Monday, December 17, 2012

Original Sin, Mrs. Huxtable and Gay Marriage


Awful Goodness
A Blog by Michael Barakiva

Post #1 - 17 December 2012
Three Amazing Things In My Life

I have a wonderful weird life full of awful goodness, living in New York City as a freelance theater director and writer.  Three amazing things inspired me to start blogging.  The first is that on May 24th, 2011, Rafael Ascencio accepted my marriage proposal.  This is a picture of us that I like, because I think we both look amphibious. 

Me getting married is the result of a series of deeply unlikely personal and political events.  I'm not going to write about my relationship with Rafael, however – I’m pretty private in that regard, and he's very, and I'd be rather appalled by the idea of having strangers read about the fights we get into when one of us (me) insists that the other (him) not use the cutting board reserved for fruit to chop onions and garlic.

(Although honestly, I don’t see what’s so hard to understand about this –the oil from onions and garlic infuses wood, and although that can be lovely in a salad [many cookbooks encourage their readers to rub a garlic clove into a wood salad bowl], the last thing I want for my freshly cut strawberries is to have a savory undertone.  So why, after three years of begging through gritted teeth, does he still do this?)

I am, however, deeply interested in writing about the process of getting married, and gay married especially: figuring out what the ritual means unto itself, as well as what it means to be gay and getting married now, the process of re-creating its ceremonies, and also how to navigate oneself through the incredibly heinous industry that is the wedding machine.  Hopefully, the things I learn might help other gays and straights alike, because really we’re not that different.  Most of the time.  I think.

Original Sin

Second, I’ve undertaken a huge project: a first for me, in terms of scope.  Over the course of the next few months, a group of actors and I are going to adapt John Milton’s Paradise Lost for the stage.  I’m calling our project Original Sin.

This is the text I'm using.  I like it because the footnotes are at the bottom of the page, rather than at the end, the way they are with most scholarly editions.  If you buy it from this link, I make something like fifteen cents!

Here's a list of the actors who’ve come so far.  They’re an amazing bunch, ranging from recent grads of Bard College (I directed Charles Ludlam's Stage Blood up there last year) to true New Yorkers who’ve been in the biz longer than – well, a helluva long time, and have the chops and scars to show for it:

Franca Sofia Barchiesi
Michelle Beck
Paul Bernardo
Kersti Bryan
Lauren Coppola
Stephen Bel Davies
Mark Curtis Ferrando
Lindsey Gates
Erick Gonzalez
Jake Green
Morgan Green
Broughton Hansen
Kelly Hutchinson
Maggie Lacey
Linda Larson
Phil Mills
Rahaleh Nassri
David Scotchford
Roya Shanks
Eric Sutton
Madeline Wise

We’re meeting twice a month, and at a book/session, we’re planning on getting through the entire thing by April.  The impetus for this project was deeply instinctual: I felt a deep urge to work on something big, something without living rooms or couches or doors, something epic with a lot of actors.  And I wanted to create a project large enough that I could invite any of the many artists I know and love in the city.  

Before I meet with the Original Sin company, I trim the book down and assign lines to characters, then we get into a room, work through the text slowly asking amazing questions along the way like:

Can Angels die?   
What is evil?  
 If God is omnipotent, can he create something he can’t destroy?  
 What the hell does this passage mean?   
Does anyone have anything to eat?

 Then we read the whole thing straight through.  In early May, we’re planning on presenting a day-long concert read of our final text with two meal breaks, with food prepared by moi.

Preparing a table for Mrs. Huxtable

Which leads me to the third thing I want to write about: food.  I love food.  I love eating food.  And I love making food.  I don’t have many loving instincts, but I feel a deep, primal, uncontrollable urge to feed the people I care about.  Having grown up in my mom’s Armenian kitchen, cooking has been always been an integral part of the landscape of my life.  And having exquisite taste in food and living on a bohemian budget, I knew I needed to develop mad culinary skills to be able to eat the way I wanted.  It wasn’t until I started going out of town to direct plays, however, that I began cooking on my own frenzied earnest, finding it to be the perfect and least self-destructive way to wind down from a day’s rehearsal in a town full of temptations where I didn’t know anybody.

