Friday, August 17, 2012

My Feature Film Debut...Maybe

One night a little more than two years ago, I went to a show at the Middle East Upstairs. Joel was sitting in for a song with a band called Humanwine.

You can listen to the song, Wake Up, here. (It's pretty great!)

Also on the line-up for the evening was a bass and drums duo that, quite frankly, scared me a little bit. Called Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, they played dark, loud songs based on episodes on the 1960s spy-fi show The Prisoner. Due to the style of music, they seemed rather unapproachable.

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling
Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

You can hear some of their songs here:

Turns out I was 100% wrong; they're ridiculously nice and not scary at all, and the fact that Joel met them that night (and I guess I probably briefly met them as well) has impacted my life in ways I never expected. Joel became friends with them on Facebook, and a few weeks later, he saw a post from the bass player, Michael J. Epstein, who was recruiting female musicians for a new band. I've been a serious musician my whole life, but during college and after moving back to Boston for grad school, I didn't have much time to play, and I definitely didn't have an outlet. Meanwhile, Joel was playing frequently with his own band, and I was starting to feel a little sad about not having anything musical going on, so Joel told me about Mike's post and encouraged me to contact him. At first I was doubtful that an all-girl band was something I'd want to do, but the musical itch got to me and thus The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library was born with me as the flutist and seven talented female musicians on other instruments, plus Michael J. Epstein himself on vocals and guitar. (Sophia, pictured above in Do Not Forsake, also plays drums in the Library. She is also married to Michael, and they have a zillion side projects going on at any given time. I don't think they sleep.)

Photo by Kelly Davidson - That's me on the far right with the red glasses!
Two years later, the band is going strong. We've toured twice, released an album and a couple of EPs, collaborated with ballerinas, and a lot more. Honestly, I never expected to be in my mid-20s touring with a band and recording albums and having fun on stage in front of hundreds of people; I thought I missed the boat on the whole rock 'n' roll thing. Or baroque-folk-pop, as the case may be. Here's our debut album, Volume One:

Through getting to know Mike and Sophia via the band, I've gotten roped into a variety of their strange video projects, and usually I die. On a horrifically freezing day in January, for example, we shot most of the footage for a 25-minute silent film that we've shown at several performances as the Library plays live in sync with it. I don't want to give too much away, but...I die. Here's a teaser trailer for the film, which we have not yet released online. You might recognize me as the freezing beggar:

Later, I participated in a music video for one of their other projects, Darling Pet Munkee, in which all songs are based on items you could order off the back of old comic books. In it, I die. Again.

To make a long story short - or I guess it's too late for that, huh? - a few months ago, they decided to participate in a trailer competition at the Brattle Theatre, in which teams make trailers for fake movies based on a variety of specifications. As usual, I volunteered to participate, because at this point I'll pretty much go along with whatever crazy things Mike and Sophia are doing. It's always an adventure. Here's the trailer:

Kind of creepy, right? Well, Mike had kind of a crazy idea: what if he could make a full-length feature film based on the fake trailer? Obviously I said yes as soon as I was asked if I'd participate, and now I'm officially signed on for both the cast and the crew.

As the plan starting coming together, it became clear that a bare minimum of $11,000 would be required to make this happen, so like so many artists with crazy projects they want to do, he took to Kickstarter. If the Kickstarter campaign fails, this movie will not be made, and I will be sad, as this is my first-ever (and maybe only?) chance to be in a feature film. As usual, I'll probably die...but we'll never know for sure unless the movie gets made. We're currently nearing the $4000 mark, so we have over $7000 left to raise in less than a month. Every single dollar helps, as does every reshare, retweet, etc. Please help this crazy idea come to life. Mike and Sophia work tirelessly to create fun, magical things and to support the music and creative arts scenes, locally and beyond, and this is possibly the biggest and most exciting project they've tackled to date. Even if I weren't involved, I would love to see it happen. Here I am talking about it (with a guest appearance by my ultra-creepy basement steps):

So here's where I beg you for money. Please, please, make me a movie star! Even a dollar helps! Give Mike and Sophia the chance to kill me off in yet another video! (Should I be worried?) The Kickstarter campaign also comes with a wide variety of neat rewards - including some of Mike and Sophia's musical instruments. Really.

