Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A fourth Twelfth Night

Instead of watching the State of the Union last night (or more accurately: instead of playing bar trivia, as that's what I would have been doing without these plans), last night Sam and I went to see the new version of Twelfth Night on Broadway. The tickets were a final birthday present from Sam (and so ends birthday month). Twelfth Night is arguably my favorite Shakespeare play, and without question my favorite of the comedies. I realized that this performance was the fourth time I'd seen it, in three different states, which also gives it the somewhat irrelevant distinction of "play I'm pretty sure I've seen more times than any other other one." I've thoroughly enjoyed every performance, and it's always nice to see a play a couple of times to compare the different treatments.
Malvolio and Olivia in Twelfth Night.
This particular performance was rather unique. As the New York Times described it in their review (I'm paraphrasing here because I'm too lazy to look it up), it's so hip because it's so regressive. The show along with its repertory counterpart Richard III, both transports from a version in London's Globe, was meant to recapture the original Shakespearean experience of Elizabethan England. The detail that went into this feat was truly incredible, and it really did seem to capture all of the bawdiness and audience interaction with the stage that was such an important part of Shakespearean theater. While the necessity of an indoor space in order to perform on Broadway did detract only slightly (along with the occasional anachronistic ambulance siren I could hear going by), everything about the performance added to the illusion.

The set was simple wooden facades and two story structures with benches were built on the stage to include seating for certain lucky patrons. I'm not sure how much more you had to pay for that experience, but I also think it should have come with turkey legs. There were also six metal chandeliers with real candles (they were lowered on ropes to allow lighting shortly before the play began). This particular detail seemed potentially hazardous as several times during the performance melting candles felt onto the stage. Nevertheless, that did add an extra bit of tension and danger (especially for the actors, I imagine!).

Another fun detail is that the actors got dressed and prepared on stage before the performance, which I assume was an early theater tradition. Aware of this, we arrived a half hour before the performance to observe the routine. The costumes themselves were very ornate and made of fabrics that were as close as possible to those available in Elizabethan England. Apparently they sourced special leather from some place in Montana and used only non synthetic fabrics that required extra care and cleaning for the costumes and wigs.

The acting was also top notch (especially Mark Rylance's Olivia). Naturally, as befits custom, all of the female characters were played by men. Of course knowing that female characters were played by men in Shakespeare's England is one thing, and seeing it played out is quite another. It's already a very silly play, but the cross dressing elements made it seems that much more farcical and changed how I viewed the female characters. I hadn't had any desire to see their version of Richard III, but I am sort of interested now. I would be curious to see how having men play female characters in a non-comedy would play out.

If I had one quibble about the play, it would be the music. One of my favorite things about Twelfth Night is the songs. While the songs themselves are written into the play, the music itself varies by production, and I definitely preferred some of the more lively interpretations from previous ones I've seen. For what it's worth the music in the Broadway production was nothing if not faithful to the time period. They had a lyre, a recorder, a hurdy gurdy, and any number of instruments whose names I don't know but whose dulcet tones immediately transported me to a Renaissance Faire. However, even the songs that were more upbeat lyrically, seemed somewhat somber. I guess it's more a personal preference on my part, but it was the one thing I preferred about the previous version I had seen.

All and all, it was an incredible night at the theater. Shakespeare has sort of felt like it's running my life as of late, as anyone who follows my business plans can attest, but there's certainly a reason his plays are performed in every possible setting, time period, and context. If you find yourself in New York before February 6, it's definitely worth checking out!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Scenes from my Samsung: winter edition

So it comes the time for another photo dump from my phone. Why do I post such things on my blog? Well really just because it justifies taking pictures of random things throughout the day. If they just sit on my phone, what's the point? We've reached an age where if you don't photograph it, there's really no point in running into celebrities, climbing really tall things, or ordering photogenic entrees at all (Note: none of these things actually appear in the photos below so temper your expectations accordingly). Thus without further ado, here's some random photos from the last couple of weeks:

The High Line at night in the winter. It looks so different not covered in people!

