Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sandy WTF (What the Flood)

It's been a year since Sandy welcomed me to the lovely town of Hoboken.

 When I was moving from Warren, New Jersey, a few months prior to her arrival, I was repeatedly asked why I would ever want to leave the tranquility of suburbia. People I knew couldn't fathom my giving up 3 acres and a beautiful 5500 square foot house for a new home half the size, nearly void of privacy.

 My response now is the same as it was then: It gets tiring spending every weekend hangin’ with the squirrels and deer! (Not that I don't adore the woodland creatures. But the nice thing is, if I should ever want a wildlife fix, it's a stone’s throw away
from Hoboken.) Simply put, I wanted to be where there was life, and Hoboken provided me with that. Even better, Hoboken is a “No Car Necessary” zone. (which is funny since Ironically ,the number one complaint in this city is the lack of parking.) I can walk almost everywhere, and when I’m not inclined to travel on foot, a $5 taxi ride will get me anywhere in this great little community: I love all the mom and pop shops, the various festivals, the restaurants and the people here.
 ( A little triva : Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken)

I could go on and on. But most of all, I absolutely LOVE that NYC, my "sandbox," is literally in my backyard. In a mere six minute ferry ride– yes, six minutes! – I can be smack dab in the middle of the city that never sleeps. The Big Apple is the view from Hoboken, and to me, there’s nothing better. To quote Nora Ephron, “I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.” Nora read my mind.

 But when Sandy hit, I couldn’t help it: my feelings for this town waivered for a bit (okay, a lot more than a bit), and for a few months, I thought maybe I should pack it in and move West – at least out there, you only get flash floods, not Trap-You-in-Your-House floods.

 But once the debris and grime were cleaned away and businesses began to reopen, I found myself falling back in love with this one square mile town. As Sandy wreaked her havoc, my neighbors were all looking out for each other, including me, the Newbie on the Block. When Hurricane Irene hit Warren the year before, the response from my longtime neighbors on my quiet street was, to say the least, very different (Melissa and Mike excluded – thanks again, you guys)!

 As luck would have it, I had a friend from Burgundy, France visiting the week Sandy was scheduled to arrive. Ominous news reports prompted me to ask anyone and everyone I encountered, “What it was like here during hurricane Irene???” The consensus was that it was no big deal, and that residents evacuated for nothing…still, I was warned: Be Prepared Just in Case. Like everyone else, as Sandy approached, I
shopped in anticipation of a power outage.

 As the winds kicked up, my friend, in his heavy French accent, said, “Let’s go to the water! I want to see!" According to him, France never experiences hurricanes, so being the good hostess that I am, we trekked down to the river. It was still early, and Sandy had not yet revealed her power and intensity. Surprisingly, other than the wind gusts, there was only some flooding by the Path Train. Nothing alarming, really – more like a clogged toilet that shouldn’t have been flushed. So back we went.

 The four of us – me, my friend, and my two boys – were preparing for a comfy night at home: the Monopoly game was set up, the wine was chilling, and homemade banana bread was being readied for baking. Suddenly, the power went out, and against my warnings, my friend decided to take one last look by the river. I had visions of reading about him in the morning paper. Headline: Crazy Frenchman Found on Shore Wearing Only a Beret! Thankfully, he returned quickly with the latest report on the storm- he told us, “The river is rising!”

I decided not to worry, as we were eight blocks away from the water and had plenty of supplies, including food and wine, to last us. (Yes, let us never forget about the wine!) Instead, I began to improvise. I barbequed some chicken and paired it with a bottle of 1992 Verget Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru, Cote de Beaune, from France. (This particular vintage is difficult to find, but the 2002 and 2005 are not, and will substitute just as nicely.) Just reading the label of this wine and most Burgundian wines sorta explains why most stick with wines from Calli and the like. Understanding wines from Burgundy France can be daunting even for some experts. But trust me these wines are worth the exploration. In blogs to follow I will give some more information on these wines to see if i cannot help make the journey easier.

