Sunday, December 29, 2013
Friday, December 27, 2013
The second ornament I select to represent the year itself and generally it serves as a reminder of either a significant event or person. This ornament reminds me that enduring traditions are balanced by growth and changes over time. This year, I wanted something to commemorate my renewed interest in music, since I feel that is the major theme of 2013. I looked for something in the Bryant Park holiday market, but I couldn't find anything I liked, so I decided to make my own ornament this year - only the second time I've made one for myself.
I started with one of the free sample 7-inch vinyl LPs I picked up when I visited Siren Records, a very cool record store I found in Doylestown, PA, when I went there over Labor Day weekend to get my Rega turntable fixed at SoundStageDirect.com ("News & updates" - Sept. 26, 2013). It didn't have music on it that I liked, so it's no loss to make it into an ornament.
Next I took images of the important music of the year and arranged them in a 3.5-inch circle that matches the size of the label of the record. The small spindle hole in the middle of the record matched up with center of the record in the Princeton Record Exchange graphic that I scanned and put in the center of the label. Here's what it looks like - see if you can recognize all the albums and bands (answers are at the bottom of the post):
"How Mischa got her groove back" - April 25, 2013)
Did you guess all the albums/bands on the label? Here they are, clockwise from the top:
1. Paramore by Paramore
2. Sigur Ros (I saw them in concert but haven't really gotten into their new album Kveikur yet)
3. Electric by Pet Shop Boys
4. London Calling by The Clash
5. Once: A New Musical (Original Cast Recording)
6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
7. Avalon by Roxy Music
8. Remain in Light by Talking Heads
9. The Raven That Refused to Sing: And Other Stories by Steven Wilson
10. Weather Systems by Anathema
11. Blue Bell Knoll by Cocteau Twins (right above the word "Princeton")
Thursday, December 26, 2013
I got permission to work from home on Christmas Eve, and it was a good thing I did because I needed every moment to finish making a bourbon bread pudding for the party. Since everyone seems to like it so much, here's the recipe:
New Orleans Bourbon Bread Pudding
1 French baguette (18- to 20-inch), torn into 1-inch pieces (10 cups)
1 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup bourbon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled, plus extra for baking dish
8 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Arrange bread in single layer on baking sheet and bake until crisp and browned, about 12 minutes, turning pieces over halfway through drying time and rotating baking sheet front to back. Let bread cool. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.
2. Meanwhile, heat raisins with 1/2 cup bourbon in small saucepan over medium-high heat until bourbon begins to simmer, 2 to 3 minutes. Strain mixture, reserving bourbon and raisins separately.
3. Butter 13 by 9-inch broiler-safe baking dish. Whisk yolks, brown sugar, cream, milk, vanilla, 1 teaspoon cinnamon (reserving the 1/2 teaspoon for the topping), nutmeg, and salt in large bowl. Whisk in remaining 1/4 cup bourbon plus bourbon used to plump raisins. Toss in toasted bread until evenly coated. Let mixture sit until bread begins to absorb custard, about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. If majority of bread is still hard when squeezed, soak for another 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Pour half of bread mixture into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with half of raisins. Pour remaining bread mixture into dish and sprinkle with remaining raisins. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, mix granulated sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in small bowl. Using fingers, cut 6 tablespoons butter into sugar mixture until size of small peas. Remove foil from pudding, sprinkle with butter mixture, and bake, uncovered, until custard is just set, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove pudding from oven and heat broiler.
6. Once broiler is heated, broil pudding until top forms golden crust, about 2 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Serve. (Leftover bread pudding should be refrigerated; reheat individual portions in microwave.)
This time I even made the accompanying bourbon sauce to go with it, as follows:
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 cup bourbon
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Whisk cornstarch and 2 tablespoons bourbon in small bowl until well combined. Heat cream and sugar in small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Whisk in cornstarch mixture and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until sauce thickens, 3 to 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in salt, butter, and remaining 2 tablespoons bourbon. Drizzle warm sauce over cut bread pudding. (Sauce can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 5 days; reheat on stovetop.)
