Wednesday, August 31, 2011

C'mon. You're Overdoing It. Get Out of B.E.D.!

Storm preparation for good health means having healthy foods on hand. Photo by Disaster and Emergency Survival.

By JANET COOK, NYC Healthy Chick

WHEW!,
glad to see Hurricane Irene didn’t stop you from checking out my latest and greatest!

Things have been beyond control and threw NYC Healthy Chick off course, for
sure, this week. With no electricity and access to healthy foods, it makes for a deadly storm brewing with some old eating habits rearing their ugly heads in the lurch.

Originally my article had a different angle, but the hurricane experience was so vivid and timely, that I had to do a quick rewrite.

With the whirlwind of chaos, panic and the uncertainty caused by the hurricane, it was a surefire way to end up in B.E.D.! Well, I didn’t exactly stay in bed these past few days. Actually, a few of my former eating disorder friends reappeared. Binge Eating Disorder and Compulsive Overeating (aka B.E.D.&C.O.) is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting 3.5 percent of females and 2 percent of males. It is also prevalent in up to 30 percent of those seeking weight-loss treatment, though it can occur in those of normal weight.

Nuts and dried fruit are healthful go-to snacks in the middle of a binge. Photo by Dreamstime.

Compulsive overeating, also sometimes called food addiction, is characterized by an obsessive/compulsive relationship with food. In the case of NYC Healthy Chick, I began to binge-eat when I felt frenzied and out of control amid storm preparations.

If left untreated, compulsive overeating can lead to serious medical conditions, including obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea and depression. Additional long-term side effects also include kidney disease, arthritis, bone deterioration and stroke.

So how did NYC Healthy Chick literally weather the storm of her recent experience in B.E.D. with C.O.? With a lot of self-love and compassion. Remember, it’s a journey to getting healthy and whole. I took some time after my last binge to look at what triggered it. A few things led to the perfect storm.

Days before the hurricane the following happened:
1. Moved at warp speed taking care of business and expended a lot of energy;
2. Exercise program ramped up a notch or two;
3. Discontinued daily meditation;
4. Water intake was less than normal;
5. Menstrual cycle was due.
OMG! JUST SHOOT ME!!!!!!

While the binge foods weren’t the high-calorie variety that normally would have
sent me into a downward spiral of guilt and depression, they were a
clear sign of some imbalances that needed to be addressed. When you next
feel another storm approaching or anytime a binge is imminent, be
prepared with NYC Healthy Chick’s Storm Savers:

There is good bed (a sleeping surface) and there is bad B.E.D. (Binge Eating Disorder). Photo by Standard Textile.

1. Always keep healthy foods in stock. Eating in-season fresh fruit and unsalted nuts can help tame the wildest binges without guilt;
2. Have a pinch of sea salt with a tall glass of water several times a day. This homeopathic remedy will calm you down and provide hydration;
3. Call someone to talk about what’s good and new;
4. Breathe. Do a few yoga poses or stretch – it does the body good;
5. Reflect on what led up to the binge and record your feelings. Getting in touch with one’s internal dialogue is a great way to overcome the guilt and depression associated with binges.

Are we clear? No? OK, I repeat: When the next storm is threatening prepare for it with lots of water, fruit, nuts and tons of love, love, love, love!

At Taste of Tennis, Fish&Co. Dish On Good Eats

James Blake gives Chef Michelle Bernstein’s fiery sauce pan the deference it deserves at the 12th Annual BNP Paribas Taste of Tennis. Photos from Getty Images for BNP Paribas.

FROM Mardy Fish’s mouth to your ears: “Breakfast is huge for me. If I don’t get a good breakfast, I struggle.”

The No. 1 U.S. tennis player didn’t struggle on Monday in his first-round victory on Day 1 of the U.S. Open. Before MF took to the court – a few days earlier – he and a number of colleagues were hanging out at the 12th Annual BNP Paribas Taste of Tennis in and near remote kitchens set up in the W New York hotel.

Mardy Fish and Chef Scott Leibfried.

A favorite breakfast for this champion is a bowl of strawberries, eggs, potatoes and some sort of carbohydrate.

“I like to load up on breakfast and work my way down from there. I can always burn breakfast off as well, said MF, who has famously lost around 30 pounds and is playing the best tennis of his career, including a recent victory over world’s men’s No. 2 player, the Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

The Taste of Tennis attracts some of the world’s top tennis players. Alas, Rafa was a flash in the pain, disappearing as quickly as he appeared. The jocks assist and/or observe top chefs such as Bill Moore. The Push Cart Foods owner prepared Crispy Shrimp Cakes with Spicy Aioli and Watermelon Chutney served on a Plantain Chip with Jerked Popcorn. The popcorn could cause a body to work up a powerful thirst for one of the beverages on site, including rum, beer, tea and a refreshing prosecco/watermelon juice concoction being test marketed by Jennifer Iserloh of SkinnyChef Culinary Services.

Chef Marc Anthony Bynum shows his sliders and pomme frites. Photos by Charles Norfleet (ASJAIS Images.)

Chef Marc Anthony Bynum (MB Burger Bar) rolled out Kobe and Pulled Pork Sliders with Pomme Frites. The eats are for a hungry paying public and for a good cause.

Though eyes could only feast on Rafa very briefly, there was plenty of other eye candy at the Taste of Tennis, which usually turns on the burners the Thursday before the start of the U.S. Open. World women’s No. 2 player Vera Zvonareva of Russia looked delectable with hair, makeup and smashing red sandals.

Fernando Verdasco likes a good steak.

