Vendy

The Vendy Award is the Emmy or Oscar equivalent in the NYC food truck world. Thousands of people buy tickets to the taste-off held on Governor’s Island; winners are selected by them and a panel of celebrity judges that includes chefs,  comedians and city officials (what comedians, or for that matter, city officials, have to do with judging food beats me.) The award ceremony raises funds for the Street Vendor Project, which stands up for vendors’ rights while providing legal and small-business services. SVP is currently campaigning to get the city to remove the cap on food vending permits that has created huge barriers for vendors since it was put in place, at the urging of big businesses, in 1983.

There are several Vendy categories: in 2018 there will be awards for Best Rookie, Best Market Vendor, Best Dessert Vendor, and the Vendy Cup. There will also be a People’s Choice Award awarded from among the Vendy Cup category.

DF, 2017 winning Vendy

A friend and I had lunch at the 2017 Vendy Cup winner, DF Nigerian, run by Godshelter Oluwalogbon and his wife Bisola. (DF stands for Divine Flavor). It’s located in front of the Nigerian Consulate on Second Avenue between 44 and 45th streets on weekdays. Advancing to the cart requires a little attention as it’s set just behind a busy bike lane; it wouldn’t do to get killed by a speeding bike en route to your meal.  We both had one of the special entrees; for her, chicken, plantains and spicy sauce and for me the same thing with goat in for chicken. (I love goat; during my years at the City Hospital system goat was a frequent offering at Thanksgiving and other celebrations.) Sorry, DF but I won’t be back soon. The goat was so tough as to be almost inedible; the plantains bland and the spicy sauce greasy. Of course I spilled some on my white pants.  It’s not exactly cheap either; our meals cost $15 each.  But we’ll see what wins in 2018 and give that a whirl.

My goat dish

Since my goat has been gotten, I will turn to a summery dessert that’s been a long standing hit for years. I have no idea where it originally came from but it’s easy (really), delicious and can be made ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Pudding

1 c. raspberries

1 c. blackberries

1 c. blueberries

1 c/ strawberries hulled and quartered (I don’t like strawberries so leave them out; your call)

1/4-1/2 c. sugar, depending on sweetness of berries

2 T Cassis

Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

8 slices white (Wonder or similar) bread. Note: do NOT substitute good bread. The mushy quality of Wonder bread makes it ideal.

In saucepan combine berries (reserving a few for garnish), sugar, lemon zest and Cassis. (Don’t know what to do with leftover Cassis? Try some poured into vodka.) Bring to simmer. Cook until sugar has dissolved (about 4 minutes), stirring occasionally with wooden spoon, lightly crushing berries to release juices. Remove from heat and transfer to chilled bowl (or put in fridge for a bit)

Line 3-cup bowl with plastic wrap, leaving a 2” overlap. Cut circle from one slice of bread to fit bottom of bowl. Remove crusts; cut bread slices in rectangles to line sides of bowl making sure there are no gaps. Press lightly into place.

Spoon berries and juice into bread-lined bowl, cover top with remaining slices cut to fit. Fold plastic wrap over bread and top with small flat plate that fits snugly into bowl. Place a weight on plate, refrigerate overnight.

Unfold plastic wrap from top of pudding and carefully invert bowl onto serving platter. Remove wrapping and garnish pudding with reserved berries.

Serve with crème fraiche, ice cream or whatever you like as a topping. Serve rose wine, Cassis and vodka or lemonade and whistle your favorite song. This assumes you can whistle. Or hum.

 

 

 

 

 

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This Non- Connecticut Yankee

 

Two weekends ago, braving the heat with everyone else in the Northeast, I was visiting bucolic Cornwall, CT.   Cornwall, Goshen and Warren artists opened their studios to visitors, a good opportunity to see the work and meet the makers, among them, delightful Constance Old, a fiber artist, who “takes advantage of the excesses of the consumer economy.” Using old rug-hooking techniques she turns modern materials including plastic into wall hangings, many with a sense of humor. I particularly liked Fear Rules America, a large piece combining police tape with other plastics on a base of orange construction fencing.

The following day, we went to Music Mountain, a lovely venue threatened by a ruling that would allow the Limerock car race course to be in session on Sundays. The ensuing noise would render chamber music unhearable so concert goers would miss experiences like the Shanghai Quartet performing (brilliantly) on instruments made by Goffriller, Guarneri and Stradivari. An appeal to an earlier ruling to try to block Sunday car racing is in the works.

