Saturday, December 5, 2009

Aphra Behn lives!

. . . on stage at the Women's Project in Liz Duffy Adams' rollicking farce "Or," along with her pals, Charles II and Nell Gwynne. Beautifully written and dashingly performed by Maggie Siff (Behn), Kelly Hutchinson (Gwynne et al.), and Andy Paris (Charles et al.), the play's a tribute to Restoration theater, as well as to its brilliant heroine. Now I want to read everything Behn wrote.

You have through December 13 to catch this remarkable production, though I hope it reopens elsewhere soon.

Julie Miles Theater
424 W. 55

Sunday, November 29, 2009

World's Simplest Chocolate Truffle Recipe

Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but this recipe is about as easy as they come and practically foolproof--about all you can do to ruin it is burn the chocolate.

9 1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
4 Tb unsalted butter
1 C. heavy cream
up to 3 T rum or brandy, or 1 T vanilla
cocoa or ground nuts (optional)

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or (taking care not to burn) in microwave--or if you have neither, in a saucepan over very low heat stirring frequently.

Cook butter and cream in a saucepan over medium heat till they boil; then remove from heat, and carefully stir in chocolate and flavoring.

Set the pan in a larger pan of ice water, and whisk until the mixture thickens enough to hold a peak (it will lose most of its shine)--should take 5-10 minutes. Don't worry if you accidentally splash in a little water. My sister Kristine and I did this once, and thought the the end result had an unusually silky texture.

Use two teaspoons (or a melon scoop and the tip of a fork) to form truffles--number will depend on size.

Set them on a cookie sheet (no need to grease), pie tin, or similar surface; cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper, and refrigerate for an hour. Then roll them in cocoa or ground nuts if desired.

I've always just kept these in the fridge for as long as they lasted, but Kristine says they'll survive mailing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Subtext of the Week


. . . read the headline on an ad I glimpsed through a subway window on Saturday. Below was the headless image of a lithe model, clad in white short shorts and brief, midriff-baring top, doing a backbend.

Look closer at what, I wondered--shoulders, knees, crotch?

Reading the text to the right of the model, I learned that she was advertising, not a yoga or exercise studio, but a giant health insurance company. Can't recall the exact words, but the message was something about "how well we've got you covered."

They'd chosen an odd image for such a message, but a revealing one. The model displayed about as little coverage as is likely allowed on a subway platform.

To me, the ad said--with more truth in advertising than was likely intended:

This company will give you the bare minimum of coverage.

And come winter--or when you really need it--you'll be out in the cold.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Debashish Bhattacharya

This is the fifth year of the Richmond Folk Festival, and every year I've been thrilled to hear some wonderful music that was new to me.

Last night it was Debashish Bhattacharya, an amazing slide guitarist and his brother Subhasis on tabla. The music was haunting, hypnotic, and powerful--and, to me, at least, incredibly sexy.

The festival continues today and tomorrow at Brown's Island and the grounds of the American Civil War Center. See

The festival is free, but donations are welcome.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Confidence Man

"You're an addict," teased my first Docent when I told him I'd just seen The Confidence Man for the third time. I confessed to being tempted to go again, since even three times wasn't enough to see every scene in the show and maybe not even to see part of every story line.

Inspired by Herman Melville's last novel, and including some language and characters from the original, this Confidence Man is set mainly in our time, interweaving stories of art cons, publishing cons, financial cons, religious cons, internet cons, and maybe a few I haven't seen yet.

They unfold throughout a retired lighthouse tender, the Lilac--which is the real star of the show--and you're more likely to follow any one story if you let one of the six Docents be your tour guide.

If instead you elect to just wander at will on the Lilac, you may have an experience more like the deeply unsatisfying one that Wilborn Hampton described in his New York Times review.

Perhaps playwright Paul Cohen should have called his work something other than The Confidence Man--"Confidence," say--so as not to disappoint those like Hampton who expected an adaptation of Melville's work, instead of something new that attempts to address 21st century cons.

The advantage to you of the negative review is that, if you choose to go, it will improve your odds of getting in off the waiting list.

To get on it, show up a half-hour before showtime: 7 and 9:30 today through Saturday.

The Lilac is docked at the north end of Pier 40. The Confidence Man is free, but donations are welcome, and beer is available for $5.

For further information see and

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Great NYC Weekend

Who'd want to fly from California to New York City for a short Labor Day Weekend? My sister Joanne did, and thanks to her and her ex-sister-in-law and friend Alyse, I'm still basking in the afterglow of the weekend's delights.

Here's what we did:


Joanne and Alyse arrived late, or rather early Saturday at one in the morning, and we stayed up a long time drinking wine and eating Afghan bread and tasty tarmosalata from International Grocery on 9th Ave.

We didn't begin our sight-seeing day till after 11 a.m. when we took the subway to

The Cloisters

I may not have been back to the Cloisters since the first time I saw them--with Joanne and our sister Kristine, when they visited me while still in high school.

"I'd never seen anything like them," Joanne remembers, and she'd been eager to see them ever since. But somehow we'd never managed till now.

Joanne and Alyse are both ardent gardeners and wanted to take the Cloisters' garden tour (free with admission)--something it wouldn't have occurred to me to do on my own. The tour turned out to be one of the best I've ever taken.

Not only did we see, smell, and touch many plants, but we learned about the history, philosophy, and symbolism of medieval gardens, garden archaeology, medieval pharmacology, and the medieval dyeing industry. Inside we examined the plant life rendered on several tapestries and learned about the plant dyes that colored them.

Our tour guide recommended that we come back the first week in June for special programs presented when the gardens are at their peak.


