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.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Food and drink

So the Rockets lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Golden State Warriors 4-1 tonight, ending the basketball season as far as I'm concerned. It was the first conference finals since 1997 when they lost to the Utah Jazz. Anyway, life goes on.

It sometimes strikes me as odd that I hang on to my Rockets fandom so tenaciously when I've let go nearly everything else that ties me to Houston. But I think it all comes down to the things I really love, like the food I grew up with: Cajun food, Sichuan cuisine, jalapenos on hamburgers, 24 hour Tex-Mex and Texas barbecue. So when the Rockets won their back-to-back championships in 1994-1995, I fell irrevocably in love with the franchise and have been a loyal fan even from afar.

In the evening on Mother's Day I met up with Chelsea to see a SAG screening (she's a member of the Screen Actors Guild) of a movie called I'll See You In My Dreams followed by a talkback with the stars, Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott. Afterward we went to a pub and had a bite to eat, and found out from the bartender that my elusive Swedish pear cider was available at a bar called House of Brews across Eighth Avenue from where we were sitting. All in all, it was an enjoyable evening and helped to distract from the unpleasantness of the holiday for me.

On Friday the 15th, Katie B invited me to another happy hour and I suggested the House of Brews - quite selfishly because I wanted that Kopparberg pear cider and it's close enough for me to walk. It was nice to see Carolyn there, a familiar face, and I finally got to meet Rin, of whom I've heard much about. I actually didn't stay too long because I was pretty tired after having come back from Staten Island and Princeton in the prior 48 hours, but I will see Katie on Saturday for our long-awaited Steven Wilson concert.

Last weekend I attended the 60th birthday of Puck's dad with all the usual fanfare that brought their extended family from all over to the Verrazano Grill near their house. The food was very good, although the Russian music got a little loud for my taste.

On Sunday Puck went to Philly for their session while I met up with Liz, Josh and Lytle at the Brooklyn Bagel Company for breakfast and then went on a whiskey distillery tour in Red Hook. It took a few tries to get there - subway, buses and shuttles, but we finally found it. Since the distillery was so small the tour was short but it was followed, as such things usually are, by tastings and free drinks of Old Fashioneds and Gold Rushes in a charming tasting room hosted by a friendly Chihuahua.

Lytle had to scoot after a few rounds, but we made plans to meet up the next day to see the new Mad Max movie. The three of us had an early dinner at Hill Country Barbecue (which I'd been to once before after the New York Audio Show. We ran into one of Josh's friends from the PIT at the place next door and he treated us to dessert pies. I got some very tasty barbecue pork belly that was dripping with fat - so delicious but so bad for me - with green bean casserole and coleslaw.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Eating through Chicago

My trip to Chicago on the last weekend of April was met with equal parts anticipation and dread. On the one hand, I've always wanted to visit the Windy City, mostly for its culinary destinations since I'm quite the fan of Chicago-style hot dogs and pizza. I've only been there once before and that was for a high school band trip so it was ages ago - a lifetime ago.

On the other hand, the reason I was going this time was to move my dear friend Kristina, whom I've grown quite fond of since first meeting her at Shotz and at Kacey's birthday in 2012, and then getting to know her one-on-one after one of my all-time favorite Shotz performances ("Finding fun time" - Nov. 12, 2013) and highlighted by some epic conversations over dinner ("Work hard, play hard" - March 9, 2014). I haven't had to say farewell to anyone close to me the way we have become close in quite a long time.

The day before departure was quite an ordeal in itself. Puck's family weren't coordinated with our plans so Puck's dad took Yoshi to work so that their mom could drive Puck's sister and niece to Penn Station for a train back to Vermont. So in order to get Yoshi, Puck and I intercepted the mom, sister and niece at Penn Station, drove to New Jersey to meet up and switch vans with the dad, drove back to Staten Island to empty the van and then to Brooklyn to meet up with Kristina.

The next morning we packed up everything Kristina owned, strapped her mattress on the roof, and her bicycle on the back and started driving west with the three of us and Sam the cat. We drove through a little rain, but since we weren't going very fast, the plastic cover held up okay. However, by the time we started encountering snow in the high altitudes of Pennsylvania, the cover had started to tear apart. By the time we stopped for the night at a Clarion Inn in Ohio, it was in tatters, but fortunately, it was not raining and didn't rain for the rest of the trip right up until the moment we pulled into Kristina's friend Carol's parking lot.