The weekend was enhanced by Max, a cockapoo currently in the care of a friend subbing for her mother who is traveling. He’s possibly the cutest dog ever.

Max

The following weekend I was back in northwest CT (poor me.) This visit was to a house on a beautiful lake enhanced by gorgeous gardens and trees as well as a club that produced a great shore dinner Saturday night. The following evening, friends of my friends invited us to a “beef-off” where they made burgers from several types of super-high quality beef. The aged version won hands-down.

This weekend also included a super-dog, Dakota, a short-haired, female St. Bernard, who is practically a rockstar. She’s huge and friendly so everyone wants to pat her. Between dogs, friends, food and music, both weekends were wonderful.

I will not include a recipe for either hamburgers or dog food (sorry), but here’s one for a three bean salad that would be a great addition to any picnic:

Three Bean Salad

One ingredient for the salad

2 cups fresh cooked shell beans (such as cannellini or cranberry)

1 14-ounce can cannellini beans or chickpeas

6 ounces green beans (trimmed, cut into 1″ pieces)

1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves with tender stems

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons chopped capers

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Salt

Pepper

Toss the cooked shell beans or one cannellini beans or chickpeas, rinsed, with the green beans (trimmed, cut into 1″ pieces), parsley, olive oil, chopped fresh chives, chopped capers, grated lemon zest, lemon juice, and crushed red pepper flakes in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper.

 

When you serve you can sing Yankee Doodle if you like. It’s—no kidding—the Connecticut state song.

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Pipe Dreams

 

I work with the New York Landmarks Conservancy on their annual Sacred Sites Open House weekend. This year the event, May 5 and 6, had as its theme Sacred Sounds and Settings, an opportunity for congregations to showcase music programs as well as architecture, with organ demonstrations, vocal and instrumental concerts, recitals, rehearsals, and special tours.

On warm, sunny Saturday, I went to several sites including St. Luke’s in the Fields where I

St.Luke in the Fields’ garden

met a lovely couple who recently moved here from Newport Beach, CA. The man reported seeing his first New York hummingbird in the church’s fabulous garden that has places to sit, read the paper and so on.  There was an organ demo but first came a piano performance in a setting banked by displays of lilacs and yellow tulips. As to the organ, Music Director, David Schuler, told the group (all ages, one small dog) that, prior to electricity, choirboys hand-pumped pumped the bellows for the organ and displayed his organists’ shoes that are narrow, with one-inch heels and slippery soles, to facilitate playing the pedals.

Organ shoes on pedals

 

That afternoon I went to St. Vincent Ferrer on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, served by Dominican Friars, one of whom led an excellent tour. Director of Music James D. Wetzel welcomed a large group before turning the program over to recent Julliard graduate and Assistant Organist, Alexander Pattavina, who demonstrated the instrument’s range and invited visitors up to the keyboard to see him in action.  Pattavina is a mere twenty-two with incredible poise and, I assume, musianship  ( I don’t think I’d know a good organist from a so-so one but his playing seemed sublime.)

Sunday was cold and windy. Getting anywhere by subway on the weekend is awful as  New Yorkers know so the trip to Brooklyn was long. Once there I joined the Discover Brooklyn!  tour led by Marianne Hurley of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.  As we trotted in her wake, Marianne described the social causes associated with many Brooklyn religious buildings including Plymouth Church that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The route featured the outside of religious buildings until the last

Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights

stop at Grace Church where there was lots of organ music to enjoy.

The weekend is one of those great New York attractions—not just City-wide but throughout the state. If you’d like to know more or get word of the 2019 event, drop a line to sacredsites@nylandmarks.org and join the mailing list. The event is go at your own pace, come alone or with friends, and discover buildings you may have walked past for years but have never really noticed.

And now to food. Organ meats have gotten a bad rap in recent years due to health concerns. This recipe is for chicken liver pate, which is delicious and you’re not going to serve or eat it that often. It’s easy to make and keeps well.

Chicken Liver Pate—Jacques Pepin

Serves 6-8

1/2 pound chicken livers, well-trimmed

1/2 small onion, thinly sliced

1 small garlic clove, smashed and peeled

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves

Kosher salt

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 teaspoons Cognac or Scotch whisky

Freshly ground pepper

Toasted baguette slices, for serving

In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken livers, onion, garlic, bay leaf, thyme and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the livers are barely pink inside, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.

