Dance Ensemble Recital

For three years, our daughter has participated in the Sidwell Friends Upper School dance ensemble.  Dance ensemble was her first ever dance experience.  It has been the place she has found the most serenity and peace during high school.  (Her only regret is that she didn’t start in 9th grade and avoid the trauma of softball.)

This is the last dance recital of her high school career and so I have inexpertly filmed two of her dances from the recital.

Our biggest thanks go to Marie McNair, dance instructor extraordinaire, who provided a haven of support, growth, and encouragement for our daughter!

Book review: Heresy by Sharan Newman

Heresy (Catherine LeVendeur, #8)Heresy by Sharan Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the eighth in the Catherine LeVendeur mystery series. Overall, the series is fabulous. It is fabulous not only because of the depth and accuracy of the historical research but also because the series depicts the lives and conditions of Jews during the Middle Ages. This interesting (and often heartbreaking) perspective is unusual, especially for a mystery series, and fascinating. The author doesn’t presume to apologize for the attitudes she describes (and, indeed, there is no apology needed–facts are facts), nor does she attempt to modernize the characters’ outlook.
This particular mystery is interesting because one of the main characters is Astrolabe, the son of Abelard and Heloise. As someone whose mind is not suited to deep philosophical or theological debate (which I discovered when reading Abelard’s writings for a college course many years ago), I was relieved to learn that neither was Astrolabe’s. 🙂
The mystery itself is not the strongest part of this particular book (historical mysteries often have this issue), but the discussion about the religious factions, Astrolabe (and Heloise’s) places in the world, and the ramifications of the Crusade are knowledgeably described and well-integrated into the story.
The main character, Catherine herself, is a delightfully imperfect person, and the secondary characters–all of whom you have gotten to know throughout the series–continue to grow and deepen.
I highly recommend this series and this book. The series is best read in order.

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Restaurant review: Dolan Uyghur

Uyghur (pronounced wee-gur) cuisine comes from one of the ethnic minorities mostly located in Xinjiang, China.  We have been to a Uyghur restaurant in Beijing many years ago and were thrilled to learn that there was now a Uyghur restaurant in Washington, DC.  Off we went to try it with some friends who had made the discovery (thank you, Joyce and Marty!).

Uyghur food bears some resemblance to Middle Eastern food (not surprising, given some of the common culture and climate) and some resemblance to Chinese food (again, not surprising).

We started out with the Piter Manta, steamed buns containing beef seasoned with onions and spices.  Think of potstickers with Middle Eastern seasoning, and you come close to what these taste like.  They were quite good.

piter manta

We had an additional appetizer, the Samsa, made of seasoned beef and onions rolled in a bun.  They were also quite yummy.

samsa

Popular dishes here include several noodle dishes.  We had the Mom’s Laghman (hand-made pulled noodles served with stir fried beef and vegetables).  For those of you who like homemade noodles, this is definitely a dish for you.

mom’s laghman

The consensus favorite amongst the group, however, was the Korma Chop, a dish consisting of dry-fried noodles with beef and vegetables.  The noodles are bite-sized in this dish and more toothsome and chewier than the hand-pulled noodles.  In fact, the beef and vegetables are somewhat superfluous.  The sauce is flavorful, with a bit of a bite, and paired with the noodles, it is an excellent dish.

korma chop

Somewhat more familiar to many diners is the Dolan kabob, which are lamb kabob skewers where the lamb is seasoned with salt, cumin, and red pepper.  These were good but did not stand out like the noodle dishes did.

dolan kebab

Another favorite was the Goshnan, described as a Uyghur-style pizza, stuffed with beef, onions and red peppers.  I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a pizza (it has a double sided crust)—in some ways, it resembles a British pasty, but with deeper flavors and a lighter crust.  It is quite filling and quite delicious.

what’s left of the goshnan

We also tried the spicy-sour tofu, which is the Uyghur take on Mapo Tofu (the Chinese hot and spicy tofu dish).  It was good but not a standout in the dishes we ordered.

spicy-sour tofu

The potato silk was a hit, as it consisted of sautéed shredded potato with scallions, red peppers, and carrots.  Our son was particularly enamored with this one (it contains potatoes, after all).  This isn’t something you can typically order at an Asian restaurant and is well worth trying.

potato silk

Another well-liked dish was the Beef Yotaza, a spicy stir fried beef with assorted vegetables and served with steamed buns.  There was a nice bite to the dish, and the steamed buns are very similar to mantou (a northern Chinese steamed bun).

beef yotaza

The honey fish is fried tilapia seasoned with sweet and sour sauce and cooked with peppers, onions, and pineapples.  I wasn’t a fan of this dish, but others found it to be quite delicious.  (sorry–the official food photographer failed on this one (that’s me!)).

