Things I Want: All-Clad 12-inch Stainless Steel Fry Pan

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Gee golly, that’s a nice pan. The All-Clad 12-inch Stainless Steel Fry Pan has been on my mind. My thriftiness has always been at odds with my snobbishness when it comes to pans. A couple of years ago I bought some new pans on a particularly good deal, and went a little overboard. I bought more pots and pans than I needed, and while they are all serviceable, they are not exceptional. I guess I’d just rather have a couple of exceptional pans than a dozen serviceable ones.

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Quick dinner: Frittata with radicchio, onions, and mozzarella

Quick dinner: Frittata with radicchio, onions, and mozzarella

6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 medium onion
1/2 head of radicchoi
1 large slice of good crusty bread cut into 1 inch cubes
a handful of grated Parmesan

Preheat the broiler, and on the range heat up a 10-inch nonstick fry pan with a little bit of olive oil. Slice the onion thin and the radicchio into 1 inch strips and throw in with the oil to soften up. While they’re cooking covered over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes, take a large bowl and beat together the eggs and milk. Add some salt and pepper to taste and then throw in the grated cheese and the bread. When the onions and radicchio are done, throw them into the bowl as well, stir it up, and pour that back into the pan.

Using a wooden spoon (or something that won’t scratch your nonstick), gently stir the egg mixture while it cooks, constantly scraping the bottom gently to allow the runnier parts of the egg mixture to contact the pan. When the consistency reaches something like pudding (still a bit looser than runny scrambled eggs) take it off the heat and scatter the handful of Parmesan across the top.

Now put the pan under the broiler until the Parmesan browns. Depending on your oven and your broiler this could take just couple of minutes, or a while longer. Just keep checking it until you get nice scattered browning of the cheese. Take it out of the broiler and let it sit on the stove for a couple of minutes to let it set. Then slide it out of the pan and onto your cutting board, cut into wedges and serve.

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Never Again #1: Alhambra Beauty College

It was the winter of 1998, and I was but a wee lad living in Pasadena, and humbly eking out an existence from the rough terrain of medical education, when one of my classmates mentioned to me that she had just had her haircut and she had paid only two dollars. Two dollars? Two dollars? Who ever heard of such a thing. Well, the Alhambra Beauty College lets students cut your hair, as part of the learning process, and for this service you pay only a pittance. As a student whose education relies upon the patience of others, and more particularly their willingness to submit themselves to my inexperienced practice, I immediately liked the idea. Not only am I getting a haircut, I am providing a service, giving back if you will, doing my part to train the hairstylists of tomorrow.

So I went, and it wasn’t the best haircut I had ever received, but it also wasn’t the worst. I grew having my mom cut my hair, and generally maintaining a shaggy mop that covered my eyes at least as much as I could get away with. Even after I graduated from mom-salon, it was always the $9 mall haircut for me, or the barber in college. On and off, over the years since then, I have returned to the Alhambra Beauty College, never with high expectations, but also not with an impending sense of dread. In the last few months I have visited twice, and that is enough for me.

First of all, the price has gone up to four dollars (2 more if you want your hair washed). I know, I know, 6 dollars is still an unparalleled bargain. Or is it? The Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica also offers student haircuts, and if you have a student ID the cost is only $10. For your $10, you actually get a very good haircut. The instructors manage (some might say micro-manage) the students, and though the experience can drag on for up to three hours, it is a pleasant experience all around, and you walk away looking good. The same cannot be said for the Alhambra Beauty School.

For the $4 you get to hold on to, you give up any sense of well being you feel during the process, and any chance of being able to communicate with your hair-cutter in English. I’m not talking about holding a conversation here. I’m not one of the people who likes to chat while their getting a haircut, quite the opposite. But, I do expect to able to say words like “longer” and “shorter” without having to charade their meanings. It seems to me that if someone were to start cutting hair, those might be the first English words they learn. Apparently this is not always the case.

What I will say, in defense of the Alhambra Beauty school, is that they give a wonderful hair washing. The process usually lasts 15 to 20 minutes and includes a thorough scalp massage. Well worth the $2 fee. The haircut, and the whole haircutting experience may be a mark overpriced at $4. It’s a schlep to get out to Santa Monica to Vidal Sassoon, and using their services may mean I go longer between haircuts, but mark my words: I WILL NEVER GO TO THE ALHAMBRA BEAUTY COLLEGE AGAIN.

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Jesse’s Mitvah Bar

I’m in New York for the weekend, celebrating the 31st birthday of my dear friend Jesse Oxfeld. For his birthday this year Jesse decided to throw a Bar Mitzvah themed birthday party (at 13 he had a Bar Mitzvah, at 31 he had a Mitzvah Bar). It was, of course, not a religious event but a cultural one, echoing the social traditions of upwardly mobile jewish suburban culture. Maybe I’m overstating it. It was a birthday party, in a bar in Manhattan (I think the neighborhood is called Tribecca, but I’ve grown New York-ignorant over the years) laced with the accoutrement of our culturally bereft adolescence.

At the door was a sign-in board, a large poster board decorated with a picture of the birthday boy. At bar mitzvah’s it’s usually a baby picture, in this case it was Jesse’s bar mitzvah portrait. Attached to the board are usually some silver paint markers for guests to leave their messages, ideally, or deface the honorees image if things get a little punchy. I think, traditionally, the parents frame the thing afterwards and hang it up in the kid’s room, or maybe the basement rec room to oversee inevitable experimentations with alcohol, drugs, and awkward sexual stumbling.

