Book of Mormon: hell of a play in a hell of a town

When you get sidetracked from journal keeping (or blogging, if you prefer) for more than a few days, I’ve found it gets really easy to lose track of what you were going to write next. If you’re anything like me, however, while your fingers are idle from the keyboard, your mind is still going 90 mph. When there’s not enough time sometimes to sit down and write, I have 3 or 4 ideas for new postings all at once. Where to start?! So today I’ll finish up “our week of living in New York as though we really lived there.” The highlight of the trip turned out to be not only having real face-time with our Pittsburgh friend who took the Amtrak to join us a few days, but going to our first play on Broadway. And what a play it was!

Being from Utah where about 60% of the current population are members of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon), of course we were curious about all the hoopla surrounding Book Of Mormon. broadway book of mormonFrom the reaction of the people in the audience near me, there’s no wonder why they sell out so often–even after running more than two years. Book of Mormon is all the things you’ve no doubt heard already:  subversive, offensive, and, well–okay–at times inappropriate. Yes, it’s all those things, but much much more. I can sum it up in one word: Hilarious! I was laughing so hard throughout the whole two hours and 30 minutes that the rest of the world and its problems fell away. That said, the coarser aspects–the jokes about female circumcision, and sex with babies as “nature’s remedy for healing HIV,” gave me pause, and make Ugandans look pretty stupid, and I wonder how an African visitor to this country might react. In spite of my own rather bawdy sense of humor, several times my better nature stood aside to ask my baser self, “Why are you laughing?!” I’m happy to say that by the end of the play, I felt the Ugandans came out okay after all. By then they had vindicated themselves by revealing their intelligence in the  staging of a musical production for the benefit of visiting Church Elders. Not only did they understand the metaphoric content they took from Missionary Cunningham’s version (he was cornered into making up stories his own since he’d never actually read the Book of Mormon himself) but that they were perfectly able to take the best from those, and other influences from the west seeking to influence them, and improve themselves. The message I took from that–indeed there’s a line in the play that says it–it doesn’t matter where the stories came from. What does matter is the good that can come from that message. Lastly, I confess to something many of you who know me well may already have guessed, and I do this at the risk of giving some of the plot away. I love it when one of the insecure, overweight (read unacceptable as one of the “cool” people), nerds of the world turn out to be the real heroes. I confess that I (almost) fell in love with Arnold.

Other highlights, as briefly as I can make them, but you know me and my wordiness!  Eating ethnic: Indian food for dinner in Jackson Heights at the Jackson Cafe. Delicious pakoras, tandoor chicken served with rice and curried bindi (okra). Sorry, no picture. We had an Ethiopian lunch one day, which we’ve sorely missed since leaving Las Vegas. Wasn’t sure about going to Hells Kitchen in Midtown Manhattan as I remembered it from the 1970s as a not-so-great part of town. Today the area is, according to Wikipedia “gentrifying.” That seems like an apt description to me. The streets were clean, people were busy with few or no loiterers about. I didn’t feel nervous at all as I might have forty years ago. I noticed this Citi Bike system outside the restaurant (Meskerem’s), and couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Seemed like a great idea to us. And regardless of what that lady said on the news, it didn’t make the neighborhood look disgusting at all to me.


Lunch was a shared summer salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers with a light vinaigrette dressing on a serving of injera, which is a flatbread made with teff flour (which is gluten-free) mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days, then baked into crepe-like bread on a flat clay grill. The fermenting gives it its spongy texture and slightly sour taste. We ordered the vegetarian assortment  shown here, also shared, making it a very inexpensive and tasty meals for New York City (less than $20 for the two of us). It’s eaten with the hand, so we felt right at home, since we eat like that when we go to India. I sent my compliments to the chef as I’ve never tasted a better injera in any city I’ve ever eaten it.

ethiopean lunch

Finally, besides the upscale (window) shopping at Bergdorf-Goodman‘s (we were looking for Barney’s) and Tiffany, our museumless, more or less seat-o-the-pants city tour with our friend, we also ogled the store artwork in the Lego Store at Rockefeller Center. If you have even one creative bone in your body, you’ll not wonder that Legos have been around such a long time–since the l940’s–I believe. I’m not sure whether this is a snake or a dragon, but whatever it is, it’s a marvel in design. It winds itself in and out of the whole store ceiling. I can’t imagine how many hours it took to make, or how many people it took to do it.