We unpacked Yoshi into Carol's studio apartment (they now have a two-bedroom, but it wasn't ready until May 1) and then went out to dinner, at which point the rain was coming down in buckets. We made it to Lou Malnati's Pizzeria with three more friends, who all went to college with Kristina and Carol. It was the first authentic Chicago-style pizza I've ever had and it was very tasty (I had five slices!).

Despite the engorgement, we decided to visit Publican Quality Meats for brunch the next morning to sample some of their amazing house-cured charcuterie. TV host Andrew Zimmern had a delicious-looking blood mortadella egg salad sandwich on Bizarre Foods that we wanted to try, but it wasn't on the menu that day, so we just had the mortadella itself as part of the charcuterie plate, along with a rillettehead cheese and sausage of various proteins.

Since it was a cold and rainy day, we decided to visit the Field Museum and spent several hours looking at exhibits of bio-diverse wildlife, Egyptian mummies and ecological outreach around the world. On the way out we said a quick hello to Sue, the world-famous T-Rex fossil residing in the great hall.

Afterward we explored the park and waterfront surrounding the museum, which also includes a view of the skyline, an aquarium and observatory. The wind blew the water into a steady chop that occasionally splashed onto the promenade, threatening to soak us if we didn't pay attention.

In the evening, I got to cross off another culinary bucket list item with a visit to the famous Chicago landmark Superdawg drive-in. The classic Chicago Dog is an all-beef sausage topped with mustard, sweet relish, onions, tomatoes, pickled peppers, and a spear of pickle. There are tons of restaurants and stands in the city that serve the Chicago Dog and I've had versions of it at hot dog places all over the country, but never in Chicago until now.

The next day dawned clear and bright so we started our day at a nearby coffee house before heading downtown. We spent a good deal of time at the Chicago Cultural Center, which used to be the main library but now houses art exhibits and features two extraordinary Tiffany glass domes (as seen on my Facebook cover photo). There's also a nice view of Millennium Park from the upper floor conference rooms.

We had planned to visit the Art Institute but we didn't really have enough time to make it worth the price of admission, so we contented ourselves with exploring the public art, fountains and playgrounds in the various parks, just enjoying the beauty of the day.

For our final meal of the day, we took the train out to Wrigley Field to meet up with Puck's childhood friend Jessica at Al's Italian Beef, which achieved notoriety from Bobby Flay and Adam Richman on the Food Network.

Puck and I awoke at 5 the next morning, packed quickly and silently, and started back home. Without all the baggage, we drove a lot faster and only stopped briefly for breaks. It took more than 18 hours of drive time over two days coming out, but we made it back home to Staten Island in under 14 hours.

I took most of the following week to recover from the trip, although I did manage to make it out to Open Love NY on Tuesday and then my women's group on Wednesday. But I've been slowly resuming my usual pace of activity - Sunday I visited Kacey at the performance she's stage managing, Eleven Reflections on September, a powerful multimedia and performance piece about 9/11 from a Lebanese poet. Afterward we did a yoga class together and then came back to TSMC to watch The Wings of the Dove, continuing our long-standing marathon of literary movies.

Monday night Puck joined me for dinner at The Bao, followed by "The Shotz Guide to Survival." This month's conditions were: 1) characters must face an absurdly perilous situation, 2) someone laughs out loud, and 3) includes the line "Don't worry, I've been doing this for years." It wasn't my favorite performance, mostly because of the violence. One person was gunned down; another was stabbed with a fork. Three characters had their necks snapped by a witch. Just not my cup of tea, really, even in fun.

Tuesday night I made dinner for Liz and then we walked a block down my street to see Airline Highway, which is nominated for four Tonys this season. We both thoroughly enjoyed it, as it touched on the themes of intentional family and inclusiveness that we talk about a lot. Liz even managed to snap a photo under the nose of the hyper-vigilant usher.

Wednesday I woke up at 7 to meet Katie M in the line for rush tickets to see Finding Neverland on Broadway and this time we managed to snag some for the afternoon show. She went to brunch with her father and boyfriend while I went home for a nap and we met up again for the 2 pm show. The partial view seats were not very good - they were in the front row on the extreme left of stage and since it was above our eyelines we couldn't really see the back half of the stage. However, we did get to see some of the action very up close, nearly getting a glass of fake liquor spilled on us. At intermission a stagehand came by and asked us if we saw the fallen stemware - that's when we found out it was not supposed to have been dropped into the pit. Despite the limited view, we both enjoyed the show and the music immensely, especially since Katie is such a fan of the Peter Pan myth.

