Monday, August 24, 2009


Dear Costume Designers for Mad Men-

First off, let me congratulate you on being a part of one of the best shows ever produced for television. Well written, thoughtfully acted, beautifully shot…really a triumph.

And in general, please know that I love the look of your work. Betty Draper’s cool icy beauty in those amazing ensembles where the dress has a matching coat of the same fabric, Grace Kelly couldn’t be more stunning.

Don Draper and Roger Sterling, either of whom would look fantastic in a burlap sack, those slick tailored suits with the trench coats and de rigueur fedoras, every woman I know wants to be the meat in that sandwich, if you’ll pardon the expression.

From Peggy’s prim and buttoned down working girl duds to Campbell’s slightly slick suits that underscore his general oiliness, you really have a total success on your hands.

Or at least you did.

The runaway standout of this hit is the character of Joan, played to purring seductive perfection by Christina Hendricks. Her personal code of honor which includes such delicious dichotomies as playing mama lioness protecting the execs fragile egos and professional foibles, while simultaneously sleeping with her married boss…pure melodramatical yumminess. Her stoic acceptance of rape at the hands of her fiancée, truly a brave bit of acting. She is complex and interesting and terrifically fun to watch.

And let’s be honest, how refreshing to see a woman on television who is built like a woman, and not a twelve year old boy! You have celebrated Joan’s curves, accentuating her amazing hourglass figure, letting her be the sexiest woman on the show, and giving those of us who are not, have never been, and never will be a size two a little frisson of confidence in our own curvaceousness.

I loved her as a bad-ass rebel courtesan in Joss Whedon’s short-lived and much beloved Firefly (mmmmm Firefly. Nathan Fillion. Sorry. Lost the plot for a moment.) and was really excited to find her in a strong supporting role on Mad Men.

So please understand that when I write you this letter it is simply to ask, in all genuine curiosity, and from a place of love…

What the f*** were you smoking when you did the costumes for this week’s episode!?!?

Christina seems to have put on a couple of pounds, which she can pull off like nobody’s business, and not being privy to her personal life nor much up on my Hollywood gossip, it is certainly possible that she might be preggers, but I’m not on baby bump watch.

I am however concerned that the outfits you put her in this week could not have been less flattering to some of her, um, currently slightly more abundant assets.

The shiny green blouse with the bow at the neck? Might be totally period appropriate, and is certainly in her wheelhouse color-wise. But good lord, what sort of underpinnings did you put that girl in? She looked like she was smuggling a pair of watermelons in her bra! I mean, I know she’s gifted in that area, but she looked like she should be hanging off the prow of a ship!

I know that some of the fault lies with the director’s choice of camera angles, having the poor girl filmed straight on from the side as she bent over was fair to neither her nor you. Nor to those of us watching, since who can follow the action when you are worried that fair red-headed Joan is going to faceplant in the middle of Sterling Cooper’s Madison Avenue offices due to the weight of her ponderous Kelly-green-silk-clad bosom?

I thought you might have saved the day with the blue suit in her second scene, from the back, it fit her like a glove. But then she turned around and from the front it fit her like, well, like she had borrowed Nell Carter’s boobs and tried to smuggle them into the office in a teal wool carpetbag tied around her neck with yet another blouse bow.

My sister and I had to rewind every scene she was in at least twice, because the ridiculousness of her in those unflattering get-ups made us laugh so hard we were crying and making dolphin noises, missing some of the cutting wit of the dialogue.

I assume if she is knocked up in real life that it will be written into the script sooner rather than later. But if she just had a few extra cheeseburgers between seasons (and god bless her if she did, you go girl!) for the love of god, get her in a drape-y cowlneck or give her some subtle ruching around the middle, and give her some balance.

And if you want to tell the director to have her cheat out a little bit so that he doesn’t film her in total profile, that wouldn’t hurt either.

