January: Looking back, looking ahead

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Gorgeous Water Island, USVI.

January was cold and gray, both metaphorically and literally. Between December 26 and January 31, I was in the throes of one minor-but-miserable ailment after another. The final tally? Two stomach bugs. One weeklong bout with influenza. Two colds. Oh, and one inauguration. (Zing! I’ll be here all week. Tip your server.)

Oy vey.

There were some lovely moments in the first month of this new year, however. Despite my hacking cough, I had a wonderful gig at Mezzrow with pianist Ehud Asherie. Then, it was off to the Water Island Music Festival for sun, fun, fish tacos, and lots of music (until the final night, when my G.I. system turned against me…again).

Just a few days after returning home from the Caribbean, I was in transit again; this time, for a brief Duchess tour in Ontario. It felt somewhat poetic to be flying to Canada on Inauguration Day, although we were all bummed to be missing the Women’s March. We spent our entire trip cheering on our marching friends and sharing pictures of hilarious protest signs and poignant moments on social media.

I got yer #NewYorkValues right here.

I got yer #NewYorkValues right here.

It was in Waterloo, Ontario that cold #2 descended upon my sinuses, and I made it through that last gig on Sudafed and an act of will. A few short, sniffly hours of sleep, one flight, and one taxi ride later and I. Was. Home.

Sleeping in my own bed for the past couple of weeks has been deeply restorative. The Spanish-themed potluck dinner we shared with a few dear ones last weekend was a balm for both body and soul. Joining throngs of protesters at the #nobannowall protest in Battery Park was invigorating. And I’ve felt well enough to recommence running for the first time in well over a month.

Looking ahead, the new Duchess CD, Laughing at Life, is coming out on February 10; we’re hitting the road again mid-month for a short midwest tour. Our new podcast, Harmony & Hijinks, is now launched and you can listen for free on iTunes, Stitcher, or the Duchess site (I implore you—please subscribe and leave us a review!).

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The new podcast from Duchess. Give it a listen!

The bird and the bee tribute I recorded in collaboration with drummer Charles Ruggiero is in the final stages of post-production, and I’m headed into the studio this week to mix the piano/vocal duo CD that I recorded in December with Ehud.

So, yes. This may be the winter of our discontent, but there is music to be made. Onward.

In January, I…
Blogged about: December. Singer-friend Rebecca Kilgore.

Read: Orphans of the Carnival, by Carol Birch. This vividly imagined novel about 19th-century circus freak Julia Pastrana (a real person) was an engrossing read. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos. A tour de force of comedic writing: subversive and rife with social commentary, but dripping with diamonds and “dumb blonde” parlance. Edith Wharton called this book ‘The Great American Novel,’ and I’m inclined to agree. The Muse, by Jessie Burton. This book was a slow burn, but rewarding.

Watched: I Love Lucy. I watched episode after episode the week I was sick with the flu. I used to watch reruns when I was home sick as a kid, and it’s as brilliant and hilarious and comforting as ever. Top Chef. I’m totally addicted. The Young Pope. YOU GUYS. This show is Fellini-esque and beautiful and dreamlike and really, really funny. As a lapsed Catholic, perhaps I’m predisposed to love its irreverence, and as a person with eyes, perhaps I’m predisposed to love looking at closeups of Jude Law…but, whatever the reason, I am obsessed with this show.

Listened to: The Beast, by Jerome Jennings. I’ve known Jerome for almost 14 years (!!) and am a big fan of his, personally and musically—he played drums on my CD, The Great City. Jerome’s debut solo recording is swinging, soulful and socially conscious. He’s managed to pull off that most difficult of feats: he’s made an album that is far-reaching and eclectic, but deeply personal and cohesive. Congratulations, Jerome!

November: Looking back, looking ahead

Ugh. From the toxicity and anger of election season to 2016’s seemingly endless succession of great musicians’ deaths (Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Mose Allison, and Sharon Jones, all in one week?!), November was kind of a rough month.

By the morning of November 9th, the 24-hour news cycle and the echo chamber of social media had become overwhelming and more than a little depressing. And so, desirous of less “noise” and tired of wasting my mental and spiritual energies (to say nothing of my time) on fruitless discourse, I decided to take down my Facebook account.

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5 miles! Bring on the sweet potatoes.

