Single Guy Parties with French Royalty

Well okay let’s be completely honest here. It was more like…’Single Guy Serves at a Party with French Royalty’. Hahah. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

A couple weeks ago while Emi and I were having our lunch together, she mentioned that she would be having some guests from France stay over at her apartment in Manhattan and that they were planning on hosting a little Christmas party for some friends and relatives living in the states. She was asking if I could be free that day to come over before the party started and help prepare and decorate and whatnot and stay during to help Emi host. Of course I happily agreed and made sure that last Saturday I would be free to head into the city and help at what I thought would be a rather simple and modest little get-together.

Ha. How could one be so wrong.

The story of Emi’s friends is pretty surprising. Emi met this young woman at the school where she was learning French. Emi had always wanted to learn another language, and the young woman was learning French to surprise her fiance, who was from France. They became fast friends, helping each other study and review, and going out for dinner regularly after their classes during the week. Emi was even invited to their wedding in France, which was held at this lavish estate.

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Of course she wanted to find out more about the venue and how her very kind, very unassuming friend was able to get such a location for what was turning out to be a very posh wedding. Turns out, this beautiful estate is none other than Maison Chateaubriand, the home of Francois-Rene de Chateuabriand, the famous French writer, diplomat, politician, founder of the French Romantic movement in literature, and yes, the namesake of the famous Chateaubriand steak. And why were they there? Because the mansion belongs to her fiance, the descendant of Chateaubriand, himself an aristocrat and scion to an incredibly wealthy family. And it was this lovely couple who would be staying with Emi, who I would be meeting and helping host a party, for all of their family and friends.

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It was actually a very fun evening, and I got to meet some fascinating people all with great stories to tell. First of all, Emi’s apartment is in an incredible spot. It’s right at the corner of Central Park, with a balcony overlooking the New York City skyline and the park below. She even showed me the balcony from when Dustin Hoffman used to live in the same building and across the street, where Madonna has an entire floor just for herself. We took advantage of the gorgeous view and took a picture together standing outside before it got too cold.

Emi and I

The inside of her apartment is like a time capsule. From the wallpaper to the plush carpet, I feel like I’ve been brought back to the many years past when Emi and Frank Emi's Pianoused to live here together. And I’m sure that’s what Emi is hoping to preserve. On the wall is an beautiful, framed painting of Emi in her wedding dress in Hawaii. It was the one-year anniversary Frank gave to her after they married. Her piano is full of old photos of her mother and father back in Japan, of Frank as a young man, and photos of the two of them as a couple from when they were dating.

Emi's Painting

I think we did a pretty good job as a team though! Emi and I took care of the food and decorations and her friends took care of the drinks. Sixteen bottles of some of the finest, Emi's Glassware.jpgmost expensive champagne I’ve ever drank. You can bet at the start I was pretty worried and timid pouring what was essentially the price of liquid gold for around thirty guests, but after having a glass…or two…or nine…myself, it surprisingly became a lot easier. Hahah. French people can really down their champagne. Luckily we didn’t finish all the bottles, so I even got to take one home for myself. You know what my family and I will be drinking at Christmas. To help identify and differentiate people’s glasses Emi had these cute little charms of acorns and leaves, and we put different ones around the stem of each champagne flute. For food Emi ordered three large platters of sushi from her favorite sushi place in Manhattan and I helped her cook the family recipe for baked ziti that her Emi's Pastahusband’s mother gave to her when Emi and Frank married. Tomato sauce from scratch, ricotta and egg mixed into the pasta for extra creaminess, and plenty of fresh mozzarella torn up and spread all around for extra cheesy gooey goodness. We had all kinds of dips and chips and Asian snacks and homemade gyoza  (dumplings) and guests brought sesame and green tea cream puffs and red velvet cupcakes and homemade chocolate cakes and all kinds of sweets and other desserts.

While the party was going on and Emi was floating from one guest to another, greeting Emi and the Bodybuilderand being greeted, exchanging stories, meeting all of the guests her friends had invited, I was going around refilling champagne, serving pasta, identifying sushi, helping to make  sure everyone was fed, drunk, and happy.  I got to meet and talk with some of the friends Emi invited as well. Most of the others, being family and friends of the couple, were French so it was hard for me to communicate. Emi was having a great time getting to use all those French lessons. But still I got to spend time with Emi’s good friend Marilyn Horne, the famous and unbelievably gifted opera singer. She told me stories of growing up in Orange, NJ but living most of her live in California. I also got to meet some other of Emi’s friends, like the NY-based artist with a small studio near her apartment. She walked by his studio one day and loved the art so much she went in and spoke with him and they became friends ever since. And the filmmaker who was currently shooting a documentary on women in the computer science industry who Emi met at a show at The Bodybuilder and ILincoln Center. And one of my favorites, Arthur Lange, the former competitive bodybuilder. A massive titan of a man with a booming voice and an old-school Brooklyn accent and attitude. Not to brag, but I have a theory he liked me too, since I was the only one who recognized him before he said who he was. (He was competing around the time Schwarzenegger was, and I remember him from some old magazines my father had.) Not for nothing, but before he and his wife left for the night, he told Emi next time she comes over to their place in Brooklyn, she should bring me along. Hahah.

