Monday, July 30, 2012

The case for fame

This Monday update, for once, has nothing to do with my weekend. My weekend can basically be summed up as: lots of eating delicious food with good friends. I can't help but love the summer BBQ season. But anyway, enough about what this post isn't about (despite setting myself up for that digression), and onto what it is about: the quest for fame. I finished reading The Narcissism Epidemic a few weeks back which posits that the quest for fame and fortune and the need for self promotion via social networks (and, er, on say, personal blogs) is what is creating our generation of entitlement. I agree with a lot of what the book says, but honestly that's not what this post is about either. Bear with me.

I don't have a real desire to be famous. The cons seem too great (people actually care what your feet look like, you're statistically more likely to have stalkers, and people other than your family and arresting officer want to make fun of your mug shot, to name a few). However, I've recently been compiling a list of things famous people get to do that would almost make the cons worth it. Well, really it's more that I wanted to post these links and had to figure out a tangential connection, but hey, maybe it will encourage me to actually finish my no-doubt-fame-inducing young adult fantasy novel!

 1) You get to meet Koko the gorilla. This is apparently an experience reserved for "celebrities and dignitaries." Such as Robin Williams.

 2) You can go to Antarctica for free. Well specifically if you're a famous artist or writer, but I'm sure they'd let Justin Bieber do it if he asked. Also, I admit this particular entry on the list might be specific to my own interests and ideas of what is considered a fun perk. And there's sort of a time limit on this one. At the rate it's melting, I should probably become famous in the next 30 years just to be on the safe side.

 3) You get to meet other, cooler famous people without actively stalking them. As a note, this is perhaps my favorite tumblr. It always seems like every photo could have an interesting story attached.

Case in point: what are Jack Nicholson and Groucho Marx possibly talking about?

4) People give you free food a lot.

5) You can host a fundraiser for President Obama that President Obama will actually show up to. If I got to meet the president, I might throw a fundraiser for him too. But, and this is probably another quirk of not being famous, most of my friends are similiarly shallow pocketed, so I don't think my fund raiser would be that successful. I prefer to use what little fund raising clout to raise money for my attempts at 5Ks.

Okay, that's all I've got. I don't think any of these really make up for having to worry every time you go out in sweat pants, but it would be really cool to meet Koko.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Decisions that are made on rib night

I have news to share beyond the fact that I am updating for the third time in as many days (which is an Astorian Dream first, but also not terribly news worthy). The news instead is that I've agreed to marry a certain man who on this blog has been called everything from "guy I'm dating" to "boyfriend" and even occasionally by the enigmatic alias Chi Chi. My friend H makes fun of the fact that his appearances on this blog have always been like a shadow in the night. A bit of arm sanding a table here. A rare glimpse of face in a vacation photo there. It's funny that I keep a blog basically detailing my personal life, but seldom talk about one of the most important people in it. I guess somewhere along the way one of the lines I've drawn is that I talk about the cats I love, but not the people.

The first picture of us together on this blog. 

Anyway, I'm making an exception here because I'm very excited about this and because I'm awkward and terrible at disseminating news any other way. The proposal was perfect. Quiet and at home. He ordered a rack of ribs from an Astorian haunt known for it's Rockin' Rib Wednesdays and brought me roses. One of the finer and more romantic combinations out there. I'm excited to be spending the rest of my life with someone who feels the same way.

Those who know me know that I'm not a wearer of jewelry. The last ring I can remember wearing is the high school class ring I somehow convinced my parents (and myself) that I would wear all the time. I'm not sure what became of that. This one is beautiful and has far more symbolism and meaning to me than my pride as a Klein High Bearkat though, so I think it will have a much better fate. This caption probably should have been its own paragraph

Beyond his love of barbecue, his skill as a photographer, his willingness to sand and stencil a table perfectly to my ill conceived vision, and his grand luck at winning theater tickets, he has too many wonderful qualities to list. He is one of the most generous and thoughtful people I have ever met. He is smart and funny and kind and all the other traits that sound so cliche when I list them out, but I suppose I can't help that. I won't gush too much, but then again, now is the time I probably should because it's the only time it won't seem insufferable. 

At any rate, thanks for all the well wishes! Sam (yep, that's his name--another Astorian Dream first) and I have appreciated all of them. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Into the Woods in the park

Last night was the opening of Into the Woods for the second leg of Shakespeare in the Park, otherwise known as Sondheim in the Park. The opening was supposed to be Monday but was delayed due to weather (or at least that's what they said, but since they never cancel due to weather, I'm a little  skeptical as to the real reason). As luck would have it, I'm dating someone who has incredible luck at getting tickets through the virtual line (perhaps less lucky for him as a three hour musical is not the enticement for him that it is for me), so we were able to go opening night despite the crazy long physical line!

