The Strawberry Fields Whatever International Supper Club, Vol. I: French Onion Soup, Spaghetti, & Doughnuts


Welcome to our new column wherein LJ (who lives in London) and Liz (who lives in Los Angeles) will go out to eat and order the same foods and report back on those foods, from their respective continents. Here we are with French onion soup, spaghetti, and doughnuts/donuts.


LJ: When my Dad came to visit me in London we ate at Balthazar. On the morning of the day we ate at Balthazar we went to Kentish Town and one of my eyelids was swollen because I am allergic to my housemate Pearl the beagle's dander but I hadn’t figured it out yet so I spent most of the day freaking out about eye diseases. We went to the London Bridge and it was boring so we took a bus that started with the letters RV which I think stood for River which took us to Covent Garden. We were an hour and a half early for our reservation so I went into a store called the Astrology Shop while my dad stood outside the Astrology Shop doubting the necessity of its existence— personally, I sort of hated the Astrology Shop, but then I felt like, If I hate the astrology shop, then who does the Astrology Shop have left???
        After the Astrology Shop we went to a pub situated in the upper corner of a Flatiron-shaped building and my dad had a Jameson’s and I drank a cider. My dad had a nice view out the window and looked out of it, watching all the people do their things and live their lives. I had a nice view of my the guy sitting next to my dad.
        I spaced out and thought Cider is wine made of apples and I wished that cider would do a better job of marketing itself as apple wine but also, and probably more importantly, wished that I could hang out with my cool Jameson’s-drinking Dad on a more regular basis. I was angry with London for not being the place where my Dad lives.
        We left and walked through the part of Covent Garden that is a market. It smelled like the Axe deodorant body spray factory. We arrived at Balthazar a half hour early for our booking but Balthazar were cool with it. The dining room was sprawling and noisy and I felt tiny and useless inside of it, like an ant that is small for its age. I looked around. I will never be a rich person who is from Hong Kong, I thought.
        Our waitress was ugly in the purest sense of the word. She would have been well-cast as a no-nonsense peasant lady helping a cow give birth in Ireland circa 1875. Her ugliness made me think that she was going to be a really good server but she wasn’t. She was just about the brusquest person I ever met.
        Dad and I shared a half bottle of Chablis and it tasted like Chablis. My dad ordered cauliflower soup and the Dover sole, which he badassly de-boned himself, much to the chagrin of the Balthazar employee whose job it was to de-bone it tableside. My order was a no-brainer: French onion soup and a Nicoise salad. It would take a hell of a lot of extenuating circumstances to have me eat at a French restaurant and not order French onion soup and a Nicoise salad. I bet even on the day I was born my infant self knew in some vague way that I would grow up to be a person who near-exclusively ordered French onion soup and Nicoise salads at French restaurants.
        French onion soup is the exception to a rule: normally, I don’t have time for soup. (Another thing I’ve recently realized I don’t have time for: slicing my own pizza. You know, I wasn’t joking around when I grew up and decided not to become a pizza chef.) Ideally, when it comes to food, I just stab things with a fork and then shove them in my mouth. If the food is really good, fine, I’ll use a knife. But ideally I wouldn’t. Spoons are okay sometimes, like for yogurt or cereal. Yogurt and cereal are firm, and they don’t threaten to fall out of the spoon’s belly if you aren’t super confident and focused on the spoon’s journey from the bowl to your mouth. Don’t even get me started on pho— the dribbliest aspects of spoon usage mixed with the most labour-intensive aspects of using a knife, only they don’t even give you a knife! You could use the time it takes you to eat a third of a bowl of Pho to run, like, eight errands. I could maybe get on board with a bowl of minestrone but I’d rather eat all the chunky ingredients without the soup part. And pureed soups are just like, ugh. I grew teeth for a reason.
        But French onion soup is something different. When I was a kid I went through a phase of pretty much refusing to eat in restaurants that didn’t serve French onion soup. French onion soup (or, FOS) is soup with some real backbone. It’s got a really ursine energy to it, fat and meaty and brown. One of my favorite things is when dishes that don’t have actual pieces of meat in them still have meat in them, i.e. the beef stock in FOS or greens sautéed in bacon fat. And then it’s got soggy bread in it (I really like soggy food), and a whole sweet tangle of slithery dark onion bits that sink to the bottom of the bowl like buried treasure hidden at the bottom of the ocean. French onion soup has a real “Ariel from The Little Mermaid’s grotto” vibe to it. Oh and then there’s cheese! Heaps and heaps of burnt (I also love burnt food) and bubbling cheese. If there was one soup in the world you could eat with a fork, it would be French onion.
        The French onion soup I ate at Balthazar was the best French onion soup I’ve ever had. Guess what it had loads of in it??? No! Seriously! Guess. Just guess. Just come up with a little guess in your head. Try to think of the number one ingredient that could make the most soul-warming and nostalgia-inducing food imaginable even MORE soulful and evocative. Your hint is… Christmas.
        Okay! You give up. It was CLOVE. I wanted to curl up and fall asleep inside that clovey bowl of soup like a puppy in a velvet dog bed. It made me wish I was a little kid again, when all you have to worry about is which is your favorite kind of soup and the answer to some really easy math equation and your parents are always there and they keep you so safe and they love you so much and you’re not embarrassed about loving them back, which is cool. They own a house and a couch and a television and a million other things and you can use all their shit for free; in fact they want you to. You can curl up under a blanket and lie on their laps, and you’re watching either Frasier or Entertainment Tonight and it would be snowing out, but you wouldn’t have to leave the house unless you wanted to and even if you did it would be in a car that your mom already pre-warmed up for you so all you have to do is run from the house to the car and you can just sit and chill inside the cozy hot car while she scrapes the ice and snow off the windows with a scraper. If I could take that feeling and turn it into a taste it would be that clovey French onion soup, ideally accompanied by a glass of Beaujolais, because what can I say? I grew up.