I walked over to the Met Store in Rockefeller Center on my lunch break to pick up my traditional creche angel tree ornament for 2013. They didn't have any on display, but the clerks found a few in the back room, so I was just in time to get one for myself, and one for Katie to hang on her tree. I even had time to get down to Mr. Pei's shop and pick up my order of chops for Kacey and Becker, and one for Puck with their new name, Robin Goodfellow, engraved on it. All in all, it was a bit of a rush to get everything done and get to Katie's place, since I'd never been there before I went down a few blind alleys along the way.
I met Katie's mom, Gindy, who is a charming and funny woman with a sharp sense of self-deprecating humor. We decorated Katie's tree and took a picture to commemorate her first tree in her new home - you can see the angel ornament at her eye level, just to the left of the tree center.
We took turns opening Christmas poppers and presents before a dinner of salad, roasted vegetables and a bourbon glazed ham, which was delicious. After stuffing ourselves, we played a game of Pandemic, a board game about stopping a global outbreak of disease and plague - perfect for Christmas night :P We talked until about 11:30 before Gindy had to go home to appease the cat, and the three of us stayed up and talked until it was finally time to turn the lights out at around 3:30 am.
As my body has an unfortunate tendency of doing, I woke up at 8 am, got dressed and explored Katie's vast number of books while waiting for them to wake up. After morning coffee, we played some more card games, and hung out until Gindy came by in the afternoon for their own gift exchange and family traditions. We took a sneak peek at Gindy's work-in-progress apartment downstairs before heading home to TSMC.
Puck and I spent the afternoon and evening together, finishing the first season of Fringe, listening to music and starting to read E. B. White's Trumpet of the Swan aloud. We went out to Rockefeller Center around 9:30 pm to see the tree and the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday light show and the adorable window displays of the snow-making Yeti that stars in this year's show.
I never expect Puck to make a big thing about Christmas since they didn't grow up celebrating it. Frankly, I outgrew Christmas with my birth family pretty quickly. But my New Jersey family helped me rediscover the magic of the holiday, and I've been missing that in my life, even though Puck and I have had our own Christmas adventures. But this year, thanks to people I consider my family now, I had the most lovely, most meaningful Christmas I've had in years.
Friday, December 20, 2013
Piper suggested this recipe for Beef Brasato with Pappardelle and Mint by Chef Chris Cosentino, which is not really hard to do, but did require a scavenger hunt for fresh ingredients. For a side, I wanted to do the ratatouille from the Pixar movie because Katie and I had talked about it before (she didn't like the mob rat scenes). This one was easy on the ingredients but I needed to buy a mandoline, baking dish and parchment paper. I found a nice mandoline and a lifetime supply of parchment paper on Amazon, and those arrived just in time on Wednesday night.
On Wednesday after work, I had about 90 minutes between leaving the office and the last shuttle to the train station to get my shopping done, so I was on a tight schedule. It didn't help that Yoshi's battery was dead from the cold and infrequent use, so I had to use a jumpstarter every time I got into the car. I drove to Wegmanns, hoping to find everything in one trip, but no such luck. They didn't have boneless beef shank, and the first substitute the butcher recommended - short ribs - had just sold out less than 10 minutes ago, he told me.
To cover the possibility of not having any meat, I got a top round roast just in case. They were also out of eggplant, so I bought the other vegetables and baking dish for the ratatouille and canned tomatoes for both dishes plus the red wine for the marinade, but they didn't have mint or fresh pappardelle among their bewildering large number of pasta choices. Once again, I covered this by buying fresh lasagna layers as a substitute, but this was not looking good and I was out of time.
On the train ride home, I decided I could try the supermarket in Koreatown for the mint, since it's a crucial ingredient in many southeast Asian cuisines. I also found that Eataly, the Italian marketplace part-owned by Chef Mario Batali, was open to 11 pm, so I figured that would be the place to get fresh pappardelle.
In Koreatown, they not only had the mint, but also the Italian eggplant and the beef shank, so that was a project-saving trip! And my first visit to Eataly was a revelation - so many rare and wonderful ingredients! I got the fresh pappardelle, a block of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a cheese plane to shave it (the last time I tried to cut hard cheese, I broke two knives from their cheap plastic handles and was lucky to escape injury). So at the last minute, I finally had everything I needed for the pasta dish, and I started the marinade Wednesday night.