lego snake

The Book of Mormon off Broadway will no doubt make it to a theater near you. I hope you’ll be able to see it some day, and if you’re close enough to travel on Amtrak in hours, as our friend was, I’d say it’s worth a weekend excursion. Once you see it, and you decide you either like it or hate it, I hope you won’t hold my unorthodox sense of humor against me. Really, I wouldn’t hurt a fly!  And while I might enjoy poking fun at some the weirder aspects of religious practice, I’d never ridicule the religion itself.  🙂

clean as a whistle corn on the cob

I know summer’s right around the corner because I purchased my first ears of corn from the grocery this week, and know that in a couple more months it’ll be available at the farm markets. My favorite way to eat corn is to cream it the way generations of women in my family did it, and still do as far as I know, but Hubby and the rest of our little family here in Utah prefer it on the cob, cooked on the grill or steamed. [Incidentally, my son-in-law who grew up in Germany is appalled that anyone in his right mind would eat it at all (!) because Europeans all know that corn is pig food. To that I say oink, oink, oink. Simply leaves more for me!]

With near perfect timing, a friend recently sent us a link to a video demonstrating a way to prepare it without having the brush the silks out. It combines taking the shuck off and cooking in a couple of easy steps, so naturally Hubby and I could hardly to wait try it ourselves. I’m here to affirm it works beautifully! Comes out clean as a whistle with nary a pesky silk hanging on! All you need to do for perfection is to slather it with a little butter.

Now this may be all old news for you, but if so I won’t apologize. If you knew already, then why didn’t you tell me!?

Credits: video via YouTube, photo of butter/sugar corn licensed under creative commons (catchesthelight/flickr).

happy st. paddy’s day

Top o’the morning to you. And the rest of the day as well!

We slipped away for a few days of RR week before last. Went to Las Vegas. Excuse me for whispering here, but I have to be careful since we didn’t tell  many people we were coming. Not because we didn’t care to see old friends, but the main purpose of the trip was to kid-sit the grandchildren while their parents ran the half-marathon at Red Rock Canyon, one of favorite places in the Las Vegas area. We also snuck in dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant, Lotus of Siam. This is the only Thai place I’ve seen in this country that features both northern and southern Thai food. We made certain we ordered our favorite southern Thai dish–Larb, made with spicy fried tofu and spices (instead of the traditional meat) served with slices of raw cabbage. The cabbage does a good job of hedging the dragon’s-breath heat of the food. The Thai iced tea I ordered also helped cool things down.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to post this picture of my very first Guiness (the 1/2 pint on the right) I drank in a pub in Dublin. I took to the dark beer even though I never cared for the light ones (you can pour most of them right back into the horse they came from in my opinion!). It has to be hot hot summer day to get me to drink one. I understand many first-time Guiness drinkers have to get used to the slightly bitter brew.

Hope all of you with a drop or two or, what-the-heck, not even a drop of Irish blood find your own good time to raise your glass to honor that famous animal lover, St. Patrick. Hubby’s an avowed Irishman on this day every year. Just as his T-shirt says, “Kiss Me! I’m Irish.”  And just in case you’re having trouble rounding up your friends to share a 1/2-pint or two, here’s an idea from YouTube.

Sorry to have missed the friends in Las Vegas! If any of you happen to read this (now I’ll find out who keeps up with me), we’ll catch you next time. I hope to be back here soon with some of the finer digital scenes of Las Vegas I captured this time.

please forward to 20 friends . . .

“you have been invited to be part of a recipe exchange. We hope you will participate. Please send a recipe to the person whose name is in position 1 (even if you don’t know him/her) and it should be something quick, easy and without rare ingredients. Actually, the best one is the one you know in your head and can type right now. Don’t agonize over it; it is one you make when you are short of time.”