Usually in New York when you pay $6 for a pretzel as some gastropub, you expect a puny, minuscule thing but decide to pay it anyway because damnit you just want a pretzel. Every so often, they surprise you. 

It was 30 degrees and this dude took off his jacket to put on his dog. Everyone on the stalled train took pictures on their phones (presumably to post on their own blogs, instagrams, or Facebooks), especially when he kept trying to get the hood to stay up. 

From the EMP museum in Seattle. When you moved in front of the screen, it caused images to respond to your movements. I don't think I'm describing it very well, nor is this picture showing it very well, but it was cool in person. 

Okay, so I realize a lot of these are of Seattle (and specifically the EMP Museum) so I guess this is just a cheap way to have a second Seattle post because Sam and I took too many photos. 

Sam jamming in one of the EMP jam rooms.

SeaHawks macarons! Which reminds me: New Yorkers, Macaron Day 2014 is happening this March. Be ready.

Times Square during the blizzard on Tuesday. Remarkably empty! Why was I personally out and far from home during a blizzard? I have my reasons.
You may note there were no photos of Dinah in this particular batch of phone photos. Rest assured she is just as cute and effortlessly photogenic as always, I just haven't had my phone on me around the house as much to capture it. Until next time, hope you have a lovely weekend, reader!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sunny Seattle

I just got back from a long weekend in Seattle and was welcomed home to New York by the gentle embrace of 20 degrees and snow. I had never been to Seattle before, which seemed like an oversight, but I'm generally bad at visiting places within this country. We had actually been talking about Montreal as sort of a post-birthday trip, but enough people told us that Montreal in January was a terrible idea, so for that, and a few other reasons, we switched it up for the Emerald City. As luck would have it, we happened to be there at the same time as the play-offs, and I must say, never have I seen a city rally around a team quite so much. There were Seahawks cupcakes, donuts, and macrons, every business in the city had some sort of Seahawks emblem, and the majority of people were wearing hats and jerseys. Granted, we were staying in a heavy tourist area and a number of people at our hotel had come in the the game, but still, there was some impressive team spirit.

Aside from their SeaHawks enthusiasm (and the fact that they apparently hardcore borrowed the 12th man thing from the Aggies), overall impressions of Seattle were good. You cannot find a bad cup of coffee there. No, not even at the airport Quiznos. As such, I think I drank more coffee this past weekend than ever in my life. We were mostly just enjoying wandering around and exploring different neighborhoods, so whenever we got cold or tired of walking, we'd stop into the closest adorable coffee shop. Also, I would like to note that despite what some readers may have hoped, it didn't rain once. We even saw the sun almost every day. I took a number of pictures to document this:

No sun here, but lots of good food. 
 On our first day in town, we mostly hung out downtown in the neighborhood of our hotel. We checked out Pike Place Market and the original Beecher's Cheese and ate many a delicious thing. We also went to the EMP Museum which is dedicated to pop culture. Sam had wanted to go to see some Jimi Hendrix exhibit, but the entire museum is definitely worth checking out. It actually reminds me of Astoria's own Museum of Moving Image with it's very interactive exhibits.

The museum was designed by someone famous, but I'm too lazy to look it up. 
Sam at warp speed. Would be more convincing if we weren't just standing there. 

This photo is from the front of our hotel. I took it to document how sunny it was. 
The second day we went further afield and wandered around the neighborhoods of Ballard and Fremont. We ate at a delicious brunch place that had quite a line by 9:30 (luckily we were still on Eastern time and got there at 8:15). Pulled pork and chipotle brussels sprout frittata and a pineapple basil mojito. Seattle is definitely up on the local sustainable food movement. Also the delicious food movement.

Walking along Lake Union is almost beautiful enough to make me be willing to live on a houseboat.

The Ballard Locks. During salmon spawning season you can see them jumping up the fish ladder from an underground salmon viewing place. In January, you can pretty much just see water. 

