Monthly Archives: April 2011

Sitting on Cats

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Thursday and Friday: The task

So for anyone who has not met me before I am not a great lover of animals. Far from being an enemy to the generally fluffy characters, I would prefer to make it known that I am mildly indifferent to their qualities, their distinctions. It is, however, fair to say that I am never more happy than when I am pottering along my own way as they tootle along theirs.

Who better then to cat-sit for 4 days than me? (Well everyone possibly).

Despite this oversight I have managed to secure an added responsibility for the long weekend that involves feeding, watering and cleaning up after two rather large house cats: Pogo and Stella. Not only that, but I fear I am expected to show some sort of affection towards these lounging creatures at each visit. Gloves anyone?

Pogo and Stella (front to back)

So as Saturday quickly approaches I am excited about my latest challenge but then again I am also scared that something might go wrong. I picture cats fleeing out of the building, scurrying down 2nd Avenue only to be squished flat by a large waste lorry (they come huge and imposing in these parts). Since my mission was accepted I have been worrying that the calculating cats will successfully prize open the 4th floor windows and after scaling down the fire escape, scurry down 2nd Avenue and again meet their fate (they were lucky to survive the first ordeal it seems). Or perhaps, I imagine, one of the cats knocks over the television, smashing it into small but manageable sharp skewers and then in a sort of death pact, ON MY WATCH, swallow a few and choke slowly creating huge amounts of messy cat parts in a final punishing effort to document their suffering and flag up any neglect they may have felt. Believe me the list of doom does not stop there. But possibly after the last comment maybe I should.

I shall no doubt have sleepless nights and wake less nightmares. Dreading the break of dawn each day as I must enter the cats’ residence to find them in distress or to not find them at all.

Plotting an escape? Don’t even think about it Stella!

Saturday: Day 1 of Mission Animal Welfare

Well so far disasters averted I have learnt only that cats poop A LOT. In fact I know I mentioned that these cats were larger than the average, wily street cat (the above image may suggest why this is the case), but I still feel that the level of poopage in the litter facility is excessive. When taking into account how little they seem to eat (I did not need to really fill their bowls) it is quite outstanding. But as I should have probably realised earlier on in this sentence, there is a time and place for discussions on bowel movements. I shall restrain myself from now on. Sorry.

Other than the above I found the task relatively pain free. I gave the pair a little stroke and supplied them with fresh reserves and carried on my merry way (another walking tour with another visitor. Ay ay ay. No rest for the wicked eh!?)

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday: Loving the cats?

Novelty has worn off now. Cats poop and shed fluff. Neither of which I like much. However, they have been fed and watered and really now the task is over I do think when I browse the photographs of Stell and Pog (we are on nickname terms now) how could I resist these little faces?

Yeah OK. You’re cute. But you know it.


The Broadway Chewer

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Another play? I know I am a crazy thing living it up on Broadway.

So the latest performance was a star-studded cast for the Pulitzer and Tony-winning play ‘That Championship Season”

First off ‘Mr Big’ was not playing last night for whatever reason so the female disappointment in the air was palable. His replacement looked a lot like Sam Rockwell, but he wasn’t him. So as I sat in my wonderful stall seats, nice and early as usual and getting comfortable to hear every word, the lights dimmed. The audience still trailing in, slithering along the carpeted floor standing as upright as they could muster as the curtains rose and the dialogue began. Other audience members were understandably put out by the streams of late incomers and several loud “SHHHHHH” noises and “Sit down already” comments diluted out the speeches from the stage. However, as expected they eventually sat their bums down and the play really began for us all.

“Nosh, nosh, chomp, chomp” (see Youtube clip to set the scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qE12YC4oY40). Sat directly behind me, a man and his female companion were tearing some gum to shreds with their gnashers. Always a one to shy away from confrontation, I tried to ignore the incessant, pounding chew sound and listen to the performance. However, I also used my time to consider how best to approach a discussion where I could tell them to “maybe chew a little more subtly?” Of course I decided against any mention of silent munching and persisted, at some points cupping my hands around my ears in a way that might enable me to only hear sound directed towards my face.

