Thursday, October 01, 2015

Free Love Letters 2015

It's finally October and once again we are entering the dark half of the year, my time for creativity and renewal when for many people the opposite is true. October is a special month to me for a number of reasons. It ends with pagan new year (Samhain) on Oct. 31 and time for the cycle of the year to start anew.

I associate October with love because I've actually met (officially) all my previous lovers in the month of October. So even though I'm a polyamorous single right now, I believe in celebrating love in all its forms, not just sexual or romantic love.

So four years ago I started a project called "Free Love Letters" to mark October as my own month dedicated to love. It's sort of like those people holding "Free Hugs" signs in Times Square, but more permanent. As you might guess, I've kept a journal for most of my life but it was only in middle school that I started writing letters, which led to becoming a journalist and later into public relations. It has also played a big part in cultivating my past love relationships and some of my oldest friendships.

I started thinking of the FLL project after reading this article in the Wall Street Journal"Stationery's New Followers" - Aug. 25, 2011. I wanted to do something for the sake of art, without any other purpose or agenda beyond putting something beautiful out in the world. I've also been inspired by master calligraphers Jake Weidman and Seb Lester - although this project is not about the beauty of the script so much as the message in the letter.

As a whole, the FLL project celebrates love itself, not love for any specific person. The idea of love is bigger than the fuel for our intimate relationships - love is the most powerful force for good we have in the world. This is why I do all I can to help people find new ways to experience and share love. I sincerely believe that if there's more love in the world, it will make the other problems we have easier to handle.

So each October, I write a personalized love letter to anyone who requests one by sending me their physical mailing address between now and 11:59 pm ET on October 31. Even if you've gotten one before, if you enjoyed it I encourage you to request another! Everyone who gives me an address will get a letter - guaranteed - whether we've known each other a minute or a decade.

Each love letter will be handcrafted using some of the many tools I've collected over the years - fine writing instruments, a vintage manual typewriter, various seals and waxes, a burgeoning collection of handmade papers, etc. Once completed, it will be delivered to you anywhere in the world by old-fashioned postal carrier and thus its contents will be as confidential as things get in this modern world.

Your letter may be philosophical or romantic, funny or sincere. It might be perfumed or decorated. It might recall some tiny, distant memory of our time together, or it might be five pages long if we have a history. It might be lyrics to a love song that reminds me of you. It could be a story I've always wanted to share with you, but never found the right moment to tell it.

But whatever it is, it will be honest, and it will be about you and me - and whatever is between us and how it relates to the experience of love. It will be the product of my deep reflection about you and possibly a lot of research on how we've interacted over the years. And for those moments it takes you to read it, you and I will share a personal and physical connection that is so rare in this fleeting digital world.

Since I started doing this project, the number of requests have grown geometrically - one in 2011, three in 2012, five in 2013 and 10 in 2014. They have also gotten more involved to make since I'm constantly trying new ideas and improvements. So bear in mind that if I get 20 requests this year, it may take a few months to receive your letter, but I promise you will get it (unless it gets lost in transit) and that it will be worth the wait.

Finally, no response will be expected from you - the letter is my gift with no strings attached, in honor of all the love that has found me in Octobers past. All individual letters and requests will be kept confidential on my end, but you are welcome to share the experience publicly if you wish, as many people do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A bridesmaid's tale

This past weekend was one of the major highlights of my life as Puck and I attended the wedding of our friends Chris and Bruce in Pennsylvania. It was the first time I've ever been part of a bridal party.

As I think about Chris and all that we've been through, our changing identities and our unconventional friendship, it occurs to me that she fills the archetype of being my only childhood friend. She's that person who grew up with me, then went off separately for a few years before we reunited and became friends as more fully formed grown-ups.

I remember well those days in the mid-2000s when we were both trying to sort out so many things and emotions often spread into the all-caps territory as we chatted online. I only remember moments now, and Chris remembers even less. But that foundation of trust and mutual support in the face of extraordinary circumstances has forged a bond between us unlike any other in my life.

After growing up together across a great distance for eight years, I feel so fortunate that we were able to meet and become IRL (in real life, for those who don't chat online much) friends back in 2012 ("Road trip 2012" - March 14, 2012). And when I look at how Chris has changed in the four birthday group photos on my shelf from 2012 to 2015, she reminds me that we should never stop growing and learning new things about ourselves and those close to us.

