Friday, February 24, 2012

Reviews - The Lady from Dubuque and Venus in Fur

Last Tuesday, I went to see Albee’s The Lady from Dubuque.  I knew the play had been a failure during its original run, but I have never read it or seen it before.  I went in completely blind.  Although it’s an agonizing rage of pain, it’s so totally cathartic and theatrical and Edward, it’s a terrific evening of theater.

Many of the themes familiar to Albee plays are visible here: death, identity, helplessness.  Even some mommy issues.  They’re presented a little differently, though—not quite as absurdist, but not quite naturalistic either.  To be honest, the balance is a bit tenuous sometimes, but it’s never less than compelling.

We start with yet another dinner party from hell, with three couples playing parlor games that never seem to be very fun.  Our host, played beautifully by Michael Hayden, is constantly asking “Who am I?”, both in a 20-Questions way, and in a philosophical way that resonates throughout the evening.  Hayden’s wife, played brilliantly by Laila Robins, is caustic and funny, and after we discover that she is dying, the bile that comes out from her is startling yet completely relatable.  As the evening progresses, more pain and more questions arise.

Why you are who you are, and why you surround yourself with whom you surround yourself, are huge questions here, along with bandying about the ideas of the selfishness of grief and letting go.  Heady, gorgeous stuff.  The helpless of the characters is almost mirrored by how helpless you feel as an audience member – it’s as if this crazy stuff is meant to keep everyone off balance, characters and audience alike.  It’s quite a tightrope that isn’t always successful, but is always worth watching.  The two plus hours really fly by.  In the interest of full disclosure, there were quite a few empty seats after intermission (at least in my section), the couple behind me hated it (though they came back from intermission) and a fight in the last row of my section nearly broke out over…something.  I was too busy enjoying myself to get the whole story.

The entire cast is terrific, most especially the previously mentioned Hayden and Robins, plus Jane Alexander as the ambiguous Lady from Dubuque and Peter Francis James as her companion are also wonderful.  It was just nice to see something that asked a lot of me, and that has been rolling around in my brain ever since.  Thumbs way up from me.    

The new Signature space is certainly large and modern.  Maybe too modern for my tastes.  Why do all new theater spaces seem so impersonal?  I don’t get it.  But the theater itself had a nice airy feel, though the smell of new wood gave me the sneezies at the top of the show.  People with severe allergies beware.  And the seat numbers are really hard to find (patrons of a certain age had no idea where to find their seat – I was helping out a lot).  I’m seeing the Fugard play in a couple of weeks, so I’ll see if that theater is the same design as this one.  With three plays running at the same time, there was a nice buzz in the building, and the cafĂ©/lounge area looked like it was hopping both before and after the show.  So, I guess so far, the new Signature space is a success.  I will admit to missing the Peter Norton Theater.  Not the frigging hike to get over there, but I just loved that theater.  Every seat was a good one, and there was a warm vibe that I enjoyed.  Oh well.

Wednesday night, I was fortunate enough to get comps to the re-mounting of David Ives’ Venus in Fur.  It moved from the Manhattan Theater Club space to the Lyceum Theater a couple of weeks ago.  You may remember that I saw (and greatly enjoyed) the show downtown in 2010, but I didn’t get the chance to see the Broadway version at MTC.  I was very happy to finally see it again.
I remember when I saw the show downtown that I thought Nina Arianda was spectacular.  Everyone did, actually, and she became quite the It Girl.  As well she should.  She is just as spectacular now, maybe even more so, now that she has the equally wonderful Hugh Dancy to act opposite.  Wes Bentley was fine in the downtown version, but he didn’t hold a candle to Arianda, and it weakened the impact of the end of the play for me. 
This play is funny, sexy, creepy and totally original.  There were huge laughs, huge gasps and huge twists.  The twists and turns of the plot leave you as clueless as the director character, played by Dancy.  And the range of Arianda as the enigmatic Vanda (both the auditioning actress Vanda and the play-within-a-play Vanda) is astonishing.  There is so much verve and spark to her performance, and not in an actor-y, showy way, but in a true star way.  I loved it, again, and think I may need to go back.  The only quibble I have (and it’s not really a quibble) is that Dancy and Arianda are on such an express train, they often don’t pause for laughs/gasps, and you miss some of David Ives’ delicious dialogue.  I appreciate their maintaining the forward momentum, which is crucial to the piece, but I also was disappointed to miss some dialogue.  It’s a slippery slope, I guess.
So, bottom line, I think everyone should go go go to both these shows.  Thank you.  J  

Four years ago:  I saw the Classic Stage Company's production of Three Sisters.  Well, actually, I saw the first act.  It was unfun in the extreme...  Three years ago:  Soul Samurai by Vampire Cowboys...  Two years ago:  The Divine Sister by Charles Busch.  I'm laughing just writing the title...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

There's more to a recipe than ingredients...

