April 30, 2014

Y Is for Yapingachos

Originating in Ambato Province, Llapingachos (aka Yapingachos) are an Ecuadorian dish of potato patties stuffed with cheese and are a fun way to use leftover mashed potatoes. (Or you can start from scratch as the recipe here shows.)

Served with a fried egg and slices of avocado, they make a high-protein vegetarian meal. The potato cakes also may be used as a side dish for a simple roast chicken or broiled fish or even as a first course with a small cucumber salad. We like them best served with a zesty peanut sauce (salsa de mani) — recipe below.

Yapingachos (Ecuadorian Stuffed Potato Patties)
Makes 12

Yapingachos
Photo courtesy of Marinita y Su Cosina










Ingredients
5 large potatoes, 3 lbs, peeled, and cut into chunks 
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup finely chopped white onion
2 tsp ground achiote (or mild paprika — this is for color)
1 cup grated cheese (Traditionally queso fresco or quesillo, but mozzarella can work. Cheddar may be okay, but will change the flavor.)
Salt to taste
Peanut sauce (optional)

Instructions
1. Boil the potatoes until soft.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat, add the onions and achiote, cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Mash the potatoes, mix in the onion mixture, and salt to taste.
4. Cover the potato dough and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour.
(The above can be done up to a day or two in advance. In fact, if you serve mashed potatoes with dinner one night, make extra. The onion/paprika mix can be added just before Inst. 5.)

5. Using the potato mixture, make 1.5 inch balls (12). 
6. Make a hole in the middle of each, then fill with the cheese, pulling the dough up to hide the cheese.
7. Shape the potato balls into thick patties. Let these rest in the refrigerator for about 30 to 60 minutes.
8. Prepare a hot griddle or frying pan. Cook the patties until browned on each side. Be careful when turning them because they are delicate. In fact, it is best to cook them until browned completely and crispy on one side, then turn them only once. 
9. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Your choice. 


Peanut Sauce (Aji de Mani) 

Aji de Mani
Photo courtesy of recetaecuatoriana.com











Ingredients
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic,minced
1/2 tomato, peeled, seeded & chopped 
0 to 2 zesty peppers, seeded and cut into strips (depends on how spicy you want the sauce)
3/4 cup evaporated milk (not the sweet kind)
1 cup roasted peanuts
1 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp olive oil

Preparation
1. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. 
2. Add onion, garlic, tomato and pepper. Sauté about 8 to 10 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove from heat; cool for 5 minutes.
3. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the evaporated milk and peanuts. Puree until smooth. 
4. Season with salt; stir in olive oil.

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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.

April 29, 2014

X Is for X Marks the Spot


Last year, we had some pretty wonderful adventures. So in today's post, X will mark the spots we enjoyed. These are pretty much in date order:

Statue
Parque La Carolina, Quito
1. Quito — While the city seems less easy to live in than Cuenca, Quito has a lot to offer. A World Heritage site, there are many historic buildings, some of which are being spectacularly reconstructed. 

If you go, I recommend the hop-on-hop-off city tour. It covers a ton of area (Quito is a long and narrow city, so best to get a general overview). We stayed at the Community Hostel in the area adjacent to the old Produce Market and about three blocks from the Old Town. Not the most beautiful neighborhood, but super convenient. And the hostel is one of the best we have ever chosen. These days, it is across the street from a new brew pub, Bandido Brewing, owned by a bunch of guys who met at Willamette University in Oregon. So the beer should be pretty good.

Temple of the Sun, Ingapirca, Ecuador
Photo by Delphine Ménard
2. Ingapirca — This location contains the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. So if piles of ancient rocks and mystical locations are your thing, this pretty much fills the bill. Even higher altitude than Cuenca, those with any breathing difficulties should take note and maybe pack along their inhaler.

3. Piscataway, New Jersey, for the Steampunk World’s Fair — One of the best conventions we ever have attended. Large welcoming community, terrific entertainment, creative vendors, and amazing costumes. If you are intrigued by this thing called Steampunk, SWF would be a good introduction. 

