Friday, March 30, 2018

The New York City Ballet at the Kennedy Center

I bought tickets to see the New York City Ballet on a whim when I saw tickets were available through the Kennedy Center's MyTix program. I love to see them when they're in town!

The performance I saw a few days ago was a mix of several shorter pieces. Here was the breakdown:

Divertimento No. 15

Music from Mozart is in this piece, and it is light and fun like many of his other works. But the music was the best part of this. The costumes, designed by Karinska, are very antiquated. I realize this is a classic Balanchine piece, but all of it was SO traditional that it was almost boring (I'll admit I did sleep through most of it.). There's no story to go along with the piece, so all of it just melds together, and there's nothing to keep your attention (except for that one dancer whose shoe kept squeaking!). While I realize that I frequently rant about how modern dance should be more like classical ballet, this was on the other far end of the spectrum because it was TOO traditional.

Here's a video clip from the show to see a bit of the dancing:

Zakouski (which means "hors d'oeuvres" in Russian)

This piece kept my attention much more so than the first one. Immediately as a pas de deux, I pictured the dancers as a couple. The dancers (Indiana Woodward and Roman Mejia) looked like a couple truly enjoying dancing with and for one another; this was more playful than romantic, which I liked. There weren't too many "ballet moves," and I actually thought I could steal some of the moves for when I go blues dancing (see the video below). I really enjoyed this one!

The music was written by four different Russian composers (Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Tschaikovsky), but I thought the music sounded more Spanish or Italian. But perhaps this was because of the costumes (designed by Barbara Matera), or because of the knee-slapping that Mejia kept doing (which reminded me of castanets and clearly is not included in Balanchine choreography).

Here's a (shaky, amateur) video clip I found online:

Pulcinella Variations

The costumes for this piece were amazing, and of course they're the first thing the audience notices. As soon as the curtain came up, I heard a million "oohs" and "ahs" over these outfits! These whimsical costumes were created by fashion designer Tsumori Chisato, and I think the audience liked them not only because of their color and creativity, but because they are so unexpected and eye-catching! See the photos below for a closer look.

I even liked the pearly white pointe shoes the women wore.
This was my favorite outfit! I loved the illusion of skin, and I'd never seen half a tutu before!
I liked that each dancer had a chance to show off (either as a solo or in a pas de deux). The dancing was lively and energetic, which was fun to watch. This quote was included in the program book:

"Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course - the first of many love affairs in that direction - but it was a look in the mirror, too." - Igor Stravinsky

Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux

This was another classical ballet (I mean, the music is from the same man who gave us songs of The Nutcracker...). I liked it better than the first piece because, again, as a pas de deux, I can create a story line in of mind of who these characters are and how they connect with one another. The two dancers (Ashley Bouder and Chase Finlay) each took turns one-upping each other, which I thought was fun. The lifts were also very cool, like in the picture below.

In general I liked this piece, but I HATE the stupid bow-tie costume he had to wear (again designed by Karinska). Now that we're in the 21st century, maybe we can start replacing these old costume designs; if we can have works of art for Pucinella, surely we can update these pastel snoozes!

Here's a clip (including one of the cool lifts):

Symphony in Three Movements

This piece reminded me of ABT's "I Feel the Earth Move," which I saw earlier this year, mainly because of the athletic, aerobics-instructor feel of it (even the program notes calls this one of Balanchine's "leotard" ballets). There was a lot of jumping around and hand movements, so I thought this piece was the most modern dance. The piece started with the women in white lined up like Rockettes, and I wish this part had played more on the optical illusion of having so many dancers in the same outfit on stage who could make cool patterns weaving in and out of one another. This wasn't my favorite piece, but it was a little interesting at least.

I'm going to the ballet next week, so stay tuned for that post, coming soon!

*All photos were found on the Kennedy Center website here:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Recipe: Spiced Orange Olive Oil Cake

Yes, those are unicorn salt and pepper shakers you see in the background.
Baking during snow days is kind of my thing, so the snow day last week was no exception. I had a bunch of clementines laying around, so I looked up recipes that included oranges. I found this recipe on And I realize it looks like bread, not cake, but the recipe called for a loaf pan!

  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Lightly oil and flour a loaf pan.
  2. Beat eggs in a bowl until lightened in color. Add sugar, olive oil, orange zest, and five-spice powder and beat until smooth. Fold flour, baking powder, and salt into egg mixture until batter is just mixed. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove cake from the pan and cool on a wire rack.
As usual, I changed some ingredients (this time more than usual). I didn't have any olive oil (my roommate had just used the last bit of it), so I used canola oil instead. And I had never heard of Chinese five-spice powder, so I went with all-spice (since that's already a mixture of spices, too). The zest did not work out: I discovered that clementines actually aren't that good for zesting because their skin is not as thick as that of a regular orange. So I substituted two teaspoons of orange juice for the zest.

I'm not sure if it's because of these changes, or something else, but my cake had a fishy smell to it. It didn't taste fishy, but the aroma was so strong that it's all I could think about while eating it. The online recipe did suggest toasting it and eating it with honey, or cutting the cake up into cubes and mixing them with whipped cream and oranges, so I tried both of those. The toasting with honey helps a little bit. but not much. But the latter idea definitely worked!