In the old days, I used to throw two or three parties a year in my little 'ole apartment.  I like to have lots of friends around and I like trying out new recipes on them!  I've been pretty fortunate that everyone has liked nearly everything I've served over the years.  The limoncello tiramisu was a particular favorite: 

I can hardly believe I haven't had a party at my house since my Tony party in 2010!  I fully intended on throwing my annual Martin Luther King Day/dear pal birthday bash last year, but I got the distressing news about my diagnosis that same week, so I postponed.  Then I didn't have the energy to entertain and/or cook for pretty much the rest of the year.  So I was determined to get 2012 off to a rousing start and planned a President's Day weekend bash.  And I was also determined to successfully present an entire Indian food feast.  I have to say, with a few little cooking bumps, the bash was a rousing success!  Someday, I will learn to edit and accept my cooking space limitations when menu planning.  Maybe...

After scouring the internet for recipes of my favorite Indian dishes, I found a very nice recipe for aloo gobi (the cauliflower/potato dish) online, and there were good recipes for chicken biryani and vegetable curry on the Cooks Illustrated app on my iPhone.  So, off I went to various stores throughout the week (I still get uncomfortable if I carry too much heavy stuff at one time) to pick up the ingredients I don't always have on hand.  My trip to Kalustyan's was particularly fun (and helpful!) in that they have that huge room of spices in the back of the shop.  And you can buy small 1-oz packages of the spices instead of a big jar of them.  Since I don't have a daily use for cumin seeds or ground turmeric, this was quite a blessing.

I got started early Saturday morning, figuring I would prepare a couple of things in advance, since my oven/stovetop situation is pretty limited.  First, I had to wash all of my platters.  They haven't been used since the fire!  The white china pieces were a little stained, so it took quite a while to clean them.  Once the platters and serving utensils were clean, I gathered foodstuffs onto my coffee table and started mixing and chopping in front of the tv.  Tennis was on, don't you know.  ;)  First, I put together my raita, a cooling yogurt sauce with cucumber and a touch of ginger.  Although I wasn't making anything that was hugely spicy, I thought the yogurt would be a nice contrast to the rich sauces of the other dishes.  It was pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.

Next, I decided to make the aloo gobi.  I did the prep again in my living room.  If I had a pet, they would've had a grand time snacking on all the stuff I kept dropping there.  Many Lysol wipes were used throughout the chopping process... 

After getting everything chopped up, I set up my mise en place (don't you love how I pretend to be a real cook??) on my non-existent counter space.  It's really a joke, but I keep on keeping on with the cooking. 

This dish was pretty easy to put together, just sauteeing the onions, then throwing nearly everything else in the pot and simmering for 45 minutes.  Even though the chopping was a bit time consuming (but that's mainly because I'm so slow at it), the rest of the dish was a breeze.  Of course, I had to taste it and make sure it was good enough for my guests... ;)

Of course it was.  And it looked almost as good as it tasted.  Next time, though, I think I will try to prepare it and serve it immediately.  I made it maybe five hours in advance, and threw it in the frig, trying to keep my limited cooking space in mind.  Although it reheated very well, the consistency was a little different when I reheated it.  I thought about adding a little water to thin the sauce a bit, but I didn't want to dilute the flavor.  So, it was a little stickier and thicker when I served it at the bash.  But it still tasted good, if my guests were to be believed... 

I next did the prep for the vegetable curry (chopping onions, sweet potatoes, green beans, jalapeno, blah blah blah).  By the time I did that, I needed to have a little lie-down.  I think I was a tad too ambitious for my first party in a long while, so I decided to skip the chicken biryani recipe.  It was rather long and involved, so I decided that if people wanted chicken, I would maybe sautee some with garam masala (since I had purchased chicken thighs at Whole Foods), but I wouldn't do the whole biryani.  No one seemed too upset, thankfully.

