Archive for February, 2014

Halibut-Cauliflower Curry

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment


[Christopher Testani for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Heather Meldrom, Prop Styling by Stephanie Hanes]

I was looking through the Saturday “Off Duty” section of the WSJ on my iPad Friday night when I came upon a “Slow Food Fast” feature with the title “Chef Meeru Dhalwala’s Chili-Rubbed Halibut With Cauliflower Curry.” I don’t know if I would have paid attention otherwise, but the subtitle “A quick, creative curry from the Pacific Northwest chef” caught my eye.

Earlier in the evening, a Facebook friend had posted that his family was at Shanik, an Indian restaurant that opened to great fanfare a little over a year ago in the bustling South Lake Union neighborhood just north of downtown, near Amazon headquarters and adjacent to a concentration of Tom Douglas restaurants. (I wrote about one, Cuoco, around the time Shanik was opening.)

We have yet to go to Shanik, scared off by articles previewing it before the opening that mentioned the long wait to get a table at Vij’s, the Vancouver restaurant that spawned it. The text of the WSJ article doesn’t identify Dhalwala, but I had a feeling she was the genius behind the two restaurants, which a quick check confirmed (sharing credit with her husband, the eponymous Vikram Vij). … And now I see that the caption under a drawing of her does list her restaurants as Vij’s and Rangoli in Vancouver and Shanik in Seattle.

Here’s a description of Shanik, taken from its website:

Shanik is a modern Indian restaurant that serves Meeru’s personal Indian cuisine which is creative and daring, yet comforting. We invite our customers into a version of India that is not intimidating, cliché, or a rehashing of what is traditionally marketed as Indian. Our restaurant is the same version of Indian that Meeru is: North American in lifestyle and attitude, while rooted in Indian heritage and cuisine. We take pride in making our own yogurt, paneer and ghee, as well as; sifting, grinding, and roasting our spices in-house. Our open kitchen is designed specifically so our diners can experience the warmth of our cooks, and signifies a sharing of heats.

And here’s an excerpt from the WSJ article.

“I’m very careful about buying fish,” said Meeru Dhalwala. “I don’t want my karma affected by the fact that we have messed up the oceans.” For her first Slow Food Fast contribution, Ms. Dhalwala has selected halibut, which is sustainably caught in the Pacific Northwest, where she has three restaurants. Rubbed with ancho chili and cayenne, the flaky white fish is steamed and topped with a cauliflower curry enriched with yogurt.

Like many of Ms. Dhalwala’s recipes, this one is rooted in the culinary traditions of India, where she was born, but it does not reference any particular region. “I’m not afraid to blur boundaries and break rules,” the chef said. “My mother would never have mixed fish and dairy, for example. But I find that a little a bit of yogurt adds a nice tartness.”

I sent the article on to Gail, suggesting—since halibut is one of our standard fish dishes and cauliflower has become a favorite of hers—that maybe we should try the dish.

Now we have. Gail picked up halibut on the way home from the theater this afternoon. Cauliflower was already in the frig. With only a week in our kitchen (following ten months of remodeling), this would be a perfect test of the new cooktop. The result below.


[Photo by me, food styling by Gail]

The WSJ staff may be a little better with their styling and props. They’re certainly better at photography. But I doubt their version tasted any better. Gail, Joel, and I had a wonderful meal. And Gail recalled as we ate that she has one of Dhalwala’s books, Vij’s At Home: Relax, Honey, written with Vij.


A visit to Shanik is in order. Though with book in hand and kitchen done, we could work through the recipes first.

Categories: Food

Long Shadows

February 17, 2014 1 comment


One of the stops on our Walla Walla wine trip two summers ago was Forgeron Cellars, where winemaker and managing partner Marie-Eve Gilla gave us a splendid introduction to her winery. We learned while there that her husband, Gilles Nicault, was involved with another local winery, Long Shadows, but the name didn’t mean much to us.

Half a year later, our friends Brooke and Robin brought a bottle of Nine Hats Sangiovese to my birthday dinner. Nine Hats didn’t mean much to me either, but when we tried the wine, we quite liked it. Searching on the web, I learned that Nine Hats wines are made by Long Shadows. As the website explains:

Nine winemakers. Nine hats. The nine renowned winemakers of Long Shadows’ signature wines discover after each harvest that a percentage of their resulting barrels are more than they require to achieve that perfect balance in their final blends. These extra barrels now produce NINE HATS…wines of complexity and distinctive character.

Ten days later, Gail and I made an excursion to Bainbridge Island, at the end of which—with time to kill before the next ferry back to Seattle—we stopped at Harbor Square Wine Shop & Tasting Room. I wrote at the time that the

wine that immediately caught my eye was Saggi, produced by one of the Long Shadows winemakers. Just a week ago, we were given a bottle of Nine Hats Sangiovese. In reading up on it, I learned the story behind Nine Hats and Long Shadows. … [Quote above.] … Reading further, I discovered that the “signature wine” corresponding to the Nine Hats Sangiovese is the Saggi, a Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah blend. I thought—last week, this is—that we might enjoy trying both and comparing. First we would try the Nine Hats. If we liked it, we’d look for the Saggi.