Discard the bay leaf. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the livers, onion and garlic to a food processor; process until coarsely pureed. With the machine on, add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, until incorporated. Add the Cognac, season with salt and pepper and process until completely smooth. Scrape the pâté into 2 or 3 large ramekins. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pâté and refrigerate until firm. Serve chilled.

(The pâté can be covered with a thin layer of melted butter, then wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months.) Or just cover and put in fridge—I promise it will vanish in no time.  Serve with drinks and organ music.

 

 

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Oh Henry!

Henry V, National Portrait Gallery, London, unknown artist

V that is. The Mobile Unit of The Public Theater presented this wonderful play at St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan last week.  The venue is lovely but demands a lot from the very engaging actors –it’s theater “in the square” so backs often face the audience requiring great projection; there is no lighting other than that of the Chapel itself, and costumes are  minimal but more than adequate such as sashes and crowns.

The production had much effective swash and buckle with a color/gender-blind cast. Carolyn Ketting as Katharine of France was particularly noteworthy and charming in the “we don’t speak the same language” scene, as was Joe Tapper as the French King and Queen and Michael Bradley Cohen as the Dauphin and other parts.  Obviously, there was plenty of doubling which was typical of how it worked in Shakespeare’s day. If I had a quibble, it would be with Zenzi Williams who played Henry; that she’s female didn’t matter a bit but that she tended to shriek did. Lines like the St. Crispin’s Day speech and “once more unto the breech” deserve great acting.  Mr. Cohen also “choreographed” the fights and did it well conveying the energy and force of opposing armies in a stylized manner that was almost dance-like.  Oscar Eustis, the Public’s Artistic Director, sat nearby; I hope he enjoyed the interactions between cast and audience, with kids handing actors ribbons as they walked onstage.  I certainly did.

See this link to the Mobile Unit of the Public which takes free Shakespeare to prisons and correctional facilities, shelters and other venues. (I know they’d be thrilled with contributions.)

http://email.wordfly.com/view/?sid=ODQ4XzI0MTE0Xzg4MjFfNzMyMg&l=a0476499-a848-e811-bcb0-e61f134a8c87&utm_source=wordfly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=FY18AprilNewsletter&utm_content=version_A&source_no=47388

Joe Papp, one of my heroes, began the Public;  founded Shakespeare in the Park; helped preserve many theaters as historic landmarks and produced, among other works, Hair and A Chorus Line. Bravo for a theater guy for the ages.

This is the shaggy-dog provenance of the following recipe. When I couldn’t find a Shakespeare-related one with appeal, I tried to play on “Henry.” Problem is there’s nothing but the candy bar. So….to a restaurant in upper Manhattan called Henry’s where I’ve eaten. Among their offerings is a tuna salad nicoise which I make at home. This version comes via the Food Network.

Tuna Salad Nicoise (serves 4)

2 6-ounce cans dark tuna, packed in olive oil

2 15-ounce cans cannelini beans, drained and rinsed

1/3 cup capers drained and rinsed

6 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced (or not)

1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes

2 cups fresh arugula

6 fresh basil leaves (great for summer but if it’s winter don’t fuss, just omit.)

In a large bowl, add tuna, reserving the olive oil in a separate small bowl. Break tuna into bite-size pieces with a large fork. Add the beans and capers. Into the bowl of olive oil, add the red wine vinegar. You should have 1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil – add more extra-virgin olive oil if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing on the tuna, bean and caper mixture and allow the flavors to infuse while slicing the vegetables. Add the onion and tomatoes to tuna mixture and toss gently.

Place the arugula on large decorative platter and top with tuna mixture. Tear fresh basil leaves over the top and serve.

Henry would have quaffed ale. Choose your poison.

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Cherry Blossom Time

Having navigated subways in Hong Kong, Paris, London, and Milan and living in New York City where, despite its many problems, the subway is a way of life, I found the Washington DC metro a complicated, aggravating system.  The so-called Smartrip system requires passengers to deal with banks of machines, (some not-functioning; others that won’t accept cash, others anti-credit cards—and so forth.) Step up  to buy a card or add value and you’re confronted with a series of plusses and minuses. Need help?  There just might be a lone employee trying to deal with many frustrated people.  Does anyone mention you need to hold onto your card to exit the turnstiles upon departure? Or that certain trips cost more than others? Nope on both counts.  Two Ivy college grads managed to get around but it wasn’t easy. And between us the machines gobbled about seven dollars—overall small potatoes but at the time irritating.