American James Blake caused a stir, too, even before he helped Chef Michelle Bernstein (Sra. Martinez) wrangle Sautéed Shrimp with Pineapple, Chilies and Rum/Rum Pudding Brulee with Rum-Soaked Pineapples. With his “J-Block” raucously cheering on Tuesday, the Yonkers native won his first-round, four-set U.S. Open match with a stirring finish, while VZ won easily on Monday. She'll be back on the court today.

Also advancing, in four sets on Tuesday, was Fernando Verdasco. Days before his victory he hadn’t a clue about what he was to cook at the Taste of Tennis. “We’ll see. The cooker will tell me,” asserted the Spaniard. He sticks to the standard carbohydrate and protein regimen to keep himself in winning form, preferring in particular pasta and steak. “These are the two most important things for a tennis player to have … like energy and to reserve for long matches."

Chef Bill Moore prepares to serve jerk popcorn and other delicacies.

And what of Janko Tipsarevic? The Serb has a serious love jones for sushi. “I love Serbian food but it is really, really heavy. It’s a lot of meat, a lot of sauces,” said the winner in straight sets on Monday. “And sushi is just fish and rice, which is good and healthy for you. And I could eat a ton of it."

Janko Tipsarevic and Mrs. T, Biljana Sesevic. Sushi is the word for the Serb.

There was no sushi at the Taste of Tennis’ aptly named “The Centre Course,” where chefs and helpers cooked up a storm. But perhaps Chef Shea Gallante’s (Ciano) “Octopus Roll” with Pickled Onion, Jalapeño and Celery would have been to JT’s taste.

Proceeds from the 12th Annual BNP Paribas Taste of Tennis will benefit the New York Junior Tennis League. Visit http://www.tasteoftennis.com/ to learn more about the BNP Paribas Taste of Tennis and to http://www.nyjtl.org/ learn more about New York Junior Tennis League.

HaChi Restaurant & Lounge Promises a Better Fusion

THE Serb tennis player Janko Tipsarevic fits the profile of the kind of customer HaChi Restaurant & Lounge would relish.

From HaChi Restaurant & Lounge, Seared Duck (w/crispy beets, baby arugula, pickle red onion puree, prune infusion vinaigrette. Photos by Sunny Norton.

He is young/young-at-heart, hip, smart and loves sushi. Because JT has talked up the merits of fish and rice for those in his profession (see writeup above), he’d probably whet his appetite with a few HaChi chef special rolls. For instance, Fisherman Wharf (w/lobster, white fish, jumbo shrimp, mango avocado, rice cracker pinenut, kir in beer dressing); Chilean Sea Bass Roll (broiled miso marinated seabass, cooked Napa cabbage, orange vinaigrette, sweet miso drizzle), or Crazy Tuna (spicy tuna, crunch, black pepper tuna, scallion on top).

Sushi lovers who don’t wish to roll with rice can try a Naruto roll (w/cucumber): Spicy Tuna, Spicy Yellowtail, Eel & Crabmeat or Rainbow Naruto.

HaChi Restaurant & Lounge opened in late July with a party and media preview.

The two-level HaChi is the newest Asian fusion restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side. It is a room in which the lounge and restaurant atmosphere are fused seamlessly. Track lighting sets just the right mood for an evening out. Glass panels with floral motif book-ended by white columns and booths framed by slate gray railing downstairs lend an intimacy to the space. The cocktail bar, sushi-prep station and a series of booths lining one wall are islands unto themselves. The centerpiece of the lower level are curved white banquettes (How, oh how will they keep them clean?) that are a perfect venue from which to see and be seen. Eventually, live music, a happy hour and a reverse happy hour will be part of the mix.

HaChi opened with a swanky party in late July, promising that its fusion fare is a cut above the typical, owing mainly to its “unique" dishes, top-shelf ingredients and French cuts of beef, fish and chicken. Something along the lines of a Calamari Martini with a 72-hour vodka marinade.

A selection of fresh cuts from HaChi, including tuna, salmon and white fish with garnishes.

Guests didn't sample calamari martini but feasted on several other dishes, including the Filet Mignon Roll (wasabi/mashed potatoes, carrot & ginger puree, sweet & sour pink pepper corn sauce) and Seared Duck (crispy beets, baby arugula, pickle red onion puree, prune infusion vinaigrette). The pair of appetizers has a nice balance of flavors and at their center succulently tender morsels of animal protein. Hachi Chocolate Truffles (bittersweet chocolate/pickle red onion puree, caramelized pistachio dust, candy kumquats) fuse for an exotic taste sensation. This could be a hardsell.

HaChi expects to introduce a late-night menu shortly. At the moment the main slate is an accessible, affordable (not cheap, not expensive) mix of the aforementioned dishes, as well as soups (Asian Pear), salads (Sesame Chicken, featuring cucumber spaghetti), hot (foie Gras Torchon) and cold dishes (Champagne Scallops), omakase, a la carte sides (Truffle Mushroom Risotto) and desserts (Caramelized Kumquats).

Visit http://www.hachinyc.com/ to learn more about HaChi Restaurant & Lounge.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sins of Decades Past Come to Collect in 'The Debt'

Rachel (Helen Mirren), David (Tom Worthington) and Stephan (Marton Csokas) train for an important mission in "The Debt." Photos courtesy of Focus Features.

TERRIBLE secrets haunt, cripple, stifle. Often, they are devastating and deadly. Eventually – almost without fail – they come to light.

Yet, it is human nature to keep them. Self-preservation compels us to do so as it does three Mossad (Israel’s CIA) agents in “The Debt.” The film opens nationwide tomorrow.

