Monday, October 29, 2007

Celebration Amnesia

For as long as I have been aware of its existence, I have wanted to go to the Dia de los Muertos celebration at Maryhill Museum of Art (conveniently located 100 miles east of Portland on Hwy 14, if you ever get a chance to visit). Every year it's the same thing: I plan to go, then fate (or my own confusion) intervenes and I do not. This year was no exception, for this was the week that dates went all twilight zone on me.

It all started with my friend MQ's birthday. You'd think that knowing that it fell on Friday would be all it would take for successful planning, but that's because you, my friends, are not crazy. In my head, the thoughts went something more like: "MQ's birthday is coming up on the 26th, I need to buy presents! I'm so glad that I have until next Friday (the 2nd) to buy them. Man, am I lucky! That's even a payday!" And, thus, Friday the 26th came and I was presentless! Thankfully, MQ is gracious and accepted an orchid as downpayment on her birthday gifts, which she will receive sometime after my mind has been located.

Despite my faux pas, a good time was had by all. We had a really lovely dinner of chicken curry followed by the best ever chocolate cake with lemon frosting (so good!) and a trip to the theater to see The Nightmare Before Christmas' re-re-release in 3-D. As always, it was a fun movie. The 3-D was kind of mixed with some parts being more impressive than others, but I did love the jack-o-lantern part in the beginning (it made me jump!), so it was all worth it. Plus, Danny Elfman really does have a lovely voice. Who'd have thought the guy from Oingo Boingo would go on to be such a great composer? (For a sample, go to his website where you can hear Serenada Schizophrana.) But my point here is not that Jack Skellington has a great voice (even though he does), it's that you can be a total nimrod AND have fun at a birthday party you almost forgot.

Now you'd think I would have learned from the MQ incident, wouldn't you? Instead, I ended up repeating the same mistake on Sunday. For months, I have been looking forward to it finally being the year I get my shit together and go to Maryhill. Instead I woke up Sunday morning thinking "It is so good that Maryhill's Dia de los Muertos is next week, because that way I can go there AND attend the vote on whether Bridgeport will become an official part of the New Sanctuary Movement, even though I know they are both taking place on the same day.") Much to my surprise (I really should have more faith in people), despite the lack of even a single Calaca, it did. So, the dead will just have to wait another year.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I heart food: The Arab Table

In my youth, most of the adults around me knew their way around a kitchen. My oma, my mother, my father - all great cooks. My father, in particular, had a discriminating palate. He was one of those people who, once he got a taste of something he liked, could go home and recreate (then often improve upon it) in our little kitchen. It's something I've always admired. Unfortunately, though my skills have grown over the years, I don't think I inherited the Powellhurst superpalate. In its place, however, I am a much more adventurous cook than my father ever was. I love perusing cookbooks and trying new things, especially if they are unusual.

The first cookbook I ever bought (with the exception of a honey heavy Winnie the Pooh cookbook in grade school) was Maideh Mazda's In a Persian Kitchen. I remember my father asking me as I searched across town for Middle Eastern markets at which to procure exotic sounding spices, pomegranate syrup and grape leaves (back during the great grape leaf famine of days of yore, it was more difficult to find them than it is now), if I couldn't just learn to cook something "normal". But that would have taken the adventure out if it! Half the fun is seeing how things will turn out. It's like a culinary grab bag. Sometimes you get oyster gack, sometimes you get a taste of heaven.

Unfortunately, work makes it difficult to be motivated to do a lot of cooking during the week, but once a week on the weekends seems a reasonable goal as I try to get back into my abandoned habit of cooking something special once in a while. My first project has been to explore May Bsisu's gorgeous book, The Arab Table. The pictures alone make the book worthwhile, but she makes it even more captivating by adding little cultural tidbits to the intros of each recipe. So far I've tried her recipe for Monazallet bi aswad (eggplant with ground beef, which I sadly have to admit I did not love) and a slightly modified version of her recipe for Lebanese Meat Pies (which I really did love and plan to eat again and as often as possible!).

These delicious, savory pastries were filled with a blend of ground beef, onions, tomatoes, pomegranate syrup, pine nuts and lovely autumn colored spices. My modifications consisted mostly of food processing the onions with the spices rather than chopping them and of accidentally adding a whole tablespoon of allspice rather than a teaspoon. Basically I'm inept and lazy. But you know what? It was all good anyway! The major difference between my version and hers, however, was that I am too lazy (have I mentioned that I'm lazy?) to make my own dough and opted to instead use phyllo dough sheets from the freezer section of the my grocery store. I was a little nervous at first. My phyllo dough experience centers mostly around stuffing my piehole with baklava, so I basically had no idea what I was doing. Somehow my first experience turned out to be phyllotastic anyway!

