Archive | January, 2011

Penelope: NYC Restaurant Review and Mini Mythology Lesson

31 Jan

My sister treated me to lunch at Penelope on Friday, which was the perfect antidote to the snowy day.  The shabby chic look of the décor, in white and powder blue, reminded me of my Victorian dollhouse.  There were antique-looking light fixtures, salvaged wall art, and even a picket fence at the hostess desk.  Located in the Curry Hill area of New York, Penelope (159 Lexington Avenue, at 30th Street) is one of the cuter little restaurants in a neighborhood dominated by Indian buffets and grab-and-go bagel shops.

If you’re in the mood for a sophisticated take on comfort food, head over to Penelope.  The menu offered up so many vegetarian options, though there were also plenty of meat dishes.  There was Ellie’s Spinach Pie, which is described as “yia yia’s greek country recipe” [sic]; The John-Oliver, a goat cheese and olive tapenade sandwich on cranberry-pecan bread; and Grilled Three Cheese, which for a buck more you can add artichoke hearts to.

I ended up getting the Mac & Cheese.  It wasn’t quite as good as the one made at Chat’n’Chew, but I loved that they put tomato on it—just the way my mom serves it.

For dessert, my sister and I split a Peanut Butter Blondie, and I had a latte.  So good!

Next time, I’d like to come for brunch.  Their Nutella French Toast sounds amazing.

When Jennifer Potenza opened the restaurant in 2003, she named it after her pet turtle.

Fans of Greek literature, though, may remember that Penelope is also the name of Odysseus’ faithful wife in The Odyssey.  While much of the action in Homer’s epic poem revolves around the adventures of cunning Odysseus, who fends off the Cyclops and the sexy Sirens, it is also a story of profound love.  There’s no reason for Penelope to believe that her husband has survived when, days turn into years and still Odysseus has not returned from the Trojan War, and yet Penelope remains faithful to Odysseus by refusing to accept offers from any of the one hundred (108 to be exact) suitors that come into her life.

Twenty years later, Odysseus returns.  Penelope doesn’t believe it’s him at first, and it’s only after he tells the secret that only he and she knew about how part of their bed is made from an olive tree that she believes it is truly him.

One can pick out Penelope in artwork because artists depict her at a loom and with her legs crossed.

Gripster: Can Greeks and Hipsters Coexist?

28 Jan

All that talk about Portlandia made me wonder what the Greek population in Portland is like.

According to census data from, oh, about a decade ago, .5% of the population in Portland is Greek.  The Pacific Northwest city has its fair share of Greek restaurants and holds one of the biggest Greek festivals in the country.  Still, Zest reports that the hipster movement is pushing out at least one Greek diner.

Can Greeks and hipsters coexist in Portland?

Well, he predates the aughts’ hipster culture, but Art Alexakis is at least one example of a Greek-American—and a Christian—who came out of the alternative arts culture of Portland.  Although he’s originally from Los Angeles, it wasn’t until Alexakis moved to Portland that he formed the 90s band Everclear.

Writing Wednesday: Consider This Me Updating My Website

26 Jan

Barbara Vey recently wrote a blog entry called “Update That Website” for PW.  The article is aimed at authors who either don’t have a website at all or fail to update it.  She suggested that even writing one blog entry a month is enough to keep readers interested and let them know that you are indeed alive and working on your next writing project.

Well, consider this me updating my website.

Given the publishing industry’s emphasis on writers using social media, I’ve gotten the impression that writers should be in constant communication with our readers.  I wonder, though, what readers really want to hear about from their favorite authors.

How often do you think authors should update their websites?

What sort of content do you want authors (meaning ME!) to update their website with?  Do you only want to hear news related to the specifics of an upcoming book and speaking engagements?  Do you want to read about the creative processes?  Do you want to know what was for dinner last night?

The Quotable Greek: I Know Nothing

24 Jan

One thing I know, that I know nothing.

This is the source of my wisdom.

~Socrates

Gripster: Portlandia, Hipsters, and Greek Myth

21 Jan

The new IFC series Portlandia has been getting major press.  My eyes have been rattling around in my head, they rolled back so far.  Are hipsters still in?