And since this is primarily a food blog, I'll keep you updated on my "movie star diet plan" in the coming months. As this will be a grueling production, and since the camera allegedly adds ten pounds, I want to be in peak physical condition by the tentative shoot dates in early December. (I'm not actually dieting - I'm working on making healthy, permanent changes. I'm also one week into a couch to 10k running program.)

That's all for now. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, I look forward to sharing all about the experience in the coming months. Thank you for any support you can provide, including spreading the word!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mango Lime Ghost Chili Tofu Bites at Peace o' Pie

After lobster rolling around Harvard Square on Sunday, I had an extra hour to kill before a friend's birthday festivities at Deep Ellum. Earlier that day, I had seen an intriguing Facebook post from Peace o' Pie, the vegan pizza place right by Deep Ellum. They had a special: tofu bites in a mango, lime, ghost chili sauce. Serendipity. Always on the lookout for ways to bring my taste buds' hatred of me to fiery new levels, I knew how to kill the hour.

I walked to the counter and ordered my tofu bites, eliciting a slight eyebrow raise from the cashier. "They're very spicy," she warned. I was excited.

There were no open tables, so upon receiving my food, I wandered outside and crossed over to the mostly-concrete "park" in front of the fire station. Sitting alone and surrounded by construction and traffic, I gingerly picked up the first battered, bited-sized piece, making sure to keep one hand absolutely clean for the inevitable nose and eye-wiping that would soon take place.

The first bite: exceptionally light, tasty batter. Perfect tofu texture. A slight hint of mango. Then, the familiar caustic burn of the pepper, not too bad at first, but lingering, then building. After a few deep breaths, trying to cycle some non-existent cold air into my mouth, I moved on to a second bite, and then I grabbed for my iced tea. Liquid, of course, actually makes spicy pain worse as it spreads the heat around, but the cool temperature of the tea provided some relief, albeit brief.

As I slowly made my way through several more bites, I waited for the familiar euphoria to set in, the light-headed high and feverish chills that make ultra-spicy food worth it for those who crave it. It didn't happen. The bites were strong enough to burn, but not so strong that they brought about the euphoric relief. They were trapped somewhere in the frustrating middle ground, somewhat painfully spicy with very little payoff. That's when I realized that I was sitting alone in a sad-looking park, torturing myself for no good reason. Extreme spiciness requires three things for an optimal experience: good flavor behind the burn, the aforementioned euphoria, and people with whom to share the challenge. These were pretty tasty (and I'd definitely recommend trying them if you're into ghost chili), but since I stupidly grabbed these alone and on-the-go, the experience lacked the fun of trying East Coast Grill's Pasta from Hell with a table of friends or serving my super spicy dark chocolate peanut butter cookies to (willing) victims.

Then it was time for drinks at Deep Ellum, and all was good. The only lingering memory of the ghost chili bites was a slight persisting tingle on my lips. No signs of pain.

...until 3 AM, at which point I woke up feeling like this:

If you do happen to venture to Peace o' Pie to try these out, I highly recommend also ordering the cheesy bread (not real cheese - everything there is vegan). I didn't get it this time (although I should have), but from a previous visit, I remember loving it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Google+ Local Harvard Square Lobster Walk 'n' Roll

When Google+ first debuted, I waited excitedly for my invitation and got on board as soon as possible, only to find that after the initial burst of enthusiasm, it kind of became a ghost town. I swing by every know and then to see what's changed. It's still kind of on the dead side, but it's a shame, because the design is really quite elegant. There's a lot that I like about it. Fortunately, the Boston community management team is doing a great job building up activity, so I at least try to leave restaurant reviews on Google+ Local when possible. And it doesn't hurt that "power users" get invited to some pretty spectacular events.

