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A Christmas Carol – 2013 at McCarter

December 19, 2013
Graeme Malcolm as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

The David Thompson adaptation of A Christmas Carol  at McCarter Theatre directed by Michael Unger is spellbinding. Year after year it never disappoints. This is partially due to Unger’s decision to have mostly new cast members every year to make each year’s production a bit different for the last 16 years, but there are other factors that keep audiences coming back.

Adikesh s. Nathan, Baylen Thomas, and Adam Le Compte in A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

This year’s cast is the most diversified I’ve seen, and beautifully reflects the Princeton community. It’s a modern twist of the traditional tale, and is a catalyst to wonderful conversations after the show. An example of the mélange of actors is Indonesian-American, Julyana Soelistyo plays Mrs. Dilber. By the way, she’s also Tony nominated.

While the cast is mostly new, there are some familiar faces on stage. Graeme Malcolm returns as Scrooge, and as always does a phenomenal job. Michael Unger’s decision to keep him on board for four years is rightfully justified.  He is a brilliant actor, and cements the cast. Malcolm must be the best Scrooge to have graced the McCarter stage thus far.

James Ludwig returns as Fred/the Schoolmaster/the Undertaker. In the latter role, he gets the kids to react in disgust, but in a funny way, and steals the scene without having to say much. Ludwig manages to incorporate different nuances to his characters annually.

The Ghost of Christmas past is again played by Ronica Reddick. Her character’s peppy personality nicely contrasts Malcolm’s stern portrayal of Scrooge. She too tries to bring subtle changes to her role on a yearly basis.

The sets are another reason to see this production, whether it’s your first or tenth time at McCarter. This is like a Broadway show right here in Princeton. Scrooge & Marley, Ebenizer’s home, Fezziwig’s, the Cratchit’s home, the school yard, and graveyard are all designed with such details, and transition into each other so smoothly that you forget you’re sitting in a suburban theatre.

The effects are magical! Scrooge’s door knocker coming to life, Marley’s ghost going through the wall, Ebenezer flying through the air, and the monstrous Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come have audiences in awe with every performance.

Ensemble from A Christmas Carol at the McCarter Theatre

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

A Christmas Carol is playing at McCarter Theatre until December 29th. It is the perfect holiday show for every generation in your family. If you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you to purchase tickets now, before they sell out!

Thanksgiving Recipes With a Twist

November 16, 2013

Thanksgiving Demo

Recently, Nirit Yadin demonstrated cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal with a twist at a private event. Adding more flavors, textures, and colors made this a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Yadin even created variations of a dish, and used  local, all-natural condiments from the company HerbsNZest in one.

Yadin is a culinary educator and food blogger amongst other things. She is a co-leader of Slow Food Central Jersey. She has worked with Cherry Grove Farm, Whole Foods, Terra Momo Restaurant Group, and the Suppers Program. Nirit enjoys teaching cooking classes, and is a healthy eating coach. You can certainly hire her for either service in your own home would be a great gift for the foodie in your life!

Below is the menu. You can easily prepare these dishes to amaze your family and friends. Recipes courtesy of Nirit Yadin.

  • Turkey Breast Stuffed Under the Skin
  • Bread Salad (Dressing)
  • Mashed Sweet Potatoes
  • Brussels Sprouts with Figs and Bacon
  • Tarte Tatin

Turkey Breasts over Bread Salad

Turkey Stuffed Under the Skin 

The turkey breast was roasted with a compound butter under its skin, which made it crispier. The skin was removed and julienned. The breast was spilt, sliced, and placed on top of the bread salad, topped with the cracklings of turkey skin.

Compound Butter:

  • Makes about 1/2 cup (equivalent of 1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped mixed herbs (such as thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram or rosemary)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well until herbs are distributed evenly. Dump onto a piece of waxed paper, parchment or plastic wrap, shape into a cylinder or disk, and seal ends by twisting, or pack into a ramekin (however you prefer to store and serve it) and cover with plastic. Chill in refrigerator until firm, at least an hour.

Stuff under the skin:

Rinse the turkey  and pat very dry inside and out. Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin. Using your finger, shove butter into each of the 4 pockets. Season the turkey liberally all over with salt and pepper {we use ¾ teaspoon of sea salt per pound of turkey}. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels.  Roast for 20 minutes, then lower to 325 F and continue roasting until internal temp at the thickest part of the breast is 160 F (be sure the thermometer does not touch the bone). Time depends on the size of the turkey but start checking after an hour or so. Let rest for about 20 minutes before carving.

