Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Twenty-Fourth

Greetings, everyone! Once again, I must apologize for my absences. As in the past, absence from blogging means that I've been preoccupied with something else. For the past month, in particular, Sue and I have been busy with one of our cats, Genji, who is struggling. Actually, he's doing pretty well, considering that his illness will eventually (and possibly soon) mean the end of him, but his relative comfort these days is due in large part to the efforts of Sue and me. We use a miniblender to liquify canned food, and we try to feed him just about whenever he's hungry. Then, we wipe his mouth, shirt front, and the kitchen floor. There is pain medicine twice a day. And well, you know . . . we're simply keeping an eye on him, and offering him a lap when he wants it, and trying to make sure he knows he's cared for, and that we love him.

When I get behind in my "journal-journal" (the real one, that's made of paper), I have traditionally used a technique I call "Newsflashes." It's a silly but effective way for me to cover as many subjects as possible, giving myself permission to treat each subject as a "headline." (I'm really not fitted for this Internet-Twitter-ADHD-cursory-shallow style of writing.) So maybe I ought to try that today. I'll omit the silly little lightning-bolt "icon" I would draw beside each statement, if I were writing in my actual journal. Here goes.

TODAY IT'S MY BIRTHDAY. Forty-seven! As Rose O'Neill remarked on her sixtieth, "How roguish!" Well, I'm just glad we have nice weather, that water flows out of the tap today, and that we're going out somewhere for dinner. I don't even know where yet! (I get to decide!)

GREAT NEWS ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI PRESS. All summer long, people have been outraged about the efforts by a few at the University of Missouri to hijack and dismantle Missouri's number-one book publisher, which happens to belong to the people of the State of Missouri. Fortunately, after months of receiving all kinds of public pressure, the administrators have--amazingly!--reversed their decision. But a great deal of damage was done. Press staff numbers are at an all-time low, and the disturbance in operations means that they're scrambling to rebuild their forthcoming list of titles.

I was looking to see if I had any pictures of the press or its staff to share with you. Most people don't know what "book publishing" looks like. Really, it's a bunch of people staring at computers. But to give you an idea of the change in the press in the past few years, here's a picture of the staff as of 2008, before nearly all the layoffs and downsizing began (copied from p. ix of University of Missouri Press: 50 Years of Excellence, 1958-2008). As far as I can tell, the total staff today numbers seven. Seven!!

But yes, the most recent news about the press has been particularly encouraging, so I'd like to encourage you to contribute to the press's future. Here's a link for making a tax-deductible donation. (Yes: My birthday wish is that you'd send a check to the University of Missouri Press!)

Also, browse their catalog and buy a book! Indeed, the books are available in print or electronic formats, and have been for years.

YARD WORK: MOVING THE IRIS. This has been my project the last few weekends. The catalyst was that my dad gave me a bushel of surprise lily bulbs: "If you can't find places for them, just throw them in a compost pile." (As if.) Back when Sue and I got our beloved privacy fence, we moved a bunch of iris to a less-than-optimal place under a tree, right on the corner. (I told you about our hardy heirloom irises.)

My plan was to remove the irises from under the tree and put the surprise lilies there. Those irises, then, could go into an expanded existing (more appropriate) iris bed. (It was expanded because of our new sidewalks and driveway--remember?) The iris, I think, will do well in their new location.

I also rescued some poor little iris bulbs from one of the local nonresident landlord's properties. They'd been mowed off regularly by his "lawn-scalper," but I think they should strengthen and revive. I look forward to seeing what color they are, once they're able to bloom again!

And you know how bulbs are--they always take up more space than you think they will. So I ended up digging up about a half of one of our backyard beds, too, and--sort of--reorganizing it, including some of the extra bulbs: Regular irises go "here," surprise lilies go "here," and Siberian (or are they Japanese?--oh, whatever!) irises go "here." And I made an attempt to segregate that variegated "bishop's weed" stuff (Aegopodium podagraria). We'll see how that goes!

THE NEW SIDEWALKS: UPDATE. Yep, they're lovely, all up and down Broadway. Despite the months of bare dirt due to the construction, heat, and drought, the grass they planted (once it started raining again) has taken off. It's looking really good! Compare the pictures below to the ones I posted earlier!

