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Friday, October 12, 2018

Tales from the Crypts

“THE LOVE OF ANOTHER will destroy the causes of my hatred!” The hulking figure is shadowed, his dark-rimmed eyes suggesting both ugliness and torment. He appeared suddenly, lit only by a flashlight, the beam of which turned on the audience to silhouette the keening monster. His voice wove pain and anger into a sound of heartbreaking beauty, as baritone Joshua Jeremiah gave life to the world premiere of composer Gregg Kallor’s “Sketches from Frankenstein” in the Catacombs at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

Joshua Jeremiah in "Sketches from Frankenstein"
Photo by Kevin Condon
Audacity informed everything about this performance, which took place on the chill evening of October 10. The cemetery itself sports a knoll that gives a panorama running from the Battery to Bayonne, and we began the journey there with a whiskey-tasting that continued in a nearby columbarium. Among the distillers: Pugilist Spirits, whose Prizefight Irish Whiskey is a transatlantic creation; Virgil Kaine, which shared a ginger-infused bourbon; and Brooklyn’s own Van Brunt Stillhouse. While such lubrication is always welcome, the dusk-spangled view was also an integral part of the experience. It made the trip into the Catacombs all the more oppressive.

Oh, it seems delightful at first. Here’s this 19th-century crypt hotel, tunneled into a hillside, intended to assuage those worried about being buried alive. Which seems an absurd worry – until you enter the world of Edgar Allan Poe. His “Tell-Tale Heart,” also set by Kallor, was another item on the musical program.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Culinary Junction

From the Food Vault Dept.: It was incredible enough to find fine dining in Canajoharie, a rural village where pizza would be the favored fare, and more incredible still that this restaurant pursued its ingredients from nearby purveyors. It was too good to last, and it didn’t. The space is now home to Gino’s, a pizza place.


SEPTEMBER SIGNIFIES HARVEST SEASON, which is the time to think again about the 100-Mile Diet Challenge. Eating locally is about fueling your body with the freshest possible ingredients, but it’s also much more: It’s a way of rebelling against the corporate control of farming; it conserves that temendous amount of energy wasted on food transportation, and it offers the probability that your food hasn’t been genetically debilitated.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
In his book Deep Economy, Bill McKibben describes the challenge of eating locally throughout a Vermont year, and it can be done with some creative changes of menu – especially during the winter months. But McKibben’s Champlain Valley – like our Mohawk and Hudson Valleys – is an especially bounteous area, offering not only plenty of produce but also a wealth of small farms that specialize in conscientious meat production.

The menu at Church and Main makes a point of listing those purveyors. Free Bird Farm and Hand’s Honey are from the western Montgomery County neighborhood; somewhat farther afield are Highland Farms in Red Hook and Newport’s Sunset Hill Farm. Local co-ops also provide ingredients.

Friday, October 05, 2018

The Big Cheese

IT EMERGES FROM a milky, opaque bath the temperature of bodily fluids, and it’s a white rubbery mass that looks like a medical mistake. My next task is to drain the fluid away from it – saving the runoff, of course – and compact the stuff in a cylindrical mold. Upon which it will yield to a succession of ever-heavier weights, until it’s ready for storage. It’s going to be a wheel of pecorino, a sheep’s-milk cheese born in Italy (where sheep are pecora) and which has a fabulously complex flavor when it emerges from its five or six months of aging.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
When I learned that I could buy sheep’s milk from some Amish neighbors, I determined to make my own pecorino. I’m working on my fourth wheel of the stuff, and I can confidently state that I don’t know at all what I’m doing.

Beyond the milk itself, you need gear. And chemicals. And a recipe. And once you start reading about cheese, you realize that starting with pecorino is like picking up a violin and expecting to play the Beethoven concerto. You should practice your way towards with easier stuff.

Nevertheless, I want to have my own pecorino. Thus did I begin. I acquired the chemicals – a thermophilic starter culture, which inoculates the milk with necessary bacteria; lipase, an enzyme that acts as a flavoring agent; and rennet, an enzyme that starts the curd thickening. I should have built my own press, but I was impatient. I bought one that accommodates two- and five-pound molds, and which allows you to use the physics of its press lever to arrive at the correct weight: for example, when I hang a ten-pound bag of rice at a particular groove near the lever’s end, I’m applying forty pounds of weight to the cheese.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Time for Catastrophe

THE IDEA OF A CIRCUS invites grotesque imagery, as demonstrated, in movies, at least, by the likes of “La Strada,” “Saboteur,” and “Nightmare Alley.” As a context for the plays of Samuel Beckett, it underscores the vaudeville aspect that informs many of those plays as well as reinforcing the playwright’s unique use of language. Circus talk is perfunctory and hortatory. The Ringmaster (Ethan Botwick) who led the audience into Troy’s cavernous Gasholder Building wasted no words in directing the crowd to the attractions, including a half-dozen playing areas and a concession area offering popcorn, cotton candy, and appropriate libations.

John Romeo in "Krapp's Last Tape."
Photo by B. A. Nilsson
This was actually a return to the circus for the historic structure, which spent 25 years as the winter home for the Oscar C. Buck sideshow companies that toured the country back in the day. But I’m sure that Buck could never have envisioned Beckett as the entertainment’s backbone.