 

All in all, I think the party was a major success. Emi’s friends had a great time and were so happy to have had the chance to see so many of their friends and family, being separated by distance and whatever demands a French aristocrat may have of his time. They were actually incredibly nice and down to earth, with only a hint of you know, living the high life. It came about in often funny and strange ways. Like their super strict diet and how at the end of the night once everyone left and we were cleaning up, the husband tried his best to help out but couldn’t for the life of him figure out how the vacuum worked. Or how she didn’t understand the very particular rules of recycling and waste when it came to throwing everything out. Had to break down you know, paper, plastic, glass, etc. I spent a good time of the entire night in the kitchen, from helping cook to serving food to washing all the dishes afterwards.

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Near the end I also helped Marilyn back to her apartment; she lives a few floors below Emi and it was getting late for her, not being able to keep up with the younger, drunker crowd. She let me know how happy she was to meet me, after Emi had told her so much about our lunches together. And that she was happy to see Emi opening up her home again. After Frank had passed, Emi never really had any guests, or any reason to decorate again. But with the party and my help, she was able to bring some holiday cheer back into her apartment. And you know ultimately, that was why I was there in the first place. It was cool to meet so many new and interesting people, but I didn’t expect that to happen. It could have been just some simple little get-together with crackers and cheese. I was glad to help out a friend, and I would never hesitate to help out again, which is what I told her at the end of the night before heading out to catch the subway back to Port Authority and my bus back home.

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘My Favorite Things’

My Favorite Things

One of the advantages of being so love and relationships-driven for so long is you get really really good at giving gifts. After so many years of Valentine’s and birthdays and Christmases and anniversaries, you start to develop a real keen sense of just the right gift for just the right person. Giving a good present is like being a good martial artist. It’s all about using your opponent’s strength against them. If I’ve got to get something for someone I’m not gonna be out there throwing gift cards or kitchenware or really bad lingerie. I’m gonna be smart and let the gift come to me. Win that battle with finesse and elegance. You know, like how Emi just so happened to mention to me once a while back when we first met that she loves loves  loves ‘The Sound of Music’, and that it was her favorite musical, and how since she and her late husband never got to have any kids she’d watch it with her nephew and niece, the children of Frank’s sister. So with Christmas coming up in a couple weeks and Emi’s birthday being last Thursday, guess what just came in the mail today and will be wrapped up for when I see her again for lunch this Saturday.

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Ba-bow. Special 45th anniversary limited edition number 182,698 of 250,000 Blu-ray + DVD box set with sing-along, special ‘making of’ features, hand-painted music box, hardcover book, reprint of the 1965 theatre souvenir book, and pictures from location in Salzburg, Austria. I just judo-ed the gift giving season. No but all joking aside, I’m really very happy with this gift, and meeting Emi has been an incredible opportunity for me to learn so much and expand my world so I’ve been unbelievably grateful and I wanted to express that to a wonderful person.

But thinking about ‘The Sound of Music‘ reminds me that surprisingly, one of the songs from the musical has somehow managed to market itself as a ‘Christmas song’. Of course I mean ‘My Favorite Things’. Between ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, and ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ sometimes I do hear ‘My Favorite Things’ during the holiday season. I mean don’t get me wrong. ‘My Favorite Things’ is actually one of my favorite things. Aside from being a mysterious holiday song, it’s also a great jazz classic that’s been done by John Coltrane and Dave Brubeck. If you’ve got ~14 minutes to spare I highly highly recommend listening to John Coltrane’s extended version. Of course there’s the classic sung by Julie Andrews in the musical, but it’s been done and redone by some absolute greats. Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Kenny G, Barbra Streisand, and I also particularly enjoy Rod Stewart’s version too. But there’s nothing particularly ‘Christmas-y’ about the song or the musical it came from. So how did it end up in the playlist? It’s a complete mystery to me, but if you happen to know, I’d love to learn the story behind it all!

