“Dare” to Not Buy Crappy Makeup!

My last few attempts at posting were made while my son was napping, or sort of napping, and were about his naps (or lack thereof). But describing the minutia of our sleep travails (suffice it to say that they have been many and excruciating) has gotten really boring. And, while it’s not inconceivable that someone, somewhere might want to read about them – I’ve certainly drawn comfort from other people’s accounts of a baby who only naps while being nursed/held/rocked/worn in a sling in a pitch-dark 71 degree room while their parent does squats and recites The Iliad from memory – I’m sick of writing about them. So, I’m going to at least try to write about something else. (Although, at the risk of jinxing this miraculous event, my son is, at this moment, asleep; in his crib!)

So. Hi! It’s been a while. In the time that has elapsed between this and my last post, I’ve experienced the sublime agony of childbirth, become a mother, moved in with my parents, and reacquainted my liver with alcohol. I’ve made a buche de noel, savory phyllo pies, a Swedish tea ring, chocolate truffles, a Sachertorte, and innumerable cookies, breads, cakes, and pies. (Baking and eating are strong contenders for my favorite pastimes; although I style myself an artist, I probably spend ten hours cooking for every one drawing.)

Over the past (almost six!) months, I’ve exulted in my baby’s smiles, blamed myself for his sleep difficulties, and learned why it’s so damned hard to write about the love you feel for your child in anything other than unctuous cliches. I’ve experienced a previously unimaginable fixation on another person’s poop. I’ve discovered the wonders of breastfeeding and the joys of babywearing.

I’ve also listened to a lot of Brian Eno on Youtube (it’s great nap music). According to my demographic profile, Youtube thinks I wear makeup, which I guess I do – but it’s confined to a single tube of lipstick, a mascara that I bought five or six years ago, and a little 99 cent thing of gold glitter. I am not what you would call “in the market” for Maybelline’s “The Rock Nude” eyeshadow palette (do they have The Rock‘s blessing for this travesty?). That doesn’t stop this one particular ad from popping (I initially typed “pooping,” which isn’t much off the mark) all over my video feed.

Why do I hate this ad so?

Let’s start with the obvious: in no way can these colors be considered “nude.” There is, granted, the deep blue of dark circles under under a light-skinned person’s eyes after an all-nighter. But, last I checked, human skin doesn’t come in metallic purple or silver. So, why nude? Annoying.

Next up: the nauseating voice-over. “Dare to Rock. Nuuuuude,” intones a female voice as cloying as margarita mix from a pouch. I gather that this voice is meant to be scintillating, to make me feel adventurous and frisky and incite me to put on my tiniest skirt and most towering heels in the endless quest for beefy, Axe-scented manflesh. But its syrupy. sing-song artificiality is essentially sexed-up motherese. Ew.

Finally: I gather that the waifish, vacant-eyed teen models are supposed to represent an all-female band who Dares! To Rock! I know that makeup is aspirational, that advertisers are selling fantasy, blah blah blah. But seriously? What, exactly, is so daring about caking on makeup designed to maximize your conformity to an oppressively narrow standard of beauty? How is it rock n’ roll to flaunt a socially acceptable body in revealing clothes? The women in this ad, far from fierce and sexy rock n’ roll badasses, are mere props, ciphers embodying a flat, cookie-cutter beauty, a bland and bloodless sensuality calibrated to the male gaze.

I’m not impervious to artifice, nor immune to aspiration: I can be (and am) moved by conspicuous displays of hotness. Every image of Grimes, for instance, makes me want to do something wild with my hair and abandon my earth tones and simple lines for the dadaist flamboyance she wears so well. Perusing Beyonce’s instagram account makes me lust, I’m sorry to say, after the lush opulence of her fabulous life. And I’m sure that I’m affected by advertising. And yet, the mockery that this ad makes of women in rock and roll really chafes. The rich domain of music is thickly peopled with brilliant, innovative, weird women. People who defied the misogyny of rock and roll culture and mainstream society to create on their own terms. I know that “authenticity” is a very slippery concept, and that folks have been co-opting and sanitizing rebellion since before Constantine took up the cross. But still… this ad absolutely galls me.

