Posts from the “Popular Culture” Category

Things The French Do Right: Part One

Posted on April 10, 2014

Photo: The Guardian via Sipa Press/Rex Features

Photo: The Guardian via Sipa Press/Rex Features

I’m as guilty as the next person of sending work emails after hours so I can get one thing off of the following day’s to-do list. To wit: The email I sent LSU about the class I’d like to teach in Fall 2014 left my inbox at 9:20 p.m. Monday night. Yes, it probably could have waited until Tuesday morning, but I console myself thinking about how my husband was up far later than I was sending emails that probably could have waited too.

This sets up my latest argument for why our family needs to pack up and move to France.

Yesterday, French employers’ federations and labor unions signed a new, legally binding agreement that requires staffers to turn off their work phones after 6 p.m. The deal affects one million workers in the technology and consultancy sectors, and aims to keep workers from feeling pressured to look at or respond to job-related requests after hours. When I saw this story, I thought “Well, how about that? That’s more proof that the French have some shred of good sense about work-life balance. Vive la France! Let’s move!”

So I took this tale to the mister who said that it sounded really nice (in an exhausted sort of “Oh boy, here we go again. Another argument for moving to France.” way). But he added that he actually didn’t feel the pressure to respond to after-hours emails. He only felt the pressure to send the missives that happen to be the root of the problem. And before I could exclaim, “but we could move to France and reform ourselves (after we bang our heads on the wall sorting through all the requisite residency paperwork),” he actually found a way of tying up all his work-related loose ends by 6 p.m.

Husband: 1, Paige: 0

But the battle rages on…

*****

Photo:DavidLebovitz.com

Photo:DavidLebovitz.com

Blogger, cookbook author and former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz has a new book of stories and recipes out called My Paris KitchenWhat I love about the book is that it puts a culinary twist on this centuries-old question the French like to ask themselves: What does it mean to be French? Lebovitz answers this in his own inimitable way, illustrating how global influences from India to North Africa and even his native United States have shaped classic French cuisine. Plus, you get a tantalizing taste of what he might serve with cocktails or for dinner on a given day.

And that’s what makes it so difficult to decide what to cook first. It all looks so good and, better yet, accessible for the average home cook.

Last night I chose to make his chicken with mustard sauce recipe, the dish featured on the cover. It was a tricky choice because my husband and daughter are not big fans of mustard and if I ever want to use it in a dish, I have to sneak it in and refuse to answer them if they ask me what’s in the chicken. When my daughter asked me what I was making last night, I replied “Chicken in Awesome Sauce” because by then I had dipped my spoon into the skillet enough to know that the sauce was, indeed, beyond awesome.

Sometimes I feel like this is my theme song when it comes to tricking those two into eating things that I like:

Anyway, yeah.

Here’s what you need to make this:

1/2 cup and 3 TBS of Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. of smoked paprika

4 chicken legs and 4 chicken thighs

1 cup diced bacon

1 diced small onion

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 cup of white wine

1 TBS mustard seeds

2-3 TBS heavy cream

chopped fresh parsley to finish

Directions:

1. In a bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the mustard with paprika, pepper and salt. Put the chicken pieces in the mixture and cover them with it, rubbing some of the sauce underneath the skin.

2. Heat a skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the bacon, cooking it until brown. Remove the bacon and drain it.

bacon

Mmm…bacon.

3. Leave 1 TBS bacon fat in the pan, then add onion and cook for five minutes until translucent. Stir in thyme, cook for another few minutes and scrape into a bowl big enough to fit the chicken.

4. Put chicken in the pan (adding olive oil, if necessary) and brown it well on both sides on medium-high heat. As Lebovitz advises, good brown color makes for a great tasting sauce.

chickeninmustardsauce

 

Here’s the chicken when it first went into the pan. Please don’t deduct points because I used leg/thigh pieces.

5. When the chicken is well-browned, remove it from the pan and put it in the bowl with the onions. Then add wine to the hot pan and scrape up the fond (a.k.a. really tasty bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan).

scrapeupfond

Scraping up the fond. Loving the smell. Mmm…sauce.

6. Put the chicken, bacon and onions back into the pan, cover and cook on low to medium heat until the chicken is cooked through. This should take about 15 minutes.

7. Then, remove the pan from the stove, stir in the remaining Dijon mustard, mustard seeds and cream. Top with parsley and serve with linguine noodles (you gotta sop up that awesome sauce with something) and haricots verts.finalplatechickenmustardsauce

Et voila!

The husband usually hates mustard, but liked this tremendously. The child was a little less convinced (but she is a work in progress; I tend to take a Karen Le Billon approach to her eating habits, anyway…trying, trying, trying again). Me? I loved this and will absolutely make it again.