Looking for outdoor theater that might still be going on, I'd found a listing in Time Out of a troupe that was new to me--Curious Frog Theatre--doing performances of Romeo and Juliet and Aristophanes' Plutus in various parks through September 20.

Luck for us, Plutus was being done in Inwood Hill Park, not far north of The Cloisters, that very afternoon.

Our tour guide happened to be heading home to Inwood as were leaving, so we enjoyed her company along the way. At 204th St. and Broadway, she pointed out the Dyckman House, the oldest house in the city, which I've never visited. ( Maybe I'll go with Joanne the next time she's in town.)

Plutus, in which the god of wealth, who'd been blinded and thus can't tell whether he's giving money to good or bad people, gets his sight back, turned out to be a lot of fun, with timely additions related to our current economic plight.

You can see it this Saturday at 4 pm Queensbridge Park.

Good Shepherd Church

Walking along Isham on the way to dinner, we came upon the Good Shepherd Church, where an iron cross from Ground Zero has been installed in a memorial garden honoring those who died there.

Bistro Marrakech

Figuring we might as well eat in Inwood while we were there, I'd picked a promising sounding Moroccan place. We arrived at 5:45, 15 minutes before it opened, but they steered us to the inviting garden of the place next door, where we lingered until my friend Roz joined us. I'd be happy to end up there again
one of these days.

We had a fine dinner at Bistro Marrakech--terrific humus, succulent squid, and fragrant fish tagine. All wines served there are $24 a bottle; we were happy with the red our server recommended.

4959 Broadway | Btwn 207th & Isham St , 212-576-2828

The Confidence Man

Well stuffed, we hastened to the second round of our double header of free theater: a play inspired by Herman Melville's Confidence Man, performed on a historic steamship, the Lilac, docked on Pier 40.

I'll have more to say soon about this unique and charming show. For now, catch it if you can--you have till September 26. Information at

River Walk

Unfortunately, my friend Christine arrived too late to get on the boat, but she watched some of the action from the shore, then joined us for our walk home along the Hudson--a fine ending to a great day.

Our only regret was that none of us had remembered to bring along her camera.


After a leisurely morning, we headed up to the Hirschfeld T
heater to try our luck at the Hair lottery. We didn't win, but enjoyed witnessing the excitement of those who did.

In the Heights

After a half hour or so in the TKTS line, with 20 minutes till curtain, we got tickets to In the Heights--a great New York show and the perfect show to see after our uptown explorations the day before.

For a late lunch, we had a few tapas at Sangria 46, then he
aded downtown to meet my friend Catherine at the Ganesvoort Hotel.

The High Line

Catherine, who's a professional tour guide, had offered to give us a tour of the High Line. Living near it, I'd of course seen it a couple of times, but it was great to have the benefit of Catherine's knowledge of its history, current development, controversies over its future, and scandalous doings at the Standard
Hotel overhead.

With their knowledge of gardening, Joanne and Alyse were especially appreciative of the High Line plantings.

Dil-e Punjabi

By now it was close to nine. For dinner, we picked up food from one of my favorite Indian take-out places, the all-vegetarian Dil-e Punjab, 170 Ninth Ave. at 20th St.

We'd thought about going out to a comedy or improv clu
b, but decided we'd had as much stimulation for the day as we could handle. So instead I introduced Joanne and Alyse to Mad Men, and we called it a night.


Bagels and Nova

from Murrays for breakfast.

MOMA: Ensor and Waste Not

After dropping Alyse at Penn Station, Joanne and I headed to MOMA, where we saw the show of James Ensor's work. I'd seen a bit of his work over the years, but the show is revelatory, and we had the good fortune to see it without craning through a crowd. (It closes September 21.)

Somebody should make a poster of Ensor's bawdy and sardonic rendering of beach life.

This was the last day for Waste Not, which I'd seen before and wanted to show Joanne. Deep and moving, it's all the stuff saved by the artist's mother
, and arranged by the two of them on the museum floor.

We stayed as long as we could, wandering around the exhibit, reading the commentary on the walls, and taking pictures with the cameras we had at last remembered to bring.

Waste Not seen from above

Monday, August 31, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Danger at Jones Beach

Could New York's next helicopter disaster be at the beach?

Two Saturdays ago was a gorgeous day for beach-going--clear, sunny, not too hot or humid. Christine and I had arrived early at the west field of Jones Beach and were about to enter the water and play in the frothy waves, when we saw an ominous sight maybe a hundred yards from shore.

A helicopter swooped down with a rope ladder dangling below, and a guy at the end of the rope. Was he looking for a swimmer in trouble--or a body? Maybe he was being trained for something, we thought, when the copter dropped him in the water, and cruised away. Then we noticed that the guy was somehow back on the ladder.

The pleasure of the day had been darkened by what we'd just witnessed, whatever it was--that copter had been way too close to shore for comfort. We watched it fly out of sight before we ventured into the waves.

A couple of hours later, the copter was back, and this time we found out what it was doing: promoting the GI Joe movie.

Pretty outrageous--scaring the public, and perhaps endangering them, at what is actually public property: Jones Beach State Park.

I hope you'll join me in urging officials in charge to ban helicopters from flying low over our beaches for any but emergency purposes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Julie and Julia!

We all thought it was terrific--and Linda had seen it once already, on Friday afternoon with her daughter, and a much older crowd than ours.

"Funny," she said, "yesterday they didn't laugh, but they clapped more."

She saw it yet again a day or two later, with another friend--and thinks that won't be the last time.

The movie so delighted and inspired me that I decided to have some people over for dinner on Tuesday and cook some things (well, at least one thing) from The Book--a far cry from Julie's accomplishment but a signicant commitment from a rough-and-ready, down-and-dirty cook like me.

