Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Heteronormativity, and lack thereof

Tonight's Project Runway delighted me in several ways: Tim Gunn firmly insisting that Jackie Kennedy would NOT have camel toe was a definite highlight. I was also quite pleased to see Mondo win, and I enjoyed Ivy's design -- great to see that she's returning to the neutral, ethereal, and yet sharply cut. I liked the idea of Andy's pants (execution and styling were, admittedly, lacking). Most of all, I enjoyed Mondo's own outfit: short shorts and a white tank top, with suspenders, knee socks, and tons of eyeliner. When asked, Mondo said that he was inspired by Cotton Club, and did a little tap dance. This is also the same person who put a mustache on his model during the Treacy challenge.


This is where it struck me: I do love Mondo's design, but I also adore his refusal to behave in heteronormative ways -- much like I enjoy the same trait in Johnny Weir (who recently made an appearance on Rachel Zoe, OMG). And really, having people like them on national TV is a big deal -- it is important to see the diversity of gender presentation (and people happily adopting behaviors usually associated with the opposite gender) in order for this diversity to become normalized. Interestingly enough, it seems more normalized in fashion industry: in last week's Rachel Zoe Project episode, there was a fashion crisis involving Johnny Weir showing up to an event and finding out that someone else wore the exact same outfit. Zoe's staffer, Brad, flies to the rescue, and asks Johnny if he'd seen that episode of 90210 where the two girls wear the same dress to the prom. "Of course," Weir replied. "What kind of man would I be if I haven't seen that episode?" "Not a very good one," Brad says.

Both had a jocular manner during that exchange, but it still struck me -- the way these two redefined masculinity rather than refused it. Redefined it to include watching 90210 and caring about prom dresses and high heels as masculine behaviors. This reclaiming and widening of mainstream gender roles strikes me as quite a bit more constructive than simply rejecting the mainstream and retreating into an invisible niche. And what's more mainstream than TV?

Finally, On the Road with Austin and Santino is a hilarious and sweet series. This week's episode started with Austin getting out of the car in his straw hat and carrying a parasol, and shaking hands with a female truck driver. And you know, we need that -- rather than calling this woman 'masculine' or labeling Austin as 'effeminate', we need to see that their gender is not defined by what the mainstream deems gender-appropriate. We don't get to boot people out of their gender for the things they do.

I'm thrilled to see all these things on TV: of course, most of them are on Lifetime, which is commonly dismissed as a chick network. Oh gender normativity, how you vex me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Audiobooks

THE SECRET HISTORY OF MOSCOW and THE ALCHEMY OF STONE are now audiobooks, available from audible.com or your local iTunes. 

Ella Lai

A while ago, I mentioned a young Chinese designer, Ella Lai, in one of my Etsy posts. Well, I ordered a trench dress from her a few weeks ago, and today it has arrived - made to order, and beautifully.

This dress/jacket (since it can be worn as either) is made of surprisingly sturdy cotton fabric, which feels like canvas, and is fully lined. Polka dot cuff, belt, and collar lining gives it an extra touch of character. It fit me nicely:


Here's a somewhat shaky closeup of the neckline and the collar:


If you look at Ella's shop, you'll notice that the clothes tend to be neutral and they look basic. But the design and the tailoring is anything but. I took some closeups of details that cannot be seen in a larger view, but when you wear the garment, you can't help but love them. The construction is just superb.

First, pleating in the center back, right under the collar:

It makes the heavy fabric drape in a very fluid way.


The placing of shoulder seams in many garments, especially outerwear, is tricky and vexing. Not here though, because the sleeves are cut in in a very ingenious way, so there's no shoulder seam as such:


And this attention to detail carries over to the branding. I was pleased to see that the dress came with a very nice tag with the designer's name:


It might seem like a small thing, but I like my indie designers, and I like it when they have professional logos. So really, I couldn't be more impressed with the craftsmanship of this designer, and I cannot recommend her enough to those who love their clothes simple, classic, and well-made.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Project Runway

Interesting challenge tonight: teams of two sew each other's design; the designer and not the tailor is judged. The rationale is that a good designer has to outsource sample sewing to ateliers and sample rooms and such. The reality is that sample rooms are staffed by professional tailors, while PR is not. So Ivy almost went home because she couldn't trust Michael D to sew her beautiful design and she dumbed it down to a flowy tank with a flowy skirt.