Using the mandoline was a lot of fun, and I was very careful to not slice off a finger, because I found using the guard to be too tricky. I put the tomato puree down and laid out the layers of vegetables, although certainly not as neatly as Remy did in the movie because my vegetables were all different sizes. I topped with salt, pepper and fresh thyme and covered it with a piece of cut-to-fit parchment to keep the vegetables from scorching.
I actually should have started the brasato first because it needs to braise for more than two hours. Luckily, Katie had to work late, so I had extra time for the screw-up. Everything turned out pretty well, although like any recipe, I certainly learned a lot of ways I would adjust things if I do these dishes again.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Our dinner started with a series of amuse bouches - flax crackers, lightly pickled cherry tomatoes, tiny radishes and some kind of preserved thing on a stick. There was also some excellent breads and two kinds of butters, an organic and a brown butter.
There was also an intensely flavored bite of fish served with puffed rice, cleverly plated in an anchovy tin, small bits of venison served on a woodchip with smoldering pine needles, followed by our first course, a spoonful of cod served with several textural ingredients that made a lovely play in the mouth.
The meal began in earnest with a soup tureen served in a sealed mason jar and filled with hay smoke. The jar was opened to release the smoke aroma and the soup was poured in over the rest of the ingredients (this was Piper's favorite dish). A beet gravlax served with shaved frozen foie gras, pickled mustard seed and hovmastar sauce followed, then sweetbreads and mushrooms, and loup de mer and bok choy, potato, shellfish caviar, and cranberry beans.
We had a palate cleanser of horseradish sorbet and apple mousse, which was unusual. Then came lamb neck and sweet potato puree with chantarelle mushrooms, pickled shallots, and fig and veal sauce flavored with truffle and foie gras, my favorite dish of the night.
Dessert was a lovely smoked vanilla creme brulee with shaved pears, rosemary ice cream and toasted pumpkin seeds - they even served Piper's with a birthday candle. Then came an assortment of candies, filled beneigts and other treats, and finally, like with The Modern, they left a gift with the check of a spice sachet to make Aquavit Glogg, a mulled wine drink.
I was off work Thursday and Friday, and spent a lot of time preparing a new recipe that Piper suggested for coq au vin for me and Katie on Friday. I went to TJ Maxx and got a Dutch oven, a six-quart enameled cast iron pot (my first enameled cookware ever) to cook in, and got all my ingredients so I wouldn't have to leave the apartment on Friday.
To make the coq au vin, I used the bottle of Malbec I bought on my way to Shotz! when Katie and I met up with my friends. I also used about four shots of Courvoisier VSOP cognac, which made an impressive flambe that reached all the way up to my stove hood (lucky I still have my eyebrows!). I also had to make a last-minute run to the C-store for flour when I realized my flour expired in 2012. I even got some salt pork instead of using bacon, and red pearl onions, which were troublesome to peel. I definitely will take some shortcuts next time I make this, but for the first go-around, I wanted to do it as well as I could, especially since I had the day off to take my time.
The end result was pretty tasty, and improved with a little Tabasco (as usual for me) when served over egg noodles (slightly overcooked because we were chatting and forgot to watch the clock). But the chicken itself was very nicely cooked and the carrots, onions and oyster mushrooms were also tasty. I think next time I'll use crimini mushrooms if I can find them, plus I have to figure out a way to keep the skins on the chicken. Maybe I need to use bigger pieces of leg and thigh. Anyway, it was a good first attempt and I learned a few new things about making a stew that isn't curry. It's nice to expand the repertoire a bit.
We continued our Humphrey Bogart marathon with "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and some Ghirardelli chocolate before she left for a late party downtown. Tomorrow I'll be making not one, but two of my bourbon bread puddings - one for Liz's party on Saturday night and one for Diana's party on Sunday. I also have Lori's concert to go to on Saturday, so it's going to be a fairly busy weekend of holiday gatherings, but that's fine with me. It's nice to have holiday functions that I actually enjoy attending.
Saturday, December 07, 2013
Josh joined us for dinner before the play and we got a corner table at Ollie's, one of my favorite Chinese restaurants and one neither Josh or Liz had ever tried. We had a light dinner of cumin-spiced beef and green beans dry-sauteed with garlic and caught up with our goings-on (I haven't seen Liz since Rocky Horror and Josh since we saw Thor 2 a few weeks ago). After dinner Josh said goodnight and we found a photo booth in the lobby and had fun making faces - Liz is obviously much better at this than I am. This picture always makes me smile!