I’m not saying, I’m just saying…

Your fan,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Welcome to My Bacon Plate

We all know about my love affair with the Pig. Braised shoulder, smoked butt, Christmas Ham, BBQ ribs, Crispy Belly, grilled Chops, glorious Tuscan Crown Roast. I put ground pork in my meatloaf and meatballs, layer succulent slices of prosciutto over figs, and I believe that a whisper-thin slice of lardo, meltingly translucent on a grilled piece of rustic bread kissed with garlic is a desert island dish.

But nothing compares to my love of bacon.

Mahogany slices next to scrambled eggs. Lardons on my frisee salad. A shattering circle of pancetta on my bruschetta. Spaghetti carbonara. Peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches with extra crisp bacon in the middle. Wrapped around asparagus or scallops or venison, or, frankly, your shoe!

I love the new bacon chocolate bars, am trying to score a trip to Portland to visit Voodoo Doughnuts and try their Maple Bacon Long John. When entering the Plugra Butter competition, I was sure the winning recipe would be my Honey Bacon Butter. What else would you want on your waffles? Butter. With honey. And crispy pieces of bacon. I still can’t believe I didn’t win.

So when I was sitting at brunch a few months ago with my friend Tracey, and we were splitting a side order of really lovely Nueske bacon with our frittatas, and I was telling Tracey about the genius Bacon Explosion I had read about on Michael Ruhlman’s Blog, suddenly I announced that I wished my plate were made of bacon…lightning bolt.

Think on it, people.


A thin, crispy sheet of bacony goodness upon which to serve any number of complementary foodstuffs. Imagine a fresh arugula salad, peppery and slicked with good olive oil, bright with a squeeze of lemon or a splash of sherry vinegar. Some shavings of pecorino or creamy crumbles of chevre. Maybe some dried cherries or caramelized walnuts or roasted blood oranges.

Now imagine this perfect salad, ON A BACON PLATE! Can’t you just taste it? C’mon, you know you want to.

Alright, salad not your thing? You think bacon is better at breakfast? Okey dokey, think stack of hot buttermilk pancakes, dripping with butter and good maple syrup.


My mind reeled at the possibilities. I mean, sure, you can have your basic bacon plate, just simple smoky goodness. But there suddenly came flood of variations. Bacon plate caramelized with cinnamon and brown sugar. Glazed with BBQ sauce. Black Pepper and Honey Bacon Plate, Maple Glazed Bacon Plate, Honey Mustard Bacon Plate, Spicy Cajun Bacon Plate, Teriyaki Bacon Plate, Herbs de Provence Bacon Plate, Chicken Fried Bacon Plate…it is endless!

And then it really came to me. CHOCOLATE COVERED BACON PLATE WITH ALMONDS!!!!! Or rather, chocolate covered bacon BOWL with almonds, in which to serve ice cream.

I could pass out.

It was too good an idea, too tempting a project.

I was born to Bacon Plate.

I was not born to have success right out of the box.

The night of our brunch I took a package of bacon out of my freezer to thaw, so that I could begin the new BP era. When I awoke in the morning, there was a lightness in my heart, a spring in my step. There was not the tiniest worry that I would fail.

And here is what your Bacon Obsessed Polymath discovered.


Tried two versions, one with basket weave bacon slices, one with slices just slightly overlapped. Baked at 400 degrees on parchment sheet on pan for approx. 18 minutes.

1. I must buy thin sliced bacon, the extra-thick-cut stuff I keep in my freezer doesn’t get brittle and crispy the way it needs to. Also need to cook with a second sheet pan on top so they don’t curl.

2. Better to overlap the slices slightly than basket weave. Same reasons as above.

3. It is surprisingly easy to eat an entire package of bacon.

4. Not having a sprightly arugula salad or stack of pancakes to put upon my bacon plates, I found that the second best use is to put it dead in the middle of your peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich for breakfast. (See #3) And to make my sad but fave version of BLTs, which is just BLs, (‘cause I don’t like raw tomatoes), but I do like equal parts of crispy bacon and iceberg lettuce between two slices of plotchy white bread. (See #3)

5. This is a totally viable project, I will wait a couple of months for my blood to return to an appropriate red-cell-to-bacon-fat ratio and then do a second attempt.