And so, the new score:

Husband: 1, Paige: 1

We shall see what the next inning brings…

*****

Lebovitz had a great behind-the-scenes post this week about what went into making his recent book. Aside from all the gorgeous photography and anecdotes about rose wine consumed, I really appreciated the look at the often-agonizing process of seeing a book into print. Few people know that the proposal stage alone can take almost a year in some cases, sometimes requiring total overhauls and reshapings along the way. He writes:

Writing a book is an all-consuming process, at least for me. My Paris Kitchen started out as a non-cookbook proposal that took me nearly eight months to write. People who want to write a book are always astonished when I tell them that it takes that long (at least it takes me that long), to write a proposal. But it’s the most important part of the cookbook process. It’s where you clarify and distill your ideas, and create your vision of the book. And in turn, it allows the publisher to grasp your idea of your book, who you are, and the intended audience…

After I sent the publisher at Ten Speed Press the proposal I had slaved over, he sent me a message: “You should do a book of recipes about how you cook. What is your Paris cooking?”

Grrr, eight months down the drain. But as a writer, sometimes you write and write and write for hours, thinking you came up with something brilliant. Then you go back and reread it the next day, and delete the whole thing. And start all over again.

But the point is, he persevered and has a really gorgeous book to show for it. His account is inspiring to me at a time when I’ve just finished a total overhaul of my own book proposal. So he gave me faith…and great chicken. And sometimes that’s all a girl can ask for.

Merci, Daveed.

 

Monday Reader: 4/7/2014

Posted on April 7, 2014

Photo: The New York Times

Photo: The New York Times

Today marks the first Monday morning in a couple of months that I haven’t been teaching. I had gotten into the ritual of beginning each class with little weird and interesting tidbits about contemporary France, stories about everything from the decline of the noble snail to an experiment with social media among a select group of homeless Frenchmen. I found that these little tidbits got everyone (especially me) loosened up and ready to sit for a deeper dive into a topic like, oh, I don’t know…the French Second Empire. I also realized that by structuring the class this way, I was sort of thinking like a magazine geek — short departments in the front, long reads in the middle, a punchy closing note that set up for the next issue, er, I mean, class.

So I wanted to take a similar approach with my web site, at least for now. My picks won’t necessarily be France-related all the time, but there will be a decent diet of Franco-reads. You’ll also get a taste of the eclectic lifestyle pieces and features that tend to catch my eye. Here’s hoping they give you something fun or interesting to read while you sit with your morning cup of coffee or take a lunch break.

Here we go…

Rwanda: The Art of Remembering and Forgetting (nationalgeographic.com) This is the third story in a series about the Rwandan genocide, which happened 20 years ago today. About 1 million people were murdered by their neighbors over the course of 100 days, an outrage that the international community has struggled to process and respond to even today. Now, “Rwanda bears few obvious scars of its cataclysm. Its rapidly modernizing capital, Kigali, is one of the jewel cities of Africa. A lacework of tree-lined boulevards and greenswards rises and falls over a cradle of verdant hills and valleys. New construction is transforming the city center, with upscale hotels, a grand shopping mall, and a state-of-the-art convention center. The airport bustles with tour operators picking up clients arriving to visit Rwanda’s national parks, which hold the nation’s famous mountain gorillas. Add to that Rwanda’s rising standard of living, steady economic growth, and low incidence of corruption, and you have a country that in many ways is the envy of the continent.” Still, there are the less obvious scars. Rwanda has laid some of the blame for the massacre with France, which, in turn, scaled back its presence at the ceremonies today. And yet there is the French governmental agency which was formed to find perpetrators of the massacre living within France. “Since this group was created, things are moving much faster,” Rwandan activist Dafroza Gauthier told NPR. “They’re moving really quickly. And there’s a judge who is dedicated solely to the cases of the Rwandan genocide. … Prior to this there was no money, there were no resources to focus on this and now there are.”

The Found Art of Thank-You Notes (Nytimes.com) I used to hate writing thank you notes when I was a little kid, but my family stressed the importance of showing gratitude for gifts both large and small. Now I find that I’m trying to fight the ease of dashing off an email or text to show thanks, and instead buying nice stationery so I can stick with this old school — and much more personal — art. The New York Times published a feature recently about thank you notes, saying that “the boring stuff your parents made you do never actually goes out of fashion and that also inadvertently supports recent scientific findings linking gratitude to increased optimism, stress reduction and a better night’s sleep. Few who sit down to write a bread-and-butter note are likely to be aware that by doing so they are not only on trend but also on their way to becoming happier and more sociable people. Apparently, what Emily Post termed good manners (science prefers “gratitude intervention”) has all kinds of unexpected benefits. And as it happens, the handwritten gratitude intervention seems to be experiencing a moment of vogue.” Taking the time to find the special papers, and the right pen and best words shows “gives material evidence that the person really did appreciate something.” Are you a thank you note writer? If so, why do you choose this old school approach? If not, why do you think it’s fuddy-duddy? Do you prefer your thank yous digitally or by snail mail?