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Trans Siberian Orchestra

Last week we went with sad Christmas songs and now we’re adding a little nitro to Santa’s sleigh with the wild guitar riffs and heavy rock style of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Which, BTW, in researching them a bit for this post, I was shocked to find out that they weren’t actually angry Russians who happened to like Christmas. They’re an American rock band. Whaaat? I mean, with the name, and the music style, and the long hair, you can’t blame me for thinking they give off a faint patina of what Christmas would be like if you lived in the frozen, harsh, unforgiving land of snow, ice, and Putin.

I think like most people who know about TSO, you’ve heard my all-time favorite on the radio. Christmas Eve/Sarajevo is just really cool, dramatic, riding to war on the wings of valkyries Christmas music. And I know I’m mixing up cultures and mythologies here. What you may not know is that when TSO was originally formed, it was formed with the initial idea of creating six rock operas, including a trilogy about Christmas. I actually bought the first part, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, and the second, The Christmas Attic, on CDs. I used to play and listen to those two CDs exclusively during the holidays. Christmas Eve and Other Stories told the story of an angel who comes down to Earth and meets with a young man in a bar on Christmas Eve and tells him stories of the magic of Christmas throughout the ages. The Christmas Attic is about a young girl in an old house on Christmas Eve who finds an old trunk full of letters, toys, and memories of Christmases past.

If you’ve only ever heard some of their songs on the radio, I highly recommend looking up their albums and listening straight through. They’ve created beautiful pieces of music that tell truly wonderful stories. Even better still, if you ever have the chance to catch them live, that’s the way to go. I’ve unfortunately not yet had the chance to see them, but it’s definitely tops on my holiday list.

Single Guy Tries a Damn Fine Cup of Coffee

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‘Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it; don’t wait for it; just let it happen. It could be a new shirt in a men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black, coffee.’

-FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks

It’s strange how we sometimes need the encouraging words of strangers to give ourselves permission to get the things we already know we want. I’ve never actually seen the mystery drama series Twin Peaks. Though I am quite familiar with Kyle MacLachlan, and I admired his determination to perform the hell out of the otherwise flaming shitshow that was the 1984 film Dune. If ever there was a film with so much incredible potential that it truly deserved a remake, it would be Dune. But I digress. The first time I actually heard this credo to coffee’s credit was in mtbrd’s chillhop track ‘Damn Fine Coffee‘. If you’re ever in that mood and need the extra push to assure yourself it’s not only okay it’s demanded that you remember to give yourself something nice, I highly recommend you give it a listen.

I think the worst thing we can do to the constructive and pleasurable act of helping ourselves is to label it. It’s not ‘self-care’ or ‘self-love’, it’s not an ‘indulgence’ or a ‘guilty pleasure’. It’s a simple thing really, something that wasn’t just discovered or that needs to be taught. I’m not here to tell you how to do it, or what to do. I won’t say I’m the first or the last or the best to promote it. It’s not about making the world, or you, better or happier. Things don’t magically sparkle because you took a two-hour lunch to enjoy a massage or blew a week’s pay on a new jacket. But if you’re rushing around between work and home to finish a few more errands, or your arms are sore from bumping elbows and shoving other Christmas shoppers around, and you pass by a coffee shop and smell the wonderfully dark aroma of a fresh pot of coffee, and you stop and put everything down and actually sit in a chair (as in with both legs firmly planted under the table) and you sip your coffee and listen to realize the mall is playing your favorite Christmas song, aren’t you at least a little bit more at ease? Isn’t it then far easier for you to find that happiness, to appreciate the next little moment that comes your way? This should be a natural instinct. These moments that lead to the moments that make us happy should be as natural as breathing, blinking.

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That’s why by the time this post first hits the blog, I will be far, far away from my computer. I will be sat in my favorite seat, overlooking the busy streets of Fort Lee, in my favorite Japanese bakery/coffee shop, enjoying one of their made-to-order cream puffs and a hot black cup of coffee. Or matcha latte. Who knows. I can’t plan that yet. You’ll know when the picture hits my Instagram feed. And if I’m at my coffee shop having my cream puff and drink, that means I’ve already had my dinner at my favorite soba restaurant, where I’ve probably had a nice chat with a beautiful girl I’ll never be able to date. And it also means that not long after, I will leave that coffee shop to go to the mall, to walk and wander and be surrounded by people I’m not with, but just content to be around. Sometimes someone like me needs that. Not to be alone, but not to be with other people. Just to be around them. This doesn’t necessarily make me happy. But I’m not lonely or sad. This isn’t a ‘me-date’ or ‘self-care’, it’s, all of it, my damn fine cup of coffee. It is the moments I have to content myself with what I have, who I am, where I am, and to remind myself to be open to the real moments of happiness, wherever I may find them, or whoever I may find them with.

