My dear readers may not all be aware that I just moved to Brooklyn, NY. I love it here. I have known since I was little that I belonged in New York. But DC will always be close to my heart. I was born in Columbia Hospital for Women, in the District. I grew up in Upper NW, and then spent the past three years in Petworth. DC is a wonderful, varied place and I love it very much.
Today, I was feeling homesick, and I posted on Facebook that I was missing my old hood. A friend mentioned that DC was a rectangle, and it just seemed like the perfect thing to write about right now.
Washington, DC was founded in 1 791 to be the new capital of the United States of America. Previously, the capital had been in Philadelphia, but Congress decided that the capital of the country should not be in a state. Instead, it should be its own federal district, so no state could have undue influence over what when on in the seat of the federal government. Because of this, DC still to this day has no voting representatives in Congress.
And so Washington, DC was born. It is a city that was planned on a grid, with avenues (named after the states) cutting diagonally through the city. It radiates out from the Capitol, which is located in the center of the city, and it is divided into four quadrants: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. Politically, there are eight wards of DC voters.
The city was planned to be a perfect square – 7 miles square. It was made with land donated by Maryland and Virginia. However, due to rising tensions between the north and south, Virginia took back its half in 1847. DC is now mostly a square, with a bite taken out.
DC is, historically, a heavily black city. Recently, the percentage of black citizens is down to about 50% of the population, but in the past that percentage has been much higher. Especially east and south of Rock Creek Park, much of the city is pretty densely black. Because of this, there is a vibrant history of distinct black culture in DC.
The neighborhood nearest and dearest to me in Washington is Petworth. I lived there for the past three years. It is a neighborhood “in transition” – gentrifying, but by no means gentrified. Because rent is still relatively low, Petworth is an incredibly vibrant, diverse mix of people, with the population varying drastically in terms of age, race, and class. It’s a pretty amazing community of people, with lots of small local businesses and neighborhood pride. All of my friends still live there, and it’s truly an amazing place.
My dear friend Torie made the above print of a map of Petworth. I love it, and it hangs right above my bed in my apartment.
So, DC, here is my tribute to you. I’m missing and loving you today.
My dear, brilliant friend Daniel and I went thrifting together recently. As soon as we walked into our favorite place – Unique Thrift in Merrifield, VA – we saw a table full of these lovely rectangular treasures.
Obviously, we each bought one. A ridiculous looking woman talking about manners? Yes, please (plus, they were 49 cents each – a deal, because they go for $25.99 on Amazon!).
And we were not disappointed. The DVD is a bizarre mixture of “etiquette” advice, which is basically just stuff that bugs Rhonda when people do it at parties. She teaches how to properly eat a hamburger. She teaches how to properly pack a suitcase (apparently she had some history in the travel industry). Most randomly, she teaches how to properly eat and appreciate sushi and other Asian food. And puts on a black wig to do so.
In each scene, Rhonda is totally alone in her depressing, barely-decorated home. There appears to be nothing in her apartment but beige wall-to-wall carpeting. And I’m pretty sure she set up the camera to tape herself. So lonely.
Rhonda is also a snappy dresser. Her outfits range from terrible-80s to terrible-90s. Her interview advice includes images of what suits to wear to an interview – and, boy, are they lovely! And extremely rectangular. Lots of square, padded shoulders and square-toed shoes. A woman after my own heart.
Obviously, Daniel and I decided to do some research on Ms. Baron. Turns out she is from a suburb of DC in Northern Virginia! One of our own. She mentions going into DC like some people might mention going to Paris. Such prestige!
Here’s the best part, though.
Rhonda was visited by Jim Morrison’s ghost.
Yes, folks. The spirit of Jim Morrison paid a special visit to Rhonda. Apparently, Morrison’s parents owned Rhonda’s childhood home before the Barons did.
According to this website, this is what Rhonda had to say about the experience.
“The spirit laid down on the bed. Completely laying down and looking at me like this. It was like a haze. It was like you could look through it.”
Oh, Rhonda. I love you so much. If you read this, please get in touch. I want a private etiquette lesson and chat.
Graham crackers, classic rectangular snack, have a fascinating history. We’re going to turn to our good friend Wikipedia to learn about it.
The graham cracker was invented in 1829 by a Presbyterian minister named, predictably, Sylvester Graham. Originally, they were made with graham flour – a course and bland flour. Graham invented these crackers as part of his “Graham Diet,” intended to curb “unhealthy carnal urges, the source of many maladies.” I assume he made them rectangular because the rectangle is the most sensible of the shapes. He was fairly obsessed with masturbation, and convinced that a bland diet could suppress the sexual appetite. Praise Jesus.