In 1965, Rachel, Stephan and David (Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington) are assigned to retrieve the Nazi war criminal, Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) aka the Surgeon of Birkenau, and bring him back to Tel Aviv to answer for his misdeeds during World War II. Vogel is alive, well and thriving in East Berlin. (See videos at: http://www.focusfeatures.com/the_debt/videos)

Rachel (Helen Mirren) learns from Stephan (Tom Wilkinson) that she must conclude their unfinished business in "The Debt."

“The Debt,” adapted from the 2007 Israeli film, “Ha-Hov,” is a taut espionage thriller that is a throwback to classic spy films of the '60s and '70s i.e., “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” “The Day of the Jackal,” “Three Days of the Condor.”

Rachel, on her first mission, joins her two comrades in East Berlin where they train, plot and plan. Posing as a young wife having trouble conceiving, Rachel is the bait that is used to catch gynecologist Vogel. All is going well; they have confirmed his identity; Rachel has gained Vogel’s trust or rather she has overcome his natural suspicion. When a former Nazi is hiding in plain sight he must be careful of all strangers, especially Jews with foreign accents.

The agents’ careful plan hits a snag, though, when East German guards figure that something is amiss as the trio attempts to put Vogel on a train to West Germany, forcing them to improvise. Instead of seeing Vogel off, they take him back to the dilapidated flat they share until they can get him out of the country.

David (Ciarán Hinds) and Rachel (Helen Mirren) meet for the first time in years in "The Debt."

Vogel is a wily creature, manipulating and provoking his way into an escape. In the face of this colossal failure the three agents immediately begin to assign blame to each other, then quickly realize that they must work together if they are to survive. They make a secret pact and in the process become heroes in their country with many trimmings that accompany such status. Thirty years later their past is nipping at their heels. All three (Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds) stand to lose colossally, lest they act.

“The Debt” toggles between the past of 1965-66 and the present of 1997, and director John Madden handles the transition without losing an ounce of intrigue or suspense. At any moment in the past the cover of Rachel or one of the others will be blown. At any moment in the present either of the heroes may break from the burden of the three-decade-old secret they’ve been carrying around like a lead weight.

Rachel’s burden seems the heaviest because she gets most of the credit for saving the day. Her and Stephan's daughter, Sarah (Romi Aboulafia), is immensely proud of her and has immortalized her exploits in a future best-seller. Ringleader Stephan is seemingly the least affected by the secret – on the surface, that is. David, already a tortured soul, buckles under the weight of the secret.

Former spy Rachel (Helen Mirren) involuntarily comes out of a 30-year retirement to embark on a covert mission in Ukraine in "The Debt."

In “The Debt” the tension in the air is palpable. It is so thick that a knife won’t cut it. It requires a chainsaw. HM gets top billing but the film is an ensemble piece. The “The Debt” succeeds because both sets of actors convey urgency, dread, fatalism with the calm and aplomb of a bomb detonator.

Those calm exteriors beautifully camouflage the powder kegs inside. That is what makes “The Debt” an on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller.

”The Debt” is rated R for some violence and language.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Upholding Tradition of Protest, Song in Latest 'Hair' Do

Dionne (Phyre Hawkins) and the rest of The Tribe in the latest production of "Hair." Photos by Joan Marcus.

BY TAMARA BECK

HATS
off to the producers (The Public Theater with associate producers Jenny Gersten, S.D. Wagner, and John Johnson) for bringing the road company of the 2009 Tony-winning musical, “Hair, back for a short summer season.

“Hair,” subtitled “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” is at the St. James Theatre through 10 Sept. It is of and about the struggle against war and personal oppression, a struggle waged mostly by disenfranchised youth in the 1960s.

An anti-war protest musical, “Hair” is a living and breathing icon. Gerome Ragni, James Rado (book and lyrics) and Galt MacDermot (music) capture the times and they are brought to life on the stage in this immersive production directed by Diane Paulus. Karole Armitage’s choreography has the young actors crawling over the seats and running up and down the aisles.

Using a cast of relative unknowns gives “Hair” back its virginity. The street kids of “The Tribe” are still in high school or would be if they hadn’t run away or been expelled. This is a touring production of “Hair,” which stops at Dallas, Denver, West Palm Beach and several other cities before ending its run in Toronto in April 2012.(See video at http://www.hairontour.com/multimedia.php)

Despite its historic context, there is nothing coy in the setting of “Hair” and no plea that the audience understand that this is a period piece other than the costuming. Of course when “Hair” was first produced, off-Broadway in October 1967 and then on Broadway in April 1968, it was in and of the period. Fifty years ago in many corners, the debate over the Vietnam War and the Great Society’s ills devolved into one about appearances. “Hair” was a kind of shorthand for what addled the old folks about kids marching for justice and peace.

Paris Remillard as Claude and Steel Burkhardt as Berger with other members of the cast of "Hair."

The songs, most famously “Aquarius” and “Where Do I Go,” are tuneful and memorable, delivering their point with intelligence and humor.

In “Hair,” tie-dyed and drug-addled hippies burn draft cards, stage sit-ins and indulge in free love. Sheila (Caren Lyn Tackett) loves Berger (Steel Burkhardt) and Claude (Paris Remillard) loves Sheila, while Jeanie (Kacie Sheik) is in love with Claude. However, “Hair” is also about the freedom to love and the other great ‘60s social revolution.

While satirizing the racial divide, the original “Hair” put its money where its mouth was by casting black actors as leads in the ensemble. This was revolutionary and new to the stage since blacks were routinely cast as menials. Hud (Darius Nichols), sporting a huge afro that adds several inches to his already tall and lanky frame, provides reminders that the protests are not just against a war, but for civil rights as well.

As serious as its purpose is, “Hair” still has a lively and entertaining way of delivering a message that bears repeating. It remains relevant and it’s still a street party.

