Friday, September 22, 2017

Summer Concerts at the Strathmore

In the summer, the Strathmore hosts free outdoor concerts on Wednesday nights. I had the chance to make it to a few of them this year. Free live music while having a picnic? That's my idea of a good time!

Look Homeward

This band has a bluegrassy sound. They were a lot of fun, and I loved their energy. Here are some of their songs.

Sittin' on Top of the World

BLWD

Caroline

 Highway


Matuto

I wasn't as impressed by this band as the first one I saw, but still, a free outdoor concert is fun either way. Plus there was a conga line!

Tears

Dos Nordes Tres

You can listen to more of their music on their YouTube channel.

Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys

Image found here

This was my favorite Strathmore concert of the summer. This bluegrass band is so talented; each band member can play multiple musical instruments and sing! I liked them so much that I bought their newest CD, Ionia. It was my soundtrack for the rest of the summer.

Here are a few of the songs from their latest album:

Old Song

River Jordan

Here Between

And a fun cover of No Doubt's "Just a Girl"


I am already looking forward to next summer's concert. Who will they bring on next?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Rosh Hashanah Recipe: Sweet Challah Bread


Over the past year or so, I have gotten more involved in the local Moishe House community in the DC area. There are actually four different houses here, and they all host fun events throughout the year. Because Rosh Hashanah is coming up, there have been lots of events going on, and last week the Moishe House in Columbia Heights hosted a get-together to make challah bread. I had never made challah before, but it is delicious, so I thought I would try it.

Challah frequently is not flavored, but for the Jewish new year, sweet challah is quite common. We had the choice to make honey and raisin challah (rather traditional), chocolate chip challah, or apple and brown sugar. I chose the last option: I has never heard of that kind before!

The house did a great job organizing the event: each of us had a "Seder plate" of ingredients, so everything was already measured out and ready to go. Super easy! And we took the raw dough home with us so we could bake it anytime, which was really convenient, since it takes about an hour to bake. Here's the recipe:

1 packet of fast acting yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon of sugar
Let this mixture sit covered for 5 minutes. (We covered each bowl with a paper towel.)

Then add to the bowl:
1/4 cup oil
1/2 sugar
1 egg
1 pinch of salt
3 1/2 cups flour

Mix all together and knead the dough for 10 minutes. (The fun part! I recommend putting flour on your hands so that the dough doesn't stick to your fingers as you knead it.)
Let sit for an hour and a half. (We enjoyed baked brie and sat talking as a group while we waited.)

Flatten out and put a layer of brown sugar and chopped, peeled apples. Roll into one long snake and turn into a spiral, break into three pieces and make three snakes to braid, or make six balls and put them in the round tray to make a "pull-apart challah." (I chose the first one; I thought it would be the easiest for my first time making challah!) 
Optional: mix up one egg and brush it over the raw dough to create an egg wash. Ideally you would have enough time to let one wash dry and do a second wash before baking the dough. (I only did one egg wash, but that was fine; the bread just doesn't look as shiny.)

Bake for 15 minutes at 450°, then bring the temperature down to 350° and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it, because every oven is different. (I put aluminum foil over the dough after the first 15 minutes to keep the crush from burning.)

In the end I thought the bread turned out great! I was afraid that the dough would still be raw in the middle from stories I had heard from other people, but it was cooked all the way through and delicious! I will definitely make this recipe again, for Rosh Hashanah and otherwise.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Recipe: Banana Peanut Butter Bread


Lately I've been buying bananas as usual, but since it's summertime, I end up getting berries and other fruits, too. Since the others are more seasonal, I end up neglecting the bananas, which end up over-ripening. So I do with them what anyone else would do: make banana bread. But I didn't want to make the some ol' banana bread, so I wondered if I could make peanut butter banana bread. And yes, you can.

I found this recipe on All Recipes, and it is delicious! (The batter is very yummy, too, if you're not too afraid of the salmonella risk. I have a strong immune system, so I just go for it!).