Such was the case this past weekend, when I was offered a pair of tickets to a lobster roll crawl around Harvard Square. My first reaction was OMG YES, immediately followed by OMG I HOPE THERE'S NO MAYO. Mayo/aioli/etc. has been one of my most persistent and strong food dislikes for as long as I can remember, but I'm very gradually learning to deal with it. I've been seen, on a few recent occasions, slightly enjoying an aioli or two. So, I figured a lobster roll crawl would be the perfect place to push myself further into the mayo discomfort zone. (As it turned out, none of the three lobster rolls had any mayo, or at least none that I noticed!)

Even though I'm forcing myself to get over the mayo thing - I think it's more in my head than an actual taste issue at this point - I still think this anti-mayo rant on Bon Appetit is perhaps the funniest, truest thing every written.

Anyway, back to the lobster! We began at Upstairs on the Square. I've never been, although I recently read a nice memoir about growing up in the restaurant (in its original location) by the daughter of one of the owners. We walk in, and it's pink and purple and zebra print everywhere, my childhood dream come true. (Ok, even at this age, I find it pretty awesome.) We're led into the Zebra Room, and it's pink walls and pink tables and zebras painted all over the walls, and I'm really wishing I had been brought here when I was six years old.

But at six, I guess I wouldn't have been drinking this lovely glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

The mini lobster roll was simple and wonderful, hot and buttery. The bread looked like a hot dog bun, but upon biting into it, I found that it was something more elaborate. The top tasted almost sweet, like pastry, and it was a bit heavier than a standard hot dog bun.

Onwards to stop #2, Russell House Tavern, where I've been on a few occasions. Here we were able to choose a cocktail from a list of tempting options. I was swayed by the housemade ginger beer in the Tempest, which also contained Bacardi 8, lime shrub, lime juice, and orange bitters.

Meanwhile, Joel decided on the Vieux CarrĂ©: Old Overholt Rye, cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine,  Angostura, Peychaud's.

While the other locations on the tour just (just?) included alcohol and lobster, Russell House also threw in some baskets of fries. Fantastic fries. With the potato skin still present. Because I had yet to encounter mayo on the tour and I was determined to eat it, I began dipping fries enthusiastically into the aioli, which was quite garlicky. And I liked it.

Joel really liked the fries.

The lobster slider had no noticeable mayo but a lot of delicious flavor, particularly from the Old Bay seasoning and the buttery brioche.

Finally, we made our way to the final stop, First Printer, where'd I'd been only once before for cocktails, but I'd never had food. I really enjoyed the cocktails and ambiance that one time, but First Printer has been suffering from fairly mediocre food reviews, so I was curious to try their version of a lobster slider. (Apparently the menu and chef have changed very recently, so things might be improving!)

First, though, I came upon the best bathroom sign ever. (This was inside the bathroom, right by the door.)

Of a choice of three cocktails, Joel and I both opted for the Pimm's Creole Cup: British gin liqueur, ginger beer, Creole bitters, and a cucumber.

And the final slider arrived:

This tasted pretty similar to the Russell House Tavern slider, although this one drew a lot of its flavor from the celery remoulade rather than the Old Bay of the RHT version. And still, no mayo, as far as I could tell.

The event also featured some photography tips and tricks from Kristin Teig, who, among other projects, shoots gorgeous food photography for Boston Magazine. While her talk was focused mainly on using phones to take photos (due to the nature of the event, which was meant to encourage use of the Google+ app), I definitely picked up some useful lighting info that I'm excited to add to my repertoire.

Disclosure: This event was sponsored by Google. While the food and drinks were free to attendees, the opinions presented in this piece are my own. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Day We Got Too Much Ice Cream

I grew up about a 30-second walk from Crescent Ridge, where the ice cream is eighth best in the world, according to National Geographic, or at least among the top 25, according to Food & Wine. Here I am on a chilly March day in 2007, steadfastly drinking a mint chocolate chip milkshake at Crescent Ridge:

Don't let the cold weather fool you; they're always open:

While working at Crescent Ridge would have been the ideal high school job with practically no commute necessary, I could never bring myself to consider it. What if there's such a thing as "too much ice cream?" What if working at an ice cream place ruined all future enjoyment of ice cream? Even so, I was never really convinced that there's a such thing as "too much ice cream" until earlier this summer.

