Monday, June 25, 2012

Failing and succeeding at weekending

This weekend marked the second much-coveted summer Friday of 2012, so I was determined to make plans and follow through on them. Unfortunately, the best laid plans so often go awry.  So too, apparently, do the poorly configured plans of mice and men. A co-worker friend who also induldges in a little light gambling ($5) each year on the Kentucky Derby, suggested we go out to the racetrack. Spending a day enjoying a beer and watching the ponies seemed like a nice summer Friday activity (added to which the last time I was at a racetrack many years ago, I won $97 on a $2 bet on a longshot named Infectious Spirit). During the week, we confirmed that we would meet at the track at around 12:30, as my friend said the first race started at 12:50. It would take me about an hour and a half on the train to get there, but I had a good book to read and the whole day off, so it didn't phase me much.

I arrived at almost the last stop on the A train and journeyed with a sea of old men to the entrance of the casino and race track. My friend, who was driving had left me a voicemail saying he would be late, so I decided to explore on my own. Making my way to the track, I quickly discovered there were no horses anywhere. All of the people there were betting at the casino or on races at other tracks. I assumed that he had just made a mistake about the race times and figured I would wait until he arrived to sort out the confusion. Unfortunately, when he called to say he had arrived, he told me he was outside on the bleachers in a white hat. Once outside, I had a sinking feeling. I asked him if there horses where he was, and of course there were because he was at the correct race track. We'd previously discussed going to Belmont and going to Aqueduct but for some reason we'd never actually verbalized which one we would be meeting at. He had assumed the former and I the latter.

Aquaduct Racetrack. One of the more depressing feats or architecture in the city, as photographed from the train heading to Belmont. I would have cut my losses at this point and gone one stop on the train further east to get to Rockaway Beach, but the foreboding clouds seen here suggested that would be foolhardy. 
Not to be deterred by the fact that I was at nearly the last stop on one train line while the correct track was a bus ride after a train ride at the last stop of a completely different line, I made a game plan. By paying $10 for the JFK air train that connects the two lines, I reasoned I could be there in an hour and a half and still catch the last few races. This would have been a reasonable plan if, when I surfaced from the subway to wait for the bus, a monsoon hadn't hit. It was a full on thunderstorm, the likes of which I've seen only a handful of times in New York City. I didn't have an umbrella but ran for cover in the bus stop. There was so much wind and rain though that I was soon completely soaked. No matter! Eventually the correct bus came, and I was able to spend the next 20 minutes drying off and enjoying the ride. At some point, I got a text from my friend that races were suspended do to the aforementioned monsoon and that he was probably going to take off soon. I quickly called him to ask him to wait (since one of the only reasons I was persevering in this ridiculous commute was because he'd promised me a ride home). He didn't pick up and I had no idea how close I actually was to Belmont, so I got off the bus and headed for home. At some point he did call me to say he'd wait for a bit and that racing was about to resume, but at that point I was heading back and had decided 5 hours was plenty to spend in pursuit of horse racing. On the plus side, I'm almost done with my book for book club.

Who needs parks? In New York we picnic in the streets. 
The rest of the weekend was far more successful however. For one it was sunny nearly the entire time, and I took advantage of that by picnicking, attending the Renegade Craft Fair, and going to see a movie at the Nitehawk (which is an indoor theater, so it really wasn't taking advantage of the lovely weather at all, but on the plus side, it's one of those theaters where they serve you beer and food during the movie). We saw Moonrise Kingdom which was silly but fun.

A lovely day at the Renegade Craft Fair.

Mostly unrelated, but last week was my turn to volunteer at the farm share. This means that after the people at the church that we donate extra veggies to had taken their fill, there was still tons of kale that was just going to composted. I didn't want to see it all go to waste, so I ended up taking home about 4 pounds of kale. Normally, I either saute it or make kale chips, but the sheer abundance of it coupled with the fact that it was 90 degrees last week, made me look for alternatives. I found this delicious kale salad which I not only made in gigantic quantites for myself but brought to the picnic on Saturday. The only change I made was leaving out the currants because I'm not huge on dried fruit in salads and the dressing was already sweet enough. Very much recommended. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blast from 2004