After my little lie-down, it was time to start putting together the appetizers.  In my Vegetarian Times magazine, there was a recipe for an Indian tea sandwich, which had hummus, mint chutney, cucumber and tomato.  It also called for red onion, but one of my dear gal pals can't have red onions, so I decided to leave them off.  Besides, the mint chutney had enough of a bite that red onion might've been gilding the lily.  I also purchased some pre-prepared samosas from Fresh Direct (I had placed an order with them for a lot of the heavy stuff in my shopping, like the potatoes, onions, box of kosher salt).  They were quite delicious!  I probably could've picked up another tray of them.  Hmmmm, I'll know next time.  The appetizer table looked nice, I think, with the samosas, tea sandwiches and an assortment of chutneys.  I also bought some pre-prepared papadum, which came in a can like Pringles.  I thought that was funny.  How could I not buy them??  The chips were delicious, especially dipped in the aloo gobi sauce. 

So, here's a problem I didn't anticipate:  when you work off a recipe saved on your iPhone, you can't use your iPhone to take photos as you're cooking.  Oop.  Sorry.  You'll just have to take my word for it - the vegetable curry was tasty and attractive.  :)   And there was none left at the end of the evening, the biggest compliment a home cook can be paid.  Oh, here's a place where I was genius - I asked a friend who is an expert baker to bring dessert.  His lemon tart was to die for and the perfect dessert for a rich Indian meal.  I also picked up some candied fennel seeds, like they serve at Indian restaurants, for an after-dinner minty/licorice-y refreshment.  I always forget that lots of people aren't as big on licorice as me, so...there's that.  Oh well.  I have lots left over for my own enjoyment.  I also have lots of chicken thighs left over.  I was a bad vegetarian for the rest of the weekend.  Do I get credit for braising the chicken thighs in vegetable stock??  lol 

All in all, the party was a huge success and I'm so glad so many friends came by.  It was crowded and cozy, in the best way.  I love that we all have so much to talk about, no matter if we saw each other last year, last month or yesterday.  We didn't break our personal record of bottles of wine consumed, but there's always the next party!  I don't think I can wait for the Tonys, though!!  :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Restaurant Thoughts - L'Artiste

A new French restaurant, L'Artiste, has recently opened down the street from my apartment in Astoria.  I've been meaning to go for ever so long.  Groupon offered a coupon for a discounted three-course meal and I pounced.  Of course, I left it so long, I waited until a couple of days before the expiration date, but at least I made it.  :)

The restaurant is quite small and intimate, with lots of low lighting.  It probably seats about 30.  When I got there, there were only two other couples there, but by the time I left, the restaurant was nearly full.

When I sat down, the host/server brought me an amuse bouche - a little shot of vegetable bisque.  It was delicious, very rich and flavorful.  Not heavily spiced, the vegetable flavors were dominant.  It also was quite tasty, and complementary, with the glass of cotes du rhone I ordered.  :)      

A note about another table:  there was a man and woman at the table next to me.  The man seemed to be a native French-speaker, and the woman was desperately trying to speak French (she was not all that successful).  She kept calling the host/server over to help her with her French.  She was incredibly drunk and extremely loud.  The French-speaking man seemed to be trying to get the woman to go home with him, while the woman seemed to be hitting on the host.  It was quite a merry-go-round.  The host kept calling her (and every other lady in the place) 'Madame,' which made her mad.  She finally screamed, "I am NOT a madame!  I'm a mademoiselle!!"  It was quite embarrassing (but fascinating to listen to).  I'm guessing the host is quite a hit with the Astoria ladies, because two other gals came in to sit at the bar and try to engage him in conversation.  I didn't get it.  He was good-looking, but didn't seem to be all that to me.  Perhaps if he were Italian.  lol  Anyway... ;)

So, with my coupon, I could get an appetizer, entree and dessert.  I chose the grilled portobello mushroom appetizer, the salmon entree, and profiteroles for dessert.  Everything was delicious.  Though, I must admit, fennel must've been on special at the grocery store, because there was a TON of fennel on both my appetizer and entree.  Good thing I like it, though I'll admit to leaving a lot of it behind.  And good thing it wasn't in the dessert.

