Cool website alert: “Gastro Chic” combines food and fashion

If you love fashion and food, satisfy your cravings for both at Gastro Chic, a newish website that covers the latest grub and garb trends in the New York area and beyond. Webmaster Marcy Swingle’s expertise makes reading her reviews and reports a joy, and she also covers topics we love, like culture, music, and design. Check it!

The Top 10 Stand-Up Comedians on my Playlist Right Now

A note: There are plenty of awesome comedians that aren’t on this list, like Andy Kaufman, Bill Hicks, and Lenny Bruce, but I have to be honest and put down the ones whose records I actually listen to often. Cheers!

1. George Carlin (my favorite, and I’m sad he’s dead)

2. Steve Martin (the early records)

3. Eddie Izzard (action transvestite)

4. Richard Pryor (comic gold)

5. Chris Rock (best working comic)

6. Bill Cosby (early work)

7. Mitch Hedberg (RIP)

8. Chelsea Handler (gotta love a fellow lady lush)

9. Wanda Sykes (hilarious, and a pothead)

10. The Smothers Brothers (early Tenacious D)

Why haven’t they made My Best Friend’s Wedding into a musical yet?

With a new movie musical coming out every other day, I wonder why nobody’s thought of turning rom-com favorite My Best Friend’s Wedding into the next Broadway sensation.  Think about it.  The soundtrack is comprised almost entirely of Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs, so you’ve got your music theme right there.  And it’s a cheesy, wedding-related chick flick, which will attract the Mamma Mia crowds when that show inevitably ends its run.

Let me know what you think of this idea, and/or if you want to give me money for it.

Holiday Gift Ideas

Santa on motorcycle

Everyone knows that besides the promise of eating pie to the point of bursting, the best part about finally reaching the end of the year is that it marks the gift giving season. While the holidays are excellent for all the feasting and togetherness that come along with them, not to mention the time off work, nothing beats receiving loads of crap from family members and acquaintances who barely know you. That said, it’s always insanely difficult and stressful to shop for gifts for other people. For some reason I’m great at buying myself things I desire, but when it comes to others it’s always a huge darn mystery. What the hell do they want? How the hell do I carry illegal drugs on the plane back home? These problems and more may lead you to feign poverty and purchase absolutely nothing for anybody, but no one likes a holiday jerk. You’ve pretty much got to show up with armfuls of carefully wrapped and bowed packages or face the danger of being labeled a scroogely cheapass who doesn’t love their family.

I used to firmly believe that purchasing gifts for family members was plain foolish. You see, if I were to run out of money entirely at some point in the future, who would I turn to in order to beg for beer pennies than my very relatives? There’s an understood monetary flow between family members, so it seems odd to douse them with junk on a holiday when really we’re all working from the same pot. Unfortunately, this convenient theory gets you labeled as “no fun” pretty much instantly, and sets you up for a lifetime of comparisons to a certain Dickens character. And really it would be plain sad to gaze upon a Christmas Tree/Menorah/Kwanzaa Sculpture (they gotta have something, right?) that didn’t have oodles of gifts piled all around, making one giddy with anticipation and jealous that the largest package has their siblings’ name on it. So you see, much like ham (or latkes or whatever), presents are a vital aspect of enjoying the holidays, no matter what the cost or stress necessary to procure just the right item(s).

Thus I propose to you the most excellent of gift-giving options: a membership to a something-of-the-month-club. Just think about the lasting potential of such a present. Much how Oprah’s famous book club has inspired lonely couch potatoes to consume questionable classics each month, so your gift recipient will be reminded how awesome and thoughtful you are twelve wonderful times. Inspiring someone to praise your name every 1st can only be a good thing, for while a year later no one remembers Grandma’s hideous ducky sweater, they’ve all the while been receiving constant reminders of your overwhelming generosity. And here’s more good news: the item-of-the-month membership comes with hundreds and hundreds of options in order to meet the needs of all in your circle. Mom? Flower-of-the-month or something-kitchen-related-of-the-month. Dad? Tie-of-the-month or steak-of-the-month. College aged sibling or cousin? That’s easy: beer-of-the-month (hint hint, oh please, oh please). There’s even something for Grandma: the candle-of-the-month club. Seriously, I’m not making that one up. Even Fido can enjoy the wealth with his very own adorable membership to the dog-treat-of-the-month club. And the bacon-of-the-month club is appropriate for anyone and everyone, your teacher, your landlord, your boss, whoever. I didn’t know there were twelve kinds of bacon, but by God I want to try them all. Monthly. Bacon that arrives in the mail.

In conclusion, if you’d like to sign Liz and Laura up to receive something awesome every single month, please shoot us an email for our address. We’ll surely send you twelve thank you notes.

