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Peach Brandy Debuts at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery

Jordan Wright
November 25, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Peach Brandy launch - Photo credit DISCUS

Peach Brandy launch – Photo credit DISCUS

Eight hundred eagerly-anticipated bottles of George Washington’s limited edition Peach Brandy Eau de Vie (translation: “water of life”) went onto the shelves of the Mount Vernon Estate gift shop just in time for Christmas.  Produced at the restored distillery this huge undertaking dwarfed Washington’s eight gallons in sales recorded back in 1798, reflecting a more than two-century price increase from $1.00 a gallon to a considerably adjusted $150.00 per 375ml bottle.

It’s an elegant pour, meant to be sipped, and one Washington didn’t expect to be chug-a-lugged.  Not exactly a teetotaler himself, he wrote a letter to an employee, whom he both chastised and cautioned for drinking excessively.

When it first opened in 1798, the distillery was run by a canny Scotsman, James Anderson, and his son John.  James had convinced Washington to produce whiskey later introducing the eau de vie, which are made today according to the early recipes.  Producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey in its heyday, it became the largest distillery in America, providing two distinct grades of whiskey, which became available throughout the country, including in Alexandria’s many taverns.

Thanks to the efforts of archaeologists who discovered the foundations in 1997 and working off a grant from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the distillery was restored in March of 2007 after being destroyed by fire in 1814.  Following ten years of research and construction, the distillery now produces one hundred gallons of rye whiskey in small batches twice a year.  Brandy is made every other year.

Both are made the old-fashioned way using 18th century distilling techniques.  Workers hand-cut up to 51 cords of wood per month to stoke the direct wood fires beneath the still, and giant wooden paddles are used to stir the mash, which then is transferred to a series of hogsheads.  “Manning the paddles is like steering a cement canoe down the river,” says Mount Vernon’s Master Distiller Steven Bashore.

Mount Vernon Master Distiller Steven Bashore - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Mount Vernon Master Distiller Steven Bashore – Photo credit Jordan Wright

To achieve 300 gallons of whiskey, 8,000 pounds of rye, corn and malted barley from grains are sourced from Virginia farms.  Locally grown Virginia peaches become the base for the Peach Brandy Eau de Vie that George and Martha served at the mansion.  Ledger entries from 1798 show sales of eight gallons to the public. But by 1799 with production in full swing, the First Couple were graciously serving 60 gallons of the precious peach elixir to their many guests.

Adding the grains to the make the mash - Photo credit Jordan Wright

Adding the grains to the make the mash – Photo credit Jordan Wright

To recreate this “new” product two of America’s leading brandy distillers were brought in, Ted Huber of Starlight Distillery in Indiana who procured five 55-gallon drums of very fine peach juice, and Thomas McKenzie of Finger Lakes Distilling in New York.  Both men assisted Bashore in the production and bottling of the historic brandy, which has been described as having tasting notes of candied peaches and peach cobbler with a hint of cinnamon and which I can personally attest to.

Dedicated in 2007 by Britain’s Prince Andrew, the reconstructed distillery featuring the distilling process “from seed to still” is open to the public 365 days of the year.  Located at 5513 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria, VA 22309, the distillery is three miles south of Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.  For hours of operation go to www.MountVernon.org

To get you in the holiday spirit, or spirits as the case may be, here is a recipe for Martha Washington’s Rum Punch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martha Washington’s Rum Punch

Makes 6 -10 servings

  • 3 oz. of White Rum
  • 3 oz. of Dark Rum
  • 3 oz. of Orange Curaçao
 [or Peach Brandy Eau de Vie]
  • 4 oz. of Simple Syrup
 [equal parts sugar to water, warmed till sugar is dissolved]
  • 4 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 4 oz. of Fresh Orange Juice
  • 3 Lemons quartered
  • 1 Orange quartered
  • ½ Tsp. Grated nutmeg
  • 3 Cinnamon sticks (broken)
  • 6 Cloves
  • 12 oz. Boiling water

In a container, mash the orange, lemons, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and nutmeg.  Add the syrup, lemon, and orange juices.  Pour the boiling water over the mixture in the container and let cool for a few minutes.

