Pamela Harris

Over the Rainbow January 7, 2014

In the evening the pup curls up in the kitchen in front of the radiator and we go in the living room and sit catatonic from wrangling her all day. We put a baby gate up between the two rooms and a blanket down on the kitchen side, since that's what we did with Opal. Opal would lay there happy to see us, happy to chew a chewy. This dog isn't having it.

Ginger whines and whines and we try to ignore it. Eventually she gets on her kitchen bed with her ass toward us and sulks. (We peek over the gate to check on her and she scowls.) The other evening she sat quietly at the gate and the next thing we knew she was coming over the top of it with a grin. In a flash she was racing through the living room toward Opal's old bed. She dove on it and curled up, as if to say I'm not budging. Opal was willful, but this dog is like nothing we've ever seen. She's now in the living room part time. Like us, it's better to work with her than solely dictate what she can do.

2014 is kicking in. A new dealer I'm working with sold a drawing and that shipped out yesterday. I love selling a drawing at the start of a new year. It always feels good.

Sunday morning I baked a coconut bread, which is really a cake, but if you call it a bread you can eat half of it in one sitting. I adapted the recipe slightly from Bill Granger's original:

2 large eggs

1 1/4 cups (295 ml) milk

1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon table salt

2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup sugar (I use turbonado; use a little more if you use white)

5 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) sweetened flaked coconut (I use unsweetened)

3/4 cup chocolate chip bits

6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted

Butter and flour for baking pan, or a spray oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add sugar and coconut, and stir to mix. Make a well in the center, and pour in egg mixture, then stir wet and dry ingredients together until just combined. Add butter, and stir until just smooth — be careful not to overmix.

Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Spread batter in pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, anywhere from 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan five minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Serve in thick slices, warm. You can also serve it toasted, with butter and confectioners’ sugar.

The New Year December 31, 2013

The city is filled with tourists and all want to stop and say hello to the pup. Her favorite thing is to sit at the corner and wait for whomever is coming up the block, and when she makes eye contact she starts to wiggle all over. No one can ignore a wiggling puppy.

Around this time of year I ask myself what I want to take into the new year and what I'd like to leave behind. I try to set aside time to seriously consider this and if I can't get quiet or am too fried from raising a puppy I chat with myself while I run around the neighborhood doing errands.

What's great is I want to bring pretty much everything I have with me. I'd like to meditate more, so I want to bring more will to do that. What I want to leave behind is the useless stuff that goes through my head where work is concerned, the residual loop tape from way back when that has nothing to do with who I am today. It doesn't add to what I do, make me better at what I do or help anyone else get better at what they do. Each year it gets quieter and quieter, hence not having much to leave. This has been a good year and I'm grateful.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog, sends me emails about it and leaves comments. It feels really nice. May your next year be filled with ease and fun. The happiest New Year to all of you.

Happy Holidays December 26, 2013

What a great couple of days. With the dog being a chewing machine we thought it best to stay put for Christmas and Christmas eve so we planned a menu and started cooking. Christmas Eve was stuffed artichokes, linguini with clam sauce, cream puffs and chocolate chip cookies. Christmas was stuffed mushrooms, antipasti, a vegetable roast with a cilantro curry sauce and apple pie. Plus more cream puffs and cookies. In between we spoke to a ton of family and friends, but not for too long because heaven forbid a morsel of food gets ignored.

The cream puffs were a major hit. Joe dropped some off with our neighbors and now we're the building sweethearts.

Little Sally Woo Hoo got all sorts of great loot, from stuffies to chew toys to a peanut butter laced dinner and a yogurt laced lunch. Every walk has been filled with tourists wanting to pet her, meet her, take their picture with her and now she pulls on the leash toward the local hotel so she can sit in front of it and be admired. Oh, to be this dog.

The happiest holidays all.

First Play Group December 21, 2013

I love this dog. She's a cross between Einstein and a dented can. 

We barely had to train her to sit, lay down, go to the door if she wants to go out. She got it immediately. She eats from food dispensing toys to slow her down - one spins, one rolls - and she got it first try. She's learning 'leave it' and is actually starting to leave it, which amazes me given what good food and pebbles and cardboard New York City streets have. She loves to sit on the corner and be fawned over by the parade of life that goes by and she's even learning not to jump on strangers. Not bad for ten weeks old. 

