The One and Only Mahaiwe

1/2/12 On New Year’s Eve we went to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington to hear the Berkshire Bach Ensemble perform all six of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti. The founder, harpsichordist and conductor, Kenneth Cooper, was his usual ebullient self, giving a really virtuoso performance of the solo in the 5th concerto. And Eugene Drucker is such a fine violinist. The whole troupe, though, was great — and in a festive mood, as was the audience. Although Howard at one point joked that the average age of the audience was 72, and would have been 74 were it not for the two 20-somethings sitting nearby, the spirit was wonderful. Not everyone attending was a connoisseur of baroque music, but it didn’t matter. When people applauded in the middle of a movement, or between movements, or after a particularly roaring solo, it all felt so right. And being in the Mahaiwe is such a privilege. Built in 1905, it was the home to vaudeville performers, and is one of the oldest theaters in the country. John Phillips Sousa played there once. In 1930 it became a movie theater, and that’s how I knew it when my kids were little. It was dilapidated and freezing in the winter. I saw Saving Private Ryan there, as well as Duck Tales: The Movie (which I deserved a medal for sitting through). At some point the theater suffered a terrible fire, and we figured that was that. But starting in 2005 funds were raised for an amazing and meticulous renovation. My photos do not do it justice. The Mahaiwe is the theater we all dream about: sumptuous details, boxes overhanging the stage. Now on the National Register of Historic Places and featuring incredible acoustics — well, let me say that the next time you’re in Western Massachusetts, it’s worth a visit.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street. Great Barrington. MA 01230
Box Office: 413-528-0100
Mahaiwe Box Office Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday: 12noon – 6pm
plus 3 hrs prior to all showtimes
www.mahaiwe.org

Have you been there? Let me know. Any other historic theaters you love? Tell me about them in the comment box below. As always, I’m at on Twitter @wordwhacker.

Pumpkin Cake

I would like to call this recipe my “no-fail pumpkin cake” recipe. However, yesterday, Thanksgiving, I had a minor disaster. At about 11 a.m. when I poured the mixture into the fancy bundt pan from Williams Sonoma, the batter didn’t look right. An hour later when I pulled it from the oven, it still looked wrong. I’ve been making this cake for over 35 years; I should know. I let it cool, turned it over, and, boy, did it look strange. So I called the taste-tester, um, Howard, and asked him to cut into it. I mean, I was desperate. This cake was going with us to our friends’ Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t want to show up with a cake with a slice cut out; but neither did I want to offer something awful. “I left out the sugar, right?” I asked. Howard said, “yeah, probably, but it tastes OK.” So I took a bite. It was kind of like biting into canned pumpkin with flour mixed in. Luckily, I had the ingredients on hand for another try–and enough time. Second go-round, I got it right. Anyway, here’s the recipe. This must be one of the easiest cakes in the world to make. You only need one bowl and a measuring cup. The fancy bundt pan makes it look prettier on the table. I got the recipe from my college and graduate-school roommate Karen Altman, who got it from her mom. I remember Karen’s recipe card said, “Mim’s Pumpkin Cake.” I have the feeling, though, that Mrs. Altman got it off a can of Comstock pumpkin.

Mix together in a bowl:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin (Comstock if you can find it; I can’t anymore)
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 8 0z bag of chocolate chips, or more if you’d like
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts, if you’re into that, but I never add nuts

The batter will be a nice orange color. Make sure the sugar and flour are both mixed in well. Pour into a well-greased bundt pan. (I use spray stuff.) Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean, unless you stick it into the chocolate. Let it cool for a 1/2 hour or so; turn over onto a cake plate.