LIZ: I ate my French onion soup at Taix, which is a French restaurant in Echo Park. I hardly ever go to Taix anymore but when I first moved to L.A., about 11 years ago, sometimes my friends and I would hang out in the lounge with these dudes who lived in our building. The dudes were all older than we were and musicians; they were in a semi-big-deal rock band in the late-'90s/early '00s, the kind of band that would get played on heavy metal/hard rock radio, if heavy metal/hard rock radio still existed today. I low-level-worshipped them because they'd devoted most of their lives to being in bands and I'd never really known anyone like that, and it all seemed very brave and glamorous. Their couch was a row of seats ripped out of their band's old van, and one time when the glasses were all dirty Stephen drank his wine from a measuring cup, and their cutely degenerate lifestyles seemed glamorous to me too. I used to refer to our building as Grunge Melrose Place, because our lives entwined and sometimes shit got sordid, and also because the building was disgusting and falling apart and we were all kind of slackers who loved complaint rock. I can't remember why Taix was the dudes' spot of choice, but I do remember going to see Matt and Mike's band play in the lounge one Friday night. They did a cocktail-jazz version of "War Pigs," and at the "Satan laughing, spreads his wings" lyric, they all flapped their arms like they were birds/Satan and their arms were wings. Cute move.
        But yeah, my soup. I went to Taix on some sort of weekday: I'd been writing work stuff in the coffee/ice cream shop across the street and on the walk home I decided What the hell and headed over to the Taix lounge and sat at the bar. Nearly everyone else in the lounge was a guy in his 50s and 60s, drinking post-work beers and chatting up the bartenders. On the bar were pencils for Keno, and the stereo system was playing Edith Piaf or some other melancholy/whimsical music to remind you that you're in a French restaurant that's very earnest about its Frenchness. I got a $4 glass of riesling and it was perfectly un-sweet. And then my soup arrived and it looked like this:

       Here's the part where I'll reveal that I was totally incompetent in my food journalism on my trip to Taix. I can tell you that the broth was vaguely winey, like it was made with the wine I was drinking, and that the cheese was overwhelming in a mostly enjoyable way. Each time I'd go to take a spoonful of soup, I'd start twirling the cheese around my spoon and get hypnotized by the twirling and just keep it going, twirling twirling twirling twirling. And each time I'd stop twirling and bring the spoon to my mouth, the very good-looking bartender would walk by at the exact moment that I was disengaging from the soup and trying to negotiate the strands of melted cheese stretching from the spoon to my mouth. It was little embarrassing but I didn't care. I was in another place. I'm not all that nostalgic for when I used to hang out at Taix with all those guys when I was 25 and 26, but I liked the feeling of sitting there at the black-leather bar and lazily recalling lots of moments I hadn't thought about in years. And then I got caught up in the idea that there are all these spaces you can go to trigger the memories you'd never retrieve on your own. It's kinda like tourism: visiting a place and taking what you need from it in a way that's both cheap and naive. It's unadventurous but cozy and maybe the easiest way to practice emotional manipulation on yourself. I'm into it. I want more.
        So anyway. Post-soup, I headed to the bathroom and took selfies for five hours. The Taix ladies room is gorgeous, all pink-and-gold wallpaper and golden lighting and fake pink flowers and stupid pictures of Paris. I like my shirt so much.


