coffee, two sugars
An inventory of people, places and things that have nourished us recently. To be read over a cup of coffee.
1. Down with Love (2003), dir. Peyton Reed
New York City in the 1960s, Renee Zellweger as a bubbly writer who strikes bestselling gold with her first feminist memoir, Sarah Paulson as a scrappy publishing editor quick with side quips, a fabulous Manhattan apartment decorated with midcentury flourishes of pink (the kind of pink that feels like Barbie also put an offer on the place), gorgeous costume change sequences (think: fluffy coats, pastel hats, houndstooth dresses), and the constant question: Can you have romance without the love? I watched this early 2000s romantic comedy for the first time this month, and I was delighted the whole way through. I love a rom-com with a “go-get-em” protagonist. It’s the reimagining of the ingenue. Plus, the vibrant set decoration and costuming supplied me with enough serotonin for the rest of 2022. Highly recommend, if you’re looking for something adorable. Watch with a box of chocolates (this is definitely a reference to the movie).
This past autumn, my mom and my aunt flew to Iran to visit family and friends. They kept asking me what soghati (Farsi for ‘souvenir’) I wanted, and I kept saying, “the only soghati I want is sohan (a Persian brittle toffee candy). (If you know Persian candy, you know that the good stuff only comes from Iran. Sorry, but the versions made in America are just not the same.) The candy originates from Qom, Iran and is made with sugar, cardamon, saffron, then dusted with slivered pistachios. It’s addictive and sweet, and the packaging that it comes in—beautiful gold tins with ornate decorations on the lid—always makes it feel like a treat fit for royalty. I’ve loved sohan since I was a child, enjoying the crunch and sweetness with a cup of chai. And I’m so thankful for my mom and aunt who brought this special treat back for me.
3. Sam Edelman Puffer Coat
Alright. It’s my first winter in New York, and I feel like I’ve been baptized. Slushy snow on crosswalk corners? Nineteen degree afternoons? Rats popping up and out of glittery, gorgeous mounds of white snow? I’ve seen—and dodged—it all at this point. And what’s further? I’ve felt it all: my arms and legs freezing, going numb because I’ve dressed inadequately for an afternoon running errands. That’s why I’m in love with a giant, fluffy Sam Edelman puffer coat that I found in the clearance section of Manhattan’s TJMaxx. (Yes—like most Persian girls who grew up in Southern California, I am a #maxxinista.) The coat is a creamy beige color, and I’m truly so impressed by the design team. How, how, how did they manage to make a coat that could keep me toasty and warm, even through a nor’easter? Honestly, put the Sam Edelman coat team in charge of solving every world problem. I guarantee you they’d figure it all out.
4. “Two People” by Caroline Spence & Robby Hecht
Once upon a time, two of my favorite singer-songwriters (Caroline Hecht & Robby Hecht) wrote and performed a sweet duet together called “Two People.” This song carried me through the smoky orange weeks of undergrad English exams. I remember being 20 years old, bopping around campus in heeled black booties (were you ever a 20 year old girl in college if you didn’t discover the thrill of heeled booties?), listening to this crisp, sugary song on repeat. And I’ve rediscovered it again. The lyrics are precious and tender. The song details two people realizing that being together is better than being alone: “When I lived alone, I didn’t know just how nice it would be / To own so much more, and go to the store, and buy two of everything.” It’s a squeeze around the heart. I personally love listening to it while I peruse Trader Joe’s, grocery shopping for just myself.
5. Leda and the Swan by Anna Caritj ($26, Riverhead Books)
I happened upon this book when I was in Los Angeles over the winter holidays. There I was, in the Studio City Barnes & Noble—an epic bookshop; it was converted from an old movie theater—when I turned into the New Fiction aisle and was met with the most gorgeous cover: the close-up of a hand, the shock of candy red polish on the nails. And yeah, totally, we definitely shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but beautiful covers don’t hurt! Plus, with the title, I was fully hooked before I even read one page. I reached for the book, and I devoured forty pages of it, standing in the aisle. And then, I went home and finished it in almost one sitting. If you’re looking for a mystery set on a college campus around Halloween, I think you’ll love this debut novel from a recent MFA graduate.
1. Bubble Baths
There are so few pleasures in this world that rank above sliding into a warm winter bath. I was hit by a bad case of the January doldrums and the only thing that kept me going was my silly little nighttime baths. They slowly became a nightly ritual and the only part of my day that offered me a reprieve from work or ennui or my phone. I’ve brought them into February because what better valentine to yourself than a pink bath full of candy-scented clouds?
2. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), dir. Peter Weir
It’s sacrilegious to let February pass without a viewing of Peter Weir’s adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock. If you’ve never had the pleasure, the film follows a group of girls on a Valentine’s Day picnic in1900 when three of their classmates disappear at the titular landmark. The film depicts a dreamy exploration of girlhood and time, all bound up in the forever fascinating Australian landscape. It’s a classic pastoral full of as much romance and white muslin as mystery and foreboding. Plus, plenty of cupids and love notes and heart-shaped cakes to satisfy your seasonal sweet tooth.
3. Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer by Rax King ($15, Vintage)
Speaking of love letters, you won’t find any more adulatory or saccharine than the ones in this ode to the gauche, most base pleasures our culture has to offer. Rax King explores subjects from Hot Topic to America’s Next Top Model to Jersey Shore in these emotionally resonant, personal essays. I devoured this book in the manner it was meant to be: a heady rush of french fries and chain restaurant fare. I loved it. I loved it almost as much as I love Frappuccinos and Cheetos. King has such a command of her subjects—both her personal life and pop culture—she’ll have you wondering why you’d ever read about anything else, let alone that which might be deemed “in good taste” (blech). Guaranteed she’ll have you shedding a tear over Meatloaf before you’ve hit the last page.
4. Porn Carnival: Paradise Edition by Rachel Rabbit White ($18, Wonder)
It wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without a little poetry. There’s no one you can trust your heart, or your libido, with more than the poet laureate of the dirtbag left herself. The world of Porn Carnival is a sensualist’s fever dream, the perfect read for a solo night in. Or, consider texting a few lines to your crush and you won’t be solo for long.
5. Yellowjackets (2021)
And when all other Valentine’s ephemera fails to warm your heart this month, try cutting it out of your chest and offering it to the Antler Queen herself. I myself have fallen deeply, irrevocably in love with the new Showtime horror drama about a girls soccer team that turns to cannibalism following a plane crash. The show weaves between two narratives—following the high school girls in 1996 and the adult survivors in 2021 as they deal with the traumatic repercussions of their time in the Canadian wilderness (yes, there are shades of Picnic at Hanging Rock here). Led by an incredible cast, the meat of Yellowjackets (sorry, couldn’t help myself) is in its richly drawn characters, both their past and present selves.
1. The End of Me by Alfred Hayes ($16, New York Review of Books)
My first read of 2022 was a novel about a man undergoing a midlife crisis. Written with effectively spare language, this is a quick read that I really enjoyed. Intergenerational conflict fascinates me to read about, since it’s a timeless topic.
2. All About Eve (1950), dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz
One night last week, I wanted to watch a classic and the Criterion Channel’s suggestions did not disappoint. All About Eve is perfectly done. Bette Davis’s ability to emote and deliver dialogue will eternally be perfect. Anne Baxter also killed it in her role as a ruthless social climber.
3. Entenmann’s Products
Perhaps these aren’t held in sufficiently high esteem. The donuts. The cakes. The chocolate chip cookies. From every single product, one can expect a high-quality experience. Specifically their pound cake inspired me to include this list item.
4. Belle du Jour (1967), dir. Luis Buñuel
Criterion Channel delivered once again. This film blew me away. The story-telling technique is unique, visuals are stunning, the surreal elements are thought-provoking and Catherine Deneuve is always breathtaking.
5. The Last Days of Disco (1998), dir. Whit Stillman
Before I watched this movie (thank you again, CC) I already knew I loved Chloë Sevigny. The script was fun, fast-paced and intriguing. I’d never seen Kate Beckinsale in a film before. She definitely held her own beside Sevigny.
1. Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin
I started this after seeing purveyor of all things glamour and style, Rachel Syme, recommend it on Twitter. She suggested it as a long weekend read back around the 4th, but I have poor time management skills so, c’est la vie, I’m only getting to it now. Light, airy, charming, it’s perfect for a Sunday morning lie in. Best read with a fresh french press and a slice of toast smothered in strawberry jam. Twitter is not good for much but this one time it pulled through.
2. Zola (2021)
Of course right after I criticize Twitter, I laud its greatest export. Yes, the rumors are true, I have seen The Film of 2021. Janicza Bravo, Jeremy O. Harris and A'Ziah King have brought us the preeminent film of the internet age. It’s a pleasure center of pings and swooshes and dissociative screensavers, immersing the viewer in the manic, performative, liminal space known as online. Zola is a brilliant examination of how we perform for different audiences and what those audiences feel they're entitled to. The last thing I'll say is: Taylour Paige and Riley Keough better get their Oscars.