Bread Salad

Bread Salad

Serves 8

  • 2 tablespoon dried cranberries
  • 4 tablespoon warm water
  • 1 pound stale Italian-style bread, cut into large chunks
  • 4 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons HerbNZest Chipotle Cranberry Orange relish (option)
  • 1 cup plus 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 8 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 8 cups lightly packed small arugula leaves

Preheat the oven to 450°. In a small bowl, soak the cranberries in the water and until plumped, 10 minutes. Drain. In the meantime, on a rimmed baking sheet, toss the bread with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Bake for about 5 minutes, until lightly toasted. Let cool, then tear the bread into bite-size pieces.

Make dressing: In another small bowl, combine the Champagne vinegar with the 2 tablespoon HerbNZest relish 1/2 cup of olive oil and season the dressing with salt and pepper. In a bowl, toss the bread with three-quarters of the dressing and let stand for 10 minutes. In a skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon oil. Add the scallions and garlic and cook over moderate heat until, about 2 minutes; transfer to a large bowl. Add the cranberries, bread, pine nuts and the remaining Champagne vinaigrette and toss.

Spoon the bread salad into a shallow 1-quart baking dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake for about 15 minutes, until heated through. Uncover and bake for a few minutes longer to dry out the top and brown the bottom.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

  • 10 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 2 tablespoons HerbNZest Curry Pumpkin Pesto
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Add the potatoes to a large Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer or until the potatoes are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes, drain well. Return the potatoes to the Dutch oven and add the butter, honey, cinnamon or pesto, and salt. Beat at medium-low speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot.

With Marshmallows: Preheat the oven temperature to 400°.

In a medium bowl, toss the marshmallows with the five-spice powder until coated. Spread in a lightly buttered baking pan pan bake for about 10 minutes until the marshmallows are golden and lightly puffed.

Brussels Sprouts with HerbsNZest

Brussels Sprouts With Bacon and Figs (adapted from Mark Bittman)

Serves 8

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 to 12 ounces bacon, chopped
  • 2 pound Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed
  • 2 cups dried figs, stemmed and quartered
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
  • HerbNZest Caramelized Apple Champagne Mustard (optional)

Put a large skillet over medium heat and add oil, then bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, shred the sprouts with a sharp knife or through feed tube of a food processor equipped with a slicing attachment. Add sprouts, figs and 1/4 cup water to pan; sprinkle with salt and pepper, turn heat to medium, and cook, undisturbed, until sprouts and figs are nearly tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Turn heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until any remaining water evaporates, another 5 to 10 minutes. Add vinegar, taste, adjust seasoning and serve with a dollop of HerbNZest Caramelized Apple Champagne Mustard.

For a vegetarian version, replace the bacon with 1 chopped onion, cook in 2 tablespoons butter and one tablespoon oil until brown and caramelized (about 10 minutes). Stir in 2 tablespoon of HerbNZest Caramelized Apple Champagne Mustard. Continue cooking as described. Serve with more mustard on the side.

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin (adapted from Fine Cooking)

  • 5 to 6 pounds tart apples, such as Braeburn, Jonathan, Honeycrisp or Fuji.
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • a pinch kosher salt
  • Store-bought high quality puff pastry, defrosted for a couple of hours in the fridge.

Peel, halve, and core the apples. Make the caramel: In a heavy ovenproof 10-inch skillet melt the butter, add the sugar and salt. Stir gently with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the sugar begins to melt around the edges. After the sugar has melted completely, let the mixture cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until it reaches a deep mahogany-colored caramel; if using a dark pan, occasionally lift some caramel out with a spoon to check the color. As soon as the caramel is the right color, take the pan off the heat.

Arrange the apple halves in the pan in concentric circles, packing them in as tightly as possible (they’ll shrink as they cook). Return the pan to medium heat, increasing to medium high as the apple juices begin to flow and the liquid bubbles gently. The apples should release enough liquid to prevent the caramel from burning, but if you start to smell burnt sugar, immediately turn down the heat. At this point, there should be a lot of juice in the pan. Carefully take the pan from the heat and, holding the apples back with a spatula, pour off some of the caramel and juice into a small saucepan. Return the skillet to the heat and continue cooking the apples in the skillet until they’re tender and thoroughly caramelized. Be patient, cooking time can take 20-30 minutes.

