Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Recipe: Almond Joy Cookies

This past weekend, I had a few friends over to make hamentashen for Purim. We made the traditional prune ones, but we also tried making pumpkin pie ones (essentially using pumpkin pie filling as the cookie filling). To make that we used sweetened condensed milk, but only a little bit, so I had almost an entire can left. So the clear thing to do next was look up a recipe that called for sweetened condensed milk!

I found this coconut cookie recipe on the Mom on Timeout website (well, Google brought me there). There are only four ingredients, so it's really easy!

  • 1 14 oz bag sweetened coconut flakes
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ⅔ cup chopped lightly salted almonds
  • 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (regular or fat-free works)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper* and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl combine coconut, chocolate chips, almonds, and sweetened condensed milk.
  4. Stir until combined.
  5. Scoop out dough with a cookie scoop onto prepared baking sheet.
  6. Moisten the tips of your fingers with water and shape into discs. Pat the tops flat.
  7. Bake cookies for 12 to 14 minutes or until tips of coconut are just starting to turn golden brown.
  8. Let cool on baking sheet.
  9. Store cookies in an airtight container.
I mixed it up by using half chocolate chips and half white chocolate chips. I also made my cookies more rounded rather than flattened, but I'm not sure that really matters.

*There is a note at the bottom of the web page that specifically says you MUST use parchment paper and not wax paper. Heed this advice! I used wax paper and the cookies glued themselves to it. I ended up just squishing the bits that weren't stuck back into their original mixture form, just slightly more toasted then before. I figure I can put the bits into pancakes or waffles, maybe banana bread... Nothing wrong with double-baked coconut!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Brian Ganz Plays Chopin

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I have seen the pianist Brian Ganz perform several times (including last February), and he is my favorite! Not only is he a talented musician, but he just has so much fun while he plays. He's a happy, smiley guy, which I love! Starting in 2011 (before I even knew who he was), he created a partnership with the Strathmore to play all of Chopin's music. He's still going strong, and now that I've seen him a few times, I'm familiar with words like polonaise and mazurka (i.e. Polish dances, since Chopin was from Poland). Another fun fact I learned: a "canon" in music is when the "voices" (different musical instruments or in this case, separate hands on the piano) play the same music but start at different times. I didn't know that! Makes me think of the song "Row row row your boat." But I digress!

Ganz called this particular program "Hidden Gems and All-Time Favorites." The pieces he played were a mix of famous Chopin compositions and lesser-known ones. Ganz dedicated the performance to his father, who was in the audience that night. His father lives in England and does not get the chance to see most of the performances. Ganz also mentioned his Italian great-grandmother, who would have enjoyed the music, too.

Here's what he played that evening:

Tarantella, Op. 43

Bolero, Op. 19

Polonase in A major, Op. 40, No. 1

2 Bourrées, Op. Posth.

No. 1 in G Major

No. 2 in A Major

Prelude in A Major, Op. 28, No. 7 (Watch Ganz' face as he plays: he just loves this music!)

Canon in F minor (unfinished) (Because this piece is unfinished, it ended abruptly, and Ganz just let the silence hang in the air for a prolonged time to emphasize the lack of closure.)

Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 63, No. 3

Fugue in A minor, Op. Posth.

Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 3

Souvenir de Paganini, Op. Posth.

Etude in A minor, Op. 25, No. 11 ("Winter Wind")

THEN we had an intermission. Phew!

Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. Posth.

Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1 ("Minute")

Largo in E-flat Major, Op. Posth.

Prelude in C minor, Op. 28, No. 20

Trois Nouvelles Études (This translates as "Three New Studies." Chopin was also a teacher, and he would create these studies for students to practice. These three are interesting because for each one, the right hand and left hand are playing different rhythms.)

Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. 66

Ganz grouped the following two Polonaises together and called them "Chopin: The Gardener." The first was written when Chopin was a young man in love for the first time, and the second is when Chopin was a grown, mature man.

Polonaise in F minor, Op. 71, No. 3

Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 ("Heroic")

So much beautiful music! Ganz announced that his next Chopin showcase at the Strathmore will be on Saturday, February 2, 2019. So mark your calendars now!

Monday, February 5, 2018

American Ballet Theatre at the Kennedy Center

Last week I bought tickets to see the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) company perform at the Kennedy Center. I actually thought I had purchased tickets to see their "Whipped Cream" performance, but instead I saw variations of multiple, different pieces. I was a little confused at first, but then I settled in. Here's what I saw:

1. Serenade after Plato's Symposium

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The set was simply a screen on the ceiling that read "symposium" in Greek. All of the dancers except one were male, which is pretty surprising in ballet (well, except for Trockadero); we usually think about ballerinas in tutus. The men were wearing outfits inspired by Greek togas, although the costumes actually looked runway ready for a men's fashion show. The extra fabric for the "toga" effect had the appearance of skirts when the dancers spun, and I'll admit it was a bit disconcerting to see men dance gracefully on their own, as opposed to mirroring a female companion (i.e. what you usually see in ballet). There was a bit of homo-eroticism going on (typical when you have multiple male dancers), with the men holding hands, reaching out for each other, lifting each other up, etc. (They even played patty-cake with each other.) These movements were repeated throughout the piece, with each man mimicking what the last dancer did. So I didn't feel too bad about falling asleep: everything melded together and was more of the same, just over and over again.