Some Thoughts on French Cuisine (DavidLebovitz.com) Lebovitz has a new cookbook that hits bookstores tomorrow. In the meantime, here are his thoughts on this talk about whether French cuisine is losing its je ne sais quoi. His view is neither gloom-and-doom, nor pie-in-the-sky. Rather it’s smart and even-handed, acknowledging globalization’s impact on the present-day attitudes and habits of French chefs and eaters. And yet, he writes “people in France are still making Coq au vin, omelets, crêpes, gratins, mousse au chocolat,tartes Tatin, and eating French cheeses. I think everyone can agree that those are, indeed, examples of French cuisine, with deep roots in the soul of the country. And while many restaurants have dropped the ball on some of those items, and you don’t find them very often on menus nowadays, quite a few people still prepare all those things at home and they’re still popular. There are a number of French restaurants whose food could certainly use rescuing, but no one could argue, after a walk through Paris, that the pastry shops, bakeries, butchers and charcuteries, aren’t doing a pretty good job upholding the standards of la cuisine française. Yes, the single-subject restaurants serving everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to meatballs are un peu trop (a little too much), but they are signaling a new way for a younger generation of cooks to present foods at a lower costs, as it’s cheaper to do one thing and do it well. True, many of these places were started by Americans or Australians, then adopted by the French, but if the result is better “fast” food than fast-food outlets, and better coffee, I’m for them.”

How To Dress Like a French It Girl (elle.com) Merci, Elle Magazine for breaking down French style for the rest of us. The magazine takes 11 icons, breaks down their style, piece by piece (and price by price), ultimately giving you an accessible way to look tres magnifique. Some of my favorite looks: Jean Seberg, Ines de la Fressange, Farida Kelfa and Lou Doillon.

Will Ortiz’s Selfie Be Obama’s Last (boston.com) Where to begin about the Red Sox? After the Orioles (my Orioles) beat them on Opening Day last week, the Bosox emerged true to form and began making mincemeat of the Birds’ pitching staff. In the midst of all this, they took the standard post-championship trip the White House and presented President Obama with a Red Sox jersey. Designated hitter David Ortiz took a selfie with the president, but that caused a stir because Ortiz is on Samsung’s payroll as a “social media insider.” Said White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer: “In general, whenever someone tries to use the president’s likeness to promote a product, that’s a problem with the White House Counsel.” Ortiz said the picture had nothing to do with any deals. He was just caught up in the moment and wanted to take a shot while he had the chance.

Paul Stanley dishes on KISS feuds and painful secrets (cbsnews.com) KISS guitarist Paul Stanley has a new memoir out and I think I need to get it for my hair band-loving sister. His band just got into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, which he feels is more of a slap in the face than an honor. “The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame is fluff,” he told CBS. “It’s a farce. It’s like an Addams Family bar mitzvah. I’m gonna go, but let’s not kid ourselves, you know. That’s not the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame is walking the streets…We are the bitter pill that they ultimately had to swallow. Because they don’t like us. And the only reason they’re inducting us is because they begin to look foolish at some point for not having us in.” Rock on, man. And read on, y’all.

 

A Place in the Pantheon

Posted on February 26, 2014

Photo: JR Artist

The Pantheon in Paris is a 224-year-old mausoleum that contains the remains of 73 great Frenchmen, among them Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Louis Braille and Emile Zola. Marie Curie is the sole woman to be interred in this building on her own merit (Sophie Berthelot was buried at Pierre Curie’s request). Now that’s due to change, as France announced this past week that it will be adding two female resistance fighters to the illustrious mix.

The Pantheon has been a pretty exclusive place since its inception, and late last year the Center for National Monuments released a report about how to make the grand old building more reflective of the country’s republican beliefs. Yesterday, the CMN announced it was partnering with street artist JR on a project called “Au Pantheon!” JR, known for his large-scale photographic works, will be collecting portraits of all sorts for the next month across the country and via a dedicated website. He’ll use the photographs to paper the tarp that now covers the Pantheon’s dome, which is currently under renovation. It’s the first time that the country has used art instead of a large, lucrative advertisement to cover a public building in the throes of a touch up. The project should last about two years and could include thousands of headshots and other ridiculous selfies taken by ordinary folks like me. It’s a really interesting project in the country of liberte, egalite and fraternite. Watch it unfold on Twitter by following the hashtag #AuPantheon, or join the fun by uploading a headshot to this website by March 29. The end result will be unveiled on April 22.