Sound familiar? Chain letters always promise phenomenal return for small effort. The simplest lists a random number of people and you’re instructed to send something to the top person on the list. In this case, it’s a recipe. Then you remove the top name, bring the second person into the top position, then add yourself at the bottom, then send the same email to 20 of your friends. Theoretically you’ll receive 36 recipes in return, and since there are only two names on the list now–the person who sent it and yourself you’ve just added–the turnaround should be quick.

There are other chain letters, too, those that promise good luck (or money or other enticement) to anyone who sends the message to others–usually within five minutes–and bad luck to those who don’t. Those I ignore. The recipe exchange I’ve tried before, however, and I can’t recall a single recipe I’ve gotten back. Years ago–before self-stick stamps and envelopes and word processing software–these same requests came in the form of hand-written letters, faithfully copied X-times and stuffed into X number of hand-addressed and licked envelopes and stamps. I honored those a few time too, and only remember a trickle of returns–one or two at most–after I’d spent money, time and effort on stationery, envelopes, and stamps. The only plus I can see is that I was contributing to the coffers of the U.S. Postal Service.

Something interesting, or pathetic–depending on how you choose to look at it–has happened over the past couple of decades. The sad truth is, I really don’t have 20 email friends who would want to participate in this kind of thing. When they want a recipe, they go–as I do–to, food blogs, or personal recipe book collections. I suspect also, this may be the consequence of moving around the country–all for legitimate reasons of course–over the past 40 or so years, at least in my case. Even though I’ve gotten better at saying no as I’ve grown older, it’s still not easy. It still feels bad when I decline these innocent chain letter requests. I’m getting practice though–twice in just the past several weeks. So I’m compromising here, trying to make myself feel better by sharing the most recent recipe I’ve tried with not just 20 friends but the whole web-wide world, as the letter stated, something quick, easy, and without rare ingredients, one I know if my head and can type right now from my head.

Hubby and I both enjoy a bite or two of something sweet after dinner, but we both know too much sugar is not good for either of us. So I made chocolate-covered banana bites. They were being sold in Costco a few weeks ago and I reckoned I could make them at home easily and cheaply, without all the preservatives. Most women I know could have figured it out on their own, but the idea may not have occurred to them yet. Here’s how.

(1) Take three ripe bananas–those showing little brown spots on their yellow peel–and cut into bite-size pieces between 3/4″-1″. Lay them in a single layer on a wax-paper-covered cookie sheet (foil would work too). (2) Pop them into the freezer for an hour or two. (3) Melt a 12-ounce package of semi-sweet chocolate chips over a double boiler. TIP: Place over HOT–not boiling–water and stir occasionally until melted. (4) If the chocolate feels too thick for dipping, stir in enough vegetable oil (for me 3/4 tablespoon worked well) to thin. (5) Since the banana bites are frozen, it may be difficult to poke a toothpick or fork tip in, so you’ll need to figure out the best way to drop them into the chocolate, twirl about to cover, and retrieve without getting hot chocolate all over yourself. A teaspoon worked for me. (6) Dip them out and arrange, again in a single layer, without touching each other on that cookie sheet. They’ll dry with a sheen after a moment or two. (7) Put them into a suitable container and store in the freezer.

Next time you crave a little something chocolate or a little something for your sweet tooth without over-indulging, reach in and grab one or two, and pop them into your mouth. Or you can wait a few moments ’til the insides thaw a little if you like. The chocolate stays firm. As you indulge, you can rationalize how good bananas are for you–all that potassium and stuff–and satisfy your chocolate craving all at the same time, and with minimum guilt.

UPDATE: After making this the second time, I discovered it’s best NOT to freeze the banana bites first. If you don’t work real fast, the frozen banana causes condensation that causes the chocolate not only to get too thick, but it loses its sticking power. So, next batch, NO PRE-FREEZING, and that eliminates the problem of what tool to implement in dipping and dropping. A fork works just fine.

colorful, spicy and healthful indian cooking

Over the years I have prepared Indian (or Indian-style) dishes, even developed a few of my own when I used to cook a lot. The past few years, I’ve been very reluctant and usually leave the Indian meals for Hubby to prepare. He does an admirable job, too, but I still have this innate desire to be able to whip up a fantastic Indian meal myself. I have a few good Indian cookbooks, and I’ve turned out some decent meals with the help of some of them, but what I’m missing in (most of) them, is technique. I didn’t grow up in India learning to cook at the knee of an Indian mother, so I’m short on technique as well as imagination.

