Sunday, December 13, 2009

One Nutty Tradition

This time of year, do you have visions of sugarplums dancing in your head, or is it just me? For the majority of my life, the holidays have always teemed with visions of sugarplums dancing - literally. As in Sugar Plum fairy. I've done the math. It's safe to say that of the 39 Christmas seasons under my belt, damn near 35 of them have been spent in the company of The Nutcracker. The holidays of my youth/young adulthood were spent performing in the time-honored ballet; and now, in my more recent non-dancing years, I've either been backstage in some capacity or in the audience. To say that I've seen The Nutcracker hundreds of times is not an exaggeration; to say that I know the ballet like the back of my hand is not an understatement. Like it or not, The Nutcracker is synonymous with Christmas for me.

Until a week or so ago however, I actually had no plans to attend The Nutcracker this year. For some inexplicable reason, the ballet just wasn't on my radar screen. Enter stage left, my friend Kathryn. Kathryn and I had served on the Board of Trustees for Marin Ballet together for many years (she's still a trustee), and she invited me to be her guest to The Nutcracker performance. And it wasn't to be just any performance - this year, Marin Ballet premiered its brand new, revamped Nutcracker with all-new choreography by the esteemed Julia Adam. In the works for three years, I was eager to see the culmination of such a huge undertaking.

So there I was, Nutcracker bound yet again.

And that's all well and good, but just what, exactly, does The Nutcracker have to do with Fare to Remember? This is a food blog, right? Well let me tell you: Ms. Adams has reinvented Marin Ballet's Nutcracker to be a mouth-watering spectacle wherein FOOD plays a central role. True - if you're familiar with the story of The Nutcracker ballet, there has always been tidbits of deliciousness (Madam Ginger, the aforementioned Sugar Plum Fairy...) - but Julia's rendition takes the notion of Act II's The Land of the Sweets quite literally, and then turns it on its head. Exotic ingredients are integral to her interpretation and essential to her modernized storyline. From the Spanish Chocolate to the Arabian Brown Sugar, she turns each variation into not only a visual feast, but integral to what she has cooking up for the ballet's climax.

To recap the program (picking up from the time when Clara, Drosselmeyer and the Nutcracker Prince arrive in the Land of the Sweets):

They are greeted with great ceremony by the Sweet Tooth Fairies, and Drosselmeyer introduces Clara to the people of the Land of the Sweets [by bringing] forth a huge mixing bowl and starting a parade of characters who bring with them wonderful ingredients for a very special cake. The Spanish dancers bring rich, dark chocolate fans; the Arabian dancers bring sparkling jewels of brown sugar; the Chinese dancers arrive with crunchy almonds, and an extraordinary Golden Goose brings Golden Eggs. Each drops their gift into the bowl. Then the Russian Bakers bustle in to stir the batter. Mother Ginger comes to add gingerbread spice, and with The Waltz of the Flour, the batter is finished. [Drosselmeyer] reveals a beautiful cake, and within the cake, another wonderful surprise: The Sugar Plum Fairy.

OMG... this ain't yo momma's Nutcracker. Quite frankly, it's not my Nutcracker yet either. I was a little blown away. There was so much going on onstage that was a complete departure from any Nutcracker I've ever been involved with, that I think I need to see Marin Ballet's new version many many more times before I can possibly take it all in. What I do know was that it was a sweet, sweet performance. If it were still playing, I'd urge everyone to go and check it out, but alas - it comes but once a year.

So with the curtains closed on yet another Nutcracker, Kathryn and I headed out to the VIP reception after the performance to mingle with, well... VIPs (Kathryn was the VIP - I was a hanger-on!). It was a celebratory affair - everyone in the room was excited by the performance, and in jubilant moods. The mirth was much assisted by the open bar turning out festive libations, specifically, a cocktail dubbed "The Blue Ballet" in honor of the evening's accomplishments. I leave you with the recipe below, and of course, a hearty "Encore!" (for both the performance and the cocktail!).

The Blue Ballet
Pour equal parts vodka and Chambord (black raspberry liquer) into a shaker full of ice. Shake vigorously; strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a skewer of blueberries and lychee fruit. Drink and repeat - but beware, this one packs a punch!


  1. Wow - what a concept for Nutcracker! I would love to see that one. Didn't realize you were a fellow "collector" of that ballet. Daughter danced in it from age 5 through high school & I was on the board for the civic ballet for years. But of course we never got those fab martinis here... ;)

  2. Yep Nancy - I've had my fill of The Nutcracker I think. Pretty sure I even wrote a column about it back in the Citizen days - I can't escape it! I do still love it for whatever reason - especially non-professional regional productions featuring ballet students (special place in my heart). It's been such a big part of my life - such an influence on my youth especially - that I keep getting sucked in. I guess at this point I should just keep the tradition alive, especially if they keep serving up the likes of Blue Ballet's.... :)