Oh, I’m still on Twitter and Instagram, but I find that neither platform is the rabbit hole for me that Facebook was. And, full disclosure, I do still have my music page up on Facebook, but since I administer that page with a pseudonymous account (i.e., no “friends”), there are no news feeds, flame wars, fake news, or—somewhat tragically—cat memes to contend with. The bottom line is, I’m happier, more focused and productive, and less inundated with news I can’t use. Huzzah!

November brought some good things, of course: DUCHESS turned 3, I enjoyed some lovely gigs, and of course, there was Thanksgiving to celebrate. This year, I ran my first-ever Turkey Trot with my dear friend Rebecca, and later that day, we feasted with a special kind of abandon that comes from kicking off one’s morning with a 5-mile run.

The month closed with two amazing variety hour performances at Jazz Standard with DUCHESS. We were joined by Christian McBride and Kat Edmonson as our special guests. We played ukuleles and kazoos, we told lots of jokes, a specialty cocktail was created in our honor…oh, yes, and we sang quite a bit, too. It was a blast. Our sophomore release, Laughing at Life, is coming out in February, and we’re in heavy-duty business mode right now, planning tours and preparing for the launch of a special new project, the details of which I can’t divulge just yet.

Lucky gals. Christian McBride and Kat Edmonson!

Lucky gals. Christian McBride and Kat Edmonson!

Looking ahead, I’ve got two recording projects in the works: one is a jazz tribute to the bird and the bee (in collaboration with drummer Charles Ruggiero) and the other is a recording of intimate piano/vocal duets (in collaboration with pianist Ehud Asherie). The former is in post-production, while the latter will be recorded this weekend; both will see release sometime in 2017.

I love everything about the holidays: Christmas music, parties, food, and the sentimentality that overtakes even the most stoic among us. As this year draws to a close, my wish is simple: may we be thankful, may we be hopeful, may we be kind.

In November, I…
Blogged about: DUCHESS turning 3. October. Singer-friend Kat Edmonson.

Read: La Venessiana, a blog about Venice that bestows a few minutes of beauty and escapism upon the reader. Never Eat Your Heart Out, by Judith Moore, an unflinching and gorgeously written memoir that juxtaposes discomfort and beauty on every page.

Watched: In the Room, by Lawrence Dial. A funny and poignant play that got some much-deserved good ink in the Gray Lady. The Crown. Chaplin.

Listened to: Music of great comfort and humanity, especially Carmen McRae and Stevie Wonder. Leo Sidran’s insightful podcast, The Third Story.

 

January: Looking back, looking ahead

We’re in the heart of winter, now, the time of year when one’s morale can drop as low as the temperature.  The remaining snow is barely recognizable as such, having long since turned various shades of drab gray and brown.  The salt strewn on every sidewalk in New York City is beginning to take its toll on the soles of our shoes.  Sunset is still dispiritingly early, with darkness falling around 5:00pm.  And these first few months of the year are notoriously slow for musicians in terms of gigs.

For the past several years, though, I have had the exceedingly good fortune to be a performer at the Water Island Music Festival, which takes place every January on a tiny residential island just off St. Thomas.  This year, the festival’s always-lovely beach days and musical evenings were further sweetened by the knowledge that we were missing a doozy of a blizzard back in New York City (#sorrynotsorry).

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A change of scene…sun and sand on Water Island, USVI.

It’s amazing what an infusion of sunshine and music-making can do for one’s sense of optimism.  Yes, fish tacos on the beach were heavenly, but so were the braised beef short ribs with chestnuts and dates I made upon our return from the Caribbean.  The days are getting longer!  And I find myself inspired, rather than disheartened, by the prospect of open space on my calendar.  What better time to practice, write, and lay the groundwork for a new project than when it’s dark and cold outside?

2016 is a Leap Year, so this February has 29 days: one extra day in which to savor winter’s hearty food, opportunities for introspection, and crisp, cold air.  I’m looking forward to it.

In January, I…
Blogged about: Jane Monheit.  DUCHESS in Israel.  Acceptance.

Read: A bunch of books (my New Year’s resolution to abandon iPhone games/distractions on the subway and replace them with reading has been transformative), but the standout, by far, was Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter.  The storyline, which spans decades and continents, is too sprawling and involved to describe here, but the characters’ respective journeys toward redemption and healing are the heart and soul of this beautifully written novel.  I don’t often cry at the end of a book, but Beautiful Ruins shattered me.  Also read this month: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen; The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais; The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice, by Laurel Corona.

