HomeAdvisor: is it worth it?

HomeAdvisor: is it worth it?

As many of you know, HomeAdvisor has been blitzing the airwaves with their service to find contractors for  home improvement projects. So it was not unreasonable that we try them out when we found that we had 3 projects that we wanted carried out while we were on vacation last summer and our dog boarded so he wasn’t in their way.

We’ll tell you about our 3 contractors (2 great, one not) our experiences with HomeAdvisor and how contractors feel about dealing with them.

The floors and rugs: excellent job

We had our hardwood floors redone about 20 years ago and the finish has begun to wear off, and dirt was ground into the heavily trafficked areas.  We interviewed 3 contractors and settled on one of the more expensive ones, because they would move and replace all the furniture. Since we were redoing 4 rooms, there was no way we could to it for them because there just wasn’t room for all the furniture in the other rooms. The contractor we selected, Custom Floor Installations of Lake Carmel, NY, did an excellent job in all respects. We returned from vacation to beautiful new-looking floors, with all the furniture where it belonged. Five Stars.

Since we were having the floors redone, we also wanted two oriental carpets cleaned as well, and we hired Poohbear Rug Cleaning (also known as PJ’s) to take the carpets away and return them when we came back. They picked them up the day before we left, and brought them back the weekday after we returned. The rugs were clean and they put them back in place perfectly. Also Five Stars.

The driveway

We also decided to have our asphalt driveway sealed: another job best done when the dog is away. From three contractors, we selected Driveway Doctor of Bridgeport, explaining that we wanted the work done during the second week we were away. Scott quoted a fairly low price and promised to patch several holes with asphalt before sealing, and do it during the second week. He didn’t. In fact, he called that week to ask how our vacation had been. He hadn’t started and thought we were back. I told him it needed to be done by that Saturday when we returned.  It wasn’t.

In fact, when we called and left messages on the phone number on the HomeAdvisor web site, he never returned our calls. We finally contacted HomeAdvisor, who both called him and gave us his cell phone number. He finally showed up to do the asphalt patching a week later. Then we had to call to remind him that he still needed to seal the driveway. This took 2 more weeks, but when his driveway worker showed up, he didn’t first seal the cracks/ When we pointed that out, he promised to come back and do that and reseal over the cracks.

Our review vanished

He never came. In fact, after two more calls, it was apparent that he wasn’t coming back. So, we went to post a One Star review on Home Advisor. However, there was no sign on HomeAdvisor that we had hired him, so we created a review anyway.  Our review was never posted. Since it was a One Star review, HA noted in a popup that they may call me to check on the report. They didn’t.  And the review still hasn’t been posted.

A few weeks later, we got an Email from HomeAdvisor reminding us that we’d get a $50 credit if we hired 3 contractors. Of course, we had hired 3 contractors, but either HA or Scott had deleted records of that third contract, because he had never completed it satisfactorily. We contacted them to point that out, but they never responded.

It looks like there are very few negative reviews on HA, because they can be (and have been) deleted. This tends to skew the ratings, and makes me suspicious of the entire enterprise.

What do contractors think?

It doesn’t take much effort to find a site that reviews businesses like HomeAdvisor, and the reviews at SiteJabber are really very negative indeed. Contactors complain about being billed for bad leads, and referrals that are irrelevant to their business. So you might very well be ones of those bad referrals and the people you talk to might not even be in the business you are looking for.

We think there are better services to use than HomeAdvisor, and would never use them again.

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Sweet potatoes were naturally made using GMO techniques

sweet-potato-fries-with-sea-56276If you look at the packaging for Alexia Sweet Potato Fries (which are actually very good) you will see “Non-GMO” and that annoying GMO Free butterfly label.  This is called fear-based marketing. We don’t use that scary GMO stuff (whatever that is) in our potatoes. But in the case of sweet potatoes, nature beat them to the punch.

Farmers breed plants all the time to get new, stronger and tastier varieties by crossing them. This is tricky because you usually then have to “back-cross” your new variety with its parents to make it more like its parent. And this can result in exchanging of over 10,000 genes! This was the way the pioneering plant biologist Norman Borlaug bred the wheat that saved Mexico and later India. For this he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Another way farmers and breeders have used is irradiation of seeds. This is kind of a crude technique, called mutation breeding, but it is how we got the current Ruby Red Grapefruit. You just have to plant the seeds and see what comes up. Then you save the good ones.  You can also perturb the seed using mutagenic chemicals (such as colchicine) to cause it to mutate. This is just as uncertain, but we have gotten a lot of nice flowers and a few vegetables that way.

