Friday, November 29, 2013

On Turkeys and Cupcakes

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Thanksgiving this year was quite epic, culminating in three turkey meals for me (one of which is not to happen until Saturday). I was really sad that I could not be home to celebrate with friends and family in the United States, but the positive aspect of being an expat out in Hong Kong is the multiple over-the-top Thanksgiving dinners, which is just wonderful.

For lunch, I went to a nice Thanksgiving set lunch at the American Club with a few of my (mostly American) co-workers.  We had turkey breast, cranberry sauce, string beans, pureed potatoes and stuffing, followed by a generous wedge of pumpkin pie, whipped cream and ice cream.  The food was almost exactly like last year's Thanksgiving lunch - remember this?

Then for dinner I went to my friend's lovely apartment (I love all of her art and furniture, and I especially love her kitchen, which has an island bar - practically unheard of in Hong Kong).  She also has beautiful china, placemats, wine goblets...all the works to make a perfect sit down dinner.

The dinner menu was extensive and fulfilling, consisting of a beautifully marinated and tender turkey, cranberry sauce, candied yams, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, a tossed salad (of arugula, cranberries, pumpkin and pecans), and last but not least, stuffing! The turkey, stuffing and mac and cheese was catered by Magnolia, a well known and highly praised private kitchen here.


My plate... my first plate.
We also had pumpkin pie from Tai Tai Pie Pies, another very well known and highly praised bakery here in Hong Kong.  The pie was huge, with a thick, generous hand made crust that rose well over the glass dish (which they provide to you for free!  I do love free things, especially of the culinary variety).  Sorry American Club, but Tai Tai's pies are the real deal.  Their crust was so tender and the pie so smooth and creamy that everything just dissolved in the mouth into one gooey moment of pure pleasure.  Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the pie.  I was full to bursting by the time the pie rolled out but after one bite, made very quick work of the rest of my slice.  It was gone, presto bingo, like that!

I am not kidding about how good the pumpkin pie was - do you see any leftovers on anyone's dessert plate below??

The cupcake caravan








 
The best part, though, was the 42 Sift cupcakes that lined the table after the pie.  Yes! 42!  There was an abundance of attendees at this dinner with November birthdays, so I had bought half a dozen cupcakes for everyone to share.  However, one of the other birthday girls completely outdid us all by bringing 3 dozen to the party!  Her husband had arranged for the surprise delivery - one cupcake for her for every year. The end result was what I affectionately dubbed the "cupcake caravan". 
Happy birthday to us!
What a sweet ending to a joyous and warmth filled holiday.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Farewell Dinner at the Blue Butcher

Last night, I went to a farewell dinner for a co-worker who is transferring to the New York office.  The dinner was held at Blue Butcher, a relatively new restaurant in Hong Kong.  Located next to and above The Press Room in Sheung Wan, it has a deceptively small entranceway and bar but a huge dining space two floors up.

The restaurant is very dimly lit and the music can be a bit loud, but overall it was a very comfortable dining experience. I liked that the restaurant had a variety of chairs and tables. Some tables had high backed chairs that seemed almost throne-like, and others had lower slanted back leather chairs. There were also old-school brown leather barstools that neatly lined the wraparound bar, and low slung chairs in a cocktail nook.  The atmosphere was one of an urban, exposed loft, but at the same time felt very comfortable and, well, masculine.

We sat at a long dark oak table for fifteen people. 

The food was really well done.  I was particularly impressed by the quality and consistency of our food, given the size of our party.  The service and presentation was smooth and attentive (which can be an issue in Hong Kong at times, to put it mildly).