Fortunately for our sex lives, graham crackers are now made mostly from white flour, Graham’s great enemy, and sweetened with refined sugar, another great evil. They are often fed to children in daycare or preschool, although why that is, I’m not sure. Probably because they are bland, enjoyed by everyone, and easy on the stomach. Also, they dissolve in your mouth, so no choking hazard (by the way, that dissolving factor was always my favorite part of the Graham cracker experience. I liked to hold the cracker between my tongue and the roof of my mouth until it dissolved. Yum!).
The best graham crackers I’ve ever had are sold at Modern Times Coffeehouse, underneath Politics and Prose bookstore in DC. They are made by Pollystyle, a local bakery owned by a lovely woman named Polly. They’re perfectly slightly crunchy, only slightly sweet, and unbelievably delicious. I miss them dearly. They used to taste great with a cup of coffee (something else I’ve given up – it makes my nose and gums itchy). So, so yum.
One great use of the graham cracker is a graham cracker crust. Although a pie is (rarely) rectangular, it is still a delicious, if inferior, treat. The graham cracker crust is a classic crust on a cheesecake. I love it for chocolate pudding pie. And I’ve recently found it to be a delicious crust for a key lime pie. It’s usually made by mixing butter (and maybe some salt) with craham cracker crumbs, which is then pressed into a pan, and baked for a bit. Very yum.
Perhaps the most culturally significant use of the graham cracker is in the classic campfire treat called the S’more. The rectangular S’more is made of a toasted marshmallow (I’ve always preferred mine charred) and a bit of (rectangular) chocolate bar squished between two graham cracker squares. It’s not particularly gourmet, but anyone who’s had one would acknowledge that the S’more is extremely sweet but pretty delicious.
Thank you, Reverend Graham, for developing this delicious rectangular treat. Sorry it hasn’t curbed my libido.
Ah, saltines. Food of the Gods, when the Gods have the flu. Or feel like eating some soup. Bland? Sure. But salty? Absolutely. So salty. The pretzel ain’t got shit on our friend the saltine when it comes to the salt factor.
Now, I wasn’t allowed to have junk food growing up. Remember Combos? Those were a no-go. Bugles? No way, Jose. And don’t even start with me on Doritos. So, I ate a lot of saltines.
And thank God for that.
My parents must have foreseen my personal values and standards from an early age. After all, what do those junky snacks all have in common?
They’re not rectangles.
That’s right, folks. Not. Rectangles. So, fuck them, they have no place in this blog.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s get back to the rectangular topic on hand – the saltine.
According to our helpful pal Wikipedia, a saltine is “a thin, usually square cracker made from white flour, shortening, yeast, and baking soda…lightly sprinkled with coarse salt.”
The saltine was the first cracker to be leavened with baking soda. It was invented in 1876 by F.L. Sommer and Company, a company based out of Missouri. At first it was called the “Premium Soda Cracker,” due to that baking soda, and later became called “Saltines,” due to its use of baking salt. The saltine caught on brilliantly in America, and Sommer’s business eventually merged with other companies to become part of Nabisco in 1898. Now you can find Saltines in America under the brand “Premium,” by Nabisco.
Keep educating us, Wikipedia.
After the term “saltine” began to be used to refer to all crackers of this sort, Nabisco lost its trademark. In 1907, the word “saltine” was in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defined as, ‘”a thin crisp cracker usually sprinkled with salt.”‘
And there we go. A brief history of the saltine.
So how has the saltine permeated pop culture?
Well, most restaurants serve a plastic-wrapped packet of two saltines with soup. The idea is that you crumble or dip the saltine into the soup, making it perfectly water-logged and delicious. I have fond memories of this treat from my glutenous days.
[I must include a warning here. The saltine has a hexagonal cousin, the oyster cracker. These babies are also often made by Premium, the same company that makes most saltines in the US, and are often served with soups. Do not be fooled. Oyster crackers, while similar, are a far inferior, unquadrilateral product. In other words, they need to back the fuck off the territory of the saltines – the soups of America deserve the best.]
Saltines are also often recommended to people with stomach viruses. They are extremely bland, and are very easy on the digestive system. Also, delicious, but usually only on the way down.
Additionally, there exists something called The Saltine Challenge. The goal sounds simple – eat 6 saltines in 60 seconds without drinking anything. Just six crackers? In 60 seconds? What pussy can’t do that? BUT WAIT. Saltines have a secret power, and that power is efficiently soaking up the saliva in the mouth. So, after chewing the saltines, the resultant crumbs are impossible to swallow, and many people fail. Oh, saltines, you sneaky bastards.
