Thursday, September 24, 2009

My girls (and my boys)

"I don't mean to seem like I care about material things, like a social status ... I just want four walls and adobe slats for my girls..."

It has been well-documented that this Animal Collective lyric makes no sense.

"A social status" is not a material thing, and four walls of adobe anything (slats? slabs? Adobe CS4?) still leaves you without a roof, but this does not change the fact that everyone -- including this grammar nerd right here -- loves the song "My Girls." In fact, Idolator's Christopher R. Weingarten (among others) has already broken this phenomenon down here, so I don't have to.

We all agree that what Panda Bear seems to be saying is this: all you really need in life is your crew. And when I reflect on this summer, I feel so grateful for the times I was able to spend connecting with "my strong women," as I call them. Thanks to them, I've been having the time of my life, and redefining what it means to really be a strong woman. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by several working models, from my mother to my mentors to my fellow Party Cats. Together, they have formed a loving network of ladies that has helped me to grow beyond belief and to laugh -- like, throw-my-head-back, spill-my-beer, give-me-a-second-I-have-to-breathe belly laugh -- every single day. To my girls -- you know who you are -- thank you.

Of course, there's also the love I have for my boys, who have helped me to maintain my strong womanhood throughout the summer by providing generous helpings of "mencouragement" along the way. To my brother, who's often mistaken for my twin these days and who introduced me to the song "My Girls"; to my dad, who raised me to be tough, "level-headed" and fun-loving from the beginning; and to my boys, Alexis B., Mike S. Mike Y., Matt L., Roger M., Tyler B., and Josh H., who have never let me forget what I'm worth -- thank you. This song goes out to you.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Making art (and tofu) on

The fall editorial lineup for Tea Party Tastes, the newly-launched food feature on my friends' lovely, photo-rich Boston lifestyle blog, is looking fun and exciting. Maybe it's because it involves news of Boston's famed Chocolate Bar, which allowed us to drop some serious Wonka references. Maybe because I know we have a lot of fun food profiles in queue, with hilarious interviews with some of Boston's most talented artists. Maybe because many of these interviews will include the question, "If you were a particular kind of cheese, what would you be?"

Jed Hackney, the Chocolate Bar's new pastry chef, said that if he were a cheese, he would be “Constant Bliss” from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. A phrase that also describes his sugary cider donuts.

It's also because, since my relationship to this site is personal and non-transactional, I feel comfortable writing about people in the food world whom I would consider friends -- people who may have begun as sources, but who have since invited me into their homes, into their kitchens, onto their farms -- and now they are something else. They are people I'm more likely to call at midnight for a drink than during the day for a quote. They're people with whom I'd prefer to collaborate rather than simply chat. (Collaborate is one of my favorite words -- along with frolic, it's probably my #1 active verb.)

What this means is that instead of working on service pieces, guides, features, etc. in a strictly technical sense, my hope is that this fall, me and my people are going to make some art together. We are going to riff. We are going to ad lib. We are going to graffiti our words across the Internet and hope that someone wanders along and likes what they see. We will do it because we are compelled to point out the genius of the people who are creating things in this city in the same way that bees are compelled to make honey, that birds are compelled to sing, that Jessica Simpson is compelled to soldier on doing whatever it is that she does despite all those "mom jeans" comments. We do it because we must create -- not because we must create something we can "monetize."

I was talking about writing recently with my friend Patrick, who appears in this Tea Party feature about tofu-making. Patrick's a talented photographer who was until recently living in Japan, and who is now making his way through Mumbai, India. He broke his ankle in Japan and came here to Boston to recover for six weeks at his parents' place, and in those six weeks we came to be friends.

We may have failed to make tofu, but Patrick succeeded in capturing perfectly my quixotic (and messy) approach to cooking. Since I normally photograph horribly, this is a doubly amazing feat.

Patrick told me that he feels compelled to travel so that he can continue to capture beautiful images, and has arranged his entire life around indulging this sense of wanderlust, constantly leaving everything he knows behind in favor of something entirely unlike anything he's ever known. It drives his life. Getting paid for it is always secondary to simply doing it. (Although I did hire him for a job, and did pay him -- I'll post the results when that project drops later this fall.)

