MC, a good friend from my time California, has relocated to Chicago for the past two years. Despite my best intentions, I hadn’t managed to spend any time with him despite our relative geographic proximity this year. This was remedied when he drove out to the lake during our stay, both to escape the city heat and for a long awaited catch-up. B had never met MC before, so I prefaced the visit with the two most important things I know about my friend: (1) He likes Steely Dan better than anybody has liked Steely Dan, like, ever, and (2) He judges the quality of SoCal Mexican places by the quality and quantity of the escabeche on their salsa bar. Jalapeño to carrot ratio, spiciness level, container quality — the guy can tell you everything you want to know about every taco bar in the greater LA area.
It’s a great thing when you can fall back into step with a friend after not having seen them for years. One of the things that bums me out the most about the current state of my life is the feeling that all the people I like best seem to be scattered to the four winds. MC and B got along famously, supporting yet another iteration of my fantasy where all of my friends move to the same city and we live a blissed-out life together. I’ve always been a “family that you choose” kind of gal, and wish that all the folks that my good fortune has brought into my life could all be together somehow. But until we all meet again in Valhalla, visits like last weekend will have to suffice.
A decidedly well-mannered houseguest, MC arrived bearing the perfect gifts for Clarence. A pack of Daisy Cutter Pale Ale from the Half Acre Beer Company in Chicago was a delightful surprise, as was the paper-wrapped submarine sandwich smuggled across state lines from Bari Italian Subs. But far and away, the best gift he brought (and a strong contender for the Best Hostess Gift Ever Award) was this:
Do you guys know about giardiniera? I sure didn’t until this year. It’s no surprise that my escabeche-loving friend is also an appreciator of this amazing stuff. The consummate condiment of the Italian population of the greater Chicago area (and everybody else with a brain), this combination of pickled hot peppers, olives, bell peppers, carrots, celery, cauliflower, garlic, and the occasional mushroom is the ultimate addition to virtually any sandwich. As MC so rightly put it, something totally alchemical happens when giardiniera meets mayonnaise.
I was introduced to the stuff immediately upon my arrival in the Windy City last fall. B talked dirty to me the entire flight back to the states from Paris about our first meal on our native soil: Portillo’s Italian Beef with giardiniera. Like the French dip sandwich of your childhood (but better), Chicago’s famous Italian beef sandwiches get their verve from the crunchy, spicy, tangy, salty taste of giardiniera. The stuff is fantastic on any kind of deli meat sandwich. MC recommended that we try putting it on a pizza with some Italian sausage, which sounds like a really excellent goal for the future.
Mezzetta (you know, ‘Don’t forgetta!) makes a kind of passable version of the stuff that I’ve seen in grocery stores outside of the Midwest. Here in Indiana, our fridge is never without a jar of the Dell’Alpe’s hot giardiniera relish, which I slather on grilled cheese sandwiches and mix with the yolks of my devilled eggs. You can also get a pretty fantastic giardiniera on your sandwich at the Potbelly chain, which sells a delicious, if overpriced, version in jars at some of their locations. But MC knows his stuff, and Bari’s giard’ is the best one around. He advises to give it a rough chop if you are putting it in a sandwich, and to go whole hog should you want to sprinkle it on a pizza. This jar is coming with us to California next week when we move as a memento of our year of giardiniera eating.
Get some if you can, dear reader. And whether your summer includes this Midwestern heat or not, hope you are staying cool. Sing us out, Steely:
Moving from Paris to Indiana the past fall (see also: the things we do for love), one of the things I expected to mourn the most was my film-going. You see, I spent rather a lot of time at the movies in the past two years, watching the sort of thing that one rarely sees on the big screen in America outside of New York or Los Angeles. I started reading Cahiers du Cinèma. Wednesdays were my favorite day of the week, because it meant a new Pariscope to obsessively scour with a highlighter. Basically I became a low-down, dirty little cinéphile, and I had friends and a city to support my habit. There may or may not have been weeping during my final viewing of Quartier Lacan at Accattone. Okay, there was definitely weeping, but that wasn’t really all that strange for that place.
So you can imagine my surprise upon arriving in Bloomington at the discovery that this is a town of serious film-going folks, small though their numbers may be. So serious, in fact, that about twenty-five years ago a group of them founded The Ryder film series and magazine. The Ryder screens independent, foreign-language, and revival films at a variety of venues around town. Many of these locations serve booze, making them aces in my book. The Ryder also publishes a free magazine available on nearly every corner around campus, which also covers about local theatre, opera, concerts, and lectures in addition to film. For those of you that wince whenever the cashier at the megaplex asks you to fork over eleven bucks for a movie, the price is oh-so-right at The Ryder. And they conduct free-ticket lotteries at the beginning of every feature, so sometimes your next movie is on the house! Because of the relatively transient nature of the operation, everything is screened digitally, which has its drawbacks, and sometimes the projection quality isn’t great. But for many newish independent films they are the only game in town, and you’ve got to respect that the operation is likely a labor of love for a few individuals who saw an absence in their community and devoted themselves to filling it. It’s a pretty fantastic thing, and it doesn’t happen very much anymore, especially in the arts. The Ryder is proof positive that you don’t need an enormous budget to dramatically increase the number of independent and foreign films available to a community, just the long-term commitment of people who care enough about such things to make it happen.