Michael Kors once again made one of his trademark gendered observations, calling Ivy (who did a beautiful job sewing Michael D's design) a seamstress (as opposed to a REAL designer, natch.) Way to go there -- seamstress vs designer as well as cook vs chef dichotomies have been a traditional way to devalue women's work, and it is heartening to see the CFDA lifetime achievement winner carries the banner.

I continue to love Mondo: even though his design was quite junior and ordinary, Mondo learned an important lesson: he was paired up with Michael C whom everyone hates, and learned that Michael wasn't bad at all. Mondo apologized for being disagreeable, and refreshingly seemed to mean it. In the end of the episode, the two sat with their arms around each other's shoulders even though Mondo was in the bottom. He was not sent home, and we at home learned that not blaming others and apologizing occasionally pay off.

Casanova was sent home. I will miss his priceless drama queening moments ("They say I design for strippers and old ladies and flamenco dancers! And I'm even getting fat!") His design wasn't bad, even though it wasn't resort wear -- but beige wide leg pants and off the shoulder white blouse were quite nice, although judges called them matronly and grandmotherly. I'd wear the pants.

Oh, and April's Frederick's of Hollywood babydoll won. Everyone needs to review what "punk" means.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Deconstructed Tuna Casserole with Avocado Salad

Or if you prefer, tuna steaks with mac and cheese. The point is, it was delicious. I made it for late lunch today, and both Chris and I enjoyed it a lot.

I started by boiling water to cook 1/2 lb egg noodles. At the same time, boiled 1 1/2 cups milk with dried herbs (thyme, rosemary, parsley, red pepper flakes and oregano), 1 teaspoon ground mustard, salt, and a dash of ground cayenne pepper. Beaten two eggs, tempered them by adding hot milk mixture 1 tablespoon at a time and beating with a fork. Mixed tempered eggs into milk mixture, and over low heat added a tablespoon of butter and about a cup of grated cheese -- I used Romano and Parmesan.

Mixed cooked egg noodles with cheese sauce in a glass oven-proof dish, topped with a mixture of Panko bread crumbs and Parmesan, and baked at 350F until the casserole was set and the topping had turned golden brown.



While the casserole was baking, made avocado and bean salad (recipe is here):



Finally, tuna steaks: I got a couple of nice thick steaks, marinated them in 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, and dry herbs (thyme, rosemary, parsley, red pepper flakes and oregano), 15 min per side, then seasoned with salt. The steaks were then seared in olive oil, in a skillet over high heat, 2-3 min per side. Then I transferred them to an oven-safe dish, and finished at 350F for 10 minutes (less, if you prefer your tuna medium-rare to medium).


The tuna worked really well with the cheesy noodles, and fresh avocado salad made the whole meal fresh and summery.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

New Book

Since it was mentioned on Twitter, I guess it makes it official. I sold another steampunk book to Prime. It is currently titled Heart of Iron: From St. Petersburg to Beijing, and it is an alternate history set in Russia and China.  It will most likely be out in the second half of 2011.

Delicious Duck

So a while ago we went to an Amish market, and there I got a duck. A lovely fat bird, which I decided to cook following Alex Guarnaschelli's recipe. There was one significant modification: no green peppercorns, since I'm not a fan. So here's a photo essay documenting my duck exploits.

First, I heated some water with honey, soy sauce, and rosemary twigs. I also added a splash of raspberry vinegar and some ground red pepper flakes, dry thyme, and some tarragon, because I believe it goes with everything.


Once the water was nice and hot, I dunked in the bird:

Let it heat up and absorb the flavors, while basting, for about a minute.

Then I took the duck out, let it sit for about half and hour, and patted it dry. Arranged it on the rack in a roasting pan (mine is pretty shallow, and the deeper one would probably be less precarious when the fat starts seriously rendering), breast down. Cooked at 400F for 25 minutes:

I then took some of the rendered fat and transferred it to a cup for later, and turned the duck over. Cooked for an additional hour, until the duck crisped and the fat rendered.

While the duck was cooking, I made some lentils, and set them aside:

Using the reserved duck fat, I then sauteed some pearl onions:

And after the onions were done, I mixed them and the delicious duck fat with the lentils:

Next, I turned my attention to the glaze: I used Marsala wine, raspberry vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and more rosemary to make the glaze. Cooked the mix until it was thick and delicious, and spread it over the basted duck as soon as it came out of the oven. Served with lentil and onion side dish:

It was delicious!