Thursday, March 31, 2011

Three Great Movie Experiences Though Not Necessarily Three Great Movies

I used my bridge last evening that Neil set up for me.  I clawed it, I drank some water, and then he gave me foam.  Neil and Eric were watching something they’d recorded.  It’s on “The List,” which they’re always worried about keeping up with and then deleting stuff.  I wish they'd record That Darn Cat! because I've heard them talking about it and I bet it's purr-fect.  

      1 My Mom would take me to movies as a kid, but the rating system and its policing by ‘cinema’ staff was much more stringent in Britain than the U.S.  We did get to see Fiddler on the Roof in 1973 and, even though I whispered a ton of questions (including how long it would go on because it was three hours and I was seven), I still remember the grays and browns of the art direction.  It was a poor, lively, village in the middle of nowhere Russia and it was about to be destroyed by both the Cossacks and the younger generation.  I’ve seen it onstage and it looked so bright and fake; the movie captured both the hope and the despair.  

      Usually whoever plays Tevye is heaped with praise.  However, Topol nailed it by not overplaying the role. It also helped that he was younger and physically smaller than other actors playing the part before and since because he did not overpower the rest of the cast.  (Later I got in a huff and wouldn’t accompany my Mom to see The Way We Were.  She went on her own and didn’t come back for five hours because she sat through it a second time.  I kick myself still that I didn’t see it with her).

      2 My Mom would try to get us into movies like All The President’s Men and Annie Hall in England and it never worked out because the rating system was harsher in terms of the age cut-offs and the ticket sellers checked everyone and had no problem kicking people out of the cinema.  We did see all the live action Disney films like That Darn Cat! and The Shaggy D.A., but we'd arrive late, have to figure out what was going on, and then stay for the beginning of the next showing.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Via Vite Electrifies Fountain Square

It was Saturday night and I knew what that most likely meant.  Yep, I was right.  The guys made arrangements to take Lisa out for a second celebration of her birthday.  These two really like to make a celebration last!  I, on the other paw, was more than content to stay at home and relax.

      Is any restaurant closer to the geographical heart of Cincinnati than Via Vite?  It sits adjacent to the fountain in Fountain Square and, with two storey windows, it has the best view of city’s epicenter.  It is a sleek, elegant space and the architectural line is reflected in the china, bar area, open kitchen, and in many of the dishes themselves.  It can be cold in winter because of the windows, but it’s the kind of place where you can see all types of people (local celebrities, tourists, downtown regulars, the hoi polloi, and us) and its variety of menus encourages a prolonged vibrancy in the square.  The booths and the banquettes on the perimeter of the main floor give the best view of both the restaurant and its surroundings.

The Dining Room
The Bar and Open Stairwell

      We were there to celebrate Lisa’s birthday and, although it’s an appropriate place for a special meal, it’s also the type of space that is comfortable for a quick bite after a show or a drink at its gorgeous bar.  Lisa ordered the baby Arugula Salad with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, pine nuts, and citronette (an Italian version of oil and lemon juice, which is the basis for the classic French dressing).  It was light and vibrant.  Neil asked for the Yellow Pepper Soup, which is served at lunch, but not dinner, and our server kindly found two portions.  It’s a lovely soup with a bright saffron-ochre hue, a light texture, and a taste that reflects sweet, citrus, and smoky notes. 

Baby Arugula Salad
with Parmigiano reggiano
Yellow Pepper Soup

      For her entrée, Lisa had the Penne Bolognese and a veal meatball.  The penne and ravioli are not house-made, but it was tender.  It was a lightly spiced sauce.   Neil’s choice was the Gnocchi with Vodka sauce.  This is also a tomato based sauce and richer than the Bolognese.  The gnocchi were perfect.  They had the consistency and taste of a very tender chicken breast or veal, rather than potato.  Though the veal meatball was delicious, there was a noticeable difference in its size from Lisa’s.  I had the bright idea of ordering two appetizers instead of an entrée.  This wasn’t so intelligent because the portions are all large at Via Vite.  The Cioppino was terrific, filled with squid, various fish, and three generous slices of crostini.  (However, remember, this was the second bowl of soup I was eating).  It was complexly flavored with red pepper, the fruitiness of tomatoes, and a little salt. The straw that broke the camel’s proverbial back was the Eggplant Parmigiana.  It’s a good size with about three slices of eggplant, but they’re cooked to a point of softness where they don’t hold their shape.  That wasn’t a problem, but the intense tomato sauce was due to its acidity.  There wasn’t any cheese to neutralize it so the flavor was razor sharp to my palette and I paid for it later with a long evening of tremendous burps.  