The starters came first, consisting of:
  • Norwegian salmon tartar with avocado, burnt lemon vinaigrette and horseradish,
  • Compressed organic heirloom tomatoes with burrata cheese, drizzled with white balsamic and basil,
  • Spanish ham and egg with grilled asparagus, mushroom and thyme, and
  • Bone marrow sprinkled with salt, paired with toast, caper berries and parsley.
Of these, my favorites were the tomatoes with burrata cheese and the Spanish ham and egg.  The Norwegian salmon tartar did not have a good mouth feel and I thought the horseradish was too pungent.  The bone marrow was rich but so fatty that I thought I would get sick if I ate more than a teaspoonful.  That is to say, I think I am just unable to handle bone marrow - and not that there is anything faulty with their preparation.

Then the larger plates and side dishes were presented all at once in a flourish, in such variety and volume that it seemed as though we were at a medieval banquet, albeit with electricity and approximately ten times more hygenic.

The large plates consisted of:
  • Free range charred French chicken with organic baby carrots and pearl onions, presented in a cast iron skillet, and
  • Platters of slow cooked Australian Wagyu bone-in rib eye. 
I thought both of these were superb.  The chicken was very tender and juicy, clearly having been stewed in broth for a long time.  The baby carrots were sweet and tender and cooked just right.  The pearl onions were so sweet that at first I thought they were tomatoes.  The rib eye was cooked to a perfect medium rare (a very deep pink but not excessively bloody), and was tender and tasty.  The rib eye was served with your choice of dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, and horseradish.

Note that the restaurant has its own walk-in dry aging room lined with Himalayan pink salt bricks.  I do not know very much about the steak aging process, but that sounds pretty impressive (and just pretty) to me.

The side plates consisted of:
  • Roasted potato wedges,
  • Baby romaine lettuce served with bacon bits and tossed in a light Caesar dressing, and
  • Corn kernels sauteed lightly with garlic.
With so many items to eat, I skipped the potato wedges and the corn entirely, but did practically wolf down an entire side salad by myself.  The bacon bits in the salad were chopped up and reduced in (what I think must have been) a maple syrup reduction.  They were smoky but also sweet.  At first, given the way the bacon was clustered, I thought they were candied walnuts.

We finally finished the epic feast with dessert, which consisted of a tart mango sorbet with fresh berries and a maple syrup apple tart.  I capped off everything with a hot cup of mint tea, to which they added some fresh mint leaves.  That was a genuinely nice touch, and just about enough to send me into a full-fledged food-induced coma.

All in all, it was a very satisfying meal.  I was thoroughly impressed and would return again, especially for a large party.  It is not easy to find reservations for such a large group of people in Hong Kong, and the consistency of the food and speed of the service earned high marks in my book.  I did hear, however, that the meal cost a princely sum.  This may have been due to the copious bottles of red wine ordered and the sheer size of our party, but perhaps bear that in mind!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Poem As We Give Thanks

I read this peom by Mary Jean Irion and thought it was particularly fitting as Thanksgiving approaches.

"Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return."

Thanksgiving was not my favorite holiday when I was a child.  It was mercurial and fickle, never settling on a firm date like July 4th or Christmas, but rather abiding by the ever-ambiguous rule of "the last Thursday of the month of November". 

Even though I figured out at a young age that Thanksgiving could never actually fall on my birthday (the latest date it can be is November 28), I did not like how Thanksgiving competed with my birthday.  Like all young children who eagerly awaited the heady spotlight to be shined on her for her very, very, special day, I always felt disappointed when the days leading up to my birthday focused on turkey and stuffing.  My birthday card and cupcakes seemed out of place and an afterthought in the midst of hand turkeys, pinecones and pilgrim's shoe buckles. 

I also detested the colors of Thanksgiving. The turkey was brown, the pumpkins orange, the cranberries a dark red.  Tree leaves rustled in shades of vivid and rusty red, yellow, brown and orange.  In my less rational moments, I think I linked my complexion to the holiday.  I detested that I had brown hair, brown eyes, and, after an active summer spent outdoors, very brown skin.  I yearned for a pastel complexion, which I somehow associated with a spring birthday.

As you may have guessed, my thoughts on Thanksgiving have changed radically as I have matured.