The last way is using biotechnology to insert just the gene we want for the trait we want. This is the most precise method, but not everyone (except most scientists) is convinced that there aren’t some sort of unknown side effects. They usually use a bacterium called “agro” (for agrobacterium tumefaciens) which is a sort of a ring of DNA called a plasmid. This bacterium can insert genes into plants, and that is where the bulges come from you see on oak trees, called oak galls.

Now if biologists make that ring of DNA longer by including the genes they want in the plant they can persuade agro to do their insertions for them and this is the way most genetically modified crops are made today.

Here’s the news. This wasn’t our idea! That intellectual property belongs to a sweet potato! Virologist Jan Kreuze of the University of Washington in Seattle reported that they examined the genes of some 291 varieties of sweet potatoes from around the world, and found in all of them foreign genes from bacteria. Further, they found genetic sequences analogous to those in agro. And while they found these in sweet potatoes, they did not find them in close relatives.

Now, sweet potatoes are just the swollen parts of the plant’s roots and the authors theorize that this modification is what gives sweet potato plants this bulge; both are lacking from the close relatives. So sweet potatoes did their own “genetic engineering” some 8000 years ago, and farmers selected the plants with the best “bulge” to plant each year. And clearly after 8000 years we can be pretty sure there are no ill effects from eating them.

This is a pretty good indication that such genetic modification is perfectly safe, and every major scientific organization world wide agrees that this is true. You can find declarations from the AAAS, the AMA, and the EFSA.  Every major scientific society and national scientific organization has indicated that GMO foods pose no harm of any kind. Here is a good review in Scientific American by Pamela Ronald. And the position of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is very clear in stating that GMO crops pose no harm.

So, ignore those meaningless “non-GMO” marketing labels, and avoid products making those specious claims when you can. You may actually save money, too.

 

 

The Times, detoxing and other pseudo-science

The Times, detoxing and other pseudo-science

In last Sunday’s NY Times “T” section, an article by Kari Molvar asked “creative people to share their homemade recipes they count on to detox, cleanse – and refresh.” This should have been a very short article indeed, because there is no such thing as a detox or cleanse. Your liver is all you need to “cleanse” your system. And it does it very well! (See our article Medical Science says that Cleanses are Bogus.)

In this article, they interview artist Ana Kras about her recipe for a cleansing drink. How about another article on the kinds of sculptures scientists make?

At least that would be based on facts! This one, not so much.  Kras is known for her “modernist furniture, abstract drawings and photography.” But not for her knowledge of science, apparently.

She claims that her recipe (from California friend) is not only tasty but can have “medicinal properties.” NO proof, of course.

Her recipe consists of vegan, organic masala chai spice and ground vanilla powder. Well, both “vegan” and “organic” are more ritualistic concepts than ingredients, and “chai spice” is just a mixture of common household spice like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom, as shown above.

Where she goes off the rails is in adding a mixture of weird, unpronounceable “adaptogenic” spices like “ashwagandha, cordyceps, mucuna pruriens and reishi.” None of these ingredients have been found to be safe and effective for any purpose, and some can be dangerous in quantity.

Adaptogenic” is a pseudo-scientific term implying that the herbs may adapt to your body’s needs. This has never been shown to be true.

Kras claims in the article that this spiked tea drink may improve immunity and mental clarity. Of course, none of those crackpot ingredients do anything of the sort, and same may be dangerous, because they are pretty much unregulated.

Kras serves her chai with cashew cream (with a crushed date) or almond milk. Probably tasty, but of no particular benefit. It looks like she is trying to avoid dairy (for no good reason) but adding cream instead would be easier and cheaper, and still taste very good. Make your chai tea and enjoy it. Leave out the wacko spices, and tell the Times they are full of malarkey!

