Sunday, July 31, 2011

Root, root, rooting for the home team

Ever since the new Yankee Stadium opened a couple of years ago, it has been on my list to go see a baseball game as a quintessential summer activity. Well, perhaps "on my list" is overstating things a bit, but I did suspect at some point in my life I would end up there. After all, without having any interest in baseball, circumstances beyond my control have already found me in baseball parks twice in my life. Last Friday, the stars aligned, and my inevitable trip to cheer on the Yankees in their homeland occurred. The circumstances in question arose from my boyfriend's cousin being in town from England. Being British, he had never had the experience of baseball game attendance, and, being a 20-year-old boy and sports fan, he wanted to. At first, I was ambivalent about going, citing the need for male-cousin-bonding. However, on reflection, I realized this was my chance to see a baseball game with someone who actually knows less about the sport than I do. These chances don't come around every day.

The night of the game, the weather forecast predicted heavy rain. Not to be deterred, we trooped up to the Bronx. One of us wore a red and white striped tank top planning the wardrobe choice thusly: baseball is America's pastime and red and white stripes are reminiscent of the U.S. flag. Turns out, wearing anything other than navy and white to a Yankees home game will cause you to stick out like a red and white striped thumb. But no matter! We quickly located our seats and begun exploring the stadium, that I had been promised would contain restaurant and bar options to appeal to even the most bored of baseball spectators. And the stadium did not disappoint! There were culinary delights from hot wings to sausages, and everything had the option of being drowned in liquid cheese. The downside, and the thing that is no doubt paying for the ritzy new stadium, is the prices. $12 for a beer? $10 for garlic fries (albeit with cheese--you really have to get them with cheese)? Between the three of us, we probably purchased over $100 in consumables. The problem was the power of suggestion. When the person next to you has a plate of deluxe nachos, even if you aren't hungry, you find yourself needing a plate of deluxe nachos.

Thanks to an iphone app, we were able to approximate our ballpark photos as if we experienced them in the 1930s. This particular photo was taken just prior to downpour #1

One of the reasons we had time to eat so much was because they delayed the game for two hours. About 10 minutes before scheduled game time, what can only be described as a monsoon hit. Luckily, our seats were the last row of the bleachers, and the only row covered by a small overhang. It was actually kind of fun (in a schadenfreude sort of way) to watch all the other people in the stadium run from their seats to wait under covered walkways. After it had been pouring for about a half hour, my boyfriend got a text from the New York One weather alerts he is subscribed to letting us know that there was a severe thunderstorm warning in the Bronx. Thanks, New York One!

You can't see it, but this was taken in the middle of a huge downpour. You can however see the state-of-the-art infield covering tarp, the purchase of which I'm sure was made entirely with proceeds from the sale of liquid cheese.

There were a couple of false starts where the grounds crew had the tarp literally in their hands ready to uncover the infield, only to scurry back inside at another deluge. Eventually, though the field was dried, fixed up, and ready to be played on. That night the Yankees were playing the Baltimore Orioles which is kind of funny because the only other baseball game I can remember attending (I have been told I was taken to another at the age of 3), was about 15 years ago, and we saw an Orioles game in Baltimore. It's almost like I'm a fan. As I recall, the Orioles lost that game on their home turf, but in the game we saw (probably because it was all different players) they did much better. In fact they beat the Yankees 4-1. This was a blow for the British cousin who had been led to believe the Yankees were really good. He kept filming Derek Jeter at bat just in case he did something awesome, and Derek Jeter continued to take up his camera memory with strike outs every time. Other than Jeter and A-Rod (who was out of the game on injury), the only other Yankee I'm familiar with is Nick Swisher. He's an outfielder who I met at a breakfast for an event to combat children's poverty. Apparently, he started a charity called Swishes Wishes to help disadvantaged children. He seemed like a very nice young man. He also struck out at bat a lot.

Look at all the other diehard Yankee fans! Many of them were trashed. At $12 a beer, I'm not sure how they managed that.