After the show we actually tried to win tickets at The Book of Mormon ticket lottery, but were unsuccessful so we went back to TSMC and watched the Finding Neverland movie, starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. It turns out the musical is almost a carbon copy of the movie, but the addition of the music makes it much more enjoyable. We had a quick dinner at the nearby Five Guys before saying goodnight.

Today I gathered up a couple bags of clothes, sheets and other items to donate to the Salvation Army. Then I stopped by the drugstore on the way back to pick up 20 liters of Diet Mountain Dew since it was on sale. In the evening I met up with Erika, one of the newer members of my women's group, to talk about her fledgling photography project involving open relationships.

Tomorrow night is the second iteration of "The Conversation," the multidisciplinary think tank meets artists collective that is curated by Storm. I've also started putting out resumes this week to various job postings, which is what I'd planned to do after returning from Chicago. Hopefully the job search will progress quickly and satisfactorily.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Big big birthdays

Wow, it's been way too long since I've updated this blog. I know this because even Liz, who probably reads infrequently, commented to me recently that I've been deliquent. So here goes my update.

Nothing much happening on the job front, but that's not distressing to me - yet. I'm having way too much fun with my friends and doing odds and ends projects. I'm reading through the 11-volume Horatio Hornblower series of novels by C.S. Forester and watching the movies at TSMC. I strung up a new series of lights in the apartment since my fairy lights were starting to wear out. So I found some globe lights and strung them criss cross my ceiling to give an evenly warm glow to the front of the theater.

Starting back on April Fool's Day, I went to my usual Wednesday writing meetup and then followed up by going to Our Bar, a Shotz-like event held at the Failte Irish Whiskey Bar, featuring scenes that take place in a bar, performed in the bar. I found my friend Erin there and we had a nice talk walking back to the subway. I find it interesting that, as much as I disavow my old life, I somehow tend to connect with fellow Texans living in New York.

On Friday I went to Staten Island to join Puck's family for Passover seder, which was the first I've attended to include the next generation tykes Kyra and Maya. I actually didn't stay over since I had a morning appointment at SCK Salon to get my hair done for Liz's 30th birthday party. I did my usual blue and purple, which I feel is subtle enough for job interviews, at least until it fades into pastel shades. After I got out of the salon, Puck and I met up with their family and friends at the High Line before I had to get home to get ready for dinner.

And what a dinner it was! Liz's family, her parents, sister and some of her friends came up from Houston and arranged a whole pig feast at The Cannibal (a restaurant that Piper recommended to me that I passed on to Liz). The birthday girl looked resplendent in a Milly dress that her cousin Caitie helped her pick out in her professional function as a personal shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue. I wore a coral Calvin Klein dress I bought just for the occasion.

Despite having a score of hungry mouths, we weren't able to make much headway on eating the whole pig and all the side dishes. I even managed to split open the head so we could try the brain (it tasted like pork flavored cheese) but Liz and her family took home more than a half-dozen boxes of pork and all the guests took home Easter baskets filled with treats. After dinner we went down the block to Whiskey Rebel Bar, where Puck caught up with us for a few birthday drinks before the party broke up for the night.

The next morning on Easter Sunday many of the partygoers reconvened at P.J. Clarke's in Lincoln Square for Easter brunch before attending an afternoon performance of The King and I, starring Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe in his musical stage debut.

Monday night was Connect the Shotz, and Katie B, Lillian, Kacey and Becker joined me and Puck for the show. Unfortunately, Kristina had some sad family news and couldn't make it. We met up at Zen Sushi for dinner before the 8:30 pm show. This month's Shotz was the first time that each playwright wrote the first half of one play and the second half of another. The condition was that two or more characters had to perform an activity that is impossible for one character alone, and the line was "We're in this together."

