Eating “The Carol Channing” with Carol Channing

John talked me into it. After going to see Elaine Stritch last week at the Cafe Carlyle, John urged me on to see my next aged theater icon by making reservations for Carol Channing at Feinstein’s at The Regency. We dubbed our mission: The “Before They Croak” Tour. And this stop came with dinner.

So here’s the exterior of Feinstein’s:

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The interior was nice but as nice as the Carlyle hotel. John’s friend Peter joined us and we were seated right near the stage, right behind the piano. The crowd, as you might imagine, was very old and very wealthy. And stargazers among us quickly spotted Barbara Walters and Liz Smith at a table with two other fancy ladies. In the front row, we were to learn, was Roz Mervin, wife of Mr. Mervin who founded the Mervins empire. It was quite the scene.

You’d think the food would be up to snuff to, but the food was only slightly better than mediocre. This was cruiseship fare. And, in fact, the room looked like a room on a cruiseship. “I feel like if you pull back the curtain,” I said, “We’d see water.”

John, Peter and I all ordered “The Carol Channing”:

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(Sorry that pictures whack.)

As you can see, we only had one choice: chicken or fish. We all chose fish.

So here’s the pumpkin soup:

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It wasn’t bad—“Mmm, it’s buttery,” said Peter—but I was expecting it to be sweeter, if only because I prefer Butternut Squash soup.

Then there’s the salmon:

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It was fine too. None of the food was bad, it was simply adequate. And I guess when you’re feeding a room full of geriatrics in a cabaret setting, this is the type of stuff you serve.

The meal ended with the apple crisp thingie:

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I’ll give then points for cleverness. They probably bought pre-made phyllo, made lots of these little things, shoved apples in and baked them—and of course they were tasty. So it’s a good business model they have going on at the Feinstein’s kitchen. Give the people what they want. And most of the people there want this.

And they want Carol Channing. When she came out, she got a standing ovation. She’s 86 years old! She’s truly remarkable for 86. She sang all her old classics: “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” “Before The Parade Passes By” and, of course, “Hello Dolly.” She had the audience join in and then quickly cut us off. “Ok, enough!” she said, and finished the song by herself.

After the show, Carol’s husband told us (and her other adoring fans) that we could go backstage and meet her if we wanted. So John, Peter and I snuck back there where Carol was holding court:

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Now in the previous sentence I said Carol was holding court, but I should’ve made it clearer: Carol was holding court in the Kingdom of Crazy. Every person you see in that picture is crazy. The craziest of all is the man with the disposable camera. He and his family sat right in front of Carol when she performed and they were orgasming after every number. When Carol called her husband up to dance, the man with the camera moaned in ecstasy: “Oh yes! Oh yes! That’s great!” Heads turned: it was way freaky.

And because all these crazies harrangued Carol for so long, we didn’t get a chance for a picture. But she was nice and said goodnight to all of us. The busboys, meanwhile, were singing “Hello Dolly” as she exited (John pointed this out). And as far as only-in-New-York evenings go, this was a good one. Thanks, John, for dragging me along!

Big Time Burgers and Broadway Legends: SoupBurg and Elaine Stritch

My friend John is the type of person who will say, “Hey, Elaine Stritch is playing at the Cafe Carlyle. Do you want to go?” And I’m the type of person who will say: “Yes.”

And so it was that John made the reservation (it’s pricey, like a full-priced theater ticket) and it was I who met him there last night at 8:15 to claim our table. But first I needed to eat and John was having none of that because he wanted to nap. So I did some research online and concluded that the best place for me to eat alone near the Cafe Carlyle was Soup Burg—a place renowned for it’s excellent hamburger. Here’s the exterior:

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My dad and brother have been to SoupBurg before without me. It’s comfort food on the fancy Upper East Side. This is the famous hamburger:

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Shake Shack and Burger Joint have the city’s best hamburgers, but this is, perhaps, the city’s best diner burger. It’s big and beefy and the fries that come with it are airy and crispy and just right. I was tempted to get the bacon cheeseburger but it was Rosh Hoshana and I don’t want to wind up in Jewish Hell. But the burger worked fine on its own. I was very happy with it. So when your Titanic is going to see Elaine Stritch, do yourself a service and yell: “SoupBurg, dead ahead!”

