By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 27, 2010
Category: Food and Wine
Man, am I stuffed --- and all I did was skim 128 pages.
Though “skim” is the wrong word here.
“Gorged” is more like it.
And now I’m not sure what I need first --- a nap, a cardiologist or a vomitorium.
On the other hand, I’m totally satisfied.
First, because I now know that the worst piggery I have ever committed is amateur night compared to the snacks and meals cooked up here.
Second, because I have, at last, found the ideal gift book for just about everyone:This is Why You're Fat: Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks. No bigger than a Whopper, this little picture-and-text --- plus some recipes --- package is so gross it has something to offend and delight almost anyone. Really, this is a palate-pleaser for guys in track suits, women on Jenny Craig, kids who order the pizza "with" --- and especially your dieting friends who are obsessed with food.
Cooked up by the photo editor of Gawker and his girlfriend, the book began life as a web site that invited gluttonous Americans to submit their favorite creations. It received ten million page views in its first month. Visions of sugar plums --- or, more likely, Krispy Kreme bacon cheddar cheeseburgers --- danced in the heads of publishers. And now we have the paperback, destined to be a high-calorie hit.
I could be serious here and get in your grill about the sociological importance of this book --- how we live in a time when you’re not supposed to drink much and party drugs have proved addictive and sex leads straight to personal ruin and so, by process of elimination, food is the only socially acceptable vice. Or I could notice that you’re using your grill to prepare some grotesque meat snack and shut up about your moral turpitude and just present a smorgasbord of Fat Foods.
Eager for some Poutine (French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy)?Here you go.
Or would you prefer a White Trash Burrito (filled with SPAM, tater tots, Velveeta cheese and Boston baked beans)?
Not really a dessert at all. Ladies and gents….Meat Cake.
I need a break. Maybe some music. With attractive kids. Let’s look at…oh, would you believe --- it’s called “This Is Why You’re Fat.”
Rested? I’m feeling like a Hamdog (a hot dog wrapped in a beef patty that's deep fried, covered with chili, cheese, onions, served on a hoagie bun topped with two fistfuls of fries and a fried egg).
Or maybe a KFC Double Down Sandwich (two pieces of bacon and two slices of cheese smothered with the Colonel’s Sauce with two fried chicken patties as buns).
Make way! Here comes the Italian Cook Out (ravioli stuffed with barbecued rib meat and mashed potatoes, sour cream, bacon and chives, all topped with melted cheddar, bacon, cheese sauce, green onions and shredded cheese).
Aptly named: the Dr. Phil(double-wrapped Chipotle burrito filled with rice, pinto beans, chicken, fresh tomato salsa, corn, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, and guacamole, wrapped inside of a cheese pizza topped with more fresh tomato salsa, corn chips, curly fries, and jalapeno bites, garnished with two sticks of chocolate and almond pocky).
I’m thinking dessert --- the Doughnut Upside Down Cake (a bed of brown sugar and butter topped by a layer of 12 mini doughnuts baked inside of cake mix and topped with heavy whipping cream and brown sugar).
The 30,000-calorie sandwich? Yes, there is one. But it’s too beautiful to share here. Just open the pages to the greasiest spread in the book, put on your bib and dive in. Guaranteed, you’ll die happy.
To order “This Is Why You’re Fat” from Amazon.com, click here.
To order the Kindle edition of “This Is Why You’re Fat” from Amazon.com, click here.
Not much white wine is consumed in this household, largely because friends keep giving us Chardonnay. I know I’m a jerk about this, but really --- is Chardonnay a wine or a marketing strategy? Chardonnay is especially despised around here because I had a great cheap white once in Paris, a Bordeaux called Chateau Magence. It was thin as a Riesling, just more structured, and it packed a deceptively gentle punch. Sadly, I could never find this lovely white Graves again.
Now Chateau Magence is being distributed in the United States, and it’s even better than I remembered. In New York, K&D Wines (1366 Madison Avenue, phone: 212 289 1818) sells the 2008 Magence for $9.49 a bottle --- an insane price for a wine of this quality. (Buy a case, save 10%). If you live elsewhere, ask the best wine store in town to order it. I’ll completely understand if you lie about the price, but won’t you at least tell friends you learned about Magence from HeadButler.com?
By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 20, 2010
It’s been a hard sell, but I’m slowly convincing the child that classical composers were the rock stars of their time. That’s certainly true of Vivaldi and Handel, which is why John Eliot Gardiner smartly had the Monteverdi Choir release Vivaldi's "Gloria" and Handel's "Dixit Dominus" on a single disc.
