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Archive for May, 2011

Christine Brewer… a burp blurb

“Do you ever burp when you’re nervous?” This was the first thing Christine Brewer said to me upon my meeting her following her final summer performance as Lady Billows at The Atomic Grill in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“Um, no… I don’t” I replied, “but I do burp inwards.” I immediately regretted my reply to the famed soprano.

“What!? Can you show me?”

“I’m afraid I’m not ‘gassy” I replied.

“Oh, well let me know if its coming” replied Miss Brewer “but please tell me- WHAT should I eat?”

“The chicken nachos are really good here” I answered. I was in a strange state of disbelief that, here I was, at a diner in the middle of New Mexico sitting next to one of the most famous opera singers in the world talking about bodily functions and nachos. I had met up with a friend at The Atomic for a short visit following the season’s final performance of Albert Herring without realizing the Grammy Award winning singer would be joining us.

“These nachos are wonderful!” said Miss Brewer as I nursed my fourth cup of coffee (The coffee at the Atomic Grill in Santa Fe is famous for having the potency of Texas oil). She went on to explain that the entire evening, she had been burping none stop, both on and offstage ( several of her costars agreed with vivid memories of the evening’s eruptions).

I was heartedly amused that I had brought one of my best friends, Kim Garley to Santa Fe that evening to experience her first opera, Benjamin Britten‘s Albert Herring. I also couldn’t decide if I was getting a bigger kick out of the fact that Kim’s first opera was Albert Herring, her randomly dining with a world famous opera singer, or the fact that Christine Brewer was so funny and provided such a humorous experience for Kim both on and offstage. Regardless, I was thankful that Kim actually really enjoyed the performance AND that we both got to meet one of the stars of the evening… even if it was over nachos discussing gas.

Oh Rapture! Oh Holy 5 Napkin Burger!

Today, while random chunks of the population were preparing to disappear off the face of the earth, a lot more of  us decided to get out and enjoy ourselves. What would make a better Rapture celebration than a beer and burger outing? Exactly… So I went this afternoon with my roommates to one of my favorite Upper West Side Restaurants. Since Chef Andy D’amico opened Nice Matin in 2003 (you can read about it below), the restaurant’s most popular dish was- you got it, the 5 Napkin Burger. Given the dish’s obvious successs, Chef Andy and Simon Oren gave the burger it’s own chance, spawning into five different locations in New York, Boston and Miami. Stop by the 9th Ave. and 45th street location, or the one at 84th and Broadway if you live in Manhattan. My favorite dish? You got it, The Five Napkin Burger. At 14.95, this decadent classic features 10oz. of custom ground beef, caramelized onions, gruyere cheese and rosemary aioli on a soft white roll. Pair the burger with your favorite beer for the perfect Saturday evening treat.

The Diner’s Hidden Gem

The Diner is located at 9th Avenue and 14th Street in the middle of Manhattan’s ultra hip Meatpacking District. Famous for serving American comfort food to the after hour crowds of Kiss & Fly and The Gansevoort Hotel’s rooftop bar Plunge, there is more to this cool late night hang out than Top 40 hits and Disco fries. I was lucky to meet Ronifer, one of the establishment’s fabulous bar tenders. I was informed by a friend that I NEEDED to try his cappuccino, so I ordered myself the caffeinated concoction (let me inform you this was at 4 am) and was pleasantly surprised by tasting the best cappuccino I’ve ever had in my life. With a unique blend of God knows what and a lot of love, this cup was truly good ’til the last drop. So the next time you find yourself stumbling around the district’s cobblestone streets, be sure to drop in and visit Ronifer for a cocktail and a cappuccino at The Diner.

Make Nice at Nice Matin

Delivering a fierce “Tour de Nice”, Chef Andy D’amico offers to the Upper West Side of Manhattan a delicious culinary excursion to Nice, France as well as a full gluten-free menu for those patrons with celiac disease or general health concerns. While famous for their Croque Madames et Monsieurs, I prefer the Poached Eggs Provencal at brunch time. The dish features ratatouille in a crisp puff pastry with a delicious tomato cream sauce. For dinner, it is my humble opinion that no one does Grilled Salmon better, at least in this neighborhood. Add to your entree the best escargot in town for a truly French experience. Remember, salmon is quite possibly wine’s friendliest fish, so choose anything from  a Champagne to cleanse the fat from your palate or a medium-wieght pinot that would pair just as well. Be sure to try this “tour de force” on your next “tour de France.”

A Night at the Museum (or Williamsburg Takes Manhattan)

Last night I met up with my friend Vanessa who invited me to a monthly party at the Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We both showed up not knowing what to expect and walked in on what seemed like a bad MDMA trip, only we were completely sober.

It didn’t take long to realize, after examining the random mix of party dresses, skinny jeans, Toms footwear and plaid mixed with the occasional waft of putrid body smells, that this was clearly somewhat of a hipster hang out. We found ourselves in a mix of people “expressing themselves” and fondling the speakers while a DJ performed in front of a large LD screen which played what seemed to be a manifestation of the infamous Willy Wonka tunnel scene.

After examining what was open at the museum, and after realizing the party only offered Heineken and Amstel Light, Vanessa and I decided to go ahead and partake in the festivities at the makeshift dance floor. For a good hour we let go of our inhibitions as uptight New Yorkers and just danced. We jumped with the crowd, went through a human tunnel and almost ALMOST joined a dance contest. We realized that we happened upon pure joy last night and are somehow better for it. So thank you One Step Beyond, I promise not to wear a suit next time.

Grub Snub

The other night I decided to order some Chinese delivery from one of my formerly favorite websites grubhub.com. When I placed the order via their convenient online form, I was notified that I had entered the wrong information and to please try again. Thinking I had just put in the wrong credit card number, I tried again. The same thing happened, so I tried a third time before giving up and just calling the restaurant.