And as for Elaine Stritch, her cabaret act was lots of fun. For those who don’t know who she is–and that may be many of you–she’s best known for being in the original cast of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” laying claim to the classic song “The Ladies Who Lunch.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg (hey! iceberg! SoupBurg! Brilliant!). She was buddy buddy with Noel Coward, starred in his musical “Sail Away,” won awards for her work in “Bus Stop,” sang the song “Zip” in the original “Pal Joey.” All this comes thrillingly to life in her masterpiece one-woman show that won her her first Tony: “Elaine Stritch Live At Liberty.” You can watch it on DVD or listen to it on CD. It’s co-written with John Lahr, the New Yorker’s theater critic and one of my favorite writers. And it’s directed by George C. Wolfe. It’s a brilliant work, you should really check it out. But meanwhile check out this pic of me, John and Stritchy after the show:

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She’s my new best friend! Well, maybe not, but she was really gracious after the show. She hung around and asked people what they wanted from her. We wanted a picture and she took it. Then she rode the elevator up to her room because she lives at the Carlyle Hotel. And the Carlyle Hotel, by the way, is the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen. It just oozes wealth and privilege and class. Which is why John and I left promptly and made our way to the East Village. We had fun there too.

I Made Popcorn

This is really lame, and I apologize. Again, I started school this week so I didn’t have time to cook anything or eat anywhere interesting. Last night I came home hungry and I made popcorn. My technique was a mix of a few I’d learned. Second kottke reference of the day: I read kottke’s Popcorn Hacks post a few weeks ago and found it interesting. He says you can make microwave popcorn in a large pot. When you dump the bag in, you let the chemical “butter” melt and then coat the kernels and when the first one pops you cover and shake a lot until it stops popping.

That second part is the same one Nancy Silverton advises with her caramel corn recipe. It’s a great technique and I’ve done it before with vegetable oil and organic popcorn kernels. So last night I merged the two ideas and melted 2 Tbs of normal non-chemical butter in a pot, put 1/4 cup of kernels in and coated them all:

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I covered it and when the first one popped, I began to shake vigorously. Lots of popping and when it subsided I dumped it into a bowl and sprinkled with kosher salt:

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This was very fresh tasting and enjoyable. It wasn’t as naughty as movie theater popcorn or microwave popcorn but offered many of the same pleasures.

You know, I think if I have one food philosophy it’s not anti-fat (obviously) or anti-carb (no kidding): it’s anti-chemical. That’s the biggest change that’s come over my life since I started food blogging: in my old life, I ate processed foods like it was my job. My favorite thing to cook was a frozen California Pizza Kitchen pizza or Pillsbury cinnamon buns. Now I actively avoid anything that involves a periodic table to understand the ingredients. It’s not a philosophy that has a real following anywhere because the ends aren’t obvious: it doesn’t make you skinnier or prettier or maybe, even, healthier. But it makes you appreciate and enjoy food more: like with the popcorn, those three elements–popcorn, butter and salt–were each in their purest form and your mouth can feel the difference. And once you start thinking on those terms, it’s difficult to enjoy, say, a McDonald’s apple pie the way you might have when you were younger. But it makes real apple pie all that much better. [END SERMON]

175!

Cholesterol: 175

HDL: 39

LDL: 117

TRI: 95

To quote the lab technician: “Very good.” To quote my grandma: “That HDL’s not good, you need to exercise.” Woohoo?

Sometimes Good Food Looks Like Vomit

I have been viciously attacked in my asparagus risotto post by some who’ve critiqued my technique (even though it’s not my technique, it’s Rose Gray’s technique) and the “baby diaper-ish” quality of the end product. Inkadinkadoo (who has “doo” in his/her name) writes: “Some of those pix look like stills from ‘The Exorcist’ puke scene.” James Kew’s linkblog linked to my post with this comment: “Adam’s not afraid to post his flops, but this is the first one, I think, where he counts a recipe as a success while his commenters howl failure.”

The thing of it is, I’ve made many things in the past that look like vomit and/or feces that tasted delicious. Like the last time I made risotto, for example:

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Or the time I made Jacques Torres’s chocolate mudslide cookies:

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Sure, it looks kind of nasty, but it tasted delicious.

And then there was the time I made this cake, which looks rather innocuous:

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but it tasted like vomit because it had ricotta cheese in it.

So in conclusion, some things in this world look fine and taste like vomit. Other things look like vomit and taste great. Asparagus risotto is one of those things. Don’t knock it ’til you try it!

A Moveable Feast in East Atlanta

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I am in a coffee shop in East Atlanta–Joe’s–using the wireless internet to work on reserach for my “Sexuality and Parenthood” term paper.

Except, as usual, my research has morphed into a delirious bout of web-surfing and day-dreaming.

This morning, I received an e-mail from the lovely Clotilde of the scrumptious food blog Chocolate and Zucchini. She told me she would add me to her link list and I thanked her profusely.

And so, sitting here, I’ve been scrolling through her blog. My reactions are two-fold:

1) Jealousy;

2) Awe.

Why the jealousy? Why the awe?