When cool, add the White Rum, Dark Rum, and Orange Curaçao [You may substitute for Peach Brandy].  Strain well into a pitcher or punch bowl (to remove all of the spice marinade) and serve over ice in goblets and decorate with wheels of lemon and orange.

Dust with a little nutmeg and cinnamon and enjoy a sip of American history.

Five Guys Named Moe Bring Razzle Dazzle to Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
November 24, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

(L to R) Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe and Paris Nix as Eat Moe in Five Guys Named Moe. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L to R) Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe and Paris Nix as Eat Moe in Five Guys Named Moe. Photo by C. Stanley

When asked to produce a musical for the first time in his career, award winning Director and playwright, Robert O’Hara, decided on a fresh approach to the musical revue.  Showcasing songwriter and saxophonist Louis Jordan’s “new” Jazz sound; music written expressly for the show; and other notably sassy songs from the era, O’Hara chose to update it by channeling the success of the “boy band”.  Now Five Guys Named Moe presents a new dynamic to the ever-popular show with crack dance routines, a crop of snappy singers and a razzle-dazzle pace that gets the audience dancing in their seats – and onstage too.

The revue is backgrounded by the story of Nomax, a young man whose gal has left him high and dry.  For comfort Nomax turns to his old Zenith radio and a bottle of hooch.  In his lonely stupor the broadcasts come to life and he finds himself in the company of five jammin’ and jivin’ entertainers dressed in sharkskin suits and brocade jackets ready to take him to the “Saturday Night Fish Fry”.

Paris Nix as Eat Moe and the cast of Five Guys Named Moe - Photo by C. Stanley

Paris Nix as Eat Moe and the cast of Five Guys Named Moe – Photo by C. Stanley

Lit by neon-colored twin staircases that rise above the stage-level live orchestra, the “Moes” try to cheer up the hapless fellow with song and dance routines strung together from the hit tunes of the 1940’s era.  They take him to the Funky Butt Club where there’s a whole lot of shimmyin’, shakin’ and tappin’ goin’ on.  Where the guys trade licks in a whirlwind of dance styles from Maurice Hines to In Sync to Gene Kelly, with a few Magic Mike moves thrown in for good measure.

The cast of Five Guys Named Moe - Photo by C. Stanley

The cast of Five Guys Named Moe – Photo by C. Stanley

The super talented cast consists of Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe, Kevin McAllister as Nomax and Paris Nix as Eat Moe.  And there is no way to single anyone performer out for praise.  Believe me, I tried.  In harmony their rich voices blend together seamlessly, yet in solos, each one has its own distinctive style throughout the 25 numbers.  Henry shows off a boogie-woogie rhythm in “Caldonia”; Parker-Namdar and Porchia backed by the group tear the place down with their funky chicken in “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”; Parker-Namdar on “Reet, Petite and Gone”; Clinton Roane tells Nomax “I’m a chubby chaser!” in “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That”; and Nix shows off a soulful blues vibe in “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”. And they all shine bright backed by the smokin’ hot 6-piece orchestra led by Darryl G. Ivey.

Climb aboard the “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” with this “sepia symphonette”.  Through December 28th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Eight Compelling Reasons To See Little Dancer – Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
November 21, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Little Dancer (Boyd Gaines and Tiler Peck in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

Little Dancer (Boyd Gaines and Tiler Peck in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

Let’s break down this listicle to see why I predict this ballet musical will get to Broadway tout de suite before going on to Hollywood and the big screen.

#1 – The Story

Described as “part fact, part fiction” a young ballerina fights for her independence against the backdrop of the cruelly competitive world of the Paris Opera Ballet.  The musical is inspired by Edgar Degas’s fourteen-year old muse and model whom he called “the winged urchin”.

What’s not to love about a poor street urchin with a preternatural talent for ballet? New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck plays Young Marie, a girl as enchanting as a butterfly and as feisty as a mad hornet.  Think Annie.  Think Cosette in Les Miserables.  Think Billy Elliott. 