6. Despite having eaten an entire package of bacon between breakfast and lunch, it is still possible to need lemon linguine for dinner.

7. There is something equally lovely and pathetic about spending a Saturday in your pajamas on a bacon binge.

8. Having done #4, I am convinced that a chocolate covered bacon bowl is officially the best possible receptacle for a scoop of strawberry ice cream, and must figure out way to make this happen.

As with many things that I get instantly passionate about and then abandon just as quickly, the Great Bacon Plate Experiment was destined to be a random weekend fling and not a consuming permanent romance. I simply abandoned the project, such as it was. I figured that I could, if called upon, probably make a decent bacon plate by just fixing some of the stuff that went wrong during testing, and really, more testing was not necessary. Especially since I am trying to be good about my food these days, and I clearly cannot be trusted alone in the house with bacon.

I frankly forgot all about it, and turned my attention to less butt-expanding pursuits like reorganizing my closets and moving stuff around in my apartment.

Until the other day when a friend asked me whatever happened with the Bacon Plate Experiment.

I had also conveniently forgotten that for several days after the Experiment I had told many people about my new amazing invention, always problematic if you are going to give up on something quickly…makes you look flaky. Especially if you tell them that you think you can market your idea to restaurants and supermarkets and to not be surprised if Billy Mays is hocking a monthly Bacon Plate Club on late night cable someday.

(This obviously before he was, um, all dead and all…which is a major blow since I can’t really see the ShamWow! guy doing justice to a Bacon Plate)

I had to admit to her that I had yet to actually create a successful Bacon Plate, and that I had pretty much given up due to wanting my blood to actually continue to get through my veins unimpeded.

She laughed and admitted to me that she has at least fourteen notebooks containing pages of scribbles about different side businesses that she wanted to start, and that once she got all the notes down, her desire to actually start the businesses went away.

It makes me feel better to know that I am not the only one to get all amped up about something and then let it go just as quickly.

I started thinking about such projects in my own life, and discovered that they were many.

There was the genius idea my sister and I had about creating a sort of rubber soled disposable ballet slipper kind of shoe that could fold up and fit in your purse for when your feet get sore at weddings and other stillettoed events but you don't want to stop dancing. Or walking. This involved my actually…wait for it….making a pair of shoes. And then doing nothing with them. SHOE FAIL

Then there was the sudden need to have the inset squares on the ceiling of my dining room painted in a gold-on-gold harlequin pattern which I believed I could achieve by painting the pattern on pieces of foam core and then attaching to the ceiling. I did two out of twenty, got them up, they looked weird, so I gave up. I did not, for the record, take them down until a few days ago in my current Project Apartment 2.0 mania. (I did, for the record, put them up about 6 ½ years ago.) CEILING FAIL

I have bought pieces of furniture with the express intent of stripping off layers of paint and giving them new life, only to have them languish in the basement. FURNITURE FAIL

I once bought all the supplies I would need to can my own jam and other delectables into beautiful jars…the jars and other canning equipment are in my basement, pristine and unused. CANNING FAIL

At least the Bacon Plate Project didn’t require special equipment, and of all the things I ever gave up on, is the only one that at least has the side benefit of keeping me somewhat healthier!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Goodnight, John Boy

The man that is in no small part responsible for my formative years and the person I have become as an adult has left us.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. –
Ferris Bueller
 Earlier today John Hughes died. The man who either wrote, produced or directed (often all three) the scope of my teenage experience, the man who captured on film the very heart and soul of ‘who we were when’ is gone. And even though he hasn’t directed a movie since 1991, I feel his passing very deeply, and I am beyond sad.

Those of us who were teenagers in the 1980s are forever imprinted with his work. To this day if I refer to an old crush, I am likely to say “He was my Jake Ryan of the moment.” that Sixteen Candles icon of male perfection. (With the slight exception of loaning out his passed-out-drunk girlfriend as a sex toy to someone she’d never met, and by the way EWW!, but still…the cake and the kiss made us forgive him that slight foible. The Porsche and the brooding good looks didn’t hurt his case either.)