Visit http://www.hairontour.com/ to learn more about “Hair.”



Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bountiful Laughs in 'Olive and the Bitter Herbs'

David Garrison as Robert, Dan Butler as Trey, Marcia Jean Kurtz as Olive, Richard Masur as Sylvan and Julie Halston as Wendy in "Olive and the Bitter Herbs." Photos by James Leynse.

BY TAMARA BECK

SOMETIMES
it seems as if playwright Charles Busch has been outrageously funny forever, so it is no surprise that his latest work, “Olive and the Bitter Herbs,” elicits hearty guffaws.

CB revisits some familiar tropes with “Olive and the Bitter Herbs.” It is in a premiere run at 59E59 Theaters’ Primary Stages through 3 Sept. As often happens in a CB comedy, there are eccentrics whose stories overlap and intersect to hilarious effect.

In “Olive and the Bitter Herbs,” the ghost in Olive Fisher’s (Marcia Jean Kurtz) mirror is one of the few things she welcomes into her life.

Despite her relative good fortune, Olive remains a curmudgeon, bristling at minor slights and quarrelling happily with everyone. Her neighbors, Robert (David Garrison) and Trey (Dan Butler), are particularly irksome to her. Her selfless friend Wendy (Julie Halston) stages a truce, inviting Trey and Robert for cocktails at Olive’s.

During this visit the ghost also becomes a person of interest for each of her guests. That particular visitor is probably (or improbably) the reason that Robert and Trey continue to hang around. In another unlikely twist and out of the blue Olive is asked and agrees to host a Seder, explaining the title of the play and offering an occasion for gags.

Wendy (Julie Halston) is a good friend to temperamental Olive (Marcia Jean Kurtz) in "Olive and the Bitter Herbs."

Rounding out the little horde at Olive’s door is Sylvan (Richard Masur), the widowed father of the co-op’s president (like the ghost, unseen on stage.) He comes by to apologize for an altercation Olive started with his daughter in the building’s newly renovated lobby.

MJK is very funny as Olive, a mildly successful actress whose claim to fame was a starring role in one of those viral commercials some time back.

CB’s stock characters – angry and unpleasant New Yorkers, a bickering gay couple, a helpful handmaiden single woman and a mellowed-out retiree – are anything but stick figures as brought to life by a fine cast under the direction of Mark Brokaw.

Visit http://www.primarystages.org/ to learn more about “Olive and the Bitter Herbs.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Getting Needs Met for a Price in 'Special Treatment'

Alice (Isabelle Huppert) wants to make a career change in "Special Treatment." Photo by Patrick Muller.

ENNUI is a terrible affliction. It has the power to drive human beings to do all manner of daffy, dangerous and destructive things.

In “Special Treatment,” the first film from French director Jeanne Labrune in six years, she brings attention to the parallels of two seemingly different professions. It is ennui that is the cause of depression and listlessness in call girl Alice (Isabelle Huppert) and psychoanalyst Xavier (Bouli Lanners). The film opens today in New York at Cinema Village (http://www.cinemavillage.com/) and on 16 Sept. in Los Angeles at Laemmle Sunset 5 (http://www.laemmle.com/).

The argument can also be made that the two Parisians in “Special Treatment” are ill-suited to their chosen métier. Further, they are both in their 40s and simply may be experiencing a midlife crisis. This is especially the case for Alice. (See trailer at: http://www.firstrunfeatures.com/trailers_specialtreatment.html)

IH’s Alice as the main protagonist goes about her work as if on autopilot. She sets up for her role as a schoolgirl, including plaid skirt, white shirt and over-the-knee socks and for her role as a dominatrix (collars, chain, dog food container, raw meat, etc.) with the insouciance of one watering the plants. A consummate professional, she does not sh_ _ where she sleeps, so to speak. She has a separate apartment for her work. When the schoolgirl-loving john (Jean-François Wolff seems to be suffering from ennui himself, Alice casually offers to recommend him to one of her colleagues.

Alice (Isabelle Huppert) and Xavier (Bouli Lanners) have a common complaint in "Special Treatment." Photo by Virginie Saint Martin.

Where Alice is indifferent, Xavier is contemptuous. Is his bad marriage responsible for his behavior? At around 60 euros for 15 minutes or whatever the good going rate is for sessions, one would think Xavier would bother to offer a harrumph by way of a response to the clients reclined on his sofa. They prattle on desultorily; they ask and answer their own questions. Xavier just sits mutely – obstinately – until their time is up at which point he gladly shows them door.

JL’s inspiration for “Special Treatment” was a chance-reading of a book that touched on a word in psychoanalysis that she noted has a different meaning in prostitution. Thus was born an idea that she and co-screenwriter Richard Debuisne have fashioned into a smart, sophisticated screenplay. Strong women tend to figure prominently in JL’s work. It is inconceivable that a male director would pluck an actress in her late 50s to play such a character. Alice is both likable and empathetic, not sympathetic.

The immensely talented IH – who in this role brings to mind both Susan Sarandon and Lauren Hutton – is one of the very few actresses on earth who can credibly evoke Alice’s allure, beauty, confidence, intelligence and vulnerability. Wisely, JL knows that the implication is sufficient, precluding the need to show Alice in the act. Though she is a 43-year-old prostitute, Alice is utterly desirable. A man 28 and one 58 (IH’s actual age) would be drawn to her. She shows no physical manifestations of the ravages of her profession. And never is she a tragic, pitiful or pitiable figure.

A special-needs client (Jean-François Wolff) gets a little comfort from Alice (Isabelle Huppert) in "Special Treatment." Photo by Patrick Muller.