We left during the 7th inning because the game was running super late (due to the aforementioned 2-hour rain delay), but luckily we did stay to see the Yankees get a home-run (their only score of the game). Mission accomplished. Overall, I'll be honest and say going to the ballpark was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I forget, when seeing baseball on tv at bars and thinking how mind-numbingly boring it seems, that when you're there in person, you do get caught up in the excitement and energy of the spectacle. Also, those garlic fries, which are worth very penny.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A night not at the opera

Prepare to have your minds blown, any readers whose minds are easily blown. Last night I actually did in Astoria! I should say I spend many evenings in the neighborhood, but they are so often spent in less than blog-worthy ways (hiding summer squash in various foods, listening through the door in horror at the Darth Vader like sounds emitted by my neighbor's elderly pug, staring into my computer screen hoping that sheer force of will will make words appear on it, etc). It's not that there aren't a constant barrage of fun and fascinating activities in Astoria at any give time, it's that I'm too lazy/tired/busy/forgetful to actually do them.

Not so, last night! At Socrates Sculpture Park, a mere two blocks from one of my first apartments in Astoria, the Metropolitan Opera was having a showcase of arias in the park to drum up business for their new season. The park is about a 15 minute walk from my current apartment, and is essentially the walk I used to make to the train every day when I lived out there. However, now that I've grown spoiled by living close to public transportation, it seemed much farther than I remembered. However, the park borders the water, so it received a nice summer breeze, and--once we installed ourselves on a picnic blanket and poured some cups of water--it was quiet pleasant.

The performers were very talented, and mostly stuck to crowd-pleasers from Mozart and Rossini. It was just nice to enjoy a free evening in the park on a summer evening listening to music. Also, unrelated, being in Socrates Sculpture Park brought to my attention the inordinate number of puggles living in this neighborhood. It's like every other dog you see! There are a lot of events at Socrates in the summers ranging from classes in urban chicken raising to documentary film nights. I'll try to get over my mental block about trodding the path I walked every day for a year my first year in New York and attend a few more of them.

Naturally, my photographer captured a few shots of the evening:

The view from the park. Of the sky. Captions aren't really necessary for these probably.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Two plays, both alike in dignity

Shakespeare in the Park is one of my favorite New York institutions. Mostly because it's free theater, and I work in children's book publishing. But also because it's outside with a stage overlooking a lake and the productions are, without exception, fabulous. Normally, it can be a bit difficult to get tickets, but this year there were no Al Pacino's to speak of, so it was a (relative) breeze. In fact, the only person in the cast who looked even vaguely familiar appeared in such films as Confessions of a Shopaholic and The Happening. She also (according to imdb) had a bit part in Revolutionary Road, which must be why I recognized her. I think she was the secretary that Leonardo Dicaprio cheats on his wife with...but I'd have to watch that movie again to be sure, and nothing could induce me to plan a repeat viewing of that movie.

But at any rate, due to the relative ease of procuring tickets, I actually went to both shows this year, which naturally led to my comparing the two. I thought the productions of Measure for Measure and All's Well that Ends Well were both good, but preferred the latter. But beyond the notes on each director's approach to the material (MfM was kept in Renaissance Italy, while the director of AWTEW transported the action to WWII era Europe), I also couldn't help but compare the two plays themselves. Seeing them relatively close together causes me to note how similar the two are, although perhaps many of the conventions I noticed are true of most Shakespeare comedies, and I just don't usually watch them in such quick succession.

This photo isn't from the production I saw. You can't take pictures at Shakespeare in the Park. In fact, there is an army of Public Theater volunteers whose whole job (as far as I can tell) is to scan for photo takers and then stand over them menacingly while they delete the photo they just took. I fear and respect them too much to try anything.

Both plays were written about a year apart, and both run the farcical gamut from clever to ridiculous. Both involve the convention of the "bed-trick" (seldom seen outside of Shakespeare comedies, 18th-century French farces, and daytime soap operas) in which the man is seduced and convinced he is sleeping with one woman, when another woman takes her place in the dark. Also, in both cases, the woman who tricks the man into sleeping with her is a scorned ex-fiancee/wife. There was also a great similarity in dialogue between the two plays, which again is probably true of all the comedies. The strings of insults between the character of the sharp-tongued older gentleman and the foppish cad could be lifted from either play, and I doubt even the savviest of Shakespeare scholars could tell the difference. Also, both plays have a strong female lead who drives the action by having to respond to the ridiculous scenarios laid out by men--one because she must prostitute herself to save her brother's life when ironically he is to be executed for the crime of fornication, and the other because her husband refuses to sleep with her until she is pregnant with his child. Oh the hijinks!

At first I thought it odd that they would put two such similar comedies playing concurrently, but then it does seem like they play nicely off each other. Anyway, if any of my readers are currently in New York and looking for a good (and free) time, you should definitely check out Shakespeare in the Park during the final week of it's run. If for nothing else, then to enjoy the fact that the line for tickets is actually less than the line at Shake Shack these days.