Last week, I had Matthew LeBaron and Lee Smith, two friends from my gay soccer team (The Ramblers), along with my friend Eric Sutton (a thank-you, since he’s doing the graphic design for the wedding stuff) and his boyfriend Eirikur (prounded Eric-er - he’s Icelandic, so stop snickering at his name and the coincidence of their dating).  It was one of my best dinner parties, I think.  The menu (I'm including some of the recipes at the end, because I haven't figured out yet how to do that fancy thing where you click on it and it takes you to the thing):

First Course – Amuse Bouche
Rafa’s Guac w/pomegranate seeds

Second Course - Appetizer
Quinoa w/curried lentils and onions and carrots

(I don’t really have a recipe for this – basically rinse and make the quinoa as the box tells you.  Then use any lentil recipe you like – just find one online.  The important thing with lentils, as well as any legumes, is not to put the salt in early.  This prevents the legume from cooking.  Put the salt in at the end.  And don't overcook them or they get mushy.  And use french lentils, for gods sake - they're barely more expensive and infinitely more delicious. )

Third Course – Salad/Vegetable
Shaved Brussels sprouts salad with chestnuts and currants soaked in reduced apple cider vinegar

Fourth Course - Entree

Bouillabaisse  (I used monk, halibut, flounder, mussels and clams, along with another fish I forget) served with hand-rubbed garlic crostini. 

I’m not going to post this recipe either because it came straight from Julia Child’s incomparable Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Buy it from Amazon now and I make money!

Fifth Course - Dessert
Stilton Blue Cheesecake with rhubarb/port compote reduction. 

Because I am selfish, I almost didn’t include the link to this recipe, which I pretty much followed exactly, except I put the compote on top of the cake and skipped the blow-torching/caramelizing part.  It’s so freakin’ delicious, so easy to make, and such a novelty piece that your guests will be talking about for weeks.  Mine still are, I’m sure.  But ultimately, my altruistic spirit won out and I’m sharing it with you.

 I know it sounds whack, but the combination of Stilton’s funkiness with the batter’s sweetness and creaminess and the rhubarb’s acidity and the port’s complexity creates an orchestra of deliciousness in your mouth. 

I forgot to take pictures, but I’ll try to remember next time.

And, as if that wasn’t cool enough, the next day, John Iacovelli (dear friend, collaborator and set designer extraordinaire) stopped by impromptu with Phylicia Rashad (John’s doing the set for her production of August Wilson's JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE at the Taper in LA)   



Luckily, I had bouillabaisse and cheesecake leftover, and was happy to serve them.  If you’re of my generation, you’ll understand how thrilling it was to cook for Mrs. Huxtable.


Some people recommend trying to blog daily, but honestly, that idea makes me want to kill myself, so I’m going to aim for weekly and see what happens.  I imagine that the posts will reflect whatever I’m working on at the time (I have a book coming out with FSG at Macmillan next year, I’m working on another book, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy thing with Rosemary Andress and Suzanne Agins, I’m going to be doing some teaching at NTI next semester), so stay tuned to info on those as well as the recipes for the tofu scramble I made for myself this morning and the brown rice pasta/vodka sauce/kale thing I made for lunch.


Thanks for reading and see you soon!

Michael Barakiva


This Post's recipes:






Adapted from a traditional recipe by Chef Barbara Sibley
6 fully ripened Mexican Hass avocados, halved, pitted, peeled and diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
¾ cup finely chopped white onion
½ cup finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice  
2 fresh serrano chiles, seeded & minced (can also be slightly roasted for a fire-roast flavor) [MB1]

1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Seeds from one large pomegranate[MB3] 
In a medium bowl or mortar, combine avocados, serrano chiles, onion, salt and pepper using a large fork. Do not mash avocados completely, for a chunkier feel[MB4] . Add ¾ cup of the cherry tomatoes, cilantro (leaving a tablespoon aside for decoration), lime juice and half of the pomegranate arils and mix again. Toss the rest of the tomatoes and clilantro with the remaining pomegranate arils on top, finish with a few drops of lime and serve immediately with baked tortilla chips.
For a spicier guacamole, add some of the serrano chile seeds or 1 more serrano chile, seeded.

YIELD: about 6 cups

 [MB1]Make sure to wear gloves while you’re working with spicy chiles.  I have accidentally touched my eyes or nose or other parts after working with them bare, and the searing sensation as the chile oil penetrates your orifice is anything but pleasant.

 [MB2]Fresh, for god’s sake.  If you don’t own a pepper mill you shouldn’t be cooking.

 [MB3]If you can buy seeds without having to de-seed the pom yourself, do it.  I love me a pomegranate, but who has the time to de-seed one of those mofos?

 [MB4]This is important.  


