Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reflections of the Persevering Spirit

Every so often I stumble across a work of art or performance that leaves me in awe.   We went to hear the Ryan Carniaux Quartet perform in the Café of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt on Sunday morning.  Carniaux is an American trumpet player who has been living in Europe since about 2003.  Currently, he lives in Cologne.  The quartet played their own compositions, mostly from their first album, Reflections of the Persevering Spirit.  And what a spiritual performance it was.

Ryan Carniaux

I kept feeling better and better as the performance unfolded.  The highlight for me was the final piece (before the encore), The Gandhi Response, written by Dutch pianist Mike Roelofs with brilliant soli perfectly in harmony with one another.  The song put me over the top, exemplifying the spiritual power of jazz, on par with the best of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.  Completing the quartet from the original album was Samuel Dühlser on drums.  I won't try to describe the music in detail.  This was some of the best jazz I've heard in years, and I wish Ryan Carniaux and his group success going forward.  They deserve it. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Crispy Duck Breast

The Bloggerboy family is very critical about food.  Lately, I have been charged with preparing meat dishes to perfection, a daunting task.  Last night I took a stab at pan-fried Barbary duck breasts for five persons.  The main criticisms of the duck that has been served at our household in the past are: 1.  too tough; 2. overcooked; 3. the skin is not crispy enough.  I have spent over an hour on the web reading up on how best to prepare the breasts.  Unfortunately, I did not find two overlapping opinions, just similar approaches.  Here is my synthesis of what I found on the web.

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (convection).
2.  Wash the breasts and dry them well with paper towels.
3.  Allow them to come to room temperature before frying.
4.  Score the breasts on the fat side.  Don't cut into the meat, just the skin.
5.  Sprinkle the skin side with salt and pepper.  You can add a fair bit of salt to the skin side.
6.  Use medium low heat and put the breasts in skin-side down before the pan gets fully hot.
7.  Add salt and pepper to the other side of the breasts.
8.  Fry the breasts at medium-low heat, draining the fat at regular intervals.  It takes about ten to twelve minutes for the skin to turn deep golden brown.
9.  Turn the breasts and remove the frying pan from the stove and place it in the oven for six to eight minutes.
10.  Remove the breasts from the oven and place them in a warm pan on the stove to rest and stay warm for about five minutes.

I fried the breasts for ten minutes and took them out of the oven after six.  After resting, they were medium rare with just a bit of juice coming out when sliced.  I guess I could have let them fry or bake for an extra minute or two, but we all prefer medium-rare to medium, so no one complained.  The meat was tender.  Two down, one to go.  The skin was crispy, but I think that the resting period resulted in condensation or moisture on the skin, so it was not as crispy as it might have been.  Most of the fat had been rendered, which was good.

For my next try, I am thinking of two alternatives:  1.  leave the breasts skin-side down in the oven to increase crispiness; 2.  put the breasts under the broiler for a minute right before serving to re-heat the outer surface of the breast and increase crispiness.  Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

This is the second time that I've used an oven to finish off a meat dish, and I find the results quite good.  The last time I fried an inexpensive rump steak at high heat for two minutes on each side and then let it settle in the pan in the oven for ten minutes at only 80 degrees Celsius.  It was wonderfully red all the way through, but hardly any juices leaked after the steak was cut.  The resting really does allow the meat to reabsorb the juices. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stepping Stones

I really liked this sidewalk near the cathedral in Basel

Hard Bop

Last night we met some friends at Frankfurt's famous Jazz Keller (Jazz Cellar) to hear the Tony Lakatos Quintett with Lakatos on tenor saxophone and featuring Axel Schlosser on trumpet and flugelhorn.  Michael Flügel played piano, accompanied by Thomas Heidepriem, a Jazz Keller regular, on bass and Jean-Paul Höchtädter on drums.   The quintett is listed under the rubric "hard bop", and that is what they delivered.  For an EUR 12 entrance fee, we were treated to two sets of high-quality jazz, mostly compositions by Tony Lakatos, who hails from a prominent line of Hungarian musicians.  Both Lakatos and Schlosser took their instruments to the limits of what can be done with them, all the while working within strictly-controlled parameters of the song context.  They harmonized excellently before taking turns with eloquent soli.  Michael Flügel on piano also was quite impressive.  The Jazz Keller is a tiny cellar.  There were maybe 75 people in the audience, a full house.  You don't need to possess great math skills to understand how much love for music has to be present to perform at such a high level on a Tuesday evening for little pay.

Tony Lakatos

Monday, January 16, 2012

Swiss Doors

These pictures were taken in the Old Town of Basel.  I've always been fascinated with the details on entranceways in Europe.  You really have to slow down when walking through the old parts of cities to avoid missing many beautiful details.