Then the bag of a non-chewing madam, sat on Chewy’s other side, started to call her. The phone ring was loud and close by, as Brian Cox announced crucial plot twists all I could hear was a Michael Jackson ring tone and a slow fumbling and rustling of bags as she muttered/spoke at normal volume “I switched that off” Yes dear it is DEFINITELY on silent.

So far I have being visually and audibly impaired so I was thinking to just grin and bear it would be best. And then the coughing began. (No exaggeration is being employed here for dramatic effect). My direct neighbour, who possibly should have been admitted to hospital for fear of an untimely death had started to cough. The most unhealthy cough imaginable, and I would have been more concerned if it was not for Keifer Sutherland relaying an important message about the relationship between himself and his brother. Luckily she too considered her coughing to be excessive and so moved away for the first half at least.

Not enamoured by the play, and less than delighted by the rude crowd I did come out of the theatre on West 45th Street a little worse for wear. Offended on all sides by the racist and bigoted content of these rough and tough man chats and irritated that the audience seemed to laugh sincerely at all the most objectionable dialogue I was quite despairing of my fellow man and indeed of the Broadway crowd.

I may need to attend some sort of meditation session pre-Broadway next time. Or maybe I should have just stuck with the neighbouring piece over the road. Mr Mark Rylance in “Jerusalem”. No amount of chewing would have disrupted my happiness to see that genius again.

Food Photography. Not my forte.

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So I have been known for a time now as someone who bakes cakes. Any variety really, although I tend not to try out the more difficult desserts for worry of wasting my ingredients. I am inclined to stick to what I know. The classic victoria sponge for example, a lemon drizzle, erm… a chocolate sponge? Yes OK so I don’t veer to far from the gospel that is Be-Ro but I believe that practice makes perfect, and also the more adept one is at making the cake the quicker the thing comes out of the oven and is consumed. Preferably by me.

Since arriving here nearly 4 months ago now, I have only once ventured into the realm of cake production and I am afraid to say that I faked it. I am sorry British Bake Off fans, I did. I have no excuse. I bought a box of pre-mix, whisked in a couple of eggs and popped it in the oven for 30 mins. Boom. Squidgy chocolate brownies ready to enjoy, and I was able to avoid the daunting task of trying my hand with the differing components this side of the Atlantic. Furthermore, (please don’t judge me) I passed them off as my own. Oh dear me, to type it brings a flush to my cheeks. I am truly embarrassed and disappointed with myself. What can I say? I wanted to make a good impression at work and as I am formally known as a cake baking sensation (not a direct quote), I felt that first opinions could make or break me. I needed to introduce my sweet fare side. Legitimacy is everything.

Not a great success I might add, since it appears my new colleagues are not great lovers of cake, which is one reason why I have not bothered to investigate further the stateside alternatives on a bake day shopping list. However, with a new visitor due in the morning I decided today was the day to break my cake delivering abstinence. I looked up recipes by the US Delia Smith of patisserie, Martha Stewart, and selected a favourite; the chocolate ganache covered crowd-pleaser. I was to substitute margarine with alien-like butter in stick form, add a strange and otherworldly element that comes in a milk carton: buttermilk. This better work. Chocolate, vanilla essence, all purpose flour and the appropriate baking accessories to get a rise and standard brown eggs. And finally armed with the last essential, light brown sugar, I set to work.

I have been lucky enough to inherit some brand new baking tools through my negotiations when buying beds, sofas and the like. Now my kitchen comes complete with not one but two cake tins and a marvelous hand whisk that might just speed things up this afternoon. Or make a mess. A very eager whisk, this little appliance manages to mix the components while simultaneously spraying them ALL over the kitchen. I was finding chocolatey goo splattered generously all over the walls and benches, over me and the floor and yet there was still plenty to go round. Quite amazing. But in the land of the plenty (and more) this is hardly a surprise.