But here it was, a 2008. No looking required. I put the bottle on the counter to buy.

It was months before we tried another Long Shadows wine. Our local grocery store had a bottle of the Pirouette, which we bought last spring but didn’t drink until our Yom Kippur pre-fast dinner in September. I devoted a post to it, prompting me to learn more about Long Shadows. Let me quote from that post.

Long Shadows is becoming one of our favorite Washington wineries. From the website:

Long Shadows brings seven highly acclaimed vintners from the major wine regions of the world to Washington State, each an owner-partner in a unique winery dedicated to producing Columbia Valley wines that showcase the best of this growing region.

Founded in 2003, Long Shadows is the brainchild of Washington wine luminary Allen Shoup. As president and CEO of Chateau Ste. Michelle and its affiliated wineries, Allen spent 20 years building the reputation of the growing region … .

After leaving Ste. Michelle in 2000, Allen’s commitment to advancing the Columbia Valley remained undaunted. He spent the next three years developing Long Shadows, a proposition that was as simple as it was complex: recruit a cadre of the finest winemakers in the world; give each vintner access to Washington State’s best grapes; and outfit a winery to accommodate a diverse group of winemakers’ exacting cellar specifications.

With the vision in place, Allen began by introducing a dream team of celebrated vintners to the vines and wines of the growing region. The idea quickly sold itself; and from the beginning, the wines have enjoyed critical acclaim that has continued to grow, vintage after vintage.

The Pirouette is made by Philippe Melka and Agustin Huneeus.

Philippe Melka and Agustin Huneeus, Sr. teamed to combine the traditions of old world winemaking, the advancements of new world technology, and small lots from Washington State’s finest vineyards to craft this enticing red blend.

The 2009 is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Malbec. Oh, right, it says so right there on the bottle, pictured at the top. I really didn’t need to add much. The bottle just about says it all.

What the bottle doesn’t say is that it was as fine a bottle of wine as we have drunk in ages. Unfortunately, we bought just the one, and they’re now sold out. Perhaps we should invest in the 2010.

It was around that time that I signed up for the Long Shadows mailing list, subscribers to which learn about and are offered the opportunity to order each of their new releases. I also discovered that Long Shadows had a tasting room in Woodinville. If we ordered some wine, we wouldn’t have to drive to Walla Walla or pay for shipping (and be home to sign on delivery). Gail and I could just drive up to the tasting room.

Later still, I realized through one of their emails to the list that they have regular Friday programs in the Woodinville tasting room, listed on the events page of the website under the heading “Unwine’d in Woodinville.” The calendar listing for each has the note:

Please join us at our Woodinville tasting room to unwind for the weekend and enjoy a sampling of our wines. Choose from a selection of small pours, by the glass, or by the half bottle. With live music from [name of musician or group] to help kick off the weekend.

How could we resist?

Well, resist we did, for months. The drive out to Woodinville after work on a Friday never seemed all that enticing. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Long Shadows sent out an email announcing special Valentine’s Day events at both the Walla Walla and Woodinville tasting rooms. Gail and I agreed that this would be our opportunity to get up there. Only later did I realize that the Valentine’s event was just the usual Unwine’d evening, with dessert options thrown in. Still, we planned on going.

Last Tuesday, three days before our planned outing, Long Shadows sent out an email to the list announcing the establishment of a wine club.

As many of our current releases are selling out quickly, some of our customers are discovering it is difficult to find our wines. We are excited to offer new supporters the opportunity to have guaranteed access to their favorite Long Shadows wines by joining our Winery Key Club. As a member you will be assured early notification of all regular releases, with special pricing included. You’ll also receive complimentary admission to release events, VIP experiences at the winery and tasting rooms, priority access to library wines, large formats and gift boxes, and other exclusive benefits available only to our valued club members. If you have been interested in our wines but were waiting for the right opportunity to discover them for yourself, Key Club membership is a wonderful way to begin your relationship with Long Shadows.

Perfect. There were three club levels, as described in the email and also at the website. The lowest level offers two shipments a year of six bottles each, with 10% discount on those and any other purchases, pick up available at either tasting room or shipping at extra cost. Other perks were listed with the parenthetical comment “as available.” By stepping up to level two, we would get three shipments a year of six bottles each—three bottles of each of their six red wines—with 15% discount on those and other purchases plus guaranteed access to events, library wines, and so on. I signed up that night.

The next day, at work, Brooke asked if I had read about a Long Shadows wine being served the night before at the state dinner. I hadn’t. I knew French president Hollande was in DC to visit Obama, but I hadn’t heard about the dinner. As it turned out, while I was joining the Long Shadows wine club, President Obama was serving Long Shadows’ 2009 Chester-Kidder. The news was covered even before the dinner took place, Eric Degerman writing:

Political blogs in our nation’s capital are buzzing with the choice of wine for tonight’s State Dinner at the White House for French President François Hollande, and Washington state will be represented by Long Shadows Vintners‘ 2009 Chester-Kidder from the Columbia Valley. reports the other two wines being served by President Barack Obama’s culinary team are Morlet 2011 La Proportion Dorée from Napa Valley and Thibault-Jannison Blanc de Chardonnay from Monticello, Va. Dinner entertainment will feature pop singer Mary J. Blige.

