Hate It or Love It.

When I started this blog, I was determined to stick to my three topics: food, books and travel.  The world is simply too full of too many topics, and I wanted to stay focused.

I’m breaking my rules here, people.

Why oh why is Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover of Bon Appétit?  The magazine is supposed to be about food, not the celebrities who write books and cookbooks about it.  When I received my copy in the mail today (along with Allure and Esquire), it took me a moment to realize that the magazine I held in my hands was indeed Bon Appétit.  Where was the tantalizing photo of towering layer cakes, of burnished gold chickens, of luscious bowls of pasta?

I understand why images of celebrities and other famous folk oftentimes are emblazoned across and throughout publications — put Angelina Jolie on the cover of Vanity Fair and you’ll sell millions of copies; ditto Lady Gaga and Vogue.  The difference is that Vanity Fair is a magazine about politics and pop culture and Vogue is unabashedly about fashion and style.  Bon Appétit, on the other hand, is about — or is purportedly about — food, drink and entertaining.

Honestly, I have nothing against Ms. Paltrow; I read GOOP, I watch Glee, I liked her in the Iron Mans, I’ll probably borrow My Father’s Daughter from the library and if I like it I’ll likely buy it.  In the magazine, Ms. Paltrow is quoted as saying “Maldon sea salt, olive oil and lemon can make anything great,” something I myself have said several times before; last night’s quickie dinner even put that philosophy to work.

What upsets me is this: I can’t help but think that somehow the integrity of Bon Appétit has been compromised.  Of course Ms. Paltrow’s cover will sell magazines and in the industry’s troubling times profits are more important than ever. I understand this.

I’m still disappointed.

Hate It or Love It” by The Game.

The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten.

the-man-who-ate-everythingRight now, at this very moment, I’m sitting at my dining room table and trying to think very hard about The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten, which I finished about a week ago, on the train.  Instead, I’m watching the sun sadly cast striped shadows across my bathroom door and feeling a cold breeze lick insistingly at my neck like an ignored and much maligned puppy.  I love puppies, but this is not one I feel like indulging.  I’m going to wrap my favorite scarf around myself instead and pretend I’m in Belize.

But enough with the procrastinating…

I’m a casual reader of Vogue, which means that while I don’t subscribe it is one of the first magazines I reach for at the newsstand.  Once it’s in my hands, I almost automatically run my thumb down the table of contents, looking for Mr. Steingarten’s contribution.

The Man Who Ate Everything is an anthology of essays on topics ranging from what we need to eat to live to non-fat butter to microwave cookery.  Mr. Steingarten covers these topics and more with a terrific sense of humor and formidable energy — the man takes the concept of research to a new level, acquiring thirty-five different varieties of ketchup and taking notes on each one’s cost, flavor and contents.  It’s utterly fascinating, though I was the most excited to read the pieces towards the end of the book, where Mr. Steingarten writes about the foods consumed on his travels; this section is appropriately named “Journey of a Thousand Meals.”  Here the writing is far more lyrical than when Mr. Steingarten describes the hydrazines in mushrooms or high-density lipoproteins, and for good reason — miso from Kyoto and barbecue from Memphis is leagues more lyrical than anything else related to food that I can think of right now, right now being 4.24 in the afternoon on a Thursday in January.  Ask me again tomorrow; I might have something then.

My absolute favorite part of The Man Who Ate Everything comes from the chapter entitled “Hail Cesare!”, in which Mr. Steingarten truffle-hunts in Piemonte.  There he meets a professional truffle hunter, or trifulau, whose wonderful-sounding dog Lola is his aide.

“‘My dream,’ Bernardo told us, ‘is to see, together in one place, all the truffles I have found in my lifetime.'”

How lovely a thought is that, to imagine seeing the produce of years of work amassed in front of you?  I’m someone enamored with the idea of looking back, of seeing what we have done, what we have seen, what we have touched, thought, smelled, eaten.  This small collection of words, and Mr. Steingarten’s larger collection of words exemplifies precisely that.

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.

D.V. by Diana Vreeland.

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.