Patrick is a great natural storyteller. If I ask Patrick for the background story behind this or that shot, he'll tell me with glee. On the night I first met him, he told us about hitchhiking across Hokkaido in the company of a scissor salesman, about how it felt to see this stranger open his truck and see a thousand gleaming blades in the back of the vehicle that was carrying him across the country. On the night that I last saw him, he told an hour-long story about living on a farm with a crazy Belgian and a fat kid from Hong Kong named Sony, dodging unmarked yakuza cars and learning that his landlord (probably) belonged to a cult. Other images like this one or this one came with equally entertaining stories that stood as examples of his fearlessness -- as did his willingness to make tofu in my tiny kitchen based on a recipe he scribbled down in a Moleskine several months ago.

And so before he left for Mumbai (where he was going to meet up with Shu, another incredibly talented photog friend of ours), I told Patrick that he had to write about his adventures, that the world would be a better place for it.

He shook his head. He said no. I was surprised.

I pressed him. Why not? Finally, he said, in a very small voice, "But ... but what if I write something and people don't like it?"

I laughed. "What if you took pictures and people didn't like it?" I asked. "Would that stop you?"

He shook his head again. No.

"Just think of it like that," I said. "Think of it like breathing. Think of it as something you have to do, or die. It doesn't matter if people don't like it." And as I said it, I realized that I truly believed this.

The bottom line is this: for me and for most of my friends, there will always be some projects we do for the money, and some we do for the love, and it is important to be doing both. Right now I am more than paying my bills with the money I make from doing what I love -- I am, as they say, living the dream. But often, the money doesn't matter to me (at least as much as some people tell me it should). I will always write. I will often choose to write with and about my friends, because that is its own reward. I will always crave collaborators, whether they are fellow crackpot cooks, aspiring artists, or intuitive editors -- people who can help me shape my ideas and bring them to fruition. And it doesn't matter to me whether or not people like the results. (But of course I hope they do!)

Wheeler's piece in Tasting Table!

This actually came out last week -- sigh -- I am resigning myself to being woefully behind. But can you blame me? It is so gorgeous outside these days -- when given a choice between updating my blog and going for a run along the river at sunset with the dog, it's a fairly easy decision to make.

Anyhow, here's the link to my piece on Wheeler del Torro, who's a bit of a local legend here in Boston.

I first heard about him through my friend Emilie Hardman of the Conscious Kitchen, whose photography accompanies my piece. Back in the day, Wheeler -- who's now a bit of a celeb, with a cookbook and cameo appearances at hipster parties around the country -- just made small batches on the side and delivered them to people he liked. To hear Emilie tell it, it was like meeting with a member of the mafia -- he'd call from a phone booth down the street or something, show up in his van, and make a drop. But instead of unmarked bills or body bags, she'd get delicious vegan ice cream, which she'd then pair with her tasty vegan desserts and serve to her customers.

Finally this guy got a brick and mortar store, and immediately started throwing highly illegal parties in the evenings which eventually got broken up by the police. (The Weekly Dig's Cara Bayles once wrote up a hilarious rundown of one of these busts for the Dig Blog.)

Anyhow, my friend Morgan was reminiscing about these parties (I never attended one, but she said they were great, obvs -- as if something that combines civil disobedience AND vegan ice cream could be anything but) and she inspired me to pitch a piece about Wheeler to TastingTable. Et voila!

Of course, it never would have happened if Wheeler didn't have the ability to sell ice cream nationwide, which is half the story. Turns out he'll ship his vegan ice cream in dry ice to anywhere in the continental U.S. for a price, and even make batches of custom flavors for you if you're willing to buy the whole run (a few pints). Hence, the peanut butter peppermint line in this story.

The crew and I had the privilege of trying his pepper curry and chocolate nut ice creams at the Ice Cream Showdown in Union Square a while back. (This was yet another one of Christine's amazing events, which she put together with the help of Grand, one of our favorite stores in all of Boston.)

Wheeler could not be coaxed to smile for the camera -- it was about a bajillion degrees out, and he had been scooping gloopy ice cream for free for two hours already -- but you have to love that he was rocking a cape: