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Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Layover to Remember

I was sitting in the Charlotte airport waiting for my flight to Tallahassee when the nice-looking man beside me started to chat.

"Have you ever seen so many kids in an airport? Babies, toddlers, you can tell it's a holiday," he laughed.

"No kidding!" I said. "It's great people-watching. A little girl just walked by wearing a crown, carrying a stuffed puppy, and boo-hooing. I thought, 'Now there's a story.'"

We contined to make small talk; he mentioned he was flying home to New Bern and has a son at Florida State. I told him I worked at a YMCA camp outside of New Bern one summer. The conversation shifted to what we do for work.

"I'm an author," he said.

"Oh, really?" I asked. "What do you write?"

"Mostly novels. Have you ever heard of The Notebook?"

"Are you pulling my leg?" I asked. "Of course I've heard of it. You're Nicolas Sparks?? Are you sure you're not me?"

He pulled out a copy of a project he's working on; it's a curriculum guide for high school English students based on one of his novels. He was quite excited about it and made me read several of the questions to see how I did. (Yikes -- high school English is harder than I remembered!)

Naturally I couldn't resist the chance to chat him up about my own book ideas. He provided some very thoughtful insights and basically nudged me away from memoir toward fiction, which isn't surprising, given his own experience.

"If you're going to write a memoir, you've got to take the reader on a journey," he said. "You've got to have a destination and a compelling voice. If you're not Angelina Jolie, no one is going to read your memoir just because you're interesting."

He had a few other suggestions about books and authors I might find inspiring. By then, we'd been chatting for a good 15 minutes, and my flight was boarding. I didn't bug him for a card or email address, since he'd already been quite generous with his advice. I said a quick goodbye and slipped into my seat beside a 350-pound man whose beefy thigh took up approximately 33% of my seat.

You just never know what might happen when you're flying!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Santa in 3D

It may not even be Thanksgiving yet, but I am totally in the Christmas spirit thanks to Travis and the Rockettes! 
Travis was kind enough to indulge me in a trip to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular on Thursday night. They were running a special for the November shows, and I figured it's one of those things everybody needs to see once.  
Travis was coming from work, so I went ahead and ordered for us. When he arrived, there was a cold beer, warm sliders and disco fries on the table waiting for him. I told him it was the 21st century equivalent of the 50s wife waiting at the door with a martini. ;-)
 The show comes with 3D glasses...and Santa let us know when to put them on!
It was so fun! We both loved it. It took me back to my obsession with the Rockettes when I was a little girl. Cheesy and campy, yes, but totally worth it!

Lunch at Becco

What could be better than a plate full of pasta on a Sunday? 
Sharing it with one of your best friends!
Following our delicious dinner at Fig & Olive on Friday night, I met Virginia and her mom for MoMA on Sunday...then we headed to Becco, Lidia Bastianich's restaurant in the West 40s. 

They do a "sinfonia di pasta" tasting where you get unlimited servings of three pastas, plus a salad or antipasto, for $19. Sign us up! 

Since there were three of us, the waiter offered to bring us both a sampling of antipasto and a Caesar salad. I think this first one is some kind of smoked fish, and the second one is octopus. Both delicious! 

The three pasta were penne with tomato sauce and fresh basil, farfalle with three cheeses and crunchy panko topping, and fetuccine with porcini mushrooms and ham. We all thought the third one had the highest potential but was the biggest disappointment. But big thumbs up for the first two!
 I was having a mad craving for more of the farfalle later in the day. For dessert, we split a ricotta cheesecake and a fruit zabaglione (sp?).

 Virginia promised me she won't wait until November for her next visit! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sunday at MoMA

I was absolutely fascinted by the Diego Rivera exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art on Sunday. I went with Virginia and her mom.

The thing that made it so cool is that the exhibit provides a lot of information about the historical context in which Rivera's work was taking place. In fact, the theme of the murals he was commissioned to paint at Rockefeller Center was this: "Man at the crossroads and looking with uncertainty but with hope and high vision to the choosing of a course leading to a new and better future."

Gosh, doesn't that in some ways remind you of where we are today??

One of the notes on the painting above, which was probably my favorite: The year 1931 saw both the nadir of the Great Depression and the height of the skyscraper race -- a paradox captured in this work.

Can you see the layers of contrast? The developing skyline on top...beneath, the sleeping bodies of the masses of workers who are building these great new buildings. Below them, the wealthy waiting to enter bank vaults to count their wealth.
I mean -- how timely could this exhibit be, with all of the talk these days about the 99% and the 1% and the protests on Wall Street and elsewhere?