Single Guy Says ‘Is That Your Given Name?’

Lady Bird

Maybe it’s better that I always end up writing reviews for movies weeks after they’ve been out. Maybe we should stop thinking of them as ‘reviews’. The truth is, the movies I’ve most enjoyed this past year, they’ve all been complete surprises to me. I’ve known the least going into the movies I’ve come to love the most. Maybe what I really need, what I would rather do, is get the word out there so more people will watch it, and we can all have some really great conversations. Because let me tell you, a movie like Lady Bird needs no further praise or review. It needs to be discussed. To be remembered. To linger on the mind and on the tongue long after the credits roll.

I didn’t even see this trailer before I saw the movie. I barely recognized Saoirse Ronan in the movie poster, with a side profile and her hair dyed bright red. I did know she was in the movie though, and that was about as much as I needed to entice me to see it. She was hauntingly troubled in Atonement, dangerous in Hanna, and it is to my deepest regret that I have yet to see her in Brooklyn. I know, I know. It’s on the list, okay?

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Lady Bird is writer/director Greta Gerwig’s female coming of age counterpart to movies like Boyhood and 400 Blows. It centers around Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson’s wildly turbulent senior year and her aspirations for her future, investigations on love, and the volatile relationship between her and her mother. Laurie Metcalf as the mother is just incredible, alternating seamlessly between passive-aggressiveness, anger, despair, and joy as she tries her best to understand a daughter that seems so far-removed from her world.

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Look I mean, I get it. Going through high school here can sometimes feel like being the only zookeeper in a zoo where the animals run the show. And there have been plenty of coming of age films of late. Hailee Steinfeld, as beautiful as she is, makes for a convincingly awkward teen in Edge of Seventeen. I’ve even gone on to peg It as not only the best horror film of the past year but also a wonderfully accurate and nostalgic coming of age piece in suburban America. But Saoirse Ronan’s ‘Lady Bird’ character is the only one whose growth and development I care about as a person, as an actual story that I think about and wonder about after the movie.

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We go through a lot with Lady Bird in the course of the movie. Not one but two loves, a prom, college applications, fights with a best friend, an introduction to a passion for theater, and yet still it feels like there’s so much more we want to see and do. I can’t begin to tell you how captivated I was during the scenes between Ronan and Metcalf. Whether they’re trying to survive each other in the car or picking dresses for Thanksgiving and prom the interaction between the two seamlessly fluctuates between loving affection, violent aggression, and desperate confusion. The last scene juxtaposing mother and daughter just brought everything full circle in such an emotional and heartfelt way for me.

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I saw the trailer for this film for the first time when I looked it up for this post. This movie moved me so much that just seeing the trailer made me miss looking into this world, feeling for these characters, living through this story. It reminded me of the beautiful storytelling, the gentle, faded cinematography, like reliving precious memories on VHS. I wanted to be in that car again with Lady Bird and her mother, watching for the sunlight to peek through the bridges of Sacramento.

Single Guy Tries KAISEKI

A little while ago I wrote about my different experiences with multi-course tasting menus. There was my absolutely memorable experience at Momofuku Ko, the upscale, elegant service and attention at Jockey Hollow, and I also mentioned how much I wanted to try ‘kaiseki‘, a traditional Japanese multi-course meal.

Aoi Restaurant

After a lot of research, I finally found a place to do it that didn’t involve me flying fourteen hours across the world! Aoi is a Japanese restaurant located inside a Japanese Samurai Armorhotel chain in central Jersey. They only opened two years ago, but the beautiful decor, attention to detail, and the fact that they brought over an actual Japanese culinary graduate and executive chef with years of experience to head the restaurant has garnered Aoi praise from critics and regular diners. I can personally attest that the restaurant is absolutely stunning. Everything is soft wood and warm tones but the architecture is aggressively modern. There’s a long, beautiful sushi bar where you can watch their sushi team at work, and the restaurant has not one but two suits of samurai armor standing guard. I wish I could also personally attest to the quality and skill of the head chef, but unfortunately literally minutes after I had hung up the phone and made the reservation for my group, I received a call back from the restaurant to let me know that their executive chef was heading back to Japan for vacation the week of our visit. They assured me that they would still have a very talented team of chefs cooking in his stead, but without the executive chef I wouldn’t be able to order their ‘sakura’ level kaiseki, which was their most expensive and high end version.