I should say up front that I'm not sure how objective I can be about this production because I'm such a fan of the show itself. My tech theater teacher in high school played Cinderella's Prince in a production of the show and so he had us watch a recording of the Bernadette Peters version (thinking back, all we really did in that class was watch movies...). I loved it. I've always enjoyed books and movies that reexamine fairy tale archetypes and motifs. Added to which, the wit and fast-paced lyrics in the show are just such fun. I'm not saying it's a perfect show, and it's not without its cheesy elements, but I think it has some good messages without being too heavy-handed. At that point I was hooked, the soundtrack went on my iPod and I spent the rest of high school and the better part of college quietly committing my favorite songs to memory.

Therefore, it is no surprise that I found the show last night to be wonderful. Donna Murphy as the witch was my favorite, although I think in part because her performance seemed to closely mirror Bernadette Peter's. The other actors were all wonderful as well. I thought Amy Adams was excellent as the baker's wife and the actor's who played both princes were also top notch. The only one who I thought was somewhat lacking, in the voice rather than acting department, was Denis O'Hare playing the baker. However, a friend who saw him in Sweet Charity a few years ago said she remembered his voice being great, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was more related to the mic problems they were having. I think they were working through a couple of audio issues on opening night, as a couple of times characters would cut off mid sentence. At first I thought they'd somehow forgotten their lines, but once it was accompanied by some audio noise and I realized it was a mic problem. Hopefully, they get all the kinks worked out as the show progresses, but it was really only a couple of times and didn't detract from the overall production.

I thought the way the production handled certain stage elements was really creative. The set wasn't overdone, but was a wooded scaffolding and tower that, I believe, recycled a few set pieces from the Forest of Arden in As You Like It. For elements like erecting a bean stalk or creating a moving giant or Grandma's cabin, the show handled it by having the cast hold up props that worked together fabulous in unison. I guess I'm not describing it that well, but I thought it was very clever to be able to work out a way to have these elements not appear off stage. The exit of the witch in the second act was also a nice use of staging, but I'll say no more on this for those who haven't seen it.

The most interesting thing about the production is that they made the character of the narrator a little boy who had run away from home. Having only seen one other production of the show, I don't know if this has been done before, but it was an interesting addition to have an added frame story. It tied in well with the themes of the show and especially the last act, so ultimately, I'll say I liked it, although at first I wasn't sure. The little boy who played this part, Jack Broderick, was very impressive. Apparently, he also appeared in Billy Eliot. I wondered if he was the son of Matthew Broderick, but I can't find that verified anywhere online.

Per the usual, you aren't allowed to take pictures in the Delacorte Theater, so instead I'll leave you a video from the other production. Enjoy!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Long Island summer days

I spent the last weekend in Long Island for a quick getaway. It was a relaxing time spent swimming in pools, lazing in hot tubs, and playing ping pong on, well, ping pong tables. We ate well and enjoyed some champagne and strawberries complements of the Glen Cove Mansion Hotel and Conference Center. I don't really have much else to say about the short trip, but I did take some pictures.

I think this might be a record for conciseness. Probably because I didn't spend paragraph writing about how I'm not going to write much.

Friday, July 20, 2012

At least I now know what a burpee is

The same friend who got me interested in the Paleo diet lo these many years ago, also got me interested in the world of Crossfit, as these two things so often go hand and hand. As a side note, I should mention that while I'm still at a point in my life where I love bread and refined sugar far too much to forgo them, that the Paleo diet has weirdly stuck with me more than I would have thought. My go-to meal is no longer pasta, and in fact, one of my favorite casserole-type things to make at the beginning of a week is a "lasagna" with layers of spinach and sausage separated by "noodles" of thinly sliced zucchini. I've continued drinking my coffee black and even find that iced coffee is not too bitter without milk. I also continue to dislike mashed potatoes.

But I digress. I had been curious about Crossfit because, while it seemed possibly a cult, it also seemed like a very friendly cult. Whenever I was around Crossfit people, they would speak in tongues with foreign terms like "burpee" and "AMRAP." But they also seemed weirdly excited about their workouts in a way that I never have been (nope, not even with Tony). When Crossfit Dynamix (may as well plug them since they're a great gym, and right here in Astoria), had a Groupon deal to try it out for a month, I figured my chance to see what all the fuss was about had arrived. The only downside is that Crossfit Dynamix is a good few miles from me, whereas there is another Crossfit gym a few blocks away. I'm cheap and willing to walk 30 minutes at 6:30 in the morning though, so I went with the Groupon. 