 For dessert, I made French Toast using challah bread (although I actually prefer Panattone – recipe to follow!) paired with a 1997 Condrieu "Ayguets", Yves Cuilleron. A lot of people don’t seem to be interested in dessert wines and to be honest it was a long while before i found myself ordering a glass instead of coffee but you must take my word for it that once you do you’ll never request a cup of “joe” after you entre ever again. (If you're interested in trying it, you can find it here: .

 Moments later, my older son looked out his bedroom window, calling me over to see the sight. My street had turned into a  river!  Quickly, we ran down to our barricaded front door to investigate.
 The water was not gushing in like an open fire
hydrant, but more like that toilet bowl I mentioned early, seeping into our foyer in spite of the fact that earlier, our neighbors secured the front door with sandbags. My neighbor Ann and her husband Jim, who live above us and whom we just adore) were already downstairs trying to move their belongings out of harm’s way. Here is part of my story where I’m going to ask you NOT to judge me: without thinking (emphasis on the without), I pulled out my dry- vac (hey, no judging, remember?) and tried to vacuum up the water as it entered. That lasted for about a 30 seconds when it dawned upon me just how ridiculous this was.
 My younger son asked if we should be worried, but I told him no, as worst case scenario, we could head for the roof.

 Moments after we were back upstairs, the smell of gasoline filled the air. So now, not only did we have sea water and sewage cascading down our street, we had our very own version of “Valdez.” (This was never confirmed, but I was told later that an old building up the street from us had an ancient, corroded oil tank which spilled almost 2000 gallons of oil). The water was rising even higher. We saw a car parked across the street, but just barely, as the water had almost reached its doors.
 We raced downstairs once again to assess the damage, and found the water had reached the second step into our house, which meant that our garage and storage unit – where I stored clothes,( if you recall I just moved in and had not finished unpacking ) holiday decorations, furniture, business materials, part of my wine collection, and personal memorabilia – were also filling up. But nothing could be done. We were helpless against the storm, so back we went to our endless game of Monopoly.

 When faced with a crisis, never ask, “What else could possibly happen?”  This time, it was a resounding boom from the back of the house caused by an exploding transformer. All I kept thinking was, “Where the hell did I move?!" My cell phone rang, but I was hesitant to pick it up. The voice, muffled by the sounds of sirens in the background, said, "There is a power line down in front of your home. Do not go outside." Not that I would have, or even could have, since my street now mimicked the rapids of the Delaware River.

 So there we were, water filling up my brand new home, the smell of gasoline permeating every corner, and sirens blaring non-stop throughout the night, and into the days to follow. (It wasn't until a month later that I realized that I, like so many of us who lived through this, had PTSD. For the longest time after Sandy, I couldn't hear a siren without my stomach automatically go into knots.)

 The next morning, the water had stopped rising, but unfortunately, had not receded. My son was able to reach out to my friend and savior in Manhattan, Ed (who, BTW, also came to our rescue during Hurricane Irene), which meant that once we were able to get out, we had a place to stay. But for the immediate future, we were trapped: no electricity, no hot water, no heat. The sirens would occasionally intermix with warnings from the National Guard trucks driving down the street. Guardsmen would
intermittently shout warnings via bull horns for us to remain in our homes.
In the face of all this chaos, I was neither afraid nor worried. I knew we were going to be fine.

It was Halloween when we were finally were able to get out. With plastic garbage bags tied over our shoes and around our legs so not to be exposed to the contaminated water ( garbage bag leggings were the latest in fall “floodwear” that year),  we began our journey to the 14th Street Ferry. The only way out of town was on foot, and there was a route from our home where the water had receded enough for us to maneuver.

 As we headed for the ferry, we looked like refugees, carrying our backpacks and trudging through the muck.

 It is during times like these when life tests you, and you discover things about yourself that you may have never been aware of. Are you strong emotionally, or do you fall apart when there's an emergency? Would you want you around during a crisis? It is also a time when an epiphany or two may strike - not immediately, mind you, as disasters have to be addressed on the spot. But once things are under control, enlightenment happens- at least for me it did.