I'm not sure what the real recipe tastes like (I suspect the dough is heavier), but the combination of the thin layers of pastry brushed with olive oil was lovely with the filling, so I think it unlikely that I will do anything different when I make these again (other than possibly add raisins and tweak the baking time a little - it took a bit for me to figure out what the perfect amount was to evenly brown the pastry, as you can see from the early tries in the pic). We ate them accompanied by a salad of greens, dried cranberries, candied pecans, gorgonzola with raspberry vinagrette and a glass of riesling. Not very Middle Eastern, but still a delicious combination that complimented the pastries, which I think will inevitably make their way into dinner party rotation at some point in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, I have trying Bsisu's recipes for Semolina Pistachio Layer Cake, Shrimp with Garlic and Cilantro and Sweet Rice to keep me busy for a while!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Martina?

Just look at my new dress! Isn't it cute? Doesn't it scream gogo dancing nun? I have decided to cast off my gacktackular sick girl wardrobe and go back to dressing like a human, if that human wore a really short nun's habit and gogo boots, that is! It is all part of my plan to convince myself that I am no longer sick. It has been a week now, which I think is plenty! I am over it. I want to LIVE!

On the up side, being sick has resulted in some weight loss, which makes me happy. Imagine how thrilled I'd be if I'd had a tapeworm instead of the flu! (Not really, because tapeworms - worms of any sort, really - are gross. Also, I suspect they're not the healthiest way to lose weight, but what do I know? I'm not a doctor.)

Anyway, I am trying to be well, so I can go hear Crazy Aunt Purl talk at Powell's tomorrow night after work. Not having been anywhere but work, bed and cough drop runs since I went to see Cabaret, I am getting a little stir crazy. Thankfully, I can feel the healing power of my new dress already. Now if I only had that pair of gogo boots...

Sunday, October 14, 2007


For the past few days, life at my house has been like a reality show for the new Phlegm Network. I would wonder if I were being smitten for breaking the sixth commandment of the lost book of Edsel as recorded by Henry Ford: "While a quick celebratory butt dance in the seat of Thine vehicle is ok, Thou shalt not boast of thine free parking karma, for it is displeasing unto the High Priestess of Temple of SmartPark", but I am not superstitious that way. Besides, I firmly believe it was the two year old next door who infected me with his cooties via his babysitter. My mom (who happens to be his babysitter) has it too, but was infected earlier, which allows for a delightful daily preview of where the phlegm will go next.

So far we are on day five of Phlegmwatch 2007. I don't mean to be a bad sport about the whole being sick thing, but, frankly, I am ready for it to just be over. I was able to stay home from work on Wednesday, but due to 50% of my coworkers either being on vacation, quitting or having gall bladder surgery, my office is not exactly well staffed at the moment. So, I worked Thursday and Friday and have spent most of the weekend in bed or on the couch sleeping or reading. So far I have had some really weird house dreams (thanks, Nyquil!), read Harry Potter and the Deathly Phlegmball (oops, I meant to type Hallows), and watched a lot of movies on German Kino Plus (including my old favorite Monpti with Romy Schneider), none of which make for tales of exciting weekend adventures. My hope had been that with some rest my crud would have crept away by now, but here I still am coughing, addicted to Ricola, not at all looking forward to getting up in the morning, and hoping I will be transformed into a picture of health via a magical moonlight recovery while I sleep.

But before I go, I must share with you a catalogue picture of our new dining set which was delivered today. Isn't it pretty? It makes me want to not have a cold, so I can cook and invite people over for fabulous dinners of not Robitussin and chicken soup!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

My Calling

It is with great pleasure that I announce that after over thirty years on this earth, I have finally realized what my true calling! After seeing Chicago, Spamalot, and Cabaret over the past few months, I realize that God wants me to devote my life to theater-going. That is why I have been given a sign via the holy gift of incredible parking karma! Let us take an inventory of my recent parking history:

Chicago: If my parking spot had been any closer to the door, it would have been in the lobby.

Spamalot: Ample parking and not even a block away.

And the crowning glory of my parking karma - Cabaret: Not only was my awe inspiring Matrix holder only a half a block away, but it was directly in front of a paid parking lot! I even used their entry way to turn around, so I could back into it. Take that, SmartPark! (Well, actually, I don't think it really was a SmartPark, but "Take that, SmartPark!" sounds far superior to "Take that, parking lot of indeterminate ownership!"

Dramatic license aside, the above examples illustrate more than adequately that the universe is indeed conspiring to encourage my regular participation as a member of the musical theater going public! Test results are still out on whether my celestial mandate extends to regular theater too, but I have a gut feeling that it does. I will be sure to report as I collect more evidence to support my theory.