Ingredients
  •         ½ cup butter softened
  •         1 cup white sugar
  •          2 eggs
  •          ½ cup peanut butter
  •         2 bananas, mashed
  •         2 cups all-purpose flour
  •         1 teaspoon baking soda
  •         ½ cup chopped walnuts

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a 5x9 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs; beat well. Stir in peanut butter, bananas, flour and baking soda until blended. Fold in walnuts. Pour into prepared pan.
  3. Bake at 325 degrees F for 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool. 
I didn't add walnuts (since a lot of people don't like nuts in desserts), but I added chocolate chips instead. And I cooked my loaf for an extra 5 minutes. I may have overbaked it a little bit, but I really wasn't sure if it was cooked all the way through, so I left it in the oven for a little longer. I think it turned out very well!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Movie Review: Atomic Blonde [SPOILERS]

Image found here
I wanted to see Atomic Blonde because I thought it would be an awesome female spy kick-ass movie like Angelina Jolie's Salt. It kind of was...but it kind of wasn't. Rather than feeling empowered, I felt like I couldn't decide whether she was the hero or the victim. I couldn't even tell you if she was a good guy or a bad guy throughout the movie (the same goes for most of the characters, actually). It's just that, during half the movie, you have to see Charlize Theron look like this:


The film focuses on the violence between the east and west before the Berlin Wall fell. There are tons of fight scenes, each of which includes several cringe-worthy moments (such as crotch kicks and using keys, a skateboard, and a cork screw as weapons). Spies from the CIA, KGB, and MI6 are all trying to get their hands on a watch that contains information about agents from around the world (mostly bad things about them, and they don't want that information to get out there). These spies are fighting and killing each other left and right, and backstabbing even their own fellow teammates (actual knives in backs). Here are some snippets:






The only "happy" scene in the movie was a gratuitous lesbian sex scene, which normally I'd think was hot, especially with Theron, but I was too disturbed at that point to enjoy it.

My favorite part of the movie was the 80's soundtrack. I'd suggest listening to that instead of watching this disconcerting and troublesome film. You can hear the whole thing here.

*All GIFs from giphy.com.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Concert: Garbage and Blondie at Wolf Trap

Image found here
My dad and I first discovered Garbage in 2004 at the HFStival (which is no longer), although I realize they had a successful career long before that. We became immediate fans, and now whenever they are in the area, we go to see them. In 2015 we saw them at the 9:30 Club, and last year they performed at the Lincoln Theatre. I'm also pretty sure we saw them at the Fillmore in Silver Spring in 2013, though for some reason I didn't write a blog post about it!

Last week, my dad and I saw them at Wolf Trap, the only performing arts National Park (I believe). I love this venue because it has a lawn where you can enjoy a picnic while watching the show. Unfortunately, it happened to rain the day we went! It was raining before the show, then stopped as soon as the entry gates opened; the rain held off while we ate our dinner. But then once the music started, the rain picked up again. And this wasn't just sprinkles: this was a real thunderstorm! At one point we had our tarp over our heads to act as a canopy, but either way we ended up soaked. If we didn't love Garbage so much, we probably would have left. But they are worth it!

Deap Vally opened the show, and this girl-band duo is awesome! I thought they were a really good choice to start off this concert. I didn't recognize their name or any of their songs, but I wish them luck in becoming the next [mini] Go-Go's! Here are some of their songs:

Julian

Smile More

Baby I Call Hell

Royal Jelly

Lies

Critic

Walk of Shame

Gonnawanna

Little Baby Beauty Queen



I actually wasn't sure who was listed as the headliner for this show. I knew Blondie had been around longer, but Debbie Harry is getting old, so I thought maybe she was the opener. My dad was sure Garbage was the main act, but I guess Blondie is still more famous!

Even at 50, Shirley can still rock it! Image found here
Garbage ended up playing a lot of songs from their newest album, Strange Little Birds. I bought this album last year, but I have to admit that it's not my favorite. The program notes describe it as having the theme of darkness, which is true. It's a little morose; only a handful of songs have a great energy that sticks with you (including Magnetized, which they didn't perform). My dad made the good point that if they had played that music when we first saw them, we probably wouldn't have become fans. Here are some of the songs they played from their newest album:

Empty

Even Though Our Love is Doomed


Blackout

 Here are some of their older songs that they played which I like:

Sex is Not the Enemy


Push It

I'm Only Happy When It Rains


I Think I'm Paranoid


Stupid Girl

The World is Not Enough (Bond movie song)


Bleed Like Me (the title track of my favorite Garbage album)


Image found here
Blondie's show, as the headliner, had videos play in the background for their performance. I understand that videos can be effective during concerts (like when they played old videos of the drummer playing while he was playing a solo live), but sometimes I think they are a bit gimmicky, distracting you from the music (Let's face it: Debbie Harry doesn't sound like she used to). But she did have great energy, and she did take a moment to talk about saving bees (an important ecological issue), so I did appreciate that (along with her cape that read "Stop Fucking the Planet").

Image found here
I didn't realize how many Blondie songs I knew! You'll recognize these for sure:

Call Me

One Way or Another (which always makes me think of Coyote Ugly)


The Tide is High

Heart of Glass

The music at this concert was great. It was too bad the weather was lousy. But I'm glad we stuck it out!

Click here for another review of the concert (including the full set list).

Monday, July 31, 2017

Edible Plants in Your Backyard

Image found here
The other night I went to a lecture by Tim MacWelsh at Meadowside Nature Center. I've always been curious about plants you can eat in the wild (besides the obvious berries like blackberries and such), so when I saw a Meet-Up about an event about edible plants, I signed up immediately.

MacWelsh has written several books about wilderness survival, from hunting and foraging to living off the grid or in the wilderness in the winter. He also recommended other books like Peterson's Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, which lists more than 400 species! He grew up in Virginia, and teaches advanced survival training courses (and does talks like the one I went to). He mentioned the quote, "In the school of the woods, there is no graduation day," meaning we are always learning from nature. And of course he puts a big focus on safety, and always cautions that you should only eat the plants that you know are safe.

Here are the species he talked about:

White Clover (Trifolium repens)

Image found here
You can eat both the leaves and the flowers, which is true of other varieties of clover, too. You can cook them with oil, or just eat them raw. The genus "Trifolium" means "three leaves," so that's an easy way to identify these plants (unless of course you find the rare four-leaf clover!).

Plantain (Plantago major)
Image found here
I believe we saw a subspecies of this, but I think you can eat many types of plantain. A helpful way to identify them is that the veins in the leaves run parallel to one another, and if you were to rip a rip, the texture is a bit stringy. There may even be some purple color at the bottom of the stems. The seed stalk (like in the picture) is also edible; you can rub the seeds off and mix them with grains like cous cous and quinoa.

Not only can you eat this plant, but you can also use it medicinally! If you chew or rip up the leaves, mush it up, and put it on a burn, bee sting, cut, or rash, it will help stop the pain or burning sensation.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Image found here
We didn't actually see this plant, but since the previous plant had medicinal purposes, MacWelsh mentioned this one as well. Stinging nettle can, well, sting, but it actually can act as its own antodote, too! And you can eat it, but only if it's cooked, and it's best in the early spring.

Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius)

Image found here
The berries were gone when we looked at the plant, but I've seen (and eaten) these before! They are very yummy, and related to blackberries and raspberries. You can eat pretty much anything in the Rubus genus. Other animals eat these berries, too. But MacWelsh did point out that you should NOT watch what other animals eat and assume that the food is safe for humans, too. Birds eat a lot of berries that are poisonous to people, so only eat what you know for sure is safe!

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Image found here
I already knew how to identify a sassafra tree with its three different shaped leaves (The tree also has crooked, winding branches, which can help with IDing, too), and I had heard of sassafras tea. If you dry the leaves, you can add them to a gumbo or jambalaya for a citrus taste; it also acts like corn starch in that it thickens soups. You can use the twigs and/or roots to make tea, and you only need a piece about the size of a pencil. You steep it in water, and then you've got tea; you can even use the same twig/root four times! Some people say that sassafras is carcinogenic, but MacWelsh says you would need to drink 40 gallons of tea a day in order for it to be really dangerous, so you're safe!