Speaking of commitment to film, following his 2009 appointment as Indiana University President, Michael McRobbie (a hard-core cinéphile if I’ve ever seen one) promised to fund the construction and maintenance of a world-class cinema facility on the university campus. He called it a much-deserved “place for film” for a university and town that had long shown an interest in the medium. And while presidents of all stripes often make big promises when they are taking office that end up moldering on the shelf, this particular president actually put his money where his mouth was. Appointing Jon Vickers as full-time director in 2010, the IU Cinema facility opened in the former space the university theatre in January of 2011. Most universities can’t even replace a broken photocopier that quickly. The space is exquisite, incorporating several 1933 Thomas Hart Benton murals from the original space with one of only 10 THX-certified university cinemas in the country. Thanks to unique collaboration with Sony, the IU Cinema boasts 16mm and 35mm film and Barco 2K and 4K digital projection equipment, and a Dolby sound system that makes you gasp.
It’s a magnificent facility, but it is really Vicker’s continuous programming that makes it sing. As their website can rightfully boast, IU Cinema hosts “film premieres and rare archival screenings, film festivals, conferences, filmmaker retrospectives and silent films accompanied by live music.” This year alone I was able to see everything from Los Olvidados to The Kid, Juliet of the Spirits to Ran, Agnès Varda shorts to Psycho. I watched films from the Australia in the 1970s series, the East Asian Film series, and New Trends in Contemporary Italian Cinema. Thanks to the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker series, I was able to attend lectures and film series by Chuck Workman, John Sayles, Monica Treut, and Whit Stillman this year. IU also periodically screens recent independent and foreign releases, so we were able to see movies like A Separation and Melancholia within a month or two of their release; no small thing once you get into the bowels of Southern Indiana. Next fall, they are (wait for it) hosting Werner Herzog. This news has resulted in our new favorite game: speculating on where we would take Herzog when he comes to visit Bloomington in the fall, if we were going to be in Indiana in the fall (we aren’t), and if somebody trusted us to be his chaperones (they wouldn’t). In my fantasy, the one other person in town who voted for Cobra Verde at the IU cinema can join me and Wern when we go to the quarries. In the meantime, doing Herzog impressions around town will have to suffice.
Perhaps my favorite moment of the year came when Michael McRobbie was introducing Solaris, one of the films he had specifically selected for his “President’s Choice” series. I know, I know, a university president who loves Tarkofsky! Crazy! He spoke about how establishing a serious venue for cinema on campus was not only an institutional improvement for the university’s reputation, but also an important gift to the community that this university inhabits. In an age of economic downturn and the rape and pillage nationally of public universities, it’s a rare thing for a university adminstrator to acknowledge the imbrication between the university space and the community, and the responsibility that both have to each another for cultural enrichment.
The Ryder’s showtime schedule can be found at theryder.org. Their films are screened at Bear’s Place, the IU Fine Arts Theatres, FARM Restaurant, or the Buskirk Chumley, with outdoor screenings in the summer at Bryan Park. Tickets are $5 for everybody. Food and drinks are available for purchase at the Bear’s Place and FARM screenings. Students beware, you must be 21 to enter screenings at Bear’s Place.
The IU Cinema’s schedule can be found at www.cinema.indiana.edu, along with excellent podcasts. Ticket prices vary, but many events are free to the public. However, the Cinema requires that you pick up tickets for all screenings, even the free ones. Tickets for first-run and popular films often run out weeks in advance. You can pick up tickets at the IU Auditorium Box Office, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday or online at the cinema website. Tickets are available on the first day of the month of the screening, so we made a habit of planning our film-going in advance and getting our tickets all at once. A box office in the cinema lobby is also open 30 minutes prior to any screening and a standby line forms there, but again, the early bird gets the worm.
I always tell people that Paris is a city that has everything you could ever want to eat or drink, except for the things it doesn’t. One significant shortcoming of the French capital is beer. While they make lots of things better than anybody else, the French are lousy at making beer. Don’t let them try and tell you any different. They’ll try and claim Belgian beers as part of French culinary culture when pressed, which is pretty hilarious given how they speak about Belgium the rest of the time. But the majority of beer-drinking folks in Paris are currently slurping down a Kronenbourg 1664 (call it a “seize,” should you ever find yourself at a Paris dive bar). 1664 is draught that most American expats quickly realize is somewhere between an MGD and a Tecate in terms of general depressingness. I know, I know, 1664 seemed kind of cool the first time you saw it on a bar menu in Brooklyn (it’s French, after all), but trust me, it’s a lousy beer from a nation of lousy beers.
