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Ship Shape

Cooking on a vintage schooner takes skilled and steady hands.

From Saveur Magazine, April 2010Image

By the time the first of the six passengers aboard the American Eagle, a 92-foot schooner based out of Rockland, Maine, emerged from his sleeping berth, the boat’s cook, Robin Pietila, had been busy in the tiny galley for hours. She’d gotten up at four o’clock to feed kindling into the firebox that fuels the cast-iron oven and stovetop. It can take a long time for the stove to heat fully on a chilly morning like this one, and hot water needed to be ready for coffee and tea when the passengers awoke. Working a system of vents and flues, Pietila had channeled the heat from the firebox, now loaded with burning logs, to the stovetop. As soon as the water was boiling, she closed off the flue, forcing hot air into the oven, which she needed for today’s breakfast, a lobster frittata. After a few minutes, she opened the oven and stuck in her hand, holding it there for several seconds before yanking it out. “If I can keep it in there for just five seconds, I know it’s about 425 degrees,” she said. The oven is the same kind that was originally installed on the boat, almost a century ago, and has no temperature gauge.
I’ve seen chefs perform miracles in cramped restaurant kitchens, but I’ve never seen any cook do as much with as little as Pietila, a 52-year-old former teacher from southern Maine with no formal culinary training, does here on the Eagle. She and other galley cooks provide one of the paramount pleasures of sailing aboard a vintage schooner off Maine’s rocky shores, where a number of historic boats like the Eagle ferry paying guests up and down the coast. On a four-day sail from Rockland, I marveled at the dishes Pietila produced in her kitchen: from the fluffy, perfectly golden frittata to a delicious porcini-and-shiitake focaccia to fruit salads, turkey chili, and corn bread.
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An epic that won’t weigh you down

from, 12/29/08

buttonThe sweeping Pitt/Blanchett Christmas blockbuster is generating big Oscar buzz, but most of the buzz I heard during the show was generated by a uniformly gray-haired crowd, striving to explain to one another what was going on. As the show progressed, they inched ever closer to the screen in hopes that they might catch Benjamin Button’s curious reverse-aging disease (or at least their spouses would).

But you don’t have to be geriatric to enjoy Button’s saga. Even the pure visual spectacle was enough to hold my attention for the 2 hour and 55 minute running time. If no one else is a shoe-in for the Oscar, Pitt’s makeup artist certainly has it nailed down. He presents us a very convincing 70-year-old Pitt at the start and subtly freshens him, taking him past the youthful lad he was in 1992’s A River Runs Through It to a scrawny teenager (who, being Brad Pitt, still gets laid). Cate Blanchett’s aging is almost as impressive, and the cinematography is full of sweeping historical panoramas, softly lit, but not quite to the schmaltzy saturation of Titanic.

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Pigeonhole This

from the Playboy Blog, 5/29/08

Ever wonder what James Brown’s music would have sounded like if he’d been raised Jewish? Neither have I. But the unlikely collaboration known as Abraham, Inc. asked just that, and earlier this month at the Apollo, they answered it. The band consists of David Krakauer, a highly acclaimed concert clarinetist who has toured as a soloist with the world’s best classical ensembles and crafted his own best-selling classical and klezmer recordings; Fred Wesley, a trombonist and funk pioneer known for his work with James Brown, Bootsy Collins and Parliament; and Socalled, a Canadian Jewish “beat architect,” rapper, singer, pianist, and accordionist, and probably more that I couldn’t keep track of. Since 2006, the three men have been on a mission to fuse their seemingly disparate influences—klezmer, funk, and hip hop—culminating in the blowout Apollo show.

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Playbill, April 2008

From the contributor page of Playboy Magazine, April, 2008.

“This is my principal objection to life, I think: It is too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes,” wrote the late Kurt Vonnegut. In Wailing Shall Be in All Streets, he condemns one such mistake, the Allied firebombing of Dresden that killed tens of thousands of civilians in one night. The previously unpublished essay (from his forthcoming Armageddon in Retrospect, from G.P. Putnam’s Sons) was the basis for Slaughterhouse Five. Both works are timely warnings about our war in Iraq, which Vonnegut railed against until his death. “I, myself, feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and  body snatchers,” he said. Despite his dark humor, Vonnegut never gave up on the future: “Why write books? You catch people before they become generals and presidents and you poison their minds with humanity.”

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