After satisfying my craving for fried rice, dumplings and egg rolls, I checked my account online only to discover that grub hub had charged me four times for my meal. Mind you I had chosen to include my tip on my online order form, so I was charged $80 for one meal. Annoyed at the inconvenience, I contacted Grub Hub and although they apologized, they simply said it was my fault and that I would have to wait 3-5 business days for the money to reappear in my account. I would like to point out that my entire form was in fact correct, and it seems that although I have ordered through the site many times before I confused the system this particular time with my out of state billing zip code. So needless to say, I will not be using Grub Hub anymore and will focus on saving the numbers of my favorite neighborhood restaurants for the next time I choose to order delivery.

Grace Note: Suzanne Vinnik

Julie DeMarre Photography

Soprano Suzanne Vinnik has an affinity for high notes and high fashion. I met up with the opera singer to discuss life, love and opera after leaving Las Vegas.

Jacob Paul: It seems to me that you really identify with Violetta, both onstage and off.

Suzanne Vinnik: I think she’s one of the best characters in opera because she’s so different in every part of the story. At first she seems to be heartless, but its only because she doesn’t think she deserves love. Alfredo convinces her and she gives up everything, breaking your heart with hers. I think anyone with a soul can identify with her. 

JP: You get the chance to cover the role this season at Pittsburgh Opera. Are you excited?

SV: Oh yeah, I’m really excited about it. I never thought I would be 24 years old singing Violetta! I never really thought I had the talent to sing her. I mean…Violetta has always been one of my dream roles and it’s an honor that I get to try it out something that seems to be getting me a lot of attention.

JP: And audiences seem to agree that you really portray the character well, at least in the bits we’ve been able to see through competitions…

SV: Yeah, I mean I didn’t really bring Violetta into the mix until this past winter when I entered the Liederkranz Competition. I called my coach Ben Malensek an hour before I was supposed to be there for an emergency coaching.  I never coached it or even brought it to a lesson before I sang it that day! I just would sing through it with my friend for fun! I was lucky to get that last minute coaching and sort everything out. I won a prize the first time I ever sang the “E strano….Sempre Libera” in public… with Catherine Malfitano sitting across from me judging!!!!  My risk paid off…

JP: Literally!

SV: Haha Literally!

JP: Well that’s something you don’t hear every day. You brought the piece to the Palm Beach Opera Competition and you obviously won over the audience with your performance, but I’d like to add that you did so wearing a wonderful gown by Betsey Johnson, and I just wanted to applaud you on that choice.

Suzanne wears Betsey Johnson at Palm Beach

photo courtesy of Palm Beach Opera

SV: Thank you. We’ll thank Betsey.

JP: It’s obvious that while you love opera, you also have a passion for fashion.

SV: Yes! 

JP: Besides Betsey Johnson, what do you look for when it comes to unique style options?

SV: Well, I wish my little wallet and Betsey Johnson could always agree, but that isn’t the case! I just like anything that’s bright, kind of loud and announces “Hello, I’m here!” It has to be flattering in the right spots! A little cleavage, but not too much… You know, I’m risk taker. (Suzanne is currently sitting next to me on a park bench wearing bright pink shorts, a black t-shirt and pink animal print sunglasses).

JP: You’re heading to Castleton this summer to sing Musetta under the baton of Lorin Maazel. How did it come to be that Musetta became such a standard part of your repertoire?

SV: Well, I started working on the role when I was in Rome with Renata Scotto in the Opera Studio at Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. The day before the concert she told me I’d be performing most of the second act! I thought to myself: “I’m just some moron from Las Vegas with some of the best young singers in the world… WHAT AM I DOING HERE!?”

JP: What was that experience like for you- working with Renata Scotto?

SV: It was… great! It was definitely the best thing that had ever happened to me. I mean, she heard me sing and pretty much told me that I was terrible “tu sei orribile”  after I sang the aria from Lucia. I worked very hard while I was there. Her husband Lorenzo really took a strong liking to me. We worked seven days a week for twenty minutes just on technique. Renata really challenged me and made me try so many new things!

JP: Where did she hear you sing?

SV: Well, I heard about her program through a coach who I don’t actually work with. She suggested that I work with her so, although this person didn’t provide a formal introduction or anything, I thought about what she said and realized hey, Renata Scotto was the first opera singer that I started listening to when I was younger. I mean when I was eight years old I would watch this silly old VHS of La Boheme all the time and fast forward to and rewind all the parts with her in it because, as an eight year old girl, all I wanted was to be that crazy girl in the red dress! I wanted to be Renata! So, after the seed was planted in my mind to work with her, I asked everyone I knew about how to get in touch with her. I had this strange… grand notion that I was just going to call her up and say “Hello, I want to work with you” and that would be it. In New York, generally all you have to do is send an e-mail or make a phone call and people will work with you.

JP: Is that how this came to be?

SV: Oh, I sent her one of the craziest e-mails depicting my fan history of her since I was a child. I even referenced a scene of her singing “Sola perduta abbandonata.” She finally responded to me about a month later and I eventually got to sing for her!

JP: That’s amazing! I guess all roads, and phone calls lead to Rome?

SV: Literally!

JP: You did Renata’s program in Rome twice.

SV: Yes I did.

JP: It must be expensive as a young singer just to afford the training you need to get yourself to the next point in your career.

SV: Yes, nothing in life is free. Whoever said, “The best things in life are free” lied!

JP: You’ll be representing the USA at the end of the summer at the Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Oslo, Norway. Are you looking forward to the competition?

SV: I’m really looking forward to the experience because I’ve always had this fascination with Norway and the songs of Edvard Grieg. I wrote this crazy paper on him in my undergrad for which I did a lecture/ recital on, so I’m really excited to sing in Norway.

JP: Do you have any idea of what you’ll be offering once you get to Oslo?

SV: Well, I have to offer eight arias and four art songs so, it’s definitely a lot of preparation. I am adding to my list the Bolero from I Vespri Siciliani and like “Sempre Libera”, I figured… why not?