Chris wrote a lovely poem for my birthday in 2014, which was also our 10th friendiversary. Reading it now as a prelude to writing about her wedding seems fitting to me.

Like a breath of wind,
A drop of rain,
And the smallest grain of sand,
All that we touch moves on.
Changed. Shifted. Altered.

All the pieces we keep,
The fragments we lose,
And the ones we forever cherish,
All those we touch stray onward.
Beloved. Nurtured. Accepted.

Through wind and rain,
Distance and journey,
And the shifting sands of time,
May friendship endure forever.
Stronger, Deeper, and Profound.

The weekend started on Friday when I left my Times Square apartment and headed down to Staten Island to pick up Puck and pack up Yoshi for the three-hour drive to Harrisburg. Bruce was home so he gave Puck the grand tour, and Trent (one of the groomsmen) and Chris arrived soon after. We drove to the Cameron Estate Inn in Mount Joy to rehearse for Sunday's big day. Eva, Jenna and Fiona joined us at the venue, along with best man Pete, the parents and close relations.

The weather was humid and thick, and the air was filled with all manner of biting insects so numerous that we had to brush them off our clothes. We weren't there very long, but it quickly became unbearable and we wondered if the wedding would be the same way. The forecast was for rain on Saturday, clearing up on Sunday. We could only hope for the best, but we made plans to have insect repellent available just in case.

In the evening we went to the Lancaster Brewing Company for dinner, which was the venue where Fiona introduced Chris and Bruce more than three years ago. And in a bit of synchronicity, Fiona recognized the server, Michelle, as the same one who served them at that first meeting. We shared garden and Caesar salads, a thick-cut bacon board, calamari and chorizo mussels for appetizers. I got the artisan pork and honey sausage with carmelized onion whipped potatoes, sauerkraut and whole grain mustard, and Puck had a crispy skin Atlantic salmon with local corn, roasted tomatoes, baby spinach, Yukon gold potatoes, smoked bacon and lemon butter sauce. After dinner we said goodbye to the adults, Eva and Jenna, and came back to the house to play video games and watch cooking shows.

Saturday we woke up to the predicted rain, and what a rain it was! I don't think I've seen such a downpour but once or twice in a year. Puck and I joined Chris for a visit to her parents' farmhouse to take care of last-minute wedding details. As we drove around we pointed at every patch of bright sky as a hopeful sign that the rain would stop soon and for tomorrow. We went to Harrisburg Mall so that Chris could buy a clutch bag and I found a more comfortable pair of shoes than the Calvin Klein flats I was intending to wear. For the first time ever, I didn't go to 2nd & Charles, but that was okay because I'd just been there last week when I came in for my last dress fitting.

In the evening Sean and Jono, the remaining two groomsmen, arrived with other close friends for a pre-wedding party. The rain finally let up around 6 pm, allowing Bruce to grill hamburgers and sausages for dinner. We had lots of video games tournaments and watched movies until the wee hours, although Chris turned in very early because she had to wash and dry her extra-long hair.

I got up the next morning and watched a couple Firefly episodes while waiting for people to make their appearances. Chris and Bruce came home with donuts for breakfast and Puck woke up late since they were up late and were also feeling a little under the weather. Oh yes, the weather! It was absolutely incredible the difference between the stormy Saturday and the gorgeous weather on Sunday. The breeze was blowing steadily, just a few clouds and there was the first whiff of autumn in the air. We couldn't have gotten more lucky with the weather for this wedding!

Clearly, the trick of it is that I can't fly to anybody's wedding, but I can drive there (the last two times I've tried to fly to a wedding, the flights have been canceled, once by freak weather and the other by having part of the plane's wing break off, causing us to be bumped because they couldn't fill the plane).

We met up with Chris and the other bridesmaids at Cameron around 3:30 pm to start getting ready, doing hair and makeup in the spacious bridal suite, and helping Chris into her breathtaking gown. By the way, it helps to have tall bridesmaids (like myself) to get into sprawling, complicated gowns without messing up carefully coiffed hair!

We started the procession just a little past our scheduled time of 6 pm, with Bruce and his attendants making their way to the stage as the bridesmaids walked from the main house down to the wedding area. Before we started, we helped Chris get into the passenger seat of a vintage Duster that her dad Ron rebuilt so he could drive her down the path to matrimony, preceded by Riley, the flower girl.