If my friends and I go to a sushi restaurant, inevitably someone will say “You won’t accept a guy’s tongue in your mouth, but you’re going to eat that?”, quoting the irreverent John Bender from The Breakfast Club as played with nostril-flaring precision by Judd Nelson.

“What about prom, Blaine?” is the classic Pretty in Pink response to anyone blowing off plans last minute, and extra points if you nail Molly Ringwald’s teeth clenching, locker banging, girl power voice.

Music, fashion, and pop culture after 1984 were defined in large part by his oeuvre, and my generation still connects on very basic levels to his stories. I own all of his classics on DVD, and if I am having a bad day, nothing perks me up as quickly as popping one in and visiting with old friends. From the holy trinity of the Brat Pack SC/PIP/TBC, to quieter gems like Some Kind Of Wonderful or classic knee slappers like Weird Science, John Hughes just got us. He knew what it meant to be an outsider, and the price you pay to be an insider. He knew about unrequited love that threatens to tear you apart from the inside, and that requited love isn’t necessarily all it is cracked up to be either at that age. He knew our secret souls and dreams and guilty pleasures, and he didn’t slick them up or package them to feed to us.

In a time when the culture of television and movies aimed at teenagers seems to be entirely about telling them who they are supposed to want to be instead of reflecting who they actually are, his voice, his keen eye, and his honest and respectful characterizations are much missed. Where are the teenagers today on film who have the same diversity of look as did our Molly, Ally, Anthony, Judd, Eric, Mary Stuart, Lea et al? Maybe I am showing my age, but if you lined up all the current teeny-bopper starlets I wouldn’t begin to be able to tell them apart, they are an endless blur of flat-ironed extensions, size zero skinny jeans, and gladiator sandals. Where are the supporting characters that are more than just background furniture? Where is a Joan Cusack struggling with her back brace, or an Elias Koteas carving a “picture of what my girlfriend would look like without skin” into the top of a detention desk? The rare piece like Juno is the exception that proves the rule, and a surprise sleeper hit. But movies like that were John Hughes bread and butter, and in their day, they were big releases and blockbuster hits.

When a girlfriend was getting ready to marry a gentleman of British descent, we abducted him for a weekend and made him watch Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in one day, none of which he had ever seen. When we finished he said simply about his fiancée “I feel like I finally really know you completely.” Which had been the entire point. You can’t know us completely without those road maps, without the Cliff’s Notes that John Hughes provided.

For those of us who live in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs where Hughes set his movies, the loss is even more poignant. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was as much a love letter to the city we inhabit as it was a clarion call to people to wake up and smell the Chagall.

Hughes’ work would never receive awards. And yet, if you ask almost anyone who actually came of age during the time of his coming of age films, he is the most influential film writer and director of our lives.

We are now all either in our late thirties or early forties. We have married and divorced. We have had children and lost parents. We have attended 20 Year Reunions at the high schools he had such a razor eye for capturing. We have built careers, advanced science and medicine and law. And yet, at the very core of our beings, each one of us is still “a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal”.

And each one of us owes something essential to John Hughes.

Life moves pretty fast, indeed.

From the bottom of my heart John, I wish you Godspeed, with the thanks of a generation. And to his family and friends, you are not alone in your grief. We are out here. And our prayers and thoughts are with you.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sad Secret Shameful Confessions

Its time for me to come clean about my most deep and personal shame.

For a foodie, there is a lot of food that I don’t eat. A list the existence of which I hate to acknowledge, a list of things widely touted as so delectable that people think of them as the pinnacle of perfection. And I’m not allergic to anything, and I don’t have political agendas against how the foods are attained or prepared, and I’m not restricted by religious beliefs.

I just don’t like ‘em.

Now, I don’t think you need to be Andrew Zimmern to effectively fit yourself into the foodie category, I know plenty of serious chefs and gourmands who aren’t going to tuck into insects and four year old putrefied shark. But despite having once eaten two live termites (a story for another day), my issue isn’t with extreme eating. It’s with stuff that most people find delicious, and I’m always afraid of that moment with someone who doesn’t know me when I have to tell them the stuff I don’t eat.