It's difficult, if not impossible, to see the silver lining while in the throes of a chaos. It's only afterwards when your normal life returns that you see the gift you’ve been given. Call it God, Mother Nature, the Universe…the blessing cloaked in sea water and sewage made me take a step back and reevaluate my life;  Are my days filled with busy, are they spent with those most important to me?  -memorbilia that I was holding on to- for what? it's the past - move on… stuff… so much stuff… how I still managed to have things in my garage of “you never know” like the lonely one tile left over from redoing the bathroom is beyond me

 Now as promised, my Hurricane Sandy Menu and Recipes!

 Simple Tasty Grilled Chicken

 Chicken thighs, breasts, etc. Just be sure not to remove the skin.
 3 tablespoons of olive oil
 Black Pepper
Minced garlic
 The following fresh herbs:
 3 sprigs rosemary 2 bay leaves 3 sprigs oregano 3 sprigs sage 3 sprigs thyme

 Remove herb leaves from stems and finely chop them. In a mixing bowl, place all ingredients. Rub the mixture on chicken parts, saving some to place under the skin. Cook on medium flame until the juices run clear, approximately 6 minutes on each side (cook larger pieces longer).

 Scrumptious French Toast Dessert

 Panettone or Challah bread
Two eggs
 Melted 1/2 pint of vanilla ice cream
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
 Cap of vanilla extract
 Maple syrup
 Butter or coconut spray optional -
 powdered sugar (optional)
 Trim the bottom crust of the bread. Starting slicing it into ¾ in. slices, then gently toast them in your toaster. (If possible, use the “bagel” setting on your toaster if you have one; if not, cut the slices thinner so they can fit nicely.)
 In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until well blended. Add the ice cream, and whisk until evenly mixed. Melt 1 teaspoon of butter (or coconut cooking spray) on a large nonstick griddle over medium heat. Dip slices of the toasted bread into the mix, turning to allow both sides to absorb it. Grill the soaked bread slices until they are golden brown and firm to the touch, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the French toast to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven as you repeat the process until all the bread is used. Plate the French toast, lightly dusting it with powdered sugar. Allow your guests to pour their own syrup to taste. (For an extra treat, I like to heat the syrup just before serving.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Duking it out with Father Time

They say age is just a number, but I think that whoever said it must have Dick Clark’s genes or a painting that's aging in their attic. Most likely, they're the same people who had clear skin and straight teeth in high school.

Here’s a trick: by looking at a typical woman's credit card purchases, you can more or less tell her age. In my twenties, my MasterCard bill from my local pharmacy would have read something like this: Bic disposable razors, a bar of Dove soap, a bottle of Herbal Essence shampoo and an industrial-size can of Sebastian hair spray (I believe I single-handedly destroyed the ozone). Add to those the usual haircut and manicure. (But not just a plain file and polish, mind you. No, this was the 80s, when "usual" meant five inch, tree-climbing long RED tips applied with crazy glue and gauze....move over, Lee Press-ons Active Wear...these babies featured a
super-glam length, with that lovely curve to give them a "natural" look!) My only other expense was tanning in the winter at the local tanning salon a couple of times a week which would leave me with a sad white circle on my derriere.

Fast forward twenty five years. Now, my credit card print-out reads like a laundry list. You know the Verizon commercial that has all the employees standing behind the person using his cell phone? Well, if I were to recreate that commercial for myself, my back-up squad would consist of my hairdresser, my colorist (remember the good ol' days when the same person who dyed your hair also cut it?), surgeon, dermatologist, vein doctor, facialist, orthodontist (yes, I had braces in my 40s), optometrist, manicure/pedicure technician, and my newest partner in crime, my eyelash guru. What for, you ask? For my eyelash extensions! Basically, I'm the bionic woman.