The ceremony was presided over by Reverend Panzini, who led Chris and Bruce through the exchange of their vows and rings, and had the maid of honor Eva lay a handfasting chord over their joined hands for a short handfasting ceremony before pronouncing them husband and wife.

As the guests returned to the Inn for cocktails, the families and wedding party had photographs taken all around the grounds as the golden light slowly faded from the sky. Chris' mom Julie, Eva and me went up to the suite to French bustle Chris' dress, which was quite a complicated routine of color matching ribbons and rings. I held the light from Eva's phone so we could make out the different colors.

Once that was done we all sat down for dinner as Bruce's father introduced the couple and they took their seats across from me and Puck at the wedding table. Pete gave the traditional first toast, wasting no time providing a Nintendo gaming reference by calling Chris the "Princess Peach" to Bruce's "Mario."

At this juncture, Chris asked me if I wanted to give a toast as well, which took me a little by surprise because I had interpreted our last conversation on the subject to mean that formal toasts and speeches were going to be discouraged, but we clearly miscommunicated. I felt that someone from Chris' side of the aisle should speak and after a quick consultation with the other bridesmaids I was elected, since I'd at least prepared something short.

I'd actually written out this toast in July but I didn't bring it with me, so I improvised from memory. I have no idea of what I actually said at the dinner, but this is what I would have said if I were to have given it properly.
Honored guests, I offer a toast for this assembly that is based on the writings of British novelist C. S. Forester, who is best-known for writing "The African Queen" and the Horatio Hornblower novels. This is a modern interpretation of the toast that Admiral Cornwallis offers to Horatio Hornblower at his wedding to his wife Maria: 
May they never know sorrow. May they always enjoy health and prosperity. May they be forever loyal to one another, supporting each other both in their individual paths and in the marriage that binds them together. May they be blessed with children, and may those children grow up to perpetuate and spread the honor and love of this family wherever in the world they may go. I pray you charge your glasses as we toast to the happiness of the bride and groom!
After my toast there were soon calls with the tapping of glasses for Chris and Bruce to kiss, which they did happily until the food came and they decided that sustenance took priority over romance. After a few bites of the excellent food, they started to make the rounds from table to table greeting their guests before being called to cut the cake.

For the guests' wedding favors there were little pots of local honey, and they had a photo for guests to write a message or sign their names. Chris, of course, had to update her place card with her new married name.

Finally, for an extra-special touch, we all went outside and lit extra-long sparklers and formed lines to give the couple a true Pennsylvania send-off.

Photo by Sarah Ohl

I've said much in the past about how my role as a bridesmaid to Chris is important to me. But what was foremost in my thoughts on Sunday wasn't what the wedding meant to me. It was the joy of seeing one of my dearest friends have her fondest dream come true. It was thinking about all the agony and heartache that we've been through together over the past decade and coming out of it with the happiest outcome either of us could dare imagine.

Life can be a miracle if you believe in your dreams.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Movies that make me cry

So last time I wrote about the movie "If I Stay" and about my thoughts about death. One additional thing about that movie is that it is the rare movie that has made me cry, as in bawl-my-eyes-out cry. Katie M and I talked about the movie over dinner Monday night - it didn't get to her the same way it got to me, which surprised me since she's actually been through a near-fatal car accident. But it turns out that going through that kind of experience firsthand makes it easier to be more critical of the movie version.

We talked about other movies that make us cry so I thought I'd make a list of my own personal tearjerkers. Mind you, this doesn't necessarily mean these movies are the best or even my all-time favorites (although some are on that list), but they are all good enough to warrant being in my extensive collection. If I've written about the movie previously in this blog, I've linked the prior entry to the movie title.

Obviously, if you haven't seen one of these movies, you shouldn't read the descriptions because there are spoilers throughout so consider yourself warned. So in no particular order, here are the movies and the moments that make me tear up, get a lump in my throat or sob uncontrollably.

If I Stay - The moment when Mia (Chloe Grace Moritz, in her best role since "Let Me In") finds out that her brother has passed away and sobs in the hallway of the hospital. Also, when her grandfather delivers his bedside speech to her, telling her if she feels she has to go, she should go.

Interstellar - Seeing Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) sob as he hears the message from his long-estranged daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain), and then when he finally returns to her on her deathbed.

