Boston to LA.

4.45 am, EST: Keith’s brother Brian knocks on our door. He’s come to drive us to the airport. I’m not wearing any pants (I had just pulled my jeans out of the dryer) so I hide in the kitchen while I finish dressing.

5.10 am: Check in, security, etc.

5.23 am: Mm, coffee.

5.39 am: I like airports. I like how here time has both no meaning and all the meaning in the world, simultaneously.

5.50 am: There is a group of three girls at the gate who are dressed identically, from velour tracksuits to flipflops. I’ve never understood these sorts of friendships.

6.05 am: Boarding.

6.10 – 7.21 am: Sleeping, for the first time since I got up twenty-four hours ago. Wake up only because of Mm, coffee. Keith is passed out next to me, his knees pressed up against the tray table in front of him. He practically had to fold himself into the seat. I am so glad to be short.

7.39 am: A few years ago Cathay Pacific lost two pieces of our luggage when Keith and I came back from Asia. The funny thing was that we had had one day of travel with three connections (Phuket to Shanghai, via Bangkok and Hong Kong) and our bags came through perfectly. But when we were on a direct flight to Newark… Cathay accidentally sent our bags to Dubai. In most cases I generally just carry on; for this trip we not only have a connector but we also had to check our bags. I happen to really like the clothes I’ve packed, not to mention my Shu Uemura eyelash curler. Fingers crossed.

7.45 am: The televisions on this plane are all wiggly and tinged orange, so everyone looks like Martians filmed underwater. Right now it’s a tall, lanky Martian Bourdain falling off of an ATV in the desert… underwater.

7.48 – 8.25 am: Read Vogue while the little boy across the aisle sings “Candy candy gumballs and candy” to an unrecognizable tune, which doesn’t bother me at all, strangely, making me wonder if I’m getting soft in my old age. Regardless… For all of its hype, The Sex and the City movie better be good. Not that it matters.

8.30 am: Descent into Charlotte. My feet are so swollen.

8.35 am: Landing, just as I was beginning to fall asleep again.

8.36 am: Taxiing, disembarking, etc.

8.40 – 8.50 am: There are more colorfully-dressed people in Charlotte than I am accustomed to seeing. A lot of turquoises, pinks, greens, oranges… Keith and I are both dressed in shades of gray and black.

9.53 am: We, apparently, are going to be stuck on the runway for twenty minutes or so. Don’t worry, the pilot says. “This being a jet aircraft and all, I gather we can try to make up for some of that lost time en route.”

10.02 am: A passenger is trying to flirt with a flight attendant. He is old enough to be her father. She’s not having it.

10.17 am – 12.12 pm: Asleep. Strange dreams.

12.51 pm: Keith and I switch seats; now I have the window directly to my left. I have no idea where we are flying over, but between the wispy cotton candy clouds are patches of dirt-colored ground dotted with green shrubbery so dark they appear black.

1.00 – 1.52 pm: Sleeping. I didn’t go to bed last night. There didn’t seem to be a point, since I would have had to wake up at 2.45 or 3.00 to be ready. I will be paying for this later.

2.00 pm: The ground has become entirely dirt-colored, sand and steppes as far as I can see. In some areas, the ochre is interrupted by meandering roads snaking through the soil, but in others the roads bisect the ground as neatly as a crossword puzzle. We are flying over some towns whose roofs shine silver-white in the sun. From here I can see the perfect shadows of clouds projected onto the earth. I still don’t know where we are but it looks harsh. We are too far up to discern cars, so it all seems very unreal, like a display at the museum.

2.07 pm: Clouds are funny. Why are they white? Why do they float? Why are some cartoonily puffy and others eerily misty? From here, they look solid, lie something I could reach out and stroke, like a bunny.

2.18 pm: The dirt is now snow-covered. I don’t know how I missed it.

2.24 pm: Sixty-four miles out of LAX. We’re descending and are flying through the clouds in such a way that it is like being suspended in a bowl of milk.