The Tavern at Graybarns: Excellent

The Tavern at Graybarns: Excellent

The Graybarns Inn opened in mid-2017 where the old Silvermine Inn used to be. The Glazier Group has undertaken substantial renovations, and created six luxury suites from around $650 a night. More to the point, they completely redid the old Silvermine Tavern to the somewhat smaller and much more elegant Tavern at Graybarns, which opened last October.

Tables

The restaurant, unlike its sprawling predecessor with indifferent food, is a single room with around 20 tables and a crackling fire and excellent food created by Chef Ben Freemole. There is also a second smaller room for group events. Last night it looked like there might be a birthday party there, maybe a Sweet Sixteen party for about 15 young women.

It seemed difficult to get weekend reservations there because of the restaurant’s popularity, so we decided to go on a Thursday evening at 5:45. OpenTable gave us a choice of only a couple of early times, but in fact the restaurant was never more than half full, with about  seven tables occupied. This may have something to do with how many tables the restaurant releases to OpenTable or who might be coming for later dining.  However, even on weekends, the waitress told us you may be able to get a reservation by calling and asking if there have been cancellations.

barBecause of the foggy weather, we left and arrived early, and while we could have gone directly to our table, the hostess suggested we might want to have a drink at the bar before being seated. This was a great idea:  the bar was warm and comfortable and just steps from the dining room. It was beautifully decorated, with the mid-bar pillar being some of the tavern’s original lumber. In addition to the conventional drinks, they have a selection kooky sounding cocktails, including “Greyhound” and “Corpse Reviver.”

When we were seated at our table, we were immediately provided with some wonderful, crusty bread and unsalted butter topped with a bit of sea salt (you can get it without the salt if you want). And, soon after we ordered we also got a lovely bowl of mixed olives to munch on.

The menu is not huge, but consists of 9 Small Plates ($13-$21) and 10 Large Plates ($19 to $36), plus $50 Strip Steak and a 40 oz Porterhouse for two ($130). While you can order a number  of lovely things, you can also just order the beautiful Tavern Double Cheeseburger for just $19.

crab toast

The menu varies daily, with their additions printed on the menu that day. We were both taken with the Crab Toast ($21) as an appetizer, served on sourdough toast with espelette pepper in the sauce, and topped with chives. The crab was plentiful and the mildly peppery sauce way more interesting than the usual creamy goo you might have had elsewhere.

duck

For one main course, we ordered Duck Breast ($36) served with grilled radicchio strips, a bit of parsnip puree and parsley, along with some surprise sweet potato chips. The duck was tender, juicy and medium rare as we’d hoped, and the portion was substantial.

Our other entrée was Reginetti Pasta ($24) with short ribs sugo, rosemary and pecorino.  This is the sort of dish where the short rib meat was in hiding under the pasta, so we include a close-up to show the featured meat as well. This may have been the winning dish that night: the flavors of the pasta, beef and pecorino harmonized so well.

pudddingThe dessert menu was limited to just 3 items: Apple Crisp, Chocolate Mousse and Sheep’s Milk Triple Cream cheese, each for $9. We elected to split the chocolate mousse, and this was the evening’s only misfire. It was just chocolate pudding, with no liqueur flavor or anything else to distinguish it. Little different than the classc pudding I use in making a chocolate pie.

Even with the relatively small house that night, the noise level was significant, with some noise coming from the patrons and more from the bar area. If the restaurant had been full, it would have been quite a bit more so.

Our bill, with tax but before tip, including 2 drinks($22) and 2 glasses of wine ($32) was $187.18.We also needed to tip the valet parking and the coat check.

However, over all, this was a top notch experience with excellent and service and décor and excellent food and drink. We can’t recommend it highly enough.

outside

Antioxidants: another scam?

blueberriesWe know that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables are generally more healthy than those who don’t and people have hypothesized that the antioxidants in those fruits are the reason. According to this hypothesis, free radicals in the body can do damage to cells and genes and even cause cancer. And antioxidants can vacuum up free radicals by combining with them.

This theory keeps being repeated by cooking writer who somehow have taken this as gospel, particularly those exposed to the unaccredited Institute for Integrative Nutrition, who scams hundreds of students each year. They push the idea of colorful fruits and veggies being more healthful.

The trouble is, we really don’t have any idea what those free radicals are there for and whether they really should be Hoovered up. This discussion comes from one I found in Ben Goldacre’s delightful book “Bad Science.”

