Sunday, September 30, 2012

To the Lightning Rod: A Review (sort of)

So I'm back after a short hiatus caused by nothing other than focusing my free time on things other than blogging. This may happen a bit more in the coming weeks because I'm starting a screenwriting class on Wednesday and some of my writing energy may need to go toward that. (And I hereby solemnly promise to never subject my readers to unfortunate excerpts from my attempts at Screenwriting 101. You are welcome).

On Friday, I went to see a dance performance at BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is a theater, event space, and movie theater that always runs cool shows). A week or so ago I entered a facebook contest that gave me membership to BAM for a year and also free tickets to Friday's show. I was excited, mostly about the free membership, but also because I would never buy tickets to see a modern dance performance on my own. It's not that I don't like dance, it's just one of those things, like monster truck rallies and comic conventions, that isn't on my radar. Here is the sum total of what I knew about the show going in: it was a series of excerpts choreographed by Tony award-winning Garth Fagan (who did the Lion King, which I still haven't gotten around to seeing). I didn't even remember the name of the show when I got to will call to get my tickets (in my defense: the show is called Lighthouse/Lightning Rod and Griot New York). I hesitate to call this a review then because it's clearly the rambling opinions of someone who knows very little about the medium. Nevertheless, my thoughts:

I can appreciate dancing on an aesthetic level and find I'm usually just amazed at how these people have the same technical body parts that I have but that they are able to do so many more things with them. Their athleticism and ability is astounding. From a purely visual level, I thought the show was wonderful. The dancers all had such an incredible energy. I enjoyed the more fast-paced energetic ensemble dances the most, but there were a handful of excerpts that were slow moving pairs contorting and entwining themselves in interesting ways that were also very impressive.

The staging was very minimalist except for one element. For each excerpt there was a different large prop on stage. These ranged from a large barbed wire, huge chain, tiki head on its side, inflatable balloon space ship thing, and (given what I now know is the show's name this one was the least obtuse beyond the slavery imagery ones) two lightning bolts during the finale. Some of the props added something to the scene, but very rarely were they used or acknowledged as part of the dance. And for many of them I wasn't sure what they had to do with the dance at all. Which comes to my larger problem with understanding modern dance (much like modern art in general and specifically performance art): I seldom look for the meaning in it. When staring at a Jackson Pollock painting the people around me, and the MOMA seems to support this claim, are clearly seeing something I am not. It's like a magic eye where everyone else is seeing some cool hologram and I'm still just staring a paint splatters. Or maybe it's that I'm just too lazy to look for the meaning and I would prefer to just enjoy things for their surface beauty (which is yet another good reason I didn't pursue graduate school in English...). Often when I judge modern art of any kind it's on the misplaced rubric of: "I can do that" or "I can't do that." If I see a red square painted on a blue square my first thought is that I could do that easily and so it's not impressive, completely ignoring any deeper meaning that the artist intended and the thought that went into it first.

Either way, I'm willing to accept that for the initiated, a giant fly swatter positioned on stage left symbolizes something highly relevant that would allow the dance to appreciated on another level. And for my part, I appreciated the workmanship.
A scene from Lighthouse/Lightning Rod. I cannot do that.

Hopefully, this membership to BAM will cause me to check out their shows more often and become more informed in my study of the arts. Will keep you posted on that front.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A morning walk

For the past couple of months, ever since I started going to Crossfit, I've been doing the same half hour walk across my neighborhood at 6:30 in the morning to go the gym. The walk, well and the price, was actually my greatest reservation about joining up (especially as I am within a 7-minute walk of another Crossfit gym). So far I don't mind the getting up early (I vastly prefer it to psyching myself up about going to the gym in the evenings), and so far the walk doesn't bother me. I'm a little concerned about how winter will change both of these things as it's already getting to where it's almost dark when my alarm goes off in the morning, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I realized one of my favorite parts of my routine is my morning walk. Those who currently do or have ever lived with me know that I am a morning person in the sense that I tend to wake up early naturally. However, I am not a morning person in that I like to talk to people first thing in the morning and can be rather grouchy until I've had my moment of zen. In fact, when I worked in an office regularly, I used to come in a half hour early partly to beat rush hour on the subway and partly because I liked being there and checking my email before anyone else got there and wanted to chat. Getting out and walking has the same effect. It's meditative. I can think of everything I plan to do that day or everything I did the day before, whatever thoughts I want or no thoughts at all. Before I get to the gym and focus on chit chatting and preparing myself for the day's workout, it's the perfect transition. It's a lovely interval of calm in between my alarm going off and rushing to get ready and then pushing myself at the gym.