All this is to say that I spent a lot of time missing the amazing diversity of microbrewed beers we take for granted here in the US. I was especially homesick for India Pale Ales, those glorious hop-heavy beers that really hit the all the right spots on a hot summer day. I know that hop-forward brews aren’t everybody’s bag, but this girl just can’t get enough. You say Double or Imperial IPA, I say, sign me up.
B, a native Hoosier and self-appointed ambassador (read: unpaid) for the Midwest, had spoken longingly about his favorite breweries in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and his homestate of Indiana. Being a Colorado native and longtime denizen of California, I was a bit skeptical that anywhere could have the kind of diversity of breweries that those two states can offer. But I’ll say I’ve been thoroughly schooled in the very best way in the past year. The Midwest makes some of the best beers I’ve ever encountered, especially as a devoted IPA drinker.
My favorite IPA comes from Bell’s Brewery of Kalamazoo, Michigan, close to where B’s parents live. It’s called Two Hearted Ale, and should you find yourself in Bell’s somewhat limited range of distribution, please go buy yourself a six-pack immediately. It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. Bell’s also makes a seasonal double IPA called Hopslam. It’s pricey, 8.98% alcohol, and will cure any hop-related deficiencies you might be suffering from. Beer Advocate gives it a 94. Stout drinkers should also try Bell’s licorice-heavy Kalamazoo Stout.
There must be something in the water in Michigan. That great twofer of a state also houses Short’s Brewing Company of Bellaire, who makes the delightfully named Huma Lupa Licious IPA. Named for the hop plant Humulus lupulus, this malt lives up to it’s moniker. Another otherworldly fountain of beer goodness is Founder’s Brewery of Grand Rapids. Their Centennial IPA finds a regular slot in our refrigerator, and when somebody has been especially well-behaved they just might get rewarded with a four-pack of the seasonal Double-Trouble. Bitter never tasted so good. Should rye strike your fancy, you’ll never be happier than with a Founder’s Red Rye Pale Ale in your hand.
Cheese-heads can certainly boast about Tyranena Brewery of Lake Mills, Wisconsin. In particular, their “Brewers Gone Wild” series is a seasonal delight. My particular favorite from this cycle is Hop Whore, which is basically just as down and dirty and delicious as the name would suggest. In their regular roster, I love their Scurvy, an IPA brewed with orange peel for a slightly citrusey, slightly peppery punch. It’s excellent with grilled fish and sweaty afternoons.
B’s dad was born and raised in Warrenville, Illinois, as was Two Brother’s Brewing Company. They make both the eminently drinkable Resistance IPA as well as the double Heavy Handed IPA, which I regrettably missed during it’s appearance from September to December. It’s good to have goals for the future.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to our local brewery, the great Upland Brewery of Bloomington, Indiana. I’ll tell you more about their amazing food another day, but for now I’ll just say that their Dragonfly IPA has accompanied many great nights for me in this town and will be sorely missed come this fall.
Bell’s, Short’s, Founder’s, Two Brother’s, and Tyranena are distributed all over the Midwest, so treat yourself if you happen to find yourself in fly-over country. Upland is available all over Indiana, but many of their specialty brews are for B-Town consumption only.
Let’s get down to brass tacks, dear reader. I’m a sick, sick, sicko when it comes to consumer culture. Much of my messing-around-time consists of reading what B has affectionately termed “rich lady blogs,” as in “I’m a rich lady! I buy things! You should buy things too!” Just for reference, this exclamation works best if you do it in a mocking falsetto.
Having outed myself as a rich-lady-blog reader to many of my [lady]friends, I’ve been delighted to discover that some of the smartest, most stylish, and coolest ones are also abashed readers of such internet pap. All of my friends and I have read our Marx and talk a lot about the evils of capitalism, but nevertheless find ourselves spending an enormous amount of time looking at the contents of strangers’ closets and beautiful homes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that many (most?) of the women writing these rich-lady-blogs are far smarter and more stylish and cooler than I, and therefore deserve their revenue and legions of fans. (And, I know, I know, they also post a hell of a lot more regularly.) But there is a confluence of money and free time implicit in a lot of these blogs that make me feel really uneasy, and the last thing I’d want my dear Bear-Garden readers to think is that I fancied myself to be a wealthy, out-of-touch shiller of luxury goods. Out-of-touch I may be, but I conduct my fantasy life on a pauper’s budget.
