Category: Books

…and now we return to our regularly scheduled program

Friday, July 9th, 2010 | All Things, Books, Eats, Family, Travel

Has is it been an entire year?

I’ll admit: once I got out of the habit of posting a blog entry every day, it became ever easier to just abandon the project entirely.  But lately, I’ve begun to (re)consider: perhaps the best way to ease back into this process would be to dash out these episodes, as the mood or inspiration strikes, sometimes including photos and at times, not.  And just see how it goes.

This is what I’ll write today.

To recap the entire past year would be an exercise requiring more time and energy that I’m ready to dedicate now.  But to fill in the most recent highlights:  I spent two late spring weeks in Spain, eating and drinking (and photographing) my way through Barcelona, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Sevilla, Córdoba, Granada and Madrid.  (Glorious!)  In mid-June, I had another birthday (somewhat less so), followed in rapid succession by the commemoration of several milestones: a 70th birthday, a funeral, a wedding, and a 50th anniversary.

And tonight I sit in my apartment on the eve of little Joshua’s first birthday, assessing the 15 pounds of chicken wings I just purchased to prepare for the celebration tomorrow.  (Quite the grisly scene of fowl carnage it is… so you see: sometimes the lack of photographs is a very good thing.)  For the marinade, I’ve settled upon Gourmet‘s recipe for “Asian barbecue sauce,” even as its lack of specificity strikes me as strange.  I’ve never come across a recipe for “European sauce,” after all.

Last week, I read through Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, about a girl who discovers she can taste emotions in food — specifically the feelings of those preparing it.  I picked up the book having been intrigued by its premise after catching an interview with the author on NPR.

If this weren’t surrealist fiction, if this were at all possible, what impressions would my family and friends sense in these chicken wings, lingering beneath the tangy hoisin and sweet shaoxing wine?

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Hot to globetrot

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Books

At The Irish Repertory Theatre tonight for Michael Evan Haney’s new production of Around the World in 80 Days, presented in association with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.  Previews began on July 11, 2008 for a limited engagement that was originally scheduled to end on September 7, but has since been extended through September 28.

I was last at this theater on West 22nd Street for George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple in December, so knew that the company was well used to accomplishing much with minimal resources – cast and space-wise.  Still, the story, based faithfully on the 1873 novel by Jules Verne, stretched the limits over the ensuing two hours of action: 5 actors, playing 39 characters, and one simple set, representing 24,000 miles of rugged land and high seas.

Mark Brown adapted the adventure of unflappable English gentleman Phileas Fogg (Daniel Stewart), who makes a £20,000 wager that he can circumnavigate the globe in the titular 80 days. The journey, made with his French manservant Passepartout, takes Fogg from London to Suez to Bombay to Calcutta to Hong Kong to Yokohama to San Francisco to New York to Liverpool and back to London. Mistaken identities, skirmishes with local officials, weather delays, a lady in distress and sheer bad luck all seem to conspire against Fogg meeting his deadline, but we all know how things turn out in the end, don’t we?

The 19th century source material veered at times into political incorrectness in its characterization — or rather: caricaturization — of foreign cultures, and that bias unfortunately also colors this production. Passepartout (Evan Zes)’s Pepé Le Pew accent, while good for a few early chuckles, wore thin after a while.  Overall, though, this was a pleasant enough romp that received middling to good reviews in the press.

Most fun to watch was how the indispensable pair of on-stage foley artists kept flawless pace with the action when called upon to suggest swaying steamers, chugging trains, a lumbering elephant, a raging typhoon, a sledge through a snowstorm and gunplay with Apaches. (Contrary to popular impression, however: no hot air balloon.) In an age of ever more elaborate special effects, their work was a refreshing return to basics.

Incidentally, Fogg’s £19,000 in travel fees would have been the equivalent of nearly £1.5M today, adjusted for inflation. It now costs considerably less to make the same trip, even when accounting for fuel surcharges and airline baggage fees.

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Reading and drinking in DUMBO

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008 | All Things, Books, Drinks, Eats, Events

At the powerHouse Arena in DUMBO tonight to attend “Read & Drink Night,” a literary fundraiser to benefit the library of Brooklyn’s P.S. 107. Edible Brooklyn‘s editor Gabrielle Langholtz hosted the readings and discussion by three Brooklyn-based authors of recently published books on food and drink.

It’s been years since I attended a bona-fide school bake sale; this one was organized by P.S. 107’s Parent Teacher Association. To accompany our (very good) slices of homemade banana bread, a server ladled out from a large, orange plastic paint bucket, cups of a lethal Cognac/10 Cane Rum/tea punch — mixed to 1690s Bombay government regulations by featured cocktail historian David Wondrich, who knows well of which he writes.

Read and Drink Night

Read and Drink Night

First up: Phoebe Damrosch, whose memoir Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter was released in September 2007. Damrosch read from portions of her book documenting her time as a server for Thomas Keller’s Per Se; her extensive months-long training involved memorizing wine pairings, receiving intricate movement instruction from an 18th-century dance specialist, and learning the provenance of menu ingredients down to “the names of the cows that produced the milk from which our butter was made.” The most entertaining bits were the gossipy snapshots of diners passing through the rarified restaurant; one priceless anecdote involved Damrosch gleefully bonding with one suburban banker over their mutual love of “pot”… before realizing that he in fact expressed a fondness for “pie.” (Uh, whoops.)

Kara Zuaro’s book I Like Food, Food Tastes Good: In the Kitchen with Your Favorite Bands is a collection of recipes gathered from touring rock musicians. Zuaro read from the book’s introduction, and from one of the stories that precede each band’s recipe. I was impressed by the breadth and high profile of her musical subjects: recipes ranged from simple sandwiches (Death Cab for Cutie’s vegan sausage and peanut butter creation) to a wild boar ragù from The Violent Femmes’ bass player Brian Ritchie. (Surprisingly, however, not a single pot brownie in the bunch.)

Finally, former Classics professor, current contributing editor Esquire Wondrich read from Imbibe!, his biography of 19th-century mixologist Jerry Thomas, author of the first known bartending guide, How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion (1862). Wondrich made an amusing argument about how the cocktail was America’s first great export, and the country’s introductory contribution to world gastronomic culture.

The audience Q&A was mercifully brief, and spawned a brief discussion over the use of the term “foodie” vs. “foodist” to describe a certain type of food-obsessed individual. Afterwards, the authors (Zuaro and Damrosch pictured below) made themselves available for book-signings:

Damrosch and Zuaro

Read and Drink Night

When in DUMBO, pizza at Grimaldi’s is always a solid choice. And sometimes, you can pick up a nice couple along the way.


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