It would be like having to tell someone that, while you happily acknowledge your sex addiction, you aren’t interested in S&M, porn, toys, erotica, threesomes, and will only do half of the positions in the Kama Sutra. Your street cred would suffer significantly.

Same for me. I swear that I’m a foodie, I have over 70 herbs and spices stocked in my cabinets. I have Korean black garlic and Mugolio in my pantry. I have equipment and gadgets galore (but, as a true foodie, rely most on a set of a few basic tools to work magic in my kitchen). I am prepared, by virtue of a good stock of staples, to make a hearty delicious meal at the drop of a hat. I believe in making homemade stock, in using top notch ingredients prepared to best heighten their natural goodness, and that good food made with your heart is one of the truest forms of love. I subscribe to eight cooking magazines. I collect cookbooks and read them like novels. And the two guys I would most like to go on a road trip with are Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman. But as much as I want to be the Batgirl in that trio, I fear that I would be woefully unprepared. Because an essential part of the food experience that those two enjoy the most is stuff that, quite frankly, would make me ralph.

And which is worse, the embarrassment of having to tell them the stuff I don’t eat, to admit out loud to two of my greatest culinary heroes that, not to put too fine a point on it, I can’t hang….that is too much to bear.

I don’t feel overly bad about the offal thing, after all, variety meats seem to be the one area that people can get a pass on. With the possible exception of foie, which I wish like heckfire I liked, but I simply cannot get behind it, and nothing is worse than the look on a fellow foodie’s face when you pass on the pâté.

Here, in general terms and no particular order, is the list of stuff I just can’t get it up for:

Offal or variety meats (liver in all forms, any organs, blood, tongues, black sausages, haggis, headcheese, feet, ears, snouts etc.)

Blue or overly stinky cheeses. And I really wish people would stop telling me that they "have a blue so mild it will change my mind." It will not. It will make me want to barf in my purse. And while I love the ooey gooey goodness of brie and camembert and other soft-ripened beauties, I am one of those annoying people who either cuts off the white rind, or scoops the middles out. I know. I'm the bane of your cheese tray.

Raw tomatoes or tomato juice (love them cooked in every possible application), ditto raw onions of every variety (pickled is fine, and I cannot get enough of them cooked)

I find avocados to have an unpleasant mushy mouth feel and taste weirdly like bland oil to me, so I pass on the guac. Okra is too slickery to consider. Beets used to make me gag in every preparation except thinly sliced and fried into chips...something about them makes me think of sweet dirt, but I haverecently become a convert to baby beets, preferably roasted and I definitely like the chiogga and golden ones better than the dark purple ones. Eggplant is also on the list, the only exclusion to the ban being my own ratatouille galette, where the japanese eggplants are sliced so paper thin and shingled with zucchini, yellow squash, and plum tomatoes so that they are barely noticeable, and tempura,which tastes mostly of fried anyway.

Shellfish, including oysters, mussels, clams, crabs, shrimp and lobsters (with the exception of squid, scallops and octopus, and very occasionally the deep fried versions of above)

“Fishy” fish, including salmon (I know, a Jew who hates Lox, its ridiculous), cobia, swordfish etc. I like all the firm white-fleshed fishies like halibut, cod, grouper, sea bass, snapper, etc. I like tuna out of a can, packed in oil, or cooked to medium, but can’t abide it raw or rare, so I never order it out, since I know that asking a chef to cook it through is an insult to both chef and fish. Actually can’t really abide any fish rare or raw, and I think seaweed tastes the way those little cans of fish food flakes smells, so despite wishing like mad to love sushi, I tend to be a tempura/udon/teriyaki kind of girl. (I am, however, open in this area and hope one day to find the right person to gently guide me in finding stuff I would like…I’ll keep you posted on the Great Sushi Search)

Peppers. Sweet or hot. Green, red, yellow, white, purple, orange. Roasted or raw. Ick. If I accidentally eat them raw I burp them up for days, and cooked they smell to me like old armpit.  Of all of them, I can occasionally stomach some red pepper, I even use a bit in my confetti rice salad, but I still sort of eat around it.