The other key tradition was the lighting of the candles on the cake. Customarily, the bar mitzvah boy invites up groups of friends and family members to light each candle. Jesse did this in snarky, rhyming verse, as he had 18 years earlier, and we had prepared musical cues to accompany each group: for his parents, We are Family, for his partying brethren, I Love the Nightlife, for his former coworkers, Get A Job, for his gay buddies, It’s Raining Men. Compiling the music for the event was my job, including a smashing playlist of bar mitzvah classics, circa 1990. For anyone interested, here was the playlist.

Ladies and gentlemen, the bar mitzvah boy, Jesse Oxfeld:
Jesse Oxfeld

This trip marks my last respite from studying for the next few months for sure, but likely for much longer.

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The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

In my current screening of plays for a potential spring production I recently re-read Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? What a fantastic play. Having always been a fan of Albee, I never cease to be amazed at his particular tone, clarity, and uncompromising perspective.

In general, I am a sucker for fiction that takes extraordinary situations and deals with them very realistically and rationally. This is one of the reasons I so appreciated the move Unbreakable. To take the notion of superhero-hood and couch it in such ordinary characters was a sort of fantastical drama that appealed to me. In the same way, Edward Albee’s play addresses the peculiar situation of a very prominent and respected man, who happens to fall in love with a goat. The events of the play concern his sharing this information with a friend, and how the unfolding of it unravels his family.

Now, with such am absurd premise, there is great temptation to devolve into baser comedy, but of course, Albee wouldn’t deign to cheapen his characters with gag humor. While the script is very funny, it is not base. It is the tense humor of very serious and rational people trying to comprehend and process their very irrational situation.

It is not that Martin (the protagonist; or perhaps his wife is the protagonist, it’s hard to be sure) is lustily engaging in rampant bestiality. Instead, he feels he has found a kindred soul in the goat, and what draws him in isn’t lust, but pure and unadulterated love, the same sort of love he feels for his wife. The issue that the play seeks to grapple with, quite explicitly in some of the later conversations, is the difference between sexual and non-sexual love, or perhaps the lack of difference. Albee almost seems to suggest that love, at its truest, is regardless of form, and it is the circumstances of our experience that circumscribe the limits of our relationships. Martin, in a moment of bucolic bliss, finds himself forgetting those circumstances and the play concerns the unfolding aftermath of society types who have stepped outside of the bounds of polite society.

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A Winter’s Tale… in feudal Japan

So lately a great deal of my time and energy has been taken up by a certain theatrical production here on the the Caltech campus. Today is the first day in a week that the largest part of my day hasn’t been spent at the theater rehearsing, building sets, performing, or just muddling about backstage brooding over my frustrations with the show. In this short respite from the storm of theatrical indulgence, my body and mind unwillingly decompressed, embracing their almost Brombdinagian fatigue.

But let me tell you about the show if only for the humor value. It is, after all, a comedy. The merits of the play itself (one of Shakespeare’s later and more experimental scripts) are debateable. The story concerns a irrationally jealous king who condemns his queen and orders their newborn daughter (whom he presumes was sired by his friend, king of another country) to be killed. The daughter is flitted away by a servant to the land of the other king where she is adopted by an old shepherd. Fast-forward 16 years. No joke, there is a short scene where Time is a character and comes out and says, in essence, fast-forward 16 years. The girl has now grown into a beautiful farmer’s daughter (it’s a type) and has fallen in love with the prince. Hyjinx ensue and in the end the queen comes back to life when a statue of her is magically reanimated, and everybody gets married (it’s a Shakespearean comedy, that’s how they all end). So, clearly there are some problems with the story.

My part in all of this craziness, since you asked, is the rogue who wanders about stealing purses, singing ballads, and generally having a good laugh at everyone elses expense.

The first major production choice, and the one from which all others stemed, was the decision to set the play in feudal Japan and incorporate visual elements of kibuke. To this end, there was an attempt to make the cast look somewhat homogeneic and a tad more eastern. Hair was died black, thick eyebrows were painted on. If it’s hard to see where I’m going with this, or why, it’s because I’m really not sure. This is not to say that setting the play in Japan doesn’t work, but having gone through the process and seen the result, I’m still not sure what it added to the play. The end product is Shakespeare in kimonos, nothing less and nothing more.

The second major choice, as I see it, was to play the largest parts of the work as a drama. Comedy is hard, no doubt, but the dramatic merits of the story outlined above are suspect at best. The comedy of the play is the sarcastic, obsurdist sort of wit that must be clean and quick and clever to work. While the language is often a barrier for audiences, that is the work of the performer, to be subtly expressive so that the semantic content of the speech is conveyed without regard to language and the words are left as a playground. Instead, the choice was made to seek comedy in melodrama.

more to come…

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Upside-Down Hot Fudge Sponge Pudding

This is a very very easy, no work, no fuss recipe that satisfies the need for a chocolate dessert without a lot of trouble. It came out of a book called Puddings A to Z. I believe this was the U for upside down. If I were to make it again, I think I would add a bit more chocolate though.

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup, light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa

1 1/4 cups water or black coffee

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 1/2 tbs cocoa, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk the 3/4 cup sugar, milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Gently fold the flour mixture into the wet mixture and then spread the batter in a baking dish (a pyrex pie pan works well).

Whisk together the brown sugar, 1/2 cup of white sugar, and 5 tbs cocoa and then sprinkle on top of the batter.

Gently pour the water or coffee over the top of the whole thing and put it in the oven for 35 minutes. The batter will rise, the liquid will sink and combine with the sprinkled sugar and cocoa to make fudge sauce, and you’ll be eating chocolate in no time.

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