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Dame Edna at The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
April 22, 2015
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
 

A fresh breeze blew into town last night and she was wearing rhinestone-encrusted cat eye glasses out to there, and a hot pink fringe gown glittering with Swarovski crystals.  Yes, you guessed it – – the internationally infamous, dearly beloved, barb-slinging insultress known familiarly as Dame Edna.  Trashing more Washington politicos than the Drudge Report at election time, the saucy senior can take down Jesus and the apostles in one slanderous swoop, “they wore the 50 shades of gray badly,” she sniped to an audience of devotees.

 Dame Edna

Dame Edna – Photo credit Craig Schwartz

Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye – The Farewell Tour (A meditation on loss, gender, climate change, gay marriage and ethnicity) takes on these weighty issues with showbiz and razzmatazz.  Barry Humphries, who first channeled Mrs. Edna Everage in 1955 in Melbourne, Australia, is no stranger to the double-entendre.  A veteran of Broadway and London’s West End theatres, the Tony Award-winning performer has been dazzling and dishing with faithful fans for over half a century.

Directed by Simon Phillips, the glitzy two-acter opens with film clip cameos of Hollywood celebs.  Stars as disparate as Charlton Heston, Kelly Osbourne and Hugh Jackman describe their run-ins with the naughty grandma as the glam goddess tells tales of her shabby Australian past, her dysfunctional children and her husband’s prostate “murmur”.  Hoofing is provided by four leggy dancers who surround the mauve-haired wonder with giant purple ostrich fans.  Move over Florence Ziegfeld!

Dame Edna with giant purple ostrich fans - Photo credit Craig Schwartz

Dame Edna with giant purple ostrich fans – Photo credit Craig Schwartz

Jonathan Tessero is the production’s Musical Director & Onstage Accompanist and Wayne Barker and Andrew Ross provide the tunes for the caterwauling songstress who describes herself as “the quintessence of kindness”.  Never have scandal and sarcasm been such great pals.

In the second act choreographer, Eve Prideaux, turns to Bollywood as Dame Edna describes her spiritual adventures in an ashram.  “It’s a trailer park for the soul,” she moans as the dancers swirl around her in gold-edged saris.

Dame Edna and Bollywood Dancers - Photo credit Craig Schwartz

Dame Edna and Bollywood Dancers – Photo credit Craig Schwartz

But the real howls come when, as in years past, she singles out unsuspecting audience members.  Claiming to be clairvoyant she tells one, “I believe in past lives and you look as if you might have been something.”  Ouch!  It hurts so good.  To a group of elderly audience members she calls out, “Oh, the seniors are still here! Someone must have topped off their medication.”  The zingers fly fast and furiously.  You gotta keep up.  She is as outrageous as she is captivating and as endearing as a child with Asberger’s (her diagnosis, not mine).

Highly recommended for death-defying irreverence.

In town for a limited run at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20004.  Performance Schedule is as follows.  Tuesday, April 21st – Thursday, April 23rd at 7:30pm, Friday, April 24th at 8pm, Saturday, April 25th at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday, April 26th at 4pm.  For tickets and information call 202 628-6161 or visit thenationaldc.com or www.dameednafarewell.com

A Weekend Getaway To Staunton, Virginia

Jordan Wright
April 20, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

At The Shack

At The Shack

My plan to spend a weekend in Staunton (pronounced “Staan’-tun”, please and thank you) was hatched last year when I heard of a young chef who was gathering a national reputation for imaginative food served up in a tiny brick building he calls, The Shack.  Since then chef and restaurateur, Ian Boden, has lit up the food world garnering awards and tons of ink in his zeal to use Virginia farm products in both imaginative and delicious ways.

But as with all trips, the more you research the region where you’re headed, the more it evolves into a journey that will lose all sense of being scripted – – which is exactly what happened and which I highly recommend.  The plan was to head out mid-morning Friday and drive straight to Staunton.  That plan went straight out the window when I realized all the fun places we would pass along the way.  Here’s what I recommend.