Book Review: The Gum Thief

Douglas Coupland’s latest effort, The Gum Thief (out in paperback October 2nd), is another addition to his collection of novels exploring the difficulty of acquiring and maintaining a satisfying sense of self in today’s fractured world. His novels tend to focus primarily on the postmodern struggle that is finding one’s place in this crazy society we’ve created, one that constantly beats us from all sides with images and ideas of what life should be like. In this setting, more and more jaded members of the human population are finding it difficult to find this “should,” and are forced to wonder “what’s wrong with me?” Given this bleak view of modern culture, according to Coupland the answer to save us all may be to unite in our mundaneness so that at the very least we realize we’re all in this shitfest together.

The main characters represent two different versions of people who at the most base level are living, breathing creatures, but upon closer inspection are representations of the desire for more that is the plight of the over thinking human brain. Roger is a divorced, rapidly aging loser who finds it difficult to get out of bed in the morning (although I can give him one: the maintenance of his alcoholism!), and Bethany is a depressing goth chick who, surprise, relates more to the dead than the living. Both are unfortunately employed at the office supply nightmare that is Staples, which as you can imagine lends to their dissatisfaction with life. Their interaction begins when Bethany finds a notebook of letters Roger has secretly been writing to and about her, not in a creepy, stalker sort of way, but rather as a form of expression and a way to pass the time. Obviously she find this all very disturbing at first, but eventually comes to appreciate his insights, and the chance to respond and consequently vent her own frustrations and observations. Through this shared activity of expression, the two are able to grab onto the common bits in their struggles and find relief in the shared.

As can be said with some of Coupland’s other novels, The Gum Thief’s strength lies not so much in plot, but rather in the subtleties of the observations and the realizations come from everyday human experience. And this is not necessarily a negative comment — to be sure, Coupland’s look into the seemingly mundane everyday packs a powerful punch in life lesson and the question “what’s the point?” The Gum Thief’s awesomeness is to be found not in the storyline, because honestly very little happens plotwise, but in its descriptive writing style and the little life lessons sprinkled throughout. One comes away not with the satisfaction of having read a thrilling tale, but with a feeling of closeness to the characters and their attempts to find meaning in the humdrum.

The Gum Thief isn’t going to blow your mind, but throughout its chapters the writing itself is sharp, witty, and entertaining. Perhaps this look into the everyday and the characters that occupy it doesn’t leave a lot of room for high literary expression or uppity language. Rather, Coupland’s characters remain simple folk whose existence functions as a device through which to show the reader that we aren’t just worthless piles of shit on the ground. The titular stealing of megastore impulse items acts as a metaphor for the universal, in that at the most intense moments, the characters seem to return to their desire for the uncomplicated pleasure that is chewing a tasty piece of candy. As store footage of an employee caught stealing a pack becomes an overnight sensation on YouTube, we’re reminded of the accelerated pace and technology of life today, and that even through all of this madness ordinary people can find a bit of entertainment, if not comfort.

Also, goths are funny.

Restaurant Review: Blue Ribbon (Brooklyn)

Usually the words “Blue Ribbon” don’t conjure in my mind a very high-class image.  I think instead of the watery but much-beloved Pabst Blue Ribbon, which kept me and Liz nice and tipsy throughout our college years.  Note that PBR was actually cheap and hickish back in Tucson; in New York, it carries with it a whole other set of hipster connotations, so we stick to beer that’s actually cheap, like our current favorite, the Coors tall boy.  At 99 cents for 24 ounces, you can’t really go wrong.

But that is beside the point.  Upscale restaurant chain Blue Ribbon has done the seemingly impossible — made me think of something other than beer when I hear those two words.  Now I think “mmm, upscale restaurant chain.”  I went to the Park Slope incarnation for an anniversary dinner with my beau, and we both emerged from it pleased to have finally gotten around to trying this old place.

We got there early to beat the lines, which can be pretty brutal (no reservations are taken, except for large parties).  We waltzed right in and got a seat near the wine cellar (perhaps a misnomer, since it was on ground level).  Inspired by the wine, and by our existing interest in all things alcoholic, we decided to order a bottle of the very affordable 2006 Chateau D’orschwihr “Bollenberg” Riesling, which was just lovely, refreshing without being overly sweet.  It made an ideal accompaniment to the humid summer evening and, later, to our food.  While we sipped our wine and snacked on bread and butter, we noted the graceful and polite yet not suffocatingly attentive service provided by the waitstaff, which made the evening even more pleasant.

Blue Ribbon seems to focus on comfort food, as interpreted by a variety of cultures.  Seafood features heavily in their offerings, from the raw bar, which lures passersby from the front window, to the fresh fish of the day, to a number of other fish (including one of my favorites, trout) that reside on the regular menu.  Chris opted for a seafood-rich dish himself, the Paella Basquez ($32), though he was intrigued by the prospect of trying to consume the Paella Royale ($115), which contains, among other delicacies of the sea, a whole lobster.  The Paella Basquez was everything a paella should be: saffron-laden without being overpowering, with flavorful rounds of spicy chicken sausage punctuating the steaming rice along with chicken, shrimp and calamari, all crowned with a layer of succulent clams and mussels.  There were at least two meals to be had from this hefty dish.  Chris was thoroughly impressed, and so was the couple sitting next to us; upon seeing the waiter bring us our food, they swore to order the paella next time.