As a bonus, my friend Judy, who lives about an hour away, met us there, and we had a great lunch and a fun few hours to catch up. K. W. and I had never been to that part of New Jersey, which is near Rutgers University; it is a beautiful part of the state.

4. Madrid — One of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is discovering that some place, which only had been of marginal interest, was truly marvelous.


Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
That was Madrid for us. The sheer beauty of the architecture, the music, the museums, the dancing, the food, the shopping, the people — it was all pretty mind-blowing. Of course, what made it even more special, was that we met up with our friends Allison and Fred. It was so much fun to share the wonders of this special city with them. Plus, they introduced us to a well-located and fairly priced hotel. Always good to have that one favorite hotel in a big city.

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre
Photo by Aurelien Guichard
5. London — London is, well, simply London. Theater, ballet, opera, symphony, art, and friends. K. W. had a book signing at Forbidden Planet with fellow writers Tim Powers and Jim Blaylock, which went well. And we met a ton of new folks, including Joseph Remesar, one of the first to write a Spanish-language Steampunk novel. 

We spent time with friends at pubs and at the Southbank CenterPlus, we had a big surprise. Our friends Jared and Dorian's honeymoon trip fleetingly coincided with our stay. We only were able to get together for a little bit, but it was wonderful to be even a small part of their celebration. As always, we left London way before we were ready. Especially since we totally missed seeing Le Corsaire by the English National Ballet, which was high on our To-Do list. But that's traveling for you. Can't do everything. 

Pulteney Bridge, Bath
Photo by Michael Maggs
6. Bath —We lived in Bath for two year in the mid-1980s. This was our first time back, and we had a marvelous time visiting friends and seeing how much, and in many ways, how little the city has changed. All the children we knew are now quite grown up with children of their own. We had a lovely time getting to know them as adults. Our plans are definitely to spend much more time in Bath in the near future. 



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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.

April 26, 2014

W Is for Wi-Fi


Wi-Fi is the name of a popular wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless high-speed Internet and network connections. — webopedia

Pretty cool. And readily and cheaply available at your home, your local coffee house, the library, and Internet cafes worldwide. So, why in the name of the Wi-Fi Alliance are hotels and airports the last to get with the program?

First — Free Wi-Fi should be mandatory in all airports. Airports bleed enough money from the concessions and various taxes and fees charged that they should be able to cover the cost of installing truly accessible Wi-Fi function for their clientele.

This might not have been as critical in the past, but in these days of mobile phones, the few remaining airport public pay phones are inconveniently located and/or broken. Which means that if you land in a foreign country, you have no way to contact friends or business associates (who may be meeting you). Because even if your phone is unlocked, there is no convenient way to replace the chip immediately after landing.


Hyatt Regency, Hong Kong
Be prepared to open a vein for Wi-Fi access at
this and many other hotel chains.
If passengers had access to free Wi-Fi, not so big a problem. At least you can email or FaceTime or text your fan base without too much trouble. (And I don't mean the pseudo-Wi-Fi often experienced in some airports. You know the kind. You log on, no problem. But you try and do anything like check email or research something on the Web, and you are blocked.)

As airports are an integral part of the transportation infrastructure, states and municipalities should mandate easy access in these facilities. You may disagree in principle (blah, blah, blah, Big Brother, blah, blah), but tell me how it works for you the next time you miss meeting your pickup ride and have no way to contact them. End of story.


Best Western, Worldwide
Wi-Fi is always free at this budget chain.
And hotels. The higher the price tag on the hotel, the more likely they are to charge for in-room Wi-Fi access. And the prices are steep — like $20–$30 a day steep. Plus, they limit the number of devices guests can connect. Granted, if you have premier status, you get free Wi-Fi, but if you aren't, you are toast. Oddly, many hostels and budget chains offer free Wi-Fi (probably because they figure they would lose market share as their price-sensitive customers demand it). It isn't always brilliant, but it usually works well enough. But the chains like Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt, and above truly bleed you dry on this one.