Dylan Byers of poignantly pointed out the French connection at Allen Shoup’s rockstar winery in Walla Walla.

The affable and talented Gilles Nicault has overseen the production at Long Shadows from the start. And while he works alongside such world-renowned winemakers as Armin Diel (Germany), Randy Dunn (Napa), John Duval (Australia), Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari (Italy), Philippe Melka (France) and Michel Rolland (France), the Chester-Kidder brand is a separate collaboration of Nicault and Shoup.

“Gilles Nicault was born and raised in southern France, and received his degree in viticulture and enology from a French university. And yet, he chose to move to Washington state to make wine,” Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission, told Great Northwest Wine. “His story is a testament to the quality and international reputation of our grape growing region. We hope the French President appreciates the balanced style and food friendliness of this and all Washington State wines.”

Shoup spent 20 years at Ste. Michelle before retiring as CEO in 2000. Soon after, he developed Long Shadows and one of his first moves was to hire Nicault in 2003 from famed Woodward Canyon, where the graduate of the University of Avignon had worked seven years for Rick Small.

Nicault made wine in Champagne, Côtes du Rhône and Provence before he arrived in the Yakima Valley in 1994. He worked for Staton Hills and Hogue Cellars before landing a position with Woodward Canyon.

The first vintage of Chester-Kidder was 2002, and the blend is a tribute to Shoup’s grandfather, Charles Chester, and grandmother, Maggie Kidder.

The 2009 Chester-Kidder ($50) will be paired with Dry-Aged Rib Eye Beef served with Jasper Hill Farm Blue Cheese Crisp, Charred Shallots, Oyster Mushrooms and Braised Chard. That vintage of Chester-Kidder was a blend of Cabernet Sauvigon (50%), Syrah (28%) and Petit Verdot (17%) using grapes from Candy Mountain near West Richland, Wash., and StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. Production was 989 cases.

Between joining the club and learning about the White House dinner, we were even more excited about our Valentine’s plan. Then again, by joining the club, we had signed up for regular visits to the tasting room to pick up our wine, so getting up there that Friday night was less urgent. This is the quandary we faced when I got home from work Friday afternoon. And didn’t we need dinner anyway, not dessert?

Finally, around 6:30 PM, we headed out. The unwine’d evening ran from 6:00 to 9:00, so we had some time and really needed a meal. But not too much time. What to do? Burgermaster!, It’s a beloved Seattle-area institution with a charming drive-in site in Bellevue, just off State Route 520, the road we needed to take to get to I-405 and up to Woodinville.

One might not have guessed, but the drive-in turned out to be quite the Valentine’s Day hangout. Boy was it crowded! We ordered, ate a most satisfying meal in the car, and headed out.

Fifteen minutes later, we were lost in Woodinville. We headed up 202, the Woodinville Redmond Road, coming to a traffic circle just north of which was a concentration of winery tasting rooms and other commercial establishments. But where was Long Shadows?

There was Brian Carter Cellars, off to the left, and more wine rooms in a strip mall just north of it. To the right was a Mexican restaurant, Mazatlan, and more wine rooms, some with well-lit signs, plus a sign along the road listing Mazatlan and the wine rooms but not Long Shadows. We drove past, then back south, way south on discovering no good place to turn around, then back north, then finally into the crowded parking lot on the left, even though I knew from the address that Long Shadows should be to the right by Mazatlan.

We got out, crossed the street, wandered toward Mazatlan, passing a crowded room with small unlit signs high up on the walls. A guard was in the parking lot, so I asked where Long Shadows was. It was the crowded place, and when we got close enough, it turns out that the sign I couldn’t read said “Nine Hats.” Another sign said Long Shadows. Unreadable though unless you’re close. How would we have known, especially given that neither they nor Nine Hats was listed on the big sign along the street that had all the other establishments?

No matter. We had arrived. We walked in, went to the counter in the back, past people sitting and standing, with featured artist Billy Brandt singing and a small jazz band backing him up.

At the counter, we were given menus. You could choose any of the six Long Shadows wines, $12 each, or order from a small dessert menu. I asked if we could buy bottles using our new club membership. Sure, 15% off. And we had privileges in the private tasting room in the back, though nothing was being served back there.

We ordered two glasses of 2010 Sequel:

John Duval, formerly of Australia’s iconic Penfolds Grange, chose the Columbia Valley as his “Sequel” for the continuation of his life’s work with Syrah.

Cool spring temperatures delayed flowering and reduced fruit set, while the summer temperatures remained moderate. In response to these conditions, we opened up the leaf canopies and dropped clusters so that the vines were well positioned to finish ripening when the warm weather arrived in the fall. The 2010 vintage was a cooler than average growing season that produced bright, fresh wines with excellent acidity, color, flavor and varietal character.

