said, “and it has a Parmesan-breadcrumb crust.”
That crust was the most delicious aspect of the plate (or should I say skillet?). It was savory and crunchy, and I ate my half of the crust before finishing what it blanketed. The rest of the mac and cheese was kind of generic; Darlington and I even started discussing our favorite Annie’s boxed pastas while eating it. (For the record, I like the Peace Pasta & Parmesan, and Darlington is partial to the Whole Wheat Shells & White Cheddar.) While Persephone’s mac and cheese was lacking in flavor, I will say that the consistency and texture was lovely — smooth, silky and not at all overly oozey.
We were so pleasantly full that neither Darlington nor I could even imagine ordering a dessert. Good thing, that; with the check arrived a pair of chocolate-pomegranate truffles. Though I wasn’t quite able to taste the pomegranate, the truffle had a hint of bitterness that was really nice. It was the perfect amount of sweetness after such a meal.
Do Persephone and Achilles live up to the hype? I like to think so. I wasn’t wowed beyond belief by the comestibles or the clothing, but I did enjoy both very much. The space itself — with its bare brick walls, industrial-chic garment cases and ultra-cool sliding metal tables — is absolutely stunning. The music (Thom Yorke) set a cool, moody ambiance, and the fact that there was a Wii set up in the lounge added an incredible element of fun. So will I be back? Most definitely. And maybe, if I’m lucky, that tuxedo jacket will be on sale.
The Achilles Project
283 Summer Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02210
7.30 – 7.44 am: Grapefruit and hard boiled egg.
9.48 – 11.15 am: Chocolate croissant, and sumo skim latte with sugar-free vanilla from Zing! I started off the morning starving, and now I am irritable. This does not bode well.
3.01 – 3.35 pm: Goat cheese and apple salad from Tavern in the Square, and a lemonade. It’s actually a pretty decent salad, with walnuts and dried cherries sprinkled throughout. More than you’d expect from a place with a deep-fried Snickers bar on the menu.
3.52 pm: Chocolate cherry chip cookie. I can’t believe I forgot that I replenished my stash this morning!
4.16 pm: A really pretty plum who skin blushed both pink and yellow. At first, it was sweet, then the flavor quickly turned tart.
5.16 pm: The second chocolate cherry chip of the day. Why am I eating these, when I have a perfectly lovely pear staring me in the face? In the words of Vince Clarke, before he left Depeche Mode, “I just can’t get enough.”
8.30 – 9.46 pm: Dinner with Darlington at Persephone, the restaurant in The Achilles Project, the newish boutique in Fort Point Channel. We split a side of macaroni and cheese; I had the Roasted Northeast Family Farms Beef Marrow Bone with a really fantastic parsley-caper salad as my meal. (Try saying that three times fast.) Also some red wine whose name escapes me right now, and a super-soft, bittersweet pomegranate-chocolate truffle.
It was very crowded on the subway this morning, but still I noticed the man seated in front of me reading by Joan Didion. He was more than halfway through, and because he had stomped on my feet several times not more than a moment before, practically crushing them to the bone, I wanted to lean over and ask him, “Have you gotten to the part where she gets leukemia yet?” or some terrible-sounding lie to make it appear as though I was wrecking the end. Of course, I didn’t say anything at all, spiteful or otherwise. I kept my horrible little thoughts to myself.
The woman standing next to me was amazingly engrossed in her book; when I glanced over, my eyes latched onto the words “throbbing,” “swelled” and “kiss,” so naturally my thoughts started wandering in a certain direction. It made me extremely curious as to the title or at least the author, so much so that I tried using our reflections in the glass in front of us to get a better look at the cover. Instead I got distracted by how very tired I looked. In my defense, those dim tunnels combined with the subway’s overhead lighting and smudged windows do not paint the most flattering portrait.
Later, on another line, I noticed that no one else seemed to be reading, with the exception of a blonde woman flipping through a J.Crew catalog. I don’t think that quite counts. When I observe things like this on the subway, I always wonder, “What are these people thinking?” and “Where are these people going?” Ultimately, I ask myself, “Why aren’t they reading?”