Astoria in the morning. Isn't that lovely? Like an Astorian dream, really.

Despite being through a bustling neighborhood in a big city, the walk is fairly quiet. There are generally not too many people out (well except today, when I passed an AT&T store and there were about 25 people in line waiting for the new iPhone. Not sure when the store actually opened, but they were all still there when I talked by again a little after 8...). I've started to recognize those faces I do see. There is the Indian newspaper man who gives out the free paper by the train. Every single day that I see him he offers me a paper, and every day I refuse one but return his "good morning." I would think after this long he would know I will never take a paper with me to the gym, but he's friendly enough. Then there is the old man who is always washing the sidewalk outside his tire store. I'm not sure what his aim is, but his sidewalk doesn't look any cleaner than the rest. On trash days there are often a gaggle of sanitation workers drinking coffee by their trucks before their shift (or perhaps as a break in the middle of it). There is one house I always pass that on some days has a cat in the window looking down on the street from a second story window. On other days, there is a little white dog. I sometimes wonder if they trade off this coveted perch or if each day there is a vicious battle over it and I am only witnessing the victor.

The walk back after the gym is a nice cool down, but it's not quite the same as the walk there. By then the streets are bustling and everyone is on their way somewhere. And I'm on my way home ready to start the work day. I know that when it's cold and truly dark and with layers of snow on the ground, I will suck it up and pay the $2.25 to take the train or the bus, but I will miss the early morning walk times.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tubin', tubin', tubin' on the river

Riding an inner tube down a reasonably quiet river has long been a time honored pastime of summer. Normally, I would be more interested in canoeing or kayaking, but there is something of a draw about knowing you won't be expected to produce any sort of effort to contribute to getting yourself down a river and can instead lay back and bask in the sun while being lazily transported by a gentle current. I have been tubing twice in my life that I can recall (on rivers, that is--I have been tubing on the lazy river at the Spashtown Waterpark of Spring, Texas more times than I can remember). The first was in the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. I was around six; I had an ear infection, and at some point on the river my tube was swept out from under me and I had to ride on my dad's lap the rest of the way. The second time was a bit better. It was on the Comal River near New Braunsfels, Texas. After prom, some friends and I traveled up to New Braunsfels where my prom date's mom had a house. Texan readers and those up on their "famous waterparks of the Southwest geography" will know New Braunsfels to be the home of Shittlerbahn (frequently voted one of the top water attractions in America). My prom date insisted it was closed while we were there and suggested we tube instead. Luckily tubing was quite fun or we would have been more annoyed when the river took us right by the theme park which was very clearly open. So ended my illustrious history of tubing...until this weekend.

Back in early May, when summer was just a glint in New York City's eye, some friends and I stumbled on a groupon deal for tubing on the Delaware River. We excitedly purchased the deal and then started planning when we would go. A series of weddings, weekend obligations, vacations, and rainy days ensued keeping us from using them until this past Saturday. We were a little concerned that the otherwise delightful nip of fall in the air would be a deterrent from tubing. In the end, while it was a bit chilly when the sun went behind a cloud, it was a gorgeous day, full of sun, and an almost empty river to enjoy. 

The Delaware River. We didn't want to bring cameras, so I had to find an image online, but trust me: we were on this bad boy. And we were on inner tubes.
We hit the river about 11 in the morning after a leisurely drive out from the city. It turns out there are actually some very lovely parts of New Jersey once you get away from the turnpike. It took us a bit to get our bearings and develop a proper tube steering technique, but soon we were tubing like pros. Our main need for steering was because the tubing reservation came with a free lunch at the Hot Dog Man. In addition to being already paid for, it was also the only food option along the river, so missing the Hot Dog Man meant not eating. We were told numerous times we would need to get over to the right side of a certain island in order to cash in our lunch wristbands. Given the number of signs and people in speedboats shouting instructions at us, (not to mention the name) we were all very excited to see the Hot Dog Man. I'm actually not a huge fan of hot dogs, but hamburgers were reportedly also an option.

Turns out there is no actual hot dog man. 
When we did reach the much ballyhooed Hot Dog Man, we were dismayed to discover he was actually just a few college kids operating a couple of camping stoves out of a boat. (To be fair, I think the Hot Dog Man is a larger scale operation during the busy mid-summer days.) There were no hamburgers (which is good because there was also no grill or other heat source that would be safe to heat raw meat on) to speak of. The hot dogs were warmed in a pot of boiling water and the other option was nachos (the kind with the yellow cheese you get in movie theaters). After a few hours on the river though, it all tasted delicious and almost like food.