And, finally, there was the Dolan chicken—fried chicken cooked with mushrooms, onions, red and green peppers, and bean sprouts.  This was the consensus least favorite dish, as the flavors were muddled and meh.  (another fail on the part of the food photographer)

But there are salads!  Below is the Tatlik salad, consisting of lettuce (duh!), cucumbers, beets, apples, and pineapple.

Tatlik salad

The restaurant also has surprisingly good desserts.  Or, rather, if you judge the restaurant against other Asian restaurants, it has excellent desserts.  If you judge the restaurant against European and American restaurants, the desserts are passable.  (No photos because we consumed them too quickly.). We tried the Dolan cake, which is the Uyghur version of baklava.  It is dryer than traditional Middle Eastern or Greek baklava, but it is very flavorful.  The Kat-Kat cake is a traditional Uyghur cake, and it was my favorite as it was not overly sweet and had an unusual but pleasant flavor.  The fried bananas were good, but you have to like bananas (obviously) to like this dessert, and the Bak-Kal-Li is a walnut cake dried with chocolate.  This is a heavy—almost peasant-like—cake that is worth trying but is not for everyone.

I also highly recommend the Uyghur tea, which uses black tea as a base but adds ginger, date, and other fruit flavors as well.  Even the son, who does not like tea, liked this one.

The restaurant itself is small and austere, typical of an Asian hole-in-the-wall restaurant, but the wait staff is friendly, competent, and helpful.  We really liked the food at Dolan Uyghur and will definitely be back to try new dishes!

Dolan Uyghur is located at 3518 Connecticut Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (www.dolanuyghur.com).

Kusama Exhibit

I interrupt my regularly scheduled program (of mostly trips, food, and books) to talk about the Kusama exhibit we saw at the Hirshhorn Museum earlier this week as part of the US-Japan Leadership Program.  Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist and writer whose exhibit, Infinity Mirrors, is currently at the Hirshhorn.  It is impossible to describe the Infinity Mirrors exhibit, other than to say that it is the artist’s attempt to convey her feelings about death, life, and eternity.

So, rather than to attempt to put into words what her art is like (and poorly at that), I opt for photos of some of her exhibits.  There are six infinity rooms that you go into in groups of two or three, and you stay for 20-30 seconds.  (The curators all have stopwatches.)  While this sounds like too brief a time for each room, I suspect (and the curators confirm) that staying for much longer becomes extremely disorienting.  There are smaller scale exhibits with similar themes that you can gaze into for as long as you want.

I am generally not a contemporary art fan, but this is so different that if you ever have the opportunity to go see it, you certainly should.  (It is part of a national tour.). I am still trying to decide what I think about the artist and her art and have not arrived at any conclusion yet.  Look at the photos and decide for yourself.  (Most of the photos are courtesy of our son, Marcus.)

infinity mirror room

looking into infinity

infinity mirror room

the color room!

For those of you in the DC area, the exhibit runs through May 14.  See more at https://hirshhorn.si.edu/kusama/

Book review: A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh

A Presumption of Death (Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane, #2)A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers, and I was cautiously optimistic when I discovered that there were additional mysteries written by Jill Paton Walsh based loosely on notes written by Dorothy Sayers. There generally has not been a good track record of sequels of this sort, but the Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane series seems to be an exception.
The mystery set in this book mostly falls to Harriet Vane to solve, but all of your favorite characters are there, from the Dowager Duchess of Denver to Mary and Charles Parker to the current Duke and Duchess of Denver. And, of course, Harriet and Peter.
As for how convincing the book is as a worthy sequel, I think the book holds up pretty well. Think of it as the first carbon copy of the original (I know–I date myself). The book is a strong and clean copy but definitely a derivative of the original. The most notable derivative is the Dowager Duchess. I adore her character and her unique combination of insight and rambling. In this book, she is there but is not quite her original idiosyncratic self, although still quite appealing.
The mystery is a solid Sayers mystery, with interesting secondary characters and the ubiquitous Bunter. All in all, this is a solid addition to the Lord Peter Wimsey canon.