The coaches of Crossfit Dynamix. Badasses, all. 
The first six classes were basic Foundations classes to learn some of the mysterious language and the accompanying moves and concepts. After that, us newbies were released into the general Crossfit population to take as many classes as we wanted. So what is Crossfit? It's daily workouts centered around constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement. So basically, the intent is to build strength that you can actually use in your everyday life. They combine movements such as sprinting, rowing, jumping ropes, climbing rope, weightlifting with different instruments including barbells, dumbbells, gymnastics rings, pull-up bars, kettlebells, medicine balls, and many bodyweight exercises. Workouts of the day (or WODs) include a warm-up, a skill-building segment, and a circuit of high intensity exercise--all in an hour. 

I like the compactness of this because in an hour you really feel like you've had a great workout for the day. There is also a very social vibe to the gym (the aforementioned cult-like feel). The same people come to the same workouts most days. In just a couple of weeks, I've learned many names and faces. There's a camaraderie to the workouts. They are also competitive in that you are often timed, but you're mostly competing against yourself to improve your time. Still, it definitely helps me to keep going knowing the person next to me is struggling to finish too. 

I'd like to keep going with Crossfit, but it will depend on how broke I feel after coming back from vacation. Otherwise, until it stops being a million degrees too hot for running, I'm stuck swimming laps at the pool. I'm scared of the people in the fast lane because they're super intense. Even the people in the medium lane, really. Basically, I swim in slowest lane before hitting the older women doing water aerobics. Crossfit could not have come at a better time.

Monday, July 16, 2012

At least we stormed a Medieval fortress

So I've been a pretty lackluster blogger as of late, but I do have some potentially interesting things coming down the metaphorical pike, so hopefully things will pick up in August. After all, if I can't get excited about blogging about potentially interesting things, what hope is there for blogging at all? At any rate, I spent a liberating Bastille Day up at the Cloisters in Fort Tyron Park, thanks to the kindly donation of a couple of museum passes from a Texas patron of the arts. Which is not to say I couldn't have afforded to go to the Cloisters on my own (especially with their whole "pay what you want" donation policy), but it's amazing what having a pass in your hands will do for planting the seed.

I had been to the Cloisters once before when I first moved to the city (which as of this month was four years ago!). The museum is full of Medieval art and artifacts, but the building itself is the real beauty. The museum itself is composed of architectural elements from 12th-15th century Europe and includes a number of beautiful courtyards and views overlooking the Hudson River. It's amazing how by just riding the A-train uptown, you can feel transported to miles outside the city to a hilltop in Spain (not that I'm qualified to make that comparison, having never been to Spain). I took some photos (and encouraged the taking of other photos), to share:

Me in Fort Tyron Park. I dyed my hair (or rather my friend did) again, but it didn't warrant it's own post this time because the novelty has worn off. 

A hazy New Jersey from Fort Tyron Park. 

The Cloisters.

The sign said this Virgin Mary effigy was looking adoringly at the baby Jesus, but I found her expression to be more bemused. 

It's so hard to get good photos indoors without flash.

One of the courtyards. Those are quince trees back there.

The courtyard where they have the museum cafe. We stopped for ice coffee. Exciting!

I just really like this one. 

Is it just me or can you never get tired of courtyard pictures? 

Believe it or not, this is not a courtyard picture at all, but is outside the Cloisters in Fort Tyron Park. They have a lovely heather garden.

A parting shot of Fort Tyron Park. 
After the trek up town, we had dinner in Astoria. The place we went served both wine and fondue, but it was too hot to be in the mood for a piping hot vat of cheese. Instead I toasted Bastille Day with a frisee salad and a tequila cocktail.

Monday, July 9, 2012


I had a lovely three day weekend (after a nice three day week thanks to the holiday) that, in addition to a well spent beach day was exceptionally nice because it was the birthday of one of my dear blog readers (you're still reading, right ChiChi?). I offered to make him the cake of his choosing because he lives with me, and he's pretty great. (Editorial note: This is not to discount my other wonderful blog readers. I would gladly make customized cakes for your birthdays as well but for the lack of proximity issue.) Anyway, his cake of choice was chocolate, which gave me pretty free reign to do whatever I wanted. After all, it's pretty hard to screw up a chocolate cake, and it's exceptionally easy to elevate it to another level of deliciousness. My weapon of choice: salted caramel.

I chose to adapt a recipe for a six-layer cake with layers of salted caramel and a rich, almost ganache-like chocolate frosting. When I say, "adapted," I mean I scaled it down from a six-layer cake to a four-layer one, mostly because I had to transport the cake in a car, and six layers didn't strike me as structurally stable. Well, perhaps six layers can be structurally stable, but I doubted my ability to make that happen.