Penne with Meat Sauce
alla Bolognese and Veal Meatball
Potato Gnocchi with Vodka Tomato Sauce
Cioppino and Eggplant Parmigiano

      All three desserts were excellent.  Lisa had the Vanilla Bean Risotto Pudding with local honey and pistachios.  It’s a cleanly flavored dish, served over a globe of ice water, and noticeably lighter than most other rice puddings I’ve tasted.  Neil’s choice was the Chocolate Millefoglie with dark chocolate mousse and espresso whipped cream.  It’s a big plate with two slabs of mousse that retain their shape and large, many layered wafers (the millefoglie, also known as mille feuille in French cooking).  Neil loved it.  I took our server’s advice and had the Bongo – profiteroles with a heavy whipped cream (almost a light ice-cream) and accompanied by a chocolate sauce poured by the server.  The choux pastry was sturdy, but tender beneath the crust.  

Lisa's Birthday Vanilla Bean Risotto Pudding
Chocolate Millefoglie
Bongo, the Evening's Featured Dessert

      Service was excellent and our server immediately handled a major spill by a young guest sitting at the next table after taking our dessert order.  We arrived for our 6:30 reservation to a warm greeting by the hostess and departed at 8:15. The restaurant was close to full the entire time, but the bar was packed beginning at 8:00.  This is a hopping destination with very good food.  One caveat for the imbiber: there are few wine choices by the glass and the bottle selections, while large, are also pricey.  An option would be Sunday and Monday evenings when some bottled wines are offered at 50% off the list price.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Spring Theatre Season in New York and Cincinnati

      Fall and spring are the traditional theatre seasons in New York.  Now is when  promoters are rushing to get their venues on Broadway to be considered for this year's Tony Awards.  It doesn't look like that will happen for Spider-man Turn Off the Dark, which has been in endless previews injuring people left and right, and now scheduled to "open" on June 24.  Not since The Capeman has there been such an over-hyped, over-budget production that has eaten up a talented director.  Both shows evolved from famous songwriters who didn’t realize that musical theatre is a lot tougher than it appears.  Paul Simon was a control freak, who wouldn’t let any of them do their jobs, whereas Bono and the Edge have been MIA since before the rehearsals began.  
Look for The Book of Mormon to steal the irreverent light from a batch of musicals based on former movies the likes of Sister Act, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Catch Me if You Can.  The list of new plays includes High, starring Kathleen Turner, which premiered last year at Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park.  That will be the second play that Ed Stern has nurtured into a Broadway production, the first being the Tony Award-winning Company in 2006.

      Not to be outdone by the Big Apple, Cincinnati has its own spring theatre season and versions of Broadway and Off Broadway.  From the Broadway Series to our Tony-winning professional regional theatre, Equity contract premiere theatre to our excellent college programs, here's a list or what you have to look forward to seeing:

Ensemble Theatre
End Days
Now-April 9
A divine comedy revealing what a 16-year old Elvis impersonator, a goth chick, Stephen Hawking, and Jesus all have in common.

25 the Musical
May 4-22
A must-see musical revue celebration of the past twenty-five years as ETC kicks off the next twenty-five years.

Know Theatre
The Dragon
April 2-May 7
An adaptation of E. Schwarz's 1943 play that is a collaboration with Madcap Puppet Theatre and incorporates marionettes.

The 2011 
Fringe Festival
May 31-June 11
This is one of the two major performing festivals in our region, the other being the Midpoint Music Festival in September.  The Fringe features many one-of-a-kind solo performers, performance artists, theatre groups, and a video/film festival.

View more Theatre experiences in Cincinnati...