Clearly, I realize that not all people are devourers of books, or even nibblers of books. Still — I get most, if not practically all, of my reading done on public transit. On some days, such as today, I even carry two books in my bag, just in case I finish one earlier than anticipated. (For the record, they are D.V. by Diana Vreeland, loaned to me by my friend Alyssa, and Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, snatched off my bookshelves this morning at the very last minute. And I did finish D.V.) In my case, reading makes what could be a long, noisy and tedious ride home interesting, exciting and even too short. Sometimes, I recklessly walk and read, which might be why I trip so frequently; on more than one occasion, I’ve been tempted to stay on the train a few stops longer than needed. No catalog could even come close to claiming to be such a pageturner.
9.30 – 10.45 am: Sumo skim latte with a shot of sugar-free vanilla syrup from Zing! in Porter Square Books. The other day, I explained to Melissa that normally I prefer coffee-flavored coffee, but if I want a flavor I generally favor hazelnut. Only at Zing! do I get vanilla, and only at 1369 Coffeehouse do I get almond. Otherwise, it’s a regular coffee with cream and a couple of Equals thrown in.
11.37 am: One of four chocolate cherry chip cookies that I toted into work from the batch I made yesterday.
11.53 am: Chocolate cherry chip number two. Sick or no, these cookies are good.
1.50 pm: I am trying to hold out, believe it or not, but I can’t resist the third cookie. And I wonder why I have no appetite for lunch.
3.37 – 3.53 pm: Oven Roasted Vegetable sandwich (from Hot Off the Press in Central Square) which consists of a whole-wheat wrap loaded with spinach, goat cheese, herb mayonnaise and miscellaneous vegetables that have been (you guessed it) roasted in the oven. It’s flavorful, though the packaging was leaking by the time I got back to my office. Luckily, I had the foresight earlier not to stuff my lunch into my lovely leather bag before getting on the subway, because then I would be in a very bad mood indeed. Instead I’m happily full (though sore-throated), with a still-lovely bag.
4.40 pm: An under-ripe banana, which is actually how I like them. I want something that has a bit of bite to it, literally, not a mushy mess in my mouth.
5.48 pm: Chocolate cherry chip number four, not to be confused with “Strawberry Letter 23.”
10.30 pm: Diet Coke while preparing dinner. I love slicing herbs — the smell, the sound… it’s very satisfying, like ripping cloth. Right now I’m working with the greenest, freshest parsley of all time.
11.01 – 11.42 pm: Chicken with garlic and cumin, corn with paprika butter and one last cookie. I don’t recall where I got this recipe; according to Google, it may be from Woman’s Day, which is not one of my regular reads. Regardless of who printed it first, it’s tasty — which is all that matters.
Chicken with Garlic and Cumin
Makes four portions.
1 pound chicken breast, cleaned of fat
½ teaspoons each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
16 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 cup finely chopped parsley
- Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat butter in a large, heavy nonstick skillet until bubbly. Add thighs and brown on one side, about five minutes. Turn, add garlic, cover and cook over medium-low heat twenty to twenty-three minutes, turning throughout until browned evenly on both sides.
- Sprinkle chicken with cumin; increase heat to medium-high and cook uncovered three-five minutes, turning once, until drippings and chicken are crisp. Remove chicken to serving plates, and spoon on garlic and drippings. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
7.39 am: Tylenol and a small glass of orange juice, which I don’t even finish. My throat is killing me. I think it must be coated in shards of glass, like the tops of the brick walls surrounding my grandparents’ neighborhood in Manila.
9.11 – 9.39 am: Small bowl of spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and oregano. The pasta feels so good sliding down my throat.
2.23 – 2.45 pm: Bowl of Red Berries with a lot less milk than usual, so the berries can scratch scratch scratch my throat.
3.27 pm: Mug of warm milk, with honey.
4.03 pm: What might possibly be the world’s most perfect grapefruit. Tart and sweet and juicy, it’s just the thing on a sunny day like this.
7.50 pm: I’ve spent the day home sick, and though I offered to cook dinner, Keith quickly exercised his veto power and said that we should just order a pizza. While I appreciate it, I’m not an invalid — when I get sick I either get irritated, and then become productive, or I get tired, and sleep. Today was a melding of the two: irritated (two loads laundry, plus baking cookies) and (spending the late morning and early afternoon asleep, and most likely drooling, on the sofa).
9.30 – 9.49 pm: Two slices of cheese pizza, three breadsticks and two Tylenols.