It's funny how things that were considered taboo in one generation are now commonplace. In my mother's day, no one dared to admit that they colored their hair! In fact, in the early 19th century, only a “woman of ill repute” manipulated her crown and glory. (What was the question from Gone With the Wind that Mammy asked Scarlett?..."Do you know a dyed haired woman?") Today, things are, thankfully, more relaxed. We feel totally comfortable asking a complete stranger, “Who did your highlights?” With beauty fixes becoming more common, I predict that it won’t be long before we start asking questions like, “Who did your eyes?"

Remember the TV show, Maude? That show was so ahead of its time. Anyway, one of my favorite lines is from a scene where Maude bumps into a childhood friend. The friend is amazed at how good Maude looks and asks her straight out, “Did you have a facelift?” Maude responds with an indigent NO. The friend then asks, “How did you manage to stay so youthful?” Maude says plainly, "By lying about my facelift."

( Maude Pre-facelift)

I remember once sitting in my colorist’s chair, discussing my options. About ten minutes into our conversation, I said to him that I wished I could be one of those women who wears flannel shirts, jeans, no make-up and couldn’t care less about dying her hair. His response: “They're called lesbians.”

Another hallmark of turning the big 5-0h! is that I can't help but look back on birthdays past, especially the ones where wine was the highlight of the party. One of my best wine birthdays was eight years ago. My late husband Steven arranged it for me at our restaurant Veritas. Almost all of the wines were from my birth year, and although I remember most of them as if it were yesterday, the one that was my favorite, the one that stood out from all the others that day (although all the bottles opened that day were stellar wines), the absolute star of the show, was a jeroboam of 1986 DRC Montrachet .

Time out for some trivia questions:

1-DRC stands for which one of the following?

a-Initials for a soft drink
b-Don't Run Cross-eyed
c-Domaine Romanee Conti

2-Which year did Domaine de la Romanée-Conti take ownership of the vineyard ?


3-How old is the vineyard of Romanee Conti?

a-100 years old
b-250 years old
c-700 years old

4- How many cases of Montrachet DRC are produced per year?


5-True or False; Montrachet DRC is considered by almost all wine critics to be the greatest white burgundy in the world?

6- How many liters is in a jeroboam of wine?


1-Domain Romanee Conti
3-700 years old
4-250 cases per year
6-3 liters, which is = to 4 (750 ml/each) bottles of wine

In everyone's “wine life,” there are special moments. There is the moment when you experience your “launch wine,” or as I like to think of it, your “marriage wine.” It's the wine that seduces you into this world and makes you declare, I DO! The wine that got me to tie the knot was the 1985 Margaux.

If you're lucky, there is another wine that comes along during your Juice Journey, a wine that far exceeds your launch wine, more than you even thought possible. Perhaps another way to describe it, and quite possibly a better way at that, is to call it the wine that would make you want to not just cheat but leave's your soul-mate wine. The 1961 Petrus is my soul mate wine. Think Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston: she would have been his 1985 Margaux, but Angelina is his 1961 Petrus (and even if they split up, I'm sure she'll forever haunt his heart).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hostess with the Mostess!

For me, the question of What to Do for New Year’s always has a weird sort of angst to it, although I'd never admit it. When December rolls around, I start to think, “Ugh – here comes New Year’s…” as opposed to, “YEA! It's almost New Year’s! What should I do?” Maybe it has to do with the great expectations placed upon the evening, not in a Dickensian way, but more in a social pressure kinda way. I even received a FB message from a friend which said, "HAPPY NEW YEAR, LOVER! Have a blast tonight! I know you'll be doing something fabulous! xo!" So was it fabulous, you ask? Well, let me first share some memorable Eves Past (keeping with the Charlie D tone).