Alice has a steely determination to recapture herself. She doesn’t slink away when she believes someone is looking down on her because of her chosen profession. She and Xavier meet through a mutual acquaintance and it looks as if they may reach an accommodation. It does not work but they help each other in a far more meaningful way.

“Special Treatment” is billed as an erotic drama more likely because this is familiar territory for JL whose milieu is the cult of darkness. However, as she asserts in the production notes, lately she has moved a few steps away from the darkness. Whenever the subject is prostitution – and psychoanalysis to a lesser extent (body intercourse/mind intercourse) – invariably the images of darkness and erotica are evoked. Yet in “Special Treatment,” JL draws on the inner lives of her characters to produce a significant amount of light and laughter.

Xavier’s excessive hand-washing is almost a running joke. A hidden side of the taciturn psychoanalyst is revealed in his simply attending an auction. Alice, early in the film, is antiquing with one of her colleagues/friends, Juliette (Sabila Moussadek). She seems every bit a member of the bourgeoisie with a flat in Paris’ 16th arrondisement. Later, she informs Juliette that a new client (Xavier) is a coveted chandelier – meaning that he will be the means to purchasing it. One of the lightest and most illuminating moments in the film is when Alice explains in great detail her rate structure to a befuddled Xavier.

Alice (Isabelle Huppert) in the guise of the dominatrix in "Special Treatment." Photo by Patrick Muller.

FYI, the setting up of props is charged to the client. Also note that clients must book Alice in 10-block sessions and do not receive a refund if they cancel or wish to end their visits before they have exceeded their 10 sessions. On the otherhand, if Alice wishes to cancel or end the visits, she will refund the cost of unused sessions only. Light and illuminating.

JL uses “Special Treatment” to do what she says she has done in all of her films: “tell a story about overcoming something.” It is a clever, engaging, witty film that presents two people dealing with an ailment of the human condition and overcoming it in a way that is well-suited to their respective situations.

“Special Treatment” has no rating. It is shown in French with English subtitles.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The How of Organic, Natural and Biodynamic Wines

The dirt and wine in organic, natural and biodynamic wine production have a similar relationship to that of Brooke Shields and her Calvin Klein jeans. Photo by Richard Avedon for Calvin Klein Jeans.

BY TAMARA FISH

NEW
types of wine seem to be springing up all over: Natural Wine, Organic Wine, Biodynamic Wine.

Twenty years ago, people would have scratched their heads. Natural wine. Hmmmm. Is there an unnatural wine? Organic Wine. What’s an inorganic wine made of? Plastic?Let’s not even begin to think about biodynamic.

Fast forward. These days in the age of Whole Foods Market, organic farming and improved consumer labels, people are growing increasingly interested in the how of food production. Where does the produce come from? How is it grown? Are there pesticides or additives? Wine production is no exception. Organic, Natural, Biodynamic – all these terms mean related but substantially different things about the how of wine. Here at GRAPE: Wine Talk, we’ll dispel the confusion.

The Skinny: Organic-Natural-Biodynamic Wines via Calvin Klein Jeans
Remember those iconic ads in which a very young Brooke Shields claimed that nothing “comes between me and my Calvins [Klein jeans].” Well nothing – or very little – comes between the dirt and the wine from the vine in organic, natural, and biodynamic production. That’s the glib way of talking about terroir – the land from which a wine springs. Every vineyard is different. Every harvest is different. The minerals found in one parcel of land are different than in another. The insects and organisms in the dirt are even different. This difference, this balance of lime or clay or sand or quartz and water content and bugs shapes the grapes, and the grapes shape the wine.

Jack Rabbit Hill Winery is one of several U.S. vineyards that produces both organic and biodynamic wines. Photo from Jack Rabbi Hill Winery.

Do less to the grape when growing and the ground will express itself. That’s terroir. Do less to the grape when fermenting and the ground and grape will express themselves even more. Organic, Natural and Biodynamic wines are all about doing less to the wine, and the flavor changes dramatically.

A Taste: Take a Walk on the Wild Side
In general, drinking an organic, natural or biodynamic wine is like eating wild game: a little unexpected, full of flavor but surprisingly good once one adjusts to the nuance. Definitely an acquired taste. Untamed, unfinessed, from lands that have been de-treated of pesticides, such wines tend to be rather unusual.

Truth be told, some do not like the raw, less-refined taste. Others say that this is the way wine was meant to be – the difference between downhome cooking and haute cuisine. Drink what you like. Change it up every now and then, just for kicks. But to tell the difference between organic, natural and biodynamic, let’s begin with the state of winemaking today.

Frey offer natural wines for those with concerns about the source of their drink. Photo courtesy of Frey Natural Wines.

Conventional Wines: Tweaking through Chemistry
When experts talk about exquisite winemakers, some refer to the masters of grape but
most refer to the masters of chemistry. The masters of the grape – the growers, the
vintners – know how to plant, prune and weed to maximize sunshine. They know which
chemicals to apply to avoid too much mold (must) and eliminate pests.

Still the glory typically goes to the master chemists of the grape who tweak the juice just so. How much sulfur or potassium beyond the naturally occurring amount should be added to stabilize the wine, keeping it from sliding into vinegar over the years? Which types of yeast ought to be cultivated to produce consistency in fermentation? Does sugar content need to be increased to enhance fermentation and round out the taste?

Then, there are other techniques to adapt acidity, etc. All of these are little tweaks a fine master chemist of the grape makes to shape the taste of the wine. It is an art, a fine one. And we love it. The booming wine industry is proof positive. But others say that such techniques common to conventional winemaking have gone too far. Wine production has gone industrial, to the detriment of the grape. Enter the organic, natural, and biodynamic difference.