You can buy all kinds of antioxidants in pharmacies and health food stores, pretty much unregulated, and to hear the pill peddler talk, they might do some good and can’t do any harm, but we don’t know for sure.

Actually we do know. There have been a number of very good studies on these issues and the results are not encouraging.

In a 1996 Finnish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of 29,133 male smokers were randomly assigned to receive the antioxidants alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, both or a placebo for 5-8 years. The study followed incidence of lung cancer in the subjects, and it was found that

No overall effect was observed for lung cancer from α-tocopherol supplementation, and

β-carotene supplementation was associated with increased lung cancer risk.

 

In another trial called CARET for Carotene and Retinol Efficiency Trial, the results were worse. They followed 18,314 smokers, former smokers and workers exposed to asbestos, giving them a combination of beta-carotene and retinol (Vitamin A) daily, or a placebo. They found that the risk of death from lung cancer was 1.46 times greater in the active treatment group than in the placebo group, and the trial was stopped 21 months early.

The Cochrane Database is a collection of reviews of papers on hundreds of medical topics, and is a major destination for scientists seeking to review the work in any medical area. The review Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases was published this March and finds similar conclusions:

The current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases.

So, it would seem that eating your fruits and veggies is still a great idea, but antioxidant supplements are useless or even worse.

 

Should you buy an Instant Pot for Christmas?

Should you buy an Instant Pot for Christmas?

dsc_0004The Instant Pot is as much a cultural as a culinary phenomenon that was successfully marketed using social media as well as through Amazon.  If you followed the online comments and the various Facebook groups (which come and go regularly), you would think that this is the cooking appliance of a lifetime which not only prepares delicious meals in a single pot, but can also walk your dog and pay your mortgage.

It’s a handy appliance, but the hype easily gets out of hand. Basically the Instant Pot is a counter top electric pressure cooker: easier to use and possibly safer than the clunky old stovetop pressure cookers but that is its main function. However, they call it a “multicooker,” because you can also use it as a rice cooker (which it does very well), a slow cooker (which it does, but not so well) and a sauté pot, which is silly because you can do that on the stove without getting out and washing that big pot.

As the Instant Pot Internet fad grew, people were trying to make all sorts of recipes in their new gadget: some terrific and some not much better than the usual way. Like any other tool, you just need to ask whether you save any time, when allowing for dragging the pot out of the cupboard, and washing it all afterwards. The 6 quart pot is deep enough that your dishwasher may not get it completely clean.

In fact, there were at one time, quite a number of Facebook groups sharing Instant Pot recipes. Many seemed to have been sponsored by the Instant Pot company, and while they generated a lot of early enthusiasm, most have been shut down, partly because they were full of recipes that really weren’t very good.

So here are the things the Instant Pot does really well:

Stews

Anything you can make as a beef or chicken stew will come out faster and better in an Instant Pot. For example: Beef Bourguignon,  Beef Stew, Coq au Vin and any similar dish. If your stew  recipe includes wine or brandy, cut back on it as the alcohol won’t evaporate during cooking, and the steam may be flammable.

steaming-stew

Ribs

DSC_0007

You can make really good pork ribs (or beef ribs) in the Instant Pot, cooking them with a couple of cups o

f liquid (like apple cider) for about 30 minutes. But then, to get the browned flavor, you need to spread them with sauce and brown them under the broiler or on a gas or charcoal grill.

Stocks

dsc_0002

You can take the bones from a roast chicken or a turkey and turn them into several quarts of delicious stock. This works for beef stock too.  I add some veggies and a leek to the liquid along with the bones. You can freeze the resulting stock for some months. If you want to call it “bone broth,” cook it a little longer.

Tomato Sauce

Filled pot

If you are into canning fresh tomatoes to make tomato sauce, you can save a lot of time by using the Instant Pot to cook down the fresh tomatoes.

Rice

Yes, absolutely. Not only does the rice cook perfectly, the pot keeps it warm for a long time afterwards. We often make the rice, take it out and cover it and keep it warm and use the Instant Pot to make the main dish. It really doesn’t matter if the rice cools a bit if you are covering it with hot stew anyway.

Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs

3 cut open

The main advantage of the Instant Pot is that you can make hard boiled eggs that peel perfectly. But, if you are making one or two eggs for garnish, you can cook them more quickly in a vegetable steamer. But for Easter, or for making a dozen or two for deviled eggs, the Instant Pot is your friend. We recommend cooking them for 5 minutes and letting the pot cool for 3 more before opening it. The timing is the same no matter how many eggs you cook: the pot just takes longer to heat up.

Scrambled Eggs

plated

Just for fun, we decided to try scrambled eggs in the Instant Pot. They take about 7 minutes, but you can do them just as fast or faster in a pan. The only real advantage is that you don’t have to keep stirring them while they cook.

Poached Eggs

Some people have tried to make poached eggs in the Instant Pot, but since you have to put each egg into its own cup, you can’t make very many at once, and getting the eggs out of the cups without burning yourself is difficult. Further, it is much quicker to just poach them in boiling water as we show here.

Desserts

Cheesecake

sliced2

Once of the best dishes you can make in the Instant Pot is Cheesecake. It cooks at about the same rate as in the oven, but because of the steam, it never cracks and is much smoother. The only disadvantage is that you are limited to a 6.5 to 7 inch pan that will fit inside the pot.

Steamed puddings

You can also make quite a good Indian Pudding in the Instant Pot as well as a good Christmas Plum Pudding.

Things that don’t work very well

The place where the Instant Pot falls down is in recipes where browning of the food is integral. You want the browning so the Maillard reaction add flavor, and unless you can brown after cooking, like with the pork ribs, most other recipes aren’t improved by the IP. Be very suspicious of any recipe that only take 3-5 minutes. You probably don’t need to get your pot dirty for it.

Fish and Seafood

This is really not a useful idea, since you can cook fish in 5 minutes or so. Why haul out the pot, when you can do it in any pan more quickly?

Macaroni and Cheese

Like a lot of other things that aren’t that good, macaroni and cheese really needs to be backed and browned. There’s no way to do that in the Instant Pot. It just gets another dish dirty.

Steel cut oats

This was one of the big recipes early on, but since it is just oatmeal, people have decided that there is very little different than other packaged oats recipes you cook in a pan. Even the Instant Pot recipe only takes 3 minutes.

Chinese Stir Fry Recipes

Chinese cooking involves browning, and just doesn’t work in an Instant Pot.

Clam Chowder

Even the Recipe in the Instant Pot recipe book only takes 5 minutes. You don’t need the pot for this one.

Mashed Potatoes

At  first we thought cooking the potatoes in the Instant Pot was an improvement, but after several trials, we decided we could do just as well in a saucepan on the stove.

Veal recipes

Veal scallops are sautéed quickly.  The Instant Pot won’t help you here.

Vegetables

For the most part, vegetables cook too quickly for the IP to be much use. But you can quickly cook dried beans in your Instant Pot, and there are some decent recipes for squash soups.

Casseroles

Need to brown. Not much reason for the IP.

Fruits

Probably the same as vegetables: not much use for the pot. Making jams and marmalades requires cooking the fruit down slowly, and this is not possible in a closed pot.

In closing

The Instant Pot is a valuable kitchen tool for shortening long cooking recipes and for making rice and maybe for hard cooked eggs. But don’t be over sold and throw away your pots and pans and cookbooks!

 

Match Burger Lobster: outstanding new Westport eatery

Match Burger Lobster: outstanding new Westport eatery

Match Burger Lobster opened this fall to ecstatic praise, at least from those of us who revere lobster roles. Located in Saugatuck, it is the brainchild of Matt Storch, the proprietor of the full service Norwalk (Sono) restaurant Match.

Match Burger Lobster is a far more informal affair, seating about 40, plus more in the bar area. The menu  features lobster rolls, oysters bags of steamers and actual lobster all from Norm Bloom and Son.  In addition, they offer grass-fed sliders and burgers from the adjacent  Fleisher’s Craft Butchery.

This is a friendly and informal place, with the beer choices on a wall board and little paper menus in the box on each tables that hold cutlery and napkins as well.  On a Thursday night, it wasn’t particularly busy or noisy, but the waiter told us that weekends are very busy. There is limited parking in front, but a large lot behind the building.