My first noteworthy New Year’s was in the land of "what happens here stays here.” I must say, if you're up for a night of crrrrrazy and crazies, Viva Las Vegas is the place to be on New Year’s Eve, especially if you're pre-kids. The best part about it is that no reservations are required in order to have fun. Almost every lobby features a live band and dancing, you're allowed to coast from casino to casino (drink in hand!), and at 12AM, the entire town walks onto the Strip to watch the over-the-top display of fireworks, compliments of the hotels. Fun, Fun, Fun with a capital F! (For the record, dinner on that New Year's Eve was not at a 3 star restaurant but rather a burger joint. I had the best burger I've eaten thus far in my beef-eating life, betta than DB Bistro's Burger, which was pretty darn good when they first opened. This simple feast was had at the Burger Bar. So, in case you find yourself in "Sin City" and are cravin' the patty of patties, you'll find it at the Mandalay Bay Hotel!)

Another New Year’s experience was much more laid back. It was with my boys at the Tanque Verde Ranch in Tuscon, AZ. At 9PM, the Ranch hosts a party for the guests in one of their large banquet rooms.
They have a DJ and – wait for it – B-I-N-G-OOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Bingo and bowling are two things that can make you chuckle when you play them, but only if they’re not staples of your typical Saturday night.

Then there was Times Square – bar none, one of my favorite New Year’s Eves ever! The best kept New Year’s Eve secret in NYC is Tony's of Times Square. You don't go to Tony’s for the food (although it's not bad – it's just not Babbo, or my latest and most favorite Italian restaurant in NYC, L'artusi), but food isn’t the draw on New Year’s – action is! And, if you have a bit of wine snobbery in you the way I do, Tony will even allow you to BYOB, which is a great way to ensure that the juice you'll be drinking will be primo

What really makes Tony’s a hot ticket on New Year’s Eve is the entertainment. Tony hires Broadway performers
to dazzle the audience for two hours, then, at 11:45, everyone is escorted to the middle of Times Square, right smack where the million-plus others are standing to watch the ball drop and the confetti float down. Since 2005, the crowd finishes
the moment by singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” (something to be a part of once in your's also one of those moments that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside). My year, we kept the party going by heading over to the W NY on Lexington. We hung out in the lounge where a hottie DJ turned the lobby into the nightclub of nightclubs, drank champagne and laughed until the wee hours! The extra bonus was it was only an elevator ride home.

(Quick history lesson: Dropping the ball in Times Square has been taking place since 12/31/1907, and the ball itself is made of Waterford Crystal. The original name of Times Square was Longacre Square; however, the New York Times headquarters was located at One Longacre Square – now One Times Square – which, in 1904, was the second tallest building in Manhattan. The powers that be at the paper convinced the city to rename the triangular "square" after their publication. In1904, they were granted their request, and to celebrate, the paper’s owner decided to shoot off fireworks from the roof on December 31, 1904, with 200,000 people in attendance. By 1907, the ball was added to draw more attention to the newly named landmark, and a tradition was born!)

This New Year’s was low-key. I was invited to my WFF (wine food friend) Marilice's home. Hands down, she wins the award for being the Hostess with the Mostess! Cleverly, she brought together a great mix of people, which is always the main ingredient for a successful party. Then, of course, there's the food and wine. Not having a sit down dinner was also the way to go, but what I loved even more was that she asked her guests, including yours truly, to bring their favorite dish. It was an evening of non-stop tasty goodies…

Here is where I need to take a brief pause. You know how I rave about my meatballs, and how the only other meata-balls I’ve ever liked were Joanie Menachell's mom's? (For those of you who are new to my blog, Joanie is my childhood friend from the Island of Staten.) Well, Debbie-Marilice's buddy - made her meatballs for Marilice's shindig ...I ATE TWO! TWO! I then nonchalantly asked her what was in those marvelous meatballs that threatened my title of The Greatest Meatball-Maker of Them All. It was obvious that she had had quite a bit of the Rosé Billicart-Salmon that I brought, because she divulged her recipe in a snap. I struggled, however, to understand the exact measurements of most of the ingredients. For the record, my lack of comprehension had nothing to do with auditory malfunctioning on my part; instead, her speech seemed to be impaired. (I’m kidding…she wasn't slurring. At least, not so much that anyone else noticed ;-0!)