It was a lovely way to spend a day, and it will go down in my book of tubing memories from over the years. And now that this one holdover from summer is out of the way, I can fully celebrate the coming of fall without any reservations. It's apple picking time! Bring it on, fall.

Monday, September 10, 2012

For beetniks

I guess I was a bit premature in assuming I would have so much to write about in September that I would need to curtail the August posts because as it turns out, so far, September hasn't been too much to write home about. Of course that's mainly because I spent much of the past week and weekend catching up on some freelance work, which turned out not to be too much of a loss because it rained or tornadoed most of Saturday anyway. Also, up until this morning it hasn't really felt like fall. Just the hot, muggy end of summer. Fall is by far my favorite season, so after Labor Day I'm pretty eager for it to cool down to an acceptable temperature for baking/apple picking/sweaters/what have you. And this morning, the first glimmer of that could be felt! It's still pretty warm (not a bad thing) but there's a hint of crispness in the air. Now is the time I generally get over zealous and pack up all my sundresses and take out all my sweaters only to have it get to be 90 degrees by the end of the week. I will try to resist that urge this year. Learning from past mistakes is difficult.

At any rate, since I haven't done too much else of note (unless anyone wants to learn about becoming a sanitation worker or marketing a digital movie, in which case I am a fount of information), I thought I'd include a recipe. It's been a while, after all. I've been ignoring the weather patterns and getting into the swing of things with fall baking lately. Mostly I've been doing the type of baking that helps me get rid of farm share vegetables that I've grown tired of (the downside of eating seasonally) by hiding them in cakes. To that end I made a delicious chocolate zucchini bread the other day, but I'm not going to share the recipe because it's nothing special (Add cocoa powder and chocolate chips to a regular zucchini bread base. Done.) However, I did make a fairly delicious beet cake the other day by combining a couple of recipes in an attempt to use up a couple of beets that were just past their prime. The result was surprisingly tasty.

Clearly, this is not of a beet cake. I'm done taking uninspired food photos. Until I can figure out how basic lighting works, I will be stealing photos from the Internet. These are what beets that are not past their prime look like.

Makes one 8 inch cake round.

2 medium beets
1 tsp vegetable oil
6 T butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
juice of one orange

zest of one orange
1 cup sour cream
1/2 powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375. Wash and dry beets and cut them in half. Place them on a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle with oil. Seal the foil and roast in the oven until tender (45 minutes to 1 hour). Reduce oven to 350 degrees.

Allow beets to cool. They should peel very easily. Once you remove the peel, grate the beets and set the shredded beet aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat until pale and fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla and beat to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry incredients. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mixture alternating with the milk. When all combined, add the orange juice and stir to combine. Try not to overbeat.

Turn into an 8 inch cake pan and bake for 30 minutes (or until an inserted skewer comes out clean). Allow cake to cool.

While cake is cooling, beat the orange zest, sour cream, and powdered sugar. Taste, and add more sugar as needed. When cake is cool, frost!

This cake turned out delicious and for beet haters (I know I have at least one blog reader who fits this description), you don't taste the beets at all. All that comes through is a beautiful color, a slight earthy sweetness, and the oranges.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cute towns, good eats, and tennis

So when I said I would be writing an indiscriminate number of posts about the August times, that number just became two. Mostly because I realized I don't have that many photos (and really, without photos it's just me blathering on about my life), but also because if I spend all of September reminiscing back on August then it'll surely throw off the rest of my year off. After all, when then will I find time to write of all the awesome things I hope to accomplish in September (my calendar is actually currently very open, but in New York in the fall you don't really have to go too far to find something awesome to fill your time with)? If all else fails, I can always plan this wedding or something.

But anyway, onto the last post of August (which is actually the second post in September)! Where last I left you, we had just attended an occasion of matrimonial bliss and were heading west across Massachusetts to the Berkshires. We ended up at the adorable town of Stockbridge, Massaschusetts. Apparently Norman Rockwell lived there for much of his life, and being there really made his view of America make a lot more sense. One of his paintings is actually of Stockbridge's Main Street which looks absolutely the same over fifty years later. Stockbridge is also home to a very fine chocolate shop. 

Just a little bit of the Stockbridge cuteness. Replace those cars with carriages (and maybe the smart car just with a horse) and it might as well be 1815. 

 Here is the Norman Rockwell museum which was actually incredibly interesting. I hadn't realized how many politically charged works he had in addition to the everything-is-hunky-dory ones for which he is most known. They also had his studio (not pictured) on the site which they had brought over on flat bed trucks shortly after his death.