I opted for what I’d heard was Blue Ribbon’s most popular dish, the Fried Chicken ($25).  A full half chicken in pieces, fried to an impeccable golden brown (and done right, so the skin didn’t fall off once during the eating process), this is no namby-pamby high-class treatment of fried chicken.  A side of honey was provided for this American classic, and for this I was grateful, as the chicken itself was, well, a little bland.  Yes, maybe I’ve been raised on salt-and MSG-laden KFC, but if I’m going to order a plate of fried chicken, subtlety is not something I’m looking for.  The sides, on the other hand, were dead-on.  Mashed potatoes with brown gravy and crispy, salty collard greens provided the perfect backdrop for the chicken while reenforcing the theme of comfort food done right.

Without even ordering appetizers or dessert, we still managed to take home enough leftovers for another meal, something you can rarely say after going out to a fancy dinner.  We left full and happy, and eager to return.  We’re already planning what we’ll order on our next visit (I have my eye on the duck confit and the bone marrow appetizer), but it might be a while, as we are poor.  This is not to say that this is a particularly expensive restaurant — as nice restaurants go, it’s suprisingly affordable.  Still, for someone who thinks PBR has gotten too expensive, this here is fancy eatin’.

Two photography exhibits – David LaChapelle and “First Contact”

Many people confuse comedian/actor Dave Chapelle with accomplished photographer David LaChapelle.  I assume that at least some people walk into photo exhibitions of the latter and muse quietly to themselves, “Well, he was great as Rick James, but I had no idea he was so versatile!”  Or perhaps switch on the Chapelle show and wonder what the hell happened to that nice photographer’s career.

But regardless of whether you’re a fan of commercial photography or racially-tinged sketch comedy, you’ll love David’s new exhibit “Awakened,” currently on display at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery.  It features two very different sets of photographs, but clearly the main event is his series of flood-related images, anchored by the massive piece entitled “Deluge.”  In light of the recent horrific hurricanes that ravaged the American Southeast, and the racial undertones of the botched rescue efforts, I could not help but think that the series was trying to make a statement.  David chose models that are overwhelmingly white, some of whom are chiselled like porn stars, some of whom possess more average forms, in various states of undress (though the most nudity appears concentrated in “Deluge”).  They are all either attempting to escape an apocalyptic flood that has leveled the telephone poles and Gucci stores alike, or they are already floating underwater, presumably dead.  Visual references to religious paintings of the past and the inclusion of an image of a fake-looking crumbling cathedral lend an extra layer of meaning, as does the choice of using a vato-type with a belly tattoo that reads “Jesus” as the Christ figure of the whole series.  Interesting stuff.

The other part of the exhibit was also interesting.  David took what looked like old family photos, perhaps from the 60’s or 70’s, with grandmothers and other relatives standing around in various houses, hotel rooms and hunting grounds, but everyone is drinking, and there is chaos and violence suggested at every turn.  Guns, “Bush Kills” emblems and out-of-place models wearing modern clothing add an element of “what’s wrong with this picture?” disorientation, while the drinking becomes overwhelming.  One image portrays a kindly grandmother vomiting into a trash can, while in another, parents pour Kahlua into their five-year-old (or so)’s baby bottle, while she lurches drunkenly nearby.  I liked the bluntness of David’s assessment of America’s poor values and unavoidable alcohol problem, but I didn’t feel that there were quite enough pictures for the themes to really make themselves clear.

Next I went to Silverstein Photography, where they are currently hosting the exhibition “First Contact: A Photographer’s Sketchbook.” This phenomenal exhibit is a must-see for any fan of photography, as it gives you a rare glimpse at the contact sheets (an imprint of all the negatives from a roll of film, which can then be used to decide which images to blow up and process) out of which famous photographs emerged, some of which, like Diane Arbus’ twins, you’ll recognize instantly even if you’re unfamiliar with the world of art photography.  It’s interesting to see how the different photographers each came about selecting their famous image; some took dozens of different versions of the same shot, trying to achieve a specific effect.  Others took a variety of different shots, sometimes across a whole city or over a long period of time, and the image that they ended up choosing was a happy accident.

My personal favorite was a sheet of pictures taken on the day of Robert Kennedy’s assassination.  It reads like a comic book: at the beginning of the roll, Bobby’s giving a speech.  The photographer snaps shots of the audience, lazily, capturing the mood of the day.  Suddenly there is confusion, shots of people’s backs, and finally Bobby on the ground, holding his chest.  Then, in the second to last shot, almost too poetically, a woman helping Bobby looks angrily up towards the camera and holds her hand up, like a celebrity shielding herself against the paparazzi.  The photographer has changed in one roll from a welcome publicity-creator to a violating force.

So if you find yourself in Chelsea, check out these amazing photography exhibits before they’re gone.  For those outside of the city, the gallery websites (see links below) feature images from each show, so at least you can get a taste.

Featured Galleries:

Toni Shafrazi – 544 W. 26th St.

Silverstein Photography – 535 W. 24th St.