I've been thinking a bit about high school lately. This nostalgia, if you can call it that, was brought on in part by a friend talking about her 20th reunion (and the fact that she wasn't attending) as well as going through files on my old laptop as part of an archival project to save my old photos and college papers before it no longer turns on. I think, all things considered, my memories from high school are fairly positive. Granted, I didn't know or particularly like but a small percentage of my graduating class, but I did have some close friends (a handful of which I'm still in touch with) and some fine memories. At any rate, this time warp curiosity led me to check out my old xanga (the now-mostly-defunct blog/tumblr/wordpress platform of the new millennium). Unlike my livejournal from college days, I'd never been ashamed enough of my own angst to take it down. Looking back over it, I see why. There is actually remarkably little angst. In fact, in some ways I seem like a more sunny and optimistic person than I am now. (Then again, reading this blog ten years down the line, I likely won't remember any of the less rosy things of the time either.)

For no reason then, other than because I find my younger self refreshing and kinda cute, I'm publishing a few of my favorite gems from an 18-year-old wordsmith in her senior year of high school in suburban Texas.
The xanga's author at graduation. I had the eyebrows of ten graduates.

On optimisim: Yearbook distribution day and the first swim of the season.  Minus one dead possum and this was an excellent day.

On failing to correlate obvious cause and effect: Today was day 2 of being inexplicably happy.  Nothing's any different but I'm suddenly erily content.  Crazy world.
On a completely unrelated event, I saw The Mikado.

On bat watching: Tonight I went to my mother's friend's house for dinner and bat watching.  Apparently the overpass crossing the beltway in walking distance from her house has been home to a colony of bats for the past 15 years.  Anyway after dinner we sat out under the light of a full moon for some serious bat veiwing.  Imagine if you will a trio of middleaged people and one teenager dressed casually for dinner and carrying wine glasses, tramping merrily through the broken glass and weeds along the beltway.  We must have seemed an odd processional to highway motorists.  While waiting for the natural phenomenon of bat flight we listened to the high pitched symphony of thousands of chirping bats and watched the drama of the beltway unfold.  Some truck lost its cargo of some long bits of metal and huge wooden blocks that took up an entire lane about 100 yards from where we stood.  It was amusing to watch the cars swerve wildly around it until eventually enough of them ran into it head on (causing a delightful crunching and scratching noise) that the wood was ground to splinters.  And in less then 5 minutes a cop was there to stop traffic and remove the remaining debris.  I was impressed by the response time and wondered who had called it in so quickly.  The bats were quite impressive.

On leaving the nest: I woke up and found a baby bird sitting on the table on my porch.  I couldn't figure out how it got there because it didn't look big enough to fly and the table was a good distance from its nest.  Since it was a beautiful day and since I had nothing better to do, I spent the morning monitoring the baby bird.  It left the table and moved to the bushes beside my pool.  Its mother tried to defend it (from my innocent observations) by squawking.  Lucky for me cardinals are relatively wussy birds and she never once tried to dive bomb me or poke my eyes out.  I decided it was my goal to defend this poor creature as I'd begun to really identify with the bird since I too will soon be displaced from my nest.  Anyway two cat attacks and a tumble into my pool later the bird was fairly well traumatized.  We kept my cat inside that night but the next morning we would let him out.  And then it would be only a matter of time.  But while I slept on, Michelle came to my house to defend the little guy.  My mother said she went out a little before 6 and saw Michelle crawling under my trampoline with a flashlight and a basket of twigs.  I really wish I could have seen that.
(This was from my last post before leaving for college.)

On extracurriculars: Earlier I had a "retreat" for the Multicultural Developement Committee.  Turns out a retreat is just an exotic way of saying a 5 hour meeting in which you're stuck in the library seminar room with people you don't know.
(This one is a cheat because it's actually from my first semester of college)

I guess the real point of this is that it served as a reminder to me of why I continue to update this blog. It is nice to have a record of things that isn't stuck in a word document on a dying computer. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

As I Liked It

As posts from previous years would attest, I'm a big fan of Shakespeare in the Park. I've gone every year to at least one, if not both, of the plays being shown. I like Shakespeare, of course, but mostly I'm just a sucker for free stuff. Previous years (I'm looking at you, 2010) it has been difficult to get tickets and involved waiting in line multiple times in gruesomely hot temperatures. This year, however, my friends and I planned ahead. We went during the first few weeks when the reviews haven't come out and most people haven't remembered Shakespeare in the Park is a thing. Granted, our planning isn't the only reason we had more luck this year. I think the whole system was better organized this year, and also there was no one more famous than Oliver Platt in this production, so the Al Pacino fan boys likely just stayed home. As a result, we breezed right into this year's performance of As You Like It.