Community Hostel, Quito
Wi-Fi here is awesome — and free!
It's not as if this were a mystery to the big hotel chain boards of directors. According to a recent survey by Thistle Hotels Group, the lack of free in-room Wi-Fi remains one of the biggest complaints among hotel guests. Not breaking news, as this has remained constant in most travel surveys for the last several years.

This public relations problem is not going to go away. In fact, as people add more and more electronic devices to their travel necessities, it only will get worse. Additionally, Generation X and the Millennials believe good Internet connections are their divine right. Hotels need to get with the program or risk losing market share as these are the travelers already in or entering into their peak earning years.

End of rant.

April 25, 2014

V Is for Violet

Violet spectrum
One of the oldest colors employed by man, the bluish purple color known as violet was used as early as in the prehistoric cave paintings in France. The Egyptians used mulberry juice to create violet paint, and the Gauls are reported to have used violet color made from crushed bilberry. 


April Love by Arthur Hughes
Courtesy of the Tate, London
via the Google Art Project


While the color has a rich history, and it is all wonderful that man has used this color to create art and to dye fabric, I prefer the abundance of violet found in fields and flower gardens. 













So today’s post is just a bunch of pretty flower pictures. Why? Because I like them.


Iris
Photo by Eveline Lippet

Crocus



My favorite in my backyard garden was always the Iris. We had some terrific ones in Portland. They looked super elegant, but smelled like grape jelly.










We always planted Crocus, because when these popped up, spring wasn't far behind.





Columbine



We also had Columbine in our Portland backyard garden. Some were "volunteers," others we planted.







Wild Sage


And many gorgeous violet flowers are found growing wild.

Like this gorgeous Wild Sage, a summer favorite.





Tri-color Viola
Photo by Jörg Hempel











And Violas. (Sometimes you have to get up close to see these.)










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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.

April 24, 2014

U Is for Underwear

One of the problems with changing countries is the unavailability of things you consider to be line items in your budget “back home,” wherever that was.

Specific food items figure largely on this list. Ask any Brit in the US about Cadbury chocolate. They will go far afield to search for the actual imported Cadbury bars and Creme Eggs instead of the ones produced Stateside. Why? Because they actually do taste different. 

Argentinians miss their mom’s chimichurri, Peruvians go on about the wonderful peppers they use in their various sauces, Spaniards reminisce about jamón, and the French miss their wonderful cheeses. And so on. While we all manage with local products, we search out and save the stuff we miss for special treats and on holidays. 

But it isn’t just food products. Aluminum foil is different, so are the Zip-lock type bags. Vegetable peelers, can openers, all the little stuff. And if you thought Tupperware was expensive in the States, try buying it abroad. Ouch! 

In South America the expats “mule” in the food stuff, plus their favorite brands of towels (although we can find good ones here) and, especially, bed linen. 

I have a question: If most of the bed linen for the international market is made in India, WHY are the sheets in other countries so scratchy? They cost the same as the Target house brand, they are made in the same country, but they are so harsh and nasty. Anyone who comes to visit seriously has to make room for a set for their friends.

Additionally, if you are tall, broad, or in any way larger than the local population, buying shoes and clothing in Asia or Latin America can be a challenge, to say the least. While you can find tailors to duplicate your outerwear (they just use your worn-out wardrobe as patterns), underwear is a completely different story.

Photo by Dimitris Petridis
So strategies are put in place. If you have a friend going back to the US or one coming down for a visit, they become your mule (conversely, you eventually will be theirs). I have bought bras, underpants for me and my husband, socks, men’s shirts, and shoes and had them shipped to a US address convenient for the mule. I have brought in condiments and Marks & Spencer bras and men’s underwear for a Brit couple, good tea for another friend, instant pudding mixes for an Ecuadorian who used to live in the US, and Target sheets and Body Shop lotion for someone else. 

The rule seems to be: If you are going abroad, you allot ten percent of your luggage for muling; then check your circle of friends and help them out. 