I love that this holiday especially celebrates food and drink. 

I love that it is a secular (equal opportunity!) holiday.

I love that it falls near the end of the year, allowing reflection on the accomplishments and the shortcomings of the past eleven months. 

And perhaps most of all, I love that Thanksgiving is about family, immediate and extended and adopted, and friends, new and old, and the coming together of all of these elements.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sometimes Everything Seems the Same, But Everything is Different

Saturday was one of those surreal brilliant days in Hong Kong, so shiny and bright that it almost hurt.  It was dazzling up on the Peak, albeit crisp and a bit windy. We were up earlier than usual for a Saturday, and we captured the following shots.

One of Michael's nieces, Ella, had sent us a character, Flat Stanley, from a book that they read in class.  We were supposed to help with her school project by taking him on an adventure and documenting it with pictures.  We were happy to oblige.

It is so cliched, but it is so important never to forget to take a deep breath and find beauty around you at all times. 

Recently I read something that referenced the Japanese concept of "wabi-sabi," which I had never heard before.  Over time, this philosophy has been interpreted differently and I am sure some of the nuance is lost in translation, but generally, wabi sabi is a philosophy or world view that centers on transience and imperfection.  It is the idea that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect, and the acceptance of such by finding beauty in that which is broken.   The book I was reading summarized it as "finding perfect in the imperfect".

Wabi sabi embraces the concept that one should find the most basic, simple things beautiful and interesting.  I think that it also means that one should live life as actively engaged as possible, and to find sense and peace in the here and now.
 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Baking: Breaking Bread

Guys, I really thought I was going to blow up the kitchen last night.  The oven was turned up to its absolute max (and that was not even the temperature it needed to be at).  It smelled like plastic burning for nearly the entire time.

I anxiously pictured the oven exploding shards of glass and crock pot into a thousand pieces like a bomb.  In one of my less controlled moments, I pictured burned skin and melting flesh.  I digress, but obviously I was letting my overactive imagination run really fast really far.

I just am not used to turning up the oven to 450-475 degrees Fahrenheit. That is HOT.  And it smelled and seemed like our oven was not used to that kind of heat either.

So what the heck was I making?

No-knead bread.  You know the one.  It revolutionized foodie blogs when The New York Times published the recipe adapted from the kind folks at Sullivan Street Bakery.

I made a half loaf last night, having not made this bread since I lived in the East Village many moons ago.  I had forgotten how tasty it was.  And how easy.
It does not look like much, raw
Despite the intimidating oven temperature, fresh bread is so worth it because it smells so good.  I forget how much I like the warm, humid scent of yeast rising, and how primitive (in a good way) and comforting it is to eat just-baked bread.  Made and baked with your own hands, whee!
24 hours later, plopped on my bamboo cutting board waiting for the oven to heat
I adapted the recipe to make half a loaf this time- mainly because I was almost out of flour.  If you are a person who prefers the crust, making two half loaves doubles your surface area, leaving you with more crispy crust.  If you do bake only half a loaf, though, your cooking time will be slightly shorter - only 20 minutes with the lid on (instead of the full 30).
An oven shot, as it is cooking for the final 15 minutes without the lid
Materials Needed (for a half loaf):
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid rise yeast
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (I opt to put less in, most recipes call for more)
3/4 cup cold water

What to Do:
Mix flour, yeast, salt and water.  Let sit in a bowl covered in plastic wrap for 12-18 hours, preferably in a warm place.  In Hong Kong this is usually not a problem no matter what time of year.  I put the bowl in a convenient little nook above the fridge, where it captures a bit of warm air.

I usually let mine sit for 24 hours because I am forgetful and have trouble calculating 18 hours (it happens).  The recipe is resilient and still works despite my absentmindedness.