On my day off Kacey came over and we made a plan for lunch and some wedding gift shopping in Chinatown. I took her to a Shanghai restaurant I've been to before for soup dumplings, a first for her. Counting Puck on Sunday, that's two people I've introduced to soup dumplings in a week, one of my favorite things to eat. All throughout the day we talked at length about our plans for finding a place together with Becker, our needs and expectations, and ideas for the future.
After lunch we went to the Chinatown bookstore for Kacey to pick out a chop for herself and for Chris as a wedding present. We looked at several and picked out a pair of them, plus a container of red mudpack ink for stamping. We took them to Victor Pei's engraving shop where I got Emily's chop done, but Mr. Pei wasn't there, so I'll have to get them done at a later date and present them before the wedding.
We walked up to a new grocery store I'd discovered to look at the bewildering variety of fresh seafood and pick up a few things - a new teapot and strainer for me, a rice bowl and mochi balls for her, and some dan-tah (egg custard in a flaky pie crust), my favorite Chinese dessert, from the on-site bakery. We made our way back to the apartment so Kacey could get ready to go to Becker's office holiday party and I started cooking dinner for me and Katie, who arrived shortly after Becker and Kacey left for the party.
Katie and I had dinner and watched "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" - Katie had read the book in high school but had never seen the movie, and of course, it's one of my favorites in book and movie form. We'll continue our Humphrey Bogart marathon next time. Afterward we headed down to the Skylight Diner for MMMM and got to catch up with Beth, Kiwi, Ilan and Stan, plus met a few new people. Ilan showed me Stan's wedding dress - they're getting married in October and it promises to be a very interesting themed wedding. We left the diner about 1 a.m. and said goodnight in the subway station as she headed back to Brooklyn and I went home.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
1. In Between Days – The Cure
2. Dear God – XTC
3. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
4. Forget Her – Jeff Buckley
5. Heavy In Your Arms – Florence + The Machine
6. Madness – Muse
7. Untouchable, Part 1 – Anathema
8. Untouchable, Part 2 – Anathema
9. Hoppípolla – Sigur Rós
10. It Will Be A Good Day (The River) – Yes
11. Cover Your Tracks – A Boy & His Kite
12. Don’t Hate Me – Porcupine Tree
13. My Love – Sia Furler
14. Settle Down – Kimbra
15. Daydreaming – Paramore
16. This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody) – Talking Heads
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
I did my annual Samhain ritual and charged a new amulet, a fancier version of the Chalice Well cover that I wore back in 2009 after my surgery. This has the vesica piscis design wrought in silver mounted on a disc of Merlinite, or dendritic opal, a stone that promotes spiritual growth and balance. There is a clear crystal in the mandorla-shaped aureola. It's probably the most ornate and arguably the most beautiful amulet I've ever worn.
Each of the last two weekends were birthday weekends, first for Teresa at the Way Station and Puck's this past weekend in Port Jefferson on Long Island. I also went to a rare Meetup event the Friday before T's party, a game night held by one of my women's groups that I don't run. I've been itching to play backgammon so I bought a new tournament-sized set and had it delivered just in time. I played about six games with three different women and won them all - only the last one had ever played before. No connection was made, but I had fun and now I have the game ready in case any friends want to play.
Last Monday was one of the best Shotz! ever - the theme was Game of Thrones and I've never even seen a single episode but it was funny! Probably the top three funniest Shotz ever, and a lot of the jokes passed over my head. I met up with Kristina and then we had dinner together at Ramen Setayaga on St. Marks. Not quite as good as Totto Ramen, but a lot less waiting time.
Puck's party was a low-key affair, with lunch at C'est Cheese and then back to their house to read "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Katie (Puck's FB ex) rode out to LI with me, so it was nice catching up with her. It turns out that she's working at Piper's old company - which is funny because Piper is working at Kacey's old company. So maybe in a few years Katie will be working at the Container Store!