And don't feel bad about cutting the roots of the tree. Sassafras grown clonally, meaning that another plant will start growing from where you cut that root. So you're actually helping the species by doing that!

Oaks (Genus Quercus; specifically talking about acorns)

Image found here
Acorns are a good source of protein, and each pound of them can give you 2,000 calories! But you can't eat acorns raw. They need to be processed to get rid of the tanic acids (which can cause dry mouth and nausea). You do that by cracking the outer shell off (which is waterproof) and then soaking the nut pieces in water for several hours or even days (tossing out the water and refreshing it regularly) until the bitterness in the nuts is gone.

Of course you can eat them as nuts, but you can also grind them into flour and use that to make cookies, porridge, crackers, and things like that (but not fluffy things like cake or bread; more crumbly things). MacWelsh even suggested putting sassafras tea in a recipe like this instead of water to add even more flavor; what a good idea!

He recommends the acorns of the White Oak (Quercus alba) best, but says those of the Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) are good, too. He says late September is a good time to gather acorns. You can simply lay a tarp under an Oak tree and wait for the acorns to fall. You can also easily freeze them, which helps kill any bugs that might be in/on the nuts. Sounds pretty easy!

Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota)

Image found here
Image found here
This is what we call it in North America, but this plant is more commonly known as Wild Carrot. And it's called that because the roots look like small, white carrots, and that's the part you can eat. To ID this plant, the stem should have little hairs on it, and the brachs underneath (like in the second picture) should have three toes on each of them. If you don't see both of those clues, don't eat it! You might confuse this plant with Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) or Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium), so you want to be really sure it's Wild Carrot before you eat it. The seeds of the Wild Carrot are slightly toxic, and historically were used like a "morning after" pill. But MacWelsh doesn't recommend this as an effective birth control method, so don't gather up a bunch of seeds for that!

The root is better to eat on the first year of this biennial plant (raw or cooked), since the meat is more tender, but the plant can be harder to ID in its first year because it hasn't flowered yet. In the second year, the root is good for flavor, like for putting in a soup, but it's too fibrous to actually eat. This plant is where our own regular carrots came from, so there is a relationship there.

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Image found here
Image found here
I've definitely seen these fall from a tree before, but I've never eaten them. You want to take the green outside off, let the nuts dry, and then you can crack them open to get to the nut meat, which you can eat raw. These nuts have 180 calories per ounce, so definitely good foraging food.

Dandelions (Taraxacum)
Image found here
You can eat every part of this plant, from the flowers to the stems to the leaves, raw or cooked. MacWelsh says he likes to make dandelion fritters; he coats the flowers in cornmeal batter and then fries them in oil. The leaves are a little bitter, but if you chop them up, sauté them in oil, and mix them with grains like rice or something like that, they're pretty good. Even the root can be roasted like a vegetable, or can be used to make a coffee-like drink (NOT for serious coffee snobs, though!).

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Image found here
Image found here
I already knew the flowers were edible, but he recommended putting them raw into a white cake mix to add some color. What a fun idea! I mainly asked him about this plant because I was curious about their seed pods, which look a lot like pea pods. He recommends only eating them when they are no longer than two inches (one inch is best), and boiling them in water to cook them.

Milkweed (Asclepias)
Image found here
Image found here (along with how to cook them)
You can only eat the immature pods. But I personally would say don't eat them: save them for the endangered monarch butterfly!

Notice that I didn't list any mushrooms. Someone in the group asked about foraging for mushrooms, but he believes doing that isn't worth the risk (since so many are poisonous), and the amount of work for positively IDing a mushroom to be safe for eating isn't worth the few calories you get out of it. He says that the Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) and morel mushrooms (Morchella) are the only ones he feels safe eating.

He also talked about jewelweed, not because it's edible, but because the juice from the stem can be used to counteract the toxins in poison ivy. But you have to be fast for it to work!