And now my poor babe is awake and screaming. See ya!

Occupational Hazards

I love Ayla in a way that transcends reason, but sometimes I resent her for taking over the only comfortable chair in the apartment, rendering it unsittable with her copious hair and doggy smell. When I wake early and want to drink tea with no heed to my posture, needing a transition point between fully asleep and fully awake, a wobbly wooden chair is a poor compromise. Especially since I sleep on the floor.

a beast enthroned
beast enthroned

Yesterday I went to the coffee shop and forgot to bring the goat cheese and onion biscuit I’d planned on taking with me as an emergency snack. By two thirty I was ravenous. The walk home brought me dumpster chocolate, tiny grapes. More sugar.

foraged bounty
foraged bounty

Every day, I tell myself it will be different. That somehow, in the midst of stress and huger and distracted inchoate longing, I’ll find the ability to deny myself the small nibbles that add up to a really unhealthy amount of sugar. Kourambiedes, little buttery crescents of shortbread dense with Marcona almonds. Oatmeal cookies with apricots or currants and a judicious sprinkle of nutmeg. The streusel I keep on hand, pre-baked, for topping  fruit crisps – “cookie pearls,” as my coworker dubbed them yesterday. The preternaturally irresistible chocolate chip cookies of which I’m rather proud. All of these end up in my mouth, en route to becoming part of my constitution.

I made macarons the other day – my first attempt. To my surprise and delight, they turned out. They’re a bit “rustic” – the food processor wouldn’t get the pistachios fine enough. But their nut-flecked chew is a pleasing counterpoint to the filling of rose buttercream that I colored pale pink with beet juice. Something about turning out a sheet of little cookie circles, piping on pastel-colored filling, making them into dainty sandwiches, satisfied my soul and made me feel like a real baker. Overall, a delightful enterprise: they’re going to enter my repertoire for sure.


kourambiedes, aka my downfall

Last-Minute Cherry Trifle

I have to end my meals with something sweet. Even if it’s just a piece of chocolate or a sip of liqueur, sugar represents a kind of closure, a signal that the meal is ended.

When I have dinner guests, though, I feel compelled to actually make dessert: It’s important to me to feel as if I’ve provided a complete culinary experience. A couple of nights ago, I had a friend over for dinner. I had beautiful cherries from the farmer’s market, but not much time; I thought about making a fruit tart and filling it with sweetened strained yogurt, but didn’t have time to let the yogurt transform into a thicker, mor luscious version of itself. Ice cream would have required a trip to the store.

I had duck eggs, though, and pistachio biscotti, so I figured I’d make a trifle (this, despite the fact that the aforementioned friend had in the past expressed distaste for such desserts. His objections are completely aesthetic, though: he finds their air of thrown-togetherness offensively lazy. I, on the other hand, love the simple, breezy whimsicality of fresh fruit, custard, cream, and cake or cookies layered together). I made a simple crème anglaise with a duck egg, a little sugar, and some half and half, added a drop of vanilla, and let it cool. Finally, I folded in about a cup of plain Brown Cow yogurt (cream top, of course). I layered it in glasses with cherries and crushed biscotti.

It was pretty good: creamy and crunchy and fruity, simultaneously light and rich. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about the yogurty crème anglaise: It was pleasingly tangy, and had a smooth, velvety texture… I’m just not sure I preferred it to regular old sweetened yogurt.

In the event, my friend did like it, so I counted it a success.

it wasn't that pretty, but it did the job.
not that pretty, but it did the job.

Coriander-Rose Ice Cream

One of my first memories of ice cream (actually, one of my first memories, period) was prostrating myself before the cold case of a Chapel Hill, NC ice cream parlor called Francesca’s. My cousin and I bowed our heads and extended our arms in mock reverence, chanting “I worship strawberry, I love strawberry, I marry strawberry!”