Here you get the music of two great showmen --- say: the seventeenth century versions of The Who doing “Tommy” and The Beatles releasing “Sgt. Pepper.” That is, killer harmonies, dazzling melodies and an overt sense of exaltation. High-energy, feel good music. And the inventiveness never lags. [To buy the Vivaldi/Handel CD from Amazon.com, click here. To buy the MP3 download of the Vivaldi/Handel CD from Amazon.com, click here.]
If you’ve read my piece about Vivaldi’s Sacred Music, you know the story: a famous composer and choirmaster dies poor and out of fashion, and his music is largely forgotten for two centuries. Then, in the 1920s, 300 concertos, 18 operas and 100 vocal-instrumental pieces turn up, among them the “Gloria.” Eventually every restaurant and Four Seasons Hotel is playing his “Four Seasons,”and the “Gloria” joins the repertoire of popular choral works.
Of the two composers, Handel was the bigger star --- but then, he was less interested in church music than in commercial opera. He could crank out a score in two weeks; like a pop composer, he knew exactly how to manipulate an audience.
This is why it’s no surprise that his “Messiah” --- which Handel wrote in just 24 days --- is the world’s best-known piece of choral music. Handel knew what he accomplished even before its premiere; he sobbed after finishing the “Hallelujah” chorus. “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.”
Handel’s “Dixit Dominus” is as crisp as a morning in Heaven. It’s loud, brassy, self-assured the point of preening. Handel knew fewer tricks than, say, Bach, but he knew just when to pull them out of his hat. Watch and listen:
Of the two choral works, I have deeper affection for the Vivaldi “Gloria” --- in part because I once played the attention-getting C-trumpet solo in a school concert, but more for its sheer excitement. The version of the “Gloria in excelis deo” I’ve chosen for you to watch and listen to isn’t from the Gardiner recording. And it’s done at a tempo far above the speed limit. The point here is that it can accommodate speed --- and while it may kill the musicians, it can surely thrill a crowd. Like this:
Just for contrast, watch/listen to Vivaldi’s “Propter magnam” --- the very definition of rousing.
In their shiny precision, both the Vivaldi and the Handel are among the most exciting choral pieces I know. Cheap thrills? Probably. But when you’re looking for music that jacks you up, shows you hope and suggests glory ahead, rousing crowd-pleasers are just what you want.
By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 19, 2010
Category: Food and Wine
The third Monday in January --- I’ve just read this in an English newspaper, so it just might be true --- is now regarded as the most depressing day of the year. Blue Monday, they call it. Everything feels futile. Best to go back to bed.
I didn’t feel that way yesterday. I am feeling it today. The news is wretched, the sky is an Orwellian gray, the gym seems like a bore and a chore.
Let’s be blunt about this --- the book is 160 oversized pages of exquisite food porn.
Recipes? Twenty five of them are sandwiched in the back of the book, in smallish type.
Preparation? There’s not a single shot of a cook whipping batter or pouring chocolate.
Text? A history of desserts and baking in France by Pierre Hermé, a well-known pastry chef. It’s pleasant. Informative. And altogether optional.
Photographs? Ah, Christian Sarramon’s big, close-up shots of ready-to-serve desserts are the glory of the book. There are some double-page spreads, lush as centerfolds. There’s even a shiny domed individual cheesecake, topped by a raspberry, explicit (say I) in its sensuality.
The book is smartly divided by obsession. That is, it starts innocently enough, with “Cakes from our Childhood” (relatively harmless eclairs, meringues and tartes). Next comes the weakness of so many of my friends --- Chocolate. Here you’ll find cakes decorated with French precision and artistry. The French honor the past, but they don’t worship it, so next up is “Contemporary Creations” --- like surreal red lips atop a white chocolate shell that’s filled with a coconut macaroon and a fruit compote. And, finally, there’s a section devoted to takeout pastries --- and the addresses of the best pâtisseries and tea rooms in Paris.
This is as much an art book as a food book, for there are many photographs of pastries in display cases --- and the display cases are architectural in their purity and color. A close-up of brushed raspberry sauce on a white cake, with a round mini-cake for accent, is Japanese in its simplicity and elegance.
And it’s a travel book --- a book of dreams.
If you’ve never been to France, it will make you want to take the night flight.
And if you have been --- well, I’m thinking of any number of afternoons at Ladurée (the one on Rue Royale, not the one that now occupies the space that was once home toMadame Castaing’s antique shop, a place I loved so much I can’t betray the memory for a convenient pastry). We’d order a selection of little cakes and pastries and consume them slowly, as if with chopsticks, washing them down with the palest of teas. And then we’d buy a box for the plane.