Sliced Brussels Sprouts Salad with Chestnuts and Currants

3/4 cup apple cider
3/4 cup dried currants
1 1/2 to 2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed
4 tablespoons olive oil (approx)
7- to 8-ounces  whole peeled chestnuts, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

Bring cider to boil in saucepan. Add currants[MB1]  and remove from heat.  Let them soak while you assemble the rest of the dish.  Using a food processor fitted with the slicing disk , slice brussels sprouts.  Of course if you don’t have one of these you can slice by hand, but I highly recommend using the good ol’ food processor to do it.


Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large deep heavy skillet over medium-high heat until glistening but not smoking. Add chestnuts and sauté 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to bowl. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and brussels sprouts to skillet; sauté 3 minutes. Stir chestnuts back in and currant mixture; sauté until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a wood bowl and let everyone serve themselves.

 [MB1]These are used a lot in Armenian cooking.  They’re like raisins, but fancier.





  1. Yay! I get to make the first comment! This is a delightful first post and I'm excited to read more about all 3 of components since they are 3 of my favorite things (well gay marriage isn't actually one of my favorite things at all but I like weddings despite my distaste for marriage and I'm having one at some point so interested in your thoughts on the subject). I proposed on the vassar campus (so romantic! And also SO WEIRD!)

    1. Rachel -
      Thanks so much for being so gentle with my blog its very first time. I can't wait to read yours and become blog buddies.

      And I love that you proposed on campus! Rafa really wanted to get married there, but I think for me there were too many memories that predated him for me. But I'm sure Vassar weddings are gorgeous - all the ones I see online are.

  2. Congratulations on getting engaged and starting this exciting new blog! A question: I'm about to invest in a food processor myself as I'm sick of slicing things -- what kind do you use and do you like it?

    Excited to hear more about the process you go through for Original Sin!

    1. Amineh -
      It's so great to hear from you, and I hope you're having a great time in the Bay Area. As you can imagine, I have many thoughts on food processors. Basically, I think Cuisinart is the reigning champ here. I had a bunch of credit cards points and got the fancy brushed steel version with a second smaller bowl that sits on top, but I don't think any of that is necessary - the 7 cup Pro Classic gets the job done (it's $100 on amazon, and that's where I do just about all my shopping these days).

      Just make sure that the slicing blade is adjustable - mine has five settings - so that you can control how thinly the item is sliced. It takes some experimenting figuring out how thin you like things, but onions, for examples, want different thickness depending on the recipes, as opposed to the Brussels sprouts in my recipe, which want to be on the thicker side to retain their crunch.

      Also, if you're cleaning your food processor in a dish washer, make sure to use the upper rack which doesn't reach the same levels of heat as the lower. Prolong dishwasher cleaning on the lower rack can warp the plastic of your food processor, and when is warped plastic ever a good thing?

      Thanks for reading!

  3. I'm so glad you're starting a blog! :) I'm also delighted that things are going so wonderfully for you. Your mentioning your mother's kitchen made me think of that FANTASTIC hummus you used to prepare for me in high school. Looking forward to the recipes and the profound thoughts! Hi to Kelly--noticed she's still working with you. Out here in sunny (actually about to be snowy! - we're going to the mountains) CA enjoying my 1st (and much needed) vacation of intern year. GINORMOUS HUGS, Aviva Olsavsky

    1. Aviva - I'm going to dig up that thousand-year-old hummus recipe and put it up here some time. I just made a huge batch for it a few months ago. Great to hear from you and thanks for reading!

  4. Oh, and PS--garlic on the fruit cutting board. Eew. :D

  5. Um . . . keeping track of the cutting boards is no more complicated than, say, turning off the shower before turning off the taps, after being begged to do so for months, so that if someone - say, a roommate - should follow you into the shower later in the day (or since he/she might be an earlier riser than you more likely the next morning . . . ) they don't get either scalded or flash-frozen (in this hypothetical, the plumbing is fickle and olde tyme) by water coming out of the showerhead when everybodyinthefuckingworldknowsitshouldcomeoutofthegoddamnSPIGOTSOYOUCANADJUSTTHETEMPERATURE!!!!!!!

  6. Chris -
    I totally agree! I don't know if that hypothetical roommate you're talking about lived with you before or after I did, but he sounds like a real tool. I guess the question you should be asking yourself is why you'd put yourself in the position to live with someone so disrespectful, even if it was in a small studio that had been cut up into a much smaller 2BR on a noisy block with an oven that didn't work.

    Hope your holidays are going smashingly!