From Route 66 take Route 17 to Delaplane and Three Fox Vineyards where owners, Holli and John Todhunter, echo their love of all things Italian.  In the barn-style tasting room you’ll find mostly Italian varietals from estate-grown grapes.  Relax in a hammock or claim a game of bocce ball.

The Long Branch Foundation - The stairwell

The Long Branch Foundation – The spiral stairwell

A few miles away just off Route 50, is the 200-year old mansion and gardens of Long Branch Plantation.  Hard by the blink-and-you’ve-missed-it sweet little hamlet of Paris, lies the recently restored “noble mansion crowning a rising ground…” as American author Washington Irving described it in 1853.  It is worth a tour of its period architecture and antique furnishings and a chance to learn about its horse retirement facility.

Lots to choose from at the Locke Store - Katie Shapiro at the Locke Store in Millwood

Lots to choose from at the Locke Store – Katie Shapiro at the Locke Store in Millwood

Just across 50 and a short drive along Millwood Road is the Locke Store in Millwood, VA.  The original general store, founded in 1836, is now a food emporium chock-a-block with craft beer, wine, locally raised meats and cheeses, and tempting baked goods by pastry chef, Katie Kopsick Shapiro.  Choose from homemade quiches, pot pies, salads, cakes, fruit pies and sandwiches on bread made from flour ground at the Burwell-Morgan Mill – – a restored flour mill across the street where you can have your picnic alongside a babbling stream.  On the next street over is The Red Schoolhouse where 4,000 square feet of antiques and collectibles await the discerning buyer.

The Red Schoolhouse Antiques

The Red Schoolhouse Antiques

Getting on 81 from there was a cinch and we soon arrived in Staunton and checked into the Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center, a centrally located Colonial Revival hotel built in 1924 and recently remodeled.  From our room we could see the Mill Street Grill below – – a handy spot for a quick dinner before curtain up at the Blackfriars Playhouse around the corner.  If you’re looking for fancier fare try Zynodoa, a local favorite in a modern setting with upscale dining.

Oysters Rockefeller at the Mill Street Grill

Oysters Rockefeller at the Mill Street Grill

The playhouse is part of the American Shakespeare Theatre, a year-round performance venue fashioned after 17th century English theatres.  Here Shakespeare’s plays are offered with on-stage seats for chosen audience members.  I’ve been here several times and always enjoyed a rousingly entertaining production by seasoned actors.  Be sure to get there early for the mini-concerts before the play.

Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Theatre - Photo credit Lauren D. Rogers

Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Theatre – Photo credit Lauren D. Rogers

Another purpose of my visit was to tour Joel Salatin’s 550-acre Polyface farm in nearby Swoope and on Saturday morning that is where we began our day.   The author, speaker and farming guru is a legend for his sustainable farming practices and was featured in the film Food, Inc.  Chefs and eco-aware farmers hang on his every word and the farm itself is a testament to Salatin and his humane animal husbandry practices.  You can see the pigs, cows, chicken and sheep in their grassy habitats or shop for meats and cider in the farm store.

Hoop House and The piglets at Polyface farm

Hoop House and The piglets at Polyface farm

The night before we noticed a huge building with plate glass windows.  Old cars were posed like fashion models and I was determined to see what it was all about.  So before lunch we meandered over to find what is being billed as ‘the largest garage in the South’ – – a cavernous 27,000-square foot, former Ford dealership housing an amazing collection of cars in a 1911 building.  Located on South New Street, the museum is owned by Bruce Elder an avid collector who sells and restores antique and classic cars.  Roaming (and gasping in awe) through the three-story building, we came across dozens of beautifully restored cars including a 1924 Model T, a 1925 baby blue Rolls Royce Twenty (this one sported a price tag of $80k), and some notable Nascar winners like a 1953 single seat vehicle called ‘The Lincoln Special’ – – a Dreyer Champ car that ran on a dirt track.  The museum is a car fancier’s fantasyland.

1924 Model TT

1924 Model TT

Lunch at the Pampered Palate Café was a lovely respite.  The quaint spot on East Beverley Street specializes in homemade soups and sandwiches and is surrounded by tons of interesting stores, art galleries, breweries, a wine tasting room, a glass-blowing studio, and shops featuring local handicrafts.

