Monday, December 31, 2012

Girl Land, by Caitlin Flanagan

Girl Land, by Caitlin Flanagan

I've given up trying to knit on the subway during rush hour, so I'm reading more instead. Caitlin Flanagan's essays in The Atlantic have always entertained me. I think she's provocative and funny, and while we sometimes disagree, we share  a sociocultural background that makes her writing intensely relateable. So when I saw this in the library's new arrivals section, I snapped it up. It's a quick read, and I finished it in a single day of commuting. The book had its moments of funniness, and I definitely copied down some quotes to reference later. But the whole piece seemed less a study of American female adolescence than a paean to Flanagan's own fading youth. The book shone most when Flanagan talked about her own adolescence and maturity, while the cultural commentary mostly fell flat. Her arguments might have had heft, but they are too poorly researched and too scattered amid personal reflections to hang together. The book doesn't have a point a reader can carry away from it, and the memoirish moments are too few and too short. I wanted more of Caitlin Flanagan, the middle aged mother recalling her youth and less of Caitlin Flanagan, the cultural commentator trying to make a Larger Point.

New Year's, Etc.

My parents are coming over tomorrow for a belated Christmas and New Year's brunch.

Current Menu:

Bacon and Cheddar Scones
Crepes Farcies (Fancier than it sounds. It's just crepes rolled up with ham and cheese, arranged in a baking dish, topped with sour cream, and heated. Heaven on a plate.)
Blueberry Coffee Cake
Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies (Because we can't get enough of these.)

I'm flirting with the idea of a salad or fruit dish to lighten things, so I'll probably hit the market tomorrow morning and see what looks appetizing. Perhaps something with spinach and clementines? With nuts? Who knows. The meal wants for a festive beverage to round things out, but I wasn't together enough to pick one up.

Later on, we're meeting my aunt, her boyfriend and my cousin for supper in Flushing, which should be fun. CodeMonkey are bickering over where to take them; my mother requested that we please keep the heat level to something reasonable, as the rest of the family is not interested in eye watering, tongue searing spice.

Happy 2013, all!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cookie Overkill

If you like white chocolate, run, don't walk, to your nearest Trader Joe's. As a seasonal item, they are selling 10 oz. bags of white chocolate chips for $2. This is real honest-to-god-made-with-cocoa-butter chocolate chips, and every other brand on the market has replaced the cocoa butter with hydrogenated oils. Even the high end brands (I'm looking at you, Ghiradelli). I bought five bags.

Once you have your chocolate chips (you can also substitute chopped white chocolate), you can make these white chocolate oatmeal cookies. Just please, take it from me, don't triple the recipe.

See, last week one of the departments threw an informal holiday shindig. Most of my coworkers gave money to the organizer, but I opted to bake instead, because I am a glutton for punishment. Since the recipe said it made two dozen cookies, I figured I could triple it, have enough for the party, enough for eating over the weekend, and enough to stash a few in the freezer for the next time we have surprise house guests. Only I'm a bit of an idiot, and didn't realize the folks at Smitten Kitchen and Cooks Illustrated make their cookies quite a bit larger than I do. Twice as big, in fact. So, a slight miscalculation there.

The second miscalculation was that my KitchenAid could handle that much cookie dough. It couldn't, and I ended up hand mixing seven and a half cups of oatmeal and eighteen ounces of chopped chocolate into the dough. Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking either.

So instead of making six dozen cookies on a weeknight, I made twelve dozen. Whoops. On the bright side, the cookies are fantastic. All the ones I brought to the party disappeared before I got any and people kept complimenting me on them. When you bite into them, they shatter into this mess of sweet-salty oatmeal crumbs. I stashed all the excess cookies in the freezer, but I think CodeMonkey and I have both been smuggling them out, one at a time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Shopping Mall Santas

I have caught something nasty and I spent the weekend in bed feeling fluey and earachy and feverish and generally pathetic. On Sunday, in an effort to see something beyond the four walls of my bedroom, CodeMonkey and I went to the mall.

Now, as has been discussed, CodeMonkey didn't grow up here. Most of the time I forget this, as he speaks perfect American English and has been here so long he's largely acclimated to the local ways. But then he'll be baffled by something that seems so obvious and natural to me that I remember again.