Because we all know that uncomfortable underwear, makes for a REALLY BAD DAY!

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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.


April 23, 2014

T Is for Travel

Back in the early 1970s, I worked for a company that sent me around the U.S. as a trouble shooter. I would be like the Lone Ranger — hit town, clean up the office files and accounting, and drift off into the sunset. That was my first taste of real travel. The best part was that I spent a week or two (minimum) in each of the offices, giving me an opportunity to check out the community. It also showed me that the "If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" style of travel wasn't going to work for me.

Time passed, and I did the usual Southern California road trips to the Northern California Wine Country, San Diego, Mammoth, and Las Vegas. But I couldn't afford the time or money needed to travel farther. Then came Freddie Laker and his affordable plane fares. At the same time, my ex and I parted ways, sold our house, and I had some cash. I spent three months traveling through England and Scotland (two months of which was spent in London), getting as far north as the Orkney Islands.


Canal boating in England
In London, I worked at Harrod's (for only two weeks — it interfered with taking ballet classes and going to the theater). It was a good experience, though, as I discovered that work patterns were far different outside the U.S. Let's just say, people in the U.S. are totally insane. They approach all jobs with a Type A attitude and forget to enjoy life. But I digress.

Then I started dating my husband, K. W. Looking back, I didn't get married; I hooked up with a co-conspirator. He also loves to travel — and not those fast arranged tours. Together we have spent time in France, Spain, Mallorca, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, the Italian Alps, and have lived in a number of wonderful U.S. cities and in Bath, England, and now in Ecuador. We have a two-month trip planned for the fall: Barcelona, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, and Nantes. Then over to the U.K. to visit friends and see a lot of ballet, opera, theater, and symphony. Italy, Romania, Holland, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, Russia, and Taiwan are on the bucket list. So many places, so little time.


Vienna Staatsoper
I don't take a lot of pictures or buy a ton of souvenirs. But I've seen Tosca in three countries and an entire fall season of the Royal Ballet in London. I rode the Hogwart's Express before there was Harry Potter and seen the seriously flawed Capeman on Broadway. I've cooked dinner in a hostel in the Orkneys and on a canal boat along one of the many Avon Rivers. And I've watched a NASCAR race from the speedway media center and seen Air Force Green Flag exercises from the meridian between two runways (ear plugs mandatory). Fun stuff.


Sunset in Cuenca, Ecuador
It isn't all wonderful, though. I am old enough to remember when flying Coach was actually comfortable. In fact, today's Business Class is pretty much what Coach used to be. Unfortunately, this means that as I have grown wider, the airline seats have grown narrower and the space between the rows (known as the pitch) reduces annually. While I love actually being in new places, I seriously hate the getting there part. At least in Europe, the trains are an option.

So, is it worth the money, hassle, and time? You bet.


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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.

S Is for Steampunk

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy literature in which Victorian aesthetics combine with futuristic technology to create a world full of brass, mechanical gears, goggles, clocks, and steam-powered machinery.


It all began with the books
Though there exist Victorian fantasy novels written by the greats — H. G. Wells and Jules Verne — the actual term Steampunk is relatively recent. Coined by writer K. W. Jeter (full disclosure  he is my husband) in a light-hearted 1987 comment to Locus magazine, the letter read:

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for [Timothy] Powers, [James P.] Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps.

Media
Whether you realize it or not, if you watch television or go to the movies, you have seen Steampunk's influence in themes, set design, and costumes. Television shows like Sanctuary and Warehouse 13, and the wildly popular Dr. Who, lean heavily on the Victorian “look.” Also, films like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Disney animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Scorsese’s Hugo are Victorian in design and period.

Poster from the
Scorsese film
Hugo
Historically, science fiction and fantasy fandom has created communities within the various areas of interest. And these communities love conferences, conventions, and faires of various sorts. Like most other genre conventions, the various Steampunk events are a combination of panels, music, art, crafts, demonstrations (including fencing and period-relevant martial arts), and Victorian-themed teas and absinthe tastings. And tons of performance groups. Whether fans of cabaret, solo songstresses, military bands, wandering cellists, burlesque troupes, or old-school punk, attendees certainly don’t lack for choice.