Glass blowing - Artisan works at Sunspot Studios

Glass blowing – Artisan works at Sunspot Studios

From there we walked to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum.  A fascinating and illuminating museum with exhibits detailing the history of our 28th President though his life and times.  On display are hundreds of Wilson’s personal objects including his roll-top desk and 1919 Pierce-Arrow presidential limousine.  A recent addition is a walk-through trench that trembles with the sounds of a real battlefield from World War I.  Beside the museum sits the Presbyterian Manse, Wilson’s birthplace.  The three-story brick home is filled with Wilson family heirlooms and antiques, and a guide is there to describe daily home life in the mid-19th century.

1919 Pierce-Arrow presidential limousine

1919 Pierce-Arrow presidential limousine

Afterwards take a relaxing 45-minute guided tour around the city by trolley.  Departing from the Visitors Center, it’s a terrific opportunity to see the historic homes and churches (a jaw-dropping 78 by last count) that abound as well as Mary Baldwin College, whose campus is smack dab in the middle of town.  During the tour your guide will describe the many exquisite buildings ranging from Gothic, Greek and Renaissance Revival to Dutch Colonial, Chateauesque and even Italianate, many of which were designed during the Victorian-era by renowned architect Thomas Jasper Collins.  In fact the town’s splendid architecture was one of its most surprising aspects.

Palladian stained glass windows grace this former Masonic headquarters

Palladian stained glass windows grace this former Masonic headquarters

At last it was time for our long-anticipated dinner and the stated reason for this pilgrimage and we stroll a few blocks from the hotel to find what appears to be a 1950’s one-story structure along a quiet road.  Once inside, we shed any preconceived notions of what a restaurant should look like and trusted in the chef, even though the place looks more like a pop-up or a way station for twenty-six mismatched chairs and seven tables that have lost their home.  Still, it’s cozy and unpretentious and quite serious about its mission – – a 180-degree turn from the greasy, calorically-weighty cooking of Southern style restaurants.  Here sauces are lightened and cooking methods respect the fresh ingredients.  Expect to taste dishes you thought you knew, but here are elevated to an appreciative art form.

Inside The Shack

Inside The Shack

In a relatively short time, Boden has joined the ranks and emerging cooking style of the New Southern Cuisine trumpeted by famed chefs like Edward Lee of Atlanta, Georgia and Sean Brock of Charleston, South Carolina – – accomplished chefs who have taken familiar Southern dishes and reinvented them, made them better, more interesting and more alluring.  We are talking deepened flavors and soul-stirring deliciousness.

Escolar Lettuce Wrap - Berkshire pork at The Shack

Escolar Lettuce Wrap – Berkshire pork at The Shack

A paper menu with the date on top lets you know that the menu is at the whim of the chef, the season and the farmers he trusts.  Though I can assure you these preparations will not be on the menu when you arrive, you can luxuriate in the thought of them as I have in this writing.  You get to have your own experience with whatever ingredients Boden is playing around with on that day.

We tried nearly everything on the menu, and found some favorites – – Winter Vegetable Salad with farro, bitter greens and chickweed, dressed in a barrel aged maple vinaigrette; Escolar Lettuce Wrap, a raw fish paired with cracklin’s, house made kimchi, miso and key limes.  Entrees that sang to us were the Berkshire Pork Loin with country ham fried rice, spinach purée and delicata squash topped with fava bean shoots; and King Salmon with roasted crosnes (a tiny spiral-shaped tuber), Brussels sprouts and lady apples in a red wine butter sauce.  Desserts that made us swoon were Sorghum Cake with brown butter apples, buttermilk whey and bay leaf; and a madcap fling with a sweet treat called ‘Junk Food’ which turned out to be a slice of oatmeal cream pie plus a cruller and a blondie.