The things ended up being vichysoisse (which I'd never made before), ratatouille, and roast chicken. Despite my deficiencies in technique and deviations from the recipes (not peeling the potatoes, not degreasing or straining the sauce for the chicken, etc.), they turned out fine.

I wonder if all over the country, people who've seen The Movie are making such tribute dinners. . . .

"They should have had that book for sale in the theater lobby," Linda said. "Bet they could have sold a lot."

"But everybody who goes already has it," Jim said.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Way to Heaven . . .

. . . could be called, but losing the title's beautiful irony, Way to Hell.

Deep and indelible, it's a masterwork by Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga, inspired by the Nazis' successful efforts to mislead the Red Cross about conditions at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Way to Heaven opens with the anguished monologue of a former Red Cross inspector reliving his visit to the camp, now knowing he shouldn't have believed his own eyes.

Next we see the rehearsal and creation of what he saw: a play performed by camp inmates, meant to illustrate comfortable daily life in a Jewish community complete with synagogue, written by the camp's commandant and the community leader drafted by Berlin to be "mayor" of the fake town.

Moral choice and the power of theater are among the themes of this brilliant work. It casts audience members in the role of witness, and challenges us to examine what we would do--and perhaps what we will do.

Well-known abroad, Mayorga has had work produced in 18 countries, but this is his first U.S. production. I hope it's the first of many.

If you're in New York City, you can see it in an extraordinary production at the Teatro Circulo, 64 E. 4th St.

Go, if you can, on August 9, when Inge Aurerbacher, author of I am a Star: Child of the Holocaust, and survivor of Theresienstadt, will appear at a talk-back after the performance, or August 16, when the playwright will speak. It closes on August 23.

If you see it, you'll never forget it.

My Opening Weekend Vote . . .

Will be for Julie and Julia.

I'll cast it in Richmond, Virginia, where it will count more than if I were at home in New York.

Tomorrow , I'll join Jim and some other friends for an afternoon showing at the Bow Tie Movieland, a new theater housed in a historic locomotive plant.

Expecting to emerge ravenous.

What will you be voting for?

Recycling at the Park Slope Food Coop, Part III: Reward

"So you spent four dollars and two hours to do that," said Jim after I told him about my recycling adventure. Actually, it was more like slightly under four-fifty and four hours.

But I got something out of it, and not just the satisfaction of the recycling itself. I used the trip as an artist's date in Brooklyn--and a shopping opp.

My first thought was to explore some thrift stores and vintage shops, and I'd taken down a few names and addresses before embarking on my journey.

I only made it to one: Hooti Couture, 321 Flatbush at 7th Avenue, just north of the coop. I cooled off there, scanned the colorful wares, and chatted with the charming proprietor, but didn't buy anything.

Walking up Flatbush, I ventured into the New York Chess & Game Shop. It occurred to me that they might have an innovative board game I'd read about recently, which is notable for rewarding collaborative activities rather than cutthroat competition. Unfortunately I didn't remember the name. But from my vague description, they recognized The Settlers of Catan--sold out but on order.

At the triangle formed by Flatbush, Atlantic, and Pacific, I found a little community garden, densely planted, filled with delicate floral perfumes.

I had in mind to find some Middle-Eastern treats on Atlantic Avenue, but instead I found Blue Marble, and rewarded myself with a coffee and ginger ice cream cone. Only on the way out, did I learn that they use biodegradable utensils and cups for their organic ice cream.

Finally, I ended up at Trader Joe's on Atlantic Avenue, more spacious and far less crowded than the one on Union Square, and returned home laden with artichokes, coffee, cookies, humus, etc., etc.

At home, I put the big empty bag in which I'd toted my recyclables back on the chair in the kitchen, and began filling it up again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Recycling at Park Slope Food Coop, Part II: Delivery

Getting There

Sunday morning I called the coop to find out if recycling was still happening--it was.

Earlier in the week, I'd gotten directions from Google Maps: change at W. 4th, take B train to 7th Ave. , then walk to Union Street. Saturday I'd checked the MTA web site for possible service changes on the B line--there weren't any.

I figured an hour would be way more than enough time to get there. Aiming to arrive by 1:45--which the coop requires to allow time for inspection of recyclables--I left at 12:45.

Waiting for my first train in the 8th Ave. station, I checked the legend at the bottom of the subway map to see how often the B runs on a Sunday, and got an unpleasant surprise--it doesn't run. No wonder there weren't any service changes.

The MTA's recommended alternatives were the D and the A, both a much greater distance from the coop. Suddenly my diminishing hour felt a lot shorter--would I end up missing the deadline and lugging my bag back in the heat?

A few panicky minutes later, I was on a train, checking the map again, trying to figure out what to do.

"Where are you going?" asked an elderly man.

"The Park Slope food coop," I said and explained my predicament.

He took in my bag. "Want my advice?"

"Sure," I said.

"Leave that on the train, and forget about it."

I decided to try the F train--it goes to the other end of Park Slope, but I'm a fast walker--then learned I could take the D to Pacific and change to the Q, which goes to 7th Avenue.

The D was fast and fun, with some unusual onboard entertainment--a guy skillfully miming, first boxing, then music playing and singing. If my Spanish were better, I might have figured out which fighters and musicians he was imitating.

At Pacific, I asked someone about the frequency of the Q, and with 20 minutes to spare, decided I'd be better off hoofing it.

Steamy though the day was, the walk wasn't bad, and I arrived with ten minutes or so to spare.

The Process

There were several people stationed on the sidewalk outside the coop to receive plastic recyclables. When I arrived, the lines were short, so the process went quickly.

