Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Culinary Arts

I know, I know. Everyone is expecting me to write another post about my second experience as an extra on Grimm (which happened yesterday). I promise I will write about it soon, but not tonight! I started out writing this post about some of the things Greg & I have done over the past two weeks but then I realized I could just write about a couple of my culinary-related experiences and that would be more than enough for one post.

On February 18th Greg & I took a bus to Nob Hill (northwest Portland) and joined a handful of other locals for a free knife technique demonstration at Williams-Sonoma. Since we're renting a furnished apartment, we're not using many of our kitchen-related wedding gifts just yet. One exception is the Wusthof Classic cook's knife & paring knife set from Bed, Bath & Beyond that my friend Corey in New York City gave us.

I've been cooking since I can remember. I started when I was around five years old with a beginner's cookbook that included such complex recipes as “How to make cinnamon-sugar toast.” In high school, I won a French cooking competition with my stuffed tomatoes. And, as I previously wrote about in this blog, I took several cooking classes for fun (in China, Vietnam, and Thailand) while we were on our round-the-world trip.
at cooking class in Hoi An, Vietnam
After all these years and lots of practice, I'm pretty confident in the kitchen. I like to experiment with “new” recipes, various methods of cooking, and different ingredients. My knife skills are certainly not bad, but I know they could be better. It helps to finally have a good set of knives (all two of them!). Greg, however, is still a beginner, although he really wants to learn the basics. Thus the reason we signed up for the free demo.
mirror view of knives ready for the demo
The presentation lasted for about an hour with the chef/instructor explaining why you use different knives for different purposes and demonstrating proper hand positioning and techniques. Afterward I got to test out a few high end knives in the Williams-Sonoma showroom. I definitely found a couple to add to my wish list! We also learned about the best environmentally-friendly cutting boards you can buy, something I will be happy to add to our small kitchen collection in the near future.
me entertaining a classmate & the instructor at Williams-Sonoma
Since we knew we wouldn't improve much just by watching someone else, we also signed up for a two-hour knife skills class to be held at Williams-Sonoma on March 13th. The class has a maximum of eight people with two instructors so you get a lot of one-on-one time plus it only costs $25 per person. Most other classes we looked at cost $50 or more so this is a great deal!

Another kitchen item we've recently added to our possessions is a carbon steel wok. After doing a lot of online and in store research, I ultimately ordered Helen Chen's Asian Kitchen 14-inch Carbon Steel Flat Bottom Lidded Wok Set for $32 on Amazon.com using part of the balance of a gift card I received from Airtreks (the company from which we purchased a lot of our round-the-world flight segments).
the new wok - unseasoned
I have always loved Asian food. My parents used to cook an elaborate Chinese-style Sunday dinner from scratch when I was growing up. Homemade egg-rolls, wontons, egg-drop soup, sweet & sour pork... It was always delicious! Of course, all of the cooking classes I took while traveling involved a wok and I want to be able to replicate the delicious dishes I learned to prepare. However, I don't recall owning a wok in the past 20 years, primarily because I was living in small apartments with basic electric ranges that aren't ideal for that style of cooking. Now I am lucky to be using a Bertazzoni gas range in our current apartment.
the Italian gas range ** notice, no hood
The most important thing you have to do before using a carbon steel wok for the first time is to season it, much like cast iron. It's not that hard but a little time-consuming, and almost guaranteed to set off your smoke detector, especially if you don't have proper ventilation. As there is no range hood in our kitchen, the only way to ventilate is to open a couple of windows; not ideal when it is cool & damp outside. In the first few weeks we were here, Greg learned to put a chair under the smoke detector while I was cooking so he could quickly reach the silencer button if needed!
I took sequential photos of each step of the seasoning process; this is the final step, about an hour after I started.
I followed the instructions that came with my wok and spent about an hour seasoning it, only setting off the smoke detector once. Then I immediately used it to cook a bastardized version of pad thai and tofu & veggie stir-fry. I describe the dish this way because I rarely follow any recipe exactly and, in this particular case, did not want to purchase all of the specialty ingredients so I tried to use things I already had (e.g. I concocted the sauce using low-sodium soy sauce, Sriracha, orange juice, sake and natural peanut butter). Luckily, it turned out fine, although the rice noodles could have been softer and I discovered I prefer medium-firm tofu (I bought extra firm to ensure it would hold up to the heat of the wok).
a dish of veggie stir fry and the wok after cooking
Apparently, I did season the wok well enough because nothing stuck and it was super easy to clean with the bamboo brush I had purchased for $2.50 from a local restaurant supply store. As always, a little practice will improve my overall wok-cooking technique but I was generally pleased with the results.
awesome tool for cleaning a wok without removing the seasoning
That's all for this post. I'll write about Grimm and some other fun things soon!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

An "Extra"-ordinary Day

As many of you saw on Facebook, I was recently selected to be an extra on NBC's Grimm. I "discovered" the opportunity while researching current events in my new hometown. Grimm is a drama series set in Portland and inspired by the classic Grimm's Fairy Tales. The pilot aired on October 28, 2011 and there have been ten episodes since. The latest one (#111) aired on 10FEB.

