Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Julia Child turns 100 ... Montclair jazz festival turns three!

During the past couple of weeks you’ve probably noticed that Julia Child is getting all kinds of attention. Julia turns 100 about now and there are all kinds of celebrations and “special events” celebrating her 100th birthday. We happened to attend one of these events – “Julia at 100” – in DUMBO (Brooklyn) this past Wednesday at the powerHouse BooksArena. Several chefs and cookbook authors were on hand (including Deb Perelman, Matt Lewis & Tamar Adler) to reminisce about “Julia Child-oriented” experiences they had had in the recent or distant past … and wine, cookies & cakes (from Baked Elements & One Girl Cookies) were shared while a slide show of Julia Child was projected onto an extra-large, otherwise blank wall … and prizes were distributed for answering Julia Child trivia questions (I had an immediate answer to one of these questions verified as correct:  Pasadena, CA, the town where Julia was born).  

Appropriately, my wife and I happen to be Julia Child fans from way back … we’ve even journeyed to her kitchen now at The Smithsonian and have collected first editions of her most celebrated cookbooks, including her very first, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (New York: Knopf, 1961), signed by Julia and replete with the following inscription:  For Lawrence Miller – La cuisine sans vin – c’est rien – Bon appétit.” Additionally, as part of our own mini-celebration, my wife prepared her own rendition, just for the two of us, of the Julia Child classic, “Chicken with Tarragon” (Mastering the Art, pp. 249-251) to be eaten en plein air on our garden patio this past Sunday. Along with the chicken were steamed cut green beans with minced garlic and gobs (a la Julia) of unsalted organic butter and jasmati rice instead of the recommended sautéed potatoes.  A wonderfully crisp, large mixed salad with vine-ripened tomatoes accompanied the meal … and I served a cashew wine from Belize (a gift from my son & daughter-in-law who recently vacationed there) as an aperitif and a Reverchon 2010 Saar Riesling with the tarragon chicken. Absolutely delicious (leftovers to be consumed for lunch today)!  I think Julia Child would have been pleased to share this delectable version of her time-tested concoction with us. At least, I hope so.

And while we’re speaking of great food, it is sad to report on the obvious deterioration of Sammy’s Noodle Shop & Grill (at 453 6th Ave., in the Village, between 10th & 11th).  We used to love the place. The sautéed scallops with garlic sauce dish (@ $12.95) we ordered – prior to our trip to DUMBO (see above) – were tasteless, the mixed vegetables and the gooey sauce bland with no “kick” or flavoring whatever.  While the appetizer order of 8 mixed fried dumplings (@ $8.95, a dollar extra for the frying) were good (but not great!), we’ll try our best to avoid another dinner at Sammy’s Noodle Shop any time soon.  Prices there have increased, service merely OK, beer warm, and the food, well, no longer high quality as far as we could tell from our limited sampling.

This past Saturday (August 18th), the MontclairJazz Festival (Montclair, NJ) turned three!  Just a terrific annual one-day musical feast, with free admission … and great acts all day long (noon to 7:00 pm) at a very comfortable outdoor venue (Nishuane Park, 240 Orange Road). This year, with a new & very professional open air stage, the “queen of hang,” Ms. Sheila Anderson of WBGO-FM, providing introductions & program ballast, the festival featured great performers, all kinds of  jazz – even showcasing sophisticated young performers from Montclair’s Jazz House Kids school (founded by the vocalist Melissa Walker) – and lots of food & soft-drink vendors cooking up all kinds of fast foot tidbits, including my own favorite, organic fresh fruit smoothies (deliciously sweet/sour & thirst-quenching on a hot summer afternoon).

The tenor sax giant Joe Lovano could be heard in a trio along with the notable bassist Christian McBride & drummer Billy Drummond; guitarist Dave Stryker headed up an octet featuring a group of outstanding musicians (bassist, drummer, trumpet, trombone, saxes & pianist) currently teaching at the Jazz House Kids school ... just an energetic, bouncy & “heavy duty” set with the inimitable Dave Stryker and the bevy of wonderfully talented musician-instructors offering up continual & complementary solos; and a variety of student jazz musicians, including a set (or so) demonstrating the skills of the members of their advanced big band.

