Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fond of Chicken

The recipe I get asked for the most is, strangely, chicken. I have a go-to dish that over the last year I had occasion to make for folks recovering from illnesses, injuries, and surgeries. And everyone’s better! So it must be good!

It was so well received that I finally tried it for company, even though chicken doesn’t feel “fancy” enough for company dinner. Confession: this is a quick-and-easy weeknight dish. But I’ve served it as part of a larger tapas style meal, and what do people take seconds of? Yep. Chicken.

So here it is. Except it’s not really a recipe. I can’t follow or make accurate recipes. I’m not into rules, don’t follow direction very well, and I think quantification is a sin.

It’s a technique. Braising is about the easiest cooking technique in the world, though I find there are a few key steps that people don’t know about or they skip them, and then they’re disappointed. And sometimes they add or do things that will doom the lovely sauce, and then they’re disappointed. So don’t be disappointed! Do what I do! After the jump.

Curtains for a fun theater year

2009 has been a great year for Weisenheimer theater. My Sweetie, the official scorer, counted 81 plays we've seen this year (including all 40 one-act plays of 14/48 and Death, Sex as separate plays). A couple of fun ones rounded out the year. Holiday revelry and some rare astronomy action delayed the reviews of these shows until today.

Death, Sex at Balagan Theatre
Balagan rolled out the concept of Death, Sex in February, and the concept was so funny, and successful, that bringing it back for a holiday treatment seemed a natural. Most of the six holiday-themed one-act plays were written by local playwrights especially for this production. They're a raunchy lot, and we love 'em!

The best of the six in Weisenheimer's estimation was Pillow, written by Frederick Stroppel and directed by Mike Dooly and M. Elizabeth Eller. It was the hilarious tale of Janice, a senior citizen whose revelations of sexual and chemical proclivities grew more outrageous and gut-busting as the play went along. Noelle, written and directed by José Amador, was a meeting of one character, aged 17, 25, and 36. They discussed the big-Os of their age ranges, brought on with the help of a variety of high-voltage appliances, until the eldest succumbed to the heart murmur. Consumption, Consummation by Nik Perleros and Davey Young, directed by Chris Bell, was the heartwarming tale of a praying mantis love triangle gone bad. For "Horny," played by Sam Hagen, the only down side was that his marshmallow brain was consumed twice as quickly. Terri Weagant as "mom" in I Saw Mommy (by Eric Ankrim, directed by Banton Foster) had the best line of the night, and a somewhat novel outlook on a white Christmas.

Death, Sex was great fun.

Sister's Christmas Catechism at ACT.
A spinoff of the long-running Late Night Catechism, which, inexplicably, we have never seen, Sister's Christmas Catechism is a riotous two-hour class during which audience members are scolded for chewing gum, taunted for late arrivals, scorned for talking or having their cell phones tweet, awarded with holy cards and other gifts (Christmas Kit Kats) for their knowledge of the saints, and pulled into duty as a living nativity scene to help solve the mystery of the missing gold from the magi.

Written by Maripat Donovan and directed by Marc Silvia, Sister's Christmas Catechism is a long, funny, impressive monologue for actress Aubrey Manning, who really delivers, and finds the gold in the end.

You'll learn a lot about the saints, and also that Presbyterians is an anagram for Britney Spears. Sister continues at ACT through Sunday.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Finally! A nice night under the stars

As chronicled on these pages it's hard to find weather that makes an astronomer happy. In Seattle it's usually cloudy, but then when it's clear, as it was for a week or so straight a few weeks back, it's 15 degrees outside and we don't like that, either. Then this week there were a few more wonderful, clear, and actually mild nights, but we were too busy festivalizing to get out and look at something.

Finally, though on Dec. 26 the feast days were history, the weather held, and Weisenheimer enjoyed a night of stargazing. Not that there wasn't something to complain about. There was a bit too much Moon, as it was waxing gibbous, first quarter having been on Christmas Eve. This makes deep sky objects all the more challenging to see. But the moon is itself a perfectly fine astronomical target, as evidenced by the accompanying Weisenheimer photo. I'm not really an astrophotographer; I just stuck my little point-and-shoot camera to the eyepiece and fired away (or, for the truly technical, the photo was shot with a Canon PowerShot A530 through an Orion SkyQuest XT8 and a TeleVue 24mm Panoptic eyepiece.) Even so, the results are OK.

There were other good targets out and about. Jupiter is still reasonably high in the southwest at dusk, and I got some good looks at it even before dark. A favorite at this time of the year is the Christmas Tree Cluster (NGC 2264) which really does look like a Christmas tree. Mars cleared my backyard trees around midnight. It's still a little far off, as opposition isn't until late January, and this year's apparition isn't a very good one. I didn't resolve any surface features on Mars. Also took a look at M31, the great Andromeda Galaxy. It was easily visible even with a lot of Moon right nearby. We actually saw M31 without aid of magnification from Ashland, Oregon during the new Moon in September.

I also checked off a handful of objects on the list for the Astronomical League's Urban Observing Club. Another of those has some seasonal appeal. It's the "Blue Snowball," a planetary nebula known as NGC 7662. As of today I've seen 90 of the 100 objects on the Urban Club list. Almost there!

Some high, thin clouds rolled through starting at about 12:30, and a breeze kicked up, so it got cold in a hurry. I retreated inside to some hot buttered rum and a warm bed at about 1 a.m. Not a bad evening!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mariners... Cliff Lee... Damn!

I've been a fan of the Seattle Mariners since they fired it up in 1977. Thirty-three seasons. They've finished with a winning record just 11 times, and seven of those were during the magical Lou Piniella years. It took the M's 15 years before they even had a winning season, the spectacular 1991 campaign when they went 83-79 under the leadership of Jim Lefebvre. That was the summer when my Sweetie, the official scorer, arrived in town from Southern California. Coincidence? I think not. I know that the immortal Scott Bradley would always get a hit if I visited the concession stand when he was up that season. I should have bought more beer, considering he batted .203. But his SLG was .244. So, hey.