Sushi Bar

Kaiseki typically follow a certain pattern to accentuate certain focuses on taste, preparation, and seasonality. Knowing beforehand what to expect really helped the meal Aoi Platingexperience. While those of us who did the kaiseki had a general idea of what to expect next, it was still a thrill to try and anticipate just what would follow, and how. There were a total of nine different courses, all beautifully prepared and presented. Every bite was a masterpiece, and even without their esteemed executive chef at the helm, if this is just a snippet of what to expect from their best, I am impressed. And eager to return for the real deal.

Sakizuke

Sakizuke (先附) : an appetizer similar to the French amuse-bouche

The first course was honestly one of the absolute best. A real mood-setter for what was to come. Comprised of a number of chilled small bite dishes, each one was bursting with flavor and detail. There was tender soy-sauce braised Japanese eggplant with saffron threads, grilled duck breast, firm tofu stuffed with vegetables, spaghetti squash, and the absolute star of them all, a delicious monkfish liver with sea urchin cream and salmon roe. The liver had the consistency and fattiness of your best foie gras but with a salty, slightly sweet quality of the sea emphasized by the sea urchin and salmon roe. It melted on my tongue way too soon, but I knew I was now ready for more.

Hassun

Hassun (八寸) : the second course, which sets the seasonal theme; typically sushi

Not much to say here, other than the sushi was mouthwateringly well done. The fatty tuna with tobiko on top might have been the star for others, but I’m a salmon fan way more than tuna, so I started with this piece, moved on to the red snapper, and finished with that thick piece of meaty, flavorful salmon. The rice was soft, fluffy, well seasoned, and just barely held together before bursting like a rice cloud once I popped it into my mouth.

Agemono

Agemono (揚げ物) : a category of deep-fried dishes in Japanese cuisine

My second favorite of all the courses, again gone too soon. Tempura battered and fried soft shell crab with Japanese shishito pepper. The pepper had slight spice, slight bitterness, but the crab was absolutely stellar. The bodies were full of the fatty, dark orange crab roe that seafood lovers would kill for. And the claws had plenty of meat, with everything yielding perfectly crispy crunchy bites. They were fried magnificently, and served with a sprinkling of sea salt. I couldn’t get enough of that perfectly done tempura batter crunch with the intense crab flavors.

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Yakimono (焼物) : (1) flame-grilled food; (2) earthenware pottery, china

My next course was a grilled filet mignon served with roasted vegetables and yes, it was even served on a ceramic dish. So check off flame-grilled and check off the earthenware. The filet was done to a perfect medium rare and seasoned with freshly cracked Japanese peppercorns. If you’ve never had Japanese sansho peppers, they have a slightly citrusy almost orange-flavor along with the bitter spice of regular black peppercorns, but they also have the unique sensation of slightly numbing the tongue and lips. There was just enough on the steaks for a slight tingling that was fun to experience while biting into that moist filet.

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Hashi-Yasume (箸休め) : direct translation is “resting of chopsticks”, it’s a refreshing side

Perfect for the fall season, this ‘meal break’ of sorts was a warming, satisfying clear mushroom soup with shiitake mushrooms and house-made silken tofu. Alone, mushrooms and tofu are often background flavors, not really strong or assertive enough to take center stage. But they’re both packed with that wonderfully earthy umami,and in this very subtly flavored, clear soup that umami is just so warming and filling on a cold Saturday night.

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Shiizakana (強肴) : a substantial dish, such as a hot pot

I was so glad that there was another opportunity to enjoy fresh salmon during my meal. The more substantial course was a rich, fatty salmon soup. They specifically used cuts of salmon close to the belly and the spine, full of fat and flavor. The belly portion, with the fatty salmon and the delicious salmon skin, were juicy and plump. The spine portion, perfect for flavoring the intensely rich broth, was a bit harder to get into, but fortunately the bones were large and hard to miss. What’s more, when you actually take the salmon spine apart, in between the joints are the cartilage, which is a crunchy delicacy for devoted seafood lovers.

Shiizikana

Tome-wan (止椀) : a miso-based or vegetable soup served with rice

The last course before dessert was not served with rice as is normally tradition, but instead had a wonderful silky tofu custard underneath a rich, fatty, gelatinous stew of mushrooms, crab meat, and squid. The broth has been boiled and reduced for so long it became slightly thick and the flavors were super concentrated. You’d take your spoon and stir the silky tofu custard with the thickened seafood broth and it created a wonderfully pleasing rich texture. You could taste the small individual strands of fresh crabmeat and dried squid along with the slightly chewy and firm mushrooms.

