April and May: looking back, looking ahead

April and May, despite their flying past with blinding speed, were lovely. I sang a number of diverse gigs with dear friends, which is always good medicine for the soul. The performances ranged from being the “canary” in a Benny Goodman tribute to channeling my inner Patsy Cline for some western swing at Mezzrow to harmonizing background vocals with Duchess to singing socialist anthems in three different languages in commemoration of the Spanish Civil War…and that’s not even the complete list!

When not singing for my supper in recent weeks, I was delighted to partake in some quintessentially New York City cultural experiences:

  • at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, the scent of lilacs hung heavy in the air and a rainbow array of tulips stood at attention;
  • Passover Seder included our traditional boisterous rendering of Dayenu;
  • we feasted on a rustic seafood stew in a Brooklyn brownstone for a dear friend’s 75th birthday;
  • at Yankee Stadium we leapt from our seats, elated, when Gary Sanchez hit a walk-off three-run homer;
  • an entire evening’s program was dedicated to the key of C minor at the Chamber Music Society; and
  • beloved friends hosted an evening of intimate theatre in their home, where their friend (an accomplished stage and film actor) presented excerpts of a thought-provoking one-man show about the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Kicking off summer: lakeside in CT; a busy bee at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens; Yankee Stadium; my annual nose-in-the-lilacs photo.

As if all of the above weren’t enough, my husband and I celebrated our seven-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Savannah. We had a few touristy to-do’s on our list (eat at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room; take a tour of the Owens-Thomas mansion), but our days were largely free-form. We mostly ambled down shady tree-lined streets, taking in the architecture and thinking about Johnny Mercer. Lest I give the impression that things were too idyllic, I should disclose that I also caught a bitch of a chest cold. However, I found the bourbon cocktails to be extremely medicinal.

Scenes from Savannah: sniffly and sipping bourbon for its medicinal value; a plate of home cooking at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room; the Mercer-Williams house; a rendezvous with the Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia himself, Mr. Johnny Mercer.

Looking ahead, I’m feeling quite territorial about my time. Things are bound to get busy this summer, what with tour dates and assorted professional obligations, but I’m determined to set plenty of time aside for reading, seeing friends, picnicking, listening to music, watching baseball, daydreaming in the park…all the things that make summer, well, summer. Spending Memorial Day weekend lakeside in Connecticut felt like a good start.

The pas de deux between productivity and recreation can sometimes more closely resemble the French Danse Apache, but I firmly believe we sacrifice leisure for busy-ness at our peril. The very word “recreation” holds the key: when we take time to smell the roses, i.e. recreate, we re-create ourselves and emerge renewed, ready to meet our obligations with joy and optimism.

In April and May, I…
Blogged about: March. Close-harmony girl groups (for Duchess).

Watched: Baseball, natch. Via Dolorosa, live and in-person, acted by the wonderful Jonathan Tindle. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, in preparation for Savannah.

Read: Her First American, by Lore Segal. Vivid, sad, and beautifully written. I loved this novel about a young Jewish woman in love with a Black intellectual in post-WWII New York City. Caroline: Little House, Revisited, by Sarah Miller. I re-read the Little House series a handful of years ago for the first time since my childhood, and the books were…different than I remembered. For one thing, I was stunned by the rampant racism against Native Americans that runs throughout the series. For another, whereas the character of Ma (Caroline) once struck me as a bit of a wet blanket, as an adult woman myself I realized how selfish (and occasionally reckless) Pa was. Reading Miller’s thoughtful re-imagining of the Ingalls’ story as told from Caroline’s perspective was satisfying. Blue Nights, by Joan Didion. Brilliant, stunning prose…and also one of the most depressing books I’ve read in ages. The Scribe of Siena, by Melodie Winawer. Definitely a light read, but we all need a little fantasy and escapism from time to time. How to Eat a Peach, by Diana Henry. Part memoir, part cookbook, completely delicious. Diana Henry has long been one of my favorite food writers, and I think this may be her finest book yet.

Listened to: Connie Converse. The only thing more mysterious, heartbreaking, and unique than Converse’s story is her music. Janelle Monaé. I am always sooooo late to the party when it comes to contemporary music, but consider me obsessed. Kat Edmonson. Duchess sings backup vocals for Kat from time to time, and her new album, “Old Fashioned Gal,” accomplishes the nigh-impossible feat of being both a throwback and utterly of its own time. Les McCann. Les McCann. Les McCann.