In all of those seasons I've never had anything close to the positive vibe about the M's that I got today when I first heard the news that the deal rumored for the last several days was official, that the M's had dealt a handful of decent but hardly blue-chip prospects to Philadelphia for Cliff Lee.

What the hell? This is the Seattle Mariners! We're far more used to dealing Jason Varitek AND Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Frickin' Slocumb. Suddenly we're dealing three OK prospects for a dude two months removed from the World Series, in which he beat the evil Yanks twice, and a year removed from the A.L. Cy Young Award? These are not Bill Bavasi's M's. The combination of Lee and Felix Hernandez, while it may lack the poetry of Spahn and Sain, is one hell of a one-two punch, and certainly light years ahead of what the Mariners have EVER had at the top of the rotation. Can you remember who was second banana to Randy Johnson all of those years? Didn't think so. Even in the do-no-wrong, refuse-to-lose, fantasy year of 2001, when the M's improbably won 116 games, can you tell me who the pitchers were? Jamie Moyer, back when he was a mere 38 years old, led the staff at 20-6, and workhorse Freddy Garcia went 18-6. Paul Abbott--who?--yes, Paul Abbott went 17-4, and Aaron Sele was 15-5. John Halama, who didn't even like baseball, was the fifth starter and won 10 games.

With Felix and Lee, we might go 57-8 over those 65 starts. You don't need to do much in the other 97 games to go somewhere.

This is about the second time we've ever stolen a player. The first time was when even George Costanza knew that we'd robbed the evil Yankees by shipping them Ken Phelps for Jay Buhner, who may well have been the most important piece (OK, after Edgar) of all of those good teams of the late '90s.

There's still the small matter of the offense. Right now we have really no idea who is going to play LF or 1B, and if you go into the season with Jose Lopez penciled in as your cleanup hitter, then that's not a happy recipe for success. Opening day, however, is still nearly four months away. I have a feeling Jack Zduriencik may know what he's doing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Twelfth Night at Seattle Shakes a bit tame

My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I have a special place in our hearts for Twelfth Night. We saw the Seattle Rep's 1991 production of the play on our first "big time" date, which included dinner at the late, great Lofurno's Restaurant. We've seen several stagings recently. The Rep did it again two years ago, GreenStage did it last year, Oregon Shakespeare Festival ran it in 2005 and is bringing it back next season, with the dee-lish Miriam Laube in the role of Olivia.

This year's production at Seattle Shakespeare Company, directed by Stephanie Shine, stands up pretty well to the rest of them, thanks especially to marvelous performances by Susannah Millonzi as Viola/Cesario, Carol Roscoe as Maria, Darragh Kennan as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and John Bogar as Malvolio. Kennan was alternately comic and conspiratorial as the not-so-brave knight, and Roscoe lit up the stage whenever she was there. It was our first time seeing Roscoe on stage. She directed the brilliant End Days at Seattle Public Theatre  back in February, and the disappointing Dead Man's Cell Phone at ArtsWest in September. That's Roscoe, Kennan, and Ray Gonzalez as Sir Toby Belch above in the company photo by Erik Stuhaug.

One beef with the play is that it was just a little too timid. Twelfth Night is one of the Bard's bawdiest, but they almost seemed to be playing down the dirty jokes and lechery. Case in point was Gonzalez as Sir Toby, who was played as sometimes a little tipsy, sometimes still a tough knight, but just not the bigger-than-life character that the role requires and we know Gonzalez can deliver. Mike Dooly was boisterous and fun as Antonio, but it's a small role and we didn't get to see nearly enough of him. We enjoyed Chris Ensweiler as Feste, the fool, but he, too wasn't nearly so amped up as he was playing another clown, Truffaldino, in The Servant of Two Masters on this same stage back in January. Nonetheless, he's a funny man.

The music was fun, and included an audience sing-along round, which we practiced in the pre-show warm-up, not knowing we'd be performing later.

Twelfth Night is a good time. It runs through Dec. 27.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Keep the snow, but give us White Christmas

We've all seen the movie version of White Christmas a zillion times, and the current staging at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, directed by James A. Rocco and David Armstrong, borrows liberally from the company's 2006 production, including casting the same actors in three of the four leading roles. Yet it isn't boring in the least. The high-energy show sparkles, and how can you get tired of all those Irving Berlin tunes?

Michael Gruber and Greg McCormick Allen are back as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, and Christina Saffran Ashford returns as Betty Haynes. Carol Swarbrick reprises her role as Martha Watson. The significant new player is Taryn Darr, who is dynamite as Judy Haynes. Darr's dancing is amazing, she can really belt out a tune, and she's a darn fine actress, which I think is tough to pull off in a big house like the 5th. She was part of the ensemble of the show at the 5th in 2006; it's great to see her up front and center this time.

A couple of other great casting choices are Seattle stage veterans Frank Corrado as General Waverly and Clayton Corzatte as Ezekiel. Corrado is neither singer nor dancer, but he's alternately grumpy and hilarious as the general. Corzatte adds marvelous comic moments to the show, though his lines mostly consist of a long, drawn-out Vermont "aaayy-yup!"

My favorite number was "I Love a Piano," which opened the second act. It starts with Allen and Darr singing about a tiny grand piano -- think Schroeder from "Peanuts" -- and builds marvelously into a high-octane dance number featuring the ensemble dressed in either white or black, matching the piano keys on the huge red backdrop.

White Christmas is a marvelous show. It runs through Dec. 30.