and we are all grateful.
Month: February 2014
We went to see Kathleen Turner in “Mother Courage and her Children” at Arena Stage. All I can say is, Yikes! The play was awful. It was so, how shall I say…Brechtian. That’s a joke people. The play was written by Bertolt Brecht. Written in the 1939, it is an anti-war play presented in a very “new” or “modern” way or as that would have been seen in 1939. Brecht wrote the play to be very chaotic and open to the audience. For example, there were on-stage scene demarcations with someone shouting “scene 3, three years later.” There were on stage costume changes and set changes and generally a lot going on. There was also singing but I would not call it a musical.
I might have been able to put up with the chaos but for Kathleen Turner. She has always had a deep voice, but at this point, her voice is so low she absolutely struggles to get the words out. Her neck is huge and you can see the muscles straining as she tries to be heard even though she is miked. Lady, stop smoking. And if your voice is not strained from smoking, then see a doctor. You really need some vocal cord rehabilitation. It was so bad that Matt joked that he was not really enjoying Harvey Fierstein playing Mother Courage. Turner is also overweight and out of shape. She is a bit older and that is not unexpected. But this is a big and very active role. She huffed and puffed through the play as she tried to shout out her words. Honestly, I was so distracted by my fear that she was about to have a heart attack or keel over from overexertion that I could not pay attention to anything else.
We left at intermission. We just did not care and this play was scheduled to run close to three hours. Sorry, my time is valuable. If I cannot be drawn in during the first half, I am not wasting my time. We learned that lesson during a most painful performance of “Peer Gynt.” (Matt just read that and shuddered.) I was ready to leave at intermission but Matt, being the polite fellow that he is, did not like the idea so we sat through that terrible, boring play. He now agrees. Never again will we waste our time on a play we are not enjoying. And alas, we walked out on Mother Courage.
Hilariously, the play was deemed a triumph by the theater critics. One critic actually called Turner “sexy.” There is no possible way that anyone could have viewed her has sexy. Go to the review, which has a picture of Turner and get back to me.
The Diving Board
I went swimming today and the three meter diving board was closed. One of the reasons I go to the pool in Olney is because they have a diving board and I like to finish my swim with some dives. With the three meter closed, I was facing the five meter. The difference between three and five meters seems small but going from nine feet and sixteen feet, you feel pretty high over the water. It feels like you are jumping from what would be perhaps a second floor window.
I never dive from that board. I do not trust myself to dive straight in and I am too old to be hitting the water at a bad angle. I have jumped from the five meter though, feet first, so that was my plan. I climbed the stairs. Then I started psyching myself out. I walked out, then walked back telling myself I could not do it. Then I went back, then I chickened out again. The lifeguard was shaking her head saying, go ahead. I shook my head, no. Yes. No. Then I said, for Pete’s sakes girl, you have jumped from a five meter board before. You have jumped off a bridge! Stop worrying and get out there. And I did. I jumped. The water smashed up into my nostrils but it was exhilarating. At that height, it always is.
Oscar Animated Shorts
I had enough of Canada winning at the Olympics so we shut off the television and went to see the Oscar nominated animated shorts. I loved “Room on the Broom.” A simply adorable movie about a witch and her cat, and dog and bird and frog, and a wicked dragon who wanted to eat her. We also really enjoyed “Mr Hublot.” There is no explaining this one.
After the movie we headed to Brasserie Beck for dinner and beer. This is a good restaurant that serves traditional Belgian food as well as other mostly richer foods that go great with beer. But the real draw is getting to try the Belgian beer they have on tap. The chef and owner is Robert Weidmaier, a Belgian, and therefore beer connoisseur. He always has great beer.
We had skipped lunch so we were making up for it. We both had frisee salad with a poached egg. Oh, how we love poached egg in a salad. Trust me, you have to try it. Then I had a mushroom stuffed crepe and Matt had a house made bratwurst with spaetzle. We shared a dish of papparadelle with wild boar ragu. Yummy.
But the best part was we discovered a new Belgian beer–Gulden Draak. Also here. It was sublime. A dark triple, it was great with food, especially the meats and the wild boar ragu. Fantastic.