No more fishy smell! I made mine with Cool Whip and even added extra whipped cream...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Winter Trip to the National Arboretum

Several weekends ago I visited the National Arboretum. I usually only go there in the spring when the azaleas are in bloom, but my friend wanted to see the Grove of State Trees. Here are some photos from my outing:
While I waiting near the gift shop for my friend, I saw this praying mantis egg sack. These are easy to identify because of their tent-like shape. I hope those babies are okay after the recent snowfall we had!
I thought the leaves on this plant were so pretty. It's called Alkanet, and it was used in ancient Egypt and Greece for cosmetic dyes, mostly for coloring lips and nails.

When we made it to the Grove of State Trees, we were surprised that instead of trees, we saw a stone star and plaques circling it that represented each state's tree. We came to see real trees!
Here's what the plaques look like. They are clearly in bad shape, with cracks criss-crossing the images and words. These aren't even the worst ones: some were missing the picture or chunks of text entirely, and others had temporary paper signs.
Eventually we did find an area that featured some of the state trees. Again we were disappointed: not all of the states were represented, and the handful that were had trees that did not look so good. The trees weren't taken care of when they were younger, and now they aren't healthy as adults. I looked into donating to the Arboretum (they obviously need help!), but they don't accept online donations. If you make it hard for people to donate to you, then of course your plants aren't going to be in tip-top shape!
I had never seen a Kentucky coffee tree before, but the pods were huge!
This is what's inside of the pods. The green stuff is quite sticky. I'll admit that I tried some of it: it doesn't taste too bad, but later I learned that it's toxic. Good thing I only took a quick lick...
I also licked some sap from a different tree in the grove. It tasted like how a pine tree smells, but then it had a really bad aftertaste. I also tried to bite into some sort of seed, but it was WAY too hard to even contemplate eating it. You'd think I would eventually learn not to eat wild things, but I just can't help myself...

So, this was an interesting trip to the National Arboretum, but I think I'll just stick to my annual azalea walk...

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Recipe: Pumpkin Swirl Brownies

I had half a can of pureed pumpkin in my fridge, and I was afraid it was going to go bad if I didn't use it soon. I came across this recipe from the Self Proclaimed Foodie blog, and it called for one cup of pumpkin (not a whole can), so it was perfect. Plus, I love pumpkin, I love chocolate... How could this recipe not be a complete winner?

Normally when I find a recipe online, I skip the whole introduction and just go straight to the list of ingredients. But I actually read everything on this page, and I found it very helpful! I especially liked the video Krissy Allori (the writer of the blog) made while she was making this dessert. So make sure to watch it!

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter melted
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 cup pumpkin pure
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line or grease an 8x8 inch baking pan. Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
  2. In a medium sauce pot over medium heat, melt butter. Continue to cook while it foams and stir constantly until it browns and you see some brown specks at the bottom and it starts to smell a bit toasted. Remove from heat. Once butter cools a bit, add sugar and vanilla extract. Next, beat in the eggs one at a time with a spoon. Gradually add the flour mixture, and stir the batter until it's evenly moistened. Add half the batter to a separate large bowl.
  3. Into one bowl of batter, blend the cocoa powder and chocolate chips. In the second bowl of batter, stir in the pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice.
  4. Spread 1/2 of the chocolate batter into the bottom of the prepared baking pan, and follow with all of the pumpkin batter. The chocolate batter will be much thicker than the pumpkin batter. For the remaining chocolate batter, you can either spoon it on top or you can put it in a plastic bag, snip off the corner, and squeeze it onto the pumpkin in strips. Use a butter knife or a spatula to swirl the two batters together to create a marbled appearance.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven until the brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in the pan, cut into squares, and serve.
Unlike most recipes I make, I actually stuck to this ingredients list very closely (I even went out and bought miniature chocolate chips instead of using the regular ones). But I didn't follow the instructions to a T. Of course I was not going to bother melting butter on the stove, and certainly not until the point of it turning brown. Instead I microwaved a stick of butter for about two minutes and got a perfectly melted bowl of better (not browned, but I honestly don't think that's really important). I also did not beat in the eggs individually with a spoon; that's what mixers are for! I'm not sure why Ms. Allori seems anti-technology, but I am all about the fast, electric tools. And when I got to the point to spread the batter, I was afraid I'd waste too much of the chocolate mix in the plastic baggie with that technique, so I just used my spatula to make an "S" shape on the top. Like this:

And then I swirled it with a butter knife like she said, and I think it turned out pretty well:

Okay, it looks a little messy, but it's certainly marbled!
One thing Krissy recommended in her post was to use special paper to line the pan. She likes this kind that has one side aluminum foil, one side parchment paper. I didn't have any of that laying around (who does?), but I took the tip and first lined the pan with aluminum foil, and then put parchment paper on top. When I pulled it out of the oven, the parchment came right out, so that was easy! Not sure I needed the foil (it just stayed in the pan when I tried to remove the brownies), but this certainly made for simple clean-up!

These are indeed delicious brownies. I think the pumpkin and chocolate flavors are pretty well balanced; neither one over-powers the other. And the brownies are SO moist! When I did the toothpick test, the toothpick didn't come out completely clean, but I think that's because of the melted chocolate, not because there was raw batter inside. Krissy says in her blog post that these brownies even stay moist when you freeze them, so I might take her up on that! These are definitely some of the yummiest brownies I've ever had, and my colleagues agree, too!