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Spring Break 2017 (aka Being Stalked by Adam Sandler)

The high school senior got to choose where we went for spring break this year, and after some discussion, she decided on Honolulu, so off we went.  (Twist our arms!)
There was the lovely view from our hotel room:

view from the Halekulani

There were the usual fabulously beautiful sunsets,

sunset on Waikiki

and delicious meals (at The Pig and the Lady, Town, and Chef Mavro, among others).

pho french dip from the Pig & the Lady (I’m the Lady)

We even caught part of the Prince Kuhio parade, complete with two men blowing on conch shells (Prince Kuhio was a strong advocate of Hawaiian independence and supporter of native Hawaiians):

Prince Kuhio parade

But this visit is best defined in the family chronicles as the time when Adam Sandler stalked us.

He and his family were staying at our hotel, and we could not spend a day without seeing him at least twice and often several more times.  When the kids were out surfing, there he’d be, on the beach playing with his kids,

we’re being stalked!

he and his family would be at breakfast when we came down or at the pool when we went in or hanging in the lobby as went by or in the streets of Waikiki as we were walking around.  As Jim said, we’ve stayed at the Halekulani with people we know, and we didn’t see them as often as we saw Adam Sandler on this trip.
We opted not to ask him for a photo, because Marcus felt very strongly that he should be off limits since he was with his family.  Our son is a really easygoing person, so when he feels that strongly about something, we generally accommodate him (and, in this case, we were in full agreement).
I will also say this:  I am not, in general, a fan of Adam Sandler’s movies—they have a rather puerile sense of humor, which is not my thing.  But I think much more highly of him after this trip (I am sure he is breathing an immense sigh of relief about this).  He was an absolutely terrific dad—when he was with his kids, he was *present*.  Not on the phone, not hanging with his buddies, but all in with his kids, devoting his full attention to them.  He was also really gracious and accommodating to his fans, always willing to take photos with them, even if his family was around.  All in all, he was a charming, down-to-earth, regular guy.

Besides being stalked by Adam Sandler, we had an enjoyable and relaxing week taking long walks around Diamondhead (Jim & May), taking surfing lessons (the kids),

after surfing lessons

shopping (all of us), spending time in the water (also all of us),

in the pool at the Halekulani

Waikiki beach

and eating (most definitely all of us).

at the farmer’s market at KCC

None of us wanted to come home, although my attempts to persuade Marcus to transfer to Punahou in order to stay in Hawaii were in vain.  All in all, it was a lovely and mellow spring break!

Book review: Satan’s Lullaby by Priscilla Royal

Satan's Lullaby (Medieval Mystery, #11)Satan’s Lullaby by Priscilla Royal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of my favorite mystery series, and I hoard the author’s books until her next one comes out (I know–it’s a really bad habit). The actual mysteries in the series are somewhat secondary to the quality of the author’s research in the time period and her ability to reflect medieval attitudes on various topics without 21st century judgment.
In this book, the two main characters of the series have to deal with a bishop-to-be who is “auditing” the religious house. This religious house is unusual in that it is run by women, and it is clear that the bishop-to-be is less than thrilled by the fact that women are in charge (since women are naturally inferior, of course).
I enjoyed reading about how deftly this character’s obstinacy and sense of superiority were dealt with in order to solve the murder. The fact that the two main characters were to some extent sidelined gave the author more opportunities to round out the secondary characters in the series, which only adds to the series’s depth.
This is yet another solid addition to the series. If you like mysteries set in medieval times, this is definitely not to be missed! (The series is best read in order.)