Friday, March 25, 2011

An Afternoon Outing in Glendale at the Grand Finale and Bluebird Bakery

It was a gorgeous sunny day for Neil to meet his good friend Angela.  She had a very thoughtful gift for him that I think was actually meant for me...a cat grass and catnip plant for our garden.  Gifts that keep on giving are the best in my opinion! 

Grand Finale

The Main Victorian Dining Room of the Grand Finale
      I've been thinking of having lunch at the Grand Finale so it was the first place that popped into my mind to meet.  It was their house salad and crêpes that were calling me.  We've been there numerous times and everything on the menu has always worked for me.  From brunch to lunch to dinner to dessert and drinks, the Grand Finale has been serving up french inspired cuisine since 1978.  It came into existence when the Sunday brunch was sweeping America and it's a tradition that continues today.  On Mothers' Day, the line can circle around the parking lot before they open. Is it worth it?  Absolutely!  The bite-sized crepes and desserts in tiny glass cups are just right for grazing on the brunch buffet.

       But today is all about lunch.  We arrived at 12:30 and the place is bustling.  Grand Finale is in a converted Victorian home that has been extended to include a garden room.  Fortunately, that's where we were seated – bright and inviting with just a glimpse of the outdoor courtyard.  

Mediterranean Salmon Salad
House Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing
Spinach with Four Cheeses and Coq au Vin Crêpes
      Service was polite and attentive and it felt like all the servers were there just for us.  A selection of breads arrived.  They're so tempting, I can make a meal from them!  Angela ordered the Mediterranean salmon salad with a lemon oregano vinaigrette on the side.  The romaine base included chilled asparagus, artichoke hearts, calamata olives, and sweet peppers.  From her expressions and comments, she approved.  I went with my initial thought of the house salad with creamy avocado dressing, reminiscent of Seven Seas' green goddess.  The salad is cold, fresh, and crisp with a generous amount of sliced mushrooms and sprouts.  I chose two different crêpes (you can order either one or two from six choices)—the spinach with four cheeses and the coq au vin.  Both arrived piping hot, as they always have.  I'm completely satisfied and content. 

Grand Finale at 3 East Sharon Road in Glendale, OH

Bluebird Bakery

The Expanded Bluebird Bakery
      Remembering our stops at Bluebird Bakery when we were working in the area, Angela and I couldn't resist checking it out.  In addition to our regular visits, we went there once to sample cakes when Angela was planning her wedding.  It's a sugar experience that everyone should have at least once in this life!  They've now expanded their space to include the much larger store next door.  It was a wise move.  They've also extended their service to include breakfast and lunch.  The dining area is charming and cheery with yellow walls and blue and white accents.

Apricot Scone
Jenny Dennis is the proprietor and her confections are among the finest.  Angela chose her macaroons and I went with my favorite, her scones.  Only today, the selection was down to just the chocolate chip variety.  The young woman behind the counter (who remembered us from five years was probably the cake testing) suggested that there were more in the day old bin.  That's where I found two apricot scones for the price of one!  As for the taste?  I couldn't tell that they were from the day before.  They were still fresh in my opinion.  We sat in the corner and took in the new environs.  There's no rush here.  It's a place to sit and spend some time and the two of us savored our selections and time catching up with one another.  We vowed to come back for lunch some day.  On our way out, I picked Eric up one of Jenny's macaroons (not to be confused with the regular macaroon).  These are two macaroons stuck together with chocolate cream icing and dipped in a rich dark chocolate.  He enjoyed the treat, as did Dexter the cat grass and catnip.  It was a day when we all benefitted from our visit to Glendale.

Bluebird's Tempting Display Case

Bluebird Bakery at 29 Village Square in Glendale, OH

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011

"Winning a pair of Oscars may have been an achievement, but when I saw the face of this disease I knew I was also put on this earth to speak out and work as hard as I could to conquer AIDS."
- Elizabeth Taylor

Dexter's tribute to a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Click here to view her amazing life:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Hunt for a Decent Deli

I heard Neil arranging to meet a former coworker for lunch.  It was a warm but day so that would give me a chance to meet my friends outdoors.  Neil thankfully put me out when he left.  He knew I was in the mood to explore.  