It started a few months ago when a representative of 2nd St. Creamery reached out to me. The ice cream brand was new to the Boston area, and they wanted to send over eight pints of assorted flavors of their "super premium" ice cream that I could share with friends. Obviously I'm not going to say no when someone offers me ice cream, but I was especially impressed by the charming stories behind all the flavors. On the surface, it seemed like a local, boutique brand. Turns out it's actually owned by Wells Enterprises, known especially for the ubiquitous Blue Bunny brand of ice cream. I was a little disappointed to find that it was actually part of huge non-local company, but still - ice cream. I'll eat it.

On the day of the delivery, the doorbell rang, and I rushed down the stairs to find a tired-looking UPS man. "You got it from here?" he asked, already nearly back in the truck. I looked down to find two huge boxes, sixty pounds each, resting on my porch, as the delivery man sped away. A little shocked, I tried to drag one upstairs but realized I'm a bit too out of shape to make much progress. I settled back on the porch and called and texted Joel for help, but he didn't answer right away. It was a hot day, so I wanted to get the ice cream inside as soon as possible. I decided to open a box in order to carry the pints up on their own, and it wasn't until I realized I was holding a shrink-wrapped pack of eight pints in each hand, with two more packs like this in the one open box, that it was clear a mistake had been made. After I posted a panicked/overjoyed Facebook post, it quickly became clear that several other bloggers received the same extra-large shipment.

Finally Joel appeared, and we managed to fit half in my freezer - 32 pints - and he planned to bring the other half back to his freezer. And then I asked a really silly question: "How do we get rid of all this dry ice? Can it just go down the drain?" Joel stared at me like I was crazy, because obviously we had to play with the dry ice.

Now, just over a month later, we've finally, um, disposed of all 64 pints. I swear I didn't eat them all myself. We gave away a ton to confused yet happy neighbors, had some people over for an ice cream party, served it at a lamb party, swam in a kiddie pool full of it, and yes, ate a substantial amount ourselves, hence my conclusion that there is a such thing as too much ice cream. (One portion of that sentence is a lie.) I'm taking an ice cream break for awhile.

We tried three flavors: Copper Kettle Caramel, Black Hills Strawberry Rhubarb, and Tons of Brownies. I obsessed over the caramel, even sneakily resorting to eating it for a few gluttonous breakfasts. Topped with classic Hershey's chocolate sauce and even some Fat Toad caramel, it was irresistible. Most of the people with whom we shared the ice cream were really into the strawberry rhubarb, particularly impressed by the chunks of pie crust. (Except for Joel's roommate's drunk friend, that is. He was more impressed by the fact that strawberry rhubarb is a flavor combination that exists outside of the South.) Most agreed that Tons of Brownies was the weakest link. It wasn't bad, but it didn't live up to the excitement of the other flavors.

Not that I'm going to buy ice cream anytime soon, but the bottom line is that these were pretty outstanding as far as big supermarket brands go. If my wallet allowed it, I'd rather go for a high-quality (but high-priced) local ice cream like batch, but at a lower price point and still fairly delicious, 2nd St. Creamery is a more likely addition to the regular repertoire. If I were going to have a regular ice cream-eating repertoire, that is.

Now, I see 2nd St. Creamery everywhere. It's being advertised on the sides of MBTA buses. One of the round tourist kiosks in Harvard Square is wrapped up like a pint of it. And they were even handing out samples outside of Shaw's when I walked by a few days ago. I just couldn't take one, but I'll probably eat more soon. There are seven more flavors to try, after all...

Disclosure: 2nd St. Creamery provided me with 64 complimentary pints of ice cream for sampling purposes, along with a gift card to buy accoutrements for an ice cream party. I was under no obligation to write a positive review or any review at all. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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