The Winter Olympics are here. Time to obsessively watch curling. Curling curling curling.
Why do I love curling? I don’t think I can explain it. But it is the combination of a very intricate game of strategy with the requirement that the team have the skill to carry it out. Sure, that is true of all sports to some degree. But with curling you get to see the decision-making then an individual try to make the shot to carry out the strategy. A great shot is a death blow. A missed shot, any error, can be a point lost or given up.
Why do I have to wait four years to see curling? Why can’t some sports network somewhere in the U.S. show curling regularly? They say that this is the cult favorite of the Olympics, but maybe it would be more popular if it was shown at an Olympic prime time hour instead of in the afternoon so no one with a job can see it. Maybe some curling and a little less ice skating. Yes, I know. Blasphemy. How about one less snow boarding event. Oh forget it. We actually streamed it over the internet so we could see the uncut matches.
I will not lie. I am rooting for Sweden. I am most assuredly not rooting for Canada.
Tracking the coyote
With all the snow we have a lot of animal tracks around and the coyote loves coming through our yard. How do I know it is a coyote? Well, I checked the tracks against my animal manuals as well as various DNR sites on-line. Coyotes have a specific way of walking that puts their paws almost in a line. They also have very narrow paws rather than paws that splay wide like a dog or a fox. We bought a night camera and we are going to try to get a picture.
But until then, here are some pictures of the tracks. He walked right in front of the garage checked for the rabbits under the front bush, were they live, and then he went around the house and on his way.
George Washington’s Birthnight Ball at Gadsby’s Tavern.
Way back in 1797, John Gadsby, owner of Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria Virginia decided it would be nice to give the president George Washington a birthday party, or Birthnight Ball. Washington did not attend the first since he was still President and living in Philadelphia, the capital. In 1798 and 1799, the retired general lived at Mount Vernon next door and he attended. The Tavern was restored in 1976 as a restaurant and museum and since then the museum has made an afford to recreate the Birthnight Ball to celebrate Washington’s birthday. This is an event I have always wanted to go to but never had the chance because the date often conflicts with the OAS Viennese Waltz Ball. Since we are not dancing right now, this was the time.
The ball includes English country dancing, dinner, lots of toasts to the General and a lovely dessert table. If you are so inclined, you can take lessons before the ball to learn the steps. Matt is not comfortable dancing so we skipped that part. We were greeted at the front door by Mr. Gadsby who invited us in. We were shown upstairs to the meeting area where a gentleman took our card and, after pounding his staff twice on the floor to get everyone’s attention, he announced our arrival to the ball, “Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt of Maryland!” “Huzzah!” responded the crowd and in we went.
The invitation had said that period costumes were encouraged. When I asked at the museum, they said there was no place available so I wore a gown but nothing that related to the period. Matt wore black tie. There were many people there in period costumes, think Jane Austen movies. Some people spoke to us but we just kind of sat back and took it in.
The ball began with cocktails and appetizers as we waited in anticipation of the General’s arrival.
While we waited, toasts were given all round by various gentlemen who were re-enactors, or as we were told they are called, “Historic Interpreters.” There was a toast to the president, John Adams. There was a discussion of the war in France.
Soon the General arrived and he was toasted by many in the room. We all then directed to the ball room so that the ball could be opened with dancing. A couple performed the minuet. Once that dance was completed, more of the interpreters joined in to perform various dances and a cotillion, the General’s favorite dance.
The dancing exhibition over, we proceeded to dinner. I bought seats in the main dining room with the General so we could see all the goings on. We were not seated at the General’s table (which required a much larger donation) but we were seated with a couple in period costume. Apparently I was seated next to Sally Fairfax, friend of the Washington family, although I did not figure that out until much later. At first, she was just annoying. She talked and talk and talked about all of the happenings in 1799 and in the last war and those terrible French people. I just figured she was a guest that would not shut up. It finally dawned on us that she was an interpreter seated with us to make our dinner more interesting. Once we caught on, we were firing history her and her escort to see if we could catch them in not knowing their history. Matt did it of course. He asked about Lafayette’s son and protested mightily about the Alien Sedition Act denouncing it as unconstitutional. I got to get into Indians and the General’s terrible experience in my homeland of Southwestern Pennsylvania and Fort Necessity, which at the time was in Virginia.