The Fremont troll in all its glory. Fremont's public art doesn't stop there. They also have a 7 ton bronze statue of Lenin. 
The next grouping of photos were taken from Olympic Sculpture Park and were mainly taken to show off some more blue skies:
Me, pensive, wondering if it will clear enough to see mountains. 

Sam took this one. Also, almost all of these. 
We didn't go to the Seattle Museum of Art, but we did manage to get one of Sam with the SAM.

I mean, I guess there are still a few clouds...
The last day in town we met a friend of Sam's for brunch in Capital Hill (another neighborhood worthy of checking out) and then made a donut stop and headed to a friend of mine's apartment to eat brunch, drink coffee, and watch the game. This was the first football game I'd watched all season. Now I don't normally care about football at all but for familial reasons, if I were to pick a team to root for it, it would be the 49ers. This was not possible at this particular playoffs brunch, and I have to say that after seeing how much everyone seemed to have riding on this one, I'm glad the Hawks won.

A fitting final shot, this one taken by me and also from an airplane. 
All and all in was a lovely weekend! It was fun to see old friends and to maintain such a constant level of caffeination.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Older, yes. Wiser, probably a little.

I feel like the whole last week or so has been birthday stuff, and, self-centered as it sounds, all I really have to write about is these celebrations of myself. Then again, I guess what I usually write about is what I did over the weekend, so really it's not such an egotistical leap, but the only difference is this particular week everyone else in my life was as equally focused on my life as this blog always is. Anyway, enough faux self deprecation, on to the birthday recap!

My first birthday gift was a break from the bitter cold. The day itself was a pleasant freezing, which really was quite warm when compared to the 9 degrees (with negative degree wind chills) from the previous two days. I was able to go to my morning workout in relative comfort. I also credit the balmy 32 degree weather with upping the number of attendants at my birthday party that night. Really it was just drinks at a fun, low key bar in Astoria (Mosaic, for those following this for exciting Astoria-specific news), but while I have some good friends, I wouldn't have faulted them if they hadn't joined had my special day fallen during the polar vortex. 

I didn't take any pictures of the wonderful people who celebrated with me this past week/weekend, but I did photograph these flowers that Sam got me. 
 On Saturday, I had a nice brunch in Manhattan with some friends who couldn't make it to the party on Thursday and most of whom I hadn't seen since before the holidays. Brunch and catching up are always good times, and after brunching we took a walk through Madison Square Park. I used to go all the time, and forget that by working from home, that I really don't anymore. There was even a new, obtuse art piece up that I almost missed!

See, it looks like a regular tree being needlessly manipulated with ropes and boulders, but in reality, it's a tree made of bronze. The boulders are real though, I think.
On Sunday, the celebrations continued with even more brunching, this time with Sam's family. We ate cake (see below) back at our place, which was and is often the best part of any birthday.

The aforementioned cake. The flowers sadly are a bit the worse for wear.
 Today, I woke up content in the knowledge that birthday week 2014 had ended. I was prepared to confront the fact that now begins the yearly three month slog until spring. However, as luck would have it, there was one last birthday treat in store (other than eating the rest of the above cake for breakfast). My mom sent me this wonderful scarf, which should brighten up the rest of winter quite nicely.

Thanks, Mom!
All in all, this birthday was not too shabby. I think 28 is going to be all right.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tea for two

Sam had told me a while ago that he was planning an "experience" for my birthday gift and that said surprise experience would take place on the Saturday before my birthday, which as luck would have it was this past Saturday. Sam is pretty terrible at keeping surprises secret, and I'm pretty bad about constant guessing, so I was impressed that I was kept in the dark about this particular surprise until the  night before. For once my guesses (couples massage at a spa, going to a play, ice climbing in the Catskills...which in hindsight given his fear of heights was an unlikely choice) were not even close. Well save one.