BREAKING NEWS: PHIDIPPUS AUDAX OBSERVED IN HOME OFFICE! Or, as they say in the guidebooks, a "bold jumping spider." I love the scientific name, though. Phidippus sounds like some Classical Greek playwright, and audax stands for "audacious." And these little characters are audacious! I get the idea they're as curious about us as we are about them. Naturally, I carefully trapped him with a cup and a piece of junkmail and escorted him outside. Below are a few pictures of a P. audax I took in 2008, while it perched on the hood of my car. Aren't the iridescent green chelicerae nifty? What a cool little fella!

If you're a regular reader, you know how I've grown to love spiders!

Well, that's enough "updating" for now--I have plenty more I want to write about, but I have a bunch of other stuff I want to do today!

Monday, October 8, 2012

“Super Farmer Olympic Games” in Vienna, Mo.

Well, this is different: The Visitation Inter-Parish [Catholic] Church in Vienna, Missouri, is sponsoring a “different” kind of fall festival. They call it the “Super Farmer Olympic Games,” and it’ll be held on Saturday, October 20. In Vienna. Missouri.

Here is the flier.

There’s an $8 admission charge ($5 for kids 6–12; ages 5 and under free).

I don’t know how long they’ve been holding this contest. Apparently it’s going to be like those lumberjack contests in the North Woods, where all the “events” revolve around some occupation-specific task, like log-rolling, tree chopping, sawing logs, etc.

Events in the Super Farmer Olympic Games include a “bale toss” as well as a “round bale push,” “gathering eggs,” a wheelbarrow race, “watering the livestock,” and more. If you want to participate, you have to preregister. Otherwise, this is obviously a “spectator sport.”

There will be food and drink available. Afterward, a DJ service from Meta, Jam Pak’d, will provide music for a dance.

If we go, we’ll certainly bring our cameras!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Some Favorite Central Missouri Appetizers

In my previous post I had the audacity to suggest to you what I think are some of the best concerts and plays coming up this fall. (Yeah, all my top picks happen to be in Columbia!)

Whether it’s jazz or classical, theater or the opening of an art show, one of the reasons Sue and I love the fall is because that’s when all these excellent cultural series start up again. We love going to hear orchestras and jazz musicians. And best of all, we love to make a “night” out of it.

And part of that “night” is getting some delicious chow and libation before or after the concert. Nothing heavy—just tasty and delightful. Appetizers are just the thing!

Some of our long-time favorite appetizer-places are gone (Felini and its Greek-dip plate; Village Wine and Cheese’s goat cheese, honey, and dried fruit appetizer . . . ahh . . .), so we’ve had to find new places. Here are some current favorites.

Crostini Platter, Teller’s Gallery and Bar (820 E. Broadway, Columbia). The Crostini Platter is the perfect light meal for two. The menu describes it thus: “Toasted parmesan bread [slices] with roasted red bell pepper spread, peppercorn encrusted goat cheese, pesto, olives [both Greek and California black], tomatoes, and pepperoncinis.” The parmesan-toasted bread is tasty enough on its own, but the “schmears” are delicious, too. All the parts harmonize well, and it’s a pretty platter, besides.

I think you should enjoy a glass of good white wine with this. They have other good appetizers, too: Try the baked brie in puff pastry with honey and walnuts (with assorted crackers and fresh fruit); and the fried artichoke hearts (with chipotle aioli). Note: Teller’s house martini is fantastically “dirty”! If you love dirty martinis, you’ll love Teller’s.

Portabella Mushroom Fries, Paddy Malone’s Irish Pub (700 W. Main, Jefferson City). It’s an Irish pub, so in addition to all that Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s, and whiskey-whiskey-whiskey, there’s a lot of fried stuff on the menu, particularly among the appetizers. (They do fried stuff well, here! And they even deep-fry burgers!) We’re partial to the Portabella Mushroom Fries because they’re big, meaty, and the beer batter coating is nice and crispy. Naturally, great beer is the perfect accompaniment to anything at Paddy Malone’s. To my Columbia friends: Seriously, you need to try this place. From the perfectly tapped Guinness to the fish and chips to the mushy peas and Dublin coddle, they do it right here. And it’s in a historic building that practically hums with history.

Italian Nachos, Sophia’s (Southern European Influenced Cuisine) (3915 S. Providence, Columbia). There are so many dishes on the Sophia’s menu to love (the Godiva Ahi Tuna is heaven!)—and appetizers, antipasti, and tapas are specialties—you can’t really go wrong if you’re wanting a small plate of something. The hardest part is making a selection among all the excellent choices. But a couple appetizers stand out.

