Friday, January 04, 2008

Personal best: 2007

Inspired, as I noted in the previous post, by Chocolate & Zuccini author Clotilde Desoulier, who made her list personal but also universally applicable.

My coworker Michael has protested that it is "biased." This is true. It's my list.

Here goes:

Best movie (comedy): Knocked Up. I laughed (a lot), I cried, and despite my hypervigilance when it comes to gender representation, I didn't think it was as sexist as Katherine Heigl said it was. Maybe it's because I have seen a full-grown, attractive blonde woman completely lose her shit on a doorman after being turned away from a club.

Best movie (drama): Once. (or is it a musical?)

Best television show (comedy): The Office. Thank god that Jim and Pam are finally together. This alone made my year.

Best television show (drama): LOST. Although this could change if Jack and Kate don't get together.

Best concert (large venue): It's a two way tie between Neil Young and the Arcade Fire. Both played the Orpheum this year. I saw Neil Young with his wife on Dec 3. Growing up with his music on the stereo has influenced my taste more than any other artist. On the other hand, I saw Arcade Fire on May 11 with my brother, who introduced me to the band, and it was a profound experience. I finally "got" the songs on "Neon Bible" after this show. This band works incredibly hard. For proof, listen to the show on Bradley's Almanac here.

Best concert (medium venue): 826 Boston's Revenge of the Bookeaters (which included Of Montreal, Mates of State, and Via Audio) Sept. 26, Berklee Performance Center. My friend Jenna and I were lucky enough to run into all of the band members at Bukowski's following the show. We sat and talked with Kevin Barnes about literacy (he said he hadn't really thought about it much) and Kori Gardner about her 6-months-along pregnancy and the relative merits of Brooklyn vs. Connecticut grocery stores. We even did shots of dessert wine (?) with Davy Rothbart, founder of Found Magazine.

Best concert (small venue): St Vincent, July 18, Middle East Upstairs. I've rhapsodized publicly about St Vincent - see my review here.

Top 5 albums: Feist's "The Reminder", Radiohead's "In Rainbows", Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible," St. Vincent's "Marry Me", Via Audio's "Say Something"

Best book: the His Dark Materials series (aka, The Golden Compass books). This series captured my imagination in a way that no book really has since I was an impressionable 12-year-old with a bookcase full of Madeline L'Engle novels. I even cried at the end of The Amber Spyglass. The hype and criticism (put it together and you'll get hypocrisy) surrounding this series is mostly unmerited and inaccurate. It's quite spiritual, very inspiring, incredibly intellectual, and worth reading.

Best new restaurant: Myers + Chang. I'm a big fan of Joanne Chang, who even brought over vegetarian eggrolls personally on my first visit here. I've only rhapsodized semi-publicly on M + C, on Yelp, but that review is here. Really, all you need to know is this: order the edamame salad and the mussels; make sure you say "tofu" in case they think you want "pork"; and if you wait patiently, they will bring you a free dessert.

Best new cocktail: the "Envy" kiwi-based cocktail, from the "Seven Deadly Sins" cocktail menu at new venue/resto Church.

Best ingredient, ever: truffle oil.

Best vehicles for truffle oil: the truffle frites at Kingston Station; the 4-mushroom truffled pizza at Stella.

Best new addition to my kitchen: It's a two-way tie between my food processor and my Crock Pot. (I know, how novel. But dear god, I'm only 22.)

Best new addition to my life: my lab/Rottweiler mix puppy, Eko. (See: LOST)

Biggest surprises:
Radiohead's "In Rainbows" was, actually, very good.
Rocca isn't that good.
Bikram Yoga is not as crazy as I thought.
The upper part of Desolation Canyon in Utah is actually very beautiful.
I don't hate New York City as much as I used to.
I don't hate Broadway plays.
Rouge vif d'Etampes actually means "red warty pumpkin." It sounds so much better in French.

Gather-combine-tweak-shake-shake-shake: the Chocolate & Zuccini Best of 2007 list

Sometimes, when I have a minute, I sit back and think about the world of food, how vast it is, and how many rivers, hills, and valleys remain uncharted to me: I know so little, and have so much yet to learn. I don't find the prospect overwhelming, far from it. I find it encouraging, I find it promising, I find it comforting: as long as I can read books and move around a kitchen, my life will see no shortage of inspiring ideas, happy discoveries, and exciting projects.

-Clotilde Dusoulier, author, "Chocolate and Zuccini" (a blog and now a book)

In the past month, my friends and I have read and contributed to countless "Best of 2007" lists. It's fun at first, but often the entire experience dissolves into knee-jerk reactions, tired bickering and previously unplumbed depths of snobbery. Things I enjoyed in their original contexts during the year - Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up," the Arcade Fire's highly-anticipated "Neon Bible" - were placed on pedestals, debated and discussed to death, or summarily dismissed. All in all, a very anti-inspiring experience.

However, this list, which appeared in my inbox today, had the opposite effect on me.

I am only a casual reader of Chocolate & Zuccini, which became very popular with food fans in '05 and '06. Casual because, I admit, because French cooking seems more difficult than other cuisines, so I don't always have time for Dusoulier's sometimes elaborate dishes, although I do have a handful of hazelnuts in my refrigerator at home, waiting to be cracked and mixed into her recipe for sables croquants poivre et noisette (crisp hazelnut and pepper cookies).

However, I loved her Best of 2007 list. It was personal, it was sweet and it was built around things that brought her joy throughout the year, so it was a pleasure to read (except for twinges of jealousy as she described her romps through the French countryside in pursuit of the perfect portable cooking knife - why not me?). It also brought together many things that I may decide to make time for - trying my hand at muhammara (bell pepper spread with walnuts, cashews, and something wonderfully exotic: pomegranate molasses), mixing my own tea, and reading cookbooks outside my comfort zone like Moro East.

In browsing around the blog, I found a phrase in one post that I like very much: her description of her own cooking methodology as "Gather -combine-tweak-shake-shake-shake." To me, this is the perfect onomatopoeia for the creative process.

Most importantly, Desoulier's comment about the world of food being a vast, uncharted place - a thought both humbling and exciting - was something that resonated with me. So much so that I may begin to read her blog again. And to try making French food without fear. And perhaps to make my own "Best of 07" list.

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I've got all my stars aligned - and my first piece in the Weekly Dig

I'm excited.

I was excited when I got my first byline in the Globe, but this may be just as fun.

I have a little blurb in the Dig. (I love the Dig.)

It's about St. Vincent, one of my favorite new performers on the indie scene. I saw her at the Middle East upstairs last year. She moves like a female David Byrne - like a marionette with her strings tangled in a ceiling fan. Her voice is at turns angelic and hard, and her stage presence is very gracious. I'm very happy that she and I were able to make it into the very last issue of '07 together.

I had originally pitched a piece on Feist's "The Reminder", but was turned town. Perhaps my editor has heard one too many phone commercials? Anyhow, it's a great album.

So I did this writeup instead. I couldn't fit "marionette with her strings tangled in a ceiling fan" in my 50 word piece, but that may be for the best.

To read the full "Best of 07" list in all of its indie-snob glory, click here.

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