Sunday, May 31, 2009

Glaciers and Ceviche

Greetings from Alaska!

There are fourteen of us in our family who have gathered to celebrate my grandmother’s 95th birthday. She is an amazing woman, a retired schoolteacher-turned-photographer who has a remarkable zest for life and an insatiable curiosity to see the world. I don’t know of many people in their 90s who would still travel around the globe to photograph volcanic landscapes in Iceland or stunning lions in Kenya, but my grandma has done both of those things in the past three years. I’m not kidding.

By the time you read this I will be back in New York, but I am writing this post from the M.S. Ryndam ship while sailing down the Inside Passage. It is good to take a communications break every once in a while, so I don’t really mind too terribly much that I’m not getting a wireless connection here on the ocean, nor am I complaining that the Verizon network doesn’t extend their coverage to the site of the spectacular Hubbard Glacier!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Otto Mania

I have missed spending time in my kitchen lately. If you’ve been following this blog over the past few weeks, you’ll know by now that it’s been a bit of a culinary washout for me this spring, as my cooking endeavors have been eclipsed by a very busy performance season. However, the silver lining in all of this is that this gives me a chance to share some of my favorite New York restaurants with you. One of the first thoughts that races through my mind upon getting called for a gig, after ascertaining whether or not I’m available, is “what restaurants are nearby?” There are certain jobs I particularly enjoy playing here in town, not just for the musical experience or the camaraderie of performing with friends, but also because of the venue’s proximity to favorite restaurants.

I’m having a banner week in that department, as I’ve been playing amazing music with some of my favorite musicians/friends in excellent dining locations. There have been multiple rehearsals on the Upper East Side for two different church concerts in these past few days, putting me a stone’s throw away from the Lexington Luncheonette. I’ve also spent a lot of time at Grace Church down on 10th Street rehearsing Beethoven’s magnificent Missa Solemnis, which has been a true joy to play, especially with so many wonderful friends in the orchestra. I have brought many of those friends with me to Otto, Mario Batali’s casual pizzeria and wine bar. Some might say it’s a little excessive to dine at the same restaurant three times in the space of 30 hours, but it seemed the most natural choice when it was my favorite restaurant within a few blocks of the rehearsal site.

If you happen to find yourself in Greenwich Village with a hankering for thin-crust pizzas, vegetables that sing with purity and surprise, or gelato that will make you swoon, I would urge you to run, not walk, to Otto to satisfy all of those cravings. This informal pizzeria is located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 8th Street, just a few steps away from the famous arch to the entrance of Washington Square Park. And do bring your friends, for the menu is packed with one enticement after another, and it is definitely one that encourages sharing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Lexington Luncheonette

Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh was one of my very favorite books as a child. I related to Harriet, a highly curious and intelligent 11-year-old who wanted to remember everything, and she scribbled incessantly in her notebook as she recorded her thoughts and observations on people. This book, set mainly on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was also my introduction to New York. I was a California kid and thought it very strange that nobody in this book had a car but instead walked everywhere when they weren’t riding the bus or subway. I also thought it odd that Harriet’s street was simply called “East 87th Street”, and the words “brownstone apartment” and “garden duplex” meant nothing to me at first. But as I reread the story of Harriet the Spy’s adventures many times over the next few years, I gradually began to form an idea in my mind of the New York that Harriet lived in, and I wanted to experience it for myself.

I was particularly enchanted by the idea of a luncheonette or drugstore with a soda fountain counter, places that Harriet frequented. During her spy route each day, she would stop at her favorite luncheonette for a chocolate egg cream. She had a daily game she played, sipping her egg cream at the counter while listening to customers at the tables behind her, making notes and trying to imagine what they looked like merely from the sounds of their voices and conversations. As someone who earnestly loved people-watching from an early age, I could definitely relate as I had my own variations on this game. And though I had no idea what a chocolate egg cream was, I knew I wanted one. I figured it must be delicious, if only for the fact that it had chocolate in it and was served at a place that also offered shakes and malted.

Coincidentally enough, I actually lived on East 87th Street during my first year in New York, just like Harriet. By that time in my life, I had more than a decade’s worth of journals filled with my own scrawling, an accumulation of notebooks that certainly would have rivaled Harriet’s collection. But unlike Harriet’s New York of the early 1960s with its charming luncheonettes, my New York of the mid-1990s was overrun with charm-free corporate coffee chains. Competing with the coffee franchises for space on every corner were the big drugstore conglomerates, impersonal and sterile storefronts with garish fluorescent lighting and nary a soda fountain counter in sight. I was yet to find the chocolate egg cream in the luncheonette of my dreams.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Celebratory Spring Risotto

We did it!

I’m writing this post while flying high in the air, cozily wrapped in a blanket as I enjoy a bird’s eye view of New Mexico from my JetBlue window seat. I’m on my way back to New York after a whirlwind week in L.A., having played the Beethoven Triple Concerto on Friday night with the great pianist Menahem Pressler and my cellist father. I’m finally catching my breath after the excitement of the last few days, and though it’s tempting to zone out and watch six hours of “Law&Order” episodes on DirecTV, I feel like I need to write and process what just happened to me this week. The flight attendants will be coming by with beverages and complimentary Terra Blues potato chips, but I brought my own food with me and will soon take a break from writing to enjoy the delicious Springtime Risotto that I made yesterday.

My mind is reeling as I replay the past seven days in LA in my head. It was an epic week on every possible level, not only for the musical journey but also in terms of emotional strength, physical stamina, and sheer mental endurance. If you’ve been reading these last few blog posts, you’ll know that much of my energy this spring has been intensely focused towards May 1st, the day of our Beethoven Triple performance. As much as I wanted to take advantage of such springtime gems as asparagus and ramps during these past few weeks, my cooking and writing endeavors were definitely shoved onto the back burner. Instead of spending time in the kitchen experimenting with magnificent morel mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns, I hunkered down in the practice room with my violin, spending many more hours obsessing over Beethoven. And it was worth it, for Friday’s concert was an absolute joy from start to finish.