2.30 pm: Flying over a series of planned communities, the ones where every single house is the same as the next, and the next, and the next. These sorts of developments always seem to be so sad and stifling to me. They are the architectural version of controlling parents.

2.35 pm: Freeways, freeways and more freeways. I haven’t been to LA in four or five years, and the sheer amount of highways intersecting the city always amazes me.

12.37 pm, PST: We’re here.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

I mentioned the other day that I like to wait for the buzz around restaurants to quiet before going in and sampling the menu. The same applies to how I feel about books; if everyone is talking about a certain book, I can’t read it. Too much market saturation, I suppose. I’ll happily wait a few months or even years to go to the bookstore.

(Strangely enough, this isn’t how I feel about films. I have to see them before the hype builds, otherwise I end up terribly disappointed.)

Jonathan Franzen‘s third novel, The Corrections, is precisely one of those books. It was absolutely impossible for me to read it during the frenzy of The Oprah Incident, let alone the novel’s winning of the National Book Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction. There were just too many people talking about this book, and I didn’t want my opinions to get colored by the reviews, by the prizes or by Oprah.  So I went on my merry little way, and read everything I could get my hands on that wasn’t written by Franzen.  It wasn’t until I saw Franzen speak at Grub Street‘s Muse and the Marketplace writers’ conference last month that I realized it was more than time for me to hunker down with The Corrections.

And hunker down I did. At 576 pages, The Corrections is by no means a light read. This is the kind of reading that, should you read while riding public transit, causes you to almost miss your subway stop and makes you bolt madly for the doors before they zip firmly shut on your foot.  This is the kind of reading that compels you to put off cooking dinner, feign a headache and not feel guilty about ordering in some greasy pizza, as a slice is easily eaten one-handedly as the other turns pages. This is the kind of reading that, at the risk of sounding altogether cheesy, leaves you breathless.

Franzen’s writing is funny; it is clever; it is charming; it is painful.  With almost maddening ease, he tells the story of the five Lamberts: father Albert, mother Enid, older brother Gary, middle child Chip, and little sister Denise.  Each Lambert’s past and present swirl around them like so much mist, but Franzen carefully directs us through their chaotic lives with an assurance that is truly enviable.  Each character, for all their faults and deep flaws, is allowed moments of true likability.  It would have been so easy to turn sensible Gary into a cold-hearted brute and yearning Chip into a pervy academic, but instead, Franzen gives his cast something truly special: humanity.

Dinner at The Beehive.

I remember when The Beehive opened last year — there was so much hype that it almost instantly turned me off. I always like to wait a while until the buzz has cooled down before checking things out. The Beehive is a definitive example of that… though I must admit that I kind of forgot all about it, in a way. Recently though, I started to hear rumblings about the quality of food and murmurs regarding the décor, which made me think that maybe it was time to descend into the subterranean space beneath the BCA.

The menu at The Beehive skims the surface of a few different cuisines. For a taste of England, there’s a mini Beef Wellington appetizer. Satisfy a craving for Greek with a gyro salad. For something Spanish, paella. For North African, a Moroccan stew. But is variety really the spice of life? Is The Beehive’s saffron-tinged rice so wonderful that a trip to Tapeo or Toro is unnecessary?

The answer is no. The paella ($22.00) is passable, but wholly uninspired — a phrase that I think applies to the entire menu. If I were to recommend an item to eat, however, it would be the burger… but not for the regular reasons.

With Gorgonzola cheese and crispy fried onions, the burger ($13.00) is just fine. It’s a generous circle of meat, and though it arrived cooked past the medium-rare I requested, it was still just fine. What made it better than fine, though, were the burger’s platemates: sage and sea salt frites. Not quite fries and not quite chips, these thinly-sliced wedges of potato were crunchy, tasty and quite literally finger-licking good.