First I handed one of the collectors my bag of #5s--these get screened individually by hand and must be free of labels. I noticed a woman at an adjacent table cutting labels off with an exacto knife.

Here I overheard something that isn't on the coop's website: they will take sturdy plastic containers used for heating and serving meals, even if they're the wrong number, to give to a homeless shelter. But they only collect these till they've filled a particular container, so if you want to bring any, come early.

On the other side of the table, a woman was collecting transparent #1 containers in a clear plastic bag even bigger than mine. I knew I'd brought a lot of these, but was amazed to see how many came out once I started dumping.

Finally, my bag was empty. I handed some transparent plastic wrap to a guy who was collecting that; he rejected a stiff circular piece--the only thing they didn't take.

Feeling lighthearted--almost giddy--but still sweating, I walked away.

Your next chance to recycle will be Saturday, August 8, 10 am-2 pm. You'll save time if you presort your stuff.

For requirements and other information, see

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Recycling at the Park Slope Food Coop. Part I: Intention

How far would you go to recycle?

Until Sunday, the farthest I'd gone is the ground floor of my building or a nearby container in another place.

In principle, though, I was willing to go farther.

Two years or so ago, I learned that the Park Slope Food Coop recycles some forms of plastic that New York City does not. So I started saving all those take-out and fruit and vegetable containers I'd been tossing, thinking I'd bring them there. . . one of these days.

At first I stuck them in rear corners of kitchen cabinets. Soon the cabinets were so full that stuff started tumbling out when I opened a door. There wasn't any extra floor space in the kitchen, so I moved them to a humongous plastic bag, which I set on a chair in the kitchen.

The bag

The bag inside the bag

The bag grew and grew as if it had a life of its own. I'd taken to explaining what it was to guests, in case it looked as strange to them as it did to me.

A few months ago, I got serious and checked the coop website. I learned that they take #1 and 6 transparent plastic, but not bottles (labels are okay); and #5 containers without labels and "specifically marked" lids. All need to be clean and dry.

I went through the stuff I'd collected: lots of #1s (those fruit and vegetable baskets), a few 5s and 6s, and some the coop doesn't take (2, 4, 7, and unmarked). I discovered that those little amber prescription bottles are #5s and that their labels usually come off pretty easily. I put the 5s in a smaller bag within the bigger bag.

There are only three chances a month to recycle at the coop-- the second Saurday., 10 AM-2 PM; third Thursday, 7 PM-9 PM; and last Sunday, 10 AM-2 PM. I figured I'd aim for one of the Thursdays, and was all set to go in April, until I got invited to a friend's birthday dinner.

Finally last week, I realized that the last Sunday was approaching, and that I'd be here with no conflicting obligations. I called to make sure it would be happening.

"They do it the last Sunday, and this is the last Sunday, so yes," a woman told me.

Rain or shine? I asked. She thought so.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Norman Conquests Countdown

For those of you who haven't yet seen Alan Ayckbourn's brilliant and amazing Norman Conquests on Broadway, you've got four days left.

You can see all three parts on either Saturday or Sunday, Round and Round the Garden tonight, Table Manners Friday night. If you can only see one, go for Table Manners; if you can only see two, add Garden.

If they're available, grab a floor seat for Table Manners and enjoy the eerie sight of trees and houses from the bottom of the disc that covers the stage in lieu of curtain dangling among the set's dinner table and chairs.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Janet Bode

Janet Bode's been gone for nearly 10 years, but she's alive as ever in my heart. I can still hear her voice on the phone, which would lift my spirits whatever either of us was going through. Janet went through a lot, including a losing struggle with breast cancer and, long before I knew her, surviving a brutal gang rape.

Besides her influence on friends, Janet left an extraordinary body of work--at least 14 nonfiction books for young adults on some difficult subjects, like teen pregnancy, romantic troubles, divorce, eating disorders, and teens in prison. The heart of each book is direct quotes from the hundreds of teens she interviewed all over the country.

Though she had no children herself, Janet had enormous empathy for teenagers and connected with them deeply. I'm guessing that her books may have helped save some of their readers' lives.

Here are the titles of Janet's books for young adults that I know about: Beating the Odds: Stories of Unexpected Achievers; The Colors of Freedom: Immigrant Stories; Food Fight: A Guide to Eating Disorders; For Better or Worse: a Guide to Surviving Divorce; Hard Time: a Real Life Look at Juvenile Crime and Violence; Heartbreak and Roses: Real Life Stories of Troubled Love; Kids Having Kids; Kids Still Having Kids; New Kids in Town: Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens; New Kids in Town: Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens; Rape: Preventing It; Coping with the Legal, Medical and Emotional Aftermath; Truce: Ending the Sibling War; Trust & Betrayal; The Voices of Rape. Some of them are illustrated with cartoons by her partner, Stan Mack.

For adults, Janet wrote Fighting Back: How to Cope with the Medical, Emotional, and Legal Consequences of Rape; and View from Another Closet: Exploring Bisexuality in Women.

Today, Bastille Day, was Janet's birthday.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Don't Miss The Norman Conquests!

You have two more weeks to catch The Old Vic's terrific production of Alan Ayckbourn's tour-de-force.

I saw Round and Round the Garden two nights ago and was hooked--jumped at the chance to see Table Manners this morning at the disturbingly early hour of 11:30. It's performed then on Saturdays, as the nominal part I of the trilogy, so that those who so choose can see the whole thing in one day.

And if you see one part, no matter which, I guarantee you'll want to see the whole thing.

As fine as Garden was on its own, I can't imagine having missed Table Manners--poignant and wrenching as it is hilarious--and can't wait to savor the delights of Living Together.

Circle in the Square , through July 26.