JP: So you’d say that you’re a risk taker in your repertoire selections in addition to your fashion choices?

SV: I’m from Vegas!

JP: So life is a risk for you?

SV: I look at it this way. You have to go big or go home.

JP: Good point, well you are definitely going big.

SV: I hope so.

JP: You were an Encouragement Winner this year at the 40th Annual George London Foundation Awards, walking away with the Leonie Rysanek Award. What those in attendance did not know, was that your dress actually ripped in the back while you were singing Manon’s aria “Adieu notre petite table”. How did you handle that situation so well?

SV: I was just hoping that it wasn’t going to fall off because I didn’t want to be known as the singer who exposed her tatas to an audience that included Patrick Summers, Marcello Giordani and pretty much every important person that could be in the same room. It would have been humiliating!

JP: Do you have any tips for anyone else out there who might have something similar happen during a performance?

SV: Well, you can’t just stop and say “Hang on, I gotta zip my dress up!” With me I just had to focus and manage. I realized that I couldn’t take big breathes, so I had focus on taking dramatic breathes that would get me through, even if it meant that I couldn’t sing with the dynamics I wanted. I didn’t want to expose myself in that way. So, I just did what I always try to do and sing my best, focus on the character and not let me dress fall off!

JP: So every performance is unique…

SV: They all have their variables!

JP: You’ll be leaving New York City in late September to join Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist Program. Are you sad about leaving The City?

SV: I have mixed feelings about it. I mean, I love New York and I love the life I’ve established here. I have my close group of friends, and I’ll definitely miss seeing my coach because I feel, in a way, that he’s the little mastermind of everything that I’ve done thus far. But I am looking forward to paying such a small amount for rent, and actually working!

JP: What are your favorite things about New York?

SV: I just love that I can really do anything here! I mean I can go to the opera, random performances, shop, and go on silly websites to have food delivered to me at all hours of the night. The thing about New York is, while it’s a rough life, it really is rewarding. I love that I can just walk down the street, sit in Riverside Park and study my opera scores, and for what I want to do, New York really is the center of the universe.

JP: We’ve already talked quite a bit about Violetta and Musetta; can you tell me what other roles you’re looking forward to or perhaps would like to sing in the future?

SV: Well I would really like to sing Mimi. I feel like I can identify with her character more, even though the outside world looks at me and is like “Musetta!” I would actually like to die for once in that opera. I’d also like to sing both Massenet and Puccini’s Manon! Like Violetta, she’s another girl who loses it all for love. I guess I’m just a sappy romantic. I’d definitely like to try to sing some of the Donizetti heroines; Lucia, Anna Bolena, Elisabetta from Roberto Devereux, Maria Stuarda; all the three queens really. Someday.

JP: You call yourself a sappy romantic. Is that just within your musical life? 

SV: No. Its everything.  With singing, we always have to be in control of our emotions, making different colors to make the audience feel something, so I feel like my opera side definitely comes out in my real life. Everything has to be great! It can’t be boring. With me, my boyfriend is in Germany… there’s always something difficult about it.

JP: How does a sappy romantic like you who portrays larger than life people on stage who fall in and out of love, who die and live for love, deal with love in the real world along with the distance and the realities that come along with a career that is now in your case taking shape?

SV: It’s definitely hard no matter where you live. With singing, I’m always living out of my suitcase, getting ready for this, doing that. When it comes down to it: sometimes you have to be selfish! It’s up to you to find people who make you feel grounded, who make you feel good and that you want to keep surrounding yourself with because it is such a difficult life.

JP: It seems sometimes that there is always someone ready to pounce when a vulnerable moment is spotted.

SV: Definitely. Everybody always wants something from an artist! You can’t just sing! After a while you have to tune it all out and concentrate on what makes you happy. Hopefully it’s the music and the people you surround yourself with. 

JP: The 2010/2011 season has provided a lot of new opportunities for you. It definitely seems to be a year of growth for you. Can you tell me what inspired all this?

SV: You picture your life one way, and something happens where it doesn’t quite go as you planned. With me, I got back to New York and thought, “Ok, what am I going to do with my life?” Everything that I had known literally blew up in my face, so I really focused on learning how to sing. I had a great voice teacher, a great coach, I worked with Renata Scotto and her husband who both just helped me so much. When I came back, I started entering competitions, and really decided to do this. I began to really apply myself and believe that it was “MY YEAR” and something great was going to happen. I knew that it was going to erase any and all of the bad that occurred before. Luckily, the first competition I entered (Opera Index Inc.), I won a prize and after that everything started falling into place!

JP: I have to point out that you’re definitely a studious person. You don’t just sit around doing nothing. If you have free time, you’re studying.

SV: Oh always!

JP: You attribute that desire, that need to learn to what?

SV:Well, I figure that there is just all this opera out there being performed that isn’t great, with people who sadly don’t have a lot to say! I feel that I have a unique opportunity because I’m at an age that hopefully I can bring something different to this art form. I just want to bring it back to the old school. There aren’t divas anymore!!! Just pretty people with music videos and there is just so much more than that. Opera is the greatest art form in the world and when you have people like Renata Scotto, Magda Olivero, Virginia Zeani who have come before you, it’s like “That’s what I want to be like!” I want people, long after I’m gone to say “Look what she did”, like Maria Callas. I mean, you pick up a fuzzy recording that you can barely hear the singing in of her, and, its wonderful! I want to touch people with my art, and the only way to do that is to study: to study the languages, the style, to listen to as many different recordings as possible to just try and understand the different styles from different eras. With La Traviata, I started working on the role and then read the book (referencing Alexadre Dumas fils’ La dame aux camelias) and when I finished, for over two hours I couldn’t stop crying. I thought it was even better than the opera! Then I watched the movie and even the silent film. There are so many adaptations of this story I mean, its incredible.

JP: I mention your studious nature not even to shed light on how you deal with the work you’re given, but it seems that you take upon yourself the opportunity to learn roles just because. It may not be a role or an aria that you have to learn for a company or a competition, it’s just because you want to learn. 