Hot-Pink Neon Climbing Up the Walls, and ASTRAL Music: My Perfect Week of Ex Hex


A couple days ago, The Hairpin posted an interview I did with Mary Timony. It was a super-fun gig for me; Mary talked about being obsessed with Casey Kasem in sixth grade and going to see Rites of Spring and Culture Club and pouring paint in her hair and teaching  girls to play "Dig a Pony" on guitar. The part about being obsessed with one of her English teachers in high school is maybe my favorite moment, and all in all it was a very giggly and wonderful phone convo. And if you want to come over and listen to the MP3 of the interview I'll totally let you, for a cover charge of eight million dollars.

In case you didn't know: Ex Hex's debut album Rips came out last week, and it's out of this world. When you listen to Rips in the car, ideally when the sun's just going down, it makes any night sound like it's a Friday and you're 17 and about to have a quintessentially exciting Friday-night-when-you're-17 sort of experience. Like it's summertime and you just finished your shift at a job that involves standing in very close proximity to frying food for hours on end, and the grease somehow altered the texture of your hair in an interesting yet disgusting way, and you go home and wash your hair with a shampoo that's scented with strawberry or coconuts and get all ready to go, and then your best friends come pick you up and you're off. Every second of Rips has all the hot happy energy of that anticipation: it sounds like the radio playing when you’re driving home from your hair-ruining job, the radio playing in the shower when you’re washing your hair, the radio playing when you’re getting your jeans and your lipstick on, the radio playing when you and your bros are on your way to the party or the woods or the show or whatever. It’s all those beautiful radios, all at the same time.

Apart from the interview, my big Ex Hex news is I saw them play on Sunday and it was the most fun show in the world. A couple years ago my pal Laura Fisher and I made this joke about starting a band called The Wellwishers, with the name referencing the fact that we're each exceptionally concerned about the wellbeing of the people who make the music we love. The part of my heart that plays drums for The Wellwishers was so elated by Ex Hex on Sunday night: I legit can't think of any other band I've ever seen have a better time onstage than those guys. Here's some pix I took at the show:


Here's a Weird Little Movie That Debbie Harry & Sofia Coppola & Anthony Kiedis & Sonic Youth Made for 'Details' Magazine in 1993


In the 1993 music issue of Details there was a fashion spread starring Anthony Kiedis, his girlfriend Sofia Coppola, Debbie Harry, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, and a bunch of beautiful drag queens. The magazine came with a pull-out poster for the make-believe movie that the fashion spread was supposedly based on; it was called Sick: A Love Story, and I kept that poster taped to my wall for all of eleventh grade. Anthony was my favorite (still is!) and I had a strange fascination with Sofia, who at that point was 22-years-old and mainly known to me as one of the disco-hippie girls eating bananas in the video for "Deeper and Deeper" by Madonna. Until last Thursday, when a benevolent stranger emailed me a link to the YouTube video below, I never knew that Sick really was made into a short film. It's directed by Paul Morrissey (who made Chelsea Girls and a bunch of other Andy Warhol movies), and it's so goofy and fun and absolutely worth waiting 21 long years for.

Something that's kind of a drag: in place of the actual audio for the movie, there's this super-bizarro mish-mash of George Gershwin, late-'80s Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction, and some insane metal/faux-opera hybrid that I can't and don't want to identify. Like, when Anthony and Sofia go to see Kim and Thurston onstage at some divey bar, the audio's queued up to a Chili Peppers song called "Nobody Weird Like Me," which I'm pretty sure Sonic Youth never actually covered. The notion of Sonic Youth playing a Chili Peppers song is mildly amusing, maybe, but mostly the whole audio sitch is annoying and distracts from the weird beauty of the movie. So what I'd recommend is muting the video and putting on something from 1993 that you haven't listened to in ages, like Saturation by Urge Overkill or the first Souls of Mischief record or whatever you feel like. 

The premise of Sick: A Love Story is that Anthony's an aspiring singer or something and Debbie's a crazy fairy godmother trying to make him into a rock & roll superstar. The first scene takes place in a Lower East Side crash pad where Anthony, Sofia, and about a half-dozen other attractive degenerates are sleeping the day away. Look at the sleepy kitties: 


Thing of the Week: The Wine Bottle with Our Names Written All Over It, 7 Crushes, Jen's Favorite Doctor

LJ'S THING OF THE WEEK: The Wine Bottle With Our Names Written All Over It 

(There is no picture of the wine bottle with our names written all over it. Here, instead, is a picture of the dessert called Ambrosia, or Ambrosia Salad.)