When the men weren't dancing with each other, their solo performances made it seem like the dancers were on drugs: they swung their arms around erratically, swatted away invisible flies, flicked non-existent water from their hands, and the like.  Most of the dancers looked really young, and since most of them were not listed in the program, I am under the impression that they were students or part of a junior company.

The one female dancer (Hee Seo) played such a minor role that I'm not sure what her purpose was. Since this piece was inspired by the Greeks, I thought maybe she was a muse for these philosophers. She was also wearing blue as opposed to the neutrals the men had on, so that also gave the impression that she was other-worldly. The men did not seem to interact with her too much, but she didn't have much time on stage, either.

I thought the piece was interesting, just different than what I was expecting. Some of the men were very impressive, especially Jeffrey Cirio and Joo Won Ahn. This was just the first part of the night, so there was a lot more dance to come!

2. Other Dances (very original name, clearly)

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This is a pas de deux (although I could only find photos of the female dancer) set to music written by Chopin (Emily Wong played the piano on stage during the piece.). I actually recognized the word "mazurka" from seeing Brian Ganz play Chopin at a concert previously. This was a fun, romantic dance. Each of the dancers (Herman Cornejo and Sarah Lane) seemed to be putting on a performance not for the audience but for each other in a coy, flirtatious way. He tried to impress her with difficult moves and at one point messed up (or pretended to) and cutely played it off. She wandered the stage wistfully, as if daydreaming about her lover. All in all I thought the music was a little too staccato for dance, but I enjoyed the romance of it all (including the costumes).

3. I Feel the Earth Move (This piece had three parts.): Before this one started, the stage hands removed all of the curtains, screens, and other set pieces. You could see the stage with all its bare bones, and many rows of lights were revealed, both on the sides of the stage and above on the ceiling. This made the piece almost feel more like a concert than a ballet performance (including the lights that blind you as they shine right into your face). The rag & bone costumes also gave the piece a more casual feel, and sent a clear message that this was modern dance, not classical ballet. This is a new piece, and premiered just last fall in New York.

3a. First Movement: "Tremor"

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The music for this one was like the familiar song, "I Feel the Earth Move," but there was no background music, just a woman speaking the lyrics. So that was very weird. Blaine Hoven danced for several minutes on his own, and his muscular legs really show you that dancers are real athletes. Cassandra Trenary joined him on stage later. This part had some of the quintessential movements of modern dance, like rolling on the floor and odd, flailing arm movements. So not exactly my cup of tea.

3b. Second Movement: "A Vision"

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These women reminded me of synchronized swimmers or the Rockettes, moving in time with one another. Their costumes also gave the impression of aerobics instructors, and the dance itself did look like what a gym instructor might make up for group workout choreography. They were the same weird modern dance moves, but because they were performed as a group, the moves seemed more purposeful and coordinated. And again, most of the dancers looked very young, to the point that I felt like I should have paid less, since I was seeing mostly apprentices.

3c. Third Movement: "The Work Begins"

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This part felt like a music video to me, with the men and women dancing to a very striking, fast-paced Phillip Glass song called "Changing Opinion." While the dancing was similar to the first two parts, I think I liked this one best because of the music.

4. Thirteen Diversions (Although I could not tell the difference between the 13 parts.)

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I was especially excited to see this piece because the choreography is by Christopher Wheeldon, my favorite choreographer; he has choreographed pieces like This Bitter Earth (which I LOVE), After the Rain, and Fool's Paradise. These previous pieces all have a romantic, sensual atmosphere, which I think this piece lacked. But I loved the beautiful costumes (designed by Bob Crowley), and I would wear those as actual dresses (well, without the skirt being so sheer). The dancing was quite graceful, especially compared to the other pieces I saw that night, so I was pleased with that.

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I was very excited to see Misty Copeland perform, though! I was actually surprised to see her in a group piece like this: I just assumed that at her level and fame, she only would play the biggest solo acts, like The Firebird and such. Of course I couldn't help but watch her while she was on stage, and I had to make myself watch the other dancers instead of just looking at her. And while I wasn't surprised that she received a standing ovation or that the conductor came on stage with her, I kind of felt bad for the other dancers. I didn't feel like Copeland danced so much better than the others, but only she received overt recognition like that.

In the end I was happy to have seen Copeland dance a piece by Wheeldon. Ballet bucket list item - CHECK!