Clotilde lives in Paris (“Monmartre to be precise” according to her About page) with her boyfriend Maxence. First of all, I am jealous of their names. Second of all, though, I am jealous of their lives! Like Clotilde’s visit to L’Etoile d’Or “a little candy store in the rue Fontaine, sprung right out of a fairy tale.” Or her description of Brittany, “a fantasy land of wonderful crepes.”

Very nice, Adam, but we need a telling flashback to flesh out your envy.

Rewind to three weeks ago. I am in a book store–Chapter 11, in the Ansley Mall–and on a themed display shelf there are books relating to Paris. The one that caught my eye was Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”. Here’s the quote that did me in:

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

My recent birthday puts me at the very tail end of my “young man” years. My New York plans (I plan to move to New York at the end of the summer) are incredibly exciting and seem the inevitable route. But there is this daydream in the back of my mind: there I am, on the Seine, with my laptop and beret, writing to you about the croissant I just digested. I become a regular at the French Dunkin’ Donuts and sing all my Thursday Night Dinner Songs with a French affectation, like Maurice Chevalier.

Sigh.

Ok, so maybe not. I mean, for starters:

1) I don’t speak French;

2) Where would I work?

3) Where would I live?*

* Ok, the third one was addressed slightly last night in the car with my friend Andrew. I brought up my repressed desire to live in Paris and Andrew–who lived in Paris for a whole year–said he’d totally go to Paris with me and share an apartment.

Maybe, though, I can use my writing ability and infectious juvenile obsession with food to convince a magazine editor or book publisher to let me live in Paris, on their money, on the condition that I write frequently and enthusiastically about my adventures. Anyone want to sponsor me? I’m good for it, I swear.

Sigh.

Ok, back to my research. Maybe I won’t get a moveable feast. But at least my daydream was a nice moveable snack. C’est la vie.

A Dirty Little Secret

The time has come for a confession. Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. A lot.

I have been advertising myself as a “gourmet”–an amateur one, at that, but still–and yet my “gourmet” status is about to become severely compromised. I wake up in the morning craving not a Bouillabaisse or a Vichyssoise. I pine not for escargot, truffles or slightly seared foie gras. When I wake up in the morning, the image I pine for glows pink and orange over my head; its letters luring me in with their incandescent splendor. Here is what I see in my fever dreams:

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I have been a Dunkin’ Donuts junkie for almost five years now. It began innocently enough. I was a sophomore in college, finally permitted a car on campus. The world was my oyster, and I intended to slurp it.

My initial “haunt”–Einstein Bagels–provided an adequate carbon copy of my favorite comfort food at home: bagels. I would go there regularly; religiously. My usual was an onion bagel with smoked salmon spread, onion and tomato, and a regular-sized vanilla hazelnut coffee. This still remains a staple of my diet, but I rarely crave it as much as I crave my Dunkin’.

So how did it happen?

One day, Einstein Bagels was crowded. Way crowded. I noticed the empty parking lot across the street and the pink and orange glow of the Dunkin’ Donuts sign. My hunger grabbed the wheel and skidded us across the street. Before I knew it, I was face to face with destiny.

“An everything bagel, I suppose,” I said.

“Coffee?” asked the woman behind the counter.

“Yes, please.”

She assembled my tray.

“I suppose I’ll have a donut, too,” I said.

“What kind of donut?”

“Hmmm,” I explored my options. “A coconut one, please?”

She wrapped the donut in paper.

“Are you an Emory student?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You get a discount.”

She rang me up. $3.33. I gave her $4.00 and I dropped the change in the cup.

I carried the tray over to a table and sat with my New Yorker magazine.

I bit into the bagel cautiously. Was it love at first bite?

No. Very much not. I nearly gagged.

“Blech!” I said. I forced myself to finish. The coffee, on the other hand, was good. And the donut, of course, was yummy.

I left with a firm resolve: “Never again!”

And yet, the next week, Einstein Bagels was busy once more. And I was hungry. My hunger grabbed the wheel.

“What are you doing, Hunger!” I screamed.

“Shut up,” Hunger replied. “We’re getting some grub.”

The woman behind the counter recognized me. “Ah, you’re back.”

And so it went. For weeks on end. And, at its peak, I went on a daily basis. It’s a miracle I never got fat; or that I never died of congestive heart failure. If they tried to clear my arteries, they’d find one filled with vanilla cream, one filled with jelly, and one dusted with powdered sugar. I like variety in my donuts.

Today, I have tapered off. I went on a “health kick” this summer, and weaned myself almost entirely off the Donuts. But occassionally–perhaps once every two weeks–I treat myself to my favorite morning meal.