Frites notwithstanding, they’re not reason enough to drop by The Beehive. The reason to drop by is the atmosphere. It’s exactly how I would imagine a fin de siècle Parisian salon to look like, if it were to mate with a pirate’s cave. With a few drinks and a bit of a squinty eye, I think it’s easy to picture a tattily-dressed pirate or two strolling amongst the exposed brick walls, crumbly and curved stage and sparkling chandeliers.

Well, maybe more than just a few drinks.

The Beehive
541 Tremont Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116

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Rhubarb Grapefruit Scones.

I’ve got several stalks of rhubarb in my fridge, and I can’t seem to find a recipe for them that strikes my fancy. Of course it doesn’t help how fickle I can be; for example, do I want savory or sweet? Do I want to bake or cook? Then I realized that I’ve got so much rhubarb that I could satisfy both cravings. Here’s a scone recipe I adapted based on what I had in the fridge; I thought I had some oranges in the fruit drawer, which I think would be fantastic with the rhubarb. If you’ve got some and feel like trying this scone recipe with them, let me know how it turns out.

Rhubarb Grapefruit Scones
Makes eight

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter, plus one tablespoon
½ cup heavy cream (though I used half-and-half, since that is what I had)
1 egg
1 cup finely chopped rhubarb
zest of one grapefruit
2 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease cookie sheet. Combine dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Cut butter into dry ingredients, until butter is the size of small peas. Add remaining ingredients, mixing until dry ingredients are moist.
  2. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, gather it into a ball. Pat into a circle about ¾” thick, then cut into eight wedges. Transfer to a cookie sheet and sprinkle wedges with sugar. Bake about twenty minutes, rotating tray about halfway through, until bottoms turn golden brown and some color develops on the tops.

Have I Mentioned That I Love Croissants?

Truly, I do. I wish I could make them, but I’m scared the situation would be just terrible for two specific reasons:

  1. Best case scenario: Completely failing at the task and becoming utterly frustrated and depressed, and left with a mound of rock-like (or sponge-like, or strangely-liquidy) dough, which I’m certain would mock me, along with a filthy kitchen with nothing to show for my labors.
  2. Worst case scenario: Completely succeeding at the task and becoming utterly thrilled and elated, and left with empty, flake-encrusted trays because I will have eaten each and every croissant and would therefore feel exhaustively guilty, so I would then bake even more croissants, which I would then devour right out of the oven, which would lead me to then throw out all of the necessary ingredients in order to prevent me from ever making croissants again. Oh, and I will have added approximately twenty-five more pounds to my already overly zaftig silhouette… which would then cause me to become utterly frustrated and depressed, and force me to go shopping because I will no longer be able to fit into any of my clothes.

As you can see, my dreams of making croissants will have to remain exactly that. Luckily, I can attempt to satisfy myself with the croissant wallpaper created by Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini. The croissants with the mauve background are currently brightening my work desktop, and making me feel very hungry indeed.

Maybe this wasn’t the best idea.

Bulgur, Two Ways

There’s a good amount of bulgur in Armenian food; two of my favorite dishes would be reduced to practically nothing without cracked wheat. When I was growing up, one of my favorite meals to come home to was a very simple bulgur pilaf. Comprised exclusively of bulgur, chick peas and chicken, it’s the definition of comfort food. It’s also completely easy to make.

Bulgur Pilaf with Chicken and Chick Peas
Makes six portions

2 cups bulgur
1 can chick peas, liquid reserved
1 pound chicken (I prefer white meat, but I’ve had this with chicken thighs too)
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup olive oil

  1. Boil chicken in salted water, constantly skimming foam off of surface. When cooked, remove chicken from water with a slotted spoon; cool, and julienne. Reserve liquid.
  2. Sauté the bulgur in butter over medium heat; add olive oil and salt to taste, and continue sautéing. Add six cups of reserved chicken liquid; if necessary, use boiled water. Cook until the liquid is almost entirely absorbed, about fifteen minutes. If the bulgur is still crunchy, add some chick pea liquid or hot water and continue to cook until soft.
  3. Add the chickpeas and chicken; add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Mix well and serve.