The three of us are going to get together for a movie as part of Piper and my AFI movie marathon. I think Jaws is one of Piper's favorite movies. I love #68 and #98, so we'll see what we choose. This week's nominees are:
28. Apocalypse Now
38. Double Indemnity
68. An American in Paris
88. Easy Rider
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The Doughnuttery's mini-donut automated frying line reminded me of the full-size one at the standalone Krispy Kreme shop in Bellaire, TX.
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
Looking back on my life, October is the month I most associate with love because I've physically met all my past lovers in the month of October. And even though I'm not in a relationship now, nor am I looking to be anytime soon, I think love is something to be celebrated in all its forms, not just sexual or romantic love.
I know it sounds a little trite, but last night I finished the fifth and final season of Fringe, a TV series introduced to me by an ex before I was ready to watch it with her. It has become second only to Firefly as my favorite show of the few that I've seen every episode. It reached a zenith for me in a fourth-season episode titled,"A Short Story About Love," where the main character makes a choice to accept an involuntary change to become "a better version" of herself, one that loves and is loved by the co-star, instead of struggling to remain "herself" and without love. You have to see the show to understand that, but that's the best way I can explain it. The end of this episode is so perfect and so beautiful that I stopped watching for two weeks just to let it sink in.
Anyway, two years ago I started a project to mark October as my own month dedicated to love. I came up with an idea after reading this article in the Wall Street Journal: "Stationery's New Followers" - Aug. 25, 2011
I wanted to do something to celebrate love that didn't have anything to do with a specific person. The idea of love is bigger than one relationship between two people - love is what binds us all together and the most powerful force for good we have in the world. This is why I'm an advocate of polyamory and helping people find new ways to experience love. I sincerely believe that if there's more love in the world, it will make the other problems we have easier to handle.
Also, I wanted to do something for the sake of art, without any other purpose or agenda beyond putting something beautiful out in the world. So each October, I write a personalized love letter to anyone who requests one by sending me their physical mailing address. Everyone who gives me an address will get a letter - guaranteed - whether we've known each other a minute or a decade. Each love letter will be handwritten with liquid ink on cotton fiber paper (so as not to harm any trees) and sent via U.S. Mail - not by email, text, IM, Twitter or Facebook post. I'll even spring for international delivery for anyone overseas.
Your letter may be long or short, funny or sincere. It might be perfumed or decorated with a wax seal. It might recall some tiny, distant memory of our time together, or it might be five pages long if we have a history. It might be lyrics to a love song that reminds me of you. It could be a story I've always wanted to share with you, but never found the right moment to tell it.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
And finally, I've added a couple new items to my collection of fine spirits - my first bottle of sake and Kentucky bourbon. The sake was described thusly in a trade magazine - I wonder if I'll be able to taste all these flavors:
Hiro Junmai Gingo Blue Label Sake Japan "Clear with a platinum blue cast. Delicate vanilla maple nut fudge and spicy pear custard aromas; fruity and fresh, with banana undertones. Palate is crisp and smooth, with hints of fruits and vanilla, and a savory sweet potato bread, white mushroom, tart cherry and jicama subtle nuances. Smooth, medium body-to-full body for a very well balanced finish." -Winery Notes
The bourbon I found as a "Best Value" in Whiskey Advocate Magazine - here's a review on a whiskey blog. I had quite an adventure when I broke the cork opening it, which I posted about on Facebook. But it's very tasty with Diet Coke, I have to say.
That's all for now - I'll try to be a little better about updating.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
I can trace this back to certain very specific events this year:
- Attending the New York Audio Show and hearing the vinyl edition of the Talking Heads "Remain in Light" at Classic Album Sundays.
- Skipping out on "Lincoln" in the movie theater to watch "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."
- Seeing Sigur Ros in concert, and seeing Muse and Steven Wilson in short order.
- Buying a digital copy of the book, "1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die" by Tom Moon.
- Watching the play "Once" on Broadway.