The Italian Nachos at first seem odd, but are really addictive: “Fried pasta chips piled high with asiago, marinara, roasted red peppers, scallions, black olives, and your choice of chicken or sausage” (get the sausage). The “pasta chips” are light and crispy, and the whole thing is a fun, grown-up twist on Mexican-style nachos with their gooey orange fakey cheese. We also love Sophia’s Spinach and Portobello Quesadillas, which are made with tomato tortillas. The cumin mayonnaise that it comes with—well—I could almost take a bath in it! You should get wine with these appetizers—and Sophia’s has an excellent list!

Spicy Boiled Shrimp, ECCO Lounge (703 Jefferson St., Jefferson City). Again, there are a lot of good appetizers here, including fried green pepper rings dusted with powdered sugar; soft pretzel sticks; and huge, huge, beer-battered fried onion rings. Many people loooove the German Potato Nachos (though I honestly can’t decide if I like them or not). But I point out the spicy, boiled, peel-n-eat shrimp (served hot or cold, with cocktail sauce) because of the venerable-ness of it: The ECCO’s been serving this dish for at least fifty years, and yes, although better beers exist, Stag is the thing that pairs best. Because it’s ven-er-a-ble. You can order a half or whole pound of the shrimp, and you can get it as a meal, too, which comes with a salad and choice of baked potato, fries, spaghetti, veggies of the day, or rice pilaf.

(By the way, ECCO has been voted to have the best burgers in town, and their specials and salads are excellent, too.)

Appetizer Platter, India’s House (1101 E. Broadway, Columbia). You know I love Indian food, right? But you may not know that Indian folks are in love with finger snacks! “Street food” such as aloo chaat (spicy fried potato chunks) is extremely popular, and appetizers are a big part of India’s famously opulent, elaborate, multicourse meals. They are also popular at afternoon tea. India’s House’s Appetizer Platter is a good way to get acquainted with some of the famous Indian appetizers, with a sampling of pakoras (chicken, cheese, and vegetable, all fried in a spicy batter made with garbanzo flour) and samosas (which are sort of like little pyramidal fried burritos filled with spicy potatoes and peas). The condiments are chutneys: tamarand (which is sweet/sour) and cilantro/mint (which is more spicy). You can also order mango chutney or raita (a cucumber-yogurt-based sauce similar to Greek tzatziki), too.

Beer usually goes well with fried things, but if we’re just having the appetizer as a light meal, I often enjoy a glass of iced rose milk (a divine beverage on a hot day) or a mango lassi (like a mango-yogurt smoothie)—the creaminess harmonizes with the spices. If the weather’s cold, I’ll savor a warm cup of masala chai (Indian spiced tea) instead. The rose milk is pictured here:

Brock’s Green Pepper Rings, Murry’s Restaurant (3107 Green Meadows Way, Columbia). It might seem weird to fry up some green pepper rings the way you’d do onion rings, then sprinkle powdered sugar on them, but it really works! The sugar brings out the sweetness of the bell peppers, and the more you eat, the more you want.

Actually, Murry’s has a ton of good appetizers, such as the Blue Chips Cheese Bread (hot, gooey, grilled cheese bread with bleu cheese and shrimps), Fried Oysters, Sautéed Artichoke Hearts, and—get this—Sardines and Crackers. Maybe you haven’t had sardines in a while, but maybe it’s time you tried ’em again. Grandpa was no dummy: They go really well with a cold brewski and a bit of horseradish sauce! The wine list is excellent, too, so perhaps you’d like a nice glass of Chateau St. Jean fumé blanc—? And glory, it all goes well with good jazz!

Alligator Eggs, Shorty Pants Lounge (1680 Autumn Ln., Osage Beach; by boat, Mile Marker 21.2, Lake of the Ozarks). Shorty Pants is off the beaten path, but worth discovering! Cajun food’s the specialty, and drinking is encouraged—you know—to help with all that spicy stuff! The appetizers are really good. We like the Fried Green Tomatoes, the Crab Cakes, and the fried Duck Tenders served with Cajun blue cheese sauce. Here are the Fried Green Tomatoes:

But the real standout on the “Starters” menu is the “Alligator Eggs”: “Baked jalapeno peppers stuffed with a four-cheese blend and wrapped in prosciutto [and finished in the oven], served with a sweet raspberry-habanero sauce.” Yes, they’re spicy, and yes, they’re awesome!

Monday, October 1, 2012

What to Do?

With autumn and the new school year started, the concerts start, too! This isn’t a blog about the performing arts, but since I do try to say point out the great things about life in Central Missouri, I want to tell you about some of the cultural events I think you would like. So no, I’m not including any mention of the upcoming "cage fights!!!" at the Truman Hotel (gag!).

