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Monday, November 29, 2021

No Coincidence

From the Food Vault Dept.: It took over fifteen years to discover why there was a job opening that enabled me to get hired for my first job cooking in a professional kitchen. The piece below describes the reason. The Quackenbush house has since gone through several incarnations, including a couple of French-cuisine stints on into its current impression of an English pub.


HE MIGHT AS WELL HAVE BEEN reciting poetry. Everything Maurilio said as he described his menu and his restaurant agreed perfectly with my own ideas of excellent food. To properly appreciate the broad range of restaurants in existence requires a flexible standard, but what Maurilio Gregori has done to the Quackenbush House is exactly what I’d do were I to open my own place.

The Quackenbush House, in a
more recent view.

Although Marina, my literary companion, and I came in unannounced early last week, Maurilio lavished the kind of attention on us you’d expect would be reserved for a wealthy regular. When he got down to cases, describing the evening’s specials, I was astonished. A native of northern Italy, he shuns the pasta-and-sauce emphasis of much Italian-American cooking. “You could call this continental,” he says, “but I’d hate to have it labeled.”

“It’s exactly how I was taught to cook,” I told him, describing the Italian chef who gave me my start in the kitchen and insisted on the same care and consistency. And then this shared attitude turned out to be no coincidence at all: Maurilio got his start at the same restaurant, the Elms Inn in Ridgefield, Conn., several years before I worked there. The chef who proved so influential was a brilliant, temperamental man named Mario Scala, who taught us that a sincere passion for life was the only proper context for the love of food that lures you into the business. That celebration is a hallmark of Maurilio’s restaurant.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Old Folks at Home

Our second pandemic-era Thanksgiving! How exciting! I didn’t think “frustration” was a sound culinary theme; instead, I decided to smoke a turkey but put alongside it some grilled picanha. On Thursday, the weather was vile enough that I forsook the smoker and roasted the bird instead, adding some smoked paprika to its seasonings to give it a hint of that outdoor flavor. The menu is pictured; our slide-show history of Thanksgiving menus is here.


Monday, November 22, 2021

Myth America

MANY, IF NOT MOST, of the stories you read here offer encouraging observations about people and places and the things they write and do that encourage or contribute to food safety. But sharing a look at AndrĂ© Leu’s book The Myths of Safe Pesticides is like making you watch a horrifying movie that ends badly. As has been said in many such movies, “They’re already here,” and the monstrosity of pesticides not only is all around us, it’s also within us as well.

So don’t look for an uplifting conclusion. “History will look back with amazement,” writes Leu in the book’s conclusion, “that no only did our regulatory authorities know that these substances were toxic, (but also) for decades they ignored a huge body of hundreds of credible scientific studies written by several hundred scientists that documented the multiple harmful effects they cause to humans and the environment.”

That’s it in a (probably poisonous) nutshell. He further points out that it can’t be ascribed to ignorance, as was the case with some of the lethal practices of ancient societies (drinking cups of lead, immortality pills of mercury). And he generously ponders the causes, offering “incompetence, laziness, corruption, protecting reputations ... or greed on the part of a few to generate great wealth at the expense of the many.” I’m willing to go pretty exclusively with that last one. Greed has always been the major motivator of any self-styled ruling class, and it shows itself clearly in the confusion fomented around our current pandemic.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Elizabeth’s Dream

Another collaboration I enjoyed with Musicians of Ma’alwyck offered the challenge to feature a 19th-century schoolhouse in Glenville, NY. We decided on a Civil War-era setting, and I devised a story in which a Quaker schoolteacher is confronted with something that was all-too-common on Quaker households back then.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Taking It in Stride

From the Theater Vault Dept.: During its brief tenure at the Cohoes Music Hall, Heritage Artists, under the inspired direction of Robert Tolan, turned out one fantastic production after another. If they’d been located in an area that appreciated the arts, they would have blossomed into something much bigger.


THERE IS A LONG, POIGNANT moment near the end of this play when Strider, a piebald horse, recognizes his former master, Prince Serpuhofsky. Both are old and disheveled, “put out to pasture.” Possessor and possession, each now lacks the necessary other. But only the one-time possession recognizes the tragedy of the situation.

Charles Turner

The moment lasts just long enough to make us nervous even as we wrestle with mixed feelings about our own self-defining material goods and abstractions. It’s a moment we only can experience in live theater, and if that moment moves and enlightens us, then this is what live theater is all about.

“Strider” sings a song that informed much of Tolstoy’s work, and this stage adaptation has the added zip of an attractive score with a very Russian flavor. Tolstoy was concerned with the serfdom system, and the allegory moves right into the 20th century with the use of a Black actor in the title role.