#2 – The Collaboration

For the first time in history the National Gallery of Art has collaborated with the Kennedy Center.  The show’s opening dovetails with the NGA’s Degas exhibit of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen shown alongside 14 additional works from the Gallery’s private collection that include the iconic pastel Ballet Scene in addition to monotypes and smaller original statuettes.

3# – The Cast

Little Dancer (Rebecca Luker in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

Little Dancer (Rebecca Luker in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

The word sensational barely begins to describe the talent in this world premiere production – – the aforementioned Tiler Peck as Young Marie van Goethem, a compelling actress and utterly captivating dancer whose solos will take your breath away.  Rebecca Luker as the Adult Marie, whose elegant stage presence reaffirms her Tony Award nominations in Mary Poppins and The Phantom of the Opera.  The incomparable Boyd Gaines as Edgar Degas, a crusty, nearly blind, self-doubting artist ahead of his time; Janet Dickinson, poised and sympatico as Mary Cassatt, the liberated, barrier-breaking artist; Karen Ziemba, deeply affecting as Martine, Marie’s hardworking alcoholic mother; Sophia Anne Caruso as Charlotte, Marie’s younger sister, who reveals the pitch-perfect voice of a nightingale.  Could she be related to “The Great Caruso”?  Sean Martin Hingston as Philippe de Marchal, deliciously evil, he is one of the silk hatted patrons of the ballet school; and Jenny Powers as Antoinette who blends pathos, humor and infectious charm to her role as Marie’s elder sister.  Oh, and I can’t omit the adorable “rats”, a soubriquet for the young dancers in the corps de ballet.

Little Dancer (Karen Ziemba and Sophia Anne Caruso in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

Little Dancer (Karen Ziemba and Sophia Anne Caruso in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

4# – The Creative Team

Titans of the theatre that will undoubtedly take it to Broadway: Lynn Ahrens, Book and Lyrics – Susan Stroman, Director/Choreographer – Stephen Flaherty, Composer and Arranger – Scenic Designer Beowolf Boritt – Costume Designer, William Ivey LongDoug Besterman, Orchestrations – Shawn Gough, Music Director and Conductor.

#5 – The Music

Stephen Flaherty’s memorable score studded with emotionally charged ballads, love songs and even a bawdy French bar tune.  Absinthe, anyone?

#6 – The Costumes

Long draws from the period but more directly from Degas’s own works (though a barmaid’s garb recalls Manet’s famous painting of the period).  Ballerinas are dressed in a wide array of tutus – orange with butterfly wings, white with black velvet throat ribbons and colorful satin sashes, and bright aqua.  Even the ballet master, Monsieur Corbeil (Michael McCormick), is garbed in a linen suit taken straight from a Degas painting.  Victoriana dresses and garish Can Can costumes are authentically referenced.

#7 – The Sets

Boritt envisions the mood by surrounding the stage with a gilt frame as though the audience is peering inside a Degas painting.  Some of the backdrops reflect the artist’s Impressionistic pastels.

#8 – Choreography

Totally transcendent!  Susan Stroman delves into the world of the dancer creating moments of pure magic.

Highly recommended.  If you can get a ticket!

Through November 30th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

And be sure to see the exhibit “Degas’s Little Dancer” at the National Gallery of Art through January 11th 2015.  For information visit http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2014/degas-little-dancer.html.

To view video “Little Dancer: C’est le Ballet” click here.

 

Fiddler on the Roof Returns to Washington, DC – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
November 18, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye and the company of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye and the company of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Fiddler on the Roof  is a tender and uplifting tale inspired by the Yiddish stories of Sholem Aleichem who wrote them at the turn of the 20th century.  Set in the fictional Russian Jewish shtetl of Anatevka, the story centers on the lives of Tevye (Jonathan Hadary), a milkman, and his wife, Golde (Ann Arvia) and their five eligible daughters.  You’ll recognize his character instantly by the beloved tune “If I Were a Rich Man”.

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.  Photo by Margot Schulman.

