Tuesday, June 30, 2009

ZOMG, a new Slice post!

This one features a metal head, a magician, two NYPD officers, and a vanishing joint. L'chaim!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lenape diets, Peter Stuyvesant's commute, and other jaunts through New York City history

I've been coveting Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City since it was a gleam in its publisher's eye, and my roommate serendipitously got his hands on a copy as soon as it was released this May. It's a beautiful book, filled with re-imagined maps of New York before the arrival of the Dutch, and peppered with primary documents and paintings of Manhattan flora and fauna that bring home the fact that this city was once much more untamed than modern New Yorkers like to think it is today.

I thought I'd had my fill of city history for at least a month or two, but I just stumbled upon the website of the Mannahatta Project, the organization behind the book on my coffee table. Ye gods, there is so much more of New York to explore. Take the interactive map, basically a Google satellite map on which users can transition between 1609 (the date of Hudson's discovery of Manhattan) and today to pinpoint the location of a city block and learn about its onetime ecology and Indian inhabitants. For instance, my first New York apartment, on Fifth Avenue at 109th Street, used to be a hilly landscape covered in oak trees, amongst which Lenape tribesman (coming from a village a little under half a mile away) hunted for black bears and wild turkeys and foraged for bayberries and huckleberries. Hell. Yeah.

To fill in the interceding years, I fell back on the New Netherlands Institute, which offers some great, quickfire history about the early colony that sprung up on Manhattan after Henry Hudson's first visit. Dutch control of the island ended in 1664, but the NNI occasionally ventures past that; for instance, I just learned that Peter Stuyvesant owned an enormous farm on the site of what is now Stuy Town (go figure), and that the Bowery (named after bouwerij, the Dutch word for "farm") is the original path that connected his estate to the town of New Amsterdam. Also, he's buried in a crypt beneath St. Mark's Church-on-the-Bowery in the East Village. I'm totally taking a lunchtime walk one of these days to pay Old Peg Leg a visit.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Frankenstein of breakfast sandwiches

I had a Marry Shelley moment this weekend. Saturday night some friends and I were sitting by a darkened pool, swapping fanciful stories about the possibilities for next morning's menu. The agreed-upon foundation was donuts -- 30 of them, grilled -- but we also had an entire watermelon at our disposal, and some mint. There was leftover chuck steak from the night before, and over a dozen littlenecks. Someone had spotted eggs; I remembered bringing cucumbers. Some of the sage-lemon chicken was still uncooked. The possibilities were myriad -- some of them horrifying.

But we were feeling impulsive and brash after the adventurous smorgasboard that was our dinner, and our tall tales were getting taller. Luckily, they aired toward sweetness. Donut sandwiches. Grilled watermelon. Thought processes dovetailed. Bacon was suggested. It all happened so fast. The next morning, we stared down a plateful of the things, garnished with mint and bacon and glistening in the Hudson River Valley morning. I can honestly say it was the best monster I've ever had a hand in creating. (I'd share a picture, but my camera seems to hate me, so you'll have to use your imagination.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson: a tribute (and art lesson)

Now, I'm not going to suggest that Michael Jackson saw this whole dead-by-fifty thing coming down the pike, but I do think that he had an eye to posterity -- as evinced by regal portraiture like the following piece, which was up for auction at the Beverly Hilton this spring along with a trove of other memorabilia from Neverland.

Briefly, an artistic deconstruction of the painting: The monkey gazing at the haloed child (possibly Blanket) represents the eternal struggle between reconciling our origins with our evolutions (the ape's child, of course, mirroring the father-son dichotomy at play in the upper parts of the painting). The parrot perched on a saber is a visual analogy for Jackson himself; he's trained to sing and entertain, sure, but he carries a big stick (notice the beak protruding from behind Jackson's head, further enforcing the allusion). The space shuttle launching from the image's bottom-right corner stands for the myriad technological marvels that Jackson harnessed in the construction of Neverland Ranch, with all its animatronic accoutrements. And the shapeless, anguished red face behind Jackson's right shoulder is a clear representation of the frustration and shame the singer felt over repeatedly losing to Macaulay Caulkin in their regular water-balloon fights, as seen in the second minute of the below video.