Deck the bods
For many, though, the costumes are the main attraction. 

After attending two of the most prominent Steampunk conventions — Steamcon in Seattle, held each fall, and the Steampunk World’s Fair, held in New Jersey in late spring — all I can say about the costuming is, “Wow!” Either wearer-made or handmade by other enthusiastic craftspeople, the variety is astounding. Seeing the beautiful hats, scientific instrument and faux weapon accessories, and fantastic jewelry and leatherwork — totally worth the price of admission.

Professor Verdigris Wetware takes tea.
(Notice the clock detailing on the hat.)
The women all look lovely, whether in beautiful gowns, various forms of exterior corsetry, or lady explorer garb. But this is one time that the gents stand out, especially the big guys. Some costumes (Star Trek, for one example) only look good on the extremely fit. Victorian garb, however, makes all men look elegant and distinguished.  

What’s also fun about the Steampunk culture is that it is open to everyone. The ethnically diverse attendees are young, old, children, parents, grandparents — all are welcome, and all are having a blast!

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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.



April 21, 2014

R Is for Reviewing

I grew up reading the great (and often nasty) critics like Brooks Atkinson, Walter Kerr, Martin Bernheimer, and Arlene Croce. When I was 18, it struck me: "I can do that." But there was no blogging, and it's a universe with limited opportunities.

A few years ago, however, I was given the opportunity to promote and review the classical performing arts for the widely distributed alternative weekly in Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Weekly.

(Insert trite and hackneyed jokes about the arts and Las Vegas here. We've heard them all.)

For the record, Las Vegas has a pretty good symphony and one of the longest-running ballet companies in the U.S. (40 years for Nevada Ballet Theatre); additionally, Las Vegas boasts a steadily improving youth ballet, Las Vegas Ballet Youth Company. There are also some "real deals" in the modern/contemporary dance scene, including Alvin Ailey alum Bernard Gaddis, dancer/choreographer Marko Westwood, and Kelly Roth, who worked intensively with Nikolai/Louis. Live theater struggles, but plugs away, with occasional stellar results. (Read Jacob Coakley at the Las Vegas Weekly for theater happenings.) Opera is underrepresented and still is dependent on the live-stream broadcasts from the Met. Nevertheless, the city has a thriving performing arts community. So there!


Dancer/Choreographer
Marko Westwood
But back to the topic.


Over the five years I wrote for the magazine and the two years I wrote for the online publication, California Literary Review, I was able to cover the usual suspects and also bring to notice some performance groups usually ignored (small dance companies, avant-garde theater venues, etc.) Very proud of that last bit. Along with my voice, I also developed some rules for myself. Some were suggested by others; some were things I had believed all along.

From Scott Dickensheets, then editor of the Weekly and now with Desert Companion, I was given two instructions: no gratuitous sniping and always have a wart. If you don't like something, have good reasons and back it up. And even if you like a performance, always find something that bugs you. Otherwise you come off looking like a booster, rather than a reviewer. (Previews can be a bit booster-ish, though, as the purpose is to interest the readership in the upcoming performance.)

From my husband, writer K. W. Jeter, I was given two other useful bits: Drop as many -ly words as possible and lose most of the "to be" words/passive constructions.

My own rules evolved over a longer period. The most important one for me: Treat the performers with respect. And don't take obvious pot-shots — great dancers fall sometimes, musicians may play a bad note, opera stars can miss the high ones, and even great actors muff lines. See enough live performances and you experience it all. Not worth mentioning. Also, don't blame performers for decisions made by choreographers and artistic directors.

Additionally, lay off the obvious. All dance companies want to perform to live music. Live music costs a lot of money. Small arts organizations lack money and can't always afford it. Reviewers: Shut up on this one. Same with theater. All theater companies would like endless tech and costume budgets. They don't have these. So craft your review around the question: Did they do the best they could with their resources?