On Sunday night, three of us got off work early. We sat at one of the white picnic tables out front with our old manager; our sitting there was a celebration of his once having managed our restaurant, of his now having moved on to bigger and better things. I'm not sure what those big great things are but I appreciated that he didn't either yet was still willing to go for it and celebrate. This celebratory evening had been pitched to me a month ago as something I had to believe would be decadent, wild, legendary, etc- but now that that night was tonight, I had to admit to myself: it wasn't anything special so far. Just the four of us sitting at one of the white picnic tables drinking wine that was either natural or biodynamic but probably not both, a sparkling rosato that I like to describe as being Bone-ass dry. I like saying that, "Bone-ass dry," with the same tone and accompanying facial expression that I would use to say: "You're not even going to fucking believe this." 

Bone. Ass. Dry. Like literally sucking on a bone. But it's dark, salmon pink! You think everything pink is going to be sweet but sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it's as dry as sucking on a bone. Like eating a tooth. 

They brought us out some food and the sun set. Oh, the luxury of eating dinner in your own restaurant! Turmeric-scented cauliflower fried in chickpea flour. Salt cod, tomato pulp, fried chicken. It's nighttime. We were loud, unforgiving, we were laughing. We were getting to that point in drunkenness where you become stupidly, soppily candid: When I first met you I hated you more than I knew I was capable of hating a person I didn't know but now that I know you I love you. I always liked you. I always liked you too. You were kind and your kindness didn't smack of bullshit which is amazing. I like the sound of your voice. I find your accent amusing. I think the way you talk is really cute. There are four accents at the table: Australian, Belgian, Irish, and me: Canadian. When I first met you, I thought you were incredibly rude. 

That's because I was incredibly rude to you. 

Our second bottle: a Chenin Blanc from Anjou. Anjou is one of my top fifteen, maybe twelve, favorite words of all time. The wine tastes as good as the word anjou, and I described it as being "ambrosial." I said ambrosial to mean the actual meaning of the word "ambrosial": exceptionally pleasing to the taste or smell; worthy of the gods; divine, but inside my head, I realized I was also meaning it to say that it tastes like the dessert called ambrosia, a dessert I have never tasted or tried. But I know that ambrosia is a thing that exists and I know it's made of sweet syrupy fruit- canned peaches, cherries, pineapples- mixed into whipped cream, whipped cream that tastes like it's spelled "whip cream," like something people would eat in Hawaii in the 1950s. There's no bitter or burn.

It was like eating a fruit cup and then knocking back the juice. A little clear plastic thing of mandarin orange. You can mix marshmallows or sour cream or even coconut into ambrosia. This wine tasted like my dream concoction of ingredients that would make up my own dream ambrosia. Everything shitty about my life was swept away by a gold and glittering Tina Turner minidress curtain of tears and disappeared but then briefly reconstituted itself to take the shape of a clear diorama that I tore myself away from my wine to stare down and declare irrelevant. The wine was over. We ordered our third bottle. 

It was called Swimming Poule and had a Crayola-marker drawing of a chicken wearing far out eighties swimming gear (shades, patterned swim trunks, an inner tube) on the label. It reminded me of an elementary school French textbook. Of the province of Quebec. All week I'd been so bummed I missed the Swimming Poule tasting; I'd asked my Australian co-worker what it tasted like- "Kool-aid," she said, and was right. It costs so much goddamned money to buy a bottle of white wine that tastes as good as the cheapest dessert imaginable- imagine a Vouvray that tasted like a Twinkie! A million pounds a glass. I'd pay it. If I had it. Easy. 

After finishing the bottle we signed our names on the label. My stupid signature is just three scribbley lines. When I was a kid I would see signatures that were just a scribble and I decided that when I grew up my signature would be just a scribble and now it is and I feel ashamed of it. But the cool twist of my signature is that it says LF but it looks like it says L7. That weird jerk of the wrist that just happens, at this point, is me admitting to the Universe: I am, in fact, a square. 

(Two days later I was sitting on a ladder and had recently cried in the bathroom. I was wearing an apron, which is so symbolic of everything an apron could ever mean to represent, and I mean that as an insult. Like, in an oppression-y way. I am overqualified for my job, which is clearly a gigantic bummer. The sun was shining through the windows I was doing a shit job of "cleaning" and I wished it would be raining again.

I cannot even begin to communicate to you how ugly the sun was. How fat I believed I looked in my apron. 

I slipped my body down every rung of the ladder bum-first. I decided to polish the wine bottles we keep on display at the boot of the floor-to-ceiling windows to remind the strangers walking past that we sell wine here and there it was. The Swimming Poule we'd signed and dated two days ago. I'd forgotten we'd done that, and there and then it reappeared to remind me that I am, in fact, a person.