The cake was made in stages. I was able to bake the cakes themselves the night before as well as make the salted caramel. This was a task made more difficult by the fact that we were experiencing a heat wave. Because of the way my apartment is laid out, my kitchen is always the hottest room in my apartment--it is the only room without a ceiling fan, and its window faces an entrance courtyard that prevents much of a breeze. Add a 350 degree oven and caramel work on the stove, and I was rather wishing his birthday didn't have to be in July. I blame heat for the fact that after I finally broke down and bought a candy thermometer for proper caramel heating, in my heat induced movements, I managed to drop it on the floor while removing it from its packaging. What's less useful than a working candy thermometer? Shards of glass all over your kitchen floor.

At any rate, I resorted to my usual "just wait and see and hope it doesn't burn" method of caramel making and it turned out just fine. To actually assemble the cake, I tried a new trick I read about for cutting cakes into layers. Instead of buying one of those fancy wire cake cutters, you can just use unflavored, waxed dental floss. You place toothpicks along the side of the cake where you want to divide it and then lay the dental floss on top. Then you just pull the loop tight and it cuts right through the cake. Works like a charm! I just thought I'd share that in case I'm not the last person to hear of this trick.

Once I divided my cake into properly leveled layers, I spread some delicious salted caramel on them. Like so.

Here is the cake stacked up, but pre-frosted. Clearly, the structural integrity is lacking in this shot, but I promise it was just because the caramel was hot. Once I shoved it back upright and refrigerated it for an hour, it looked much less like the Tower of Pisa. Looking back, I question why my priorities were geared more toward photographing the cake instead of righting it, but you'll just have to trust me that it turned out okay.

See? Already better. This is the cake frosted, mostly. I realized that my cake carrier was actually touching the top of the cake (the downside of making a four-layer cake, I suppose, and further validation of my decision to not make it six). As such, frosting the top was saved until the cake reached its final destination. Unfortunately, after that happened, I forgot to take a final picture. You'll just have to use your imagination. Picture if you will: the exact image above but with a different shade of brown on top. Also, there were neon candles.

Here's the recipe for those interested in trying it yourself, the only alterations I made to the recipe were scaling everything back by a third. I recommend it fully! Well received by all. Plus I still have extra salted caramel, which will go perfectly with the chocolate ice cream I'm making.

Monday, July 2, 2012

End of June-ing

I'm behind on a couple of paid writing projects (and a couple of non-blogging, unpaid writing projects...) right now, but I don't want to go too long without an update for fear I'll forget everything I've done, and it will be as if none of it ever happened. I have the same problem with my personal journal. I have one of those one-line-a-day journals that runs for five years. When I first started it, I was diligent about updating it every night with a summary of the day. Now I'm lucky if I do it once a week. At one point, I let it lapse two weeks and realized I had no recollection of anything remarkable that happened on a certain Wednesday April 4, 2012. Instead I wrote on that day an admonishment to my future self so that I when I get back around to that day next year, I will make sure to give it its due.

But enough of my less-than-anal journal habits, here is a litany of stuff I've done lately that I consider worth noting so that Future Me will heave a wistful sigh and wonder why I ever took for granted all the time I have on my hands. (Just to clarify, I'm assuming at some point in the future, I will no longer have the same amount of leisure time to do random shit because I'll have honed a successful writing business,  become inundated with rehearsals for my tin whistle jam band, or maybe just finally given into my cat's desire for routine 8-hour-long belly rubs).

I saw the show Empire (part of a traveling circus/burlesque/vaudeville act called SpiegelWorld) last week thanks to some free tickets from a friend. Parts of the comedy aspects of the show, I found more gross and distasteful than funny. Specifically a bit that involved the spitting of bananas. However, the acrobatics and other circus acts were amazing. Some were truly unique. This one man spent about ten minutes slowly balancing a feather on top of a stick and then the stick on top of a larger stick and so on until he was holding a mesmerizing sculpture across the audience. I can't really describe it in a way that imparts how cool it was, but you'll just have to trust me. Or wait, you could just watch this video!

I'll take this over banana spitting any day!

In other news of shows I got free tickets for (thanks to the same friend, but don't worry, I paid her back by helping her paint her living room this weekend), I saw Fuerza Bruta, a show that I expected to be more acrobatic than it was. As it turns out, it's more of a performance art piece than a circus, but it was very interestingly staged. The audience stands the whole time and is directed to move about the performance space in mass. It was a highly participatory show with the performers often engaging the audience or inciting them to dance. The coolest bit was their dancing in a giant pool that lowered down just above the audience. 
Well done, Feurza Bruta
On Saturday night, there was a carnival in Astoria Park, which was not only an excuse to grab a funnel cake, but also a chance to ride the Ferris Wheel. It was a hot weekend, but by evening it was lovely to walk through Astoria Park with a light breeze coming off the water. 

View from the Ferris Wheel in Astoria Park.
And now back to the salt mines as today begins a strenuous 3-day work week broken up by BBQs and beach days. Also, doing some writing. Maybe even giving Dinah a much deserved belly rub.