Now fully combined I see before me a magnificent batter ready for an oven blasting. Martha even accounts for a good amount of extra mix (not taking into account that which is now coating the kitchen). In fact a significant serving ended up directly in my tummy despite its intended tin destination. Yum yummy.

Oven on. Check. Timer set. Check. Cook American cake. Cook.

And so it was. The foreign baker had mastered her new environment. She had adapted to her quite bizarre elements of buttermilk and heavy cream and conquered the chocolate ganache a la Stewart. Well nearly.

I would have attempted the ganache. I had the “heavy” cream to prove it but I forgot to get the icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar over here) so I melted some chocolate, whipped up the cream and added a raspberry jam filling. Yes OK I admit it, more Be-Ro than Martha “jailbird” Stewart, but I believe one must always bring their own edge to a challenge. Or work with what you have in the fridge at least.

Not known for my creativity in presentation

Re-evaluating the front row

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“The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore”- Tennessee Williams

Another play on Broadway. Yes Beth you are the most cultured.

Oscar winning Olympia Dukakis plays the lead. As one of William’s kookiest heroines, Flora Goforth is a rich old Southern Belle who has survived her 4 husbands and is existing on a diet of coffee, codeine, cognac and cigarettes. In the summer of ’63, Goforth is frantically dictating her memoirs to her young exploited secretary, Blackie, who can be up night and day at her patron’s beck and call. Flora “Sissy” Goforth (the verbal surname chosen by Williams to imply her impending death) is living in a highly guarded and hardly attainable villa complex on a mountaintop in Italy. The only way to this secluded spot is a steep and dangerous goat path. There is no “Beware of Dogs” sign to warn off intruders and even if there were would it have deterred an ambiguous character in the form of Christopher Flanders from arriving uninvited? This “poet” Flanders has recently been acquiring a reputation as the “Angel of Death” as he does the rounds of visiting rich old (dying) women, acting as their final companion hoping to secure their money for the privilege. He met Ms Goforth, an attractive starlet, many years previously and comes a-calling this one last time.

Marquesa Constance Ridgeway-Condotti, known less than affectionately as the “Witch of Capri” is played in this performance by Edward Hibbert, whose utterly camp representation of Sissy’s nemesis and yet lifelong friend lends itself to some of the best dialogue in the piece. In one scene for example, he is invited to dinner and Sissy appears from her bedroom in a Japanese Kimono, complete with appropriate wig and accessories. She performs a ritualistic Kabuki dance with two fans and sporadic kicking of her legs, which leave the Witch and Blackie dumbfounded and the audience in hysterics. Completely out of her tree, Goforth is an incredibly entertaining train-wreck.

Post-Kabuki spectacle

The Witch has a wicked tongue and is eager to spread the gossip about Chris Flanders and his vocation for helping wealthy old women to die. But the competitive Sissy is too excited to show off her new young acquaintance and so keeps him as her guest despite the cruel warnings. He makes his attempts at her favour, wearing the silk robe she gave him with accompanying samurai sword, until the wary Goforth eventually gives in, possibly because of her loneliness or perhaps she is finally starting to accept her fate. In the closing scenes it appears that the Witch was right, but it is too late and she dies as Flanders relieves her of her jewellery.

Having forgotten to check on the plot beforehand using Wikipedia or the like, I was anxious that my latest visitor was going to be disappointed by my theatrical decisions. For the first 15 min the play was slow and one could say too cheesy. I sat wriggling in my chair hoping that my current choice was not going to be a flop. At least I had booked us FRONT ROW TICKETS I thought. At least FRONT ROW TICKETS on Broadway might make up for a dawdling play? Then Chris Flanders, recovering from a dog attack exits stage to take a shower. Poor thing is all cut and bleeding. He enters stage again sporting a small towel and proceeds to drop it immediately. OUCH. NO. FRONT ROW TICKETS. Poor guest. I am sorry guest. Far too much information Mr Flanders. Now I was agitated to say the least. My chum would probably not appreciate man bits wiggling about in his face. Not at this close proximity.