Mizumono

Mizumono (水物) : a seasonal dessert; may be fruit, confection, ice cream, or cake

Dessert was a nice cold bowl of vanilla ice cream, mint with gold leaf, and one of the strawberriest strawberries I’ve ever had. The main focus of kaiseki is of course seasonality, and fall is berry season. These local strawberries don’t grow as big because of how cold it is in Jersey, but instead stay small while still developing intense flavors. I bit into that little berry and was hit with big strawberry sweet and tartness.


All in all it really was quite a memorable experience. I can only imagine what it would be like with their executive chef back in the kitchen, but I can’t even begin to wonder how amazing it must be to have it in Japan, based on the incredibly beautiful and intricate photos I’ve seen of traditional kaiseki going on in Tokyo and Kyoto. I can’t say I’ve completely checked ‘have a kaiseki meal’ off my bucket list, but I can definitely say I’ve gotten pretty damn close.

I also want to give a shout out to the incredible team at Aoi that made the meal and the night even more special. Jeff, the bartender, makes a mean martini and Harumi, our ever-vigilant and helpful server, was unwaveringly friendly, warm, attentive, and gracious. I also have to say her sake recommendations for my meal  were absolutely on point.

Single Guy Tries Gordon Ramsay’s Roast Pork Belly

Thanksgiving at my house has never, ever meant ‘turkey’. We’re not ‘turkey’ people. While I’m sure the idea of a fifteen pound monster turkey can bring with it a certain ‘wow’ factor, when you’re accustomed to family bringing out a whole giant roast suckling pig for big parties, I don’t know, Butterball just doesn’t bring the boom. So once again this year, we were sans-turkey, but we definitely brought home the bacon. Literally.

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I was in charge of two things this Thanksgiving. The roast pork belly that would be the centerpiece of our spread, and a quick and simple breakfast to use up all the egg whites we had left in the fridge from my father’s leche flan (sweet custard with caramel that used a whole lot of sugar, a whole lot of sweetened and condensed milk, and a whole lot of egg yolks; no egg whites). In the Philippines we call the pork belly liempo, and we often eat it grilled over a barbecue in thick strips (think super generous butcher’s cut bacon). But my father saw Gordon Ramsay’s recipe for roast pork belly and wanted me to try and make that instead. (And thank god he asked me to do it, because he didn’t realize that when Ramsay said ‘180 degrees for two and a half hours’ he meant celsius.) Would have been a one-way ticket to Thanksgiving in the ER. I might not have been around afterwards to give you the report. It was a fairly easy recipe to follow; really the most important part was making sure that the pork had enough flavor to roast with. So along with the fennel, garlic, and star anise that Ramsay called for, I also added coriander seeds, orange zest, peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon (think more like a Chinese five-spice roast pork). The result was just as advertised. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out!

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The crackling was beautifully crispy, and so much fun to run my knife along just to listen to it. While the skin was crispy and crunchy, the meat, which spent most of its time submerged in that heavily flavored stock, was tender, moist, and absolutely packed with spices and herbs. Ah, wonderful. If I do say so myself. Hahah. The other dish I made to use up all the egg whites was a quick and simple frittata that I poured into individual muffin trays and baked in the oven. I beat the egg whites with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder, then poured them into the molds just below the top. My aunt brought some fresh mozzarella balls and I tore nice big chunks of mozzarella and placed them in the center for a gooey, cheesy surprise. Topped them with some prosciutto and spinach, then a generous handful of parmesan and sharp cheddar. Baked until they puffed up like mini souffles and flipped them right out of the mold. They baked like this…

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But  popped out looking like these…

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Aside from that it was a pretty simple Thanksgiving meal. We always have salt and pepper squid and sauteed Chinese broccoli, and this year we also got a large sushi platter from my favorite local sushi restaurant. We had my father’s leche flan of course, which went great with the Chinese egg custard tarts we picked up, and the frozen custard we still have from our Rita’s stock (perks of ownership is free ice cream all-year round). Mostly though, it was about the family we get to spend it with. My cousins are here for school now, but we don’t yet know where life will take them after it’s all done, so it’s nice to be able to celebrate while we have them. My great-aunt, and two other aunts were also over, and my brother had some of his friends stop by. Around 3am after everyone was long, long gone my brother and I snuck back downstairs and had a little late-night snack heating up leftovers and watching television. It’s what these times are really for, right?

Anyways, I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, hope you filled your stomachs as well as your hearts with food and laughter.

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: Sad Christmas Songs

So my cousins stayed with us over Thanksgiving weekend, and I’m driving the family to the movies (we say Lady Bird, which I absolutely have to write about later on this week) and of course it’s non-stop Christmas music on the radio the entire time and I ask my cousin if they play the same kinds of Christmas songs in the Philippines.