Salt and Pepper Fruit Heads

Turns out that the peach-headed guitar-playing girl I'd been using for salt for a few years was actually the pepper shaker--it says so right on her skirt: P. But salt flowed freely from her two large holes.

Since I grind my pepper instead of shaking and had lost the cork that closed her companion, the pear-headed reed-playing salt girl, I must have decided a while back to switch their roles--or maybe had them switched all along.

A few weeks ago, the peach head broke right off in the hands of a child who wasn't even trying to dismember Ms. P. Obviously it wasn't the first time--there were traces of dried glue along her throat. I vaguely remember applying the stuff myself.

So I switched the salt and the cork back to the official salt girl, though not noticing till today the S on her skirt that so proclaimed her. She has three holes, each smaller than Ms. P's two, and two of them are blocked, probably with years of dried salt. So the flow she allows is much slower than Ms. P's.

Now I'm wondering if a painter at the Napco factor way back when made a mistake and reversed the functions of the fruit heads, or if the hole-driller made the pepper holes too big.

Anyway, if you have a small-holed pepper shaker around, try using it for salt if, like me, you prefer pinchs to gobs.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dinners at the Farm

Last summer my friend Susanne regaled me with stories of cooking, once in the middle of a downpour, at dinners held on Connecticut farms over the summer. This summer I'm hoping to get to one.

The dinners, served, rain or shine, at candlelit tables under tents, feature farm-grown produce and include a tour of the host farm. They benefit several organizations supporting farmers and agricultural in the state. For six or more course, a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres, wine, and service, the $150 cost seems a relative bargain.

Dates for this year's Dinners at the Farm are July 16, 17, 18, August 13, 14, 15, 27, 28, 29, and September 10, 11, and 12.

For information, check out

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Catch it if you can

I just got back from seeing a powerful, harrowing, and brilliantly acted play, Groundswell--you should see it, too, if you can. It's a political and psychological thriller set in the new South Africa, involving a black gardener who's the temporary manager of a seaside guesthouse; his unlikely friend, a former policeman of Afrikaner descent; and a white businessman of British descent who's spending the night in the guesthouse.

It closes Saturday, June 27. You can probably get discount tickets through TDF.

New Group, 410 W. 42 St.
tickets: 212/279-4200 or

Monday, June 22, 2009

Messing with a Classic, Part I

I grew up eating Hellman's mayonnaise in or on many things--it was my family's dressing of choice for artichokes and asparagus. Recently Jim bought a jar of Hellman's that boasted olive oil as an ingredient. Oh, goody, I thought--it'll be even better. Boy, was I wrong!

Unfortunately, besides olive oil, this new Hellman's contains, of all things, sugar. Sugar in mayonnaise??? Sure, if you like it in scrambled eggs or you're a fan of Miracle Whip.

I'm now wondering whether the original Hellman's exists anymore. Luckily the Trader Joe's organic mayonnaise I bought recently is a good subsitute. No olive oil, but no sugar either. I'm about to eat some on broccoli.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to gain weight on a 50 mile bike ride

Actually, I can't prove I did--don't have a scale and didn't weigh myself before or after the North Fork Century last weekend. But I feel heavier, maybe by a pound or two, or at least by the weight of two slices of pie.

Briermere Farms of Riverhead provided pies at the second rest stop of the metric century route, where I ate those slices--first a huge piece of blackberry with a modest amount of whipped cream, and then raspberry, almost as big. The crusts were thin, dark, and crisp; the fillings fragrant, delicious, and not too sweet.

Before Pie: Christine and Kathryn
(photo by Jim

After polishing off the raspberry, I was tempted to taste yet another--apple, raspberry-cherry, strawberry, blueberry--but contented myself instead with fantasizing about pie-eating contests. After all, I'd just eaten a third of a large pie, and it wasn't even Thanksgiving.

What I'd already had that day: for breakfast: a small slice of coffee cake, small pastry, half a bagel with cream cheese, coffee; at the first rest stop at the Harbes vineyard: a half-piece of pita with humus, a cupful of mixed nuts, good handfuls of strawberries and cherries, a small handful of blueberries, a miniature Larabar, a couple of pieces of candy, and probably more I've forgotten.

At the end of the ride, I had a hot dog, a veggie burger, an ear of corn, a can of Sprite, and a vanilla chocolate-dipped cone from the Mister Softee truck. Back home that evening, Jim and I ate some taramosalata with Afghan bread, cheese, and leftover greens and drank white wine we'd bought at a North Shore vineyard the day before the ride.

So maybe it wasn't just the pie that added the ounces. And maybe if I'd actually finished the metric century I'd planned to (Jim was the only one of the four of us who actually did), I'd have at least the illusion that I'd lost weight--unless I'd eaten too much of the foccaccia that Jim enjoyed at the tasting of Harbes wines at the final rest stop.

After Pie: Mitch, Christine, and Kathryn (photo by Jim)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My Main Soup

Years later, I can't remember where I got The Black African Cookbook-- flea market, used book store?--but one Christmas or summer visit, I gave it to my sister Kristine and brother-in-law, John.

After thumbing through it, we decided to try a couple of recipes--injera and Sambhar Soup. They were both terrific, and the soup soon became one of my staples. It's the soup I've cooked most often ever since, and one of the few recipes I actually copied into the little loose leaf recipe book my other sister, Joanne, gave me. Its page has long been covered with soup stains, but by now I know it by heart:

Sambhar Soup

1 c lentils or split peas
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 bell pepper chopped (I often use poblanos)
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 qts water
3 tsps curry powder (I'm guessing they call for tsps rather than 1 tb because a teaspoon will fit more easily into the typical spice jar)
1/2 c tomato sauce (I sometimes use tomatoes or just omit; last time I made it, I added the tomato juice I'd drained from a can of Italian plum tomatoes when making puttanesca sauce)
3 tsp salt (I usually don't salt it)
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp dry mustard
juice of 2 lemons (most of the time I just use 1)
coriander chopped (I usually omit)

Drain lentils. Put lentils, onions, pepper, potatoes,
and water into deep soup pot and bring to a boil. Stir
well. Turn down heat, cover, and simmer till vegetables are

Put through a strainer or food-mill (I've never done this; the first time we made it, we looked, tasted, and agreed it was just fine as is), then back into pot.