Like most shopping malls, this one has a Santa. You know how this goes: you put your child on the Santa's lap and the child either wails or (hopefully) tells Santa what he wants for Christmas while Mom and Dad take notes. Meanwhile, a member of the mall's staff takes pictures, which they will sell you for some outrageous markup. Then, years from now, you can look back on these endearing photos. (Unless your parents were too cheap frugal to buy the overpriced pictures. Not that I know anything about this.)

Anyway, my husband watched these proceedings in fascination for a few minutes before I dragged him off to Marshall's. Then the questions started:

CodeMonkey: "Don't the children know that Santa is an actor?"
Me: *furious whisper* "Would you be quiet! There are children here. And no, they don't."
CodeMonkey: "But there's one at every mall! Can't they put two and two together?"
Me: "WOULD YOU KEEP IT DOWN. And most kids don't put two and two together. I only found out about Santa when I was 8 and a classmate told me."
CodeMonkey: "I would have thought you were smarter than that! But don't parents feel bad about lying to their kids? And isn't Santa supposed to come in through the chimney? We don't have chimneys here! What do parents in New York tell their kids?!?"
Me: "PIPE DOWN, YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN SANTA FOR EVERY KID WHO OVERHEARS YOU. And, obviously, Santa comes in through the fire escape. And if you live in a doorman building, the doorman knows to let Santa in and he lets Santa double park the sleigh. Duh."
CodeMonkey: "This is the Santa that also "sees you when you're sleeping, and knows when you're awake?" He sounds really creepy. We are going to have a serious talk before raising children, right?"
Me: "I give up. What do you think of this coat?"

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Crappy Cashmere

I love sweaters. I love buying them, I love making them, I love wearing them. Since they're a staple of my winter wardrobe, I spend a lot of time shopping for them and handling them, and I've noticed an annoying trend. Namely, as the price (and quality) of cashmere has plummeted, stores have stopped making nice wool or merino cardigans.

The motivation, I'm sure, if economic. A good wool sweater probably costs as much as crappy cashmere, and customers will probably prefer the cashmere for its softness and connotations of luxury and wealth. Unfortunately, cheap cashmere pills like mad, loses shape easily, and is so thin that it isn't particularly warm. Most retailers have opted to sell lousy, cheap cashmere and I've had a hard time this season finding merino or plain 100% wool cardigans for women.

I bought CodeMonkey some lovely lambswool v-necks from Boden. They have held up well over the last few months, and they have sufficient length in the body and sleeves that when he bends forward, his dress shirt doesn't billow out of his pants. His Lands' End cashmere v-necks are about 2 inches shorter (were they trying to save on materials costs?) and they constantly ride up. I anticipate the wool ones will last longer than the cheapo cashmere, which I wouldn't buy again.

In the mean time, the only pace I've found to buy nice, simple wool cardigans is Brooks Brothers. I picked up one in red and one in black when they were 40% off last week. The fabric is significantly more substantial (and again, they are nicely longer in the body and sleeves) than cashmere cardigans I've tried on at other retails. The knit is dense, the fabric is reasonably heavy, and the spin on the yarn seems fairly tight. I'd rather have a good wool than crappy cashmere any day, and I'm sick of it being hard to find the kind of high quality garments I'd like to wear. Their color selection is lousy, though.

Incidentally, here are reviews of the cashmere retailers I've tried:

Lands' End: I have a darling cashmere purple argyle cardigan, but all their solid colored cardigans have been car too boxy on me, even when I went down to an XS. They are cropped length, which is fine if you're going for that look. Their cashmere long-sleeve t-shirts seem to be better cut and longer in the body and arms. Again, pilly. CodeMonkey owns two cashmere v-necks from them and they also run short and pilly. Don't buy unless it's last year's clearance plus a 40% off and free shipping coupon. I have never paid more than $80 for one of their sweaters and I usually pay under $50. Not sure I'd buy again.

Macy's: I bought one of their Charter Club cardigans this year. Color was nice, body length was nice. They used buttons that poorly matched the sweater color, so I returned it. It did seem a bit thin during the try-on.