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Tevye is eternally conflicted by the changing times, the frightening political climate and the corruption of the strict religious precepts laid down by the rabbi.  Fiercely traditional in a paternalistic society, he tries to rationalize his daughters’ unorthodox marital choices.  “On the other hand, look at my daughter’s eyes,” he muses trying to justify the adoration he sees in them for the men they love.  Unfortunately these men have not been pre-selected by Yente (Valerie Leonard), who is the Matchmaker for all of the women in the village.  The confused Tevye vacillates between keeping tradition and pleasing the daughters he clearly adores.  “Without tradition our lives would be as shaky as the fiddler on the roof,” he maintains.

This embraceable story is buoyed by Jerome Robbins’ original choreography drawn from authentic folkloric dances and complemented by Paul Tazewell’s evocative period costumes.  In “The Dream” scene Tazewell takes inspiration from artist Marc Chagall’s fantasy creatures to create an eerily phantasmagorical imagining of Tevye’s nightmare – the one in which he will be forced to give his daughter Tzeitel (Dorea Schmidt) to the crusty old butcher Lazar Wolf (Erick Devine) chosen by the matchmaker to increase the family’s status in the community.  “I realize we are the chosen people, but sometimes couldn’t you choose someone else,” he laments.

L to R) Maria Rizzo as Chava, ­­­­­Tracy Lynn Olivera as Rivka, Joshua Morgan as Motel and Shayna Blass as Shprintze in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Suzanne Blue Star Boy.

L to R) Maria Rizzo as Chava, ­­­­­Tracy Lynn Olivera as Rivka, Joshua Morgan as Motel and Shayna Blass as Shprintze in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Suzanne Blue Star Boy.

Lightning Designer Colin K. Bills provides full-throttle spotlights for the song and dance numbers and a comforting cocoon for the intimate scenes.  One of the most moving moments is the candlelit chorus slowly descending onto the stage from the topmost tier and reverently chanting the “Sabbath Prayer”.

Set Designer Todd Rosenthal keeps things simple with a series of weathered wood platforms, an eye-catching spiral perch for the fiddler, and a center stage trap door that provides a mind-bending entrance for Fruma-Sarah (Tracy Lynn Olivera).

L to R) Ann Arvia as Golde and Valerie Leonard as Yente in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

L to R) Ann Arvia as Golde and Valerie Leonard as Yente in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

After the show Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith, in recognition of Fiddler’s Washington, DC roots, its 50th Anniversary and citing deep appreciation for one of its legendary creators, presented celebrated 90-year old lyricist Sheldon Harnick with the theatre’s prestigious American Artist Award.  I asked Harnick about the night his show opened in DC.  “I was 40-years old when I wrote it,” he recalled with a mind as sharp as a blade.  “We were very worried because Zero [Mostel, who had originated the role of Tevye] was ill.  We weren’t even sure we would open.”  But open they did going on to Broadway and garnering nine Tony Awards for the longest-running musical of its time.  Harnick also heartily endorsed this staging saying, “They did a great job tonight!”

Through January 4, 2015 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.
For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

A Conversation with Aglaia Kremezi – Author of Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

Jordan Wright
November 16, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts



 Aglaia Kremezi fairly floats into the room.  Wisps of casually arranged auburn hair delicate as ripe corn silk are tempered by a pair of serious wire-rimmed frames that hint at her former life as an editor and journalist.  She is utterly composed and cheery all at once.  This well-known authority on Greek cuisine has come to the States to promote her newest cookbook, see friends and consult with Michael Costas, Executive Chef at José Andrés’ Greek-inspired restaurant Zaytinya.

After penning five cookbooks on the foods of Greece, Kremezi has of late directed her attention to vegetables, broadening the subject by including the whole of the Mediterranean.  Kremezi lives with her husband, Costas Moraitis on the small Greek isle of Kea.  For this cookbook she has put together 150 Mediterranean plant-based recipes tested in her kitchens at Kea Artisanal, where she conducts cooking vacations for students from around the world.  Many of these historically authentic vegetarian dishes are far more lavish than meat-based dishes.

Cookbook Author, Aglaia Kremezi chats with Whisk and Quill - Photo credit by Jordan Wright

Cookbook Author, Aglaia Kremezi, chats with Whisk and Quill – Photo credit by Jordan Wright

Whisk and Quill – What do you think of the current shift to a more vegetable-based diet?