Les Miserables - Fantine (Anne Hathaway) singing "I Dreamed A Dream."

Ben Hur - The end-of-film reunion of Judah (Charleton Heston) with his miraculously healed mother and sister.

Furious 7 - This ending obviously has a real-world tragic dimension since the actor Paul Walker actually died during filming. So when Brian and Dom (Vin Diesel) are racing for the last time at the end of the movie, you know that, after 14 years and seven movies, it is truly the last time they will look at each other across the starting line.

Toy Story 3 - The ending scene when Andy gives his beloved toys to Bonnie and leaves for college.

Wreck-It Ralph - The moment Vanellope tells Ralph to escape Sugar Rush without him (as fully described on this Tumblr fan page) and the end when Ralph gets hoisted up and sees Vanellope winning her race and she waves at him.

Wall-E - When Eve restarts Wall-E and it seems like his memory has been wiped out, but then he manages to find his way back to her.

Love Actually - When Jamie (Colin Firth) proposes in broken Portuguese to his maidservant.

Armageddon - When Col. Sharp (William Fichtner) asks to shake Grace's (Liv Tyler) hand upon returning to Earth.

A Beautiful Mind - John Nash's (Russell Crowe) Nobel Prize acceptance speech to Alicia (Jennifer Connelly).

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - The final scene when Sam (Emma Watson) and Charlie (Logan Lerman) kiss in the tunnel.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mischa's Almond Jelly recipe

Ever since I encountered Maria's almond jelly at Hancock Street a few weeks ago, I've managed to perfect a simple recipe that I will share. The ingredients are a bit hard to find but that's part of the fun - poking around in Chinatown on a quest to find everything. Who knows what you will discover along the way?

Mischa'a Almond Jelly

  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve 3/4 cup of almond flour into 2 cups of water to make almond milk. Add 2 cups of whole milk and set aside.
  2. Boil an additional 2 cups of water in a medium pot. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar (do not use artificial sweetener) and 1 heaping teaspoon of agar powder. Stir until dissolved.
  3. Slowly add the milk mixture, then remove from heat and keep stirring for a few minutes.
  4. Strain into another pot and ladle into a sheet pan or mould, removing bubbles from the surface.
  5. Cover with cellophane so there is no air between wrap and the surface of the jelly. My theory is that this will prevent a "skin" from forming on the jelly.  
  6. Refrigerate until set and cut into pieces. Serve with fruit and a little bit of syrup. I like to use canned lychee and Mandarin orange slices.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Fun days and nights

Katie M and I had an epic 34 hour friend date last week. We started on Wednesday morning at the theater showing "Hamilton" to try and win Broadway's most competitive ticket lottery but we were not successful so we had lunch at The Delta Grill, a 9th Avenue Cajun restaurant that I've wanted to try for years. Their crawfish etouffee isn't nearly as good as Pappadeaux's in Houston (too bland) but it does the job when I'm craving it. Afterwards we came back to TSMC and watched "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" until it was time to try the second Hamilton lottery for the evening show, at which we again came up empty-handed.

We walked to Riverside Park and sat by the banks of the mighty Hudson River, watching the kayakers and the glorious sunset that reminded me of a J.M.W. Turner painting. We walked up to the 68th Street cafe and might have gone out on the pier except it was being set up to be used for an outdoor movie screening. So we climbed the steps and walked a few blocks south to Lincoln Center and had dinner at P.J. Clarke's, where Liz and her family hosted their Easter brunch before "The King and I" earlier this year ("Big big birthdays" - April 20, 2015).

We snagged one of the best tables in the restaurant, sitting in a wide-open doorway space directly across from Lincoln Center with a perfect mix of indoor and outdoor ambiance. Katie had a steak and mashed potatoes with a glass of red wine; I had some cherrystone clams on the half shell and a burger au poivre with a bottle of Crispin pear cider. We shared a fabulously light and tasty whiskey bread pudding for dessert. It was quite the epic meal, in every way, and we needed the walk back home to digest. We got comfortable on the couch and watched various TV shows before turning in.

Thursday morning I had tentative plans with Puck but they were stuck in Staten Island for the day so I spent most of the day with Katie again. I made her breakfast (that is a first) of bacon and eggs over easy and we watched "Casablanca" before heading out to stand in the line for "The Book of Mormon." She hasn't seen it yet and was determined to see it one way or another that day. We were first in line for standing room tickets but of course we were going to play the lottery as well.