Here are some final tips:
-To find a good place to forage, try to go where a truck can't get to; that means it's unlikely that the area has been sprayed with pesticides. You should also forage uphill, since that means less pollution runoff. Also stay away from power lines and train tracks; those also get a lot of traffic.
-For washing plants, usually water is fine. But if you want to be more thorough, you can mix lemon juice with salt in water to make a cleaning mixture. A little bit of iodine can help, too. But, if you're cooking what you've foraged, you're probably okay, because the heat will kill any of those bad, dirty things you don't want to eat.

MacWelsh is so knowledgeable, and really funny! I greatly enjoyed this talk, so if you're in the DC/MD/VA area, I recommend trying to make it to one of his classes/talks!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Cabaret

Image found here
I saw the movie Cabaret for the first time this year during the Washington Jewish Film Festival, so when I found out that the musical was coming to the Kennedy Center, I immediately asked my friend (who watched the film with me) if she wanted to see the show live. We both thought it would be really fun to compare the movie to the live performance.

Image found here
The set was simple but very effective. There were two levels, and the orchestra was seated upstairs, so you could actually see them. What was neat was that they were all in costume! It was like they were part of the Kit Kat Club. At one point many of the musicians fit themselves in the frame (like in the picture above) and performed music from the different songs, which was so cool! I think that might have been my favorite part of the show. You never see the orchestra highlighted like that!

Jon Peterson, who played the Emcee/Master of Ceremonies, was not quite as creepy as the film's Joel Grey, but he was just as silly, and sometimes his French accent sounded just like Grey's. Peterson even did some audience participation, bringing people on stage and making lurid jokes, so that was very funny.

And the music and dancing of the Roundabout Theatre Company were great! I think some songs were added for the musical, but several were the same from the movie:

Wilkommen

Mein Herr

If You Could See Her


Sally's a blonde, BLANK is quite masculine, and the lady landlord is a main character. What? Image found here.
There were some bits that threw me off, though. Leigh Ann Larkin, who played Sally Bowles, was a blonde; Liza Minnelli's dark widow's peak haircut is so iconic, so I'm not sure why the play strayed from that. The musical also focused a lot more on the landlord, her love life, and the prostitute neighbor, which I don't remember as a big part of the film at all. And there was a song about a pineapple...
Those aren't two ladies... Image found here.
Also, during the song "Two Ladies," one of the ladies was a man! While it was very funny, that choice in casting doesn't really make sense with the title of the song (clearly). See below for the original from the movie:


 Another song that was different was that Sally did not perform the song "Money" like in the film:


I was very surprised that there was no love triangle in the musical. I thought that was such a big part in the movie, but it was completely left out of this show. We find out that Clifford Bradshaw (Brian Roberts in the film; this time played by Benjamin Eakeley, who is much more masculine than the film's Michael York) has homosexual tendencies way earlier than we do in the film, but we only hear about what he's done in the past. He doesn't seem to act on those feelings during the play itself. Another difference was that in the live show, Sally insists on moving in with Clifford, whereas in the movie, she seems like a pretty independent woman, and he actually spends more time at her place.

The second act of the play was very dark. It focused on the World War II theme, which was an undercurrent in the film, but not a main focus. Clifford wants to get away from the anti-Semitic feelings in Berlin and insists that he and Sally move to the U.S., even though he hasn't even asked her what she wants. She says she wants to go back to work at the Kit Kat Club, which he is completely against; she goes back anyway, and performs the song "Cabaret" with her mascara streaming from crying, which is very different from the positive energy from the movie:


The play ends with the Emcee dressed like a Holocaust victim, acting as if he's been shot multiple times before falling to the ground. Talk about morbid! I understand the importance of including these messages in the play, but it was kind of a let-down to end such a fun evening on a dark note...

In writing this blog post, I did some research and saw that both the play and movie are based on the book Cabaret by Christopher Isherwood; it's somewhat autobiographical, because Isherwood did spend time in Berlin and admitted to exploring its "sexual underworld." Then the first Broadway production came out in 1966, and the film was released in 1972. Now I need to read the book to see which one is most like the original story!