The portobello mushrooms were perfectly grilled, and dressed with a tart and delicious balsamic vinaigrette.  There was a very nice balance of textures and flavors, but, as I said, there was just too much sauteed fennel on top.

The entree was a lovely piece of salmon, pan-sauteed, in a citrus soy sauce.  There was also some kind of butter sauce, but I'm not quite sure what other flavors were in there.  There wasn't a mention of a butter sauce on the menu, so I don't know.  It wasn't spicy or warm, so I don't think it was curry or turmeric.  But it was rich and delicious, though, and was a nice counterpoint to the citrus soy reduction.  There were also more sauteed vegetables.  You won't believe this, but the salmon actually sat on an entire piece of fennel!  I'm not sure if it imparted any flavor into the salmon, but fennel is awfully strong to make such a focal point of two dishes.  And before you say that I should've thought of that when I ordered them, well...I guess you're right.  The menu just said 'sauteed vegetables' in the description of both dishes.  I guess I should've figured they'd repeat veggies.  Oh well.  Though the eggplant, beans and cauliflower with the salmon were beautifully prepared and very nice.  Oh, and the very crispy skin on the salmon was a nice textural contrast to the soft veggies and sauce.

For dessert, I had a choice between creme brulee and profiteroles.  I love me some profiteroles, so I ordered them.  They were TAST-EE.  I will be going back (though probably not to flirt with the host) just to have those profiteroles.  The chocolate sauce was rich and decadent, and there was a little caramel sauce on the plate that was tasty.  The profiteroles were light and chewy, and filled with a nice light whipped cream.  I highly recommend them.

I'll definitely be going back to L'Artiste, though it's more of a special occasion restaurant than an everyday kind of place.  The prices aren't inexpensive, so I was happy to have my Groupon deal.  But the feeling of the place (when there aren't drunken women hitting on the host) was quite nice and intimate, but still welcoming to a solo diner.  I didn't feel rushed, and I didn't have to wait around either.  I'm sure the people who came in later than me had to wait, though.  The host was also the only server, so once the place starts to fill up, I would guess the food would come out more slowly.  But I had a nice leisurely dinner--perhaps the secret is to always go around 7pm.  Though I may have to go for dessert later than that sometime, just to see... :)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review - Merrily We Roll Along

I was very fortunate to have tickets for Saturday’s performance of Merrily We Roll Along at Encores, thanks to the generosity of my late friend.  The building renovation is lovely and, as always at an Encores production, there was an excited buzz in the air.  An entire audience who is just as excited for the overture as anything else!  Hooray!  I was also fortunate to have a very handsome date!  I’m a lucky lucky girl… J

I’ve never seen a production of Merrily before, though I certainly know of its history and its structure.  I can see why it’s been a problematic show for audiences – having a show move backwards chronologically makes it hard to build up any momentum dramatically, plus it introduces you in the first scene to characters who are jaded and unpleasant, so you have to work through that to get to the lovely, idealistic people they used to be.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I just mean these are understandable reasons why the show may find it hard to catch on in production.  I actually like the backwards thing.  It’s poignant to see a scene, and then see the ‘before,’ but actually SEE it ‘after.’  How people got where they are is interesting to me.  And, oh, that score.  That’s where the meat is.  I don’t even know the cast album all that well, but these songs are timeless.  And gorgeous, of course.  Filled with the joy and beauty and sorrow and angst of Sondheim’s most beautiful stuff. 

I definitely enjoyed myself and found the production to be terrifically entertaining, but I don’t think it was the ultimate production of the show.  Perhaps there will be one someday.  The direction us did no favors, for one thing.  There were definite dead spots in the scene work, with strange staging (lots of important verses/lines played too far stage right or left, for one thing).  Too many projections.  I found the projections very distracting and annoying (they distracted me from lyrics and text), but I think a lot of the audience found them charming and helpful.  At least it seemed so by the sounds of chuckling and approval.  So, one’s person’s garbage and all that.  I think there an adaptation of the script, though, as I’ve said, I don’t really know the original.  One thing that bothered me in the staging: having Mary and Charley play their scenes together (when they’re talking about Frank) nearly off-stage wasn’t successful for me.  Of course, Mary and Charley ARE nearly off-stage, in Frank’s world, at the beginning of the show (end of the timeline), but theatrically, I think they each need to take center stage sooner.  I also gather from internet buzz that there were rewrites to the last scene.  Since I’ve never seen the show before, I wasn’t bothered by it.  I found it completely believable that these idealistic people would find each other and make an immediate connection.  In fact, having their immediate connection be so random makes the breakdown of their relationships seem reasonable.  And, hello, "Our Time" is such a moving song, it doesn't matter to me how you get to it, as long as we get to it. 