The dinner was surprisingly fantastic and completely current to the 18th Century Colonial tavern we were dining at. First course was a madeira soup, then smoked duck on a bed of salad, followed by perfectly cooked beef tenderloin, rockfish, oyster stuffing and roasted vegetables. I ate every morsel.
After dinner we made our way back to the meeting room for desserts and more toasts to the General. Matt was given a pre-written toast which denounced Congress and do-nothings. Nothing has changed.
By this time, the guy playing Washington was out of character and Matt spent a lot of time talking to him about Lafayette. Another gentleman who stayed in character seemed to enjoy talking to us, mostly bawdy innuendo about my charms. Oh, the 18th Century was so much fun!
More snow. Really. Another four inches. I mean how much snow can we get? I shoveled this mess too and I broke another shovel. I am down to two.
For Valentine’s Day, Matt bought me a terrarium. He claims that it is a plant I can ignore which is great because I cannot grow plants that need attention. God bless all those orchids I have killed over the years.
I made him a chocolate cake from scratch. It was spaghetti night so no special dinner. Hey, he gets a special dinner every night.
I have started a competition, who can buy the most cards for a holiday. I won this time 5-4.
It snowed and it snowed and it snowed. Fourteen inches. That is a lot of snow to shovel. You folks in the snowy areas have gadgets like snow blowers and plows. Yeah. I have a plastic shovel. Well, a few shovels, thank goodness, because I broke one trying to move the snow. It was oddly dry and sticky and heavy all at the same time.
We usually have guys knocking on our door asking if they can shovel for some money. I turn them away because shoveling is good for me. But this time, I just did not know how I was going to move the ton of snow piled up on my driveway with my stinking plastic shovel. I could do it. But it was going to take time. I got started on it and then lo and behold, the shovel brigade came marching down the street. I waved them over. When you have that much snow, shoveling comes at a premium and for $100 bucks four guys cleared the walks, the driveway and the huge pile of frozen snow the snow plow left behind. Oh the joy watching them shovel like mad. It took them about 20 minutes. Not bad money.
Then it snowed another six inches. Seriously. This time I shoveled it. We had snowed piled so high I was not sure where to put it. These pictures were taken two days later.
The Great Recipe Project
It only took me three years but I finally organized all of my recipes into binders. I have been collecting recipes for years, ripping them out of magazines and newspapers, downloading and printing them from the internet. The collection just grows and grows and grows and I vowed that I would go through and organize them. Tell me, how many pumpkin pie recipes can a person have? Well, a lot if you are not looking. I probably had a dozen.
Going through the recipes was like watching the entire world of cuisine develop in a few short decades. Looking at the recipes it was easy to see how tastes have developed over the years, from meat and potato dishes to exotic dishes like steak with chimichurri sauce or kimchi pancakes. My tastes have changes and the food magazines have changed. There is so much more variety in terms of fruits, vegetables and even meats. The regions from which the recipes came was like a world tour. We went from pan-Asian in the 1990’s (more Chinese and Japanese with things like miso), to South American, Hispanic and Latino, things like tomatillo sauce and moles, even Cubanos, then on to southeast Asian such as Thai and Viet which is still pretty popular. Then it all turned back to places like Spain and Italy. Spanish food has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years.
I promised myself that I would stop collecting and try to work through them. Maybe I can bake a dozen different pumpkin pies and decide which recipe is best.
Downton Abbey and Raclette
Matt downloaded the entire season of Downton Abbey and our plan was to have raclette and watch a few episodes without completely bingeing. After all, if you watch it all in one day, that is 364 days you have to wait for the next season.
What is raclette? Raclette is a swiss cheese but not Swiss cheese. It is also a popular Swiss meal, custom, and winter rite. Here is how it works. You take raclette cheese and you put it under a special heater to melt it. There are actually raclette burners just for this process. Like this one:
I bought an electric raclette griddle. It is smaller and less expensive than the giant burners the Swiss use for parties.