Tuesday Puck and I met up with their sisters and friends at The Cloisters and then came back to watch "Captain Horatio Hornblower" with Natalia. Kristina and I had dinner at Pig & Khao on Saturday (because obviously I hadn't had enough pork yet!) and talked more about our plans for the Chicago trip. We hopped over to The Whiskey Ward to try their top-shelf cocktails (Woodford Reserve sidecars) and then went up to ride the Roosevelt Island tram (one of Kristina's goals before leaving the city) and walked a bit on the island before come back and visiting another bar called The Jeffrey, where a guy she dated for a time works as the bartender.

The following Tuesday I had a friend-date with Katie M and for once I went up to her place on 96th Street. We chatted for a while on the couch then got some Thai food and took it to over to Carl Shurz Park. We walked along the East River behind Gracie Mansion and then took a bus over to the Guggenheim Museum. We didn't feel like seeing their collection so we just looked at the gift store and then went down to the Met for a quick bathroom stop and a tour of my favorite spots in the American Wing. In the evening we came back to TSMC and watched episodes of Daredevil on Netflix until nearly 1 am before she went home.

Thursday night I met up with Liz at the PIT to see Josh perform in a show called Enchantment Park: in 3D and 4D that included skits about a very unusual amusement park and the sometimes-hilarious visitors. Friday I met up with Katie M and her mom, who is visiting from Buffalo for her birthday (the second friend-Mom I've gotten to meet this month) at the Neue Galerie of German and Austrian Art to see Gustav Klimt's "The Woman in Gold." Then we went to Warby Parker to help Katie decide on some new eyeglasses and had a quick bite at Le Pain Quotidian before I had to leave for my long-awaited date to see Furious 7.

This latest installment in the Fast and Furious franchise has been on my radar since Puck, Katie B, Lillian and I talked about it way back in January at Katie's 25th birthday. In the intervening months, Lillian and I (who are fans of the movies) have shown our respective partners (who were not) the lead-up movies so we would all be up to speed for the newest one. While the movie itself was entertaining enough, I thought the best part was the tribute to the late Paul Walker at the end. I actually like Parts 5 and 6 better as movies in and of themselves.

Saturday I spent the whole day with Katie M and her mom, starting on the rush ticket line for Finding Neverland on Broadway (unsuccessful) then getting them two tickets to see the matinee showing of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. We took a break at TSMC and then went for lunch at The Olive Garden, which is their traditional thing to do on show day. While they saw their show, I went home for a nap, and then went to meet up with them in the rush ticket line at Gigi, where we got tickets for the evening show. We went back to TSMC to watch "The A-Team" then went out to see Gigi, and then met up with Puck at Totto Ramen for a late supper. Talk about a full day! I certainly have to admire the stamina of Katie's 64-year-old mom.

Today was Kacey's birthday in Prospect Park, so I made my somewhat famous eggplant dip and packed my yoga mat and waterproof picnic blanket for the trek out to Brooklyn. The day was quite windy and cool - too cool for yoga. I found Kacey, Becker, Chelsea, Kristina, Rijard and Emily Dawn huddled together on the great meadow, and to combat the cold we actually used my insulated picnic blanket as a makeshift shelter.

After a while the cold became unendurable so we packed up in search of a coffee shop. Astonishingly, we ran into Amanda at random in the park and she joined us, along with Keith, Lourdes and Nick who came as we were leaving. Some of us went to a coffee shop called Sit and Wonder and then we met up at Nick's apartment where we played with percussion instruments, ate some more, talked and toasted Kacey's birthday and Kristina's impending move this week. All in all, it was a thoroughly and unexpectedly glorious day.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shut Up and Write update

I joined this Meetup group called Shut Up and Write, and it's been a good impetus to get started on the project for The Conversation, Storm's artistic endeavor. And with this new Bluetooth keyboard combined with my Kindle Fire, I can even do a little blogging with my extra time.

Picking up on the last entry, the trip to Philly was quick but fun. Puck did a much more thorough recap on their blog if you want all the details - no point in writing again about it. The following Saturday I went to my friend Loli's 50th birthday party at her penthouse apartment in Jersey City. It was a splendid affair, and I met many of Loli's friends outside the women's group, and her family, plus her husband (of whom I've heard so much about). The only big downside is that it was so foggy that day that the view of Manhattan across the Hudson River, which would have otherwise been panoramic, was completely obscured.

After the birthday cake was served, Loli loaned me some Laurie Anderson CDs and I took my leave so I could get a little rest before meeting up with Katie B for the Diana Krall concert at the Beacon Theater. I was there with Lori late last year for Tori Amos but it was Katie's first time there. I bought a vinyl copy of her latest release, Wallflower, and we went up to take our seats.

