The Sybarite Newsletter, Issue Two
A round up of small pleasures
Welcome to the second installment of The Sybarite Newsletter, where I write about small pleasures in the hopes that they will distract us from…everything. I was about to type “from the ongoing dystopian hellscape” but frankly that doesn’t feel true anymore. Not sure why? Maybe it’s because we’ve had that very nice man Uncle Joe in office for awhile, or maybe our collective eyeballs have adjusted to the hellscape, normalizing our sense of constant unease.
No matter. We don’t dwell on things like this for too long at Sybarite. We’d rather talk about the great aperol spritz debate, or when a recipe simply calls for “butter” whether that means salted or unsalted. (We almost lost a good friend over this, when she couldn’t come to grips the fact that “butter” means “salted butter.” )
If you’re wondering why I’m toggling between using the royal “we” and “I” to write this thing, check out the first issue of The Sybarite Newsletter, where I hastily explain that I sometimes use “we” in anticipation of the staff I hope Sybarite will have someday. (We will graph that sentence later). Plus, even though I don’t believe in the law of attraction, there is something comforting about the “if you build it they will come” idea, so I like to throw a “we” in there now and again.
For the new folks: The Sybarite Newsletter is devoted to telling you what to eat, read, see, listen to, where to travel, what to slather on your skin and otherwise wear and do. And it’s where I get to pretend I’m a magazine writer, and get over the fact that I went to law school.
I’d love other people to write this newsletter, but I must admit to a miscommunication in the first issue, where I solicited people to do just that. I cavalierly wrote “email me and I’ll add you as a writer!” But it turns out that if you want to use the newsletter function on Medium publications — which I am now using for this issue, but didn’t for the last — you have to be an editor. And even though I said in the paragraph right above this one that I would love Sybarite to have staff someday, I also feel protective over its, dare I say it, brand. So any future co-editor will have to publish a few stories in Sybarite, I’ll have to crush out on their writing style, and believe they have incredible taste before I can consider sharing the power.
They will have to scour the Internet for the perfect caftan, make me a cassoulet, and book the perfect hotel for me in the perfect city. Just kidding. But they do have to be a banging writer. If that sounds like you, please email me your draft stories (email in profile) and we’ll go from there.
And now that mea culpa is out of the way, on to all the things I am ordering you, my Sybarite army, to do.
SAD? ROAST A CHICKEN
In the last newsletter, I told you to eat your celery by braising it in an illegal amount of butter. This week, I am here to remind you that if you are sad and lonely you should roast a chicken. I learned this trick from my cousin Sam, who explained that every time he moved apartments in graduate school he would immediately make homemade chicken soup, to fill the apartment up with that grandma aroma.
Some grandma smells are good, like chicken soup and lavender. Some grandma smells are bad, like Pall Malls and air fresheners. I happened to have two grandmas that collectively had all of these smells, including other smells like the vodka tonic smell and the french toast smell. Sometimes I thought a good smell from one grandma (french toast, say) would cancel out a bad smell from another grandma (Pall Malls), even though the two grandmas were on opposite coasts. I guess I was an early adopter of entanglement theory.
Both grandmas and entanglement theory are complex, just like loneliness is. You may, like me, want to stay home alone at all costs and avoid people on the regular, but at the same time feel a little bit tiny and cold. Or you may be balls-to-the-wall lonely. You may hate your spouse and kids. The answer to all of this is a roasted chicken.
When Sam told me he made homemade chicken soup at each new apartment, I knew he might be lying because there is no way to make homemade chicken soup without first roasting a chicken. Did he do both? Perhaps. I never asked him because I didn’t want to catch him a lie.
That said, it is possible to do both, you just need a whole weekend or so. What you don’t need are those stupid recipes all over the Internet that want you to also make a dumb gravy with flour or use a spice that no one can get at their local grocery story. Sybarite to the rescue with a normal recipe, that normal people can follow:
Buy a 3–to-4 lb chicken (Trader Joe’s is a great place to do this). Preheat your oven to 425. Open a window or close the door to where your smoke alarm is, just in case. Pull the chicken guts out of the chicken and feed them to your dog. (Just be careful with the neck, which might have too much cartilage). Slice an onion into thick slices and lay them flat in a roasting pan. Slice some carrots and lay them around the onion — your chicken is going to rest on top of this little onion/carrot floor.
Rinse the chicken inside and out. Pat it try. Salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Slice a lemon in half and shove it in the chicken. Slice the top off a head of garlic and shove that into the chicken too. Take a bunch of thyme or rosemary and shove that in. Take some string and tie the legs together, and place the chicken breast-side up on the onions and carrots.
Take a stick of softened butter and rub it all over the chicken. Cover it in butter. Salt and pepper the outside of the chicken. Lots of salt, lots of butter.
Roast the chicken for 90 minutes, or until the juices run clear. The onions and carrots will be soft and juicy. Serve with your favorite carb (rice, bread, potatoes — all of these are legal here at Sybarite).
For the soup: after you’ve finished the chicken, either with your family or by yourself over a few days while binging bad television, throw the carcass in a large Dutch oven and cover it in water. Add an onion, a carrot, some celery, and some thyme or rosemary and a very large pinch of salt. Simmer all day. When it finally starts to look like stock, and taste like stock, remove the carcass, the onion, the carrot (you get the idea) and strain the stock into some sort of other vessel — you want to get rid of all the little bits you’ll see floating around. (A little secret: this is the original grandma version of “bone broth” which keto PR wizards have somehow just discovered).