SV: I feel like there are roles that I picked up that I definitely couldn’t sing, they were either too high or something just didn’t fit. I will say that by singing and practicing Bellini, I learned how to sing legato, by singing Donizetti, I learned what Verdi learned from him to put in his music. It goes all the way to Puccini. You realize that everything is a stepping stone to the next. With La Traviata, hopefully that’s something I’ll be singing for the rest of my life…so it might as well be perfect.

Julie DeMarre Photography

This season Ms. Vinnik won 1st prize in the Verismo Opera Competition, 2nd Prize from Gerda Lisser Foundation, 3rd Prize at the Opera Index Competition, Audience Favorite and 4th Prize in the Palm Beach Opera Competition, an Encouragement Award from the George London Foundation and grants from The Liederkranz Foundation, The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and The Giulio Gari Foundation. She was a Semi-Finalist in the 2011 Zachary Awards, Dallas Opera Guild Awards and the upcoming San Antonio Opera Competition. She has been selected to represent the USA in the 2011 Queen Sonja Competition in Oslo, Norway. Ms. Vinnik is also a 2011 Deimar Award Winner through The New York Foundation for the Arts. During the summer of 2009 she was a finalist in the Giulio Gari Foundation Competition and semi-finalist representing the USA at the Competizione dell’Opera International Singing Competition in Germany. She is a recipient of a Walsh Performing Arts Grant, the Nevada Arts Council Professional Development Grant, The Tove Allen Opera Legacy Scholarship through the NV Community Foudation/NV Opera Theatre and was awarded a Mannes Merit Scholarship.

Read my Urban Palate interview with photographer Julie DeMarre to discover how the above photograph of Suzanne Vinnik literally launched her own career!

Bite Me!

Shark Bite 3 Dimensional Trouser Socks by Foot Traffic

OK I know what you’re thinking “what the hell are those and why would I buy them?”. I’d like to think that Coco Chanel‘s idea of “luxury for yourself” could also be true for humor. Hey now, I am in no way comparing these socks to the Mademoiselle’s famous knitted wool suits with their trademark gold chains, I am however definitely applauding the idea of “humor for yourself”. You can get these Shark Bite 3 Dimensional Trouser Socks by Foot Traffic for only $8 at amazon.com or like I did at your local Urban Outfitters.

You Know What She Did Last Summer…

Cinderella and Company


Un Petit Plaisir: NEST Wasabi Pear Candle

After meeting one of Lara Slatkin’s fabulous fragrance experts from NEST Fragrances at an Upper East piano bar, I was privileged to have been sent three of the company’s unique candles (Nest’s Grapefruit Candle is a rumored favorite of Sarah Jessica Parker). Nestled in a gift bag were the following fragrances which you can pick up in person at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus or online  at amazon.com and candlesoffmain.com:

Orange Blossom, a blend orange blossom, orchid, tiare flower and freesia combined with tangerine, lemon and musk.

Moss & Mint,  garden mint, apple blossom and muguet are infused with a touch of oakmoss and vetiver.

Wasabi Pear is my personal favorite scent and my newest petit plaisir. This wonderful candle is a blend of Anjou pear and ozonic watery notes infused with the essence of wasabi.

NEST Fragrances carries candles in a varied array of sizes and scents. With votives starting at $14.00, traditional sizes at $32 , 3-wick candles at $58 and, if you really feel like splurging there is the NEST Fragrances Luxe 13- Votive Gift Set featuring all twelve of NEST’s everyday fragrances along with a holiday votive.


Real Housewives, Trannies and Jazz

This past Wednesday, I went to Jazz at Bar Basque with Rachel Hall only to find the band ended it’s set early to celebrate jazz trumpet player Mike Cottone’s birthday. Luckily we were more than thrilled to join the jazzers and their celebration for the evening.

Shortly after we arrived, Rachel’s coworker from Equinox Fitness, Adrienne showed up with several friends of her own. It didn’t take long for me to learn that Adrienne lived across from my favorite piano bar on the East Side, and that her friend Genie and I both befriended the same cross dresser, Karen.

“You do not know Karen!” yelled Genie.

“Karen is great! I love Karen!” I replied when referencing the demure cross dresser who, is actually a straight man who has a full career in finance, but just loves dressing in women’s clothing.

When we realized that Rachel would do much better without us for the evening (she was getting rather close with one of the jazzers), we decided to pay the piano bar a visit and search for Karen. As I crossed the terrace to say my goodbyes, I recognized one of the party guests as a Juilliard composer who I had gone on a date with over a year ago- we’ll call him Jason. Again, let me remind you I’ve lost a bit of weight lately and replaced a lot of fat with a bit of muscle.

“Hi I didn’t get a chance to meet you” said Jason as he shot up to introduce himself as I was about to leave “I’m Jason.”

I extended my hand and said “Hi, my name’s Jacob- I’ve met you before.” He looked dumbstruck as he gently shook his head.

“Um, I’m sure I would remember meeting you” he said with the upmost sincerity. I pulled him close to me and reminded him of our Central Park coffee date the year prior. He then pulled back with an expression that read both “Eureka” and “oh shit”.

“That’s alright” I said with a smirk before walking off to meet Adrienne outside “Have a wonderful evening.”

As we neared the piano bar, Genie decided that she was too tired to join us and went home. Immediately upon stepping inside, I saw Karen sitting quietly by the bar and took Adrienne over to introduce her. Karen instantly took a liking to Adrienne and kept her company while I made a quick phone call.

“Oh my God” said Adrienne when I returned “guess who’s here?”

“Did Genie decide to come out after all?”