I still love good strawberry ice cream, though I wouldn’t call it my favorite: My love of ice cream is too wide-ranging to choose just one. What hasn’t changed, though, is ice cream’s power to inspire in me goofy displays of unfettered excitement and devotion. Ice cream is my go-to celebration food, comfort food, stress food, reward food. I crave ice cream, often so fiercely that I will go to embarrassing lengths to get it. There’s something about that harmonious meeting of fat and sugar, the unctuous cold sweetness dissolving on my tongue: It scrambles my brain’s pleasure centers, stripping away logic, causing me to lose my relationship with reality ever-so-slightly.

I love ice cream flavors with nuts and pieces and chunks of all descriptions. I also love pure, simple flavors. Dense, firm, American-style ice cream with no eggs, rich frozen custards, smooth, slippery gelato: I like it all. For my latest ice cream experiment, I used one of my all-time favorite spices, coriander, combined with dried rose petals. I started with David Lebovitz’s vanilla ice cream as my base recipe, omitting the vanilla and infusing the milk with a generous tablespoon of toasted coriander and a small handful of dried rose petals.

ingredients (yeah, there's five egg yolks in there)
ingredients (yeah, there’s five egg yolks in there)

The coriander flavor ended up being very pronounced (just how I wanted it) with bright notes of citrus and pine, and deep toasty underpinnings of earth and wood; the rose flavor was very subtle. I also added a teaspoon of Bulleit bourbon to prevent the ice cream from becoming too hard; next time, I’d use a neutral-flavored spirit, like vodka, or an orange liqueur like Cointreau, or – better still – a rose liqueur.

Although the ice cream’s good on its own, I’m planning to pair it with something – maybe an orange pound cake or some type of fruit crisp or tart.

a favorite toy
a favorite toy
ice cream.
ice cream.

Bittersweet Guilt

I did a couple of stupid things last night, and spent the better part of today ruminating on them, feeling wretched.

This morning, on the ferry ride home, I ran into an old friend. Her enthusiasm for her new camera, her ready smile, her delight in the beauty of the landscape, and her good old-fashioned kindness penetrated my cloak of shame and sorrow and made me smile, too.

I arrived home, collected my dog, and ventured out into the sun. I had a quick indoor picnic of leftovers (the day was too fine, and I was too hungry, to fuss with making an actual picnic. Sometimes – often, actually – the perfect is the enemy of the good).

haste meal
haste meal: boiled egg, matzoh with goat cheese and tzatziki, grilled asparagus, carrot salad, arugula

I met many people who were delighted by my dog. I wrote things while sitting in the sun, drinking coffee. I ate two big scoops of gelato (pistachio, coconut) and drank a beer.

I reflected on my transgressions, resolved to do better in the future. Guilt can be instructive. All those facebook posts would have you believe that guilt has no place in a healthy person’s heart, that worry is a waste, that anxiety, in all its forms, is a bad thing.

But if we felt no guilt for the wrong we did, what incentive would we have to do right? Sure, there is intrinsic gratification in performing acts of kindness, in bringing others pleasure and happiness, in helping people. But sometimes it is equally rewarding to disregard the feelings and needs of others. In matters of public interest, there are laws to keep us in check. But in interpersonal matters, feelings of guilt and shame act as a check on bad behavior and can serve as an indicator that we’ve been in error.

I think that morality is, to a significant extent, inborn, that feelings of guilt enable us to learn from mistakes and avoid future transgressions: For social animals like us, it’s adaptive to feel shame. We don’t need the rubric of religion to teach us what is right and wrong – we need only listen to the accusatory murmur from within. (What is considered “wrong,” is, of course, partially socially constructed, but there are a lot of universals.)

this is a "small"
this is a “small.” and my hand is really dry.

Of course, guilt can be paralyzing, and overly zealous self-excoriation can be a vice. So I had to back up off of it and eat some ice cream, sit in the sun and pet my dog, give my fallible self a break.