The actors were all quite good, though maybe not ideal for their roles.  Colin Donnell is very handsome and a very talented singer.  Charisma, not so much.  To be fair, part of the problem is with the script/structure, and part of the problem is with the direction, but some of the problem is the maybe-not-charming-enough actor.  Without a strong center, it’s hard to see why everyone is so in love with, and ultimately so disappointed by, Frank.  Because love and disappointment need to be front and center here.  Lin-Manuel Miranda?  Charisma to spare, though they tried to ‘ugly’ him up with horrible hair and glasses.  His “Franklin Shepherd Inc.” was terrific and got a rousing response from the crowd.  You could really see his pain and self-doubt, and then going backwards to his naivetĂ© was lovely.  Celia Keenan-Bolger as Mary had some grand scene work, but her singing was a tad troublesome.  I think the music sat awkwardly in her range, and she sounded a bit tired or under the weather.  But her acting definitely made up for it.  Elizabeth Stanley as Gussie was a ballbuster, and she had some great moments.  She looked and sounded great.  Betsy Wolfe was terrific as Frank's first wife, and her delivery of "Not a Day Goes By" was wonderful.  It was my first time hearing the song in the actual context of the show, and it was almost unbearably moving.  Plus, since we hear the song again later in the show (but earlier in the timeline), she's actually singing the reprise!  Genius!  I liked Adam Grupper as Joe, Gussie's ex-husband, quite a lot.  Also, I will admit to being distracted by the chorus gal who was wearing my awards night dress.  J

I’m ever so glad I finally got to see this show.  I do think it could be presented even more successfully, though I admit that most reviews I’ve read think it’s just a lost cause.  Too flawed to ever work.  I’m not so sure.  I don’t like to think of anything being a lost cause.  Well, except maybe for Frank Wildhorn shows.  But a Sondheim show?  There's too much genius there to just let it lie...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Seems like forever/seems like yesterday

It took me a while to decide if I wanted to do another 'last year' post - I recently made the mistake of reading one of those discussion boards again.  Why I do it, I have no idea.  Two popular breast cancer bloggers died this week.  There was also a gal posting about how she has DCIS (like me) and had to have a double mastectomy (like me), but didn't have anyone to take care of her (her husband died and her daughter is estranged.  NOT like me).  She was just having the perfect storm of problems, because her friends were either not willing to help or taking advantage and the therapist she was seeing kept cancelling her appointments.  Wow.  I have to stop reading this stuff -- it makes me seriously depressed.  I'm generally a plucky trouper and have little to no depression, mainly just annoyance when my bra is too tight.  But lately, I've occasionally started crying more; at work, at home, doesn't matter.  Post-traumatic stress?  Who knows?  Do I have ANYTHING to complain about?  No.  I almost feel as if I should shut the f*ck up.  But do I?  No.  Why?  I don't know.  Because I want more people to see the photos of the apartment fire?  Maybe.  To expel it from my brain?  Maybe.  To remind myself there's nothing to feel sorry about?  Maybe maybe.  But you know what?  My stuff is my stuff.  Part of me thinks I should drive up to Maine and help that poor woman, and part of me is incredulous that she had to go to a message board to get the help and support she so desperately needs.  And part of me feels like if someone happens to read this blog, they might not feel so alone. we go.

Last year, on this day, I started an adventure I'd rather not have started, thank you very much.  Having three 'procedures' over the previous five years didn't really prepare me for having a double mastectomy.  The last time I had a major surgery was 1969.  I can barely remember what happened last week, so clearly I don't remember that surgery.  The other procedures I had only required a light anesthetic, I didn't really need any major pain medication, and I was an outpatient for just a few hours.  This time, it was major anesthesia, with the tube down my throat, and major painkillers (they gave me a morphine drip).  I also had to stay overnight in the hospital.