Monday, July 18, 2011

MAD at the world

This weekend I saw the coolest exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design. Dare I say even cooler than the Met's Alexander McQueen exhibit that everyone is raving about? Well okay, that's not really fair because it's like comparing apples and oranges (or rather apples...and some fruit no one's ever heard of before). But yes, my one quibble with the Alexander McQueen exhibit was the huge crowd. Not so at the MAD's Otherworldly exhibit, as this museum, perhaps by virtue of being off the museum mile, gets a fraction of the Met's traffic. This is a particular blessing for this exhibit because the entire thing is composed of miniatures, which naturally require the viewer to hog each piece for some time while they marvel at the amazing and minute details of every work.

I've always had a soft spot for miniatures. The ability to capture all the details of the world in diminutive form never ceases to amaze me. There are clearly some very talented people in the world who possess patience and hand dexterity that I could only dream of. I remember one of my favorite things in Prague was the Museum of Miniatures. It may seem kind of ridiculous in a city as gorgeous as Prague to fixate on the place where you can see tiny gold keys welded onto each leg of a flea, but I was also there in January so any heated room was going to catch my fancy. Alternatively, any place that served mulled wine. But I digress.

combines the real with the surreal in a fascinating way. From a cross section of Canal Street in the 197os showing the subway (complete with posters and graffiti) running beneath to a seemingly endless field of flowers that is actually only 4 or 5 inches long, all of the pieces play with our sense of perspective on a tiny scale. I snatched some pictures from the website, which I'm insisting on putting on here, but it's all a little silly because you can't really appreciate the detail or scale in a 2-d image. While it may pale in comparison to the real thing, I'm posting these in the vain hope it will help you understand why I'm going apeshit over miniatures.

This is the Canal Street Cross Section mentioned above. Each one of these layers is maybe 7 inches tall.

Here's a close up of the subway interior detail. All it needs are a few drug dealers and pimps and it would a dead ringer for a 1970s New York City subway!

This one isn't a miniature, but it's still pretty cool, so I'm willing to forgive it that.

This one is good to get a sense of scale since you can see the cord. It's a 4-room doctor's office.

This is only 1 of the 4 rooms (!!) in the above model. It's actually a painting that the artist did of the model, but trust me, every one of those details appears in the real thing.

This one was my personal favorite. It's not from the museum site, but rather something my friend got on her cell phone. It's the artist's tribute to Ionesco's Rinoceros. What I think is so cool about it is that in real life the bevilled glass totally looks like a mirror until you notice that the reflection of the rhino is facing the wrong way. Whoa.

Okay, if you aren't of the opinion that miniatures are one of the coolest things ever, then I probably should have made some sort of disclaimer at the beginning of this post to spare you from my gushing. However, if you are in the New York City area (before September 18) and you DO appreciate the wonder that is amazing things in tiny packages, then you owe yourself a trip to MAD.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A cupcake a day keeps the cravings at bay

Er, so this whole "being out of town the first 10 days of July" thing means I likely won't make my self-imposed blog post quota for the month. Luckily, I'm pretty sure that only matters to me, because my readers are all forward-thinking, dynamic individuals whose lives do not revolve entirely around my blog. Nevertheless, I'm an online publication junkie and if I don't publish at least a few each month, I'll develop some sort of twitch brought on by the delusional certainty that someone, somewhere might be desperately wanting to know what cupcakes I made this week.

Well, wait no longer, cupcake-loving reader! This week was a co-worker's birthday, so I naturally made some mini cakes. I don't actually know the birthday girl that well, but then when have I let that deter me from an excuse to bake? The only thing I knew about her cake preferences was that she didn't care for chocolate, and preferred fruity sweet things. As luck would have it, I'd just encountered a delicious looking apple cupcake recipe on The Sweetest Kitchen. I skipped out on the dulce de leche filling (not because I don't think it would by transcendently good, but because I got home late and was lazy), but otherwise followed the recipe precisely, so I'm not going to bother posting it here as well.

I made no changes to the composition of the cupcakes, but I did make a couple of cosmetic changes. Yes, the simple pecan on top of cream cheese frosting background is understated and elegant, but office birthday parties require more panache than elegance. I went a different way with it:

They're little apples! Which you can't really see that well because I haven't fully figured out the simple photography concept of "proper lighting." But each is red frosted with a chocolate covered pretzel 'stem' (I figured the chocolate hating b-day girl could overlook this small detail for the greater good), frosting leaves, and a gummy worm half peeking out. Actually in some ways, this picture is an improvement because the hue seems somewhat apple-y. In real life, these were more of a hot pink. I kept adding red food coloring and yet never achieved a rich, red color. After the 20th drop of food coloring, I started to have images of lab rats dying of cancer and settled on cotton candy colored apples.