What if I don't like a choreography or the program construction? Directors, librettists, playwrights, and choreographers are in charge and are fair game. Still, no one sets out to make a bad ballet or write a bad play. Treat the art with respect. Say why you don't like it, and back it up with examples.


    Faces of Frida, by Javier Gonzalez
Photo by K. W. Jeter
And if you love something? Even if I do, I can always find a wart. I'm a critic; it's what I do. For example, there is a version of the Nutcracker I love — except for one small detail. In the Act I Party Scene, the father gets pretty nasty with the little maid. It might have been historically accurate, but it seemed a bit harsh to me. Also to many in the audience, as I could see them visibly squirming. Did mention that one. For one thing, it could be fixed — and with limited cost.

It's important to remember: Nasty reviews tell the reader more about the reviewer and less about the work being reviewed. Your readers want to know about the ballet, play, opera, symphony. Give them that, and they might even care about you. Or not. But at least you have done your job.

When finding my voice as a performing arts writer, I had to decide whether to hit an academic tone (possible, but a little stuffy for me) or take my normal light approach to serious subjects. As you can tell if you have been reading my blog, I went with the last one.

It helped that I wrote for an alternative paper; too stuffy, and who in that audience would give a crap? Fortunately for me, I enjoy The Hunger Games and NASCAR as much as I love Giselle or La Traviata so pop culture and sports references in my writing comes naturally. It also fit the tone of the publication. But that's my voice; other reviewers take a far different approach. As long as the reviewer stays respectful — works for me.

When I switched to the California Literary Review, I added in more technical background stuff as that seemed to fit the publication. However, I still tried to avoid getting all poncy and stuff.

That's pretty much it. No real mystery. Moving on.

And now I'm caught up with the A to Z Challenge — for today.


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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.


Q Is for Quixote (as in Don)

Many ballets deal with serious subjects — Giselle, Swan Lake, Romeo & Juliet, Manon, etc. So it is cool when an evening at the ballet is just plain fun.

Don Quixote is one of the liveliest and most popular of the "fun" ballets. The story makes marginal sense, the music is accessible, and the characters human rather than the stuff of fairy tales and myth. 

PLOT:

For those of you familiar with the Cervantes' novel or even with the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, you can pretty much check those at the door. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza feature in the ballet as secondary characters, window dressing wandering through the scenes in between all the dancing. 

Elena Shokhina as Kitri in
Nevada Ballet Theatre’s 
Don Quixote
Photo by Jeff Speer
Mostly the story is about a village girl named Kitri and her barber boyfriend Basilio. Unfortunately, Kitri's father has plans for her — and they don't include Basilio. So the two run off with Don Q. and Sancho to a gypsy camp in the forest where we get to see a lot of backbendy Spanish dancing. Some arguments, some things mistaken for a windmill, and Don Quixote collapses. He does this because he has to have a special dream — one where all the same dancers from the first act have different costumes.

Kitri's dad finally shows up, and boy is he angry. Kitri and Basil are clever, though, and through trickery, manage to get him to bless their union. (I told you the plot made no sense.)

At this point in some productions, the local Duke and Duchess get involved. They let the young couple get married at their palace, which is another great excuse for new costumes and sets for the entire cast. In these days of budget cuts, however, often everyone goes back to the original village scene and costumes from Act I. 

Happy ending, and everyone gets to dance at the party. Audience now goes home humming the choreography.

WHY GO?

First, because it is fun. Second (and this is for the guys), you get to see a lot of really cute girls dancing around in flirty costumes — and your date won't punch you for staring — plus, on top of all that, you get points for taking her to the ballet.

Additionally, if you are a dance fan, there is a lot of music and a lot of little parts. So you get to see many different dancers perform in smaller groups and even dance solos. Always fun to watch talent come up from the corps de ballet. 