I really only have blurred, hazy memories of the time in the hospital.  I hated to ask my mom to pay for a private room, since it wasn't covered by my insurance, but I also didn't want to have to share a room.  So my parents cashed in part of their 401(k) to get a room for me while I was in recovery.  I have the best parents in the world.  It wasn't fancy, but at least it was big, Mom could have a place to sleep and I didn't have to share with a potentially unpleasant roommate.  My mom got this picture of the view from the room.  Nice, yes?
I remember not enjoying the food they brought me--my lunch's vegetarian stir-fry was loaded with onions, and my dinner's fish wasn't completely cooked.  To the kitchen's credit, they called me and asked why I didn't eat the fish.  When I told her, she offered to send me something else, which was very nice.  But after raw fish, you kinda lose your appetite for anything.  I do vaguely remember that the breakfast pancakes were tasty.

I remember my pals coming to visit, and being so grateful for them.  I think the morphine made me pretty sick, though, because I had the dry heaves quite a lot that first night and didn't sleep much at all.  So I asked to be taken off morphine and to stay one more night in the hospital, even though the doctors on their morning rounds told me I was ready to go home that first morning post-surgery (I had been told by someone that they can't throw you out if you ask to stay) and they let me.  Thank heavens they did.

I dozed a lot and talked to a lot of doctors who checked on me.  I tried to get my mom to go out and do something, but she wouldn't, god love her.  It's just a bunch of fuzzy images, really, that I remember from being in the hospital.

I remember crying when I got my first look under the bandages, but my mom can't handle it when I cry, so I stopped (maybe that's why I have post-surgical stress now). I was so grateful that my friend with the car came to pick me up and drive me home.  But I can't even describe how exhausted I was by the time we got to Queens and then to my street.  THEN, when we saw the fire trucks, it was so surreal.  I tried to convince myself the fire trucks were at another apartment building.  Thank heavens my gal pal was also in the car with us.  She got out and sussed out what was going on.  I think I remember her saying "I have good news and bad news."  Yes, fire in my building/no fire in my apartment.  Man, what a mess.  They said I could move back in if I absolutely had to, but they didn't recommend it.  I also remember feeling suddenly so unwell and so sorry for myself.  My other pal talked me out of that pretty quickly.  In my fog, I remembered that I always pass a hotel on my way to LaGuardia, so I asked to go there until we could figure out what to do next.  We went to the Marriott Fairfield Inn: no one ever stay there, please.  And please tell all your friends never to stay there.  The picture above will help you remember what it looks like so you'll never go there.  My mom and friends went in to get me a room asap, and they wouldn't let me have a room.  Even though they told her I just had major surgery and my apartment building was on fire, she wouldn't yield.  It was about noon, and she said all the rooms were being cleaned and check-in time was 3pm.  What a maroon.  I can't believe there wasn't one room that was ready for a customer.  I didn't want any special treatment, but a little empathy would've been nice.

Luckily, my darling gal pal had an iPhone, so she did some research on finding another hotel.  We went to a motor inn really nearby, but it didn't look very nice, so we kept going.  God love my friend with the car, driving a panicking me and Mom around Queens looking for a hotel.  Finally, we went to the Marriott Courtyard, almost directly across the highway from LaGuardia.  That hotel manager, Richard, let us right in, thank god.  Everyone should always stay here and recommend that all their friends stay there.  Even though he was really nice, I'm sure Richard was thrilled to see me, zombielike, with drains hanging down from my flannel shirt, shuffling across the lobby to the room, but I had to get to a bed.
All I wanted to do was lie down.  That, I remember.  And I pretty much stayed in the hotel room for the nine days we couldn't get into my apartment.  Visiting Nurse Service had to drive out to the hotel to check me out, which was an adventure.  My mom was a rock star, with all her responsibility of draining and measuring my drains twice a day.  We watched a lot of premium cable (who knew we would catch up on the Vince Vaughan oeuvre), I developed a fondness for Let's Make a Deal, and we ordered in a lot of take-out from the only two restaurants in the immediate area.  It was a nice hotel, but they didn't have a restaurant on site, just a breakfast room and a bar (the bartenders were also very nice and let Mom order bar food before they were officially open), and there was nowhere for Mom to walk, which started to drive her insane after a few days.  Plus, she started to really worry about money.  Thankfully, her sisters sent us a care package of breakfast pastries, and then my office sent me a couple of care packages with some cash to help us out with expenses.  Once I started to get up and walk around, we decided to take the free shuttle over to LaGuardia.  What a goofball thing to do, but at least it was a change of scene for Mom.  You can maybe tell by the above photo of the view from our room that the neighborhood wasn't very atmospheric. 