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Inn at Little Washington weekend (aka I want to come back in my next life as one of my kids)

As you may have noticed from my blog posts, the Inn at Little Washington is a favorite restaurant of ours, with a combination of stunning food and warm hospitality.  (We always feel treated like family when we go.). This past weekend will be remembered in the family chronicles as the Inn at Little Washington weekend.
Jade wanted to hold a “thank you” party for her friends.  This all started in 7th grade during bar/bat mitzvah year.  She asked for a bat mitzvah party, and we pointed out that since we aren’t Jewish, that would be a tad difficult.  Jim eventually told her that we would throw her the equivalent of a bat mitzvah if she was accepted into Stanford (she didn’t have to go, but she had to be accepted).  Dinner at the Inn at Little Washington with her friends was what she wanted.
We booked both kitchen tables on Saturday night for the late seating and had a limo bus ready to go.  Everyone arrived early (our biggest fear, since punctuality is not her friends’ strong point, as fond as I am of them) and off they went.


All eleven friends elected to spend the night at our house, given the lateness of their return.  (Note:  12 teenagers in one house is not for the OCD amongst you.). Most importantly, everyone (especially Jade) had a fabulous time.  For some reason, no one was particularly hungry at breakfast the next morning.  Can’t imagine why.
Sunday was Marcus’s turn.  For his birthday, we gave him a dinner for 6 at the Inn.  So, Sunday afternoon, he and 5 of his friends piled into a different limo bus (one that was much more limo than bus) and went off to the Inn for dinner.


The three of us decided that we needed a dinner at the Inn as well but made sure we would be seated out of sight lines from the table of 9th graders.  In addition to the always skillful and imaginative food, we were pleasantly surprised to have new dishes to sample—all of which were delectable.
The new dishes included:
Carmelized Catalan Foie Gras Custard, which quite possibly is the best foie gras we’ve ever had:

carmelized catalan foie gras custard

Chilled Maine Lobster with Vichyssoise Puree and American Osetra Caviar

chilled lobster with caviar

Japanese Wagyu Beef Two Ways:  Seventy-Two Hour Braised Short Rib and Ribeye Sashimi with Potato “Noodles” in Fragrant Broth (possibly the best dish of the night, which is saying something!)

wagyu beef two ways

Raviolis of Ginger Scented Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Brown Butter, Sage, and Toasted Pecans

sweet potato and apple ravioli

Chocolate Mint Bomb

mint ice cream in a chocolate bomb

There isn’t a lot more to be said, other than the fact that the Inn could not have been nicer about having 12 high school seniors descend upon them one night and then 6 high school freshmen descend upon them the following night.  Their hospitality and graciousness created two evenings that will not be soon forgotten!

Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

Chef Mavro is the one restaurant through the years that we always ensure we visit when we are in Honolulu.  February is the tail end of black truffle season, and we were fortunate enough to ride the coattails of one of our favorite ingredients.  The restaurant is currently offering a four course chicken dinner option, and we immediately opted to try it, as this option is not always on the menu.

The first course was the meli-melo salad, served with Hamakua maitake mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, pan-fried panisse, and a roasted beet pepper vinaigrette.  There is no one who can make vegetables and raw ones, at that (I know, my Asian heritage is coming through) interesting like Chef Mavro.  The salad was delicious (for a salad).  🙂

The second course is one I have dreams about.  It is the Truffled Egg “Osmose” and is an egg served on a bed of potato mousseline with pickled shallots, prosciutto ribbons, and most importantly, black truffles!  The egg itself has been infused with black truffle flavor, and it is one of the most delectable dishes ever!

Next up was a truffled ballotine of thigh meat on frisee salad.  I am a dark meat person, and having dark meat chicken with black truffles is an absolutely fabulous treat.

The main course is a whole chicken, carved tableside by the chef, served with garlic creamed corn and an au jus sauce with black truffles.  It comes with a side of caper-olive oil mashed potatoes.  Yum, yum, yum.

mashed potatoes

And, finally, dessert was roasted pineapple served over a light yuzu crumble and a scoop of bay leaf ice cream.

Oh, and let’s not forget the after-dinner treats of green matcha chocolate squares and passionfruit pate de fruits (I must learn how to make these).

All in all, another amazing meal from a fabulous restaurant!

Chef Mavro is located at 1959 S. King Street, Honolulu, HI (www.chefmavro.com)