      I met Cheryl for lunch and she said to tell you "hi". 
      "Where did you go?"
      "Oh, it was this place called the Decent Deli."
      "How was it and what did you have?"

Pastrami Reuben and Potato Pancake
      "They have quite a selection of reubens, so we both ordered the pastrami one.  It was on our table faster than Wendy's and piled high on thick rye bread that was soft and obviously fresh.  The pastrami was quite tasty, but Cheryl was wrestling a bit with keeping her sandwich together.  She had been there before and preferred the classic corned beef version.  Her side of slaw was a little tasteless and needed a lot more seasoning.  Slaw is like chili—everyone's tastes different.  This was not to either of our likings.  I had the potato pancake, a much better choice in my opinion.  It was large and crisp, although I did need to cut it with a knife.  Our server continued to be efficient and friendly.  The storefront deli is basic inside with chrome chairs, Formica® topped tables, and photos of their specialties on the wall.  The soups looked particularly tempting and are obviously a favorite of many patrons.  There were three choices that day.  
      Cheryl needed some dessert to get her through the day.  Baklava, carrot cake, and cheesecake were listed.  I asked if they made any of them and the reply was "no".  Not expecting much, we ordered the baklava to share.  It looked rather dry on arrival, but surprised us by being fairly moist.  Another
wise choice."
      "So would you recommend it?" asked Eric.
      "It's a decent place. And after all, that's all they're claiming to be...a Decent Deli."

The Decent Deli is located in Blue Ash at 11144 Kenwood Road in a plaza at the corner of Cornell and Kenwood.
Decent Deli on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Brown Dog Cafe Is Both In and Out

Now that it's getting warmer, Eric and Neil are encouraging me to be outside a lot of the day.  I like the freedom of playing outside, but the nice days sometimes remind me of my desperation last summer of finding a new family.  That's why I come inside every once in a while just to give me the reassurance that I still have a home.  It probably appears to the guys that I can't make up my mind whether to be inside or out.  I just hope they realize that I'm happy here and like the security of staying in with them at night.  

I was all settled and ready to take a nap in the guest room when Eric and Neil left me and went out for a while.  It was dark and raining outside and I don't think they had dinner yet.  They told me to take care of the house and be good.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!

      We took advantage of Spring Restaurant Week (sorry, it ends today) again last night with a visit to Brown Dog Cafe.  I made the reservation yesterday, so 8:45 p.m. was the earliest we could secure.  We arrived on time despite a downpour and a little trouble finding the entrance.  It's located in a small strip center and the entrance is next to a BP station and the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has been a variety of names throughout the years.  Things were running a little late and our table was not ready for about twenty minutes.  There were two other couples in the entryway and we were all becoming a little too familiar with the seating chart menu on the computer.  It's an awkward space that could be better served by taking out a table for two and expanding the entry area.  Waiting gave me the advantage of taking in the entire setting and, being a designer, I was more than a little confused.  The space has been redone since my last visit several years ago, although Eric has been there since.  The small entrance appeared whimsical with custom painted walls hung with awards, a wooden settee, and a little 3-D sculpture near the baseboard of a dog coming out of its house.  That's the only reference to the restaurant name that I could find.  Entering through another doorway, that area is a complete disconnect from the bar and dining room.  The attempt now was contemporary which fell short with varying styles of lighting, slightly off wall colors, and mismatched wall décor that look as though they were bought at a rummage sale.  The sophistication and taste level that I would envision for a restaurant of this caliber completely missed the mark.  It would be an easy fix (if you're reading this Brown me) and an investment that could turn this basic box into a little jewel.  For the average diner, these are things that may go unnoticed and it's obviously not affecting their business—at least that particular night.  Brown Dog is strategically placed between the upscale neighborhoods of Montgomery and Blue Ash and it is patrons from those areas that wish to support local businesses, rather than making the twenty-minute drive downtown.

      The other issue was the absence of a mâitre d' as it appeared that the servers and bussers have that added to their duties, which is another "question" for a finer restaurant.  After being seated, the host (?) and server were more than apologetic for our wait, though we reassured them that we expected this during Restaurant Week!  Hopefully, none of this is so apparent during routine business.