Richard was very generous and lowered our room rate almost every night we were there.  We had hoped to go back to my apartment after six days, but once we got there, we knew it still wasn't ready to be lived in.  So back we went to the Courtyard, where Richard kindly gave us a different room on the other side of the hotel, for a different view.  Finally, after nearly ten days, we moved back into my apartment.
Here's what we came back to:

What a mess.  It smelled like smoke all over, so we kept a towel stuffed at the top of the door to try to keep the smell out.  It couldn't keep the noise out, though.  That fan they had in the hallway to blow the smoke smell out was SO LOUD.  It was driving both of us crazy.  Mom was also being driven insane because my cable was out--she didn't enjoy watching my DVDs of seasons one and two of Little House on the Prairie quite as much as I did.  :)  

An old friend from college sent me a wonderful care package of CDs and DVDs from my wish list, so it was nice to have some new movies and new music to watch/listen to.  At least once we were back in the apartment, though, Mom could get out and walk around the neighborhood.  She would go, probably once a day, to the local hardware store to get towels, then window blinds, then more air fresheners.  She did my laundry and went through my tons of stuff that needed to be thrown out.  Thank heavens I had taken a month off from work, because not only was there recuperation to be done (and, to tell the truth, the physical recuperation wasn't all that bad--discomfort, difficulty sleeping and exhaustion, yes, but none of the horrible problems of lymphedema or frozen shoulder or new staph infections that I had feared), but also a near-complete inventory of my apartment.  She worked her fingers off, as did all of my friends who came by to help out.  No, not help.  DO.  They did it all, while I laid around and 'supervised.'  I can't imagine how anything would've gotten done if I had been in the sad situation as that message board lady in Maine.  So, reason #2,356,976 that I am so fortunate and so grateful.  Rest assured, though, I'm sure I will complain again, about something.  :)  Oh, and another reason to be grateful:  as of today, I am all paid up.  I finally paid the last installment of the last hospital bill.  At least I think it's the last.  Hopefully, no new paperwork floats my way, and we all have clear sailing from here on in...

p.s.  Two years ago today, I reviewed "Measure for Measure", a production of Theater for a New Audience, featuring Rocco Sisto and Jefferson Mays.  Thumbs UP.  I'm very excited Jefferson Mays is going to be in the upcoming revival of "Gore Vidal's The Best Man."  I also hope to see Rocco Sisto again sometime soon...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Food, glorious food, plus other...stuff

So, I pretty much stopped cooking about a year ago.  Too tired, too sore, too...something.  It's really been sort of interesting to find out which muscles are affected by a mastectomy.  Stuff that wouldn't have occurred to me suddenly became painful--chopping vegetables, addressing Christmas cards, unlocking a window...  Anyway, I was thinking that I would make a New Year's resolution to cook a new recipe, at least once a week, and get back in the cooking groove.  Well, on February 1: I finally cooked.  :)

I went shopping, fully intending to start cooking, at Whole Foods Tuesday night, to pick up some ingredients for the first few recipes that intrigued me.  Oddly, they didn't have several ingredients I was looking for, and they were so crowded, I got too tired to cook.  Sigh.  Good thing I bought some prepared food--it's a compromise between cooking and ordering takeout.  It was microwaving.  ;)   On the plate, we have grilled salmon, roasted butternut squash and forbidden rice with peppers.  They were delicious. 