Animal Crackers: A Farewell to Shirley Temple Black

Posted on February 11, 2014

Palais Garnier: Fifth Most-Visited Paris Monument

Posted on February 7, 2014

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

A recent report in the French newspaper Les Echos said that the Palais Garnier was the fifth most-visited monument in Paris during 2013. There has been a 44 percent increase in visits to the building since 2010, in part because of its increasing number of events and exhibits. Known as the backdrop for the novel and Broadway musical The Phantom of the Opera, the Opera Garnier still stages operas and ballets as well as concerts with the occasional pop star like George Michael. But it also has one of the most rich and remarkable archives I’ve ever seen, the contents of which serve as an endless source of wonder for nerds like me and as the basis for many excellent exhibitions.

Here is a photo from a recent costume exhibit it had:

2013-10-17 19.19.18

Have you ever been to the Palais Garnier? If so, what did you think of it? If not, you should definitely put this building on your must-see list if you ever plan a trip to Paris.

Monuments Men

Posted on February 6, 2014

Pissarro

 

I’ve been working on an item about art restitution that’s tied to the recent release of “The Monuments Men,” the real-life story of international art experts sent to recover and return artworks stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The piece is also tied to the recent sale of Camille Pissarro’s impressionist masterpiece, Boulevard Montmartre, matinee de printemps (pictured above). Impressionist paintings have an enduring allure, but this one sold yesterday for $32.1 million in London in part because of its restitution backstory. It was once owned by Max Silberberg, a Jewish industrialist who was forced by the Nazis to sell his collection of 19th and 20th century art. Silberberg later died in the Holocaust and it took his family decades to find his prized Pissarro.

Governments are among the organizations dedicated to unearthing pilfered pieces such as these. Auction houses such as Sotheby’s also have their own restitution groups dedicated to researching all works consigned to them that were created prior to 1945 and working with a variety of interest groups to broker deals on this art.

Often there are really two victims: the person from whom it was stolen and the institution or person who bought it in good faith,” Sotheby’s specialist Philip Hook told The Wall Street Journal recently.

I’m looking forward to seeing Monuments Men soon. What about you?

monumentsmenposter

For more on this topic:

*Here’s a feature about why restitution had such cinematic appeal.

*Here’s a story about how Robert Edsel, author of The Monuments Men, turned his obsession into a movie.

*Here’s TIME Magazine’s review of that movie.

*Here’s an item a recent auction involving sales of restituted artwork unearthed by the actual Monuments Men.

*Here’s an interesting read about how a slice of Edward, Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson’s wedding cake was auctioned off for $29,000.

 

 

On Faith and Writing

Posted on February 4, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a third grade class about writing. My talk was about 50 minutes long and as I spoke I realized that I wasn’t really talking about writing, per se, but about following your heart, never giving up and being eager to learn from everyone you meet, both inside and out of the classroom.

I originally told them that I became a writer because I was a bad math student, and, come to think of it, a pretty bad science student and economics student too. But then I noticed I wound up writing stories that involved budgets, or scientific research, or economic trends, and so I had to learn how to ask all the questions I was too timid to ask in third grade and beyond so that I could understand these subjects in a way that would allow me to write well and convincingly about them.

This admission brought me to a story about a very confusing interview that I did with a nanoscientist. No one in the class knew what nanoscience was, and I told them I didn’t either, especially as the interview with this man progressed. So I found the nicest and most professional way of asking this very smart man to explain his work to me the way he might explain it to his five-year-old niece. He did, I finally understood the very cool work he was doing, and I wrote a story about it, and then several other stories about nanoscience, which I was convinced was a very cool thing that people needed to know about.

After having relayed that to the class, I told them that I began to understand that I really became a writer because it gave me the opportunity to learn something new all the time and to share that knowledge and those stories with readers.

Near the end of my talk, I told them about Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera House. I’ve spent some time researching his life and reading about his times, in hopes of writing a book about him. The kids were engaged with the Phantom of the Opera tie-in (Garnier’s opera is the backdrop for Phantom) and had a lot of questions about whether there were ghosts in the opera, for real. I told them there weren’t. But it did take everything I had not to tell them that I’ve been somewhat haunted (for lack of a better word) by Garnier’s rags-to-riches story and interested in the way it provides a different look at a Paris that was undergoing massive physical, political and social change. I told that Garnier was a cool guy who didn’t let his background or insecurities get in the way of building one of Europe’s most beautiful buildings.