So whenever a Wintersong reader (and blogger friend) left a comment suggesting some Indian recipes, I remembered a discovery I made months ago that renewed my hope in learning how to cook Indian dishes seat of the pants style, i.e., without recipes. I’m still working on it, and want to share my discovery with my readers. The video below is one of six of a series called Healthful Indian Cooking by Alamelu Vairavan of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In it, Alamelu will show you how to prepare a typical Indian vegetarian meal of Lemon Rice, Eggplant Masala, and Lima Bean Poriyal. She also takes you shopping in an Indian grocery store to explain how different rices taste.

Here’s my tip of the day for you: don’t worry about trying to jot down the ingredients while you watch. At the end of each dish preparation, the ingredients are listed. Just pause the video and copy them down so you’ll be able to actually read it when you’re ready to try them yourself. Also, I’ve made a list of the other five episodes that I consider eye candy for foodies. If you enjoy #101, you’ll probably want to see the others as well. They’re all on YouTube, and each contains nutritional information and tips in choosing ingredients, and runs about 27 minutes.

#102: features a Raita (Cucumber/Tomato/Yogurt Salad), Garlic & Pepper Chicken, a colorful rice dish featuring vegetables.
#103: featuring Cauliflower Masala, Green Beans Poriyal, Black-eyed Peas Kulambu, plus a visit to a farmer’s market to choose vegetables.
#104: featuring Brussels Sprouts Kulambu, Roasted Potatoes, Turkey Podimas cooked with split peas and coconut, plus a tour of an Indian grocery to learn about spices used in Indian cooking.
#105: features Tuna Masala, a Carrot Sambhar, Chickpea & Mango Soondal, and tips of how to select the right kind of lentils at an Indian grocery.

Finally, I thought you might find this little-known fact–about me–a little interesting. It’s my Indian name. An Indian friend of ours since more than 40 years ago, Gangs, an Indian friend of ours at the time, decided I should have an Indian name. Since my real name was and is considered “old-fashioned” in the U.S., Gangs reasoned that I needed an “old-fashioned Indian” and came up with Alamelu. He claimed it was very old-fashioned. Years later, when Hubby and his three brothers were performing a ceremony of homage at the one-year anniversary of their father’s death, the Brahman priest asked for the names of the son’s wives. When it came time to provide mine, they were at a loss as how to translate Alice into Tamil, so Alamelu was substituted. Thus, my (unofficial) Indian name has been Alamelu for about 45 years. Now you understand how I was attracted to this video when it first came to my attention. Since the video Alamelu is actually younger than me, I surmise the name has enjoyed a resurgence as India, just as mine has (in various spellings) in this country.

memories involving food without indulging in sentiment . . . is it possible?

For those who turn up their noses at fruitcake at Christmas, it’s only because you haven’t tasted my slightly altered version of Mama’s. I’m getting ready to make Mama’s Best Every Christmas Fruitcake at Hubby’s special request. (That’s not it, by the way, I’m just trying to jazz up the post a bit.)  So while I was looking through my self-produced memory cookbook locating the recipe, it reminded me how so many of our memories are associated with food. Particularly so around the holidays. Don’t you think so? Were I to ask readers to contribute their own food-associated memory, I expect it wouldn’t be difficult for any of you.

When Amanda Hesser became food editor of the New York Times Magazine in 2004, she asked well-known writers of all kinds–playwrights, screenwriters, novelists, poets, and journalists–to contribute essays about an important moment in their lives involving food. The only caveat was NOTHING SENTIMENTAL. She wasn’t so much interested in grandma’s corn bread as she was in why grandma always made it when she was lonely. In 2008, as a result of those special essays, she published EAT, MEMORY – Great Writers At The Table (W.W. Norton). Some of the selections are so creative that it’s easy to see why they are published.

After reading most of the Eat, Memory 2008 collection, I couldn’t help reviewing my cookbook a little differently. Sure enough, most if not all the reminiscences are of a sentimental nature: Mama’s Fruitcake, Grandma’s Clabber Biscuits, the funeral wake potluck dinners, etc, so I challenged myself. Could I write a food memory without being gushy in that special fifties I REMEMBER MAMA television series way? Were there even any food memories that affected me in ways other than sentimental? Sure, I can think of lots of food-associated things to write about that don’t involve emotion. Or can I?