But, after seeing this clip about how in Portland the dream of the nineties is still alive, I’m amused.  Plus, I love Fred Armisen.

Portlandia is also the name of a sculpture located at the entrance of the Portland Building (1120 SW 5th Avenue, in Portland, Oregon).  Sculpted by Raymond Kaskey, it’s based on Portland’s city seal, which features a woman, the Queen of Commerce, in Classical garb, brandishing a trident.  Wikipedia quotes The Morning Oregonian as stating on March 22, 1878, that the lower portion of the seal contains a wreath of myrtle.

Sound familiar?

The Greek muse Erato was often portrayed wearing a wreath of myrtle and roses.  Interesting, since Portland is none other than the City of Roses.  Erato, the muse of lyric poetry, is often depicted carrying a lyre; however, Portlandia carries a trident, which is the traditional symbol of the Greek god Poseidon.  The irony here is that with its sheaf of grain, the city seal was supposed to recognize Portland’s agrarian, which a pitchfork would have symbolized.  The similar-looking trident symbolizes fishing, and Poseidon used it to wreck havoc on the land by creating earthquakes.  Of course, the Queen of Commerce is standing by a body of water so perhaps she is also Queen of the lower Columbia River.

Another possibility is that Portlandia is based on the Greek goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite.  Aphrodite is often depicted with myrtle and roses.  She is often positioned by the sea, but she holds a scepter instead of a trident.  Aphrodite is the Greek incarnation of the Phoenician goddess Astarte, whose symbol is the star.  In the seal of Portland, a star hovers above the Queen of Commerce.

It’s interesting the way Greek mythology resurges, insinuating itself in pop culture.  Does this mean we might be seeing Greek hipsters—Gripsters—in Portlandia?

Portlandia airs tonight at 10:30 on IFC.

Christian Resolutions

20 Jan

Part 2 of my look at New Year’s resolutions was published on Burnside Writers Collective yesterday.  In part 1, I asked “Does God Laugh at Our Resolutions?”  Now in part 2, I look at “Christian Resolutions.”  It starts:

I’m tempted to write a satire called Christian New Year’s Resolutions.  It would go something like this:

  1. Pray without ceasing.  Ever.
  2. Don’t watch secular television.
  3. Become a physically fit Proverbs 31 woman.
  4. Read the bible every day and nothing besides it.
  5. Go to church every Sunday.

Is there such a thing as Christian New Year’s Resolutions?

You can read the rest on Burnside.

I started to have some self-doubt about my writing–this piece included but writing in general–and I’m so encouraged by the comments I received on this article.

Larry Shallenberger, author of the books Divine Intention: How God’s Work in the Early Church Empowers Us Today and Lead the Way God Made You, said, “If there were a “like” button, I’d have pushed it.”

Diane Nienhuis, a Burnside writer and food blogger whom I met at the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College (she picked me up at the airport, she’s so sweet!), wrote, “Well said, Stephanie! Beautiful!”  She also shared some of her own resolutions.

Michael D. Bobo, who tackles a highly controversial work of art in his thought-provoking piece “Ants on a Crucifix,” currently featured on Burnside, and as it turns out writes the Claremont Christianity Examiner, which is in the California town where I went to undergrad (small world!), said, “Thanks Steph for getting us back to the basics in 2011.”

And, my editor, Jordan Green, said, “This is tremendous, as if that would be a surprise coming from Stephanie.”  Wow.  Jordan recently cowrote the book Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture and just wrote what is probably the most thorough review of the new IFC show Portlandia there is.  Incidentally, I once met Jordan in Portland.  (We did not Kombucha tea.) (PS. Check back here tomorrow for a bit of trivia on the Greek influence on Portlandia.)

Anyway, the reason I mention all this is two-fold:::

1.  To show my appreciate for the comments I received, I wanted to promote what all these other talented writers are doing.  Check out their links.  Buy their books.  Leave nice comments for them.  They deserve it.