‘Sort of. Our Christmas music is a lot happier.’

I mean, I was really asking because I wanted to know if people in perpetually hot and humid weather sing about Frosty the Snowman and dreaming about white Christmases. But my cousin has a point I guess. There are definitely more than a few songs that have become holiday classics that are more likely to make you crawl into the fetal position than cuddle up to a warm fire. ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ is famously about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the ever-present threat of impending doom. Try to get your jollies off of  that.

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So in honor of that, I’d like to give you some sad holiday music selections. And since it is the season of giving, I’ll even give you two.

NewSong’s Christmas Shoes is particularly memorable because there are three things in this world guaranteed to make my mother cry. The first is the scene in The Parent Trap when Jesse realizes that British Lindsay Lohan has switched places with American Lindsay Lohan and she is seeing the other twin for the first time in like, ten years. The second, funnily enough, is another Lindsay Lohan scene from Freaky Friday where Jamie Lee Curtis (as the daughter in the mother’s body) gives her rehearsal speech accepting her new stepfather and being happy for her mother. And the last is whenever Christmas Shoes comes on the radio. It’s just so cloyingly sweet and melodramatic, this little boy counting coins at a busy department store checkout line, to buy a nice pair of shoes for his sick mother. It’s just so goddamn warm and fuzzy you could knit it into a sweater. Ha.

So here is Dan Fogelberg’s song Same Auld Lang Syne. Which you should almost immediately recognize as the song that isn’t Christmas Shoes because both of their beginnings sound so similar and we often get thrown off whenever we hear it on the radio and guess wrong. While I can’t say it is as tear-inducing to me as Christmas Shoes is to my mother, Same Auld Lang Syne certainly always at least makes me stop to catch something welling up in my throat. The sentiment of a new year brings about hope and expectations for the future, but it is also a time when one can’t help but reminisce about the past. I don’t want to call this a ‘sad’ song though. Because I don’t think either the singer or the person the singer meets are particularly ‘sad’. Instead, I see this sort of acceptance, this quiet dignity of acknowledging each other’s lives, a melancholy moving on of sorts, that I envy. That I wish I could have. The ability to honestly accept and maybe even be happy with the way things turned out.

Maybe we need a few of these songs sprinkled into our holiday playlists. A little bit of balance to the overwhelming holiday cheer. I mean, could you honestly do all your Christmas shopping to non-stop Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey?! That hee-haw is why I’ll one day bum rush a mall Santa.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Single Guy Does Music Mondays, ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’

Neptune's Daughter

Well, Thanksgiving is only a few days away now. So you know what that means.

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Yep. That’s right. Turn to any station on your radio and you won’t  be able to escape the onslaught of Christmas songs. All Mariah Carey wants for Christmas is me, according to radio station A, and even though Christmas is actually thirty-five days away, radio station B is already giving me eight maids a-milking on the eighth day of Christmas. I don’t think anyone would ever really classify me as particularly ‘jolly’, but I’m a merry kind of guy. I like getting into the holiday spirit. I’m more likely to put a hat on a snowman than to run over Grandma with a sleigh. But I definitely think we keep starting the holiday stuff earlier and earlier each year. Thank god in the US we still have Thanksgiving at least as a sort of stop-gap measure. In the Philippines the Christmas decorations and mall Santas and music start as early as September. The ‘-ber’ months are peak merriment times.

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But what the hell. I’m an easygoing guy. I can lean into the curve. If we’re gonna do this, I’m gonna at least make sure I enjoy it. So if we’re going to have to listen to holiday music from now until midnight Dec 26th, let’s listen to something good. Something to hum and sing along too while we’re shoveling away the snow and sludge. So I’m going to start with my favorite wintertime song ever. A perennial favorite, I always look out for this song during the holidays, and throughout the year I’m always looking out, hoping for one holiday where I might have someone to sing this with. From the 1949 film starring Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams, Neptune’s Daughter, is the at-first-glance sweet but in truth completely creepy classic, Baby It’s Cold Outside.

I’ll be honest with you, it’s getting harder and harder to love this song guilt-free. Especially with the recent sweeping shocking revelations of rampant sexual abuse in Hollywood and in politics, you kind of want to separate yourself as much as possible from any sort of anything that could even be construed as possible harassment. And here’s this sickly sweet but sneakily sly song of suspicious intent. At its heart, I enjoy the game of cat and mouse, the playful art of the chase (*coughs*between two consenting adults*coughs*), and the flirtatious nature of what I perceive to be, both parties. I’ve always loved the idea of hearing it on the radio and singing along with a special someone while we drive around the neighborhood counting reindeer and Santa decorations. Simple. Innocent. Not. At. All. Creepy. So I do enjoy when, cognizant of the slightly weird undertones of the song, artists play on expectations and roles to make it a bit more modern, a bit more palatable. The original score only has the parts labeled as ‘mouse’ and ‘wolf’, so really anyone can play either, as exemplified by this wonderfully cheeky version with the smoldering Selma Blair and the absolutely in over his head Rainn Wilson. Or this tough, independent, modern 21st century woman parody by one of my favorite comedy duos, Key and Peele.

