Sunday, June 22, 2008

Opera in the Park

On Friday night I left work a little early and rushed across town with my picnic blanket to stake out a spot for what promised to be one of the best concerts of the summer, the Metropolitan Opera's summer concert in Prospect Park. The stars of the evening, Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna, were going to be singing some of opera's famous duets.

As I saved space for friends who would be arriving later, I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman on the next blanket over. To my delight, he was a regular opera-goer and regaled me with behind-the-scenes tales and reviews of recent performances.

Friends finally arrived, laden with all manner of fancy picnic fare, from bread, cheese, and fruit, to salads, pasta and sparkling juice. They were just in time. Crowds continued to pour in, (150,000 were expected) and literally every square inch of the grass on the massive field was taken up by the time the concert began at 8:00.

Gheorghiu and Alagna were fantastic. Not only are the soprano and tenor famous for their performances around the world, they also happen to be married to one another, and they sang together in an effortless and natural way. The concert was a varied program of classics and relatively unknown works: a few duets, a few solos, and a few pieces with the chorus singing as well.

It was after the program ended and the encores began, however, that the fun really started. One standing ovation after another brought the singers back on stage again and again, where they sang some crowd favorites and clearly enjoyed themselves immensely, as did all the rest of us. By the end of the night we were clapping along at the singers' encouragement, and somehow it felt like all 150,000 of us were friends out for a night of music and fun. Definitely one of the best New York moments I've ever experienced.

With no way to record the concert, my only way to share a bit of it with you is through these shaky videos gleaned from Youtube (thanks to user qbertplaya).

Here is Roberto Alagna singing "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot:

And this is Angela Gheorghiu singing "Un bel di, vedremo" from Puccini's Madame Butterfly:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Chocoholics, Take Note

I am one of those people who, when ordering dessert in a restaurant, invariably goes for the chocolate option. I am particularly partial to anything with words like "molten," "rich," or "flourless" in the title. You may therefore imagine my excitement when I came upon a recipe for Chipotle Flourless Chocolate Cake on Simply Recipes. The recipe was shared by guest-poster Garrett McCord of Vanilla Garlic. I have learned from prior experience that his dessert recipes are worth trying.

Chocoholics....RUN, don't walk, to try out this recipe. It truly is just about as easy as pulling a mix out of the box and popping it in the oven, only much much more delicious. Have a look at the recipe--there are only four main ingredients and a smattering of spice. That's it! I confess, I could not find chipotle chili powder (or the recommended substitution, ancho chili powder) so I used just 1/4 teaspoon of regular chili powder (I lessened the amount suggested in the recipe because I was worried that using the wrong chili powder might make my cake taste like tacos). It came out fine and the hint of chili flavor added just the right amount of depth.

I fought my inclination to eat the whole thing then and there and instead took the cake to a colleague's goodbye party, where it was unfortunately very well-received. All that was left by the end of the party was the little piece pictured above, which I took home to share with Ash. (Did I later regret sharing the last piece? Maybe just a little.)

Now I'm thinking, if it's this good with the wrong chili powder, what must it be like with the right one? Anybody have suggestions on where to get chipotle chili powder?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Losing Focus or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blur

Last month I participated in Nectar and Light's monthly Photo Trade. The theme was Losing Focus: Find beauty in the blur. The idea was to share photographs in which the main subject was out of focus.

I have tried intentionally blurring the main subject of my photos before, here and there. But, more often than not, I've had camera shake, subway vibrations, crowd jostle, and miscalculated shutter speed to thank for my lack of focus, though on occasion those misfortunes lead to an interesting shot.

Last month, however, I systematically set out to get the most out of my blur. It was actually very liberating not to have to worry about focus at all.

Sometimes, in blurring the intended subject of my shot, I ended up with new focus altogether.

I even experimented with the (extremely scientific) technique of swinging my camera around madly in the 8th Street subway stop to see what sort of effect the camera's movement would have this on mural of a woman in the rain.

All in all, it was a very satisfying month of experimenting with blur. And to top it all off, I received this lovely photo in the mail the other day.

June's Photo Trade theme is Into the Light: Learn to love flare. I haven't come up with anything yet, but I'm working on it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

CLICK June: Yellow for Bri

It is terrifying to me that cancer has touched the life of almost everyone I know in some way or another. Has it always been that way? Or does it seem to others as well that it becomes more and more prevalent as years pass? Fortunately people are paying attention and countless dollars are contributed each year to help scientists, hospitals, and individual patients pursue a cure. Still, cancer will at some point confront someone we know--all the more reason we should make every effort to address it however we can. It's one of the reasons I ran two marathons with Team in Training, an organization dedicated to raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

This is on my mind right now because few weeks back I received a very thrilling email asking me to be one of the judges for the June Edition of CLICK, an aptly named food photography event that is hosted every month by Jugalbandi (a blog that inspires me in two of my very favorite things: cooking and photography).

This month's CLICK is far more than just a food photography contest, however. Bee and Jai, the talented twosome behind Jugalbandi, are combining CLICK with a fundraiser in support of a close friend and fellow blogger, Bri Brownlow (author of Figs With Bri), who is currently fighting Stage IV cancer.

Bri was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28, two and a half years ago. After a mastectomy, chemo, and two years apparently in remission the cancer is back and has metastasized to other parts of her body. Bri lost her own mother to breast cancer when she was just a girl, and now she's fighting that same battle. More about it here.

The fundraiser that Jugalbandi is hosting in conjunction with the June edition of CLICK will help Bri and her family meet her out-of-pocket medical costs for one year. The goal is $12,000.

As a way of supporting Bri, various photographers, chefs, and other talented friends have donated some incredible items that will be raffled off as part of the fundraiser (personally, I have my eye on that Gorillapod). Every donation will go towards a raffle ticket for the item of your choice, and the funds will go directly to Bri.

CLICK has a different theme every month, and this month's CLICK theme was Bri's own choice: Yellow--the color of hope, which through the work of Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong Foundation, has come to signify the fight against cancer. I know that all you photographers out there could do amazing and creative things with that theme. Below is my first attempt:

The deadline for submitting a photograph for CLICK is June 30, 2008, and you will be able to view all the entries here. The fundraiser will extend until July 15, 2008.

Please check out Jugalbandi for more information and support this campaign by participating in the fundraising raffle, submitting a photo on the theme of Yellow for CLICK, and by encouraging others to do the same.

We're rooting for you Bri.