I still love New York

Sometimes it seems like New York City is on its way to becoming (or, depending on whom you ask, is already) a tiny island filled with nothing but banks and Duane Reade stores. A number of my friends have recently moved west, having decided that New York is “over,” and L.A. is now the place to be.

I get it. I know that living in New York City is not for everyone. But if a hipster is somebody who loves something before it’s cool enough to capture the fancy of the general public, I suppose I, then, am the opposite. I love New York City as much today as ever, even though lots of people seem to have decided it’s not cool anymore.

By the time this post is published, I’ll be in Tuscany, on a long-anticipated vacation with my mother. When it comes time to depart Italy, I know I’ll be terribly sad to leave la dolce vita, but there will be solace in knowing that autumn in New York awaits.

Brooklyn Bridge will be filled with tourists and locals, strolling in the still-warm September sun. The greatest musicians in the world will be performing at Mezzrow in Greenwich Village every night. The leaves will be starting to turn in Central Park. And, as I walk briskly through Manhattan’s “canyons of steel,” with every footfall, my heart will beat, “I’m home. I’m home. I’m home.” 

I love New York, today and every day.

Nature Girl?

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Clearly having a blast camping.

I read once that green was Duke Ellington’s least favorite color, because green, being the color of grass, reminded him of bucolic landscapes.  As an inveterate city-lover, the Duke preferred pavement.  I have no idea if that anecdote is true or not (and I happen to like the color green), but, like Duke, I’ve never really been one for country life.  I mean, just look at this picture from my teen years, taken during a salmon-fishing camping trip in Alaska.  The aquamarine waters of the Kenai River flowed just outside our camper door, and there wasn’t a glimmer of modern civilization for miles.  Don’t I look thrilled?

This summer, however, my happiest moments have been spent communing with nature…in distinctly urban surroundings, mind you.  There’s a unique beauty to green spaces that are cultivated with the express purpose of providing a respite from the din of the city.  Here, then, are a few places and experiences that promise even the most citified among us a moment of peace amid New York’s clatter and thrum.

Central Park IMG_2902
Okay, yes, I’ve started with the most obvious.  But sometimes it’s good to remember that we can be tourists in our own city.  Thanks to the largesse (and connections) of a good friend, I had the indescribable pleasure of attending Shakespeare in the Park (The Tempest) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park last month WITHOUT LINING UP FOR TICKETS AT 6 A.M., and I was literally speechless when the play ended.  The brilliance and power of Shakespeare’s poetry, combined with the changing colors of the night sky over Manhattan, fireflies twinkling overhead, and summer breezes wafting through the trees made for an unforgettable evening.

On another occasion, E. and I made an impromptu decision to spend an entire day wandering through our favorite parts of Central Park.  For me, that meant a trip to the reservoir and the northeast corner of the park, especially the Conservatory Gardens.  E., a native New Yorker, led us to Sheep’s Meadow for a sweet hour of people-watching and nostalgia. IMG_2905

Brooklyn Botanic Garden IMG_2930
Each spring, I make it a point to visit the BBG when the lilacs bloom.  Ranging from the whitest white to the deepest purple, the BBG boasts a vast array of lilacs.  I always look forward to joining my fellow winter-weary Brooklynites, as we bury our faces in the blossoms, breathing deeply the lilacs’ heady fragrance and the promise of summer.  This year, though, I (finally!) discovered that the BBG is free to the public every Tuesday, and I’ve taken to strolling through the gardens whenever weather and schedule permit.  A recent highlight was the moody, overcast afternoon I spent wandering through the riotously-in-bloom rose garden.

Tuesday Moon Bath Yoga and Pranayam: Evening Outdoor Yoga in Fort Greene Park
Okay, you guys, this is HANDS DOWN the most Brooklyn/Portlandia thing I’ve ever done, and you know what?  IT’S AWESOME.  While CrossFit die-hards grunt and pant nearby, we serenely stretch, chant, and breathe deeply as the sun sets over Brooklyn.  Kathryn is my favorite yoga teacher: smart and spiritual, without ever veering into the realm of preachiness or “woo.”  She teaches this by-donation class every Tuesday throughout the summer, and if you’re in the neighborhood, you should come.  You’ll leave feeling calm and rejuvenated. Yoga Collage Now that we’re in the middle of a heat wave, of course, I’ve got (air-conditioned) museums on my mind—the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series at MoMA, the Sargent exhibit at the Met, and the Sinatra retrospective at the Performing Arts Library—but that’ll be another post. What are your favorite verdant urban retreats?