This is a bold book --- in its refusal to show you how it’s done, it’s almost revolutionary --- and that’s as it should be. Dessert as a comfort food is not a French idea. Dessert as drama, as an event --- that’s a French notion. And in a gloomy season, a French notion is to be cherished.
I’m trying to remember why I didn’t rush to see "An Education" the day it opened. The reviews were raves, and the idea --- an English girl on the verge of applying to Oxford meets an Older Man --- was compelling. (Now I remember. We have a daughter. The idea creeped me out.) Well, we finally dragged ourselves to see it, and it’s astonishingly good. The less you know about it, the better. Just go. And bring a hankie, because people --- especially the girl, exquisitely played by Carey Mulligan --- Go Through Things in this movie. Then, to your surprise, they change. And so will you.
Before many of you were born, Western Massachusetts was dotted with communes founded by city kids who'd decided that back-to-the-land was the best idea going. At that moment, farming seemed like a reasonable use for my English Lit degree, so I grabbed a chilly bedroom overlooking the back 40. Turns out I like central heat and a favorable male/female ratio, so I moved on. Patty Carpenter and her old man --- I think that’s what I’m supposed to call my pal Chuck Light --- stayed. And she’s spent decades making music about her life. Now, writing with Verandah Porche (no, not a typo), she’s released a 12-song CD that’s wood smoke and open fields, long dinners with friends and cold mornings by mountain streams. Feel free to Come Over --- and to be surprised: Patty's a grown-up pro who just happens to live far from the bright lights.
By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 18, 2010
There are smarties and there are smart asses, and the two rarely meet.
That’s why so many New Yorkers of a certain age cherish Fran Lebowitz, who wrote smart, smart ass magazine columns that became two books.
(In the Dark Ages, before a newspaper chronicle became the franchise that is “Sex and the City,” a column that grew up to be a book was a pretty big thing.)
As a satirist and social commentator, Lebowitz owned the late 1970s and early 1980s --- the era of Andy and Bianca, Studio 54 and cocaine, with AIDS and Reagan money on the horizon --- in Manhattan. She was a tough-talking demolition machine; her astringent, precise sentences could destroy entire categories. And she was a great character --- she chain-smoked, wore black suits and white shirts and Bass Weejuns, and growled at interviewers as if they had just rudely awakened her.
In the last few decades, Fran Lebowitz has written almost nothing --- indeed, she’s made a career effort not to finish her long-awaited novel, “Exterior Signs of Wealth”. She supports herself on book royalties, lectures at colleges and occasional appearances as a no-nonsense judge on “Law & Order”. “I’ve never met anyone who even comes close to me in laziness," she’s said. "I would have made a perfect heiress.”
Fran Lebowitz is 60 now, and it’s been three decades since she was writing regularly. Does she still have it? Watch a recent Q&A session and decide for yourself.
A while back, her two books --- “Metropolitan Life” and “Social Studies” --- were published together. I wanted to revisit my Disco Years, so I plunged through The Fran Lebowitz Reader.
The bad news: The pieces don’t really hold up. Not because Lebowitz’s persona --- smart hanger-on at the table of the rich --- is no longer viable. Simply because the Internet has changed the way we read and write? Got a punchline? Then bring it. But don’t bury it in a sea of preamble and diversion.
The good news: Fran Lebowitz writes great sentences. Read with a pen in hand. Mark them. Steal them. And use them. (Oscar Wilde: “Immature poets imitate. Mature poets steal.”) For instance:
Why writers smoke: “The words are in the cigarettes."
There's no such thing as advice to the lovelorn. If they took advice, they wouldn't be lovelorn.”
“I wouldn't say that I dislike the young. I'm simply not a fan of naïveté. I mean, unless you have an erotic interest in them, what other interest could you have? What are they going to possibly say that's of interest? People ask me: Aren't you interested in what they're thinking? What could they be thinking?”
“Success didn’t spoil me. I’ve always been insufferable.”
“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”
"The outdoors is what you have to go through to get from the apartment into the taxi."
“Children give life to the concept of immaturity.”
“The first requirement of a climber is a toehold.”
“Meatloaf ---a marvelously rough kind of pâté.”
And this all-purpose explanation for what ails you: “Being offended is the natural consequence of leaving one’s home.”
By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 14, 2010
Category: Non Fiction
I can’t be the only one who noticed the juxtaposition of photographs in the news.
In Washington, four Wall Street CEOs, sleek in Dunhill suits and Lobb shoes, testified that they bore no responsibility for the worst economic crisis in 70 years.
