Tuesday, March 24, 2009

French Guys

These guys named Jack, je les aime:
Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who made Oceanography and Marine Biology chic, and who proved that television could be so much more than sitcoms, hospital tearjerkers, and "courtroom dramas." Did you know that on board the Calypso, water was rationed, but wine never was? Perfectly French, non?
Jacques Torres, chocolatier extraodinaire, who looked straight into the camera and promised with a straight face that I too could manage the astounding confections he produced on Dessert Circus, and who now rules a growning chocolate retail empire in New York. He swears that chocolate is health food, and I have no reason to doubt.
Jacques Pepin, who is simply The Master of the Kitchen. He's a sprightly, accessible writer, a clear teacher, and at once absolutely resolute about what constitutes food worth eating and quite modern and flexible about making real meals at home. How can you resist a man who will, with perfect seriousness, teach you how to turn a black olive into a charming little bunny rabbit for your salad platter, in a half-dozen beautifully economical movements?
Of course, I'm also quite fond of a couple of other Jacks:
My brother, Jack, who's probably the smartest guy I've ever met, a riveting speaker, a public historian of extraordinary skill and determination, a deeply dedicated father, and creator of platters of blackened grouper so delicious that they've made more than one person glad to be alive.
And his son, my nephew Jack, who is the most gallant 11-year-old ever. He's on his second tuxedo. He's been to London and Paris, Venice and the Black Forest. He's wicked at Wii, and can quote Cole Porter; he drives his sisters insane, and charms even the most reluctant cat into a purring armful of fluff; he can't remember where his shoes are, but he'll notice if you cut your hair.
Brilliance and charm, that's what the Jacques—and the Jacks—have. How lucky I am to have them.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I love Pepe Le Pew.
He's a skunk, and skunks are cool, but it's more than that.

Pepe first appeared in 1945, with a Mel Blanc voice inspired by Charles Boyer. He was a regular in Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons and won an Oscar in 1949 in For Scent-imental Reasons (written by Michael Maltese). Johnny Depp is reported to have based his Pirates of the Caribbean character Captain Jack Sparrow not only on Rolling Stone Keith Richards, but also on the urbane Le Pew. But it's more than that.

Pepe's self-esteem is made of solid stainless steel. 'E pursues zee beeyootiful laydee, and eet does not matter eff she rebuff heem. But not in a yucky, date-rape, Pepe-needs-to-learn-that-no-means-no kind of way. He's just totally sure that he's fabulous, and if the object of his affections will just get over the whole vile stink issue, zey can mek zee beeyootiful music together, eh, oui? Being a skunk, he lives in a virtual tuxedo, so he's always elegant. And the fluff of the tail--gotta love the flourish there. But really, it's the confidence that makes him so captivating. There's a line between revolting arrogance and charming self-assurance, of course. Probably different people draw it in different places (I adore Russell Crowe, for instance. Other people maybe don't so much.). But Pepe's got the magic, I say.

Of course he's a French guy. That probably has something to do with it, even if he's not a French guy named Jacques (my favorite kind). 
More on the joys of French guys in the next post.
I 'ope you all 'ave zee fabulous day, mez amies!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

To Begin With...

For those of you whose homes are not (yet) stuffed with wool, (Wool is an excellent insulator, did you know? And self-extinguishing. It will burn as long as it's held in a flame, but when the flame is removed the wool stops burning. So really, if your house was full of wool, it would be more energy-efficient and better protected from fire. But I digress. Won't be for the last time.)

For those of you whose homes are not (yet) stuffed with wool, let me begin by explaining the joys of the Spit Splice.

I'm knitting. I come to the end of a ball of yarn. Gotta add more. I could leave tails of the old and new strands of yarn hanging, but then at the end of the project when I'm ready to be donedonedone I have to go back and tediously weave the ends in so the work won't unravel. Okay, but well, as indicated, tedious. I suck at tasks that strike me as tedious. Though I recognize that one man's tedious is another man's hand-whipped meringue.

Or I could knot the new yarn onto the old. But that leaves a knot, which might be evil enough to work its way to the front of whatever I'm making, and will at the very least make a nasty detectable lump in my fabric. So I'm not loving the knots.

Enter my hero, the Spit Splice. I take both ends of yarn, the old and nearly-run-out, and the new, and untwist the plies, and kinda mush them around each other. Then I get the whole intertwined-ends area good and wet with spit (this is the "slightly indelicate" part), and rub the joined ends furiously between my palms. Presto! The wool felts, the yarn is permanently and nearly imperceptibly joined, and I can carry on knitting with no knots, no ends to weave in later, and a pleasant sense of my own resourceful cleverness.

Some people think the Spit Splice is gross, because of, y'know, the spitting part. Some refined souls suggest that the maneuver should be performed with tap water, to avoid the gross factor. But I'm not going to haul my lazy ass out of the chair and shlub myself and my knitting over to the sink for the fraction of a tsp. that's involved. And what if I'm knitting in a place where plumbing isn't handy, eh? If my mouth is so dry that I can't produce enough saliva for a Spit Splice, I'm probably not knitting anyway. Plus I'm quite convinced—don't ask me for the lab results on this, though—that the enzymes and stuff in spit make the whole wool-felting process work better than plain old water.

That's a Spit Splice. You could say that it's an alter-ego: That tag line about "clever, slightly indelicate, works for wool" may be as much about your faithful (if immodest) correspondent as it is about the knitting technique. But it's also the standard for what I want to write about here: stuff that I like. That makes me happy. I spend a lot of my time being pissed off, and indulging myself in glorious rhetorical harangues about how the world would be different (and the miserable cretins who would suffer the torments they so richly deserve. heh.) if I wielded the absolute power for which I often and uselessly yearn. (Bad! Bad totalitarian impulses! Must. Stop.) It's a habit of long standing, but I'm not sure it does all that much for the general joyfulness of my life.

So Spit Splice, the blog, is going to be a place for me to get happy. To be full of approval. About anything from car design to three-year-old cheddar. Not in a sappy way, but in a "damnthat'sclever," "aren'tyougladsomeonethoughtofthis" kind of way.

I'm a yarn junkie, and I'd confess to being a foodie if I didn't hate the word so desperately, so there's likely to be a lot about textiles and cooking to come. But I'm hoping to range pretty widely over the terrain of my particular delights. Y'all come back, and we'll talk about what's good.