The concert itself was wonderful, very jazzy and upbeat compared to most of her recording catalog. At one point she paused in a show of indecision on what to play next and a lady sitting one row behind us sang out, "I've got you under my skin!" which brought a laugh from the audience. Diana responded from the stage, "How does the rest of that go ...?" to which the lady called, "You know better than I do, girl!" It was a very funny impromptu moment in a concert that was otherwise very reserved and polite. After the concert Katie and I went for a bite at the same Szechuan restaurant behind the Beacon that Lori and I went to before Tori Amos, and then said goodnight.

Sunday night I headed down to Staten Island because Yoshi was developing engine trouble and I wanted to get it taken care of before my trip to Harrisburg with Katie M. I dropped him off Monday morning at the Honda dealer on SI and rented a car to run errands. I went to Costco and renewed my membership there so I could get an eye exam and look for glasses. Plus I knew that Yoshi would need new tires, so I checked those out too. I went to a couple other stores and then home to wait for a call, but it never came. Finally after trying to reach the dealership, I finally got a call saying they haven't diagnosed the problem yet, but they would call me as soon as they got in in the morning.

Morning came and still no word, even after repeated attempts and messages. Finally around midday I got them on the line and they STILL had not fully diagnosed the problem. I lost my temper and told them I was coming to pick him up and unless they had an answer by the time I arrived, I would be taking him elsewhere. When I got there, they said the problem was the coils and spark plugs, which all needed to be replaced at a cost of nearly $1,000. I said forget it, and they had the grace not to charge me the typical diagnostic fee of $160.

I parked Yoshi near my apartment and woke up at 6:30 am the next morning to drive him carefully out to Princeton to visit the Honda dealer out there. I met with Jennifer, my usual advisor, and she set me up with a free loaner vehicle (contrast with SI, where I had to pay for a rental), so I went to Costco and found my new glasses (the optical advisor was very nice, and she used to work at the Wayne store, so it's possible she's seen me before). I also visited the Princeton Record Exchange, of course, and strolled around Palmer Square a bit, enjoying the sunshine. So it was a very pleasant change from dealing with the service people in SI. I drove into Manhattan to meet up with Puck and Katie B at the writing meetup, where we were the only three to attend. I also gave Katie a mix CD of some of Diana Krall's songs we heard at the concert. After that was done, Puck and I drove back to SI for the night.

Yoshi's engine problem turned out to be less serious than the SI Honda dealer said it was, requiring one coil to be replaced for about $200, but they also found that the bushings on his front suspension were cracked, so those had to be replaced for more than $600, so it turned out to be close to $1,000 anyway. Add another $500 for four new tires from Costco, and it was quite a lot of money to drop on a 15-year-old minivan. But like the situation with my apartment, I'm not ready to give up Yoshi yet until I find out where I will be working next.

Last Saturday Katie M met me at the ferry terminal to head down to SI to get Yoshi - we crossed paths briefly with Puck and their parents, who were on their way to Baltimore. We stopped at a White Castle for lunch - Katie's first time there - and then continued to Chris and Bruce's home in Harrisburg. We took a rest and then headed to 2nd & Charles, that great secondhand media store that has the most organized collection of used vinyl I've ever seen.

For dinner, Chris made grilled sea scallops, asparagus and parsley linguine alfredo, and I brought a very dry Proseco and a bottle of Pavan, a sweet French liqueur (beautiful website, btw) made from muscat grapes and orange blossoms, which we mixed with the sparkling wine. After dinner we had our Mario Kart challenge on the downstairs projector, and predictably, I was last in every race. Chris and Bruce traded first and second places, and Katie acquitted herself well, at least finishing ahead of me.

The next morning Chris made bacon and eggs for breakfast, and then we went to meet Eva at the bridal shop, leaving Bruce to work on his school project. Katie graciously modeled the dresses for us, since she was the closest in size to the dresses they had on the rack, and we found one that we thought was at least as nice as the one from Cocoa Couture. So that will be the one we go with, as we are running out of time until the September wedding date. We puttered around the Park City Mall for a bit looking at shoes and cosmetics before saying goodbye to Eva and going home to pack for the trip back to New York.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar weekend 2015

It's been an amazing and fun Oscar weekend, and I'm especially grateful for it because I've been so sick with this sinus infection up until now that I was worried I wouldn't be able to enjoy all the plans I'd made.