The next day, or overnight, or in precisely 18 hours (whatever your style), heat your oven up to a heart-stopping 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  When it is at that temperature, stick your cast iron pot, with the lid on, into the oven for 30 minutes.  Don't freak out.

While the pot is cooking, take out your sticky, wet dough.  At this point it looks wrong.  It is all puckered.  You think you made a mistake.  But you haven't.  Just throw it down on a heavily floured surface, roll it around, pat it smooth.  Let it sit wrapped in plastic wrap while the pot heats.

After the pot has been cooking for 30 minutes, take the pot out (don't burn yourself), throw a little corn meal at the bottom of the pot or else use parchment paper to lower your loaf into the pot.  Do not put oil in the pot as it will just sizzle and smoke, due to the high temperature.  I dumped/threw my little dough ball in and forgot both the corn meal and the parchment paper.  But it was fine.  The bread did not stick to the bottom of the pot at all.  This is a very forgiving process.

Bake your half loaf for 20 to 25 minutes with the lid on.  Then take the lid off (Wowza! The big unveil!) and bake for another 15 minutes.
This time I did not bother to shape the bread and it turned out a little bit... butt-shaped.  But there are impressive air bubbles and cracklature nonetheless!
Then let it cool, hack off a slice or three, smother in butter, and devour.  If you have further questions, go here and here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

It's That Time of Year...

Or is it?  My brain is having trouble compreheding that we really are in mid-late November and 2014 is sneaking up on us like a panther silently, hungrily, stealthily stalking its prey. 

Wait, what?  Ok, maybe that analogy did not make sense.

The point is, suddenly Hong Kong is bedecked in Christmas decorations.  Poor Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, gets no air time whatsoever out here in Asia.  It jumps from Halloween into Christmas almost instantaneously.
As you guys may recall, I love the holiday display that the Landmark puts together because, much like the mall itself, it is always over the top.  This year, they went for a Rube Goldberg* pinball display. 

 It does not show up as well in pictures but if you look closely you can see the small silver ball gliding along. Cool, right?

*Do you know what a Rube Goldberg machine is?  I had never heard the term until Michael mentioned it upon seeing this display.  For your next cocktail party conversation; you're welcome.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Running Bowen Road

On Sunday morning, I went with some friends to run Bowen Road. 
Post run - I am quite flushed.
I was quite nervous because I am usually not able to run for long periods of time before losing motivation/wanting to quit/getting an unbearable cramp/needing to go to the bathroom/feeling dehydrated and hot/really hating my life.  However, I also knew that it would be very good exercise and a fun chance to hang out with some friends, new and old alike.  Plus, the weather in Hong Kong has also been really beautiful as of late - sunny and clear skies with not a touch of humidity (at least compared to usual) - and who knew how long it would last?

I ran cross-country in middle school (and I still cannot understand why I voluntarily joined the team). To this day I still remember the misery as I eked out the last few miles of a competitive run.  Or how a warmup lap, before all of our drills and exercises and actual runs, was a half mile.  Yuk.

I ran a lot during law school, particularly 1L year (which, looking back on it now, I realize is downright frightening because that just proves how much I hated law school).

Nowadays, if I do go running with someone, I usually go running with Michael, who, well, runs the way you would expect a crazy former Division I decathlete to run.   He runs very fast, has way too much stamina and only knows how to run at his maximum potential.   I mean, what the what??  Clearly I am a more evolved being because I always strive to conserve my energy.  In sum, when I run with Michael, I always feel like I cannot keep up. (Although the benefit of running with him is that I always manage to tap into an extra reserve of energy to whine and complain really loudly.)

Going back to the Sunday morning run, I am so glad I went!  Other than stepping in dog poop (grrrr, curb your dogs people!) and tweaking my ankle pretty severely at the end of the run when I was charging toward the end (I am a negligent runner and never look where I step), I really enjoyed feeling active and productive.  I did not complain at all and I did not even stop!  Woot woot.

Here I am with my running companions!  We are so color coordinated, without even trying.