By accident, we picked prime cherry blossom time to visit DC. The trees are truly lovely but it’s an ultra-busy  period — people with kids, triple strollers, wheelchairs etc.  (Perhaps we aren’t so smart although none of our DC friends said “rethink your timing.”)

Day one was spent at the (drum roll) National Museum of African American History & Culture.  It’s sensory overload with lots to see and hear and many people trying to pass through small, lower level spaces (read bottlenecks.)  At one point we entered a huge elevator where the operator announced that going forward we’d walk over a mile. No problem for us but might they have made the announcement earlier on so people could opt out? The museum’s exterior is veiled in bronze-colored cast-aluminum lattice work,

cladding on exterior of museum

apparently evocative of iron work once done by enslaved craftsmen; from the inside it lends a sense of foreboding which I bet wasn’t the intention. Overall, I’d give this venue an A for effort and C- for achievement.

On the flip side, viewing the Obama portraits was easier than anticipated. Barak’s picture hangs with other presidents while Michelle is in

Michelle Obama–beautiful but not much resemblance

another room off to one side with interestingly diverse and seemingly random company. Other areas of the National Portrait Gallery were relatively uncrowded including a section with portraits of Marlene Dietrich at her androgynous best.  The National Gallery of Art had a large exhibit devoted to work of “outliers” – artists who were self-taught or primitive or otherwise outside the mainstream who nevertheless played an important role in the history of modern art, a beautiful, bright show. The National Gallery is also currently showing works by photographer Sally Mann emphasizing her Southern roots and a beautifully curated show of sixty portraits by Cezanne drawn from other collections worldwide, some never seen in the US before.

Besides a lot of walking, the weekend encompassed catching up with DC friends. Let’s leave the orange ogre out of it. Go Stormy. Bye Paul.

We ate these Salted Oatmeal Cookies for dessert at lunch one day at Teaism,, a restaurant chain,  along with a DC pal. The 2007 recipe appeared in The Washington Post.  Recipe makes 18 cookies which will be gone in no time.

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • Sea salt, for sprinkling

In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for a few minutes on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the sugars, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon, beating until the mixture is well blended. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs and vanilla extract, mixing until well incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour and oats, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and mixing just until they are incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for at least an hour before baking.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Form the dough into golf ball-size balls and place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle sea salt generously on top of each ball of dough, as you would sugar. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 15 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and beginning to turn golden, being careful not to overbake. (The cookies should have a tender interior.) Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment paper, to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

 

 

 

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From New York’s Metropolitan Opera House to Milan’s La Scale

Giuseppe Verdi 1813-1901, composer of Rigoletto, Aida, Macbeth and many other operas

My behind the scenes visit to The Met was led by Robert. P., a knowledgeable friend who knows his stuff cold and imparts info to opera buffs and limited-English speakers who never heard of Tosca with equal friendliness.

The Met, founded in 1880 originally on 39th and Broadway, was an alternative to the previously established Academy of Music. In 1996 it moved to Lincoln Center.

Once through public areas, we were in the “animal entrance” area with black-and-yellow striped doors. Met animal actors audition; horses when tapped, return to their stable where the doors are painted to mimic the Met stripes, encouraging familiarity.  Dogs, donkeys and others beasts also play the Met. Once, when Renée Fleming was on stage in Manon, a canine accompanying a super in the chorus was also present. As the diva launched into an aria, the dog, which up to then had behaved impeccably, lifted its muzzle

Renee Flemming onstage

and sang along. When the curtain came down, Fleming turned to the conductor and said, “Either the dog goes or I do.” Apparently, (and possibly apocryphally), there was some thought to keeping the dog but the diva prevailed.

In an elevator I chatted up a woman seen later in the props area touching up an item for the next day’s HD filming.  Perfection rules:  a large cart laden with paint is always ready in the wings; during intermissions anything dinged is touched up.  We peeked into one of the windowless downstairs rooms where singers and a director were rehearsing; later, General Manager Peter Gelb walked past. The Met employs 1600 people per opera and typically runs two shows daily; a daytime rehearsal of one opera and evening performance of another. The ninety-minute tour is a great look at some of the backstage efforts that contribute to this magnificent house’s greatness.