 We stayed near Stockbridge in an inn outside of the town of Lenox. I got this picture (or, oh fine, my dad did) of fog rising over the mountains from the balcony of the hotel.

 My mom wanted to go back and check out this historic covered bridge that was on our route. I can appreciate the novelty of covered bridges and it's certainly a very New England thing, but I guess I can kind of see why they stopped making them. I mean...what's the point of covering a bridge? Clearly, there are many who don't feel as I do though as when I googled this bridge trying to get information on it, I encountered not one but three separate covered bridge preservation societies in Massachusetts alone. Keep fighting the good fight, covered bridge enthusiasts.

 Another jewel of my mom's pre-trip research was the Kent Falls State Park. Outside of (also cute) Kent, Connecticut, there are a number of picturesque waterfalls. Or actually just one which they, for some reason, describe as 17. That said, it is a lovely park and has a nice quarter mile trail up to the falls vistas. You can see my mom and I in the right side of this photo, mentally preparing for the ascent. It was the perfect respite after a few hours in the car and (minus a few bug bites) a beautiful place to spend an hour.

After checking out the town of Kent and trying out their chocolate shop (for comparison purposes) we returned to beautiful (if not always cute) Astoria. I had to work the next couple of days (a fortunately rare occurrence this August) but my parents continued the fun by galavanting around the city going to museums and attending the Dr. Oz show. I would meet them in the evenings for delicious meals and and, at one point, a show (Speaking of: go see Peter and the Starcatcher, it's great. You don't have to have had a weird childhood obsession with Dave Barry to appreciate the humor--although I'm sure that didn't hurt. Also, they do have a lottery.)

 A small glimpse of the food odyssey that was my last week or so. I'd heard about Prune, but never eaten there. Very much recommended.

On Friday, I was back to being a non-working lay about, so I was able to join my parents at the US Open. I am not an avid tennis watcher, but it was fun to see some people I'd actually heard of play. That Djokovic is such a card. After he won, he did a little dance to Carly Rae Jepsen's illustrious only song "Call Me Maybe."
There's me doing my best to avoid sun damage in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Also, weirdly it looks like I'm trying to touch the hand of that random teenager. For the record, I don't know that kid.

The rest of the weekend was a blur of gluttony and good times with family (nice to have that two weekends in a row) ending with a cocktail party which led to a rather lazy Labor Day. Now I'm back to the ole grindstone beginning a four day week which will sadly only lead to more five day weeks. I actually really do like my job, but I will miss the August times.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A bright day for a nice wedding.

It's been a weird month updating-wise. Three right at once, and then nothing for a couple of weeks. Basically, I spent the last month of August completely off my regular routine. I had off more days than I worked. I traveled to three countries and four states. I haven't been in the city or seen most of my close friends for the entire month. I turned in a book to my editor. And, needless to say, I haven't had much time for blogging. But now that September has arrived and I'm very nearly back to having to work full five day weeks for the foreseeable future, it's time to revisit a few of the events of the past few weeks). I was able to see a lot of family (and many readers of this very blog!), so it's been a fun time.  I'm going to indiscriminately divide up our adventures into a few posts.

The first in a long line of exciting things is that my aunt came to visit. I don't have any photos of her visit, but we explored the city and visited a few of my favorite eateries. It was a beautiful day, so we mostly just walked around--the better to see more. We did duck into the powerful A/C provided by the Met for a couple of hours though. I like their roof display this summer, "Cloud City." Definitely superior to the boring metal sculptures of last year. Well done, Metropolitan Museum.

After a whirlwind tour of the city, we headed north to Boston! My cousin got married at a beautiful estate outside of Boston. I was also able to stay with another cousin who lives outside of Cambridge along with a bunch of other family. Below are some photos of some good looking folks all gussied up:

 Don't we clean up nice? It was a beautiful day for an outdoor wedding.

Here's a cocktail hour action shot with my aunt and sister. I was probably searching for the watermelon gazpacho with marscapone at this point. Not that I would try to copy anyone else's wedding...but their caterer sourcing all the produce from the farm on the estate certainly made everything delicious. 

Another wedding action shot. The bride and groom played a number of songs with the band! 

 Here's my family a little less gussied up, but still looking lovely on my incredibly hospitable cousin Sally and her husband Terry's porch.

All right, can't get back into this whole blogging/working/not just sitting around eating all the time thing all at once. That's enough for now! Will definitely try to update with the next leg of the trip soon. A involves Norman Rockwell.