But, in my view, by far the hottest and most interesting performers present at this year’s festival – and playing late in the afternoon, as the sun set & the temperature grew cooler – were the members of The Bronx Horns, an all-star Latino jazz & salsa ensemble featuring top-notch musicians, all …. former members of the late Tito Puente Orchestra, and protégés of Tito Puente & Mongo Santamaria. The group, comprising two saxes (including the legendary Bobby Porcelli on alto sax), flute, trumpet (the sizzling Pete Nater), piano, congas (Frankie Vasquez), drums, bass – and led by sax & flute player Mitch Frohman, a veteran of 25 years with Tito Puente. Their music is inspiring – it is rhythmic, fluid, romantic, steamy, staccato and, of course, syncopated.  After listening to their music – most notably the lyrical riff on a tune by James Moody, and derived from “I’m in the Mood for Love,” entitled “Moody’s Mood for Love” – I knew I would have to purchase their CD, Catch the Feeling, for long-term listening.

All told, a rollicking, fun-filled, jazz-intensive afternoon … all of it very memorable, indeed! What a broad spectrum of talent to see & hear in one place, on a single summer day in the NYC ‘burbs!

PS  A note on a new Canadian movie written & directed by Sarah Polley (Away from Her) with a title – Take This Waltz – that echoes the mood and perhaps even the ambiance reflected in the song,  of the same name, by Leonard Cohen. The film, set in Toronto, casts Michelle Williams (most recently seen as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn) in the key role of Margot, the quiet, somewhat nervous, somewhat imaginative, at times distant, young wife of Lou (Seth Rogan), a writer of cookbooks composed solely of chicken recipes. Margot meets the sexier, more mysterious, Daniel (Luke Kirby) when traveling and, it turns out, he lives just (diagonally) across the street back in her quaint Toronto neighborhood. And thus, as you can guess, a quirky love story is set in motion.  This film, shot in bold colors with lots of varying shades and intensities of blue (royal, turquoise, peacock), and lots of deep reds, is one part romantic comedy, another part  21st century love story … and the whole a bit of an odd, eccentric film that explores (not all that deeply or clinically) the lives of this, ultimately sad, though not clinically depressive, threesome.

Take this Waltz
Though the film’s sound track is steeped in the music of Canadian icons – like Leonard Cohen, Feist), Polly’s film is not typically Canadian. Polley attempts to portray the excitement & emotional toll that an illicit love affair exacts on a seemingly happily married young woman. This age-old topic undergoes a candid, subtle, and non-judgmental treatment. Polley employs ordinary unassuming household activities – e.g., baking, brushing teeth, showering, and, yes, even sitting on the pot – to  convey the variety of moods & guilt feelings that surface in Margot throughout the film. And, what’s more, the chemistry between the two “accomplices” – the low-key & halting Michelle Williams and her persistent doe-eyed seducer, Luke Kirby – elevates this film to believable story worth watching.

There are cute scenes, funny scenes, even kinky sex scenes, the continual return to beds slept in (those blue sheets expressive of equally blue moods) & (often) the prolonged exploration of bodies, and lots of chat.  Daniel, well, tends initially to stalk Margot, or, at the very least, tends to explore his inordinate infatuation with Margot in varying sequences & on various “dates,” exercising an almost magical-mystical attraction to her. And Margot, equally attracted to a man (rickshaw driver,  artist-designer, loner filled with the capacity for intelligent talk & creative work) who is not her sweet, stable & reliable husband, finally leaves the brother-like husband for what seems to be a more sexually fulfilling and impactful life with Daniel. 

Best scene in the film:  Daniel and Margot are sitting at a high table in a local bar-hangout where, having been served their martinis but not even touching them, Daniel explores Margot’s body (and also her psyche) verbally … ending up making love to her, at this point, with only his verbal skills & conversational expertise. Indeed, we witness the physical act(s) in sufficient depth later on in the film with a sufficiently lingering camera focusing on the pair; but, at this point a bit more than halfway in, we witness love-making only via the linguistic talents of Margot’s lover, Daniel.

Exactly how this new, “post-marital” relationship metamorphoses, I leave it to you to guess … or else to witness on screen in all of those bold, deep colors.

1 comment:

  1. Hard to believe that Julia would have been 100 this year - a national treasure.