Thursday, August 28, 2008

Away in Chestertown, Part 2

Art-making is mysterious. It's not alchemy, it's work. But the moment that the work really becomes art is actually quite unknowable, or if it's not unknowable, it's always shifting, and with each new moment, new directions emerge. So nothing ever gets pinned down. All this is (I think, maybe) one of the reasons that writers are so cagey about talking about how the work gets done. We'll talk about what we need nearby, the music we listen to, our process. But those odd, magical weird moments where you finally have made something amazing--those we don't really understand. And we writers get to do the art-making all by ourselves, which is maybe why our implosions are felt less in the larger artistic communities.

Theater-making is even more mysterious. Everyone has to run on all cylinders at the same time, with the same intentions--basically--and eventually everyone on stage begins chasing that thing that you all made together. Weird.

Am I rambling? It's been a long day.

I'm home now, returned from Upstate with the circus. It took only about 4 hours to get from there to New York, and then we spent about an hour and half going around the space of about 5 city blocks, because of 1) the Holland Tunnel, and 2) Who knows what else. It was a fruitful, eventful, sometimes beautiful, sometimes maddening trip. Like art-making is.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Away in Chestertown, Part 1

I am sitting in the kitchen of the big house upstate, where Circus AMOK comes to put our show together every year. It's a flurry of work and conversations--work happening amid conversation, conversations about work, working through misunderstood conversations. I often forget, since most of the year our circus is a smaller team, just how many people it takes to get the thing on the road. Three, maybe four others arrive tomorrow--mainly "art people" which is our code for people who paint, sew, make things, design, or any combination of those skills. I'm not one of them.

We arrived on Thursday, after a horrendously long day of packing and travel--none of it was particularly impossible in any certain way, but everything took longer than we had planned (duh) and eventually, 14 hours after I woke up, we arrived at this beautiful barn, which they made into a house years ago. It feels like we've been here for a week--but it's only Saturday evening. The time is compressed--the same faces, the same images, the same geography. There is no "going to work" or "coming home," and in that way the entire week feels like a single experience. You don't move in different social circles up here, know what I mean? You are never invisible to the rest of the group.

After our afternoon work sessions, we go swimming in the lake, which is just cold enough. It's bracing, but welcome. I like how we sort of take over the small beach there, with our crazy gender-bending troupe and people of all ages. I see the locals watching us, unsure of who we are, what we are, what to make of us. Most of the time I think that, in the end, they think nothing that concrete.

I managed to talk our cook into letting me make a carrot thing tonight--she had the idea, and then I sort of knew a recipe that I thought would work out better--and so she let me go for it. Carrots, yogurt, olive oil, garlic, cumin, cilantro, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Oh, the carrots are steamed and then it all goes into the food processor. I don't know what the exact recipe is. Just everything to taste. The troupe sort of scoffed at it -- but it's all gone.

Now they're serving up the peach kuchen--plus a blueberry sauce made with the syrup that I lugged up here from the city. Work, in the right form, is so fulfilling.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blueberry Sour Cream Pie

The fabulous Jane noticed that I twittered (see right) about the making of two Blueberry Sour Cream pies over the weekend. She asked for the recipe. This pie is, hands down, my absolute favorite. On more than one occasion, I've eaten half the thing in one sitting. My mother will tell you that she's seen me eat it for breakfast about a hundred times, as well. It's fantastic--in my humble opinion, the ultimate mix of texture, temperature and flavor.

Blueberry Sour Cream Pie
(makes one 9" pie, serves 6-8. Or serves 2, if you're a pig, like me.)

Crust: Make your own, or buy a frozen one.

1 egg
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cups sugar
2 T flour
.25 t salt
1-2 t vanilla
2.5 cups fresh blueberries
3 T flour
3 T butter, softened
3 T pecans, chopped (I always use much more than this, maybe a half-cup.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat together all the ingredients for the filling for a few minutes. Fold in the blueberries. Pour into the unbaked crust. Bake for 25 minutes. While the pie is baking, mix together the softened butter and flour until you make an even paste. Then mix in the chopped pecans, and mix with your fingers until you have a nice crumble. Remove the pie, crumble the topping all over, and then bake for 10 minutes more. Cool completely, then chill for at least 6 hours before serving.

It should look something like this:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ghost in the Machine

I had forgotten how she moved, the way her stare had in it everything she was considering about any one task, and also everything outside of it. She taught me more about focus than anyone I've ever known. I had forgotten that in the year before she died, she'd starting doing her hair with some very expensive clay-based product, forming an unruly spray on top of her head. I had forgotten how her voice carried through the room only if you were listening for it--only if she meant for your to hear it. She said to me once, "I don't like speaking without meaning."