Maybe I will go on more runs more often!





Saturday, November 16, 2013

Baking: Banana Bread

You know how there are some things you bake because you just always happen to have those ingredients lying around, or because they are so darn easy, or because they are just that delicious?  Well, I have always made banana bread, probably more than anything else ever, because it fits all three of the above criteria to a T.




















It's the surest and easiest way to get rid of bananas when they are so ripe that they are practically a packaged fruit cocktail.  Do you know what I'm talking about?  The situation where you have bought too many bananas and you are eating as many as you can but they have started to spot and sag and wrinkle and they are so ripe that they are practically mealy?  And fruit flies are hovering, awaiting the glorious day when they can swarm the rotted carcasses of your beloved fruit?

You may think that I am getting way ahead of myself here, but I assure you this is how it goes down.  And banana bread is the perfect solution.

Unlike all the other times I make banana bread (when it becomes "bake or break" time), this time, I was waiting... and waiting.... and waiting for the bananas to get to that riper-than-thou state.  I had stumbled upon a recipe for banana bread that I was really itching to try out.  And for the first time I found myself in the unenviable state of waiting so I could make this darn bread!
Mashed to baby food consistency... yum.
Wow, it is hard to wait for bananas to ripen.  I am impatient.  (Although,  at least they allow you to visibly see their status.  I'm looking at you, avocados.  Check this article.)

The recipe calls for creme fraiche or sour cream, but I used plain yogurt.  I reasoned that it is healthier and easier to source than creme fraiche, and easier to use up than sour cream.

Recipe (Flour's Famous Banana Bread Recipe, courtesy of Food Network)
  • 1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 3 1/2 bananas, very ripe, mashed
  • 2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream (I used plain yogurt)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup walnuts, chopped (I skipped the nuts)
What to do next?  This is a very bullet-point heavy recipe, I realize. 
  • Set oven to 176.66 degrees Celsius (oh you hate that huh?), line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper.  
  • Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  • Beat sugar and eggs with a whisk until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes (I absolutely did not have the patience to do this.  My eggs were so not fluffy.)
  • Drizzle in oil.
  • Add mashed bananas, yogurt, and vanilla.
  • Fold in dry ingredients (and nuts, if you like that sort of thing).
  • Pour into lined loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour.
And...Voila!


No joke.  This bread is really amazing.  Creamy, perfect soft interior with a just right chewy exterior.  It's also really easy to make.  I would wait for whole bunches of bananas to ripen just to make this bread.   Try it!  I hope you like it!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Peonies

I bought these peonies from a local flower vendor the other day.  I had never bought flowers from her before.  She did not have as much variety as the other vendors, but she had items that were more rarely seen - huge peonies, freesia, star flowers, etc.  I was very drawn to her peonies. 

She only spoke Cantonese, though, and try as I might to guess at what she was saying, I did not fare as well this time as I have in the past with taxi drivers or massage therapists.  However, she kept repeating herself and mimicking certain motions, and after a while I am proud to say that I finally understood her caretaking instructions. 

Sometimes it's really fun to live in a foreign country. It really forces your brain to stretch. I mean, to be able to simply buy flowers and easily understand exactly how much it costs or how to take care of them? Way too boring!  Where's the fun in that?
 
She charged me quite a lot for these, and I walked away at the time thinking I'd been taken.  I also thought, why would she take so much time to tell me how to cut the stems and what water level to fill the vase to and when to put in the growth powder... obviously she was very excited to make the sale! 

But oh, how these babies have bloomed.
 

They have bloomed just like the florist promised they would.  And now, I am reveling in these beauties, lost in their delicate perfume and their paper thin petals, as they continue to arch and open and beckon. 
Such creamy perfection!
These past few days when I have been puttering in the kitchen, I pause whatever I am doing once in a while, and just stick my nose in the big cotton ball bloom and take a huge whiff.  I am in love.