Deep and inky in color with vibrant aromas of wild blackberries, crushed rock, smoked meats and spicy oak. Concentrated dark fruit flavors are accented by a savory mid-palate and excellent acidity that provides a seamlessly balanced finish.

Syrah from Yakima Valley’s Boushey Vineyard (40%) gives Sequel its bright, fresh fruit character. These grapes are the perfect complement to the dense, dark fruit grown at Bacchus Vineyard (23%), from one of the oldest Syrah blocks in the state. Grapes from Candy Mountain (26%), adjacent to Red Mountain, give the wine its backbone. The remaining Syrah is grown at Sonnet Vineyard at The Benches in the Horse Heaven Hills, planted to a Shiraz clone that John recommended for its dark, rich and complex character. Dionysus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon contributes structure and adds to the wine’s appealing mid-palate.

Glasses in hand, we wandered into the back room, then returned to stand at a counter supported by two barrels, then grabbed two seats at the end of the bar and focused on the music as we drank an outstanding wine. The set was soon over, and Billy, the singer, headed toward us to start up a conversation. It turns out he’s from Boston. I mentioned that I lived there for twelve years and soon we were talking college hockey. He played on Boston College’s JV team one year (BC is currently ranked #1 in the country, was national champions three of the last six years) and described his career highlight scoring a goal against Harvard in a preseason game.

If not for Billy, we might have finished our wine, bought some bottles, and left. But now we wanted to hear his next set, so we stuck around. Gail bought a glass of the Chester-Kidder, allowing us to taste what Obama and Hollande had drunk three nights earlier. I had just a sip, and without benefit of dry-aged rib eye beef, but I imagine they were happy with it. With a bottle of Pirouette at home, we decided to buy the other five Long Shadows wines, using our new 15% discount. We paid, listened to some more music, then headed out between songs, with Billy calling out our names and saying goodbye as we exited.

Back home, we read up on Billy.

Having an affinity for the bluer side of jazz that rocks as much as it swings, Billy tends the musical bar with playful and wise originals and standards. A smooth and smoky voice with a swingin’ jazz combo mixes a delicious melodic libation best served up or on the rocks.

Bringing his New England background to the fore against the breathtaking backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, Billy entertains audiences drawn to his humor and storytelling. While immersing himself in the rich music community of Seattle, Billy has played at Tula’s, the Triple Door, the Columbia City Theater, Egan’s, Lucid, and the Paragon. He’s also busy writing songs, collaborating, and producing shows such as the popular annual The Big Gig (of which there have been four; the last two sold out the Triple Door).

With style and showmanship that is warm and easygoing, possessing a hint of swing and a blues sensibility, Billy is sure to charm as he celebrates the release of his first album, The Ballad of Larry’s Neighbor.

Here’s a video of Billy just last month at Seattle’s Triple Door.

We saw him on Friday singing with a guitarist, upright bassist, and drummer.

We look forward to seeing Billy again. He mentioned that he’s at Long Shadows about every six weeks. Indeed, we’ll be happy to return to unwine’d on any Friday, regardless of who’s playing. Maybe next time we’ll eat at Mazatlan first. Even with Burgermaster, it was a lovely evening.

Categories: Music, Wine

Miró at SAM

February 16, 2014 Leave a comment
Woman, Bird and Star (Homage to Picasso), February 15, 1966/April 3-8, 1973, Joan Miró

Woman, Bird and Star (Homage to Picasso), February 15, 1966/April 3-8, 1973, Joan Miró

The latest exhibition at the Seattle Art MuseumMiró: The Experience of Seeing—has just opened. It is organized jointly by the Seattle Art Museum and Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

Here is the description of it by Chiyo Ishikawa and Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s curators of European painting and of modern and contemporary art:

This exhibition, drawn entirely from the collection of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, offers a fresh assessment of the late period in Miró’s work—a body of work that audiences in the United States have not had the opportunity to fully appreciate. The exhibition brings together over 50 paintings, drawings and sculptures made in the period between 1963 and 1983 that testify to the artist’s ingenuity and inventiveness to the very end of his life. Bold and colorful paintings employing his personal visual language alternate with near-abstract compositions. Although Miró had experimented with sculpture in earlier periods, it is only in the late years that painting and sculpture stand in direct dialogue with each other—a principal feature of this exhibition.

The paintings and sculptures in the exhibition plumb the process of making art, part of Miró’s concern since his earliest works. In his quest to transcend easel painting, Miró expanded pictorial space across vast canvas fields, using an increasingly simplified language to turn accidental or fortuitous motifs into calligraphic signs. In his sculpture, the inspiration of found objects is more overt, linking the work to his Surrealist explorations of the 1920s as well as the sculptural inventions of his contemporary, Pablo Picasso. Miró also employs many of the same forms and signs in his sculpture, as in his paintings, creating a synergy between the two bodies of work. His work during these mature years represents a personal language where painting and sculpture are equally valued.

We went to the opening celebration on Tuesday evening. Normally we arrive at these events just in time for the program of talks, then eat and see the art in one order or the other. This time we made it a point to arrive early so that we could see not just the Miró but also another show that would close today: Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse.