Now that you have homemade stock, add whatever: leftover chicken, a small, cute pasta (orzo works well), carrots, leftover greens. It doesn’t matter. It’s a grandma soup, and grandmas hate food waste.
Some of you mentioned that you were going to try the celery idea in the last newsletter, and I’d love to know how that turned out. But I’d really love to know your thoughts on roast chicken and chicken soup — people tend to get worked up roast chicken recipes, much like the great butter debate. I’m here for it. Let’s rumble.
WATCH: THE GOOD MOVIES FROM THE 1980s, EARLY 1990s.
I went on a very stupid date two Fridays ago. Despite swearing off dating apps, I happen to still be on Hinge because I guess that’s the law or something. Anyway, every time someone asks me to do something I decline, because who wants to leave a house that smells like chicken soup? No one.
But then I got an old-fashioned invitation to dinner. The guy, let’s call him B., invited me at the last minute to dinner at one of my favorite Los Angeles restaurants, Kismet. They have many wonderful things on their menu, but — get this — my favorite is the bread and tahini. I know it’s weird. It’s hard to explain.
The dinner invitation arrived when I was still in the office, and all I wanted to do was go home and get into my sweats with the stretchy waistband. But then I gave myself the pep talk, the pep talk that is never right but that I give myself over and over again, and it goes something like this: the right man isn’t just going to land on your windshield, you need to actually go outside to meet him.
Well guess what? The right man is also not at Kismet. B. was one of those broken men who are all over Los Angeles: middle-aged men who still think they are going to be a writer or director or a screenwriter, still believe that they are going to break into Hollywood even though they happen to live in Claremont and have three kids and have only worked part-time as a corporate photographer, whatever that is.
At some point in the conversation, B said “I watch a movie every day, and always think I could have done better.” I chewed my bread and tahini slowly so I wouldn’t choke, because he had just watched a bunch of Spielberg movies. And suddenly I was sure that B. was going through a divorce not because they had mutually decided to part ways, but because his wife finally got sick of him watching a movie everyday while she likely supported the family in a soul-crushing job. Los Angeles is also filled with castoff men like this, finally tossed out by their wives who apparently woke up one day and realized that they were supporting — both emotionally and financially — someone completely delusional.
Don’t worry, I didn’t any of this to him. I was nice, I really was. The only snark on my part came when he asked me what my favorite movies were. “They’re all from the 1980s, early 1990s” I said preparing him. And then I told him: After Hours, by Martin Scorsese, The Big Blue by Luc Besson, and La Femme Nikita, also by Luc Besson (not to be confused with the horrifying American remake or the American the television show. Gah).
Reader, he hadn’t seen any of them. “When you said eighties movies I thought you were going to say Top Gun,” he said eating his bread with a knife and fork. I don’t need to torture you with a blow-by-blow of the rest of the date, other than to say that I told him that I wouldn’t talk to him again until he had seen all three.
Later he texted me: none of these are streaming. I wrote back, guess you’ll have to get a DVD player! And that was that. The date sucked, but it did get me thinking: these are beautiful movies, and to channel my Grandpa, they just don’t make them like this anymore.
La Femme Nikita is so tense, so fun, such an homage to the feminine, rage and all. The Big Blue is a tribute to the ocean and masculine competitiveness. It’s gorgeous and will make you want to eat a lot of seafood pasta. After Hours is an artifact of gritty New York, and what it means to be lost in a city, an impossibility now with cell phones and Ubers and Lyfts.
All three are the antidotes to formulaic movies, to the corporations and algorithms that now decide what we read and watch. Thank me later for going on a yet another demoralizing date so that I could remember the beauty of these three films, and pass them onto you.
READ THESE THINGS
Gritty New York is gone. I know this because a younger friend of mine is moving back to New York, to a building on the Lower East Side near the building where I lived in the early 1990s. He asked me what it was like when I lived there, and I told him about the drug dealers and the Cuban sandwiches you could get in the middle of the night, the artists in my building that was really two buildings squished together so haphazardly that we had to shove newspapers between the walls where they were supposed to meet. In contrast, his building now has a doorman, and gym, and a cool rooftop.
It’s fine. Cities change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember what they were once like. Enter The Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz, short stories that capture the the chaos of the city before Rudy Giuliani swooped in and started wars against artists for using a medium he didn’t like.
Upsettingly, it seems that this book is OUT OF PRINT and so your only options are the Kindle version (a no-no for true Sybarites) or a used hard copy or paperback. I understand book publishing is a business, but it still bugs me when they stop printing books that I loved, that shaped me. Perhaps this is why one of my grandmothers smoked Pall Malls, knowing her world was being erased.
Speaking of writing, Sybarite has two new contributors. Ryan Elizabeth writes about the pleasures of pink wine after a friend’s house burns to the ground, and The Velocipede, who writes about cycling through Rhode Island, but yet so much more.
The Velocipede is my new favorite writer on Medium. He’s so good that I got jealous for a minute or two, and then realized that the correct response was actually to be happy for him, and happy for us, because he truly sets the bar.
NAIL COLOR OF THE WEEK: RED
If you read the first newsletter, you know the drill: I’m sharing my nail color choices because decisions are agony. I get good or bad nail polish colors so you don’t have to. This week was red, a failure of imagination, sure, but a steady choice.
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