She careens into walls, into us, she's too lazy to get off her bed so she tumbles butt over head to get off. She barks at plants, at a flag waving two blocks south, at her water dish. I'll move to sit with her and she'll dive on my lap and flip onto her back and freeze, which means rub her chest and head. She kills me she's so completely transparent.

We took her to a puppy play group and at first she hid behind Joe, under a chair, behind me. Then a terrier her size came over. Ginger sniffed at him, then slowly inched out from hiding. Five minutes later she was a banshee, running amok. Chances are she's never played with puppies her age or size and oy did she love it.

Last night she saw a neighbor's door was open and charged into their apartment looking for their boxer. That's what's so interesting about this pup, seeing what she's fearless over and seeing what scares her. It doesn't always make sense, but to her it does and right now that's what matters.

Settling In December 17, 2013

I think she's getting comfortable.

Ginger December 14, 2013

I fell in love with a picture of a grown pitbull on a kill shelter’s site. Joe had been looking at puppies because he didn’t really want a dog who was the age Opal would be. If I wanted her, however, he was ready to go get her. Then she got adopted.

A few days later Joe got a text from Joan, the woman who fostered Opal for the ASPCA. A very young puppy had been abandoned and Joan had her. Did we want to meet her?

Joan had kept Opal’s sister who looked identical to Opal and sent us a picture of the puppy with Opal's sister. Though we liked that there was a connection to Opal I fell apart, not sure I was ready for a new dog. But Joan also sent us a picture of the puppy with her other dog, a pit that looked like the adult version of this tiny pup. The puppy looked so fragile, so exhausted, so sweet. We knew that if we met her we’d take her, but meeting her would also show us if we were ready.

Long story short, we have a new puppy. A growly, grunty, nasally pipsqueak of a pitbull we've named Ginger. My first day with her I panicked – she was so different, so not what I knew and I missed my Opal terribly. Within 24 hours I was turned around. This dog is completely herself – Joan called her a badass and now I know why. She’s a seven-pound chatterbox of a battering ram who plows her stuffies around the kitchen then dives on her bed and throws them into the air. She's a constant sound effect; what I thought was wheezing is her version of gurgling chatter. During the night she snores like a beast, bleats like a lamb and squeaks like a piglet when she dreams.

I have no poetry to talk about her since she’s up every two hours at night howling to pee and we haven’t slept much in days. What I do have is smitten love for this dog. She has a mad crush on Joe and wails every time he leaves the kitchen, but from the looks of things the crush is mutual.

We didn’t replace our Opal; we added to our family. The last few days I find myself asking Opal for help, for guidance, when this little one is dragging her bed across the kitchen floor or wailing because she's been left alone for twelve seconds. I swear I hear Opal laugh - she's been there herself. She says don't worry little one and I don't know if she's talking to Ginger or me, but it all becomes okay.

The Highline December 6, 2013

(photos by Pamela Harris except for the second photo which is anonymous)

About a week after our dear Opal passed we went outside and aimlessly headed north. Near 12th St. we went west and ended up climbing the stairs to the Highline. The Highline is a gorgeous park built amidst what used to be elevated railroad tracks. It runs for about 20 blocks (with more to come) through Chelsea.

Years ago I used to show with a gallery on West 22nd St. and the dealer lived above the gallery. We would sometimes climb onto her fire escape to be eye level with the tracks, which were ten feet away. We could barely make them out under a tangle of grasses, plants and flowers, a wilderness here at the edge of the city. The street below was a gay cruise spot and the dealer and I would contemplate the beauty of this deserted expanse to nowhere, and then look down and watch a guy get a bl*wjob. (I'm not a prude. The server bounces anything explicit.)

Over the past decade every empty lot, gas station, taxi stand and undervalued building in Chelsea got razed or rebuilt. In much of the new construction, the architects seem uniquely interested in manipulating the skin of the building via undulations or unique materials. These buildings also have organic footprints and are constructed out of a mishmash of parts that randomly jut wherever. Some of these buildings are spectacular in how they seamlessly transition from the outside to inside and show the architects complete vision down to the screws. In other buildings, especially residential buildings, the transition is rocky and results in a lot of wasted space where odd angles create useless corners, foyers that are larger than bedrooms, or awkward unusable space between dining and living rooms.