Since it was unseasonably warm, Wayne, Marilice's husband (and a great man in his own right) barbecued shrimp, lamb and beef skewers. For the third time in 2011, I opened the 2008 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, and it showed just as great as it had the first time. (Btw, it was a nice accompaniment to the beef skewers, and will be the last time I have it for a while as I am curious to see how it will cellar/age over the next five years.) One of Wayne’s friends created a smorgasbord of caviar, salmon, prosciutto and hummus along with a bunch of other wonderful fixins too numerous to recall.
Since I'm dieting, I made my favorite salad with apples, endive, celery, cucumber, etc., all mixed together with an olive oil agave dressing. Feeling a bit playful, I brought my popcorn popper to make truffle popcorn, and, last but not least, a 1970 Taylor Port with dark chocolate for dessert…for me, there is no better end to a meal than a glass of port and a piece of chocolate.

We played pool, ate, drank, talked movies and theater and told jokes. Then, as many American households do, we gathered around the TV (or in this case, flat screen), and watched the ball drop. Not as magical as being there, but very special in its own right... thank you, Wayne and Marilice, for inviting me to your fabulous home, and for giving me a truly special and memorable New Year’s Eve to add to my list of The Greats.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Xmas 2011 – Ebenezers Unite!

As much as I tried this year to be jolly and bright, I couldn't even muster up one Ho-ho-ho. I had carefully planned what I thought would be one of the best Christmases ever, but “Bah, humbugger,” it was a bust.

I booked rooms for us at the W NY Hotel, one of the best places to stay in NYC. We were in midtown, which means we were moments away from most of the holiday season action.

On the 24th, my son Grant and I woke late morning, had breakfast and then were off to get festive. We window-shopped and sang carols as we strolled down Fifth Avenue, watched the skaters at Rockefeller Center, got haircuts (okay, that's not holidayish, but it sure is a treat), visited Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and bought presents.

While out looking for "Christmas," we stumbled upon the French restaurant, La Grenouille. What a find La Grenouille is. (Btw, grenouille means "frogs legs.") It's incredibly elegant, with a dining room that has all the beauty, warmth and charm of French restaurants from years past. Turns out that La Grenouille is the last of the greats. Remember Lutèce, La Côte Basque and Lespinasse? Well, La Grenouille was part of that same Frenchpack cuisine and just happened to open the same year I was born...destiny!

We hit one snag: this is a formal dining space and we were not appropriately dressed. But as luck would have it, this worked to our advantage. Why? Because we had to dine upstairs, which is really where you want to be after a morning of shopping and singing. Talk about a drop-dead-gorgeous space! I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Before La Grenouille became a restaurant, it was a stable and, according to our server, housed the carriage for the Vanderbilts when they lived in what is now the Cartier Mansion.

Upstairs also has quite the story: the space was once the home of the French artist Bernard Lamotte. This atelier was nicknamed Le Bocal (the fishbowl) since many bohemian artists and French expats would hang out there with him and his wife. The Lamottes also entertained some of the top A-Listers of the day: Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich, just to name a few. And, three of his paintings still adorn the walls!

As we sipped our 2009 Puligny-Montrachet ( tasting note: if you're looking for a fruit forward white don't look to the 09 Puligny-Montrachet why? because this wine is all about the mineralty) and ate frogs legs (after all, how could you not order the frogs legs) things were beginning to look a lot more like Christmas. Sadly it didn't last...

After our wonderful experience at La Grenouille, we did a little more shopping, and then headed back to our hotel to dress for the evening’s affairs. At four o’clock, we went for a nosh at db Bistro Moderne located across the street from Lincoln Center. We ordered the Charcuteries thinking, "What a perfect bite to have before the show, and more importantly, how can anyone mess up cold cuts?” To answer that question, the cured meats were fine; however, I wish I could say the same for the pȃtés. If I had only one word to describe them, it wouldn't be an actual word but rather a syllable: Uck!