Seen in Basel

A Creative Bicycle Seat Cover

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Naumburg Cathedral

Romanesque Entrance

Eastern Rood Screen

Detail of Western Rood Screen

Founders Ekkehard II and Ute
(Ute was used as the model for the evil Queen
in Disney's Snow White)

View From Cloister Courtyard

The Naumburg Cathedral is particularly famous for its series of sandstone sculptures by the Naumburg Master on the western rood screen and in the western choir.  These really are masterpieces of the Middle Ages.  The details show individual character, something more closely associated with the Renaissance.  From the oldest Romanesque parts of the cathedral to the Late Romanesque and Early Gothic parts, one gains a sense of the human spirit coming alive.  We were lucky to catch a good tour of the cathedral, which started a half-hour late, just in time for us to arrive and buy tickets.  As much as I admire the famous Gothic cathedrals, I love to visit older Romanesque churches and cathedrals.


The Naumburger Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul

The Main Square

St. Wenzel's Protestant Church Behind the Main Square

A House Still in Need of Renovation

You can read up on Naumburg at Wikipedia here.  Because of its proximity to Weimar and Leipzig, I definitely recommend taking a side trip to see the town and the Cathedral if you are in the vicinity.  The main shopping street begins right outside the Cathedral and runs uphill past the main square.  There are plenty of shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels to choose from. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Leipzig or Bust

We had a great trip to Leipzig on Saturday to visit the Beckmann portrait exhibit.  Beckmann was born in Leipzig.  More details will follow later.  We stopped off in Naumburg on the way to visit the Late-Romanic / Early-Gothic Cathedral.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's Exhibits

We got the year off to a good start by walking into town on January 1st and visiting three exhibits at the Schirn Museum.  First we visited the Ed and Nancy Kienholz Exhibit.  This was the first time I had seen any of their work.  I felt immediately at home with the installations.  Some of them are quite harsh; others are humorous.  When I walked into the American den installation, with its dark wooden paneling and spare sofa and end table, I felt transported back to my childhood.

The Bally Playboy pinball machine that was used for the work shown above was the same type that I spent many hours playing during my undergraduate years.  Here is a link to a photo of The Ozymandias Parade, an installation that was inspired by a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley and that was the highlight of the exhibit.  It still is a timely reflection on the arrogance of the political classes around the world.

Next, we went to see a smaller exhibit in the same building by Erró, an artist from Iceland who lives in Paris. 

The tableaux were large and contained an incredible number of details from daily life, ranging from comic and action figures to consumer products to fish and fowl:  modern and cluttered still lives.  The Foodscape shown above was painted in 1964, and the products (barely visible here but painted in great detail) shown at the top of the painting were a daily part of our lives.

Finally, we went to see the exhibit by Icelandic artist Gabriela Fridriksdottir entitled Crepusculum.  The exhibit was specially-commissioned by the Schirn in connection with the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair, which featured literature from Iceland.  Additionally, several medieval Icelandic manuscripts were on display in the same room.

Once again, the Schirn Museum, under the direction of Max Hollein, with its continuously-changing series of smaller, traveling exhibits, greatly enriches our lives here in Frankfurt.  We went to grab a cup of coffee afterwards and then walked home, intent on burning off a few of our excess holiday calories on the way.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 -- Year of the Train

Indeed we are going to make it to the other two Beckmann exhibits.  I purchased a "BahnCard 25" from the Deutsche Bahn and then booked two trips, one to Leipzig and one to Basel.  With the BahnCard 25, the round trip tickets are affordable enough to compete with travel by car.  Given the unpleasantness of driving in the winter, I'm looking forward to travel by train.  Now I'm thinking of all the other places we can visit this year to maximize the benefits of the BahnCard.  This is when Frankfurt's central location in Europe, the high-speed train network, and the fact that we live within walking distance of the main train station come in handy.  Here are a few examples of train travel times from Frankfurt am Main:

Strasbourg 2.5 hours, one change
Basel 3.0 hours, direct
Munich 3.3 hours, direct
Brussels 3.4 hours, one change
Paris 3.9 hours, direct
Leipzig 4.0 hours, direct
Hamburg 4.0 hours, direct
Amsterdam 4.0 hours direct
Zürich 4.3 hours, direct
Metz 4.5 hours, one change
Dresden 4.75 hours, direct
Nancy 4.5 hours, one change
Berlin 4.8 hours, direct
Salzburg 5.3 hours, direct
Prague 6.0 hours, one change
Lyon 7.0 hours, one change
Vienna 7.0 hours, direct

Oh yeah, we paid EUR 108 for two round-trip tickets to Basel and EUR 127 for two round-trip tickets to Leipzig.  That is comparable to what we would have had to pay for gas on each trip, and does not consider wear and tear on the car and the driving stress.  The travel times also are competitive with driving.