Visiting Milan’s La Scala, built in 1776–78 by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, (whose country then ruled Milan), is rather different as most of the time is spent in the adjacent museum. My travel companion and I had bought tickets online ahead; as it turned out we could have purchased on the spot as Milan in mid-March was chilly, rainy and not crammed with tourists. The self-guided visit took us past costumes, posters, displays of set designs, old musical instruments and paintings of musicians and singers of yore—many with almost unreadable labels and dust.  Much attention is paid to the diva of divas, Maria Callas, who is seen on video in both her before –and- after looks, (in the after she’s incredibly slender and looks a tad like Audrey Hepburn whom we were told she wanted to emulate.) Before the museum, we entered a theater box to see the stage where carpenters and painters were reading a set.

La Scala with two modern towers

Opera houses are traditionally red and gold—both the Met and La Scala follow this formula and both are elliptical in design to capture and enhance sound. The Met’s capacity is 3800; La Scala, (actually Teatro alla Scala, the theater at the stairs from the name of a church that previously occupied the location), holds just over 2000 and underwent a major renovation from 2002 to 2004 adding two modern, controversial towers.

 

Making Peach Melba is much easier than learning the score of Faust. Basically, it’s fresh peaches, raspberry puree, vanilla ice cream and a sprinkling of almond slivers.

This is a vastly truncated version of the dish’s history:

Dame Melba, the singer after whom the dish is named, was born Helen Porter Mitchell in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. Known as Nellie, she sang all over Europe and moved in very chic circles –an Edwardian star who took the last name Melba in honor of her

Dame Nellie Melba

hometown. In London while performing at Covent Garden, she met celeb chef Escoffier who created the dish in her honor. The original version was served in a swan-shaped dish to echo the swan boat the chef had seen in Lohengren starting Melba and was dubbed Pecheau Cygne (peach with a swan). A few years later, when Escoffier and Cesar Ritz opened the Ritz Carlton in London, the chef added raspberry puree and renamed the dessert:

Peach Melba

Frankly I think this is fiddly but what would you expect from even Escoffier’s cousin? For the non-diva chefs, just cut very ripe peaches in half; make a raspberry sauce and assemble.

For peaches

6 medium firm-ripe peaches

1 1/3 cups sugar

2 cups water

1 (1-inch) piece vanilla bean (this assumes you’ll poach them. You could just wash and split)

For raspberry sauce

1 (12-oz) package frozen raspberries (not in syrup), thawed

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

To accompany: 2 pints good quality vanilla ice cream

Poach peaches:

    1. Cut a shallow X in bottom of each peach with a sharp paring knife and immerse fruit in a 4-quart heavy pot (preferably wide) of boiling water 30 seconds, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking. Transfer peaches to a cutting board and peel, starting with cut end, then cut in half, discarding pits.
    2. Combine sugar and water in cleaned pot. Halve vanilla bean lengthwise with a paring knife and scrape seeds into pot, then add pod and bring mixture to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add peaches, pitted sides down, to sugar syrup, then reduce heat and poach, covered, at a bare simmer 6 minutes. Turn peaches over and continue to poach, covered, until tender, 5 to 6 minutes more.  (if you skip the vanilla bean no one will know.)
    3. Cool peaches in poaching liquid in pot, uncovered, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  (You can use any leftover on top of other fruit.)

Make raspberry sauce while peaches cool:

    1. Force raspberries through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids.
    2. Combine sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan. Cover pan (so condensation will wash any sugar crystals down side of pan) and bring to a boil, then remove lid and boil 2 minutes.
    3. Immediately stir sugar syrup into raspberry purée and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Stir in lemon juice.
    4. Serve peaches over ice cream drizzled with sauce.

Serve with the opera of your choice in the background.

 

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Out of Body

Himalayas

To be entirely truthful, my overriding feeling during my visit to the Rubin Museum for a press opening was more out of head.

The Second Buddha at the Rubin Museum of Art

The premise of the entire museum for 2018 is that the past, future and present are fluidly enjoined. More truth: I found it hard and, in some instances impossible, to fully grasp all the information, some written in art-cum-Buddha speak. Notwithstanding, much of the art is wonderful regardless of interpretation.

portable shrine

Among my favorite pieces is a portable shrine from Bhutan made of painted and gilded wood with clay figures, small enough to be carried around by teaching monks to broaden the reach of the so-called ‘Second Buddha’s’  vision.

Another highlight of my visit was experiencing Virtual Reality. I donned a headset and grasped what looked like a white television remote and, with the help of a museum guide, entered the famed Himalayan Hotel in Kalimpong, a British hill station in West Bengal. (In the early twentieth century, the hotel was the jumping- off point for many explorers including one in search of the Yeti.  Then, in the early 1960s, after the so-called Sino-Soviet split, Kalimpong, and presumably the hotel, was characterized as a ‘nest of spies’, because of intense political activity there.)