Eggs with distinct white/yolk separation….scrambled, in quiche, frittatas, and in omelettes is fantastic, but soft boiled, hard boiled, fried, over easy, poached, coddled…not so much. Makes it difficult when everybody and their brother is topping every damn dish with something poached or soft-boiled these days.

Overly peaty mushrooms. I like a chanterelle, oyster, enoki, hen of the woods…but anything with real pungent mushroomy flavor puts me off. So anytime that flavor is concentrated, mushroom soups for example, deep powerful yuucchh. Shockingly, one of the appetizers I often serve to great acclaim is one I invented but cannot eat....fresh portobellos with the gills removed, stuffed with pate and cut like a tiny pizza, glazed with cabernet jelly and garnished with sage. I hear it is fantastic.

Spicy isn’t so much a preference as a physical necessity. In addition to my chronic and severe gastric reflux, I also have no gallbladder. (TMI?) When my gallbladder and I divorced several years ago, it got custody of anything spicier than my own fairly mild chili, my friend Doug’s sesame noodles, and that plastic Velveeta-Ro-Tel dip that I probably shouldn’t admit to liking. I’m allowed very occasional visitation rights, but only at my own risk.  I am also a total sice wuss, ex-gallbladder or no, so stuff that you think is not spicy at all blows the top of my head off.

Black Pepper. I find it acrid and burnt tasting and would love to kneecap the guy who decided that every dish served to one in a restaurant ought to come with the offer of freshly ground pepper from something the size of a Louisville Slugger. I season with salt, herbs and spices, and instead of pepper I use Grains of Paradise, which I adore as much as I dislike BP.


It’s mortifying.

I continue to taste these things (except for the offal, I just have given up) periodically, just to be sure. And when I am lucky enough to be somewhere exceptional (Alinea, Charlie Trotter's , The French Laundry et al) for a tasting menu, I do just that, I taste. And while I can often say in those places “That wasn’t so awful for ________.”, the experiences just don’t convert me. They are the exception that proves the rule.

I had a scientifically-inclined buddy who said that the people who think cilantro tastes like soap (oh, yeah, that’s on the list too…) actually have a certain salivary enzyme that other people don’t have. He also noted that a huge percentage of the stuff I don’t like seems to have a certain minerality taste in common, especially the offal/mushroom/strong cheese families, and that perhaps it is that which puts me off.

I’d love for it to have a medically-defined causality, then maybe the boys would forgive me and let me hold the bat-maps and pack the bat-snacks. Especially since we are all fans of pork rinds. Oh to just be able to say to someone, with the same simplicity as saying one keeps Kosher or is vegetarian...I'm sorry, I have ________. No long explanations, no embarrassment. I wonder what we could call it? I’ve been blaming my terrible sense of direction on a Magnetite deficiency for years….maybe I have Gastronomitis?

There is plenty that I do eat, of course, my tush is a testament to that. And enough off the beaten path stuff that I can hopefully at least avoid philistine status. I love game meats, squab and quail and pheasant and venison, yum. Ostrich, delish. For my tenth birthday I requested duck with cherry sauce. I keep duck fat in my freezer, along with three kinds of bacon. But I fear that my condition still might keep me from my Batgirl cape.

I will say to AB and MR…there are some really excellent qualities I bring to the table. I love a good cocktail and a nice wine pairing, but can’t drink to excess anymore (see aforementioned reflux/gallbladder issue) so you’ll always have a designated driver, and I promise to be careful with the Batmobile. And with me not eating a lot of the stuff you like best, there will be more for you! I’m a great sous, tell a good dirty joke, love football, and I’m not high maintenance. Plus I live in Chicago, one of the alltime great food towns and a good jumping off point for any adventure.

Surely that at least should get me a Batgirl audition, no?

Your turn…what don’t you eat that you hate to admit to?