Watched: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. “They alive, dammit!”  I CANNOT wait for the next season to air.  This show makes me howl.  The Intern. I watched this on the plane home from Water Island.  I enjoyed this film, although it’s not without its flaws.  How refreshing, that the central relationship—between a 30-something woman (Anne Hathaway) and an older man (Robert DeNiro)—was not romantic.  Both characters learned from one another in some important ways, although for a film that was ostensibly about a powerful woman, Hathaway’s character still spent a lot of time getting lectured by men.

Listened to: Catherine Russell, Bring It Back.  Good GOD, get this record if you don’t have it already!  From Duke Ellington-penned standards to century-old trad jazz tunes to contemporary R&B, Catherine Russell inhabits a musical world uniquely her own.  She’s backed by a tasteful, supremely swinging band led by guitarist Matt Munisteri.  Every song sounds brand new in Russell’s capable hands.

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Scenes from the Water Island music festival.  Top: All the festival’s performers (plus a few friends) lunching on the beach.  Bottom left: The view from the performance venue.  Bottom right: Big hat, big glasses, big day at the beach.

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Top: The sun setting over Water Island.  Bottom: Boarding the ferry to St. Thomas, en route to the airport, following another wonderful year at the Water Island Music Festival.

 

 

Foodie Tuesday: Soup of the Evening, Beautiful Soup!

I’ve been a bit stuck on a theme, lately: it’s cold outside, winter’s here, let’s all eat comfort food, blah blah blah.  So it’s probably not a surprise–and goddess knows I hope it’s not a foray into Dullsville–that today’s Foodie Tuesday post is about soup.

Soup is the very embodiment of “making much from little”: water, vegetables, and a gentle flame join forces on the stove to create a meal far greater than the sum of its parts.  Soup will welcome the odds and ends from your produce bin, exalting lowly root vegetables and leafy greens, however wilted they may be. In our home, soup has soothed frayed nerves and mended wounds.  Ladled hot into a bowl after a long, busy winter’s day, soup can seem like a benediction.

One of my favorite things about soup is its adaptability.  Last night, for example, I made a vegetable soup with leeks, potatoes, kale, fennel, and tomatoes.  To the broth, at the direction of the inimitable Diana Henry, I added a generous pinch of saffron, a ribbon of orange zest, and a few sprigs of thyme…et voilà! Niçoise stew.

Homemade rouille, bolstered and brightened by tomato paste and lemon juice, respectively, added body and nuance to the soup.  And the Gruyère at the bottom of my bowl melted into the hot broth and clung to the vegetables in silky strands.  Was I gilding the lily?  Maybe, but then again, when is cheese ever a bad idea?

As I head out into this New York day filled with appointments and obligations, it does my heart good to know that a pot of leftover soup is waiting in the fridge. As Louis Carroll wisely wrote:

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Soo – oop of the e – e – evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Foodie Tuesday: Winter Abundance

I’ve decided that gray skies and chilly winds have gotten an unfair bad rap.  There’s nothing like a blustery winter day to make you appreciate the warmth of flannel pajamas and the hearty comfort of a bowl of soup.

These days, I am most drawn to forthright, sturdy food: roasted chicken, vegetable soup with homemade stock, and sausages with white beans and tomatoes have all graced our table in recent weeks.  All these slow roasts and gentle simmers have helped me embrace winter this year, rather than grumble about the cold, damp weather.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been re-reading the Little House series, but I’ve been reflecting on abundance quite a bit lately.

The attic was a lovely place to play.  The large, round, colored pumpkins made beautiful chairs and tables.  The red peppers and the onions dangled overhead.  The hams and venison hung in their paper wrappings, and all the bunches of dried herbs, the spicy herbs for cooking and the bitter herbs for medicine, gave the place a dusty-spicy smell.

Often the wind howled outside with a cold and lonesome sound.  But in the attic…everything was snug and cosy.

–Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House In The Big Woods

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s account of pioneer life in the 1800s is an inspiring reminder that a well-stocked pantry and the company of loved ones are the best kind of riches.  As we settle deeper into winter, I wish you many meals that nourish both your spirit and stomach.