(I don't know what I'd been thinking I was- either a bone or a tooth?? Best case scenario a branch. Maybe a little chunk of plastic.)) 

LIZ'S THING OF THE WEEK: 7 Guys I Have Crushes On

Here are seven guys I have crushes on this week, in no particular order:

i. IAN SVENONIUSI lied about the "no particular order" thing - Ian Svenonius is absolutely my number-one crush of the week. On Wednesday afternoon I was driving home from buying nag champa and wine and when I neared the stop sign at my cross street I noticed a dude a half-block away; he had white pants and amazing hair. God that guy's hair's just like Ian Svenonius's hair...oh wait that is Ian Svenonius, I said to myself. So I did what any red-blooded American female would do, which was pull over and get out of my car and pretend to go to the coffee shop that Ian Svenonius was standing in front of, and then actually go to the coffee shop and get an iced tea with a shot of fresh-squeezed lemonade. On my way out I walked past Ian Svenonius and got a closer look at those pants (WHITE, BRIGHT BRIGHT WHITE LIKE LIGHT), and stepped right into earshot just as he was saying: "And then rock & roll happened, and blah blah blah blah." So insanely perfect: it's like I walked past Garfield the Cat just as he was saying "Oh hey, so I'm really into lasagna." Life is just that tidy sometimes.

ii. MARC MARON. I met Marc Maron last week; he was so nice and chill. I really want the universe to know that my experience of Marc Maron was that he radiated nice, chill vibes and had a surprisingly warm demeanor. Here's a picture of me and Marc and my pal Alisa; Marc doesn't look all that stoked but I'm sure he was just delighted by us. Total delight all around.

iii. ROB HUEBEL. The big thing I want to announce this week is that I'm so happy Transparent exists and is so intensely heartbreaking and happy-making, and that this interview with Jill Soloway is inspiring and fantastic. I really don't have a crush on Rob Huebel on Transparent, but he's generally very charming and handsome and probably my closest thing to a Transparent crush. Jay Duplass is a very distant runner-up, but in the end his character reminds me too much of too many men who irritate me in my daily existence, and I just can't. Sorry there Joshie.

iv. MARK DUPLASS IN A PEACOAT. Speaking of the Duplass Brothers, I started watching The Mindy Project and of course it's the best. "The Duplass Brothers as midwives" is a beautiful gag that never gets old on me - every single time they show up I'm like, "Oh my god it's The Duplass Brothers...but they're midwives!", and it's majestic all over again. I don't love Mark Duplass even half as much as most women my age seem to, but Mark Duplass as a midwife in a peacoat: stunning.

v. ELLIOTT GOULD. A few weeks ago I watched The Long Goodbye for the first time and now I understand that Elliott Gould is one of the best men who's ever walked the earth. I love how his Philip Marlowe is always lighting matches off unlikely surfaces; my favorite's when he lights a match off the stereo at the Malibu beach house. Also: did you know that Elliott Gould and Barbra Streisand have a kid and it's the wastoid boy from the party scene in Say Anything - the one with the crazy hair, this kid? They were the greatest couple too. Oh my god:

vi. DEVENDRA BANHART. I saw Devendra at the Hollywood Bowl two Sundays ago; he played with Andrew Bird and Caetano Veloso. All in all it was gorgeous and magic night and Devendra was such a goofball; his stage persona was very Lohanthony-esque, except entirely darling and benevolent. At one point he started talking about how he lived inside the Hollywood Bowl, saying something "I found it on Craigslist - it was cheap. Like me!" and then making this cutesy "Aren't I so adorable?" face/gesture. He was also wearing a really nice blue sweater, which you can see in this cute pic of him and Caetano Veloso. Such sweet little imps.

vii. OWEN WILSON IN THE INHERENT VICE TRAILER. I was so in love with the three seconds with Owen Wilson in the Inherent Vice trailer, I forgot to be in love with the three seconds with Benicio Del Toro. Owen's just blowing minds with that camo hoodie and facial scruff, and now I'm extra-psyched for my annual early-autumn viewing of The Darjeeling Limited, which usually happens on a Sunday morning in the first few weeks of October, in bed, with some milky/sugary black tea and a nice autumn-y pastry, like a goddamn pumpkin scone. Or maybe a chocolate pear scone, or an oatmeal brown butter scone - or just all the cinnamon scones in the world. To me it really doesn't get more classic-October-y than the Whitman Brothers + cinnamon. 

JEN'S THING OF THE WEEK: My Favorite Doctor

I saw my favorite doctor this week. He 1. noticed my haircut and 2. said it looked great. I'm also healthy or whatever.