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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On the Other Hand

Given the Choice Dept.: When The Alt debuted in New York’s Capital Region last November, I wrote the piece below to celebrate the concept of culinary alternatives.


WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE when your larder isn’t yielding what the recipe demands? We’re familiar with some of the common ones: use white sugar and molasses in place of brown sugar, try yogurt in place of mayonnaise, add a little vinegar to some tomato sauce in place of ketchup – although if you’re running out of ketchup before the tomato sauce is gone, then your diet may need more than this article for help.

Such tips, once buried in the end pages of books like The Joy of Cooking, are now at the easy other end of an online search. But what’s the alternative when you just don’t want to eat a particular item? It’s a more subjective path, but it’s a path that opens new culinary vistas.

For example: You need protein, and you want to turn to the garden for more of it. The leading candidate: Kale. It’s way up there on the green-leafy protein scale, with 2.9 grams of protein in one cup (67 grams) of the chopped-up stuff. The only drawback is that kale is vile, a tough tangle of stems and resistance that probably costs you a gram or more of that protein in chewing alone. The alternative: Arugula. Although it contains only 0.6 grams of protein per cup, a cup of arugula weighs only 10 grams. On an equal-weight basis with kale, 67 grams of arugula contains 4.2 grams of protein, and a mere 6 calories versus kale’s 33. Of course, that’s a hell of a lot of arugula to chew through, and it needs dressing, so there go your calories.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

For Your Classical Consideration

THIS HAS BEEN THE KIND OF YEAR that imprints its many aspects on all edges of our cultural life, and we need to go into 2017 with music that both heals and inspires. Here are some selections from the past twelvemonth with which to get started.

Lara Downes: America Again (Sono Luminus)

Although this CD was released a couple of weeks before The Election, it couldn’t convey a more necessary post-election message. “America Again” is the title of prolific pianist Lara Downes’s debut on the Sono Luminus label, taking its title from a Langston Hughes poem that asks, “Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed – Let it be that great strong land of love,” a wish that will be tried and brutalized during the next four years.

The 21 selections offer compelling juxtapositions of works by composers synonymous with Americana and less-familiar voices, as when Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” (after a Nina Simone arrangement) is followed by Rican-born Angélica Negrón’s “Sueno Recurrente.” The 35-year-old pursued the dream of journeying from one America to another, ending up in Brooklyn with a varied and inspiring career.

Other highlights are Amy Beach’s evocative “From Blackbird Hills,” Duke Ellington’s appropriately titled “Melancholia,” an Art Tatum arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” and the traditional melodies “Shenendoah” and “Deep River” – along with short works by Lou Harrison, Florence Price, Scott Joplin, Harold Arlen, and others.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Road to Morocco

THANKS TO DENZEL WASHINGTON, we have a Moroccan restaurant in Schenectady. “I’d signed a lease on a building in Harlem,” says Aneesa Waheed, chef-owner of Tara Kitchen, “when the realtor called me and said that the owner was backing out of the agreement. That’s because Denzel Washington would be filming in the area and wanted to use the space–and would be paying $3,000 a day for it!”

Aneesa Waheed | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Waheed was upset, “but it was a blessing in disguise. I knew I would have been taking a huge risk, and, in the long run, I don’t think that would have been the place to do it.”

Tara Kitchen opened at the beginning of 2012 at 431 Liberty St., a couple of blocks away from Schenectady’s downtown, with Waheed and her husband, Muntasim Shoaib, putting in backbreaking hours while raising one small child and expecting another.

Waheed has a dynamic presence with an enthusiasm that’s contagious. And the courage to give up a very lucrative career. “I worked in publishing in New York City for ten years, but my life revolved around food. If I wasn’t thinking about what or where to eat, I was watching the Food Network. I grew up with seeing my mother cooking all the time. Indian culture revolves around food. While you’re eating breakfast, you’re planning lunch and dinner.”