One building I love is the new New School building on Fifth Avenue in the village. It looks like something dropped from the sky and gouged out part of its facade. I never tire of looking at it, a test for a building's staying power. The skyline in Chelsea is all new and chaotic, an architectural free for all that has no rhythm yet. It reminds me of the lines of people I see outside the passport office around the corner where hip hop stands next to Yiddish Theater which stands next to Spanish telenova who's next to Brooklyn hipster in front of the Burmese monk who's robe clashes with the Muslim's Keffiyeh. The only thing this line has in common is how oblivious each person is to whomever is next to them. That's how Chelsea's skyline feels, like each building is waiting its turn for attention so it can do its business then get out of there.

I miss the dog. We're getting another for sure, but today it's raining and Opal would balk at going out so we'd all pile into the living room and eat snacks and watch hours of TV.

Our internet went down for the week of Thanksgiving. Ironically, I was working on a post about how electronics don't last and how connectivity can be temperamental despite an absolute reliance on both. The post started in my head a few months ago, when I read Sheryl Sandberg's book, 'Lean In.' In it she has a throwaway line about Facebook's culture, how the goal there was to make something 'good enough.' Not great, not perfect, but good enough. I get that products can be improved upon and, given how fast technology changes, being the first one in matters. But to me 'good enough' means it's not ready, it's not finished, it still needs work. Right as I was putting self righteous fingers to keys, we lost our connection. For almost a week. And that's what I think of good enough.

Galleries and Me November 25, 2013

(photo above by Henry Chalfant)

Since May I've been leaving most of the galleries I work with. This weekend I took my work out of the last one on my list. My work is changing, their programs have been changing and contextually we no longer fit.

I've been exhibiting work since subway cars looked like the photo above, and it's not something I take for granted. Working with a gallery can be great, being represented can be, too, plus they sell work. I was never a great fit with the galleries I just left and was staying out of fear, out of ego, and a tween of laziness. I've been too busy to sit and really figure out what I want, and it's time. It feels great to have these exits behind me.

Right now I don't know what comes next. The art world has changed in every way possible since I started showing and selling work and I don't know what the next right step is. I'm going to see some friends over the holidays, see some shows and get through a deadline. It's so funny how life goes. Ten years ago I would've thought I was crazy to leave galleries and today I'm really excited to not know what's coming.

Double Butter November 8, 2013

"How about I make you something in double butter?"

This was 2008 and my mother was in the thick of undergoing chemo. She had been a great cook yet a terrible eater; obsessively watching her weight meant some days all she'd allow herself was a slice of raw tomato on half a plain bagel. And three vodka martinis. With her weight dropping steadily, however, I managed to get her hooked on French toast that I grilled in double butter, a butter that had twice the fat and a super rich taste. I'd add almonds to the pan near the end of cooking and sprinkle the whole thing with confectionary sugar and I loved watching her eagerly dig in. I was even making her bacon to go with it and the second the bacon would hit a perfect crisp she'd demand it on a plate so she could eat it before her French toast cooled.

Our mealtime routine had finally gotten some rhythm: she'd sit at the kitchen table swinging her feet while she called out what she wanted, and then she'd stare out the window while I cooked. I loved cooking for her and would cart linguini or spaghetti from Rafetto's and homemade mozzarella from Joe's Dairy with me every few weeks I went up to be with her. I'd saute peppers and onions and bits of bacon in a kind of fake carbonara sauce and watch her devour it. If she ate half the plate I was thrilled, given her lack of appetite. To get even a few bites into her felt like a success.

This evening she didn't want pasta or French toast or roast chicken or even ice cream. "I want ..." She looked out the window at the townhouse condo across the road from hers. "A black family just moved in there. The son is handsome." She looked at me and wiggled her eyes. "Maybe we'll see some good action."

Her small condo complex was a typical middle class complex with short streets named Fox Run Road and Pheasant Hill Lane where everyone speed walked in pastel sweatpants before the cocktail hour began. A few townhouses made a 'unit' and a handful of units sat around a pond while the rest sat around each other on curvy little streets. In the middle of it all was a pool, tennis court and clubhouse.

The people across the street were actually Ethiopian and my gut said they were wealthy and were living there temporarily. (Which it turned out, they were. Living in New York has taught me well.) When I told my mother what their ethnicity was she just stared at me, confused. "I want to eat something different. Go look at my cookbooks."

She had a shelf of them under a desk and as I called out each title -- "Not that one, not that one, not that one" -- she yelled "That one!" when I got to The Sisterhood Cook Book from Temple Beth El in Swampscott, Massachusetts. She was going back to her roots.