The Pastrami Bot

Don’t get me started on “bots” on Twitter. They’re the accounts run by computer programs that pick up any mention of, let’s say, apple computers in a tweet–and suddenly you’re getting lots of Twitter spam about entering fake contests for free computers. Some bots take over accounts and start spamming from them, which is pernicious and out-rightly evil. The abusers of social media do much to harm the joy of the interwebs give us, the ability to connect with friends, and even brands! (hi Black&Decker), in new ways. But then there are these other kinds of bots that sneak up on us on twitter and provide a good laugh. That’s what happened when the day I had a tweet from @theCardinalBot: Of course no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. I have watched the Monty Python skit enough times to know that. (If, by some chance you don’t know what I’m talking about, or if you just want to laugh yourself silly for the zillionth time, go here: http://bit.ly/vgwiqK and here: http://bit.ly/s4eTKv.) Then, another time when I was bemoaning the Twitter bots, suddenly I had a Tweet from the bot bot, (which doesn’t seem to exist any more). I smiled. Over the eight months I’ve been on Twitter (only that long! time flies), several of these bots have come my way. But none amused me so much as the appearance of the Pastrami bot last weekend. We had just come back from a few days away, and I was exhausted. So we decided to order in from Artie’s, A Jewish delicatessen just a few blocks away. We’d share a pastrami sandwich, a soup, some onion rings. My husband calls to place the order–and they’re out of Pastrami. How can that be? Really, Artie’s, out of Pastrami? Really? So I tweeted. And then came this: A PastramiBot? Well it looks like it. My friends retweeted things like that a Jewish deli not having Pastrami was “a shonda,” which is the Yiddish word for “a shame,” though veering more on the side of “a sin.” I tweeted back, “They’re dead to me.” Probably I should have gone on Yelp and given Artie’s bad reviews. Or on Zagat. But nothing was going to get me a Pastrami sandwich at that moment. The bot, though, it at least brought some humor to the dire situation of a nice Jewish girl unable to get pastrami!

We Love Our iPhones

I didn’t need a Neilson study to tell me what I already know: Baby Boomers really like their smart phones. One might think that with the tiny keyboard of some HTC models and the BlackBerry, or the sort-of-not-really-a-keyboard of the iPhone, we’d complain about how hard they are to use. Thing is, we’ve been using them for years. After all, we’re of the age where some of us (lucky enough to be employed) work for companies that issue them to their employees so that people can be reached anytime, anywhere. BlackBerries “push” email, meaning that if your phone is on, so is your email. Other smart phones are designed to get email when you ask for it, the current iPhone, for instance. You can have your email on push with the iPhone, but it eats up your battery. So when I’m away from my computer and with my iPhone, I just check in with email every little bit. So the email is only one factor, I think, of the Baby Boomer smart phone romance. I’m personally so happy that as long as I am in an area where I get reception, I can get information about anything anytime. In fact, I even have a couple of long books loaded on my iPhone just in case I’m ever stuck on the subway or something. My son has an Android, which I used the other weekend to text my niece after my great-niece had broken her arm (long story that is ending very well), and I actually liked his keyboard better. Still, for me, having compatible devices on the same OS (Mac)–that’s priceless. By the way, what I find is a bigger issue than type of phones is service provider. There things are a bit dicey for me. In NYC I can’t get AT&T. Verizon is by far the best carrier for us Gothamites. However, upstate, my iPhone is kind of like a brick. I can use it for email or Internet through my Wifi–but I have my computer. So. Anyway. This is a “just saying” post. Saw the article. Thought “duh.” Remembered I have a Website with a section where I blog about stuff.

Cute hurricane lanterns

So I’m at my country house in upstate New York, and although we’re not going to get the storm surges that have prompted Mayor Bloomberg to shut down the mass transit system as of noon tomorrow, 8/27, and evacuate neighborhoods–even Broadway is shutting down, i.e., the show isn’t going on–it will rain here. A lot. There will be winds, too. And, as happens so often, I will lose electricity. Hopefully, this will happen during the night while I’m sleeping or during the day not during the times I want to cook or be on the Internet. Anyway, I did a “storm check” and found that I was out of D batteries and that some of my flashlights had disappeared. (My great-nephew likes to play “explorer” when he visits us. We keep track of the expensive binoculars he borrows. The flashlights, not so much.) Just before dinner I got in the car for a five-mile drive to the hardware store, where people were buying propane and stuff. Looking around at the “hurricane” stuff they had placed right by the registers, I saw these adorable hurricane lanterns, the Dorcy MiniBrites. The three-pack includes one in blue, purple, and green. Each lantern takes 4 AA batteries and has a detachable handle and hook. Post-hurricane, I’m going to use them outside on the deck in the evening. They’re a little flimsy for camping, but they’d work. I was so thrilled to pick up the last two packs of these that I forgot the D batteries. Oh, well. Who needs flashlights when you have a MiniBrite. (Clicking on the picture will take you to Amazon, where you can purchase them at a better price than I paid.)