Update!  The flower has gotten even bigger!  It's magic.
 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Philippines: A State of Calamity

We I had planned a short trip to Cebu to celebrate my birthday, but now we are in the process of canceling it due to the horrific typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda).  A deadly storm by any other name is just as deadly.  The president has declared a state of national calamity.

Looking at the pictures of the destruction in the storm's wake, our thoughts are with the people in the Philippines.  The pictures from Tacloban are stark and eye-opening.
 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Flaming King Prawn Hotpot at King's Garden Restaurant

My very good friend from both college and law school (double alum, woot woot!) was in Hong Kong this weekend after an epic three week hike to Everest base camp in and around Nepal.  Her pictures were absolutely amazing and the entire experience sounded thrilling, albeit without some challenges (shortness of breath, cold, and bad toilets being just some of them).  As it happens, when someone comes back from an epic trip I am completely enamored and inspired to go myself... so I'm already thinking about how to get my butt to Kathmandu next spring.

We chattered like magpies, making our way around Hong Kong excitedly catching up.

At night, I took her to King's Garden in Wanchai for hotpot.  This restaurant is really tasty, with very fresh ingredients and a very good mix of sauce options.  It is located in a hotel that also contains a bar, snoooker lounge, karaoke... and, oh yeah, I think there are hotel rooms.

We got the spicy Sichuan hotpot and the flaming king prawn hotpot.  It was epic.  They tossed the clams and shrimp in wine and lit it on fire at the table.  Awesome!

Can you see the flames? 
Sauteeing the flaming shrimp.
Update: my friend's camera is so much better than mine.  I've added some additional pictures!  You can really see the flames in her picture.  You can also see how excited I am to eat hotpot...
 



 I ate so much that I nearly, almost gave myself a stomachache.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Please Switch Off Your Electronic Devices... NOT.

I just received this news announcement from USAirways (unsurprisingly, since moving out to Asia, all flight news have become a huge part of my inbox). 
News about portable electronics in flight
We're excited to announce that you can now use your portable electronic devices under 10,000 feet. That means smaller, handheld approved devices can be used in ‘airplane mode' during all phases of flight – from taxi to takeoff to landing.

To celebrate, we'll have a special edition of #SpotUS and you can win an iPad mini and more. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all the details.                                 

Apparently it's because their airplanes have been upgraded so that they are compliant with FAA regulations and can handle any interference from these devices, such that it does not mess up the cockpit's interactions with the signal towers.

Sometimes flying seems like such a precarious, crazy, thing. 

Please, please don't tell me that the safety of the entire plane was dependent on every person dutifully turning off their electronic devices.  There have definitely been times where I thought I turned off my blackberry, but when I landed I realized I had not.  Maybe it's entirely a mental thing, but those things can be hard to power down!

I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that they continue not to offer wireless on my long haul flights.  Please.  It's becoming harder and harder to have uninterrupted stretches where you simply *cannot* be reached.  Let this be the last haven.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Fruit Fest

I meandered through the wet markets this morning on my way to work on a quest for fresh fruit.  I saw a whole basket of these little fruits at my favorite vendor's stand (she is a tiny, hunchbacked woman with no teeth) and bought a pound on a whim.  I had absolutely no idea what they were.

Do you know?

They are about the size of cherries, have a very thin skin, are incredibly crispy and have the texture of a tender, crisp McIntosh apple.  There is a mid-sized pit.  They are really, really sweet.


I asked a legal assistant in the office.  They are dates!  Specifically (and this took a little bit of google image sleuthing) they are jujubes. 