A news crew from NY1 showed up to do a story about cheap theater tickets and Lottery Dude (the guy who runs the lottery at that theater and knows me by name) directed them over to me for an interview. Since I wasn't actually going to see the show unless we won the lottery (I've seen it twice so I didn't want to stand through it) they interviewed Katie on-camera for their piece. We entered the lottery but didn't win, so Katie got her standing room ticket and we went to Kung Fu Noodles for a dinner of soup dumplings, fried duck noodles and chili beef and tripe. We stopped by Katie's office so she could retrieve her umbrella and then back to TSMC to relax before she left for the show.

I spent my evening packing for my trip to Harrisburg and watching "Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt" on Netflix. Katie came back after the show and we had a quick check-in about our connection and our boundaries before she left for home.

This past Tuesday I had my second job interview with Tasty Sorghum Paste (TSP) and met my potential future boss' boss. I remarked upon the six-foot wooden replica of a fountain pen mounted on her wall, so I did get a chance to talk a little about my interest in fine writing instruments.

After the interview I went home to change (just four avenue blocks away!) and met with a college psychology professor named Marisa at Cafe Bene. She wanted to interview me about polyamory for an article she's writing, so I gave her lots of stuff to chew over. She also invited me to speak about poly to her spring semester class so that might happen next year.

Last Sunday I spent most of the day with Liz, Josh, Victoria, Michelle and Lytle helping move Liz from her rented apartment to her new owned apartment in the next door building. The new place is a four-story walk-up, so there were lots of steps to climb. The biggest challenge of the day was moving the sleeper sofa. Thankfully Lytle had a friend named Steve who lived nearby and was able to give us a hand, or else we'd have never made it. He's a 2nd 2nd assistant director for the HBO show "Girls", which Lytle also works on. Moving that couch was incredibly challenging because the stairways were tight and got narrower as they went higher, so getting from the third to the final fourth floor took as much time as the whole rest of the trip combined. Liz was very nervous about someone getting hurt and rightfully so but the only harm came to the plaster on the walls and a small rip on the arm of the sofa. Looking back, I loved how we all worked as a team, communicating constantly, staying positive, solving problems together and with such determination that we would achieve our goal. It was like winning a team challenge on a TV reality show.

After the move, Liz's parents bought us dinner at Maz Mezcal as a thank you for all our work. We sat outside in the early evening breeze and had some wonderful Mexican food. I had a beautiful shrimp ceviche and grilled shrimp tamales. After our meal we went next door to a beverage store called City Swiggers that carried hundreds upon hundreds of beers, ales and ciders, including my beloved and rare Koppaberg Swedish pear cider. They even had the Koppaberg cider with strawberry and lime, so I picked up one of those to try, along with a raspberry cider and a bottle of Victorian lemonade.

Saturday I met up with Puck in Chinatown after their volunteer shift at Bluestockings so we could shop for ingredients for my peanut noodles. I haven't been able to find the noodles I use at any of my usual grocery stores so I wanted to wander into the parts of Chinatown I'm not as familiar with to see if we could find them. We ended up finding two large grocery stores I'd never seen before near the East Broadway subway stop and I found the noodles at one of them.

Puck was a bit worn out so that night I went to Hancock Street alone for a house event and I'm glad I did because Emily showed up right before I was getting ready to leave so I got to see her for a little bit. She was doing a yoga class in Prospect Park the next day that I was going to have to miss because of Liz's move, so I'm happy I didn't miss her entirely on this trip. Rijard, Miriam and Anna were there of course, but nobody else I knew by name (although one lady knew me from a previous meeting and said hello). I did meet an Asian couple, Maria and David, and Maria brought an almond jelly and peach dish that I used to enjoy as a kid, so I'm going to try and make it someday soon.

I'm hoping that this week I'll hear something from TSP. I've been so encouraged by all the support I've been getting on my #jobhunt updates on Facebook - I know it's a small thing, but it feels good to have so many of my friends and acquaintances cheering me on. So I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for a positive result.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Adventures in Pennsylvania

What a busy time it's been for me! Between the night before Lori and I saw "Single Wide" and last night when I came home from Philadelphia, it's been nine straight nights of activity, friends and travel. The pace slacks off a bit this week, but I do have two job interviews (one by phone) lined up, so it's a different kind of activity. I feel like gainful employment is close around the corner so I'd better get my fun time in while I can.