“No… better! Alex and Simon from Real Housewives

“You’ve got to be kidding” My eyes must have rolled to the back of my head. Of all people to have a second run-in with, it had to be Alex McCord. The reality television star’s antics both on and off-air had struck a sour chord with me before. Why can’t I run into Bethenny Frankel or someone I actually like? After telling my photo-assistant friend about my Lincoln Center run-in with the “Real Housewife”, I found out that she had the choice to have her infamous photo-shoot hair redone before going to support Ramona Singer at a gala event. She famously made the excuse that she had just come from a photo shoot and didn’t have the ability to fix her hair, but unbeknownst to us, she did have the time and a team of wonderful stylists to fix her up if she wanted.

Being the social butterfly I am, I went over to Alex and Simon and asked “Now aren’t you two going to sing a little duet for us?”

“Oh I can’t sing tonight, I’ve drank and my voice is (insert gagging cough-like sound here) but you can see me tomorrow night at Splash!” said Simon Van Kempen.

“And you Alex?”

“Oh no, umm he’s singing tomorrow night at Splash” replied the Real Housewife to which I replied with a compliment on her hairstyle. She actually did look great in person, and didn’t have the crazy over-volumized hairstyle she was so ridiculed for.

“This is straight out of the shower” replied Alex “I did nothing to it.”

“Well you’re very lucky- I don’t know anyone who can step out of the shower looking like that.” I wasn’t lying, she did look fantastic. After a couple more words, I excused myself and joined Adrienne at the piano before we called it an evening and parted ways.

I will say, the couple was incredibly nice and I did appreciate their ability to socialize with anyone and everyone in the room… including Karen.

Making Babies

I woke up this morning to the pleasant smell of my roommates James and Rebecca making a baby. Hey now, get your mind out of the gutter! What I mean by that is, they were making a Dutch Baby.

“What the hell is a Dutch Baby?” You might ask. Well, it’s sort of like a giant pancake that you bake. Think of a Dutch Baby as the Germanic cousin to the French crepe and the obese neglected sister of Yorkshire Pudding.

To make a Dutch Baby, all you need are the following:

A 4 1/2- 5 quart pan
1/2 c. butter
6 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. flour
Put the butter in the pan and set it into a 425 degree oven after first dusting the pan with nutmeg, then mix batter quickly while butter melts. Put eggs in blender container and whirl at high speed for 1 minute. With motor running, gradually pour in milk, then slowly add flour; continue whirling for 30 seconds.(With a rotary beater, beat eggs until light and lemon colored; gradually beat in milk, then flour.)Remove pan from oven with the butter melted and pour batter into the hot melted butter. Return the pan to the oven and bake until puffy and well browned, 20 to 25 minutes.Your Dutch Baby should come out in a nice big fluff that will gradually deflate.We had our Dutch Baby with fresh squeezed lemon juice, powdered sugar and a mixture of raspberries and blackberries- a truly wonderful treat.

So what are YOU waiting for? Go make a baby!

The recipe above was taken from www.cooks.com 

Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Life and Times of an Unexpectedly Controversial AP English Assignment

“We already read Frankenstein Mrs. Mayse” shouted several of my AP Literature classmates.


“In Mrs. Good’s class” explained Jessica “we read it sophomore year.”

“You weren’t supposed to read Frankenstein in pre-AP English!” shouted Mrs. Mayse “Why would she do that? That’s clearly a part of the senior curriculum and…” Mrs. Mayse trailed off as we waited patiently for our next reading assignment. “I’m going to have to think about this one guys… sorry”. The class disbursed immediately to avoid post-dismissal bell traffic.

As usual I was the last one out of the class thanks to my  disorganized way of keeping both my back pack and my class binders. I stopped by my visibly frustrated teacher’s desk on my way out “Are you alright Mrs. Mayse?”

“Well, to be honest, no” replied Mrs. Mayse. She went on to explain how she had  begun developing a very detailed curriculum based on the question of what makes people evil, if it is through learned behavior or they’re born that way. She had also planned to have us examine the pursuit of knowledge and whether that can ultimately lead to a character’s happiness or destruction. Mrs. Mayse was one of those rare teachers who always took the time to really know her students, and was one of the few people in my educational career who took me aside and told me that I could do anything I set my mind to.

While wonderful, Mrs. Mayse was also one of those insanely challenging instructors whose opinion of your latest essay seemed to matter more than peer approval… and for a closeted seventeen year old in a small town in the middle of New Mexico, I can tell you that sometimes, that was all I ever wanted. Knowing my love for Broadway Musicals, Mrs. Mayse supplied me with the soundtracks to several of my favorite shows, including Wicked and Rent. Like Mrs. Good had done for me two years prior with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, I was prompted to go and buy Gregory Maguire‘s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Upon one of my regular lunchtime visits to her classroom, Mrs. Mayse stated that she had found a solution to her Frankenstein problem “We can read Wicked!”

“That would be… awesome!” I said excitedly. I had already started the novel and loved it, and while I love your classic Romantic era novel, I was looking forward to a break from the noetic syntax.

“I was looking through it last night and realized, I can totally use my lesson plan for Frankenstein on Wicked!” She explained convincingly how Dr. Frankenstein’s quest for knowledge and initial goal to create good, along with the themes of dangerous knowledge, sublime nature, secrecy and monstrosity could all be found bleeding through the pages of Maguire’s novel.

The class initially loved the idea and everyone seemed to race up to Barnes and Noble to buy the revisionist portrait of one of the most beloved villains in popular culture. After enough of the class got through enough of the book however, problems began to arise.

“This is filth!” yelled one parent while I was working on another assignment with her daughter. “It makes me sick that my child is being forced to read this, this abomination!”

I should probably tell you now that my class was overflowing with some very religious students. We had, in one class the children of the pastors at the First Baptist Church, the Missionary Baptist Church and the Methodist Church in town. Also in my class were very devoted members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, The Roman Catholic Church and a new non-demonational church that occupied an old Wal-Mart and boasted a very popular coffee shop. I personally have been to said coffee shop and find it quite wonderful.

Gregory Maguire’s novel famously describes Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) as well other characters in graphic sexual situations and even includes one scene where zoophilia (beastiality) occurs between a human and an Animal (Maguire capitalizes the first letters of Animals such as Tigers to depict which ones had speaking capabilities).