Last weekend Kristina and I had a low-stress Valentine's Day together by seeing Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera. We were actually both pretty sick, but we powered through together with plenty of cough drops and tissues. Thankfully we had Dress Circle box seats so we weren't packed in with people around us. The opera was excellent, and I loved the climactic special effects with fire and the title character being swallowed up by the floor.

Last week I tried to get to see the doctor but I had to wait until Wednesday to get an appointment since Monday was Presidents Day. So basically all I did was blast through all four seasons of Game of Thrones, resting and taking antibiotics to get healthy for this weekend. And that was fun, I'm really looking forward to the new season starting in April.

I woke up at 6 am on Saturday because of my cough and couldn't get back to sleep, so I went down to the theater at 7:45 to stand in line. The doors were still locked, so there was a line forming outside of about 20 people already in sub-freezing morning temperatures. By the time Puck joined me in line at close to 9 am, there were hundreds of people in line halfway down the avenue block. But we got in, got our preferred seats in the smaller of the two theaters and waited for the others to join us. Apparently the larger theater was sold out, so there were a lot of arguments over saving seats. I'm glad I didn't have to deal with that because it would have soured the whole experience for me. As it turned out we had several friendly people around us and it made it pleasant for everyone.

So here's my take on this year's eight nominees for Best Picture, in the order we watched them.

Boyhood - Despite the prosaic subject matter, I really enjoyed this movie for its authenticity and its lack of pretentiousness. Interestingly, even though part of it was filmed in Houston, it didn't bring back very many memories of my old life, which is a testament to how involved I was in the story. Piper, Ben and I marveled at how they seamlessly combined footage from over such a long time period, a technical challenge that I'm sure many audience members may have overlooked.

The Theory of Everything - This was a lovely little film, and Eddie Redmayne deserves his Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, even though this is clearly an Oscar-bait kind of role, a la Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. My only critique is that it didn't quite hit me emotionally at the end. I was hoping for a "A Beautiful Mind" kind of moment that brings tears and it didn't quite get there.

Birdman - This was the only movie I'd seen prior to the showcase, so I took a little nap in the second half. I still think it's an impressive movie and I don't have a problem with it winning (although my Oscar pick was Boyhood). The best thing I can say about Birdman is that it is an unusually strong ensemble cast of actors and performances.

Selma - This was also a highly enjoyable, if a bit sedate, film about the civil rights struggle, and immediately takes it place as THE movie to watch on MLK Day every year. Because there seriously weren't that many great options before. The story was well told, but the whole movie was just a touch slow (behind the beat, to borrow from co-nominee Whiplash). But certainly the march scenes reminded me of the protest marches I've been a part of in the last few years and how we still have such a long way to go in the struggle for freedom and equality.

American Sniper - I liked this movie more than I thought I would, but then I'm a fan of Clint Eastwood movies. This was the only movie of the showcase that made me tear up at the end, watching Chris Kyle's funeral and the outpouring of grief and respect. Yes, politically the movie is pretty awful with the way it treats Arabs and glorifies war. It also reminded me a lot of Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down," or what it could have aspired to be. But American Sniper told the story it wanted to tell, and it did it well. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller were both excellent in their roles.

The Imitation Game - This was probably the most entertaining movie of the bunch. Another movie that conjured up "A Beautiful Mind" for me, this was a thrilling, intelligent and enjoyable portrayal of the true and tragic story of Alan Turing. Just about the only thing I didn't like about this movie was the downer, yet unfortunately also true, ending. In fact, Puck was so upset that they started collecting lists of LGBT movies with happy endings for us to start watching.

Whiplash - This was the movie I was most looking forward to seeing, and it also did not disappoint. But since I used to play drums and Tara was an elite-level drummer, I have a familiarity with the subject. I loved the pace of this movie, the music, the acting and musical performances, and the whole look of the film. The ending was unexpected, but very satisfying to me - I think it works for a fictional story, even if it is a little problematic for a real life one.

The Grand Budapest Hotel - This movie is pure Wes Anderson at the top of his game, and since Piper and I are in the middle of a WA marathon, I was thoroughly prepared for this movie. It was pure eye candy and a non-stop narrative, plus I'm a big fan of Ralph Fiennes. I can offer no better praise than to say that, after watching seven movies and having been awake for nearly 22 hours, I didn't fall asleep at all during this gem of a film.