December: Looking back, looking ahead

holiday-sale-image-1024x765And just like that, in the blink of an eye, another holiday season has come and gone. December was a month filled with music, friends, and a whole lot of food and wine. Bouncing from gig to gig and party to party was fun, but it was also exhausting, so I was delighted that the month—and 2014 itself—culminated in a quiet New Year’s Eve dinner at home.

I try not to make New Year’s resolutions, but the first days of a brand-new year seem to invite contemplation and a bit of much-welcomed slowness, which I savor.  In years past, I have gravitated toward single words that encapsulate my intentions, hopes, and aspirations for the year ahead: faith, fruition, and action, to name a few.  This year, though, I am greeting the new year with a phrase that I saw making the rounds on Facebook, courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert: “Done is better than good.”

You see, I can get so hung up on my fear of not being able to make something good enough (a recording, a yoga practice, a piece of writing) that sometimes I don’t start at all.  There’s something incredibly freeing about the idea that “done,” with all its inevitable flaws and quirks, still trumps “good.”  “Done is better than good” means that wrong notes, tight hamstrings, and typos are far too inconsequential to keep me from creating something, however meaningful or mundane.  What a relief!

Multi-culti holidays in Brooklyn: the tree and menorah at Borough Hall, our own tree and menorah, a Chinese food ornament (!) and an eggnog latte by the tree.

Multi-culti holidays in Brooklyn: the tree and menorah at Borough Hall, our own tree and menorah, a Chinese food ornament (!) and an eggnog latte by the tree.

Good food, good drinks, good friends...this was a holiday season to celebrate!

Good food, good drinks, good friends…this was a holiday season to celebrate!

NYE Collage

Our NYE dinner: smoked salmon hors d’oeuvres and cheeses to start, then Beef Wellington, followed by chocolate Pavlova.  The wine flowed like…well, you know.  

In December, I…
Blogged about: Fast & Festive Holiday Eating.  November.

Watched: A bunch of Harry Potter movies.  The magic, the metaphor, and the banquet scenes in these films make for perfect holiday entertainment.

Read: The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman; this lovely story was part romance, part historical look at turn-of-the-century New York, and part fairy tale.  Under Magnolia, by Frances Mayes; I love Mayes’ narratives of building a life in Italy and was riveted by this lyrical memoir of her Southern upbringing.  Be Safe I Love You, by Cara Hoffman; a harrowing and beautifully written novel about a woman newly returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq.  Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin; a wise singer-cook friend lent me this book, and reading Colwin’s no-nonsense, funny prose was like meeting a new friend.

Listened to: Uptown Funk, by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars.  Tongue-in-cheek and irrepressibly fun, this song got me through a few brutally early mornings last month.

Autumn in New York

LeavesAndPumpkinsCollageWe have careened headlong into fall.  Summer was a nonstop flurry of singing and travel, and the past three weeks or so have been such a blur of activity (my CD was officially released, my parents came to visit, DUCHESS took a trip to New Orleans) that the turning leaves and ever-cooler temperatures took me by surprise.  I savor this time of year, and it was a bit jarring to glance at the calendar and realize that we’re rapidly nearing the end of October.  With the exception of drinking a couple of pumpkin spice lattes recently (I know, I know) and the happy donning of my favorite scarves and sweaters, I’ve scarcely noticed that my favorite season is flying by; Thanksgiving will be here before we know it!

Yesterday, the lure of crisp air and clear skies proved to be irresistible and I took a couple of hours to meander through my Brooklyn neighborhood.  With no particular destination in mind, I was free to stop and smile at brightly decorated brownstone stoops, festooned with oddly-shaped gourds and pumpkins of all colors and sizes.  Upon returning home, I made a big pot of roasted butternut squash and apple soup.  It’s a start.

Brooklyn stoops, in full autumn regalia.

Brooklyn stoops, in full autumn regalia.

Still on my fall to-do list?  More only-in-autumn recipes, like this butternut squash strata from my culinary hero, Diana Henry.  A caramel apple from the farmers market, and some apple cider to heat on the stove with a stick of cinnamon, too.  Definitely a trip to Central Park for some quiet reading in the Conservatory Gardens (maybe I’ll pair this excursion with a visit to the MOMA to take in the Matisse exhibit).  A late-afternoon glass of red wine in a cozy bistro, catching up with an old friend.