Note: I’m specifically focusing on high-falutin’ stuff, but I want to remind my non-high-falutin’ readers that experiencing edu-ma-cated, even challenging performances—live—is a key to “understanding” it. Opera, modern classical music, choral music, and wailin’ sax solos can sometimes be hard to “get into” if you’re listening to a recording, but they’re much different live!

Plus, if you read the program, or do a bit of reading online, you’ll understand it all better. And you know that with everything, appreciation (and enjoyment) comes from understanding!

And who doesn’t like to go out on the town and have a brilliant evening every once in a while? I’m mostly picking out egg-headed, grown-up stuff here.

Here are my picks of several local concert seasons, through the end of this year.

The Duck Variations (dramatic theatre), 7:30 pm, Oct. 5-7, Cafe Berlin, Columbia, Mo. A forty-five-minute, one-act play written by David Mamet about two old gentlemen who meet regularly on a park bench and chat.

A Piece of My Heart (dramatic theatre), 7:30 pm Oct. 3-6, Stephens College Warehouse Theatre. “The true stories of five brave women sent to Vietnam and their struggle to make sense of a war that irrevocably changed them and a nation that ignored them. The work, with the music and soul of a turbulent era of our past, follows five women—two nurses, a Red Cross worker, a USO entertainer and an officer—before, during and after their tours in war-torn Vietnam. A gripping story that ends as each woman leaves a personal memento at the memorial wall in Washington.”

No No Nanette (1925 musical), Oct. 3-7, MU Rhynsburger Theatre, Columbia. A “new old-fashioned musical” from 1925 that celebrates the Broadway of yesteryear. Includes famous flapper-era songs like “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy.”

Columbia Civic Orchestra with Ayako Tsuruta, piano, and Columbia College’s Jane Froman Singers, Oct. 6, 8 pm, Broadway Christian Church, Columbia. The all-Beethoven program includes the Coriolan Overture and the Choral Fantasy.

Billy Childs Quartet, Oct. 7, Murry’s restaurant in Columbia (We Always Swing Jazz Series): Two shows: Show 1 at 3:30 pm (doors at 2:30); Show 2 at 7 pm (doors at 6:00). Insightful, tasteful, creative jazz that will reward you richly for paying attention. The quartet is an awesome group of masters: Childs (piano), Steve Wilson (sax and lots more!), Scott Colley (bass; he’s played with Herbie Hancock), and Brian Blade (drums; he is awesome and has played with everyone—from Emmylou Harris to Wayne Shorter). All-stars! And at Murry’s, you’ll be right next to them!

“A Chunk of Monk,” Kenny Barron Quartet, Oct. 17, 7 pm, Missouri Theatre, Columbia (We Always Swing Jazz Series). This is the final concert of three days of incredibly interesting events celebrating what would have been jazz pianist/composer Thelonious Monk’s 94th birthday. On Oct. 15, the Ragtag is playing Straight, No Chaser (a documentary about Monk); on Oct. 16, there’s a masterclass with pianist Barron and then a panel discussion on Monk with Barron, Robin Kelley (Monk biographer) and Gerald Early (Washington University scholar who specializes in jazz history). If you don’t know who Thelonius Monk is, you’re missing a great American original, and it’s time for a crash course! (Yes, you will enjoy this music!) (Barron’s quartet, by the way, is piano, tenor sax, bass, and drums. Want a sample? Go to the We Always Swing website!)

Matt Haimovitz, cellist, Oct. 18, 7 pm, Jesse Aud., Columbia (Univ. Concert Series). Why should you go to this concert? Because the cello is a beautiful, eloquent instrument and people should hear more of it. Also because he’ll be playing from the gorgeous, lyrical Bach cello suites.

Medea (dramatic theatre), Oct. 18-20 and 25-28, MU Corner Playhouse, Columbia. “The tale of what came after Medea helped Jason win the Golden Fleece has shocked and moved audiences for thousands of years. This renewed version presents the ancient tale of betrayal and revenge, challenging our perceptions of the role of women, mothers, and outsiders.”

Crimes of the Heart (dramatic theatre), 7:30 p.m., 8 shows: Oct. 18-21, 25-28, Cafe Berlin, Columbia, Mo. “The scene is Hazlehurst, Mississippi, where the three Magrath sisters have gathered to await news of the family patriarch, their grandfather, who is living out his last hours in the local hospital. Each of the sisters has her own story, and as the stories come together, the telling is so true and touching and consistently hilarious that it will linger in the mind long after the lights have dimmed.” Art is good when you feel like discussing it afterward!