If you've seen the movie "Frida," you may recall the famous scene in which Rivera elects to destroy his frescoes in Rockefeller Center, rather than cede to the demand that he remove Lenin's face from one of the panels. The letters about this were riveting to me, as I personally thought Mr. Rockefeller asked for the change quite politely -- complimenting Rivera's work but noting art to be displayed in a public building was quite different from something he might put in his own home. The exhibit features some rare photos of those murals, taken covertly by one of Rivera's assistants before they were destroyed.

The other thing I found really fascinating -- in line with the "class wars" that seem to have heated up these days -- was the way labor and equality issues were a constant theme in Rivera's works. The exhibit noted much of his content was rooted in Marxism. Rivera was expelled from the Communist Party of Mexico in 1929 in part because of his criticism of Stalinist orthodoxy and sympathy for Lev Trotsky.

I remember hearing about communism in elementary school ad getting it confused with cannibalism! I'm embarrassed to say I really don't feel I have a clear understanding of Communism and Marxism...and it intrigues me that America has such a knee-jerk rejection of Communism when it seems to little ol' moi to be perhaps more compatible with Christianity than capitalism is.

Oh, my! Tangents! But you can see how intrigued I was. Let's just look at some art now, and I'll stop with the political tirade...

Fun fact: Rockefeller Center was, at the time of its construction, the largest building project ever funded wholy by private capital.

The painting above is about electric power and "exposing thee human labor that powers the modern city."

Rivera's style made me wonder how much of his reputation was style versus content -- that is, was he a great artist because of the visuals of what he created? Or did he build a name because he managed to present things in a way that was fresh and relevant for the time? Who are the artists of today who challenge us to think about critical issues of class and politics in a new light? And where does their funding come from?

Now that the weather is cooling off, I look forward to many more "museum days." I loved this quote hanging outside the museum: "Art, like life, is never really ours...but ours to enjoy for as long as we are here." Amen!

Full Week!

Hi, peeps! Well, I've been a little off the blogger beat for a few days because I've had a big week!

Monday: made it to the gym for spinning after work, then home to watch Dancing With the Stars with Kurt. My only free night this week.

Tuesday: 7:30 a.m. dentist appointment for a rather painful cleaning. Yowza -- she used some kind of pointed torture tool. Met a new friend for drinks at DeSantos in the West Village. Sooper yummers duck ravioli, grilled calamari, tuna tartare and swordfish with panko. Washed down with what might be my new favorite cocktail, a dark and stormy.

Wednesday: Met Neil for a Moth Story SLAM, which is basically an open mic storytelling event. I'd been wanting to go for ages...they have them a couple of times a month here in NYC (and across the country). They are VERY popular -- people line up hours in advance to get in for $7, so I paid $16 for advance tickets. Totally worth it! We heard some great stories...and some not-so-great ones. Participants are judged on the overall quality/entertainment value of their story, plus whether they stay within the five-minute limit and whether they fit the night's theme, which was Style. I am working up my nerve to take part in a future event!

Thursday: Meeting Travis for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular! Cheesy, but I feel like it's a must-do once, don't you think? Am hoping we can meet for early bite to eat and try out the pimento cheese balls downstairs at DelFrisco's.

Friday: Kurt got us some free tickets to hear Patti Lupone and Mandy Patankin in concert. Woot woot! (BTW, he saw "Chinglish" last night and was not impressed.)

On Sunday, I am off to my hometown of Quincy, Florida, for about 10 days of Thanksgiving fun with family and friends. I'm excited!

Since I am feeling chatty, let me just sign off with a shout-out of appreciation to those who comment on my blog, either here or on Facebook. Even though I enjoy blogging, I do sometimes feel a bit self-conscious about my blathering on, so it's really nice when y'all let me know you enjoy these ramblings! xxoo

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wednesday rewind

For my very loyal know, the handful of you who come here even when there's not a Facebook post, here's a little something to tide you over until I catch up on my weekend happenings.

Jack sent this fun pic from our dinner on Wednesday. This is Monument Lane on my street -- such a great spot for both tasty food and fun people-watching!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Trusty Sidekick Reunion

One of the best things about living in New York is getting to see friends when they come to town.
Virginia and I became fast friends on a church mission trip to Costa Rica in 2004. We bonded over our shared love for The Bachelor and amused ourselves endlessly (and tortured the rest of our group) reciting lines from Steel Magnolias. Upon our return to Charlotte, we were inseparable and took to calling each other "Trusty Sidekicks."

