Month: January, 2008

Crimes, chills, thrills

Sunday, January 20th, 2008 | All Things, Arts

Actress Kathleen Turner has been generating a lot of buzz recently for her upcoming autobiography Send Yourself Roses (currently excerpted in the UK’s Daily Mail), in which she dishes on former co-stars including William Hurt, Michael Dougles, Nicolas Cage and Burt Reynolds. J and I saw Turner — a whole lot of her — when she performed “Mrs. Robinson” in the 2002 Broadway staging of The Graduate. Meh. This time, though, Turner is behind the scenes in her New York directorial debut: an Off-Broadway revival of Crimes of the Heart at the Laura Pels Theatre. (It was her commanding, husky voice that warned everyone to turn off their cell phones before the curtain rose. Her mildly threatening tone incited some nervous laughter, but not one ringer went off during the performance.)

Crimes of the Heart

Playwright Beth Henley won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama after Crimes of the Heart was produced off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club for a limited, sold-out, engagement of 32 performance, making it the first play ever to win before opening on Broadway. (It transfered in November 1981, and went on to also win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best new American play.) Henley also wrote the screenplay for the well-loved 1986 film version starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek, which garnered three Academy Award nominations, including one for Henley’s adaptation.

I’d never seen the play or the movie: a Southern family melodrama revolving around three sisters as they convene at the family estate in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. In addition to having grown up in the shadow of their mother’s suicide, each faces her own personal tragedy: the eldest, Lenny (Jennifer Dundas), is marking her 30th birthday and facing the prospect of life as an infertile spinster; Meg (Sarah Paulson), once known as the town tramp, has a sputtering career as a singer/actress in Hollywood; the youngest, “Babe” (Lily Rabe), is in jail for shooting her abusive, state senator husband. Abandonment, broken dreams, domestic violence, adultery, interracial relations, attempted murder… all of which takes place before the curtain even rises. And yet, despite the decidedly dark and emotionally heavy subject matter, and its characters who are at turns kooky and sympathetic, the play’s general tone is warm and humorous, and it stands as a testament to the strength of family.

The performances were solid throughout: most of the cast originated their roles in the recent Williamstown Theatre Festival production. Previews began on Friday, and based on this performance, there may be a few pacing adjustments to make before the official opening on February 7. Rabe, who was injured in rehearsals, did not perform the first weekend; in her place, understudy Jessica Cummings went on as the youngest McGrath sister, and turned in an impressive performance in her New York theatrical debut.

Crimes of the Heart

Check out more photos of the Crimes of the Heart cast and set here.

In other New York theater news: after glowing reviews in the The Times, The Sun, and The Wall Street Journal, the Classic Stage Company’s production of New Jerusalem has been extended through February 10. Talented actor Jeremy Strong (who played Spinoza) is set to star in the upcoming film, Humboldt County.

The temperatures were dropping steadily, and I hurried home through the bitter chill after the performance. Later that night, while reading in the cozy confines of my living room, I heard what sounded like my entire building erupt into spontaneous cheers.

w00t! The Giants are going to the Super Bowl!

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A taste of Morocco

Saturday, January 19th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Friends

This weekend’s North African pot luck may have been the most challenging yet, requiring research for new recipes and the deployment of special equipment. An excellent opportunity to break out the clay tagine I received for Christmas from SC a while back. SYB, for his part, selected the dinner theme to show off his fancy new Le Creuset version. (Incidentally, Amazon sells a silicone tagine for $20. I adore my Silpats, but I am skeptical of the suitability of silicone for this particular purpose.)


So this is what I learned in my preparations for Saturday night: a “tagine” refers to both a shallow, rimmed earthenware cooking dish with a tight-fitting conical lid, and to the food cooked within. The distinctive shape of the tagine creates a closed convection system, circulating moisture and heat. Steam condenses at the top of the lid – the farthest point from the heat source – and drips back into the dish, which allows the tagine’s contents to be braised over a long period of time without requiring additional liquid. I’ve seen tagines used in the oven, but they are intended for use on the stove top, or traditionally over a charcoal brazier.

The main characteristic of a Moroccan meat tagine is a full-bodied, highly seasoned sauce — not spicy hot, though, which is more characteristic of Tunisian cuisine. I located a recipe for Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds and set to work in my kitchen, but due the size of my dish, I ended up making two batches: one in the tagine, the other in my trusty dutch oven. Curiously, they didn’t turn out looking or tasting noticeably different.

My results bore out Cooks Illustrated’s May 2006 look at tagines in an “Equipment Corner” article titled “Do you really need a tagine?” The editors concluded “no” — that for the most part, a quality dutch oven will do the same job at least as well.

In my Moroccan recipe hunt, I came across a New York Times piece in which Zarela Martínez (executive chef and owner of midtown Mexican restaurant Zarela) mentioned a chicken, preserved lemons and green olives tagine, accompanied by eggplant grilled with a pomegranate-molasses vinaigrette — a flavor combination which sounded intriguing and delicious. “Somehow eating that combination of the preserved lemon and the olive, which is salty, and the slightly sweet eggplant on the side with the pomegranate molasses, is just heaven. Whenever I’m trying to seduce someone, let’s say, that’s exactly the meal that I’ll make.

Hmm, interesting. So just in case: here’s that tagine recipe, adapted from Paula Wolfert‘s 1973 classic cookbook, Couscous and Other Good Foods from Morocco.

And because it’s still a dream of mine: 36 hours in Marrakesh. One day.

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Cupcakes are coming!

Saturday, January 19th, 2008 | All Things, Eats

Steve Abrams caused a flurry of excitement (and a bit of dread) when word first leaked out in September that he would be opening a second outpost of the (in)famous Magnolia Bakery on the Upper West Side, the neighborhood where he and his family have been longtime residents. (In November, Steve’s brother Danny opened an Upper West Side outpost of his successful downtown spot, The Mermaid Inn.)

The new Magnolia Bakery space at 200 Columbus Avenue, which housed Japanese restaurant Lenge for two decades, is at least twice the size of the West Village original and will include a private party room. Steve contracted architect Mark Zeff (who designed his brother’s Red Cat and Mermaid Inn restaurants) for the gut renovation.

The bakery, already widely known for its pastel swirl-topped cupcakes, became explosively, unbearably popular after a 2000 appearance on Sex and the City. Magnolia launched a crop of copycats around town, incited vicious cupcake wars, and inspired Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell to rap poetic about their “bomb frostings.” On fair weather days, the lines wrapped along West 11th Street have been known to stretch over an hour long; I’d observe again that New Yorkers are nuts, but I don’t know how many of the people waiting on line for those — let’s be honest, aside from that vanilla “buttercream” icing: pretty average — cupcakes are actual New Yorkers.

Abrams plans for the new location to get back to its original roots of a neighborhood bakery, opening at 7AM and offering breakfast goods in addition to the bakery’s flagship items. Due to demand, cupcakes have taken over almost the entire bulk of production downtown. (In 2003, Magnolia’s then-owner Alyssa Torrey claimed that it took in over $40,000 a week from cupcakes alone. How else to afford the $400,000-per-year lease at the uptown location?) Also, sugar addicts can rejoice that the strict dozen cupcake limit will be lifted for the Upper West Side.

Although the official launch was not to take place until Monday, January 21, Magnolia Bakery UWS was doing brisk business this Saturday afternoon as word of the stealth, early opening quickly spread.

Magnolia Bakery

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