Suffice is to say, this is not from last night's production. The Public Theater is very touchy about taking photos. This is from a 1968 production of Romeo and Juliet. Since Shakespeare in the Park is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year though, it seemed a fitting homage.
I remember reading the play in high school, although apparently the only detail I retained is: "Is that the one where the guy writes on trees?" Basically, the play is a mishmash of details and plot contrivances from other Shakespearean comedies, which is why I can't seem to attribute any specific plot points to it. It has the somehow-impossible-to-recognize, cross-dressing heroine (played by Lily Rabe who previously donned the pseudo-trouser role of Portia in Merchant of Venice) who other ladies can't help but fall in love with. It has the pastoral, idyllic forest pastiche where everyone who goes can't help but fall in love. And it has the usual assortment of stock characters: the lover, the fool, the Duke (in this case two fraternal Dukes played by the same actor), the shepherdess.  Admittedly, it does have a few unique twists including a wrestling match and a bizarre deer shooting apropos of nothing, not to mention the iconic line "All the world's a stage..."

But enough of the play itself and onto my critique of the production! Having seen it before the Times review, I feel I can talk about it without being influenced by critical opinion. The play is set in the frontier which gave it a nice Seven Brides for Seven Brothers vibe, especially during the dance scenes. I was fully behind this directorial choice but mostly because I like folk music and there was a great ensemble that played the banjo, fiddle, and guitars. I also though the set was well done. For the scenes that took place at the court, they had a large log fort structure that, was broken into two rolling set pieces that were pulled back to easily transform the stage for the forest scenes. The stage trees blended nicely with the real trees behind the stage (another benefit of performing in the park). The trees were also outfitted so that actors could climb into them which made for a fun aspect of the set.

As the cast goes, I thought it was overall good, but with only a handful of real outliers. I thought Lily Rabe was excellent, but my friends found her Rosalind to be a little too whiny and mocking. My other favorites were then Oliver Platt's Touchstone and Stephen Spinella's cynical and misanthropic Jaques. Since this is the only performance I've seen of the play (pointedly not counting the dramatic reading we did in high school), I'm not sure how much of that is just due to those characters having the best lines, but regardless those two were a joy to watch anytime they were on stage. The actor who played Orlando started kind of slow and definitely underwhelmed me in the first few acts, but after the intermission he grew on me a lot. Although he didn't have a huge role, I also enjoyed seeing Andre Braugher (AKA Frank Pembleton) as the two dukes. Also, and this is really neither here nor there, but I had to look him up on Wikipedia to remember his Homicide name and apparently he is a Unitarian Universalist. So few people are.

Anyway, to sum up, I would whole-heartedly recommend this production. First of all, it's miles ahead of the two lackluster comedies they did last year (Measure for Measure and All's Well that Ends Well? There is a reason they aren't performed more widely.) Secondly, it's free! If you plan to go, you should do it soon. Given my incredible reach, once this review goes live, the lines should increase tenfold. Also, the Times probably isn't far behind me.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sparing you visually unappealing edibles

I haven't mentioned what I've been making lately because I much more enjoy cooking and eating than taking food photos. Making food look appetizing is way farther out of my skill set than making food taste appetizing, I'm learning. Probably because I consider the latter to be far more important. Two of my most recent food favorites are also two of my least attractive looking. In fact, both resemble excrement so much that I'm dispensing with photos all together (although I will still include representative images so that the post isn't too text heavy). I still wanted to share these recipes though because they are delicious.

Bison Meatloaf

I started buying bison meat more frequently because it is the only type of pasture-raised meat available at the grocery store nearest my apartment. (Well, technically, it's the second nearest grocery store to my apartment but the one a few blocks closer inexplicably smells like cat litter and gave my friend food poisoning, though that's really neither here not there). The organic foods store doesn't sell meat of any kind (well unless you count fake meat, which I don't), and the grass-fed organic butcher is a 10-minute walk away. Such are the problems of living in a first world city. At any rate, in my search to find things to do with ground bison meat, I happened upon this delicious recipe for meatloaf. I used to hate meatloaf as a kid (again, it's not the most appetizing looking food), but I have since learned the error of my ways. Meatloaf works ideally for lunches and leftovers as it carries and reheats well. I don't know why I'm trying to sell the world on meatloaf, as I think I'm actually the only person who had to be talked into it.