At some point, I guessed that we would be going to the Russian Tea Room, a place I have never been. As it turns out, the gift was in fact high tea, although not at the touristy Russian Tea Room but rather at the Pierre Hotel which Sam's tea research told him was one of the best places to have tea in the city. Now this is only the second time I've gotten high tea at a fancy hotel in my life and the other time was in London, so I can't vouch for how this tea compares to the rest of the city's, but I will definitely recommend it as a wonderful experience and the perfect way to spend a very cold January day.

We got to the hotel a little early, so we decided to brave the cold and walk around Central Park a little. We were at the very bottom of the park which is usually the most crowded, but I was still amazed at the number of people out on such a cold day. Many of them were tourists though and often speaking Slavic languages which probably accounts for them being made of sterner stuff. Some weren't even wearing hats or heavy coats!
The frozen park in all its glory. 
Sam took a picture of me on this bridge surrounded by throngs of tourists. Now I'm not one of those New Yorkers who believes all tourists are necessarily troublesome idiots; however, we did encounter a few of the less bright ones on this particular outing. I'll gladly politely wait while you take your photo or offer you helpful directions, but when you're climbing the icy rocks above a 20 foot drop off and clearly wearing inadequate footwear for such an endeavor, well then I'm probably going to think the less of you.
Can you spot me? It doesn't really matter if you can or not, just know that I am one of those people. 

For Sam's Central Park on Ice portrait, we got a little closer.
 After about ten minutes of time-killing park wandering, it was time for our tea time. It took us a bit to find the proper entrance as the hotel is enormous, but once we got inside and walked around confused for a moment, a hotel employee immediately asked if we were there for tea and directed us to the right place. I guess at three in the afternoon, how could we be there for any reason other than tea?

Me at tea. Clearly, there was still some Christmas decorating magic afoot.
 We got the Royal Tea which in addition to quite a large selection of pastries, scones, and tea sandwiches, also comes with champagne. Everything was so tiny and minuscule that at first you felt like you could keep eating small sandwiches until the end of time. By the time I got to the macrons and bite sized fruit tarts though, I was fairly spent. If I had to pick a favorite it would be the tiny Thai chicken salad on its little brioche bun. The lemon curd and clotted cream were also excellent on scones.

With all these other fineries, who even needs the tea? 
All in all it was a pretty excellent birthday, and my birthday's not even for another couple of days. I do still want to go ice climbing sometime though. Maybe if this crazy cold weather ever passes, I'll have to sign us up.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Adventures with sugar, in various forms

It's been a while since I've entered a recipe contest (ever since the stupid Pillsbury Bake-Off dispensed with real judging and decided to go the stupid crowd sourcing way), but I saw one the other day that I couldn't pass up. From the people at Scharffen Berger chocolate comes The Chocolate Adventure contest. The theme this year was "bars" and other than creating something that could be considered a bar, using their chocolate, and involving at least one of the "adventure" ingredients, the contest pretty much let the world be your oyster. Excuse to buy fancy chocolate and make desserts even after the gluttony of Christmas has just ended? Game on.

As a quick disclaimer: yes, I realize none of my readers will actually make this. I know that my tolerance for cooking projects that dirty every dish in my kitchen is far greater than yours. And frankly, as someone who had previously never attempted to temper chocolate before, this recipe actually tested the boundaries of my own cooking abilities. Thus, I'm not actually including the recipe here, just a sort of description of the process. If you are feeling adventurous and have about 10 hours to kill (really though most of that is inactive prep time!!), then let me know and I'll shoot you the final recipe.

The concept for this particular recipe came from a delicious olive oil and blood orange cake/sweet bread I made a few years ago. It cemented in me that olive oil and blood orange go well together in sweet things. It also seemed like a good flavor combination to pair with a fairly dark chocolate. In terms of turning it into a bar, my immediate thought was an ice cream bar, as anyone who has ever had olive oil ice cream will understand. Behold! The chocolate-covered olive oil with blood orange caramel ice cream bar was born! Well not entirely. I actually tried swirls of blood orange marmalade and blood orange syrup before settling on the caramel, but you can read about that thrilling thought process below.