We had one glass of wine, which I won’t bother mentioning, as it, too, was a disappointment. At that point, I was starting to feel like Debbie Downer, so I quickly tried to switch gears by suggesting we go next door for hot cocoa and cappuccinos. Sadly, the mood there was not much better: the staff was annoyed by having to work on Christmas Eve, and the patrons were grumpy because the store was crowded. Oy vey already! Time to move on! I had hoped that things would improve once we crossed the avenue in the warm December air. Wait – maybe that was it! It's December, and it feels more like March. No, that's silly, isn’t it? How could the weather be the culprit for this Ebenezer’s Eve that has taken the skip out of our step and replaced it with a Quasimodo drag?

Whether it was the weird temperatures or not, I was determined to drum up some spirit and was relying on Hansel and Gretel at the Met to "bring it!" Seeing this opera on Xmas Eve has been on my "To Be Experienced” list for a long time, the same way going to the Macy's Parade on Thanksgiving and spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square used to be. Supposedly, it's the opera to see before all other operas, as it will leave such a wonderful impression on you that you'll be encouraged to see others. Think of it as your Launch Opera.

Some trivia: the German composer Engelbert Humperdinck (no relation to the pop singer, whose real name is Arnold how did he end up with Jerry as a first name? His friends would call him Jerry because he often imitated comedian Jerry Lewis, and like most nicknames, it stuck) wrote Hansel and Gretel, and it was first performed on December 23, 1893, in Weimar, Germany. Even though its first performance in America was in October 1895, the opera became synonymous with Christmas. Perhaps its holiday association is due to it being the first complete opera broadcast from the Met on Christmas Day, 1931.

Arriving at the Met is always special. The fountain was lit (btw, every time I see the fountain, I flashback to the scene from the movie Moonstruck. You know, when Cher is rendezvousing with Nicholas Cage to see La Boheme?), and everyone was dressed so nicely. We arrived early enough to leisurely find our seats just as the starburst crystal chandeliers began ascending to the ceiling. The orchestra began playing, the curtain rose and the singing started. Yes, it was in English, but that didn’t mean we were able to understand what they were saying...

Halfway into Act One, it was clear that my guests were bored. I tried to make light during intermission by suggesting we operatically sing our conversations for the rest of the evening.
I started by singing that we indulge in a glass of champagne! We're at the Met, it's Xmas Eve, let’s be festive and have something that sparkles! Great idea, right? WRONG. Complete fail. I'm thinking at $18 a glass, it should be okay. It was UNdrinkable, which killed me. Why not at least serve Korbel? After all, it's the MET, not Lou's Playhouse! Serve something decent! Sheesh.

So let’s sum things up... I have three guests who were served food that was barely edible, drank less than average wine, are now bored out of their minds and can’t even get a decent glass of bubbly. It's got to get better, no? The bells rang to announce that intermission was over, so we made our way back to our seats. Things picked up with the arrival of the big heads. (That's also around the same time my ADD kicked in...all I kept thinking about during the scene with the big heads were the people inside those costumes – how hard they must have worked, all the money they spent on singing lessons, how they must have suffered for the love of their art, perhaps even sacrificed romance, lived meagerly, ate cereal for dinner, but how it was all worth it to follow their passion, their dream, knowing in their heart of hearts that their big break would eventually come! Then one day, the phone rings and it's their agent on the other end of the line announcing that they landed a role AT THE MET in a production of one of the most famous operas in musical history! Imagine their joy at that moment, only to be dashed by another moment five seconds later when they learn that they'll be playing the part of the third big head on the right in Act Two.

I would love to tell you how, after the performance, it started to snow as we headed to have a late dinner at Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar, and that the wine and food were delightful and the service incomparable, but I would be lying. It was understaffed, obnoxiously crowded and they were out of the Christmas goose. We officially became the Three Scrooges, even though there were four of us!

Conclusion: Next year I will look for Christmas at the Beach!