Saturday the 25th Puck and I went to Mariel's monthly queer art salon/house concert Moonshow. It's kind of like Papacookie for the trans/queer crowd. It got started late so I was only able to see the first two spoken word performances before I had to leave to get from Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn all the way uptown to near where Papacookie used to be on the Upper West Side for Katie M's friend Kiersten's birthday at E-bar.

Aside from Katie and the birthday girl I didn't know many people there, but I did meet a new acquaintance, Amelia. We were sitting next to each other at the bar and I noticed her bag from the PIT. I asked if she knew Liz's Josh and she knows him well because she directed the Rocky Whorer PIT-ure Show that Katie had attended with me and Liz last October. So even though I knew her name and her connection to me, this is the first time I'd actually met Amelia and we hit it off well since we're both big theater nerds.

On Sunday I had my women's group picnic, which turned into an indoor affair because a storm front moved it just as we were about to set up. This was not much of a disappointment for me because we got to have our picnic in the top floor club house of Nicole's boyfriend's apartment building. There was air conditioning and a pool table and we had a dozen members attend. Plus, the weather moderated so it was pleasant to hang out on the balcony with a lovely view of Queens.

Monday night I saw Katie M for the third night in a row as she came over after work for a sleepover and we watched The Adjustment Bureau. Although this movie has some significance for me personally, Katie didn't enjoy it quite as much as I do.

I got up early the next morning, even before Katie awoke, to meet up with Kacey and Ilona for breakfast at Petite Abeille near Union Square. Ilona has moved to Boston, but this was her last trip to say goodbye to colleagues and get the last of her stuff from school. I had a nice catch up with Kacey since we hadn't seen each other since my birthday. We also went to Pinkberry to cool off from the blazing heat before I went home, Kacey went to Connecticut to visit her mom,  and Ilona left for Boston.

In the evening I met up with Piper at Delmonico's Kitchen in Midtown for a Restaurant Week dinner, a little tradition of ours. I had probably the best roasted chicken dish of my life, a surprisingly good choice. Afterward we continued our Wes Anderson marathon with Moonrise Kingdom, with Storm coming over to join us for that since she hadn't seen it yet. Tomorrow night we'll finish it off with the Best Picture-nominated The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Wednesday I had another Restaurant Week dinner at Limani to catch up with Liz. She just returned from her weekend trip to Houston for a bachelorette party, while I was leaving for Chris' bachelorette party in Harrisburg the following day. After dinner was the night when I was walking home and a guy touched me on the shoulder as I passed him on the sidewalk and said, ""Hey there baby - how you doin'?" A little further down the block, a panhandler made a comment about my dress as well. It makes me angry that street harassment has crossed the line from catcalling to actual physical contact. Unfortunately, I see no real solution other than to plug in my earbuds and ignore them.

The next day Puck and I passed each other at TSMC as they came to do some work while I left to get Yoshi from Staten Island and head out for Harrisburg. Chris and I went to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant for dinner, then visited a winery to have a few drinks on the patio, where a guitarist played some music. Such a lovely spot for this, although the bugs were a bit of a nuisance. In the evening Bruce joined us to continue our Fast & Furious set with #6.

In the morning, Chris' other bridesmaids Eva and Fiona came over and we had brunch at Hershey Pantry, a charming diner that served the largest cinnamon roll I've ever seen! I had a tasty Eggs Benedict with crab meat, and a side of scrapple, a regional meat product that I enjoyed.

After brunch we visited a salt room at a spa and sat in massage chairs as the ionized air flowed around us and we buried our feet in large tubs of salt crystals. I didn't feel much effect, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Then we drove to another winery and had a flight of wine and cider tastings - one of the ciders was a peanut butter caramel that was very surprising. We finished off the day in Harrisburg at an Indian restaurant where we had dinner and smoked hookah with a blueberry pancake flavoring.