Oh well. Now sat bolt upright wishing and hoping for a fully clothed cast and witty wordplay I watched as the amusing tale unfolded. As the fans came out and the kimono danced in the wind of the Italian Riviera (on West 46th Street) I was delighted to hear my neighbour heartily laughing in his seat. Phew. Well done Olympia Dukakis. Thank you for a magnificent and hilarious performance. (wipes sweat off brow then exits stage left)

Big Onions

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What better way to achieve the first sunburn of the “summer” than to wander downtown with an Art Historian learning all about the immigrant past of New York City.

Decked in ski jacket and cashmere jumper with added cardigan I was totally unprepared for the burnt skin I would suffer at the end of this epic trek from City Hall through sprawling Chinatown, via Little Italy (little being the operative word) and ending up at Doughnut Plant (the queue was too extreme to tackle on an empty stomach. This time.), in the Jewish Quarter of the East Village.

Armed with my new NYC moleskin I was ready to take down notes and helpful foodie hints lest I forget the recommendations of such establishments as “Cafe La Bella” on Mulberry Street: a Mecca for cannolis. In fact, I am newly inspired by the words of Aldous Huxley, printed on the inside cover of my barren notebook (complete with maps and blank pages),

“For every traveller who has any taste of his own,

the only useful guidebook will be

the one which he himself has written”

with the aim of creating a resident/tourist guide to this city myself by cataloging my every adventure.

Today’s adventure: the Big Onion Walking Tours.

Stood at the cross roads of Broadway and Chambers Street we begin our lesson on the immigrant characters of this city’s past. A certain Mr “Boss” Tweed, an Irish immigrant, began his story selling dry goods and ready to wear clothing. We marvel at his marble fronted “shop” as we imagine this astute individual making a name and money for himself in this busy port centuries before. Later he rose to prominence in local and city politics, becoming a wealthy man, only to die in Ludlow Jail after a career of corruption and money laundering. Amusingly, although I guess not for him, after successfully escaping his cage and fleeing to Spain, his eventual demise was at the hands of the cartoonist Thomas Nast, the artistic mastermind behind the jovial, white bearded, round bellied image of Kris Kringle. Having depicted the now infamous Tweed standing ruthlessly over the ballot boxes, this image was enough to reveal the Irish villain in his exile and bring him back to justice.

Next we marched on to the African Burial Ground to see the monument for African immigrants: a reminder of the role New Amsterdam/York played in the slave trade. We stood on the site of Collect Pond, where wealthy New Yorkers would retreat in the 18th Century to enjoy some leisure time away from the city. However, by 1811 it was completely filled in after the polluting tanning industries ruined the spot making it a veritable sewer. The rich downtown crowd then moved in/on however, it was not long before the mud began to rise and roll their newly built residences at which time they quickly moved out. Thus leaving the Five Points area to the poor immigrants.

The infamous slum Five Points: the intersection of Anthony (now Worth St.), Cross (now Mosco), and Orange (now Baxter) St.

Poor immigrants like the Irish, fleeing the Potato Famine, and the African American population who had been freed from slavery.

Legend has it that this site was a hive of violence and murderous activities and housed one particular tenement building renowned for having a murder “every night for 15 years!” A delightful claim to fame I think you’ll agree? It was also the influence for the Scorsese film “Gangs of New York”. Depicting most gruesomely Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, played by Daniel Day Lewis. Who doesn’t love Daniel Day Lewis regardless of how many people he slices up?

[A brief but necessary aside. A quote from ‘Last of the Mohicans’:

“I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.”

Yes you will Daniel Day. Yes you will.]