Add tomato, spices, and lemon. Simmer for 10 minutes.

If you'd like to get the lovely little cookbook this comes from, good luck. And let me know if you find it. I've tried Amazon, Powell's, and Google--long out of print, I'm guessing.

Searching for the soup online, I learned that it's actually South Indian--but then there are many South Africans with roots there.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

In you're in NYC tonight . . . .

For my friends from the Backspace Conference--

Think about joining me at a contra dance tonight. You'll enjoy the music of a terrific band, Nightingale, and one of my favorite contra callers, Rick Mohr, calls amazing dances. Dancing starts at 8:00, following a beginner workshop at 7:15.

The Church of the Village
201 West 13th Street, NYC
$16 (you'll get a pass to come back for free)

No partner required, but wear lightweight clothes. And bring clean, soft-bottomed shoes for dancing--no high heels allowed.

For additional information visit or
call the Dancephone, 212-459-4080


Cho Dang Gol (Korean) is known for its excellent home-made tofu dishes. 55 W. 35, 212-695-8222.

If you can't get good Chinese where you live, try

Szechuan Gourmet (21 W. 39 St., 212-921-0233) for some of the best Sichuan cooking in Manhattan,


Grand Sichuan (229 9th Ave. at 24th St., 212-6205200), which offers food from other regions as well. I'm especially fond of dishes like pork with chestnuts from the Mao's Home Cooking section of the menu, and Green Parrot with Red Mouth (cold spinach).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Under the Tower Snake

This afternoon I returned to Huang Yong Ping's Tower Snake at the Gladstone Gallery. The only two other visitors were leaving as I entered, so I got to walk all the way up it on my own.

This time, when I reached the top, I was more inclined to keep standing than to sit. Feeling like the eyes of the snake, I looked up, out, down, and around, and saw two men enter the room separately, walk around it, and leave without climbing.

Finally, I did sit, but not for long, because the tilt of the narrowing bamboo walkway made sitting awkward and uncomfortable.

On the way down, looking down, I realized there was another view I had yet to explore. So when I got to the bottom, I looped around the snakes's tail, and walked into the spiraling path between the bamboo supports.

Looking up from below, watching and listening to others climbing, might not have been as thrilling as being on the snake but was moving and lovely in its own way.

Once I reached the center, sitting down felt natural--what the snake wanted me to do.

After a moment, I lay down and enjoyed an amazing view, marred only by fluorescent tubes overhead. I stayed there till four newcomers walked in--they felt like a crowd.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Join the Dance Parade!

Rain or shine, but I'm hoping for shine, on Saturday you'll find me at New York City's third annual Dance Parade.

Beginning at 1 pm on 27th Street, some 4,600 dancers--doing everything from African to ballroom to Bulgarian to ecstatic to hip-hop to Middle Eastern to Zydeco and then some--will step, swing, shake, leap, and boogie their way down Broadway. We'll end up at Tompkins Square Park for a dance festival with free performances, lessons, and dance party (3-7 pm).

I'll be contra-dancing in the parade with Country Dance New York (

To find a group you might want to dance with, check out

Monday, May 11, 2009

Musketeers and Tower Snake

Both times I visited the amazing show of Picasso's late work at the Gagosian Gallery on West 21st Street, I had to first wait in line outside for a few minutes--and I'm glad I did.

Waiting in that line for the second time, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a giant dinosaur skeleton inside the Gladstone Gallery.

Not a dinosaur, as it turned out, but a temple-like structure built of bamboo in the form of a coiled snake--the work of Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping.

After an hour in the company of Picasso's musketeers, matadors, and their women, Jim and I wound our way through the snake, from tail to head, on a creaky bamboo walkway.

I plan to go back many times before the Tower Snake closes on July 31. Only three people at a time are allowed inside the snake, but I'm hoping to be there alone one weekday and sit down and meditate in its head.

You can catch the Picasso show Monday-Saturday through June 6.

The Tower Snake may be visited Tuesday-Saturday through July 31.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Gypsy Musical Comedy and Super-party

"Gypsy dance instruction begins at 7:45," promised the email flyer for Viva Patshiva, and we were determined not too miss it. So Jim and I wolfed down our dinner at Desi Deli on 10th Avenue and rushed up to the Interart Theatre Annex, where Rolling Rocks and several varieties of box wine were already being proffered, free with admission, in the waiting room.

"This is the first play I've been to where they try to get you drunk first," Jim said, starting his beer. Christine thought the Cabernet wasn't bad for box wine.

But what about those dance lessons? Yes, I was told, they usually have them but not tonight, maybe because there were so many of us, but that shouldn't stop us from joining in for the big dance number. We didn't really need to know the steps.

Rollicking and ribald, Viva Patshiva aims to be a "super-party" as well as a musical. With a lively, soulful score, a fine band and strong singers pouring their hearts into their performances, it largely succeeds.

Close to the stage in the rugged, intimate space, we felt almost like part of the Gypsy band.

Though the plot--involving a romance between a Gypsy dancer and a motivational speaker, whom the Gypsies are hoping will give them money to keep from being deported--seemed a tad unfinished, we accepted that as part of the show's home-grown charm.