Failing to look into, or understand the true meaning of  the sexual education and maturation of the characters of the novel (there were some obvious consequences to many of their actions), parents stormed in a frenzy to have my beloved English teacher reprimanded. At the time all this was going on, I was also dealing with the Mr. M incident and was in and out of the principal’s office regularly being forced to discuss the bullying I had been subjected to prior the overnight trip that destroyed my fortified trust in my former role model.

Scared of the consequences of outing Mr. M as a pedophile (both his and mine), I regularly turned the conversation to the Wicked controversy. Since all my classes and extra-curricular activities were interwoven with the same students, this was easy to do and somehow allowed me to compartmentalize the situation. Wicked became my escape from my reality, and Oz was a world that, although littered with suppression as well as human and Animal rights violations, it wasn’t my world and allowed me to focus on something else that wasn’t my problem.

Mrs. Pargas, ( the principal at Belen High School) told me “I just think it’s ridiculous and unwarranted” referring to Mrs. Mayse’s choice of literature. Mrs. Pargas once held Mrs. Mayse’s position before her promotion. “I mean, I hold another degree in psychology and I can tell you that I just don’t agree with this choice.” She also went on to complain that her promotion put her in a new tax bracket and in reality now made less than what she had as an AP English teacher. I should remind you that this was the person who refused to let me speak a couple years later about Mr. M’s private confession to sleeping with young, male students, among other things that I really wished to open up about.

Immediately following another pointless meeting with my school administrator, and after all our final Wicked assignments were turned in, I stopped in to find Mrs. Mayse in her class as bubbly as ever. During the whole debacle, I always made sure she knew she had my support, not just as a student, but as a truly curious mind who was on his own little quest for knowledge.

“Guess what!?” Mrs. Mayse nearly flew out of her seat when I walked in.

“What?” I welcomed the burst of enthusiasm like a Lexaprotein smoothie.

“Well, it turns out that Gregory Maguire heard about the difficulty I had in this… community with his book and wrote me a letter of encouragement and support for teaching his material.” She was truly beaming at the unexpected consequence of her action, and I, for the first time felt like that little piece of paper she was sent somehow validated my entire education until that point. I realized, thanks to Mrs. Mayse, that although the road isn’t easy and sometimes totals your vehicle completely, you sometimes get something better in the end. For Mrs. Mayse it was the approval of one of her favorite authors, for me, it was another role model who couldn’t have known just how much she actually helped me through my final year of high school.

For the record, I was only one of 3 people to pass the AP Literature exam at the end of the year from Belen High School. I took both Mrs. Good’s and Mrs. Mayse’s literary suggestions, challenged myself, and thought outside the box. One of the writing prompts suggested Kate Chopin’s The Awakening a novel which Mrs. Pargas brought up in one of our sessions as a heavy piece of literature that she dared not add to her curriculum for fear of parental backlash.

American Queen of Distaste

Glee‘s Darren Criss has been dazzling TV audiences with a sexy voice and a clean cut prep look that has the whole country taking notice, including some very sad gays who are upset that, although he’s adorably convincing onscreen, in real life, Darren Criss is, well… straight.

While examining the topic (ok I was really just googling images and listening to Glee tracks featuring my favorite new Gleek) I came across Perez Hilton‘s post covering the star’s recent cover on OUT Magazine. Perez’s post was titled “Darren Criss Comes Out” and started with the line “ugh we wish!”

While the celebrity blogger did go on to applaud Darren for his interview and television portrayal of an out teenager, I couldn’t help but focus on his statement “ugh we wish!” First of all… who is “we” and why do you so badly want this person to be gay? I mean, no offense to Perez, but I have a little hunch that if Mr. Criss did play for “our team” as so many of “us” put it, he probably wouldn’t be shooting him a text to join him for a candlelight dinner followed by a long walk anywhere.

I sort of liken it to my fantasy that Bradley Cooper‘s sexuality be more accommodating to my liking, but that would no sooner mean that I stood any more chance at happily ever after with the Hollywood hunk than a morbidly obese librarian in Bumblecock Ohio would. I’m just saying, Perez (Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr.) lives in his own, strange little world where outing celebrities and making premature and sometimes false announcements about others is alright.

Though it is now old news, some of you may not remember that the celebrity blogger was cited as being partially responsible for the outing of Lance Bass. When questioned about the issue, he replied “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If you know something to be a fact, why not report it? Why is that still taboo?” Clearly the fact that his reporting sometimes hurts people doesn’t seem to phase him.

I stand by AfterEllen.com contributing writer Kim Ficera when she wrote of the topic-

“I have to question the character of a man who attacks others on such deeply personal levels, without provocation and for self-benefit, monetary or otherwise….If he’s emotionally incapable of exhibiting even the tiniest bit of compassion for closeted people, if he can’t be sensitive to the fact that coming out is a very personal decision and that the process can be difficult for some — especially celebrities — I feel sorry for him. If his juvenile behavior is his shtick, I think it makes him a much more pathetic figure, and one the gay and lesbian community should not support…If we support behavior like Hilton’s, we applaud shallowness, arrogance, rage and invasion of privacy, and risk becoming what we despise”                                                         

I personally feel bad for this man who is obviously so deprived of a satisfying love life within his own “community” that he has to publicly and unsuccessfully “wish” for certain heterosexual celebrities to play on his team. Even if Darren Criss pitched, Perez Hilton surely wouldn’t be catching. 

Rent The Runway

Dazzling Deco Gown

Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent

Last night, as I was wallowing in self-pity following the worst laundry day of my life, I heard a knock on the door. This usually means one of two things if the buzzer hasn’t been sounded from the building entrance- a Chinese delivery man has the wrong apartment and will annoyingly tempt me with smells of fried rice and some type of Asian chicken dish, or, my neighbor from across the hall is popping over for a quick visit.