Creamy Heirloom Grits and Wagyu Beef at The Shack

Creamy Heirloom Grits – Wagyu Beef at The Shack

After a good night’s sleep we returned for brunch.  And, why not?  When you have reveled in the best there is, why not revel again?  I state my case for the Biscuits and Rabbit Gravy, the Wagyu Oyster Steak with rosemary pistou, and the Creamy Heirloom Grits served in a cast iron pan.  There is no shame… just glory and a sharp sense of wanting to return.

Demonstrations at the Frontier Culture Museum

Demonstrations at the Frontier Culture Museum

Before heading home one last stop beckoned – – the Frontier Culture Museum, a place passed countless times while driving down 81 towards the Blue Ridge Mountains.  This open air, living history museum reflects the early German, West African, Irish and British pioneers who bravely brought their trades, farming methods, and building styles to rural America.  Authentic costumed docents roam the farm sites and pretty wooded acres, instructing guests on how settlers lived and thrived in the Shenandoah Valley in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  It is a highly educational experience with hands-on opportunities.  You will learn that a number of these historic homes were brought over piece-by-piece from the Old World and reassembled here.  You can easily spend two hours here but plan on at least three.  You wouldn’t want to miss seeing the heritage breed horses or holding a baby lamb.  In good weather a picnic purchased in town would make for the perfect day.

To plan your trip around upcoming cultural events in Staunton go to www.VisitStaunton.com.

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Spinning wool – Blacksmith at the Forge

Photo credit – Jordan Wright

Getting Schooled in Rosé – A Luxe Tasting of the Wines of Provence

Jordan Wright
April 15, 2015
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

Le Menu

Le Menu

Did you know the French drink more rosé than white wine?  Quelle surprise!  At a private tasting at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen + Bar at City Center DC earlier this month I learned a great deal about the blush-colored wine the French adore and we find intriguing.  On this sunny spring day our education was to be accompanied by a delectable four-course luncheon, designed to pair with the eleven wines we would taste.  Swirl, sniff, swish, and spit was decidedly not the plan, not when DBGB Executive Chef, Ed Scarpone and Pastry Chef, Celia Lewis, were about to spoil us rotten with a menu to dovetail these selections.

Scarpone showed how rosé pairs well with flavors other than French dishes, in this case showcasing the more robust of these wines with the exotic influences of Asia and Morocco.  And Lewis demonstrated how the sweetness of cassis-hued rosés marry well with chocolates and sugar-dusted madeleines.

Maryland crab with coconut and champagne mango - Grilled chicken with couscous and spicy yoghurt - Grilled kale with sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, pickled water chestnut and buttermilk dressing

Maryland crab with coconut and champagne mango – Grilled chicken with couscous and spicy yoghurt – Grilled kale with sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, pickled water chestnut and buttermilk dressing

For starters, heave mightily to the dustbin all memories of Lancers or Mateus – – once the only rosés available on our wine-starved Eastern shores.  These fizzy blush wines from Portugal tasting like soda pop.  How ever did we survive such an ignoble introduction to rosé?  Those were dark days indeed.  Today our wine shops are filled with a veritable panoply of French rosés revealing finesse, charm and sophistication…and they are becoming madly popular.  Consumption of these little gems has doubled in the last twenty years.

A basket of warm Madeleines - Petit fours - macarons, marshmallows and gold leaf truffles

A basket of warm Madeleines – Petit fours – macarons, marshmallows and gold leaf truffles

In Provence four sub-AOCs, or terroir appellations, have been recognized, and more are expected to be added.  You can trace these regions (where rosé accounts for 88% of all wine production), from the mountains of Aix-en-Provence in southwestern France then south to the ports of Marseilles and Toulon, and down along the Mediterranean coast to the Riviera turning up along the eastern coastline to the millionaire’s playground of Cannes and St. Tropez.

Because the climate is drier in the mountains and more humid by the coast, there are distinctive variables in the wines that define their unique profiles.  Limestone and limestone-clay soils impart a notable minerality, and the fierce seasonal winds of Le Mistral offer further dimension.   Notwithstanding the climate, terroir and wide-ranging elevations of this vast region, there is also the crafting of the wine’s personality expressed by each winemaker who can draw from more than a dozen varieties of grapes used to make it.  Nearly all of them are estate-grown.