Here’s the description of the Davidson show by Barbara Brotherton, the curator of Native American Art:

In partnership with the National Museum of the American Indian, NY, SAM is proud to organize the first major U.S. exhibition of the Haida artist, Robert Davidson.

Robert Davidson has been a pivotal figure in the Northwest Coast Native art renaissance since 1969, when he erected the first totem pole in his ancestral Massett village since the 1880s. For over 40 years he has mastered Haida art traditions by studying the great works of his great-grandfather Charles Edenshaw and others. More recently, Davidson has interjected his own interpretation of the old forms with forays into abstraction, explored in boldly minimalistic easel paintings, graphic works and sculpture, where images are pared to essential lines, elemental shapes and strong colors.

The exhibition will feature 45 paintings, sculptures and prints created since 2005, as well as key images from earlier in his career that show Davidson’s evolution toward an elemental language of form.

We’re sure glad we didn’t miss the show, but we wish we would have been able to make a return visit. You can get a sense of it by looking at the photos accompanying John Seed’s artist interview in the Huffington Post. Here’s one:

Bird In The Air, Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 60"

Bird In The Air, Acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 60″

And another:

There is Light In Darkness, Acrylic on canvas, 30" x 60"

There is Light In Darkness, Acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 60″

On leaving the exhibition, we headed up a floor to get a preview of the Miró. We figured seeing some of the works ahead of time might make for more informed listening during the program. We were enjoying our viewing when we ran into someone I know who hinted that we might find the program less informative than usual. he would turn out to be correct.

With program time drawing near, we headed back down with him and caught the tail end of the pre-program reception, at which locally based Spanish guitarist Andre Feriante performed while people mingled and drank. We stopped only briefly before heading into the auditorium.

SAM director Kim Rorschach opened with the usual greetings and thank yous, then brought up João Fernandes, the Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, who gave us some background on the show. Carmen Fernández Aparicio, the Chief Curator of Sculpture at the museum and featured speaker, followed.

Ms Aparicio told us in perfectly clear English that she was sorry she couldn’t make her remarks in English, then switched to Spanish, with two women at microphones on the side taking turns translating. This got off to a slow start, first because we couldn’t hear Ms Aparicio (not that it mattered if we wanted the English only), then because the translators couldn’t hear her, and at some points later because the translators appeared to struggle in search of the most effective way to convey her thoughts. The result was that her ideas didn’t come through all that well, and no one seemed unhappy when the remarks came to an end. Kim came back up to release us.

Back in the main entry, a Spanish-themed buffet was provided by SAM’s usual caterer, the in-building restaurant Taste. It was a good one. A platter of cured meats and cheeses, a dish of grilled, bite-sized potato chunks, a tray of raw vegetables, flatbread, some green dipping sauce, a vegetarian paella, and chicken breast slices with an orange sauce. In addition to the usual passed drinks—red and white wine, water—there were glasses of Sangria. And for entertainment we had music by New Age Flamenco. There was also a flamenco dance performance, but we were eating with our vision blocked through most of it, moving up to see it only as it ended. The program card indicates that this was offered by Deseo Carmin and Marisela Fleites.

After listening to a couple of post-meal songs, we decided to head home. The Miró exhibition deserves a much closer look, which we will give when we return for a curator tour. I’ll say more about the exhibition then.

Categories: Art, Museums

Cats Settling In

February 16, 2014 Leave a comment


[Click on photos to download higher-resolution images.]

We brought Charlee and Ruby home six weeks ago. As instructed by the adoption organization, we confined them to a small space, gradually expanding their range as they acclimatized. Except only one of the sisters, Charlee, seemed to be doing much acclimatizing. Ruby continues to be reticent, either by nature or as a response to her first adoption experience, in which she found her self in a home with an overly friendly dog.

They started in a bathroom, then had run of a bedroom, then the bedroom and an adjacent bathroom, and then that space along with our master bedroom. Charlee took quickly to each expansion, Ruby less so. Eventually we extended their range during the evenings to part of the first floor, keeping them out of the kitchen remodel. Charlee would sit with us, occasionally escaping to the basement if we left the stairway door open.

Finally, the remodel reached a point two days ago at which we could begin to use the new kitchen. It’s not finished. There’s a long list of items to be dealt with. But it’s functioning, and so we have been moving in. The cats too.

You can see, above, how settled in Charlee is. She has made the kitchen hers. And below, Ruby is checking out the birds. However shy she is, she shares Charlee’s curiosity. She just doesn’t want us to be in the way when she’s exploring.

Maybe they’re beginning to enjoy life.



Categories: Cats, House

First Daffodil

February 16, 2014 Leave a comment


A couple of weekends ago, I noticed that our first crocuses had opened, with daffodil shoots everywhere. Last weekend brought a couple of inches of snow. Hence my surprise when I wandered into the backyard this afternoon at the conclusion of a neighborhood walk and came upon daffodil yellow.

Near the crocuses, three daffodils had started to open. Across the way, the lone daffodil pictured above was in a later stage of openness. Spring has arrived.