Eighth Blackbird, new-music chamber ensemble, Oct. 19, 7 pm, Jesse Aud., Columbia (Univ. Concert Series). You probably had no idea that “honk, squeak, and toot” music could be so much fun! Okay, maybe it’s not for everybody, but you’d be surprised how engaging this stuff is when you witness it performed. (It’s kinda like a rock concert!)

Picnic, by William Inge (dramatic theatre), 7:30 pm Oct. 19-20, 26-27; 2 pm Oct. 21, Stephens College Playhouse Theatre. “It should be a relaxing Labor Day weekend, but when handsome stranger Hal Carter comes to the neighborhood picnic, things quickly grow complicated. Winner of the New York Drama Critic Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize, Picnic is a sweet, memorable—and important—true American classic by one of our country’s most beloved playwrights.”

Terell Stafford Quintet, Nov. 4, Murry’s restaurant in Columbia (We Always Swing Jazz Series): Two shows: Show 1 at 3:30 pm (doors at 2:30); Show 2 at 7 pm (doors at 6:00). “Aggressive yet precise”; “combustible but controlled”—this is what a great trumpeter should be! The quintet includes Stafford, plus sax, piano, bass, and drums. This show focuses on the works of Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s longtime collaborator. Samples online on We Always Swing’s site.

Causa Mortis (dramatic theatre), 7:30 pm Nov. 7-10, Stephens College Warehouse Theatre. “A dark comedy full of quirky characters is making its collegiate premiere at the Warehouse! Despite her two daughters’ insistence, Eleanor refuses surgery to remove a possibly life-threatening wristwatch that was left in her skull decades earlier during a brain surgery—not because she is afraid, rather because every surgeon that has tried to remove it has died in the process. Set in the neurology ward of an American hospital, a suicidal amnesiac joins Eleanor and her daughters in hilariously tormenting an incompetent medical student who can’t catch a break. When backdoor deals are hashed, the stakes of this quick-paced comedy will keep you on the edge of your seat.”

The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, Nov. 8-11, 13-15, MU Rhynsburger Theatre, Columbia. “Memory casts shifting rainbows over Tennessee Williams’s semi-autobiographical tale. A young poet longing to escape feels trapped by the need to support his nagging mother and shy sister, fragile as her glass animals. An American classic.”

Columbia Civic Orchestra, with Amy Appold, violin, Nov. 11, 7 pm, Missouri Theatre, Columbia. Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”), and the Sibelius Violin Concerto. These are truly great works, and they will lift your spirits!

MU Choral Union with the University Philharmonic: Haydn’s “Lord Nelson” Mass, Nov. 15, 7 pm, Jesse Aud., Columbia (Univ. Concert Series). This is perhaps “Haydn’s greatest single composition,” and this “mass for troubled times” will undoubtedly blow your hair back! It starts in a minor key but ends in a major key, and a “Dona nobis pacem”—“grant us peace.”

The Dining Room, 7:30 p.m., 8 shows: Nov. 29 – Dec. 2, Dec. 6-9, Cafe Berlin, Columbia, Mo. “The play is set in the dining room of a typical well-to-do household, the place where the family assembled daily for breakfast and dinner and for any and all special occasions. The action is comprised of a mosaic of interrelated scenes—some funny, some touching, some rueful.”

Marcus Roberts Trio, Dec. 2, Murry’s restaurant in Columbia (We Always Swing Jazz Series): Two shows: Show 1 at 3:30 pm (doors at 2:30); Show 2 at 7 pm (doors at 6:00). Marcus Roberts, piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums. This will be thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable, folks! Roberts says: “I never plan to stop studying and sharing in the creation of great music. When I play, I play for the people. Jazz is not elitist. It was created and grew from the soil of our fertile and, at times, difficult American experience, and it will resonate as long as our democratic structure exists.” Amen!

Please Note

This is basically the stuff I would love to go to personally, so it reflects my tastes. I’m not a critic or professional promoter, so if I’ve left out something you think should be included, then start your own blog!

I am not including anything that isn’t live, but there are of course lots of great films, and that Live at the Met series, and stuff like that, which I encourage you to enjoy.

I’ve done my best here to type everything correctly, but I suggest you double-check info for all performances. Hey, sometimes stuff gets cancelled, even. So don’t rely only on me.

Note that I’m omitting “holiday” programs, but most of these series do have special Christmas concerts. Go to their websites to find them!