I answered the door to find my neighbor, Echo Blum in a stunning evening gown already smiling heartily at my anticipated reaction.

“Wow!” I exclaimed “What’s this all about?”

“I’m going to the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala tonight” she said proudly “you like?” I nodded and verbalized my sincere approval and love of her beautiful gown, a pink silk chiffon number with a black overlay and sweetheart neckline. She truly radiated with the spark of old Hollywood.

“Where did you get it?”

Rent The Runway!” she exclaimed enthusiastically “It’s this website where you can rent designer dresses and jewelry for events and whatnot and then return them without the longterm investment.”

“Brilliant” I said while she pulled her hair back to reveal stunning Elizabeth Cole Crystal Burst Earrings.

“Alright, I guess I’m off” said Echo who was a little sad neither of our roommates were also around to partake in her pre-gala primping.

Later in the evening, I took a cab to the Eventi Hotel on 30th and 6th, as I passed the New York Public library (where the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala was being held), I marveled at the vast lines of people, dressed in gowns and tuxes waiting patiently to get in. Luckily, Echo was smart enough to not only rent the runway, but she beat the rush as well.

You can get Echo’s look and many others by visiting www.renttherunway.com . Echo’s runway  look was made complete with a Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent Dazzling Deco Gown and Elizabeth Cole Crystal Burst Earrings. With a combined retail value of over $630, Echo saved over $500 on a onetime, guilt-free runway look. When you sign up to “rent the runway”, don’t forget to use Echo Blum as reference :-)

Elizabeth Cole Crystal Burst Earrings

Grace Note: Courtney Mills

As this year’s winners of the annual Gerda Lissner Competition prepare for their May 23rd Zankel Hall performance, I sat down with soprano Courtney Mills to discuss her recent 2nd place win as well as what makes this soprano tick.

Jacob Paul:  You won your award from The Gerda Lissner Foundation singing Dich Teure Halle from Wagner’s Tannhauser; what prompted your repertoire choice?

Courtney Mills: For competitions and auditions, singers offer 4-5 Arias. Dich Teure Halle is one of my main audition arias. I enjoy singing it because it really allows you to open up the voice. This particular aria has a special place in my repertoire because it is one of the aria’s I was able to perform while a young artist with Maestro Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. That was truly one of the most amazing moments I have experienced. Wagner really knows how to write lines that soar and make you feel like you are flying over the orchestra. That is especially true of this piece.

JP: It’s my understanding that you’ll be singing the aria at Zankel Hall.

CM: Yes! I’m looking forward to it.

JP: You, like many young singers with soaring voices, try to steer away from categorizing yourself in a particular fach.

CM: Yes, I do. I think it is dangerous to categorize yourself especially as a young singer, while the voice is still growing. You need to have a focus in what you sing, but you also need to adapt and change with how your voice develops. I began singing in high school with the Queen of the Night, Blondchen, and Cunegonde. These are all roles that are now incredibly inappropriate for my voice. I believe if you feel good singing something and you don’t have to strain yourself to sing it, you should go for it. I personally have a large voice, but it comes from a high soprano placement and it likes to move. A lot of other large voiced young soprani may have started as mezzos therefore what is comfortable for them may not be as comfortable for me and vice versa. Also, some roles such as Butterfly and Tosca, written by the same composer for a similar weight of voice feel completely different. Tosca for me is fun to sing while Butterfly is not. It’s all so personal. I can say that it’s very important to know your own instrument and what you can do comfortably so that you can make intelligent decisions when it comes to rep and casting. The cast of Cosi fan tutte at one house might be light lyric voices and the cast at another might be slightly more weighty. It all has to do with the mix of the voices.  Price has sung Fiordiligi and so have a lot of lighter voices. One isn’t more correct than the other necessarily- it’s all personal preference. Another good example is Boheme. Some people prefer Mimi to have a larger voice than Musetta because she is the main character, others think Musetta should be larger because her personality is written to be more like Mae West.

JP: You made your Metropolitan Opera Debut while a member of the house’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. Can you tell me what that experience meant to you?

CM: Wow, it was an experience of a lifetime. I mean how often do you get to do anything for thousands of people all at once, let alone something you love? It was also really great to get to have my family there to see me accomplish the goal they had been supporting me with for the previous seven or more years. More than that though, the Metropolitan has a magical presence. The orchestra is the best in the world, the acoustic is the best in the world, and the ghosts that haunt the stage are the best singers in history.  To be able to sing on that stage at all is life changing. When I was being considered for the Young Artist program, we had an audition on the main stage and that moment more than any other singing moment has a special place in my heart and memory. The energy in that space is palpable.

JP: You’ve had a lot of interesting performance experiences since… including singing on a French National radio broadcast live from the Louvre Museum.

CM: Yes, that was another great moment for me. They have a beautiful auditorium and their musical series is really phenomenal. I get updates in my email and I wish it was an easier commute to go see concerts there because the list of artists and events is really quite impressive. I came to sing there because one of the patron’s heard me in Verbier. It was a really awesome surprise when they contacted me for a recital. I was honored to be included in their recital series.

JP: You are covering the title role in Verdi’s Luisa Miller this summer at Chautauqua Opera; how is the preparation going? I mean I’ve even seen you at a local Starbucks with your score in hand!

CM: Haha yes! Well, for me the words are the most important aspect. You have to know what you are saying and why, so that you can understand why the composer wrote the music a certain way. You know, back when Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi were composing, the librettist was actually billed first and then the composer, so you would see Luisa Miller listed by Salvadore Cammarano and composed by Giuseppe Verdi- not the other way around. Today we all know the composers and not the librettists, it’s an interesting reversal. I also really like to feel connected to the character and this is the easiest way to get a feel for the character. So I begin by translating (yes I use my Nico Castel books, but I also like to look up words on my own so that I really know the text), then I memorize the text while listening to the music, and finally I learn the notes with piano. Also it helps save a bit of money on coachings which can be really expensive in New York City. So yes, I do a lot of work sans piano at Starbucks.