Take the skillet off the heat and let cool to room temperature. If there’s more than about 1/2 inch of liquid remaining in the pan, carefully pour off the excess into the small saucepan. Heat the oven to 375°F. Roll the chilled puff pastry into a round about 1 inch larger than the pan; Roll the round of dough onto the rolling pin and transfer it to the skillet, gently draping the dough over the apples. Tuck and fold the edge of the dough under to make a rim. Put the skillet in the middle of the oven. Bake until the crust is a rich brown and looks crisp, about 25 minutes.

Take the tarte out of the oven and let it cool for about 15 minutes. If more juice accumulates, carefully pour off most of it into the saucepan and then invert a large plate on top of the pan, flip the pan and plate over in one quick move, and lift off the pan. And what about all those yummy pan juices? Simmer them until thick and syrupy and then spoon them over the finished tarte or serve alongside.

From Books to Film

November 12, 2013

20131112-094837.jpgThere have been many popular books that have been brought to the silver screen. They range from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Newbery Medal-winning book Bridge to Terabithia in the children’s category, to The DaVinci Code to the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech for adults.

The Princeton Public Library is featuring The Silver Linings Playbook in their Princeton Reads series and has a Story Slam scheduled for Tuesday, November 11th at 7 PM in the Community Room. Author Matthew Quick will be at the J.W. Middle School auditorium on Friday, November 15th, 7 – 9 PM to discuss the Playbook, as well as his novel Forgive me, Leonard Peacock for young adults.

Family Film Hugo

Courtesy of Netflix

The library has a large selection of the books and their DVD counterparts to borrow. If you’re more into streaming video, check out Netflix‘s collection of movies adapted from bestsellers. Refresh your memory of The Hunger Games before Catching Fire is released, watch something more gentile with your pre-schooler, like The Velveteen Rabbit or The Little Engine Who Could, or check out Hugo or the classic Charlotte’s Web with older kids.

Jazz for Congo Charities

November 7, 2013

Originally posted on Princeton Comment:

karrin AllisonThe Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. But as peace talks begin there, a concert in Princeton offers a glimmer of hope to women in the DRC. Karrin Allyson, a Grammy award-nominated artist, presents jazz ranging from John Coltrane to Elton John in “A Song for Congo” on Thursday, November 14, at 7 p.m. The concert, which takes place at a private Princeton clubhouse, benefits charities in the DRC, including Women, Cradle of Abundance, and UFAR, United Front Against Riverblindness. Refreshments will be served. Tickets are $60, $30 for students, and $250 for sponsors and may be reserved at http://www.womancradleofabundance.org/getinvolved.

Based in the capital city of Kinshasa, Woman, Cradle of Abundance provides a community where women gather to share their stories and envision breaking the cycle of poverty and violence. Founded in 1999 by an ecumenical group of Congolese…

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Flavors of Princeton – “Silver Linings” Edition

November 5, 2013

Yankee Doodle Tap Room Executive Chef Michael LaCorte at Princeton Public Library

The Princeton Public Library Flavors of Princeton series continued, collaborating with Executive Chef, Michael LaCorte of the Nassau Inn’s Yankee Doodle Tap Room. He took his cue from the Princeton Reads selection Silver Linings Playbook. LaCorte prepared the Sicilian dish chicken spiedini, shared that recipe along with braciole, crabby patties, and chicken curry, and had plenty of all dishes for the crowd to sample.

Yankee Doodle Tap Room Executive Chef Michael LaCorte Prepares Chicken Spiedini at Princeton Public Library Yankee Doodle Tap Room Executive Chef Michael LaCorte Prepares Chicken Spiedini at Princeton Public Library

Chef LaCorte was very personable, gave great tips, and shared anecdotes about his family and Sicilian heritage. He created his own version of a crab snack sited in the “Playbook”, which along with the braciole and spiedini served, make great appetizers on any game day. This is really easy to prepare and flavorful.