Categories: House

In Praise of the CBC

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment


The Winter Olympics are here. And, thank god, Canada’s CBC is broadcasting them. No need to wait for NBC’s evening tape-delayed evening prime time coverage. No need to have events broken into little pieces to allow for frequent ad breaks. The CBC shows events live, as is.

I came to appreciate their coverage years ago. To my dismay, the CBC didn’t have the contract for the 2010 Winter Olympics. As I wrote four years ago,

Yes, NBC’s coverage is inane. But it’s always inane. Why would this time be different? One reason might be that with each passing Olympics, availability of information increases, so their penchant for tape delaying and dramatizing gets sillier and sillier. The real problem for us, though, is that our usual antidote to NBC is gone. When we got sick of it, we would just switch to CBC. We’d get to see the major events live. We’d get a little less drama, though they did follow the NBCs script (or, really, Roone Arledge’s ABC script from long ago, to give credit where it’s due) of up close and personal background stories. Alas, the CBC did not win the contract for Canadian television coverage for this Olympics. Cable network TSN did, and they’re not available as part of our cable package. We are reduced to watching on NBC or not watching at all.

What a relief that they have the coverage this year.

I had ignored the buildup last week, so I hadn’t even thought about how we would follow events. We were out at a dinner Friday night, so Gail set the DVR to record NBC’s coverage of the opening ceremonies. Last night I began to worry about how I would watch today’s men’s downhill, one of (to my mind) the two signature events of the Olympics along with its women’s counterpart. I checked the schedule for today’s events and saw that it was the first one, starting at just a couple of hours later at 11:00 PM local time here. Waiting for tonight’s NBC coverage was unimaginable.

That’s when I remembered to check the CBC website for their schedule. There it was, the downhill, due to be shown live from 11:00 PM to 1:30 AM Pacific Standard Time. I could even watch it as it happened, if I could stay awake. Or record it and watch first thing this morning.

We turned on the pre-race coverage last night, but couldn’t stay awake. This morning, I dared not open my iPad and look at any news. Downstairs I went, turning on the TV and watching the recording straight through. Perfect.

My pal Russ is up at Whistler now. (A little quieter than four years ago, when Ollympic skiing took place outside his door.) I wrote last night to share my excitement about watching the downhill. He responded, “the Canadian coverage is extraordinary. Starting with the opening ceremonies commercial free and live.”

Darn, why didn’t we think to record the opening ceremonies on CBC rather than NBC? I better check tomorrow’s schedule and figure out what essential events to record overnight.

My one complaint: why did the IOC schedule the Winter Olympics at the same time as Westminster? I have dogs to watch tomorrow and Tuesday. A Wednesday start would have been better.

Categories: Skiing, Sports


February 9, 2014 Leave a comment
Richard Sherman and the victorious Seahawks

Richard Sherman and the victorious Seahawks

[Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images]

I’m a week late on this one, but I shouldn’t let the moment go without comment. A week ago, the Seattle Seahawks were stomping the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, providing fans from Seattle and Washington State to Oregon, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska, and who knows where else with the greatest moment in local sports history.

Go Hawks!

It’s more than a little strange that so much civic pride gets invested in events like these. I don’t understand the social psychology of it all. And maybe I shouldn’t try. I should simply enjoy the moment. As great as this team is, such a moment may not recur for many years.

On that I have some experience. It was an odd thing growing up in New York in the ’50s and ’60s. Through the mid-’60s anyway. It’s hard enough in one’s youth to have much perspective. But I don’t know how perspective was possible for any New Yorker of that era. We had dominant teams in baseball and football. Many hit TV shows took place there. (The Dick Van Dyke Show for one. Guy lives in the suburbs, takes the commuter train into Manhattan every day. Like my father. I had no reason to think people lived differently.)

Every year from 1949 to 1964, a New York baseball team participated in the World Series. What? Not 1959? Well, you know, if the Dodgers hadn’t moved to LA two years earlier, there would have been a New York team.

That 1959 World Series is the first one I remember watching on TV, on our new color TV. Well, I saw a snippet of a game in one of the Yankees-Braves series at the neighbor’s a year or two earlier—my first time seeing a color TV—but I didn’t know what event I was watching. I just remember the stunning green field.

In football, the New York Giants played in the championship game in 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, and 1963. They lost almost all of those, but they were there.

And then things changed. New York teams became mediocre. The ones I cared about. The Mets showed up on the scene, but they weren’t my team, and by the time they shocked everyone by winning the 1969 World Series, I had just moved to Cambridge. My attention had shifted to basketball. Good thing, since the Knicks won the NBA championships of 1970 and 1973. But I wasn’t in New York then. I was living amid fans of the reviled Celtics.

In hockey, the Rangers had become competitive, but not enough so to win Stanley Cup. The equally reviled Boston Bruins did so in 1970 and 1972. I was there for that. I took no pleasure in their victories, or in Bobby Orr. Over the years, I’ve come to regret how invested I was in the Knicks and Rangers, so much so that I couldn’t appreciate the greatness of the Celtics and Bruins. Only in 1974 did I come around, becoming an all-out Boston sports fan just in time to watch the Celtics win the NBA championship and to suffer the Bruins’s Stanley Cup loss to Philadelphia’s Broad Street Bullies.