I'm sure you're wondering if I've ever done anything like this before. The answer is yes & no. While I was living in New York City, I had headshots done and applied with a casting agency to be an extra for tv or film. Of course, the day I got the call (to be on Law & Order), was the same day I had just been offered my first post-flight attendant job (starting immediately) at Innovive Pharmaceuticals. Thus I had to turn down the opportunity to be on one of my favorite shows and that pretty much ended my chances of getting called again.
one of my headshots from 2003
In terms of acting-related skills, beyond participating in junior high school plays and other productions, I took public speaking classes in college and have done some minor modeling related to various jobs I've had in the past. I certainly don't have any technical training but, more importantly when working as an extra, am comfortable in front of a camera and know how to follow instructions!

Applying to be an extra on Grimm was very easy. I answered an emailed set of questions related to my age, measurements, experience, unique abilities, etc. and submitted two current photos of myself. Since I don't mind changing my hair color, I also sent a couple of pictures from when I was a platinum blonde. I guess I was lucky to get my submission in when I did (on 10FEB) because I was contacted on 14FEB to be an extra. Many of the extras I spoke to at the shoot yesterday had been waiting for a whole month to get called!
another pic that I submitted
Everything was communicated via emails from the Extras Casting Coordinator. I was given a "call time" of 1pm, which was eventually moved up to 12:30pm. I was also given general wardrobe guidelines along with a list of do's & don't's.

On the day of the shoot, 15FEB, I got up at 7:30am and went to the gym, then came home and showered, ate breakfast, and packed my bags. I took the bus into downtown Portland and walked to the filming location. As we were filming a restaurant scene, they had asked over 100 extras to show up at staggered times. Thus it was a bit crowded and chaotic when I got to the holding room.

First I had to fill out paperwork (in order to eventually get paid) and then was instructed to get in line for a wardrobe check, followed by another line for hair & makeup. I am proud to say that not only was the outfit & jewelry that I was wearing approved "as is" for the shoot, but my backup outfit was also approved and I was put on a list of people who could change clothes for different takes if needed. Also, I never even had to get in line for hair & makeup because they took a close look at what I had already done/applied and said it was perfect!

However there were plenty of people that had to have "work" done in multiple ways. I don't recall seeing anyone flat-out get sent home but I really question if some even bothered to read the emails & instructions! Once we were all "set-ready," it was time to wait patiently. We were packed into one holding room where there was free coffee, drinking water, and light snacks (animal crackers, pretzels, etc.). But since the room was directly above the set, we had to be very quiet any time the cameras were rolling. We were allowed to use our phones, read, write, even take pictures, as long as we were in the holding room.

It was already sometime between 2-3pm when the first people were picked to join the set. Luckily, I was one of them! We went downstairs and were assigned places & props for the particular scene they were filming. Once we were all in position and makeup & hair touched up as necessary by the crew, the principal actors came in and the cameras were rolling. I wasn't wearing a working watch, but I believe that the three minute scene took an hour & half to get just right! And that was just from one angle!

We were sent back upstairs to holding while they repositioned all of the cameras and equipment and then it was back down to our places for more of the same. Since we were just "background", we were not supposed to actually talk but just mouth words as if we were having a normal dinner conversation. Nor were we supposed to actually drink from our glasses (which contained real liquids) nor eat the real food on our plates. It's amazing how exhausting it can be to fake talk! But it did get easier with each take.