At one point in my VR adventures, I ‘stood’ at the bottom of a long flight of steps and was told to walk up. The risers were steep so I put out my hand for the banister and started climbing, moving my feet until my brain clicked in and I realized that I was shuffling forward on a carpeted floor.

After opening doors and walking down hallways I was “teleported” to a room in a nearby monastery.  I walked to a display case in the center of the room that held the arm and hand

Yeti –aka Abominable Snowman.

of the Yeti (not at all gross, more like a piece of armor.) After that I went outside to stand among ancient-looking rocks and see realistic mountains as well as trees that appeared to be made of colored paper. The Yeti himself (itself?) walked by as did a couple of “ghosts.” At the very end of what was about a half-hour, the floor I was standing on fell away until I was in space with stars all around.

As soon as I removed the headset I was back where I’d begun, not dizzy but feeling as though I’d been far away. Despite a few glitches at the beginning, the technology is amazing in the true sense of that sadly overworked word.

After returning to earth, it would have been nice have been served this Tibetan Rice Pudding (recipe courtesy Saveur Magazine)

6 cups whole milk, at room temperature

12 cup clover honey, plus more as needed (any honey will do)

Pinch of kosher salt

1 cup jasmine rice, rinsed well

2 oz. dried apples, chopped into 12” pieces

12 cup golden raisins

2 tbsp. butter, plus more as needed

Put the milk, honey, and salt into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer; do not let it boil. Stir in the rinsed rice, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is very soft and milk is nearly absorbed, 30-40 minutes.

Add the apples and raisins and continue to simmer until the apples are softened and pudding is very thick, 5-10 minutes more. Just before serving, stir in the butter. Serve plain or drizzled with additional honey or butter, if you like.

In the Himalayas, beer and ara, (a version of arak, a clear spirit often drunk mixed with water), are popular but somehow don’t go with the nursery quality of rice pudding. Maybe a nice cup of tea and a nod to the Yeti.

 

 

 

 

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Designing Women–and Men

Accessible icon (figure used to be upright and static)

There has been a giant uptick of design with, by and for people with a wide range of physical, cognitive, and sensory abilities with ordinary aging part of the mix. To that end, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, always a gem, has mounted a show, Access + Ability, (a title I can’t seem to get into my mental Rolodex,  talking about getting older),  showcasing a variety of items that help with daily routines. The premise is that products for those with disabilities used to be designed by engineers; now they are in the hands of engineers. Bye bye clunky, hello style.

When the show opened in January, The New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman wrote a great review –link here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/24/arts/design/cooper-hewitt-access-ability.html

At the museum, I was given a stylus linking to item labels that sent more information to my home laptop where I accessed it using a code on my admission ticket. Brilliant idea even if a few of the links weren’t quite ready for prime time.

The technology is great but the objects themselves are even better. Take canes—utilitarian but often not pleasing to look at.

Those on view at C-H are stylish and multifaceted:  some can be picked up when dropped with a tap of the toe, others have glow in the dark handles or hook onto a table and stay put and many are customizable. Farewell plain Jane canes.

There is a pair of cool sneakers designed at the request of a teen-aged boy with cerebral palsy who wrote to Nike explaining he had trouble tying his shoelaces. The result: the FlyEase with a zipper around the sides and Velcro closures. Not only are they easy to get on and off, they’re good-looking.

Check out the hearing aids, the bane of many aging adults who are uncomfortable revealing their disability. As Kimmelman points out, eyeglasses used to be considered “medical equipment” until fashion designers got into the game. Now they are “fashion accessories.” You might not want to go as far as the bejeweled hearing aids in the show but they are a terrific idea.

Bejeweled hearing aid

And lots more:  an athletic-looking walker that could make someone want to get out and jog, memory aids for Alzheimer’s patients and a shirt with magnetic “buttons” that makes dressing a, well, snap. I loved the Velcro-covered wall that lets a user stick a TV remote, eyeglasses or other objects to it.

Every item on view is  well-designed, pleasing- to- use and simplifies a mundane task. The exhibition is on view until September 3, 2018.  It’s highly informative and fun.