By 1975, I was a passionate Red Sox fan. We won the World Series that year, didn’t we? We should have.

The Celtics won again in 1976, highlighted by the classic game-five triple-overtime victory over Phoenix. which I’d remember better if my pal Mike hadn’t called me from Philadelphia in the first overtime. This was at a time when phones were hard-wired to the wall. My phone was in the bedroom of my one-bedroom apartment, the TV in the living room, and the fully stretched out phone cord got me just outside the bedroom door. By leaning around the wall, I could see the TV, but just barely. Mike and I stayed on the phone to the end.

And that’s that. 1976. The last year that one of the championship in one of the four major American men’s team sports was won by a team in a city I lived in. Until a week ago.

Many around here think the Seahawks were robbed by the refs eight years ago in their only other Super Bowl appearance. Maybe. That was a merely good team, not a great one. This year’s Seahawks were great, as everyone around here knew, and as became evident just minutes into the Super Bowl for those not previously paying attention. A very satisfying experience, watching greatness manifest itself.

Categories: Football, Life

Joshua Bell Recital

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment


[From Joshua Bell’s website]

Half a year ago, on the morning when Seattle Symphony tickets for the season went on sale for non-subscribers, Gail and I selected two concerts we anticipated might be popular and bought tickets. One, with Bernadette Peters as special guest, I wrote about in October. The other, though sponsored by the symphony, wasn’t a symphony performance. Rather, it was a recital by the violinist Joshua Bell, which took place four days ago.

Almost a year ago we were at Benaroya Hall for an Itzhak Perlman violin recital, with pianist Rohan de Silva. I wrote at the time that

we arrived at 6:20. Not early enough. There’s only one eating option in the Boeing Gallery, the open space that runs inside the building along 3rd Avenue, with the Chihuly chandeliers on the north and south ends, elevators from the parking garage, coat check, and entry to the two theaters. Namely, Puck’s Café. (Puck as in Wolfgang Puck.) The website says you can “arrive early and enjoy a relaxing dinner or lunch before you attend the concert.” I suppose so, if relaxing means standing on line for 20 minutes, then searching for an empty table among the two-tops squeezed together in the Boeing Gallery, with tiny chairs, no separation from your neighbors, a view of busses and people standing in wait for them outside the window. But if we wanted to eat at a restaurant nearby, we would have had to arrive much earlier. So we got on line.

I probably should have reviewed this passage sooner. We arrived a little earlier this time, around 6:10, but the experience was much the same. One reason not to head downtown too early on Wednesday was that the celebration of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory had taken place that afternoon. We feared getting caught in the tail end of post-jubilee traffic. And anyway, I was at work. We got there when we could.

Same long line at Puck’s Café. Same difficulty finding a table. The dinner special this time was lasagna with green salad and a roll. We both chose it. Gail didn’t think it was so great. She’s probably right, but it was lasagna after all. I was happy.

We took our seats around 7:00 PM, a half hour early. We were in Row F, six rows away from the stage, a ways left of center. This put our eye level about at stage height. We would be close to Bell, but looking up.

Time passed, the hall filled, the lights dimmed, and out came Joshua Bell, with pianist Sam Haywood (and page turner). Haywood has his own successful solo career and, I gather, has toured regularly with Bell for some time. The first half opened with Giuseppe Tartini’s sonata known familiarly as “Devil’s Trill,” from around 1740.

This isn’t a piece I know well. In fact, until a year ago, I don’t think I knew it at all, but I learned of it then because Perlman played it at his recital. Steven Lowe’s program notes haven’t changed. As I quoted a year ago,

some 200 concertos flowed from Tartini’s musical veins, but in truth, history has accorded him the dubious honor of being a “one-work” composer. That one work is his so-called “Devil’s Trill” Sonata, written, so he claimed, following a dream in which he sold his soul to the Devil. “I gave him my violin out of curiosity to see what he could do with it. To my amazement, I heard him play with consummate skill a sonata of exquisite beauty that surpassed the boldest flights of imagination. I was enchanted, my breath stopped and I awoke. Seizing my violin, I tried to reproduce some of the sound I heard in my dream, but in vain. The piece I composed, although the best I ever wrote … is but a far cry from what I heard in my dream.”

My memory of Perlman is that he made quite a dramatic showpiece out of the work. I wish I remembered better so I could more accurately compare, for Bell seemed to be playing an entirely different work. As would be the case throughout the evening, he played with what I might call a lighter hand, going less for drama and more for warmth. Not that Perlman isn’t warm, but everything about the evening felt gentler, more relaxed, and this applies equally well to Haywood’s approach on the piano.

Bell plays a famous instrument, the 1713 Huberman Stradivarius. I couldn’t help but imagine, ignorant though I am of such matters, that perhaps Bell has adapted his style of play, or his selection of pieces, to fit the qualities of the violin. True or not, it’s certainly the case that the sound throughout was astonishingly beautiful.