Founded in 1999 the Center for Rosé Research in Vidauban has created its “Provence Rosé Color Scale” to better define its varying shades.  This color reference chart depicts the diversity of liquid color gradations that categorize rosés under the official names of Red Currant, Peach, Grapefruit, Melon, Mango and Tangerine.  It helps to express the shades that range from pale pink to peach to ruby hued.

I will not go further into the complexities of taste of the different rosés, nor how they are made.  That discussion is for the serious oenophiles or future winemakers out there who already know far more than I.  This is meant as an inspirational primer – – an introduction to its delights.  I will go so far as to say I chose a favorite amongst all the offerings – – the Chateau Saint Maur Cru Classe L’Excellance Rosé.  It is a prestigious wine, refined and delicate, with overtones of melon and rose petals conjuring up visions of heaping bowls of bouillabaisse or platters of fruits de mer.  I’m already dreaming of fields of lavender and thyme, the truffles of Périgord, and a mess of langoustines.  You should too.

For more detailed information visit www.CentreduRosé.fr

Photo credit – Jordan Wright

The Originalist – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
April 13, 2015
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts 

Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalist.  Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalist. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The controversial Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, comes to life in the hilariously acerbic The Originalist at Arena Stage.  The much-acclaimed world premiere has just been extended for the second time and will continue until May 3rd resuming again on May 19th and running through May 31st.   I give you this latest news upfront so that you can grab your tickets now.  This is a can’t miss tour de force starring consummate actor Ed Gero as Scalia supported by Kerry Warren as Cat, Scalia’s liberal law clerk, and Harlan Work as Brad, Cat’s opposite, a young member of The Federalist Society and Scalia’s Sycophant-in-Chief.

(L to R) Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Harlan Work as Brad and Kerry Warren as Cat in The Originalist. Photo by C. Stanley Photograph

(L to R) Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Harlan Work as Brad and Kerry Warren as Cat in The Originalist. Photo by C. Stanley Photograph

As the Court’s notably right-wing curmudgeon, Scalia has won friends in many circles with his humor and charm (you can’t be all bad and still have über liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a ‘bestie’), and John Strand (Arena Stage’s Resident Playwright) takes full advantage of that dichotomy, bringing it to life through historical quotes overlaid with the playwright’s imaginings of how Scalia crafts his opinions.  It is one of the most thrilling pieces of theatre I have ever seen.

Strand uses the impending and long-awaited Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as the centerpiece for the characters’ legal arguments, using the device to pit Scalia’s philosophies against Cat’s vehement opposition.  It’s tremendously irresistible to anyone interested in law, the Justices, or the Court’s nation-altering decisions.  (I sat next to a female attorney who had taken Scalia’s Contract Law class at the University of Chicago and proclaimed him feisty, yet humorous, even back then.)

(L to R) Kerry Warren as Cat and Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalist.  Photo by C. Stanley

(L to R) Kerry Warren as Cat and Edward Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalist. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Accompanied by interstices of grandiose operatic arias (Scalia is a known opera buff), he delivers arguments and pronouncements like bullets on a battlefield, but so does his verbal sparring partner, Cat, an equally combative Harvard Law grad determined to change his mind.  “I dissent!” is the most oft repeated line from the man who once had acting aspirations.  He later confesses, “The court is my theatre.  I am not an ideologue.  I am an originalist!”  In explaining his reason for hiring her he reveals, “Every now and then I like to have a liberal around.  It reminds of how right I am.”  Cat, who views the court as a “fantasy palace”, is determined to change his dogmatic ways.  She seeks his heart, while he wants her soul. “You’re stuck alone in your bunker.  Your constitution is just a shield you hide behind,” she parries, defining his brand of government a “monsterocracy”.