And that should serve as an inspiration to them to beat the fourth grade in their reading challenge…or not be shy about any other pursuit that fills their heart.

One of the kids came up to me after the talk and asked what you do if you write something sort of personal and then turn it in and no one likes it, or gets mad, or you realize that you’ve written something totally embarrassing and you wish you’d never turned it in. I sat there knowing that I had a book proposal on Garnier out on submission that was fairly personal to me and that rejections could be trickling in as I was standing there. I told her that people who pour their hearts out realize the risks they’re taking when they write and understand that not everyone will like what they do all the time.

But that’s never any reason to quit.

For all those who may not feel like your work is for them, there will be those who love it. Have faith in your story and yourself and your agent and your work will find its way into the right, loving hands.

That Suit

Posted on November 15, 2013

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Next week is the fiftieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy Jr’s assassination. Networks are airing retrospectives and publishers are releasing new books that look at this pivotal national event. Today, The New York Times writes about one of the signature artifacts of that day: Jacqueline Kennedy’s Chanel-inspired pink suit.

Having done archival research and having touched everything from letters signed by Napoleon III to journals written by grieving widows eager to preserve their husband’s place in history, I have a sincere appreciation for historical preservation, as it helps future generations gain a better understanding of their past, hopefully so they can enrich their future in some sort of way. Having said that, Jackie’s neatly tailored suit (still caked with her husband’s blood) has been out of view since that fateful day in November 1963 and the Kennedy family wants it to stay that way until 2103.

The pillbox hat and white kid gloves were lost that day and when presidential aides asked Jackie if she wanted to change into something else, she reportedly told them no, “let them see what they’ve done.”

As Cathy Horyn writes: “Curators cannot think of another historical garment imbued with more meaning, and also deemed too sensitive to be shown. Among items of apparel with similar resonance are garments worn in concentration camps and the tatters that remained after the atomic blasts in Japan. But these objects, while deeply affecting, are displayed in museums. Other examples mentioned by curators include Napoleon’s death coat, a shoe dropped by Marie Antoinette on the way to the guillotine and the suit and cloak Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated.”

Displaying Jackie’s suit in a similar fashion would produce “hysteria,” it was believed, so it will sit in a climate-controlled vault for at least another century. In the meantime, pictures and video clips remain.

What does Jackie’s pink suit signify for you? Or, can you think of another historical artifact that has as much resonance? If so, what is it and why do you find it significant? Leave your answers in comments below.

Yogalosophy

Posted on November 13, 2013

Photo: Seal Press

Photo: Seal Press

My yoga practice has fallen apart over the past couple of months, in part because of various work projects that have kept me busy, but also because of a back injury that has been flaring up off and on during this time. With the holidays right around the corner, there is no time like now to get back on the mat (once I can move painlessly), because the breathing, twists, turns and stretches have a way of helping anyone (not just me) stay calm and focused when things get hectic.

ModernWomanThat’s my Yogalosophy, but in the recent issue of USA Today’s Modern Woman, I talked to celebrity yoga and fitness expert Mandy Ingber about hers. Ingber, a former actress, believes we already have the perfect body. It just may be hiding behind layers of fat, or (in my case) compressed spinal discs. What you have to do is love the body you have in order to get the body you want.

Ingber speaks from experience. After being “all over the map” with her own body, she overcame her own eating disorders and body image issues through the self-love she preaches. “I started making better choices as a result of loving myself,” she told me in an interview. “I used to think that if I did something wrong (like gain weight) that I ruined everything. Now I don’t have that black-and-white thinking about myself anymore.”

Now she’s known as the yoga and fitness guru behind some of Hollywood’s hottest bodies, among them, the actresses Jennifer Aniston and Helen Hunt. Her latest book, Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover provides readers with an easy-to-use wellness overhaul that includes traditional yoga poses, toning and cardio exercises, recipes, music playlists, journal exercises and other action items that support physical and mental wellness throughout the day.

“This is really a ‘Start where you are, take what you like and leave the rest’ type of book,” she says. And it’s one I’ll have to reacquaint myself with very soon.

If you practice yoga, what is your favorite type of class to take and why? Or, if you’ve read Ingber’s book, what did you think of it and what sort of results did you get from following her program? And finally, what sort of fitness or wellness ideas do you have for making it through the holidays? What is your holiday-related health or wellness downfall? Please leave your insights in the comments section below.