Step one was to zest and juice a bunch of blood oranges. Actually that's more like step two as the real step one was to take artsy photographs of blood oranges:
Tart fruits make art beaut's
 Next was to make the ice cream, which I don't have any actual pictures of. It was your pretty basic ice cream custard making: lots egg yolks, cream, whole milk, sugar, and olive oil. Your basic line up of health foods. Well anyway, olive oil is still on the list of good fats this year, right? After the custard was done, I threw in some orange zest before letting it chill (the first of many 3 to 4 hour waiting periods) and putting it into the ice cream maker.

While that business was cooling, I worked on my blood orange component. I had purchased some blood orange marmalade which tasted great and led to a nice subtle flavor in the finished bars. I opted not to go that route though because while blood oranges can be readily found these days, blood orange marmalade seemed like a speciality ingredient that would be  hard for many to find and I didn't want to even attempt to make it on my own. The next option was blood orange syrup (seen below). This resulted in the most beautiful color of the three options; however some taste testers (read: Sam) found the result to be a little too tart, so this option also was ultimately rejected in favor of the winner: blood orange caramel sauce. Essentially, this was the same preparation as for the syrup except with twice the sugar content and allowing the sugar to caramelize first.

It's gorgeous! Just sadly a wee bit too tart
Once the ice cream was done, I poured it into plastic wrap lined pans and added the blood orange component to each. This was then swirled with knives for both proper distribution and prettiness. The mixture was then covered with the overhanging plastic wrap and pressed down to ensure it was tightly packed in the pan. Then, you guessed it, back to the freezer for another 3 to 4 hours!

The blood orange marmalade option. 
After the ice cream was frozen into appropriately hard bricks of deliciousness, I removed the plastic wrap and cut them into bars. These bars are a bit bigger than I decided to ultimately go with, but you get the idea.
The blood orange syrup ones are on top. Aren't they like a beautiful sunset?
 Now up to this point, the process was relatively easy. Just a lot of waiting around really. However, everything I read about making ice cream bars insisted that the chocolate needed to be tempered. Since the recipe was for a high end chocolate company, it seemed like they would probably agree that their chocolate shouldn't be allowed to be dipped untempered and thus result in ugly chocolate bloom (such are the potential horrors should you dare to use untempered chocolate as a coating). So temper, I did!

For those who have not tempered chocolate before, it's really not hard so much as it is time consuming. It requires melting chocolate over simmering water until it is precisely 115 degrees on a candy thermometer, then adding in more unmelted, tempered chocolate until the temperature is brought down to the low 80s. Then you have to bring the whole mess back up to 87-90 degrees and maintain that. Also, if you get even a single drop of water in the chocolate you may as well just throw the chocolate in the garbage (note: I would never advocate actually throwing chocolate away) because you've totally ruined it. The whole process took about 20 minutes.
I'm a tempering machine
 I will say that I think I first time tempered like a pro. The coating dried in minutes in the freezer, looked beautiful, and had the appropriate texture. At any rate, the final step was to pull the frozen ice cream bars from the freezer and dip them in the chocolate (see picture below). Ignore the shoddily covered bars in the front. It was at this point that I realized I should have bought more chocolate. We tried two different types of Scharffen Berger to determine the optimum pairing, a semisweet (62%) and a bittersweet (70%). Both were delicious, but I thought the bittersweet went better with the sweetness of the caramel.

The dipping. I promise some of them achieved full coverage.
After that, the bars were done! Only ten hours or so after I began them. Again most of that time was spent watching tv on the Internet and other far less productive things, so don't let the overall recipe time be the thing that prevents attempting this one. Recipe available for all those who are interested.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hallo, 2014!

So begins another year and another reminder of just how long I've been writing in this thing (the archives go back to 2010!). In past years, or at least one year that I can remember, I've done little end-of-year recaps of all the zany madcap things I've done throughout the year (2013: got married, went to Thailand, photographed my cat). This year, I think I'll skip that as I believe all of my current blog readers have been faithfully following along throughout the year regardless. That and this current post clearly needs to address all that I've been up to the best past week. Details on that below, but the short version: mostly just eating everything in sight.