That said, everyone who knows me in real life knows that I am incredibly over-invested in the stuff I own. I take brand-loyalty to a whole other level. Much of this I get from my father, who is always eager to sell everyone he knows on his current favorite thing. It’s gotten so bad with him that we now jokingly identify certain objects as my father’s “Product of the Year.” Last year’s winner was a battery-powered wax candle that actually flickers! Everyone and their brother got one for Christmas! However, to parrot my father: “Here’s the thing about it, kid.” It’s not like either of us have a profit motive in telling you about our favorite things, it’s that we both genuinely feel like if we’ve found the very-best-travel-coffee-mug-in-creation that you should know about it. We love you! You deserve the very-best-travel-coffee-mug-in-creation! (It’s called a Contigo, by the way, and it was my father’s Product of the Year 2008.)
With that spirit in mind, I’m inaugurating a new feature here at The Bear-Garden: Object Relations. I’m doing this partly because I want to share with you all of the things I love, and partly to try and get content up on this site with some kind of regularity.
Without further ado, I bring you Object Relations No. 1: Duralex Glassware.
As the child of proto-hipsters, I grew up drinking skim milk every single night out of a 16-ounce Duralex Picardie tempered-glass tumbler. I didn’t recognize the brand as anything special, though I did associate seeing the circular “Duralex, Made in France, depuis 1945” imprint on the bottom of the glass with having permission to get up from the dinner table. You see, hippies they may have been, but my parents didn’t indulge any of this newfangled nonsense about picky eating when I was a kid. I could leave the table once I had cleaned my plate and drank all my milk. Sometimes it was hard to choke down that final inch or so of bluish skim milk, so spying the Duralex imprint became indelibly associated in my mind with freedom.
Like all things that belong to one’s parents, I thought of Duralex as weird and stupid when I left home and was shopping for my own glassware. It was only after a few years of shattered glasses that I realized how ridiculously well-made and virtually unbreakable Duralex products are. Fast forward to my twenty-something Francophilia, when I ‘discovered’ that Duralex is not only a national treasure in France, but totally ubiquitous at every bistro in Gallic territory. That is to say, not only are Duralex burly beyond belief, but they convey a certain kind of Continental cool. Let’s just say that many Derrida-reading, Gainsbourg-listening hipster men have fallen under my spell, and that probably had more than a little bit to do with the Côtes du Rhone red I served them in a Duralex.
My personal collection began at the age of 22 with a 24-piece set of Picardie tumblers, all of which have survived numerous-cross country moves and plenty of drunken fumbles. Nearly a decade later, while I do happen to possess a fair amount of non-Duralex glassware, nine times out of ten B and I drink most everything out of those very same Picardie tumblers. During my time in Paris, I gleefully “acquired” several out-of-production vintage goodies: a square Lys serving bowl and two ribbed small tumblers.
I say “acquired” because I guess I technically stole these vintage delights. The bowl “technically” belonged the people I rented my apartment from and I “replaced” it with an Ikea version. The tumblers came from some heinous South-American-fusion restaurant on rue Amelot. The food was so terrible and expensive that I somehow rationalized pocketing the glasses. B has described them as among our more treasured possessions, not only because they have excellent hand-feel but also because that theft represents one of the only times he has witnessed my ever-relentless superego, well, relent and break the Law. It only happens once in a blue moon, so it’s good to have a souvenir of the occasion.
My beloved M (Francophile-extraordinaire) is equally Duralex-crazy. Sometime in 2011 we heard a terrible rumor that the company had gone out of business and ceased production. This resulted in a mad dash to rich-lady-blog-Mecca, a.k.a. Merci, where we both purchased a set of smallest Gigogne tumblers. These will be used to serve espresso to my guests in a fantasy, future, rich-lady-blog kind of life in which I have an espresso machine. Currently they are used for tequila shots, and work splendidly for that purpose as well. If you ever want to buy me a present (hint hint), I dream of a full set of 10 circular Lys stackable bowls.
You can freeze them or pour boiling water into them. You can accidentally drop them on the floor or the counter and ninety percent of the time they’ll survive without a scratch. They’ll last about twenty years longer than comparably priced glasses from Ikea (my parents’ tumblers are probably over thirty years old and still look great). They’re simultaneously utilitarian and chic, and might bring back fond memories of that-one-night-at-that-one-bistro-in-Lyon for one of your friends. Frankly, I can’t get enough Duralex, dear reader, and for that reason, it’s first among my Object Relations.
The three smaller photos in this post shamelessly stolen from Duralex USA’s website, http://www.duralexusa.com. While I bought my Duralex in the US from Williams-Sonoma back in 2005, it appears that they are now primarily sold here in the States at Sur La Table. Frogs can pick a more extensive selection up at BHV or Merci. I guess I’m also supposed to say that I haven’t been paid for this endorsement, not that any company would pay for such a meandering and verbose write-up in the first place.