In Haiti, where the average worker earns $2 a day, an earthquake destroyed cities and villages alike, killing 100,000 people, maybe more.
You read these articles. And maybe you make the obligatory donation to a relief fund --- mine went to Dr. Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health --- but mostly, you throw up your hands and turn away. What can you do about Wall Street when its lobbyists swarm over Washington and its donations suck the last vestiges of independence from our politicians? And unless you’re a doctor or a bulldozer driver, what, really, can you do to help the Haitians?
In this book, the man is Deogratias, known as Deo, whose name in Latin means “thanks to God”. When we first meet him, Deo is 24, a third-year medical student. But there’s no way he can finish school. He lives in Burundi, and this is 1994, when civil war has come to Burundi and Rwanda, and Hutu and Tutsi tribal war has degenerated into genocide. Let one image stand for many: He sees dogs in the streets with human heads in their mouths.
Escape is beyond unlikely, but Deo makes it to New York. He speaks no English, has just $200. But he’s amazingly resourceful. Housing? He finds a shell of a building in Harlem where he can sleep, then moves on to Central Park. Work? He delivers groceries for $15 a day.
How depressing is this life? Deo becomes suicidal: “Better, he thought, to be in Burundi, if Burundi were at peace, than to live on the wrong, impoverished planet in New York. This place made you feel like you were simply not a human being.”
A kind woman introduces Deo to Nancy and Charlie Wolf, downtown artists and, by the evidence, saints. They help Deo arrange to go to Columbia University and even pay his tuition. In less than two years, he’s once again studying medicine.
And now the circle starts to complete itself. He meets Dr. Paul Farmer --- who has done so much to help the poor in Haiti and is the subject of Kidder’s masterpiece,Mountains Beyond Mountains--- and goes to work for him. And then he returns to Burundi and opens a clinic of his own.
One incident sticks with me. Deo’s clinic needed a better road. A Belgian construction company gave him an estimate: $50,000, just to make it passable.
Deo shared the bad news with the people he hoped to serve. And then…
A woman with a baby crying on her back said to me, ‘You will not pay a penny for this road. We become so much sick because we are poor, but we are not poor because we are lazy. We will work on this road with our own hands.’
The next day a hundred sixty-six people showed up with pickaxes, hoes, machetes and other tools. One of the volunteers was a woman who came to work with a sick child. I asked the mother why she came to work with a child that sick. And she said to me, ‘I’ve already lost three children, and I know this one is next, whether I stay at home or come to work here. So it’s better for me to join others and make my contribution, which hopefully will help to save someone else’s child, who will be sick but alive when you build your clinic.’
A six-kilometer road in Africa, built by the poorest of the poor while a Western company was still formulating its estimate for the job --- you can find any number of metaphors there.
Who should read this book?
Gee, I can think of a few CEOs on Wall Street who might benefit from reading about life at the bottom --- and what a few caring people can do to help.
And that friend who’s always complaining about the equivalent of a chipped fingernail --- this is the perfect anonymous gift.
And you too, because there’s a lot of static in the air and it’s easy to feel there’s nothing you can do about it.
But there is.
To buy “Strength in What Remains” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy the Kindle edition of “Strength in What Remains” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy “Mountains Beyond Mountains” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy the Kindle edition of “Mountains Beyond Mountains” from Amazon.com, click here.
The eyeball on the cover is like a flare of trumpets --- this is not your grandfather’s coffee table book. Or even what previous generations remember about Ripley’s comparatively tame newspaper cartoon, radio show and television series.
This is flat-out weirdness.
A portrait of Barack Obama, made of 12,784 gumballs.
Skydivers playing Scrabble at 13,000 feet.
Dentists with stumps for hands.
A huge ball of rubber bands --- over 700,000 in all, weighing nearly 5 tons --- made by a boy in Florida.
A model of the space shuttle --- made of 500,000 matchsticks.
A New Zealand man winning a contest by carrying bull’s testicles 165 feet --- in his mouth.
The obligatory kitten with two faces.
A rat on a custom surfboard.
1,360 people simultaneous exploding cans of diet cola in Belgium.
An animal sculpture made of 3,000 crayons.
A man pulling a 3,748-pound bus --- with hooks in his eyelids.
A magician levitating.
Just to make it up-to-date, there are pictures of more general weirdness.
But “Extreme Earth” --- about climate change --- somehow doesn’t seem very threatening.
By the time you close these pages, you’ll be much more haunted by the tattooed eyeball.
It’s a gesture of admirable restraint they didn’t put it on the cover.
Even the hippest coffee tables, after all, have their limits.