On Christmas Eve, like the wandering pilgrims of old, Sam and I journeyed across the George Washington Bridge for the quickest Christmas homecoming commute of my life. I was sorry to not see my own family (a sorrow much tempered by their coming up to see me the next day), but must say I was incredibly excited about not having to fly around Christmas for the first time since moving to New York. Instead of dealing with airport delays and trying to pack Christmas gifts without any liquids, I was able to finish my work day in a leisurely fashion and head out in the afternoon in time for Turkish food for Christmas Eve dinner and a lovely candlelight carol service at my mother-in-law's church.

Christmas itself was marked by the making of banana fritters, a Christmas morning tradition in my family that I thought it was important to pass on. Then there was the usual hubbub of opening gifts and eating roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (my sister-in-law's Welsh blood led to a traditional British Christmas meal). My contribution, as always, was pie.

Sam being indoctrinated into the order of banana fritter makers.
The following day, I picked my parents and sister up from Penn Station so that we could all continue the holiday gluttony together. Most of our eating took place once we returned to New York, but we did manage to eat the better part of a fish and eight Cornish game hens while there.

A selection of family members in New Jersey. 
I could continue by detailing our every meal (many multiple courses!) as is my way, but instead I think I should focus on the non-edible events that transpired. For one, we went to the Frick. I was pretty sure I had never been to this particular museum in all my years in New York. Once nearing the building, I had a moment of doubt, but inside, I was again certain I hadn't been before. But this is all really neither here nor there because I have been now, and it is a lovely museum housing many a Dutch masterpiece, plenty of creepy cherubic murals, and countless antique chairs that probably wouldn't be that comfortable even if you were allowed to sit on them. All of which is to say that it is a beautiful museum, but I certainly wouldn't decorate my 5th Avenue mansion that way if I were a turn of the century financier.

Me outside the Frick, looking cold, and possibly blinking. 
On Saturday, we headed to Brooklyn to see the Julie Taymor A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Theater for a New Audience. The last Julie Taymor production I attended was Spiderman Turn Off the Dark, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this one had much fewer dancing high-heeled spiders. None, in fact. In addition, it was just a very inventive production. A Midsummer Night's Dream is not usually one of my favorite Shakespeare comedies, but the acting and neat theatrical tricks made this version enjoyable from beginning to end. 

A rare shot with my dad in it. Here we were in front of the Theater for a New Audience, a very nice building.
Saturday night we made the impromptu decision to get tickets (they're free but you have to register beforehand) for the following day to see the 9/11 Memorial as I had yet to go. We then proceeded to plan the day around this, which would have been a fine plan if it didn't pour rain all of Sunday. We decided to go see the memorial anyway, which unfortunately requires standing in long lines, mostly outside, for about an hour. The memorial is definitely worth seeing, and I'm glad we went, but I think I'd also like to go back sometime when it's sunny so that I can walk around a little longer and contemplate the space without my mind being solely on how cold and wet my feet are. 

View of the Freedom Tower while standing in a sea of umbrellas waiting to get into the 9/11 Memorial.
On Monday, we went to the Metropolitan Museum. Although all involved had been there many times, you can never really run out of things to see at the Met. Here is one such thing that I saw:

I should mention that all the above photos are credited to my dad (well except the one with him in it, obviously). This one, however, was taken on my phone. 
 On Tuesday morning the family was all gone, and it was back to the humdrum life of actually preparing food for myself again. Well actually I was able to subsist on leftovers for the rest of Tuesday, but today food shopping and production was resumed in earnest. I spent a lovely News Years Eve at a party in the neighborhood (never getting on a subway on NYE again!) which was excellent and very low key. Today, the first day of 2014, was spent working on a little cooking project that I'll write about soon. Sneak peak: I tempered chocolate for the first time and was semi-successful at it. I think 2014 is going to be a good year.