I was determined to try again.  Last night's recipe came from Saveur magazine.  I enjoy Saveur.  The picures are great and their features are usually on a topic completely new to me.  I decided to make one of their 'essential recipes' from the Jan/Feb 2012 issue.  Of course, because I'm me, I made a few changes.  One change: the recipe is for Swordfish Puttanesca.  Well, the swordfish at Whole Foods Tuesday did NOT look too tasty to me.  So...I decided to just make pasta puttanesca.  Not exactly rocket-science-cooking, but it's a start.
I also decided to use anchovy paste instead of buying anchovies; not sure why I made that decision.  I guess I figured I could get more use out of anchovy paste which can stay in my frig much longer than anchovies.  Oh, and I also used black olives instead of green.  I love me some kalamata olives.  I could probably eat them in three meals a day.  I do love the olive bar at Whole Foods.  Although there was a woman at the bar who would NOT get the heck out of my way.  Move it, lady!  I need me some kalamata olives, stat!  :)   So I set my ingredients out on my non-existent counter and got started.

Clearly, I didn't read the entire recipe beforehand.  This is one of my worst habits.  I need to read the complete recipe before I start.  I've gotten into more trouble with just that one skipped step.  If I had done that, I would've noticed that I should've started the sauce BEFORE I put on the pasta.  Oh well.  Live and learn.  The sauce tasted pretty good with only the seven minutes or so of simmering, but clearly would be better after more mingling of flavors and more reduction of the sauce.  It still looks pretty good, though, right? 

Here's an interesting tidbit:  you know how you're always told to liberally salt the pasta cooking water?  Since I knew the sauce had anchovy paste, capers and black olives, I figured the salt content in the sauce was enough, so I didn't put much in the pasta water.  Big mistake.  The pasta tasted bland.  How that could happen with that savory sauce, I just don't know, but I'm sure it was because I skimped on salt in the pasta water.  It's actually kinda fun to find out those chef-tips were really right!  :) 
I also cheated and put a little fresh mozzarella in.  I had some left over from an antipasti I  put together over the weekend (that's not really cooking, is it?  throwing together a plate with olives, bread and cheese?  that's why I didn't mention it earlier).  So, in actuality, I didn't make the Saveur recipe.  lol     I became one of those people who comment on food blogs who say, "omg, I love this recipe!  well, I substituted basil for the cilantro, shrimp for the chicken, and cumin for the ginger.  but other than that, this recipe rocks!!"   Those comments always make me giggle.  So... I guess I became one of those oddballs.  Oh well.  The pasta was tasty and I had plenty leftover for lunch. 

I'm hoping to get to Trader Joe's on Friday to get more ingredients for other recipes I really want to try.  There's a roasted butternut squash with miso recipe from my Vegetarian Times magazine that I'm dying to try, and also a spaghetti squash fritter-type thing from Everyday Food.  Oh, and a farro pilaf with cranberries.  I have some farro already, so maybe I should focus on getting the rest of those ingredients.  Hmmmmm...

Other stuff.  OK, so, yesterday, the news broke that the Susan G Komen Foundation was removing their funding of Planned Parenthood.  This is distressing to me on so many levels.  I'm sure there's more to the story, but what has played out so far is frightening.  In my opinion.  Of course, a not-for-profit can make granting available to whomever they want.  But to make women's healthcare political is crazy.  Planned Parenthood provides healthcare alternatives to uninsured women who have nowhere else to go.  Is the Komen Foundation now saying that only certain women are entitled to healthcare?  I sincerely hope I'm misunderstanding what's going on.  I was so proud to walk in last year's Race for the Cure, and I was so excited to get my notice that they've set the date for this year's race.  I was already planning my fundraising spiel for both the AIDS Walk and the Race for the Cure.  Now...I'm not so sure.  In reading a lot of the materials, it seems like Komen is more determined to support their brand than to find a cure or help women in need.  They spend a lot of money advertising their pink ribbons and suing other organizations who dare to use the phrase 'for the cure.'  If their goal is to eradicate breast cancer, doesn't that have to include making sure ALL women get screened, until there's a cure?  I'm really pretty upset about all this.  I hope I'm wrong about all the negative thoughts I'm having...

p.s.  one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, has a section at the bottom of each post, telling what she posted about one year ago, two years ago, etc.  Fun.  So I thought I would point out that five years ago today I sent out a review e-blast of "The Spanish Play" (thumbs down), "Frank's Home" (thumbs up, except for the lady sitting behind me that I had to yell at to shut up), and the Seaside production of "Drood" (thumbs WAY up!!  I can't believe it's been five years!!)