There is something about melted cheese that excites our genes and our taste buds. Once the heat gets going, the top layer of cheese starts to melt and brown. (With my griddle, we melt chunks of cheese in little skillet like plates under a burner. Same effect. Melty oozing cheese.)
Once the cheese gets to melting, you scoop it onto a plate paired with boiled potatoes, brescaola or some other dried meat, cornichons or gherkin pickles, and pickled pearl onions. It is a real treat and we like to have it once a year, sometime in the winter when it snows.
Well, there has been snow on the ground, it has been cold, and it seems we are really having winter. So we fired up the cheese grill and poured some red wine. It was delicious. If you remind me and you visit in the winter, I’ll treat you.
The Tallest Tree in the Forest
Until I saw “The Tallest Tree in the Forest,” I knew nothing about Paul Robeson and we should all know about him. Long forgotten, he was an early civil rights pioneer and activist. The play presented his astounding and complicated history in ninety minutes. A one man show by Daniel Beatty tells the story of Robeson’s rise as a singer, most famously he sang Ol’ Man River in Showboat, to his becoming a vocal activist for civil rights and social justice.
This is a very short summary of his life. It is way more involved than this and I encourage you to go to the wiki link or here. The title, “The Tallest Tree in the Forest” comes from a quote by Mary McLeod Bethune who said Robeson was “the tallest tree in our forest.”
Robeson attended college at Rutgers, being both valedictorian and star football player. He got a law degree from Columbia but because of discrimination, he was unable to find work. He then discovered that he could make money singing. He came to the attention of the playwright Eugene O’Neill who wanted him to star in his plays, “All God’s Chillum Have Wings” and “The Emperor Jones.” He was a huge success and then landed a role in a broadway show, Showboat, which he starred in for many years in England and the U.S.. Despite many who criticized his role as a slave as demeaning, he kept on because it gave him freedom and because he felt that he played the character in a way that created sympathy for the plight of slaves. I am not sure that is true but he was so successful that he was able to produce and star on Broadway in Othello. He was the first black man to play Othello, in a show he produced himself. By then he was probably the most famous black man of his time.
But while he was a famous entertainer, he was also an activist for economic justice and civil rights. He sought anti-lynching legislation in one of the first civil rights efforts, but President Truman turned him down.
He argued over freedom for Africa, for Australian aborigines, for poor, mistreated Welsh miners. His strong views on society and justice also brought him trouble. After he visited the Soviet Union and gave them glowing reviews as an equal society, he was branded a communist sympathizer. He ended up on Hoover’s black list, and was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee which he denounced in public. Robeson accused them, “YOU are the un-Americans!” When asked why he did not go and live in the Soviet Union, Robeson thundered: “Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country and I am going to stand here and have a part of it just like you.”
Then Robeson made speech that was the beginning of the end. He was so angry at the discrimination in the U.S., that he said African-Americans should not go to war on behalf of the U.S. because of the way they were treated. People started to distance themselves from him. At some point a civil rights leader said, the tallest tree in our forest needs to be cut down. When he refused to also denounce Joseph Stalin for his own extermination of Jews and pretty much everyone who disagreed with him, Robeson was abandoned even by liberals.
For much of his popular life, he had lived and made his living in Europe and when his passport was revoked because of his Soviet sympathies, his life started to spin out of control. He became ill and lost favor with just about everyone. He eventually died a forgotten and under-appreciated activist who is only now being rediscovered.
The play told me all of this. It was a wonderful, moving and sad story about a man who should not be forgotten.
One year we are going to Punxsutawny just to get in on the action. But until then I watch the Punxsutawney Phil ceremony video stream on the internet. It is all just so goofy.
The seer of seers, the prognosticator of prognosticators said six more weeks of winter! NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!! Does that mean the polar vortex is coming back?
Vietnamese food is very popular in D.C. I had never had pho, which is a noodle soup dish. Matt took me to Pho Nom Nom to give it a try. It was good. Really, it was. But I don’t think pho is great. It is not something I would go out of my way for. I much prefer the Sapporo noodles at Ren’s Ramen or the northern Chinese noodle soups at A&J’s Restaurant. Just my opinion.