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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Red Sauce at Night, Diner’s Delight

From the Cookbook Shelves Dept.: I made the lasagna recipe from the book Laurina’s Kitchen, and it’s amazing. Fluffy and flavorful, a perfect ratio of meat to cheese to pasta. Sorry, but there will be no leftovers by the time you get here. The book was launched three years ago, when I wrote the piece below.


IT WAS A SCENE YOU’D SEE near the end of an adventure epic, when the explorers finally break through to the treasure chamber and survey its long-neglected majesty. In this case, it was the kitchen of the former Ecobelli’s Tam O’Shanter Inn on Route 50 in Ballston Spa. The place has been closed for many years, but the kitchen remains intact, and as the party guests wandered in, they shared stories of the years they’d spent working here.

“I remember filling that sink with fish before I cleaned them.” “I remember when they put that stove in.” “You must have worked here after I left, but I remember your father.”

On Aug. 4, the building was opened to host a party for the launch of Laurina’s Kitchen, a cookbook put together by the sibling grandchildren of the restaurant’s indelible chef, and as Lora Lee and Tom Ecobelli busily signed copy after copy, they were deluged with fond reminiscences.

“We asked for people to send us stories as we were putting the book together,” says Tom, who is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles, “and discovering what the restaurant meant to people really blew us away.”

Lora Lee lives in Saugerties and also works as an actor and writer. “We’re still getting stories,” she says. “Someone called me just the other night and remembered that back in the ’60s, before the restaurant had anything like take-out containers, people would line up by the pizza ovens carrying their own pots. My grandmother would ask how many were in the family, and top off the pots accordingly.”

Friday, September 25, 2015

What’s the Buzz?

YOU’RE SURROUNDED BY BEES. They move with a purpose, settling on a hive’s landing board abulge with yellow pollen, or clustered on a hive frame to build hexagonal-celled honeycomb, or challenging your wish to be there by dive-bombing your face.

But this is the payoff moment. The time and money—and patience—you’ve invested in your apiary is about to yield honey. Fresh, raw honey that will reveal a familiar flavor on top of the sweetness: the flavor of your yard. Even if you don’t go munching on the wildflowers out there, you’ll recognize it.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
My bees have been raising brood and storing honey in large Langstroth hiveboxes, on top of the strongest of which I placed a shallower box, or supers. That’s where the excess honey is stored, an amount (it’s hoped) that exceeds what they’ll need for winter.

At this point, my kitchen serves as honey house. The process begins with schlepping the shallow super to the back door. I brush them free of bees, but a few of them hang on and travel with me. I dip a long knife in boiling water to heat it enough to slice through the waxen honeycomb and, as my wife holds a frame over a food-grade bucket, I cut the cappings and let the wax and some of the honey fall within.

Both sides uncapped, the frame goes into the basket of a hand-cranked centrifuge. It has room enough to whirl three frames, and a brief, energetic spin flings most of the golden liquid against the centrifuge’s stainless-steel walls. I flip the frames to empty the other sides, then return them to the super and work on the next three.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Gotta Dance!

Get Your Tickets Now Dept.: Interviewing Patricia Kelly was like talking to an old friend. It didn’t hurt that I discovered the magic of Gene Kelly’s movie while I still was in my teens, leading me to seek out even the more rarely screened ones like “The Pirate” and “Invitation to the Dance.” But I also share her appreciation of the art of the dance on film, as discussed below. We can only hope that it will return to the movies some day.


GENE KELLY WAS AS INNOVATIVE behind the scenes as he was in front of the camera, as his widow, Patricia, is quick to point out. “The biggest challenge in a musical is moving from a scene to a song,” she explains, “so Gene would work with the arrangers to create a way for the dance to pick up the story. There’s no opening vamp in the original music of ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ so Roger Edens gave Gene the famous lead-in. It’s what takes him from kissing her to where he can begin to sing. Nobody questions that. If you’re in love and you’re full of joy, you dance and splash in puddles, but he gets into it over those opening bars that Roger gave him.”

Gene Kelly
 Patricia Kelly will share many more insights and tidbits – and film clips – when she presents “Gene Kelly: The Legacy” at 7:30 PM Saturday (Sept. 19) at The Egg in Albany. It’s a program she put together three years ago for an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tribute and has since been taking around the country, built from the stories he told her during the last years of his life.

“I just was with several of the dancers from the ABT last night,” she says, speaking from her home in California, “who were performing Jerome Robbins’s ‘Fancy Free’ at the Hollywood Bowl, and I asked them if they’d seen any Gene Kelly movies – and one after another they said yes. One woman said, ‘He’s the reason I’m a dancer,’ and the next man said, ‘He’s everything to us.’ And these are young people, the cream of the crop, and he’s still the go-to guy for them.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Not Just to Hear

From the Vault Dept.: Jin Kim took the baton of the Empire State Youth Orchestra in 2000, an ensemble I’d been trying to pay attention to for several years, especially as a string of notable music directors passed through. Kim was succeeded in 2002 by Helen Cha-Pyo, who continues to lead the orchestra, while he is now music director of the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra (formerly the Hingham (Mass.) Symphony), with which he’s been associated for many years.


IT’S DIFFICULT FOR AN ORCHESTRA to maintain a standard of excellence. It’s more difficult still when a large number of players have to be replaced each year. But that’s standard for the Empire State Youth Orchestra, whose alumni have gone on to some prestigious gigs.