Charles Turner plays the part in a black-and-white costume with a streak of clown white across one side of his face. He is the oddity in the stable, the stallion who is not allowed to breed. But he is a stallion of noble lineage who can’t accept this system of possession, passed as he is from the Count (Doug Tompos) to a groom (Lloyd K. Waiwaiole). And he can’t separate breeding from loving, an emotion stirred by the mare Viazapurika (choreographer Deborah Stern). Strider competes for her attention by racing another stallion, Darling (Tompos), and wins the race even as he loses the mare to his treacherous opponent.

Friday, November 12, 2021

I Like Spike

JORDAN YOUNG DIDN’T HAVE TO write a new book about Spike Jones. He covered the topic quite adequately when he came out with the first-ever biography of the bandleader in 1984, and he expanded that book a decade later, and again a decade after that. But the latest, recently published fourth edition of Spike Jones off the Record (BearManor Media) is larger and more lavish still, nearly 500 pages of biography, analysis, anecdote, and discography.

I was already impressed with Young’s dedication to this purpose back when the second edition came out. I compared it to the earlier book and discovered that he rewrote sections to add information, correct errors, or streamline the text. I’m even more impressed with the transition to edition four (the third edition escaped me). Compare it with its predecessors and you find that all of the earlier chapter titles reappear, but in the decades between editions, lots of new info has come to light, and Young has been diligent about gathering it, alongside more photos and other memorabilia, which are reproduced in this volume more crisply than in the earlier editions. .

The new book has gone back to the large format book of the first edition – the second was eye-strainingly smaller – but it’s easier to read than both of the others, with a slightly larger typeface and good use of a two-column format.

Monday, November 08, 2021

The Yates Sisters

Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz, who founded and runs the chamber-music group Musicians of Ma’alwyck, likes to explore the history of composers, performers, and even buildings, so it’s natural that she should bring together these interests – in this case, in a video short constructed around the Yates Mansion in Glenville, NY. It’s a historic building undergoing renovation, so when we shot this piece, we had only a few feet of finished wall to work against. For me, these videos can become a family affair, as here, where my wife is working behind the scenes and that’s my daughter in blue.

Friday, November 05, 2021

A Bouquet of Ives

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Wondering what I might have been up to, culturally speaking, thirty-five years ago, I came upon this piece, written as an advance for the Schenectady Gazette, back in the day when newspapers felt a responsibility to promote classical concerts. Back when there were newspapers. I’m sorry I didn’t see the concert itself, and can’t remember why, but Drury has gone on to a significant career as a pianist and conductor who continues to champion comparatively recent works. Here’s his website.


“I offer a couple of kinds of ordinary programs.” says pianist Stephen Drury, “with pieces like some late Schubert sonatas and selections from Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier.’ I do a program that is half John Cage and half a collection of other American composers. But the people in Troy asked me for the all-Ives program, and I was happy to oblige.’

Stephen Drury
Drury is a rare kind of American pianist, one who eagerly supports the work of American composers. His recital at the Troy Music Hall at 3 p.m. Sunday consists of three sonatas by Charles Ives, the turn-of-the-century firebrand whose work is still only gradually being discovered and accepted by the concert-going public.

“I guess my interest in 20th-century music goes back to when I was in junior high school,” says Drury. “I happened upon a book on the subject by Peter Yates, and I started listening to records and playing the music. I was at the perfect age to discover the music, and it’s stayed with me.”

Drury’s Ives recital also features his own introductions to the pieces. “It seems always like a good idea to explain what’s going on. Even though the pieces were written 70 to 80 years ago, they’re still so unfamiliar to the lay listener that they lend themselves to some comments. If you’re not sure what to listen for with Ives it can sound pretty dissonant.”

Monday, November 01, 2021

The Fable of the Man Who Didn't Care for Storybooks

Guest Blogger Dept.: We need to hear again from George Ade, especially as we begin stockpiling books for the winter.


ONCE THERE WAS A BLUE DYSPEPTIC, who attempted to Kill Time by reading Novels, until he discovered that all Books of Fiction were a Mockery.

After a prolonged Experience he came to know that every Specimen of Light Reading belonged to one of the following Divisions:

1. The Book that Promises well until you reach the Plot, and then you Remember that you read it Summer before last.

2. The book with the Author's Picture as a Frontispiece. The Author is very Cocky. He has his Overcoat thrown back, so as to reveal the Silk Lining. That Settles it!

3. The Book that runs into a Snarl of Dialect on the third Page and never gets out.

4. The delectable Yarn about a Door-Mat Thief, who truly loves the Opium Fiend. Jolly Story of the Slums.

5. The Book that begins with a twenty-page Description of Sloppy Weather: "Long swirls of riven Rain beat somberly upon the misty Panes," etc., etc.