Catch Viva Patshiva now if you can--it closes May 16. Sit in the front row if you'd like some extra attention from the cast, and do join in that big dance number.

If you've got the energy--we didn't--stay for the "Gypsy-style After-party with drinking and dancing into the wee hours." I'm guessing closing night will be a blow-out to remember.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Trashing the School Cafeteria

While folks in the film industry are trying to make film production more environmentally friendly, I've just seen signs of an opposite trend in New York City schools.

Last Friday, on my fifth substitute teaching gig, I found myself in a gloomy middle school basement cafeteria, where the trays are styrofoam, the utensils are disposable plastic, the floor gets covered with litter minutes after a janitor sweeps it, and even recyclables get tossed.

My forty minutes of cafeteria duty consisted mostly of gathering the kids' trays after they finished eating (or not eating), and tossing them, along with many uneaten apples.

Seems that this school instituted the teacher-as-busboy practice to prevent food fights, and according to the dean who told me about the policy, it's been working. "We've only had a couple of food fights since," he said.

Unfortunately, it's also teaching the kids that they're not responsible for cleaning up after themselves--a great addition to the model of environmental negligence that the failure to reuse and recycle provides.

I wonder whether teachers or students ever discuss the practices of their very own cafeteterias during the inevitable environmental unit--and whether there are any schools still using washable trays . . .

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Toward Greener Filmmaking

Away We Go, which will be released later this spring by Focus Features, is more than a romantic comedy directed by Sam Mendes--it was a pilot project aimed at not only reducing the film's environmental impact but measuring it.

On Earth Day eve, the Paley Center and the Producers Guild of America (PGA) brought together several filmmakers and others involved with Away We Go to speak about their pioneering efforts. Moderated by Katie Carpenter of Earthlink/Green Media Solutions--the environmental consultancy that first suggested the project and partnered with the filmmakers--this was one of the most enlightening and inspiring panels I've ever attended.

Executive Producer Mari Jo Winkler, known for her efforts to reduce environmental impacts on previous films, told us that on Away We Go they'd recycled or composted 49% of the production's waste and given the compost to community gardens, had the caterers use local food sources and biodegradable dishes, and made extensive use of hybrid vehicles and biodiesel fuel, including some from reclaimed fry grease.

Jane Evans, executive VP of physical production at Focus Features, said that, instead of the ubiquitous disposable plastic water bottles, they'd used refillable aluminum bottles, meanwhile counting the plastic bottles used in another shoot. "In five days, we collected 1,500 bottles"--probably just 70% of the total used. "When I started in production, there weren't water bottles," Evans said, and from now on, on Focus shoots, there won't be either.

Post-production supervisor Jeff Roth described the use of "desktop dailies": "We did away with DVD distribution of dailies. People watch them online."

"The biggest challenge--" said Producer Peter Saraf of Big Beach, "shooting film's not so great." So Away We Go was shot on three-perf film, which requires less stock and fewer chemicals than conventional film. Saraf now reads scripts on Kindle to save paper and told us about another paper-saving device: "a little $400 projector you can plug into your iPod."

Beth Colleton, VP of Green Is Universal, the green initiative of Focus Features' parent company, NBC Universal, said the studio is making a play-by-play guide to environmental-friendly production, based on what was learned making Away We Go.

Among future challenges, said Winkler, is "a dialogue that needs to happen with agents and managers and studios about how to accommodate your cast." Stars need to get used to thinking about putting the environment ahead of perks like extra-large trailers.

The producers of Away We Go devised the following credit, which also appears on Universal's State of Play: "This motion picture used sustainability strategies to reduce its carbon emissions and environmental impact."

I'll be looking for such a credit on future films. And I'll do my best to see that films made from my scripts are worthy of it.

For further information, see the report "AWAY WE GO: a Pilot Study of Sustainable Film Production Practices," which can be found on the Green Media Solutions website,,
Scott Macaulay's articles on the Focus website,,

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Film Biz Recycling Open House

It's a lovely day for a trip to Long Island City, and from 3 pm to sunset Film Biz Recycling, a new, nonprofit "set dressing salvage and reuse center" offering prop rentals and sales, is hosting an open house.

It's at 43-26 12th St., 2nd floor; for further info, check their website:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bicycling in the Cathedral

When Jim, Christine, Mitch, and I rode to the Blessing of the Bikes at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine last Sunday, sans cameras, little did we expect to be prominently featured in other people's online photographs.

Inside (13th photo) Jim's the bearded guy in blue with helmet staring heavenward ("paying more attention to the architecture than the prayer"); I'm in red, Christine in green, and Mitch in blue at right.

In the second Time Out pic (Grace Lin), I'm not smoking, but maybe polishing off a pastry.

Mitch can be seen zipping around the cathedral in the third photo on page 4.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Take the La Didone Challenge

"That was a lot of work," said Jim at the end of La Didone, the Wooster group's mating of the opera of the same name with Mario Bava's 1965 film, Planet of the Vampires. Every second presented multiple choices: do you follow the actors--and if so which; luxuriate in the music; read the supertitles ( English for the film, Italian for the opera, typically one of each available at the same time) ; or watch the screens, one at rear, two at the sides, on which much of the film appears, and sometimes the arm or hand of an actor?

For 90 minutes, it felt as if my eyes and brain never stopped moving. Work, yes, but delightful and delirious.

It occurs to me that those who know Italian would have a leg up in following this show. but would one less series of supertitles to read detract from the challenge of pursuing the stories all over stage and screen? For me, that pursuit was thrilling--and part of the show's point.