Gero is magnificent.  His comedic timing and arrogant swagger are nothing less than breathtaking and perfectly counterbalanced by the supremely talented Kerry Warren.  So riveting is their sparring on gun rights, gay marriage and the constitution, that if there was one soul in the audience who didn’t hear the proverbial pin drop, it didn’t.  (Speaking of sparring, boxing terms are used so frequently I wondered if it they’re something the Justice is known for.)

 at the Mead Center for American Theater. The Originalist runs March 6-April 26, 2015. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The set of The Originalist designed by Misha Kachman in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. The Originalist runs March 6-April 26, 2015. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Setting the tone and highlighting the majesty and gravity of the Court and its private chambers, Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills gives us two massive crystal chandeliers in order to appropriately frame the pronouncements from Scalia’s Kingly Court of Conservatism.  Set Designer Mischa Kachman adds floor-to-ceiling red velvet drapes trimmed with golden tassels: lest you forget the import of where you are.

Highly recommended.

See above for new dates.  Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

“My Organic Life” by Nora Poullion

Jordan Wright
April 7, 2015
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

A small farm high up in the Tyrolean mountains gave Nora Poullion her first taste of organic foods.  While their father tended to his business in Vienna during World War II, Nora, her mother and two older sisters were safely ensconced in a rudimentary chalet where they lived with a farmer and his wife who baked bread from their own wheat, grew their own vegetables, milked the cows for butter and cheese, and gathered mushrooms from the forest.  They were joined there by two old family friends – – Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis.  These were the experiences that informed the direction of her life.

In her poignant memoir Poullion allows us into her private world before she was recognized as an American culinary pioneer through her commitment to local, sustainable and organic food.  The book takes us along on her journeys throughout Europe and later in the U.S. at a time that parallels the rise of the organic Food Movement.  When food was becoming ever more distant and chefs were buying from huge wholesale suppliers, Nora began to cultivate relationships with local farmers – – something I learned firsthand when I interviewed her seven years ago at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market where she still shops each week for Restaurant Nora, the first certified organic restaurant in the United States.

A few weeks ago we reconnected for the launch of her new book, My Organic Life: How a Pioneering Chef Helped Shape the Way We Eat Today (Alfred A. Knopf – April 2015) written with Laura Fraser.  As in her book Poullion spoke candidly over lunch about her early experiences in America.  “I was astonished when I came to this country.  Everything was packaged in plastic and there was no culture around food.  Back then Pepperidge Farm was the gourmet bread!”  You can well imagine how far removed this was to someone whose upbringing reflected the care and attention given to food in Europe.  Remembering her first impressions she added, “I noticed how unhealthy people were.  They just went to the doctor to get a pill!”

Hearts of Palm Salad with pineapple carpaccio, mâche, pistachios and yuzu vinaigrette

Hearts of Palm Salad with pineapple carpaccio, mâche, pistachios and yuzu vinaigrette

In the book Poullion recalls her arrival in Washington, DC in 1965 with her journalist husband, Pierre.  As a young woman and newlywed she didn’t know how to cook.  So charged with hosting his many ex-pat friends who excelled at cooking and entertaining, she turned to James Beard’s cookbooks for inspiration.  By 1972 she had achieved such a stellar reputation for her French cooking and catering, that she began giving cooking classes.  “Ralph Nader was my first student,” she recalled.

Area residents who have followed her career will remember her first restaurant inside the Tabard Inn, a small B&B in Dupont Circle.  “I was stunned when twenty people came in!” she said of her first lunch service.  One year later, after a stint flipping burgers in a local joint (No one can say she hasn’t paid her dues!), she and partner, Steven Damato, and his brother, Tom, opened Restaurant Nora.  Later the trio enjoyed an eight-year run with City Café before turning it into the since shuttered Asia Nora.

Sake Glazed Black Codwith ginger miso emulsion, bok choy, shiitakes, snow peas and crispy yams

Sake Glazed Black Codwith ginger miso emulsion, bok choy, shiitakes, snow peas and crispy yams

On this sunny afternoon she was seated beside her close friend of many years, Diane Rehm, the beloved NPR broadcaster.  Rehm is one of the many notables  – – from Jimmy Carter to the Obamas – – who have regularly patronized the restaurant.