The USDA Organic is the seal that certifies that U.S. wines are organic. Photo courtesy of the USDA.

Organic: Kill the Pesticides
Long story short: Organic wines, like the organic movement in general, is preoccupied
with the produce. In order to receive the USDA Organic label, 95 percent of the grapes used in production must be organic, or those grapes that have not been subjected to a long list of banned pesticides. Period. There are some classifications of pesticides that are allowed, but this list is highly restricted.

Recently in the United States, many vineyards that once grew grapes conventionally are now converting their lands to organic farming practices. So to find an organic wine, check the label. But note: organic winemakers are concerned with the grape. The juice can be tweaked as much as one likes.

Au Natural: Wine geek haven work in process
“What!?!?!?,” members of the Natural Wine Impromptu Caucus say to organic winemakers. “Add sulfates to modify the taste? Use a pesticide, even if it is ‘approved’? That’s not what nature intended!!" ... "That, and leave the vines alone. How would you like it if someone pruned you against your will?” ... “Whaddaya making? Sourdough bread? Let the yeast occur naturally year to year. None of this cultivating yeast stuff!” ... And a little later, another Caucus member chimes in, “And no one should use oak either! Who ever saw an oak tree growing from a grape vine? It’s manipulation!” ...

Rudolf Steiner is credited with setting out the principles that inform biodynamic farming. Photo from WikiCommons.

“But wait,” the other members chide,” we can’t ban casks, too. That’s going too far.” ... “No it’s not!” ... “Oh yes it is!” ... “Oh, no it’s not!” ... And the debate goes on ad infinitum. Natural farming is about a principle, letting absolutely as little as possible get between the sun, the rain, the dirt, the grape, the juice, and the wine that comes out later. What happens to the juice is equally as important as what happens to the grape.

But no regulatory commission for natural wines exists. Natural winemakers begin where
organic winemakers leave off – with organic grapes – but that is about the end of the
consensus. Until there is, such winemakers will continue to debate, refine, and codify how to put principle into practice. Wine geeks encouraged to apply.

Biodynamic: Wine geeks meet new age spirituality
Biodynamic wines are what one gets if one takes some of the principles of natural wine, adds a wicked dose of New Age Spirituality and still manages to have an international regulatory commission. Like the natural winers, biodynamic producers are concerned with principles.

Most of the inspiration comes from Rudolf Steiner, a brilliant grade-A eccentric of the first order, who concluded that absolutely everything in farming has a spiritual principle, and that every farm is a self-contained unit. Animals and crops and humans form a little world – a closed ecosystem – and if that principle is respected, the land and all in it will live sustainably and harmoniously.

In English, that means that the ground must be treated with materials that come from
animals living right there on the land, according to a precise system and formula. Cow horns (or an approved suitable substitute) filled with cured manure must be buried at intervals to replenish the soil. Consultation with astrological charts indicates the most favorable times to plant. Absolutely no pesticides can be used. Animals roam freely among the vines.

Does the enoceta (a sort of wine library) in Schiphol, Amsterdam keep any natural, organic or biodynamic wine in its large selection? That is the question. Photo by Jeff Wilcox.

But before pooh-poohing the method note this: Demeter, the international biodynamic farming organization, is recognized by the European Union (EU), while other well-known and well-respected organic organizations are not. Further, one of the fastest growing movements today in EU is biodynamic vineyards. Note also that some organic winemakers are now also experimenting in biodynamic methods. Something must beworking.

Q: What is one to do?
A: Have fun!

Pick a grape: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, whatever. Buy one
of each: conventional, organic, natural, biodynamic. Look for the USDA Organic label.
For a list of natural and biodynamic wines, see Fork and Bottle (http://www.forkandbottle.com/).

Gather a group of friends. Pop and pour. Taste them all. Talk about them. Don’t think too much, just give your impressions. Find what you like. And enjoy. But most important, make sure to drink responsibly while doing so.

Next up: Bellying Up to the (Wine) Bar




Friday, August 19, 2011

DVD Releases: Three Different Meditations on Injustice

Young Jorge (Flávio Bauráqui) and young Miguel(Caco Ciocler) in “Almost Brothers (Quase Dois Irmãos.” Photo courtesy of Global Lens Collection.

THREE films available on DVD come Tuesday give evermore credence to Edmund Burke’s assertion that all it takes for evil to spread is for good men to do nothing.

Exhibit No. 1 is “Dear Uncle Adolf: The Germans and Their Führer” (2010), which concerns thousands of letters written by Germans to Adolf Hitler.

"A German woman's dream: to see the Führer, just once. Just once to stand close to him. Just once to gaze into those eyes, those eyes they call a prophet's. You hold the hearts of an entire people in your hands, and anyone who sees you pass by, they are envied by those who stand by,” coos Berliner Gertrud Sprinik. “I, too, may never catch a glimpse, but with every greeting, it's your name I call. Heil Hitler: it's almost like offering a prayer, the raised hand asking for your blessing. May God bless you and protect you. Heil Hitler! That is my prayer for you."

The Berlin woman's letter is among the representative sample of thousands – found in a secret Russian archive – that director Michael Kloft uses to illustrate the feelings of the German people toward their leader. For a time in the 1930s, AH was a heroic figure who brought his people out of the dark days of World War I and helped them regain a measure of lost pride.

Adolf Hilter receives thousands of love letters in “Dear Uncle Adolf: The Germans and Their Führer.”

In the letters, which are read in a sort of chronological order by actors in voiceover as they are shown on screen, Germans express sentiments such as loyalty, encouragement and best wishes. Some express, criticism as well, especially when it becomes clear to some that the Führer might be mad. “Dear Uncle Adolf: The Germans and Their Führer” uses extensive archival footage featuring AH before large, adoring crowds.