2.  To encourage writers who struggle with self-doubt.  As I mentioned, I was plagued by insecurity and almost deleted the article.  Sometimes my writing is bad.  That’s the way it goes some days.  But sometimes, and I suspect this is true for other writers as well, my writing isn’t as horrible as I imagine it to be.  Sometimes, it might even resonate with someone.  And that’s why I write.

Writing Wednesday: Making the Most Out of My Writing MFA, Spring 2011 Semester

19 Jan

Winter break’s coming to a close, and I’m getting ready to enter my second semester of the MFA program.  I really want to get the most I can out of this semester.  Unfortunately, it seems like knowing how to get the most out of anything doesn’t usually happen until after the fact, when it’s too late, so I’ve compiled a list of tips from other writers.

While a lot of articles seem to suggest MFA students go into debt for the sake of writing, I’ve chosen to work full time in addition to doing the MFA full time.  I’m the type of person that thrives under deadlines, and if I weren’t working that wouldn’t mean that I was spending eight hours a day writing.  For me, it’s better to carve out special moments for writing.  That could mean during my lunch hour or on a night I don’t have class.  Often, it means most of Sunday.  I think, though, the greater point here is to make a practice out of writing.  Don’t keep putting it off.  Schedule specific times to write and don’t let other events (or Burn Notice–btw, check out author Tod Golderg’s blog) get in the way.

The tip in these articles about submitting struck home for me.  While I’ve always been pretty good at finding places to publish my work online, I haven’t always been as selective as I should.  One of my goals for this upcoming semester is to submit to a literary magazine.

Finding a mentor is probably the most important goal of mine for this semester.  Last semester’s workshops gave me valuable feedback that I’ve been able to work into my rewrite, but I could use some one-on-one time to really talk through some of the issues in my work.  I need to talk with someone who understands the type of writing I do and has suggestions for ways to improve my writing and where I should be publishing.

Those are my top MFA-related goals for the semester.  What are your writing goals for winter 2011?

Vasilopita Cutting at the FOS Kick Off

18 Jan

I recently wrote an essay that involved an experience I once had at a vasilopita cutting.  I look forward to sharing it with you sometime in the future.  In the meantime, I want to encourage you to come out to the vasilopita cutting at the FOS kick-off party Thursday night, January 20, 7-9 PM, at Kellari Parea.

In addition to the vasilopita cutting, there will be savory appetizers and a cash bar.  Admission is $25 in advance and $30 at the door.  $100 makes you an event sponsor.  Kellari Parea is located at 36 E. 20th Street in Manhattan.

The kick-off event will present Faithbook: The Orthodox Church as the Ultimate Spiritual Network as the next series topic for FOS, a Greek Orthodox fellowship led by Father Frank Marangos at Holy Trinity Cathedral.

You can listen to an interview about FOS at Radio NEO.

Church Hopping on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

17 Jan

During the March on Washington, in which Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, at what church in Washington, D.C., did more than 700 people meet?

Find out in my Church Hopping column, archived at Burnside Writers Collective.

Throwing Crosses in the Hudson River

12 Jan

I once saw a priest in Brooklyn throw a cross into the muddy waters of the Hudson.  It was a frigid January day, yet a bunch of boys jumped into the river to save the cross.

What would possess a priest to throw a cross into the river?

Theophany; or, as most westerners call it, Epiphany.

The word “Theophany” comes from the Greek “τα Θεοφάνια,” which means “appearance of God,” and January 6 is the feast day that commemorates the incarnation of Jesus.  It celebrates His birth and baptism.

When St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove.  God spoke from the heavens, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17, NIV).  It marked one of the very few times that all three characters of the Trinity—Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God—revealed themselves at the same time to man.

Jesus’ baptism marks His first step toward Crucifixion, according to Orthodox theology.

And so, on January 6, Orthodox priests throughout the world throw crosses, symbolic of Jesus’ crucifixion, into bodies of water, symbolic of His baptism.  This is called the Blessing of the Waters.  Volunteers jump into the water to retrieve the cross.  The priest, according to tradition, prays a blessing on the person who gets to the cross first and brings it back to him.