Kremezi – I think that it starts for the wrong reasons, because people think they have to eat healthier, and afterwards they consider the flavors.  To me it’s the opposite.  I far prefer the flavors of vegetables to the flavors of meat, even though I’m not vegetarian.

How many of your recipes are gleaned from early culinary sources and how many are tweaking through doing?

It’s both really.  As you know, because you are a chef too, you take inspiration from this, that and the other and you add your own personal touch.  They have my personality but they are taken from various countries from all over the Mediterranean and from friends’ kitchens.

I hear you and Paula Wolfert are great friends and that you Skype regularly.  Do you ever cook together?

Oh, yes, in Sonoma and Connecticut.  I’m on my way to Sonoma now to spend time with her before I go back to Greece.

The photos in your new book are so vivid, I want to eat the pages.

Penny De Los Santos took the photographs.  She’s been to Kea for Saveur and I knew her work.  I did take a few of the pictures, but she took all the rest.  They are all taken in our house, garden and our outdoor kitchen.  In the photos she used the plates given to me from my mother and our tablecloths, cookware and pottery that we have collected over the years.

The photographs are supposed to be the ‘hooks’ to draw people into the kitchen and make them cook, because people have neglected cooking.  They rely too much on take out.  A lot of companies are very quick to bring vegetarian products to market, but you never really know what’s in them.

Can you tell me some herbs or seasonings that are your favorites?

I like both the Aegean Herb and Hot Pepper Spice Mix, and also the Lebanese Seven-Spice Mixture.  That one has cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, allspice, pepper and nutmeg.  It’s very aromatic and a bit spicy.  It’s the basic spice in Lebanon and they use it in tabbouleh.  Both spice recipes are in the book.  Also I make my own preserved lemons and there is a recipe for that too in the book.

What are your favorite kitchen tools?

Wooden spatulas and spoons, my mandolin, a very good knife and scissors.  I have scissors everywhere!  I even use them when I am baking bread to score the tops of the loaves.  It works better than a razor.

Your book is going to make readers want to plant their own gardens in order to harvest the many vegetables and herbs you spotlight in your seasonally-inspired recipes.  Do you get most of your fresh ingredients from your garden?

Yes, especially herbs.  Our seasons are different than yours.  Now we are planting lettuces.  I just was in Japan and got some kun choi seeds.  And we have 10 or 12 kinds of oregano, like the Lebanese zaatar, which is a cross between oregano and thyme.  I love farmers markets too.  I was at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market on Sunday and today I’m heading over to the market in Penn Quarter to buy apples.

Tell me about your cooking classes on Kea.

It was my husband’s idea.  Because we had the garden and we live in the middle of nowhere.  We are on the more remote part of the island, the north side.  It’s not the side with all the villas like the Hamptons.  It is where we can have a garden and it’s less exposed to the harsher weather.  Also it was nice to have people from all over the world come and join us every now and then.  We love having people around our table.

We have six-day classes.  We cook and eat and taste wines and cheeses and honeys from all over Greece.   We also do hikes and make travel arrangements for guests who want to explore other islands.

Why do you think this book is so important?

The whole idea started from the interactions I had with the people in our classes.  I found that things that I didn’t even think of showing people how to cook – – things I considered self-evident – – like how to braise green beans with tomatoes and onions for example.  But they were amazed and they were asking me for the recipes.  I realized that people don’t really know how to cook vegetables at all.  In the book I have all these variations from country to country around the Mediterranean.  For example, I give recipes for two entirely different eggplant spreads, both the Arab and French Provencal versions.  Each use roasted eggplant.  It’s an example of what I’m trying to do in this book.  It’s these variations that really interest me.  I do a lot of research and call up my Turkish friends for advice and suggestions.

Kremezi will be in DC at the Sips & Suppers event on January 24th and 25th 2015 along with Alice Waters, Joan Nathan, David Chang, Mike Isabella, Spike Gjerde, Cathal Armstrong, Erik Bruner-Yang, Michael Friedman, Carla Hall, Haidar Karoum, Charles Phan, Jamie Leeds and Peter Jacobson.

Tunisian Chickpea Soup (Leblebi)