The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

Jan 21 10 2021


We indulged in another night of Truffle Shuffle, this time for steak béarnaise. I’ve made béarnaise before — memorably for the midnight dinner as an undergrad (hint: the dinner was not scheduled for midnight) but also a number of times since — but this was an opportunity to be coached by French Laundry alumni. A delicious steak, the béarnaise turned out great, with tons of tarragon and professional encouragement to take the sauce farther than I’d ever dared. A bunch of people went too far, which furnished a useful lesson on fixing a broken sauce! Not us, fortunately.

Sides: sautéed mushrooms, steak fries, roasted cauliflower in beurre noisette.


Jan 21 6 2021

A New Hope

The election of 2020 left me despairing for the future of American democracy. Even if Trump was defeated, the Republican senate would simply wreck as much as they could, blame Kerensky, and the more-competent Fascists would take power in 2024 with a figurehead like Nicky Haley or Mike Pence hiding the mailed fist.

I may have been too hasty. This morning, it looks like a huge effort in Georgia may have saved the nation.

It’s not saved forever. Mitt Romney, Joe Manchin, and Susan Collins will still determine the limits of the possible. But democracy is never saved forever, and it might perhaps live a little longer.

Thanks to all the activists and volunteers who made this possible.

by Michael Chabon

A collection of essays and articles about fiction today — especially about genre fiction and the plight of the short story.

Chabon originally thought that short stories were his strong suit and in the earliest of these essays he carries the guidon in the assault on the dominance of The New Yorker story and its privileging of everything but plot. This was the central front in a generational and philosophical assault against the armies of high modernism and postmodernism, and now that those battles have been lost and won the flags are of historical interest. Discussions of Sherlock Holmes, M. R. James, Will Eisner are fascinating, and a bravura exploration of golems in the modern world is terrific.

I’m watching the new Netflix ballet mystery, Tiny Pretty Things. It’s intriguing, and (in-progress) interesting to compare with the flawed but fascinating Flesh And Bone. The subject of Flesh And Bone is art — specifically narrative art. Its flaw, in my view, was a tendency to overstuff every moment with wild and intersecting plot lines, and all the subsidiary plot lines tend to obscure the central stories. In the end, we need to watch our high-flying future prima and poor homeless Romeo; the strip joints and Serbian sex slaves keep things moving but they get in the way.

Tiny Pretty Things is a school story, but since it opens with a dormitory murder it doesn’t need quite as much propulsive force. There’s a lot going on, but perhaps not so much distraction. Then again, I sense less ambition. Perhaps I’m wrong.

Dec 20 7 2020


Since the start of the catastrophe, Linda and I have been avoiding grocery stores and having everything delivered. That changes some habits and tradeoffs; in particular, we’ve been eating less meat and indulging in better (and better-raised) meat, much of it delivered from D’Artagnan, a wholesaler and restaurant supplier. They’re bound to be hard hit by the catastrophe and they’d be hard to replace, so this seems a useful indulgence.

Anyway, to fill out an order I’d bought a pair of venison tenderloins, and this weekend we had a Zoom party with friends in England — lunch for us, dinner for them. This was great fun; I haven’t done any company cooking since the disaster began.

I did the venison sous vide, 2 hours at 219°F, seasoned with ground pepper, ground juniper, and a liberal quantity of kosher salt, then seared 30 sec/side in a very hot pan.

For a sauce, I took 1 cup of duck stock (which is what I had on hand; chicken or beef would be fine) and reduced it to about ¼ cup. Actually, I reduced it even farther, making a glace, but I saved it easily enough with a little extra stock. While the seared venison was resting a melted some butter in the venison pan, cooked a handful of minced shallots briefly, and deglazed with the stock reduction plus (off heat) a shot of gin. Take this down just a touch, turn off the heat, and add a couple of ounces of creme fraiche.

This preparation is said to be Belgian, but nobody seems to record its name. Anybody know? or @eastgate.