      Now to the good news and what we were really there to explore...the food!  We had perused the menu online and while waiting so we had our minds made up.  Brown Dog offered a wide variety of selections for this event and it has found a niche in concentrating on game – namely, venison and boar.  The other nice thing about their menu is that it highlights the gluten-free offerings.  Eric started with the venison ravioli.  It was a well-sized portion and the pasta was cooked perfectly.  There was a white cheese béarnaise sauce and a light brown vinegar-based gravy.  Both tasted good, but the white sauce looked congealed and was slightly lumpy.  I ordered the crab cake, which was well cooked and served on an Asian slaw.  There was too much pepper in it so we turned down our server’s offer of additional freshly ground pepper.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kathy Griffin: Ten Reasons to Consider Her Especially If You’re Not a Fan

A photo of Kathy Griffin from her official website

      10.  Comedienne of All Media – Kathy Griffin just opened in New York in Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony (she has a couple of Emmys, has been nominated for a couple of Grammys, and had a best-selling memoir).  The New York Times sent a second stringer (who didn’t quite get her show) to review her and Kathy Griffin would have expected no more.  She’s also on Bravo this month in her special 50 and Not Pregnant (the latest in a continuing run of stand up specials since about 2002 that usually come between seasons of her reality show My Life on the D-List).  So, she deserves reconsideration even for those who don’t like her, can’t stand her, etc., etc.

      9.  Mimicry – There might not be a better mimic in American show business right now who isn’t actually a mimic first and even then I wouldn’t stake money on it.  Danny Gans died young and Rich Little hasn’t been around for a while so I’ll go ahead and say she’s the best.  It’s her secret weapon and she never acknowledges it.  She has admitted that she cannot capture Cher, but she can do everyone else.  At times, Oprah now seems to be copying Griffin’s impersonation of her.  I was first taken aback by her mimicry when she told a story about being on the new Hollywood Squares with Anna Nicole Smith, Little Richard, and Triumph the Insult Dog.  She nailed every one of them in a quick, off-the-cuff fashion that never underlines her skill in this area.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"...the Magic of a Boring Evening at Home" (Gerda Weissmann Klein*)

"Everything looks
so calm out there"

Neil was going out to a play preview with Lisa and Eric was off doing something or other at work so I was looking forward to a quiet night at home.  This includes clawing the cloth chair, which ticks off Eric, and sleeping wherever I feel like it, which concerns Neil.  Anyway, Neil had gone and I watched him go from the window.  It was windy outside and suddenly the back door blew open and this screeching filled the house.  It felt like the house was shaking because it went off for so long.  Then the thing in the hallway rang and someone asked what was going on at the house and I couldn’t tell him.

A man in a uniform showed up and walked all over the house and even opened the dining room door, which was nice because Neil had closed it when he left, so I could just go right on in and sit in any chair I liked or walk all over the table.  Woody (our neighbor friend) came over and talked to the man in uniform, while I sat under the table because I couldn’t really help.  The man left and closed the back door and Woody came in and set off the screeching again.  He wasn’t too happy and there was more ringing and then the screeching stopped.  Woody left and then Neil came home.  He really wasn’t too happy but wanted to make sure that I was OK and not scared.  After Eric came home, Neil told him that he must have left the door unlocked and it wasn't completely closed. I thought that he was trying to blame me because I go in and out so much but he admitted that it was all his fault. Whew! I don't want him to be upset with me.

"Lisa's voice is so soothing on the thing that rings"
Lisa called tonight and told us all about the play that Neil didn’t see called End Days at Ensemble Theatre.  It’s all about a family living in New York sometime after 9/11 (whatever that means) and how they don’t communicate with each other at all.  This boy moves into the neighborhood and he falls in love with the daughter, but she’s Goth (whatever that means) and doesn’t care.  The mom has fantasies about Jesus, who shows up and even talks to her, the dad is very depressed and then the daughter has a vision of Stephen Hawking (not quite sure who he is) in his wheelchair because she likes eating something like catnip grass too.  It sounds like there’s a happy ending and it’s really a sweet show, Lisa thought.  She said Neil and Eric should see it, but Neil isn’t sure about karma (whatever that means) and I found a nice spot and fell asleep.

