Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 in review

When I was thinking about this year’s wrap-up post, two themes stood out most clearly in my mind.

The first one – music – should come as no surprise since I've posted heavily about it (“How Mischa got her groove back” – April 25, 2013 and “Ch-ch-ch-changes”– Aug. 27, 2013). This has been a year of rediscovering the importance of music in my life, both live and recorded. I attended concerts by Sigur Ros, Muse, Steven Wilson, Anathema, Pet Shop Boys and Paramore. I started collecting vinyl again, buying about 70 records in the latter half of the year. I also upgraded my home theater with a new Yamaha receiver and a Rega LP-1 turntable with an isolation platform. I brought out from storage my Samsung SACD/DVD-A player and reinstalled it with 5.1 analog Audioquest cabling for playing Super Audio CDs and other high-resolution digital recordings again. Also taken out of storage is my old analog-to-digital interface so I can make digital copies of my vinyl to play on my iPod. I attended live listening sessions with Classic Album Sundays for “Remain in Light” by Talking Heads, “Blue Bell Knoll” by Cocteau Twins and “Avalon” by Roxy Music. It has truly been a Renaissance year for me in music.

The second theme that most people are probably not aware of is that 2013 is my first full year of real singlehood since the mid-1990s. So this year has seen a number of new and existing friendships grow and strengthen through various activities, including opening up my previously very insulated space to my closest friends. We did Firefly and BBC Sherlock marathons, and Piper helped me host a successful Oscar Night party (“Oscar roundup 2013” – Feb. 25, 2013).

However, a flood of additional work responsibilities that has made it much more difficult to reliably make it home in time to host or attend events on a regular basis. My colleague left to pursue an MFA in creative writing, and I was subsequently transferred from a supporting role in the Wholesale group to the more dynamic Corporate group to replace his role. I do a lot more writing and messaging on short notice for executive speaking events and issues management. Professionally, it’s certainly a much higher-profile role to be working directly with the CEO and senior management, so I'm not complaining about it.

Instead of hosting events, I've been able to schedule one-on-one time with my closest friends doing various things. Piper and I finished our Stanley Kubrick marathon this year and started on the AFI's Top 100. I love spending time with Liz and Josh, together and separately, going to performances, parties and movies (our apple-picking trip to Fishkill, NY was one of the year’s highlights). Kacey and Becker continue to be a welcome presence in my life. Natalie and I watched Season 3 of Downton Abbey together, and she joined me, Puck, Morgan and her new fiancé Bruce on a trip to the Renaissance Faire. The recent deepening of my friendship with Katie is an exciting development that may inspire me to make significant changes in how I view the world. And as always, I’m grateful that Puck is still my closest family and we continue to keep our connection healthy through things like our Connecticut DCI trip and spending Christmas together, even though we were apart for long periods of time this year.

Creatively, I've made some good strides. My cooking has gotten more ambitious, with some mixed results, and I made a lovely Christmas ornament this year, the first one I've made myself since 2010. My annual Love Letter project was a great success this year with five letters sent, up from two last year and just one in the first year. The Unchained Love Playwright Competition has also been a modest success, with more than 75 plays entered and several poly-themed plays as well. My Poly Women’s Group has enjoyed a small resurgence in popularity, so that's very gratifying for me.

When I look back on this year, I'll remember the music and time spent with friends, and my first real steps toward building a long-term intentional family around me. I am reminded of Frank Herbert’s quote from Dune: "Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken." For me, it’s a fertile time for change, growth and creating new ways to express my love for the people closest to me.

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 Christmas ornament

Each year, I get two ornaments for my Christmas tree. One is the Angel Tree Ornament, a reproduction from the Metropolitan Museum’s Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche that showcases the collection of beautiful eighteenth-century Neapolitan crèche figures. This is one of my holdover traditions from my family, when we went to visit the tree at the Met each year. It's a reminder that some traditions are meant to endure.

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 ("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):

I printed two copies out on large labels, cut them out and stuck them on each side of the record, then cut out the spindle hole with my Swiss Army knife. I picked up some silver thread to string through the spindle hole for hanging on the tree. It's a big ornament, but there's always one or two bald spots on my tree that can use a little extra coverage. So in the coming years, I'll look at this handmade ornament and remember 2013 as the year I got my groove back and started falling in love with music again ("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


As you might have seen from a previous post, last year's Christmas I was alone and passed the time making Japanese dyed scarves. I'm actually fine with being alone on major holidays, although that didn't used to be the case. Still, this year it was a treat to spend Christmas with two of my favorite people, Puck and Katie, at Katie's new home in Brooklyn.

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
pinch salt
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

Cooking at Christmastime

This is the time of year when I'm usually feeling the most creative ("Christmas shibori project" - Dec. 25, 2012) and this year it extends to food. And happily, having alone time with Katie gives me a perfect excuse to try some ambitious cuisine.

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

Divine dinners

Tuesday night Piper and I celebrated her 25th birthday with a spectacular tasting menu at Aquavit, a top Norwegian restaurant a few blocks from my apartment. I'd been there once before years ago when I worked at Agent K - a vendor took me to lunch there. But this was a much more enjoyable event, reminiscent of our visit to The Modern earlier this year ("The Modern" - March 13, 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

A wonderful week

What a great week it's been! First of all, short, because I took Friday off to try and use of my excess PTO. So I had a wonderful time at Shotz! on Monday, then Liz invited me to see a play, "The Curious Case of the Watson Intelligence" on Thursday at Playwright Horizons. The play interwove the stories of three famous Watsons - the IBM supercomputer named after Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM; the assistant of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas A. Watson; and Dr. John H. Watson, the chronicler of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. The play was clever, poignant and technically dazzling, and one of the best new plays I've ever seen.

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.