Monday, December 12, 2016

Fiddler’s Peak

THERE WAS A TIME when it was considered unseemly to perform Bach’s solo violin sonatas without added piano, and Schumann was among those who obliged with accompaniments. That time is well behind us, and it’s now the mark of a fiddler’s mettle to record them solo, perhaps hitting them two or three times in the course of a career to show artistic development. Kyung Wha Chung has waited. Interpretive styles have shifted; the vogue of the historically informed performance style, which seemed obligatory twenty years ago, has eased, and Chung clearly has thought about how to color her approach to these monument.

Sonata No. 1 banishes any worry about a too-historically informed interpretation, especially in the second-movement fugue, where phrases are allowed to linger and twine to satisfy the odd contrapuntal requirements – odd only insofar as the violin’s physical limitations (you can only play two adjacent strings simultaneously) require some of the contrapuntal lines to be interrupted and thus implied. And that sonata’s gorgeous third movement also enjoys a richly bodied treatment.

The sonata finishes with a presto taken at an appropriately lively clip and with none of the interpretive pauses that plague other performances.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Dancing out of the Dark

Girding Our Loins Dept.: The national tour of “Dirty Dancing” landed at Proctors in Schenectady shortly after the election. The timing offered an unexpected insight into the show, as my review reveals.


WHEN THE MOVIE “Dirty Dancing” premiered in 1987, it was looking back a quarter-century to a more agitated era. Civil rights demonstrations were bringing out firehoses in the South; the birth control pill invited sexual liberation, but abortion was still illegal. We’d struggled, we’d fought, we’d won, and the ambitious uncertainty of teenaged Frances Houseman, known as “Baby,” seemed quaint.

Christopher Tierney and Jennifer Mealani Jones
Photo by Matthew Murphy
In moving the movie from screen to stage, the filmic structure has been maintained, complete with video dissolves as it rushes from scene to scene with a near-constant musical accompaniment. It serves the sappy coming-of-age story well, but just after the Broadway tour arrived in Schenectady last week, everything changed. The key song of the piece no longer is “The Time of My Life.” It’s “We Shall Overcome,” poignantly rendered by Chante Carmel in a scene that plays out like a picnic that Pete Seeger is about to attend.

We’re picnicking at Kellerman’s, a Catskills resort, where the waiters and counselors are there to instruct and serve in whatever ways will please the guests – up to a point, as affirmed by hard-assed owner Max (a commanding Gary Lynch).

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Country Bistro

THIS YEAR'S THANKSGIVING theme was French Country Bistro, an excuse for making as many casseroles as possible, thus sparing me a lot of a-la-minute work. This was partly inspired by the research I've been doing on cast-iron cookware (article to come), research that won me over to the joy of make-ahead slow-cooking.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Great Pumpkin

From the Culinary Vault Dept.: What with Thanksgiving looming, let’s skip dinner and move right into dessert – or make dinner a little more interesting with a look at the old-fashioned uses of that favorite fall gourd, the pumpkin, as I noted in a Metroland piece a dozen years ago.


IT’S NOT EXACTLY ON THE ORDER of Hallowe’en pumpkin smashing, but the noble gourd rated a mention in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor as those titular wives plotted to humiliate the fat, randy Falstaff.  “Go to, then,” says Mrs. Ford, as her friends help her set up an assignation. “We’ll use this unwholesome humidity, this gross watery pumpion; we’ll teach him to know turtles from jays.”

The Greeks called it a “pepon,” or large melon; this got Gallicized into “pompon” before Shakespeare got hold of it. Early American settlers changed the second syllable to “-kin,” itself a version of the German “-chen,” and still used as in instrument of maternal torture in such formations as “my little lamb-i-kin.”

For all that European travel, the pumpkin itself seems to have originated in Central America; certainly the recipes that have endured are known to have crisscrossed the American continents for several thousand years. Now it’s grown in every continent except Antarctica.