But you know what absolutely blows my mind?  I know these fruits.  They are just the fresh version of the red date that I have eaten my entire life, and could practically identify with my eyes closed.  If you had shown me this picture, I would have had no trouble telling you exactly what this was:

These red dates are ubiquitous in Chinese teas, soups, desserts and any traditional Chinese herbal concoction/medicine.
Crazy right?  I feel so silly because obviously the dried version must have come from somewhere fresh.  But it never occurred to me and I never put two and two together!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Musical Weekend

We had a great couple of days this past weekend.  I will be honest, it felt great just to have a weekend.   The only downer is that Daylight Savings is now in effect in the U.S., which means we are 13 and 16 hours ahead of the East and West coast, instead of the sliiiightly more manageable 12 and 15.  Michael is sad because it makes watching U.S. sports even more difficult.

So what did we do this great, glorious weekend?  I got not one, but two, massages.  And, we listened to a lot of classical music.

First up were impromptu tickets from our very good friends here who generously offered tickets to the HK Philharmonic's "Siegfried Idyll" and "The Ring Without Words," conducted by Lorin Maazel. 

Wagner composed the Idyll when his lover (and then wife), Cosima, gave birth to his son, Siegfried on Christmas day in 1870.   The HK Philharmonic tried to get a little cute here with this piece - because the music was performed on the stairwell of the couple's home originally, the HK Phil decided to perform it on a set of stairs in the lobby of the Cultural Center.   It was an interesting set-up but not particularly effective.  Just because a stairwell is present in both performances does not mean that the effect achieved is the same.

Maazel created the Ring Without Words, a condensed, 70 minute piece (it felt more like 90 minutes though) from Wagner's Ring Cycle, the epic series of opera that runs for a total of 18 hours.  We had very good front row seats, and at that range it easily felt as though the music enveloped us.

That was Saturday.

On Sunday, we went to brunch at Metropolitain in Sai Ying Pun, and then in the evening to an "intimate" concert at the Asia Society with Joshua Bell, the acclaimed violinist, playing with Alessio Bax as pianist accompaniment.   They played the Greig concerto for piano and violin, a melodic Tchaikovsky "palate cleanser," and a more technical, virtuouso "wow" piece to showcase Bell's skills.  Bell is a great violinst but he is so full of himself that it almost (almost) overshadows his talent.  Still, I'm glad we went.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Princeton Dinner at the Four Seasons

Last night, Michael and I went to an alumni reception welcoming Princeton's incoming new president, Christopher Eisgruber (Class of 83), at the Harbour View Ballroom in the Four Seasons.  He is the 20th president and the first in 116 years to not have a PhD.  We learned fun facts like that at the dinner.

When I first received the invitation a few weeks ago, I couldn't believe that this was an actual sit-down dinner at the Four Seasons, for myself and a guest, for free.  Sometimes (most of the time?) being a Princeton alum is just awesome.

As expected, the turnout was fantastic.  They reported over 225 Princetonians in attendance - which is actually only half of all Princeton alums in Hong Kong.  I was flabbergasted.  I had no idea there were so many alums in the area!  But, at just over 50% attendance for a Monday night dinner, it was a quite impressive turnout.

A lot of people wore bright orange, which was encouraged on the invitation.  The festivities kicked off with a crowded and jovial drinks reception, followed by a four course dinner (crab and corn cake appetizer, tomato soup, sea bass with chorizo risotto, and an ice cream-filled profiterole dessert) and speeches by the president of the Hong Kong Alumni Association as well as by Mr. Eisgruber himself.  I thought the new president was a very smooth and eloquent speaker, although his voice really, really reminded me of Nicholas Cage!

They had small little pins for everyone to wear, and beautifully printed cardstock at every seat full of facts about the new president.  This university does things so damn well, I can really see why alums love it so.  We had a really great time, met two new really nice couples, and just really enjoyed ourselves overall. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday Flower Dispatch

Thank the Good Lord and Heavens Above and by all that is Graceful and Holy in this world that it is Friday.  This has been a really rough week. 

There is not much of a traditional autumn here in Hong Kong, but I think these mini orchids channel the mood perfectly. Vibrant red with speckles of yellow and splashes of orange.


 By the way, the weather here is really nice here right now.