From our point of view, there is nothing better than their warm lobster roll ($24), served in a hollowed out brioche bun and soaked in butter. However, they also offer a cold lobster roll with Yuzu lobster Mayo, (also $24). Both are served with plenteous and delicious house-made potato chips.

The lobster roll here is a little different than the one at Match in Sono:  it’s more buttery and less drippy than the Sono version. We liked it better.

mini mini

However, if you want to try their grass-fed sliders, you can order a mini slider and a mini lobster roll ($20). The hamburger ($15) and the smaller mini slider ($7) are served with bacon, cheddar dip and S&S onions, where S&S presumably means “sweet and sour.” We think we ask them to leave off the onions next time ad they were a bit overpowering. The burger, however, was outstanding.

Desserts are limited to a Donut Milkshake, a Slice of Cake, Donut Crazy Holes you can fill yourself, a Brownie Sundae and Key Lime Pie. Of course, we went for one of the latter.

dessert

Our bill with two drinks, and tax was only $80, but for a larger group, a lot of $24 lobster rolls will add up. But you can’t do better.

Match Burger Lobster, at 580 Riverside Drive, just off Exit 17, is open daily 11:30 am to 9 pm.  No reservations.

window

English Plum Pudding – using an Instant Pot

English Plum Pudding – using an Instant Pot

Plum pudding is a traditional holiday dessert that goes back hundreds of years. And it doesn’t actually contain plums: just raisins and candied fruit. In the 17th century, “plum” meant any dried fruit. Traditionally, you make it a year ahead so it can age, but even a couple of weeks will do, so don’t worry about getting a late start. You can start another one after the holidays and you’ll be all set for next year, too!

Plum pudding is a steamed pudding, cooked for many hours in a slow oven. We sped this up by using our Instant Pot counter top pressure cooker, to reduce the time to just 2 hours. The recipe we are using is half the original, which makes a slumgullion of pudding, and even then we did it two batches, one in a Mrs Anderson’s Baking  Steamed  Pudding Mold, and a smaller one-hour amount in a small bowl wrapped in foil.

Fruit Mixture

  • ½ lb seedless raisins
  • ½ lb golden raisins
  • ¼ lb currants
  • ½ cup thinly slice citron
  • ½ cup chopped candied peel
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp mace
  • 14 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ lb finely chopped suet (powdery fine)
  • 5/8 cup brandy

Pudding

  • 5/8 cup fresh bread crumbs, (about 2 cups)
  • ½ cup warm milk
  • ½ cup sherry or port
  • 6 eggs, well beaten
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Brandy

Hard Sauce

  • ½ cup softened butter
  • 1 ½ cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or 2 Tb brandy or rum

Beat the softened butter in an electric mixer and slowly add the sugar.  Add the vanilla or brandy and served with the plum pudding.

Making the pudding

  1. Blend the fruits, citron, spices and suet in a bowl or jar.
  2. Add 1/8 cup brandy, cover tightly and refrigerate for 2-4 days, adding more brandy each day.
  3. When ready to mix up the pudding, mix the milk and sherry or port together.
  4. Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk/ wine mixture.
  5. Combine the beaten eggs and sugar and blend with the fruit mixture.
  6. Add salt and mix thoroughly.
  7. Put the pudding in a buttered pudding mold or buttered bowls. With the pudding mold we bought, we get about 2/3 of the batter in it. Cover with foil to seal it and keep out the moisture.
  8. Put a cup of water in the Instant Pot, add the trivet, and place the pudding mold on the trivet.
  9. Seal the Instant Pot, and steam on Manual for 2 hours.
  10. Uncover and place in a 250° F oven for 30 minutes.
  11. Add a dash of brandy to the pudding, and store in a cool place.
  12. Repeat with the remaining batter in a small bowl covered securely with foil.
  13. Allow the pudding to age for a week or two, adding a dash of brandy every day or two.
  14. When ready to serve, reheat in the steamer, and unmold.
  15. Sprinkle with sugar, add heated brandy and ignite.
  16. Serve with hard sauce.

flamed

Hypocrites Theater: Pirates of Penzance

Hypocrites Theater: Pirates of Penzance

Sean Graney’s wild and unconventional take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance has come to NYU’s Skirball Center in the Village for an engagement that ends December 10.  The Hypocrites specialize in “mounting bold productions and redefining the role of the audience.”