Before our delicious lunch came to a close I begged (Yes, I really did beg!) for the recipe for the scrumptious dessert she served.  It was a fabulous cake she planned to bake for Jacques Pepin’s upcoming 80th birthday tribute.  Behold I give you Nora’s grandmother’s recipe for Austrian Chocolate Almond Cake.  What I won’t do for my dear readers…

Austrian Chocolate Almond Cake

Austrian Chocolate Almond Cake

AUSTRIAN CHOCOLATE ALMOND CAKE WITH LIGHT WHIPPED CREAM

  • 1 ½ cups almonds
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • ¾ cub breadcrumbs
  • 6 egg whites
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, until fragrant and toasted.  Let the nuts cool.  Coarsely chop the almonds.
  3. Butter an 8-inch spring-form pan with one teaspoon of butter and dust with some of the breadcrumbs.
  4. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  5. Combine the butter, sugar, and cooled, melted chocolate in the bowl of a mixer and beat until the batter changes to a lighter color and becomes creamy, about three minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice while beating.
  6. Add the yolks, one at a time, and continue beating.  Lower the speed of the mixer and add the ground almonds and breadcrumbs.
  7. Beat egg whites* (see tips below) until soft but not stiff.  Stir a third of the beaten whites into the batter, blending thoroughly.  Gently fold in remaining whites, working quickly and carefully to incorporate all the whites without deflating the batter.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake 50 – 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  The center of the cake can still be soft.
  9. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a cake rack.  Let the cake cool completely before adding the glaze.  Serves 12.

CHOCOLATE GLAZE

For one 8-inch cake

  • 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ounce of room temperature milk chocolate for garnish
  1. Melt semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water.  Add the butter and stir until blended and smooth.  Remove the glaze from the heat and allow it to cool and thicken to the consistency of thick cream.
  2. Brush the cake to remove any loose crumbs, and place both the cake and the cooling rack on a sheet pan to catch the chocolate glaze.  Slowly pour a pool of chocolate glaze onto the center of the cake.   Working from the center out, use a long metal spatula to spread the glaze evenly over the top and sides of the cake.
  3. For a smoother look, you can glaze the cake a second time.  Scoop the excess glaze from the sheet pan and reheat it in a small double boiler.  Pour it through a sieve, if necessary to remove any cake crumbs, and cool it slightly to thicken a bit.  Pour the glaze again onto the center of the cake and allow it to spread without using a spatula.
  4. With a vegetable peeler, shave off some curls of the milk chocolate and sprinkle them on top of the cake.  Allow the glaze to set for 2 hours at room temperature or at least 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

LIGHT WHIPPED CREAM

  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon superfine or confectioners’ sugar
  1. Fresh mint for garnish
  2. Whip the egg white until it holds its shape.  Whip the cream in a separate bowl until it forms soft peaks, then add the sugar. Continue to whip the cream until it forms soft peaks again.  Fold the egg whites into the cream.
  3. Assembly:  Cut 4 pieces of the cake and put one piece on each of four dessert plates, garnish with a dollop of the light whipped cream and a sprig of mint.

Nora’s commentary

This is my grandmother’s recipe for a traditional Austrian cake, called Rehrueken.  The name means “venison saddle” because the cake is usually baked in a long, half-roll pan to imitate a saddle of venison.

No matter what you do, this cake never fails.  Under-baked, it tastes like a brownie.  The original Viennese recipe uses almonds, but sometimes I make an Italian version, substituting pine nuts and serving it with an Amaretto cream or ice cream.  I have made an American version using pecans and a bourbon whipped cream or ice cream.

The simple glaze always works, and my customers and family love it.  Our neighbor in Vienna, the daughter of a famous restaurant owner, gave me this glaze recipe.

You can flavor the whipped cream with any kind of liqueur or with a few drops of pure vanilla, honey, rosewater or a pinch of cinnamon.

*Nora’s Tips

It is important not to over-beat the egg whites.  Whip them just until they keep their shape.  If over-beaten, they are difficult to fold in thoroughly and over-beaten eggs can cause the cake to rise too high, crack, and fall as it cools.