Incidentally, I love a cake cone: No sweet, crunchy waffle cones for me. The blank-slate neutrality of a cake cone’s flavor (or lack thereof), its airy crispness and the way it melts on your tongue, is the perfect foil for ice cream’s sweet, smooth richness.

And, in my experience, ice cream is a panacea for bad feelings.

styrofoamy goodness
styrofoamy goodness

Easter Chocolate

I grew up Seventh Day Adventist, with little bit of cultural Judaism and scientific agnosticism thrown into the mix.

My grandfather was a preacher, and my mom’s side of the family was steeped in a deep Southern religiosity that circumscribed every aspect of life. By the time I came into the picture, the intensity was somewhat diluted: My Jewish dad wasn’t religious. I did go to church every Saturday as a kid (an agonizing experience occasionally brightened by a post-church potluck: Seventh Day Adventists, as a rule, are damn good cooks), and dutifully explained to my friends that Saturday is the real Sabbath. But holidays in my household weren’t invested with much religious significance. Ironically, the rituals that were the most moving and laden with meaning were Jewish ones: the lighting of the candles on Hanukah and Shabbat, the Passover Seder. Christmas was an occasion for presents, and Easter was an occasion for candy.

In many religious traditions, Easter’s sacredness and solemnity rivals that of Christmas. Which makes sense: Easter represents the culmination of the story that began with Christ’s birth, the fulfillment of the promise of the nativity. Many Christians attend midnight mass, break the Lenten fast, and partake in a range of rituals (many of which are delightfully bizarre and freighted with sexual undercurrents. See Dyngus Day). For me, though, Easter was about chocolate, and chocolate only (okay, bunnies too).

On Easter morning, the doorbell would ring. On the doorstep, there’d be a basket (presumably left by the cunning and secretive Easter bunny), filled with that springy bright-green paper that’s supposed to represent grass and festooned prettily with ribbons. Inside, there was candy. Chocolate bunnies. Cadbury’s Mini Eggs (oh, the Mini Eggs!). Maybe some other things? I only cared about the chocolate . Later, there’d be an Easter egg hunt. My family didn’t go in for hard-boiling and dying real eggs: Instead, hollow plastic ones were filled with yet more candy. Discovering a tiny packet of sugary treats nestled in the grass was an occasion for the kind of ecstatic pleasure that seems so accessible to children before a certain age.

My cousin and me, Easter morning ca. 1993
My cousin and me, Easter morning, ca. 1993

The last time I got an Easter basket, I think I was twelve or thirteen, just embarking on a tumultuous adolescence characterized by alienation, resentment and foolhardy impulse-following. My mom made me a beautiful Easter basket with a Care Bear plushy in it. (I had loved the Care Bears as a little kid.) It was a touching gesture, and the memory of it (and the accompanying memory of the anguish I caused my parents during that time) gives me a little pang of sadness.

This Easter, my chocolate isn’t cloying and waxy and fashioned into a gimmicky shape: It’s organic dark chocolate, rescued from a dumpster and eaten with almonds and raisins out of a jar lid that’s standing in for a plate. Dark chocolate’s deep funky richness is one of my favorite tastes. Chewy, tart raisins and crunchy, round-flavored almonds provide the perfect counterpoint to chocolate’s bittersweet smoothness. With a ready supply of really good free chocolate, I eat it pretty much every day.

I want to make an Easter basket for someone, to ring their doorbell and run away, to give them a little flicker of primal delight. But I won’t, because I can’t think of the right person. I want to hunt for eggs and wear a pastel dress and loll in the grass tomorrow, drunk on candy. Instead, I’ll don black, and go to work, as families celebrate the risen Christ and children revel in the opportunity to glut themselves on candy.

jar lid chocolate
jar lid chocolate

That’s okay, though: I’ve got Tom Waits to buoy my spirits with a sweet hit of earthy absurdity. And as for any need I might have to connect with the symbolism of spiritual and physical renewal: I’ve got Passover for that.