La Didone closes on April 26--catch it if you can, but be prepared to work.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Must Read (and Must See to be?)

After finishing Patricia Volk's delightful novel "To My Dearest Friends" late last night, I'm still basking in the afterglow, and wondering if a film version is in the works. Volk's vivid and memorable characters would provide meaty roles for some great actresses--Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Stockard Channing, perhaps. If Volk doesn't want to do the adaptation herself, I'd be glad to take it on.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"I don't do fear."

After regaling members and guests of New York Women in Film and Television with stories from her amazing career, Nora Ephron was taking questions. "What is your greatest fear?" someone asked, and weeks later, I'm still thinking about her answer: "I don't do fear."

Thinking about it and saying it, like a fear-banishing mantra.

What I need to start saying is "I don't do procrastination," because I do do it--and am long overdue to mend my ways.

Here goes--"I don't do procrastination."

How about you?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chicken Neck Soup

Trying to shake a lingering chest cold earlier this month, I craved chicken soup, homemade not take-out, but felt far too tired to make it. Till passing the poultry section of the local Whole Foods, I noticed some packages of chicken necks. What if I just bought some of those and cooked them in a lot of water for a few hours? It might not produce much of a soup--would likely be about as minimalist as Stone Soup--but it would be warming and surely at least a little therapeutic.

And the idea of having a bunch of chicken necks all to myself felt oddly luxurious. Roast chicken is one of my favorite dishes, and the neck one of my favorite parts, but growing up, I was one of four siblings and two parents contending for that neck. Usually two or three of us shared the neck, for which we relinquished our interests in heart, liver, and gizzard. Had I ever in my life actually eaten two chicken necks at one meal?

The bunch of necks turned out to be five once I opened the package, which weighed less than a pound. I filled a pot of water, threw them in, and started cooking. After maybe an hour, I took out the necks, let them cool a bit, broke them in halves or thirds, and threw them back. Then added a large onion cut in eighths, carrot, celery, and bay leaf, and ground in some pepper.

After another half-hour or so, too hungry to wait longer, I scooped out two pieces of neck and a cup of liquid. Expecting little more than minimally flavored hot water, I savored instead fresh, delicate essence of chicken that set my tongue dancing.

I added another carrot and a quarter cup of French lentils to the simmering broth, and an hour later called it done. The flavor was more intense now, but still delicate--not your typical chicken soup. I ate more that night, more the next, and froze the rest.

Two weeks later when Jim was next in town, we polished it off. "Eating soup with your fingers--that's different," Jim said between bites of neck. We used toothpicks to extract the soft shreds that clung to the bones.

Chicken Neck Soup (5 or more servings)

Five or more chicken necks
10 or more cups of water
One large onion, cut into eights
Two or more carrots, cut into pieces
One stalk of celery
One bay leaf
Fresh-ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup lentils, preferably French, or rice

Optional stuff I might try next time: parsley, other herbs, green onions, radish, turnip, jicama, lemon juice (though the charm of this soup is its simplicity).

1. Add chicken necks to water and cook to the boiling point over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer. Skim off the foam once or twice (there won't be much).

2. After 45 minutes or so, remove necks, cool briefly, break into two or three pieces each, and return to pot. Add onion, celery, half of the carrots, bay leaf and pepper, and simmer another hour or so.

3. Add lentils or rice and the remaining carrot pieces, and cook until done (at least half an hour for lentils).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Overlooked by Oscar

On my way to the greenmarket on Saturday, I overheard this behind me:

She: "It's such a great movie."
He: "Yeah."
She: "Jeffrey Wright was so brilliant."
He: "Yeah."
She: "Honestly, I wasn't sure he could play Muddy Waters--"
He: "But he sure did."

I'm guessing they, like me, wondered why Cadillac Records didn't receive a single Oscar nomination.

Beside Wright as Muddy, the film was full of indelible, Oscar-worthy performances: Columbus Short as Little Walter, Eamonn Walker (Howlin' Wolf), Beyoncé Knowles (Etta James), Adrien Brody (Leonard Chess), in particular.

Granted, writer-director Darnell Martin took a few liberties with the facts--combining the two Chess brothers into one, leaving out Bo Diddley, etc.,--but no more than Hollywood films typically take with history. She brought a bygone world powerfully to life, and I left that world moved and exhilarated, feeling I'd seen one of the great movies of the year. I assumed it would be an Oscar contender in many categories, including script and direction, and was shocked when it didn't receive a single nomination.

What didn't Sony do to help this film find its audience? And why wasn't it on the Academy's radar?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Script First

Jack Webb may have been one of the world's most wooden actors, but as director of Pete Kelly's Blues, he had some pretty cool moves. One memorable shot early on is from inside a pizza oven, beginning as a pie is pulled out, flames coyly dancing at the left of the Cinemascope frame--as if from the point-of-view of the alchemy that turns dough into bread, or weaklings into toughs.

But my favorite moment in this atmospheric film has nothing to do with camera moves or plot twists or acting moments. It's part of the credits. They begin with Warner Bros. (of course) and Webb--but as actor, not director. Nothing is said about "a Jack Webb film" or anything else of that ilk. Instead, right after "Jack Webb as Pete Kelly" come words to warm this writer's heart: "in a screenplay by Richard L. Breen." Not "in a film by Jack Webb" or "in a Mark VII Production." It's an acknowledgment, rare these days, that the script comes first, that without it there would be no film: no producing, directing, gripping, gaffing, editing, and photographing; no roles for Jane Leigh, Peggy Lee, Lee Marvin, and their fellows.

They don't make 'em like that anymore, but I'd sure like to see somebody try. Maybe one of these days, a generous and innovative director will relinquish the usual vainglorious opening credit and put the script first again.