Acclaimed Dr. Sidney Bloch is a Jew who lost more than a dozen relatives in Hitler’s Germany. He better than most knows the ugliness of oppression and hatred. Yet it is clear in “Wrong Side of the Bus” (Rod Freedman/2009) that the good doctor did not always act on his principles when he lived as a white man in apartheid-era South Africa – something he could not have done in Nazi Germany. For instance during medical school, SB witnessed firsthand the unfair treatment that his nonwhite classmates endured but remained mostly mute. (See trailer at: http://www.wrongsideofthebus.com/)

One man wants to try to make things right in "Wrong Side of the Bus."

Wracked with guilt and facing the disapproval of his son Aaron (who also narrates), SB who since his med school days has since settled in Australia, seeks to use the occasion of his 40th medical school reunion to begin to atone. “Wrong Side of the Bus” was the best documentary winner at the International Film Festival South Africa the year it was shown there.

If not atonement, a fragile alliance must transpire between black Brazilian drug lord Jorge (Antônio Pompêo) and white Brazilian politician Miguel (Werner Schüneman) in “Almost Brothers (Quase Dois Irmãos,” Lúcia Murat/2004).

It was not until the late ‘90s that the Brazilian government officially acknowledged that perhaps not all of its citizens are treated equally. The divergent paths of Jorge and Miquel's life are proof of the inequality. As boys they became friends through their fathers – one a musician the other a music lover.

"The Best of Global Lens: Brazil" is a box set of four films, lighthearted and serious, that touch on the socio-economic struggles and triumphs of Brazilians.

While they shared a brief stint in jail in the ‘70s, only young Miguel (Caco Ciocler) was able to leave that life behind. Young Jorge (Flávio Bauráqui) had no such opportunity. In fact he is back in prison, controlling drug traffic on the streets of present-day Rio de Janeiro from his cell. Now in their middle years, Jorge and Miguel’s paths cross again when Miguel seeks Jorge’s help on an anti-drug/poverty initiative. Their lives will become even more intertwined when/if Miguel discovers that his daughter has become involved with some of Jorge’s lieutenants.

“Almost Brothers” is one of four Brazilian films in a box set from the Global Lens Collection. See trailer at http://www.catalogue.globalfilm.org/global-lens-collection/almost-brothers.html.

Visit www.firstrunfeatures.com/ (First Run Features) for DVD purchase information.

At 'D23 Expo,' Disney Reveals Coming Events, Classic Moments
WHEN Sparky is killed in a car accident Victor is overcome with grief. But the youngster turns his grief into true grit when he bring his pooch back to life in a whole new, sometimes scary way.

Poster from Tim Burton's feature-length film version of "Frankenweenie." Image from The Walt Disney Studios.

Sound familiar? This is the premise of “Frankenweenie.” Tim Burton is remaking his 1984 live-action short as a full-length, stop-motion film shot in b&w. Featuring the voices of Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Martin Short and Charlie Tahan as Victor, “Frankenweenie” won’t hit movie theaters until October 2012. However, visitors to The Walt Disney Studios' D23 Expo this weekend (19-21 Aug.) will get a behind-the-scenes look at the film.

The expo at the Anaheim (Calif.) Convention Center also promises glimpses of never-before-scene footage of “Frankenweenie,” several other Disney, Pixar Animation Studios (“Brave”) and Marvel Studios (“The Avengers”) projects, as well as exhibits, panels, advance screenings and star appearances.

Sarah Silverman provides the voice of Vanellope von Schweetz in "Wreck-It Ralph," an animated film set in the world of video games. Photo from Getty Images.

An exhibit at Disney’s D23 Expo that is bound to inspire wonder is the one that features props from “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” ... Director Andy Jimenez and his classic short, “One Man Band,” are on a program of five sessions celebrating a quarter-century of Pixar’s special brand of wizardry ... “The Lion King” fans will have an opportunity to take in an advance screening of an all-new 3D version of the film due out in the fall.

Named in honor of the year that the Walt Disney movie studio opened its doors, D23 won’t close without trotting out stars of Disney films. Gazers can clap eyes on Miss Piggy (“The Muppets”), Willem Dafoe (“John Carter”), Jennifer Garner (“The Odd Life of Timothy Green”), Sarah Silverman (“Wreck-It Ralph”) and others.

Visit http://http://www.d23expo.com/ to learn more about the "D23 Expo," including ticket information and visit www.Disney.com/D23 to learn more about D23.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quitting Daily Grind of Coffee and Alcohol Express

Social drinking should be a moderate activity, owing to the debilitating effects of alcohol. Photo by Dreamstime.

By JANET COOK, NYC Healthy Chick

QUICK,
you need an energy fix. At the crack of dawn you’re guzzling a venti quad toffee nut latte. At 10:30, a coworker shows up with your A.M. fix.

Noontime, you’re off to the office's favorite purveyor for a slice or two and a soda. Poof, it’s 3 p.m. and another cup of coffee magically appears on your desk. Quitting time and you’re sitting at the local wateringhole throwing back a couple of drinks. Does this sound all too familiar?

The green bean salad gets an extra bit of texture from goat cheese. Photo from Whole Foods Market.

What really happens when we rely on these kinds of stimulants to keep us energized? Is it really healthy to continue the regular misuse of coffee and alcohol to fuel the body? No.

Caffeine is the No. 1 drug that propels us past the point of fatigue without giving
our bodies a break. Unregulated, caffeinated coffee causes health concerns like exhausted adrenal glands, endocrine imbalances, severe blood sugar swings, acid imbalances, essential mineral depletion, premature aging, female and male health issues. Oh, jeepers! Are you sure you want to keep drinking the stuff?