To make this dish, LaCorte pounded out chicken breast strips, coated them with olive oil, covered them with a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and seasonings including a couple of pinches of cinnamon, rolled up a cube of provolone inside, skewered with bay leaves in between, and broiled on both sides until the chicken was done. The spiedini was my personal favorite. My friend enjoyed his “crabby patty” most. Below is that recipe. Enjoy!

Yankee Doodle Tap Room Executive Chef Michael LaCorte Prepares Chicken Spiedini at Princeton Public Library

Crabby Snacks (Crab Canapés)

Yield: 48 canapés, Time: 30 minute prep time, plus 30 minutes in the freezer

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
  • One 6-ounce can crabmeat, drained
  • One 5-ounce jar Kraft Old English cheese spread
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 6 English muffins, halved

Directions:

  1. Combine butter, crabmeat, cheese spread, mayonnaise, and garlic powder in medium bowl.
  2. Spread crab mixture on English muffin halves. Freeze for 30 minutes.
  3. Heat broiler. Cut each English muffin half into quarters, and transfer onto a baking sheet.
  4. Broil until brown and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The White Snake at McCarter – Review

October 24, 2013
The White Snake at McCarter Theatre

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

The White Snake, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman, is running at McCarter Theatre until November 3rd. It is a love story against all odds based on a Chinese legend, and is very family friendly.

The White Snake at McCarter Theatre

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

The white snake from the spirit world looks down upon Earth. She falls in love with a man and decides to descend from the clouds to win his affections. In order to be convincing, she must transform herself into human form. The green snake also alters herself to blend in, and assist the white snake with her quest. Little did they know that they would have an adversary to put a wrench in her plans.

This production is refreshing for McCarter audiences, as it keeps to the genre of traditional Chinese story telling in a pure form. As the dialog in the beginning progresses, the stage builds into a visually stunning set, which enhances the love story. The snakes are Chinese rod puppets, which really add to the work’s authenticity. Silken sheets, Chinese lanterns, and bamboo walls add wonderful textures to the stage, and the ever-changing screen against the back wall is great at setting the mood. Together with the beautiful costumes and traditional music, audiences will be culturally immersed in this mesmerizing performance.

The White Snake at McCarter Theatre

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

The cast was superb. They allowed our imaginations to soar by using the slightest gestures to symbolize larger actions, i.e. they way they made us believe they boarded a boat that was not physically there, and be paddled down the river. This is also a testament to the amazing direction of Zimmerman.

While this is a perfect production for children, adults alike will be captured by the story telling, music, and visual effects. This is a must see for those of all ages!

Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $20 – $76 and can be purchased online or by calling 609-258-2787.

National Bullying Prevention Month

October 15, 2013
2011 Documentary Bully

Courtesy of Netflix

The Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) compliance checklist was revised in 2011, and brought even more awareness to this national issue. New Jersey has been a leader in supporting the prevention of HIB, and some Princeton schools even offer awareness and resolution training to parent volunteers.

While it’s fantastic that schools are being proactive about this growing problem, parents need to also educate themselves and their children. It’s a good time to have open discussions about harassment, intimidation, and bullying at home.

Sometimes the easiest way to start the conversation is by watching a movie on the topic. Netflix is suggesting 11 anti-HIB movies you can watch on demand by streaming on a computer, tablet, smart phone, or TV via apps, a game console, Blu Ray player, or streaming box, i.e. an Apple TV, in the comfort of your home. Younger kids might enjoy watching Hercules, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Avenger’s: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, Justice League Unlimited, and Ben 10: Alien Force. Tweens and teens might find Bully, The War, Billy Elliot, The Fat Boy Chronicles, and Cyber Bully interesting.

I watched the latter with my kids. Cyber Bully is a story about a girl whose friends and classmates turned against her on a social media site. We discussed how it’s so much easier to bully someone online, and how sites like Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat can be a treacherous vehicle to spreading rumors, making fun of people, and ganging up on a victim. Especially since you can use a handle (name) and avatar (photo) that makes you anonymous. This can lead to low self-esteem, or in worst cases, suicide.

Younger kids get to see superheroes as the protector of HIB victims, and these movies might influence them to confront those who are mean to their classmates or friends. This makes them a hero!

Harassment, intimidation, and bullying includes physical, verbal or written acts that demeans or insults a child under New Jersey law. Take a stand against HIB, and start conversations  with your family the remainder of the month.

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