I think we shot a total of four or five less than 3-minute scenes over almost 12 hours, all with multiple camera angles. Note that when I was contacted to be an extra, there was no finish time given, just when to show up. That's standard; if you agree to be an extra or perform any type of role in this setting, you have to be available until they tell you to go home. For me, that was at 11:30pm! They did provide dinner (a make-your-own sandwich buffet with chips, potato salad, etc.) around 5:30pm as we were not allowed to leave the site. In addition, I will get paid for all of the time I was there, whether I was on camera or not.
I downloaded this photo from the Grimm Facebook page. The 2nd, 3rd & 4th actors from the right were all part of the scene I was in, plus one other.
That's about all I can divulge at this point. Watch for me in the restaurant scenes during Episode 117, which should air in the next 1-2 months. Possible sightings include: sitting at a booth near the front door when the actors enter the restaurant, standing near the bar while they're waiting for a table, and dining at a nearby table when they are seated & talking. Of course, you can never tell which shots or camera angles will be used in the actual episode and thus I have no idea when, if or for how long you might see me, but I participated in all of these shots.

Overall, I did enjoy the experience but can see how it wouldn't be fun for everyone. Since I'm currently unemployed, I figure, "why not?!" And since another tv series (TNT's Leverage) also films here, as well as the typical commercials, print ads, etc., who knows what opportunities might arise?!

Friday, February 3, 2012

For the Love of Portland

We arrived in Portland on the evening of January 25th, just over one week ago. We cashed in some frequent flier miles to fly first class on American Airlines, which allowed us to each check three pieces of luggage for free. We took the opportunity to transport as much clothing, shoes, toiletries, etc. as humanly possible so we only had to ship three large moving boxes via USPS (at a total cost of $150) for now. That was the extent of our move!
arriving at PDX with all of our checked luggage
We've had an amazing run of good weather since our arrival; it has only really rained once for the better part of one day. Thus we've spent a lot of time outdoors, exploring the stretch of Hawthorne where we live as well as the surrounding neighborhood of Sunnyside. We have also made one trip downtown and to another favorite neighborhood, Northwest Portland (aka Nob Hill), and a few trips farther east to a strip mall with a Target and Bed Bath & Beyond.
history of Sunnyside
We are living in a converted 1908 bungalow which we have rented while the owners are working in New York for the next few months. Our fully furnished first floor apartment measures over 800 square feet and gets lots of natural light due to its southern exposure. We are walking distance to several great grocery stores, tons of restaurants & bars, and lots of locally owned businesses as well as a library, movie theater, health care facilities & more. Of course, if we need to venture any farther, the #14 bus line which goes to the heart downtown (3 miles to the west) is only one block away.
entrance to our apartment - the three windows on the left, first floor, are our living & dining rooms
Which brings me to one of the questions we get asked most frequently: "Why Portland?" There are many reasons we love our new hometown. Below, I've listed some of the most compelling that played the biggest role in us deciding to move here:

No need to own a car. Portland is made for walking with sidewalks everywhere plus ample bike lanes and extensive public transportation options. If you need your own wheels, there are car-sharing programs like Zipcar with more than 20 vehicles within a one-mile radius of our apartment. Also, there is a high percentage of Toyota Prius owners here; when we go for a walk I always see at least one Prius or other hybrid on every block!
Trimet public transportation map
Emphasis on green living. The entire city has a recycling & composting program, many newer buildings are LEED-certified and use alternative energy, and many businesses offer locally-sourced products.

We just joined the Green Microgym, one of the world's first electricity generating gyms!
Great beer. There are 43 breweries operating in Portland, more than any other city in the world!

wall of beer at the Hawthorne Fred Meyer
Diverse, delicious food. In addition to buying your groceries at locally owned stores like Zupan's & New Seasons, you can dine your way around the world at over 200 food carts. Portland also has the highest number of restaurants per capita of any city in the U.S.

food porn: "The Reggie" at Pine State Biscuits
Casual, artsy vibe. With a few exceptions downtown, the staff at the most expensive restaurants & hotels won't blink if you come in covered in tattoos, with a blatantly unnatural hair color, wearing your own version of world traveler, hippy, vintage, boho chic attire. Just skip the sweat pants please!
Greg would fit right in wearing this cap
Geography. Parks, rivers, mountains and the Pacific coast, all practically on your doorstep. If you love the outdoors, this is a great place to be!
this picture was taken when we were here in 2010, but we got a glimpse of Mt Hood yesterday while walking in our neighborhood
Of course, there are many other reasons to love Portland, and I am not the first to write about this topic. Obviously there are also reasons why plenty of people would not choose to live here. One, high unemployment, could certainly change our rosy outlook if we have trouble finding jobs. But I am the eternal optimist, confident that where there's a will, there's a way!
    thumbs up for Portland (and UT orange houses)
    While you wait with bated breath for my next post, I suggest you watch a few episodes of Portlandia. A bit of an extreme take on real life here, but not totally off the mark in many respects. Good for some laughs, for sure, and probably a few WTF's?!?!