If you are disgusted by my confession, here are some justifications for my misbehavior:

1. I am known. From that first day when the woman behind the counter assembled my tray, we have remained connected on a spiritual/cosmic level. Today, for example, when I came in she said: “Well! We were just talking about you! Wondering where you were!” Here she is preparing my coffee:

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2. Consistency. Unlike Einstein’s, where a crabby counter person can spoil the assembly of your bagel, the Dunkin’ Donuts bagel, coffee and donut always tastses the same. There is comfort in reliability. To quote an Alice Walker title: “The temple of my familiar.” In fact, today’s meal was so familiar I lost control and took two bites before I even photographed it. It’s that good:

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3. Medical benefits. Since the tone of this entry is full disclosure, it is time I put more cards on the table. These cards are the Queen of Blockage, the King of Constipation and the Ace of Irregularity. I suffer from a common ailment, most famously rendered by Philip Roth in “Portnoy’s Complaint”: “his kishkas were gripped by the iron hand of outrage and frustration.” And, however much you don’t want to know this, Dunkin’ Donuts relieves my kishkas. Perhaps that is its greatest virtue: my smoker friends say that smoking keeps them regular; my mother and grandma eat explosive bran cereal; and I go to Dunkin’ Donuts. [Photograph not available.]

Is all this a poor justification for an unhealthy addiction? Am I employing a defense mechanism by rationalizing my disease? Perhaps. But, God help me, those donuts are good and they keep my kishkas healthy. And if that’s not reason enough for betraying a gourmet cause, I don’t know what is.

How I Survived The Blackout: A Journal

WEDNESDAY FEB. 25 2004, 10:53 PM

I am making guacamole. Lauren is watching Will and Grace. Suddenly, and without anyone warning, the electricty snaps off. We are in utter darkness.

10:54 PM

I begin screaming like a girl. Lauren smacks me across the face. She misses and knocks over a lamp. “Get a hold of yourself!” she yells.

10:55 PM

We begin lighting candles. “Don’t light the violet candle near the apple candle,” I instruct, “their aromas don’t fuse well.” It’s too dark to see, but I think Lauren rolls her eyes.

10:59 PM

The candles are lit. Lauren starts to pack for a wedding. I continue my guacamole by candlelight. Have you ever chopped an onion in darkness? I think you should be very impressed:

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11:08

The guacamole is finished. The apartment smells like onions. I scoop some up on a chip. At least I think it’s a chip. It’s very dark. “Mmm,” I say, chewing our phone bill. “Delicious!”

11:11

I am tired of the guacamole. Lauren is finished packing. “Ok,” I say, “I guess I’ll go to bed.”

11:28

I am in bed. I attempt finishing “100 Years of Solitutde” (which, by the way, grows in length each time I put it down; I have been finishing this book for a month). I fall asleep.

THURSDAY FEB. 26 2004, 9:03 AM

Lauren wakes me up. It is freezing. The power is still not back. “Rise and shine,” she says. “Leave me alone,” I say. It’s too cold to get out of bed. “Very well,” she says and leaves.

Three hours later.

It is 12:03 PM. Business Associations starts at 12, but I figure it is cancelled. I look out the window and see this:

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Atlanta doesn’t do snow well. School must be cancelled.

12:04 PM

Lauren calls. School isn’t cancelled. Since I missed B.A., did I want to go to lunch? “Ok,” I say. “I’ll meet you at Doc Chey’s.”

12:32 PM

I get into my car. This is what I see:

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This may be a familiar image to Northerners, but I came of age in Florida. And windshield’s don’t freeze in Atlanta. Until now. I think fast and turn on my wipers. That does the trick.

12:42 PM

I arrive at Doc Chey’s. We order our food. I take a picture of the kitchen.

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Some woman says: “Did you just take a picture?” I shake my head “no.”

12:52 PM

Our food arrives. I get Thai Fried rice. It is good but with the Thai Iced Tea the bill came to like $9.50. That’s too expensive for lunch.

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1:05 PM

Lunch is over. Lauren leaves for the airport. I leave for my second class, Juvenile Law.

2:45 PM

Class is over. I call my community office and the power is still out. They expect it back on at 5:30 PM.

3:15 PM

I go to the movies. I see Bertolucci’s newest film, “The Dreamers.”

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5:40 PM

The movie is over. It was way disturbing. But I loved the way it was made. (Not for the faint of heart, though). There’s an egg-making scene that’ll turn you Vegan.

6:00 PM

I return home. The power is back!

6:05 PM

Josh and Katy call. We decide on dinner. [For further detail, see “Dinner: The Musical.”]

8:00 PM

Arrive at “The Flying Biscuit.”

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8:17 PM

We order.

8:30 PM

The salad and biscuit arrive.

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8:45 PM

The Brie in puff pastry with raspberry sauce and apples arrives.

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9:00 PM

My meatloaf sandwich arrives.

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And then…

We return home; I write a musical and we record it.

THE END