This was a benefit cookbook where the ladies of the sisterhood solicited everyone they knew to include their favorite recipes and then sold the book to benefit the temple. This version had last been updated in 1975 and when I opened it to a random page I read cream 1 lb. lard and 1 lb. butter. Flipping through it quickly - the biggest section was for desserts - I found the main courses and began to call out recipes. "Hamburg Noodle Bake. Quick and Easy Stuffed Cabbage. Sweet and Sour Tongue. Meat Blintzes."

"No no no. Read me the names. I'll know what I want to eat by who wrote the recipe."

I went to the casserole section of the book. "Carrot Tsimis and Knadle, by Rose Silberstien." No response. "Sweet Potato Pudding, by Ruth Goodstein." Silence. "Potato Knadle, by Helen Harburg." I flipped a few more pages and got to Meats. "Beef With Horseradish Sauce, by Ruth Solar. New England Boiled Dinner, by Hope Gushen. "

"We went to a Bat Mizvah for someone's kid and Mitzy Fleggand - she was Hope Kutcher's cousin - "

"Hope Gushen."

"Hope had on a dress from Saks that was so beautiful. She paid full price and didn't tell her husband. He would've died! Her daughter -- she's either a Catholic or a lesbian -- there he is!" My mother started to frantically wave. I looked out the window and her Ethiopian neighbor was walking to his car. He waved back, friendly, and got in his car. "He is so handsome."

"He's about twenty-five mom."

"Like Don was. Do you remember my Donny?"

My father died when I was fourteen and soon after she had a new boyfriend, Don. She was 39 and he was 22. Don started staying over a lot until my sister Rachel attacked him with a can of peas and then they started going away. "I remember Don well," I said. "Two weeks after dad died he came downstairs in dad's bathrobe. What were you thinking?"

"He was a looker. He looked good in your father's robe."

"You'd go away and leave me with Rachel. You know how many times I had to sleep at a friend's or pull an all nighter somewhere - I slept in a church once to get away from her. Meat-Filled Mashed Fucking Potatoes, by Helen Younger."

"Oh - Helen is Mortie's cousin. You know Mortie, he was Norma's ... or was it Franny's ... Franny hates her daughter-in-law. Can't stand her. Says she's fat and ugly and is a terrible cook." It would be another year before we could talk about the past.

"If my mother-in-law thought I was fat and ugly and a terrible cook I wouldn't be nice, either."

"You don't have a mother-in-law. Can't you find a man anywhere?"

"No, but thank god I found an excellent therapist. Beef Stroganoff, Kosher Style, by Doris Finberg."

"Doris was lovely. Her mother was married to Mitzy Feinstein's uncle who had a sister ..." I watched her face quickly consider all her Jewish geography pairings and then she went blank. She looked at me, suddenly near tears, and her face filled with remorse. My heart started pounding and just as quickly her face changed. "Look for recipes by Hope Langbird. She's a wonderful cook."

"Is that his sister?"

"Who's sister?"

"How'd you like French Toast in Double Butter with Lightly Fried Almonds, by Pamela Harris?"

"That sounds good. And I want bacon, too." She started waving at the window again. "There goes Bill walking his dog! Wave to Bill!"

I waved to Bill and kissed the top of her head. Then I got out the double butter.

Halloween Parade November 2, 2013

Every year on Halloween, our block and those surrounding it get cordoned off as the staging area for the big Halloween parade. The night before we watch police and others come around to bolt all the mailboxes shut and lock down all the manhole covers. By mid-afternoon, floats and groups working on the floats and groups working the giant snakes and dragons that take 10-30 people to maneuver show up, along with a few hundred police. Barricades go up at each end of our block and getting home means having to show ID. (A restaurant on the block bribes the cops with coffee and clean bathrooms, and in turn the cops let diners through.)

By 7:00 p.m. there are about 2 million spectators lining a mile worth of blocks, and about 50 thousand costumed participants ready to march in the parade.

The bottom picture shows how quiet the day begins. I went out early for a meeting midtown, then walked home and stopped by Citarella to get cockles and parsley (we made linguine with clam sauce to celebrate the parade). By 10:30 p.m. the last of the disco floats pound their way uptown and the neighborhood slowly gets back to normal. For years I'd watch it in the village and go to parties after, but now my favorite thing is to head out as the first organizers show and snap a few pictures.

The day after Halloween you'd never know it happened, except for the bits of glitter and fake fur and a shoe here and there that the street sweepers missed.