Not the meatloaf I made.
1 large bulb roasted garlic (this is probably the real reason I like this recipe so much--wrap the garlic in foil with some olive oil and stick in a 375 degree oven for an hour to end up with roasted garlic and a delicious smelling kitchen)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 T olive oil
2 eggs
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
1 carrot, grated
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 lb ground bison
1 lb ground pork
1 c bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350. Saute the onions in the olive oil for about 5 minutes, until tender.

Squeeze the delicious garlic paste out of the bulb and into a bowl and add all the ingredients (including the onions) except the meat and bread crumbs.

Mix well and add the meat and slowly incorporate the bread crumbs. I always just mix with my hands.

Shape into a loaf that is more long and wide than tall (try to keep the height down to 3''). Don't use a loaf pan, but just shape it onto a roasting pan.

Put in the oven and cook for about an hour. Experience meat loaf heaven.

The second recipe I tried recently was for frozen yogurt. It's basically a play on the old frozen-banana-avocado=instant creamy soft serve non receipe. Only with actual yogurt in it. It also isn't especially beautiful, but it's tasty!

This doesn't resemble the frozen yogurt at all, but I wanted to keep with the cat theme.
2 avocados
2-3 bananas
1 c Greek yogurt
1-2 T honey
1/2 cup cocoa powder

Mix all ingredients in a food processor and then transfer to an ice cream maker. Simple and delicious. I wanted to add chocolate chips too, but someone in my household ate them all before I got the chance.

Any readers have any delicious recipes they care to share? Specifically ones with radishes in them would be most helpful as my farm share is inundating me with radishes.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I want to ride it where I like

The first few years I lived in New York, I had a bike that I never used. It was bequeathed to me, and I was convinced that having a bike would be the crucial step to becoming an avid cyclist. It wasn't, and I spent the next two years moving that bike from Astoria to Brooklyn and back to Astoria. Roommates and their boyfriends' borrowed the bike many times, but I only rode it twice in the entire period. When I moved into my current apartment over a year ago, I finally parted with it as I reasoned if I didn't use it when I only had to bring it down one flight of stairs, I certainly wouldn't bring it down four flights. Consequently, the last time I was on a bike was a long time back and for a short duration. 

This all changed this weekend. Some friends convinced me to sign up for the Tour de Brooklyn--a 21 mile bike ride around the aforementioned borough. I was able to borrow the bike of a friend who was out of town and arrived in Brooklyn bright and early Sunday morning to begin the journey. We couldn't have asked for better weather. Blue skies and warm, but not uncomfortably hot. We rode through several neighborhoods I had never been to before including Bay Ridge which is quite a lovely little hamlet and Fort Hamilton which is actually a working army base. I for one was surprised at how many hills Brooklyn has. The ride itself was fun, and the group moved at a nice slow, family pace. Several people toted babies or dogs, which, as an amateur, I found very impressive. And not all were even pocket or purse dogs. One guy had a full sized corgi bursting out of his backpack and occasionally seeking opportunities to lick the back of his owner's neck. 

Although we had a police escort and a number of amazing volunteers who held back traffic and allowed us to stream through the streets, I was still amazed at how aggressive pedestrians and drivers are towards bicycles. One of the reasons I never really used my bike when I had it was because I'm sort of terrified of New York drivers, so the police escort was a huge basis of the Tour de Brooklyn's appeal. Part of the reason, we witnessed so much anger from cars and walkers is probably because we were toward the back of a pack of 2,000 cyclists, so by the time we were whizzing by, people had already been waiting for 20 minutes or so. New Yorkers do not take kindly to waiting 20 minutes or so.

I didn't bring a camera (per the usual), but my friend who is a wonderful photographer took these shots:  

Some of the 2,000 bikers taking it to the Brooklyn streets.

A view of the bridge to Staten Island from Brooklyn. 

Our crew, resting for a bit in Sunset Park, while waiting for the bike traffic to clear up.
I got home from the ride about 4:00 and didn't want to do anything else all day. I had promised a friend I would go to a zumba class with her, but I realized on the train ride home that had been fool hardy. Instead, I drank the weird sugary energy drink that had come in some charity gift bag a month or so ago and made myself a giant plate of biscuits with sausage gravy. Not a bad Sunday.