I could write how Grandma Leona and Great-Grandma Nina ate Ritz crackers crumbled into a cereal bowl with warm milk for Sunday supper. After eons of lavish Sunday dinners prepared for extended family who usually showed up every Sunday, it must have been wonderful to finally take it easy in their later years. No pots or pans to scrub, only two dishes and two spoons to wash up, no one else to clean up after. Since they lived to be 84 and 92 respectively, they may have been on to something in those simple Sunday suppers.

Or I could write how all the kids in my school lunch room scraped their beans into the hog slop barrel instead of eating them because they knew the more you eat the more you toot. Some of them liked to see who had NO beans to scrape so they would have a target to point a finger to should unpleasant balm or flatulent noises strike the classroom later. How I loved those beans, so what was I do to? I’d sneak in a few bites and rearrange those that were left with my fork, then dutifully scrape the rest away for the hogs.

But could I write about either of these in a non-sentimental essay? It certainly wouldn’t be easy.

In EAT, MEMORY are some wonderful stories: One about a couple who nearly break up over a dinner in Paris at a famous restaurant, another by an author who professes to hating ice cream, and my own personal favorite by a famous chef who needed a line cook. He found what he thought might be a perfect match. In the personal interview, he discovered the man was blind, his eyes wandered around in their sockets like tropical fish in the aquarium of a cheap lobby, yet the chef convinced himself that this blind man had evolved into such a higher species of line cook that HE would learn great things from him. Sometimes we see only what we want to see, after all. The rest of the story is both heart breaking and hilarious. I think I recognized myself in both characters.

I decided writing like this is a good challenge and I hope I can live up to it. So I invite any interested reader to write your own food-associated memory without being overly sentimental if you can! It might be harder than you think. I’m not even sure I can. If you’d like to try sometime–perhaps in a post on your own blog–please link to Wintersong or this post so that I’ll be sure to know and not miss your entry. Or–if you prefer–jot a short memory in the comment section. If the book I’ve talked about here sounds interesting to you, or you’d like to see it yourself, you can probably find it in your local library. You can also get it here real cheap.

Now, I published Mama’s Fruit Cake recipe, along with notes on my slight alteration, in December 2007. If you missed it then, you’ll find it here. It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas around me, and I’m not referring to the beans.

old and new discoveries of slc

After several days over the weekend of extremely cold and wet snowy weather, Hubby and I decided to take advantage of yesterday’s emerging sunshine revealing such pretty patches of blue sky. We took the afternoon off for a little R&R and final Christmas shopping spree. I tucked my camera in my pocket, dressed in layers that included my new warm hat with the feather in the side, jumped in the car and headed for downtown. One of my aims was to take a few pictures of the holiday scenes around town.

The first place I wanted to drive by was the storefront we’d passed by chance on the way to the Christmas concert last Friday night. It was still quite slushy out, so Hubby drove around the block once and we parked right outside the storefront so I could roll down the window and take a picture without getting out of the car. Guess what kind of store it was? The featured lamp seems to be just waiting for a Ralphie’s dad* to come by and take it home to surprise his wife.

Though it was only a four-block walk back to our car after the show Friday night, our two friends and we had ducked into a burger joint along the route for coffee and cocoa, and the chance to thaw out a bit from single digit temperatures before resuming our walk to the parking garage. It turned out to be a fortuitous move. Otherwise I might never have discovered my new favorite burger joint. Crown Burgers started in 1978 by immigrant brothers from Greece. Today there are several locations around town and two in Colorado. Otherwise it’s exclusive to SLC, and reminds me a little bit of mom&pop fry joints in the south except that sweetened iced tea doesn’t seem to be on the menu.

