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Monday, August 31, 2020

Vegging Out

From the Vault Dept.: Here’s a cookbook roundup I wrote for Albany’s Metroland Magazine seven years ago. I’m still consulting some of these book as I try to broaden my kitchen repertory.


YOU’LL EASILY FIND COOKBOOKS among this year’s crop that are exclusively vegetarian, but I’ve discovered some that have such good meatless offerings among the varied recipes that they’re worth considering for more than just recipes. They offer compelling insights into the whole world of the vegetarian meals you make.

The garden gets more important every year. The biggest luxury of just-picked fruits and vegetables is a quality of flavor that typically doesn’t survive the trip to the supermarket, but there’s a comforting presence about backyard comestibles. This attitude has resonance in whatever the farm-to-table movement might be, but it has roots in an approach to food sparked in the 1970s by two pioneering cookbook-writing restaurateurs: Mollie Katzen and Alice Waters.

Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, published in 1977 and a steady seller since, showed us that vegetarian cooking could be tasty and rewarding, particularly if you added a lot of fat-rich extras.

Waters didn’t get around to writing a cookbook until 1984 (Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, Calzone), but her restaurant proved hugely influential. Any chef you’ve ever heard of who emphasizes fresh ingredients these days acknowledges one or both of them. And both have new books out this year, both offering a healthy, practical approach to working with what the garden offers.

Friday, August 28, 2020

A Lickpenny Lover

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome the debut on this blog of O. Henry, pen name of the dipsomaniacal jailbird William Sydney Porter, whose stories celebrated the bustle and irony to be found in life at the dawn of the 20th century. “Lickpenny” was a term for anyone or thing that blew through a lot of money; as for the ending, if you’re not familiar with the vacation spot in question, I refer you to Harold Lloyd’s movie “Speedy.”


THERE WERE 3,000 GIRLS IN THE BIGGEST STORE. Masie was one of them. She was eighteen and a saleslady in the gents’ gloves. Here she became versed in two varieties of human beings—the kind of gents who buy their gloves in department stores and the kind of women who buy gloves for unfortunate gents. Besides this wide knowledge of the human species, Masie had acquired other information. She had listened to the promulgated wisdom of the 2,999 other girls and had stored it in a brain that was as secretive and wary as that of a Maltese cat. Perhaps nature, foreseeing that she would lack wise counsellors, had mingled the saving ingredient of shrewdness along with her beauty, as she has endowed the silver fox of the priceless fur above the other animals with cunning.

O. Henry
For Masie was beautiful. She was a deep-tinted blonde, with the calm poise of a lady who cooks butter cakes in a window. She stood behind her counter in the Biggest Store; and as you closed your hand over the tape-line for your glove measure you thought of Hebe; and as you looked again you wondered how she had come by Minerva’s eyes.

When the floorwalker was not looking Masie chewed tutti-frutti; when he was looking she gazed up as if at the clouds and smiled wistfully.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Get Your Goat!

A CHEF WHO WAS TEACHING ME to make bread regarded my kneading practice with dismay. I was using the opportunity to inflict imaginary violent revenge on my enemies, accompanying my pulls and punches with angry mutterings. “Never put hate into your food,” the chef advised. “If you want to get love out of it, you have to put love into it.”

Photo by B.A. Nilsson
I’ve never seen this better exemplified than at Nettle Meadow Sanctuary Farm and Cheese Company, a peaceful rural complex just outside Johnsburg, NY, in the southeastern Adirondacks. A variety of buildings inhabit its 50 acres, with a variety of animals to go with them. You may come for the cheese – it’s sold in a small retail space on the property, which you’ll visit while masked and practicing proper distancing – but you’ll be tempted to stay for the animals. Because most of the non-human population comprises animals being tended because of injury or age.

This wasn’t the mission when Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan bought the place in 2005. At that time, they were making goat’s-milk cheese in California, and both were full-time lawyers. “We were living in Oakland,” says Lambiase, “where we had a third of an acre – which out there is huge – and we bought four Nigerian Dwarf goats. One of them was milking, and we were able to make tiny batches of cheese.”

Friday, August 21, 2020

Airlines Travel

FRENCH COMPOSERS HAVE CELEBRATED the flute more vividly than any others. Berlioz was a flutist himself, and never spared the instrument in his monumental works; Debussy sounded a quiet clarion for 20th-century music with his “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.”