Foodie Tuesday: It’s roasting in here!

Welcome to 2012, friends!  I have been woefully negligent of this blog as of late, and my only defense is that everything seems to accelerate mercilessly during the holiday season and I simply couldn’t keep up with everything.  It will surprise no one, however, that my enthusiasm for eating has flagged not at all, which brings me to the first Foodie Tuesday post of this new year: oven roasting and Diana Henry.

Last year I received a beautiful cookbook as a gift: Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry.  The book’s hearty wintertime recipes were interspersed with gorgeous photographs and vivid, in-praise-of-eating excerpts from authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Italo Calvino, Robert Frost, and Colette.  I read the book cover-to-cover and made the Swedish Thursday soup with split peas and ham, then set about learning more about Diana Henry, an Irish food writer and cook.

I found and ordered two more cookbooks by Henry, which immediately became indispensable resources in our Brooklyn kitchen.  I would go so far as to say that, if you were to have only one cookbook in your home, you’d do well to own either Plenty or Pure Simple Cooking.  Henry’s prose and recipes are practical, unassuming, and delicious.

She is a major advocate of oven-roasting, a nearly effortless way to serve a meal that is at once rib-sticking, homey, elegant, and sometimes even exotic (I am given, here, to a profusion of adjectives–forgive me!).  Oven-roasting is a very simple concept, but the resulting flavors are nuanced and eminently satisfying.

Nearly every recipe in Plenty and Pure Simple Cooking is appended with a variation or two, which means that an Italian-style roast chicken with rosemary and balsamic vinegar can easily become instead a Catalan roast chicken with pimenton, preserved lemon, and black olives.

As these winter days grow ever-colder (14° F today!? Sheesh.), the humble bounty of oven-roasted meats and vegetables warms both the home and the soul.  Happy cooking, happy eating, and Happy New Year!

 

 

Catalan-Style Baked Chicken – adapted from Diana Henry’s Pure Simple Cooking

Marinate 8 chicken thighs in 1/4 C olive oil, 1 Tbsp. pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika), 5 crushed garlic cloves, & the finely sliced flesh of 1/2 preserved lemon, plus 2 Tbsp. juice from the jar of lemons.

Put into a roasting pan with 2 lbs. unpeeled sweet potatoes, cut into big chunks, & 2 red onions, cut into wedges.  Season with salt & pepper.

Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 45 minutes, until cooked through, adding a handful of pitted black olives & the shredded zest of the lemon 15 mins. before the end.  

Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley & mint or cilantro & serve.

Chill out.

I am not an excellent driver. Fortunately for motorists and pedestrians everywhere, I live in New York City, which means I rarely–as in, never–have to drive. Don’t get me wrong: I could drive if I absolutely had to. It’s just that driving totally stresses me out.

icy-roadHaving grown up in Alaska, though, I was forced to drive in some pretty extreme weather, if not traffic. Young drivers in wintry places are always cautioned that, should the car hit a patch of ice and spin out of control, the best thing to do is to steer the car into the spin, not away from it. “How counterintuitive,” I thought, then promptly moved to Seattle where the roads didn’t get icy, then later to New York, where I developed love-hate relationships with the subway and cab drivers.

Well, about five years ago, I went back to Alaska for Christmas and had a date with a guy I’ll call G.I. Joe. (He was actually a Marine, but why split hairs? My point is that he was exactly the kind of person you’d want in charge if a situation–or your car–started to spin out of control.)

Returning home from an evening out on the less-than-bustling town of Anchorage, G.I. Joe’s SUV hit a patch of ice. While I panicked inwardly, G.I. Joe remained calm. He did exactly what the drivers’ manual says to do: he turned toward the spin, letting the laws of physics work their magic. The SUV corrected its course and no humans (or moose) were harmed.

nj7128-678a-i1.0Fast forward to today: I’m running from a morning rehearsal to a piano lesson to the library to my restaurant job, feeling very much like I’m spinning out of control. But somewhere between my fourth subway ride and losing my mind, I remembered the drivers’ manual: when you feel yourself spinning out of control, don’t fight it. Turn toward it.

We only really spin out of control when we tense up and react against our circumstances. When we allow ourselves to move with the chaos, our situation resolves itself naturally.

Taxi!