After the exhibit, (which you can view on line),  summon your inner designer and make pizza. Start by buying either a ready-made crust OR pizza dough from a shop. This is a prototype for a spinach and mushroom pie but design away using any vegetables you want.– just cook them first, doing it a simple way like roasting .  For the spinach/mushroom pie read on:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 cup fresh spinach, rinsed and dried

8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (yes, in a bag) 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms (your choice: button, porcini, exotic like hen-of-the-woods, a combo, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

In a small bowl, mix together olive oil and sesame oil. Brush onto pre-baked pizza crust, covering entire surface. Stack the spinach leaves, then cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch strips; scatter evenly over crust. Cover pizza with shredded mozzarella, and top with sliced mushrooms.

Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and edges are crisp.

And voila, lunch, dinner, snack or what you will, designed by you. Toast yourself for being so clever.

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas in Kathmandu

The UNESCO Stupa, Kathmandu

To reach Bhutan I flew via Hong Kong into Kathmandu, Nepal. I’d been there years ago but  found a very different city, this one clogged with traffic and choked in dust, largely from construction in response to the horrific April, 2015 earthquake that killed nine thousand and injured thousands more. After a wonderful two weeks in Bhutan, I returned to Kathmandu en route home.

Lobby of Hyatt Regency, Kathmandu

A  friend from the trip  and I entered the lobby of our hotel. In contrast to the rough-and-ready guests houses we had stayed at in Bhutan this place screamed luxury: the bar area had upholstered sofas and chairs; soft rugs covered the floor and a long table was stacked with newspapers from all over the globe. It was twelve days before Christmas so the lobby was festooned with holiday decorations including a display of gingerbread houses; five chefs in sparkling white aprons topped by traditional toques proudly paraded around.  This western holiday cheer was a little odd but lots of modern Nepali are crazy about our culture as evidenced in many ways including their preference for jeans over their traditional dress.

My friend and I had been thrilled with Bhutan but had missed pre-dinner cocktails–we had  steered clear of alcohol  as drinking can increase the likelihood of altitude sickness which neither of us wanted to risk. Now, on our way home, we could have a drink. We approached the barman and explained exactly what we wanted—vodka martinis–straight up for her, on the rocks for me, olives all around, “and please use dry, not sweet, vermouth.” The man nodded and repeatedly assured us he understood.

A long twenty minutes later, our drinks emerged. My friend’s looked all right although she said it tasted peculiarly like licorice. Mine was a martini glass with a foot high mound of pulverized ice, tiny straws sticking out at angles. I sipped and got the tiniest hint of vodka. “Just what you wanted,” my friend said, “a vodka slurpee!”

At that minute there was a roar; we looked up to see Santa zipping through the lobby on a

Precisely

motor scooter. On the other side of the room, a largely Nepali group had burst into Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree followed by Joy to the World although the melodies and rhythms were slightly off. I wandered over to check out the singers, mostly parents and kids including a few babies. The adults were drinking what I was  told was mulled wine and having a great time. On one side of the room, teen girls were fluffing each others’ hair and showing off fancy dresses that could have come from any American mall. On the other side, a group of monks in traditional crimson and orange robes were enjoying the music, tapping sandaled feet to keep time.

Back at the bar, I looked at my friend and we burst into laughter. Forget the royal palaces in Durbar Square. Never mind the Boudhanath stupa, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1979. We were experiencing the –slightly unreal— joys of Christmas in Kathmandu. For the moment, namaste gave way to Old Saint Nick.

Classic martini straight up

Wish the bartender had known how to make a classic vodka martini:

3 ounces vodka (use a good brand. A good martini is better with good vodka.)

1 teaspoon good dry vermouth.

James Bond likes his martini shaken not stirred. Fine with me. I like mine on the rocks but straight up is pretty and classic. Garnish with a twist of lemon or 2-3 large pimento-stuffed olives. If you want a dirty martini, add about a teaspoon of juice from the olive jar.

After enjoying your drink, consider a donation to any of the many organizations aiding victims of disaster be it earthquake, flood or fire.

 

 

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Dancing on Top of the World

Flag of Bhutan

My Bhutan itinerary didn’t include any dance viewing which I casually mentioned to our group leader.

Eureka! Towards the end of the trip he announced that there was a festival at the Dochula Pass where we would be en route back to Paro, site of the country’s only major airport. Time in Bhutan is “elastic” in that events don’t necessarily happen at the stated time—or even at all. Our leader said we’d go to the Pass and, if the festival was happening at the anticipated time, we’d be in luck.