Jin Kim
That includes its conductors. Among recent baton wielders, Eiji Oue and Paavo Jarvi have earned international careers and reputations, so it makes sense to keep an eye on the current maestro.

Jin Kim makes his public debut as the ensemble’s new music director with a concert at 8 PM Saturday (Nov. 4) at the Troy Music Hall. Not one to start off cautiously, he has selected a challenging program that includes Tchaikovsky’s “Little Russian” Symphony and the Valses nobles et sentimentales by Ravel.

He’s obviously pleased to be here, and lavishes praise on the orchestra. “It’s energizing to work with so many talented musicians,” he says. “Multi-talented, in fact, because most of them are also involved in sports and other extra-curricular activities.”

Friday, September 11, 2015


Shepherd across the river,
You are not afraid;
Sing baïlèro lèrô
I am not afraid, and you, too, can sing Baïlèro lèrô.

Shepherd, the field is in flower,
Graze your flock on this side,
Sing baïlèro lèrô
The grass is finer in the field over here,
Baïlèro lèrô

Shepherd, the stream is between us,
And I can’t cross it,
Sing baïlèro lèrô
Then I’ll come downstream and find you,
Baïlèro lèrô

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Who Was Thomas Berger?

It’s been a year since novelist Thomas Berger died. His beautifully crafted novels were a tremendous influence on the development of my own literary voice, and, as described below, I met him once and maintained a correspondence with him for many years. I submitted the tribute piece below to a number of journals, with no takers, so it’s time to give you a look at it.


BECAUSE IT’S AN ADDICTIVE LITERARY GAME, I’ve combed the works of Thomas Berger, who died on July 13, 2014, at the age of 89, to find clues to the life of the reclusive novelist.

Thomas Berger
As a middle-aged suburban dweller in 1980, when his novel Neighbors was published, Berger inhabited at least the demographic of the novel’s protagonist, Earl Keese – and he may have shared Keese’s tendency toward “outlandish illusions,” such as “George Washington urinating against the wheel of a parked car (actually an old lady bent over a cane), a nun run amok in the middle of an intersection (policeman directing traffic), a rat of record proportions (an abandoned football), or a brazen pervert blowing him a kiss from the rear window of a bus (side of sleeping workingman’s face, propped on hand).”

At least in one obvious respect, he isn’t Robert Crews, the eponymous protagonist of his 1994 retelling of Robinson Crusoe: “Nope, I’ve never been in an airplane crash, the gods be praised,” Berger wrote in a letter to me shortly after that book’s publication, “nor have I for that matter eaten boiled minnows. As someone once said, you don’t have to visit the Sahara to know it’s sandy. As a veteran fictioneer, I’m supposed to be able to make the reader think I know what I’m talking about, when the fact is I’m usually cutting from the whole cloth. It wasn’t hard to know more about nature than Crews himself did, though.”

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Melting Pot

From the Vault Dept.: My first of three reviews of a now long-gone restaurant that thrived in a time before the Food Network destroyed any acceptance of this kind of quaintness, and fondue became another chain-restaurant gimmick.


LA FONDUE BACCHUS CHARLES ANDRÉ for two, $32,” the menu read, continuing, “Thinly-sliced filets of beef and veal simmered at your table in a wine, vegetable and herb broth. Swiss folklore insists that you forfeit either a kiss or a round of drinks if the meat falls from the fork back into the pot.”
“That sounds good!” my dinner partner exclaimed.

“It’s just a sentimental sales pitch,” I grumbled. “Besides, we should try different things, not an entrée for two.”

“Why do you always make the rules?” she insisted.

This was why my wife and I ordered the Fondue Bacchus one evening last week at Auberge Suisse, the year-old restaurant at the site of a 19th-century onetime convent out on route 85 in Slingerlands.

An autumn-anticipatory coolness was another incentive to call forth the fondue pot, although the feeling inside the restaurant was comfortably warm: both in atmosphere and friendliness.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Rhapsody under Water

From the Vault Dept.: As it happens, I’m married to a Whiteman from New York’s Columbia County who believes that the Colorado Whitemans – from which bandleader Paul emerged – are distantly related. So it’s always nice to see cousin Paul celebrated. But this event, which took place 28 years ago, may be the last time such a tribute has occurred in the area.


THE ORCHESTRA WAS ARRAYED on a raised concrete platform surrounded by square pools of water drizzling over into a larger pool below. As the sky darkened, the lights came up. This is how vintage Hollywood would have placed an orchestra – in fact, it was reminiscent of the placement of Paul Whiteman’s orchestra in his 1930 feature “King of Jazz.”

Paul Whiteman and Maurice Ravel
But Hollywood can control rain. There was no such ability in Riverfront Park Monday evening as the Collar City Pops performed a brief tribute to “Pops” Whiteman, the Oliver Hardy-esque bandleader who “made a lady out of jazz” back when jazz was a terrible evil.

Whiteman will always be remembered as the man who commissioned and premiered Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and pianist Abba Bogin waited in the wings (or, in this case, on a bench) to perform that work for the never-to-be-realized finale of this concert.

Conductor Paul Elisha, who was associated with Whiteman in the 1950s, began a musical tour of a variety of antique stylings as clouds thickened over the Hudson.

“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was an appropriate kick-off: songwriter Irving Berlin, like Whiteman, was quick to spot what the public enjoyed. The Whiteman arrangement opened with strings and piano and added brass, bringing in a trumpet solo in the second chorus in the muted style made famous by Whiteman alumnus Henry Busse.