When not at Starbucks learning her latest operatic role, Miss Mills can be found in NYC’s piano bars  singing her favorite classical musical theatre and jazz standards.

Urban Palate: Julie DeMarre

With her increasingly popular “Starving Artist Sundays”, and a knack for capturing the inner beauty of her clientele, Julie DeMarre is quickly becoming one of the cities most sought after portrait photographers.

Jacob Paul: What I find amazing is that photography started out as a hobby for you.

Julie DeMarre: Yes, it was… I realized a long time ago when I was in school that I really enjoyed photography; it was something that I was passionate about and I just really loved taking pictures. The way I perceived a job when I was younger was, that you work to live, you don’t live to work and you just do something that can pay the bills and afterwards you can go and live your life. I never realized that you could connect passion and love with work because I grew up seeing people who were stuck in jobs they really didn’t like and I just always expected that out of life. I honestly never thought of photography as a potential career for me, and because of the fact it was just something I loved doing I didn’t want to be forced into taking classes or I guess be molded into what someone else’s idea of photography was. I just wanted to learn the basics, develop the necessary skills and discover my voice for myself.

JP: New York is great for that.

JD: That’s exactly what this city has allowed me to do! I feel as if I’d gotten two master’s degrees and a doctorate in one year because… I doing it. I’m running a business at twenty three years old, it’s insane! I never thought I’d be here. It just comes to show that everything happens for a reason. I mean, thank God I didn’t take photojournalism because I really wouldn’t be here; I’m a portrait photographer and it’s really what I love doing.

JP: What brought you to New York in the first place?

JD: I initially moved to New York City because I got a sales job.

JP: I had no idea about that!

JD: Yeah! I graduated in May, I got hired June 15, 2009 and moved out here the following month with the idea in my head that that was what I needed to do. I thought I needed to get that well-paying corporate job with benefits so my boyfriend and I packed everything up and drove all the way across the country in my dad’s Scion.

JP: So you got to New York and what?

JD: Well, it was nice to get that job because I was able to sign my lease, prove that I had a salary, get myself to New York and… well, I had my job for a week and a half (giggles). I quite halfway through Wednesday; I was like “Umm… yeah I am not doing this job anymore. Thanks for getting me to New York, but I am out!” I got my check for my week and a half and bolted out the door.

JP: Well that takes guts.

JD: It does take guts (pauses) and a savings account!

JP: Was it scary ?

JD: Definitely; I applied for so many different jobs after that. I was doing freelance here and there, even some television projects working as a production assistant, I worked on a TV pilot, and even taking head shots for “So You Think You Can Dance” contestants.

JP: So your own photography business started how then?

JD: Well, while I was doing all this… Suzanne (Vinnik) found out I had a camera

JP: Of course she did!

JD: Haha! Well she saw some picture of some random shot I took in Central Park and suggested we do a photo shoot together and… well have you ever seen the photo of her on her old roof? (Referring to a fall 2009 fashion portrait of rising soprano Suzanne Vinnik.)

JP: Yes I have! I love that portrait of her!

JD: That was my very first New York photo shoot… it took me maybe fifteen minutes to do that and after she posted the pictures on Facebook, my whole business sort of blossomed because all her friends continually asked her for my information; I really have Suzanne Vinnik to thank for helping me start my business.

JP: From that to “Starving Artist Sundays”! Can you tell me more about that?

JD: Sure! What I love about working with young artists in the city is the pure drive that everyone seems to have when they’re just starting, but one thing that all these wonderful people seem to share is the lack of economic resources to go out and spend $1,500 on a quality head shot, and why should a quality photograph cost that much anyway when it’s supposed to be a tool to get you the job in the first place? I just thought it was ridiculous, and unfortunate for people who are just starting out. So I came up with a way to offer my services to those people who are just starting out, somewhat in the way that I am as well.

JP: What I love about your work is that I really feel that you capture your clients’ personalities; when I look at a portrait you’ve taken of Suzanne Vinnik or Amanda Workman, I really see who they are, and not some crazy alternate version of how they might look more makeup or bigger cheekbones.

JD: I think that’s the most important thing about headshot photography, and I really feel a lot of people forget that you need to look like yourself in your head shot, and you need to have some sort of personality showing as well. I mean, I want to see who you are; I don’t want to just see that you can put on makeup and just stand there. Because the second you walk in to a casting, these people are going to see who you really are and when you walk away you’ve left this little piece of paper that should sort of speak for itself and say “Oh, by the way, I’m awesome… don’t forget.” And also, if you don’t look like yourself in your portrait, they’re going to say “wait who was this!?” And that’s what I try and get the best version of you when I take your portrait.

JP: I met you just over a year ago when I assisted a photo shoot of yours for a Starving Artist Sunday, and what I loved is that everyone who came in just had the absolute best time shooting with you; from the music you had your clients select to trying different “smile tricks” the laughter continued all day!

JD: You have to sex it! If I can leave one piece of advice for your readers, it’s to sex before taking your pictures. I do it for every DMV portrait! As juvenile as it may seem… I just find that if a person looks down at the ground and whispers “sex” before taking a picture, they tend to giggle and therefore, give the best, most natural smile possible. It’s just something that’s so silly that, it works.

JP: (pulling out my driver’s license) I did it the last time I renewed my license!

JD: Oh let me see (she grabs my id). See! You look great!

Starving Artist Sundays are a semi-weekly event held by Julie DeMarre Photography. With a flat rate of $150, you get…

*full makeup application

*one hour with Julie

*as many looks as you and her team can manage within that time

*one fully re-touched image with unlimited edits

*a high quality file for you to print out your shots at your leisure and convenience (this is actually unheard of guys… you’d usually have to pay your photographer for additional re-prints)

Caterine Molina

Sarah Henry

John Arthur Green

Broadway Actor

Amanda Workman


Suzanne Vinnik





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