I drove home that same evening, arriving home past 1 am and catching a few hours sleep before Lori met up with me at home and we started our journey down to Philadelphia for a weekend getaway. It's a good thing I like driving! We stopped at the Book Corner used book store first, where I picked up about a dozen cheap books. Lori had a bite to eat at the nearby Whole Foods Store and then I wanted to stop at the Franklin Institute's snack bar because I'd had the best carrot cake cupcake there last time I visited with Puck.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. A wedding closed off the front entrance of the museum. By the time we navigated the side entrance and found an elevator to take us up to the main floor, I got in line at the snack bar only to see the very last cupcake being purchased ahead of me! So we left to check into the hotel, and were delighted to find small pieces of carrot cake at the check-in desk! So I did manage to scratch that itch a little bit.

After settling into the room we headed out for dinner at Jake's Sandwich Board, where I got the off-the-menu Garlic Bomb sandwich that I'd seen on an episode of Food Paradise. I also got Fried Pickles and the Farm Fries. It was actually a little disappointing from a garlic standpoint, but the service was good and Lori really enjoyed her sandwich, so I was happy about that. We walked off the meal in Chinatown before heading back to the hotel for the night.

The next day we had breakfast at Reading Terminal Market and headed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the great museums that I haven't been to yet. There was an Impressionist special exhibit but since it was the First Sunday Pay What You Want Day, we just elected to do general admission for one dollar apiece (hey, I'm on a budget right now). I found my Sargent painting in one of the galleries, which was a nice surprise!

In the Asian Art wing, they had a replica of a 14th century Japanese tea house, which reminded me very much of the Shogun miniseries that Puck, Natalia and I finished watching last month.

Outside the museum, I was amused by the line of tourists waiting to take a picture with the statue of Rocky Balboa. Of course, the front steps of the museum were immortalized in a training scene from the original Best Picture winner, Rocky.

We wandered around the grounds and explored the pathways overlooking the waterworks before leaving for home. Since I had to drop Yoshi off in Staten Island, I dropped Lori off at the train station in New Brunswick so she could get home more directly while I took the long way by ferry back to Manhattan. It was an exhausting four-day weekend, but totally worth it!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Steven Wilson in concert

On Friday I went in search of ingredients for my shredded beef tacos that I wanted to prepare for my showing of Savages at TSMC, one of the few Hollywood movies with a (reasonably) happy poly ending for a trio of lovers. This was a lot more involved than I expected it to be, mostly because I don't have a go-to Latino supermarket on my radar. So I started by getting beef short ribs and most of the fresh ingredients at the Korean supermarket, leaving dried ancho chilies and queso fresco as the major missing ingredients. I took a longshot and went to nearby Jack's, but struck out.

Then I took a bus up Eighth Avenue to Gristedes, where I knew I could get corn tortillas but no peppers or cheese. I went across the street to Westerley and found chipotle instead of ancho chilies, so I had something at least. I stopped at the Food Emporium on the way home to get shredded mozzarella in lieu of queso fresco. It kind of burns me how there are at least 10 different versions of feta on store shelves and hardly any other kind of crumbly cheese. So four grocery stores and a fifth variety store visited and I still couldn't get everything I needed, but I got enough to make it work. 

Unfortunately all this took so long that by the time I started cooking, it was going to be well into the event by the time the meat would be cooked (it takes three hours to braise short ribs in the oven). So when Michelle came over for the movie, we started the movie and then took a break to finish the cooking and eat dinner. She shredded the cooked meat while I prepared the sauce and we put them together with my homemade slaw, cheese and a squeeze of lime. Very tasty although a bit too spicy for Michelle! She gamely ate a couple of them before her tingling lips made her stop. If I'd found anchos instead of chipotles, this wouldn't have been a problem. Here's the recipe if you want to try it.

Shredded Beef Tacos (Carne Deshebrada)
Serves 6 to 8


1 1/2 cups beer
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 ounces (4 to 6) dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and torn into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large onion, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
3 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes

1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 head green cabbage, cored and sliced thin (6 cups)
1 onion, sliced thin
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
18 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (1 cup)
Lime wedges


1. FOR THE BEEF: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine beer, vinegar, anchos, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cloves, and cinnamon in Dutch oven. Arrange onion rounds in single layer on bottom of pot. Place beef on top of onion rounds in single layer. Cover and cook until meat is well browned and tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

2. FOR THE CABBAGE-CARROT SLAW: While beef cooks, whisk vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add cabbage, onion, carrot, jalapeño, and oregano and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Drain slaw and stir in cilantro right before serving.

3. Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to large bowl, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and set aside. Strain liquid through fine-mesh strainer into 2-cup liquid measuring cup (do not wash pot). Discard onion rounds and bay leaves. Transfer remaining solids to blender. Let strained liquid settle for 5 minutes, then skim any fat off surface. Add water as needed to equal 1 cup. Pour liquid in blender with reserved solids and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer sauce to now-empty pot.

4. Using two forks, shred beef into bite-size pieces. Bring sauce to simmer over medium heat. Add shredded beef and stir to coat. Season with salt to taste. (Beef can be refrigerated for up to 2 days; gently reheat before serving.)

5. Spoon small amount of beef into each warm tortilla and serve, passing slaw, queso fresco, and lime wedges separately.

I woke up Saturday just in time to meet Liz for a play reading for Articulate at Bunga Din, a bar down on 14th Street. My friend Kelly wrote a play called "Lauren and Logan Are Gonna Be Fine," a self-described rom-com play set in New York. I first knew Kelly as one of the actresses in Joan and Kacey's play, "The Tragedy of Dandelion" that I saw twice last year. Marguerite read one of the roles of Kelly's new play, and I was happy to see Joan and Bruce there, just back from their tour of Prague where they performed their play "Kafka's Belinda" at the Prague Fringe Festival. Joan had invited me to a free preview last week and it was a very interesting play. Bruce co-wrote it, Joan directed, and Storm actually did the sound design.

In the evening Puck and I attended the Steven Wilson concert at Best Buy Theater, the second time I've seen him at this venue as a solo artist, and the fifth time I've seen him (including Porcupine Tree tours). 

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

The concert was unlike any rock concert I've ever been to. The last time I saw SW on the tour supporting his last album, "The Raven That Refused To Sing" I had to stake out a spot on the rail standing at the front of the mezzanine, continuously fending off encroachers from all sides. For my reward, I got a stellar view of the concert but I had to work for it.

So this time SW set up the concert much like a classical music concert, with full assigned seating and multi-channel sound. Which was great because our seats were in the center section at the rear of that self-same mezzanine on a step-up riser. When he took the stage, SW explained that he was getting up in years and recognized that many of his fans were too (he's one year older than me, biologically speaking) and might appreciate a show enjoyed from the comfort of their seats. However, he encouraged everyone to "rock out" as much as they wanted to, but from the comfort of their seats. He also took a cue from Diana Krall and asked everyone to refrain from taking photos or videos during the concert, which I really appreciated so I didn't have to see hundreds of glowing screens held up in my sightline as I do with every other concert. Clearly, SW is courting a different audience as a solo artist than the Porcupine Tree fanbase.

The concert setlist started out with several tracks from his new album, "Hand. Cannot. Erase." with video on a huge LED screen across the rear of the stage. I loved how SW let his personality and sense of humor come out much more than he does at PT concerts. He joked about how most of his music is about isolation, misery and pain, saying "I don't do happy. Happy makes me depressed."

He also had more time to talk about how songs came about. For example, he prefaced the song "Harmony Korine" from his debut solo album "Insurgentes" with a little musical history about growing up with 80s music and the small musical sub-genre known as shoegaze that influenced the song. It's fascinating to hear even just a little bit about the inspiration of musical genius, and SW is one of those rare unquestioned musical geniuses of the modern rock era.

I also loved the multi-channel sound effects, reminiscent of the DVD-Audio mixes that he is justifiably famous for in the industry, on tracks such as "Perfect Life," synced with the video content and the performance of the musicians. Then he surprised me by pulling out "How Is Your Life Today?" an old PT song from the 2000 album "Lightbulb Sun" that is a vocal solo with guitar and keyboards, in addition to solo acoustic performances of two of PT's biggest hits, "Lazarus" and "Trains."

For the encores the band performed behind a draped scrim on which was projected somewhat creepy images for "The Watchmaker." For the finale, he performed his biggest recent hit, "The Raven That Refused to Sing," with the short film directed by Jess Cope shown on the high-def screen.

What I love the most about SW's concert is how you can see his hand (no pun intended) everywhere in the performance. He clearly had a vision of precisely the kind of performance he wanted to put on and executed its many components, from recorded voices and sounds to video content to an immersive surround sound mix and audience participation, to perfection. He's one of the few musical performers that I've had the privilege of seeing in their prime, at the absolute top of their game in the genre that they occupy. It was, quite simply, the most stunning and brilliantly executed rock concert I've ever seen.