Talbots: I have two of this season's cashmere cardigans from them. They run thin, though I'm find of the large color-coordinated buttons. They run a bit big, and I took a small in them. The fabric is thin, but pill-resistant. I did keep the sweaters, but I got them at $80/each, shipped during Black Friday and wouldn't buy them otherwise.

J. Crew: I stopped in here because on the website they had some really cute colors. The garments were pilling on the shelf (bad sign), but I grabbed something to try on anyway and was even more disappointed. The Medium was the size of a tent on me, and given that I measure 37-29-40, I don't think I should be in the market for an XS garment. The sweaters were very thin, and lighter colors appeared translucent, which was disappointing, given the cost. Left without buying anything.

Boden: I have this season's cashmere hoody. This is easily the nicest cashmere in my closet. It's thicker, plusher and much more pill resistant. It does feel a bit less soft in the hand, but I've worn the sweater probably 10 times and it hasn't pilled appreciably, so it's worth the tradeoff. It is also the most expensive sweater I own. I believe I paid about $130 after a 30% discount. I'd buy more of their pieces next year, though. I tried their long-sleeve cashmere crewnecks, and the cut about the shoulders was strangely unflattering, so they went back. The fabric on those was thinner than the hoody, but still seemed nice.

Everlane: I stopped by their pop-up shop last weekend and groped the cashmere. It has that same "plush but not super soft" feel that Boden's cashmere has, so it seemed promising. The fabric seemed nicely heavy, and nothing was too sheer. I have the cashmere stole on order, but it's so incredibly "I can't believe I spent that much" expensive is may go back if I am not head over heels in love with it in every respect. I didn't try any of the cashmere sweaters on, though it's concerning that they seem to favor the sort of loose, vaguely masculine, boxy cut that looks so terribly unflattering on me. I would consider a sweater order in the future.

I'm curious to try both Brora and Pure Collection, though they're costly. I've heard excellent things about their quality.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Spiderman and Mary Poppins on Broadway

CodeMonkey and I have been married three years. (Go us!) To celebrate, we bought rush tickets to Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark and Mary Poppins. Watching both shows back to back helped me see what makes musical theater really hang together.

Spiderman had fantastic sets and costumes, but I never got emotionally invested in the characters, and the music was so completely forgettable that I'm not sure I can hum a single tune from the show. Admittedly, I'm not that into the whole superhero/comics thing and largely went because CodeMonkey wanted to see it. I still felt that, had the show been well done, I would have enjoyed it. Visually, it was spectacular, but since it fails to either take the viewer on an emotional journey or at least provide some catchy song and dance numbers, it just falls completely flat. The music was completely un-moving and often downright painful to listen to.

Mary Poppins also lacks for character development or a really meaty plot (but then, I think the original Disney movie isn't abundant with either), but the music was charming and the sets were delightful. The viewing experience was more of a delightfully trippy romp through Edwardian London than a journey, but it was fun. Spiderman was less fun and more an aural assault.

That said, the folks at Disney did cut a scene I thought was rather important from Mary Poppins. From Wikipedia

Mr. Banks grows increasingly irate with his children's stories of their adventures, but Mary effortlessly inverts his attempted dismissal of her services into a plan to take his children with him to the Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, where he is employed. On the way there, as they pass the bank, the children see "The Bird Woman" (Jane Darwell), of whom Mary sang to them the night before, and they want to feed the birds around her, but George will have none of it as he expresses his lack of interest in what Mary Poppins says and orders his children to "come along" and not mention her name for the rest of the day. Upon arriving at the bank, Mr. Dawes Jr (Arthur Malet) and Mr. Dawes Sr (Dick Van Dyke)—Mr. Banks' employers—aggressively try to persuade Michael to invest his tuppence in the bank to the point of actually snatching it out of his hand without waiting for his permission. When Michael protests, the other customers misunderstand and start a run on the bank that forces the bank to suspend business. 

This was eliminated in favor of Michael and Jane snubbing The Bird Woman, requiring Mary Poppins to teach everyone a Very Important Lesson (beautifully sung, naturally). The run on the bank was eliminated completely in favor of another storyline which left Mr. Banks jobless. I was disappointed, and I'm not sure why the developed did this. Did they think modern viewers would't understand the idea of a bank run? Who knows.

In any event, it was a lovely day, though seeing two Broadway shows in one day is a bit much.