Alexander Desplat is a flutist-composer whose music is more often heard in the movie theater than the concert hall. He won Academy Awards for his scores for “The Shape of Water” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and has racked up numerous other awards for his numerous other scores.

“Airlines” is an album of Desplat’s music for both genres, all with the flute (and flutist Emmanuel Pahud) front and center. The title track, written for flute alone, is a technical exploration of the instrument disguised as a pleasant rumination that Pahud performs with nonchalant ease.

The rest of the recording adds an orchestra to the mix – the Orchestre National de France, with the composer conducting – to present music from five of his motion-picture and a concert piece. “The Shape of Water” is the kick-off piece, a three-movement suite fashioned from Desplat’s score for Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 film. Nothing suggests undulation more persuasively than the time signature 6/8, and that’s the count for the haunting opening, with the combination of flute and accordion giving it an insistent yet friendly timbre. And the flute becomes the undulator itself in the second movement, “Watching Ruth.”

Monday, August 17, 2020

What Was Brewing on the Web

From the Computer Vault Dept.: I just found another piece I wrote for the magazine Yahoo! Internet Life (they lurk in old hard drives), probably in late 1997. As with other contemporaneous website roundups, most of the recommended sites are gone. I offer this for its nostalgic value, and its slight thirst-inducing quality.


SOMETHING’S BREWING ON THE WEB. Amidst the clamor of many beer-related sites, ranging from commercial giants to elite microbreweries, the homebrew movement is developing a Web presence to gather and distribute recipes, labels, and lots of other information. Beer bubbles in the homes of over a million and a half ambitious souls who find a special pleasure in creating this important foodstuff. The experienced brewmaster will find a good range of support info; if you’re just getting started, check out these sites for the equipment and the right ale recipe for that first batch. Salud!

The Best

breWorld Home Page
  * * * *

The opening page boasts that you’ll find “everything related to the world of beer and brewing,” and as near as I can figure, they’re not kidding. It’s a brewer intensive site with well-designed pages, including a helpful tour that introduces all of its facets -- “suitable for off-line viewing.” A general index of info can be full-text searched, and we’re talking about a fantastic amount of data stored at the site. The “Can You Help” page puts brewers in touch with one another, and you’ll even find a page of job listings. BreWorld will even help you establish your own Web presence. Whatever your brewing experience, you’ll find this a fascinating site.

Friday, August 14, 2020

In Memoriam: Julian Bream

MY TWO MOST MEMORABLE concert-going experiences both were recitals by guitarist/lutenist Julian Bream. It’s difficult to describe what made them so special. The music, of course – he had impeccable taste in programming – but there also seemed to be a spell that fell over the audience as he held us in thrall to his elegant way with the pieces he chose. Bream died today at the age of 87 at his home in England. He had been retired since 2002 – he once said that he gave up performing when faced with the prospect of lugging along merchandise to sell – but performed privately until 2011. His influence on the guitar and lute, in terms both of appreciation and repertory, is inestimable, and there’s plenty of info on the internet to pursue. I’m paying tribute to his memory today by offering my review of the performance I saw at the Troy Music Hall in 1992.


TROY CHROMATICS DID IT AGAIN: they scooped the rest of the area’s presenters to give us one of the most gifted and sublime artists on the concert scene. Julian Bream hasn’t performed in the Capital District in a decade, and his return was every bit as sparkling as that earlier gig.

Julian Bream
One of the distinctions Bream brings to his concerts is a deeply-felt and (dare I say it) intellectual approach to programming. He has commissioned a number of major works for his instrument. He presents off-beat, underheard pieces. In doing so, he has enlarged the guitar’s repertory and continued the work Segovia started in ensuring its place as a vital part of the classical music world.

All of which was exemplified by last week’s concert.

A fairly chronological pair of sets spanned some four hundred years, beginning with 17th-century pieces by Frescobaldi and de Visée. Although the program booklet provided good notes on the piece, Bream broke the silly tradition of performer mumness and commented, work by work, on most of his program. It’s a nice practice when a performer can pull it off, and sure helps diminish classical music’s high snob quotient.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Making Up for a Lost SPAC Summer

From the Musical Vault Dept.: One of the most engaging artists to have emerged from the long-running Martha Argerich-hosted summer fesitvals is Gabriela Montero. She made her Saratoga Performing Arts Center debut in 2011 with a pair of concerts that – well, you can read my contemporaneous thoughts below, following an interview piece that sought to sell the events to what remains, in New York’s Capital Region, at least, a largely impassive audience.