Finally, the rays emanating from Jackson's head are clear indications of his omniscience. So I'm not going to end this post with a joke, as I'm tempted to do. I'll just say that Dangerous was the first album I ever owned and, as a guy who once looked like Macaulay Caulkin, I feel Michael's loss acutely. Moonwalk on, dude.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Next up from Denmark: Choir of Young Believers

I've been loving Choir of Young Believers ever since I got an advance copy of their upcoming album This Is for the White in Your Eyes, which launches in August. Their sound has an almost, well, church-like expansiveness to it, as though it was composed in a cathedral amidst plumes of incense. There's also a post-shoegaze vibe on the record, which I chalk up to the fact that they're from Copenhagen, Scandinavia's musical equivalent of Seattle in the late '80s (Gothenberg being Detroit circa 1962).

Now, his publicist has sent along a video of the band performing "Next Summer," the new album's guilty-pleasure track (think Coldplay getting drunk and tackling the score from Phantom of the Opera). The full orchestra only heightens the drama, but listen to the opening lines of the song and judge for yourself whether the choice is intentional.

Exhibit (A): 26-year-old frontman Jannis Noya Makrigiannis wearing his signature shepherd's hat. And wait-- is that Nicole Kidman playing violin?? This video has it all.

People I'm proud to have dated

See that girl? The one draped in chains and covered in blood? Yeah, that's right, the roaring one. Oh, nothing -- we used to go out, is all. What? For, like, two years. Crazy, right? The situation, I mean, not her. Although she was definitely a lively one.

What a dreamboat. Kinda makes you want to see Carnal Rage, Obsidian Meat, no?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Not saying/just saying

Were I a more combative person, I would follow this up with a nuanced, Pollanesque argument about how multitudes of small birds and mammals are killed in the harvesting of the greens that vegans and vegetarians eat -- and how, if one really cared about saving animals' lives, one would eat only the largest animals possible: cows, say, or Brachiosauruses (Brachiosauri?).

But in the spirit of the above gem, I'm going to be supremely offensive and paraphrase my friend Leah's comment that veganism is just a socially acceptable form of anorexia, and leave it at that.

Things that make me cry at my desk

In a good way. I know I should probably wait until Halloween 2009 to post this, but I just can't help myself.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I can't remember the last time a New York City raptor joined ME for lunch

Seriously -- why has this never happened to me? This guy gets to share his lunch with a hawk at a chicken joint (appropriately named Birdie's) in the East Village, while I'm stuck stuffing my face in the withering glare of a fifteen-inch PC monitor. That's right, fifteen inches. My twenty-inch broke, and our IT guy said I'd have to use this midget monitor while he "fixed" the other one. He's been "fixing" it for about five months now. My brain hurts.

Check out the look on this hawk's face. He is so proud to be hanging out right now. Or wait -- is it suddenly dawning on him that he's in the avian equivalent of Buffalo Bill's basement? Fly, hawk, before it's too late! (via Gothamist.)

!Viva la revolucion vegetariana!

It's been a surprising morning for me. First of all, I didn't know Che Guevara had any living kin (though I probably should have guessed). Secondly, I didn't know they were stunningly attractive (again, mea culpa). And thirdly, I had no idea they were radical, left-wing revolutionaries who used root vegetables as ammo (this part I really can't be blamed for).

Yes, that's Che Guevara's granddaughter, Lydia, a 24-year-old resident of Buenos Aires. And yes, those are carrots in her bandolier. Che would be proud, I guess, though perhaps slightly mortified -- and not just because of the nudity. Like any good Cuban, I'm sure the man enjoyed his ropa vieja. (via Gawker/El mundo.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Suicide Girls of food porn

I don't know about you, but I love a good close-up shot of blood-red jam spilling over the side of a cracked-open biscuit, as a shaft of morning light cuts through the column of steam rising from its moist, pillowy insides. Food porn's the greatest, especially when it's got some indie street-cred. (Google the titular reference to see what I'm talking about; I won't link to it here, since my grandmother might be reading this.)

Anyway, I just heard about a site for fetishists like me: Simply Breakfast, one of the many photo-blogs of Brooklyn-based photographer Jennifer Causey. Her main site has some great photos of food in its natural habitat (think blueberries on branches), but I'm kind of in love with her rustic, unadorned breakfast shots. Thank god there's no ninety-nine-cents-per-minute charge to view her site; I'd be homeless faster than you can say "bran muffin."

There are some great ideas in here, too. Asparagus with your eggs? Never occurred to me, but I know what I'm eating come Saturday morning. We're still in the tail-end of asparagus season, right?