Virginia and her mom Carol are in town for a weekend of Broadway and shopping to celebrate Virginia's birthday. I met them at Fig and Olive in the Meatpacking District for an awesome Mediterranean dinner -- and some very tasty cocktails!
These are, unfortunately, the only pics I remembered to snap. We were too busy eating!
My second cocktail had a fig and shaved walnuts!

Not pictured: crostini with manchego, fig jam and almonds; chicken tagine; chive gnocchi; seafood pasta; apple tartlet and chocolate pot de creme. It was an outstanding meal, and the atmosphere is fantastic. I'd eaten at Fig and Olive in Midtown for Restaurant Week and liked it, but the Meatpacking location is even better.

I was up at 8:15 and hustled to the gym to get a bike for a 9 a.m. spinning class. Lots of calories to burn off! It's a gorgeous day outside, so I decided to experiment with a Christmas card photo. I got Kurt to lean out the living room window and take my photo leaning out of my bedroom window. The light and the cable wires weren't really cooperating, so I'll have to come up with a Plan B.
Off to enjoy this beautiful day!

Hog Heaven

My friend Jack was in town on business this week. After his conference ended on Wednesday, we met up so I could show him around the West Village. I'd been dying to try the Spotted Pig, which always has a long wait. We played the early bird card, arriving around 6:30, so we easily got a table. (Considering the fact it's now dark by 5 p.m., I am shameless about early dinners.)
We started with Devils on Horseback; thanks to the recipe in New York magazine this week, I can tell you these are prunes (ahem, dried plums) stuffed with spiced pears and wrapped in bacon.
Next we split the crispy pig's ear salad with lemon caper dressing and the restaurant's famous sheep's milk ricotta gnudi with sage brown butter. Oh. My. God. The gnudi were amazing -- kind of a large version of gnocchi, but with a yummy cheese filling. Think gnocchi plus ravioli, mabe?

(I didn't take my camera, so these are just images I found online. Sorry to miss showing you the pig's ear salad -- tasty!) Thanks to Jack for being such a good sport and letting me do the ordering.

Our entree was a special of braised pork cheeks over toast with sauteed kale; there was a spicy sauce on top, chimichurri or something similar. A truly outstanding meal!

I forgot to mention we started with some cocktails. I had Satan's Whiskers (Plymouth Gin, Carpano Antica, Noilly Prat, Combier, Orange) and Jack had a New York Sour (Old Overholt Rye, Lemon, Simple Syrup, Syrah Float).

From there, we went to Monument Lane on my street, where we had an apple crisp for dessert. (I am going to see if I can become a regular at Monument Lane this winter...I sat at the bar one night recently and enjoyed their vegetable plate of grits, squash, greens and ricotta. Faithful readers will recall ML as the home of Quincy wine.)

Not bad for a Wednesday night! Oink, oink. ;-)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fall in the Hamptons

After two solid months of city weekends, it was time for a change! Nate and Neil let me join them in their Hamptons home for the weekend. Friday night we met Jonathan and Stefan for dinner at Beach House, where we shared some tasty appetizers (fried calamari, baked clams and chickend dumplings), plus two family-sized entrees -- this enormous blackened ribeye and some spicy seafood linguine.

Saturday morning, Neil made pancakes! 
We decided to host a little dinner party that evening, so we poured over their favorite cookbook, "Savoring the Hamptons."
The best part about the book is that it's organized by season. We made our grocery list and hit the farmer's stand...
 None of us had ever seen brussels sprouts on the stalk...

 We made braised short ribs. First, sautee onion and garlic, then add carrot and fennel...
 Coat the ribs with a mix of flour, paprika, salt and pepper.
 Simmer the veggies until soft...
Sear the ribs on all sides until they're brown...we had eight pounds, so this took several batches.

Add the ribs to the pot with the vegetables. Cover with reduced wine, stock, orange juice and orange zest...cover and simmer about two hours.
For a pre-dinner treat, I made gruyere gougeres. The dough came together too quickly to take photos, but you make a basic French pastry -- boil water and butter, add flour and eggs, beat it all really well. This version had mustard, gruyere and herbs.

 Molly and Buddy were excited to have a full house of guests...

 Nate made an amazing squash, leek and apple soup with herbed croutons.
 We served the short ribs with mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts and grilled romaine.

 Stefan made two lovely -- and tasty -- desserts: apple tart and banana pudding.

The next day, we headed out for an afternoon walk in East Hampton, where we saw Alec Baldwin in Starbucks. I got a big kick out of his sweet ride.
 So fun wandering around a town with lots of history -- loved the old headstones in the cemetery!