But it's all there. Or rather it's all here, in this YouTube video, which was sent to me by her once-partner Pam via email this week. My friend Meg died three years ago this September. The details are here and here if you want to go through them again.

This forgetting is exactly what I was afraid of. As backwards as it is, the grief that drives you deeper and deeper into yourself after something awful like this happens, it brings you close to that person. The details of their life explode into view over and over, even while you sleep. Especially while you sleep. This is not to say that I liked it. I hated it. But in some way, grieving is like hanging out with that person. And so you get to have them around a bit longer.

I realize that this feeling that they're hanging around is false. It's only your memory of that person replaying in your head--a sort of one-sided friendship. The time you stayed awake until the sun came up talking about your fucked-up families. The time you caught her, literally as she fell from the top of of the stairs, and landed in pile at the bottom. The time you started making jokes about the pickled plum paste in the drawer of the fridge and how that became a huge, undying metaphor for everything you ever did together, or knew of each other. For some reason.

In the Tom Hanks episode of "Inside the Actor's Studio," he talks about making "Philadelphia," and working with an HIV+ extra, who died before the movie was released. "And there he is on the screen," Hanks says, through tears. "These things, they last forever."

I'm glad the tape lasts forever.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Circus AMOK 2008!

Coming Soon....Circus Amok's 2008 spectacular:

Sub-Prime Sublime!

Can Dorothy find her way home from the tornado of foreclosure and debt? Our heroine embarks on a journey with the Liberty Sisters, the sassiest all-female juggling act since the Flying Karamazov Brothers, crossing the Alps via tightrope and encountering a magical lost flock of alpine zebras. Dorothy and the Sisters stumble across a Keystone Kops bank heist, only to fall into the world's hottest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. All manner of mysteries are revealed, with the Circus Amok Band throwing a disco party for the smashing atoms and spectators alike.

Four weekends of Fun!

Sat, 9/6 - Riverside Park - 2pm & 5pm
Sun, 9/7 - Coney Island - 2pm & 5pm
Mon, 9/8 - Martin Luther King Park - 5pm

Wed, 9/10 - Ft. Greene Park - 5:30pm
Fri, 9/12 - St. Mary's Park - 5:00pm
Sat, 9/13 - Socrates Sculpture Park - 3:00pm
Sun, 9/14 - Prospect Park - 2pm & 5pm

Wed, 9/17 - Columbus Park - 5:30pm
Fri, 9/19 - Sunset Park - 5:30pm
Sat, 9/20 - Washington Square Park - 2pm & 5pm
Sun, 9/21 - Marcus Garvey Park - 2pm & 5pm

Wed, 9/24 - Bedford Playground - 5pm
Fri, 9/26 - Battery Park - 1pm & 5pm
Sat, 9/27 - Seward Park - 4pm
Sun, 9/28 - Tompkins Square Park - 12pm & 3pm

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dinner at Boqueria

Kip and I met Laura and Amy at Boqueria tonight for dinner. It was really superb. The longer I live here, the more I realize that it's not so much for the theater, the art, the culture, the opportunities. It's really just about the food. (This, from a guy who for many years ate only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What can I say, I got bored.)

What we drank:
A 2005 Uriondo Txakolina. I knew nothing about this, only that it was the bottle recommended by the server that was in our price range. It was delicious, and seemed to please the entire table--not too dry for me, a little bubbly for Kip, and crisp and clean. Laura and Amy also seemed happy with the choice.

What we ate:
Pimientos de Padron--these are Shishito peppers, sauteed simply with some sea salt. (These are also all the rage at the Greenmarket lately, where Yuno's Farm cooks them up as samples. They fly off the table.) At Boqueria, the peppers are smaller, a bit less spicy than Nivea's, but still fantastic. If you can find these near you, or grow them yourself, do.

Brandada de Bacalao--I'd never actually eaten bacalao, although it's all over the grocery stores in my neighborhood. It's not difficult to prepare, although it's a bit of work, and I usually don't spend more than a half hour in the kitchen cooking anything these days. Boqueria's version is whipped and served hot on toast points. It's clean, salty, mineraly, fresh; like the sea.

Datiles con Beicon--dates stuffed with almonds and Valedon cheese, wrapped in bacon. Whenever I try to make stuffed dates in bacon, I overdo them. These were quite good, although I would have picked a different cheese; the Valdeon is a bit too pungeant for the date, and the bacon is somehow lost. (Still, we practically licked the plate.)

There was a special of Greenmarket romano beans in a romesco sauce. Romanos are the wide, flatter green bean, much more substantial than a regular green bean. If you go and this is on the menu, try them. There was also a snap pea dish on the menu, (which isn't listed on their website,) that came with some cubes of what I guess was bacon, or some other pork thing, a tart Greenmarket apple, and a milder Valdeon sauce.