Meanwhile, can I just tell you how fabulous the Portland Center Stage production of Cabaret is? So much better than Broadway Across America's offering ofChicago, starring Lisa Rinna and Luke Duke. Now I'm not one for violence, but I am convinced that in a Murderous Jazz Baby/Whoring Cabaretist Smackdown, Storm Large would kick Lisa Rinna's ass, then wipe up the floor with those big lips of hers! If I wasn't the biggest Storm Large fan when she was on Rockstar, I am totally converted now. The girl has a great voice (and that is even measured against my all-time favorite Ute Lemper performance of Mein Lieber Herr, which is still my favorite, but got a good run for it's money last night).

And Wade McCollum! How can anyone not love him? He has done such great work in Portland Musical theater - Hedwig, Batboy (I heart batboy, in case I've never mentioned it before!), and now as the Emcee in Cabaret. After Alan Cumming's take on the role, it seems like it would be difficult not to allow a new performance to become too derivative, but McCollum's version had it's own character. The Emcee is probably my favorite character in the play, because it is through him that we see what is "real". He is the one in charge of the curtain, deciding whether the undercurrents of Nazism and denial remain relegated to the shadows or brought out into the light. Through him, we see how thin the walls are between the decadence of the cabaret and the real world. Life at that time really wasn't beautiful. Plus, the whole theme of denial just has so many parallels to what the people of this country have allowed the Bush administration to do to our foreign policy in the wake of 9/11 that it's also a topical offering.

One of the things that I love about Cabaret is that, unlike like other musicals that create this world of beautiful mornings and corn as high as an elephant's eye, Cabaret is gritty. In the US, people think of cabaret as nude dancing (German - at least since the 50's - actually makes a distinction between Cabaret and Kabarett, which more about political and social satire), but the cabaret of the Weimar Republic was quite different. Certainly, some of the performances were racy, but it was also an environment that merged the creative and the political. A big part of cabaret was satire and that satire was often targeted at political and social norms. It was also one of the reasons that cabarets were targeted by the Nationalsozialisten, who wanted to replace the "negative" satire of the Weimar era with a more "positive" modern verison.

Suffice it to say that the real world of Berlin cabaret was more than just nude girls shaking their money makers. It's development incorporated a lot of influences. To really look at the history of cabaret, while nude dancing is an undeniable part, you have to look at the influences of theater, vaudeville, music, popular culture of the time. Peter Jelavich did a great study of cabaret in Berlin in the earlier part of the 20th century in his book Berlin Cabaret.

Meanwhile, if you want some impetus to read it (or even if you don't), I can highly recommend going to see Portland Center Stage's production. One of the great things about Cabaret is that despite being a musical, it has some really chilling moments. I think that is one of the things that makes the play so enduring. The grit lends it a realness that keeps it from becoming kitschy and dated in the way that a lot of other musicals of its time have. (Not that there's not something utterly charming about kitschy and dated, but you know what I mean.)

I've always thought that the use of the use of the typical sounding German Volkslied in the composition of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" was brilliant - chilling, but brilliant. The melody reminds me so much of the sorts of songs I grew up with. And the play has so many great touches - like the use of Brechtian techniques like breaking the fourth wall (Brecht did not write for the cabaret, but his work has some overlap), which would have been avant garde at the time in which the play is set.

More than that, though, the play evokes real emotion. There is a sad and enduring sweetness in the secondary plot line concerning the ill fated love story of Fraeulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Even though it is not the main focus of the script, the Schneider-Schultz romance is poignant in a way that is lacking in the decadence of the main storyline. And the use of a recording of Hitler speaking to a cheering crowd at the house lights faded to black really did send a chill down my spine.

So, my point is, even if you don't have my parking karma (not everyone can...), it's well worth the price of a ticket to go see the show. Meanwhile, I'll be scanning the theater section of the paper to see where I can further enjoy my newly found spiritual gift of awesome parking.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Hi ho hi ho

Have you ever had a really nice week off, then Monday rolled around and it was time to go to work and you really did not want to go? Me neither, but in case you have, here is a Monday morning pep talk list of reasons why it's really not so bad (right?):

1. Working for the man allows you to buy fabulous new shoes (just look at it up there - is it not adorable?)
2. It's only five days until the weekend.
3. Less chance of crazypants coworker looting your desk in search of red stapler when you are sitting at it.
4. It is now October, which means that you will soon be able to decorate the front porch with Halloween bat lights (that one really doesn't have so much to do with work, but I really do love Halloween and am excited about my bats).
5. Because you've hoarded most of your time off until the end of the year, there are only 32 days until your next vacation day AND after that you have a week off in both November and December.
6. It's only a 7.5 hour work day and there will be plenty of interesting things to do after it is over!