This next recipe is one that I didn’t grow up with, but it’s still utterly enjoyable. The spices add just the right amount of bite to the bulgur. Just as easy as the chicken and chick pea recipe, this version is both sweet and savory.

Bulgur Pilaf with Dried Apricots
Makes six portions

1 finely chopped onion
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 cup bulgur
½ cup chopped dried apricots

  1. Cook onion in oil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about five minutes.
  2. Add spices and cook, stirring, one minute. Stir in remaining ingredients with one teaspoon salt and five cups water; simmer covered, until liquid is absorbed, about fifteen minutes. If the bulgur is still crunchy, add some hot water and continue to cook until soft. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, five minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Dinner at Douzō.

In a way, I grew up eating sushi. It wasn’t as frequent a dinner at my parents’ house as, say, meatloaf would be in my classmates’, but I’ve been eating it as long as I can remember. When I was much younger though, I was irrationally scared of the sheets of dried seaweed and their strangely unsettling crinkly cellophane packaging; my mother used to make sure there were few pieces of salmon and tuna sashimi for me while she assembled her ingredients for rolling maki. I got over my unreasonable fear of seaweed eventually — now I actually kind of love it. These days, Japanese cuisine is high on the list as being one of my favorites, so when my friend Beth suggested Douzō for dinner, I didn’t have to think about it before excitedly clapping my hands.

We decided to start with a warm appetizer, since we knew we would be sharing a few different types of sushi. Because Duozō is known for putting an eclectic spin on traditional Japanese fare, the obvious choice were the gyoza — conventional pork-filled dumplings ($6.25). The gyoza, which are available pan-fried or steamed, are common throughout Asia; we chose to get ours fried, not even for a moment considering the vaguely healthier option. Though the dipping sauce gave the gyoza a nice gingery bite, ultimately there was nothing special about the dumplings. They were perfectly fine, but that was all.

The sushi, on the other hand…

Duozō offers a wide variety of choices in sushi, ranging from the ubiquitous (California rolls, avocado maki, spicy tuna) to the inventive (asparagus wrapped with tuna and salmon, crab-topped tempura, scallops layered with kiwi and caviar). Beth and I considered the menu before agreeing to share the rainbow roll (shrimp, crab stick, tobiko, and spicy mayonnaise wrapped with tuna, salmon, white fish and avocado, $12.95), the coconut eel roll (snow crab and cucumber wrapped with eel and sprinkled with coconut, $15.95) and the amaebi mango roll (grilled pineapple and cucumber wrapped with sweet shrimp and mango, $13.95).

After sampling each type, I was surprised to discover that I liked the coconut eel the most. It just so happens that I love eel (unagi, anago… it doesn’t matter) but it also happens that I hate coconut. That last part isn’t entirely true: I love coconut flavor, it’s the texture I could do without. This roll though, with its mix of two vastly different kinds of sweetness, fruity and rich, was astounding. I’m surprised Beth and I were able to so maturely split the portion in half.

My second favorite, also surprisingly, was the rainbow roll. Before trying it, I had been a bit apprehensive about it; the litany of components on the menu made it seem quite intimidating. After all, Duozō lists eight, and that’s before the rice. I shouldn’t have been so worried, as each ingredient complimented the next so nicely; we all but plowed through it.

I had been certain that the amaebi mango roll would blaze past the other two as the darling of the dinner, but it actually turned out to be my least preferred. That’s not to say that the roll wasn’t immensely flavorful and enjoyable, because it was very much so. It just paled in comparison to its platemates. The mango and amaebi, while altogether wonderful, simply couldn’t compare to the amazing shock of the coconut and eel or the rainbow roll’s harmoniousness.

Aesthetically, Duozō is a really cool space with lofty ceilings and low-slung banquettes. Even if the sushi wasn’t so interesting and tasty, I think it’s worth it just to stop by for a drink at the bar, which is something I plan to do again and again.

131 Dartmouth Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116

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