We also had some tetilla cheese, which is a semi-soft cow's milk cheese, and manchego with a rosemary rind. Manchego is perhaps my favorite cheese--other than the cabecou feuille--and this was really tasty. The rosemary is interesting, offering a piney, vegetal tone which actually enhances the creaminess of the cheese.

For dessert, we went all out:
Helado de Avellanas--a hazelnut ice-cream, with chocolate and coffee mouse. Honestly, the mousse was less spectacular than the ice cream. But there was a little bite of salt here and there with the hazelnuts, which I always like.

Churros con Chocolate--I saw these churros go out to another table and knew we had to have them. I heard once that every culture on the planet has a version of fried dough covered in sugar. I'll take churros over doughnuts any day. These were served with a teacup full of thick hot chocolate for dipping. We took turns sipping the leftovers like communion.

Crema Catalana Clasica--I wasn't sure what exactly would emerge from the kitchen when we ordered this. It turned out to be a creme brulee, but without the vanilla bean. Normally, I steer away from this kind of thing at restaurants, it's the kind of dessert that people think is fancy, but really isn't, and it's often pretty underwhelming. But this was a nice surprise, not too sweet, and it sort of reminded me why this kind of thing is so often on a menu: it's just plain good.

Friday, August 08, 2008


I'm sitting here on my fabulous couch watching the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. And waiting for my Thai food to arrive. It occurred to me that I could live blog the event, but frankly I just don't have the stamina right now. Periods of heat and rain at the market today made much of the day rather miserable. However, I got to deliver some syrup to Public, a fantastic restaurant on Elizabeth Street, where Mark Simmons, of Top Chef 4 fame, works in the kitchen. We had a short chat about his recent marriage.

The opening ceremonies are fucking fantastic. The countdown and subsequent fireworks just gave me chills. Incredible. Incredible. Incredible. Considering the culture of China, and the world's perspective on China, it should make for an interesting games.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Open Letters, Vol. 7

Dear Commerce Bank,

What person, or most likely what committee, at what advertising firm, decided that the new Commerce Bank "push pin" campaign was a good one? Okay, everywhere there is a bank branch, there is a giant push pin on a map--great, got that part.

But then a GIANT, Claes Oldenburg-stylin' push pin comes flying down from the sky like a missile, pierces the hood of a taxi cab and drives the metal point through the engine? Are you serious? In another spot, a push pin lands in the concrete, cracking the sidewalk and bursting a water main.

Will this push-pin assault make me want to give you my hard-earned money? Is terror-from-above really what you're going for?



Monday, August 04, 2008

The Exploding Plastic Inevitable

At the Greenmarket on Friday, Laura, my syrup-slinging cohort, got into an argument with a customer about a plastic bag. The woman bought an eight-ounce bottle of syrup, thanked us, then said, and I quote: "I'll just put it in my purse." She started walking away and I thought the transaction had gone like all 1000 others that day, simple, quick, without any particular interest. I was wrong.

When she got about ten feet away from the table, she turned and came back. "You know what, I have a bad arm, maybe you can give me a bag." We hear this kind of thing all the time. People lay their insecurities out for you for no reason. "I have a bad arm, so I need a bag." "I'm worried about it, so I need a bag." "Do you think this is a good gift, I need a bag." I'm never surprised at people's endless ability to just tell you things you didn't need to know about them, just to alleviate their guilt about taking ONE MORE plastic bag.

Because what it always comes down to is people not caring enough about the problem. Smart, educated, well-meaning people, with an armload of plastic bags. One for eggs, one for tomatoes, one for fish, one for maple syrup. "I can't put it in her because there are vegetables." What? The syrup doesn't care if it nestles in with the cousa squash. Or the canteloupe. Or the frozen links of Russian sausage.

The truth is, if you are careful, and care enough, all of these things can go in your canvas bag. This will make the farmers very happy. Because not only does it save the planet, it saves us from having to buy more plastic bags. Everyone wins.

We need to get rid of them. We, the farmers, should just stop all together. If none of us had plastic bags, then no one could use them, or over use them, and I think it would take about two weeks for everyone to start using canvas, or reusable bags. I think it's our job to lead the way. The people are sheep, and farmer's have always been intrepid idealists (well, sort of).

Laura then said to the customer, "We like to discourage people from taking plastic bags, if they already have one." At this point, the lady went basically insane. "Where is the person in charge?" At first I thought she was talking about me, as I am, ostensibly, Laura's boss--whatever that means. But no, she meant the Greenmarket managers, whom she promptly brought over to my stand. After some back and forth about who said what, and her "bad arm," I gave her the bag she so desperately needed. She balled the bag around the bottle of syrup, and put both bag and syrup into her purse.

See what I mean?

"I'm going to write a letter!" she screamed. I hope she does.