So there you have it, readers: apple cupcakes. Not quite as healthy or fiber rich as their unadulterated natural counterpart, but I maintain that anything with gummy worms on it is good for one's inner child.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Photo Journal: Treasures of Texas Edition

Those of you truly faithful readers might have noticed I was absent from posting this last week. I didn't announce my leaving because I was pretty sure 99% of my readers knew where I was and who I was with. Also, just in case any of my less faithful readers wanted to take the opportunity to burgle my apartment, which may or may not actually be located in Astoria. At any rate, this year, as always, July heralded scorching weather, displays of patriotism, and summer vacation. My exotic vacation locale this year: Houston, Texas. Also: Austin, Texas. Actually, really a fair amount of central-ish small-town Texas as well as the Gulf Coast region.

The central focus of the trip was family. That's not entirely true either. It's fair to say the reason for the trip was family, specifically my sister and I and our significant others uniting at my parent's house for the week. However, the central focus of the trip--as with any vacation--was most decidedly food. Each meal naturally led to the discussion of what the following meal should be to best complement the current one. The gluttony was only paused when our styrofoam contained leftovers could no longer fit within the bounds of the refrigerator, and we were forced to consume them before continuing the food odyssey. It was glorious!

Per the usual, I'm (mostly) avoiding showing pictures of people (who aren't me--I sold out my privacy a long time ago) in them. However, if you are one of my readers who might have a personal interest in seeing one of the lovely full-family photos taken on this trip, email me and you will have some forthwith!

Where we spent the bulk of the 100 degree afternoons. This is what makes Houston, a city with the humidity level of Vietnamese jungles, a habitable place.

The Fanthorp Inn in Anderson, TX (population: 208, and yet somehow still the county seat). This building has been around since 1834 which (by Texas history standards) is really old. They also have a model stage coach on the property (the inn used to house stagecoach passengers and drivers delivering mail) and offer rides. Sadly, the Fanthorp Inn Historic Site will be closing in September, so if a trip to Anderson, TX is in your plans for the late autumn, you might want to push that up.

We journeyed to Galveston Island to go to the beach. While there my boyfriend and I created this sand face. It originally started out as a portrait of me, but the concept was abandoned when it started to take on Cro-Magnon features. I chose this photo rather than many showing the actual beach at Galveston because while the water is delightfully warm and great for swimming, this particular part of the Gulf Coast is not a conventionally attractive shoreline.
Nevertheless, the Galveston beach is a great reminder of my childhood.

Another fond memory of my childhood: making tamales. Although skipping the traditional lard, our tamales are delicious and totally worth the 2 days of cooking that go into making them. Although I'm not sure I can really say that as it's really my mom who does the lion's share of the meat preparation while the rest of us just jump in for shuck stuffing at the end.

The Art Car Museum is a treasure of Houston springing from the annual Art Car Parade. This particular vehicle is made almost entirely of spoons and other cutlery.

Another Houston gem: the beer can house. Created by a retired upholsterer and beer drinking enthusiast who began siding his house in beer cans in 1968. It is now an art piece although the artist himself says of the work, "Some people say this is sculpture, but I didn't go to no expensive school to get these crazy notions."

Some of the aforementioned gluttony. It doesn't look as formidable here as in real life, but believe me, this is quite a pork chop.

This photo requires a jump from Houston to Austin, but it seemed a fitting follow-up to the previous photo. We saw this porker in an Austin resident's front yard near the place we got drinks on South Congress.
The Capitol in Austin, a building my sister describes as "pink." The Texas Capitol is the largest in gross square footage of all state capitols and is second in total size only to the national capitol in Washington. I'm including my source for this fact because certain Californians doubt its veracity.

Barton Springs, in Austin, is a spring-fed swimming pool that stays consistently 60 degrees around the year. Very refreshing on a 105 degree day! Apparently, it's also the only known home of the Barton Springs salamander, an understandably endangered species.

Overall, I had a lovely trip. It was wonderful to see family, old friends, and to make one new one. Now it's back to the daily grind, but I should remain pretty relaxed for at least the next day or two.