3. Death of a Cheerleader by Pom Pom Squad
The ‘90s are back to save us from our 21st century ennui, thank god. This album combines grungy punk sounds, teen dream imagery and cult film vibes. It absolutely would have soundtracked a sexy teen drama from 1999 and therefore it’s the perfect late-summer, early fall playlist. With melancholic guitar strains and desperately yearning lyrics perfect to scribble all over your notebook (“Wanna tell you that I hate you, but it'd be a lie / ‘Cause I think I love you more than I am willing to try”), listen to this album and indulge in your own main character syndrome.
4. Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran
I finally made my way through Dancer from the Dance, Andrew Holleran’s gay classic and maui wowee! I! Love! This! Book! A must read for all pleasure seekers, bon vivants or anyone who wants everything they want and will settle for nothing less. Given its somewhat bittersweet ending (sorry, slight spoiler) maybe my take is not the "correct" one, but, much like the main characters of the novel, I’m a romantic. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
5. Caesar salads
I’m sorry, but have you had one lately? Because I hadn’t until I impulse ordered one at a beachside cafe in Florida this summer. I’d forgotten the indelible universal truth that Caesar salads absolutely slap. Please go order one for yourself before the weather changes.
1. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
This is a novel about all the corners and textures of a best friendship in the face of devastating, surprising news. I devoured it in days—reaching for it on my nightstand table the second I woke up, perching on park benches with frothy cappuccinos because I couldn't bear to walk until I finished just one more chapter. I carried it in my tote bag for days, and it felt like I was walking around with a slice of cerebral magic.
2. Pastel mustard yellow nail polish
Over cold brew coffees at a cafe on Ventura Boulevard, my friend Sean gifted me a bottle of pastel mustard yellow nail polish. We'd been chatting about in-season nails for the summer just a week before, and when I opened the packaging, I squealed and jumped up out of my seat so suddenly that my strawberry-banana-Nutella crepe practically fell off the table. I'm calling it now—this is the color for the rest of summer. It's like August on your fingertips.
3. Flaky chocolate croissants
The best type of croissant? Easy. Almond. The second best type of croissant, the one you order when the coffee shop is all out of almond? Easy. Chocolate. I recently enjoyed a chocolate croissant with my friend Justine on a slow weekday morning. The chocolate in the middle of the pastry dough reminded me of middle school sleepovers, of stacking fun-size Hershey's bars onto frozen waffles for the fun of it, because everything was better with chocolate—especially if you had just failed your science pop quiz. Anyways, I'll definitely be ordering another chocolate croissant soon, even if the pastry shop has a full plate of almond ones.
4. John Moreland
John's one of my favorite musicians, and I've been listening on repeat to a few of his songs from years ago, specifically "Oh Julia," "Gospel," and "God's Medicine." His songs make me feel a deep melancholy blue that is at once beautiful and heartbreaking. It's the perfect type of music to listen to on a rainy day with candles lit inside your home.
5. Sleepy by Lush
I normally am not the biggest fan of the scent of lavender (lavender syrup in a latte though? that's a different story, and yes, please, sign me up for that) but I recently discovered Lush's Sleepy collection, which is lavender and tonka. There's a delectable sugary warmth to the scent that feels luxurious and comfortable. I got the lotion, and I'll definitely be going back for more items in the collection.
1. Stoner by John Williams
This may be my new favorite novel. It is the first one I’ve read in a long time that has made me cry. Williams makes you feel as though you have lived life alongside the protagonist, and manages to write about death in an incredibly realistic way despite never having died (at the time).
2. La collectionneuse (1967)
I recently (finally) made a Criterion Channel subscription, and I am so happy that I did. One of my favorite directors is Eric Rohmer, so one of the first things I did with my new account was watch this film. I found it not only aesthetically beautiful, but also deeply thought-provoking about human relationships and morality as related to intimacy.
3. Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream
I just think that you can never go wrong with this flavor. It is god-tier. I almost feel like this needs no elaboration, but for those who have not tried it before, it is the perfect blend of chocolate, marshmallow and caramel; to top it off, it includes small fudge ‘fish,’ hence the name.
4. Morning walks
This item goes in the vein of “appreciate the simple things.” In the past week I have felt a new appreciation for starting my day with exercise because it makes me much more clear-headed.
5. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The queen of stream-of-consciousness reigns supreme. I am still reading this book and the prose is beautiful.