In this case, the entire production and the audience are on the Skirball’s stage, both in three tiered rows of chairs on three sides, and sitting directly on the playing area. The actors will ask you to move if they need that spot. They call this “promenade seating,” and all the audience promenades around the set at the beginning.

When you arrive, you will find the entire cast on stage playing various stringed instruments and improvising a series of country-folk numbers while they throw beach balls to the audience. This is not surprising, since they are all dressed in Hawaiian beach attire.  And, in this production the cast is also the entire orchestra, made up of guitars, mandolins, banjos, a violin, an accordion, a squeezebox, a flute a clarinet and, in the second act, a washboard and a musical saw.  The arrangements are by the musical director, Andra Velis Simon.

Despite all this lovely chaos, this IS a production of Pirates. Most of the lines are intact (although there are some clever ad libs.) And they play and sing just about all the music except for “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.”

After the cast explains that you can get up and move around at any time, and go to the on-stage Tiki bar whenever you want, they launch into “Pour, oh pour the pirate sherry,” just as any other production would, except for the stringed accompaniment.

Most of the voices are excellent, and while the 3 Daughters are a bit shrill some of the time, this is clearly part of the fun: they clearly all can sing very well.

Most surprising is the Christine Stulik plays both Ruth, the comic mezzo, and Mabel, the ingénue coloratura soprano, since they are almost never on stage at the same time anyway. At the very end she appears in a red dress we have not seen before, and Freddy (Frederick to you) asks if she is Ruth or Mabel. She says she has no idea.

And as Ruth, Stulik delivers a rousing klezmer version of her first number, “When Frederick was a little lad,” with Freddy playing clarinet to help accompany her.

The Daughters (of the Major General) are relatively young actresses that we first see tossing beach balls with the rest of the cast, but when we see them as the daughters a bit later, they are all dressed in rubber bathing caps with little rubber flowers, and flouncy skirts.

The tenor lead, Shawn Pfautsch plays Frederick, or “Freddy” as he is mostly called, and has a lovely voice as well as great humorous athleticism. His duets with Mabel are just as good as in any other Pirates and probably a bit funnier. Matt Kahler, as the Major-General, has great poise, sense of comedy and terrific diction.

While this really is a production of Pirates, the Hypocrites carry it off with a cast of 10, playing Freddy, Ruth, Mabel, the Pirate King, the Major General and 3 Pirates and Daughters, as well as all the needed policemen. Don’t miss this delightful production!

Holiday ‘Indian’ pudding

Holiday ‘Indian’ pudding

Indian pudding is a simple Colonial era recipe made with corn meal, eggs and molasses. While you can bake it, you get a smoother, creamier pudding if you steam it like other puddings. In this recipe, we used our Instant Pot to steam it quickly. You can also follow the same recipe steaming it in the oven I a water bath.

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups milk
  • ½ cup corn meal
  • 2 Tb butter
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp dry ginger
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup golden raisns
  • ½ tsp vanilla extact
  • 1 tb butter to grease the pan
  • Vanilla ice cream
  1. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a 3 quart pan, heat the milk to just under a simmer
  3. Slowly add the cornmeal and whisk it in. It should slowly thicken.
  4. Cook for 10 minutes, whisking to keep the mixture from sticking to the pan.
  5. Remove from stove and add all the other ingredients except the eggs and mix in.

6. Temper the eggs by stirring in a cup or so of the milk mixture. Then add the egg mixture back to the milk mixture and stir it in.
7. Pour the mixture into a buttered casserole dish or cake pan that will fit into the Instant Pot.
8. Wrap the dish securely in foil to keep the water out
9. Add 1 cup of water to the pot and place the wrapped dish on top of the trivet.
10. Cook on the Manual setting for 30-45 minutes.

11. The pudding should be somewhat firm, but may still be jiggly in the center.
12. Let the pudding stand for 15 minutes and then serve warm with a scoop of ice cream.

in bowl

If you like the pudding a bit firmer, chill it in the refrigerator, and scoop out pudding into serving bowls and microwave them each for 30 seconds. (See above) Serve with ice cream.

You can also steam the pudding in a 325 ° F oven, sitting in a water bath for about 90 minutes.