In conclusion, saltines are an important and valuable part of American culture. They have a proud history of feeding the sickly and soaking up the soups of our great nation. Thank you, saltines. It’s been so, so real.
My friend Daniel (of Manhattan Nest) is the most brilliant thrifter I’ve ever met. Now, I love my thrifting. I don’t say that easily. But he has an eye like nobody else in the world.
A couple of weeks ago, we were on the Upper West Side, and we wandered into an antiques store. In the back of the store, hidden under a cupboard and several chairs, was a filthy oriental rug. But Daniel spotted it immediately. The men in the store offered it to him first for $125, which he bargained down to $100. Then they felt bad – as the rug was very dirty, and had some tears – and offered him $45. He was ecstatic – he got a rug that he loved for dirt cheap. And it ended up beautiful, if a little worn, once he vacuumed it.
I grew up surrounded by oriental rugs. My mom loves them, and so do I. Our favorite type is Heriz, from Northwest Iran, which is an often more geometric style. The colors are so rich and beautiful, and the patterns just exquisite. However, these are not cheap when bought “new.” Of course, the best rugs are not new, per se, but old and in fantastic condition. Oriental rugs are basically put down in the streets for camels to pee on.
So, inspired by Daniel, I set out to find myself a cheap rug on ebay. I found this one for $65, including shipping. It’s a bit worn, but really very pretty. I have it in my kitchen – I apologize for the terrible lighting.
I’m kind of obsessed with our culture’s obsession with the antiseptic and over-clean. I don’t shower every day, because it’s bad for my skin and my hair. Both look much better with a little bit of oil. I’ve also read that some bacteria lives in the oils in our skin and keeps us healthy.
I also hate scented products. I love one or two sprays of my fancy, subtle, French perfume, but no more. I believe that no one should be able to smell your perfume unless they’re within kissing distance. I hate men in cologne – I’m a firm believer that Old Spice Deodorant mixed with natural man-smell is the best in the world.
Now, onto the subject of deodorants (in their rectangular packaging) and natural man-smell.
I recently read this amazing article about how deodorant and obsessive attention to smelling good became popular in the early 20th century. Before that, no one cared about smelling clean all the time. People covered up with perfume (generally fancy and French, thank you very much), but no one had been told that they had to be self-conscious about every natural smell they put out.
Cue the brilliance of the modern advertising movement. Ads were placed shaming women into insecurities about how they smell. Men came later, but soon experienced the same smell-shame that women did.
I’m going to go out on a limb here. I LIKE how men smell. For a little while, I dated a man who didn’t wear deodorant. He showered every day, so he was clean, but had a little bit of B.O. smell going on. It took some getting used to, but eventually, I really liked it. He smelled like a body. And our bodies should smell like bodies! And here is where I get back on my soap box.
Bodies are bodies. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Sex should smell like sex, not soap. People shouldn’t shower every day, compromising their health and the health of their skin and hair. Men and women shouldn’t load on perfume and cologne to cover up any natural scent that they may have. We need to reclaim the sensual power of the way we smell and taste when we’re a little bit dirty. Not saying we should embrace the gross, but a little bit of natural odor is, well, natural, and should be more acceptable. And, while I’m not ready to give up my deodorant yet, I like the idea that we could.
Clearly I’m back in school again, because I’m in class and have the time/level of boredom to continue in my blogging efforts.
Lovely Package is a website celebrating innovative and beautiful design on products. There are some truly beautiful pieces of design here, both student design pieces and true packaging that one would find on store shelves.
Here, we have a photo from Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers. I love the old-fashioned labels on here.
Here, Hardeger Huppen biscuits.
Finally, Sweet Botanicals.
My one complaint is that there are a lot of very similar aesthetic choices celebrated on here. Clearly, the people behind Lovely Package have a clear design preference and kind of limit what they feature to a very specific look. Lots of busy, folksy designs, which I’m not a huge fan of. For example:
I learned about this video my freshman year of college – almost six years ago, now – from my dear friend James. He is a connoisseur of all things hilarious and Asian, and “I Love Egg” is no exception. As soon as James found out that I love all those things, too, he shared this treasure with me. I really super wanted to embed it here, but apparently that’s impossible. So you’ll have to deal with a link, a description, and a screenshot.
This video is a bouncing, cheery song about eggs. I assume, from the lyrics, that it’s a PSA about how good eggs are for you. Or, in their words, how “popular and perfect and so complete in every way!” I love the catchy tune. I love the childish voice singing it. I love the weird eggs with faces. I love the ninjas. I love the slightly threatening “Chip a chip away your shell and COME. TO. ME.” I just love egg.