This year Puck, Beth, Andrea and Ben joined Piper and me for the marathon and it was nice having the company. The only downside is that the event seems to be getting so popular that it is in danger of degradation. They also didn't have posters this year, which was a disappointment, and the t-shirts didn't include the nominees on them. But it was a strong field of films so it was totally worth it. If next year's nominees don't interest me as much, I'd consider skipping it for 2016.

Puck and I got home at 5:30 am and slept until early afternoon before they went off to visit a museum with their shul and I watched a Rockets game and cleaned up the apartment. Once they got back we started preparing food for the party. Our Oscar-pun inspired menu included:

The Imitation Crab dip with Theory of Everything bagel chips

The Grand Budapesto stuffed shells
Birdman chicken wings

DoughBoyhood stuffed rolls
American Snapper sugar snap peas with bacon
Selma-lina pasta salad

Mixed berries with coolWhiplash
Selma Alabama Fudge Cake

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A slow start to 2015

Happy 2015! Hard to believe this is my first official post of the year, but it's been a pretty slow month for me. I got sick a couple of times (once from eating too much roast pork, the other time from a nasty cold) and that has curtailed my social schedule a bit. But there have been some significant events I want to document.

The second Saturday of this month I met up with Piper, her mom Karen and her boyfriend Ben at Great Jones Cafe for dinner, then we went to a bar called Hill & Dale for drinks. Then we all went back to Ben's apartment and they played Cards Against Humanity while I observed and left early to go home. I figured since Piper and I are planning to be roommates, it would be a good idea to meet her mom - it was Ben's first meeting her as well. So it was nice to add Piper to the short list of friends (Puck, Katie B, Chris, Kacey & Becker) whom I've met their parents.

The following weekend, Puck and I attended Katie’s 25th birthday party, along with six other guests – all women from Bryn Mawr, Katie’s alma mater. For a present, I gave her the 1978 paperback copy of “The Tolkien Reader” that I found in the stacks at Papacookie - last year, I'd given her a new copy of Tolkien's "Unfinished Tales," so it's kind of a thing. I also gave her a card that said something like, “For your birthday, I wish you rainbow kisses, teddy bear hugs… but watch out for unicorns. They’d just as soon gore you as look at you.”

After a dinner at a Turkish restaurant near St. Marks, we set out to look for a bar to continue the party. After striking out at a couple places, I suggested going to the Boxcar, where I had visited for Lytle's birthday ("Thanksgiving 2014" - December 3, 2014) and it turned out to be a good choice. So I was happy to contribute to a successful birthday party for one of my dearest friends.

The next day I had some wonderful one-on-one time with Liz. She helped me take down my tree and put away the ornaments, and then we disconnected the sofa sectional and moved furniture around to prepare for my Women's Poly Group the next evening. We went out to Kung Fu Ramen on 8th Ave, and then to Amy's Bread for cake, which we brought home to eat. Then she went home to get ready for her performance with Josh reviewing "Return of the Living Dead" at the PIT that evening, where Victoria and I met up and watched from the audience. 

The next day, Puck's grandmother Zoya passed away at the age of 90, the third grandparent to go in just over a year. What an awful string of bad luck their family has endured, what with Sandystorm destruction and now losing so many people in succession. And then the next day I fell ill with a severe cold that kept me home for three days and caused me to miss Zoya's funeral. I spent most of Saturday in Staten Island helping to sort through all the leftover effects to make room for more stuff coming from Zoya's apartment.

At least the next generation seems to be doing well, with Maya growing into a beautiful little girl and Kira starting to get bigger. On Saturday, Puck and I taught Maya the single fist-bump, and she apologized to me in English at the dinner table for splashing me with borscht, which was super-cute. She kind of reminds me of Pearl a bit, although I didn't really get to know Pearl until she was 5.

Otherwise, I've just been recovering from my cold. Piper, Liz and I came up with the menu for the Oscar party, and Piper, Puck and I have our tickets to see the Best Picture Showcase marathon on the 21st. Andrea is going to join us too, so it will be a nice group of people like last year when Josh came. But the entire month of February is going to be packed with events (plus our apartment search) leading up to that final weekend, so I'm just resting up to get ready for it.