End Days runs through April 3rd at Ensemble Theatre

*Gerda Weissmann Klein won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short One Survivor Remembers.  During her acceptance speech she noted, "I have been in a place for six incredible years, where winning meant a crust of bread and to live another day. Since the blessed day of my liberation I have asked the question, 'Why am I here? I am no better.'  In my mind's eye I see those years and faces of those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home.  On their behalf I wish to thank you for honoring their memory, and you cannot do that in a better way than when you return to your homes tonight to realize that each of you who knows the joy of freedom are winners.  Thank you on their behalf with all my heart."
Listen to her speech here:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Summit Hits New Heights

I got an early start to my day thanks to Eric letting me out before he left for work.  It's a nice winter day and I'm really in the mood to hunt for a fine dining experience.  Eric and Neil always seem to know when I've enjoyed some great cuisine even if I keep it a secret from them.  They're going out with Lisa tonight so I'm hoping they return as content as I.

      We decided to take advantage of Spring Restaurant Week this past Saturday and make a return visit to The Summit, the student restaurant at the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State.  Eric and I had dined there back in 2008 and found it to be a good experience, although some of the preparations seemed to be a little too ambitious, especially the desserts.  This time around the menu appeared straightforward.  

Culinary Students in Operation
      The kitchen, as well as the front of the house, is operated by the culinary students with some professional guidance.  We were seated at the best table in the house (purely serendipitous) just outside the viewing area for the kitchen.  The talent was under the guidance of chef de cuisine Paul Nagy, although there was no indication that anyone was still in training.  Kyle was our server and one of only two that are not enrolled in culinary courses.  Instead, he is attending CCM at the University of Cincinnati. 
Charming Snowman and
Lavender Moon Cocktails
He explained all of our curiosities regarding the 
menu and operations.  He pointed to several specialty drinks that immediately
tempted Eric and me.  (Lisa would be driving home as we're extreme lightweights.)  Eric went with the Lavender Moon made from vodka and lavender liquor, and I chose the Charming Snowman concocted of vodka, whipping cream, and shaved chocolate.

Seasonal Risotto and "Farmer Jones" Salad
For our first courses, Lisa chose "Farmer Jones" Beet Salad and Eric and I ordered the Seasonal Risotto.  The salad was a mixture of different beets marinated in sherry atop greens with walnuts and goat cheese.  Very flavorful!  Our risotto was perfectly prepared with shrimp, proscuitto, and peas.  It was creamy and rich.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cincinnati Art Museum — Four Bucks Deal for Two Shows

Neil wasn't feeling particularly well, but Eric was wanting to get out of the house and do something.  So they left to get a quick lunch while I was outdoors enjoying the crisp sunny day.  Evidently, Neil started feeling better as they were away all afternoon.  I was waiting for them on the back doorsteps listening to Toby barking when they returned.  They seemed more than eager to tell be about their day of art.

      The Cincinnati Art Museum is one of the best deals in the region for a cheap, cool afternoon.  Thanks to the Rosenthals, admission is free to the museum.  Parking is $4 per car (though if you’re willing to hike it up the hill and look long enough, you can find a spot somewhere on Mount Adams or Eden Park) and patrons pay as they enter the museum.  In addition to revolving pieces from the permanent collection, there are three galleries devoted to special exhibitions.  The museum possesses an extraordinary fashion collection, which is finally being shown from time to time.  The history of the wedding dress exhibition, held a couple of months ago, was extraordinary.

The Amazing American Circus Poster
      Right now, The Amazing American Circus Poster is on display.  The Strobridge Lithographing Company, based in Cincinnati, created many of the posters for Barnum & Bailey as well as Ringling Bros and other companies and that’s the basis for the exhibition.  Lithography began in 1798 and had a connection historically to circuses, which came into their own as an international traveling entertainment medium in the mid-19th century.  The posters are from the 1850s – 1920s, though centered on the 1880s.  There are about fifty posters, representing various aspects — the parades through towns from the railroad stations, animal acts, sideshow exhibits, and specialty acts – but it is difficult to know if it’s been well curated because it’s a narrow (specifically because of a local company’s product) representation of what might have been a larger genre.  Of course, this type of popular art is ephemeral and many of the posters have probably been lost over the years.