Portobello and asparagus egg strata is a basic egg dish that pairs well with most vegetables and cheese. Photo from Whole Foods Market.

Meanwhile, regular alcohol consumption can lead to increased risk of developing alcoholism, cardiovascular disease, malabsorption, chronic pancreatitis, alcoholic liver disease and cancer. It also damaging the central nervous and peripheral nervous systems. My goodness, having that regular after-work drink is now looking mighty frightening isn’t it? Yes.

Instead, try a different approach by allowing your body to generate its own energy from nutrients. NYC Healthy Chick’s Daily Grind Makeover is a pretty easy, logical and simple way to rejuvenate yourself. You’ll have boundless natural energy and be endowed with endless creativity.

1. Hardcore coffee lover? Give it up for Teeccino, a caffeine-free
herbal coffee loaded with a complex variety of unique antioxidants, soluble fiber, enzymes, essential oils and immune system-stimulating constituents that work together synergistically to promote good health. Teeccino is a great substitute for coffee for those weaning themselves off of high doses of caffeinated coffee. Another benefit of teeccino is that it is cheaper than coffee. Visit http://www.teeccino.com/ to learn more about teeccino.

The meal is served with the colorful pineapple chicken kabobs with quinoa. Photo from Whole Foods Market.

2. Try pre-planned healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Pre-planning each
meal is key to fueling the body for the entire day. Save money by cooking meals at
home and taking lunch to work. Eating simple, unprocessed whole foods aid in
portion control while reducing overeating during the day. This is also a way to cut down on or completely stop eating processed fast foods on the go. Following are three
easy-to-prepare dishes.

For Sunday breakfast and the next day, too, is a Portobello and Asparagus Egg Strata. Hmm, Hmm. (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/1862)

Go green and pack a light lunch with a hearty Green Bean Salad. The flavor will keep you coming back for seconds. (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/3012)

For dinner combine two easy-to-grill ingredients in Pinapple-Chicken Kabobs
with Quinoa.
Pack up the leftovers and enjoy them at work. (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/3049)

Yoga (Savasana) is a relaxant that gives a natural high with no worries about a hangover. Photo by Kla Project.

3. Trade in the after-work wateringhole for an energizing yoga class near the office. Take a friend. Yoga is an excellent way to get a natural high and it isn’t responsible for empty calories and hangovers.

Assume the position: Savasana (total relaxation pose).


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Shape-shifting and Other Puzzles in 'The Pillow Book'

Deb (Julie Fitzpatrick), Deb (Vanessa Wasche) and John (Eric Bryant) in “The Pillow Book.” Photos by Mike Klar.

BY TAMARA BECK

IN “The Pillow Book,”
marriage and personality are open to infinite possibilities.

There is confusion at the core of Anna Moench’s new play and it may have to do with Deb’s (Julie Fitzpatrick) and John’s (Eric Bryant) debate over having children and the difficulties such decisions often pose for couples. Or maybe it is about the greater confusion of the heart, of whom we love, and who we are.

Whatever the reasons for the bemusement in “The Pillow Book,” premiering at 59E59 Theaters through 20 Aug., identities are in flux. The couple try on different personas and histories. John is married to Deb, the lawyer or he is married to Deb (Vanessa Wasche), the doctor or guide on the Serengeti.

Like Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano,” in which seemingly ordinary characters are never what or who they seem, “The Pillow Book” is an absurdist work with its shape-shifter Debs and the uncertain John. But ultimately, “The Pillow Book” is about caring – for children, for pets, for each other, even for the environment.

John (Eric Bryant) and Deb (Vanessa Wasche) are an odd couple in "The Pillow Book."

AM, who in her stage directions describes the play as “a fluid collage of experiences and thoughts,” is one of the 2011 class of The Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group. (See http://www.bit.ly/kdOIoi).

Apparently, the play’s title draws its inspiration from a 10th century work by a lady of the Japanese court, Sei Shōnagon, whose free-form commentary on daily life and observations of events was kept as loose notes in a diary, or “pillow book,” something you write before retiring for the night. To underscore the title’s meaning, the characters arrange and rearrange a series of pillows, in a set designed by Maruti Evans, as each scene changes.

The timeline in “The Pillow Book” is the present, or the past, or the parallel or the imagined, but it makes pains to never predict the future.

While the work’s flights of fancy into elephant-hunting versus elephant tourism are snappy and diverting, it is the debate over having children, and Deb’s (JF) reasons not to, that is the most interesting part of the story in “The Pillow Book.”

Deb (Julie Fitzpatrick), Deb (Vanessa Wasche) and John (Eric Bryant) mix it up in “The Pillow Book.”

To be sure, there are promising sparks of intuition and “The Pillow Book” is conceptually interesting. It offers some kernels of connection in its odd plot. Ultimately, however, this play is mired in its own philosophical conundrums.

Visit http://www.59e59.org/ to learn more about “The Pillow Book.”

The Pearl Staging Revival of Absurd, 'The Bald Soprano'
Speaking of “The Bald Soprano,” it will have a revival under the direction of Hal Brooks at The Pearl Theatre Company from 13 Sept. through 23 Oct. at City Center's Stage II. Theatre of the absurd is a style of dramaturgy pioneered in France in the 1940s and that continued through the 1960s. It has strong ties to existential philosophy and investigating the meaning and purpose of life and presupposing that who we are is determined by our imaginations.

Visit http://http://www.pearltheatre.org/ to learn more about “The Bald Soprano.”


 
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