Here is a clip from a performance by my favorite Kitri, Maya Plisetskaya. Besides terrific technique, her Kitri is a total ball of fire. She is so "real." (I love the run at 5:19.) And for those who may wonder, I saw her perform this live, and yes, she was that fast. 


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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.

April 19, 2014

O Is for Opera

Both my husband and I are opera fans. We love the music, the spectacle, the sense of event — pretty much everything about it. I grew up cleaning house to the Saturday Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, which we listen to now via the Internet. We travel a bit, and unlike theater, you can go to the opera, symphony, or ballet in most urban environments and can enjoy performances with few language issues.

We have seen opera in the U.S. (both coasts), England, France, Vienna, and Budapest. These days, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Prague, and Germany are on the bucket list. So far, Budapest is our favorite opera house, although Vienna runs a pretty close second.

Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest
Photo by Andreas Praefcke
Rebuilt after WWII to a prewar standard, it is a tiny jewel box theater. Sitting there, you feel transported to another time — or at least to a really cool movie set. While the decor is splendid, it is the size of the house that made it special for us. It is so small that you hear the singers — no amplification necessary, no excess straining from the performers, no acoustical tricks to make up for dead areas in a giant house. Just the voices.

If you do go to the smaller opera houses, though, it is good to keep in mind that their supertitles may be only in the language of that particular country. So unless you read, say Hungarian, you might want to forego a comedy or completely unfamiliar work. We picked Tosca, my favorite opera ever. Like most Puccini basics, it is pretty easy to follow even without translations, so we had no trouble.

Beverly Sills in La Traviata
Photo by James Heffernan/
Metropolitan Opera
Interesting side note: Some of the Eastern European performers choose to have local, rather than international careers. Seems as if their voices hold up longer in the smaller houses as they don't have to push them to be heard. Our leads for Tosca certainly fell into this category. I would guess that Tosca and Cavaradossi were close to 50, yet exhibited no reduction in range or quality.

Licia Albanesa as Mimi
in La Boheme
Favorite singers? My all-time favorite soprano was Beverly Sills, who was an amazing actress as well as a top-notch singer. Placido Domingo has always been at the top of my list, as well as Licia Albanese (who I met when I was 15), and the Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayao, composer Heitor Villa-Lobos' favorite singer, and whose Mimi in La Boheme set the gold standard.

But the most magical moment for me was sitting in the second row at the Met for Capriccio. To be so close I could actually hear Kiri Te Kanawa's voice in the last scene — pure magic. Click the link to check it out for yourself: Kiri Te Kanawa in Capriccio. The best bits start at about 4:15.

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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.


April 18, 2014

P Is for Pizza (as in Leftover)

How often do you find a couple of slices of leftover pizza in the fridge? Probably more than you would care to admit. And quite often, it is enough to make a second meal. However, sometimes you only have enough for a snack, which just won't do when you really want dinner.

Besides, reheated pizza, whether in the microwave or oven, gets boring and predictable after awhile.

There were a couple of leftover slices in our fridge, and I was not in the mood to cook a "from scratch" dinner. But two slices weren't enough for both of us to make a meal. Hmmm. Does one person eat pizza while the other forages? That seems a bit unfair, especially if you're the one who loses the coin toss.

So tonight we had:

ITALIAN MIGAS
Feeds 2














Ingredients
Italian Migas in the pan

2 slices of leftover pizza (it's better if it is more than plain cheese)
6 eggs
1/2 tsp Italian herbs (mix of oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary)
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated cheese  your pick
1 tbsp. butter

Instructions

1.  Chop the pizza up into small cubes (1/4 to 1/2 inch)

2.  Mix eggs and herbs thoroughly. Add pizza cubes. Let stand for 30 to 35 minutes. (This is important as the crust needs to soften.)

3.  Heat butter in pan. Add egg mixture and cheese. Cook, stirring frequently, until cooked through.

Serve with fresh fruit or a side salad. We had avocado, kiwi, and pear.

Quick, easy, and pretty tasty.


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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.