      The circus industry serves as a metaphor for many other industries (and even shifts in the geopolitical landscapes and the shifting balance of empires).  A few small circuses expanded to a larger number traveling through Europe and North America because of the expansion of the railroad.  The industry relied heavily on self-promotion and hype, while constantly assuring patrons of its truth in advertising.  Over a forty-year period, four major circuses merged into one corporation.  Smaller circuses tried to fill in the gaps by playing in smaller cities and towns.  However, the expansion of zoological gardens in many cities, and the invention of new media through technological progress cooled the mass population’s consumption of this specific entertainment.  

The interior courtyard of the Cincinnati Art Museum
      The Way We Live Now (referencing Trollope’s novel concerned with the changing British Empire at the end of the 19th century), the secondary exhibition, housed across the interior courtyard, displays pieces from the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville.  The exhibit is in anticipation of the 2012 plans to open a 21c Museum Hotel in the Metropole building adjacent to the Center for Contemporary Art and across the street from the Aronoff Center for the Arts in downtown Cincinnati.  Artists from around the world created these works in the past decade.  They refer to various current cultural, political, and economic forces.  There is a strong sense of playfulness in many of the works and an open definition.  What I mean is that though we’re not the first viewers to experience these works, there isn’t a body of review or criticism to tell us they mean and what we should understand from them.  I hope 21c Museum Hotel founders Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson will consider purchasing works in the future from Art Prize, which was held for the second time this past fall in Grand Rapids, because there were some extremely adventurous sculptures in that show.

      The Cincinnati Art Museum is always worth a visit, regardless of the special exhibits, because the permanent collection is intriguing and the Cincinnati Wing is a revelation.  The exterior and interior architecture are excellent examples of Greek Revival and some elements of 19th century Gothic.  The Cincinnati Wing was built in the past decade and it’s a fine example of merging a new building with an existing one and somehow making it look as if it was always one whole.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

One a Penny, Two a Penny, Hot Cross Buns!

Neil’s been humming around the house all morning.  There must be some reason he’s so happy.  It’s not the weather, as it’s a dreary chilly day.  Maybe he’s going to bake a squirrel pie.  That would make my day!

      I admit it.  I love hot cross buns!  Its reported origins are varied, but most agree that the hot cross bun was popularized in England when a 12th century monk made the spiced cakes and stamped them with the sign of the cross.  He made the buns every year thereafter and distributed them to the poor on Good Friday.

     The origin of the hot cross bun, as the Easter holiday itself, is mixed with pagan traditions.  Buns were considered a sacred food of the gods to the ancient Aztecs and Incas, while the Egyptians and Saxons offered them as sacrifices to their goddesses.  The appearance of a cross on top represented everything from the quarters of the moon to the horns of a sacred ox to the Christian interpretation today of the crucifixion.  Originally, the cross was marked in the dough with a knife but later creations used the piped icing that is popular today.  It's not clear when hot cross buns started appearing for sale before the Good Friday holiday.  Thankfully, the irresistible concoctions are available at bakeries during the entire six weeks of Lent leading up to Easter. 

Servatii's version of the hot cross bun

      I have my own favorite shops for what I consider to be the best hot cross buns.  In Cincinnati, my pick for the traditional bun is at the Servatii Pastry Shops, found throughout the city.  They are light and flaky with a generous "cross" of buttercream icing and not too much candied fruit.  For a scone version, I head to the Bluebird Bakery in Glendale.  Jenny's scones are the finest that I've found and her hot cross interpretation is divine!  My absolute favorite takes a little more effort as it is found on the east side of Columbus, OH at Resch's Bakery.  They're more dense and have a dusting of confectioner's sugar in addition to the icing cross.  I'm hoping my sister brings some when she comes to visit this weekend.  For me, it's probably just as well that they're not available year 'round.  However, I would like to hear where you find your favorite hot cross bun.

Servatii Pastry Shop & Deli on Urbanspoon