What makes  Crown Burgers good for me is that fact that they serve two or three non-meat sandwiches, as well as fries, onion rings, and a large variety of other hot sandwiches so that Hubby can get something too. Otherwise not many burger joints have much to entice non-meat eaters so we don’t stop at them very often. This place, being local, also has its version of the regional condiment fry sauce, which you’ve probably never heard of unless you’ve lived or visited in SLC. It’s a combination of ketchup, mayonnaise and spices. The nearest I can describe it is something between a Thousand Island dressing and a shrimp tartar sauce. It’s apparently an acquired taste, as I love it now but hated it the first time I tried it.

Their primary location is decorated like a European hunting lodge with a large fireplace. Other locations–like this one–have a medieval theme complete with tapestries (on the wall corner and other places about the large room) as well as heavy iron chandeliers. Isn’t it apparent what any bibliophile would find appealing about this decor? Quite out of the ordinary from a McDonald’s or Wendy’s.

In spite of the more upscale decor, customers still place their orders at a counter in front, and pick up paper-wrapped food when their numbers are called. As you wait to order you can see see pastrami being freshly sliced.

Since a stomach disorder had kept me from eating most of the day Friday, I couldn’t resist trying the Halibut Fishburger along with my cocoa that night, so I decided to try an ordinary hamburger this time–with mayo, lettuce and tomato, and shared a large order of onion rings with Hubby, who ordered a veggie burger. Someday I may work up the nerve to try the artery clogging “Crown Burger” which is a regular charbroiled burger piled high with a mound of fresh sliced pastrami on top.

After well-fortifying ourselves, we decided to drop by our favorite haunt, the city library. Here Hubby enters the library complex several feet ahead of me as usual. The store that has the Ecuadorean creche I wrote about a week or two back is up a ways on the right.

I rather like this picture–the quality of which is admittedly poor because the reflection in the glass interferes with the composition–because somehow it encapsulates for me the glittery excess of the season. Oh, and there on the right are the Ecuadorean figures I told you about in that prior post. Let’s see if I can get in a little closer without the shop’s owners getting their knickers in a twist.

There, much better in this position! By the way, the price tag for the set, without the wooden dough bowl, is $74.95. Not as bad as I thought. I can’t quite figure why I love these little people so much. I love the Fernando Botero sculptures in Washington DC’s Sculpture Garden. Lots of people I know don’t like them because they think Botero is thumbing his nose at fat people. On the contrary I like them because they seem so at home in their bodies just as they are without apology. Botero himself said artists are attracted to various art forms without ever knowing why. I’m perfectly content with explanation myself.

Here are some other ladies in waiting that I like. There’s also a lot of Alice in Wonderland memorabilia on this display that I like also. Isn’t it fun to windowshop? Almost as much fun as people watching!

Hubby leaves me to go into the library to check the holdings of foreign and classic old movies. I assure him I’ll be along directly, but sometimes I get so engrossed checking out the books in the library store discounted book shelves that I never make it into the library itself. This is one of those days. I see there’s a man on his knees between the short stacks so I try not to encroach his staked out territory and find an Oprah bookpick, SAY YOU’RE ONE OF THEM by Nigerian author Uwem Akpan. It’s a trade paperback and the spine isn’t even bent and it’s only $4. SOLD!

After the library complex expedition, we decide to head to Temple Square and see what we can of holiday magic. Here we are headed through the SLC street landmark iron eagle drapery at the west temple street crossing. When you see this, you know you’re close to the Temple.

There it there, on the right. Squint a bit and you’ll be just barely able to see the new angel Moroni statue standing at the top of the spire in the center. The old statue was struck by lightning on June 13, 2009 and replaced in August as it was scorched beyond repair.

There’s one more rather boring stop to make before we end our browse-about, to the grocery for cookie and candy making items for a full day of baking tomorrow, plus a final run through Toys-R-Us for one last purchase.  But that will be really boring, so I’ll leave you here for now. Tomorrow, besides our holiday baking, we have to think about wrapping presents and addressing cards. With any luck, we may just be ready–barely–for Christmas by the 24th. Hope you’ve enjoyed the drive-about of SLC. I’ll be along again in a day or two. Hope you’re enjoying the season as much as we are.

*Ralphie and his dad are characters from 1983 movie, The Christmas Story.

We’d attended the Christmas program on Temple Square Friday night. It was so cold during our walk back to our car after the show that we ducked into a burger joint to keep from freezing. Otherwise I might never have discovered