Festival at Dochula with Himalayas in background

We did and it was. The weather was glorious—blue sky, no wind, and by eleven A.M.  about sixty-five degrees.  The Queen Mother, the festival’s patron, was there with a cadre of security guards whose job appeared to be insuring that she wasn’t crowded. She seemed to enjoy mingling with the general public, moving through the large audience, shaking hands, murmuring “nice to meet you” and smiling. Two or three members of our group “met” her. I was more interested in the festival so moved aside, trying to get the best view of the dancing.

At one point I was in full view of “backstage” where the dancers were changing costume. In my quest to see the dancing from the front, I fetched up next to a CNN TV crew filming background for an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Part’s Unknown to air this spring. (If anyone spots the episode, I’d love a heads-up.) The cameraman and I know people in common and one of the assistants handed me a mo-mo (dumpling with a rice flour exterior and something veggie/shrimpy inside.) See link to NY Times article about new mo mo spot in Jackson Heights, Queens: www.nytimes.com/?action=click&contentCollection=Food&region=TopBar&module=HomePage-Button&pgtype=article

The performance included men in red suits with jester-like hats from which protruded large, pink penises—in Bhutan, phallic symbols are traced to Drukpa Kunley, aka the

Typical store display (especially for tourists)

“Divine Madman”  and are supposed to drive away the evil eye. The whole phallic worship bit is both frowned on by modern Bhutanese and enjoyed as it appeals to tourists.  Here is a link to article about it from the New York Times (no, not my only source of the printed word): https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/24/world/asia/bhutan-phallus-commercialization-tourism.html?_r=0

Just in case you think I’m crazy enough to offer a recipe for mo-mos, think again. This is for chicken soup, something I made recently for the first time.

A Superior Chicken Soup—Julia Moskin, The New York Times

1 chicken, 3 to 3 1/2 pounds, with skin, cut up (I used chicken backs with lots of meat on them)

3 stalks celery, with leaves, cut into chunks

2 large carrots, cut into chunks

2 yellow onions, peeled and halved –leave skin on, gives nice dark color

1 parsnip or parsley root (optional) –nope

About 1 dozen large sprigs parsley

About 1 dozen black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste

To finish the soup:

3 tablespoons reserved chicken fat, more if needed

3 leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise, rinsed and sliced crosswise into thin half-moons –nope

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into small dice

Kosher salt and ground black or white pepper

Egg noodles (fresh or dried) I used barley. ANY starch works fine.

Finely chopped herbs, such as parsley, scallions, dill or a combination.   Um, yes, if you have them handy.

Put chicken, celery, carrots, onions, parsnip (if using), parsley, peppercorns, bay leaves and salt in a large soup pot and cover with cold water by 1 inch. (I used store-bought chicken stock)

Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce the heat to very low. Adjust heat until the soup is “smiling.” i.e., barely moving on the surface, with an occasional bubble.  Cook uncovered, until the chicken is very tender and falling off the bone, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

When cool enough to handle, use tongs to transfer chicken from the pot to a container. Taste the broth and continue to simmer it until it is concentrated and tasty. Strain broth through a fine sieve (or a colander lined with cheesecloth –yes) into a separate container. Discard all the solids from the strainer (or reserve the vegetables, chill and serve with vinaigrette. (I did and they were blah at best).

Refrigerate chicken pieces and broth separately until a layer of yellow fat rises rises to the top of the broth.

When ready to finish the soup, use fingers to separate chicken meat from bones and skin; keep meat only. (Note: Julia feels you use only the white meat. I used both.)

Skim chicken fat from top of broth and set aside. Put 3 tablespoons of the fat in a soup pot with a lid.

Add leeks, stir to coat, and heat over medium heat until leeks begin to fry. Then reduce the heat to a gentle sizzle and cook, stirring often, until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. (I omitted the leeks entirely but they would have been nice.)

Add carrots, sprinkle with salt, stir, and cover the pot. Cook until vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes more. (Keep in mind that vegetables will continue to cook in the soup.) Do not brown.

Pour broth into pot with vegetables and heat to a simmer. Add noodles/ your choice of starch and simmer until heated through, soft and plumped. Add chicken, then taste broth and add salt and pepper to taste. For best flavor, soup should have some golden droplets of fat on top.

Note: this looks incredibly complicated. If you go whole hog, it is, kinda. However, adding “fresh” carrots and onions after soup is done is smart as the already-cooked veggies have had all flavor drained out of them.

This makes a lovely meal. You could serve with bread and cheese and call it lunch or dinner.  Or, you could serve to a sick family member or friend and call yourself Mother Teresa.

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