The second piece of the evening was Beethoven’s Sonata No. 10 in G major, from 1812. Lowe writes,

Dating from a decade after the popular “Kreutzer” Sonata, it is a far less sweeping or rhetorical essay than the previous showpiece. Indeed, in its comparative reserve and controlled emotion, the work demonstrates the same classical reserve as Beethoven’s contemporaneous Eighth Symphony.

“Reserve” and “controlled emotion”. That summarizes the evening as a whole and captures the contrast I was trying to convey between this recital and Perlman’s.

After intermission came Stravinsky’s Divertimento for Violin and Piano (after the Fairy’s Kiss). The Fairy’s Kiss ballet dates from 1928 and was composed to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the death of Tchaikovsky. “The resultant work … is a hybrid of original Tchaikovsky, with connective tissue and slightly ‘cleansed’ harmonies supplied by Stravinsky.” The divertimento came six years later and again was played with elegance and grace.

The evening was still young when they finished, took their bows, and went off stage. Plenty of time for a series of encores. But on their return Bell told us there would be two and that’s all there was.

As long as he had occasion to talk to us, Bell also made a Super Bowl joke, that being the theme of the day, then told us that he remembers the time when we had a good orchestra and a weak football team. Now we have a great orchestra, the best football team, and a world-class concert hall. People just love knowing they live in a special place. Or so I observed. This got the desired reaction.

And then it was on to the encores. Having just heard Tchaikovsky filtered through Stravinsky, we would now hear Tchaikovsky straight: his Mélodie. Speaking of which, here are Bell and Haywood playing the piece in St. Petersburg in 2011:

The view of him in the video is very much like our view Wednesday night. He assumes a stance facing to his left, so that we pretty much were looking at his right shoulder and the side of his face.

The second encore, gosh, I don’t remember what it was. A short piece by some nineteenth-century violinist. I’d recognize it if I saw it written down in a list of standard encores, but it has completely slipped my mind.

In searching on Bell encores to see if the name popped up, I have come upon a NYT review from last spring of the same duo, in which Zachary Wolffe describes the recital as “ravishing.”

… one of the vanishingly few artists still able to sell out halls on their names alone. He is an old-fashioned performer in both his repertory and his restless, dramatic physical presence. Listening to him on Wednesday I wondered what heights of fame, record sales and talk-show appearances he might have scaled had he been born 30 or 40 years earlier.

Which is not to say that he has gone unnoticed. Mr. Bell has been well known for long enough that it is tempting to take him for granted.

But it would be a mistake to underrate him. In a program of Schubert, Strauss and Prokofiev sonatas, with morsels by Fauré, Sarasate and Tchaikovsky thrown in at the end, he proved once again that there is no better-sounding violinist. His tone is a wonder: rich and round from the top to the bottom of his range. The precision of his bow control allows for fine gradations of volume and touch.

While not always revelatory, Mr. Bell is always riveting. …

Mr. Haywood was an unfailingly elegant partner, from the clarity of his Schubert to his sober chords at the start of the final movement of the Strauss. He and Mr. Bell combined poignantly in their final encore, the Mélodie from Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir d’un Lieu Cher,” the piece they performed for Mr. Cliburn in his final days.

It would be wrong to call it restrained. It was moving, rather, because it pulsed with the extroverted vitality that is Mr. Bell’s trademark. He will never get Mr. Cliburn’s ticker-tape parade or million-record annual sales, but he plays with the same exhilarating passion.

I just checked the Seattle Times to see if it had a review that mentioned the closing encore. There is a review, by Bernard Jacobson, but no mention of either encore. Maybe Jacobson left quickly. He observes that an

agreeably light touch prevailed in his well-attended recital at Benaroya Hall on Wednesday. The lightness was to be found not only in playing that emphasized a silvery sweetness over the sort of “fat” tone that some violinists cultivate, but also in the shape and content of the program he had devised.

It’s that silvery sweetness that I was writing about earlier. A lovely evening.

By the way, if you haven’t watched this internet classic before, do so now:

Read about it here.

Categories: Music

Obituary of the Day

February 3, 2014 Leave a comment


Not being a regular reader of Greenwich Time, I had missed Leonard Smith’s obituary a week ago. But thanks to a retweet two days ago by New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch, I got a second chance.

We don’t learn too much in the obit. After all,

Leonard Smith was a very private man. If you wanted to know his cause of death, he would have told you that it was none of your business. If you asked Penny, his beloved wife, she would tell you that he had cancer, but not to tell anyone.

But we do learn this about his military service.

He joined the Army Air Corps after his first term at M.I.T., and attained the rank of colonel, but only on the telephone when facilitating personnel discharges and equipment requisitions. He was discharged as a private.

And the ending offers a brief sketch of his character.

Leonard Smith hated pointless bureaucracy, thoughtless inefficiency and bad ideas born of good intentions. He loved his wife, admired and respected his children and liked just about every dog he ever met. He will be greatly missed by those he loved and those who loved him. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you cancel your subscription to The New York Times.

Leonard Smith would have thought that this obituary was about three paragraphs too long.

Colonel Smith, I wish I knew you.

Categories: Obituary