- The Band - The Band (LP)
- The Band - Music from Big Pink (LP)
- The Cure - Disintegration (LP)
- The Smiths - Singles (CD)
- The Smiths - The Queen is Dead (LP)
- Alanis Morrisette - Jagged Little Pill (LP)
- Radiohead - My Iron Lung (LP)
- Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral (SACD)
- Mannheim Steamroller - Fresh Aire V (LP)
- The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (LP)
- Maurice Ravel - Un Coeur en Hiver soundtrack (CD)
- The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (LP)
Friday, August 16, 2013
Monday, August 12, 2013
I've already got a decent start on my new record collection, a mix of old and new:
London Calling by The Clash
Weather Systems by Anathema
Electric by Pet Shop Boys
The Perks of Being a Wallflower soundtrack
The King James Version by the Harry James Orchestra (an original Sheffield Labs direct to disc pressing)
The Velveteen Rabbit by Meryl Streep and George Winston
The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Jeremy Irons and Mark Isham
Purple Rain soundtrack by Prince and the Revolution
Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
O Brother Where Art Thou Bona Fide Rarities and Unreleased Tracks soundtrack
Kveikur by Sigur Ros
The children's stories, especially the Velveteen Rabbit, are replacements from my old collection. I was always amazed how much better they sounded on vinyl than on CD, so it should make a good demonstration. The human voice is one of the hardest things to reproduce accurately and we're all most critical about listening to it because we hear it more than any other instrument.
Tonight I listened to some of my SACD samplers while reading Sandman. It's been a while since I've played an entire album at home, although I've been listening to a lot of Pandora lately.
The other day, I was listening to Paramore's Riot! album on the train and I had a powerful memory of the person I was back when that album came out. It was like I was inhabiting the mind of the person I used to be when I was living in New Jersey and working in New York, being with Tara and first meeting Puck. I remember how much more innocent I felt, how much more open I was to new things and ideas. I was a sponge, soaking up everything to do with living my new life, with new people, in a new place.
Compared to then, I'm much more stable, set in my ways. I've never been keen about meeting new people, but I'm probably a little better at it now than I was then, but I'm less inclined to adopt ideas from people close to me. I have a better sense of who I am, and there's a feeling of permanence to my personality now. Paramore's music brought me back to my adolescence of five years ago, when I had no idea where life would take me. It was an interesting out-of-body experience. Music, like sights and smells, can be the catalyst to take you to a place and time before you became who you are. It's another way of looking back and seeing how far you've come along your chosen path.
Monday, August 05, 2013
As I said in my last post, my yoga teacher Emily is moving to the opposite side of the country this month, so she's coming over Wednesday for a little farewell party. I wanted to get her a going-away present, and decided to try and find her a custom name chop on Saturday. In my heart of hearts, I was skeptical I could get it done in so short a time, but I was determined to try.
I found a place called Chinatown Frame & Art online that said it sold name seals, so I went in search of it. The site said it was located at 40 Elizabeth at Canal, but when I got there, there was no sign of it. I looked it up on my Blackberry and found that they relocated to 7 Pell Street, a short walk away. I went down there and finally found a sign at the location, but no store that I could see. I called the number and spoke to the proprietor, who said he had closed his business permanently. So much for the easy way.
I called all the other stores listed on the website, but every one of them was either a wrong number, or didn't have what I was looking for. I visited one of the frame stores and they had one chop, but no way to engrave it. A blank chop wasn't much use to me. I visited a few souvenir shops, but the ones who even knew what I was talking about didn't have it.
I was about to give up when I looked across Bowery from Pell Street and saw the words, "Confucius Bookstore." I decided to give it one last try, so I walked in and asked the young lady and she said no, they didn't carry them. I asked her if she knew anyone who did. She asked a co-worker in Chinese and turned back to me and said, "Two doors down." My heart started racing - could it be possible I was close?
Two doors down was a fine arts and antiques store that sold furniture, vases, scrolls and other artworks, and lo and behold, they had a small collection of chops in a glass display case. Most of them were very plain, but there was one with an oval design with a dragon on top that was perfect! I asked where I might be able to have it engraved. The answer? "Two doors down."
The proprietor escorted me another two doors down to an engraving shop run by Victor Pei and his wife. I later learned that Mr. Pei is the first cousin of legendary architect I. M. Pei (who designed the glass pyramid entrance for the Louvre, among many other things). One wall was completely covered with photos of celebrities like Liam Neeson, Mayor Bloomberg, etc. They helped me typeset five Chinese characters that phonetically sounded like Emily's name (and didn't have any rude or off-color meanings). The three characters of her first name are a surname and two characters that translate as "jasmine". The two characters of her last name translate to "hope" or "aspire" and "achieve". So, perfect for someone who is going to school!