I know I’m biased—my all-consuming love of New York City is well documented on this blog—but autumn in New York glows with a singular beauty, perhaps borne of the juxtaposition of nature’s splendor and the city’s hustle and bustle.  As the song goes, “it’s good to live it again.”

moodyskiesCollage

Foodie Tuesday: Get Me to the Greek

GreekChurchEvery year in early June, the Greek Orthodox church down the street throws a festival and invites all of Brooklyn to take part.  For a solid week, our block is perfumed with garlic and grill smoke while Greek music (and, at night, thumping dance club jams) fill the air.

As teens in traditional garb link arms and perform Greek folk dances, their yia-yias sell seemingly endless trays of homemade spanakopita and honey-soaked desserts laden with pistachios, walnuts, and almonds. Handsome young guys work the grill stations, serving up souvlaki, gyros, and octopus to hungry Brooklynites.

PicnicAll week, the street is closed to cars and a vaguely European atmosphere takes hold.  Diners fill the tables in the street and a handsome priest in a gray robe belted with a rope meanders through the crowd, greeting parishioners and locals who are gathered in downtown Brooklyn to eat, drink, and make merry.

This year, E. and I made the most of a fairly rare occurrence: a sunny, warm Saturday night when neither of us had to work.  We arrived early at the festival and picked up some grilled octopus (charred and smoky, but delicately flavored and very tender) and a gyro platter, along with spanakopita and a big Greek salad.

WineParkWe also picked up some homemade Greek yogurt with a sour cherry compote and a piece of kataifi, redolent of cinnamon and honey, for dessert.  Armed with this feast and a bottle of cold, crisp white wine, we made our way to the waterfront park, where we set up a blanket and dined as the sun set over Brooklyn.

As an avid eater and home cook, I love the way food inhabits—indeed, creates—our memories, and over the past few years, the taste of our neighborhood Greek festival has become inextricably linked with summer. From the creamy tang of feta cheese against the sweetness of cherry tomatoes to the garlicky earthiness of lamb with tzatziki on pillowy flatbread, the flavors sing of sunshine and warm breezes.

BkBridgeSomeday, I hope we’ll travel to Greece and dine as the Parthenon looms in the distance. Until then, the Greek festival right here in Brooklyn is a glorious way to spend a summer evening.  Opa!

Stormy Weather – October Recap

This morning, life outside my Brooklyn window looks surprisingly normal.  Car horns are honking in the street, and pedestrians are walking in that clipped, hurried way that seems indigenous to New Yorkers who have somewhere to be (damn it).  And, most welcome sight of all, the skies are blue and the sun is shining for the first time in days.  The storm, at last, has passed.

Underscoring the car horns, though, is a steady refrain of ambulance and police sirens.  A couple of nearby trees are lying on the ground, their roots exposed, upended by the storm.  The  traffic congestion is due to the fact that there are no subways running, and we don’t know when service will recommence.  Entire subway stations are submerged, and the tunnels linking Manhattan and the outer boroughs are flooded, which is pretty much my greatest nightmare come to life.  In short, we have a long way to go here in the Apple before life is really back to “normal.”

Hurricane Sandy showed little mercy to our beloved New York City, and we’ve all seen the footage of the wreckage that once was the Jersey Shore.  We were lucky, in our little corner of Brooklyn, to have been spared so much as a power outage, but it’s sobering to know that flooding, fires, and wind damage have wreaked havoc on the lives of our neighbors.  Today is the last day of October, so here’s a little monthly wrap-up.  May the month of November bring speedy and complete recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

In October, I….

Wrote about: Wine.  Words & Music.  The Hustle (doot doot doot doo doot da doot doot doo!).

Watched: This lady.  Obviously.

Played: a little too much (way too much) Cat Bowling.

Read: this memoir about a home restoration in Sicily.  While this book was not exactly riveting, I enjoyed reading about my new dream destination and its lemon groves, sardines, inky wines, and Moorish architecture.

Listened to: a lot of the Nat Cole Trio.  The effortlessness and insouciance of Nat Cole’s singing and playing utterly belie how HIP he was.

As I type, the sky has become overcast again.  However, the sun is stubbornly poking through the dark gray clouds, which seems to be a metaphor for the indomitable spirit of New York City and New Yorkers themselves.  New York City is battered, but not broken.  Here’s to brighter days ahead.