The Gasholder was the setting for “Catastrophe Carnivale: An Evening of Beckett Shorts,” the opening show of the second season for Troy Foundry Theatre, a company that gypsies around the city to present its shows in unusual and appropriate venues.

It’s an approach that resonates with a question posed by the young Beckett: “Must we wring the neck of a certain system in order to stuff it into a contemporary pigeon-hole, or modify the dimensions of that pigeon-hole for the satisfaction of the analogymongers?”* The pigeon-holes  here answered to no one. Center stage, so to speak, was “Krapp’s Last Tape,” a monologue piece that pits an old man against a tape recording of his 30-years-younger self. It’s got the vaudeville flavor of Beckett’s more famous “Waiting for Godot” in that the process of self-examination is riddled with absurdity. Krapp has a banana; Krapp lovingly unrolls its skin; Krapp eats the banana, not so lovingly; Krapp slips on the banana peel.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Bavarian Brass

From the Vault Dept.: The piece below ran in the Schenectady Gazette thirty years ago, and the group profiled is still active, with internet evidence of their travels very evident this time of year. Because it’s Oktoberfest time, of course, and you can’t enjoy German beer without German music.


LIKE SO MANY WORTHY CELEBRATION TRADITIONS, the Oktoberfest began as a wedding feast.  “The first one was back in, oh, 1810 or so,” says Harry R. Vincent, “when King Ludwig was marrying off one of his daughters. It was in a meadow in Munich, but as I understand it the event became more like a county fair.”

The Bavarian Barons - A more recent view
Vincent, founding director of the Bavarian Barons, presents the music of that era in a styling so authentic that his group recently received an award from the Federal Government of West Germany acknowledging the Barons as “America's Number One Bavarian Brass Band.” And the Barons will be an attraction at Schenectady's seventh annual Oktoberfest, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at State and Jay Streets.

This preserves the German custom of hiring the local musicians for such a performance; as Vincent explains, “Every town in Germany has a band, or ‘kapelle,’ and that’s the group which plays for village functions. They’re very aware of what they have musically there, much the same as it used to be in this country back around the turn of the century.” Although the reputation of the Bavarian Barons is international, the group is based in nearby Nassau.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Delhi Meet

From the Food Vault Dept.: Albany’s restaurant scene has evolved slowly. Forty years ago, only a single Indian restaurant could be found; soon after, a number of its employees quit and opened another. Neither is still in business, but I couldn’t begin to count the number you’ll find in the Capital Region now. Unfortunately, the one reviewed below also has left us – a Greek restaurant and a Thai restaurant are among those that took its place in the now-shuttered building. This is not to be confused with the Taj Mahal in Schenectady or the Taj in Glenmont, both of which I’ve visited recently and very much enjoyed. And I can’t recall who my dining companion was during this excursion twenty years ago, but he obviously wished to remain anonymous, and that condition shall endure.


THE FLAVORS REVEAL THEMSELVES in a cascade of contrasts. First there’s just a general pungency, followed by a vinegary pucker. Then the salt hits, conditioned by bay leaf and other herbs. This is the essence of achari, a type of Indian dish that includes some manner of pickle.

And not the pickled cucumbers we associate with that term. Pickles and chutneys can include a wide range of components, typically invoking dramatic contrasts of sweet and/or salt and sour. Chutneys are cooked, pickles are marinated, typically, in sunlight.

Lamb achari, which I ordered, has flavors that are intense without being devastatingly pepper-hot. The salt of the pickle dominates, so be prepared to pucker. You need the rice pilaf, which accompanies the dish, and a hunk of nan, the flat tandoori bread, to make the dish complete.

At Taj Mahal, four achari selections are offered (chicken, lamb, shrimp, beef) on a menu that includes other diverse specialties you won’t find elsewhere in the area: karahi dishes, cooked quickly in a type of wok; patia, from the cuisine of the Parsis, a Persian tribe that resettled north of Bombay who developed their own sweet-and-sour style; the aromatic stews known as nehari dishes, and a few jaipuri preparations, celebrating the desert cusine of Rajasthan with another type of stew.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Steal the Words

Guest Blogger Dept.: Ellen Terry owned the stage, as far as Shakespeare was concerned, during the last two decades of the 19th Century; she was also accomplished in comedy and loved the work of Ibsen and Shaw. Her advice on acting -- found inscribed in her copy of "Romeo and Juliet" -- remains ever pertinent. 


Ellen Terry ("Choosing")
Painted by George Frederic Watts
GET THE WORDS into your remembrance first of all. Then, (as you have to convey the meaning of the words to some who have ears, but don’t hear, and eyes, but don’t see) put the words into the simplest vernacular. Then exercise your judgment about their sound.

So many different ways of speaking words! Beware of sound and fury signifying nothing. Voice unaccompanied by imagination, dreadful. Pomposity, rotundity.

Imagination and intelligence absolutely necessary to realize and portray high and low imaginings. Voice, yes, but not mere voice production. You must have a sensitive ear, and a sensitive judgment of the effect on your audience. But all the time you must be trying to please yourself.

Get yourself into tune. Then you can let fly your imagination, and the words will seem to be supplied by yourself. Shakespeare supplied by oneself! Oh!

Realism? Yes, if we mean by that real feeling, real sympathy. But people seem to mean by it only the realism of low-down things.

To act, you must make the thing written your own. You must steal the words, steal the thought, and convey the stolen treasure to others with great art.

-- Ellen Terry