My friend Sian Evans will probably want to take note of Simply Breakfast; she just wrote a great essay on porn (the human kind) for her column on Take the Handle, and I think this permutation of our timeless malady deserves her attention.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Disturbing trends in goat eating

Well, not really. I mean, sure -- as Brokelyn points out, it's a little unsettling that the Goat Spit Summer Throwdown in Brooklyn Heights this Saturday has as its main course "baby billy goats grilled up and served on toast." But let's not be all knee-jerky like those soon-to-be-slaughtered kids. Lots of animals are eaten when they're young -- take lamb, for instance. Or veal. Or oysters, most of which are quite young when they're harvested or consumed.

Look, I hate to point it out, but there's a reason we eat some animals young; they're more tender than they are when they age. Think about it. What sounds more appetizing: lamb, or mutton? No, what's turning Brokelyn's stomach isn't the menu, but rather the unsavvy terminology it employs. If the act of cooking is (to paraphrase Michael Pollan paraphrasing a host of others) about imposing culture on nature, then this entree description is about as uncultured as it gets. Let's face it; no one wants to eat "baby" anything, especially when it's got a verb like "grilled" tacked onto it. Next item on the menu: sauteed embyonic birds. Thanks, but no thanks -- I'll stick to the scrambled eggs.

But back to the case at hand: Mexicans and Argentines skirt the child-eating issue by falling back on the diminutive form of the word for goat, turning it into cabrito. I'm not suggesting that we devise a new linguistic system here, but maybe the Goat Spit folks want to try something a little less transgressive. How about "kid," which is what baby goat is called by most everybody else? And by the way, did you know that when goats give birth, it's called "kidding"? No joke. See, isn't it getting easier already? I don't know about you, but I just got my appetite back.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The best book title in the history of book titles

A friend recently passed along a very sweet BookPage piece in which Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, shares some memories of his dearly departed friend (and fellow children's book author) James Marshall. But Sendak's memories are tainted by the festering knowledge that Marshall wrote the best book title in the history -- or foreseeable future -- of book titles: The Stupids Die.

"That's the only thing I truly envy Jim for," Sendak laments. "Deep envy. I think The Stupids Die is the best title ever. I can't forgive him for having that title. I used to tell him that."

Sendak was right to be jealous. In that one stroke of brilliance, Marshall eclipsed every acheivement of his buddy's life. Except the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are. I'm guessing Sendak doesn't know who The Arcade Fire are, but I'll give him credit regardless.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

ZOMG, a new Slice post!

This one's about the time I almost died. Well, one of the times. But this one is special because it involved a motorcycle and Budapest.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Semi-poisonous herb-infused May wine

My mother introduced me to a new kind of seasonal herbed wine over the weekend. "Technically, I missed the boat," she said as she poured me a glass, "but the woodruff is still growing, so I thought I'd just go for it."

Woodruff is an herb indigenous to Northern Europe, among other locales. Its scientific name is Galium odoratum, which speaks to the plant's typical applications; when fresh it has hardly any scent, but once dried it takes on a pungent, clove-like aroma that can be used for everything from flavoring beer to repelling moths. No joke. Predictably, there are some side effects; consume too much, and you'll get a headache. Keep going, and you'll stop breathing.

The Germans, ever living on the edge, celebrate their May Day with a draft of woodruff-steeped wine. They call it, most appropriately, May wine (a.k.a. Maiwein, a.k.a. Maitrank, a.k.a. Waldmeisterbowle). My mom made two batches, using a dry and a sweet Riesling. She's a member of the Herb Society of America, which is the botanical equivalent of being a neurosurgeon, so I decided to trust her judgment and imbibe.

The sweet Riesling yielded an earthy concoction with overtones of cinnamon, while the drier bottle (which I preferred) was cripser and more summery. Both types are about as complicated to make as sun tea, but smack of the Black Forest and can get you crunk as a Bavarian -- assuming you don't slip into a coma first, which I didn't. Danke, Mom!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bubble Shield: a great Swedish composer with a name like a bad Polish joke

Surprise: another amazing act from Sweden. But this one comes with a twist; Bubble Shield is a Chicago-to-Stockholm transplant, so you'd think he'd be more inured to the bitter cold than he appears to be in his press photo, below.

Bubble Shield's album My Raspberry Nights is out on the Swedish netlabel Astor Bell, which releases electronic albums online, for free. It's an awesome model, and one that's yielded some impressive results since it launched in January. Bubble Shield is minimalist, soothing, and subtly melodic -- sort of a weird hybrid of a Mike Mothersbaugh composition and Micah Dahl Anderson's "Casio Insomnia." That song deserves a post itself, but it's Monday, and I've already run out of steam.