IMPROVISATION IS A BACKBONE OF THE ARTS. Making it up as you go along is a stalwart of theater and jazz, and it had a huge place in classical music a couple of hundred years ago, when improvising performers worked their magic in well-known forms, Beethoven and Mozart among them.

Gabriela Montero
Although there are contemporary artists who have brought back the technique of making up cadenzas (pianist Robert Levin chief among them), Gabriela Montero has made improvisation an essential part of her concert appearances.

The Venezuela-born pianist will make two appearances at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center during the coming week. First is a recital (8 PM Tues., Aug 9) as part of the Chamber Music Festival, then she returns two nights later to play Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero.

Speaking from her home near Boston, the pianist explained that her Tuesday appearance, like her other recitals, will be in two parts. “The first half tends to be traditional repertory, while the second half is completely improvised.” And, as with theatrical improv, her creations are truly spontaneous. “I ask a member of the audience to sing theme I can use, which they then can follow in the improvisation. It’s a wonderful way to create a sense of access. Usually, I’m transforming themes that are well-loved, so it becomes very interactive and unpredictable. And very collaborative.”

Friday, August 07, 2020

Devilish Reaping

From the Vault Dept.: Advances aren’t nearly as interesting as reviews, but this piece looks at a theater piece with dance that presented a fascinating meditation on the Shaker heritage, which is part of the Albany area’s history. I saw the performance that the piece below tried to persuade you to attend, and I recall a small house with an embarrassingly inattentive audience – but there’s no review in my files. We shall content ourselves with this.


SHAKER LEADER ANN LEE, who emigrated from England in 1774 with eight followers, was known to her flock as “Mother Ann,” an ironic designation when you consider that she never cared for sexual activity and had children only as the result of a forced marriage – four stillbirths and four kids who lived to be no older than six.

Production photo by Rob Strong
Her community, based in New England and, locally, not far from Albany, took its name from the vigorous shaking that members performed in the throes of spiritual ecstasy, which was as close as they (officially, at least) came to getting laid. This tension between carnal asceticism and the sexual imperative is at the heart of “Angel Reapers,” a theater piece with dance written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Alfred Uhry and renowned choreographer (and Piloblus founder and MacArthur Foundation award-winner) Martha Clarke. It plays a single performance at Proctors Theatre at 8 PM tomorrow (Friday).

“Alfred approached me about the project in 2005,” says Clarke, speaking by telephone from her home in Connecticut. “He said he’d become obsessed by the Shakers. I looked at him as if he were somewhat cracked. But I have so much admiration for his work that I agreed to do it.” The piece had its first workshop at Lincoln Center not long afterward, “but it was in a very different form, more of a traditional play then. Now there’s much more dance, and I think of it as a tone poem on the Shakers.”

Monday, August 03, 2020

Olde Bryan’s Bill of Fare

From the Food Vault Dept.: The Olde Bryan Inn in Saratoga Springs has a venerable history, which includes two review visits that I paid during the course of my Metroland tenure. Here they are, beginning with my first visit, early on in my restaurant-reviewing career, in 1986, and a follow-up eight years later.


LEGEND HAS IT THAT AMERICAN INDIANS, several centuries ago, discovered the healing properties of the strong waters at High Rock Spring, now the site of Saratoga’s Olde Bryan Inn. It was here that Sir William Johnson was carried in 1771 after being stricken, and his remarkable recovery brought notoriety to the place.

The strong waters are of a different variety today as the Olde Bryan continues to flourish as a tavern in a building more than 200 years old. You may, in fact, sample the strong waters inside or out: summertime finds a small outdoor bar area in full swing.

And the restaurant features a menu that should satisfy the gustatory needs of any situation, before or after concert or track.

Our party congregated at an outdoor table while waiting for a table within. The restaurant takes no reservations, so there may be a wait when it’s busy. But it is a large-capacity house, laid out and lighted for an atmosphere of intimacy.

The main dining room’s pre-revolutionary look is accented by stone walls, rough-hewn beams, and a shallow fireplace at one end. On the walls hang antique cookingware along with period paintings; red-globed fixtures shroud the lights.