As I suspected, Mr. Pei asked me if I could pick up the finished piece on Wednesday night. I explained I had to get it sooner because the party was Wednesday night. It became even more complicated when he told me that his shop closed at 6, meaning I would have had to work at home or take a day off just to pick up the chop. Seeing my distress, he offered to start on it immediately and see if he could get it done today, and I just about hugged him in gratitude!
While he worked on it, he sent me to another bookstore on Elizabeth Street to get the mudpack, the traditional red paste used to ink the seal. This required going up an unmarked stairway and coming out into the Chinese equivalent of a Barnes & Noble. They not only sold books, but art supplies, ping pong paddles, musical instruments and lots of chops. I had finally hit paydirt!
Since I've never had a chop in my current name (I lost a collection of several seals with my old name in the fire of 2005) I ordered one made for myself. I also got a pot of ink for Emily's chop, and I asked the clerk to help me translate "Michelle" (I already know how to write my surname in Chinese). This task seemed to capture the imagination of the entire store staff, as I watched four clerks consult four different dictionaries and reference books, and even get the opinion of more unseen employees in the back room. Finally, they agreed on two characters that sound reasonably similar, with the meaning of "beautiful" and "baby bamboo". I thought the baby bamboo was a particularly appropriate meaning since I just celebrated my 9th birthday!
While waiting on Mr. Pei, I strolled around Chinatown in areas previously unexplored and saw so many things that I wanted to try on future outings - a hand-pulled noodle shops, restaurant supply stores with gorgeous tea sets, grocery stores, Shanghai soup dumpling restaurants, bubble tea stands, etc. I thought a lot about when I was growing up and the long-buried memories of going to Chinatown in Houston, trying new restaurants and shopping every week in Chinese grocery stores.
Finally, just past 6 pm, Mr. Pei was finished and we put the whole package together and this is what it looks like. I hope Emily likes it, and I'm grateful for the experience of this day, and for my own chop that I will pick up next weekend! To end the day, I stopped by nearby Great N.Y. Noodletown and devoured an order of their seasonal soft shell crabs, and got an order of roast duck to go.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
As we walked we talked about many things, even politics, my least favorite topic. We saw many things in the same way. We laughed at the same things. Spending time with Kacey is a rare and wonderful treat for me, as I know it is for many people. More than anyone I know, she embodies the combination of joy, sincerity, sophistication and positive energy that is nourishing to the human soul.
After exiting the park we walked down Broadway and had coffee and macaroons at Cafe Bene before parting for the evening. Then, about 15 hours later, Kacey texted me to tell me that Becker made a proposal of marriage and that she has accepted!
Sunday afternoon I went down to Union Square to do some post-birthday shopping, using my gift offers before they expire at the end of the month. I bought some Kenneth Cole black leather sandals and daily moisturizer. It was very humid and on the brink of rain all day, so I was pretty tired by the time I met up with Natalie at Balducci's at 4 pm. We had tea and macaroons (again!) and got caught up with the important things going on in our lives. Then we went across the street to TJ Maxx and did some shopping before Matt came to meet us and they went off to their gaming night, right as it started to pour down rain.
I had just seen an episode of Great Performances ("Dancing at Jacob's Pillow: Never Stand Still") earlier in the day and was feeling like I wanted to see the evening performance at The Next Stage Project, my favorite modern dance troupe. I got a salad and walked over to the City Center, but found out the performance started at 7:30, not 7, and by this time I was really tired and dripping with rain and sweat, so I decided to call it a day.
Monday was cooking day so I put out an open invitation to visit and Chelsea accepted, so I was happy to get to catch up with her as well. I made a black bean and garlic chicken with onions and green bell peppers over rice, and eggplant with a miso dijon mustard sauce. Neither turned out quite as good as I'd hoped, but everything was edible at least.
Kacey came by and we got to congratulate her in person and hear the proposal story. I gave her a couple plays and the summary document, plus some competition flyers, to take with her to Scotland. Then she left and we watched "The Brothers Grimm," which was lots of fun.
And with that, my four eventful days were over. Time to recharge for a while.