Anyway, happy to be strolling in the sun we continued on to Chinatown. This growing area is overcrowded to say the least. A play area is not only surprising to see in this packed street-living, but the sunshine had brought out the masses and so playgrounds were full to brimming. Although I doubt one more infant would have squeezed on that slide.

Our final advance took us to the old Jewish Quarter of the city. Eerily peaceful on this Sabbath day, Seward Park, only steps from the bustling playground we had left moments before, was all but empty. Quiet and exhausted, the Big Onion crowd was all but walked out. Luckily however, this was our final lesson. Gathered in front of The Forward Building on East Broadway we heard about the The Jewish Daily Forward and its founder’s project to achieve social justice for Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s. In its day this newspaper spoke to a readership of over 200,000 people. Founder Abraham Cahan was breaking records with his wide reaching circulation, a huge feat for the day, and despite now having removed the term daily for a weekly publication, The Forward is still going strong today.

What a day. But note to self. I must get new shoes that are more amenable to long walks. These boots ain’t made for walking!

Book Club: Too British?

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“No offense Beth, but it was just TOO BRITISH!” (cue scrunched up face to express distaste)

Is that even a thing? Too British?

I can imagine someone like The Queen may be accused of being “too British” and Hugh Grant doesn’t stand a chance, but to repel a book essentially for it’s Britishness is wholly unreasonable. It is true the book clubbers in question are American (and I am trying not to hold that against them) but surely a dislike for a book should come from solid criticisms such as the poor writing, the grammatical errors (of which I am guilty time and again with this blog- I apologise profusely for what I miss in the editing), the boring plot, the weak characters showing no depth or simply that it just did not appeal to the individual. They remained unmoved. But this is Evelyn Waugh. He is terribly famous. At least one can appreciate the skill involved in his manipulation of his written expression. He is a genius wordsmith by all accounts and he can mold the English language to his will, forming ambiguity in his meanings and catching you off guard with his sudden outburst of gifted humour.

In fact the main criticism of ‘Scoop’; a PARODY on the state of journalism and the culture of Fleet Street in the 1930s was that it was TOO stereotypically British. I felt that that was entirely THE POINT. Reading between the lines, for want of a better phrase, it was as if the sheer distaste stemmed entirely from the constant reference to this faded empire nation. Ouch.

As a native to this ‘Green and Pleasant Land’ I could not help but feel a pang of vexation as the insults came thick and fast. And by fast I mean the deluge was over momentarily and the topic turned to more pressing matters: reality tv. I sat silent and downtrodden (I don’t have a television yet), too inarticulate to defend my nation and too clueless to contribute on the new subject, munching (happily as it was delicious) on a burger and fries. YUM and BOO in unison.

This country is making me into quite the patriot.

Now isn’t that just Green and Pleasant?

 

So since I have not quite enough friends to form my very own book club, in the city, I am planning an international venture on the matter. If you would like to join in on the book club festivities, which would involve reading a book over approximately 4 weeks, where book choices are made democratically please do apply.

You will be vetted first of course.

How trivial can it get?

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It seems to me after my last two posts that blogging is somewhat trivial. In fact if we judge this blog, for example, I have covered such topics as ice cream flavours, Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, a 2 hour (or so) visit to NYC by President Obama who I did not even catch a glimpse of or even attempt to, Alec Baldwin and his impending friendship with me driven by my need to photoshop his already photographed person with a certain extra individual who could best be described as ME.

The list is not endless (I have only submitted 28 posts at this point) but the triviality is diverse. I think I need to re-evaluate the purpose of my blogging. A self-obsessed venting of how much I enjoy sugar is not really adding to anyone’s day. Really my adventures have dwindled in recent weeks and I must revive them promptly before I feel the need to visit every cupcake establishment in the city in order to plot a graph of varying deliciousness for my reader(s).

Reader(s) (an optimistic s) I implore you to stick with me. I am feeling adventurous I promise. In fact I feel a bubbling of excitement as I plot my next move. Hang on in there.