Also, guess what??!!? Apparently, there is I Love Egg merchandise. Hungry? Here’s an I Love Egg snack:
You can also get some little charm-doodles on Amazon:
Who KNOWS what else is out there!??!! Man. Life is GOOD when you love egg. Oodle doodle.
Found a video to embed. Not the best sound quality, but it does the job.
Henri Rousseau was a French painter in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He had no formal training, and his painting style was very flat, with strange light and color. There was an argument, at the time, whether Rousseau was a brilliant, avant-garde surrealist, or just a talentless hack. Over time, the argument that he was a talented visionary has won out over its more mean-spirited cousin.
I think the same argument could be made about Pop Pop’s art.
When Pop Pop retired, he became a painter. After a life spent in retail and marketing, Pop Pop wanted to explore the world through color, line, and texture instead of through dollars and cents. And, really, who could blame him? Money is so monochromatic. It’s so stark. It has none of the vibrancy of, say, a bowl of fruit. So Pop Pop painted.
His first painting was from a picture he clipped out of a magazine. The picture was of a small cabin in the woods, surrounded by trees and a field of mushrooms. In Pop Pop’s interpretation, the mushrooms are as big as the cabin. Some in my family see this as a lack of skill. I see this as a brilliant artistic choice, adding a sense of surreality to an otherwise plain painting. I wish I had a picture of this painting to show you guys, but it’s my Grandma’s favorite, and on lock down above their mantle. I’ve called dibs on it when the grandparents die. It’s the only inheritance I want.
The first painting I got from Pop Pop is a still life. It was “based” on a Cezanne, which Pop Pop clipped out of a magazine and attached to the back with masking tape. I love this painting for many reasons. First, Pop Pop quickly diverts from Cezanne’s muted colors and light. Instead, Pop Pop paints a garish turquoise background, complemented by an equally garish yellow tea towel. Pop Pop’s colors truly pop. None of this subdued, impressionist bullshit. Second, I love the fruit. Sure, you can tell what it is, but it looks rotten. Perhaps this is a visionary statement on the state of the world today? On our own perceptions of quality and value? Finally, I love Pop Pop’s broad, irreverent brush strokes. Nothing says “Fuck you, artistic conventions!” like a broad, inexact brush.
This seriously might be my favorite painting in the world. I have it hanging in my living room, and get asked if I painted it every time I have anyone over. I always have to ‘fess up that, no, this visionary masterpiece was done by my grandfather, not me.
In recent years, Pop Pop’s vision has declined to the point where he’s had to stop painting. It breaks my heart. But he still loves to take people on a tour of his “gallery” in the garage. Grandma has his art displayed all over the house – to the tune of 15-20 pictures on display throughout their two bedroom house. Pop Pop, after 87 years of a supremely practical life, has become a legitimate painter. He has his art displayed in his house. He gives it away to the kids and grandkids, so that my parents, my dad’s sisters, my brother, and I all have some Pop Pop art in our homes. And I could not be more thrilled to display these surrealist masterpieces, with the added joy of saying, “Yeah, my Pop Pop did that.”
My parents’ apartment in New York is at 74th and Amsterdam. Less than a block away is perhaps the best chocolate store I’ve ever been to – Jacques Torres. Jacques Torres has become a huge, popular fad in New York. Everyone is kind of obsessed. And my family is no exception.
Their chocolates are their most popular product. And for good reason – they’re really good. I’m sure they’re all delicious, but I’m a dark chocolate girl, so I just stick to trying those varieties. Sometimes my Gramma Joan, who also lives a block away from Jacques, gives my parents assortments of these delicious chocolates. I obsessively eat them all, so I’ve tried a lot.
You can buy boxes of mixed chocolates for exorbitant prices, but they’re so rich, that I like to go into the store and just order one or two a la carte. I think they’re about $1.25 apiece. My personal favorite is the basic Dark Chocolate Ganache, which is just pure dark chocolate goodness. It’s creamy and perfectly bitter. However, other close seconds include Earl Gray and Red Wine. Seriously yum.
I also tried their caramels last year. I have been a deep lover of salted caramels since I spent the summer in Brittany, France after my junior year of high school. However, in the caramel area, Jacques disappointed. I like the purity of butter, sugar and salt in a real salted caramel. Jacques added some cinnamon, which just took away from the delicious creamy flavor and made things too blunt (For the record, Starbucks, before it took over the world, used to make a delicious caramel. My dad used to take my brother and I to share a caramel three ways [yes, we had to split our caramel three ways] every Sunday morning. So yum. They don’t exist anymore).
My parents are also big fans of their other varieties of chocolate covered goodness – especially the dark chocolate popcorn. I’m a purist, though. I just want my Dark Chocolate Ganache and a glass of cheap bubbly, and I’m happy.