While I guess it’s utterly inevitable that some men will always be creepy, perverted, abusive, disgusting creeps, I think this song deserves to rise above its undertones. To me it will always just be one of my favorite winter songs.

Single Guy Says, ‘Shut Up and Take My Money!’

Last month Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire founder of alibaba (think China’s version of eBay and Amazon combined) put up a teaser poster for an upcoming martial arts short film. In it, Jack Ma stood in the center, surrounded by some of the biggest and most famous martial arts action heroes in Asian cinema. Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Jing Wu, and many others flanked the business magnate, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, all looking ready for a fight. A week ago, the movie was finally released streaming for free in YouKu, the Chinese version of YouTube.

Gong Shou Dao

Gong Shou Dao, loosely translated as ‘The Art of Guard and Defense’, stars Jack Ma as a mysterious wandering master. While walking down an alleyway, he notices an old, worn down sign for the ‘Huashan Sect. The ‘Huashan Sect’ is a school found in many Chinese works of martial arts fiction, known for its powerful kung fu masters. Jack Ma closes his eyes, and is instant transported to various martial arts movie and video game homages, such as an arcade, the gambling den of a Japanese gangster, and a mysterious mountain lake guarding an ancient scroll. Here, he begins his duels with these various martial arts masters.

The short movie is only about twenty minutes long, but it’s still a great chance to see an Tony Jaa.gifensemble cast of some incredible martial arts heroes. The choreography is absolutely brilliant, with Yuen Woo-Ping (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), Sammo Hung (Ip Man)and Ching Siu-Tung (A Chinese Ghost Story) all working together to create exciting, elegant, and brutal fight scenes. It was also great fun to see some actors who haven’t been as active recently. Jing Wu, one of my all-time favorites, who just starred in Wolf Warrior 2 a few months ago, is no stranger to the action movie screen, but Jet Li, who produced Gong Shou Dao, hasn’t really been Donnie Yen.gifacting much recently. He’s been much more occupied with his philanthropic work with various NPOs. He has a small part in the movie, but uses his time to showcase some truly impressive tai chi, which is a style very close to his heart. (He founded Taiji Zen with Jack Ma as a program that combines tai chi with meditation and other mindfulness practices).

In all, there’s a very threadbare plot, with very little rhyme or reason, and it’s hard to ignore the blatant sponsorship, or that this is perhaps an attempt to revive the slowly dying alibaba Entertainment group. But there’s never really too much opposition from martial arts fans to see some of their favorite heroes duke it out. It’s undeniably impressive that they are all still so fast, so powerful, and so much on top of their respective styles. It’s campy, old-school, wushu film fun, like the poorly dubbed imports of my childhood. In the end Jack Ma is abruptly brought back to reality by a hard hit from the local police, who reveal that in his dreamlike stupor he’d been fighting actual local police officers, and that when the debris and old branches are brushed away from the sign, it reveals the full title, which is ‘Mount Hua Police District’. It’s good for a laugh, and for a good twenty minutes of mind-blowing martial arts fighting. In fact, you don’t have to take my word for it. The whole movie is provided below.

I think the most important lesson to be derived from this though is, if you have enough money, you can star in your very own martial arts movie and get away with beating up some of your heroes. I mean, I’ve been practicing all kinds of different styles of martial arts for the past twenty years, but I’m no closer to getting a chance to punch, or be punched by, Donnie Yen. But if I were a Chinese billionaire, I bet my odds would greatly improve. Now to be fair, Jack Ma is actually a very devoted tai chi practitioner, which gives him a surprising amount of flexibility and nimbleness in the fight scenes. He even offers private lessons to other rich Chinese businessmen at the very low, reasonable price of around $14,000 US.

All I’m saying is, I’m a very simple man. I don’t need for much in the world. If someone would just give me an approximate price estimate of what it would take to get say, my A-team of martial arts heroes to choreograph a short fight with me, I’d almost immediately reply…

Shut Up and Take My Money

Jerel says, ‘shut up and take my money!’

Oh. And mushroom. I guess I say ‘mushroom’ too.